Luke Osbourne drove two and a half hours north of Atlanta to the lake facility of the Atlanta Club to arrive after seven. Inside the clubhouse ballroom, more than two hundred guests, mostly couples, gathered in daisy-cluster conversation groups or sat at small round tables munching buffet-style dinner food served by waiters in white jackets and tuxedo pants. A layer of cigarette smoke hovered over the crowd dimming the lights of the two giant, wedding-cake-tiered, crystal chandeliers. The mood was buoyant. Wine and cocktail glasses were raised high in congratulatory toasts as sweat beaded on the brows of men in tuxedos, and the women—many in off-the-shoulder, full-length gowns—clandestinely dabbed hankies and tissues to their underarms. These were the donors who had helped make the new Eye Institute possible, and A.J. MacMiel had made it happen by wooing donors and securing public and private grants. He climbed onto the bandstand. He grabbed a microphone; the orchestra stopped with a drum roll. With a voice more exhausted than exuberant, he thanked the crowd for attending and for their generous giving. The bar would remain open until midnight.
Thank you, thank you.
At first, Luke chatted with MD colleagues he knew, then moved on to other stray singles or abandoned significant others. He had neither the social status nor the money to be considered for membership at the club. He tried to appear confident and justified in attending, although he didn’t really know why A.J. had invited him. After an hour, A.J.’s wife, Agnes, sought him out and took his hand with more enthusiasm than was warranted by their few brief meetings over the years. “Come,” she said. “I want you to meet my two babies.”
He’d met her daughters, Lucy and Elizabeth, more than a few times before. Now they were standing together near the band, and neither seemed to recognize him when he was introduced. Agnes immediately excused herself to work the crowd.
Lucy, a light-bronze-skinned, dark-eyed, stunningly beautiful woman of thirty-four or thirty-five stared at the singer on the bandstand without a word. She was a lawyer, famous for little tolerance for inferior intelligence. Engrossed in the music, she walked away.
“Impressive,” Luke murmured to Elizabeth, gazing at the revelers in the ballroom.
“I’m proud of what my father’s done,” she said. She shared none of the stunning characteristics of her sister. But she was not unattractive. Her delicate features and sharp blue eyes complemented her fair, blemish-free skin. But her slightly overweight figure, with sturdy legs and thick ankles had no resemblance to Lucy’s slim beauty.
“Were you involved in the institute?” she continued.
“Not directly,” he said. She seemed thoroughly bored, which, given the circumstances of conversation with someone she couldn’t remember, he decided was forgivable, if not understandable.
“Are you a donor?” she asked.
“I work with your father.”
“Oh.” She thought for a few seconds. “Haven’t we met before?”
“A few times,” he said.
Lucy returned, nibbling a bacon-wrapped scallop on a stick, and stared. “Who are you?” she asked.
“Mother just told you,” Elizabeth said. “Luke Osborne, isn’t it? He’s in daddy’s department.”
“The pleasure is mine,” he said, nodding slightly to Lucy and offering his hand, which she ignored.
Lucy would not look at Elizabeth. “You’re an eye surgeon?” she asked Luke with a touch of disdain.