She ducked into the cool air conditioning and realized that she was sweating. The dim room filled with people and the sound of idle chatter. She had been right. No one else there was dressed in a formal gown. Much less a hot pink one.
Glancing around the room like a frightened animal, Hester could feel every vein and capillary in her body fill to bursting. Patrick wasn't in here. Suddenly Isabel was standing directly in front of her. "Hester! Hey girl, I'm so glad you could come! The rain has ruined the outdoor setup so we've moved all the tables we could into the dining room. The food is in the living room and some people are eating in there on the couches. Eat as much as you can, the caterers made enough to feed an army!" She gave Hester a peck on the cheek and with a flash of black silk and sequins walked off to congratulate the county sheriff on his recent election, leaving the new arrival feeling slightly dazed.
Hester moved quietly into the living room, pouring herself a glass of iced green tea as she listened hard for the one voice in all that crowd that mattered to her. She thought she heard something familiar...and set down her glass to look around again. There was a little cluster of businessmen in one corner, looking very serious; a middle aged woman in a ridiculous leopard print hat nibbled a tea sandwich by the window. Two teenage boys were snickering and loading up their plates. A few young girls sat around a coffee table, earnestly conversing. Isabel was going back into the foyer in answer to the tinkling doorbell, ah! There he was.
In a large chair across the room Patrick was whispering something to a tall blonde young man eating a Brie-smeared water cracker. It was a little shocking to see him after three long empty months. His face was still as kind as ever, and that little brown curl fell just so over his left temple. If she stood here he probably wouldn't notice her any time soon. Hester summoned up all the courage she had left to pick up one grudging foot off the floor and move it a few inches ahead.
At that moment the large, boisterous Mr. Montez came up to her, flashing a huge smile. "Good evening Hester! It's been far too long since you've been here. Can I get you something to drink? I believe that this is Amelia's famous green tea." She glanced at her full glass sitting on the table as her gracious host started filling another with ice. "Yes please, that would be great."
Moments later she was by herself again. Biting her lip she swayed a little from side to side, forgetting where she was in the stress of wondering what on earth to do. Once again that awful temptation - If he doesn't see me I can always leave! I'll just slip out of the room and...he was coming toward her. What do I want from him? What can I expect? Patrick was now a few feet from her. "Hello, Hester. I didn't know that you would be here."
"Mom is friends with Mrs. Montez."
"Oh, is that it? I went to school with Isabel. Well, it's good to see you again! How have you been these last few months?"
How have I been? Without seeing or hearing from you? What do you expect? "Oh, I'm still working at Twig's. Same old thing. I heard about Mona." There she had finally said it.
Patrick looked down at his shoes and answered, "Sorry I haven't called. It's been a rough few months. How was your trip to Maine?"
OK. He didn't want to talk about Ramona. She could understand that. Hester gave him all the details she could recall about that happy weekend - the sunshine, the waves, the Portland Head Lighthouse, the perfect photo ops, and picnics in the sand. He listened with polite attention, his eyes never straying from her face. It was rather unnerving, really. Those bright blue eyes, lit by a fire from the inside, were two lamps set deep into his face.
Gradually, they both became aware of a change in the atmosphere. The little clots of guests began to break up and mill around the room, men and women began pairing up, and there was a general shift toward the living room door. After a brief surge of noise and laughter, the room got much quieter. Isabel's songbird voice called from the foyer, "All right, everyone, it's time for the graduation waltz! Come out to the patio and we'll try to stay dry." All of a sudden, Patrick was moving away from her, and a piece by Bach began to play. "Excuse me, I've got to go. Be back in just a minute."
He strode across the room towards the door and disappeared into the foyer. Everyone was moving, but Hester was one of the still. Come, come here; I want to dance. Why should they get to be close to one another and I have to stand here? I want to feel that we're close, just for a moment. I want to have a part of me fulfilled, just one dance would do it. Surely one dance would do it. It was the desperate cry of her heart, a longing that made her feel like crying and screaming all at once. Why did Patrick have to leave just now? Why did she have to think of him this way? Why, Why, Why couldn't she just let Ramona have him? Why wouldn't Mona let him go?