Breaking Character (Max's POV)

The twirling colors near the center of the ballroom were somehow disorienting. Neatly sitting down my cup on the blue China saucer, I nodded a politeness to the man still chatting away across the table. "Excuse me, I'd like some fresh air."

He stopped mid-sentence as he stroked his thick mustache in shock. Or perhaps wonder at what I suspected he thought rudeness on my part. But I didn't intend rudeness, though his constant speech was wearing on my ears.

"Oh, well alright old boy." The man gave half a smile as I gently slipped my chair out and stood. "It is a lovely night for a stroll isn't it?" I was happy he smiled; that he didn't seem truly offended, but I could tell he also had a thought of following me outside with more chatter. So nodding again I walked briskly toward the doors leading out to the balcony.

With a single glance back I noted with relief that I wasn't being followed. Breathing in the stillness of the night, I realized the peace and quiet was as needed to me as oxygen. So stepping closer to the railing I filled my lungs with the subtly of the evening. After gathering myself I slowly opened my eyes again and peered up at the sky.

Night clouds.

They were drifting by in thin wisps. Almost as if whispers trying to be heard above the clamor of the night. Inside I felt my heart tug for an empty canvass and my fingertips were longing for the familiar contour of my brush handle. It was an irritating, painful thing to not be able to act on the moment art welled up. It was like water filling a jar, and without an outlet I knew it would spill over. I let a sigh slip into the chilled air. The moment was lost, and it was, this time, unavoidable.

In the distance, I could still just make out the music and the dancers. The noise. And adding to it was the sudden sound of footsteps I heard from behind me. Like a voice I knew at once whom they belonged to. Too light to be a man's step, but too bold and forward to belong to the usual dainty ladies attending an affair at the Bendiff mansion. Reaching to massage my temples I waited for the string of words to begin. But the footsteps simply stopped and the words never came. So slowly turning to face her I stared with empty questioning eyes.

Her own eyes were a blue of which the June sky would envy, and they were mingling with annoyance and... And something I strangely at first couldn't place. Crossing her arms tighter she frowned a deep cross look and stepped beside me. Still silently.

"Pia?" I asked in an attempt to prompt her. That I was encouraging her to begin speaking was as troubling as it was surprising. But this wasn't the first instance we had stood in this sort of awkward silence. I already guessed I had done something wrong, and at any moment I would become very aware of just what. Her head snapped to peer at me sidelong. Her lips were curling with a slight quiver and her eyebrows were arched in that familiar way. It was the way that had just enough playful rage hidden beneath the surface that I could be assured nothing of real consequence was wrong. It made me smile just so slightly.

"And what is so funny Max?!" She asked sharply, though again I could detect that her anger wasn't all that deep seeded this time.

Turning my gaze back toward the sky I spoke slowly. "I didn't laugh." At that she did, though more scornfully than anything else. "Do you know what people will start to say?! That Bendiff's own daughter is going to become an old maid! The talk will be bad enough, but when my mother goes along with it, well I'll never hear the end of it!" She stopped shorter than usual as she huffed a few angry sighs.

Slowly looking back at her I noticed a real look of worry appearing on her face. "I thought you didn't care what anyone thought?" I asked slowly.

She reached out to squeeze the balcony railing in frustration. "I don't! But some things are expected, Max." The last statement was said with a softer, almost desperate tone. It was the sort of voice I'd often heard when a client had come seeking help from Mister Max.

So answering like the Solutioneer, I asked the next logical question. "What is expected?"

Pia glanced sharper at me. "I'm not one of your cases Max!" I felt my shoulders relax back into the role of myself, as a tiny sparkle of amusement stirred that she knew me so well. So as Max Starling, her friend, I asked again. "What is expected?" She hesitated and fidgeted where she stood. She was someone with a nervous secret or either words she'd rather not have to say. Or...as I'd guessed for some time now, she was playing the role of a young woman in love with me.

Crossing her arms again as if that might defend the supposed weakness she was about to display, she answered me.

"I don't care what those snobs think. But... But you can imagine how humiliating it is to be the daughter of the host and not be asked to dance by anyone..." Her words were soft and exposed. And in the few moments that she said them her heart was clearly visible on her face. "I mean it's my father's house even! Those stuck up young men would rather take advantage of father's free food than dance with his daughter!"

Her defenses were back up now, but it was too late. The plot had already been revealed. Turing to face her fully I watched as a few of her blonde ringlets shifted in the evening breeze.

"You'd like me to dance with you?" I said cutting to the solution to this particular problem. Her eyes darted between shock and fear and then back to a stable position of slight annoyance.

"It would help me out yes." She said matter of fact. I nodded slightly as if agreeing to our business proposal. Then offering my arm, we walked back inside to make good on this deal. I had decided I wouldn't let her realize I felt her trembling. I also decided to ignore all the sudden eyes landing on the two of us. So with a pleasant smile filling my face, we simply took our positions, and as the music began I drew her into the mist of the twirling clamor.

We were two young people dancing. She was the daughter of a rich affluent man, and I was an unnamed and unknown suitor. Most likely one of many more to come. The scene was simple, and certainly not unexpected. Yet within ourselves, we knew we were actors on a stage. That our actions were in a sense, meant to be nothing more than a performance. Smiling gently again, I looked into her eyes. She flinched for only a moment, but I knew she had broken character. It was for only an instant, yet again she had confirmed all the suspicious I held about her.

At times she wasn't good at acting, no not particularly. But she insisted otherwise. In reality, I knew Pia always had a certain role she wanted to play, and it was only that part that she would...or perhaps could...do justice to. So I watched as again and again she did what amounted to a crime in theater, she decided to simply play herself. All the same, I could tell she assumed she was doing a very good job with this scene and her respective role.

It was truly bad acting.

But... But I knew that in the swirling mass of dancers no one would notice her mistakes. Just as I assumed, no one would notice if, for however brief an instant, Max Starling decided to drift onto the stage.