Jaq looked over the man’s shoulder at the few people slowly moving around them. She sighed. Everyone looked so beautiful, so elegant. She caught the eye of a young woman, beautiful in her blue cocktail dress, although it seemed to fit a bit wide around the shoulders. Must not have been older than 19, a face that was flawless, her cheeks pink and eyes as big as incandescent lightbulbs. The young woman was slowly dancing with an older man in a tuxedo that had seen too many winters. They were quiet, as were almost all who were slowly moving to the baroque music playing over a stereo system, somewhere in the big room.
Jaq sighed again. Her feet ached. She didn’t mind dressing up, but she hated the pointy shoes. She had changed next to the trunk of her car, just half an hour ago. She couldn’t afford to go home to change: Borgetti mansion was way closer to her office than her home was. Coming straight over from work was the only way to make it in time. She wasn’t looking forward to the one-plus hour drive she would have to make to get home after the party had ended.
Her dancing companion looked at her and only then her mind came back to the present. She squeezed his shoulder while moving slowly in the large, oak-walled ballroom.
«Are you ok?» Malcom asked her. «You looked like you weren’t really here just now.»
She smiled. «I’m here. And I’m fine. But tell me something about you, Mal. What have you been up to in the last ten years?»
Mal smiled. «Not much, I guess. Working. Trying to pay off the house. Not there just yet. But we should be close.»
«You still trying to scam people into switching energy companies for a couple peanuts an hour?» Jaq poked him in the stomach with her left hand and he laughed. «Ouch!» he said, and made a little scene of being hurt for a couple seconds, then he made her pirouette before catching her again.
«No, I’ve been working for a big insurance for the last few years. Lots of demand for personal policies. Health policies. People want to feel secure, I guess.»
«Whatever happened to healthcare as a human right by the way?» quipped Jaq. Mal scrolled his shoulders. «Still there. Allegedly.»
«And what about you? Find your half of the apple just yet?» Mal asked. They were slowly travelling in the ballroom, while the strings music gave way to an Austrian waltz.
«I did. I was married for four years actually.» Jaq told him and looked at his face. He was feigning astonishment, eyes wide, mouth half agape. She laughed and poked him again.
«It didn’t work out. He wanted kids straight away. But you know how I feel about it.»
«You will only have kids when you can be sure you can give them all that you didn’t have growing up», interjected Mal sighing. «You know that’s an unfair standard you’re holding yourself to. Your kids are going to grow up just fine, you know.»
He smiled warmly at her, his black eyes peering into her glinting blue eyes. She hugged him and he tripped into her feet, causing the couple to stumble. They laughed, attracting a few oblique looks from the more austere people around them.
They kept dancing for a few more minutes. The music subsided and the lights started shining brightly on the balcony above the ballroom, where an old, handsome man appeared to the thunderous sound of applause from every guest present.
«You are too kind. Good evening and thank you for that warm welcome. I hope you’re all enjoying this humble evening as we celebrate my daughter engagement.»
The sound of a helicopter got closer and closer. The blue noisy machine hovered over the vast green outside the enormous front window of the ballroom and started landing. Apparently Borgetti, as he had been explaining, had to catch a red eye to Argentina.
«And how’s Annie?» Jaq asked him.
«She’s… Well…» He made a brave smile to her and got a loving smile in return.
«Yea, it seems like dyslexia isn’t great for packing orders quickly. She made the lowest percentile in the latest performance review. They were all canned by an algorithm, basically.»
She hugged him tightly. He smiled at her and then brought his attention back to Borgetti on his balcony. The old host was still speaking, something about how we should all come together to help the less well-off, and another applause when he mentioned his charitable foundation.
«You know» Mal whispered «after all we went through, right now, at this moment of our lives…»
He paused for a long time. Another applause went off, for some other reason this time. He blinked twice, and his lips pressed together into an unconvinced smile.
He felt Jaq look at him with her bright blue eyes. He embraced her around the upper back and whispered. «We’re really lucky to be here.»
Jaq looked out the enormous glass window. The helicopter blades were spinning down, the noise subsiding, soon replaced by a different kind of noise: explosions. First one small pop, then another, and another in quick succession. The bright and colorful flashes of fireworks shone right through the big window and onto the faces of the guests there. Flashes of red, blue, orange and red again. The noise started increasing in volume, started to sound very alike a bag of popcorn bursting in the microwave.
She looked up at Mal. His face was not on the light show outside. He was looking at a wall lantern, inside, that was turned off, together with all other electric lights. He wasn’t smiling anymore. He looked nostalgic.
A cold shiver went through Jaq’s spine, making her tremble. She looked at Borgetti, who was finished with his speech and was looking at the fireworks, next to a very tall dark haired woman with a shiny necklace.
Jaq’s right foot ached all of a sudden. She shifted her weight, stepping back from Mal and catching his hand. The little explosions sounded like coming from a soundproof chamber now, to her. She squeezed his hand tight.