"It is supposed to be a family dinner, Benjamin," Gran says. "You have only known this man for less than a month."
"Mother, Claude and his kids don't have anyone else. They are coming for Thanksgiving. If you don't like it, you can always go to the Senior Center," Dad says. "Seeing as how you are one."
"Don't think I won't wash your mouth out, mister," Gran retorts. "I would just like to be consulted about these things."
Wow. Conversations take a weird turn when one takes an afternoon nap. The last thing I heard Gran and Daddy arguing about was getting news coverage for the cotillion. I come into the kitchen from upstairs to find Daddy at the stove with Gran sitting at the breakfast bar, a glass of white wine in front of her. I check the clock. Five-ten, as usual.
Gran has been doing the same thing everyday for as long as I can remember. She has exactly three glasses of wine a day. One before dinner, one with dinner and one with dessert. As long as the first glass comes after five, she maintains it's ladylike.
"Did I hear that right? Claude and his kids are coming over for Thanksgiving?" I ask, peeking around Daddy, trying to figure out what he's making.
"Yes and it's highly inappropriate," Gran says, sipping on her wine.
"If Daddy gets to have his boyfriend over that means Savvy can come too."
"Absolutely. The more the merrier," Daddy says, sprinkling curry into the chicken. "Just make sure she clears it with Doug and Julianne."
"Yes Daddy. What are you making?"
"Chicken curry and rice. January found the recipe and wanted me to try it. In fact she and Stephanie should be back from picking up the senator at the train station."
"Sanctuary!" Savannah shouts as she comes in the back door. "Dear God save me."
"Hi Savannah," Daddy says. "Chicken curry's cooking."
"Nice alieration, Daddy."
"They come and go."
"Hi, Mrs. Van Owen," Savannah says to Gran. Even though they have known each other since I was in kindergarten, Savannah still calls Gran Mrs. Van Owen.
"Good evening dear," Gran replies. "Why are you claiming sanctuary over our home?"
"Julianne is driving me crazy about cotillion. She's paranoid that I'm going to do something to humiliate her."
"You know Savvy," Daddy says, checking the timer on the rice steamer. "If your dad wanted to marry a younger woman, he could have had Stephanie. They seemed to have gotten along rather well when they dated."
"Dear God! Did you really have to remind me about that?" I moan. That was the most awkward morning at the Hinton's house ever. I spent the night while Daddy was away on assignment and Gran and her friends were having a party of some sort at home. I'm the first one up and I run into my aunt wearing my best friend's dad's t-shirt. I couldn't look at my aunt or Savvy's dad for weeks.
"Hello, my darling family!" Aunt Stephanie chimes as she comes in the door. "We come bearing a senator."
Uncle Edward follows close behind with January on his heels. It's weird to seem them both, Uncle Edward and January, not in suits. January is Daddy's lawyer and assistant so she always looks the part. Uncle Edward is well, a senator. It's the first time in almost seven months that I have seen Uncle Edward so casual. He's wearing a USC t-shirt, jeans and even more surprisingly, chucks in neon green.
"Now that everyone's here," Daddy says, setting the plates on the breakfast bar. "Claude and his kids will be joining us for Thanksgiving. Does anyone besides Mother have any objection to that?"
Besides Gran, we all agree that having Claude and his kids for Thanksgiving would be nice. If things work out with Daddy and Claude, I'd like to get to know my potential siblings. None of the guys Daddy has dated before have had kids. In fact of all of close friends, he's the only one with kids. Which sometimes was a big downer but when my birthday comes around, the money and bling comes pouring in.
"That settles it," Daddy says. "I'll call Claude later and let him know. Y'all are going to like him, because I really like him."
We form a line at the breakfast bar and start dishing up our curry chicken and rice. We all take a seat at the large oak table and enjoy each other's company.
"Oh, Mother, I ran into Caroline Schafer today," Aunt Stephanie says. "She was wondering about her niece's membership to UDC."
"I have more pressing matters at the UDC right now than membership delays," Gran answers. "Stephanie, I do need you to come and assist in the seating chart."
Aunt Stephanie rolls her eyes. "I thought you hired Angela for things like that."
"Don't sass me, young lady. You will come to the office tomorrow after church and help me." Gran leaves no room for discussion and takes a sip of wine. "Darcy Jane, Savannah, there will be a brunch mixer tomorrow as well for the debs and their escorts. High tea dress is required."
"Yes ma'am," I answer. "Aunt Jan, how's Ryan?"
"The joys of dating a filmmaker," January says. "He's currently in Alaska, watching bears."
"But it's cold in Alaska. Why on earth did he go up there?"
"Because he couldn't get the permits to go to Antarctica and film penguins."
There's a pleasant pause over the conversation as we all eat the incredibly spicy food. It's moments like these where I am so thankful to have my family. We may have a little weirdness to us, but the love is there. And that's all any kid can really ask for.
* * *
There is nothing worse than getting stood up at a debutante brunch. Rawdon's late and I don't think he's going to show. I called him after dinner and left a message with Mrs. Schafer but I don't think the message was delivered. So, here I am, sitting at this over the top table listening to Savannah and Van Tyler be all lovey-dovey. Mrs. Long, Gran's best friend and vice-president of the chapter is droning on and on about cotillion and what it means to the United Daughters of the Confederacy and to the city. It's all I can do to not get up and walk out. I look towards the door and coming in the door is Rawdon. His dreads are pulled back as nice and neatly as dreads can be and he's wearing a suit. He scans the crowd and spots me. He slips through the tables and takes the empty seat next to me.
"You're late," I snap.
"Sorry," he says, taking my glass of orange juice. "Had a meeting. Meet me in the coatroom. I'm not doing this for free you know."
He takes another sip of my orange juice and gets up from the table. I give him a few minutes head start and follow him. Don't really need the entire UDC to know that I am paying my escort. That's the last thing I need to have Gran on my ass about. I slip into the coatroom, closing the door. I look about and don't see Rawdon.
"Rawdon?" I whisper. "Come on, this isn't funny."
"And one more thing," Rawdon says, popping up behind me. "Don't call me Rawdon. It's Huck."
"All right, Huck. Let's get this over with." I go to where my coat is hanging and reach into my pocket. Ten crisp twenties. I hold it out to Rawdon, I mean Huck. "Two hundred, as promised."
"You know, this makes me feel very dirty," Huck says taking the cash. "Like a common hooker."
"If you feel that way, you could just give it back."
He looks at the folded cash in his hand and then back at me. In an instant, his hand reaches out and pulls me closer to him. I place my hands on his shoulders, ready to push him away. "Huck, what are you doing?"
"You may not have noticed me, but I have noticed you," he says, pressing his lips to mine. His left hand snakes it way into my hair, deepening the kiss. He pulls away first, wiping his mouth free of my lip-gloss. "Been wanting to do that. Glad I did."
What just happened? I stare at him in a dumbfounded stupor. "What the hell?" I breathe.
"You're welcome," Huck says. "Oh and since I kissed you, I can't very well take your money. See you out there." Pressing the bills back into my hand he turns and flashes me this devil may care smile. He opens the door, leaving me in the coatroom mouth agape. What just happened?
* * *
"Ugh! I hate my hair!" I cry, slamming my brush down on my vanity table. "Aunt Jan! Aunt Stephanie!"
"I don't know why you're carrying on so much DJ," Savannah says. "You could have this." She waves her hands over her thick brown curls. "Took four hours to straighten it all. It better not rain tonight."
Aunt Stephanie and January come into my room, armed with Tasha, the hair and makeup girl from Daddy's studio. "The Calvary has arrived," Aunt Stephanie says.
Tasha sets down her black box of awesome and opens it up. Row upon row of makeup shines brightly. Next to it she opens the red box of awesome, hair supplies. She plugs in her curling irons, hot rollers and flat irons. Can upon can of hair spray, gel, mousse, and frizz control spray. Hairpins, bobby pins, brushes and combs litter the top of my vanity.
"Jesus, J. Lo doesn't have this much makeup and hair crap," Savvy exclaims.
"We must look our best for these society types," Aunt Stephanie says. "Mother demands it. Nice for us that we have someone with Tasha's supreme skills."
Tasha starts to work on my hair. Given the vintage nature of my dress, Tasha gives me a 1930's hairstyle, which turns out a lot better than I could have done on my own. Finishing us, I could have passed for Ava Gardner, had she been blonde. Tasha took her magic brushes to my face and makes me into some Hollywood glamourette.
Once she's done with me, she turns her attentions to Savannah and her gorgeous curls. Because she's wearing a sari, Tasha goes more a more Indian sort of look for her makeup and hair. At the antique market, Savannah found a beautiful headdress. Julianne had a field day when she saw what Savvy was wearing. Savannah is nothing if not an individual.
"My work here is done," Tasha says. "January, see you Monday." She packs up her red and black boxes of awesome and bids us all a fond farewell.
"Thank you Tasha!" Savannah and I call after her. We stand next to each other and stare at our reflections in the mirror. Savannah looking the part of a majahrati princess in her green and gold silk sari sent to her by her mother on her soul searching tour of the world and me in my 30's old Hollywood glam. The UDC Annual Fall Cotillion won't know what hit them.
"Darcy Jane! Savannah, there are some gentlemen callers here for you!" Aunt Jan calls.
"Gentlemen callers, Savannah. We may just be engaged before the night is out!" I tease.
"I do declare, he had better ask my daddy first," Savannah says, waving her fan in front of her face.
Van Tyler, Savvy's long-suffering boyfriend, stands uncomfortably in his tux and tails. Van worships the ground Savvy walks on and she knows it. They've been together for years and I see them being that couple in high school who stays together. Behind Van stands Rawdon "Huck" Schafer. In the same attire as Van, Huck seems to have a more Victorian style to his tux. He's pulled his long dreads back and has covered his head with a top hat and he's carrying a cane.
Aunt Stephanie and Aunt Jan gathers the four of us onto the porch for pictures. They look just as nice in their formal wear. Daddy's taking Aunt Jan as Ryan's freezing to death in Alaska. Plus Gran's friends are still wary of Daddy being gay.
"All right guys, big smiles! Darcy Jane, Rawdon, at least look like you like each other," Aunt Stephanie says. Huck holds me closer, dropping his chin onto my shoulder. "That's much better. Everybody say 'cotillion!'"
"Cotillion!" we chime, big smiles forced onto our faces.
"Should I take a couple extras for Doug and her?" Aunt Stephanie asks.
"Nah," Savvy says. "They can take their own later."
I hug my aunt and take my clutch purse containing extra cash, compact, lipstick and bobby pins. There are two cars in the driveway that don't actually live here; Van's Mazda and a Camry.
"How about we all ride together?" I say. "One less car the valet guys can lose."
"We have plans after the ball," Savvy says, winking.
Now I'm nervous. I wasn't expecting to be alone with Huck this early, in what I thought was the relationship. I mean, you don't kiss someone the way he did and then not be in a relationship. Huck puts his hand on the small of my back and leads me towards his car. Being the genteel Southern gentlemen, he opens the door for me and makes sure all the elements of my gown are inside the car before shutting the door.
"Where to, my lady?" Huck asks.
"Charleston Yacht Club, sir," I say, buckling my seatbelt. "Huck, can I ask you something?"
"You want to know why I kissed you the other day and have been avoiding you ever since?" he guesses.
"Why did you kiss me?"
"Darcy Jane, I think you are the most beautiful girl at Windsong, in Charleston and quite possibly the world," he says. "You're a goddess. At least to me you are."
No guy I have ever dated has ever said anything so romantic to me. I look out the window, embarrassed by what he's saying to me. "Why haven't you said anything before? If you like me so much; we go to the same school, our families run in the same circles, why haven't you asked me out before?"
"Look at you, then look at me," Huck says. "I am the member of my family that they hide from the rest of the world. You are a Van Owen, daughter of the most respected guy in Charleston and frankly, your grandmother scares the crap out of me. That and everyone thinks I'm this giant stoner."
"Are you a giant stoner?"
"It's the hair."
He turns off the battery and we head towards the harbor. With so many members of the UDC having memberships at the Charleston Yacht Club, it only makes sense to hold all the UDC events there. Grandaddy Carl, who we see very rarely because he and Gran hate each other but refuse to divorce to save face, has the family sailboat docked at the club. Daddy and I go out at least every weekend, when we have the time.
"I think your hair is awesome," I say, fiddling with my gloves. "If my grandmother wouldn't have a stroke, I'd probably do it to my hair."
"Don't you dare," Huck says. "I like your hair just the way it is." He reaches over and takes my hand. "You're perfect, just the way you are."
I don't know how to respond to all this. The last guy I dated, wouldn't pay for popcorn let alone pay me a compliment. This is vastly uncharted waters for me. I haven't told Aunt Stephanie or Savvy about what happened in the coatroom, mostly because I'm still trying to figure it out myself. What I've figured out is that I like the way Huck talks to me and I like the feeling of his hand in mine.
* * *
"It is my distinct honor to introduce our presenters for the evening," Mrs. Long says. "South Carolina State Senator Edward Randolph Jones and his lovely wife, Stephanie Jones-Van Owen." Everyone claps politely. "At this time, could I have the debutantes take their places upstairs to be presented. Escorts, please take your places at the bottom of the stairs. Thank you."
Uncle Edward speaks first. "Thank you Mrs. Long for that thoughtful introduction. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 2012 United Daughters of the Confederacy's annual fall cotillion. I recall many seasons being dressed in uncomfortable suits and ties, trying to make nice to the girl I had been paired up to escort. These days, cotillion and debutante events are mostly for charity and tradition. It is my honor to be able to preside over such an event. All proceeds of tonight's cotillion will be going to the Charleston Museum."
Upstairs, we debs were getting set in line, alphabetically, thus putting me as the last to be presented. Fathers were gathered together, one has their phone out, most likely checking the score of the Clemson game. Several debs are presented before Uncle Edward got to Savannah's name.
"Savannah Dawn Hinton, daughter or Douglas and Marcia Hinton. Miss Hinton enjoys all aspects of art and is planning on attending Rhode Island School of Design. Her escort for the evening is Mister Van Tyler. Savannah Hinton, ladies and gentlemen."
Polite applause for Savvy is heard as her dad escorts her down the stairs to the waiting Van. Savannah takes a curtsey and moves to stand with the other girls. Five more go and finally it's my turn.
"My niece, Darcy Jane Van Owen, daughter of Benjamin Van Owen and granddaughter of Carl and Suzanne Van Owen. Miss Van Owen enjoys sailing with her father and doing charity work with her grandmother and aunt. She plans on attending Clemson University to study art history and business. Her escort for the evening is Mister Rawdon Schafer, son of South Carolina Senator Julius Schafer. Miss Darcy Jane Van Owen, ladies and gentlemen."
Daddy leads me out onto the dance floor where, like all the other debs, I take my curtsey and Huck leads me towards the line. We are then paraded about the ballroom before the sixteen piece orchestra begins to play Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Mrs. Long's suggestion no doubt. Gran would have gone more classical, like Schubert or Bach.
"Your dad is Senator Schafer?" I whisper, during the waltz.
"Sadly," Huck whispers back. "I don't want to talk about this right now. Let's just waltz okay?"
Throughout the dance I look over my shoulder and see Daddy staring at me and Huck. There's a look on his face that I haven't seen before. It's a cross between "something terrible has just happened" and "super protective papa bear." I catch a raised eyebrow when Huck's hand drops below my waist. Great, Daddy doesn't like Huck.
After the first waltz, we are allowed to sit back at our tables, with our families and escorts. Because Aunt Stephanie did the seating charts, she put Savannah at our table as to, I think, annoy the ever-loving snot out of Julianne.
"I don't believe we've been introduced," Daddy says coming up to Huck.
"Daddy, this is Rawdon Schafer," I say. "Huck, this is my daddy, Ben."
Huck sticks his hand out to shake Daddy's hand. Daddy grips it tightly, looking Huck up and down. "Do you prefer Huck or Rawdon?" Daddy asks, releasing his hand.
"You can call me Huck, sir," he says. "It's been my pleasure to escort your daughter tonight."
"I bet. Darcy Jane, a word?" Daddy says, ignoring Huck.
Daddy and I walk over to a quiet corner of the room, far from the ears of anyone who may want to eavesdrop. "Darcy Jane, I don't want you spending time with that boy."
"Why? He's been the perfect gentleman," I say. "He's a nice boy Daddy."
"I've heard some things about him. I don't want you to be around him," Daddy says again. "You may complete all your cotillion duties tonight. It ends here. Am I understood?"
"Yes sir," I say looking to my shoes. "Just out of curiosity, what have you heard about him?"
"He's gotten himself into some trouble."
Trouble. Southern code for drugs, alcohol and being less than genteel. More than likely, Huck's stayed out too late and probably drove too fast. But then again I've only known him about a week. That's not nearly enough time to know one's true nature. I nod agreeing to cease our growing relationship before it even began. I'm not at all happy about it but I have to be respectful of my daddy. If not for him, I don't know where I'd be.