“Speaking of spirits, can I get you something to drink?” I asked politely, swishing my glass. “Wine, or perhaps champagne? I was thinking of topping off a few minutes ago, actually…”
Alphonse side-eyed me. “I’ll take some water, thank you. Tell me, do you quite enjoy alcohol, Miss Kiona? I daresay I haven’t met a champagne quite as bubbly as yourself in these few moments I’ve encountered you...”
“Oh, this?” I asked, gazing at my upheld glass. “This is just orange juice. My father was an alcoholic, so I started off adverse to the stuff…” I smoothed over the down-note with a cheerful smile, aimed back at Cole. “I know you told me to let loose and enjoy myself…but I’m fine. Really. I can manage without it.”
“Of course,” he replied, immediately playing along. “Whatever makes you happy, sweetheart.”
“Honeymoon phase,” I rolled my eyes at Alphonse. “It’s all sweetheart and honey now, but give it a few years…”
The mask slipped for a moment as I realized that a few years wasn’t going to happen. Briefly zoning out, I focused on a window in my line of sight, willing myself back into cheerfulness. I wanted to scream. Just buy the goddamn company, you stupid fool! Why do we have to put on this song and dance for you?
“Excuse me for a moment, gentlemen,” I hastily added as I snapped back. “Water, was it?”
“Yes, water will be fine,” Alphonse agreed, his eyebrow curiously rising as he observed me.
I nodded with a sad grin, breaking away to slip back inside. Biting my lip as I poured him a glass of purified, ice-cold water, I fought back the welling tears.
Keep it together, Key, I told myself.
Tonight is everything.
I almost walked back outside without tending to my own glass. Alphonse seemed overly perceptive – I’d already announced that I was refilling mine too. I quickly topped it off, realizing that he’d consider me absentminded and overly contemplative if I overlooked the detail.
As I walked back outside, they were standing side by side, talking discreetly with their eyes over the city. I handed Alphonse his glass, and his eyes immediately slipped to mine – verifying for me that he was carefully observing the details.
Oh, I have GOT to stay on my toes with you.
“Thank you, Miss Kiona,” Alphonse gratefully accepted the glass. He took a deep drink, releasing an exhalation of satisfaction. “This tastes like one of mine. What’s the brand?”
“Keystone,” Cole remarked. “You can tell the difference?”
“Life is about observing the details. One must pay attention and always be grateful for the minutiae, I find. It limits the boastfulness of the bloated ego to always be looking outward, focused on otherwise insignificant things, wouldn’t you agree?”
The message was loud and clear to me: I am watching both of you. I will see what you really are.
“Of course,” Cole answered.
Something snapped in my head. I don’t know if it was the pressure of how perfect this night was, or if I was seeing all the details of this climactic meeting as if for the first time.
I knew that I should play along. I knew that I should simply nod, steer the topic away. Perhaps I could discuss our beautiful marriage, or how much I enjoyed New Orleans. But, try as I might, I couldn’t.
This man was seriously pissing me off.
“I’m not convinced,” I replied.
Both of them turned to me. Cole was wide-eyed, but Alphonse was merely curious, a vague hint of surprise on his face. He probably didn’t encounter people who disagreed with him to his very face all that often.
Fine. We go the “challenge” route, then.
“What makes you say that, Miss Kiona?”
“Sure, people don’t stop to appreciate the details. That’s a common flaw with everyone these days. It’s too easy to fall into the trap of self-absorption, instead of reflecting on the world and its intricacies…or however you’d rather put it. But the thing is, to get where I am now, I’ve had to live in the here and now. If I stopped to contemplate every little detail that came my way, I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere.”