I navigated the Streets attempting to remember which house was which. The Streets, the nicer part of Bannville, is filled with house after house of old money attempting to outdo one another. Fountains and stucco and Spanish style give way to Tudor and split levels and sprawling lawns that tax even the best landscapists our town has to offer. With all the diversity, one would think that this would make it easy to get around, but this is not the case.
The Streets, so named because it was the first patch of ground that felt the touch of asphalt in Bannville, hooks around the downtown area like a crescent moon, from the train station on one end to the Library on the other. In fact, one could say these two buildings began the streets as the two most affluent families, the Banneds and the Kinneys, started each respectively.
The house I was looking for was the one of Caleb Montgomery, our new director. Hired mid-November, Montgomery was his own form of old money. He and his wife, Jessica, had moved to Bannville from Jackson, Mississippi where her money still lived strong. By all accounts he was a nice guy and had made some good improvements in the library in such a short time. More on that later.
I turned my late model SUV onto Oak Street and immediately knew where I was heading. The lights lit up the sky and caused me to squint a bit until my night blindness took back over. I have seen pictures of the World’s Fair in turn of the century Chicago, most notably in the excellent book Devil in the White City, and was just now looking on its equal.
I found an empty space down the street and parked. Getting out, I looked at the fresh hell I was walking into.
White tents covered both the front and back lawns connected by paths of small white bags that gave off the flicker of candles within. People milled about, clustered into groups causing dark silhouettes to become painted against all that white. Men were in dark suits or tuxedos while women wore the prerequisite sparkles or New Year’s little black dresses.
Looking down at my hunting jacket and jeans, I felt a little under dressed.
I had not expected to come. If I had my druthers, in a half an hour I would be behind the bar at the Honky Tonk taking in a beer or two and hiding between the pages of a pulp novel. I could feel the thunk of the paperback in my jacket pocket as I walked toward the party, a little reminder that I could still get out of here. But I had promised Nat I would make some face time at the new director’s party, so here I was.
I ran my hand over my face, wishing I had cleaned up a little. Little wonder what I looked like. Probably like some lost hobo just off a train attracted to the tents like a moth. I smoothed down the scraggly growth on my face and attempted to make my hair stop the wandering curls posture it adopted in the humid night. Hopeless cause, but at least it looked like I was trying. Hell knows I probably smelled like an old hotel room, stale cigarettes and booze and unwashed age seeping out of me and my old jacket. No matter, I told myself, these people have seen you at your worst. Hell, they were all around when I did that grunge phase in high school. Plus, I am on vacation.
Yeah, some vacation, I told myself. You aren’t supposed to be bullied by your ex on your vacation. Especially when you don’t even have a damn phone. I should have gone camping.
The wind whipped through the tents as I approached and pulled up one loose stake. The rope cracked as the canvas rippled and a man who looked like one of the caterers ran to grab it before it took out one of the party goers. I sidestepped them, wondering if anyone was paying attention to who was coming or going. If I could get in looking like I did, anyone could.
“Tornados coming,” a woman said.
I turned and looked into the brilliant green eyes of Cassidy Bell. I felt my knees weaken a little as I took her in. Tall and graceful, Cassidy wore a deep green dress that only made her dark auburn hair shine with highlights and displayed her shoulders and... ahem... She looked remarkable. Her eyes saw me take her in, stepped back a little and lifted the skirt of the dress, giving me a small curtsy.
I bowed back, never taking my eyes off of her. Cassidy and I had a complicated relationship that bordered on flirtation but would never become more. See, just after Caleb had been hired as director, he hired Cassidy as the children’s librarian. My own rule about dating inside the library bit me on the ass hard on that one.
Not that I hold anything against Caleb for that one, either. At least I did not think I did until this very moment.
“Supposed to be some bad rain,” I said, “Doubt the wind will get that bad.”
“Oh, I don’t know. The wind has a way of getting things riled up. At least as far as I’ve seen around here.”
“Aren’t you cold?”
She looked down at herself and smiled, “Oh, I run fairly hot. Plus I’ve been inside all night. Seems everyone wants to meet me.”
“Fresh blood,” I said, “Watch out. Those old ladies are gonna talk one way or another. Might as well give them something to talk about.”
“I can handle myself,” she said, “Plus, they seem to enjoy swarming around Caleb.”
“I have no doubt about that.”
She moved closer to me, her eyes widening a bit, “Which part? That the ladies like Caleb or that I can handle myself?”
Remember that part about me not liking Caleb and not knowing why? Well, I knew exactly why I liked Cassidy. What is more important, and dangerous, is that she knew why. Always be wary of someone who knows exactly what they can do with little effort, my grandpa told me.
“I guess I should make an appearance inside,” I said, stepping away from her.
“Oh, they’re already talking about you in there,” she said, “Nice jacket, by the way.”
“Thanks,” I said, and made my way toward the house.