by Karenne Griffin
‘It’s well after midnight,’ huffed Jeffrey, sitting up in bed and punching his pillow. ‘Seems like they’ll be partying on all night over at the mansion. I’ve half a mind to go over there and remind them that I’m paying good money to stay in their gatehouse this weekend, and that I’m entitled to a good night’s sleep.
Lucy raised her eyebrows, for it was she who had booked and paid for the weekend away. Jeffrey was about as spontaneous and romantic as a fence post. However she refrained from pointing this out. ‘I have a better idea,’ she said. ‘Let’s get dressed up to the nines and crash the party. Judging by the amount of noise they must be outside. We should be able to get in without too much difficulty.’
‘Are you out of your mind, woman?’
‘Oh come on, Jeff. It’s not like we’re going to be able to sleep anytime soon. Why not investigate how the other half live?’
‘I’d still rather give them a good telling-off,’ said Jeffrey as they picked their way carefully down the lane. Lucy was struggling in her stilettos but determined to carry on.
Jeffrey stopped walking. ‘What if it’s a teenage party? We’d stand out like a pair of old fools.’
Lucy hadn’t thought of this. ‘We’ll have to assess the situation when we get there. If they’re all youngsters we can point out that we’re paying guests and ask them to turn the music down.’
They were by this time walking beside a tall evergreen hedge, and the sounds of merriment were directly to their right. Suddenly in the moonlight they saw a wooden door set into the hedge.
‘It’s like Alice in Wonderland,’ marvelled Lucy, lifting the latch and finding to her surprise that the door opened. The scent of roses advanced on the breeze. They appeared to be in a large rose garden, beyond which they could see flashing lights. The sound system was blasting Gangnam, and the revellers were punching the air and shouting in time with the music.
‘Let’s creep up and have a closer look, see what age they are,’ said Lucy, slipping off her shoes.
But Jeffrey stayed in the shadows, leaving it up to Lucy to investigate.
She returned shortly after. ‘It’s okay, they’re all ages,’ she whispered, putting her shoes on again. ‘Everything from babes in arms to grey-haired grannies.’
‘Babies still awake at this hour?’
Lucy nodded and grinned. ‘Come on, let’s mingle. We can drift in as though we’ve been up to hanky panky in the shrubbery.’
‘The very idea!’ protested Jeffrey, but she linked his arm and pulled him forward.
‘There’s a bar over there, let’s get a drink,’ she whispered. ‘Just look at the size of that swimming pool!’
‘They’re swimming in their clothes!’ hissed Jeffrey.
Lucy giggled. ‘Would you rather they were naked?’
‘A brandy, please, and a glass of fizz,’ said Lucy in her poshest voice to the waiter standing behind the drinks table. He complied wordlessly and, armed with their drinks, Lucy and Jeffrey hovered at the edge of the crowd. There must have been nearly a hundred people present, some dancing on the terrace and others clustering on the lawn, not to mention the few who were larking about in the pool, with its colour-changing lights shining up from the depths.
‘Hello there!’ said a man, probably around their age and clearly the worse for drink. ‘Charlotte, isn’t it?’
Lucy shook her head. ‘Lucinda, actually. Charlotte’s my cousin. And this is Jeffrey.’
‘Glad you could make it,’ he slurred. ‘Just on my way to the little boys’ room.’
With that he lurched towards the house.
‘I can’t do this,’ said Jeffrey, knocking back the last of his brandy. ‘Let’s go.’
‘Party pooper! Go if you must, I’m staying. The fun is just starting. Leave the door unlocked for me,’ Lucy added as Jeffrey headed off into the rose garden.
Lucy returned to the drinks table, putting their empty glasses on the table as she accepted a fresh glass of Champagne.
She drifted toward the terrace, surprised when a man broke away from the dancers and swept her up in a waltz, depositing her half-empty glass on a nearby table. Particularly surprising as nobody else was waltzing to Black Sabbath.
‘Where did you spring from?’ he asked.
‘I dropped down from the stars,’ she replied.
‘I thought as much. You are Andromeda, I presume.’
‘No, Lucinda. And you are?’
She felt the warmth of his hand around hers and the other on her back. The night was growing chilly. Lawrence had sparkly eyes, and his hair flopped waywardly over his forehead and curled over his ears. It seemed strange to be dancing with someone unfamiliar, but a pleasant kind of strange.
‘Have you ever been up in a hot air balloon?’ he asked.
Lucy shook her head.
‘The weather’s perfect. Dawn is almost upon us. My balloon is parked in the field. Come on, Miss Lucinda. Let me take you back to the stars.’
Mesmerised, she took his hand without a thought of Jeffrey.
She was thankful to be wrapped in one of Lawrence’s sweaters while he prepared the balloon. She didn’t care how silly it looked over her long flowery dress; without it she would have been shivering uncontrollably. She helped him support the mass of the silken envelope while he lit the burner. Like magic the rainbow-striped silk rose quickly in the burst of hot air. Lawrence picked her up and deposited her in the basket, jumping in after her and dramatically cutting the tethering rope with a knife. They rose swiftly and Lawrence shut off the burner. They drifted for a few minutes in complete silence as the hot orange globe of the sun burst free of the horizon. They were perhaps a couple of hundred feet above the mist-swathed mansion.
‘Oh, it’s so beautiful!’ murmured Lucy, looking out over the rose-tinted landscape.
Lawrence grinned and re-ignited the burner. ‘The breeze is very light. Let’s see how far we can get before we run out of gas.’
Lucy was completely unafraid as she watched him work the controls. She had no thought of how they might get back to the mansion. It was now fully light at just after six in the morning. Looking over the edge of the basket, she gasped at the sight of half a dozen deer running through the beech forest far below. This had to be the most romantic night of her life. It didn’t matter that she’d probably never see Lawrence again. At least she’d have the memory of her first balloon flight to treasure forever.
Last Modified on: 05-11-2015