Two (2)

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Izzy stared into her glass of gin, her heart thumping along with the music. She couldn't decide whether she would drink it or not. Sat next to her, Vita didn't have this sort of quandary. She was on her second drink of the night, and her cold façade was dissolving into alcohol at an alarming rate.

They were at the Four Hundred Club in Leicester Square. Archie was a club member, guaranteeing their entry, he knew the head waiter, ensuring they got a table, and he was a veteran, allowing him to pay everything at a discounted rate. Earlier that evening, when she was getting ready for this night out, Izzy had thought this would be a daring and exciting experience. Her parents were at the opera, and Vita had told them they were spending the night at Weatherly.

But this wasn't the thrill Izzy had expected. The place was a dark cellar, too hot and smoke-filled to her liking. Couples gyrated to the syncopated rhythms of the jazzy dance tunes in the centre of the room. All the girls seemed to have bobbed hair and sequined evening dresses. The men chain-smoked cigars and talked loudly to be heard over the din of the music.

"Are you going to drink this or not?" Vita asked.

She blew out a stream of smoke, her long cigarette holder lazily held between her fingers. Her eyes were lined with kohl and her lips were a deep red. Izzy had refused to wear any make-up, horrified by the idea of looking like a woman of questionable morality. Now she regretted her decision, as every girl here had mascara and lipstick on. She also wished she wasn't wearing her pale chiffon dress with a wide skirt. It made it clear that she wasn't a flapper, but a good girl lost in a place for grown-ups. She should have listened to Vita.

She made up her mind all of a sudden, and drank the gin. It burned her throat, making her cough. Vita grabbed her shoulder.

"Are you all right?"

Izzy nodded, red-faced in the semi-darkness.

"Do you need a glass of water?" Archie asked.

A self-assured smirk lingered on his lips, and he exchanged a conniving glance with Mr. Lawrence, who sat next to him. Izzy glared at him. He thought her a child, but just because she wasn't as old as he was, hadn't been to the war and didn't drink like a sailor, didn't mean she deserved to be made fun of. She was a lady after all.

"I'm fine," she replied.

Vita laughed. "Attagirl! We'll make a flapper of you yet."

She stood up, grabbing Archie's hand.

He frowned. "Where are you going?"

"I want to dance," she said, and dragged him away from his chair onto the dance floor.

Izzy pursed her lips, unhappy to be left stranded with Mr. Lawrence.

Vita and Archie joined the dancers as the orchestra launched into a jazzy number. The couple moved about the room with ease, attuned to each other's movements, perfectly synchronised. Halfway through the dance, Archie whispered something in Vita's ear, and she let out a hearty laugh.

Izzy wondered if she would ever find someone she'd be so comfortable with.

The girls had known Archie since they were children. Vita had always claimed she would marry him. But he was a younger son, which meant he would never inherit his father's estate and title. Instead he had to marry a rich heiress, which Vita wasn't. Their blooming love story had seemed doomed – until the war. Not only had Archie returned alive – a feat most men of his generation had failed to accomplish – but he had come back to a changed world.

Country estates were falling apart at the seams, crippled by death duties and lack of heirs. The aristocrats who had owned them for generations had to adapt. Getting a job wasn't frowned upon anymore, nor was marrying for love.

With all its tragedies, the war brought a paradox: it allowed couples like Vita and Archie to plan a future together. Archie had opened a fancy nightclub on Bond Street and turned it into a lucrative business, before announcing to the world his engagement with Vita eighteen months ago.

"Shall I get you another drink?"

Archie's question brought Izzy back to the reality of the club. She blinked at him.

"Where is Vita?"

"Cloakroom," he replied. "Do you want a drink or not?"

"I'd better not," Izzy said.

Admitting it to Archie wasn't pleasant, but the last thing she wanted was to be hung-over the next day.

"Do you want to dance, then?"

Izzy opened her mouth, undecided. It was gallant of him to ask. She always forgot he was a gentleman, after all. But she wasn't sure she wanted to dance with him.

"Vita won't mind," he added, as if this was what made her hesitate. "You came here to dance, didn't you?"

Izzy pursed her lips. She wasn't sure why she had come. It wasn't to drink herself silly, or to dance with her best friend's fiancé. The romance novels she read were full of beautiful girls who met dashing gangsters. In those stories, the bad boy would fall madly in love with the fashionable girl before she had to break his heart. The sentimental part of her had daydreamed she would meet someone here too. But the men at the club were either playing cards or dancing with flappers far prettier than her. And none of them were dashing anyway.

"I don't want to dance either." She shook her head.

Archie didn't make fun of her. Instead he sat down, pulled a silver case out of his breast pocket and lit a cigarette.

"We'll take you home when Vita returns from the cloakroom," he said.

Izzy gave him a faint, grateful smile, and they waited for Vita in silence.

***

The cloakroom was deserted.

Vita stood in front of the mirror, and dug in her handbag for her tortoiseshell comb. The music from the band reached her through the door, muffled and faraway. She adjusted her hair, and washed her hands under the tap. Then she turned off the water, and looked up.

There was a man standing behind her.

A syringe at her throat.

A sharp pain radiating from her neck.

An overwhelming drowsiness.

Then, nothing.

***

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