Kate arrived at Bella's very small downtown loft at a quarter past seven. Bella seemed to have a talent for decorating on a budget, and the effect was very cozy. There were well-worn leather couches arranged around the small TV, and the tiny kitchen was painted a bright yellow.
"I like your place," Kate said admiringly.
"Oh, you're sweet. To be honest I can't wait to move out of this dump."
Bella led Kate into the bedroom, where she had laid out several outfit options for her new friend.
"Some of them might be a little big for you, but if worst comes to worst, we can pin them. So, see anything you like?"
"They're all so cute! You pick."
Bella grinned. "I was hoping you would say that."
She started holding up dress after dress to Kate's small frame. Once and a while she would murmur something like, "that's cute!" or "no, the color's wrong". Finally she held up a sleeveless white party dress with a black ribbon that cinched the waist. "Ah, this is it!" Bella exclaimed. Then she shoved Kate into the closet to change. When she emerged wearing the dress, she was gratified by Bella's delighted praise.
"You look so pretty! No wonder Henry Tilney is in love with you!"
Kate laughed. "His standards must be pretty low. I looked gross last night."
"Well, you can make up for it tonight. Now, let's figure out what shoes you are going to wear. I took the liberty of borrowing some shoes for you from work. You're a seven, right?"
Kate was impressed. "Yeah. Where do you work?"
"Just at small fashion distributor here in the city. Now…try these."
Several pairs later, they settled on simple black pumps that went well with the dress. Kate examined herself in the mirror and was impressed with the overall effect. She rarely had a chance to dress-up and found herself enjoying the experience. After Bella had squeezed herself into a vampy red halter dress, the girls were ready to set off.
"So where is this place?" Bella asked.
"He said his apartment was on 2nd West, right next to the TRAX."
"What?" asked Kate.
"Let's just say that neighborhood doesn't exactly cater to the blue collar crowd."
"Oh." Kate started to rethink accepting Henry's invitation. "Hey, let's go back. I have no idea how to act at rich people's parties, they're gonna know that I'm pure plebe! It will be like that scene at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, when all the aliens point at Brooke Adams and start screeching because they can tell she's different!"
"Are you done?" Bella asked calmly as she hailed a cab. "This is going to be fine. You look amazing, and if that rich grease-monkey has any sense, he'll propose on the spot. And if not," she added, grinning, "I'm sure John would be happy to take his place."
Kate was spared from having to answer this because just then a yellow cab pulled to the curb and the girls clambered inside. Kate gave the driver the address, and they started speeding East, toward what Kate believed to be impending disaster.
The cab deposited them in front of a building that looked both classy and contemporary. Bella grabbed Kate's hand and pulled her inside.
They rode the elevator to the top floor. It did not go directly into the apartment, but left them in a short hallway with only one door at the end.
"Well, let's go!" Bella trilled.
Kate's fearless new friend marched down the hall and rapped on the door. They could hear very loud music booming from inside. A few seconds passed.
"Maybe they're not home," Kate joked lamely.
Suddenly the door opened to reveal Henry Tilney himself, looking smokin'. Kate had believed that he couldn't have looked better in his coveralls and boots. Obviously she had never seen him in a suit.
"Hi," he said, looking at Kate with genuine pleasure. "Come in."
The girls ducked inside the dark entryway. While taking their jackets Henry took the opportunity to surreptitiously admire Kate's borrowed dress, a liberty she was more than willing to allow. Just then two party guests began a boisterous, not to mention physical, conversation that attracted the notice of several bystanders.
"Make yourselves at home. I gotta go take care of this, and then I'll come find you." And with that he was gone, leaving Kate and Bella at the edge of the large living-room-turned-dance-floor. Almost immediately Bella drew the attention of several of the male guests, receiving glances that ranged from lascivious to downright wolfish. Had their places been reversed, Kate would have been mortified, but Bella seemed comfortable with the role of sex-object. She yanked Kate onto the dance-floor, and began gyrating in a way that had always eluded Kate. She often thought it looked like a sexually charged rain dance, only instead of precipitation and plentiful harvests, the participants were showered with venereal diseases and regret.
The gods must have received Bella's non-verbal plea because soon she was approached by a young man who looked just barely sober enough to be able to perform basic motor skills. Kate, not wanting to watch or participate in the grinding, exited the dance-floor.
Kate could not help but be disappointed. She had been so convinced that Bella and Derrick were involved, but her outrageous flirtation certainly put that notion to bed.
"Hey Kate, sorry to keep you waiting!" said a voice from behind her. Kate performed an about-face, just in time to see Henry approaching.
"You should be!" Kate mock-admonished, "How dare you behave like a good host instead of allowing one guest to monopolize your time!"
"Would it make you feel better if I told you that I gave up the chance to defend my beer pong championship title to come over and talk to you?"
Kate nodded solemnly. "Yes, I believe it would."
At this point they were joined by another girl, slightly older than Kate and certainly much better dressed. These are two qualities that rarely recommend any girl to other members of her sex, but there was something sweetly disinterested about this woman that Kate found inexplicably appealing. She exuded a sort of natural elegance which most people, including our heroine herself, are completely devoid.
"Kate," said Henry, "I want you to meet my sister, Nora."
"Oh, your sister!" said Kate, genuinely happy to meet anyone important to her handsome new friend. "Happy birthday! I hope you mind my crashing your party."
"Not at all," said Nora Tilney in a kind, quiet voice that seemed to reflect her personality, "I've been looking forward to meeting the girl from Hollywood. Henry told me all about your misadventure last night."
Kate ran a hand through her hair, looking embarrassed. "In my defense, the entertainment industry really glamorizes car maintenance. I thought if the guys from Top Gear could do it, it couldn't be that hard."
Nora laughed, but before she could respond, someone from across the room called Henry's name, as well as something about "the cuervo well running dry". Henry rolled his eyes, and after assuring them he would be back, started off in the direction of the ruckus.
Nora turned to Kate. "So Henry tells me you go to UCLA. What are you studying there?"
She was about to answer when Bella, with two other men in tow, nearly collided with her. "Girlfriend, I have been looking for you everywhere!" Noticing Nora, she asked, "Who is your friend?"
Kate made the introductions, made all the more awkward by the fact she did not know the names of Bella's new dance partners, and apparently neither did Bella.
"Listen, this guy knows about a party that is just a couple blocks from here. You wanna go?"
Kate did not.
"Well, do you mind, like, if I do?"
Kate did not.
"Well, ok, but you should totally call me tomorrow and we will go shopping or something. Are you going to be ok getting home by yourself? Ok, great. Bye sweetie!"
The two girls watched Bella go, Kate with embarrassment and Nora with relief.