26. Evil Queens and even stevens (Part 1)

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The Mayor's fancy dress ball has transformed the ballroom we've been using to practice into a true fairytale

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The Mayor's fancy dress ball has transformed the ballroom we've been using to practice into a true fairytale. Tall, plastic planters made to look like stone are in each corner of the room, piled with elaborate floral bouquets. Pink uplights douse the room in a warm glow, and the ceiling is draped with swathes of cream silk. While clean-cut wait staff mill about with hors d'oeurve, guests introduce themselves to the mayor or sign the guest book at the entrance. A TV crew prowls around the buffet, looking bored.

"Are we ready?" Poppy frets, fiddling with the gauzy purple scarf she's wrapped around her hair. "Are we all here?"

"Mom, chill," says Amie. "There's an open bar next door."

"I resent the implication that I need booze to relax," Poppy says with a huff. "It's going to start in ten minutes so I want you all to do your business"—"she means go to the bathroom," says Amie—"and be back here in five, because I do not want to hunt down missing dancers!"

While everyone disperses, I make sure to get a moment with Amie. "Hey, do you know where Ian is?"

"Yeah, he's..." Amie glanced around the room. "Um, he was right there at the buffet table. Hey, while I have you, I had this idea for a tattoo design and I was wondering if you could sketch it for me?"

"I'd love to. But could we talk about it later? I really need to find Ian."

"What about after?" she calls after me as I walk away.

"I have a big fat Bollywood reception to attend!"

The buffet looks delicious. Mushroom and parmesan palmiers create savory golden-brown hearts; smoky, maple-caramelized figs still sizzle on the plate; spiced olives glisten with oil; and the fruit and cheese and meat platters are extravagantly heaped.

My parents and sister are in front of the bread. Dad spreads bacon jam and Gruyere cheese over a baguette slice, while Mom and Simran nibble puff pastry appetizers. They're here, Simmy mouths. Turn around. She spins her finger.

Blaire and Catey enter the ballroom arm in arm. While Catey has gone for a floor-length burgundy gown with a sweetheart neckline and delicate pearl jewelry, Blaire rocks it in off-shoulder purple-black tulle and fuck-me heels. Catey's eyes rove until they find me, and for a split second, wariness crosses her face. Then, a slow, tentative smile curves her lips and she whispers something to Blaire.

Then, without warning, they slide apart, leaving room for Val to join in. In her high-neck, sleeveless marigold dress, Val looks somewhere between sheepish and terrified. I recognize it as something she was working on from her mom's old silk saree. This has to be a Valika Khan creation. She tugs out the nonexistent wrinkles and offers me a one-sided smile.

That's all it takes.

The four of us are flying across the room to each other, a tangle of arms and squeals, and Catey's waspish "Don't ruin my hair" that we basically all ignore.

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