I felt really uncomfortable at the idea of mingling, but I felt even more uncomfortable at the idea of sticking around while in earshot of Bea and Alain's exchanges.
Eventually I pulled together the nerve to stand up, but Bea tutted and took my glass.
"You're not going to carry this around with you, Kat." she laughed, turning back to her flirting soon afterwards.
I didn't argue. I just walked carefully along the bar, wondering if there was a back exit.
There were doors a few meters away. There was too much of a crowd for me to tell if they were indeed a way out but I started to move towards them, keeping my head down.
Until, of course, I felt a tap on my shoulder.
I turned to see a redhead looking at me with a curious expression on her face, cocking her head to the side to study me.
To say she was pretty would be an understatement. She looked like someone straight out of a fashion magazine, and her deep green dress rivaled Bea's in length.
I didn't even want to think about how I looked in contrast.
"You're Raphael's new protégé aren't you?" she asked, chuckling, "I knew his tastes went to hell."
"Just who are you?" I asked irritably, wondering what I did to elicit such treatment.
She flipped her hair over her shoulder, her dark eyes smirking.
"I'm Vera Morrison-"
The favourite of the Chicago Ballet was standing before me. I knew even then that she'd practically dominated every show, and that she was going to be serious competition.
I felt my insides churn.
"Oh...um hi, nice to meet you." I said, putting on a small smile, "I'm-"
"-Katarina Abromovich," she supplied, tripping over my name, "I know. It's a bit of a mouthful, isn't it?"
She waved to the bartender closest to us and gestured to me.
"Get my friend and I some drinks, will you? I'll have a gin and tonic."
Vera looked at me expectantly and I felt myself hesitate. For some crazy, stupid, reason, I decided not to say 'water'.
"I'll have an Aunt Roberta."
Morrison looked slightly surprised.
"Sure you can stomach that?"
Oh, I'm sure.
I wasn't much of a drinker. If there was one thing I hated, it was a hangover. At that point I felt like slapping myself for my stupidity but it was much too late to turn back.
"Actually," Vera said, turning to the bartender with a smile, "Give me an Aunt Roberta too."
She was really enjoying this. I could see a group of people trying and failing to watch us discreetly, and it was much too obvious that her little clique was entertained.
Shit. I should've just chosen some weak, fruity cocktail and beat it out of there. But, naturally, I went for the strongest thing available. Now if I became a tipsy mess I could bet they'd all be laughing their asses off. And Bea was nowhere to be seen.
This bartender didn't bother with a performance. She just poured the five different alcoholic substances into a shaker (five-I counted) and, throwing some ice into it, shook it around before getting out a strainer and pouring some of it into Vera's glass.
"Um," I interrupted, "I'll have mine on the rocks please."
I watched the ice clink into my glass and I knew that if I waited long enough it would dilute the brandy, vodka, gin, blackberry liquer and absinthe mixture just a bit. The curl of lemon peel sitting against the lip of my glass taunted me, bobbing up and down innocently.
For all intents and purposes, all I wanted to do was finish (or half-finish) the cocktail and leave, but then Vera raised her glass in a mock toast.
"Bottoms up!" she laughed, downing her drink in three seconds flat.
She grinned, showing off her perfect, white teeth. I felt my Russian blood start to boil.
I thanked the heavens I'd had a large meal before going to Bea's and, lifting my glass, downed my drink in two.
I couldn't help it. My lips curled into a smirk.
By then her clique had lost interest in watching from afar and had crowded around us, looking spellbound from me to her and back.
"How about we play a little game?" Vera asked, "If you can outlast me, I'll take the bill. But when I outlast you, you pay. Agreed?"
I knew that the drinks were expensive, damn expensive. And I knew that I was probably facing a seasoned drinker.