Life is an endless party. That should be fun. Shouldn't it?
"How long have we been here, dear?" she asked brightly.
"Forever." He smiled casually at a passerby, then downed his tepid drink in a single gulp.
She looked around her. Everywhere there was a party, a bright yellow and white party filled with beautiful people and sparkling conversation. Dim music from a hidden alcove filled the great ballroom with heavenly noise. Suddenly, Rebecca realized she didn't know anyone in the room. Absolutely no one.
"How long before we leave?" she tried again.
Her mate looked at her with some concern and, pouting, he replied, "Really, darling. We've been over this so many times. You know perfectly well, Rebecca, we shall always be here."
"Forever, darling." Her mate smiled and cocked an even eye at her drink. "Shall I get you another drink?"
"Yes." Rebecca thought about it a moment. How many drinks had she consumed? How many more could she tolerate?
Her mate reached for her hand. On impulse, she jerked it away, denying him. Instantly, he looked up at her with arched eyebrows. "Are you feeling well, my love?"
"No. Yes, I-" it was crazy, but she didn't know her mate's name. She knew no one at all. Not a single face in the sea of the party seemed familiar, not a single one resembled anyone she had ever known. Or did they? "How many drinks have I had?"
"I don't know, I'm quite sure." He added gaily, "But I can assure you it hasn't been enough. Come now, sugar. Just one more, one more for the road."
"One more for the road? For the road?"
"Yes, my love, for the road." His tuxedo was immaculate, it was the purest white on the deepest black, it absorbed the light of the chandeliers. His tie was perfect. Just the right amount of cuff showed from his coat sleeve as he held out his hand expectantly for her glass.
She gave in. He turned and left, weaving through the crowd, holding their glasses tucked neatly to his manly chest. He was a perfectly gorgeous, perfectly charming man. But . . .
Who was he? Who were all these people?
Her name was Rebecca, she knew that much. At least she guessed that much from what her mate had said. And that was odd, wasn't it? She thought of the beautiful man as her mate. Not as her friend, or her husband, or even lover. She knew him as her mate.
What had he meant, one for the road? What road? Had she ever been out of the ballroom? Hadn't life just started for her only moments before?
It startled her to think of the past. She had no past. There was only a spark, and she was standing at the party, talking to the handsome young man in the tuxedo. Who was he, really?
And what about the people? They seemed so . . . perfect, so . . . unnaturally perfect.
Oh, they smiled like ordinary people, and they dribbled wine from the corner of their mouths carelessly. A few were even crass enough to wipe the spill away with the back of their hand. What was this place?
"Excuse me, madam," said a voice behind her. She turned, surprised.
"Y-yes," Rebecca stammered. "May I help you?"
"Certainly." The man was portly and had a cheery face. There were lines there in that face, near the eyes, lines that told of dark parlors and summer lawns, iced tea and pipe tobacco. They were lines that spoke of time.
"Would you please accompany me in a dance?" the portly man asked of her. What should she do?
"My mate, he's gone to-"
"Gone to fetch you another drink," he finished. "Am I right?"
"Ah-ha," chuckled the man, "Then we shall have time for TWO dances. If you please . . ." and he held out his crooked elbow. Knowing nothing else, she took it.
With the stately air of a politician, the fat man guided her through the sea of party faces, weaving between dining tables, then couches, and finally, at the far end of the ballroom, through the milling crowd of a dance floor. And there the fat man indicated that she should take her place in his rather ample arms. Rebecca obliged.
As they swirled amid the rustling ocean of light chiffon and silk blouses, the fat man stared and stared at her, drinking in her face with the lights of the dance floor. She noticed his attention, "What is it?"
"Nothing," said the fat man.
"Am I beautiful?," she asked.
"Yes, extremely beautiful."
"And how long have I been here? Do you know?"
"Sure," he chuckled, "You've always been here."
"Always?" Her heart trembled. Her feet threatened to surrender beneath her, threatened to tumble her to the hard dance floor. "You know that for certain?"
"Yes. I know that for certain," the fat man smiled. His face was all the more red in hue under the lights of the courtly dance floor. "But, what does it matter? I am here. You are here. Is there anything else to ponder?"
Though she tried, Rebecca could find nothing else. "No. Nothing."
"Fine." The dance ended and the audience lightly applauded the band. All the dancers started to spill off the floor and find their seats, hidden somewhere no doubt like islands in the party sea. "Come," he said, guiding her once again.
She let him. Not because she liked him, not because he was witty or attractive, but simply because he was there. He was there and he seemed to know who she was.