Monday, April 29, 2013
TRULY by Summer Day (inspired by Persuasion) chapter Seventeen: "That Night"
As I drove over to my sister Melissa’s house after work, I was filled with anticipation for the evening. It would be better to meet him again, on my terms, than to face him unexpectedly…
Confessions of a Post-teenage Hermit
When I arrived at Melissa’s house in Venice Beach, Melissa’s husband, Fred, greeted me warmly.
He came outside to help me move the last of my boxes out of the trunk of my car. They’d been there for a day now and Melissa had promised to store them since my closet at Dad’s was overflowing.
Fred was an average looking guy with an easy going personality and, I’ll admit it, a kind heart. His family were loaded so he’d managed to avoid Dad’s wrath, but beyond the family money, Fred was a normal and hardworking guy. Melissa admitted that everything “average” about him (apart from his earnings as director of a Gaming Startup), made things easier for her. His personal traits (humbleness and a lack of vanity) allowed Missy to act superior in every way.
In fact, I’d seen Melissa boss poor Fred around in a way that made me look away. He seemed to be under her spell, and worked every extra hour to please her. Nothing was too much trouble, though Melissa was never anything more than ungrateful. I wasn’t surprised they were having problems. Ordering him to help me out, when he would have no doubt offered anyway, had less to do with helping me than once again asserting her authority.
“That’s the last of the boxes, Jane,” Fred said as he wiped his hands on his pockets after loading them into the store room at the back of the garage.
Fred had always had a soft spot for me, going so far as to ask me out before he had ever shown interest in Melissa. We’d gone out once, but instantly, we both knew we’d make better friends. My Godmother had been accurate in her assessment on that occasion stating, “two natures as easy going as yours and Fred’s would be a pathway to a bad match.” Eleanor then encouraged me to introduce Fred to Melissa, which I was pleased to do. It was ironic, of course, that instead of thanking me for finding her the man she would marry, she now looked down on me for having no one of my own; and she always seemed nervous about leaving the two of us alone together; as if anything would happen; ever.
“Melissa just has her nose out of joint because Fred liked you first,” Eleanor assured me. I wasn’t so sure.
“At least Fred’s sincere,” Melissa said. “I think he might just be the right man for me…” Melissa had commented at the time, “I’ve always thought you needed someone dashing and handsome, Jane, like a character from one of those stupid novels you read.”
Melissa was in love with love; Melissa was ready to have children and Melissa thought Fred would make a good husband. Dad gave them his blessing, as if they needed it. Although Fred appeared both average and a little dull, his family were fiercely connected to one of the richest and most powerful in Beverly Hills. In other words, both he and Elizabeth approved of my sister’s match.
Missy had reached the conclusion that Fred was perfect for her only one week before the scheduled wedding. During the rehearsal, Elizabeth, who was quite cynical about marriage kept Tom at a distance (even though he’d been interested in her since high school) but I remember seeing them holding hands and talking in a corner when everyone else was dancing. Elizabeth had been complaining to me that we stood out that day in our relatively unfashionable dresses, “like the unpicked fruit on the cherry tree.” I laughed, but it was true. Liz was still mortified that Melissa had insisted on putting us in what she described as, “bridesmaid’s dresses designed to make us look like the ugly stepsisters.”
“Never mind Liz,” I agreed. “It’s Melissa’s questionable right as the bride to ensure she looks better than everyone else.”
Liz refused to pose for the photographs until I persuaded her that it was Missy’s big day and there was no point in ruining it. My sisters clashed with each other even more than they did with me.
That night, Fred had taken my belongings and locked them in Missy’s storage cabinet with his usual good grace.
“You know you can always come and stay with us… anytime. Not just for the week,” Fred said. “You are a sister to me, Jane. We’d love to have you.”
“Thanks Fred,” I smiled.
I was glad I’d decided to attend the bonfire party with my family. In a way I’d save face with Ben, show him the past meant nothing to me, either. It wouldn’t be easy to avoid running into him at some point in Wentworth if he was staying all summer. Better to be the one controlling the conditions under which we met.
I sat on the couch as Liz complained about her life while her toddler kept trying to chew her designer shoe. Earlier that morning, my father had tried to convince me to “give up the waitress job” and go to work with Elizabeth. “When the finances are free from the sale, you could enrol in night school… get an education.”
That was how I learnt what I’d already suspected. After summer, they intended to sell Kellynch. The Crofts would move out and the high season would be over. A sale after the immediate cash of high season, would be the answer to everyone’s problems – except mine.
“I already have part of a college education father,” I reminded him, in a rare moment of speaking up for myself, “and I got good grades, remember?”
I had spoken back to Dad as a child and been greeted by the back of his hand on one occasion, but time heals most things, except that I knew his nature and it hadn’t changed.
As my sister got up to dress for the party, she pulled the shoe off my nephew, Max, a little too fast and he started crying, toppling over in an instant onto his child sized truck which ran over his foot. Melissa was hushing him as she re-applied her lipstick and ran to get her coat.
As she cleaned the child up in the bathroom and re-applied her lipstick she called out to me, “You know he’s with someone, don’t you?”
“That guy you used to like, the one who rented Kellynch along with his sister; Ben Wentworth.”
“I didn’t know his name was on the lease.”
“Oh, it was, he enquired about the place in the first instance, as it turns out.”
“Great,” I replied, meaning not so great.
“Of course, we didn’t even remember who he was, he’s changed a lot. He had a girlfriend with him. At first I didn’t recognise her then it turns out she used to go to school with us. I could barely remember her or Ben for that matter but they both remembered you and Liz. Anyway, now Serena works for a big international airline.”
“Wow,” I said.
“Really? Is that all you have to say?” Melissa was concerned she hadn’t had the emotional response she expected from me.
By then, I was in the process of leaving, to go outside and wait for my cousins who were due to arrive at any moment. I’d shut the door quietly behind me. Of course I was upset but it was inevitable he’d be with someone. Men like Ben would not need to be alone for long, but Serena Collins? Had he lost his mind?
Whilst Fred waited patiently outside, he’d allowed the other twin to climb the tree that overlooked the front porch. The child was actually climbing down the trunk as his foot became stuck. Then, as Harry moved to his father’s arms, he fell on his head and scraped both his face and knee in the short fall to the ground.
I cradled Harry as he screamed all the way home from the paediatricians who pronounced him fine except for a slight shock. Melissa was told to “keep a close eye on him all night.”
The party wasn’t due to start until nine and Melissa had a miserable look on her face as we arrived back in Venice Beach and settled Max and Harry in bed. She was still dressed in her finest designer clothes and ready to party.
“Melissa darling,” Fred said, “we should stay with him.”
“Both of us? Stay home?” Melissa asked incredulously after checking little Harry’s head and noting that he slept soundly.
Melissa spoke softly as she shut the door to the nursery. “Are you kidding, Fred? I’ve been at home all day – you try it. I cannot believe you were stupid enough not to keep a proper eye on the children…”
“But Missy, I’ve cancelled the babysitter and you gave the nanny the night off.”
My sister’s voice was ringing in my ears… and an image of Ben’s face was etched in my mind. Perhaps it was just an excuse to avoid him, I’m not really sure, but suddenly I had an idea.
“It’s alright Missy, I’ll stay with the boys tonight. I have your contact details.”
“Oh, no, Jane …” my brother-in-law said. “We would never impose on you…”
“Oh, Jane loves children. It’s no imposition, Fred. Jane has far better childcare qualifications than any babysitter. Are you sure, Jane?” Melissa asked.
“Yes,” I replied. “You go, Melissa, It’ll be fine.”
“Well, you have the most experience at looking after children really, of anyone. I’m sure the twins are safer in your care. I feel almost useless in this situation and probably would be better off out of it,” Melissa added.
After they’d left, I sat on the sofa and turned on the television.
I’d avoided almost every social occasion in recent years. There was always a good reason, and this one was the best. The truth was, I never thought I’d see Ben again. And now, I didn’t want to.
I got off the couch and turned up the baby monitor as I made myself some hot chocolate. A part of me was overwhelmed by my sister’s self-centredness (but I was used to it). Always, as the girl without a boyfriend, I was left out, devalued and discarded socially and by my family. But secretly, I was glad about tonight. If I had any say in the matter, I’d never have to see Ben Wentworth again.