IV

Elaine didn't have time to feel any more uncomfortable in that moment with the Ellingtons. As soon as Monroe the smarmy one was about to speak again, the crowd hushed. Eyes turned upward to the main staircase when the tinkling of a bell sounded. At the landing above was Janice. She was a vision of gold and pure light; Elaine was blinded.

Janice wore a fully skirted bell gown with cap sleeves and a belt of gold beads. Her hair looked like sunshine, piled on top of her head in curls. Her eyes were shining, shining like crystals—reflecting the light of the ballroom as she descended the stairs into the crowd. She seemed truly like a lady in those first few steps, but as she got closer and closer to the bottom, her face began to distort in introversion.

Mrs. Ellington met her daughter at the foot of the stairs and pulled her daughter into a great big hug. Their golden hair blended together like it came from the same head. Janice made a face of embarrassment but hugged her mother back tightly. She needed it just as much as her mother did.

The room applauded when the two turned and curtsied with red faces. Janice seemed to not have any shared traits with her father or brother. Elaine was proud once again.

"Elly!" Janice and her mother rushed over as soon as the music started playing again. Elaine cringed at the nick-namenickname and then again at the forced embrace from Janice that followed, though less visibly the second time. She took a breathe and reminded herself that this was what she was practicing for all day.

"Jaannn," She drawled out, patting Janice on the back. The blonde released her with probable reluctance. Her face was red again but with embarrassment.

"Oh, you're so sweet Elly," Another cringe. "I hope you haven't been waiting long and I hope daddy hasn't upset you in any way," both of the girls looked back a while off where Mr Ellington and his son had moved on to another couple near the edge of the party. Janice's brother looked back and flashed Elaine a disgusting smile.

"… or my brother for that matter." Janice shook her yellow locks and red face and Elaine found herimself laughing to herself to cover her own discomfort. "I know that we weren't friends at first, or even anything close to that, but I just needed to tell you how much what we have means to me," Janice smiled a diamond smile and Elaine found herself smiling along with her. So she was aware.

Elaine tried to think back to when she had only just met Janice but the time was a fuzzy one for her; she wasn't sure at the time what was real or not.

It was the first time in months that Elaine had been outside her room after her first breakdown—she remembered that. It was in the midst of the months were the girls were both eight—the overlap between Elaine's last and Janice's next birthday.

Elaine had started her education and etiquette training a year before but her mental state did not prove suitable for her originally intended educational platform. Though the Park's were able to contain her schooling to her rooms the work that they had to do to hide their daughter's condition was considerable.

Elaine had come down with a "possibly contagious illness of unknown origin" and wasn't able to attend any social events for quite a while. And for quite a while that particular excuse worked.

The Ellingtons had been family friends for a couple generations and were concerned for how Elaine would fare without any social interaction. After so many attempts of contact, Elaine's parents finally were forced to announce that Elaine's "illness" was in fact not contagious.

A young Janice Ellington was a guest in their home the next day. The first face that Elaine saw in months, other than her family or the ghosts that visited her, was Janice's.

"You were quite a sourpuss" Janice reminisced, laughing something sweet out of her chest. Elaine had to agree.

"I was indeed. Though I must admit that I haven't gotten much better." The pair laughed together before something caught Janice's eyes from across the room. Her father waved her down slightly and Elaine nodded her off in his direction.

"I've got to mingle, unfortunately, but please don't go far," Janice pPleaded, "You're the only one that I really know in this room." She gave a surprisingly graceful curtsy and an even more suprising(ly, a) mischievous smile. Elaine felt pride for the third time that night and she feared that she might have to admit that she had a much higher opinion of Janice than she had originally thought.

Janice flittered off, leaving Elaine to ponder. She was correct in her thinking earlier that day—that she was attracting attention away from Janice. She could feel the connection of another's eyes following her through the hall as she weaved through the crowd. She smiled as she went, greeting those that stopped her. Eyes, eyes, eyes; they followed her and they all felt the same. Lust and envy depending on the gender and sexuality but it was all the same.

"You could sneak me in," a sweet voice said from her hip and she didn't have to look down to know who it was. Sneak you in. Right.

A cold incorporeal hand grasped Elaine's; a chill ran through her but she was getting adept at hiding this reaction by now. Its not a ghost. You're just crazy. She caught a bubble of laughter—a reaction to her own craziness—before it spilled out of her and shook her hand free of whatever was holding her before picking up her pace and heading out of the last of the crowd.

She found herself heading to the terrace that looked over the lighted garden. No matter how many times she had seen this garden during the day or at night, it was nothing compared to how it was this night. The green of the trees were absolutely emerald and soon to be dead. The sentiment was haunting but lovely and she couldn't help herself gazing across the yard to the bushes that were already starting to change their colors.

Sounds from the party drifted, quieted, out from the open glass doorway. Sweet is the sound of laughter and drinking to most people but there is something about the subdued clatter of humanity that Elaine found soothing—like maybe there was some sort of reprieve, far away from the rest of the world.

"The world is quiet and I have buried by my conscience there," a smoky voice said from her left. She didn't turn her head but out of the corner of her eyes she could spot a nice suit leaning against the stone railing of the terrace. She smirked at the irony of his quote breaking into the peace that had surrounded her. Still, it intrigued her.

"Well said," she remarked without giving him a look. "Who said it first?" There was a sniff—maybe a laugh from her left.

"As far as I know?" he asked, pausing slightly with a lilt in his voice, "me." Then he laughed for real and it made the corners of her mouth turn up. "I consider myself as sort of an amateur poet,"

"I'm sure you do," she mused looking down at her nails, freshly lacquered that afternoon. She let the quiet of the moment before return and she listened to the faint clink of glasses from behind her. A cricket chirped off the end of the veranda somewhere.

"The world is quiet and I have buried my conscience there." She let the words sink in as she repeated them. "It really is beautiful."

Turning, she found herself looking at nothing but the railing that was supporting weight only moments ago. Whoever her mystery poet was, he had been quite a distraction, leaving her wanting just a little more dissonance in her quiet. The evening was calm again and she felt that maybe it didn't need to be.