She got to the reception at six-forty-five, fifteen minutes early. She knew to wait in the hotel lobby, inconspicuously in a darkened corner, until he arrived. The lobby floor was tiled in black marble. Large red velvet curtains hung from on high and swooped down along the walls. The elevator doors and trim were meant to look brass. She couldn’t tell from where she was if they actually were. So they were successful. Expensively dressed couples began to filter in from the rainy street, often out of limos or after handing their keys to the valet. She went through her purse, thumbing through the essentials and the receipt for her parking at the pay lot across the street.
Her client showed up at five after seven. He wore a tuxedo which looked rented and she felt relieved at this — the less effort and more superficiality on his part the better, the less likely that he had the wrong idea, that things might get muddy later on. He recognized her and smiled as he walked across black marble, a dark overcoat slung over his arm.
They shook hands and headed towards the elevators, joining the small crowd gathered around the brass doors. A bell rang, the doors opened and they were on their way up.
He checked their coats at the entrance to the ballroom, generously tipping the coat check, and then offered her his arm for the passage into the expanse of the ballroom. She looped her arm through his lightly, and they walked in.
There were white-jacketed arms, holding doilyed silver trays, offering glistening flutes of Brut, at the ballroom entrance. She took a glass off of the tray, but he declined stating that he had never really developed much of a taste for it, instead opting to head to the nearest bar to purchase a Crown and Coke.
Then for a while, they strolled.
Spread out across the ballroom were numerous auction items spread out over multileveled long tables draped in black cloth. Beneath each item was a clipboard and a pen, a list of anonymous numbers on a piece of paper. He stopped to look at the guitar, autographed by Jon Bon Jovi, and also at a few of the vacation getaways, including one to the Virgin Islands.
She expected him to know more people there. It was a relief to find that he didn’t, that she wouldn’t have to go through the farcical motions of pretending to know him. It left, however, more time left to fill with talking.
He was a widower and the death of his wife had occurred fairly recently, she found out. His wife had made all the money, all the real money. He’d worked as a serviceman for a phone company for a number of years until they bought out his early retirement. His wife kept on working, making a lot of money in regional software sales management, while he raised the children. They were fairly well off, but not rich like he was now. It was only because she died so suddenly that he became a real rich person, the benefactor of personal and company life insurance policies. This was the first invitation he’d accepted to a charity event like this. A dog-owner his whole life, the cause had spoken to him.
They strolled over to the bar and ordered: two Crown and Cokes.
A voice announced over the PA that the first silent auction would be ending in ten minutes and to make sure to bid on any of the first-run items before then.
White-jacketed arms offered doilyed silver trays of crab cakes with a remoulade dipping sauce, chicken satay with a peanut dipping sauce, and sushi and sashimi rolls with a wasabi, honey and soy dipping sauce.
Through the crowd walked handlers, leashes and dogs. He got down on one knee to pet an older golden retriever, scratching it’s scruff and shoulders. The dog licked his hand and then his face. An older woman in a sparkly dress winced when she saw the dog licking his face, but it made him laugh heartily.
As he was crouched and giggling, she found herself undressing him for a moment in an imagined bedroom somewhere.
They strolled some more.
She was in real estate until everything fell apart, he found out. She flipped houses and when everything came to a halt, she’d ended up bankrupt twice over, if you count her own mortgage and finances. Her relationship hadn’t survived the fallout and ultimately a move and a fresh start seemed like the ticket. The only thing that she’d taken with her out west was her Cocker Spaniel.
A voice announced over the PA that the second and final silent auction round would be ending in ten minutes and to make sure to bid on any of the wonderful remaining items before it was too late.
Another trip to the bar and two more Crown and Cokes. Another lap around the auction tables. They ran into a surprise.
Someone called her name from ten feet away. An old associate, somebody who’d made it through the fallout money intact and had retired to the west coast, came over to say hello.
He handled it nobly, his first time with the farce. He followed her lead and played the part of a friend who’d invited her out for a quiet night out for a good cause. It went off without a hitch, her old associate passing a business card to her and letting her know of a couple of opportunities in the area, if she ever wanted to get back into the game.
The lights flashed indicating that the auction had ended and it was time to move up to the fourth floor dining area for dinner. As they headed back towards the elevators, she looped her arm around his securely. In the crowded elevator, she didn’t mind huddling next to him to conserve space.
Once upstairs, they were led to the table they would share with eight strangers. A premium local cabernet was poured and the first course came out.
He spoke sparingly to those at the table with them. She happily followed his lead, keeping words sparse, enjoying the food. Mostly he seemed to want to talk with her, and the conversation naturally fell into telling cutesy dog stories, which she enjoyed quite a bit. The entrée, a filet and lobster tail, was perfectly prepared, though there barely seemed time to eat it before there was somebody on stage at the microphone demanding the room’s attention.
Their chairs faced the back of the room, not the stage. Chairs turned around to face the stage, the meal seemingly over, and she didn’t feel alarmed when he rested his arm on the back of her chair to watch the presentation a little more comfortably. And after returning from the bathroom, when he leaned back in his own chair and put his hand on her actual shoulder and not the chair, she didn’t resist. Nor did she take issue when he suggested that she have an espresso with him at his penthouse apartment up the street before driving home. To wait out the alcohol, he’d said. She’d agreed that espresso sounded good but mostly she wanted to see his dog. The only point in the evening where she’d doubted his veracity, even for a moment, was during the truffle cake, when he’d told her that she had beautiful eyes, even more beautiful than those of his belated wife.
Lying in bed the next morning, she thought about how he’d looked in his doorway upon saying goodbye and that if he didn’t call then some of it or all of it must have been a lie and she’d done the right thing.
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Portland Fiction Project
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