She had at first been unaware of the people around her before, but as she inhaled deeply in an attempt to re-center her thoughts on the tasks ahead, the noise in her head began to recede and the sounds of those around her took form. A loud — at least in these surroundings — colorful and outrageously dressed table of five at the booth against the wall to her left were the only other group at this end of the room and were clearly celebrating some shared coup. In front of them were two bottles of champagne and on one of the unoccupied chairs a massive bouquet of expensive-looking flowers. Toasting one another and speaking in English, but in varied accents of it, Lily thought she recognized one of the women as a well-known, eccentric older designer, but she could neither remember her name or be sure it was she. Lily thought it started with a Z – Zara or Zelda or some such — but the name itself was of no consequence when compared to the greater impression the group as a whole was making on her. They seemed unencumbered by pretense, uninterested in their surroundings and unfettered by any notions of proper public behavior. They were entirely at ease with one another and themselves and knew or cared not that others in their midst may have looked on with any mixture of judgment or delight. As she watched this table of what would’ve been misfits in any high school anywhere in the world, she noted that here they appeared as unique characters who had found one another and in doing so derived a singular, perceptible strength; different or even odd — but also above caring — and in a world entirely their own.
Lily took no comfort in this, which made no sense given that she had always been an outcast herself. In them, she should have seen a kindred-ness, a likeness which gave her hope, but instead, she found herself envying them, their spirit, their bond, just as she had the popular cliques in school as a child. Never wanting to be a spectacle, Lily had always done everything in her power to conceal her true self, wearing nondescript clothes, not fussing with her hair or skin and doing generally whatever she could to fit in. Even now as she sat in her Louboutin heels, Vince cashmere sweater, and fake Rolex watch, she was realized she was wearing the unintentional regalia of conformity.
Had the rigidity bred into her both by her family and by not wanting to be seen as different as a child robbed her of the ability to be carelessly unique, to pursue her goals with almost insane abandon, without any fear of consequence or judgment? Was that their superpower — what set them apart — the mediocre designers who made it while wildly talented ones failed; singers who could not hold a note without technological support who sold millions while gifted session singers starved for their art? Not only did they not give a damn what she or anyone else thought, but they were not even aware than any strictures or social norms existed, and would certainly have never let such things apply to them. Ignorance is bliss, she thought. She had heard the phrase many times, but until now never really understood what it meant. Ignorance of consequences is bliss. Too dumb to fear failure or ridicule and so sure of their skills they could sell it to others who would, in turn, fear missing out on something good. She had been a self-contained fool. Boundaries and norms were for losers, for those who needed to be kept in their box. For everything she had been taught by her parents and grandfather — and the often dichotomous gulf between what they prioritized — none of them had ever once told Lily to – above all – be herself.
Lily soon realized she had been staring at the group and that her emotions were vacillating between envy, epiphany, and anger. She snapped herself out of the lingering gaze as her drink was delivered. She enjoyed it slowly and intentionally, turning her attention again to the images on her phone from the day’s expedition, while also furiously making notes on the list she had by now retrieved from her bag. This was not their preserve. She deserved to be here as much as they and she would do whatever she had to in order to ensure this temporary retreat became her natural habitat.