Chapter Five

The Event of the Season cont…

The men in tuxedos and women in black satin gowns were warming up their violins, cellos, basses, trumpets, and bassoons, and clarinets.  Iris noticed a rotund red-haired gentleman putting on his tuba. As she glanced at the array of orchestral instruments, she wondered where did Locke get an orchestra?  She didn’t know why she was surprised. Locke seemed to enjoy keeping her gala plans a secret from her…and everyone else. No one knew what to expect.  The word on the street was if you wanted to see celebrities and be seen by celebrities, you should be there.

Iris had helped Locke strategically leak information about certain people on the guest list to boost ticket sales, and it had worked like a charm. Buzz about the gala was all over the airwaves, both AM and FM all the way to Atlanta.  The handsome, recently divorced, TV judge Rick Carson, who most middle aged women thought to be the sexiest man alive was coming–alone. The adored news anchor for one of the most popular stations in the area was to emcee the program; Locke had smiled when she leaked that information to the deacon board. Even her devoted Clive had developed a small crush on Cindy Sullivan.   A few ladies from an Atlanta-based reality show were planning to attend as well.  Sweet Fields was bursting at the seams with glamour, fanfare, and money, because Locke had personally invited CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, several of whom had RSVPed.

The orchestra was no longer warming up and began playing in earnest, so Iris took that as a cue to slip into the ladies’ room to check her makeup and hair.  She gasped as she entered the room. Even the doors of the stalls were decorated with white satin and flower wreaths. Locke’s people left no stone unturned.  Iris was swiping her lips with gloss when the church organist, Maybelline Johnson, joined her in the mirror.

“Don’t you look pretty!” Maybelline said a bit out of breath.

“Thank you. You look very pretty too” Iris returned with a curt nod.  When had she started nodding at people? Had she picked that up from Locke?

“Do I really? I lost about 10 pounds trying to get into this dress.” Iris looked at the dress–a satin concoction reminiscent of a block of Velveeta cheese. It was much too bright and shiny, but Maybelline seemed very proud of it.  Iris looked at the winged sleeves that draped over Maybelline’s rounded shoulders and fleshy upper arms; it reminded her of a small cape.  The caplet fluttered about as Maybelline shimmied and jiggled uncomfortably in the dress.  Iris watched as she smoothed the bodice, which was under much duress despite the layers of spandex underneath.  Iris did not feel confident about Maybelline’s dress and its durability.

“I hope it doesn’t split open!” she panted.

“Are you okay?” Iris asked hoping Maybelline would say “yes” and leave.

“I’m as nervous as I can be. I’m playing a special medley of song tonight on the piano, and I’m afraid I’m going ruin it.”

“I’m sure you’ve practiced and it will be fine.” Iris said, hoping she sounded convincing.

“Yes. You’re right. I have practiced long and hard. I can do this.” she said smoothing the shiny material down over her ample hips and thighs. Iris couldn’t help but think of the humiliation, should the thread on those seams give way.

Iris flashed her a rare high wattage smile and touched Maybelline’s forearm lightly and said, “You’ll be wonderful.” She snapped her clutch closed and exited the ladies’ room quickly.

As the bathroom door closed behind her, Iris took a deep breath and stepped into the flow of the evening.  She’d taken Locke’s advice and wore the green dress.  It didn’t make her feel any more rooted in the community.  Iris had a hard time deciding which dress to wear.  It was Locke who helped her narrow her purchase down to two contenders.  Both were cut specifically for her curves, but the green dress was especially beautiful, because the kelly green lace overlay featured beading that sparkled in the evenings lighting as Iris moved across the floor.  Iris’s dress was floor-length, which was an unusual find for her height.  The long lace sleeves were snug and complimented her toned arms well.  The sleeves fell just below her wrist bone and featured small Swarovski crystals that eliminated the need for jewelry.  Tastefully fitted from the collarbone to knee, Iris’s dress was its own accessory, and she wore it as if she knew it.  She found her seat at the elaborately scaped round table and was met with Locke’s mothering approving eyes.  She was relieved to finally sit down.  Instinctively, she reached for the tiny onyx spray vial of sanitizer that sat in the middle of the table. The warm vanilla and lavender scent of the mixture was heady and afforded her instant relaxation.

“You’re going to make it through this evening fabulously,” Locked leaned over and said too loudly to Iris.

So far, Locke was pleased with the way the event was going.  Promptly at 7 p.m. the Who’s Who of Sweet Fields began to file in and fill up the round tables closest to the front and adjacent to the two long rectangular tables that sat the committee members.  They were not advocates of being fashionably late, especially when they knew the guest list was chocked full of local and not-so-local celebrities.  Sweet Fields wanted to be in their seats so that they could see the long parade of personalities saunter into the room.

“Have you seen that hideous Jackie Black?” Locke asked Iris.

“Not yet,” whispered Iris.

“I hope she doesn’t drag in here and ruin everything.  This benefit is important to Prentiss, and I will NOT have her turn it into the Jackie Circus Extravaganza.”

“How could she ruin all of this, Locke?  Really, this affair is beautiful.  It rivals the ones I’ve attended with…”  Iris’s voice trailed off.

Locke patted Iris’s hand with an elbow length lace gray glove.  “Yes, I know.  But it’s just the two of us now.  My Clive isn’t here to keep me quiet, either.  Still, we have to watch.  Watch and pray.”  Locke winked.

Locke did not intend to upstage anyone with her gown, though it was almost impossible not to do so, and her nonchalance about just how impeccably she was dressed made her an even more intimidating figure.  Her dress, too, was floor length, and designed especially for her by Antoine, her dresser.  Every piece he designed for Locke was intended to mimic her personality, her steel gray demeanor that masked a large soft heart, her organic lifestyle, her non-fussy behaviors, her penchant for things of style and class, her complete disdain for germs, and her uncanny way of finding hidden diamonds in rough terrain.  Locke wore a cascading gown with soft pleats above a cinched modestly jeweled waist and light fluid chiffon below.  The color of the material was stainless steel, that’s what Antoine called it.  He said it was because he thought nothing living on earth could touch Locke, because she steeled herself from foolishness.  Locke’s hair was styled in a loose chignon at her neck and accentuated by a sapphire pin that glistened when she snapped her head around to listen to side conversations.  Her only other accessory was a large sapphire ring set in platinum, which she wore on her right ring finger.

The band continued to play a jazzy version of “Great is Thy Faithfulness” as guests continued to arrive.  The waiters, dressed in uninterrupted white, were dispatched and had begun to canvas the room to be sure their patrons were comfortable.  The room bustled with energy as the sound of ice in glasses and the pouring of sweet tea and lemonade filled the room.  The long awaited TV personality entered, and all women attendees 40 and older sat erect.

“Look at ‘em,” Locke quipped, “they are all a-puddle over this one.”

“Who is it?”  Iris asked.

“Somebody who is as annoying as a bee in a bonnet, but as gifted as a bootleg preacher when it comes to getting donations.”  Locke waved timidly as he came her way; however, before he could get to her table, Locke stood up and directed him to his assigned seat on the other side of the room.  They air kissed and made their way, Locke floating, Carson strutting.

“So glad you could make it, Carson.  You see how you’ve turned the women into 6th graders.”

“I see, but you seem to be immune to my charms.  When do you think I’ll be able to have that effect on you?”

“Don’t start that mess, Carson.  I’m old enough to be your young mother.  How well did we do in donations with the television promotion?”

“I think you’ll be pleased,” Rick Carson said, “you know, only you get my best work.”  Rick paused, he grabbed Locke’s hand lightly and lifted it a few inches. “What, no spray?”

“You know better, Carson.  I had my people rig up a light misting that triggers as soon as you cross the threshold.  The guests think it’s some kind of sweet smelling confetti.”  They both laughed as Rick Carson made it to his seat.  “You need anything special before I go back to my seat?”

“As a matter of fact I do.”  Rick glanced toward Iris and smiled.  “What about an introduction to that gorgeous girl in green sitting with you.  You know I’ve heard about her.  These old men in Sweet Fields don’t know what to do with a woman like that.  I’m so surprised you didn’t do one of your famous hook ups when she came to town.”

“Haven’t you learned anything from the last mess you made of a woman’s heart?  Stick with television.  Love is not what you do best.”  Locke nodded and floated back to her seat at the table.

Locke was gone just long enough for Deacon William Hughes to make his way over to Iris and perch in the empty space left by Locke.  Iris was so busy observing that she didn’t see him ease into the seat.

“Sister M-m-m-murphy,” Hughes stuttered.  William Hughes gathered himself and cleared his throat.  “It’s amazing how you can walk into a room fully clothed and make a more stunning impression than women who arrive half naked.” Hughes tilted his head to the right as if he was using it to point at someone.  She didn’t look to see what Hughes was talking about, but only because she was so annoyed by his presence.

Hughes was a good-looking man.  Tall. Dark. Handsome.  Iris noticed that he stuttered a bit around her.  Lloyd had stuttered…towards the end, and she didn’t want to be reminded of Lloyd. Not right now.  In addition, Deacon Hughes was a bit too admired by the women of St. Andrew.  He owned a successful plumbing and home improvement business, and had gained quite a reputation for his ability to renovate the stately Victorian homes of Sweet Fields without compromising their character and integrity.  Iris didn’t want to deal with a man whose job it was to make house calls.  Still, she heard he worked fast and was the consummate professional.  He was always on time, and always finished a job before the end date he gave his clients.  Hughes’ prices were fair, and he didn’t allow womanly charms to sway his bottom line.

Iris had heard all of these wonderful things about Deacon Hughes, and still she was not at all interested in him, at least not in that way.  Truthfully, Grandma Maggs’ house, though well kept, would need some work soon, so Iris entertained the Deacon a little while.

“Why thank you, Deacon Hu…”

“You don’t have to be so f-f-f-ormal, Sister Murphy. Call me Will.”  Deacon Hughes placed his arm on the table as if to reach for Iris’s hand.  Iris looked at the deacon’s arm and looked away.  He was well dressed for the evening in a gray, modern and well-fitting tuxedo.  He wore a deep cobalt blue tie with matching pocket square and a boutonniere the color of the bird of paradise flower.  He had begun to grow a beard which was well trimmed and without one hint of gray.  The Hughes men were known for their grayless heads of hair.  It was rumored that the oldest man in the Hughes clan didn’t gray until he turned one hundred.  This is what made the men of the Hughes family men of distinction, their coal black head of hair and their impeccable taste in clothes. In this area, William Hughes did not disappoint.  He was consistently well groomed, well lined, and smelling good.

“I am not so sure about being so informal, Deacon Hughes.  I wouldn’t want anyone to think I was disrespecting your title as an upstanding member of the church and trusted co-chairman of the board.  You know how people talk.”

“L-l-let them talk, Sister.  They ain’t talking about nothing they know for sure.”

“I appreciate your wanting to calm my apprehensions.  That’s sweet of you, but remember, I am still the new kid on the block.  I have to keep my nose clean.  Anyway, I am quite sure half the women in Sweet Fields call you by your first name.”

“Yeah, they call me by my first name, but I said that you could call me Will.”

Locke was on the pair before either of them realized it.  “Well, Deacon Will, I think I hear your seat at the table calling you right now.  Get on up out my chair with all that foolishness.”

William Hughes scooted the chair away from the table, and stood up.  He was an impressive figure, and he towered over Locke.  “Ms. Belle Lynne Locke,” he said with a grin, “you’re the prettiest old woman I’ve ever seen.”

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