Brianna was putting the finishing touches on her hair and makeup for a party in her husband’s honor at the house of the president of the university. He had recently been awarded a Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his latest book, She Holds the Secrets of the Founding Fathers, an exploitative tale about a high-class call girl who serviced a number of the Founding Fathers who penned the Constitution. It had gotten high praise from literary reviewers critics for its mellifluous prose and believably historic references. It also received sharp criticism from conservatives that called it anti-American, a mockery of the standards of the original stewards of the country, and embarrassing smut. It was a perfect storm of rhetoric that brought people of all political persuasions to buy and read the book for the point of fueling the already raging firestorm of partisan political debate.
Brianna stepped out of their en suite bathroom with her hair dark hair piled high in a chignon that showed off the curve of the nape of her neck in stark contrast to her powdery china doll ivory white skin and the red shantung fitted cocktail dress that she purchased just for the occasion. At 35, she looked red carpet gorgeous and had a slim and curvaceous figure to boot, especially in the way her high-heeled dress sandals gave her calves a gazelle-like stride when she walked.
“So, what do you think?” she asked her husband, Peter, posing at the doorway of the bathroom, her silhouette backlit by the bright lights behind her.
Peter’s eyes never glanced from the bluish glare from his laptop screen.
“Nice,” he said.
Brianna was disappointed, but not surprised. In the past few years of their 12-year marriage, Peter had been emotionally absent. At first, she understood and was supportive of Peter in the time he devoted to writing the book and keeping a full workload at the university. Over time, Peter had become unappreciative of the time Brianna spent reading, editing and giving feedback on the book, and eventually as his wife.
Brianna dropped her pose and walked downstairs by herself to wait for him. Peter never made mention of how she looked in the car during the short car ride. He didn’t share in any of the excitement she expected him to feel being the guest of honor. When they got to the party, he left her at the door and went on to chat with the guests on his own.
Brianna managed to save face by doing some mingling on her own, accepting congratulations on behalf of her husband, and the compliments on her appearance.
After a while, the guests got through their obligatory well wishes and left Brianna standing on her own. Ordinarily, she would have slipped into a conversation somewhere, but the habit of getting left behind by Peter was getting to be old and she was in no mood to fake it any longer.
She slipped outside into the rose garden to reflect in its first blush of blooms. It was there she could be numb and mindless yet experience a rare moment of beauty and joy as the sunlight began to dim on the western horizon. She didn’t notice there was anyone else around until she heard someone say, “You look like you should be the center of attention in there.”
She turned around and exchanged a quiet smile with a tall and confidently handsome man holding a martini in one hand and a cigar in another.
“Don’t care much for parties?” she asked.
“I came in and made my rounds. It’s much too nice of an evening to be cooped up inside, and I can’t enjoy this with others around on the patio,” he said, lifting his cigar.
Brianna gave an understanding nod.
“I assume that you read his book?” he asked.
“Oh, yes,” she said.
She didn’t want to say too much. She was tired of singing praises of the book and Peter. Actually, she welcomed the opportunity to have some mindless small talk about anything else but.
“I’ve never smoked a cigar, but I’ve always loved the scent of them … well, at least the scent of a good cigar,” she said.
“Here, have one,” he said.
The gentleman introduced himself as Jonathan, a visiting American literature professor by way of Harvard. He spun a fascinating tale about the cigar and how they were made in a small specialty shop in the Dominican Republic where he vacationed over winter break. Brianna was entertained by the story and was thankful for an opportunity to not say much at all. He was patient with her in teaching her how to puff and not inhale the cigar. She also welcomed the polite and adoring attention to her as a woman.
“So what brings you out here …