Torrid Tea Party
Confusion flashes across my dear father’s face upon the sight of me. Oh, how I yearn for recognition from him. And while the denizens of the Court of Spades miss the king’s gleam of disorientation as their gazes are focused on my entrance, I catch it.
The dubiety of dementia.
I see the utter puzzlement that clouds my father’s eyes as he stares into my vermillion irises. His advisor, the Gryphon, whispers in his ears, corrupting the King of Spades with his malevolent nature. A flare of recollection alights my father’s eyes, as his advisor reminds him of my identity. Yes, I'm your daughter. The pain of being forgotten, even for just a moment, is immense. Tears glisten and well in my eyes, making them glimmer like rubies. Warmth seeps into my shoulder, on top of my scalloped cap sleeves. Leveret. Never have I been more grateful for the Rabbit’s presence. A smile blossoms on my face, too grateful and genuine for me to comprehend. His creamy skin crinkles with a frown. “Are you alright?” His authentic worry for me compresses my heart, jostling it with a reminder of the past. Love is pain. Pain is love. There is no differentiation to be found. “I'm fine,” I reassure him, turning my hand vertically with a slight twist of the wrist, my wave a classy affair that oozes decorum.
The Rabbit chides, “‘I am fine’ is the most commonly used lie ever known.” I grit my pearly white teeth in aggravation. “Perhaps I used the words to disprove the general association between ‘I am fine’ and deception. Have you considered that?” Before Leveret can engage in my verbal war by responding with a gibe of his own, the Gryphon raises his goblet. We are both handed martini glasses of malachite colored liquid, silver flecks adding a vitreous luster to the concoction. Admiring the lemon garnish set aflame with igneous wisps of fire, I take a deep sip, the juniper taste of the gin effervescent. This refreshment is named Kindling Inferno. Appropriately so, too.
The Gryphon begins his toast. “Our most gracious sovereign welcomes you to tonight’s gathering, as we celebrate the welfare and prosperity of the Spades!” Boisterous cheers of delight sound, and the Gryphon waits imperviously for silence before continuing. “We urge you to feast upon the delicacies of JubJub platters, cavort to the music of dulcimers, and observe the night’s entertainment!” The king smoothed out his grey beard, his expression too joyous for the disease that was prying his mind apart more and more every day. “Let us carouse during the night and be greeted by day!” Ebullient cheers sound as the king’s subjects clink their glasses to toast the speech their king spoke only a sentence of. But the aristocratic inhabitants of Cordisa seem too far gone to alcohol to care about this misdemeanor. To notice how the Gryphon is slowly becoming the mastermind behind the crown; the puppeteer to the puppet. I notice. Snarling sounds from my right and I turn to see Leveret glaring daggers at the fraudulent advisor. Placing my hand on his arm, I lean close enough to brush my lips against his human ear. He shudders as I whisper, “What would you say to cavorting with me, the enemy, to take down our common adversary?” A dastardly smile, cold as bones, spreads across Leveret’s attractive face at the proposition. “I’d say it’s about time we condemn birdy over there to the bottom of the rabbit hole.” I raise my glass, triumphant in our newfound collaboration. “Here’s to a deadly partnership-” memories cleave through me, wringing my soul with pain- “and to forgetting painful memories.” Leveret’s gaze darkens ominously, but he lifts his glass upwards. “Cheers. I'll damn well drink to that.”
Periwinkle silk fabrics spiral downwards with finesse, as aerial artists gyrate to the chords of music. Suspended in midair, the performers seem to defy gravity itself as they execute elaborate arabesques, horizontal flips, and bascules. “Corde lisse.” Drawls a light, affable voice from behind me. The voice causes me to turn my attention away from the performers I had been fixated on, and come face to face with the mischievous azure eyes of my roguish best friend and one of my advisors, Tee Tweedledum. “That's a skill of yours, isn't it, Val?” My grin is the epitome of amorous teasing. “Oh, you mean performing aerobatics hanging vertical wise on a rope? That's just my cup of tea.” I brush my hands through his sapphire and indigo hair that is oftentimes mistaken for ebony locks. “If you need a reminder, I wouldn't be against giving you a private performance.” His grin is just as ardent as mine as he presses a lingering kiss to my cheek.
Tee and I are fluent in innuendos because our willingness to toe the line between friendship and more is immense. We were redolent to lovers, yet not. “How could I ever turn down such an offer?” The clearing of a throat behind us has me craning my neck to identify the source: my ex-boyfriend turned personal advisor, Dee Tweedledee.
If Tee was a vibrant thread of joviality and cheekiness, Dee was a complex dark tapestry.
A tapestry that I had once been woven into, but now was clipped out of.
Dee was flagrant masculinity paired with unapologetic sensuality, all accentuated by the darkness that took residence in his soul. When we were dating, his darkness had amplified my own, wedded mine in antipathy, and forced me to sever our ties for the sake of survival. Whose survival, I still couldn't tell.
Staring deep into his penetrating amaranthine eyes, I tried to gauge his thoughts, to no avail. “Let’s not give anyone ammunition to gossip on the topic of your virginity.” My kingdom was still embedded within the archaic tendencies and double-standards that governed control over a woman’s sexual proclivities, stating that to be pure all brides must remain a virgin till the night of her wedding.
Such was an ordain amidst other decrees I did not allow to dictate my life.
Dee is aware of this. Surely he should be, considering that he is the very lover I lost my virginity to. Flicking a disarranged lock of refined amethyst hair off his forehead, Dee stares down his flawless nose at me. “Then again, monogamy is a new, foreign concept to you, isn’t it, Vee?” Ignoring the implication of his remark, I snark, “Bovine ass.” His relaxed posture doesn't indicate whether or not the statement affected him. Instead, his stoic smile solidifies his nonchalance as he says, “Merciless bitch.”
Unable to muster up anything more than a pitiable diversion, I muttered, “I need another drink.” Intuitive by nature, Dee senses my defense mechanism and his smirk turns facetious. “Knock yourself out, your Royal Highness.” Hearing my title leave Dee’s lips so coldly was not as unfathomable as it once was. See, you're improving.
Refusing to halt and peer over my shoulder, I sped toward the bar. Despite my best effots, my thoughts snagged on those two words, ‘Royal Highness’. It was a phrase meant to ridicule our former intimacy with its formality. Why do I care how my advisor perceives me? At age 19, I had been through the gantlet of receiving veiled affronts and cruel treatment from jealous noble ladies bordering on mental abuse, so insults have lost their significance to me long ago.
Determined to forget Dee, I sat down on a velveteen upholstered stool, and swallowed alcoholic beverage after beverage. After all, drink me to forget harbored anguish, eat me to explore avant-garde sizes, was how the saying went. Rising, I strode to the dance floor swarming with ecstatic gentry swaying to the fast tempo. I look way too good tonight to waste any tears on crying. Besides, I’m all out of salt.
Daring to let loose, I allowed the beat of the music, the somber minor keys, to encapsulate my emotions. Slowly, my moves turned alluring and derrière-centric. Dancing to the agonized harmony of the dulcimer, I assumed the comforting role of who I truly was: an unvarnished aerial performer.
The undertones of my flexibility and talent failed to jolt the crowd whom I vaguely noticed was beginning to surround me. Too intoxicated to marvel at my audacity, the courtiers watched my dance as if I too was a performer.
I deliver my moves with elation and petulance, with all the dexterity of an expert as the assemblage around me grows in numbers and admiration. My best friend’s familiar nasal-edged voice is at its smokiest timbres as she sings across from me. “Oh no there you go, making me sane. But what if you’re mad? And what if I like it? And what if I let your madness reign?” Allowing her typical bravado to drop, Darcy’s vocalizations became vulnerable in the face of the crowd infatuated by our dual performance.
“I don’t care if you lose control, I’ll be begging you for more. I kind of like your madness though. For you, it’s another score.” The acoustics of the instruments are subtle, allowing the tentative trust in Darcy’s voice to manifest. “Oh no there you go, getting too close. Starting another storm. You’re making me comatose. Your love is an art form.”
Applause and hollers erupt at the end of our improvised performance. Stepping down from the elevated crescent moon she had been signing on, Darcy throws her arms around my slender form, encasing me in a hug and her exquisite floral fragrance with vibrant notes of rare Calabrian bergamot, and an infusion of velvety Paragonean rose petals. My fragrance is more of a bamboozling blend of exotic spices and dark coffee made voluptuous, more heady and intoxicating.
Backing away, Darcy adjusts the onyx band that swirls down her arm from elbow to wrist, roses the deepest, darkest red imaginable punctuating the metal. The essence of her outfit evokes the essence of her temperament, one half of her thigh-length dress is an empathic red, the other half juxtaposed with a haunting ebony fabric refined with black freesias. She was a mercurial being. Her hair was almost a facsimile of her dress, a mixture of silky ebony and crimson locks hanging a few inches past her jaw. Her skin was as alabaster as mine, but her eyes were wide and dazzling verdigris emeralds. She was a woman whose beauty rendered her as notorious a character as me. There were numerous- alright, endless- benefits to our friendship; however, the core behind it all was bathed in simplicity, she was versatile where I was stubborn, the Yang to my Yin. “Darling! Oh, we were wonderful out there!” Feeling my spirits uplifting, I start to respond, but she cuts me off. “-Oh, Valei, I wish I had the time to talk, or time would have me to talk, but I don’t. I promised Alistair that I would join him in the solarium.”
Alistair was the royal gardener and Darcy’s boyfriend, much to her father’s consternation. Duke D’Anjou of Northumbria believed his daughter ought to court someone befitting her stature, not a lowly castle servant. Darcy D’Anjou, rebel extraordinaire, was far too committed to a boy whom she had declared the love of her life, to take heed of her father’s directives, employment status be damned. “Of course, I understand. But take care, if you walk fast enough you won’t be late, and if you walk slowly enough you won’t be early.” Darcy nods at my warning in agreement, smiling widely. “I’ll thank you to take your warning back now that I know it.” With a laugh at the comforting madness of Darcy’s logic, I bid her farewell for the evening.
Then, I slipped away from the multitude of curious onlookers, navigating my way back to the sacred world creating mimosas, mojitos, and my favorite cocktail, Bellinis. Seated back on a velveteen stool, I wait for my drink impatiently. "Here you are," declares the waiter as he places my cocktail in front of me. Just as I am about to take a sip of the Prosecco and peach nectar delight, a mellifluous and smooth voice purrs from behind me, almost speaking directly in my ears.
“Do royals always perform for the likes of lesser nobility? And so exquisitely, too, I must add.” There is no need to turn around to identify the owner of the voice. His is one that will forever be etched onto my soul. “Chester.”