Into the fray

by Jenny

The lobby is full; fizzing with nervous laughter and prosecco and the mingling smell of winter flowers and perfume that Cerys could not afford, even working three straight double shifts. The tray trembles in her hand, but her face is a mask of pleasant willingness. Marilyn is watching and this is a test Cerys can’t afford to fail.

The happy couple beam at the guests, fresh and cold from their time outside with the photographer. Like synchronised swimmers, Cerys and the other staff circulate around the room with flutes of fizz and fixed, friendly smiles. Uncle Geoffrey is laughing too loudly already, face flushed, nose bulbous. Cerys swerves to avoid him, but he plucks his fifth flute from her tray and knocks it back in a single gulp.

On the floor near his feet Cerys spots it - a shining flash of silver, a room key, slipped from Uncle Geoffreey’s pocket. Neatly she swoops to retrieve it and turns to hand it back to him, but his face, already alarmingly red, has turned almost purple as he leans unsteadily towards her, sausage fingers outstretched. A cousin intervenes. Geoffrey is righted and guided gently away for a lie-down until he’s feeling better.

By the time the cousin realises Geoffrey’s key is not in his pocket, Cerys is flitting back and forth from the kitchen carrying trays of vol-au-vents, the weight of Marilyn’s judgemental stare. The encounter has fallen to the back of her mind, buried under thoughts of chicken or fish, red or white, this allergy or that.

Later, when the food has been eaten and the free wine drunk, Cerys sweeps around the lobby to collect glasses. The tables are filled with mysterious gifts in shimmering bags. They draw the eye, forbidden and alluring.

She catches the eye of the cousin who saved her from Uncle Geoffry’s lecherous lurch and gives him a smile. Tipsy himself now, more than tipsy, the cousin sways and grins back. The small pretty girl on his arm gives a delicate yawn and extracts herself, holding her hand out for the room key that he blearily hands her. She heads slowly, sleepily up the wide staircase to bedfordshire.

It is then that Cerys remembers the key in her pocket. Geoffrey can’t be asleep in his own room, if his key is in her pocket. Had the helpful cousin put him to bed in his own room and forgotten?

The room where the small pretty girl is tiredly heading right now...

Horrified Cerys searches for the girl, but she’s nowhere to be seen and the battleground of the dance floor stands between Cerys and the steps.

She dives in, recklessly, dodging flying elbows and stabbing stiletto heels. As she nears the centre, the maelstrom, the current suddenly changes as the DJ throws on YMCA and Cerys is nearly swept up in a wave of flailing arms and drunken cheers.

Then, somehow, she surfaces, free and clear, the steps are ahead and she charges up them at full pelt. She realises she has no way of knowing which way the cousin’s room is.

Cerys turns this way and that, caught in a net of indecision, when suddenly she hears a horrified scream, followed by a confused and drunken bellowing. Without thinking, Cerys plunges once again into the fray...