"Claire really went all out planning the gala."
The whole event from the venue, the decorations and the catering were meticulously planned and organised. Claire had rent a whole plaza for the evening with a ballroom that was big enough to accommodate hundreds of guests. Not to forget how tight the security was. No one was allowed in without an invitation.
The ballroom was aesthetically organised and decorated. With luxurious furniture and a fairy lights hanging around everywhere creating a dim dinner like setting, the venue screamed extravagant. There was a jazz playing music to keep the guests entertained and waiters and waitresses moving around the room attending to them.
The gala had proceeded well, but it was a bit dull, at least for me. All that had happened for the past hour or so was speeches about the founding of the company, its history, success and future and I was zoning in and out through the whole thing. Finally, when the speeches did come to an end, everyone went on with their business. Some were deeply engaged in banter and conversation; some were helping themselves with some food and drinks while Maren and I were watching from the Mezzanine floor.
"So this is what a fancy party looks like?" I commented.
"Mhm. A lot of rich people come to these gigs for business and to fulfil whatever obligation they have for their status and reputation – oh! Thank you." Maren took a glass of champagne offered to her by the waiter.
"You better not be planning to get drunk, Mare." I warned her.
"I'll be fine." She waved her hand contemptuously.
"Would you like some wine, ma'am?" the waiter asked.
"I'm good. Thanks." I politely declined
With a nod, the waiter left us. "So how's it like?" she asked.
"It's okay, I guess. It's my first time coming to events like these, so I can't really say much." I looked at her. "Do you always come to events like these?"
"Not as often as I did growing up," she answered, drinking from her glass. "Back then it was mandatory and be on my best behaviour because the old man was so obsessed with his image and reputation."
I hummed in response and didn't say a word. "But that's not what I was asking." She said. "I was asking how it feels to be twenty one."
I fought the urge to roll my eyes and let out a frustrated sigh. "I can't really say. I just turned but I don't feel any different." I answered. "Besides, age is just a number adding to my lifespan. It doesn't really matter to me."
"But it marks an important stage in your life, Bee." She reasoned. "You get to live your life however you want to without having people holding you back. But it also means having reality and responsibilities slap you in the face and it's not exactly as fun as people make it seem."
"Well what was it like when you turned?" I asked.
Maren pursed her lips as she stirred the glass in her hand. "I remember being excited about it. I already had my life figured out, which university I wanted to go to, what course I wanted to major in, what I wanted to after university." She told me. "But what I was aiming for was seeing what life had in store for me and the independence. You could say I had an adventurer complex going on at the time.
"I felt like there was more to me than just being a rich gal pursuing to be a freelance photographer. I wanted to do some soul searching and escape the bullshit going on in my family. Start a new life."
I felt a pang in my chest upon seeing the sad expression taking over her face and I already knew and understood why.
Maren's upbringing was rather complicated. Born from a one nightstand her father (a married man) had with her mother (an employee at Queens) – or as Maren put it bluntly – a mistake her father wished stayed buried. Her mother came clean about the affair to Claire and surprisingly, she took it well despite being hurt by her husband's infidelity.
Since then, Maren was raised by her mother until she passed and Claire took her in, and that didn't sit well with her father. Though they weren't related by blood, Claire raised her as if she was her own daughter. Regardless of how complicated her life was an illegitimate child, she kept her head held up high, but I could see that she was still hurt over the fact that her father, the only family she had left, didn't want her.
"I need another glass." She muttered after she emptied her glass.
"Maren. No." I said sternly, glaring at her.
"it's just one drink."
"It's starts off like that until it levels up to five or more. And next thing we have drunk Maren." I reminded her. "You're a lightweight when you're drunk. You know this!"
"Hey! Be glad I'm not an alcoholic who drinks until her liver and kidneys explode." She rolled her eyes. "besides, this is the best champagne I've had. You're missing out."
"I'm pretty sure I'm not." I deadpanned.
"Suit yourself." She shrugged and turned her heels.
"Maren – " I called out to her, but it was too late. She had already disappeared into the crowd leaving me alone. I sighed and silently prayed that either Kevin or Matthew – anyone for that matter – to be close enough to monitor her and make sure she was okay. God forbid if she got drunk, it was not going to end well. I never did.
I turned and saw Matthew standing next to me as if he just poofed into existence. "Hey, how did you get here so fast?" I asked.
"I just happened to be around and couldn't help but notice you here alone." He answered. "Where did Maren go?"
I sighed for what seemed to be the one hundredth time that evening. "She went hunting for alcohol. I don't know if I'll see her after that."
"Why didn't you go after her?"
"Honestly, I've dealt with her BS long enough that I just leave her to do her thing And give her a big 'I told you so' when she regrets it afterwards." I answered with a languid shrug. "There's so much I can do as her friend but her alcohol intake is another story."
"I see..." he answered.
There was silence – with the exception of the soft jazz music playing in the background and the indistinctive chatter around us. "So how's it feel being an adult now?" he asked.
I really wish people stopped asking me that, I suppressed the urge to let out another sigh. "I don't feel any different." I answered briefly.
The silence returned only for a little while. "Do you want to go somewhere?" he asked. I turned to him with a question mark written all over my face. "I wasn't planning on sticking around this joint until late and from what I can tell, you don't seem to be vibing with this type of setting."
I let out a shaky laugh. "To be honest, it's my first time here and I don't vibe with any setting where I'm surrounded by unfamiliar faces."
"How 'bout we change that?"
"Where will we go?"
"Anywhere you want to go."
"But it's late. Most of the places I want to go are probably closed by now."
"We won't know unless we see for ourselves." He said, smiling at me with a glint of mischief in his eyes.
I gazed at him, squinting my eyes at him. "Think of it as my birthday gift to you. So what do you say?" he asked.
The idea leaving the gala to explore late at night didn't sound half bad. Maren technically ditched me and I wasn't feeling the vibe of the gala anyway. Not to forget there were some places I wanted to visit but didn't get the chance to because of the shopping spree Maren and I had and the preparations for the gala. What could possibly go wrong?