The Homecoming Masquerade

By: Spencer Baum

Girls Wearing Black, Book One

Part 1

New Girl


Homecoming at Thorndike Academy was different than at other high schools. There were no pep rallies. There was no football game either, as Thorndike’s brief experiment with a school football team ended in 1952.

There was no rival school brought in for a competitive celebration. After all, who could rival Thorndike? Located in Potomac, Maryland, Thorndike Academy was the wealthiest high school in the nation by far. Children of congressmen, senators, judges, lobbyists, and corporate bigwigs made up the student body. Annual tuition was well in excess of six figures, and the endowment was larger than the Gross National Product of many countries.

There was a Homecoming dance at Thorndike, but it wasn’t in a gym. The Homecoming dance was held in the mansion belonging to Renata Sullivan, chair of the school’s Board of Regents. Renata’s mansion, located on a fifty-acre plot west of town, housed a ballroom suitable for an affair as prestigious and important as Homecoming.

Like other Homecoming dances, the event at Thorndike was a formal affair, with the guys in tuxes and the girls in gowns. But there was no DJ. Renata wouldn’t dream of allowing bumping and grinding to teenage jungle beats or other such nonsense inside her mansion. In Renata’s mansion, the dancing was just as formal as the attire, having been codified over the years into rules and routines all students were expected to know. Minuets, waltzes, cotillions – all the great formal dances of the Victorian Age, all of them set to live music, with a small chamber orchestra on the stage playing the tunes – these were the dances Renata liked to have played in her mansion. And the students didn’t dare show up to Homecoming without learning all the dances first. Stepping onto the floor for a minuet and not knowing how to do it was a terrible insult to the school, the students, and the hostess, and the last thing anyone wanted to do was insult Renata Sullivan.

Renata Sullivan, who had helped create and maintain the traditions that now governed Homecoming, was a proud graduate of Thorndike Academy. After her own graduation, Renata moved straight into administration at the school, and had overseen the Homecoming event for nearly seventy years.

Not that Renata was elderly. Despite walking the earth for the better part of a century, Renata looked exactly the same as the day she graduated. Renata, like all the true power players in Washington, was immortal, having earned the honor to live inside her eighteen-year-old body for as long as she could keep it. She didn’t age, she didn’t get sick, and she wouldn’t die until someone managed to kill her.

One of the first traditions Renata instituted at Homecoming was the masks. Starting three years after Renata’s own graduation, and continuing ever since, Homecoming at Thorndike was a masquerade ball. The immortals liked it that way. Not only did the masks help Renata and the other immortals blend in when they stepped onto the floor, but masks also made the party into a kind of game, and immortals loved games. They got bored, living so long. They saw normal humans as their playthings. They invited all the high school seniors to one of their mansions and had them learn formal ballroom dances and drink wine and dress up in masks because it all was just so amusing.

And the masks...the masks had become a tradition unto themselves.

For the guys, the masks were simple and plain. Understated pieces of black fabric to match their traditional tuxedos.

For the girls, sky’s the limit. Glittered, bejeweled, artistically rendered to match their outfits, some barely covering their eyes, some stretching over their foreheads and into their hairdos. The masks would become treasured heirlooms, reminders for each girl of the night she claimed her birthright and entered adulthood as a member of the power elite. The girls at this ball had been dreaming about their masks since childhood, sketching them on the pages of their math notebooks, talking about them the way some people might talk about their children. When a Thorndike girl first entered high school, her parents began interviewing designers who might bring the dream of a perfect mask to life. By the start of junior year, every girl in school had a portfolio of potential mask designs collected from different artists. Mothers, grandmothers, fashion designers, and respected plutocrats in DC went through these portfolios and selected one design, then the family hired the hottest, trendiest artist they could afford to bring that design to life. The morning after the ball, the masks were put in glass cases protected by magnetic locks and laser alarm systems, and for the rest of their lives, the girls would look at their masks, displayed as the most prominent, significant works of art in their homes, and remember. Their self-worth would be defined by how good they thought they looked at Homecoming.

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