69. Strangers

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Peter Bell wanted to scream!

The Bell house, the mansion that is, was filled with strangers.

It was nine o'clock. For the past six hours, Peter had somehow managed to endure several dozen introductions, an unpleasant outdoor banquet, and a going-to-war speech that he didn't want to give.

The whole production seemed so terribly false. Most of the folks in the community had stopped by. They milled about, chatting about cars, money, expensive clothes, and vacations in the Hamptons.

In the living room, guests swooned over Van Gogh's "The Starry Night" framed in gold over the colossal marble fireplace. They admired the one-thousand crystal chandelier. And they marveled at the handcrafted sofa imported from Paris.

And because the living room couldn't hold two hundred and fifty people, guests either drifted into the lavish Edwardian kitchen or back out to the two-acre backyard.

Throughout the evening, Peter heard relatives telling his parents how they'd raised such a brave son. But these people didn't really know him. And he didn't feel all that brave.

Now in his bedroom, Peter Bell released a deep sigh, looking himself over in the mirror. He needed to get away from all those people. Even if it would only be for a few minutes.

He certainly didn't feel like himself in this outfit that his mother had picked out for him. He had never been a suit-and-tie kind of person. He much preferred loose-fitting knickers and one of his old paint-stained shirts. He loved to paint even more than he loved to draw. Those activities weren't pleasant to do in formal attire.

Peter placed his thumb and forefinger around the knot that had taken him so long to tie and gave it a push upwards. Then he tugged the hem of his suit jacket and gave his entire ensemble a smoothing over before picking free a couple of stray threads from the cuff of his sleeve.

Peter heard his mother calling for him from down the hallway.

"Peter, where are you?"

He switched off the electric lamp on his bedside dresser and pressed his back to the wall next to the mirror. Taking in a huge breath, he held it.

The doorknob rattled as it turned. The door squeaked opened into the room, actually serving as a barrier. "Peter? Are you in there?"

Peter looked to the door. What if she came in? What would he tell her? How long could he hold his breath? The door squeaked open a little more. His pulse thumped so loud in his ear, he thought she might be able to hear it.

And then the door snapped shut.

Peter inhaled a lungful of air. He took a few deep breaths, and his nerves started to settle.

His mother loved parties and she had never been able to understand her son's introverted nature. She had planned this party for him, thinking that he would enjoy it. He just didn't get it. He knew she was trying to do something nice for him. She was so outgoing. He supposed being the owner of the Hester Gazette, she had to be. He knew that a party like this was exactly what she would want if she was the one going away for an undetermined amount of time. He tried to keep this in mind as he struggled with the frustration he was currently feeling.

But all he wanted to do was sit by himself with his thoughts. He had so many concerns about leaving for war tumbling around in his head. But he couldn't do that. Instead he had to go and make an appearance at this party.

Oh well. Whether he wanted this party or not, it was an ordeal that he would have to push through. He supposed he ought to get used to pushing through tough situations. After all, he would be overseas soon. Every day would be a struggle just to stay alive. Every day he would have to force himself to keep going. The discomfort of this party would be nothing compared to the anguish that he would have to endure in the trenches in the months ahead.

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