Jack borrowed a tuxedo for his evening at the Winters’ estate, La Hacienda del Sueño. He felt like an actor himself, or an assassin, come to this great house to betray his host. As he was parking his car out in the drive, Sueño loomed above him against the starry night. Its lighted windows glowed like beacons, with old Josiah's turret for a watchtower. His enchanted princess waited inside as she'd waited for so many years.
Even when Jack walked into the warm parlor, when Tip rose to greet him with a smile, as he shook hands with the other guests, Jack's grim mood stayed with him. Her husband Maury, her friends Carrie and Hugh, Hugh's sister Genny and her friend, Sarah -- he saw them all as enemies. Jack saved his greeting to Violet for the last. He crossed to her chair, took her hand gently and smiled, a contrived polite recognition.
“Evening, Vi,” Jack said. “You look lovely tonight.”
“Well, thank you, Jack. It's so nice to see you.”
Violet did look lovely in a flowing dress of green silk with an emerald necklace at her delicate throat. At dinner, Jack found himself seated across from her. For this formal dinner the electric floor lamp had been whisked away. Silver candelabra stood on the long table and the sideboards. In the uneven, flickering light, she glowed like a dream-creature caught in the shadows of sleep. As the candle flames danced, her jewelry, the line of emeralds at her throat, her emerald earrings, caught the light and glittered.
During the entire evening, Jack fought with himself. In this dangerous territory he forced himself to ignore her when he ached to sit near her and watch her every gesture, hear her every word. Jack stayed close to Tip, mimicked what Tip did, tried to find things to say to Sarah, talked with Hugh about film and with Maury about gardening. When he glanced Vioet's way, more often than not he caught her glancing at him.
When, after the meal, Maury led the men to his study for a drink, Jack could think only of Violet. The others drank steadily. Jack nursed one glass of brandy and guarded every word he spoke. Now and then he would look at Maury and understand how a man could murder someone he hated. After a painfully long hour, they finally went down to the parlor to rejoin the ladies.
Violet was sitting on the sofa in a pool of lamplight. I'd die for her, he thought, it would just make sense somehow. When she looked up and caught his glance, her smile deepened. He felt as if her green eyes were the ocean, and he was drowning.
“Here we all are, darling,” Maury said to her. “Were you ladies having a nice chat?”
“Oh yes. Tip? Did Sarah tell you she saw one of your films? She's just been telling us all about it.”
“Oh heavens!” Tip gave Sarah a grin. “Should I flee? The old All is Known?”
In a polite round of laughter, the men settled themselves into the group. Hardly thinking, Jack took the nearest chair and found himself next Carrie, draped in pink silk with a diamond necklace glittering at her throat.
“I've just been hearing about your husband's real estate,” Jack said. “Sounds good, huh?”
“Oh yes,” Carrie smiled at him. “You don't have to pretend you're interested, Jack, not to me.”
Jack returned the smile. Carrie glanced furtively at Violet, then back to him. Jack turned as cold as a soldier who realizes that he's wandered behind enemy lines. Carrie pointedly began paying attention to the conversation around them. Jack took it as a hint and did the same.
Another hour, perhaps two -- the evening seemed to last interminably. Finally Carrie announced that they simply had to leave. Their departure freed Jack as well. After the Dubois party was well away, Tip walked Jack out to his car. For a few minutes they stood yawning in the cool night air and talked aimlessly of the work-week ahead of them.
“I'd better toddle off to bed,” Tip said. “It was sure swell having you here.”
“Yeah,” Jack said. “Thanks a lot, buddy.”
Jack leaned back against his car and watched while Tip went back inside. When the door closed behind him, the facade of Sueño went dark, the tower a looming shadow. Behind it, the mountains rose black against the lighter dark of the sky, solid, as close to eternal as anything in this world, with the stars a reminder that some things would even outlive the mountains. The dinner party had been one little light in a string of lights against the blackness of the land. Now the light had gone out.
With a sigh and a shake of his head, Jack started his car and headed for home.
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