The party had, unfortunately, become one of 'those'.

A series of petty conflicts and miscellaneous incidents had left the revelers fragmented into a series of agitated little groups and the promise dashed for the the gaiety of the evening. Milling about, alone and directionless, I wondered why I had come at all.

I also wondered if, while I had participated in no conflict - being, as I like to refer it, 'allergic' to conflict – my own disposition on this particular night had not somehow influenced that of the others. I knew that even before arriving I had felt a sort of ambivalence to the whole situation even though I was delighted that our hostess had chosen to include me in her plans. Still, it is also true that there does exist a collective emotional state which ebbs and flows according to the individual states of the participants and, maybe, mine, in conjunction with that of others, conspired to alter the party atmosphere into what it had become.

Doing my best to avoid interacting with anyone, I moved along the less lit edges of the hall thinking that I would give it the time for one more drink and then, long before the forced happiness and strained well-wishing of midnight, inconspicuously slip out and seek the more tranquil surroundings of my hotel suite with it's small, calming waterfall and expansive view over the cityscape.

Without incident or interaction, I arrived at the bar. The bartender, a sandy-haired, young fellow in an immaculately pressed, wing-collar shirt and black bow tie, smiled at me.

“Good evening, sir. What can I get you?”

“Manhattan, please.”

He nodded and, with studied precision, chose a tumbler and polished it, added ice and the necessary mixes and finally, with a flourish passing it across to me, added a garnish. I thanked him and slipped a bill into his tips jar.

“I appreciate that, sir,” he added.

Not knowing where to go or, rather, having nowhere in particular to go, I leaned against the bar and took a sip from my glass. The young fellow wiped down the bar and then stood, hands clasped behind his back, attentively awaiting his next customer.

“It's a quiet party,” he ventured. So he had noticed the mood, too.

“It is,” I agreed and glanced toward him. “I guess sometimes they just don't 'gel' right,” I suggested.

“It's still early and the band will be on in a bit - that should liven things up.”

“I hope so,” I said. I resumed scanning the room. “Maybe you need to start force-feeding them,” I added and tipped my glass to him. Just beyond my vision, he laughed but suggested that 'it wouldn't be necessary'.

I don't know how I had missed her.

Maybe, I thought, I had been looking inward far more than outward with my reflections on my own mood and group dynamics. Nonetheless, she was stunning in a long, black satin gown off one shoulder which, despite it's folds gathered around her where she sat, alone, it revealed the very pleasing contours of her body and the pale lustre of her skin. I was, frankly, surprised that she was not surrounded by a fly-like swarm of black suited men vying for the benediction of her attention.

I thanked the bartender and he wished me a pleasant evening. I clasped my tumbler, still mostly full, between my fingers and slowly walked to her table.

“Hello,” I said, pausing at a respectful distance.

“Hi!” she said brightly but, in truth, it seemed forced. I made preparations for a hasty retreat. She tucked a stray strand of short, dark hair behind her ear and studied me from large, equally dark, eyes.

“Are you enjoying the party?” I asked and gestured with one hand to the uncomfortable collection of guests.

“It's lovely,” she offered and her mouth spread into an unconvinced smile.

“Really?” I said. She blinked, long lashes falling onto her cheeks and, then, tilted her head slightly.

“No. It's dreadful.”

It was my turn to smile. I extended my hand.

“I'm Eric. May I keep you company for a minute?” She took my hand in a professional clasp and shook it.

“Please.” She withdrew her hand and gestured toward a seat. “I'm Sam – Samantha.”

“Nice to meet you, Samantha,” I said taking the offered chair and turning it slightly toward her. I like the sound of her name formed in my mouth. We fell to making pleasantries and then returned to the beginning.

“I thought it was just me being in a bad mood,” she commented, shifting by degrees toward me in her seat and posing her hands in her lap. I relaxed against the table and the tumbler, slowly emptying, dangled from my fingers.

“Not at all. I thought it was my fault. Even the bartender commented to me that it was quiet.”

“We can't all be in a bad mood!”

“I'm sure that someone out there is quite happy – maybe they should have left the doors open so the vibe would seep in...”

“We could definitely use some 'happy vibe' in here,” she said, laughing.

“Yes, we could.” I paused, thinking and studying my glass. “Samantha, do you think you'd like to take a walk and get some air?

“Yes, I do, Eric. I think I'd like that very much.”

So decided, we stood in unison, she, collecting her evening purse, and I offered her my arm. We spotted the nearest exit and, not running but not quite walking either, we burst, with a collective sigh of relief, into the busy corridors of the hotel. Under the lights, she was even more enchanting than in the dimness.

We walked calmly, our arms locked, possibly seeming an experienced and comfortable couple whereas, I think, we could not have been more new or much less a couple. Outside, she eyed me but made no comment while I lit a cigarette and, blowing out the smoke, it was washed away on the cool, damp breeze. We watched a parade of limousines arriving and disgorging guests to various parties; young men in extravagant suits and young ladies dressed as no daughter of mine would be allowed.

Samantha shivered. I quickly put out the cigarette and, placing my hands on her shoulders, guided her through the sliding glass to the warmth and bustle of indoors. Somewhere near, a girl screamed, 'Oh my God, Jenny!' I didn't bother to look.

“There must be somewhere we can go,” I commented.

“Hmmm,” said Samantha. She pulled herself a little closer. “Take me somewhere nice, Eric.”

“How could I refuse,” I said to her. I glanced downward, her face shimmering, inches from my shoulder and she was smiling, relaxed. I watched the various directional signs as we passed. One said, 'Garden'. I followed the indications and the elevator ascended to the roof.

“Oh!” Samantha exclaimed as we entered.

“Wow,” I echoed. Somehow, our hands found one another and the fingers intertwined.

The enclosed, rooftop garden was bedecked for the Holidays with vibrant seasonal greenery, poinsettias and strings of tiny, twinkling lights; it seemed a refreshing oasis for the troubled mind.
“It's beautiful!” Samantha exclaimed and tugged at my hand. I followed willingly to each new floral discovery. “It's perfect.”

“I didn't even know where we were coming,” I confessed.

The music was soft and jazzy, piped in from unseen speakers hidden among ferns. We met, beginning to dance and her hand resting lightly on my shoulder, in a  small, wooden gazebo at the top of the garden as, outside, the first fireworks began streaking into the sky and lighting it with their explosions and streamers of colour.

“I guess it's the new year,” I commented.

Samantha's eyes were closed but they slowly opened and she looked up at me. I felt her hand shift to the back of my neck, drawing me forward.

“Happy New Year,” she said.

I didn't have time to respond before our lips met and I pulled her body close to mine.

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