This was it, Felicity Merriman decided. This was the ball where she would meet her future husband; she just knew it. He would be tall and handsome, wealthy and completely devoted to her. She would first see him across the ballroom. He would look up, their gazes would connect, and she would be entranced by his clear, bright eyes. Then later, he would approach her and ask her to dance, and they would sail off into the night on a stream of music and laughter…

Felicity winced as a tug on her hair returned her to the real world.

Rose was in the process of pinning her hair into and elaborate mass of curls and braids. Gentle as she was trying to be, the occasional sharp pull or pinch could not be avoided. Felicity squirmed, and returned to her daydreaming.

He would come back to see her, again and again, and eventually they would begin courting. He would be wealthy and kind, intelligent, completely devoted to her, and tolerant enough not to mind when she cast off the ladylike mantle she donned for such social events and exposed her free-spirited nature. She could practically picture him…

Oddly enough, the picture in her head resembled Ben to a surprising degree. Felicity shook her head, determined to rid her thoughts of Ben. He had already proven his character to be sadly lacking in personal integrity and any sense of commitment. The war had been over for nearly six months, and still he had not returned to finish out his apprenticeship with Mr. Merriman.

"There," came Rose's satisfied murmur, interrupting Felicity's musings and banishing the frown from her face. "Done. Now, we'd best get your dress on. 'Tis almost time to depart."

"Aye. Thank you, Rose." Felicity rose from her seat and walked to the bed where her gown lay. She paused, admiring it once more. Made of pure white cloth, it emphasized her bright hair and clear complexion. Laced up the front with burgundy ribbon that came to a dainty bow on her breast, the dress flowed out from her waist into a swirl of white, broken only by dainty burgundy trim around the edge of the skirt. Frothy lace peeped out from the neckline and the sleeves, lending a sophisticated air to the gown.

Felicity loved looking at it.

"Felicity!" Her father's call sounded from the parlor.

"Coming!" she responded, gesturing hurriedly to Rose.

With the slave's help, she slipped into the dress and delicately hurried down the stairs. Her father stood there, waiting to escort her, and she felt a small pang, remembering how Ben had escorted her to her first ball.

But Ben had been gone for six (seven?) years, and clearly was not coming back. She sighed and took her father's arm.

XXX

Felicity stood by the punch table, sipping from a glass and watching the brightly dressed dancers whirl about as strains of music drifted through the hall. She was flushed from dancing, and had had to beg respite from her admirers. She smiled in satisfaction at her apparent popularity, but couldn't help feeling a small amount of regret that her carefully crafted fantasy had never occurred. It would have been so perfect…

The dance ended, and a young man awkwardly sidled up to Felicity.

"Um, Miss Merriman? Would you, um, care to dance with me?"

She took pity on the fellow. "Aye," she responded, placing her hand in his.

As she was lead onto the dance floor, Felicity caught a glimpse of a man on the other side of the ballroom, dressed all in black and standing alone. The fine cut of his coat showcased broad shoulders and well-muscled arms, and his breeches encased long, strong legs. His brown hair was pulled back with a ribbon, revealing a handsome face with a strong jaw, straight nose, full, sensitive lips, and enigmatic eyes under winged brows. Felicity felt shivers run up her spine as she realized he was studying her every bit as carefully as she was studying him.

Just then, the band began a minuet, and she lost sight of the stranger amidst the sudden flurry of motion. Unnerved, she concentrated carefully on the steps of the dance, trying not to let the man affect her overly much. There had been something so natural, so familiar about him…

After the minuet had finished, Felicity looked around for the stranger, but he had disappeared. Swallowing her disappointment, she turned around and abruptly ran into someone.

"Oh! I'm so sorry!" she exclaimed. "I just wasn't watching and…" she trailed off as she moved her gaze to the person's face. It was the very man she had just been searching for.

Looking up right into his clear, brown eyes, she was struck again by how familiar he seemed. 'Twas as if she had known him, long ago.

He gazed down at her. "Oh, it's no trouble." Then he seemed to do a double take, peering more closely at her. "Felicity Merriman?" he asked, sounding disbelieving.

"Yes." Felicity wondered how this man knew her name. Had she met him before? That could be why he seemed so familiar. No, she told herself. I would remember anyone who looks like that. So how, then, does he know my name?

The man smiled brightly, derailing her train of thought with a simple gesture. "Would you grace me with your presence for this dance, Miss Merriman?"

Felicity's heart leapt, but she kept a placid smile firmly affixed to her face as she politely acquiesced. They took their places on the floor, and a waltz began. Struggling to keep delighted laughter from dancing out of her mouth, she felt hope and astonishment bubbling up inside of her. This can't really be happening, not just like I had imagined it only hours ago!

But it was.

As they glided around the dance floor, Felicity let some of her contentment seep out onto her face in the form of a brilliant smile.

"What?"

She looked up. "Pardon?"

"You're smiling so brightly. Has something made you particularly happy?"

"Oh, just everything. The night, the music, the party. Everything seems so right, that's all."

He chuckled darkly, the sound seeming out of place in the bright ballroom. "Ah, the innocence of youth." She caught sight of a sudden bleakness in his eyes before he turned his head away.

Odd.

"And how old are you, sir? Surely not that much older than me."

He looked at her strangely for a moment, as if she should already know his age, then answered, "Twenty-five (six?)."

The waltz came to a crashing end, and he relinquished his hold on her waist.

Feeling sorry to lose his embrace, Felicity fanned herself. "'Tis hot in here. I would like some air."

"Let me accompany you," the man said, taking her arm and leading her to the glass doors that opened into a garden. Outside, they were alone in the semi-darkness, the stars twinkling down from the heavens. Felicity felt tingles run up and down her arm, originating from the point where they touched. She half turned to face him, and found him staring at her.

"You are so beautiful…" He trailed his fingers down her cheek gently, as though afraid she would break if he pressed too hard. He studied her face carefully, gripping her chin and tilting her head up. His own face dipped down towards her, as though he couldn't control to sudden need to be closer to her.

Felicity knew what was coming next.

She knew she should resist. She knew she should turn and walk away, but her traitorous legs refused to move, remaining rooted to the ground. He lowered his face the last little bit, and his lips brushed hers.

The world fell away. It was everything she'd dreamed a kiss could be. It was sweet, and it was gentle, and it made her turn rather warm all over, and then, because she couldn't help it, she sighed.

"So sweet," he murmured, and she felt her arms come around his neck. No rational, fully formed response was manageable, so she merely sighed again. She was lost in a sea of breathless sensation, and no thought could be left. She tangled her hands in his hair and he pulled her even closer, deepening the kiss—

The world came rushing back. Felicity shoved him away from her and stumbled back, suddenly overly conscious of her flushed face and mussed hair.

The man drew back as well, looking a bit dumbfounded, as though he hadn't meant for that to happen. He drew a hand through his hair and looked as if he would say something, but she cut him off.

"You! How could you do that! I'm, I'm a respectable girl, and you can't just go around kissing me! This is all wrong, all wrong—"

He broke in. "I'm sorry, Lissie, I just lost track of myself—"

She spoke over him. "Lost track of yourself! You can't just lose track of yourself and kiss whomever is there. And don't call me Lissie! Lissie is what my family calls me, not strangers, and besides, I haven't told you to call me Lissie. How do you even know that's my nickname? I mean, I just met you, I don't even know your name—!" She paused, noting the surprised look on his face.

"You don't know my name?" he asked slowly.

"No."

He laughed awkwardly, as if expecting her to explain that it was all a joke, just a misunderstanding. He sobered when he saw she was serious, looking a bit disappointed. "So you don't recognize me at all?"

She drew herself up, prepared to defend her ignorance. "And why should I? I just met you."

"But… really?"

Felicity opened her mouth, ready to counter him again, then thought about it. He had seemed familiar, as though she had known him, ages ago. She studied him carefully, trying to puzzle out his identity. His face was similar to another, another she could not place…

But if the cheeks were filled out a bit more, the jaw a bit less sharp, the face a little rounder… If the brows were less harsh, the lips a little bit softer…

And the eyes. His eyes were what alerted her to his identity. And then she felt dumb, and knew she should have realized it long before now. Only one person had such kind, deep eyes as this man did. And once she knew who he was, it was ever so much easier to reconcile his features with the boy she once knew.

She looked tentatively back into those eyes, and ventured a question, just to be sure. "Ben?"

He smiled down at her, clearly pleased that she did, in fact remember him.

She smiled back.

And slapped him.

A/N: So here it is, my very first American Girl fanfic! I hope you liked it :)

I'm not sure if I should continue this story, or perhaps tell Ben's point of view for this chapter. Let me know what you think.

As always, reviews are much appreciated. Thanks!

~Star