“Run!” Danny cried. “Faster!” Laughing, they burst hand-in-hand through the greenhouse double door flanked in the tall Umbilicus rupestris. Jacqueline chose to call flowers by their scientific names. She found the Latin more euphonic.
Inside was luscious and warm. Danny’s arm swept out. “Here it is, what do you think?”
He removed her hat and coat, and handed them to the waiting butler.
“How did he get here before us?” Jacqueline was still catching her breath.
“Oh, this place connects to the house through the back. Sometimes I’d rather not go outside. Other times, I’d rather.”
Jacqueline wondered what other girls he’d brought the long way. He didn’t know her at all. The only reason he was with her now was because he thought she looked like someone famous. Jacqueline accepted this fact.
She was quite prepared to have a nice time. Danny was friends with Natasha and Jacqueline adored Natasha. She was determined to flirt and eat caviar and go home fatter than she had come.
There was a chaise lounge and a billowy chair in a clearing amongst palm trees. Danny took her hand, telling the butler to bring out truffles and champagne and the gramophone.
He set her on the lounge and lowered himself to the brick floor to remove her shoes. She was glad she’d worn new stockings. Most of hers had holes in the toes because she always wore her shoes half a size too small.
“Nice legs.” He straightened as he said it.
She tucked them under her skirt, out of sight. She wasn’t here to do anything foolish. Just a little wine, a little dancing, then home again to real life. The life she lived with her mama on the third floor of a brick building with no running water.
How did a girl like her end up in a place like this, with a man like Danny?
It was all Natasha, who never quite told a lie, but bragged about her friends. “You should meet my friend, Jackie. She’s the spitting image of Betty Grable.” It was nothing but pity, really, but Jacqueline didn’t mind.
“I’ll teach you to eat a kumquat,” Danny said, crossing to a large tree in an enormous Chinese pot. He plucked the fruit and held it between thumb and finger. “First you massage it, like so. Releases the essential oils….”
Jacqueline knew all about kumquats. She’d eaten them by the boatload on her trip to the Philippines when she was sixteen, before her father died. But Danny didn’t know that.
“Then you pop it in your mouth, all at once.” Danny chewed slowly. “Want to try?” He produced another from his palm.
“No kidding,” Jacqueline said. “The whole thing?”
Danny watched her chew. Jacqueline covered her mouth with her hand.
“What’s the bird’s story?” Because it was something to say, so he’d take his eyes off her.
“Oh that?” Danny said. “An albatross.”
She already knew it was an albatross. She’d been on enough ships in her lifetime, made friends with enough captains who’d pointed out the great birds wheeling through the skies. Set on a pedestal amidst a patch of Vanda coerulea, or blue orchids, this stuffed version looked as if he were about to dip into the puddle of flowers.
“I brought that one down myself,” he said. “They’re good luck, you know … Truffle?”
The butler had reappeared, phantom-like.