Intimate Dinner Party

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Jennifer's P.O.V.

'Well, I must say', Margaret commented, 'that I see a decided improvement in your looks'.

It was two weeks later, and I had stuck to my exercise and vitamins religiously I had to admit that my appetite had improved, and I was sleeping the night through at last.

Margaret was standing at the living room of the Green home in Virginia in preparation for what she called a 'small intimate' dinner party. 'I'm feeling much better', I responded. 'Do you want to put out the cold canapes now, or shall we wait until the first guests arrive'?

'Oh, it's almost six', Margaret said. 'Might as well set them down now', 'what else did Dr. Eric say?

'Nothing No dread diseases just that I was a little run down He gave me some potent vitamins and told me to get more exercise'. 'And are you'? Exercising? Margaret asked.

'Yes sister I'm swimming every day I go down at noon it's not so crowded than'.

'Well as I say you do look better you've even gained a little weight although I must say that dress doesn't do much for you for a fashion illustrator, you're not the best advertisement for your product'.

I looked down at my black dress it was two years old and still a little Large for me. The dress itself was a heavy silk crepe with a round scooped neckline and little cap sleeves.

'What's wrong with it'? I asked defensively

'Oh, nothing', Margaret retorted drily. 'Except that it doesn't fit you and'...

'Anybody home'? Came a loud voice from the front hall, interrupting our talk. Thank God, I breathed to myself William I turned to greet my brother-in-law, but the smile on my face faded when I saw that Matthew Smith was directly behind him half a head taller and staring at me now with known grey eyes that glinted with sudden irritated comprehension I was so angry I could barely contain myself I set my jaw in a firm line clenched my fists at my sides and glared at my sister, Margaret met my glance briefly then turned quickly away and walked towards the two men.

'Hello, darling', she said to her husband kissing him on the cheek. 'And Senator Smith How nice that you came out with William No sense bringing two cars I hope you can spend the night we have lots of room'.

I watched as the tall man's eyebrows lifted slightly. 'That was the understanding', he murmured He gave William a questioning look.

'Yes', Margaret said, 'and then you can drive back to New York late tomorrow with Jennifer. We can all spend the day together'.

Oh, no, I thought 'I'm afraid not, I'm driving back tonight'. 'But you can't', Margaret protested,

'Yes I can', I replied calmly. Then I heard Matthew Smith's voice, 'There's no problem', he said smoothly. He turned to William who stood red-faced beside him. 'You said something about an early morning meeting at the State Department I'll just get up early and go along with you'.

'Well, of course,' William said with forced heartiness. 'That'll be fine'.

Soon the other guests began coming and by the time we were all gathered together over drinks in front of the roaring fire, there were only six other guests, three married couples who lived nearby. Matthew Smith and I were the only unattached people there.

I did my best to avoid him throughout the cocktail hour without being actually rude to him, and I was grateful to see that he was avoiding me as well. He was silent throughout the dinner, eating little and steadily drinking wine he answered politely when any of the other guests spoke to him, but seemed to be off in a world of his own.

Finally, when the others were involved in a heated discussion of the situation in the Middle East, always a hot topic at these kinds of parties, I turned to him and spoke.

'Senator Smith', I could see that his mind was miles away. 'Senator Smith', I repeated in a louder tone.

Slowly he turned to me and his grey eyes on mine. 'Matthew', he said. 'My name is Matthew'.

Was he drunk? I wondered. He seemed in control of himself He was a very controlled man in any case. Keeping my voice low so that the others wouldn't hear and leaning towards him slightly, 'I want to apologize for my sister'. The cold grey eyes looked directly into mine for a moment. 'Apologize?' He took a swallow of wine draining his glass. 'What for? She's a superb hostess'.

A ghost of a smile hovered about the thin lips.

Why, I thought he's laughing at me, amused by the whole thing. Anger rose up in me and I was about to take a step when I suddenly saw something in his eyes that was hauntingly familiar to me.

This man is in great pain, I realized, and I softened towards him. Wondering what had put that look there and what it had to do with the amount of liquor he was consuming.

I smiled back at him. 'My apology was for the set-up tonight'. 'Oh, that, I'm used to that', he said.

'Well, I should be too, I guess since Margaret's done it often but it still bothers me'.

'Why?' he asked. 'Why should it bother you?'

'It's embarrassing for one thing it puts me in an awkward position and the poor men she pounces on at a terrible disadvantage.'

'Tell me,' he said, 'why a situation like this makes you feel awkward? Don't you want to meet unattached men?'

'No,' I said. 'I don't. And Margaret knows it'.

At that moment, Margaret rose on her feet. 'We'll have our coffee in the living room by the fire', she announced, and her guests slowly began to move away from the table. After that, I saw very little of Matthew Smith for the rest of the evening.

Finally, just before midnight, I saw my chance to leave. 'I must be going, Margaret', I said firmly and before my sister could utter a word I turned and said my goodnight and walked away.

I smiled to myself as I walked out into the cold night air pulled my heavy wool coat around me tightly, as I walked the few yards to where my car was parked.

As I approached the small red Corvette partly illuminated by the front porch light in the shadow of a large tree, I saw what looked like the shape of a man leaning against the side of the car. I stopped in my tracks fear to clutch at my heart and opened my mouth to call for William, then I heard a familiar low voice 'Will you please give me a lift back to town?' And Matthew Smith took a step towards me out of the shadows and into the light. One look at his face told me that this was no time to ask questions or argue.

I made up my mind in a flash and called to William, 'Matthew has changed his mind' I was amazed to hear how clear and steady my voice sounded as it rang out in the dark night. 'He's going back to town with me'.

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