Monday, April 29, 2013
TRULY by Summer Day (chapter six: "The New Boy")
The New Boy
Even before Ben arrived, there was a lot of whispering in the halls… Confessions of a Teenage Hermit
The summer of my childhood friendship with Ben had almost been erased from my mind by the time I reached sophomore year.
By then, I’d learnt to be a popular girl – a Social. I hadn’t asked for inclusion into this elite group but Elizabeth’s leadership aspirations and plans for Missy to take her place after her reign, meant my vote would be useful in all matters and I was an accepted addition. The inclusion of the Elliot sisters (and friends) into this select school society was a given. We were the legacy of one of LA’s most scandalous and celebrated families. Liz even held secret dinners in her dorm room most weekends, plotting sororities she might join at East Coast colleges. We’d spent part of summer at Kellynch and the other parts shifting between New York and Los Angeles. I was still reeling from my “vacation” in Bel Air at dad’s place.
One weekend early in August, we’d been preparing to attend dad’s birthday party. The Bel Air house was decorated and staffed for this express purpose – a formal dinner. I wasn’t sure how I’d endure it.
“The Elliot name stands for all that is good, sociable and well-bred,” my father announced that weekend during one of his infamous gatherings where his “perfect daughters” were expected to impress members of the Board, as his birthday present.
“The Elliot name stands for all that is shallow, groundless and possibly corrupt,” I whispered to myself under my breath when it seemed no one else was paying me any attention, except my father.
There was a moment’s silence before people resumed eating. One of the hired hands delivered a note to me direct from Dad, along with my side of mashed potatoes. On the paper he had written; “Just to let you know you are not too old for me to ask you to leave the table. Now.”
I returned to school early to prepare for the coming semester.
Boarding school was making me independent, but as my Godmother told me that night before I left, “that is no excuse for publicly humiliating the family.” Eleanor had a point and I resolved to hold my tongue in future.
My sisters were happy to be literally fed by the same system which seemed to subject me to a subordinate role. I had to learn what was expected of me as an Elliot. It was as if, once I’d learnt to style my hair perfectly and apply the right brand of lip gloss (our allowances had always been very generous), and fit in by being a shadow against the cool crowd – an almost-pretty girl (how I saw myself) with no obviously conflicting opinions of my own – everything would be okay. By then, I walked a fine line between outward popularity and inward chaos.
I had slowly built myself again from the shoes up in the shadow of my fashionable older sister. By the start of sophomore year and with Jenny’s help, I’d decided to reinvent myself from the child I had been, to the “in control” young adult I was becoming. I’d drifted through my classes until then, transforming from a hermit-like teen to a social, well-dressed cheerleader, gaining above average grades.
I knew I’d have to lift my game by junior year in order to get into a college worth attending, but deep down I wasn’t ambitious for anything beyond a good relationship with a boy I could love. A job I enjoyed would also be nice. I liked reading, writing my own stories and babysitting. My Godmother had taught me to draft patterns and design clothes, so that was another of my interests, my “little hobbies” as my father referred to my passion for design. My least favorite subjects were biology and math and I generally found myself sketching under the desk while my teachers talked.
I’d almost ceased thinking about Ben on a daily basis when he finally arrived at Hallowed Halls. I remember hearing about him first from Jenny Covington, now my closest friend. I was surprised Serena Collins (another Social with leadership aspirations) held bragging rights already.
“He’s mine,” she announced over lunch at our special table with a full view of other, less socially connected aspirants.
“She needs to take a chill pill already and get over it,” Jenny whispered.
Dana Lawrence, Serena’s bestie nodded her head in perfect agreement and gave me a knowing look. Ever since I’d taken a more central position than Dana on the cheer squad she’d been acting jealous and mean towards me. It was only because I was Liz’s sister that either of those girls were even civil.
“Oh, she played spin the bottle with him at a party once,” Jenny assured me as we walked to class. “No big deal. They were only eleven.”
I zoned out as Jenny talked schedules for the day.
I interrupted her when our teacher, Miss Clay, brushed past our lockers.
Miss Clay was very well-dressed and held her head high, high enough to look down on her own students. Miss Clay, under the guise of friendliness, stopped me to talk about my father.
“Is your father coming to parent-teacher evening, Jane?” she asked me. Miss Clay was very keen on all things my-father related. She’d wanted to know, “how he was getting along,” since the divorce. I found this quite amusing but Eleanor Russell, who came to take me for lunch one Sunday; assured me I needed to be more perceptive about people’s true intentions.
Eleanor went so far as to suggest my teacher, Lilly Clay, was interested in my father romantically and that he would be susceptible to the charms of a much younger woman. Perhaps Eleanor was right.
All I could say was, “poor Miss Clay.” Even though daddy was my father and thought himself very good-looking, it was clear to me, that since he drank too much and exercised too little, his skirt-chasing days were way behind him (I’m just being honest). Eleanor assured me this was not true, that men like my father enjoy the chase at any age and that I should be careful about Dad connecting with unsuitable women.
“What do you mean?” I asked Eleanor.
“That woman, Lilly Clay, has her eye on your family’s money - mark my words; and marrying your father would be the fastest way to get it.”
“Oh,” I said, this was an eye-opener to me. I really couldn’t see how any younger woman, in fact any woman, would find Dad appealing but let’s not go there right now. I put thoughts of Miss Clay out of my head. I had to, in order to stay sane.
My sisters and I generally carried the notes we needed to class and kept spares in the row of lockers which made Hallowed Halls seem more like a six star resort for unwanted rich kids, rather than an academically focused boarding school for Type A personalities.
That morning, the first day of Ben’s arrival, Serena Collins and I had just come back from our morning gym session. I loathed gym but Serena loved it because she liked the coach’s assistant, an older student from the nearby college campus. Soon Serena would have someone newer to focus on; Ben.
Jenny met us for hot chocolates post-shower and pre-first class. We had an awesome cafeteria which remained open from dawn till dusk. The facilities at Hallowed Halls – an Olympic sized swimming pool, tennis courts and a games room - were pretty amazing by the stretch of anyone’s imagination. We were seated at a round table when Serena started gossiping.
“So, let me tell you more about the new boy....” Serena stated as if she already knew him well. It was a given that she would have the jump on me in the way of any sort of juicy details. I listened absently as I readied myself for cheerleading practise. Ben Wentworth was all Serena talked about for thirty minutes. I was elated that he’d arrived but I didn’t show it. I acted cool since I was learning it never paid to let mean girls like Serena and Dana know everything I was thinking. They’d just use it against me.