"Honey, what happened?" Lila's mom asked." Jenny called me and said you were here. I nearly jumped out of my skin before she could tell me that you weren't the one in the hospital." She stroked her daughter's hair. "Why didn't you call me, Lila?"
Lila got up from her chair and walked to the window. If she smoked, this would be the moment where she lit a cigarette and took and deep calming drag. She didn't smoke though so her deep breath was filled with oxygen instead of nicotine. She stood staring out the window a moment longer, holding her crossed arms at the elbows. She turned toward her mom and started to cry again.
"Oh Mom, it was awful," she said as tears ran down her face. Mrs. Hayward got up and went to her daughter. She lifted up her chin and looked her in the eyes.
"I'm here, Lila." She pulled her into an embrace. "You're safe.” She stroked Lila’s hair. “Talk to me, honey." She ended the embrace but held onto Lila's shoulders.
"Cordelia fell out the window at The Clementine tonight."
"Oh my God." Her mother reacted, as you would expect one to react after hearing that kind of information: with shock.
"She lost her balance wearing a pair of too-high heels and the glass gave way." Lila repeated the same story to her mother that she'd told the police officer on the scene at the hotel. "The glass broke.” She sobbed. “How does that happen?” She stood taking shallow, tear-induced breaths. “No one expects that."
"And Ryan?" Mrs. Hayward asked. "What happened to Ryan?”
"He had a seizure."
Lila offered no further details or information to her mother. She walked over to the chair where the jeans and t-shirt her mother had brought her lay.
"It's funny. Until these clothes were here in front of me I didn't really think about wanting to change. Now I just want to get out of this dress." She picked up the clothes and started toward the door.
Whether it was for the clothes or for being there, Mrs. Hayward didn't know. She watched Lila walk out the door.
October. Brown University was out on fall break. That was good news for Lila, Ryan, and Cordelia. That weekend just happened to be the weekend of the annual society ball held at The Clementine Hotel.
Every year the ball was held to raise money for some charity or another and to give the residents an opportunity to liven up their day-to-day lives with a little bit of glamour. This year’s theme was Café Society.
Café Society: a throwback to a time when the beautiful people—the bright young things—gathered in fashionable cafés and restaurants in New York, Paris, London and Vienna. It started at the end of Prohibition with a marriage to photojournalism. Drinks and photos. Being photographed in the right place. It was a time when celebrities and those of wealth and aristocracy mingled together; attended each other’s dinner parties and balls. Like attracts like and these sets knew how to enjoy each other.
This society ball demanded the most glamorous of costumes. Only the very best would do. More money than anyone wished to discuss was spent on acquiring the right costume for the annual event.
Lila and Cordelia had been so excited to receive their invitations. Ever since their trip to New York City their relationship seemed to be back on track. Cordelia even seemed more at ease going out with Lila and Ryan. Sometimes it was even her suggestion. When they saw the party’s theme, ideas of who to dress as started running through their brains faster than they could write them down on paper.
Lila chose the glamorous Veronica Lake as her disguise for the evening. Veronica may have been a blond, but Lila new from experience that with a blow out she could manage Veronica’s signature peek-a-boo hairstyle beautifully even if hers was auburn. As a bonus, Veronica’s last name was Lake; a name Lila herself hoped would be her own one day.
Ryan took on the guise of Alan Ladd, an actor who had paired well with Veronica Lake in the 1940’s. Specifically he chose Alan as Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby of 1949.
Cordelia, with her curves, couldn’t think of a better icon than Marilyn Monroe. Even though Cordelia was a brunette, she wouldn’t even consider the dark-haired beauty of Norma Jean. She went straight to the classiest wig boutique she could find and purchased a classic, platinum Marilyn Monroe wig. She specifically chose the image of Marilyn in a red dress worn in the film Niagara. A publicity photo from that film was what Andy Warhol used as the basis for his famous silkscreen image of Marilyn. Cordelia had always loved that piece of art.
They booked a suite for themselves at The Clementine Hotel for the evening. This way they wouldn’t have to worry about wrinkled dresses or driving drunk. They would be able to stay at the ball as long as they wanted and drink as much as they dared and merely push the elevator button when they were ready to leave.
Lila was surprised that the sharing of a suite had been Cordelia’s idea. She really did seem to be much more at ease with their friendship. It was such a welcomed change that Lila found herself smiling and genuinely happy.
The morning of the ball was crisp with cinnamon and nutmeg in the air. The leaves burned red and orange. Wheat and hay stalks tied together, complimented by pumpkins, dotted the yards. The autumn sun seemed to change the color of the water from the green blue of summer to blue with a hint of burnt sienna as the fall leaves were reflected in its glassy surface. The sailboats were still anchored in the harbor. It was Lila’s favorite time of year. She loved walking down the sidewalk of Main Street and hearing the dead leaves crunch under her feet. Even the dead leaves opened the memory door with their familiar smell and sound. She knew there wasn’t much time left for them to spend in Thornclyffe. This might even be their last society ball for a while. They were all graduating in May and would probably move away. She hoped to become engaged to Ryan and marry him shortly thereafter. She wasn’t sure where Cordelia was going to go, but she could imagine all of them in New York City. Christies was, of course, based there so that’s where Ryan needed to be. There were plenty of opportunities in New York City for Lila to be a photographer or model. Was there a better market for Cordelia to break into journalism? No. They would probably all three end up in New York City.
This was a time of freedom. They were still in school and that was the most major of their responsibilities. They were adults, but real adulthood had yet to take over their lives. This was going to be the best society ball they had ever attended. Better even than the dances their senior year at Allendale Prep.
Lila was sitting in the lobby of The Clementine Hotel waiting for Cordelia and Ryan to arrive. She had arrived earlier than the two them in order to just have a moment to absorb the beauty of the lobby. Ever since she’d been old enough to know what it was to have afternoon tea, she had observed and enjoyed the occasional teatime in the lobby of The Clementine Hotel. It was different from going to Windsor. It wasn’t as stuffy as you might think, but it was high tea served in beautiful china cups with matching saucers. She had so often enjoyed sitting alone and sipping tea in front of the grand fireplace in the lobby. It was so ornately decorated with cherubic faces that she often stared at them, their faces frozen in a smile or giggle, and tried to figure out what they were thinking. The fireplace was never better than when it blazed with colors that matched the leaves of autumn and provided warmth that made you unbutton your oversized cashmere sweater. This was one of those days. She couldn’t let the opportunity pass her by without seizing the moment for herself and indulging in it to its fullest.
She saw Cordelia enter through the main doors and walk to the Concierge desk. She watched as the Concierge pointed in her direction. She took a sip of her tea and then placed the dainty, flower-painted cup and saucer on the table beside her chair.
“How long have you been here?” Cordelia asked as she bent down and kissed Lila on the cheek.
“About an hour I think,” Lila responded. “I love sitting here and enjoying a cup of tea.”
“If I had known I would have joined you.”
Lila just smiled in response to Cordelia’s statement. Telling her that she had wanted to spend the hour by herself seemed unnecessarily cruel. If she was honest it seemed like something Cordelia would do just to watch the reaction. That wasn’t Lila. She didn’t want to hurt Cordelia’s feelings. She just wanted to enjoy herself, uninterrupted, and she knew that would have been impossible if Cordelia had joined her. Better to just smile and leave it at that.
“Should we check in?” asked Cordelia.
“I already did,” said Lila. “Our suite is on the third floor—Suite 307—if you want to take you bags upstairs. I’m going to wait for Ryan.”
A hint of the old Cordelia was visible in the smile she gave Lila. Ryan walked through the revolving door at that moment. He saw Lila and Cordelia and waved at them as he walked in their direction. Cordelia seemed to be beaming more than usual as he approached. Lila thought maybe she was just being paranoid. Things had been good. Why should she suddenly not be trusting Cordelia? She had to let those thoughts go.
Ryan hugged Cordelia first then kissed Lila.
“Are we checked in?” he asked.
“Yes,” Lila responded. “Suite 307.”
“Shall we?” he indicated with his outstretched arm that the two ladies should precede him to the elevator.
©2011 Michael Rohrer