Most don’t see the faded beauty or grace of the abandoned, derelict manor. Most see the broken roof tiles, cracked windows, peeling paint, and rotten columns. Most see a ruin inhabited by birds lured by the skittering and slithering creatures who found their way into secret corners. I see an elegant manor returned the splendor of its heyday with its windows gleaming, its chandeliers glowing, and its doors thrown open to invite guests in formal attire. An orchestra warms up in a corner of the ballroom. Waiters pass through the crowd offering delicacies and crystal flutes of champagne. Join me as we attend a ball where the lines between human and avian blur.
Phoenix scowled as he strode up the wide double steps to the covered entrance. He tugged at his black and russet streaked cumber bund, a small rebellion against the formality of tux and tails. His jacket was lined with the same fabric. He would have preferred the russet and black on the outside, but at least he had the secret satisfaction of wearing his signature color. The black silk eye patch he wore added a rakish air to his rugged face. Females noticed him and smiled coquettishly trying to catch his eye. He ignored them. He didn’t want to be here. He hated formal balls. He accepted the invitation only because the hostess told him Star would be there. Phoenix stood on the wide front portico and stared across the graceful curve of the drive and the manicured lawn to the wooded area beyond. It was early. Guests were just starting to arrive. Phoenix knew Star would be fashionably late.
Phoenix watched the Rolls Royce Silver Shadow glide up the drive and stop in front of the steps. The liveried doorman held out his arm to help Garbo step lightly out of the car. A classy lady, Phoenix thought, arriving in a classy car. Not for him, though. He preferred to travel under his own power. He nodded towards Garbo. She paused, then nodded back on her way into the graceful foyer. Phoenix stayed outside.
A waiter offered a tray of hors d’ouerves. Phoenix shook his head. Another offered champagne. “No, thank you,” Phoenix told him tersely and turned to watch for Star. He decided to give her 10 more minutes before he gave his respects to the hostess and left. The late afternoon sky was starting to streak with color. Phoenix hated being out at night. Nights were for more personal pursuits. “Ahem.” Arnold the butler cleared his throat. His bald red pate and rheumy eyes belayed his attempts to keep the years at bay, but he stood soldier straight in his formal black jacket and offered a tray with a single lead crystal class holding a deep amber liquid. “I thought this would be more to your liking.” Phoenix smiled and picked up the glass of Scotch whisky. “Thank you, Arnold, how are things?”
“Just fine, sir,” Arnold replied. “Although it takes me longer to get going in the mornings these days.”
“Doesn’t it just,” Phoenix smiled. He and Arnold went way back. They had fought together on foreign soil and in their share of brawls. He had lost his right eye in one of those brawls, ending his military career. “Why don’t you join me?”
“I can’t. I’m working. If you stick around after the party, we can share the rest of this bottle.”
Sipping, Phoenix considered. Then he caught the amber flash of wings across the lawn. She’s finally come. He watched as Star soared over the trees and lighted gently on where she stood and shook out the shimmery copper skirt of her satin gown. The satin rustled faintly as she walked, like a hawk’s wings cutting through the air. “I plan to be otherwise occupied tonight,” he told Arnold.
Star felt Phoenix’s gaze and smiled to herself. She knew he wanted her and had decided to let him try. She lifted her head and met his stare.