“Thank God the week is finally over!” Beth exclaimed as she entered the house and kicked out of her stilettos, placing her laptop bag and office bag on the table near the door, she headed straight to the couch to rest her tired feet. With her free hand, she untied her chignon that kept her mass of gorgeous hair in place. ‘You wouldn’t be so tired if you didn’t volunteer so much of your time at the community centre!” her boss’s constant taunts resonated in her ears.

Beth thought of her thrice a week voluntary activities at the centre.  In her mind’s eye, she saw the thousand-watt smiles of the orphans she taught there. And she knew she was never going to give up her voluntary services. She knew she was in love with the innocent joy writ on the faces of the homeless children and the orphans at the centre. Each week, Beth taught at the centre. She enjoyed spending time with the children and never thought of her services as charity.

As she lifted her legs to place them on the coffee table, she saw an envelope lying there. ‘It wasn’t here this morning,’ she thought to herself as she lifted it. Maybe one of her flat mates had kept it there. It was addressed to her, and she was a little surprised to see the initials N.B. as the sender. She opened the envelope and out fell two tickets to the fashion gala coming up next weekend. With it was a letter. “A handwritten perfumed letter! How classy!” she said to herself. As she opened the letter, the beautiful handwriting was the first thing that struck her tired mind. It felt great to be holding something so painstakingly beautiful. She read the letter almost reverently.

“Dear Miss Elizabeth,

May I have the pleasure of accompanying you to the charity fashion gala next weekend? If you are in agreement with my proposal, please visit the 21, Boutique and select any dress of your choice. The payment has already been made. Your visit to the boutique will convey your acceptance.”

She turned the note over, but there was no return address for R.S.V.P. She shrugged to herself and decided she would go. She was feeling positively elated over being wooed in such an old-fashioned manner. She was curious to see and meet the man who took pains to look for perfumed stationary and exhibit such beautiful penmanship.

That night, she showed the letter to her three flat mates with who she shared the apartment in the expensive city. The girls all squealed in delight at the beautiful invitation and couldn’t hide their jealousy at her luck in being invited to the most sought after fashion event of the century. “Make sure to select the most exotic gown for the gala. Don’t look at the price tag. Buy some new make-up. New Shoes!” they all advised her.

Next day, Beth set out to visit the 21, Boutique. It was situated in the most expensive part of the town and the area was known to be extremely elite and posh. As Beth stepped off the bus and walked towards the shop, she was amazed by the beautiful arches and tree-lined streets. ‘I feel as if I have stepped into a different time and place!’ she thought to herself. The 21, Boutique catered to the cream of the cream and the question of looking at price tags never arose – there WERE no price tags! She fingered the dresses and relished the soft feel of the gorgeous material. She tried on a few but couldn’t decide as they all looked and felt lovely. Almost as if by some divine intervention, she chanced upon a delightful blue gown. It was very elegant and the sapphire hues of the gown gave it a royal look. She knew it was destined just for her.

Beth’s week went by in a daze. On the day of the event, her flat mates accosted her and helped her get ready. They dolled her up. Her make-up and hair looked just perfect with the new gown. She stepped into a pair of stunning blue shoes. Their velvety sheen lent her a glamorous look. “How are you going to arrive at the venue?” asked her flat mate. “I don’t know babe! He has given me both the invites, so I assume he’ll come here to pick me up,” she replied trying to quell the butterflies in her stomach. The doorbell rang as soon as she finished her sentence. Angel, one of the flatmates went to open the door. When she didn’t come back for quite some time, Beth and the two others went into the hallway to check upon her. And they too lost their voice.

Standing in the doorway was the most dashing man any of them had ever seen. With Greek-God looks, a chiselled jaw line, and a physique that could put any model to shame, Beth’s date was downright drop-dead gorgeous! He offered the flowers to her, which she took with as much grace as she could muster and bowed to her. It was all Beth could do not to swoon right there.  She excused herself to put the flowers in the vase and was immediately pounced upon by her flat mates. “Beth! Where have you been hiding this vision of a man all this while? Who is he? What does he do? Men as gorgeous as him should carry a warning sign tapered to their heads – ‘Caution: Vision advancing!’ joked the girls.” Beth’s heart was hammering in her chest. She had never seen him, nor did she know his name other than that he signed himself N.B.

She took a deep breath, and grabbing her clutch, she headed towards him. He was still standing in the doorway. As she went to him, he held out his hand to take hers in his own. She felt like a fairy tale queen to be treated in this old-world gentlemanly fashion. As they made their way downstairs to the entrance, the lobby-man stood up in respect.

Their ride drove up and Beth would have swooned right there had it not been for her date supporting her with his palm on the small of her back. It was a dark stretch limousine. The uniformed chauffeur stopped the car and got out immediately. With a slight bow, he held the door open for them. He even tipped his cap as she thanked him. The inside of the limo was grander than the exterior. With champagne chilling in the mini-fridge and crystal chutes for drinking it, Beth felt like she was Alice in Wonderland.

Part 2

They made a grand entrance at the venue. The chauffeur once again held the door open for her and she stepped out on to the plush red carpet of the event.  With her date firmly protecting her, they made their way into the hall, escaping the frenzied crowds of paparazzi and gate-crashers. “Who are you N.B.? Why were the photographers going crazy over you?” she asked, finally finding her tongue. “Not me Elizabeth, the paparazzi was going crazy for you!” replied her mysterious N.B. “Why me? I am neither a celebrity, nor a tycoon,” she asked, puzzled. “Maybe so, but you are so striking in your beauty, my beautiful Elizabeth,” he said, running a finger over a strand of her hair that had come loose. At his words, she felt beautiful, the way she never had before.

As they made their way towards the VIP seating, Beth relished the feel of his hand in hers. She eyed him surreptitiously and a sly grin slid up his face as if he had read her thoughts. She quickly turned away. Once they were seated in the special section of the VIP seating, she turned to him and asked, “Who are you N.B.? I have never seen or met you before.” “There will be time for questions later my lady. Please enjoy the fashion event for now,” he smiled.

As the show proceeded, Beth was thrilled to see some of her favourite models and designers at such close quarters. Some of the dresses were beyond gorgeous and she wished she had money enough to buy at least one of them. Sipping champagne from the delicate crystal canters and popping the to-die-for hors d’oeuvres, Beth almost forgot the reality of her existence – a small town girl come into the big bad city to eke out a career working in the unforgiving law offices.

After the event drew to a close, many people gathered at their table and N.B. introduced her to many of his friends and family. She was nervous and barely managed to make it through the round of seemingly endless introductions. Whenever someone asked who she was, N.B. simply replied, “a dear friend.” Nobody dared to question the nature of their friendship.

The pair exited the hall, but their limousine was nowhere to be seen. A call to the driver revealed that the limousine was stuck in the rush of cars and people and it would be a good twenty minutes before the driver could bring it to the entrance. “No problem N.B., we can wait here,” Beth chattered through her teeth. The cool evening had given way to chilly night and Beth was shivering. N.B. took off his tuxedo jacket and wrapped it around her bare shoulders. His jacket carried his scent and Beth felt immediately warm as she hugged it tighter around herself.

The car drove up to the gate and they got in. Much to her surprise, the limousine drove them to an exclusive ‘by reservation only’ restaurant for dinner. She took in the ambience of the place and let herself enjoy the fairytale evening. The Michelin star chef dished up a variety of exotic dishes and Beth loved them all. Throughout dinner, she kept pestering N.B. with questions, but he replied only with, “please enjoy your meal. There will be time for questions later.”

With her permission, N.B. dismissed the limousine and the driver with a thank you and a wad of Franklins. ‘He must be paying the rent of the limousine,’ Beth thought to herself. N.B. looked up at her and gave a wry grin. As they walked by the bank of the river, Beth hugged his tuxedo tighter and he looked at her worriedly, “Are you cold? Should I drop you home?” “No no! I am fine,” Beth replied hurriedly, not wanting the evening to get over. She felt as if she was in a Cinderella story and would have to go back to her dreary life when the clock struck the midnight hour.