Chapter 41: Le lieu d'être.
Kate had to smile as Humphrey checked and straightened his attire once more, his nerves clear for all to see. They were walking along a dimly lit path through some very scenic gardens towards the winery and gallery where the gala was being held and that must've been the fourth time he'd performed the action, as though the last ten meters walk might've un-tucked his shirt.
"Stop worrying and come on, it'll be fun." Kate said, giving him a smile as she took his hand to lead him towards the party. This night was already shaping up to be amazing and Kate didn't want to miss a single second of it, unable to wipe the smile from her face as she and Humphrey wandered down the romantic pathway hand in hand. She kept shooting glances his way, admiring just about everything about him in that moment from the way his hand felt in hers to the way that the tuxedo he was wearing hugged his figure in the perfect way.
"What's with you?" Humphrey asked, smiling back at her as he noticed her staring at him. Kate just shook her head and grinned, moving a little closer so that she was hugging his arm against her body.
"Don't know, just happy." She replied, causing Humphrey to chuckle as they walked, the sounds of music and chatter from the gala wafting over to them on the breeze from the party up ahead. The Gala was due to start in a few minutes at 7:00pm and if the car park was any indication then most, if not all the guests were already present. Her parents were of course already there, having left earlier in the day to ensure that everything was ready and then to welcome all their guests but there'd been no real reason for Kate to come earlier which was why she'd waited and gotten a lift with Humphrey.
"Wow..." Humphrey said quietly, letting out a small whistle as they reached the end of the path and stepped out into the open. Even Kate had to admit that it was quite a sight, especially for someone unused to these sorts of events like Humphrey. There was an enormous gazebo set up on the sweeping grass lawn out the front of the conjoined winery and gallery buildings, under which a few hundred people stood, milling around and chatting. The whole area was lit up by temporary lights that had been set up, a band on a small raised stage in the corner providing some background music which mostly consisted of strings. The center of the undercover area was designated as a dance floor and was surrounded by tables and chairs.
"Let's go." Kate said after a moment, pulling Humphrey forward towards the crowd before he had a chance to respond.
I felt as though I was drunk as Kate led me through the crowds, my head on a swivel as it all seemed to blur together into a mixture of lights and faces. I realized once we were around half way through that Kate and I were getting a fair bit of attention, conversations pausing briefly as we passed before resuming with even more vigor.
"Kate, is it just me, or is everyone looking at us?" I said quietly, leaning down a little so she could hear me properly over the noise. She stopped walking as I spoke, looking at me quizzically before turning to look around at the others, nodding when she saw that we were indeed getting quite a few looks.
"That's Kate right? ... Winston's daughter? ... Who's that with her? ... Never seen him before." I could hear some snippets of what was being said but did my best to ignore it as Kate just smiled at me with a shrug and continued on, leading me away once more. A moment later we passed through another crowd and came across Winston and Eve, who were standing near the stage talking with someone important looking. 'Not that it's much to say that here.' I thought to myself since everyone looked important and given the nature of the party, everyone probably was extremely important in one way or another.
"Ah Kate, Humphrey. You made it." Winston said when he noticed us, raising his arms in a welcoming gesture as we made our way over to them. I noticed Kate rolling her eyes at his somewhat over the top reaction which made my smile broaden as I nudged her in the ribs gently. She jumped slightly and swung my way, her shocked look changing quickly to a slight scowl as I just raised an eyebrow and shrugged before turning my attention to her parents. We greeted one another briefly, Eve surprising me with a hug which I returned after a moment and I thanked them once more for the invite as I stepped back.
"Sorry to cut this short but it's time." Winston said after we'd chatted for a few minutes, mainly about the various aspects of the Gala and so forth. As he and Eve moved to go up on stage I went to join the main crowd but Kate caught my hand once more, pulling me up the front with her and giving me an almost pleading look that asked me not to leave her alone.
I joined her up the front and we stood off to one side of the stage as Winston made a speech welcoming the guests and pleasantries to that effect. I was worried when he began talking about bringing the gallery together, fearing that he might single me out but thankfully he kept it vague.
"... and without the exemplary efforts of all those who participated in making this a reality..." He said, pausing for a moment and looking sidelong at me. I felt my stomach sink at the look in his eyes and I could tell that he was deliberated keeping me on the hook but after a moment he turned back to the audience and I let out a sigh. "... none of this would've been possible. So to those who are here tonight as well as those who couldn't make it, thank you for all your hard work."
Kate and I joined in on the round of applause that followed the end of Winston's speech, following suit as the volume was raised when the ribbon was cut, officially opening the gallery to viewings.
Winston called Humphrey over to him to introduce him to someone and Eve smiled at her daughter as she and Humphrey swapped places, Kate returning it after a moment.
"Thanks for being here Kate. It means a lot to your father, even if he doesn't show it well." Eve said quietly as the two of them looked over at the boys, Winston and the other man, whom she recognized as the current mayor of Jasper City, Ian Andreas, listening as Humphrey answered a question. He must've said the right thing because even the notoriously grumpy old mayor smiled, clapping a hand on Humphrey's shoulder and chuckling a bit.
"Mum, can I ask you something?" Kate said after a moment. Eve turned to her daughter, noting with pride how beautiful she looked that evening, even as the smile faded a little from her face. She looked between the now somewhat morose looking girl and the young man that was the target of her gaze, guessing what was about to come.
"About Humphrey dear?" She replied, her instincts proven correct as Kate nodded slowly, turning to look at her with a worried expression. Eve smiled inwardly as she wondered what it was Kate was worried about. 'Probably just worried he doesn't like her back.' She thought to herself, reminiscing on her earlier days a little as Kate opened her mouth to ask the question.
Winston turned to Humphrey as the mayor excused himself and walked away, still chuckling to himself in a way that was very out of character. He had to admit that he was impressed with the way Humphrey handled himself, a complete natural to the subtleties of the politics that were abound at events such as this. There was a short pause before Humphrey also moved to excuse himself but Winston held him back for a moment. There was something he wanted to tell him but more importantly he'd caught his wife's eye moments earlier, the expression she wore making it clear that she wanted him to stall Humphrey whilst she spoke with Kate. His daughter wore a worried expression so he knew that whatever it was must've been important.
"One moment Humphrey." He said, holding up a hand to stall someone else who'd been making their way over as Humphrey turned back to him.
"Yes?" Humphrey said slowly with an expectant smile, waiting to hear what Winston wanted to say.
"No doubt you've already noticed that you've been getting a few looks from the other guests here." Winston said, more or less just stating the obvious as Humphrey gestured in the affirmative, his confused expression indicating he was wondering what it was that Winston was getting at.
"I don't want to say too much but after seeing you up here with me, people are going to be even more curious so just..." Winston paused a moment, his voice trailing off as he glanced over at his wife and daughter to make sure they'd finished their discussion. It seemed they had as they walked over to where he and Humphrey were standing and he continued. "Just be aware of that. They might try to catch you off guard."
"I... see." Humphrey replied slowly, his expression showing that he really didn't but Winston didn't elaborate, certain that Humphrey would see what he meant soon enough.
Kate pouted a bit as Humphrey spoke with another party guest who'd come over to them, getting a little annoyed at the whole thing. They were slowly making their way through the gallery, supposedly admiring the artwork but if it was just that they would've been done in less than half the time. The problem was that people were constantly coming over and talking to them so they kept having to stop and chat for a while which was a tiring ordeal. Kate knew she shouldn't be angry with Humphrey, after all he'd noticed that Kate had been getting sick of it so he'd began diverting their attention to himself, something she was grateful for. 'I just wish he'd pay more attention to me.' Kate thought, knowing she was being immature but unable to help herself.
"It was great to meet you as well." Humphrey said, sending yet another person on their way, smiles all around. He was handling them all extremely well, seeming to know exactly what to say in order to make them like him.
"How do you do that?" Kate said, looking at the back of the man who was walking away as Humphrey turned back to her.
"Do what?" He asked, tilting his head in confusion as he looked at her.
"You always seem to say the right thing to make them like you. These are some of the most closed off people in the city yet it's like you've been friends with them for years the way they act." Kate elaborated, gesturing at one of the couples that Humphrey had spoken to earlier as they passed them.
"Oh. I don't know? I just try to be nice I guess." Humphrey replied after a moment, running a hand through his hair as he chuckled. Kate scowled a little for a second at his lackluster answer but she couldn't hold it, he was just too perfect to be angry at. 'It's not fair.' Kate thought to herself, getting a little annoyed at the fact that she couldn't even be angry at him; a line of thought that got more confusing the more she thought about it.
Thankfully it seemed as thought they'd spoken to almost every guest present by this point and made it through the rest of the gallery relatively unmolested. They soon arrived at the final piece, an especially beautiful painting of a lone wolf standing in the moonlight that Kate thought was particularly moving in a sad way. It spoke to her of loneliness, making her think of Humphrey and his as yet unclear past and she turned to look at him as he gazed at the piece in a way that seemed as though he was looking at something invisible to her, much further away.
"You okay?" Kate whispered, taking his hand in hers.
I jumped a little as Kate took my hand, the contact dragging me from my memories and back to the present.
"Yeah, sorry. Just thinking." I said, giving her a smile as I met her concerned gaze. I marveled once more at how her eyes seemed to be so deep, the colors drawing me further in the longer I looked as we stood there, hand in hand.
"About?" Kate replied after a moment, giving me a quizzical look even though I had a feeling that she more or less knew the answer. 'This should be fun.' I thought sarcastically as I answered her.
"You really want to know?" I asked, frowning a little as I watched for her response.
"Yes. I do. I want to know more about you. And help, if I can." She replied in an equally serious tone, nodding earnestly. I studied her for a moment, making sure she meant it before I nodded as well, letting out a small sigh.
"Alright. I was thinking about my parents." I said slowly, concentrating on keeping my emotions and expression in check. "It's a long story, I'll tell you another time. Not here." I added as I saw her give me a look that said, 'Go on'. I thought that'd be enough to satisfy her curiosity but to my surprise she stepped away a little, turning face me properly.
"Promise me." She said, holding out her hand with her pinkie raised. The childish gesture made me chuckle in spite of myself but I hesitated to reach out and make the promise all the same. It wasn't something I'd ever told anyone, not really and I was scared of how she'd react if I did tell her so I didn't want to promise.
"Do you not trust me?" She asked as I made no move to promise. She looked a quite hurt and I hurried to shake my head.
"No, it's not you Kate. This is just... not easy. I've never told anyone." I said, explaining my hesitation. She didn't reply to that other than to continue holding her hand out to me with a stern look. I hesitated another moment before raising my hand to hers slowly, completing the promise that was not something I took lightly.
"It's a promise." Kate said happily, a bright smile breaking through onto her face as we swore.