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Tortoise Trouble

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The letter paper smelled floral and sweet, the epitome of Antoinette; placed right where childish innocence meets dignified grace. It was really something to be subtly envious of, from the carefree nature of presenting her inner world outwardly, and to the great appreciation of the people around her. The most loathsome about those who got so effortlessly rewarded for being themselves was that people barely tolerated Charles even when he put on twenty fake masks stacked on top of each other, one sweeter than the other.

But. Back to the letter paper. Floral and sweet. Cursive handwriting in a silver coloured gel pen.

An Invitation to the World’s Least Frightening Halloween Party

This year, I am bored with seeing the same dead brides, sexy vampires, and bloody nurses already. Halloween is, of course, the prime time for throwing the lavish parties that we were thinking about throwing the whole year but struggled to find the opportunity for. And we shall have the best of fun. 

But! The same concept every year is boring me to death. 

This year, I want to feel alive, so I invite you to the least frightening Halloween party in the world. Pack your vampire fangs away so they won’t see the sunlight until next year: This time, I choose what you come as. It might as well be your biggest fear. Check the back of this invitation for your theme. 

I’m looking forward to seeing all of you in your costumes, and out of your comfort zone.

So have fun, and bring your very best!

Love,

Marie-Antoinette

On the other side, with the precise letters of an angel:

Charles ➡ Tortoise

Charles read the invitation several times in different states of disbelief, and the indignation that came with processing her words. No scary on Halloween? And on top of that, no sexy on a Halloween party? It is but the nature of humans to clad themselves in the skimpiest outfits on Halloween, and even if not, at least haunt everyone with their foulness for once a year when it’s finally legal.

And Antoinette went, as only the most vicious monsters go, and took it all away from him in the blink of an eye.

He could simply not go, of course. He could just say “no thanks,” stay at home, or go to a club, and be a slut like he is every other day, but that would go against his vengeful nature, filled with hatred and disdain.

Charles knew he would go the third time he read the invitation, and he knew he would go just to make Antoinette eat her words. She thought she could make them step out of their comfort zone, go as something they would never voluntarily go as?

He will be the world’s first, the world’s sexiest, … Sexy Tortoise. Eat it, Antoinette.

Ramard was jealous. “A tortoise! I wish I was given a tortoise! It must be so comfortable in a paper mache shell, all warm and cosy.”

He felt like gagging: there weren’t many things in the world he found worse. “And what are you?”

“Oh? I am a ladybug. Although, I’m not very comfortable being a lady.” Ramard’s shoulders rise and fall as he sighs. “Some of the children’s costumes online were cute, but I doubt I’d fit into those.”

Clearly, they had very different priorities. Charles was preoccupied with figuring out where he would find a corset that imitated a tortoiseshell with its firm fabric and pattern, while Ramard was trying to run away from the abundance of form-fitting bodysuits he found online.

“Maybe I will make my own skirt with black and red tulle on top of the bodysuit,” he thought.

“That won’t minimize the damage.”

He had to give it to Antoinette, it really was tastefully evil to put them all in a sticky situation, aligning with a little Halloween haunting – even if the haunting was done in ways he did not approve of. 

Thinking he would be careful about it, he showed no signs of either his discontent or his goal to rebel against everything the party stands for. What would be the fun in telling everyone that he is coming as a sexy tortoise, after all?

Surprise is the key. He was there to shock.

(And also, to steal hearts but that was almost beside the point now.)

The only two people who knew about his evil and equally sexy plan were Ramard and Peyrol because he could not keep his vicious little mouth shut about it. He revealed himself to Ramard without thinking, and he thought about asking Peyrol’s assistance in finding the best costume that had him detail everything to him one afternoon.

“What are you going as, by the way?” he asked, hours later, when he finally remembered.

“Nothing. I wasn’t invited.”

“Ah. She must have forgotten about you.” A peal of screechy laughter. “How does it feel, Lazare? To be so beautiful and yet so forgettable. At least they remember me for my bad personality, but you? You’re so bland, people just forget about your existence, even when you’re trying to remind them of it.” 

When Peyrol did not seem to give him any response, positive or negative at all, he continued.

“But anyway. I will invite you instead. You should dress up as a sexy military man.”

“No.”

Then, he scavenged his room for Antoinette’s invitation and ceremoniously threw it at Peyrol, who waited until the paper floated onto the ground before trying to pick it up. There was always something so stiff, and yet dignified about his movements – that is why people found him boring. No matter where he looked at it from, Peyrol seemed perfect and yet… he bored everyone to death with that measured, pedantic, pitiable perfection.

“Just dress up as a regular military man, and the sexy will come naturally.”  

Another thing about Peyrol, which only added to how perfect he was is that it was in his nature to follow the orders of those he thought to be superior to him. Charles could respect this quality in a man, although he found it quite insulting that Peyrol would much rather obey Antoinette than Charles himself. If he was ever going to dress up for the party, he knew it would be to humour him.

“No.”

Maybe he lost some of his perfection there. With the disobedience. (With obeying the wrong people.) And suddenly, when he posed a minimal resistance towards Charles, he could look at him as almost interesting. Although barely.

He was a bit disappointed when he arrived at the party (fashionably late but not too late) and Peyrol was there already, most definitely not in costume. After revealing his extremely sexy, emerald green, sequined corset that doubled as a tortoise look – complete with green fishnets and a garter, of course - Charles started by trying out all the cocktails the venue had to offer.

If Antoinette hated what he was wearing, she made sure not to make a comment about it at all. That left a bad taste in his mouth – something he could wash down with a few screwdrivers, and so he did. Still, he came to shock people, and not to stand in the corner as Peyrol did, looking just as bland and boring as he did the rest of the year.

Where was the fun? Even Ramard pushed himself through all his limits with the ladybug costume and went for something that he did not choose from the children’s costume department rack. No sleeves and a low cut black bodice, and possibly as much tulle as he could carry home from the EUROSTORE himself.

“But I do feel like I put the lady in ladybug,” he told Charles, glowing, after extensively complimenting on everything from Charles’s tights to his jewellery.

Charles did not like to hear this from Ramard because he was too eager to please. Everyone knew that he was ready to lick anyone’s boots clean, because instead of blood, empty flattery flowed in his veins, blushing him several shades of fake. Charles always thought that flattery and deceit was one of the most difficult arts in life. What use is lying if you are so easily caught?

Getting compliments from Ramard was like buying a counterfeit medical certificate. May momentarily get you the results you wanted, but was ultimately useless. He was the type of man who would verbally support you in any foolish endeavour because he was too scared of confrontation, just to talk behind your back anyway.

God did not like worship that only aimed to curry favours.

“Now don’t get too full of yourself. Tulle hardly says ‘lady’.”

Ramard’s lips turned into a sharp line and he adjusted his skirt. Sniffling, he murmured something under his breath that was too hard to make out. Charles quickly lost interest in him and left him behind for an Olympe in trousers and tightly braided hair.

She was picking something out to eat from the myriads of fluffy and creamy desserts on the buffet table when he approached her.

“And what are you?” he asked.

“Sexy military man,” came the answer, somewhere between entirely mortified and amused.

“I can’t see an inch of sexy on you.”

“Antoinette told me that if I have any trouble, I should just dress up as a regular military man, and the rest would come naturally,” Olympe explained and offered him some cookies.

Before he could have answered anything at all, the door swung open with a loud bang, and an entirely new set of guests poured inside.

“Happy… Halloween!”

Everyone went quiet. 

Charles stared bewildered at the green monster before him, in the middle of the room. 

He only remembered being scared once in his life and that was a few months prior when he believed for a moment that Olympe would really stab him with a kitchen knife. The horror of the bright green tights, which later turned out to be the most tasteless bodysuit in the world and the yellow monstrosities that came with it, whatever they were, made his heart stop for a moment.

Then, he realized what the disgusting little worm was.

It was Ronan Mazurier… dressed as a tacky tortoise.

The cheek! The guts! 

He wished he could break something. Nobody could tell him that Ronan Mazurier did not come here just to ruin his already ruined Halloween on purpose.

The more he looked at the costume, the more it seemed like he put too much effort into looking this disgusting. Almost as if he knew that someone else was going to be dressed up as a tortoise and wanted to make sure he could top him with his looks. And Charles had to admit, it was hard to look away from this trainwreck of a costume, in all its green and mustard-coloured glory.

In fact, he became a bit anxious that nobody would appreciate his waistline, when juxtaposed to the worst costume in the world, all his efforts to look sultry, sexy, and seductive just fall on a flat, boring note.

Damn all these people who used being ridiculous for its shock value.

“Merry Halloween y’all!” Someone, who looked too much like Danton added, screaming in a completely unjustified volume.

“What the fuck,” Charles hissed under his breath. “Why are these people even here!”

“Oh… I invited them.” Olympe’s soft, devilish smile told him everything he needed to know. Yet, she continued. “Antoinette even agreed to give a costume idea to each and every one of them. Although as far as I can see, not everyone decided to go along with it.”

“Yeah…” Charles yelled at Danton, who seemingly put as much effort into his outfit as Peyrol did, which in our case equalled nothing. “Danton and what on earth are you?”

He answered with a sleazy smile as he grabbed himself a drink. “Why, I’m dressed as sexy Danton. Can’t you tell?”

Charles sighed. Why can everyone else dress up as sexy something when he had to go with a tortoise? Although, he had the feeling that Danton was following no dress code here. He spotted Robespierre, too, disguised as some sort of a silly shark. Eerie fit. 

He suddenly felt like joining Peyrol in the corner and trying to convince him that they should spend the night making out with each other – having nothing else left to lose or win on that day. Antoinette did not make a single comment on his outfit, Ronan came as his double, and some of the most disgusting people he knew were invited as honourable guests for their lavish, and irregular Halloween party.

Before he could make his way up to Peyrol, whose suffering could be almost read in the lines on his face, Antoinette clapped her hands to attract attention.

“Welcome, everyone! Now that all of our guests arrived, it is time to get right into the games! Shall we drink?”

Loud cheers erupted from the crowd, the loudest one was probably Danton, who might have already downed too many drinks that he would collapse in an hour. Charles hoped he would anyway, for his own peace of mind. Danton was too busy being Annoying Danton than he will ever be Sexy Danton. 

Everyone started to gather around the dining table after Antoinette’s announcement, where the drinks were lined up nicely. Across the table facing Charles was his own enemy for the night: Ronan. As if the boy sensed him looking, Ronan shot a smirk right at him. 

Antoinette explained the rules of the game, which was basically a costume bingo. She will draw from a box of costume descriptions, which she claimed were totally randomized, and the person who scores a “bingo” will win... The loser, who is the person who had the least shots, will have to wear something embarrassing as punishment. 

Charles side-eyed Ronan, thinking to himself that there was nothing more embarrassing than what Ronan was wearing. Mustard yellow? Criminal. (And even then, that was the one getting attention, and not his expensive sexy swamp tortoise.) Right beside him was Ramard, who seemed all too excited to join the game, his tulle skirt flouncing up and down. Peyrol stood at the side, not even bothering with pretence. 

If there was one thing Charles was extremely good at, it would be pushing his luck. For one, Charles is a great gambler. Play a round of poker and he would have all of your chips by the end of it. Second, Charles always gets what he wants eventually, whether it’s winning, or being the centre of attention. Perhaps once everyone is properly boozed, they will start to appreciate his beauty in the costume, yes? 

Before Charles had even noticed it, Antoinette had already started rolling the raffle drum for the first item in the drinking game. Everyone grasped their shot glasses firmly, awaiting the outcome. After three turns, Antoinette stopped the drum and picked out a roll of paper from inside.

She smiled deviously. “Drink if you’re dressed in green.” 

Charles downed his drink immediately, a smirk colouring his lips. Great start, he thought. He was expecting to be totally boozed up by the end of the hour if luck was on his side. Sadly, Ronan also drank because he was wearing that ugly green costume. 

Next, Antoinette dipped her hand into the small drum of papers to get the next item. “Drink if your costume is based on a person.” 

Charles clicked his tongue. Off his periphery, Danton was downing his drink, loudly proclaiming that he was based on himself. Olympe daintily downed her own drink, as she smiled at Antoinette. 

The next few items were all busts, and Charles could not believe that today, of all days, his luck had to run out. Even Robespierre, who did not seem like he was looking forward to having fun at the party, ended up having to drink thrice because he was wearing a hat (item 5) and he was wearing something with sharp teeth (item 10). Ronan, who was wearing the same thing as him, also got 6 shots! One of those shots were because he was not wearing anything “sexy”, which Charles resented very much. This only meant one thing: that Charles lost, downing one pitiful shot. 

Antoinette, cheeks all red, called for the punishment costume for the loser, looking directly at Charles. Her smile seemed sweeter than any kind she had ever given him, but he knew better. Charles felt a sudden chill. 

“Here it is!” Ramard pulled out a horribly cut oval made of cardboard that said “tortoise” in the middle. It was held together by a garter strap like it was made by a kindergartener. Everyone in the room was either snickering or outright guffawing.

He thrust his finger in Antoinette’s direction. “You set me up!” 

“What?” Antoinette batted her lashes innocently — Charles noticed she wasn’t wearing any mascara that night — “Well, didn’t I say that we should try to get out of our comfort zones?” 

Charles growled, one foot tapping in frustration. “What the fuck, Antoinette! There is no way I’ll wear that stupid cardboard costume—”

“But that’s the punishment, isn’t it?” Interjected Ronan, as he adjusted his little turtle hat. “Loser has to wear something embarrassing.” 

There were nods and noises of agreement coming from Ronan’s posse. Charles glared down at them. They had no idea how much putting together the costume cost — the corset alone was worth more than what they earned in a week, and now he has to cover that all up in dirt-cheap cardboard? 

Ramard approached him in a steady pace, holding out the makeshift turtle shell. Charles stepped backwards with every step forward, hating the idea of having to cover his get-up. When Ramard finally managed to catch up with him, he grinned. The cardboard turtle shell was all that stood between Ramard and himself. 

Charles was never one to back down from a challenge. He cannot afford to look weak in front of all these insufferable people after all. With a swift motion, he took the cardboard turtle shell from Ramard. Next, he slipped his arms out between the front and the backside of the cutout, so the costume does not slip off. 

Perhaps it seemed only two people were amused by the view of the sexy tortoise becoming the cardboard tortoise, and those were Antoinette and Ramard, who were clapping softly. Everyone else was laughing to themselves, pointing at him as if the villain in a children’s movie had been caught by the hero red-handed. 

“Come on now, you don’t look half-bad!” Ramard quipped with a rather strong pat on the back, which just further added to the claim Charles had earlier about Ramard’s compliments being worth nothing.

He was all bad, not even half-bad. He hated Ramard for being so patronizing. Now his night is ruined. He was not able to get drunk; he was not being noticed by anyone; and, he couldn't even show off his little costume properly. 

The pounding dance music started to swell and everyone started bouncing to the beat. Antoinette had hired a special DJ for the night, to make everyone have the most fun night. Charles couldn’t even sway his body all sexily because the cardboard was in the way! Next thing he knew, Danton and Ronan were dancing on the tables, with Robespierre and Desmoulins telling them to get down. Ramard was off somewhere getting some snacks, and even Olympe was having the time of her life dancing with Antoinette.

That left only Lazare because god forbid he ever had fun.

“Lazare! Won’t you dance?” asked Charles, trying to shimmy as much as the bulky costume would allow.

“You know I don’t dance,” Lazare replied, deadpan as usual.

In his frustration, Charles stomped his foot on the floor and accidentally popped one of his high heels off. Great.

“Why the fuck are you so boring on this night of all nights, Lazare?” Charles asked after limping forward to take his broken heel. 

“Hmm.” Lazare shrugged. “You always find me boring.”

“You’re a waste of a pretty face if all you do is be stoic all the goddamn time! And you’re the most sober one here! You should be wearing this stupid fucking costume!”

“...Well, would being the designated driver make sense to you as to why I’m sober?” Lazare stepped closer to Charles, hands neatly placed in front of him. “And it is not my fault you did not follow the dress code for the night.”

“Neither did you?!?!”

“Hmm… well, I am a military man. Was. So there are two of us dressed as military people here, which is exactly as normal as Antoinette wanted it to be.” 

“God, you suck. I hate you.” Charles swiftly turned away from him, and he would have turned quicker had he not lost a heel. He limped towards the bar, hoping for some soothing cocktails, and much to his dismay, the bartender wouldn't even give him drinks anymore. 

He wasn’t one to give up easily, but goddamn was he close to. 

Then, he heard the sound of tambourines in the distance, the music turning into what sounded like samba. Ronan appeared out of nowhere with a tambourine in hand, telling everyone to dance, and then the boy drummed his tambourine on Charles’s cardboard shell. That was the last straw. 

“Fuck this!” Charles shouted (to no one, because the music was too loud for anyone to be able to hear each other.) “I’m out.” 

“Sir, wait!” Ramard called out just before Charles was about to take off the costume. He rolled his eyes at “sir.” That fool always kept calling him “sir” by force of habit. After all, Ramard does work for him, but when he says it in a party outside of work, the “sir” sounds nothing more than empty flattery.

The man dressed as a ladybug had two tambourines in his hand. He handed one over to Charles.

“Join in the fun?” 

“I don't need your fucking pity, Ramard,” Charles spat, pushing away the other’s hand.

“It’s not pity! I just want you to have fun. I mean, it is Halloween, isn’t it?”  

“How can I have fun when I have this stupid box on me?” 

“That’s on you, sir, I’m just giving you a tambourine… and maybe I can smuggle some cocktails for you if you start playing with it.” Ramard gave him another smile, then tried handing over the musical instrument again. 

With pursed lips, Charles took the tambourine. He couldn’t pass up the offer of more drinks, after all. The next song started playing, and it was one he recognized. Ramard started shaking the tambourine offbeat, so Charles quickly corrected him. Soon, they both started playing to the rhythm and the beat. 

The outsiders soon started forming a conga line as they danced, and without any warning, Ramard set aside both their tambourines and pulled them towards the line, his tulle flouncing with every kind of upwards movement he did. If it wasn’t done so tastelessly, Charles would actually find it cute. He ended up joining the conga line, hands on Ramard’s waist. (He had been given ugly green flats to help with his broken heel.)

He felt silly. He doesn’t dance these utterly shameful silly dances at all! Charles would much rather dance on someone’s lap than… this. He felt two hands on the edges of his cardboard, joining the conga line as well. He looked behind him and it was Antoinette, joining their little dance. 

Charles scowled at her. “I know you set me up.” 

Antoinette shook her head. “Not everything is about you, Charles, how about you try getting off your high horse and have fun without thinking everything’s about you?” 

But everything is about me, Charles thought, but before he could even interject, everyone started cheering in time the song. It was perhaps the stupidest thing Charles had ever witnessed, and it made things even more stupid that Antoinette almost made him do it. 

When the line broke up, Ramard came back to Charles with the promised smuggled margaritas. He had on his disgusting grin again, which made Charles think he was about to say something stupid. 

“Wasn’t that fun?”

There it is.

“You all have a childish concept of “fun.”” Charles rolled his eyes and began to sip on his drink. “Conga lines? Tambourines? Really? I’d much rather be home with a glass of wine and a handsome boy.” 

Ramard leaned back, smile still intact. “I don’t think you hated it as much as you say you did…” 

Finally done with Ramard’s bullshit, he threw what was left of his drink to Ramard’s face. 

“I’m going home,” Charles told him, not even glancing back. “And if you remind me even once about this party, I will stab you on the spot.” 

“Aight,” Ramard shrugged, perhaps having finally given up trying to make Charles enjoy the night. 

Charles called for Peyrol to prepare the car when he passed by himself in a full-length mirror at the end of the room. He looked like trash, and not the kind of trash he wanted to be, but actual recyclable waste. His hair was all over the place, shoes were horrid, and his makeup was a mess. At a nearby table, he spotted the tambourines he and Ramard played with earlier. His jerk reaction was to kick it and throw it into the sea where no one can find it, but instead, he kept it, hiding it behind the front side of his turtle shell. 

Maybe he will never admit that he had fun, even when he asked Peyrol to play the conga line song that he danced to in the car.