The scratchy sounds of pre-recorded music spilled forth from the ballroom as they entered. The band for the evening was to be Benny and the Midnight Goodman’s, but as they had yet to start playing, the music was vintage gramophone; every scratch and imperfection could be heard piped throughout the room, but it only added to the ambience.
Cordelia was giddy. Unbeknownst to Lila and Ryan she had indulged in a little light drug use before exiting her room. Maybe light wasn’t the correct word. She placed two drops of Laztripol under her tongue. It was the first time she had allowed herself more than one drop at a time. She was already feeling it. She was tingling from head to toe. She had slipped the vial into her purse as on option for later should her two friends want to partake with her.
The Stork Club’s main dining room was laid out before them. Deep red leather banquettes lined the walls while round tables covered in pristine white table clothes made an inner circle. The dance floor took the center of the room. Each table was graced with a bowl of tightly bound red-centered yellow calla lilies, red roses and sprigs of yellow berries. A black ashtray emblazoned with the words “Stork Club” in white also added authenticity to each table. The accompanying chairs were covered in green velvet. Fake windows had been mounted on the walls behind each banquette and hung with green and silver velvet curtains. Huge sprays of red roses, also containing the yellow berry sprigs, were standing on the dividers that separated one banquette from the other.
As this was an event laced with nostalgia, the owner of The Clementine had given his permission for smoking to be allowed in the ballroom once the doors were closed for the evening. It was shocking that he had said yes to the request, but he was a sucker for perfection and wanted the room to transport each attendee back to a time when cigarettes were sexy and laughter was seen through a cloud of exhaled smoke and heard after swills of champagne.
There were life-size, black and white cutouts of famous Stork Club patrons. Owner Sherman Billingsley was represented by a cutout at the entrance to the ballroom. The Kennedy’s were there, as well as Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, and Ava Gardner. A large photo of Walter Winchell sitting at his regular table, #50, was hanging from the ceiling over what was presumed to be that evening’s table #50. Pictures of Tallulah Bankhead, Charlie Chaplin, Grace Kelly, and Ernest Hemingway were hanging on the wall. Even famed gossip columnist Louella Parsons was represented with a cutout that looked as if she was overhearing what would be the headline of her column the next day.
All three of them looked around the room. They were completely in awe at the effort that had been placed upon every detail in order to recreate a glittering world that had once been a society mainstay. This was not their first society ball, but it was by far the most beautifully rendered, from idea to completion, they had ever experienced.
As the music continued to change, the sweeping sounds of Frank Sinatra, Lena Horn, and Count Basie engulfed the room. The past replaced the present. Nothing outside of that room existed anymore. They were shut away, back in time, enchanted by the chance to just breath the air that seemed to have been part of a New York City that didn’t exist anymore.
“Our table is #23,” said Cordelia, looking at her invitation. “You two find the table and I’ll get us a bottle of Champagne.”
“A bottle?” said Lila. “Somebody’s in party mode.”
Cordelia laughed a little. “I just want us to have a good time tonight,” she responded. “I’m counting on the two of you to keep me from giving too much money tonight though.” She gave them both a serious look before bursting into laughter.
Lila and Ryan both laughed as Lila shook her head at Cordelia.
“But seriously,” said Cordelia, “I don’t want to lose control of my mind or checkbook tonight. I’m counting on both of you,” she said pointing at them both to show she meant it.
“Yes, ma’am,” said Ryan.
“Now, let me get that bottle and get it back to the table while it’s still cold.”
After finding table #23 Lila and Ryan sat down. Lila looked in the direction of the bar and stared at the curvy backside of Cordelia’s Marilyn Monroe. “She seems to be really happy tonight.” Lila smiled. “That makes me really happy.” She turned to Ryan. He reached out and took her hand and smiled at her.
“You’re a good friend, Lila.”
“I try, Ryan, but I don’t always succeed where Cordelia’s concerned.” A shadow of doubt crossed her face. “I know how she feels about you and as much as I try to keep my jealousy at bay it comes out sometimes.” She looked down at his hand in hers then back into his eyes. “You know what?”
“I’m not going to worry about that tonight.” She took a breath and straightened her posture in the chair. “Tonight we’re three friends having a good time at a fabulous party.”
Ryan lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it. “Agreed.”
“Okay people, the champagne girl has arrived and the cigarette girl will be by our table in a few.”
“The cigarette girl?” asked Lila.
“You know the Stork Club had a girl who walked around asking people if they wanted cigarettes.” She looked at the two of them and the look on each of their faces told her they hadn’t done as much research as she about the Stork Club. “Okay, maybe you didn’t know that. I’m thinking I might just indulge myself tonight. I mean why not? ‘Soap opera says, One Life To Live.’” Her use of the Janet Jackson lyric made Lila laugh out loud and Ryan shake his head with the biggest smirk he couldn’t hide.
Cordelia laughed and poured champagne into the champagne coupe’s that were popular during the now romanticized 1950s.
They talked and laughed their way through that bottle of champagne. The Laztripol was coursing through Cordelia's blood. She was ready to explode out of her chair, out of her dress.
"I have to dance, you guys." She looked at them with a longing that they join her.
Benny and Midnight Goodman's had taken the stage and were playing through the hits of the Big Band era. The music was as intoxicating as the champagne. Ryan looked a little strange; truthfully he looked as if the champagne had gone right to his head.
"I think I need to eat before I attempt to dance," said Ryan. "Lila, why don't you dance with Cordelia? I would love to watch the looks on the more conservative faces." He laughed then patted the sheen of sweat from his forehead with a napkin.
"Honey, are you sure you're okay?" Lila asked.
"Yeah. I just need to eat."
"I’m gonna stay here with Ryan. Is that okay, Cordelia?"
"Of course," she responded. "It would be nice to have someone to dance with, but I think I can manage as Marilyn on my own." With those words she was in the center of the dance floor causing all eyes to focus on her, which meant she was right where she wanted to be—the center of attention. Slow and easy she moved. Her eyes were closed as she swayed her hips to the moan of the trumpet lamenting forth from the bandstand.
Lila watched her briefly before turning back to Ryan.
"Are you sure you're okay?"
"I just feel light-headed. That's why I think I need to eat. I didn't eat much today and we did just drink a bottle of champagne." He smiled at her.
"Dinner should be served shortly," said Lila. "Would you like some water?"
"That sounds great."
"Be right back."
As if she'd been watching, lying in wait to make a move, Cordelia sidled up next to Ryan and grabbed his thigh and gave it a squeeze.
"What are you doing, Cordelia?" He asked, taken aback by her blatant forwardness.
"I was just checking on you," she said, acknowledging neither his jump nor her inappropriateness.
Lila returned to the table as Cordelia was removing her hand from Ryan's leg.
"Hey," said Lila. "Finished dancing already?"
"Just keeping Ryan company while you were gone." She smiled at them both. To Ryan: "Are you feeling any better?"
"Actually, I'm feeling a little more dizzy now," he said as he started to stand up. "I'm going to go to the bathroom and splash some cold water on my face." To Lila: "Would you see how much longer until they serve dinner?"
"Of course, honey," Lila responded. "Cordelia, will you go with Ryan."
Ryan didn't really want her to go with him, but he also didn't want to protest too much. He thought it better to just give Lila the peace of mind that he would be with someone should he need the assistance. Cordelia positively beamed with delight as she nodded to say yes.
Ryan stood up followed by Cordelia. The roaming photographer called their names and they each turned to look at him. He snapped their picture, the bright flash causing shadows and blurs to dance before their eyes. Cordelia laughed while Ryan tried to shake away the after-effects of the flash.
Lila walked toward the back of the ballroom past the ghosts of former celebrities as they danced and drank and laughed. The music filled the room and floated on swirls of cigarette smoke. All she could think about was getting Ryan some food. Anything would do even if it was just a roll. If eating would help him feel better she wanted to find him food.
Cordelia took Ryan's arm and walked him past the bar toward the bathroom. They stopped in front of the men's room door. He leaned up against the wall instead of pushing the door open.
"I think I need to go to the room. It's getting worse. Can you go get Lila?" His face was flush and he was starting to sweat more.
"I can take you to the room, Ryan. I'll send Lila a text and let her know." Cordelia as nurse was an amusing role to play especially dressed as Marilyn Monroe. Had Marilyn ever played a nurse? It was unlikely. "Come on. Let's get you upstairs."
She took his arm and began to lead him toward the doors.
When they arrived at the elevator it was there as if waiting for them, again. Cordelia pushed the button for the third floor as Ryan leaned his head on her shoulder.
"Thank you, Lila for taking me back to the room. I know you were excited about the party." His eyes were closed. He didn't seem to know what he was saying. "You can go back if you want to after you get me inside."
Cordelia stared at their reflection in the golden doors of the elevator. She wanted Ryan to love her and he thought she was the woman he was in love with. For a brief moment she felt bad for putting two drops of Laztripol in his glass before bringing it to the table. She couldn't understand why Ryan and Lila hadn't had the same reaction on the drug as she and couldn't resist trying again. Ryan was reacting poorly, but she felt certain he would be all right once he slept it off.
Once they were inside the room Cordelia did send a text to Lila. She was unconcerned about how long it might take Lila to respond or about the fact that she was missing the party. She was exactly where she wanted to be.
When Lila returned to the table with a basket of bread in hand she was curious as to the whereabouts of her two friends. She had been gone so long in search of food that she assumed they would be back and sitting at the table when she returned. She looked in the direction of the bar but didn't see Cordelia or Ryan. Impatience took over her thoughts and she walked to the bathroom herself. Cordelia was not in the hall. She went inside the ladies room. Cordelia was not inside. She walked back into the hallway and paced in front of the men’s room door. Her mind raced with questions—thoughts—of where they could be. She finally decided to walk into the men’s room. She started knocking on the door before pushing it open.
"Hello. Anyone in here? Lady coming in." She now stood in the men’s room. "Ryan, are you in here?" There was no response. She peered under each stall. The bathroom was empty.
She opened the door and ran back to their table. It was still empty. She had a split second of feeling like the room was closing in on her before the moment of clarity arrived. She remembered she had her phone. She would call Cordelia.
She opened her bag and saw the flashing light indicating that she had a new text message. She was relieved to see that it was from Cordelia.
"Ryan wasn't feeling well. Got really dizzy. Took him to the room"
Lila grabbed her bag from the table and began to run toward to door. The slit in her dress allowed her to move freely with no constraints.
When she arrived at the elevator she didn't have the same luck that the three of them had had before. Both elevators were on the top floor and her button push made them start their descent.
She tried to call Cordelia, but there was no answer. She did the same with Ryan and again got no answer. She jabbed at the button as if it would make the elevator move faster or at least feel her agitation the more she pushed it.
When it finally arrived at the lobby level it seemed to take an eternity for the doors to open. The seconds ticked away like hours for Lila. She didn’t know why she was so anxious, but she knew she wanted—needed—to get to Ryan.
Finally on the third floor she again ran. This time to their room. As she entered she could hear the faint, sexy, mood-inducing sounds of music coupled with the muffled words of someone speaking. She saw no one, but her untrusting instincts regarding Cordelia kicked into high gear.
©2011 Michael Rohrer