As soon as she stood up, Therese knew she was in trouble. The mist has indeed descended, enveloping her and the entire party in a haze of lights and sounds, with a deep, low bass reverberating through the entire space. Or just through her? Therese couldn't tell for sure. But she felt it. And it was sweet.
She was moving through the dance floor with Genevieve, the taller woman's hand firmly clasped around her wrist. For a moment she envisioned Genevieve letting her go and allowing her to disappear into the heated crowd. She could see herself entangled with the moving bodies so vividly - skin prickling with sweat, muscles burning with exertion, mind beaming with exaltation - never emerging complete again. She would just be the motion and the bass echoing inside her ribcage, waiting for release. But they were still walking and Genevieve seemed like she would never let her go, so Therese left the yearning behind.
Genevieve paused at the bottom of the stairs and leaned over to whisper in her ear, her long dark hair tickling Therese's face and neck. "Are you alright? You seem a bit dazed."
Therese could sense the savory perfume she was wearing, it had notes of jasmine and honey in it, making her hunger for something sweet. She took a small step back and took a deep breath, willing everything to come back into sharper focus. The mist was dragging her in too deep.
She looked back up towards Genevieve's amused face with a small shake of the head. "Yes. I'm sorry. That third shot went straight to my head. I'll be fine in a minute, just don't let me lose you."
Genevieve's smile softened. She reached for her hand again. "Never." She said playfully, tugging her by the hand towards the villa.
The villa itself was a wonder of modern architecture, constructed out of sleek reflective surfaces and glass, reminiscent of a lighthouse amid the dark seas of the previously overbearing architectural styles. It was built to impress and in a way possess the imagination of its visitors. It was easy to see the life you dreamed of reflected back to you in its shining facade. So close in reach, yet so far.
The terrace where the band previously played, and now a DJ reigned, led directly to the villa's ground floor, a space that was completely open to the outer world with a row of large glass sliding doors playing as the only imaginary barrier. Once inside, it was more open spaces, minimalistic furniture and bold artistic choices - a 21st century dollhouse ready to act out a life in.
As soon as she stepped in, Therese felt overwhelmed. Even though the house seemed as it didn't offer enough stimuli, it was still magnificent in its quiet sort of overbearance and the select artwork it displayed. "Someone has exquisite taste" she mused to herself observing a large black and white photography print for which she was sure was an Imogen Cunningham piece. It depicted a close-up of a young freckled woman laying on the bed with her bright hair splayed around her. She was photographed from above and seemed like she was sleeping, her hair the only thing awake about her. It was electrifying in its stillness.
A stillness that the villa currently lacked. The inside was just as booming with restless bodies as the outside was, the low bass still reaching them through the built-in speakers dispersed throughout. The atmosphere was getting more heated by the second, the distance between the dancing, talking or just plain gawking partners dispersing into nothingness. It seemed especially evident that some guests would soon replace the open space of the villa for a more private showroom upstairs, where the masks could come off. At least the ones covering their faces.
Therese smiled to herself and kept walking, letting herself be guided by Genevieve. They reached the foyer of the villa, a space filled with countless smaller and larger mirrors. Therese paused briefly in front of one of them, trying to find herself in its reflection.
She was happy to see that her make up survived so far, the black eyeliner still giving her that old hollywood charm she hoped for when applying it earlier this afternoon. It went well with the plum lipstick she preferred for events like this one, although most of it was adorning the shot glasses right now. Something she was regretting more and more as she tried to focus on reapplying it. Her hair was made up in a low bun tied together with a black ribbon that matched her velvet suit perfectly. Although a curious choice for her, she found the suit allowed her to move freely and also to blend in seamlessly. If only the same could be said for the black stilettos she had on.
Satisfied with her general appearance she turned back towards Genevieve who was clicking away furiously on her phone. "I'm sorry something came up. Let me just finish this e-mail." Genevieve said, unable to lift her eyes from the screen.
"No worries." Therese replied, wandering slowly around the vast foyer, enjoying the moment of calm that miraculously descended upon it.
She walked over to the round stone table that dominated the middle of the room. It had an incredible bronze sculpture mounted upon it. The sculpture was of an abstract shape but reminiscent of a woman's figure, it had a mirror-like surface that when struck with light gave an illusion of radiating light, making it seem like something fragile yet monumental. Therese felt compelled to touch it, running her hand over its smooth surface.
"That's actually one of her pieces." Genevieve remarked, eyes finally off the screen and focused on Therese fully. She seemed like she was observing her for some time now, a soft smile adorning her lips.
Therese retracted her hand quickly, Genevieve's voice catching her by surprise. She looked at Genevieve inquiringly. "You mean Mrs. Aird? She's an artist?"
Genevieve nodded, moving closer towards Therese. "She was. When she was younger. Before quitting and becoming ..." Genevieve paused, her hands motioning towards the entirety of the villa. "This."
"That's seems like quite a leap." Therese replied, a bit confused.
"Maybe. Or maybe she just exchanged one medium for another." Genevieve said with a smirk before looking at her phone once more. "Okay, we should definitely get upstairs. Ready?"
Therese sneaked another quick look at the sculpture, it's surface echoing her own image back to her, casting it in a bronze glow. She preferred it to the mirror. "Ready."
The energy of the upstairs floor was much more chaotic than Therese could have anticipated. The evening seemed to be at its nefarious height. Even as they were ascending the stairs, Therese could feel the floors and walls vibrating from the loudness of the music blasting from the upstairs speakers. It was like someone was trying to drown in the sound.
She moved next to Genevieve quickly, hoping not to lose her in the mayhem. They walked through the large lounge area quickly, bypassing guests in various states of disarray, some of them already too far gone to do anything except adhere to their most basic urges. Moving alone or together, lying on the floor or flying through space they all seemed desperate to find a rhythm that best suited their inner turmoil.
In the middle of it all there were the waiters, moving through the chaos like swans on a lake, carrying platters of champagne, caviar and cocaine - the famed Roman 300 - like it was just another day at the office. Therese was in awe of their grace. It was poetically out of place in a desperate wilderness like this one. She itched for her camera, hoping to capture the scene later on, aware that she might never see it again.
She followed Genevieve through various sets of corridors and rooms, some closed and some open, each exhibiting another form of play. Some of them she wished she could photograph as well. Most of them she did not.
And then, just when Therese thought she had just as much of enticement as she could manage without bursting, Genevieve stopped walking, halting before a large reeded glass door. She looked back at Therese one more time, flashing her signature grin, before pushing open the door. "Welcome to the inner sanctum Miss Belivet."
And just like that, they entered the den.
The "lion's den" was actually a library and given the circumstances the fact made Therese want to laugh out loud. It was a huge circular room that led straight to the balcony overlooking the main garden. Magnificent and probably intimidating when empty with its high ceilings, sharp lines and cold finishes, right now it was bursting with activity and excitement. And despite being decorated in the same minimalistic style as the rest of the house, it seemed to display the most of the Aird's character - the shelves covering the walls containing invaluable pieces of art and memorabilia, small tokens of a life spent in pursuit of excellence and beauty.
That said, the atmosphere inside the room was much the same as the rest of the house - barely contained chaos. However, in here it seemed to be reigned over by the man sitting in the middle of the room, holding court.
Harge Aird. HA himself.
He was lounging in one of the high chairs, a picture of composure and charm, apparently just in the middle of telling a story to a posse of admirers. Dressed in a tuxedo, with a golden Arlecchino mask pushed above his face, he seemed like a man far beyond hiding from anyone or anything. Self assured to a fault.
Next to him, or better yet on top of him, was seated a beautiful woman with long wavy blonde hair that fell just above her waist. She was dressed in a deep green dress with an open back that Harge caressed carelessly while talking. Therese had a feeling that the green of her dress matched her eyes, although it was difficult to tell behind the gold Colombina mask that covered the upper part of her face. She seemed a bit uncomfortable, not really paying attention to the man she was perched upon, her hands restlessly playing with the long golden necklace around her neck - like some kind of an expensive noose. She seemed out of place, more of a prop on his knee than partner. That saddened Therese, she was beginning to picture Mrs. Aird quite differently than this.
"Here's your camera." Genevieve said, gesturing to the young man standing behind them holding Therese's equipment. "You can take a few shots in here, I'm sure Mrs. Aird would like them for her archives. But do it subtly please, some of these people can get paranoid this late in the evening.".
Therese could see her point, the scene was positively Gatsbyesque. In the wildest way possible. She nodded slowly, reaching for her camera, hands itching to start shooting away.
As she was adjusting the settings she asked Genevieve. "Should I do a few of the Airds as well?"
"Well, he doesn't like to get his photo taken, extremely private about it actually, so a definite no." Genevieve replied in a hushed voice. "And I'll have to see what exactly Mrs. Aird has planned for later. She doesn't seem to be here at the moment." Genevieve replied looking around them.
Therese looked up quickly, casting a curious glance at the couple lounging languidly in the middle of the room. "What do you mean? Isn't that her just there?" she asked pointing subtly in the direction of the woman in green.
Genevieve followed Therese's line of sight, a low snicker escaping her as soon as she saw towards who Therese was pointing. "Oh God no. That's just one of her understudies." she remarked sarcastically.
"Excuse me?" Therese answered getting more confused by the second.
"Never mind. " Genevieve replied, remembering herself. "Let me check with them and I'll get back to you. Meet me at the balcony when you finish in here."
Therese watched her walk away, moving gracefully through the boisterous crowd. She shrugged to herself and raised her camera, suddenly remembering why she was here in the first place. She looked through her camera lens - a woman laying draped over a man giving him sips of her champagne, a man kissing the neck of his lover subtly unbuttoning his shirt, three women dancing on the piano trying not to slip on the vodka flowing from their drinks, a man inhaling white powder of his partners thigh - shot after shot of the numbing decadence.
Therese worked her way slowly through the room, catching moments she found oddly appealing despite their unorthodox origin. Once satisfied she moved to the balcony, hoping to catch a few more shots there before joining Genevieve. She walked to the railing, taking shots of the party still unfolding underneath. The scene before her making her hands twitch with excitement - she was finally in her element.
Or she thought so.
As she was turning back towards the balcony, camera still poised in front of her eyes, searching for the perfect shot, she froze.
Next to Genevieve, talking to her in hushed tones, there appeared to stand a woman covered in gold. Therese lowered her camera slowly, half dreading half hoping that what she was seeing was some elaborate figment of her imagination fueled by the lack of sleep and too much alcohol.
When she looked over once again, the woman was still there, smiling at something Genevieve said. Vivid and unreal.
Therese raised her camera once again, hoping to catch her before she disappeared. It was of no use. She was lost in the golden mirage before her, unable to press the shutter button. She stood there suspended between reality and daydream.
The woman looked up. Her gaze fixed on Therese immediately.
And suddenly Therese didn't hesitate anymore. She took the shot.