How had she managed to let herself get talked into this?
The West Coast King and Queen's Ball—a sorry excuse for wistful imaginarians to play Victorian for a night. It boasted a meal served in the proper style, with all participants expected to follow the proper etiquette of the time. Then, afterwards, a dance would be held, where any could participate. None of it appealed her, but Will had signed himself and his girlfriend up for it.
To add insult to injury, he'd somehow ended up with two additional tickets, which had somehow wound up in Nikola's hands.
The man had refused to let her alone about it until she'd agreed to accompany him. It had taken more than month, but Nikola was nothing if not persistent, and she hadn't the strength to fend him off forever. So all four of them were now readying themselves for a nonsensical affair.
Helen stared at her reflection in the full length mirror before her, and all she could think was that she was looking at a ghost. The dress was old, pulled from the pits of her deepest closet, and the cloth scratched against her skin in ways it never had before. It seemed she had grown more accustomed to today's softer materials.
It was heavier too, than she remembered. Bustles and petticoats and shifts and underskirts all took their toll, weighing her down with the physical oppression of a time notoriously less feminine. Already, the shoes on her feet were beginning to pinch—she had not missed the use of buttonhooks either. The tediousness of the matter had been gladly abandoned decades ago, and returning to it, even for a night, was less than thrilling.
Oh, and that waist—it had been just as long since she'd seen that. She was re-learning how to breathe as well, since the corset giving her that narrow waist was compressing her ribcage to the point of discomfort. As it should be; her governess had once told her that if it wasn't, then she wasn't wearing it properly.
On a whim, and with the marvels of modern dyes, she'd even colored her hair. Temporarily, of course—she had no desire to return to the past beyond this particular event. But for tonight, and tonight only, she looked nearly as she had over a century ago. Blonde tresses curled and piled on her head, a rich satin gown, and brocade Italian boots she'd purchased so long ago…
Helen hadn't seen this woman in a very long time.
The voice from behind alerted her to Abby's return from the washroom. The younger girl was similarly done up, courtesy of Helen's expertise. At Will's behest, the young couple had learned the finer points of the culture from Magnus. And then, as she'd warmed to the idea, Helen had sent Will off to learn from Nikola while Abby remained with her.
The dress the agent now wore was her own, a relatively accurate rendering purchased from an online costume shop, but the nuances were Helen's own touch. Abby's hair was knotted at the back of her head, trailed by three solid, corkscrew curls—perfect for the texture of her hair. A touch of rouge here, a splash of fragrance there, and the girl was ready for her night in the ages.
But Agent Corrigan was now staring slack-jawed at Helen, giving her the sinking suspicion that the young lady had never suspected this woman was lurking beneath the surface.
"Dr. Magnus," Abby exhaled, her voice breathless with awe, "you look… amazing."
Helen offered a thin smile, more polite than anything else; she wasn't comfortable in the guise of a woman she'd let fade over the decades. "Thank you, Miss Corrigan," she returned, letting her voice soften as she put a bit more of an accent on her words, tightening the looseness she's adopted over the years. It seemed her wardrobe was bringing back some well-learned habits. "You're looking quite proper yourself."
Abby's brow furrowed. "Dr. Magnus, please, it's Abby. I think we know each other well enough by now."
"Not tonight you're not," Helen countered with a smile, more honest this time. "Tonight you're Miss Abigail Corrigan, to be accompanied by Mister William Zimmerman."
Comprehension settled over Abby quickly, and she laughed off her confusion. "Right, of course, I'm sorry."
Helen's lone stipulation for the entire affair was that it not be taken in jest. They would pay proper homage to the time period, or they would not participate at all. Will and Abby had both agreed wholeheartedly. In fact, Will had assured her that was the intent of the evening. So that those attending may actually believe that they were transported back in time.
It was a sentiment Helen wasn't sure she appreciated. Why allow yourself to be swept away by the past, when the present was enough of its own burden? But then, her perspective was somewhat skewed, wasn't it?
"Well, anyway," Abby continued, "that dress is absolutely stunning. It's gorgeous."
"Oh, this old thing?" Helen hemmed, giving her eyes a brief roll. She smiled, which Abby returned, but Helen had the sinking suspicion that she didn't truly appreciate the humor of the brush off. However much Will might have told her about the Sanctuary, it was doubtful he'd explained the complicated mystery that was her age.
Dear Lord, she felt old.
"So," she said, changing the subject, "how does it feel?"
Abby beamed. "I feel amazing. Like I'm in a fairytale."
"Are you ready to go, Dr. Magnus? The car service should be arriving soon." The notion of driving themselves had been shot down instantly. Will had been all for it, but Nikola had quickly informed him that Victorian dress did not accommodate for driving oneself anywhere.
"You go on ahead," Helen prompted. "I'll be along shortly. I have a few last things to take care of here."
But once Abby disappeared, Helen simply turned back to the mirror. Her heart was fluttering in her chest, and it wasn't from the constriction of the corset. She was nervous—she shouldn't be. She'd done this before, after all. Lived it, breathed it, was it for so many years.
Perhaps it was the dissociation that was unsettling her.
She'd always thought time was fluid, that her life was as well. But perhaps, over the years her life had stuttered somewhere along the line. It was as though there was a break between the woman that was and the woman that is. The problem was, she didn't know when the break had occurred.
With a sigh, she twitched her shoulders, shucking the concern off.
Tonight, she was Miss Helen Magnus once more.