This was the last place Gemma wanted to be. She should be at home, going through Thalia’s journal or trying to decipher the scroll. But even if there weren’t far more pressing matters waiting for her elsewhere, she still wouldn’t have wanted to come to the after-party.
“They have an ice sculpture?” Marcy asked, eyeing the frozen swan on the center of the hors d’oeuvres table. “Who has an ice sculpture at a summer event?”
“I don’t know,” Gemma said. “But you know the deal—we just have to stay here long enough for Penn to see us, so I look like I’m acting normal and having a good time. Then we can bail.”
Once the play had finished, and Gemma had gotten changed into her regular clothes, she and Marcy walked over to the hotel while Harper stayed behind to wait for Daniel. Mayor Crawford had rented out the ballroom and had it all done up for the party. It had been decorated with twinkling lights and bouquets of flowers on each table, along with the ice swan.
“Where is she anyway?” Marcy asked. “Or Thea or Liv, for that matter?”
“I don’t know,” Gemma admitted, and made her way toward the appetizer table, smiling politely at an older woman who told her she’d done a great job in the play. “With my luck, they’re probably not even coming, and I showed up for no reason. Maybe we should just bail.”
“No way. I just got a plateful of shrimp.” She held up her plate to show Gemma. “I’m staying. Do you think the drinks are free?”
“No clue.” Gemma’d picked up a plate, so she grabbed a couple crab puffs.
As she was leaving the table, a couple other people came up to congratulate her on her performance. She thanked them, but as soon as they were gone, she made a beeline for the edge of the room, where she could linger in the dim light without having to make small talk, and Marcy followed her, probably also equally happy to avoid it.
“Oh well,” Marcy said through a mouthful of shrimp. “I shouldn’t drink anyway. It’ll probably end up just like my prom, which would be fitting since this looks exactly like my prom. It was even held here.”
“You went to prom?” Gemma asked in surprise.
Marcy shrugged. “It was a different time back then.”
“That was like seven years ago.”
“Eight,” Marcy corrected her.
“It can’t be that different,” Gemma insisted.
“Oh, look, there are your friends.” Marcy pointed as they arrived.
Even though Thea was technically a guest of honor at the party, Penn led the way, striding into the room like she was a model on the runway. Thea and Liv flanked her on either side, and Thea looked as unhappy to be there as Gemma felt.
“Do you want me to pretend to laugh, so it looks like we’re having fun?” Marcy asked when Penn looked over, winking at Gemma.
Gemma shook her head. “No, I think I’m okay.”
In the center of the room, there was a small platform set up, sitting about a foot off the ground. When Gemma had gone to a homecoming dance here, that’s where the band had played. There wasn’t one playing now, though Sting was wafting out of speakers around the room.
Mayor Adam Crawford climbed onto the platform, holding a flute of champagne in one hand, and his son offered a hand to help steady him as he stepped up. The mayor wasn’t particularly overweight, but he had enough of a waddle to his step that it made it hard for him to step up that high.
He clinked his glass, using his wedding band, and the music overhead fell silent.
“It seems like everyone’s here, so I just wanted to say a few words before the party really gets under way,” Mayor Crawford said, his booming voice carrying easily through the ballroom. “As most of you know, I’m the mayor of this fine town, and this handsome young man is my son, Aiden. You may recognize him from tonight’s performance as Petruchio.”
He gestured down to Aiden, who stood at the side of the platform. Aiden was actually very attractive, with sandy blond hair and a stunning smile, although his smile wasn’t quite what it used to be. He’d had a nasty cut above his lip and a black eye, and while they’d healed up for the most part, there was still a small scar just above his lip.
For a brief moment, Gemma had taken a liking to Aiden, and they’d gone on a date nearly two weeks ago. Afterward, Aiden had assaulted her. Gemma had been ready to let the monster inside her out, but thankfully, before she had, Alex intervened, punching Aiden several times.
“Thanks,” Aiden said, smiling his new, slightly crooked smile and waving at the audience as his father talked about him.
“It was a wonderful production, but it wasn’t all thanks to my son, of course,” Mayor Crawford went on. “Praise goes to the capable director, Tom Wagner, and to the rest of the cast, particularly his costar Thea Triton, who played the contrary Katherine.”
He motioned to Thea, and she waved demurely when people clapped for her. She smiled, and it was one of the few genuine smiles Gemma had seen her give. Thea loved performing, and Gemma suspected that the only time she was truly happy was when she was on the stage.
Even as the applause died down, the mayor let his gaze linger on Thea, so long, in fact, that his wife loudly cleared her throat.
“And all of his costars were phenomenal.” Mayor Crawford finally pulled his eyes away from Thea and scanned the crowd. “Are you all here? Why don’t you all come up?”
Thea and Aiden climbed onto the platform first since they were the closest, but the rest of the cast and even the crew started making their way up, crowding around the mayor. But Gemma stayed where she was, picking at her crab puffs.
“I think you’re supposed to go up there,” Marcy told her.
“I’m fine here.”
“You should go up there,” Marcy persisted. “You want to look normal, don’t you?”
Gemma sighed and handed her plate over to Marcy. “Fine.”
She slid through the crowd until she made her way to the platform. There was hardly enough room on it, so she stayed on the floor, standing next to the platform even though Thea motioned for her to join them onstage.
“Isn’t this a wonderful cast we’ve got here?” Mayor Crawford asked, alternating between beaming at his son and staring at Thea. “I hope all of you enjoyed tonight’s performance of The Taming of the Shrew, and if you did, you can tell your friends, because there are three more shows this weekend.”