Chapter Five

The Event of the Season

Iris remembered Locke saying that her people would make the gala more than aesthetically pleasing.  Iris didn’t know who Locke’s people were, but they did a marvelous job.  The place was dripping with elegance and sparkling with glamour all at once.  Iris was fortunate enough to see the grand display in its completion, hours before guests began to arrive.  Locke permitted this, because she liked the young woman.  And while her tone with Iris was brisk at times, Locke felt a genuine kinship with Iris.  She knew that Iris would appreciate the work put into making the gala an unforgettable event.  And that Locke’s people did.

They had transformed the old Sweet Fields Armory into a wonderland of sleek black chairs, luxurious white linens, and lush flowers and foliage.  White sheer drapes provided the backdrop of the two-storied space.  Giant ferns sat atop twenty-foot columns that were aligned to section off the dance floor.  Iris tried to keep her mouth closed, but she couldn’t believe what she was seeing.  How had the old armory been converted from an old musty warehouse to such an elegant venue?  Iris thought that even the room smelled rich and decadent.  The luxe of the ballroom reminded Iris of the red-carpet events Lloyd would sometimes attend to celebrate his book and movie premieres. She was a long way from the red carpet and flashing lights of the paparazzi of Hollywood, but Locke had managed to bring Hollywood to Sweet Fields.

She walked gingerly between the tables and saw the Steinway piano nestled between two columns at the edge of the white dance floor.  She wanted to glide her her fingers across the top, as she’d seen sultry singers on TV do, but resisted the urge, though it almost overwhelmed her.  Between another set of columns was a bandstand.  Iris imagined members of the band box would be arriving in the next few hours, but she was glad she could view the room without throngs of people bustling about.   Iris thought about how the gala of the season was so different from her life of solitude with Lloyd.  There were film screenings and viewing parties, but Lloyd required small intimate gatherings for events of that sort.  This was totally different, and Iris would have to emerge from her cocoon of comfort.  Locke was pushing Iris more than she was used to.  Not only did she agree to be Locke’s eyes and ears on the gala committee, but Locke had roped her into being a vital part of both its inner and outer workings.  To top it off, Locke was holding a by-invitation- only nightcap after the gala.  While the nightcap was more intimate, Iris knew nothing of the guest list, and her aversion for the unknown made her anxious.

This is why Iris decided it best to visit the venue before show time.  She wanted to mark territories, so that when she returned by evening, her experience would not seem so foreign.  She would also go by Locke’s house before walking home to dress for the gala.

There were people at Locke’s.  She could see several silhouettes moving like dancing shadows behind the sheers at the window.  Iris had always liked the big windows of the Victorian home.  The vines creeping along the soft pink brick seemed to try to make their way inside through the long panes that were dressed in ivory sheers all around.  On Locke’s porch were two tiny women meticulously streaming copious strands of small clear lights along the front porch.  Both women wore glasses on their noses, and they strung the lights with unflappable concentration.  By the time Iris made it to the porch, Locke was meeting her at the front door. “Did you see it?” she asked briskly.

“Yes. It is beautiful and so tastefully done.  How did you get it to make such a stark transformation?”

“I told you, Iris.  I put my people on it.  Don’t look so shocked.  Come on in.”

“I will not be here too long.  I just wanted–”

“I’m back here getting dressed.  Do you need someone to dress you?”  Locke’s voice trailed off, but only because Iris was fascinated by the new look of Locke’s home.  The color scheme of black and white was reimagined in Locke’s parlor and great room.  There were tall bouquets of yellow tulips accenting two large round tables covered in crisp white tablecloths with a wide strip of ink black fabric dividing the whites of the cloth.  Several people dressed in white scurried about, tugging here, pulling there, smoothing elsewhere.  There were taller bistro tables in the corners of the room with smatterings of soft yellow decor in the center.  The ceiling was draped in antique white fabric, with the ends puddling in soft vanilla bunches on the dark hardwood floors.  Iris could only imagine the ambience at nightfall with soft lighting and dainty white candles everywhere.  “Come on!  What are you waiting for?”  Locke broke Iris’ trance.  As Iris followed Locke to her dressing room, she heard the silky low voice of a man.  A man?  Iris thought.  In Locke’s bedroom?

“This is Antoine.  He came to dress me.”  Antoine greeted Iris warmly, but spent very little time paying attention to her.  He buzzed around Locke, pinning her hair, matching up accessories to a beautiful smoke gray dress hanging on her mirror, and fussing over an abundance of vials, canisters, and sprays.  “So, do you think you’re ready?”

“Ready for what?”

“Ready for your debut?”  Locke gave Iris the once over.  “Nope. You’re not ready.  Look at you now.  You’re as nervous as a humming bird.  I’ve never seen anyone smoothing down skinny jeans.  I don’t think Maggs would even do that.”

“Really, Locke.  Must you make those kinds of assumptions?  Have you no faith in me?  At all?  I’ll be fine.”  Iris had not yet convinced herself of her own words.

“What are you wearing?  I can send Antoine over to get you ready.”  At that statement, Antoine paused, turned toward Iris and raised his right eyebrow in slight objection.

“I can get myself ready.  Besides, when did you become one to make such a fussy-fuss.”  Iris lifted her hand and flitted it around the room when she said the words fussy-fuss.

“I’m a little woman of few words, but it doesn’t mean I don’t know when to make a big deal.  This, Maggs–I mean Iris–is a big deal.  Trust me.  Now is the time to show Sweet Fields where your roots are.”

“My roots are not here, Locke.”  Even as Iris said it, she had to admit, she was growing fond of Sweet Fields and St. Andrew.  It felt like home to her.

“That’s what your mouth says.  But you wear that porch swing out every evening.”  Locke picked up a lemon teacake from a round silver tray Antoine had brought from the kitchen and into Locke’s dressing closet.  Her eyes slid up to see Iris glancing at the cookies.  “You want some sweet tea? That’s all I can offer you, since you don’t eat anything breaded.  You and those glucose levels.”

Iris declined.  “I have to get home and get dressed.”

“I hope you wear the green one,” Locke yelled from the dressing room as Iris left.  “The green one says you have roots here.”

Iris walked away smiling.  She was excited.  She hadn’t felt excited in a while.

“Get yourself out of here, Hughes.”  Locke shooed him away and reached for the vial on the table to re-sanitize the soft seat covered in crisped white linen fabric.  Right at that moment, there was the tap of a fork on crystal from the front of the room.  The band softened their music until everyone settled down.

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