Washed by a Wave of Wind
M. Shayne Bell, editor

Chapter 18
Finale
Pat Bezzant 

[p.262]Jessica Taylor slipped into the computer alcove off the kitchen to call up the latest weather forecast, hoping a winter storm would provide an excuse for skipping the New Year’s Eve party.

She heard the sudden clatter and clang of pots and pans pulled from the kitchen cupboards. At least it provided a noise trail. Her seven-month-old daughter was safe—for now. 

Scanning down to the local forecast, Jessica read, “Weather for the Wasatch Front, December 31, 1999: clear and cold, with overnight lows expected in the high teens. Tomorrow—”  Who cared about tomorrow?  More out of habit than for any real interest, Jessie punched up headline news: “Millions prepare for world’s end tonight.” 

She hit the power switch, and the screen went blank. Jessica stared at the monitor even after the low moan of the computer fan died. 

“Jessie, what are you doing? We’re going to be late.” 

Jessica turned from the blackness of the screen to face her husband.  Seeing Eric in a tuxedo was a rare enough event that she looked at him as if they were newly met, feeling a rush of pride in her spouse. He stood in the doorway, his blond hair shining under the hall light, as he struggled with the red bow tie that matched his cummerbund.

On her way to the kitchen, she paused long enough to straighten his tie. “I hope the red isn’t too flamboyant.” 

The baby looked up at the sound of her voice and wiggled her delight, grabbing another lid. Jessica pulled the aluminum lid from her [p.263]baby’s hand and began replacing the pots and pans. It was like running up the down escalator as Erica pulled one out for every two Jessica put in. 

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Eric said, following her into the kitchen.  “With Greg Peyton always stirring things up, a junior partner in a red tie isn’t going to shock anyone.” 

“Don’t think you can get away with nonsense the way Greg does,” she said, standing to face him. “You’re not the pampered nephew of a senior partner, thank God.” 

“I think I look great in red.” 

Jessica ignored him to return to her pans, Erica now clearly ahead in her race to empty the cupboard. “It seems the business world is getting more conservative every day, and you don’t want to do anything to—” 

“Arriving late isn’t exactly what I’d recommend for a good impression,” Eric said. 

Jessica stood up, the baby riding on her hip. Eric put his arms around them both and whispered. “Or are you going in your bathrobe?”  He slipped a hand along her neck, lifting her long dark hair to kiss her behind her ear. 

“Here, this will help.” She handed him the baby and bent down to finish putting the pans away. 

“Ushering in a new century is a once in a lifetime experience,” he said. 

“Not for our baby.” She stashed the last pan in the cupboard and took Erica from her husband. She lifted her up and cooed into her face, “You’re going to live to be a hundred so you can go to a twenty-second century party, aren’t you sweetheart.” 

Erica smiled with her mouth wide open and grabbed two fistfuls of hair. Eric pried open the little hands. Jessica hugged the baby to her, saying over and over in her mind, “You’ll live a long and happy life.  You’ll live a long and happy life. You’ll live a long … ” 

“I’m leaving for the sitter now,” Eric said. “Hurry and get dressed.” 

At that moment Jessica felt cold fear rise up to crowd out her ability to rationalize it away. She stood still, willing herself to breathe slowly, calmly, but the fear wouldn’t be fought off. She followed her husband into the living room. He was putting on his coat. 

“I don’t know about tonight,” she said. 

Eric continued buttoning his coat, “What do you mean?” 

[p.264]“I mean, 1 don’t know about going out tonight.” 

Eric gave up buttoning. “What are you talking about? You spent weeks lining up a sitter. You spent $500 on a black dress.” 

“I know.” 

Jessica felt ridiculous trying to put her feelings into words. She almost decided to ignore her apprehensions and send her husband for the baby-sitter after all. But she couldn’t. 

“I don’t feel right about leaving the baby.” 

“Oh, I don’t believe it! The party’s with all our friends from the firm who said you’d disappear if we ever had a baby.” 

“I know.” 

“We’re going to show them life goes on after parenthood. It’s all planned.” He smiled at his wording. “No pun intended.” 

Jessica smiled and even managed a laugh. If he were in good humor, maybe he would be open to compromise. “We could take the baby with us.” 

She freed her hair from the grip of the baby’s hand. She’d spent hours curling it so she would project the image of an attractive, intelligent woman instead of a harried housewife and mother. She turned the squirming baby loose on the carpet. 

“Jessie, it’s New Year’s Eve. You can’t keep the baby out that late.  Besides children are definitely not invited.” 

She could hear the beginning of a whine in Eric’s voice. She hated it when he whined. 

Jessica left the living room for the basement. She called behind her, “Don’t let Erica fall down the stairs.” 

When Jessie returned with the portacrib, her husband had taken off his coat and was seated with Erica on the blue floral sofa, busily thwarting the baby’s attempt to put his silk tie in her mouth. When he saw the portacrib he groaned. “Oh, no. You’re joking, right?” 

“I’ll get myself ready and pack the diaper bag while you run over and pay the sitter. It’s only right since we’re canceling out at the last minute.” While she talked she took Erica from her husband and started down the hall to the bedroom. The portacrib stood in the middle of the floor, a monument to Jessie’s determination to take the baby.

Half an hour later Erica sat in her car seat bundled up in a pink snowsuit decorated with an embroidered bunny. Eric hadn’t said much to Jessie after returning from the sitter’s. She promised herself she would cheer him up. 

[p.285]Jessica reached across to Eric with both hands and gave his arm a hug. “It won’t be so bad having Erica along. She’ll go right to sleep.” 

“I guess we could say our sitter canceled out at the last minute,” Eric said. 

She smiled. “With a mind like that, it’s a good thing you went to law school.” 

“I’m not the only lawyer here.” 

“If you go in there with that story, someone will tell you to sue the girl for breach of contract and hustle to take the case.” 

Eric laughed but sobered quickly to ask, “What’s with not leaving the baby? You’ve left her often enough before. In fact, judging from the sitting bill you ran up doing Christmas shopping, I’m surprised Erica remembers who you are.” 

She gave his arm another squeeze. “Well, it is an ‘End of the World’ party. We’ll just tell everyone we wanted to all go out together!” 

She tried to end with a laugh, but it wouldn’t come. 

Eric groaned. “I hope you’re joking.” 

She let go of his arm and stared out into the clear winter night. “Of course I’m joking.” Then she added quietly, “I hope.” 

“Come on.” He turned east onto Eleventh Avenue, glancing at his wife between each statement. “We’ve laughed for months over all the hoopla for the year 2,000—the hysteria about the world’s end. That’s the whole point of the party. Hell, we planned it last New Year’s Eve.” 

“I know.” 

She concentrated on her hands. 

“Jessie, you’ve never been religious. When did you start worrying about Armageddon?” 

“It’s not just the evangelists. Almost every day there is a guest on one program or another—” 

“You’ve been watching too many talk shows.” 

Jessica put her hand on the dashboard and looked back. “Why didn’t you turn onto Terrace Hills? It’s shorter.” 

“I thought it would be nice to drive by the cemetery. It will get us in the mood for the party.” 

Jessie looked out her window at the tombstones in City Cemetery.  The monuments looked gray against the snow. The somber white of the Memorial Mausoleum hemmed the left side of the road. Up the hill Jessica could see the bright lights from the Jamesons’ house, still five minutes away by the roundabout route her husband had selected. 

[p.266]“How would you feel if something horrible happened when Erica was with a sitter? What if there was a landslide or an earthquake or a tornado or … ” 

“I don’t believe I’m hearing thisl Where’s that hard-nosed attorney I married?” 

He reached over to take her hand, but she snatched it away. “Don’t patronize me!”

Erica started fussing in the back. Jessie turned around and patted her legs. Eric made a left at the top of the hill. They would be at the party soon. She didn’t want to go in with an unresolved quarrel between them, but how could she get him to understand? He probably thought her brain had eroded during postpartum blues. 

“I can’t explain in a logical way how I feel,” she said. “It isn’t logical.  I don’t know. It’s like being afraid of the dark or something. Don’t worry.  I’ll get over it.” 

Eric took his wife’s hand and gave it a squeeze. “I hope so.” When she looked at him, he smiled at her. “If not you’ll cause a crash in the baby-sitting industry.” 

Jessica laughed. 

Eric pulled their Toyota 4-Runner into a small parking place near the house. “I hope the Jamesons like babies.” 

“Oh, I forgot to tell you. I called Mrs. Jameson when you went to the sitter’s. She said she would just ‘looove’ to see Erica.” 

“That’s a relief.” He got out and opened the back to get the portacrib. Jessie took the baby and the diaper bag. Mrs. Jameson answered the door wearing a lovely, floor-length black dress, her gray hair piled high on her head. 

“Jessica, dear, how wonderful to see you. It’s been such a long time.  Now let me see that baby. How clever of you two to name her after you both. Oh, David, have you seen the Taylors’ baby? Her name is Eric-ca, get it? Named for Eric and Jessica. Isn’t it wonderful?” 

Mrs. Jameson’s run of patter kept Jessie well occupied while she led them up the stairs off the entryway to the room where they could stash their coats and the portacrib. “The baby will be all right in here, don’t you think, dear, unless you think it’s too cold? I always keep the house cool when we have a party. You know how hot it can get with a lot of people drinking champagne. Do you think the baby will need a blanket?” 

“I brought her things, thank you, Mrs. Jameson.” 

“Well, we’ve got plenty. Do let me know if I can help. If you need [p.267]milk or anything, just ask Martha. I’m sure you’ve met her. She’s been with us for years. With all the food for the party in the refrigerator, she’s the only one who can find anything. Oh, my, there’s the doorbell again.

Will you excuse me?”

Eric had escaped during the speech. Jessie finished taking off Erica’s snowsuit and hung it over the portacrib. With a glance in the hallway mirror, Jessie took Erica down the wide curved staircase to the party. 

She waved to Bob and Julie as they carne through the door. Now that she’d taken her extended leave of absence, Bob and Julie were the only husband-and-wife attorney team at Rollins, Jameson, Cleveland, & Grow. 

“Well, well, what have we here?” Greg Peyton appeared at the bottom of the stairs, cornering Jessie more quickly than usual. “The lovely Mrs. and Miss Taylor!” 

Jessie had hoped that motherhood would lessen Greg’s amorous attentions. Instead it seemed to have increased them. 

Eric saw them corne downstairs and crossed over to join his family. He put his arm around his wife. Relieved not to be alone with Greg, she commented briefly, “How nice to see you, Greg. And what an interesting tie.” Looking at the patterns of green and blue more closely, she said, “Oh, it’s a fish!”

Jessie let her husband escort her through the large arch into the Jamesons’ spacious living room. Everyone had worn black, as requested.  With the art-deco furnishings, the party looked like a scene from a movie—figures in black arranged carefully in a white and black set. Only Erica in her pink, stretch sleeper was out of place. Mozart’s Requiem permeated the house through large speakers built into the walls. The music was soft but penetrating. Ceiling-to-floor windows were staggered along one wall of the two-story room.

Jessica stood next to a window to admire the view of Salt Lake City, the brilliance of downtown surrounded by lights stretching out in all directions. Erica started slapping at the glass so Jessica moved away.  Just then Mr. Jameson walked by. 

“Nice to see you, Mr. Jameson,” Jessica said. “The view is splendid.  It’s a lovely house for a party.” 

“Why, yes,” he said. “We thought it would be marvelous to watch the destruction from up here.” He spoke loudly to be overheard by those around them, and he got a good laugh, as expected. As a senior partner, any attempt at humor was successful in this crowd. 

[p.268]“Let me get you a drink, Jessica.” There was Greg again, ever attentive. “No one should die sober.” 

“No, thanks, not till I get the baby to bed. She’d have her hands all over it.” 

Greg accosted Eric. “You’re quite a slave driver, old man. Too cheap to hire a baby·sitter? Jessica, darling, you married the wrong guy.” With that parting comment he crossed the room to stand by a tall, lovely blonde. 

“I don’t know why you ever went out with that guy,” Eric muttered. 

“Greg’s not so bad when he’s not trying to annoy someone.”

Jessie could see by her husband’s erect posture that he didn’t like his wife defending a former beau. She teased, “And if I recall, the tall, handsome attorney I married had another girlfriend at the time I was seeing Greg.” 

Eric smiled down at her. He kissed her forehead lightly and was rewarded by Erica who grabbed his hair with both hands. 

At that moment Bob and Julie walked over. “I’ve heard of families getting into your hair,” Bob said, “but this is the first time I’ve actually seen it!” 

Eric freed himself with some help from Jessie. “Hi, Bob, Julie. You both look stunning in black.” 

Julie groaned loudly. “Don’t lie. It’s horrible. I’ve never worn black before, and I’ll never wear it again. I look like a corpse.” 

“That’s the whole point, Julie,” said Bob. “This is the big night!” He slapped Eric on the back and laughed. 

Jessie could see Eric’s unease with the topic of conversation, and she knew it was her fault. Did he think she was going to get hysterical or something? She joined in the spirit of the conversation more for his sake than her own. “I hope you both have all your affairs in order.” 

“What affairs? Julie, have you been talking?” Then Bob laughed again. “No, actually, this is the best way to go. All at once. No worries about whether or not you took out enough life insurance, or how long the estate will be in probate. One big bang and that’s it.” 

Julie covered her ears. “Let’s change the subject.” 

“I’ve got a better idea,” said Bob. “Let’s change the music. Violins give me a headache. Where’s the CD player?” 

He addressed his question to Jessica. She glanced at Eric as she answered. 

[p.269]“The player and turntable are in the den just across from the kitchen,” she said, wishing everyone would forget that she knew her way around the house because of Greg. “But I wouldn’t touch that system without talking to Mr. Jameson first.   It’s his baby.” 

“I like the music,” said Julie. “What is it?” 

“Mozart’s Requiem,” Eric said. 

Requiem?” Julie asked. “How dismal! And wearing black was a terrible idea. It makes everyone so gruesome.” 

“But this is a great place for the party,” Bob said. “This house sits between two cemeteries.” 

“Two?” Eric asked. 

“City Cemetery is at the bottom of the hill and LDS Cemetery is up the hill.” 

“We drove past the city cemetery, but I didn’t know about the other one. I never noticed it,” Eric said. 

“That’s the only reason that hillside isn’t filled with houses,” Bob said. “Prime real estate—all used up by a bunch of corpses.” 

“Corpses!” Julie shuddered. “I’m standing by Erica. She looks cheerful in pink.” 

Julie played with Erica, babbling like another baby instead of an attorney. No one seemed to mind the baby. Jessica hoped Eric noticed and wouldn’t be angry. When Erica eventually got fussy, Jessica took her upstairs to bed. 

She locked the bedroom door before nursing her so they wouldn’t be disturbed. After the baby fell asleep, she held her a few minutes longer. Then she laid her gently in the portacrib. Jessie tiptoed to the door even though she knew Erica was a sound sleeper. She turned and smiled at the sleeping baby before turning out the light. 

Jessica returned to the party. Time moved along on the sounds of flirtatious conversations and clinking glasses like countless other New Year’s Eve parties. Everyone Jessie talked to had a joke about the end of the world. She heard the particularly good ones repeated again and again, as well as several plans to run up personal debt. Being lawyers they debated whether it constituted credit fraud if one really expected creditors to perish. They toasted the end of the world, mourned it with laughter, celebrated with jocularity, but never showed signs of expecting it. Jessie couldn’t understand why she of all people felt fear. This was her social circle. She was as well educated as the others in the room, just as intelligent.

[p.270]But was there a false ring to their laughter? Surely she only imagined it. 

Jessie regretted wearing a watch. After 11:30 she looked at it every minute. By 11:45 she knew if she heard one more pun about doomsday, she would embarrass herself and her husband for life—a life she hoped would go on after this stupid New Year’s Eve party. 

Eric returned to her side and took her hand. “Your hand is clammy,” he said. “Do you want another glass of wine?” 

Jessie’s empty glass surprised her. “I’d better not. I’ve had too much already.” 

“How about some water?” 

She smiled. “That would be nice.” 

Eric took the wine glass, but she gave his sleeve a couple of quick tugs before he left. “Don’t be gone long.” 

“Not a chance. The first kiss of the new century is mine!” 

Jessie began to relax. Eric had a way of making her feel better. But then it was 11:55, and Eric wasn’t back. She started for the door to look for him, but Mrs. Jameson intercepted her. 

“I’m so glad you brought little Erica. It’s been so long since I’ve been around a baby. I wish that nephew of mine would settle down and have a family. You and Eric seem so happy.” 

Happiness was the farthest thing from Jessie’s mind. It was 11:56, and Eric wasn’t back yet. “Yes, Mrs. Jameson. I’m looking for Eric. Have you seen him?” 

“Don’t worry about Eric.” Mrs. Jameson took Jessie’s hand in both of her own. “He will be here by the stroke of midnight, I’m sure. I’ve noticed the two of you tonight. He never lets another man get you cornered.” 

Jessie smiled but her face felt tight, as if she posed for a still photograph. 

Someone shouted, “Two minutes to midnight!” 

Mrs. Jameson released Jessica’s hand. Jessie looked at her watch. It read 11:57. It must be slow. How could her watch be slow tonight? She made a beeline for the door without excusing herself from Mrs. Jameson.  She literally ran into a man she vaguely remembered as a new client. 

“Pardon me.” 

Jessie had been walking quickly when he had accidentally turned into her path. He took her in his arms to steady her. He was none too steady himself. He must like free champagne. 

[p.271]“This calls for a kiss,” he said. “Happy New Year!” 

“My turn!”

It was Bob. 

He had started to kiss Jessie when Julie gave her husband a quick punch on the arm. 

“No fair! You can’t kiss Jessie unless Eric is here to kiss me.” She took Jessie’s arm and began to propel her back toward the center of the room. 

“Where is Eric?” Julie asked. 

“I’m just going to get him. Excuse me, please!” 

At that moment, the countdown to midnight began. Jessica thought “It can’t be that close to twelve. Someone must have started the countdown early.”

“Ten! nine! eight!” 

Jessica looked toward the door. There was no sign of Eric. 

“Seven! six!” 

Maybe she ought to run upstairs to check on Erica. 

“Five!”

Everyone in the room shouted the numbers.  Jessie couldn’t think. 

“Four!”

Maybe Eric was with the baby. 

“Three!” 

Jessie stopped breathing. 

“Two! 

“Oh, God!” she thought. 

“One—” 

The room exploded with the combination of cheers and shouts of Happy New Year. Everyone kissed everyone else. 

Still there was no Eric.

Midnight had come and gone. She had been a witless fool to get so tense. 

But where was Eric?

Jessie’s fear had climaxed into nothing. It left her exhausted and empty with the void rapidly filling with anger. 

Where was Eric? 

Mr. Rollins rapped on his glass for attention. The room became quiet. Too quiet. 

Mr. Rollins, as a founding member of their successful firm, commanded complete attention. But the stillness felt deeper than that. Then [p.272]Jessica realized there was no music. It must have been turned off during all the shouting when no one would have noticed. She reasoned it was the absence of music that made the room so deathly still. 

What a relief to hear Mr. Rollins. He was certainly no doomsday prophet. 

The crowd moved forward when Mr. Rollins called for attention.  Jessie stood back near the entranceway to the hall. Rollins spoke in a strong, deep voice. He complimented the attorneys, the staff, and their families for their contributions to the firm. 

Jessica jumped when Eric came up from behind her and took her arm. “Jessie, I have to tell you … ” 

“Shhh.”  Jessica bit back her desire to grill him about where he’d been when she’d needed him. One didn’t whisper to one another when Mr. Rollins gave a speech. 

“Listen, Jessie … ” 

Jessie felt her cheeks flush when Mr. Jameson turned around to tell them to be quiet. She couldn’t believe it when Eric started to whisper again. 

“Greg is … ” 

Jessica felt cold fury. Why had Eric been with Greg, whom he didn’t even like, when he knew she needed him with her? She pulled away from him, giving him as nasty a glare as possible.

 Rollins was saying, “At the beginning of the twentieth century, the world was a very big place.” 

Eric moved to Jessica’s ear again. “Come on out to the hall.” 

Rollins deep voice said, “Economic systems were only loosely connected with light international trade … ”

Eric tried to lead Jessica out, but she shook his arm off. Why didn’t he get the message to shut up and shut up quickly? 

“Economic integration has had its negative side,” Rollins continued.  “As our planet has shrunk … ” 

“Jessica, come now!” 

“But if we could peek in at a party a century ago and listen to a speech like the one I am giving now, what would have been said?” 

Jessica allowed herself to be led away to stand by the windows more as a way to hear the speech than to listen to what Eric wanted to say. 

“Would anyone have dared hope that in the twentieth century London would be but a few hours from New York by transatlantic air travel? That machines small enough to fit in a hand would do equations [p.273]in less than a second that once took men hours? Would anyone have dared dream that the twentieth century would land a man on the moon?  I think not. 

“We are in difficult times. The space age has been declared dead by the economic woes of men who can’t afford to dream. But surely the twenty-first century will move man to the stars.” 

Rollins paused then. No one spoke. 

Eric turned Jessie to face him. Just as he opened his mouth to talk, she heard a distant rumble. The lights flickered off, then on, then off as the room boomed with the sounds of thundering destruction. Jessica covered her ears. A woman’s scream barely pierced the roar. The floor vibrated. The house would fall down! She had to get upstairs to Erica!

But she couldn’t move. Eric held her tightly. She fought to get free.  From behind him she could see the motion of bodies, unheard above the cracking rumble, as people pushed one another and fell. 

Jessie fought to free herself from Eric’s embrace. She must get to Erica. He was shouting in her ear, but she could not sift his words out from the roar that made her head feel like it would pop.  She had to get to her baby! 

Eric yelled again, “It’s a joke! Nothing but a dumb joke!” 

Jessie stopped struggling against her husband. The violent noise faded as if a thunderstorm moved away. A joke? Jessie heard weeping and groaning. 

Then she realized that light filtered in from the lights in the yard.  Someone had just flipped a breaker switch to throw the house into darkness. Below them the lights of Salt Lake City shone without wavering. 

The sound of a needle being carelessly lifted from a turntable was picked up on the speakers. Then the lights went on.

 When Jessie stopped struggling to get away, Eric relaxed his grasp of her. Now she pulled away, looking at him as if he were a stranger. A joke! 

He reached for her again, and she was too numb to move away.  Hugging her close he said, “Don’t think I had anything to do with it. I went to the kitchen to get your water. There was Greg running an extension cord from outside into the den for the sound system. I used every argument I could think of to talk him out of it. At least I slowed him down so he didn’t make it right at midnight. I came out to tell you, knowing you were nervous anyway.” 

[p.274]Jessica’s eyes looked over her husband’s shoulder. Bob and Julie were just crawling out from under the grand piano. The archway to the hall had about ten people, mostly men, crowded under it. Jessica gasped as she saw Mrs. Jameson. She was on her hands and knees and was having trouble getting up. 

Eric turned to see who Jessie was looking at and immediately left her to help Mrs. Jameson. Apparently someone had knocked her over in the darkness. Her iron-gray hair, always perfectly arranged, had been crunched in on one side. Had she actually been stepped on? Eric helped her to a sofa. 

Jessie knew she ought to help, but she was part of the frozen scene around her. A floor lamp had been knocked over. Wine and champagne glasses were on the floor, many broken, their contents spilled out on the white carpet. Looking at the room and its occupants, one would think there had actually been an earthquake. Many of her friends, her former colleagues, were in tears. Mr. Rollins had an arm around his wife.  She had been standing near him for his speech. He at least still had his glass in his hand. 

TJ, one of the junior partners, had a bloody nose. He stood in the center of the room, oblivious to the blood creating a dark spot on his black coat and staining his shirt red and dripping onto the carpet. Jessie looked away. 

“Happy New Year!” 

Greg’s voice boomed into the room. When people in the entranceway moved so he could see into the living room, he stopped in mid-stride. 

The doorway crowd recovered first. There were a few embarrassed chuckles, but mostly sheepish grins. A few even had the presence of mind to forget their own awkwardness and help those injured in the panic. 

At their movement Jessie roused herself and picked up some napkins from a table. She crossed to the center of the room to help TJ get his nosebleed under control. When she handed him the napkins, it was as if she awakened him from sleepwalking. 

“Oh, Jessica, thank you,” he mumbled through the napkins. “Someone slammed into me in the dark.” 

“You’d better sit down.” She tried to lead him to one of the many sofas. 

“No, no. Let me get to a bathroom.” 

[p.275]Jessie walked with him. Everyone in their path gave them wide clearance. She turned on the cold water faucet for him and took the soaked napkins, throwing them into the trash. She snatched a guest towel from its ring with a fleeting regret about ruining Mrs. Jameson’s towel. A few ruined towels were insignificant when compared with the mess in the living room. 

TJ mumbled through the towel. “I really appreciate your help. I don’t know what hit me.” 

“Someone’s idea of a joke.”

Jessie didn’t add that she knew whose idea it had been. 

“I’ll be all right,” he said. “You can get back to the party.” 

“Not much of a party, anymore. Are you sure you’ll be all right?” 

“Yes, thanks. You’re terrific.” Coming through a layer of cloth, it was a muffled compliment. 

She smiled at him. “I’m going to check on the baby. I’ll see how you’re doing in a few minutes.” 

Leaving TJ, Jessie went upstairs, opening the door to peek in at Erica. The light from the hall shone on her sleeping child. Jessie shut the door again, trading the tranquility of one scene for the confusion of another. 

Mrs. Jameson was not up to telling everyone not to worry about the mess. Her husband sat beside her on the sofa, helping hold an ice pack on the left side of her face. Their maid Martha took charge of supervising the clean up, not bothered at all that men and women in formal clothing were cleaning house. Jessie picked up broken glass and the scattered glasses that remained intact, cleaning wine off a couple of wood tables. 

As everyone worked together she felt a camaraderie develop that she’d never experienced working with these people in the office. The feeling of good will may even have extended to Greg and the date who had served as his accomplice at the breaker box. Greg, on his knees, scrubbed the white carpet stained from TJ’s nosebleed as if to wipe his own conscience.

The room was in order within half an hour. Only the carefully constructed façades of confidence and sophistication were left damaged. 

Some of the guests got ready to leave, but Mr. Rollins called for their attention again. He cleared his throat. “I’m not sure whether I ought to finish my speech.” He paused for the nervous laughter to disperse. “But I did want to wish you all the happiest of New Years and prosperity and peace for the next century.” 

[p.276]And then he began to sing in his rich baritone, “Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And never brought to mind?” 

Everyone joined him, but Erica. She slept.