“Do I look all right? God, I haven’t worn a dress since my cousin’s wedding three years ago!” Abby nervously inspected her gown and adjusted the shawl over her arm.
“You look fine,” Erin assured her and pulled at the hem of her snug, red, knee skimming number. After a quick, inconspicuous glance down at her breasts she exhaled a sigh of relief that everything was exactly where it should be.
“Where did Holtzmann and Patty say they’d meet us?”
“Inside. Oh my god – look at this place!" Abby's eyes went wide as she stared up at the glittering facade of New York's iconic Waldorf Astoria hotel. A large crowd of well-dressed New York elite had already gathered and were milling about on the sidewalk.
The pair went quiet as they joined a small line of people heading through the first set of doors and then up the short flight of stairs to the lobby. The entrance was a monolith of marble, glass, and furniture that looked so expensive you were afraid to sit on it. The lobby was even more crowded than the sidewalk, with what seemed like hundreds of people standing around schmoozing while they waited for the event to start.
“How are we going to find them? This place is a nut house!”
Erin went up on her tip toes to try and catch a glimpse of Patty or Holtzmann through the crowd, "I don't see them, do you?"
“Erin! Abby! Hey, over here!”
They followed the sound of Patty’s voice and saw her waving excitedly to them from where she was standing next to a large golden clock. They waved back and navigated through the crowd with an endless barrage of ‘excuse me’s and ‘pardon me’s until they popped out the other side in front of a grinning Patty and Holtzmann, who was casually leaning against the clock.
“Hey you two!” Patty greeted them with a jubilant smile. “We thought we were never gonna find you! Well don’t you look cute all dressed up.”
Erin blushed and nervously brushed the hair back from her face. “Thanks, Patty! You look nice, too. That dress is really pretty.”
Patty laughed and gave an excited twirl, “I know right?” She’d donned a purple slim-fit number for the evening that hugged her curves in all the right places. It was a ‘knock out’ if you could call a dress that.
“I spent ten full minutes just starin’ in the mirror before I left my house thinkin’ ‘Damn, Patty! You lookin’ fine as hell!’”
“That’s what I said,” Holtzmann interjected with a sly smile sent Patty’s way. She stepped forward and casually slid her hands into the pockets of her slacks. With a nod of her blonde head, styled in its usual eccentric fashion, she greeted Abby and Erin.
“You ladies come here often?”
Erin suppressed a smile and nervously brushed her hair from her face a second time. "You look nice, too," she said to Holtzmann and admired her black, slim-cut pantsuit.
A slow smile crept across Holtzmann's lips. "Right back at ya," she replied, her eyes holding Erin's gaze until she looked away.
“I just can’t believe they invited us here to give us an award,” Abby gushed as her eyes travelled about the elaborately decorated lobby.
“We did prevent an apocalypse,” Holtzmann pointed out.
“You think they have food in there? I could just murder a plate of those tiny little hors d'oeuvres, you know the ones with the filling and the other stuff…” Patty gestured with her hands, showing the general size and shape of what she was talking about, but Abby and Erin could only shrug.
“Devilled eggs?” Holtzmann suggested. When Patty shook her head, she straightened up and began naming off every hors d'oeuvre she knew in earnest – “mozzarella sticks, jalapeno poppers, samosas, crab cakes, stuffed mushrooms, rocky mountain oysters, manchego tarts-”
“Manchego tarts! That’s the ones! What the hell are rocky mountain oysters?”
Holtzmann grinned and shifted her gaze conspicuously to Erin, “Should I tell her?”
Erin shook her head and Abby held up a hand. “If you want to enjoy those tarts tonight, Patty, don’t Google that one ‘til you’re home.”
Patty frowned at not being in on the joke, but was soon distracted by her love of New York's history.
“Did you all know the Waldorf Astoria was the tallest hotel in the world when it was built?" she said, giving each of them an animated look. Nothing could make Patty light up faster than the thought of sharing some cool, historical fact about New York. Her fellow Ghostbusters had thought, on more than one occasion, that she'd be an amazing tour guide of the city.
"It was the biggest, too.”
“Com-pen-sa-ting?” Holtzmann wondered with a lift of her brow.
Patty smirked and nodded, “Yeah maybe. I read in the paper that Ella Fitzgerald sang here in the 70s in the same room we’re gonna be in tonight, the Starlight Roof. I would’ve given anything to see that show.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please?” The hotel manager’s voice cut through the din of quiet chatter and the lobby occupants turned in unison towards him. “We will now be starting to make our way to the 18th floor for the reception. If you would please line up by the elevators…”
The foursome followed the sudden flow of traffic in the direction of the elevators. After a short wait, the elevator doors opened ahead of them and the crowd pushed forward, filling the elevator to capacity in a matter of seconds.
In the sudden rush, Erin found herself pressed up against Holtzmann, who'd managed to avoid being shoved into the back wall by grabbing hold of the brass rail that ran the interior of the elevator. She attempted to take a step back, but abruptly met a wall of bodies allowing her no space to manoeuvre. With a nervous smile, she glanced up at Holtzmann who seemed far more at ease with the sudden intimacy of their position than she did.
“I’m not squishing you am I?”
“Only a little,” she replied with a wink.
As the elevator doors slid shut, Erin searched for a place to put her hands that wouldn't earn her a sexual harassment complaint. With a little careful manoeuvring she managed to slip them around Holtzmann so they could rest against the mirrored glass of the elevator's back wall, effectively trapping the quirky scientist between them.
“This is a really nice blazer,” she commented in an effort to alleviate the awkwardness. “Is it wool?”
“Polyester blend,” Holtzmann corrected her with a smile.
“It’s nice,” she remarked with a nod. “And the shirt? The ruffles are really quite nice.” She had a perfect opportunity to study them on their ride to the 18th floor as they were no more than a few inches from her face.
“Thanks. Thrift shop. The tie too.”
“It’s a really interesting design. It almost looks like… Wait… Are those…?”
She glanced up to see Holtzmann give a delighted nod and they answered at the same time, “Molecules!”
Fascinated, Erin studied the pattern in detail. “I want to see if I can guess which one… Is it caffeine? Adrenaline? Ecstasy?”
At each incorrect answer Holtzmann’s face remained neutral, though her brow gave a curious lift at the last one. A man squashed next to them glanced over disapprovingly, but Erin took no notice.
“I’ll give you a hint,” Holtzmann said quietly. “It makes things go boom.”
“Makes things go boom…makes things go boom…” Erin repeated the words quietly to herself, but not quietly enough for the people standing next to her who looked over with sudden wary glances.
“I got it!” she exclaimed at last, “Trinitrotoluene! TNT!”
Holtzmann gave a little cheer while the rest of the elevator’s occupants shifted nervously away from the pair.
“You wanna say that a little louder?” Abby scolded in a harsh whisper. “Are you trying to get us arrested?”
“Sorry… I’m so sorry,” Erin stammered while trying and failing to suppress a chuckle. In a last ditch effort to compose herself, she sucked in a sharp breath through her nose and let it out in a slow, controlled exhale. But a single glance at Holtzmann's barely contained laughter was all it took for her composure to crack. She somehow managed to gather herself together by the time the elevator reached their destination, but not before earning a few more disapproving glances from the elevator's other occupants.
As the elevator slowly cleared out, Erin exchanged an amused glance with Holtzmann and the two departed together to follow Patty and Abby through the crowd. They entered the doors of the Starlight Roof and stopped in their tracks to admire the elaborate art deco space. The room was filled with tables, all of them occupied by various New York elite. A din of chatter filled the space and Erin felt her anxiety blossom.
"I could really use a drink," she said with a wary glance at the crowd.
Holtzmann led her to the bar and sidled up to the counter with a swagger. Making eye contact with the bar tender, she summoned him over with a nod and a wink. While Erin focused on composing herself, Holtzmann ordered a round of shots. The bar tender returned a short while later with two brimming shot glasses.
Erin stared dubiously at the drink in front of her, "What is this?"
“Just toss it back,” Holtzmann urged, and picked up her shot glass. “Don’t think about it.”
Erin watched intently as Holtzmann tilted her head back and drank her shot. Appearing no worse for the wear, she set the empty glass atop the bar and turned to Erin expectantly.
“Okay…” she conceded with a hesitant glance at Holtzmann. "Here we go..."
With a tilt of her head the liquid went down her throat and Erin swallowed, making a horrified face as she did. A shiver of disgust travelled through her from head to toe and she slapped her palm against the bar until the immediate effects of her poor decision wore off.
"What was that?" she croaked, her voice hoarse from the burn of the alcohol.
Holtzmann grinned, "They call it the Four Horsemen. You know, like the apocalypse?"
"Yeah, apocalypse, I get it. There's one happening in my mouth."
Holtzmann appeared vastly amused as she gestured to the bar tender a second time. He arrived a few seconds later with two flute glasses filled with something that was the colour of passionfruit and smelled like tropical shampoo. Erin put the straw to her mouth and gulped and gulped and gulped until her glass was dry.
“That was horrible! How could you let me drink that?” she demanded and eyed Holtzmann accusingly.
Instead of replying, she deliberately set her tropical cocktail in front of Erin and gestured for her to have it. When she'd finished that one too, she set it atop the bar and followed Holtzmann's gaze towards the crowd.
"How do you feel?"
Erin nodded and replied, "Better."
She realized somewhat belatedly that she wasn't entirely certain whether Holtzmann had been asking about the drink, her anxiety, or both. In either case the answer was the same. With the alcohol swimming in her belly she felt her anxiety waning, and after two fruity cocktails there were no remnants of the alcoholic burn in her throat. Though highly unorthodox, Holtzmann's strategy appeared to have worked.
Patty and Abby waved to them from their table and they arrived just as the ceremony started. Erin demurely pulled at the hem of her skirt and adjusted the straps on her shoulders while Holtzmann slouched in her chair and and casually stretched her arm over the back. Patty had found her beloved hors d’oeuvres and was happily eating them one by one, while Abby nervously fanned herself with the evening’s program.
Amidst a loud round of applause, the mayor went to the podium, waved, and began his speech welcoming them all to the 27th annual celebration of New York’s most inspiring heroes. What followed was a two hour snoozefest featuring several guest speakers no one had ever heard of, a second speech from the mayor, a guest appearance from the governor, and a reading of the names of all the people being recognized that evening for their heroic efforts.
When they arrived at the “Ghostbusters” the table erupted into vivacious cheers and applause, earning them a few disapproving looks from those seated in the vicinity.
A grin lit Erin's face from ear to ear. She was practically bouncing in her seat with excitement, “Can you believe that just happened?! Our work is finally being recognized by respected, professional people!”
“This could be a whole new start for us!” Abby chimed in. “We’ve got the mayor on board, next it could be the governor, or even…”
Erin gasped, “The President?”
“Which one?” Patty quipped. “Cause let me tell you, I’m not going anywhere near that White House if You Know Who is President.”
“Voldemort?” Holtzmann interjected, her eyes growing wide.
Patty snorted in amusement, “Close enough. If that’s the case I’ll just sit back and let the ghosts do their thing.”
“We’ve spent so long being the butt of people’s jokes and now we’re finally being taken seriously,” Erin gushed, her eyes bright with excitement.
“Maybe you can get that tenure job you wanted at Columbia,” Patty suggested. “They might want you now that you’re famous and all.”
Erin cringed at the thought of it. “I couldn’t go back there. Not after everyone saw those videos of me online.”
A sudden choking cough came from Holtzmann and Erin sent her a worried glance.
“Are you okay?”
Holtzmann managed a strained sounding “I’m fine” before turning away to gulp down a few hasty sips of water.
“Who cares about those?” Abby insisted. “We have actual tangible proof ghosts exist. Those videos are a goldmine of valuable research material.”
"Different kind of videos..." Holtzmann muttered to herself under her breath.
Erin shrugged and shook her head. “I know, it’s just... I don’t think Columbia’s the right place for me. Their dress code was just so…”
“Stuffy?” Abby suggested.
“Boring?” Patty offered.
“Uninspired?” Holtzmann added.
Erin pulled back and looked around the table in dismay, “Are you guys saying my wardrobe was…”
“Terrible?” Abby offered. "Yes."
“Maybe not terrible," Patty said consolingly, "but definitely in need of some colour and a prayer."
Erin’s cheeks flushed pink and she stubbornly straightened her back, “It wasn’t that bad.”
She looked around the table hoping to catch the eye of someone who would support her. Receiving only blank stares and subtle head shakes, she visibly deflated in her seat.
“Tell you what - when we get our first big cheque from the mayor’s office, I’ll take you shoppin’ at Macy’s. We’ll get some nice stuff, something with a bit of colour.”
Erin smiled sheepishly at Patty’s offer and nodded. “Okay, yeah. That’d be nice. Thanks, Patty.”
"Don't forget the tiny bowties," Holtzmann teased wearing an amused smirk.
“I could take you shopping, too," she offered and lowered her voice to a near-whisper, “I know some places.”
She gave Erin a conspicuous wink and then straightened in her chair and turned her attention to the stage.
For some reason, the event planners had decided that a dance after dinner was an appropriate way to end the evening. A live band set up on stage and began playing a set of musical numbers that would have greatly pleased the septuagenarians in the crowd.
Patty and Abby didn’t have to wait long to be invited to dance. They bid goodbye to the table with great big smiles and Erin watched them go with a look of longing. When no dance partner appeared for herself, she slumped back against her chair in defeat.
“This is just like junior prom all over again,” she groaned and reached for her wine. “Except now I have wine.”
“I never had a prom,” Holtzmann remarked offhandedly.
Erin turned to her, her mask of disappointment slipping into one of sympathy, “You didn’t?”
Holtzmann shook her head, “Home schooled. Right through to college.” She made a motion with her hand imitating a plane soaring through the air and then crashing atop the table.
“Wow,” Erin replied, not knowing what else to say. “That explains a lot, actually.”
Holtzmann fidgeted with her glass, tipping it slightly towards her so she could peer inside to see the bottom.
“The regular schools didn’t appreciate me setting things on fire,” she blurted out in a rush.
“I can see how that might have been a problem. So you mean you never went to any prom? Never had that first awkward dance with some guy with sweaty hands and terrible acne and then got drunk in the parking lot after?”
Holtzmann’s blonde head gave a shake and she fidgeted in her seat before reaching for her water glass and downing the entire contents. She set it atop the table, blew out an audible sigh, and got to her feet.
“Well, no time like the present.”
Erin stared up at her in confusion until realization slowly dawned, “Wait, you want to dance? Now? With me?”
Holtzmann held out her hand and nodded, though her eyes seemed to be fixated on the table, “Yes. Now. With you.”
Erin considered Holtzmann’s outstretched hand a moment and then felt her head slowly give a nod, “Yeah, okay. Let’s dance!”
She got up from the table, linked her arm through Holtzmann’s, and followed her to the dance floor. As they arrived at a free spot the band finished their earlier song and struck up a new one with a familiar tune.
“Wait, is this…” Erin froze in place and listened intently to the melody. “It is! It’s “Time of My Life”!”
Holtzmann’s face lit up in amusement as Erin’s head nodded to the beat.
“God, I used to Patrick Swayze in this movie,” she confessed as one hand went casually to Holtzmann’s shoulder and the other clasped hers. “I used to rewind and watch his shirtless scenes over and over until the tape actually shredded in the VCR.”
Holtzmann’s eyes drifted from the spot where their hands were clasped together and she gave an approving nod, “Impressive.”
Erin’s cheeks turned pink as she laughed at herself, “I guess it’s pretty embarrassing to admit that to anyone now.”
Holtzmann's eyes travelled over Erin’s features as she spoke and her feet moved slowly to the beat of the music.
“I don’t mind," she said with a smile.
“All I can say is, thank god for DVDs.”
Realizing what she'd said, Erin buried her face in her hand and groaned, “Oh my god that’s so much worse. It’s like an uncontrollable diarrhea of words is just pouring out of my mouth.”
Holtzmann made a face and uttered a quiet “Ewwww…” as Erin took a moment to shake off her residual embarrassment.
“I’m so sorry. Let’s just pretend I didn’t say any of that.”
Holtzmann gave a wink and a grin, "Say what?"
Erin’s expression melted in relief and she gave a silent ‘thank you’. As they continued to dance, their feet moving in slow clockwise circles, Erin glanced over at the other couples on the dance floor.
“You know," she said suddenly, turning back to Holtzmann, "You're not a bad dancer."
The enigmatic inventor seemed to blush and turned away, looking suddenly nervous.
“No, really,” Erin insisted. “You’re doing great!”
“Thanks,” Holtzmann managed and hurriedly looked away.
As the silence stretched between them, Erin started to quietly hum the chorus line of the song. Unable to help herself, her hums eventually slipped into words and before long she was quietly singing Jennifer Warnes’ lines as her head bopped to the beat.
A smile slowly crept across Holtzmann's lips as she watched Erin get more and more into the song. She closed her eyes and swayed to the beat, her face contorting with exaggerated emotion at each line of the song. When she opened them again Holtzmann was ready and already mouthing Bill Medley’s lyrics.
Sharing matching grins, the two of them half sang, half mouthed the bridge, Holtzmann all the while making ridiculous faces that made Erin laugh out loud. As the final chorus rounds played they broke apart and got fully into the song, dancing to the rhythm playing in their heads.
Erin made a half-hearted attempt at copying Patrick Swayze’s iconic dance moves while Holtzmann did her own thing gyrating, twisting and bopping her head to the beat. As the music wound down, Erin gave an exhausted laugh and grabbed Holtzmann by the hand. She led her off the dance floor to their table and collapsed into her chair with a sigh.
“That was fun!” she exclaimed and took a sip of water from her glass. “You can be my dance partner any time.”
Holtzmann took the seat next to her, an immoveable grin on her face as she repeated, “Any time.”
Abby and Patty returned to the table with smiles on their faces and half-empty glasses of champagne in their hands.
“Hey, you two wanna get out of here? There’s a shwarma place a block down the road and I could just murder a chicken shwarma right about now.”
Abby and Erin nodded enthusiastically and hastily tossed back what was left of their drinks. Erin got to her feet and looked over to find Holtzmann with her eyes transfixed on the dance floor.
“Hey, Holtz, you coming?”
Holtzmann snapped back to attention with a shake of her head and slowly got to her feet. Sliding one hand casually into the pocket of her slacks, she slowly pushed her chair in next to Erin’s and gave a little nod.