The people on the hill threw the best parties. Everybodynsaid so. Fred and Eva gave supper dances in their lofty boxnwith its swa,stika of porches, with taped music drifting outnover the tops of the trees. Howard Patterson, who ran thenbank, preferred gourmet dinners for twelve; she cooked butnhe whipped into the kitchen at the last minute to makenzabaglione for dessert. Larry the ophthalmologist and hisnwife Cindy liked to have guests for cocktails and suppernaround the pool even after it was too late in the season to sitnoutside without coats. Archie Leverett held what he callednmassive retaliations — an even hundred invited for buffet,nwith nothing but booze and finger sandwiches. He did it tonrenew his credit, he said — one bash and he could eat outnevery night of the year.nIt was balding, funny-looking Archie who took Kirk andnJessie in hand, slouching at their kitchen table like justnanother kid. He was an excellent guest, an unexpected thirdnfor dinner, always welcome because he was wicked and paidnfor their kindness with community secrets none of the othersnwould admit. Once or twice when he was sitHng at theirntable Jessie saw blue patches under his eyes and guessed atnhis level of exhaustion: not easy to have to sing for yournsupper every single night.n”My dears,” he said to Jessie and Kirk, “watch out fornAnthony, he flits from flower to flower, and you never knownwhether you’re a flower or not.”nHe defined the territory and idenhfied the seasons:n”You’d better know, we’re in a year of dancing and pettynflirtation. Have fun but don’t get hurt.”nWait a minute, Jessie thought. We’re not even all grownnup.nStill, being invited was better than not being invited. Ifnthey went out often enough people might get used to them.nBeing on the inside was always better than being on thenoutside; it was always better to belong. She liked going to thenstore for the Sunday papers to discover neighbors drifting innlike convalescents, redolent of the night before, disablednveterans of last night’s party comparing notes. What pleasuresnhad they shared; what secrets did they know? It was notnso much troubling as sad to leave the movies on a quietnSaturday night and discover the rest of the world was atnsomebody’s party — fleets of cars parked in front of Fred andnEva’s house. Everybody’a there, she’d say mournfully, notnknowing quite who everybody was.nThe parties weren’t all that good, really; the best momentnalways came in front of the hall mirror as she and Kirknprepared expressions to wear when they went out. Butnexclusion hurt, and Jessie nursed the suspicion that therenwere better times available; once she and Kirk were acceptednlife here would open like a rose.nThey were invited more often, but had they beennaccepted? It was hard to know. When a party took offnwithout them Jessie looked at Kirk with raccoon eyes:nMaybe they forgot. He told her not to brood, these peoplenweren’t worth it, and she said, I know, I know. Still shenimagined crunching through the bushes outside thosenparties to scratch on one of the glowing windows, thosenassembled turning in varying degrees of shock as shenclimbed over the sill and presented herself with an ingratiatingncartoon grin. Listen, we’re really terrific people, just givenus a chance.n26/CHRONICLESnnn^^”V/’our time will come,” Archie said, smiling ingenu-nJ. ously. His salt-and-pepper hair was rumpled like anboy’s. He appeared regularly on Thursdays now because henknew Jessie got ofl^ early and liked to cook all afternoon.nBecause he had no household, he was welcome in all thenhouses: friend, brother, spare man, potential romance butnpotential only, which extended the possibilities into infinity;nin his own strange way he was also ageless, with no wife tonweigh him down and no children growing up, yardsticksnmeasuring him off. “Don’t worry,” he said kindly, “You’renso new they haven’t found out about you; it’s almost yournturn to be picked up and twirled around.”nKirk said, “Do we want that?”n”Everybody wants to be a flower at least some of thentime.” Archie cast a judgmental look around the kitchen.n”You’re about ready. Let’s help things along. You’re giving ancocktail party the Sunday after Thanksgiving,” he said.n”Dinners are so treacherous. You can kill yourself makingnthe perfect food and lose it all with the wrong guest mix.nNow cocktails. Cocktails are safe.”n”Safe?”n”People don’t stay around long enough to get intontrouble,” Archie said.nJessie felt like a child in her pajamas watching thengrown-ups from the top of the stairs. “Oh Archie, maybenthat’s what we want.”nHe shook his head. “When it gets too late people’s fangsnbegin to show.”n”You’re making it up.”n”Even a man who says his prayers . . . Listen, it’s like thenfull moon in werewolf country; you don’t want to benaround.”nInside her something was teetering. “Maybe we do.”n”Not yet,” he said. “Not until you’re stronger. You don’tnwant to end up getting hurt.”nKirk said, “Maybe you’d better listen to the wisdom ofnour native beater.”n”Both of you, stop.”nSo Archie helped them make up the list, providing pocketnbiographies as he went. “Bob Shortell’s secret is that he wasncalled Piggy in college; he’s in shape now but you can seenthe stretch marks if you catch him in a bathing suit.” “Cindynand Larry went to Rio for plastic surgery — a nip here, antuck there — they cut off anything that flops.” “LesternHancock has cancer but it’s a secret; left testicle.” “Howardnnever got over the gid he loved in college; she went to thenladies’ room at the top of the Bailey building and droppednlike a stone.”n”That’s very sad.”n”It explains a lot of things.”nWhile Jessie fed on it, gossip made Kirk uneasy. “Insuppose you’re going to tell me everybody has some terriblensecret, even Fred and Eva.”n”After a certain age, no one is safe.”nJessie started; something had changed in the room;nlooking at Archie now in the strong overhead light she sawnthat he had not changed but his aura was changing; therenwas a disturbance in the air behind him, as if of the shiftingnof large shapes; he was — sick? In danger? She did not know.nIt was as if behind him, the abyss was opening — had alwaysnbeen there. “Oh, Archie,” she cried.n