Savannah Ch. 01byfrozenhero1©
The Spring Gala was considered the first important social event of the summer season by most affluent residents of Savannah; a formal dance where young people, usually high school seniors on the verge of graduation, were formally introduced into society and accepted as young adults. In decades past, such galas served as matchmaking events for wealthy families seeking marriage arrangements between a young lady or distinguished suitor. Though arranged marriages were mostly an antiquated notion, the Spring Gala remained a symbolic rite of passage for the young and wealthy elite of Savannah.
For Grace Kelly Lattimore, the Spring Gala was merely one more social event among a never-ending schedule of similar functions which required her to wear a gown.
"Ah can't believe m'ah parents paired me with Dylan Montgomery," Grace complained in a drawl which was thick even for Georgia. She was tugging at the silken material clinging to her hips in a futile attempt to adjust the fit of her white gown.
Ashlee watched her classmate and best friend fuss over the garment from where they stood at the edge of the ballroom, "Would you stop picking at that thing? You look fine, and you should be happy you're dancing with Dylan; I'm stuck with Connor Wilmington, who I swear hit every branch of the ugly tree..."
Grace continued to wriggle and pluck at her dress as though it didn't fit right, "At least Connor's a sweetheart. Dylan's such a pompous ass... he thinks he's gawd's gift to the damn world just because his daddy owns half of Georgia."
Watching Grace, Ashlee decided she couldn't take it anymore, "What is your problem with that dress? You've been fighting with it for five minutes!"
"It's too tight in the hips," Grace fretted, "ah feel like m'ah ass is sticking out a quarter-mile."
Though Ashlee was certainly an attractive girl herself, she had always been jealous of her taller friend. With blonde hair that always seemed to do whatever she wanted, perfect skin, and a 5'9" body that belonged on a magazine cover, Grace resembled the movie star she was named after.
"Your ass looks perfect," Ashlee assured. "Just like it always does. Dylan will be drooling all over you."
"Gawd, that's the last thing ah need. If Dylan hits on me while we're dancing ah'm going to knee him in the groin."
Ashlee giggled at Grace's melodrama, "It'll all be over soon, then we can sneak out of here and grab a smoke. Now come on, they're about to present us for the first dance."
Grace finally gave up on her gown as Ashlee grabbed her hand. The two teens hurried in their high heels towards a small podium where a line of their fellow classmates was forming.
At the Spring Gala, young people entering society were formally announced to the gathering by a master of ceremonies before pairing with someone of the opposite sex, for the evening's opening dance. Grace was fully aware such a pairing was once an indication of marriage arrangement; she was thankful such arrangements were no longer common practice. She couldn't imagine anything more horrid than being forced to marry Dylan Montgomery, who Grace felt was an egotistical bore. Still, her mother had somehow arranged it with the gala committee that Grace be paired with Dylan and assumed it was because her mother was always mindful of their family's image; Dylan belonged to a very prestigious and wealthy family.
Grace and her peers were slowly announced, one by one, and paired off to the dance floor amidst polite applause from parents and community members in attendance. Grace did her best to smile and appear lady-like, but once the music started she found herself eagerly anticipating the dance's finish.
Dylan was at least a competent dancer, leading them in a two-step, "You look gorgeous, Grace."
"That's very nice of you to say," Grace replied, feigning a smile.
Dylan could sense her cool demeanor, "Is something wrong?"
"No, not especially," Grace answered. "Ah just get tired of dances and galas all the time. Seems like there's one every week."
"Yes, but this one is special."
"Why's that?" Grace sounded disinterested.
"It could be our first official dance as a couple," Dylan replied with a smug grin.
Grace rolled her eyes, "Give it up, Dylan. You and ah will never be a couple."
"Why not? We're a perfect match, Grace."
"How do you figure?" Grace asked, though she feared his answer.
"Well, I'm handsome, good-looking, and heir to one of the wealthiest families in Georgia. And you're the most beautiful girl in Savannah. We were meant for one another."
"Y'all are dumber than a box of tacks," Grace sighed. "'Handsome' and 'good-looking' is the same thing."
Dylan smiled, "At least we agree that I'm attractive."
"Ah agree that you're arrogant?"
Dylan chuckled, seemingly immune to Grace's icy wall, "You'll come around eventually."
"Come around to what?"
"What a fine pair we'll make."
Grace snorted, unladylike, but she couldn't help it. "Ah think you better start looking for the second-most beautiful girl in Savannah."
Dylan seemed oblivious, "Let's go to my parent's beach house this weekend. We can take my convertible."
Grace nearly made good on her promise to Ashlee, but restrained herself from placing her knee firmly between Dylan's legs, "Ah would rather French-kiss a crocodile than go anywhere with you, Dylan. Now stop pestering me."
Finally the song ended, signaling an end to the dance. Grace curtseyed to the crowd, then quickly shimmied off the dance floor to find Ashlee without bothering to look back at Dylan. The cigarette Ashlee mentioned earlier was sounding awfully good to Grace.
Chase hated working the 'high-society' events. The people were snobby and he felt like they were always looking down at him, as though he were some form of lower-class worm. But the catering service he worked for paid well and most of the work was on evenings and weekends, freeing up his days for technical school.
"Hey," one of his coworkers approached. Most of the catering employees were on break before the dinner rush, while the guests danced. Many of them had congregated outside, behind the ballroom at a designated area for smoking.
"What's up, Tommy?" Chase lit a cigarette.
"You going to that party at Gina's tonight?"
"I hadn't planned on it, why?"
"You should," Tommy encouraged. "C'mon, it's Friday night. I heard her parents are out of town and there's going to be two kegs. It should be a blast. Lots of scattered ass."
Chase's reply was non-committal, "I'll think about it."
The truth was, Chase wasn't interested in a party. He had recently been dumped by his girlfriend, whom he had been dating since high school, and wasn't quite ready to move on yet. It was a typical tale: his girlfriend went away for her freshman year of college while Chase stayed home to attend a technical school; she broke up with him less than a month prior, claiming she had met someone else.
"Maybe I'll see you there, then." Tommy stepped out his cigarette, "I better get back to serving the 'trust-funders'."
Chase figured to get back to work as well and took one last drag off his cigarette before stepping it out on the asphalt. Just as he was about to go in, he saw Grace come out.
She was laughing at the girl beside her, walking out of the ballroom's kitchen exit, and her smile lit up the night. Both women were dressed finely in evening gowns, so Chase knew they were part of the trust-fund crowd; most likely slumming out back to sneak a cigarette away from the view of mommy and daddy. Normally, Chase avoided such girls. They were snobby bitches - every one. But for some reason he couldn't take his eyes off Grace. She was taller than her friend, almost statuesque when adding in the height of her heels. Her blue eyes sparkled when she smiled, touched with just enough make-up to become terrifyingly alluring. Her blond hair was coiled and gathered high, revealing the entirety of her slender neck along with two dangling earrings.
"Are you sure you don't have any?" Grace suddenly sounded distressed.
Ashlee was frantically digging in her purse, "I thought I did. I tried to pick up a new pack today, but that prick at the gas station actually carded me and I don't turn eighteen until next month."
"Well ah'm legal," Grace lifted to her toes and looked beyond the parking lot, trying to remember if there was a convenience store nearby where she could buy cigarettes.
Chase watched the whole conversation, noticing that none of his fellow co-workers were paying any attention. It wasn't unusual for the working-class and upper-class to maintain a mutual distance at these types of events. That was the established social order, one Chase normally adhered to, but he couldn't take his eyes off Grace.
"Hey, you girls need a smoke?"
Grace turned to notice Chase holding out a pack of cigarettes, "Oh darlin, y'all are a life saver."
Chase thought his ears were going to melt at the sweet sound of Grace's thick drawl. He wasn't from Georgia originally and found he enjoyed the way girls spoke in the south. Grace's accent seemed unusually heavy and seductive, even for Savannah. After the girls plucked a cigarette from his package, he flicked his lighter and cupped his hands, lighting them both.
Ashlee bumped her elbow against Grace's and quickly waggled her brow, indicating she thought Chase was cute. Grace stifled a smirk, hiding it behind her cigarette. Chase certainly was good-looking, with short brown hair neatly trimmed at the sides. He seemed fit too, though it was difficult to tell beneath his loose-fitting catering uniform.
"Hi, I'm Ashlee. This is my friend Grace."
Grace inhaled delicately from her Marlboro, "Ah don't recognize you, do you go to school near hear?"
"I graduated last year," Chase replied. "From St. Vincent's. I take it you two are seniors?"
"Yeah," Ashlee answered. "Our parents are trotting us out and 'presenting us to society', which is even duller than it sounds."
"At least you didn't have to dance with Dylan. He was all over me again, telling me we're the 'perfect couple' for each other." Grace stuck her tongue out, showing what she thought of Dylan and his advances.
Chase raised his eyebrows, silently praying Grace didn't have a snotty trust-fund boyfriend.
"Yeah, well, Connor stepped on my feet," Ashlee exhaled a plume of smoke. "Twice."
Chase suggested, "You two sound like you need a little excitement."
Ashlee replied dully, "You have no idea."
"I know of a party later tonight," Chase suggested. He had quickly changed his mind about going to the soiree his co-worker had mentioned, as it presented the perfect means to get to know Grace better. He certainly didn't want their chance meeting to be the last time he ever saw her.
"What kind of party?" Grace wondered.
"You know; the standard 'parents-are-out-of-town' kegger. It's at this girl's house who I know from school, not too far from downtown. Might be a lot of fun."
Grace and Ashlee both looked at each other to gauge the other's opinion; both girls were smiling at the prospect of a party downtown. There weren't many kegger parties in Ardsley Park, the affluent neighborhood they both grew up in.
"Ah'm in," Grace suddenly decided.
"Me too," Ashley beamed.
"Yeah?" Chase smiled, attracted to Grace's sense of spontaneous adventure.
Ashlee wondered, "Any chance you could pick us up? We'll have to go home and get out of these clothes."
"Yeah it's no problem," Chase said. "I can change here, so just tell me where to be."
Located at a large two-story house not far from the downtown core of Savannah, in a neighborhood of old homes, the party was already in full swing when Grace, Ashlee, and Chase arrived. The house was packed with high school and college-aged kids drinking beer out of plastic cups. Loud music thudded from the basement while the sound of things breaking could be heard every few minutes.
Grace had never been to such a rough party, as everyone seemed incredibly drunk or stoned. She even saw some people snorting lines of cocaine as she followed Chase and Ashlee towards the keg. Her friends rarely hosted such visceral bashes - they were too stuck up. In fact, the boys at her school actually thought it was cool to sit around drinking brandy and smoking cigars, just like their stuffy fathers.
"This place is wild," Ashlee yelled excitedly as Chase poured from the keg tap, raising her voice in order to be heard.
"Yeah," Chase agreed loudly. "I didn't realize there would be so many people here. This is cool though, right?"
"It's great," Grace replied, accepting a glass from Chase.
Once they had their beers secured, Ashlee grabbed Grace by the wrist. "Come on, let's go mingle. I saw some cute guys as we came in."
Grace looked over her shoulder towards Chase as Ashlee led her away, feeling bad that they were abandoning him so soon after their arrival, even though he was already talking to other people whom he obviously knew.
"Why did you do that?" Grace asked once Ashlee found some space to stand in another room. "Chase was nice enough to invite us to this party, we should hang with him."
Ashlee grinned, "I'm trying to act disinterested, silly."
Grace quickly connected the dots and leveled an amused gaze towards her best friend, "You're into him?"
Ashlee nodded with a bright smile, "He's cute, and he's not a total stuck-up jerk like most of the guys at our school. Do you think he's into me?"
"Ah don't know," Grace answered honestly. "You want me to go find out?"
Ashlee bubbled out a nod, "Would you?"
"Give it a couple minutes." Grace took a swallow of her beer, which wasn't much colder than room-temperature, "Then ah'll go talk to him."
"Make sure you find out if he has a girlfriend."
"Don't worry, ah think ah know how to reconnaissance a boy - ah've been doing it for you since middle school."
"Oh!" Ashlee looked towards the keg over Grace's shoulder, "It looks like he's going outside for a smoke, now's your chance!"
"Okay, okay, simmer down." Grace rolled her eyes at Ashlee's excitement, setting her glass down on a nearby table, "Watch my beer."
"You're just going to leave it? We have to catch up with everyone."
"At least it can't get any warmer," Grace replied dryly. She didn't care for the taste of beer.
Slipping through a crowd of people in the kitchen, where the keg was, Grace moved outside through a sliding glass door and onto the back porch. It was much quieter outside, though the music and crowd of voices could still be heard through the windows.
Chase was standing by himself enjoying a smoke, wearing a light brown leather jacket over his tee shirt; the evening air carried a bit of a chill.
"Mind if ah have another one of those?"
Turning around, Chase smiled at the vision of Grace. She wore a pair of white jeans and heels, with a thin yellow spaghetti-strapped top which clung to her slender torso and revealed her mid-riff. Normally such an outfit would appear slutty to Chase, but Grace somehow appeared as elegant as she did at the dance. Maybe it was because her hair was still coiled up so enticingly, he thought.
"I didn't know girls from Ardsley Park smoked," Chase teased, offering out his pack.
Grace blushed just a little, "Ashlee got me started during our last finals. Ah usually only do it when she and ah are together."
Chase made sure to make eye contact when he lit Grace's cigarette.
Grace exhaled, "So, you got a girlfriend or anything?"
Chase shook his head, "Nah. We broke up recently... actually, I got dumped. You know how it is; she's away at school with a new boyfriend, I'm here at home hundreds of miles away. I guess she couldn't handle the distance."
"Well, ah wouldn't fret too much. There are plenty of other trout in the pond."
"I like your attitude," Chase smiled.
"What's your policy on high school girls?"
"I'm okay with them," Chase joked. "When I went to high school I had to sit next to them all the time."
Grace smiled brightly at his humor, clasping her bare arms close to her chest. She didn't realize how chilly it would get and didn't think to bring a jacket. Grace silently chastised herself for not knowing better; it was only April after all.
"Here," Chase said, taking his jacket off.
"You're a doll," Grace replied thankfully as Chase draped the jacket around her shoulders. "Thank you."
"No problem. So, um... why're you asking me about high school girls?'
Grace ashed her cigarette over the railing of the porch, "Well, ah'm supposed to be more sneaky about this, but Ashlee thinks you're cute."
Chase hadn't seen that one coming, "Ashlee?"
Grace made a slight wince, "Yeah, she kinda sent me out here to find out if you had a girlfriend."
"Ah, I get it now." Chase felt like a complete ass, thinking even for a moment Grace was interested for herself.
Grace breathed out an uneasy laugh, sensing a sudden distance from Chase, "Sorry, ah guess it's kind of juvenile."
"No, it's cool. I'm flattered, actually." Chase tried to think quick and come up with a reason as to why he wasn't interested in Ashlee. He didn't want to admit he was far more curious about Grace, "It's just that... I mean, I just got out of a long-term relationship. You know how it is."
"That's totally understandable," Grace replied. She deposited her cigarette into an empty beer bottle sitting on the porch rail before offering Chase his jacket back, "Don't worry sugah, ah'll break it to her gently."
Chase nodded, indicating that he planned on staying outside a while longer.
Upon reaching the sliding door Grace glanced back over her shoulder, "Thanks for inviting us, by the way. Ah'm having fun."
"Cool, I'm glad. I'll be in soon, we can have another beer."
Grace smiled, "Okay."
Ashlee looked like she was already on her second beer when Grace returned and several guys were standing around the petite brunette. Grace smirked; Ashlee had always been skilled at gaining male attention.
Ashlee quickly noticed Grace's return and unceremoniously parted from the boys she was talking to. She hissed urgently, "Well???"
"Well what?" Grace teased with a smile, sipping from her still-warm beer. She knew what Ashlee wanted to know, but enjoyed getting her friend worked-up.
"C'mon! What did he say?!"
"He said he doesn't have a girlfriend, but he just got out of a relationship. Sounds like it was pretty major; ah'm not sure he's over it, hon."
Ashlee made a pout.
"He's a real gentleman though," Grace added. "He saw that ah was chilly when we were standing on the porch and offered me his coat."
Ashlee grinned brightly, "Aw, that's so sweet! Maybe he's looking for a rebound? I'd be cool with that..."
Just over an hour later, Chase was standing outside yet again, talking with some people he worked with, when a frantic looking Grace came out to the porch.
"Chase, have y'all seen Ashlee?"
Chase shook his head, "Not in a while, why?"
"Ah can't find her anywhere and it's not like her to just suddenly up and vanish."
Chase noted the concern in Grace's voice and could tell she was upset. He cast his cigarette butt away, "I'll help you look for her. Where'd you see her last?"
"She was talking to some guys," Grace explained as they moved back into the house. "A couple of them were getting real familiar with her, too. She's had a lot to drink and ah'm scared one of them might try to take advantage of her."
"We better check upstairs," Chase suggested.
Grace followed Chase up a steep stairway to a stretching hallway; the large house had several rooms on the second floor. Chase started opening doors but didn't find Ashlee in any of the rooms they investigated. When he reached a locked door, Chase knocked loudly on it.