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Inside the air-conditioned house, a main buffet room was divided by a thirty-two-foot long ice bar laden with all kinds of shellfish.
There were twelve ice sculptures, one of them formed around a champagne fountain, another featuring a vodka fountain studded with pockets of caviar. White-gloved waiters filled frosted crystal cylinders with biting-cold vodka, and ladled caviar onto tiny sour cream blinis and pickled quail eggs.
The hot buffet tables featured tureens of lobster bisque, chafing dishes filled with slices of pecan-smoked tenderloin, grilled ahi tuna, and at least thirty other entrees. I'd been to many parties and events in Houston, but I had never seen so much food in one place in my life.
Reporters from the Houston Chronicle and Texas Monthly were there to cover the reception, which included guests like the former governor and mayor, a famous TV chef, Hollywood people, and oil people. Everyone was waiting for Gage and Liberty, who had stayed behind at the chapel with the photographer.
Nick was a little dazed. Coming from a respectable middle-class background, this was a shock to his system. I and my fledgling social conscience were embarrassed by the excess. I had changed since going to Wellesley, a women's college with the motto non ministrari sed ministrare. Not to be served, but to serve. I thought it was a good motto for someone like me to learn.
My family had gently mocked that I was going through a phase. They — especially my father — thought I was a living cliché, a rich girl dabbling in liberal guilt. I dragged my attention back to the long tables "I loud. I had made arrangements for the leftovers to be taken to a number of Houston shelters, which my family had thought was a fine idea. I still fell guilty. A faux liberal, wailing in line for caviar.
"Did you know," I asked Nick as we went to the vodka fountain, "that you have to sift through the equivalent of a ton of dirt to find a one-carat diamond? So to produce all the diamonds in this room, you'd have to excavate most of Australia."
Nick pretended to look puzzled. "Last time I checked, it was still there." He ran his fingertips over my bare shoulder. "Take it easy, Haven. You don't have to prove anything. I know who you are."
Although we were both native Texans, we'd found each other in Massachusetts. I had gone to Wellesley and Nick went to Tufts. I'd met him at an around-the-world party that was held in a big rambling house in Cambridge. Each room was designated a different country, featuring a national drink. Vodka in Russia, whiskey in Scotland, and so forth.
Somewhere between South America and Japan, I'd staggered into a dark-haired boy with clear hazel eyes and a self-confident grin. He had a long, sinewy runner's body and an intellectual look.
To my delight, he spoke with a Texas accent. "Maybe you should take a break from your world tour. At least until you're steady on your feet."
"You're from Houston," I'd said.
His smile had widened as he heard my accent. "No, ma'am."
"Austin? Amarillo? El Paso?"
"No, no, and thank God, no."
"Dallas, then," I said regretfully. "Too had. You're practically a Yankee."
Nick had led me outside, where we'd sat on the doorstep and talked in the freezing cold for two hours.
We had fallen in love very fast. I would do anything for Nick, go anywhere with him. I was going to marry him. I would be Mrs. Nicholas Tanner. Haven Travis Tanner. No one was going to stop me.
When I finally had my turn to dance with my father, Al Jarreau was singing "Accentuate the Positive" with silky cheerfulness. Nick had gone to the bar with my brothers Jack and Joe, and he would meet me in the house later.
Nick was the first man I'd ever brought home, the first man I'd ever been in love with. Also the only one I'd ever slept with. I had never dated much. My mother had died of cancer when I was fifteen, and for a couple of years after that I'd been too depressed and guilty even to think about having a love life. And then I'd gone to a women's college, which was great for my education but not so great for my love life.
It wasn't just the all-female environment that kept me from having relationships, however. Lots of women went to parties off campus, or met guys while taking extra courses at Harvard or MIT. The problem was me. I lacked some essential skill for attracting people, for giving and receiving love easily. It meant too much to me. I seemed to be driving away the people I most wanted. Finally I had realized that getting someone to love you was like trying to coax a bird to perch on your finger . . . it wouldn't happen unless you stopped trying so hard.
So I'd given up, and as the cliché went, that was when it happened. I met Nick, and we fell in love. He was the one I wanted. That should have been enough for my family. But they hadn't accepted him. Instead I found myself answering questions they hadn't even asked, saying things like "I'm really happy," or "Nick's majoring in economics," or "We met at a college party." Their lack of interest in him, in the history or future of our relationship, aggravated me beyond bearing. It was a judgment in itself, this ominous silence.
"I know, sweetie," my best friend, Todd, had said when I called to complain. We had known each other since the age of twelve, when his family had moved to River Oaks. Todd's father, Tim Phelan, was an artist who'd been featured at all the big museums, including MoMA in New York and the Kimbell in Fort Worth.
The Phelans had always mystified the residents of River Oaks. They were vegetarians, the first ones I had ever met. They wore wrinkly hemp garments and Birkenstocks. In a neighborhood where two decorating styles predominated — English Country and Tex-Mediterranean — the Phelans had painted each room of their house a different color, with exotic stripes and swirling designs on the walls.