Gaia woke with a thundering headache. It seemed someone had set up a massive anvil in her brain and was now hammering away at it like there was no tomorrow. She winced, covering her face with the blanket. The idea to call in sick was ridiculously tempting, however, she knew that today it wasn’t going to work since both Anna and the studio’s owner Lucrezia were out of town so there was no chance of anybody replacing her. On any other day she might have been able to get away if the shop stayed closed, but today that was not an option for there was an appointment – and Lucrezia had made extra emphasis on the fact that it was a super important one – so Gaia had no choice but to drag herself out of bed with the blacksmith still relentlessly banging away in her head.
The morning and first part of the day at the studio was torture. Gaia spent most of it sitting by her desk and blindly staring at the half-finished steam punk style mask in front of her. She had taken several pills to cure the murderous headache, but there seemed to be no way of stopping the blacksmith still hammering in her head. Several tourists had wandered into the studio but all they had done – no surprise – was ooh and aah at Lucrezia’s exquisite creations before diving back into the maze of streets, however, the man who was supposed to come and pick up his costume had not showed up yet. I will murder him – whoever he is – if he makes me wait till the very evening.
Gaia had just returned from a nearby bar where she had grabbed a few cichetti, hoping to stuff up the evil drummer boy in her head with food or to drown him with water, and sat down at her desk when somebody woke up the doorbell.
She had seen her share of interesting characters walk through the studio doors, but those were usually on their way out, dressed up in the most fancy costumes. This one was coming in. It was a man in his mid thirties dressed in dark pants tucked into knee-high biker style boots, black jacket and half unbuttoned dark green shirt with some print Gaia couldn’t make out without blatantly staring at him. He had a silver chain with heavy pendant around his neck and what appeared to be swirling design tattoos running down the sides of both palms. She had imagined him to be a foreigner, however, he greeted Gaia in perfect Italian, messy black shoulder length hair framing his face. Gaia was unable to rid herself of a feeling that she had been suddenly transported into some other dimension or onto a movie set.
“Im Damiano.” The words he spoke were flowing fluidly like water. “Lucrezia told me I can pick up my costume today.”
Ah, finally. “Yes, it is ready.” Gaia stood up and crossed the room to the massive wardrobe that was cleverly disguised in the studio’s interior to appear much smaller than it actually was. She opened the exquisitely encrusted doors and reached for a dark costume bag hanging right in front. She took the bag and, giving a quick glance over her shoulder, noticed Damiano looking curiously at the mask she had been trying to work on.
“I believe this one is yours.” Gaia said, walking over to him with the costume bag in hand. She checked the name tag that read “Nelo Parris”. “Strange, Lucrezia must have forgotten to change the name tag, but I will replace it for you.”
Gaia was about to take off the tag tied to the hanger with a black silk ribbon when Damiano touched her hand, sending shockwaves through her. Gaia thought to herself that his hand was surprisingly warm although she had been certain he was freezing in his attire in spite of this being Venetian variety of winter.
“No need. Everything is exactly how it should be.” Damiano smiled, taking the costume bag from her, his dark green eyes sparkling. “That is a beautiful mask you have there.” He made a slight nod in the direction of her work station. “Will you be wearing it to the carnival?”
Gaia couldn’t help but smile. “I don’t think so.”
Standing so close to Damiano she could feel he smelled of wind, snow and burning fire. “Im not going to any carnival events.”
“You can turn your walking the streets into an even if you wore it.”
“Right.” Gaia chuckled. Suddenly she wished he would leave, yet he didn’t seem to be in a hurry to do so.
“Im not one who craves attention.” Gaia tried to sound nonchalant as she went back to the closet and closed its doors.
“Come to the Ball of Mirror Shadows with me.”
She turned, feeling astonished. “Pardon?”
“Come to the Ball of Mirror Shadows with me.” He said again with no hint of annoyance in his voice at having to repeat his words.
“We don’t even know each other.”
“So we’ll have plenty of time to get acquainted.” He still stood by her desk holding the costume bag over his shoulder by the hook of the hanger.
Gaia had never considered herself the most eloquent of people, yet now she felt downright lost for words. “Well…”
“Say yes, Gaia.”
“You know my name?”
“Lucrezia mentioned it.”
Gaia glanced at the mask on her desk – a whimsical creation that looked like a lovechild of a dark gothic god and a steampunk angel – and smiled to herself. She wanted to say no, but before she managed to stop herself, she heard her voice say, “All right, I will go with you.”
“Wonderful.” Damiano walked to the door, and looked at her. “I will see you on the second Wednesday from now then.”
As the studio’s door closed behind him, Gaia realised that her headache was gone.