It was one of those moments.
Across a crowded dance floor, your eyes meet, and then that tingling sensation down your spine.
A girl who could be a princess, who might be a princess in any other lifetime, and a girl who might just outshine Annabel.
And then the moment is gone, and I could not be sure if it really happened.
“You seem preoccupied.” The almost whispered voice beside me belonged to Annabel, who had mysteriously disappeared and as mysteriously reappeared by my side.
“Just checking who are the pretenders and who are the aspirants.”
Annabel and her parents had a thing about people, who had money, who didn’t, who aspired to be part of society, and those who thought they were. It was a complication I didn’t need.
“Does it matter?”
Interesting observation, who was this girl, and what have you done with Annabel? I turned slightly to observe what some might call my girlfriend, but I was never quite sure what I was to her. Perfect in almost everything, I noticed one slight flaw, no two, a smudge in her make and hastily applied lipstick.
Did it have something to do with her mysterious disappearance?
“Perhaps not. We can be gracious no matter what the circumstances.” A moment, closing her eyes, she took a deep breath, as if preparing for a death-defying leap into an abyss. Then, with an enthusiasm I certainly didn’t feel myself, she said, “Let’s mingle.”
Being with Annabel could be an experience in itself, the way she carried herself, the way she radiated warmth and humility, and then sometimes when in high dudgeon, you wanted to be anywhere else. Today, she shone. I could see the write-up in the social pages of tomorrow’s newspaper, exactly where she wanted to be. Relevant.
I knew the drill, as consort, to be one pace back and one to the side, being aloof but not aloof, on hand to provide the comment that complimented Annabel’s narrative.
I had suggested that we might take to the dance floor, once around the floor to make an impression, but Annabel, being 3 inches shorter than me in heels, was reluctant. Not because she couldn’t dance, well, that’s not exactly true, it wasn’t one of her strong points, but there were more pressing things to do. She didn’t say what they were.
To her equals she was all smiles and politeness, to the aspirants she was gracious, to the pretenders, short but sweet. In political parlance, we would be pressing the flesh. In any political arena, I suspect, she would excel.
Then, suddenly, we chanced upon Mr. And Mrs. Upton, and their son Roderick. I’d seen them once before, at Annabel’s parent’s house when I had been invited to dinner and had noticed, in front of him she was quite animated. This time her expression changed, and it was one I’d seen before, one I thought was exclusively for me.
I was wrong.
Although that look disappeared as quickly as it came, and she had reverted to the usual greeting, she did take Roderick’s hand when she was re-introduced, and while to all others it seemed like the second time she had met him, I could see it was not.
He looked uncomfortable, and, as he made a slight movement, I could see a smudge of makeup on his lower jaw, and lipstick on his collar, in a place that would not normally be seen. It was simply a quirk of fate.
By the time I’d processed what I’d seen, we were meeting the next person.
“Miss Annabel McCallister, I presume?”
Annabel, suddenly, seemed flustered. She usually knew everyone at these affairs, to the extent I thought she had a bio specially researched for her, but the princess apparently was not on the list.
“You have me at a disadvantage. Whom might you be?” The tone was slightly brittle, the cheeks slightly reddened, and she was annoyed and embarrassed. Someone’s head will roll for this.
“Frances Williams, or the Boston Williams.” An offered hand, taken and then released. When Frances saw her puzzled look, she added, “I belong to the distant branch who live across the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Crumbling castles, and once upon a time, tea plantations.”
And then I committed the ultimate crime, I spoke. “Surely you do not live in a crumbling castle?”
Annabel scowled, Frances laughed, “Oh, no. Daddy’s spending a few million to fill the cracks so it isn’t as draughty.”
Interview killed stone dead. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Frances. Perhaps our paths might cross again.” In which I read, I hope they do not.
Frances was a girl who could play Annabel at her own game, and quite likely she would win.
We did the obligatory waltz, her strongest dance, and it was one of fluid motion and great concentration, in order to shrug off the Frances factor. After that, she said she needed a few moments to get some air, and it was probably perverse of me to think that finally, someone had bested her.
I had no interest in further mingling and found a quiet corner in which to view the proceedings and contemplate where the princess had disappeared to.
Apparently not as far away as I thought. “You saw it, didn’t you?”
I guess I could feign ignorance, but the princess was all-knowing and all-seeing, and now beside me, close enough for another tingling sensation in my spine from the timbre of her voice.
“A tryst with Roderick, I suspect.”
“Handsome lad, cheeky grin, just enough nervousness that someone would suspect they’d been shagging.”
I turned to look at the amused expression. “Who are you, really. You’re definitely not one of the Boston Williams.”
“No. They’re too stuffy for me. My real name is Cherie, not French, but I can speak it if you like?”
“Probably not. Mine is schoolboy at best. How did you get in here?”
“A rather enterprising waiter, and a hundred dollar note. Most of these twits wouldn’t know the real thing even if they fell over it.”
“An attention-seeking journalist then?” She would not be the first, to try to see how the so-called other half lives.
“Perish the thought. I just love these affairs, the people, the atmosphere, the food, and the drink. And meeting people like you, a contradiction in every sense. You don’t want to be here, and yet here you are. You don’t want to be with her, and yet you are. Duty? Obligation?”
“All of the above.”
“And now you know she’s having a dalliance.”
“What rich and famous couple are monogamous? You read the papers, its musical beds. It comes down to how much pride you want to swallow for the sake of family, business, and appearances.”
She shook her head. “That’s not you. Humor me, come to the Cafe Delacrat tomorrow, 10:00 am. We’ll chat.”
I took Annabel home, and it was like nothing had happened, and she was not seeing anyone else. The girl, if nothing else, was a consummate actress, and had I not seen the evidence, I would still think I was the only person for her. But she was inordinately happy, and I had not been able to do that for her for a long time.
Perhaps it was time to move on.
I nearly decided to stay in bed and not go to the Cafe Delacrat, but the thought of seeing the princess once more was the compelling argument to go.
When I got there, a few minutes before the hour, she was not there, and I thought to myself, I had been tricked. That thought magnified when it came to a few minutes after when the waiter brought out the latte. The coffee aroma was good, so it would not be a wasted visit.
And, like the princess she was, she arrived late. Dressed in a yellow summery dress with flowers, red shoes and handbag, and the obligatory scarf and sunglasses, she looked movie star stunning. She sat down, and the waiter was there before she finished squirming into the seat.
“I’ll have what he’s having.”
“Latte.” He probably knew, but I wasn’t leaving anything to chance.
“I didn’t see you arrive, otherwise…”
“Very few people do.”
“By the way, you look amazing.”
“What? This old thing. It’s been sitting in the back of the closet since I last visited San Gimignano. Have you traveled?”
“Man of few words. Compliments women. Apologetic. That girl is not for you.”
“And you might be?” I was wondering what her motives were.
“Me? No. Too old, a bit of a lush, certainly not monogamous, and frankly, you could do a lot better. In fact, you deserve better.”
She was watching the other side of the road, the front entrance to a rather pricy hotel in fact, as a taxi stopped and two passengers got out. When it drove off, I could see a man and a woman, and when I looked closer, I saw it was Annabel and Roderick, holding hands and looking very much in love, as they literally bounced into the hotel. No baggage, 10:00 am, no prizes for guessing why they were there.
“How did you know?”
She shrugged. “I know she is not the one for you. So, if you had but one wish, who would you wish for? I’m sure, over time, there has been a girl who stole your heart. We all have one, in my case, probably two, or three.”
Who was this woman, my fairy godmother?”
Yes, she inspired me to think, and closed my eyes to go back to a time in university when I ran into this amazing girl who spent far too much time helping others than to worry about herself. We spent a lot of time together, and yet we were not together in that sense, as much as I wanted to be. I sense though it was not the time or the place for her, and, after two years, she simply disappeared.
I hadn’t realized I’d said her name out loud.
I opened my eyes and looked up to see the very girl, a few years older but no less attractive than she was then, apparently a waitress at that cafe.
“Miranda? Wow. I’ve been looking for you, high and low. What happened?”
“My mother died and I had to go home. It’s been a few years of hell, but, like you say, wow. Looking for me, you say?”
“High and low.”
“And now you’ve found me?”
“I’m not letting you disappear on me again. Can we…”
“I finish at noon. Come back then, and I’m yours. God, it’s so nice to see you again.”
© Charles Heath 2022