(Chapter Two continued)
Two days later, Elaina found herself wrapped in an ice blue evening gown, her feet jammed into four inch high heels, her hair pulled back into a low chignon, and her favorite paperback pressed possessively to her chest. She stumbled along behind her friends as they and dozens of other women made their way up the long driveway of Roderick Hall. Her constant mutters and the uneven clicks of her heels assured Camille and Lily she was right behind them, so neither complained about her lagging behind.
Lily’s amused tone had her looking up sharply a step before she would have walked right into Camille, who grinned down at her.
“This is all a joke and you’re letting me go home, right?”
Her friends laughed.
“Not a chance,” Lily said. She turned slightly and gestured to the closed wrought iron gates. “We have to wait for the gates to open.”
Elaina gaped at her. “We’re early? You mean I have to stand and balance in these torture devices?”
“No,” Lily said. “We’re on time; we just have to wait for the butler to decide to open the gates. It’s never on time. Sometimes it’s early and sometimes it’s late, but it’s never on time. We are supposed to be on time.”
“Fantastic,” Elaina muttered.
Around her, women, young and old, were drifting like flotsam. The swish of skirts and click of heels swirled with quiet charter that did nothing to hide the general anxiety and excitement. They were clearly trying to form groups while being neither rude nor diplomatic. Every girl was out for herself, but her admittance into the hall depended on being with the right group of girls.
Elaina couldn’t help but think it was all ridiculous; a massive charade for the chance to live the wealthy lifestyle. Or an opportunity to dress up. She couldn’t quite figure out which. In the end, she didn’t care. Her favorite book was tightly clasped to her chest, and her friends either didn’t care or didn’t notice that said book was ensuring the other girls gave the trio a wide berth.
“There,” Lily whispered, her head turned to the gates as the click of what sounded like tap shoes rang out.
As one, the girls turned silent. Silk and satin rustled slightly as bodies shifted to face the gates. Faces were streaked with eagerness, excitement, and irrational hope.
It was in that moment the Elaina realized she and Camille were the only ones in town who hadn’t been to a garden party. Only Camille was craning her neck to see around the girls in front of her. Everyone else was standing still and full of expectation. It was a ritual that had been repeated for eight years, more than once a year.
With a grating sound, the gates were pulled apart. At some sign unknown to Elaina, the women began to flow forwards. Each girl walked quietly and demurely, polite and placid. Elaina had no choice but to follow, awed at the lack of jostling and preening.
Tall shrubs and elegant trees quickly came into view, about as quickly as her heels left the flagstones beyond the gates and stepped onto springy green grass. Floral scents wafted through the late afternoon and quick head turns informed her square gardens of flowers were set in three neat rows along the rectangular garden. Tables draped in white linens overflowed with sparkling glasses and towers of dainty pastries.
Apparently, passage into the grass meant the party was in full swing. High pitched chatter and low throaty laughs suddenly filled the air. Women drifted across the garden and over to the tables for refreshments, but always in tightly, clearly formed groups.
Elaina followed Lily and Camille to claim some tea cakes and then over to a bench beneath a flowering tree. Her friends draped themselves on the bench while Elaina perched on the end, surreptitiously sliding her feet from the heels, and prepared to open her book.
“Welcome,” a voice rang out, startling Elaina as her book tumbled to the grass. “Mrs. Roderick is pleased that you have graced her and her son with your presence. Please enjoy the refreshments.”
“That’s it?” Camille asked, a hint of disbelief in her voice.
“Well, ” Lily answered, “I hear his welcome was very long winded. Eight years ago. I guess everyone knows the drill by now.”
“Good for them,” Elaina said briskly, firmly opening her book on her lap. “I, for one, am looking forward to some quality reading time. Tap me when you’re ready to leave.”