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8:50 PM, Friday, December 21st, 2012

The main room was noticeably less full after the regional sessions, and Gabriella sat at the original banquet table, nursing her first and only drink for the evening. Across from her Phil sat with with his wife; four more empty glasses sat in front of them, and Lucia leaned against Phil to keep from wobbling. Her makeup was gone, but her cheeks still held a bright flush of pink, and her hair was pulled back into a tightly bound ponytail. Gabriella wondered if she’d ended up emptying more than her bladder in the bathroom. Halfway between her and them sat Sean with an empty seat on either side. He’d been the first to join Gabriella at the table; thankfully, for once he’d taken the hint, and remained silent. There was no sign of Derek. Gabriella sighed, and tried to sort out exactly how she felt about that. In past years they’d always ended up leaving together – a sort of semi-quarterly ritual of self-flagellation they euphemistically referred to as “going over the numbers.” Stephanie once asked her about it – why are you hookimg up with your ex? – and that question had sparked one of the most vicious fights they’d ever had. Gabriella bit her lip. It just isn’t something you should have to explain, she thought. Not even to yourself.

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