“I’ve made mistakes in the past, man. She doesn’t feel like one.”
Saturday evening, 17 May 2014
GM: From one of the galleries (balconies outside the French Quarter) overlooking Orleans Avenue at night, the sight of Touchdown Jesus’ haunting silhouette keeps watch over St. Louis Cathedral and the many pedestrians hurrying off to bars, restaurants, and ghost tours. Laughter and the heavy bass of drums from nearby Bourbon Street catch on the breeze like the scent of jasmine in springtime.
There are few better places, it is said, to experience the vitality of the French Quarter, or the mystery of its illustrious past, than on the balconies belonging to the much sought-after and luxurious Bourbon Orleans Hotel. Andrew Jackson announced his candidacy for the presidency from within its hallowed walls after winning the Battle of New Orleans against the British. Nestled in a lot adjacent to the Cathedral, the Bourbon Orleans sits between ritzy Royal Street (an antique-lover’s dream) and the notorious Bourbon Street (a night owl’s dream). Nothing could reflect the rich history of the Bourbon Orleans Hotel more appropriately than its placement in the French Quarter between heaven and hell, except for maybe the ghosts who allegedly walk the corridors of the hotel.
Tonight, however, death has little place in the Bourbon Orleans.
The occasion is a charity ball to raise funds for the city’s Catholic-affiliated hospitals. Men in crisp black tuxedos link arms with ladies in fine evening gowns as they emerge from parked luxury vehicles, their gold-filigreed invitations clasped in hand. At 6 PM, the cocktail reception and silent auction are just beginning.
Caroline: The gold ring along the edge of Caroline’s invitation might as well be a gold cuff on her wrist. “Your mother can’t make it,” her father had said. More an order than an inference. And her date for the evening… Caroline sucks perhaps a bit too heavily from the cocktail glass as she listens to another boring anecdote from a gray-haired someone and smiles as though engaged. Such is the nature of being a Malveaux. Bored? Unhappy? It doesn’t matter. She is here to wave the family flag.
GM: Caroline’s gray-haired conversational partner, Alec Downs, is the fifty-something president of a boat-building company and the Southern Yacht Club. Her uncle Matthew holds a membership and occasionally visits its home in Lakeview. Her father Nathan lacks the time. Her uncle Orson lacks the interest. Alec mentions that his daughter Bentley is “trying out” being a talent agent and helped find some of the musicians for tonight’s event. Caroline has heard the twenty-something college graduate still lives at home with her father, a decision which likely has little to do with money.
Boredom, however, is an inconsequential issue to another one of the posh event’s would-be attendees.
Emmett: In an apartment down the street—a pretty little condo in Hell—a young man stretches his legs. He smiles in the mirror. It’s going to be a fun night for Emmett Delacroix. Any of the guests would doubtless be embarrassed to be seen wearing the off-the-rack suit he’s sporting, but he likes to think that he’ll be giving somebody a better reason to be embarrassed tonight. In any case, he surveys the entrance and surrounding crowd, confident as a pig in shit. Which, he thinks, is what most of the guests are.
GM: The inside lobby is a lavish affair befitting one of the Crescent City’s oldest and most historied hotels. Glittering chandeliers, white marble floors, black marble pillars usher guests inside to an inviting lobby with plush furniture and thick persian rugs. A piano and some potted plants lurk in the corners. Nothing arrests the progress of guests from Orleans Street into the hotel’s lobby, though several large men in dark suits stand attentively by the entrance to the ballroom and other venue spaces. Well-heeled guests display their invitations and are promptly let in.
Emmett: Em strides towards the venue’s entrance, eyes and smirk ahead.
GM: His progress is arrested by the two suited men standing by the door. “Invitation, sir?” asks the man on his right.
Emmett: Emmett blinks. “Invitation?” he repeats dimly. “I was told this was a public event.”
GM: “You were told wrongly, sir. It’s by invitation,” the suited man answers.
Emmett: …Dammit. He scans the man’s lapel for a badge or name tag.
GM: Neither of the suited men wear any. At a passing glance, they could resemble guests at the event themselves. Up close, their black suits to be a cut below the formal evening tuxedos worn by most of the attendees inside.
Emmett: Em tilts his head, summoning his genuine embarrassment and painting it in shades of confusion. “You’re absolutely sure? I was invited by a friend, but she never said I needed a pass…” Then he frowns in consternation. “Oh, God. She probably never thought of it.”
He meets the man’s gaze, apologetic. “Some people never think about the spoon in their mouths, you know?” He rubs the back of his neck, face contorted in contrition. “I’m sorry to cause you any problems… what’s your name, sir?”
GM: “Derek,” the man standing to the door’s right answers. He has black skin, buzz-cut hair, and a short goatee. He looks somewhere in his thirties.
Emmett: Em nods, grateful for the indulgence. “This isn’t really my crowd, Derek. But this girl?” He shakes his head like a wet dog. “You have a wife, Derek? Girlfriend?”
GM: “Used to. Two exes,” Derek answers.
The other man, standing to the door’s left, surveys the two dimly.
Emmett: “Yeah, well. I do too. Lasted about six months.” He sighs. “I’ve made mistakes in the past, man. She doesn’t feel like one.” Em meets the man’s eyes. He’s excellent at looking earnest. It takes a thoroughly deceitful person to look as sincere as he does now. He pauses to take a breath, not long enough to give the guard a segue but long enough to gauge what he sees in Derek’s eyes.
GM: “Never do ‘til they’re throwin’ your shit on the street and you’re paying alimony.” The security guard looks sympathetic enough towards Em, who also pegs him as mildly irate towards female ‘mistakes’.
Emmett: He snorts. “I don’t want to stay in your hair, Derek. You want that even less.” He spreads his arms. “I’m not the kind of guy you’re hired to keep out, right? We can save each other time.” At a high-pitched giggle from indoors, he glances over his shoulder.
“I’ll tell you what, I can even play responsible adult and tell folks to go easy on the drink. Maybe have a word with the guys at the bar. My dad has a drinking problem, I’m used to dealing with it. Hell, could at least give your guys a tap on the shoulder if somebody seems to get rowdy.”
Em’s father does, indeed, have a problem with drinking. Specifically, with Em’s drinking.
GM: Derek’s partner is a bit heavier-boned and has a thick mustache, but is otherwise clean-shaven. The man, otherwise unaddressed by Em, finally speaks up. “We’re hired to keep out anyone who doesn’t have an invitation. Like you.”
Emmett: Em holds up his hands in an appeasing gesture. He nods at the man. “Didn’t mean to cut you out of the decision, sir. I’m just trying to make this a win-win situation.” He gives his best harmless smile. “Business school grad. Can’t help it.”
GM: “It’s not a decision,” Derek’s partner says with a frown. “You don’t have an invitation, you don’t get in.”
Emmett: Em sighs and starts to walk away. Over his shoulder he glances back at Derek. “Bosses, right?”
GM: The bouncer grunts and seems to regard his partner with a rising annoyance.
Emmett: He shakes his head sadly. “Tell Cici… I mean, Cécilia, that I’m sorry. I tried my best, right?”
GM: The bouncers look between themselves. Derek’s partner looks skeptical. Derek just shrugs. “Could be she forgot a name on the list, Marv.”
Emmett: Em, still walking, calls, “No, that’s fine. You don’t want to have to bother her. I’ll just explain what happened the next time I see her. Marv, right?”
Caroline: Caroline’s attention slips away from the dull conversation about how Bentley has an eye for talent and helped provided the help tonight. It’s the most awkward brag she’s seen in a while, give the circumstances.
The disturbance at the entrance seems to hold some potential, and she ideally watches it over her conversational partner’s shoulder. She takes a small step right and smiles to get a better view.
GM: Caroline sees a young man in a comparatively inexpensive suit talking to the bouncers. One of them looks annoyed. The young man does not have the telltale gold invitation.
Caroline: Cheap suit. Haggling with the guards. No doubt some junior partner or mid-level exec too frazzled or too stupid to remember his invitation. At least it’s entertaining. That suit though.
GM: There’s three words that her brother Westley might derisively use to describe it: ‘off the rack.’ She can picture his next snorted remark. “I wouldn’t be caught dead in that.”
Caroline: It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion. The only question is when they are going to break out the taser, here or in the alley. The desperate insistence he get in, the possibility of his boss watching, the likelihood of a scene…
GM: Caroline and Em both watch the mustached security guard referred to as ‘Marv’ roll his eyes. “You’re going to be in a world of shit if she doesn’t know you, kid.”
Emmett: “And you’ll be if she does, man. Come on, there’s going to be a line to hold up at some point.”
Caroline: Caroline smirks as she takes another sip of her drink, nodding along to the conversation around her. Definitely lawyer with the smugness.
GM: After the security guard makes his way back inside the ballroom, he clears his throat and approaches a willowy-figured young woman dressed in a floor-length teal evening gown. She has delicate, high-cheekboned features, clear blue eyes, and light blonde hair she wears loosely.
He waits about a minute until she’s no longer occupied, then asks if she knows… actually, he might then be embarrassed to realize, he isn’t sure what Emmett’s name is. Just that there’s a young guy outside who doesn’t have an invitation. Did she leave someone off the guest list?
Emmett: Em makes eye contact with Cécilia as her face becomes visible. He does his best to let his positively winning smile and a wink say everything. He waves.
Remember? that wink says. It’s a game, all a game. Humor me.
GM: Guests have been steadily trickling into the ballroom, but the event does not yet seem in full swing. It’s enough of a window for Cécilia to catch that eye contact past the guests surrounding her—who seem just numerous enough for the French charity organizer to have little interest in talking to the minimum-wage bouncer.
“Yes, I recognize him. Let him in, I suppose some names could have gotten lost,” Cécilia replies before turning her attention back to the other guests, the unspoken motion clearly dismissing the bouncer.
Marv returns to the front entrance and glowers, “I’ve got my eye on you, kid. Go ahead and start something. It’d make my day.”
Emmett: “Do you accept tips?”
GM: The security guard grinds his teeth.
Mouse: In all the kerfuffle, piano keys lower beneath well-practiced fingers. The instrument sings out in the background and creates a haunting melody at once raw, pristine, and wonderful. The keys may be black and white, but the hues of the melody hearken back to the colorful fairy tales of one’s childhood.
A dusky-skinned young musician is seated at on the piano’s bench, playing with his eyes closed. He is dressed in a simple white pressed shirt, bowtie, and black slacks.
Emmett: Em’s smile, looking painfully large, diminishes when he sees the man behind the piano. He studiously avoids making eye contact as he looks rather desperately around the room for company to integrate himself into—which is when his eyes meet Caroline’s.
Caroline: Caroline has to give him credit. Not many people would have the guts to take it straight to Cécilia. She watches him work his way through the crowd, atrocious suit and all, and her eyes smile, amusedly, as his meet hers.
Tall, pale aristocratic beauty, lithe, with a dancer’s grace wrapped in a dark gown worth more than he takes in over a quarter. Jewels glitter at her wrist, throat, and ears that put the cost of her outfit well over what he makes in a year. She holds a cocktail glass one one hand half full of a pinkish liquid garnished with a lemon and a lime wedge both.
Emmett: And jackpot, enter left. His eyes flicker over her, pausing at the jewels that encrust her. But in the end, his eyes return to the most interesting gems of the ensemble; her lovely, lovely eyes.
Caroline: She cuts her own eyes away, back to the group, just in time to laugh at a bad joke.
Emmett: Em scans the room for the bar.
GM: His gaze settles on a well-stocked cocktail bar. Appetizers are also available so that guests will not have to drink on empty stomachs.
Emmett: And behind every bar, the bartender. Who, in this case…
GM: He sees a Caucasian man in maybe his mid-20s whose hair is shaved down to an almost invisible buzzcut. He wears a button-up white shirt and black bowtie as he mixes drinks for the guests, including a particularly intriguing one that seems to involve ice cream:
Caroline: As he shifts away Caroline shifts her own attention as well. The fun seems to be over.
She excuses herself from her circle and moves across the room, floating like a leaf on the wind in and out of greetings and pleasantries with other guests, most intended for her father, mother, or uncles.
GM: Numerous well-to-do figures are present, from Alec Downs (who Caroline has already had the “pleasure” of meeting) to playboys such as Robert Argabrite III and Warren Whitney III (a few guests who see them together even joke about the “Two Threes”). Cécilia Devillers also makes polite conversation with the heiress, asking if any of the silent auction’s items have caught her interest.
Emmett: Em heads to the bar. He doesn’t move on an invisible wind; he’s two steps ahead of it, trying to get a decent seat at the bar.
GM: Em doesn’t run into much competition. Most of the guests are happy to simply take their drinks and return to fraternizing one another in the small cliques that ultimately make up every social gathering. The bartender asks his order and efficiently mixes it up.
Emmett: “Much appreciated,” Em says as the man busies himself. “Does it come with your name?”
GM: “Josh,” the bartender answers as he gets out the necessary drinks and miscellaneous ingredients for whatever Em has ordered.
Emmett: “You know this crowd at all, Josh?”
GM: “Not personally, but people like this rent venue spaces and need drinks mixed all the time.”
Emmett: “No luck, then. Sorry to bother you.” He returns to the crowd, trying to catch sight of the girl.
As he does he catches an earful of the piano and blinks. Then he shrugs. Even Mouse must be good at something.
GM: Very good at something. Some of the guests are actually stopping to compliment the young musician. Bentley Downs seems to have an eye indeed.
Mouse: As some of the well-heeled guests move to compliment Mouse, the young pianist smiles in appreciation of the kind words. “Thank you,” he responds in a pleasant tone.
Emmett: When he does find Caroline, locked in whatever dismal conversation she finds herself in, he does her a favor and inserts himself; gracefully of course.
GM: Emmett’s off-the-rack suit earns him a few pointed looks from the bespoke-attired guests. In the end, however, they seem to find his presence more amusing than offensive. A few ironically ask “what tailor fitted his clothes.”
Emmett: He takes the abuse with a smile. He’s a cheaply-dressed doormat, if that’s what they want to step on; all the while he teases, and chuckles so earnestly one almost might wonder who’s really laughing at who.
GM: The blonde seems to have moved on, but Em soon finds another girl who seems bored to be here. He mocks her pretentious parents. She thinks he’s hilarious. He thinks so too. They go back to his place together. The world was his oyster.
At least then, it was good to be Emmett Delacroix.
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