I snatch up a glass of wine from a caterer who walks past; better my hands busy than idle.

Here I am wishing I had a reason to get some air; here I am wishing I still smoked cigarettes; here, I am wishing this were the sort of gathering where a designated smoking area could provide respite from the suffocating atmosphere of wide smiles and exorbitant wealth (but no, instead, several of the men puff on Cubans while at least a few women tote Hepburn-length holders at their hips; I have the feeling that if anyone were to light a Marlboro the proverbial record would scratch and the entire party would halt, turn, and glare knives at the perpetrator until they dropped dead right there, after which the music and conversation would pick up exactly where it left off); here I am wishing it were acceptable to simply lean back against the staircase's lowermost newel pole and coolly watch these human-size ants scurry back and around the rooms of the four-story townhome interpreting each other's Brosius-blended pheromones with their antennaicly flailing NYAC-trained limbs; here I am wishing I were not here.

(The uncharacteristic bitterness infecting my thoughts reminds me of Rémi; he and a half-bottle of bourbon would have crushed these insects where they stood. I swallow the rest of my glass in one gulp. It's disastrously bitter, which probably means it is more expensive than I care to know.)

But lo, here comes one of them now; apparently my contorted expression of fear and loathing (I am too aware of my face because there is no shortage of reflective surfaces on these walls, forcing my reflection upon me regardless of where I turn) has not been enough of a repellant to ward off all potential company. The woman approaching me (I almost check both sides of and behind me to ensure it is indeed I she is gunning for) is no nubile beauty materializing from the ether, but still a sight for sorry eyes, her single-strap silver dress slinked around her slender frame, her still-smooth left arm crossed over her stomach, holding her well-toned right arm in place parallel to her gracefully statured spine as she ambles over, her genetically-groomed cheek tenderly perched on, or else floating just micrometers above, the Swiss Alps and Napa Valleys of her knuckles. She is no younger than forty, but looks twenty-nine.

Bessaline, she says once officially in my presence (or, better, oozes: these people's words tend to spread gelatinously over the space immediately before them when they speak).

Pardon?, I say.

Bessaline, she repeats, still not blinking. Bessaline Baxter. Enchantée.