After her third round, Leigh wandered away from the dance floor muttering that she would be right back. She made her way carefully up the iron staircase, holding down the borrowed dress with both hands, hoping what she was wearing underneath wasn’t being showcased to the crowd below. She made her way to the highest roof deck where the food was being served and a great wave of smoke washed over her from the grill; she coughed and hurried out of range of the immense outdoor ovens. Once she had made it to a quieter corner, away from the food and most of the people, the air had the sweet scent of late spring. This was air to be cherished; soon they would descend into the swampy heat of summer. She leaned her palms against the railing and tried her best to take in both the air and the view, knowing both were fleeting. You could see the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges from the roof, and the lights were twinkling in the darkness.
Leigh took a sip of the strange pink cocktail that she had grabbed off of a tray on her way up. She was drunk and starting to feel morose.
She stared out into the night and realized that this was the first time that day that she’d been both alone and stationary. The solitude was relaxing but she was a little afraid of what the inside of her head would look like once the dust had a chance to settle. She had no home in New York. She had lost a close friend and she hated her job. Things were not good. She looked across the street, down into an uncurtained floor to ceiling window of someone’s apartment. She could see the slippered feet of someone who was curled up on an enormous white bed. Leigh felt a fleeting but strong urge to be there instead of here, and then wondered why she had felt it. She thought to herself that if the person in the room could see into the party, they might wish to be here instead of there. It was likely. Who wouldn’t want to be here? She reminded herself that she did want to be here, that she actually was having a good time. On one of her first nights in New York, she’d taken the long way back to her hostel from wherever she had been, walking through the flatiron district. She was really alone then; she hadn’t even met Max yet. She was looking up into the windows of the building as she passed, the way you do without even realizing it on an empty street, looking for the comfort of a stranger’s face to let you know that you are not the last person on earth. In one window there were many faces moving and positioning themselves in the rhythm of a party. A girl about Leigh’s age was leaning against the sill of the open window; she had a drink in her hand and was looking up at the tall boy who was standing next to her, laughing at something he was saying. Leigh realized that at no point in her life before this had she ever felt so truly lonely. The memory of loneliness sticks with you the way the memory of love does, once you’ve felt it; it’s never all the way out of your system. Even now, at Melanie’s party, though things were different, she still felt it creep up on her. Back then, her loneliness had felt bottomless and now it still it felt ever present, looming waiting to swallow her again. The awareness of it would come over her, spilling swiftly across her mind like a shadow in waning sunlight at the most unexpected of times—like tonight.
What she wanted was not as simple as being here or not being here. She wished she could be here as an earlier self, the self who first moved to the city and was so desperate to be shown what was behind the curtain. No one who was at these parties ever appreciated them, no one openly marveled at the size of the prawns being served or the fact that there was a full open bar or even the spectacular view. Why were these dressy girls so bored all the time?
“Hey, what are you doing over here?” asked Melanie, touching her elbow. Leigh felt herself coming towards the surface again, the brief dark moment scurrying out of sight.
“Oh, hey sweetie. I’m just taking a breather. How is your night going?”
Melanie rolled her eyes with a smile. “Sort of stressful; I wish I could just relax and have some fun, I feel like I’m on duty here.”
“Playing the gracious hostess,” Leigh said, “the party is great anyway.”
“Are you having fun?”
“Yeah, it’s really helping get my mind off things. I’ve been pretty stressed out these last few weeks.”
“I know honey, I’m so sorry about everything. Do you think you’ll be able to be friends with him again?”
“Hard to say,” Leigh told her. They both stared off into the distance, there was a breeze blowing but the night air was still heavy with humidity. As she said it, Leigh felt the truth sink in. The answer, the thing that was too hard to say out loud quite yet, was no. They wouldn’t ever be friends again. The chance for reconciliation was disappearing more rapidly with each passing day.
“Do you need another drink?” Melanie asked, after a moment of pause.
“Yes,” Leigh said.
Leigh followed her to the bar and got only another second with her before William came over and politely squired her away. Leigh waved off his apologies with the hand that wasn’t holding her vodka and smiled at them. She reflected that she really felt very happy for Melanie that she had found William. He was so perfect that it was hard to think sometimes that he must not be hiding something sinister; he was handsome and smart and from a good family. Leigh would never have thought that people still said things like “he’s from a good family” before she moved East, the idea had seemed like such an anachronism. But they said it here and meant it. As she understood it, William was the sort of mythical beast only someone like Melanie could ever have.
“All alone?” the bartender asked, his voice dripping with innuendo. Leigh looked at him; he was very handsome in a generic way: nice eyes, square jaw, good hair. He was most certainly an actor who like most actors in New York spent most of his paid hours perfecting the role of cater waiter. Leigh gave him a wry smile and pulled herself away from the bar and turned to walk back out to the pool.
“No,” Leigh said, noting that he seemed to be made nervous by her eye contact, “not at all.”