A serial novella • Installment 2
Need to catch up? First installment here.
The bizarre thing was that as soon as he closed the door I had forgotten what he looked like. His eyes were the only thing I remembered. Some people insist they have blue eyes when they in fact are gray. These were distinctly blue. I quickly drank the rest of the fine champagne and looked down at my shoes. Move, I told them. They took me to the restroom.
Two ladies were refreshing their make-up. They looked up at me and greeted me. I smiled and returned a polite greeting and began reapplying lipstick.
"Pardon me," one of the ladies said, "I don't believe we've met before." She held out her hand and waited. I reached out my hand and we shook a firm hello. "Eliza Bennett," she said. I must have looked very amused and equally surprised because she let out a laugh and nodded, "Yes, it comes in handy at times."
We both laughed and her friend reached out and introduced herself as Amanda Thornton. For a second I considered giving out a false name but I figured the truth would come out anyways, so I said:
"Edith Gordon, pleased to meet you both."
"Ah, you must be a friend from up North!" Eliza exclaimed and gave Amanda a nod of understanding. It all made sense to them now. "Peter can be tricky. I know he hosts entirely separate parties for his other friends. Our paths have finally crossed then!"
I smiled and nodded as if I understood exactly what they were talking about. Amanda continued:
"How long are you in town for?"
"Two weeks. I only have a few days left." No lies so far.
"Wonderful! Well, shall we go back?" asked Eliza. We all stood up and instead of taking the door I came in through they walked to the back of the restroom and took a smaller door that opened into a corner of the library where everyone were gathered.
The ladies reconnected with some friends and I was back inside, alone. Moving slowly I made my way to the back of the library and began walking down a narrow aisle of books. Despite its limited size it was a stunning library. Volumes and volumes of antique collections dressed the shelves. I breathed in the lovely scent of extraordinarily well kept books and documents. A small break in the hum of the crowd allowed for Myrna's laughter to be heard, and I felt myself move further into the silence of the books.
I found a stool and sat down. I could see a few gentlemen standing with their backs toward the opening of the aisle. They didn't notice me. Good. I couldn't really make out any conversation so eavesdropping was out of question. I grabbed a book and pretended to study it. Myrna had spoken about something unusual that would take place. So far it seemed like quite a boring and usual cocktail party. I stood up again and walked over to the next aisle. The books were stacked on shelves reaching all the way up to the ceiling. It was difficult to say what brought it on, but I knew before I turned around that he had spotted me again.
He was talking to an older gentleman, facing me as I stood there in the aisle. Again the same situation. I encased in my surrounding and our eyes locked in silent communication. How is it possible to describe what I experienced? I will try to do my best to explain in case you wonder later on how I got myself into this. How do we get ourselves into these kinds of things? You tell me, but this is how it happened to me.
Fighting off the warning signs a more reasonable self would heed, I allowed myself to enter into a sort of staring contest. Only it wasn't silly or anything like that. It was tremendously intriguing to be able to truly look into someone else's eyes without any kind of hesitation or shame. Not passionate or anything like that but still persisting and captivating. Almost like reading a text. It was a very good connection.
Warning bells rang again and asked me if I perhaps thought this man was hypnotizing me. Perhaps that was the entire point of this gathering! A hypnotist's show! Of course. But I quickly staved off the ideas. He excused himself from the old man he was talking to and was about to move toward me when we both heard:
"Peter! There you are! I've been looking all over for you!" Myrna came into view and since Peter didn't respond to her but instead kept looking at me, she naturally looked this way and saw me. While it must be very difficult to surprise Myrna she couldn't have been more surprised. Her jaws dropped open and she snapped her neck to take a peek at Peter's reaction and then quickly closed her mouth and squinted at me. I could see her mind racing and I decided to take this game to a new level. Forcibly I smiled a very kind smile at Myrna and walked up to them, avoiding to look at Peter.
"Hello Myrna, how are you doing?" I asked as calmly and pleasantly as I could. Myrna had decided on her strategy, smiled up a storm and chirped toward Peter:
"Peter, this is Edith Gordon, a dear friend of the family." Dear friend? I barely knew Myrna. I had to look at him. A man came up to whisper something in Peter's ear after which Peter quickly nodded toward us and left. Not a word.
Myrna nudged me and said:
"Well, well! What did I tell Bernie! You're still here, I'm still here! Well, well!" and then she picked up a new glass of champagne for each of us and held up her glass so I could click mine with it. I was at a loss of words. It was the most bizarre human interaction I've ever encountered.
"What's happening?" I asked.
"Well, in a little while Peter will hold a speech. That is common protocol at these parties. He always holds a speech. More of a lecture if you will." She sounded matronly as she surveyed the crowd and sent out a smile now and then. Then she looked back at me and said:
"You must understand one thing, dear child. These are very special gatherings. Very special. I've been invited, what, five times over, what, four years. Rare indeed... " She continued to alternately sip her drink and watch the crowd. Then she contemplated for while and added with a hint of a sigh: "Peter is a dear friend of our family..."
"And what exactly is it that Peter does?" I asked. What could draw people here to this supposedly very special gathering? Some kind of especially selected and privileged group of people worthy enough to be in his presence? What was it all about?
"He invents things, my dear. He invents all kinds of things." Myrna pronounced all kinds of thing as if she was reading a story book to a five year old. "Of course, it's much more complicated than that. And really I shouldn't... well, you're here, I'm here, oh to hell with protocols, you're here so you'll see it with your own eyes!"
It still didn't make much sense to me. So Peter Burntwood was some kind of inventor. A scientist perhaps. A renaissance man of sorts. Or perhaps this was some kind of performance art show. I had seen some strange things in art shows. Perhaps this was the wealthy people's version.
"Name one thing that he has invented," I demanded. A gentleman who stood near us heard me and studied me sternly. Myrna immediately gave him an apologetic look and shook her head.
"Dear Edith, dear child. Peter has invented many things. Most of them you've never heard of. He tells us about them at these parties." Was she purposefully skirting the actual topic? I decided to give it a rest and said:
"All right. Look, I will be right back. Ladies room. Will you be standing here?" Myrna nodded and I walked back to the restroom. I was nervous.
This time it was empty and after I was done I sat down in one of the lounge chairs and looked in my purse for my cell phone. It wasn't there. Damn. I had forgotten it at Joshua's when we left in a hurry. I wanted to call him and ask how Paulette was doing. I walked out into the hall to see if I could spot a phone but I didn't see one. I decided to go back into the library and when I tried to open the large main doors to the library they were locked.
I tried the door handle several times. Nothing. Oddly enough no one opened them from the inside for me. Oh well, I thought, I'll go through the bathroom then. No one was in there and I quickly walked through the elegant ladies' room to reach the smaller door to the library. It was also locked!
I tried pushing and pulling but nothing happened. I put my head against the door to listen. I could hear a faint voice say something and the general party noise became quiet. The speech was about to begin.
I quickly walked back to the hall and tried the main doors again. Nothing. I knocked, embarrassed to do so, but even though they must have heard me no one opened. I felt both intrigued and a little scared. I was the one locked out, not in, but I still felt odd about it. They had locked the doors and would not let anyone in. Why? I heard a man's voice say something and then applauds were heard. A moment later I could hear what must be Peter's voice.
No matter how intently I tried to listen or how closely I pressed my ear toward the door or wall I still could not hear what he said. The voice was steady, calm, and authoritative. I felt such a pang of regret and envy that I couldn't be in there to listen and find out what he was talking about.
I paced the hall and tried to calm down. Bernie was nowhere to be seen. Where the hell was he? I looked around. There must be a second floor here. Perhaps there was a balcony? I began searching for unlocked doors. I even went to the backroom where the coats were hanging. Nothing. I went back and tried the door I had seen Peter exit earlier. It was open.
It was a private suite that connected to a bedroom. It did look like a hotel room but I saw many personal items lying around. It looked like someone was living here, permanently. And there was a staircase leading up to another floor. I took the stairs up and came to a small and dimly lit study with several doors. I could feel myself getting more and more anxious and my hands were trembling. Since when had I begun to sneak around in other people's private apartments?
I desperately wanted to know what Peter was saying. I had to know. In fact, at this point I had some kind of tunnel vision and barely knew where I was. I gently pressed down the knob of a door that I deemed to be right above the library. They were applauding loudly as I entered the small balcony overlooking the library. Peter had just finished his speech!
I quickly moved back into the study so no one would notice me up there on the balcony. My heart was pounding and I could barely swallow. I needed to get out of here before anyone discovered me! Halfway down the stairs I heard the door downstairs open. I rapidly sneaked back upstairs and waited. The shame and remorse showered over me. My new dress that had felt heavenly all evening suddenly began to itch something terrible.
There was movement downstairs and I heard a voice say:
"Bernie, please put it in the safe." It was Peter.
"Yes sir, anything else?" Bernie asked.
"No. That's all. And make sure the guests leave as soon as possible. All of them." I stiffened. I wanted to sink through the floor and vanish.
The door closed downstairs and I figured Bernie had left. Peter's steps disappeared into the bedroom or somewhere and I had a chance to look behind me. I could hide in one of the rooms up here. The steps came back and now he was coming upstairs. I backed up against the wall into a corner near a large plant. Not sure why I bothered hiding. Perhaps because it was too embarrassing to step out and scare the wits out of him or have to explain what I was doing here. I held my breath and waited.
"You can come down now," Peter said from halfway up the stairs.
To be continued.
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