Fourteen (2)

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Every square metre of the flat was occupied by at least one sweaty body.

The crowd was young, loud and wild, with no chaperone in sight and no rules to follow. Flappers in sparkling dresses laughed with men in cream-coloured suits. People danced in the drawing room to jazzy tunes, sipped Highballs and Martinis in the dining room and sang by the piano in the music room. Women with enigmatic smiles shot sidelong glances at the men, and men with self-assured smirks lit their cigarettes and blew smoke between their teeth. Despite all the open windows, the air was thick with smoke.

Vita and Izzy sat on the marble staircase, Vita with her long cigarette holder lazily hanging between her fingers and Izzy with a gin and tonic in a tall glass in her hand. Vita had managed to get her friend to wear make-up and a sequined red dress and to sneak out of the Mayfair house after everyone's bedtime. But once they'd found themselves at the Bentley Boys' party, Izzy had lost her courage and wanted to go home. Vita had given her a drink and made her sit on the steps until she felt confident enough to mingle with the crowd.

"I should bob my hair, shouldn't I?" Izzy said, her gaze on a tall blond girl with marcelled hair.

Vita shrugged. "Don't do it because others do it. Once it's done, you can't go back."

She took a long drag of her cigarette, scanning the crowd for a sign of Holden. He wasn't anywhere.

"But everyone does it," Izzy said.

Vita pressed her lips together. Izzy's constant desire to fit in with the crowd was exasperating. She swallowed an unkind reply and said instead, "You could do it after the Season, then. So if you end up not liking it, not many people will see it."

Izzy nodded. "Yes, I could do that."

A tall man in a white suit appeared on the threshold of the drawing room.

"Well, I'll never!" Vita said. "If it isn't Mr. Lang."

Izzy perked up and paled. "What? Where?"

She put down her drink and stood up hastily.

"Over there." Vita pointed at Mr. Lang, who searched the crowd for a friendly face. "Mr. Lang!" she shouted.

He turned, and his gaze met Izzy's, whose face became bright red. She waved at him and smiled, muttering between her teeth at Vita.

"Why did you have to call out to him?"

Mr. Lang made his way towards them amidst the people standing in the entrance hall. Vita stood up.

"Don't be embarrassed," she commanded. "He likes you. Now go and talk to him."

She shooed Izzy down the steps, just as Mr. Lang reached them.

"Well, Mr. Lang," Vita said, "Izzy was just talking about you."

Izzy shot her a murderous look, but Vita ignored her and carried on: "We were wondering if you'd be at the races tomorrow."

Mr. Lang gave Izzy his stunning smile. "I will be, actually."

To Vita's relief, Izzy took control of the situation at last.

"How wonderful to hear!" she said. "This'll be such good fun!"

"Will you be there as well?" Mr. Lang asked.

Izzy nodded, and explained how she wouldn't miss it, even after the awful business at her ball. Mr. Lang agreed, and Vita drifted away from them, leaving them to their conversation. In the drawing room, she circumnavigated the couples spinning on the parquet floor and asked for a Scotch and Soda from the footman at the bar. He handed her the drink and she turned around to find Holden standing in front of her.

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