Sunday, May 19, 2013

(#Twenty-four: Dinner Party) Wuthering Nights inspired by Wuthering Heights

Chapter Twenty-four
Dinner Party
    Heath stayed in Hampstead that night, at the pub he later bought.
    I had the dated receipt amongst his letters. Harrison had agreed to leave The Hall the next day. He’d delivered a note to Heath at the pub and was taking the family on a trip, with what remained of his assets. They would arrange to have their belongings collected. Heath was officially the owner of Hareton Hall and Harrison had finally woken up sober.
    In any case, Heath did not wish to return to his home that night. He’d always liked the old pub overlooking the grounds of Hampstead Heath and had a notion, with his new found wealth, to buy it. 
     He pulled a Savile Row suit, newly tailored, from the wardrobe. Heath needed to look his best tonight.  He showered, combed his hair, drank some Magenta and cleaned his teeth. There were few things that interested him less than fashion but he was determined to make an effort for this dinner party. He felt good to go as he grabbed his room key and walked down the stairs to his car.
     Heath arrived at The Grange soon after to find it lit up magnificently. The Georgian house was as fine as Kenwood House but The Grange, being tucked behind a veil of trees, was more secure and not open to the public. It was the palace Heath and Kate had grown up alongside, but Heath thought, with some minor alterations, Hareton Hall would be grander. 
    The invitation was for a dinner party of sorts. Kate, Hunt, Annabelle and himself were to be the only guests.
     Heath was the last to arrive.
     Annabelle had spent hours getting ready that night. She wore a long, blue, figure hugging dress that reached to her ankles. To match her sparkling designer heels, she wore an expensive diamond necklace that had been handed down through generations of Hunts.
     The round dining room table was set grandly as though they were entertaining a guest of honour rather than an old friend. The chandeliers were on full power and candles were lit in rows on the wall, highlighting the minimalist design. The interiors had been recently renovated. It was a house that had always haunted Heath and compelled Kate.
    When Heath rang the doorbell, expecting the butler or housekeeper to greet him, he was surprised that Kate opened the door herself and invited him in. She stood there, in a red velvet jacket, black jeans and fresh boots. Her hair hung in ringlets down her back and she looked like a girl who’d just stepped off the pages of a fashion magazine. Kate’s stomach was flat and there was not a hint of her pregnancy, although she realised she should probably have warned Heath about Katarina, since there were family photographs all over the lounge room.
     ‘Being richer suits you,’ Heath said, pushing past her and making his way into the hallway.
     Kate looked at Heath and smiled, ignoring his insinuation. The girl greeted him like an old friend, a little too warmly to be a favourite brother and a little too enthusiastically for Hunt’s liking.  
     Edmund Hunt, seated in the drawing room, was finalizing his applications to law school and reading over the notes he’d written. He had been warned by Kate to be civil. His marriage, still in its early days, was fragile. Their child, Katarina, lay sleeping upstairs. Kate had not mentioned her to Heath but her photographs were dotted all over the drawing room. Edmund Hunt, desperate to please his wife, was on his best behaviour. Hunt was aware that of the two of them, he was the one who loved more.
     Edmund still couldn’t believe Kate had agreed to marry him.  He knew banning her from seeing Heath at this point would never work. Trying to convince Kate the man was beneath her would also be hopeless. Kate, although raised with generations of old money, had never really set aside her obsession with Heath. Hunt was aware that his money and class would never be enough to compete with Kate’s childhood obsession. In Hunt’s view, possession was nine tenths of the law and Kate was his now. Their soon to be born child made him sure of this.
     Annabelle had dressed formally for the occasion, Kate noticed. Whilst it had recently been no surprise to see her in jeans and an old, paint-splattered shirt, her sister-in-law was dressed to kill. Belle had also spent the afternoon at the hairdresser’s having her blonde hair foiled and waved in the latest celebrity style.
     Kate worried about her, and not for the reasons Annabelle suspected. Jealousy was not an emotion Kate felt easily and certainly not in the direction of Annabelle. But she suspected, or really had always known that Annabelle remained infatuated with Heath. His contempt for all her sister-in-law stood for (inherited wealth, class distinction, the divide between him and Kate) would run deeper and extend to contempt for Annabelle.
     Heath’s pallor seemed tanned; his clothes were tailored and expensive. Annabelle had done some research and informed Kate that he owned companies all over town. Kate had barely listened. She was unimpressed by the way Heath had brought Harrison low, even though she knew how much Harrison deserved it.
     Heath was dressed in a formal suit under a pure cashmere overcoat. Only Kate knew the scarf he wore was her own. To Annabelle, who was sitting in the bay window seat - the same place Kate had sat in when she was recovering after the skiing incident, waiting or rather pining for Heath - this would not register.
    Heath thought Kate looked like a movie star as he hovered in the hall. He tried to ignore her as he casually glanced at the photographs on the walls. Annabelle shone in the background, but he paid her scant attention in that moment. When his eyes had finished glancing at Kate’s infant daughter (she looked to be about one in the photograph), Heath glanced back at Kate, then Annabelle.
      Kate withdrew to the kitchen as Annabelle raced up to Heath, enthusiastically. Heath stood formally in the hallway.
     ‘Hello Annabelle.’
     ‘Hello Heath,’ Annabelle replied happily. ‘May I take your coat?’
       Normally, the butler would have done this, but Annabelle had been quick to the mark after Greta wished them all good night and given the staff the night off. Annabelle took Heath’s scarf and placed it on the hall table not far from Katarina’s baby picture which Heath appeared not to notice.
       When Annabelle reached over to take Heath’s coat, he turned around quicker than she anticipated. To her surprise and delight, just as she was going to greet him with the customary European air kiss on both cheeks, he kissed her on the mouth instead. Heath showed no expression as Annabelle blushed again and stumbled to the coat rack feeling as light as air.
     The visitor smiled warmly. ‘You are looking lovely tonight, Annabelle,’ he said. Annabelle was excited to hear her name spoken in his velvet voice. ‘It’s been too long. I haven’t seen you in years,’ he added.
    Annabelle smiled shyly and blushed at the warm greeting and unexpected compliment she had received.
    ‘We thought you had forgotten us,’ Annabelle said, pretending to be slightly put out as they walked through to the drawing room.
    ‘Not exactly, I work in finance now. My work took me… to America.’
    ‘I read about you in the paper today: financial wiz kid and all that. They posted a lot of details in the article. Apparently you are the most sought after bachelor in England. You should have stayed in touch...’ Annabelle beamed.
   ‘Well, the important thing is I’m back in touch now,’ he said, staring directly into her eyes.   
    Annabelle continued, ‘and then I read all about how much money you donate to charity…’
   ‘For tax purposes,’ Heath added modestly.
    Annabelle ignored his response and whispered, ‘I always knew you were a good person, Heath.’
    Heath rolled his eyes when no one was looking and loosened his tie. His mouth watered when he smelled the steaks sizzling in the kitchen. Kate, dressed in an old-fashioned apron and playing chef, began to worry that trusting Heath to be civil tonight was a mistake. However, concerned she might lose contact with him altogether and unable to face the thought, she had hastily taken the risk to combine the three people now closest to her in the same room.
    ‘I’m sorry not to have kept in touch, Annabelle. I suppose…real life gets in the way,’ Heath added, changing the subject as Annabelle handed him a glass of red wine.
    Hunt stood up when Heath entered the room as Kate re-introduced the men. They shook hands and talked about the stock market as Heath’s gaze wandered, drinking in the family portraits.
     During dinner, where Heath was most amiable to Hunt and Kate, it was as if the seductive kiss between him and Annabelle had never happened.
     The first course was heating on the stove. Greta had left all the instructions as she departed but Kate kept getting up to check on everything. The table had been set perfectly and Heath recognised Greta’s hand in all of the decorations. He knew Kate must have wanted the night to be perfect for some reason. Perhaps she somehow expected his re-introduction to the family would be a happy occasion.
     Kate, who had been finalizing the sketches for Annabelle’s play, had little to do with the domestic running of the house. She had been avidly researching the best food to serve at dinner parties…and the recipe for Heath’s favourite dish of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. 
     Heath walked into the kitchen, leaving brother and sister alone to chat after demolishing the first course of lobster soup. Heath offered to bring the plates and stack them in the sink. It was the first time he’d ever done menial work in a kitchen since Greta had allowed him to wipe the dishes as a six-year-old. He’d done it so badly she never asked him again. He disliked kitchen tasks but for tonight, he’d made an exception. He knew women actually liked men who pretended to be domesticated and he was keen to impress Annabelle. Heath found it funny because he thought Kate would have to be out of her mind to really be fooled by his act, but she played along.
     Kate smiled, ‘This is all going remarkably well, considering...’
    ‘I’m not sure what you mean,’ Heath said.
     Kate leaned in and whispered, ‘considering you hate my husband.’
     Heath looked into her eyes, ‘I don’t hate him. The thought of him barely enters my mind. By the way, I saw the family portrait. How old is your daughter?’
    ‘Katarina is just a toddler.’
    ‘Don’t you think I should meet her?’
     ‘Not tonight. She’s asleep.’
     Heath shrugged. Kate sighed disbelievingly as she took the dinner plates from the top shelf above the stove. Heath looked on impatiently studying Kate’s perfect curves as she retrieved various forks and spoons. The desire to plunge his retracted fangs into her neck, the curve in her arm, the crease behind her knee - demolish her altogether - was more intense  than ever.
     ‘Anything else I can do?’ Heath asked standing close to her. ‘I have to say, I thought Hunt would have more…staff.’
    ‘Don’t be stupid, Heath. Greta only comes in because I begged her not to leave me. Most of the servants quit ages ago. Hardly anyone in London has servants anymore. We barely afford the groom even though Hunt is, as you know, comfortable.’
    Heath laughed.
   ‘Is that meant to be a joke? ‘
     Kate sighed. ‘Of course I understand how fortunate we are. I volunteer at the local charity now.’
    ‘Listen to you. You sound so…pious.’
    ‘It’s more than you’ve ever done.’
    ‘True, but then I was born a little closer to the poverty line than you were and it’s not a place I relished. Anyway, you needn’t be so proud of your ability to marry well and your husband’s ability to inherit money.’
    ‘You think I married well? I thought you’d abandoned me Heath. What was I supposed to do? You disappeared for three years.’ she whispered, wary that Annabelle and Edmund might hear.
     ‘Yes, that was…unfortunate.’ 
     ‘That’s an understatement. If you need to blame someone, you should at least partly blame yourself.’
      Heath reached for Kate when he was sure the others were in conversation in the other room. He leant in to her hair as he used to when they were younger and she hugged him, greedily, expectantly, wanting more.
     Then, just as he contemplated kissing her perfect lips, he spoke.
    ‘Oh Kate,’ Heath shook his head. ‘I’m just imagining what a boring little country wife you have become…’
     Kate pushed him away.
    ‘Stop it Heath, you’re being horrible…’
     Heath laughed softly.
     ‘What did you expect when you invited me here?’ he whispered.
     ‘Why are we whispering? Never mind…’ Kate stacked the pudding dishes. ‘I just wanted us to have…’
    ‘What,’ he whispered, ‘an evening reminiscing? Like the good old days! Did you hide the shot guns? Hunt can barely hide his disdain for having to dine with the help…’
    ‘That’s not fair, he’s not a snob…he was…thrilled I’d invited you home.’
    ‘I can’t believe you’re sticking up for him.’ She was close to him now. He heard the heart beats and spoke out of turn, accusingly.
    ‘You’re pregnant aren’t you? That’s why you won’t leave him,’ Heath said as he transported the spoons to the tray.
    ‘He’s what? Your husband…the man you preferred to sleep with over me? The man you…love? Does he know you married him for his money, because of a misunderstanding with me?’
    ‘Now, you’re being nasty…’ Kate whispered, cautioning him with her intonation.
    ‘Only now?’ he replied.
    Just then, Annabelle came wandering in, her long skirt floating into the room behind her as if she were part of an intangible mirage or some bizarre circus.  She smiled at Heath, unable to contain her thrill at being in the same vicinity as this unknowable, beautiful man. The wind outside the kitchen windows groaned across the grounds of the estate. Winter air that had turned to a deep chill over the last few days warned them of the icy weather and snow soon to follow.
    Heath felt the chill then smiled again at Annabelle. ‘I don’t miss the cold.  America is warmer. By the way, I was just telling Kate how lovely you look tonight, Annabelle.’
   ‘Thank you.’ Annabelle said, clearly thrilled but obviously surprised to be complimented so publicly.
    ‘I can see this is not going to be simple,’ Kate said under her breath as she opened the oven door.
    ‘Let me help you with that,’ Heath said, obligingly. ‘Kate was never one for the kitchen,’ he said to Annabelle, ‘and we wouldn’t want you lifting anything heavy in your condition.’
     Annabelle beamed, ‘Isn’t it exciting?’
     ‘Very,’ Heath said.
      ‘Kate’s told you…’
      ‘I guessed,’ Heath responded. The sound of the tiny heartbeat drummed in Heath’s ears as soon as he was close to Kate. He wanted to savage her and was sated only by a double dose of Magenta before he arrived. Annabelle gazed at Heath warmly. She was thinking what an amiable and successful man he had become. 
    Hunt, sitting at the dining room table patiently, was closing the half opened window as Kate returned with the gravy boat.
   ‘Darling, I told you we should have kept the staff tonight,’ he said, deluded about the rising cost of living.
   ‘It’s just friends, Edmund. I didn’t want anything to be formal.’
    Now it was Edmund’s turn to roll his eyes.
    ‘I rather think I would have sooner entertained a rapper or a recently paroled dealer…’
    ‘Shh…’ Kate said. ‘Heath is a guest… he’s family.’
    ‘He’s not my family,’ Hunt said as Heath entered the room. It wasn’t his style to pretend not to hear, to play the upper class games Kate’s family were raised playing, but for tonight he would make an exception. All would continue along smoothly, for the moment.
    They talked of old school acquaintances and the stock market. Edmund, steadied by Katherine, had been warned not to discuss the missing years of their lives.
    Hunt boasted of Kate’s brief but shining design of the classic play being talked about in the London theatre world and congratulated Heath on his obvious business successes.
    ‘Yes,’ Heath said, ‘and, I’m sure Kate has told you, I’m…as of three minutes ago… the new owner of Hareton Hall.’
     Hunt raised his eyebrows and looked shocked. Then he looked directly at Kate.
     ‘Darling, you never told me this.’
     Kate looked surprised. ‘I only just found out…’
     ‘Harrison lost it in a bet…and now, it’s mine…’ Heath added as Annabelle scooped raspberry coulis over her ice-cream. Not entirely oblivious to the family drama, she looked up wide-eyed. It was exciting that Heath was to be their newest neighbour. She would get to see him regularly. And now that Kate was married, her sister-in-law couldn’t resent their friendship. Annabelle smiled warmly at Heath over her pudding. Heath looked at the raspberry sauce and imagined drinking her blood.
    ‘But I thought… Oh, I still have a few of the pictures I was commissioned to make, left to do…of the Hall…’
     ‘And you shall,’ Heath added jubilantly.
     Kate looked up, ‘Would anyone like coffee?’ she asked, trying to change the subject.
     ‘Yes, please,’ Heath said. ‘I find myself absolutely starving for pudding, and I never eat sweets. That must have been the finest meal you’ve ever cooked tonight, Kate. What an excellent little wife you’ve made…the second time around,’ he said condescendingly.
    Hunt stared at him. ‘We didn’t ask you here to insult us,’ he said.
   ‘Mmm,’ Heath replied, ‘well, you didn’t ask me here at all, did you?’
   ‘Heath,’ Kate cautioned.
   ‘No, it must be said, out with it. Kate’s my wife now, not yours.’
   Heath just looked at him and laughed.
   ‘Yes, well, I can see by the light on her wedding ring - nearly knocked me out when we ran into each other riding yesterday. Oh, that’s right. You weren’t wearing one, were you?’ Heath said sarcastically.
    Kate shook her head.
   ‘Let’s all go into the drawing room and have a drink,’ Annabelle suggested.
   ‘Actually,’ Heath announced as he stood up, ‘I find I’m tired after all my…acquisitions today.’ He looked straight at Kate, then at Annabelle.
    ‘I trust you know you will be welcome at Hareton Hall anytime, Annabelle, to finish your paintings and photographs. The same goes for my new neighbours. Perhaps we could go riding again soon Kate.’
    Kate looked up. In the still and without distractions, he could read her mind, ‘Don’t…’ she thought, ‘don’t tell him…that I love you more…even after the fact that you’ve succeeded in  making a fool out of me tonight…’
   Hunt looked at Kate, surprised she had already been socializing with this man who he had feared, it must be said, admired yes, and as a school boy, hated… Though now, he felt a slight twinge of pity for the person who was so evidently in love with what was his.
     Later that night, Kate lay awake, reading one of her favourite novels, Jane Eyre. She read about the delusional woman in the attic, the first wife and wondered how much of the crazy it took to send a woman mad. Her husband had tossed and turned after Heath left but he had no inkling of the power Heath had over her, of how torn she now was. Underneath, she longed to be only with Heath.
     That was how little Edmund understood her.
     And who knew? Maybe it was a marriage of convenience, just as Heath had insinuated. Their partnership was a merge of her finances and Edmund’s property. But what choice did she have back then?
     Kate lay awake for hours in the dark, thinking about Annabelle’s loving glances towards Heath at the dinner table. It would be a lie to say, as she tossed and turned all night, she didn’t have any inkling what Heath might do next.