19. Cocktail Party

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Sarah enjoyed the ride across town. She'd never ridden as a passenger in a convertible, but she had fixed enough of them. She'd always thought the open-roofed vehicles seemed a bit overrated, but she rather liked riding through the cool of the evening, the wind whipping her ponytail to and fro and Edward sending numerous jokes and smiles her way. She was glad she'd made a point of telling Edward that she wasn't looking for anything romantic. It was good to know she would be able to enjoy the evening without the pressure of having to respond to a man's advances.

They reached the club in ten minutes. The sign above the entrance looked like a lavish theater marquee with the glowing white letters "Diamond Club" against a satiny black background. Two young black couples entered as Edward parked the car in front and hopped over to Sarah's side to open her door.

Sarah followed Edward inside. Stepping over the threshold into the club's interior was like crossing over to another world. The walls could have been black or a deep navy, but it was too hard to tell under the low lighting. Looking around at the other guests, Sarah felt out of place in her simple yellow dress. It had seemed fancy enough back in her uncle's house, but now Sarah realized that she looked like she was on her way to a church picnic, while everyone else seemed ready to attend a Broadway premiere. The women wore sleek dresses of clingy fabric that dipped a bit too low in the front. Diamonds and sapphires glittered in the darkness. The men wore crisp high-end suits.

Most of the people in attendance were black. Sarah recognized many of the successful black business owners from Hester. But there was also a smattering of whites milling about the crowd.

"Why are there white folks here?" Sarah whispered out of the side of her mouth.

Edward gave a closed-lip smile. "Let's just say some of them have a private interest in our culture."

As another light-skinned woman covered in diamonds slipped past, giggling quietly as she clung to the arm of an equally sharp-suited black man, Sarah couldn't help but think the party seemed integrated in terms of race. Then again, there was a different type of segregation here, one revealed by an undeniable observation: This cocktail party was only for the wealthy.

Sarah frowned at that thought. She tugged anxiously at the hem of her dress, suddenly aware of how alone and out of place she felt in this crowd. Her best dress didn't cost enough to cover the price tag of half a yard of the luxurious fabrics used to create the lavish dresses and evening gowns that swirled around her.

Edward was an absolute enigma of charm. Everyone wanted a chance to speak with him and shake his hand. He whirled Sarah about the room, stopping to chat with each and every one of his party guests. He joked and laughed and announced Sarah as his "beautiful date of the evening." He stood a little too close and when he spoke, Sarah could feel the heat of his breath on the back of her neck.

Sarah looked around at the gaiety and extravagance. Several waiters in dark red jackets strolled about the room holding plates of oysters and shrimp. Sarah lifted a hand each time they approached her, refusing the expensive finger foods. She was much more of a peanut butter sandwich and apple pie kind of girl. She'd never had a taste for seafood, and she'd never even seen oysters before, but they didn't look appetizing to her in the slightest. She watched as other ladies in fancy dresses lifted the shells to their lips and swallowed the wet, slimy creatures in one nauseating gulp.

Sarah stood at Edward's elbow growing more uncomfortable with every drumming heartbeat. There seemed to be no end to the train of people that he had to greet. And with each introduction, Sarah found herself at a loss of what to say. She stood shifting uneasily back and forth, digging the heels of her scuffed black-leather shoes into the gleaming tiles of the large hall.

As yet another waiter approached, this time with a tray of bubbling champagne in crystal glasses, Sarah found herself giving in to the temptations that surrounded her. She was growing increasingly nervous, especially as Edward talked her up to each and every guest, saying that she was a talented, aspiring poet. Sarah nodded in appreciation of his kind words, but all of the attention was causing her stomach to churn. She nodded and mumbled and downed one glass of champagne and then another. The alcohol did nothing to calm her nerves. If anything, it only added a sense of confusion, leaving her thoughts both anxious and muddled.

Around eight-thirty, a group of four colored men in black tuxedos came onto the platform stage in the center of the room. One sat down at the baby grand piano in the corner. The second held up a shiny brass saxophone. The third flashed a harmonica. And the fourth came to stand in front of a microphone. They began to play a fast tempo tune, and the man at the microphone belted out the words to a quirky song: A Little Bit of Cucumber.

"Oh, I sure do love this song!" Edward said. "Excuse me, fellas, ladies."

Edward gave a little bow and steered Sarah away from the group.

"What do you say to a dance?" he asked her.

Sarah shook her head frantically, relieved to finally be standing apart from the swarm of party-goers.

"No, I'd rather leave," she said flatly.

Edward's eyes widened in surprise. "Leave? But you don't have to be home for some time yet. What do you want to go and leave for?"

"I just feel so out of place here," Sarah said. "Look at me! I don't belong here with this crowd. I'm not dressed fancy enough. I don't have anything in common with anyone here. I just ... I just ..."

"Darling, you are just fine," Edward said, laughing. "Listen, you want to make something of yourself? This is the place to be. You like to write poetry. You could really get discovered here. Now, if you got yourself recognized, maybe even published ... and paid, that wouldn't only help you. That would allow you to improve the life of your Uncle Albert. He's a poor old man, puttering away as a lowly mechanic."

Sarah's gut knotted up at Edward's words. On the surface, his remarks seemed genuine and helpful but Sarah couldn't help but feel something was lurking beneath them.

"Look, there's one more person I want you to meet," Edward said. "Actually, she is the reason I invited you here."

Sarah's jaw went slack. "Wait! The reason you invited here was to meet some lady? Why?"

Edward flashed a cavalier smile.

"Because, my dear," he said, "she's looking for a black poet."


Author's Note

This chapter and the next were my two favorites to write so far. My biggest fear was that I would turn Sarah into a one dimensional cardboard cutout. But as I look back, I think Sarah's character is developing nicely. Hey, I totally admit: When it comes to writing and pretty much everything else in life, I'm still learning and I'll never stop learning.

Oh well, thank you for dropping by.

See ya again soon!

Regards,

Tom

Tom

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