Mandy turned and gave London a triumphant smile. «I’ve known him long enough to adapt to his humor. Don’t worry, London, he’s quite harmless. It’s not everyday he gets to see us girls in our cocktail outfits! Gets a bit carried away, that one…» Mandy chuckled. «Hmm, well, that was quite a first impression he made, though, I was not prepared for that,» said London, raising her eyebrows while rolling her eyes. «I was like ’omg where’s Mandy’! I didn’t know what to do, I just…totally froze. But hey, the way he grabbed your ass? I mean…why does he allow himself, even? London closed her eyes and shaked her head, trying to get the picture out of her head. Mandy just pulled her shoulders a little bit, like it was no big deal. «Ah, well…he knows who’s the boss of the two of us, and it has always and will always be me. Don’t worry, London, relax! If he’s bothering you too much, I’ll tell him to stop. Just…take it as a compliment - you look gorge today, guurllll!» Mandy gave her a little wink and a reassuring touch of her hand on London’s shoulder. A compliment.. If those comments of his could even be forgiven as a compliment..she wasn’t sure if it was that easy.
Her now completely empty champagne glass was unable to satisfy her evolving thirst for another glass. Neither did she want to be noticed with an empty glass in hand, like someone who had a terrible habit of drinking too much if people made the wrong assumptions. She had also noticed several people walking around with their shorter drink glasses in hand, ready to quench their burning thirst. It could only mean that, instead of fetching another glass of the ever so delicious Dom, she could likely get herself her drink; her entrusted partner in crime at any party. Also, it was a safe one to order - the bartenders could seldom do it wrong, like they so often did with the Mojitos. «Mandy, I’d like a new drink, care to join?» London held up her glass and flipped it from side to side like a rattle.
London followed close on Mandy’s heels, the brunette ponytail almost swishing into her face. Moving through the rooms towards the bar, she noticed a blonde with her hair up in a ponytail, her face elegantly framed in by a white pearl earring in each ear. London wasn’t sure, but she was quite certain that she was the girl who bought SSE Watermark some years back, whom she had heard had done extremely well in the jumping ring. Lucky Watson to have found an ideal home for his talent, London thought to herself. Entering the room of the bar, she saw her new friend Aria sit by the bar with a unfamiliar woman, who’s hair was even darker than Mandy’s. She looked quite proper, that elegant stranger. London didn’t want to disturb, but lifted her right hand a little and mouthed a ‘hi’ to Aria as she and Mandy passed. She wasn't sure if Aria even noticed - the two ladies seemed quite preoccupied with their conversation. The bar itself wasn’t overly crowded, but London still had to wait for her turn to have the bartender’s attention, who was now making drinks for some other guests. Mandy suddenly spotted some other friends of hers, and London offered to keep their spot in the bar queue while Mandy went over to say hi. When the bartender eventually turned his head to her, leaning his ear forward to hear her better, London sat down her empty champagne glass and began to request her signature drink: «Could you possibly make an Amaretto Sour?» The bartender responded with an affirmative nod. Perfect. «Thank you! Also, a Moscow Mule for my friend.» She knew Mandy would appreciate that.
’Fuck’. Just about the only word running through his mind as he brushed past Ryan on the staircase, knocking shoulders with the man as he squeezed past. ’Shit’. Immediately consoling himself with the thought that he could just as easily lie through his teeth and say he’d been looking for the bathroom if he was stopped and asked, Jamie tried to push the thought of Evelyn from his mind. If Ryan discovered her she would just have to come up with a better excuse for rifling through their hosts things than ‘I was just trying to be polite.’ Ideally an excuse that did not involve any mention of him either. ’Fat chance’ he thought as he rounded the corner at the base of the stairs, his strides taking him straight toward the bar. Somehow he thought his testimony would likely pale in comparison to that of a ‘Lady’. He was the perfect scapegoat. He would chuck her under the bus if their roles had been reversed.
As he proceeded under the archway and approached the mahogany, gold accented bar with its liquor bottles glittering and calling his name from the shelves, Jamie thought about what he should do. He could just decide to leave, but that didn’t feel right. He’d look guilty of something and as far as he was concerned he wasn’t guilty of anything! Guilty of following a pretty girl… Pete would kill him. The bar was busy, he could hide here amongst the bodies and simply pretend nothing had happened for a bit. Yes.
Walking straight up to stand beside a blonde he overheard ordering… something, he leaned across the surface to grab the bartender’s attention, receiving a glare or two from people too polite to jump in with their orders. ‘Shot of whiskey - give us a beer too’ he gestured toward whatever was on tap. If his reputation was going to be ruined he might as well get shit faced. As the bartender presented a pretty little drink decorated with a cherry and a slice of orange to the woman next to him, a regular pint and a single shot followed. Raising the shot glass to his unwitting female companion he uttered ’cheers’ before downing it.
Whilst standing there, she found herself stroking her right hand along the beautiful woodwork of the bar. Mahogany really was something, wasn’t it? To her amusement, she realized her dress bore a quite similar color, making her feel like she kind of belonged in there, surrounded by all the matching luxury wood. A sudden movement to her left startled her a little - a dark-haired guy had appeared out of nowhere, now leaning across the bar counter and ordering his desired drinks, leaving the surrounding people’s expressions sour for jumping their queue. The bartender gave him a barely-noticeable annoyed scowl, sighed and nodded once, before finishing off London’s drink with a somewhat stylishly cut slice of orange and an overly red cocktail berry. London’s Amaretto Sour was placed before her, and she looked down at its lovely muddy orange color. The bartender served the guy next to her shortly after, and the young gentleman grabbed for his shot glass and lifted it up in a gesture towards her. He let out a «cheers» before throwing the shot back into his throat. Behind the counter, the bartender started preparing Mandy’s Moscow Mule, while at last letting the other guests nearby give their drink orders.
London watched him with searching eyes, registering his chosen outfit. Might not have dressed like a gentleman compared to the others, but… He was actually quite handsome. London thought the flower-patterned jacket and the leopard shirt an odd combination, but he actually made it work. She reached for a straw and started stirring her drink, circling the ice cubes around a couple of times before lifting the glass towards her lips. «Cheers, indeed. I don’t think we’ve ever met…?» As her question reached to an end, the glass finally met her mouth, allowing her to take a sip of her glorious choice of beverage.
The amber liquid unfortunately failed to bring any immediate sort of calm. He followed the shot with a long sip from his pint. ‘Ah-’ he began, considering her question, taking a longer look at the woman he found himself next to. Something about her was familiar, but there were a number of attractive blondes who had appeared to have found their way to this party and although he was now certain he was going to be blacklisted from any and all future events, at the risk of offending another distinguished guest he kept his mouth firmly shut. ‘I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure, no’ he smiled, his eyes wandering past her toward the archway and out into the hall, hoping not to catch a glimpse of the man everyone was here to meet. What lies could Evelyn be spewing?
’It’s Jamie.’ he said, taking a bigger gulp of his beer. ‘How d’ya know our host?’ he asked, his attentions snapping back to meet the woman at the bar, ‘there’s a few here who don’t.’ Like him. He didn’t. And wouldn’t ever, it looked like.
The drink was just what she needed. For a second, her mind was filled with good memories of great events, fun flirts and confident conversations. The sugary yet sour taste of it was like a magical party potion that induced her sweet and bubbly personality. It brought a content expression to her facial features. Jamie confirmed that they'd never met, before his glance slid past her and towards the room's entrance. A sudden fear of what was to see rose inside of her - he was Irish, after all. Perhaps he was good friends with this Keith? She hoped not, and she dared not turn to check who was coming.
Apparently, whatever he looked for did not appear, as his gaze returned to her. She was, in truth, a little comforted by that, and neither had she heard any Irishman bellowing behind her, so she figured she was safe for now. She put down her drink, sat herself down at the closest bar stool, and brought a hand up to her chin, leaning her head on it while the elbow rested on the bar counter, all the while listening to him introducing himself as 'Jamie' and asking her how she knew their host. «Very nice to meet you, Jamie, I'm London.» She moved her hand from her face and down on the counter, leaving both her hands folded together atop the shiny surface of the mahogany. «To be honest, I don't really know our host either. Well, I've competed against him for years, but never introduced myself until tonight. My friend Mandy knows him well, you see…» London did a directional nod towards Mandy, standing over by some other guests with both hands in the pockets of her blue damasque pant suit. «I'm actually only at this party because of Mandy and the fact that the two of us are going to to try out some jumpers nearby from here in the next days. Always in need of new horses when our top jumpers retire!» Oops, word vomit... Sure there were some etiquette rules about the length of answers to be given when being asked a question at an event like this, but London never really knew how to avoid talking too much. She had always been known for gabbing too much when she didn't mean to. «And you? I'm sorry, but I can't recall seeing your face at the show grounds, but then again, I never hung out with Ryan and his friends at the show grounds anyway.»
He leant an arm against the bar as he listened to what she had to say, she seemed in a talkative mood which on any other night he would’ve been more than happy to entertain, but he found his mind kept wandering elsewhere and he caught himself absently watching her stirring her drink. ‘Yer at Soda Springs?’ he blurted, having politely followed her nod toward Mandy, instantly recognising the woman. Mandy had competed alongside Ryan for years and produced some great horses, it was no surprise she was amongst those attending tonight. It clicked. ‘I thought I’d seen ya… who was it, that big grey…’ he pondered, the image of a striking fleabitten gelding coming to mind; ‘fleabitten…’ he continued, snapping his fingers. There was a familiar warmth beginning to creep over him and taking another sip from his beer he relented, shaking his head, ‘anyways, it’s a real pleasure London’, a flash of white as he smiled. ‘I hope ya find some good ones, I’ve never come as far as America fer a horse.’ She now had his full attention.
As she continued to speak he chuckled, ‘you won’t have’ he admitted, ‘I don’t run in show jumping circles, nah my owner retired, had some three star rides taken from me’ he explained. It had been a long time coming, but it didn’t sting any less thinking about it; he worshipped Pete but without his guidance and his horses his competition career was faltering. He’d been left with a handful of OTTBs to retrain for a couple clients and his own horse Max; apart from the recent purchase of an exciting chestnut mare from Balloo Farm there really wasn’t much happening for him. ‘I event’ he clarified, momentarily forgetting that she might not have any idea what he was talking about. ‘I know Ryan through reputation mostly.’
It seemed like he knew of their stables, as he all of a sudden asked if Soda Springs Equestrian was indeed where they worked at. «Yes, yes, I do. Or, well..we, anyway.» Jamie started suggesting he’d seen her face before after all, his expression searching, as if trying to find the pieces of a forgotten memory. Reminiscing about a grey horse, mentioning the word fleabitten, London’s eyes shot wide open with excitement. He was talking about her recognizable gelding, the fleabitten super-horse of hers that had helped her to many a victory. Thinking of him made her body feel all warm inside, and the close of her eyebrows lifted a little and her forehead got small wrinkles from making an expression of delight. «Aww, you mean Appendix! Yes, he’s my most entrusted ally at the show grounds…» Her voice trailed off as her thoughts and memories took her somewhere else for a second, her hand subconsciously stirring her drink. «Anyways, it’s a real pleasure London.» Jamie smiled at her - a quite good smile, she thought - and expressed his hopes that they would find some nice horses in the following days, adding that he’d never gone such distances to see new horses.
Life in the bar went on in a lively manner, and the bartender hummed along with the music as he touched up Mandy’s drink, placing it next to London’s orange-glowing crystal glass. The chatter in the room around them boomed with life and laughter, glasses ringed as they met in toasts and eager discussions, and the jazz music played ever so inexorably on the sound systems, and yet, London could feel that none of these moved Jamie’s attention away from her. He who’d seemed a bit distracted in the beginning seemed to finally loosen up, laughing a little and even revealing a little smile. The smile sadly disappeared, as a worrying line showed itself on his forehead as he spoke of a career being put to a halt as his sponsor had retired. She couldn’t do anything but feel a little sad for him. She had been lucky so far - SSE was doing great and they had loads of great horses, but she sure knew that this was definitely not the fortune of most stables that tried to become something. So many having investments made in many a direction, but these seldom bore fruit in the long run. Jamie explained he was an eventer, which pretty much explained why London probably hadn’t seem hit at the jumper events. Surely, he must be a skilled jumper, if doing three star eventing? London knew that Mandy had expressed the expectancy of needing help with some of the horses once they got Melford up and running. «Hold on a minute,» London said whilst looking over to Mandy and starting to call her name, the sound of request in her voice.
Mandy turned her head away form the others, looked at London and eyeing the guy she was with by the bar, and letting her body follow in her head’s direction as she fully turned and started to walk over to them. Mandy smiled and shot glances at them both, waiting for more clarification. «First of all,» London lifted the Moscow Mule and passed it over to Mandy, who reacted with a huge grin to her face - «here you go, Mands, I know you too well! Also, say hi to Jamie…he’s an eventer, actually, in lack of good horses.» Mandy looked at him with an understanding yet investigative mine to her face, as if trying to figure out why London would even introduce him to her. London shrugged quickly. «I don’t know—I just figured, you know…you mentioned you needed help with the horses when we start moving into Melford!» London could see Mandy glancing quickly at his outfit, probably giving it the same thoughts as London previously did herself, her eyes narrowing as the thoughts went running through her mind. Mandy finally opened her mouth after a long pause; «Well, Jamie…tell me, do you take any interest in pure jumpers?»
Surprised that London had now turned to call over Mandy, Jamie almost choked on his drink, setting it down quickly and running the back of his hand across his mouth he managed to stifle a cough as the woman politely excused herself from company and approached them. Gladly accepting the cocktail from London, Mandy’s hesitation was palpable as she observed him, listening expectantly to London as she introduced him as ‘an eventer… in lack of good horses.’ He played with the clasp of his watch, a rare nervous tick, wondering how much longer that description would define him; it wasn’t exactly a winning one. As London continued hastily to explain her motivations, Jamie wondered why she was being so nice to him. He was so absorbed in thinking about where the fuck London had been this whole evening, that he took no notice of the length of silence that occurred between the two women before Mandy opened her mouth to speak.
‘For you I’d take up an interest in anything’ he said playfully, an air of confidence, coinciding with the slow trickle of alcohol, taking hold. ‘Look - depends what ya mean’ he paused, his tone more serious, taking a sip from his drink to gather his thoughts. This was an opportunity to sell himself, and boy was he going to grab this opportunity with both hands whilst his reputation still remained relatively untarnished. ‘I’ve had horses in the past who’ve excelled in it’ he thought of Joey, the freckle-faced bay who was now with Balloo Farm. ‘I’ve got one or two now from the track who look made for it’ he emphasised, ‘the horse tells me he wants to be a jumper, I can work with that’ he nodded. ’But I don’t have to tell ya every horse is different. Best believe I don’t ignore other disciplines, each teaches the other something.’
To be continued...