Monday, April 29, 2013
TRULY (chapter four: Preparations)
We got to hang out together while the porch was being built… Confessions of a Teenage Hermit
Ben’s dad was the builder hired to extend our beach house and Ben came along to help out. My older sister was too busy socializing (and bossing the decorators hired to restore the inside of the beach house), to notice Ben’s arrival. Later she wondered aloud, “he’s cute but isn’t he too young for a job?”
“He’s just helping his dad,” I said.
My sister shrugged, unimpressed.
Ben’s Dad parked his car on the street and that’s when my father magnanimously stepped up and offered them the guest house to stay in while they were building the porch over the week it took to finish. This saved them the long commute across town and allowed them to start early.
I think Dad regretted it when he noticed how well Ben and I got along.
During that week Ben and I became inseparable. Ben was a year older than me and wore sunglasses to halt the glare which made him look even cooler than he was. His skinny arm muscles were beginning to stand out in the morning sun and he smiled, a lot. Compared to my family, he was warm and friendly and not just because we’d already met at The Beach Shack. Together, we swam in the pool and tanned until my sister went nuts and told us to come inside or else use more suntan lotion.
Mostly, we’d just hang out together. Ben was my first real friend. Because he also had a sister, he was used to talking to girls.
We talked about music and novels we’d read, or novels he said he’d read; he wasn’t really into Austen, he’d just pretended to be “to impress me” he said.
The dream to fly like a bird was real. It was all he’d ever wanted since he was six. He was just working with his Dad over the summer to help out but he didn’t want to build porches forever. Ben had big dreams; bigger than mine, I thought.
Being born wealthy made me reflect on what I lacked – the intangibles. The love and loyalty of my father for one thing, changed with the seasons. It seemed obvious that Dad didn’t think I’d amount to much and though I heard him describe me to my older sister as “pretty enough in an understated way,” I could tell my hesitancy in pushing myself forward irritated him. I’d try out for the cheerleading team because my Godmother encouraged me, but my older sister would be captain, if she had her way. She mostly did.
Liz was already planning to take control of the Socials (a select clique of girls at Hallowed Halls, our new school). My older sister was clearly on the fast track to success. There was no doubt with her drive and all of dad’s contacts; she would rule her new school and go on to attend a prestigious college. My father had set up a kind of competition amongst his daughters and already picked the winner. I refused to play the game.
Instead, I focused on matters of the heart.
Already, I liked Ben Wentworth, even though I doubt he thought beyond summer sun and the next plane flying overhead.
Inside, I melted every time he spoke to me or asked me to pass him his Dad’s tools. We ate lunch together every day. I brought my notes outside to work on never ending stories. My father and sisters barely noticed the time I spent away from them, “scribbling.” They were only interested in their own worlds: Dad in his latest “case” and celebrity client; Liz in her high maintenance beauty and study routines; and Melissa in her dolls and their dreams.
By the time the porch was finished, summer was almost ending and school was about to start. Hallowed Halls had a junior, middle and high school. All of the Elliot sisters arrived together.
With mom on the East Coast, one of the most influential people of my life stepped up to take her place, my Godmother. Eleanor Russell was stylish, rich, charming and as luck would have it, also our next door neighbor.
Before mom went to New York, Eleanor promised to “keep an eye on me.” She became my advisor and confidant and assured me I was, “so much like my mother we’d get on fine.” My mother’s relocation to the East Coast gave Eleanor an opportunity to get to know us as “almost adults.”
Eleanor also counselled my sisters, but they were less in need of her friendship since they had each other. Eleanor took Liz to modelling classes on Saturdays (Eleanor assured Liz good deportment would help “bring out her personality”) and even enrolled Missy in a “high class” beauty pageant where one of her old sorority sisters was the judge (Missy won). Our Godmother also drove us to dance classes, assuring us that, “cheerleading would make us ‘popular’ if we tried out for the team at Hallowed Halls.”
While Mom was mostly absent that summer, Eleanor literally became devoted to our upbringing. She listened as my sisters told her their concerns about Mom leaving daddy to “fend for himself.” I remained silent.
My Godmother came to my room that night as I sat on the edge of my bed in my pyjamas, drinking honey cinnamon milk. Eleanor discarded all of the clothes that I’d chosen from my own wardrobe in favor of the ones that she had chosen for me, more conservative, perhaps fashionable and certainly less comfortable.
“Never mind, dear,” Eleanor said, “who needs comfort at your age? There are sure to be some suitable friends for you at your new school and you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.”
Of course she was right.
I suppose I could have looked more fashionable on my first day at Hallowed Halls but I didn’t think anything would change with Liz the star and Melissa the up and comer. I’d be happiest just blending in with the scenery… or so I thought.
“You know, I only imagine the best for you; to be safe and happy. I want you to call me up on any of these numbers if for any reason at all, you need to talk,” Eleanor said.
I looked at her complacently then leaned in and hugged her. I felt there was something she wanted to tell me, something about my parents maybe, something worth sharing but we remained silent and she patted my hair and left the room.
Later, I learnt my parents had decided to divorce and thought it best if my sisters and I were out of the house for a while. Perhaps they were right.
I knew it upset Eleanor to have to send me away but I didn’t complain because a part of me wanted to go. The thought of being sent to a new school gave me mixed feelings. To be banished from the privileged world of my upbringing was almost a relief. I knew there was a secret that lay in wait for me there; Ben. He was sure to arrive by my sophomore year. It wasn’t that long to wait.
And so I found myself at twelve, a boarding school brat. As the weeks went by, I found more and more excuses not to return home every weekend, especially once my mother left for good. It seemed like I’d wait forever for the boy who never showed.
Finally, when my sisters packed for a long weekend and there was no one but me left at school, I relented and went with them. I was greeted coldly by my father and I felt, no I was sure; I’d been replaced in whatever was left of his affections.
Back at school, the following week, my sisters were fully prepared to rule Hallowed Halls (when the time came). They had a “Plan of Action” that included becoming very, very popular to pave the way for Liz to rule the Socials by the time she was a senior.
It was kind of funny, at first. Then, they became totally obsessive and of course, wanted to include me in their plans. As Liz said, they could “rely on my vote and my lack of desire to usurp them.” Of course, being two of the richest and prettiest girls, they drew a lot of attention to themselves at Hallowed Halls.
That was until Ben and his brother Harley arrived. By then, even I knew what it took to become popular.