My friend, Ren, and I met through the NaNoWriMo group on Facebook. She loves many things British, and we talk on Messenger frequently. She inspired me to write this post about London society and parties.
The invitation nearly slipped out of Beatrice’s hands, soaked in sweat. She leaned back in the Uber, muttering to herself.
“You’ve got this, you’ve got this. Everything is going to be just fine.”
The Uber driver glanced in the rear-view mirror.
“We’ve nearly arrived, Miss Winchester. Do you need a water or something from the cooler?”
Beatrice smiled slightly.
“I’d down a nice glass of Chardonnay right here, given the chance,” She thought, praying it didn’t come out of her mouth.
“Miss Winchester? Are you all right?”
“Oh, yes, I’m fine. Thank you, sir. Water, please.”
He fished out a cold Dasani. Beatrice’s hands shook slightly as she unscrewed the cap. She set down the invitation on the black leather seat, wishing she’d asked him to turn around and take her back to her building.
She swallowed, feeling a little better.
“Thank you for the water, sir, I appreciate it. How much do I owe you?”
The man smiled. He’d been driving for Uber for quite a while, and it earned him a good living. He’d paid extra for the car cooler several months ago, and knew when the society season ramped up. The spring and summer were unbearable at times, and it wasn’t just the temperatures.
Beatrice Winchester was his first society passenger of the night, and he knew there were many more to come. The invitation that was fluttering in her hand when he pulled up to her building was the signal.
Beatrice shuffled a bit. She never thought a mix of taffeta and silk could be so uncomfortable, even though she loved the dress the minute she saw it on the dress form in the shop window in February.
“How much do I owe you?”
“It’s nothing extra, Miss Winchester. Unless you’re feeling generous, of course. It’s my pleasure to provide beverages to my passengers.”
She laughed. “I wish you could carry alcohol, sir.”
He matched her laugh. “Nearly every customer of mine, especially at your age, says or wishes the exact same thing. I can’t, by Uber rules, but I wish they would, with so many people asking.”
Beatrice felt a bit more relaxed as the ride came to an end. She liked this driver, James, and looked forward to requesting him for the ride home. It was nice that you could do that with Uber and Lyft, unlike the traditional cabs.
“Well, here we are, Miss Winchester.”
Beatrice turned her head. The butterflies swarmed again.
The office building had been transformed into a gala. So many people were outside, it felt like a red-carpet event for celebrities.
“Are you paying through your phone?”
“Oh, yes, thank you.”
She opened her Uber app, paid her fare, tipped generously, with a few pounds extra for the cold water. And gave him five stars. Beatrice Winchester was hard to please, but this was easy, in comparison to what she was facing.
James’s phone dinged with the payment confirmation.
“Thank you, Miss Winchester. Much appreciated and obliged.”
She tipped her head. “You’re welcome. Are you going to be driving later?”
He smiled. “All night.”
“I’ll wait for you. You’re one of the best drivers I’ve had.”
He smiled, undid his seat belt, and got out to open her door.
“Do you need anything else?”
She smiled, shook his hand, and thanked him for opening her door.
“I’ll see you later, I hope.”
“I hope so, too, Miss Winchester. Thank you again for your generosity and kindness. Enjoy the party.”
She watched him straighten her seat belt, close her door, and wiped his hands before getting back in the driver’s seat. He nodded to her again, cut on his turn signal, and navigated back into what was now heavier traffic.
Beatrice sighed, watching him drive away.
She didn’t want to turn around, but forced herself to. As a promise to her mother last year, Beatrice had agreed to go to at least one society party, if invited. Her mother had married her father long before she was ever invited to any society party, so it was a lot to ask of Beatrice.
At this point, she was 21, floundering a bit at university, and was struggling with general direction. She didn’t consider herself a party girl, but enjoyed going out with her friends. But these society parties were well-respected, and many were honored to be invited. So when the fancy envelope, with delicate calligraphy, showed up in Beatrice’s mailbox in January, her mother was beside herself.
“Oh, Bumblebee, how marvelous! We must get you a dress soon.”
Beatrice sighed as her mom dissolved into another coughing fit. The bronchitis was chronic now, even with a weekly housekeeper, no pets, and no more roses from Dad.
“Mom? Are you okay?”
She struggled to catch her breath. “Yes, of course, Bumblebee. I’m going to sit down.”
“I can always ring you back.”
“No, no. I’m fine now. This is a momentous occasion that needs to be celebrated.”
“Mom, come on. It’s one society party.”
“This one party may make all the difference, Bumblebee.”
Beatrice rolled her eyes, but felt her heart swell. Maybe her mom was right. The party wasn’t until June. After classes ended. The summer was always her favorite season. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.
As she rolled her shoulder blades, trying to ignore the still-very-uncomfortable dress, impossible strapless bra, higher-than-normal heels, and copious sweat, Beatrice took a deep breath. She listened. The familiar notes from the string quartet entered her ears.
She hummed along with the beautiful music of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata as she pressed her way through the crowd. She clutched the invitation, praying she would find the front door soon.
“May I help you?”
“Yes, I’m here for the party.”
“Your invitation, please.”
Feeling icky, she handed over the damp invitation.
“Welcome, Miss Beatrice Winchester. There is plenty of food and drinks available, at no extra charge. Bathrooms are to the right of the event hall. Stay as long as you like. Did you drive here?”
“No sir, I took an Uber.”
He nodded. “That’s pleasant to hear. Some guests do drive themselves, and we usually have to take away their keys. We are glad that you won’t be one of them tonight. We are very safety-conscious.”
Beatrice smiled, although feeling even more uncomfortable, if that was possible.
“Well, Miss Winchester, please enjoy your evening. We are delighted in your presence. If you need anything at all, please find one of the staff members.”
Beatrice smiled, thanked the man and woman, and tipped the doorman.
She climbed the stairs, feeling a blister form on her left heel.
“Oh dear. The shoes are coming off sooner than I thought.”
The cold air was welcomed, although the event hall was packed and humid. Beatrice lost count at 200 people, although the room easily held 500. There weren’t many tables and chairs, just the smattering of high cocktail tables in the four corners. There was a massive dance floor. The string quartet was ending Moonlight Sonata as she searched the room.
She absent-mindedly fiddled with her sequined clutch, trying to figure out her next move. The string quartet bowed, and polite applause rose. She clapped along. As the string quartet departed, she saw someone approach a small stage with a microphone.
“Welcome, everyone, to the first society party of the year. We are delighted that so many of you have joined us this early in the evening. We have a lot of great entertainment lined up tonight. We also have food and drinks at no extra charge. We are expecting about 500 people total. Please, enjoy yourselves. I’ll be back shortly to introduce the next entertainment.”
Polite applause rose again as the man departed. Recorded pop music started up from the speakers, and a few women started dancing.
Beatrice was tempted to become one with a wall, but pictured her mother’s face. She was so thrilled this day had come, even though Dad had to take the obligatory photos because Mom was sick in bed, again. She could barely speak, hardly able to tell Beatrice she loved her.
She pictured Mom’s face, then Dad’s. Even though she felt she was floundering in every aspect of life, she knew Mom and Dad were proud of her. After Evan died three years ago, this was such a bright spot. Beatrice was determined to keep buzzing along, even if it was only for one night to buoy her parents’ spirits.
“Hi! I’m Abigail. What’s your name?”
Beatrice smiled. “Hi, I’m Beatrice. Nice to meet you.”
“Do you dance?”
Beatrice shrugged. “I’m pretty daft.”
Abigail laughed. “I’m terrible, but anyone who tells me to my face that can shove it. Come on!”
Beatrice was swept up in the dancing. All the girls on the floor were kind, almost too polite. There was Abigail, Mallory, Melody, Emily, and Wren. Another girl named Ashley soon joined in.
“Where are the guys?”
Beatrice laughed, trying to catch her breath. “I think they’re all intimidated by us.”
Mallory whooped. “They’re all jealous. We’re the best dancers in this whole lot.”
The girls danced for another half-hour, until “Uptown Funk” ended.
Abigail and Mallory, clearly the most experienced society party-goers, showed the rest of the girls the ropes.
“We come for the dancing, and the drinks!”
Beatrice smiled. “So, how is this different from going out to the pub or club?”
Mallory hooted. “This is the fanciest of them all. I love getting dressed up. Sure, my mum is always thrilled and fusses over me, but I get a kick of every party. Some of my gals have found husbands, a few left their guys and fell in love with girls, and the rest of us love being single and partying it up every season.”
“Is there an age limit?”
Abigail waved her hand. “Kind of. The upper age is around 30. It’s ‘expected’ that you have a job, a family by then. But I scoff. I’m 28. As long as I keep getting invited, I’m coming. It’s nice to get dressed up, get your hair done, full makeup, and let loose a little.”
Beatrice shifted. “I’m still pretty uncomfortable.”
Mallory snorted slightly. “I felt that way my first party, too. I didn’t want my taxi to leave. The driver was so handsome, too.”
Beatrice relaxed a bit. “That’s how I felt, too. My Uber driver is pretty hot, if I do say so myself.”
It turned out that five of the girls had been James’s passengers at least a couple of times. He was evidently very popular.
“Is he married?” One of the youngest girls, Evelyn, asked dreamily.
Beatrice smiled, and thought she recognized Evelyn.
As Mallory answered in the negative, Beatrice kept glancing at Evelyn.
“Evelyn, darling, where do you live?”
She was startled by Beatrice’s question.
“That’s my building!”
“Come off it, really? Which floor?”
Abigail leaned over and whispered to Mallory. “Every single time. There are people who live in the same buildings, and don’t even know it.”
Beatrice relaxed even further after meeting Evelyn. They quickly made plans to meet up again. Beatrice didn’t even need that big glass of Chardonnay to quell her nerves, although she appreciated the offer. She enjoyed herself as the night slipped away. The ladies ate, drank a bit, flirted, and danced.
About 450 guests showed up. The party got a bit raucous after one the most sought-after DJs in the city was revealed to be the main entertainment.
Beatrice felt herself buzzing with her new friends, enjoying the diversity of the group. Abigail and Mallory were the most experienced. Evelyn was starry-eyed the whole time.
Emily danced her feet off with one guy who kept undressing her with his eyes, not that she noticed. Melody was making the rounds with three different girls, trying not to tip off any of them.
Ashley was feeling insecure about transitioning from Adam, but she felt inspired by all the women.
Wren was swept up with a guy that everyone else thought was creepy. He ended up getting kicked out a few hours later because he got himself uproariously drunk, tried to steal the microphone from the DJ, and projectile vomited on the security guards as they were escorting them out.
Abigail jabbed her thumb in his direction and giggled, laying her head on Mallory’s shoulder. “That’s another thing that happens. Every. Single. Time. Without fail. We always laugh at the crazy drunk ones. They get hauled out, and we all dissolve into giggles.”
Evelyn sipped her wine, feeling a bit unsteady.
“Can I share your Uber home with you? I’m feeling sleepy.”
Abigail chuckled. “That’s the wine talking, dear.”
Evelyn blushed. “It is my first party.”
Mallory sighed. “Don’t go yet, girls. Please!”
Evelyn stifled a yawn. “I’ll go easier on the wine. Next time.”
Beatrice smiled, and helped Evelyn to her feet. “Come on, sweetie, let’s get James and go home.”
Evelyn laid her head on Beatrice’s shoulder. “Yes, let’s do that. Help me not slobber all over him? Deal?”
Beatrice waved at the other girls as Evelyn chattered on.
“Until the next party, girls! Let’s do this again soon.”
James was as handsome as ever, helping Evelyn and Beatrice into the backseat.
As Evelyn dozed off within minutes, James caught Beatrice’s eye.
“Did you have a good time, Miss Winchester?”
“Yes, I did, indeed. And please, call me Beatrice. Thank you for driving us home, James. I have several new friends. And I can’t wait for the next society party.”
James raised an eyebrow, and they both laughed.
“I’m glad you had a good time, Beatrice. Most society invitees do. And making new friends is always good and fun. Thanks for trusting me to drive both of you.”
“We look forward to requesting you again, hopefully soon.”
James smiled, and focused back on the empty streets. Beatrice sighed, checked on Evelyn, and stared out the window. As she watched the city lights pass by, she sighed happily. Mom and Dad would be thrilled, and she was satisfied, too. She wondered when the next fancy envelope with calligraphy would be in her mailbox.
Even if she never got another one, she knew she’d made at least seven new friends tonight, and that was a pretty successful night in her book.
Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂