Everyone cast their eyes around the room curiously. Alexandra saw the guests’ confused looks; clearly they thought that the entire group had arrived at the same time and, as there were no spare seats, the girl didn’t blame them. Despite that, it was true that not all the invited guests were present. Thinking back to the guest-list, which she had looked at more than once to prepare each place and to gather props for the entertainment (asking guests to bring their own outfits was acceptable, but to ask them bring their own props was not polite), Alexandra spotted that one person was missing: a man called Rhaïd Mahalle.
The door burst open. Having been flung from the outside, it bounced against the coat-rack and began to drip back as a man stepped skilfully through it.
Right on cue, Mr. Late Character, laughed Alexandra to herself.
“You must be Rhaïd!” Mrs. Winters cried out happily, glad that all her dolls had settled to play.
Rhaïd was panting. His short black hair shone with the last of the glinting light from the outside; tan-coloured trousers and a loose brown top with small silver circles made of a strange material almost like paper, stitched into the cuffs, hung over skin that waved with a medium tan; no sweat fell now, but the caress of the fluid would have made the man’s thin shape shimmer. Alexandra imagined that this man was probably a traveller or worked overseas often; she could fantasise how he would share vintage wine with an Arabian princess from a fancy fairytale.
There was something too, Alexandra noticed, some hints of a personality that matched Christophe’s. It wasn’t the goodness, no, nor the sweet touch of humour he bore, but it was that suggestion of freedom that was held within his strides. Perhaps the unusual colour of his skin reminded Alexandra of her childhood dream of change, especially within the firm hierarchy.
“Sorry, I am late, friends,” he muttered hastily, blushing under all the attention. His accent was thick and it was that of South London but had a taste of something else to it. “I had…a couple of things to attend to.”
“That is acceptable,” Mrs Winters smiled with motherly sympathy at the man, although he had at least thirty years to his credit, barely ten or fifteen years younger than she. The lady was ready to mould one more in her cradle of creation. “I don’t seem to recall the character I set you-”
He said that his character’s name was ‘Nigel’, but gave no other information.
“No matter, no matter…” Mrs. Winters responded. “Now, we’ve had a couple of surprise guests, but I’m sure the maid will be able to whip up a chair from somewhere. Alexandra.”
It was as though Alexandra was a magician; she could produce a chair from thin air.
Passing the champagne bottle to the butler with some hasty vigour, Alexandra pushed open the French window. Being located beside the cedarwood armoire tucked into the corner of the room, the window today was also performing, it becoming the simulation of a higher-floor dining room window. Despite all that was always required of her, Alexandra laughed to herself at the mistress' inimitable use of every piece of furniture to transform her dreary guesthouse, and stepped out to the patio behind the house, which was the home of many useful props, common and uncommon, that the performers might need over the time of their play.
Alexandra glanced back into the room as she reached for the nearest silk-padded mahogany-wood chair; to spy on the concerns of one’s mistress, and where it is not one’s business, was out of the question, but the maid was a little ‘foreign’ to such ethics.
All in all, the entire company seemed to be enjoying itself, laughing and making merriment the hour before the luncheon was due to be served; and therefore they were all in high spirits.
Cynthia had taken back her named seat, leaving Ms. Peterson and her children standing alone. They looked annoyed, but overall, including the fact that they were attempting to make conversation, everybody tried to keep up the appearance of happiness.
But Cook and Christophe didn’t teasingly proclaim Alexandra ‘eagle eyes’ for nothing.
Whilst all the hosts were calm, she noticed the odd body language of some of the guests:
Rhaïd’s plastic smile hid a cold glare mostly directed towards Mrs. Winters; Peter Renfield’s hands were tapping, his eyes darting about the place. He was nervous and the energy of his white fear was directed towards the woman standing opposite him. On the other side of the table, the actress had cast her eyes over the shrew-like man, but he had proven of no interest or use to her, nobody else she required for her personal, celebrated gains.
Whilst the couple residing in the seats next to Daphne, the engaged Cynthia and Joshua, were clearly enjoying each other’s company, the facts easy to be told by that tilt of their heads and the volume of their laughter, there was also something under their joviality: they interacted rather like boss and secretary, where an underlying job or task needed to be brought to a conclusion. It seemed all too clear, to Alexandra, that they were hiding something bigger under the relationship’s fiery exterior. If it was faith that held them together superficially, then it was tyranny that broke the two of them apart. The girl was fine, but inside her joy, there lay something that Alexandra could not extract, a soul split a certain number of ways.