In a fit of boredom, Air gave me a New Year’s prompt for a short story. Below is the result. You can read about the mansion mentioned here.
Kate walked up the front steps of the mansion, her modern coat pulled tight over her early 1900’s costume. She walked into the entryway, stamping the snow from her shoes. Through another doorway, in the foyer, was the coat check. After checking her coat, she continued into a great hall where a staircase went up on her right.
“At the top of the stairs, the library will be on your left, the ballroom on your right,” said an attendant near the stairs.
“Thank you,” she said politely.
Why had she thought this was a good idea? All she’d wanted was a peek inside the last real Gilded Age mansion. The next thing she knew, she’d been discussing the price with the broker. She didn’t have $50 million to her name. She barely had $5,000. But she’d been able to fool the broker enough to merit herself an invitation to a New Year’s Party/Open House in the mansion. It was a theme party – all guests were to arrive in Gilded Age outfits. It hadn’t been hard for Kate to come up with one. After loving the era most of her life and working in the costume department of her high school’s and college’s theater departments, it was easy to put together an authentic looking outfit.
At the top of the stairs, she could hear the merriment coming from the ballroom on her right, but curiosity led her to the library on the left.
She walked into the dimly lit room – enough light for someone to explore, but dark enough to show it was not where the party was. There was a built-in bookshelf into one of the walls with many comfortable chairs around the room. A fire roared in the fireplace, casting moving shadows around the room. The curtains were open to a dazzling view of Central Park. She saw a lone figure standing in front of the window, looking out at the park.
“It’s a beautiful view,” said Kate, walking over.
The figure turned to her and in the fading light of day, she could see he was a handsome young man, not much older than she, dressed for the occasion – nothing fancy, just trousers, a shirt, vest, and coat with a newsboy cap. He gave a small smile. “It is,” he said. “Much prettier than it used to be.”
“Oh?” asked Kate. “Did you used to work at the embassy here?”
The man shook his head as if dismissing what he’d just said. “I’ve seen family pictures,” he said. “From a long time ago. Before the family sold it.”
“So are you a Beeckman or a Vanderbilt?” she asked. He cocked an eyebrow at her. Kate shrugged. “I did my research on the house.”
He chuckled. “Neither,” he said. “My family worked in this house for the Beeckmans, then the Vanderbilts. I have no more claim on this house than you do. Charlie Murphy.” He held his hand out to her.
“Kate Anderson.” She took his hand, but instead of him shaking it, he lifted her fingers to his lip and gave her a kiss on the knuckles. An outdated gesture, and in any other setting it would’ve felt cheesy, but in that setting and in those clothes, it felt right.
“So did your family live in the house?” she asked.
Charlie nodded. “Shannon and Michael Murphy lived in a bedroom on the top floor, with the rest of the staff.”
“That’s too bad it got changed into an embassy.”
Charlie nodded. “There’s been no light or life in this house on a New Year’s for decades.”
“I can imagine. What happened to your family after the Vanderbilts sold the house?”
Charlie looked out the window once more. Kate thought she saw something resembling pain cross his face. “I’m not sure,” he said. There was a moment of silence between them before he turned to her with a smile more charming than should be legal. “Let’s not dwell on the past,” he said. “It’s New Year’s and a beautiful lady like yourself shouldn’t be left without an escort.”
Kate felt the corners of her mouth tug up as he took her hand and tucked it into the crook of his elbow. He led her out of the library, across the landing and to the ballroom where there was a full band playing Gilded Age songs, and people were talking, laughing, and dancing.
It was a far cry from many other New Year’s parties in the city. Everyone was behaving themselves, and Kate had no doubt it would remain as authentically Gilded Age as possible.
The song changed and Charlie led her onto the dance floor. “I never did learn the waltz,” he said. “So you’ll have to bear with me.”
Kate chuckled. “Neither did I.”
Charlie put his arm around her and took her other hand and led her around the dance floor better than Kate would’ve guessed he could.
The room and dance floor were full of people, but for all Kate knew, it was just her and Charlie. There was something about him, she didn’t want to take her eyes off him for fear he would disappear on her. They could’ve been dancing for three minutes or three hours, they were lost in each others’ eyes and arms.
They were only snapped out of their reverie when the band stopped and someone was clinking a glass.
“One minute to midnight!” the host said. “Champagne is going around, so make sure you get yourself a glass!”
Waiters in tuxes with trays full of champagne walked around offering people champagne.
Charlie took two glasses and handed one to Kate. “Happy New Year’s,” he said with a smile.
“Happy New Year’s,” she smiled back.
The crowd began counting down.
Ten, nine, eight.
Charlie turned to Kate. “Thank you, Kate,” he said. “Tonight has meant more than you know.”
Seven, six, five.
Kate blinked, perplexed at his words. “It’s not over yet,” she said with a hesitant smile.
Four, three, two.
“Not yet,” he said.
Charlie leaned in and kissed Kate. All at once, Kate felt hot and cold all over. Had Charlie not had an arm securely around her waist, she was sure her knees would have buckled. She felt him everywhere – his lips tingling against hers, the pressure of his hand on the small of her back, his chest firm against hers. He broke the kiss but didn’t move away from her, for which she was grateful because she was dizzy after that kiss.
“Thank you, Kate,” he whispered in her ear. He gave her one kiss on her cheek and she felt him move back from her.
When she opened her eyes, he was gone. She looked around but saw no trace of him. She suddenly felt empty, like she’d imagined the whole thing. All around her, people were caught up in their own kisses and toasting and wishing each other Happy New Years. She began searching the room for Charlie but had the feeling that she wouldn’t find him.
While the rest of New York slept off their hangovers, Kate was up with the sun, drinking her coffee and watching the sun rise over the Manhattan skyline. All morning she’d relived her night last night with Charlie, only remembering details, but not the whole picture – his smile, the way he led her around the dance floor, his kiss.
She opened her laptop and typed his name into Facebook. Pages and pages of Charlie Murphys, but none of them was her Charlie Murphy.
She sighed and turned to Google. More Charlie Murphys, and none of them hers. She turned to her bookmarks on the mansion – so much information on the Beeckmans, Vanderbilts, and the Yugoslavian embassy, but nothing on any of the staff.
Trying a different tack, she went to ancestry.com and tried Shannon and Michael Murphy. She let the computer do the work for her by scrolling through census records until she found the right Shannon and Michael Murphy, living at 854 Fifth Avenue during the 1910 and 1920 censuses. Scrolling through the record, she found their son, Charles Murphy. A strange chill ran through her when she read that. Charles Murphy, born 1898, died December 31, 1925. An incredible coincidence, that’s all it was. An incredible coincidence that gave her goosebumps.
There was one picture of the Murphy family, taken Christmas 1925 – only a week before Charlie died. She clicked on it and there he was – standing next to a woman and a man who looked just like him – the same Charlie Murphy she’d kissed last night.