The Summer of Small Accidents, Chapter 3

Every Friday, The Gloss is publishing a chapter of Andrea Dunlop’s novel, The Summer of Small Accidents. Catch up with Chapter 1 and if you decide you simply can’t wait for next week’s installment, you can buy the ebook here. Happy reading!

They pulled up outside Brian’s building and asked the cab driver to wait. A few minutes later Brian came charging out of the door in what Leigh imagined was meant to be a youthful jog but made him look like a paunchy valet hustling to fetch some more important person’s vehicle. As he slid into the back seat on the other side of Shaun, Leigh caught a strong tang of sweat mixed with cologne.

“Hey baby,” he said kissing Shaun on the cheek, a gesture she accepted with a tight smile. He was wearing a shirt of almost transparent cotton with the outline of a red bird coming down the side of one breast. He had paired this atrocity with trendy distressed jeans that were the sort of the thing that no man his age, a mysterious number that was somewhere between 37 and 50, should be wearing unless he was on his way from doing some sort of hard labor which had legitimately distressed his pants.

The party they were going to was at an apartment, though to say it was an apartment was really a bit of a misnomer. It was more of a mansion that happened to be affixed to the top of a building. Inevitably, one of the favorite topics of discussion that circulated every party ever held there was the market price of such an apartment. Guests would first be taken up in a service elevator and then continue past the ground floor up a long, narrow flight of stairs, they would then come upon the main indoor floor and the first of three roof decks, this one a garden, the next a swimming pool and the last a full outdoor grill and plenty of seating. The party was being thrown by Melanie and her boyfriend William. Melanie was a friend of Shaun’s; they had shared an agency back when Shaun was modeling.

Leigh could hear Melanie’s voice echoing down the staircase as she and Shaun made their way up the first flight of steps, Brian lumbering up behind them. Melanie had the kind of voice that could be heard through a crowd; it was high and sweet and though it was not at all jarring somehow always pulled itself up out of the general din, existing as though in its own register.

Leigh liked Melanie, and had wished secretly and disloyally that she had met her before she’d met Shaun.

“Hi girls,” Melanie said warmly. Melanie looked beautiful and in her element in her long silk jersey dress. There were a couple of well placed, fancy tiki torches lining the patio edge where the stone met the grass of the garden; the effect of the light was soft and flattering.

“You look,” Shaun said pausing and taking a little gasp for effect, “so gorgeous.”

“Thank you,” Melanie said, “Let me get you guys a drink. Champagne?”

“Always,” Shaun said, smiling so brightly it seemed as though her face might crack.

“She looks really great,” Leigh said as the flash of her dress disappeared into the throng and she was out of earshot. Admiring, not for the first time, the way Melanie moved through a crowd, sifting through its cracks like mist.

“Yeah, she really does. It’s good that she put on a couple of pounds; it definitely makes her look less gaunt. I mean, I was starting to get really worried about her. I think William is good for her,” Shaun said, referring to Melanie’s boyfriend of a year. “The guys she went out with before him were just…” Shaun grimaced and shook her head. “I mean, we all go through that period where we like think its okay to date the bartender-slash-musician or the guy who went to CUNY but it’s just, you know, so not okay.” Her voice downgraded to a whisper as Melanie came back into view.

“Here you are,” Melanie said handing the drinks off, oblivious to the fact that they had just been talking about her. She stayed with them for a few minutes; they talked about the luck of the nice weather for the evening, who had made it to the party so far and who else was on their way until someone lightly touched Melanie’s shoulder and pulled her away from them.

Shaun went to the corner to discreetly enjoy a cigarette and sent Brian to the bar to fetch another round of drinks. He returned quickly with two martini glasses full of something pink.

“What is this?” Shaun asked, her mouth giving a minute twitch of disgust.

“It’s the signature cocktail, a flirtini or crantini or something,” he said, handing off the drinks and looking distractedly back into the crowd.

“Ugh, why does everyone find any excuse to serve pink drinks?” she looked at the syrupy liquid accusingly, sniffed it, scowled and then delicately tipped it down her throat in one swig.

She took another drag off of her half-finished cigarette and ground it into the side of a large potted plant nearby. “I’m going to the bar,” she announced. Leigh followed.

The main bar was located underneath a set of intersecting staircases and in front of it was a well lit dance floor where groups of people stood talking in threes and fours. No one was dancing yet but a few people occasionally shook their hips or bopped their heads to a couple of notes before stopping again, suddenly self-conscious. They drank a few rounds while people Shaun knew came by to greet her. Leigh stood off to the side drinking quietly. She thought how amazingly predictable the crowd was, how much a forgone conclusion. All of the girls were in new party dresses. Leigh could tell looking at the frocks go by that none of them had been worn before tonight. They were not being worn like beloved items of clothing but like items somehow separate from the wearer, in half the instances the dresses were wearing the girls, partially because of the insubstantial size of the later. Party dress girls came in two varieties: a younger version (teenagers easily), bony models with wide eyes and sad sunken faces. She always wondered what happened to those girls after they grew up. There were always new ones coming into the city, evidenced by how shockingly young some of them appeared to be. The older party girls were more intimidating. They tended to come in packs and were all unusually attractive and worked in smart sounding jobs in glamorous industries like fashion and magazine publishing. It was as though they’d all been cast in the television roles of their own lives.

The men at these parties were a mystery to Leigh. It occurred to her that they didn’t have men like this in the Northwest where she grew up, not in her small town certainly but not even in Seattle or Portland. There was a certain good natured ruggedness to the men in those cities that she’d only realized after living for a while in New York, she had taken completely for granted. Here all the men were shorter and wealthier and likelier to be able to spot a fake handbag if they saw one.

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