You can see my first vignette here, if you're interested.
Their parties were always lavish. The entire orchard was speckled with lights, tiny luminaries hanging from the delicate branches. A large white tent had sprung up amongst the fruit-laden trees, and underneath it were rows of wooden tables covered in white linen and set with fine white china and clear crystal glasses. In the distance, a small crowd of people, chattering and even singing merrily, made their way down a wide path lit by the glowing trees, to the tent.
At the head of the crowd were Mr. and Mrs. Gregory Hampton, the hosts. Their good friends, Dr. and Mrs. Lawson, walked next to them. The ladies were in lovely white summer dresses, the kind that seemed both casual and perfectly formal at the same time. The gentlemen’s white suits complimented them perfectly. The other couples who trailed behind were dressed in the same fashion, for there always seemed to be an unspoken dress code for all the Hampton’s events.
No one seemed out of place, not even Ben Lawson, the son of the good doctor and his wife, who had a habit of being very much out of the ordinary, though out of politeness most people tried to ignore it. He looked smart in his well-tailored white suit, his dark and unruly curls slicked back with the same pomade his father used. His lean face with its sharp features were not marred by the small scowl he wore—it simply enhanced his rakish persona, drawing the attention of a few ladies like the moths to the trees’ luminaries.
Beside him walked his oldest friend (and rumored betrothed), Lorelei Hampton, the hosts’ daughter. She had taken Ben’s arm as they walked the tent, her slim figure fitting nicely against his taller, more robust frame. Lorelei had that well-practiced look of simpering happiness affixed to her lips, though it didn’t reach her eyes. It was as if Ben’s agitation was contagious.
The all sat down to dinner. Three courses. Simple and lovely. The menu perfectly matched to the setting, all agreed. Very well planned out, many said to Mrs. Hampton, who glowed.
Dinner was cleared away along with the tables and some chairs. A small bandstand had been erected and players had come under the tent. They played the popular tunes and some couples began to dance. Others mingled at the outskirts of the tent, chatting (which really meant gossiping).
The largest crowd orbited around the Hampton and Lawson wives (their husbands had disappeared some time before). They delicately held glasses of champagne, laughed politely at poorly told jokes and dealt county news like a bar keep at a speakeasy. Finally, someone asked, “But Mrs. Hampton, are there wedding bells to be tolled for your Lorelei?” Mrs. Hampton looked to her friend and Mrs. Lawson giggled.
Ben stood at the edge of the small crowd, and though he went unnoticed by his mother and her friend, and many of the others around him, he could still hear every word that was being spoke.
“I suppose that all depends on a certain young man,” Mrs. Hampton replied, smiling at Mrs. Lawson.
“Well, Benjamin is due to complete his doctor’s training the spring after next and then he’ll take up practice with his father. I suppose once he’s established and found himself a home to settle down in he’ll need to take a wife. A man cannot live with a housekeeper alone,” Mrs. Lawson explained.
“Well, some men can’t,” someone muttered, glancing at Rodney Smith, the man who married his maid. She hadn’t been invited.
Ben listened to this, gritting his teeth. He knew his mother and Mrs. Hampton had designs on his future. And he had gone along with it all for many years now, growing comfortable with his future. But incessant niggling in the back of his mind, urging him to not completely settle, had yet to go away. Hearing this open declaration of what he was going to do with the rest of his life, without any direction confirmation from himself or Lorelei, seemed to intensify the niggling. He felt fidgety all of a sudden, becoming more uncomfortable with the awkward clothes and hair.
“In another years time we shall be planning a summer wedding,” Mrs. Hampton was saying.
“And in another year’s time, I should think, we’ll be discussing grandbabies,” Mrs. Lawson chimed in with ill-disguised glee.
It wasn’t as though Ben never planned on marrying and having children. It wasn’t as though he had decided his wife would not be Lorelei—he quite liked her, in fact, but he had thought, perhaps, he ought to have a choice in who he married, and Lorelei ought have a say, too, he thought. He knew she loved him, that she wanted him badly, but it didn’t seem right for her to choose him, for he’d really been the only boy she’d ever known.
He suddenly felt quite angry as he continued to listen to his mother and Mrs. Hampton and all their plans for his life. He was quite surprised they hadn’t planned his death and funeral, too.
“Damnit, Mother,” he heard himself say. Others heard him, too, and turned in his direction. He could not look away and pretend he had not spoken. “Damnit, why can’t you mind your own business? Who are you to announce all this when I haven’t even—” He didn’t know what else to say, except, “Damn you both!” He turned and walked off, leaving the tent for the darkness beyond, his mother yelling after him, “Benjamin! Benjamin!”
It was ten minutes later when he felt the soft palm on the back of his neck and soft lips on his cheek. The softness was Lorelei, coming to sit down beside him in the rocky sand of the river bank that was just beyond the orchard. Her long hair was loose about her shoulders and it felt cool against the side of his face as she leaned against him.
“I heard what you said,” she murmured. Ben didn’t say anything, he simply took her hand.
They were silent for a bit before Lorelei continued, “Do you remember that day the parson’s boy married us under the oak tree by your parents’ house? We were so little, maybe five or six, and you held my hands and kissed me at the right time and promised me that you’d love me forever. Do you remember?”
“I remember,” he said.
“You must have always known we would marry, Ben. What more needs to be said between us. You promised yourself to me.”
“I was five, Lorelei.” His voice was firm, but inside, he was disintegrating. Doubt filled him up as the anger from before seeped away. Somewhere within himself, he knew this was not where he was meant to be. It felt unfair and dishonest. But the touch of Lorelei was like a siren’s call, and he kissed her there in the dark, pushing her body deep into the river bank. She turned into the rocky soil of the bank and Ben knew that she was as much to blame as his mother and hers. But she didn’t know any better, he thought. She had always believed that Ben was hers—how could she know anything else?
His lips left hers and he stood. “I can’t, Lorelei,” he said quietly. His arm extended, taking her hand and pulling her to her feet. She quickly brushed the sand and dirt away.
“It’s all right, we have plenty of time,” she said, misunderstanding.
Ben said nothing at all, only walked away, no plans of turning back. Lorelei let him, misunderstanding.