The Beginning

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"Maybe I'll try out this new yellow dress," Candace said aloud to the pastel fabric draped on the hanger she was holding. Its cheerfulness could perhaps lift her spirits a bit as she attended a dull evening party tonight that she was hoping had some networking potential. After a quick glance, however, her plan for the article was ruined by a frayed hem that had consumed most of the dress's bottom.

I should probably just forget this whole thing, she told herself. Anything that made her too depressed to pick out clothing couldn't possibly be worth her time. Why was it she was going again?

The invitation.

That's right. She had never been invited to anything outside of the occasional work lunch, so she'd RSVP'd right away on the fancy, frilled return card without so much as a thought about whether the event would be worth the travel, much less the time for makeup and wardrobe. After years of climbing the ladder in her field and the cruel attempt at humor called a PhD pursuit, she'd figured that it would have been against her better judgment to turn down a dinner party hosted by a potential colleague.

So here she was, holding a frayed yellow dress and on her last pair of pantyhose after ripping the other three with only a few minutes left to leave before running late. A heavy sigh escaped her lips. "So much for change," she said to the dress and promptly returned it to the closet in favor of the little black number she'd worn to the last several weddings she'd attended.

~*~

The guidance system on Candace's phone brought her to the party's address without trouble. The driveway to the place was long, and the house it led to was white, very large, and modern. It was everything she'd expect a very successful professional to own, and the numerous luxury cars parked in its roundabout driveway suggested that everyone in attendance was likely to be quite superior to her own economic status. Again, she wondered why she was there, anxiously trying to recall whether she'd double checked that it was, in fact, her name written on the envelope of the invitation.

She had been sitting in her parked car a few minutes, forcing herself to accept the certainty of her belonging, when her trance was suddenly interrupted by a rapping on the window. Startled, Candace quickly looked up towards the intruding sound and froze. A pair of shockingly serious eyes locked with hers. Gathering herself again, she moved to open the window, forgetting that the car was turned off. Embarrassed at the oversight, she quickly pretended to be searching for her purse, grabbed it, and opened the door to greet the stranger.

"I'm Candace Marshall," she stuttered. "I promise I have an invitation, and I'm sorry if it seemed like I was loitering or-"

"Yes, I know who you are, Dr. Marshall," the man cut her off. "I'm the one who sent the invitation. You're late, and I thought I might escort you so you can gather with the party without question since there is no longer a crowd to follow."

She blushed, if a full-face tint counted as such. His tone was serious, but not unkind. Candace also thought it seemed there was more he was eager to say but perhaps decided against it as not to embarrass her. Punctuality was not exactly her specialty.

~*~

No further words were exchanged on their journey into the house and down the hall to where the party had gathered. There they met high ceilings, cloth-covered tables stacked with food scattered throughout, and attended bars with lined bottles ready for serving in every corner.

"Wow, I didn't realize people had banquet halls in their houses anymore," she quietly remarked.

"I believe it's a tax write off," he responded to her surprise. "Can you identify anyone here with whom you've previously made an acquaintance?" he then asked.

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