Fifteen (1)

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Izzy rested her forehead against the window as the train coughed its way through suburbia. Rain spattered the glass and she sighed.

"I can't believe we're going to the races and it's raining again!"

They'd left Waterloo Station half an hour before, and houses slowly gave way to green fields dotted with cows. Archie was reading the Times, a cigarette between his lips, and Mr. Lawrence had fallen asleep. On the other side of the aisle, Izzy's mother rode in silence, staring out of the window with a vacant gaze while her husband smoked a large cigar. The air inside the carriage was stuffy and beads of sweat formed on Izzy's temples.

"I'm sure it'll clear," Vita replied.

Izzy cast a glance at her friend's white silk chiffon dress with crystal beads. "You better hope so, if you don't want to ruin that dress."

Her comment came out meaner than she intended. She just thought wearing white at Ascot was a mistake. White was for Wimbledon.

Vita ignored her reply, and touched her summer hat absent-mindedly. It was a wide-brimmed hat trimmed with a large sash of silk and an artificial flower, which screamed confidence and wealth. Now Izzy wished she hadn't gone for the fashionable cloche hat. Her crochet hat had looked the smartest little thing in the shop and it matched her pink tulle dress, but maybe she should have dressed more like a woman and less like a girl. Yet if it rained all day, she wouldn't take off her coat, and so no one would get to see her outfit anyway.

She sighed again, and steam formed on the window. Outside, the landscape was now all green and seemingly only inhabited by cattle.

At last the train slowed down with a hissing sound and came to a halt. Their little group left the station with the crowd. They followed the wide path leading to the racecourse, like a sea of black umbrellas. Izzy's parents linked arms, as did Vita and Archie. Mr. Lawrence buried his fists in his pockets and Izzy trudged alone along the path, cursing against the wet weather in silence.

"What's with the glum look?" Vita asked, slowing down to link arms with Izzy too. "I thought you were looking forward to this."

"I suppose I always look forward to the races until I'm actually at the races."

Vita let out a little laugh, and Izzy couldn't help but smile at the absurdity of it all. She had been excited about this for a long time.

They'd reached the racecourse and Lady Rhodes handed out the maroon badges that would allow their entrance to the Royal Enclosure. Vita helped Izzy pin hers on the lapel of her coat. Archie had his own, which he clasped in the left buttonhole of his tailcoat. He had a carnation in the right. Mr. Lawrence disappeared between the bookies' stands, to the Five Shilling Stand from where the commoners could watch the races.

Then they made their way to the southwest corner of the course, near the finish line. As they walked along the Grandstand, the girls stopped for the photographers and Vita linked arms with Izzy again. Izzy pasted an automatic smile on her face and the smell of burning magnesium filled the air.

Izzy's father and Archie stopped by the refreshment tents to buy champagne while the girls surveyed the crowd filling the Royal Enclosure behind them. The men allowed in the enclosure all wore top hats, high-waisted trousers and tailcoats. The ladies rivalled in elegance with their colourful hats and dresses.

Izzy looked for familiar faces in the crowd. She spotted a few debs with their parents, and bachelors smoking cigarettes in a small gathering on one side of the enclosure. Her gaze stopped on Margaret's beaming face. The tall blond girl wore a yellow outfit and a large floppy hat, and she waved her hands excitedly as she talked to a gentleman with his back to Izzy.

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