Party food (or drinks)

Elen's pov – 23/6

I was more than a little apprehensive as Jessica drew up to the party. And that is an enormous understatement too, although I perhaps won't go as far as to say that I was terrified. I was just – extremely nervous. I mean, I didn't know these people, not in the proper sense of the word. I knew who they were, or most of them at any rate, but I don't think I'd ever actually talked to any of them.

Jessica, of course, was as bubbly as ever, tugging me away from her car and towards the crowded house. We reached the door and she didn't bother to knock, just pushed it open and led the way inside.

It was all I could do to not turn around and run back to her car. At that precise moment, I would have been more than happy to camp out in her Lexus for as long as it took for her to get bored.

But if I had done that, I would never have heard the end of it, and she wouldn't have let me stay there anyway. Besides, she still had her keys. So I faced the crowded room and tried to swallow the mixture of fear and disgust that was welling in my stomach.

The place was packed. I honestly had no idea there were that many people in our whole school, let alone in our grade (it being entirely possible – probable even – that not everyone in the room was from our grade). There were people everywhere, slouching on the sofas, chatting by the stairs, dancing to the poundingly loud music. Most of them were in one of various stages of drinking – that is, they were either just starting, pleasantly tipsy or down right sloshed. Despite the fact that it was only half past eight.

Jessica turned around to me, and enormous smile on her face. "Isn't it great? You really should come out more often."

All I could do was offer a muffled "Uh…" Before she grabbed my arm and pulled me further into the room. She was obviously looking for someone, I noticed that much as I desperately tried to dodge my way between the mass of bodies. And she found them, too, because she suddenly changed direction and pulled me towards a doorway with an extra burst of strength.

A cluster of girls, all of whom I recognised as cheerleaders but couldn't name, were standing there, each holding a blue plastic glass. One of them looked up and caught sight of Jessica, then raised a hand in greeting.

"Jess! I'm so glad you could make it." She cooed as soon as we reached them. Jessica smiled and gave her a quick hug.

"Of course I could make it, Abi. Do you really think anything could have prevented me coming to the last party of the school year?"

Abigail Hanks gave her a sickeningly sweet smile and I couldn't help but grimace, although I think I hid it pretty well. She and Jessica had never really been friends, having competed of a boy's affections two years ago (I forget who the boy was – I wasn't really paying attention to the whole crisis in the first place), but they managed to maintain a sort of mutual act in which they were as close as friends could be – cue squeals and giggles and ahhing, if you get my point.

At that moment, Jessica seemed to decide she'd had enough of being the one under Abigail's scrutiny and stepped aside to reveal me. "This is my friend, Elen. Elen, this is Abigail Hanks, but I'm sure you already know that."

I nodded dumbly. I suppose I could have said something, but the only thing that came to mind was along the lines of 'how could I not have heard of the super bitch queen cheerleader?' and luckily my parents had always taught me to turn my tongue over in my mouth seven times before speaking, so I didn't say anything. Well, to be honest, it wasn't so much that I'd been taught to think before I spoke that kept me silent, and more that I was still extremely nervous, but…

"Elen? I don't recognise you. Are you knew?"

"Um. No." I told her, finally finding my tongue. "I'm just not as visible as you."

She studied me, trying to decide whether or not I had just insulted her, then she glanced quickly at Jessica. Who was undoubtedly trying to hide her amusement. After all, Abigail did have a rather memorable reputation. Apparently, whatever she did see in Jessica's face decided her, because she turned back to me with a cold smile.

"Well, rather visible and a somebody than invisible and a nobody. I'm surprised you even bothered turning up here. It's not as if anyone is going to notice you, not in that outfit."

Jessica's amusement faded and she glared at Abigail "Jeez, you really are a bitch, aren't you Hanks. Pity it's the only thing you really have to your name." And with that, she pulled at my arm again and led me off into the midst of the party.

We ended up by the drinks table, Jessica still fuming.

"It's no big deal" I told her, trying to be reassuring. And to me, it really wasn't. I didn't care what Abigail, or any of her friends, thought. I was happy not being noticed. All the more time to plan for the future, right?

"That's the problem with you." Jessica moaned. "It should be a big deal. Why can't you be a normal teenage girl and think it's a big deal."

I raised an eyebrow. "But if I was, I wouldn't be me, and then you wouldn't love me so much, now would you."

She pulled a face at me, then grabbed a beer-filled plastic cup and shoved it towards me. "Will you at least have a drink?"

I coughed awkwardly. "Um, no thanks. I think I'll pass."

"Elen." She whined in a sing song voice.

"Jessica." I imitated, and we both burst out laughing. Sign of true friendship, that. The smallest, silliest things become hilarious.

"Oh, fine. But you really are too innocent for your own good, you know that right? One day it'll catch up with you and bite you in the arse."


"Come on, have you ever even touched an alcoholic drink?" She demanded as I reached over and took a diet coke out of an ice box for myself.

"Yes. I drink wine with my parents at dinner all the time."

"That doesn't count."

"Oh? And why not?"

Jessica grinned. "Because you can't get drunk when you're eating at the same time." She spun away from me and back towards the crowd of dancers.

I followed nervously, catching up just enough to be able to yell in her ear, "you're supposed to be giving me a lift home! You can't get drunk!"

She waved a hand at me dismissively. "It'll be fine. Let's have some fun."

And she disappeared.

I spent the next – well, it could have been hours, it could have been all of five minutes, I really don't know – wandering around aimlessly. A couple of guys I vaguely recognised from school tried to approach me, both obviously drunk, but I managed to escape them. And Jessica, I discovered, had well and truly disappeared.

Eventually, I gave up on the inside of the house and decided to find somewhere secluded and quiet outside to sit and wait for Jessica to get bored. I would have liked to just leave, but there were several problems with that, the first and most important being that I had no clue where exactly I was (the Hanks' didn't live in the kind of neighbourhood I usually frequented). Of course, there was also the fact that Jessica would probably end up drunk and I would have to drive her home, despite her being the one who had promised me a lift.

I shook my head to clear it of my thoughts and headed towards the back door. Hopefully the back garden would be empty and I could at least find some space to think – or possibly just zone out – before Jessica turned up. Obviously I had a lot to learn about parties.

The first thing I noticed when I stepped outside was that the back yard was almost (although not quite) as crowded as inside. The second thing I noticed, I unfortunately didn't notice quite soon enough. In fact, the only reason I noticed 'it' was because I pretty much tripped over it. Literally.

I managed to stop myself from actually running into the pair making out on the back stairs by doing an awkward jump-twist move I'm sure would have made any watching dance teacher start clamouring for me to begin training. In the event, all that did occur was that I landed on the ground with an awkward thump and a gasp and the pair broke away, obviously annoyed, to glare at me for a few seconds before returning to their prior engagement.

I didn't recognise the girl, other than that she was a cheerleader and blonde – though that describes a lot of people around here. The guy, on the other hand, was instantly recognisable. The great Luke Wilson. Of course. I was hardly surprised.

A word of explanation. Like all other schools, our school has its feudal system, with the rich and popular at the very top and the different and eccentric at the very bottom, and people like me floating somewhere in between. Actually, compared to most of the other apparently-shy, slightly geeky people, I was quite high up, mainly through association with Jessica (who is probably among those who would have been nobility, just missing out on being royalty).

Before you get the wrong impression though, I may be quiet, but I'm not really shy. People just assume that if you don't say a lot then it's because you're afraid to say anything. With me that's not the case. I just don't want the hassle voicing opinions generally brings.

But anyway, back to our own personal feudal system. If Jessica is, say, a duchess, Luke Wilson is the King. He's the top of the pile, the one everyone turns to for approval. He's rich, sporty and not exactly lacking in the looks department, though I'm hardly one to judge. And, like so many of his status, he's an arsehole. He sleeps around, he drinks too much, he manages to constantly avoid getting into trouble with any kind of authority.

And believe me, I'm just stating the facts. Being somewhere just above the rank of 'peasant', I don't think I've ever actually said anything to him. Even Jessica is in awe, as far as I can tell. And that is saying something, as Jessica is hardly a good girl on the relationship front either (and no, I'm not saying my best friend is a slut, just that she's – lacking inhibitions, if you will).

By the time my reflection on social status within our wonderful high school had come to an end, I had managed to wander around the side of the house to the front porch again, which was, thankfully, deserted. Obviously even the blatantly drunk and stoned kids floating around in the back garden weren't stupid enough to chance pulling their antics where anyone could see.

I settled myself on the stairs and stared up at the sky. School had picked a wonderful day to finish, though most days were wonderful in a Californian summer. The sky was clear and it was warm enough, with a balmy breeze blowing up from the shore (which I had gathered was only a short walk away, from Jessica's ramblings in the car). The stars were incredibly bright, because we were far enough outside any major cities for the light pollution not to outshine them.

I couldn't help wondering, at that moment, if I wouldn't maybe miss it, just a little bit, once the next year of school was over and I had disappeared off to whatever university I ended up at. I had decided early on that there was no way anyone could convince me to stay in California once I left high school. In fact, more than anything, my family and I had been poring over British universities, trying to find out which ones took students with American qualifications. Mom figured that it would be cheapest for me to go to the UK, as we still had a house there and could probably claim home fees. Dad thought I should get to know my roots a little better. I just wanted out.

I'd never really felt like I belonged to the rich, American society I had been thrown into. And although I'd lived here since I was two, I never really felt American either. It was difficult, with my parents chattering away in Welsh and making it clear they still were Welsh. And I hadn't fit in at school, not ever. When I started, and all through primary school, I was teased mercilessly because of my faint Welsh accent, and because my mom talked to me in a funny foreign language when she picked me up from school.

Without Jessica, I would have been stuck in the same position for the rest of my school years, as likely as not. It's amazing the things one scraped knee in the playground can do for a friendship, it really is. But one friend isn't enough to make someone belong, and that had always been how I felt. Like I didn't belong.

That night it felt different though. I was at a party, like any normal American teen (although, admittedly, I was sitting on the front porch trying to avoid being noticed by anyone). The weather was warm, the sky was clear, everything was just – beautiful. And despite the music pounding inside the house behind me, the night seemed exceptionally calm.

"Mind if I join you?"

I looked up, startled. I hadn't heard anyone open the door, or even footsteps behind me on the porch. And yet, there he was. It took a few minutes for me to adjust to the porch light again so that I could recognise the figure behind me. When I did recognise him, I breathed an audible sigh of relief.

"Expecting someone else?" Gabriel Wilson asked with a shy smile as he sat down beside me.

I nodded apologetically. "Be honest? Yes. I wouldn't have thought that this was your kind of place." I motioned towards the house and he glanced back as well, then gave a short laugh.

"Yeah, figures. I was surprised to see you here, too." He told me and I shrugged.

"This is what happens when you have a friend in the 'in' crowd." He looked puzzled, so I clarified. "Jessica Guardi brought me. Forced me to come, really."

"Ah. Yes, that's what happens when you have a brother in the 'in' crowd and parents who feel you're drifting apart too." He frowned.

I had to laugh. "I should have guessed that. I tripped over your brother out back a while ago."

"Poor you."

"Indeed." I smiled at him again and we sank into quiet.

Gabe Wilson. It was strange to see him outside of school. I knew him, vaguely, from some of my AP classes, and we'd talked and even worked together on a project once. He was so different from his brother. Yes, quiet, sensible, likeable Gabe was the infamous Luke Wilson's brother.

They looked…similar, but not alike. They were twins but fraternal ones. It meant that Gabe could slip by virtually unnoticed even though his brother was constantly in the thick of things. I had often wondered if he minded, but had never known him well enough to ask.

It wasn't as if Gabe couldn't have been part of the popular group if he wanted. He had the looks – curly brown hair worn very short, a friendly, open face and calm hazel eyes – and the connections, but he had always seemed a little too nice to want to fit in. And he wasn't as striking, or as loud, as his brother. He wasn't shy, he didn't seem to lack confidence, he just wasn't boisterous – or obnoxious.

He glanced towards me and noticed that I had been staring, and gave me an amused look. "What's on your mind?"

I flushed, and shook my head in embarrassment. "Sorry. I was just – wondering. About, you know, popularity and …stuff."

"Ah." He nodded wisely. "And why I don't hang around with my brother's crowd."

I shrugged. "I suppose. But it's a little hypocritical of me to ask – or wonder about – that kind of thing. After all, I don't hang around with Jessica's crowd."

"Why not?"

"Because I don't fit in. And I don't want to have to make an effort to fit in. I like spending time with Jessica, but I can't stand the people she spends time with." I gave a small sigh, then smiled at him. "Anyway, there's only a year left and then I'm out of here anyway."

"You have plans already?"

"I know I'll go back to the UK. I haven't decided where, exactly, yet. Or what I want to study. But I do know that I won't stay here."

He frowned slightly. "What are you running away from then?" There was a hint of bitterness in his voice that I couldn't help notice, and that made me curious.

"I don't know if I'm running, exactly. Just – looking for somewhere else, somewhere new." I bit my lip then shook my head with a laugh. "What about you? Any plans for next year."

"I'm going to go north. My parent's want me to apply to Harvard." I raised my eyebrows in amazement and he laughed. "Yeah, I know. There's very little chance, right? But I might still try. And it's far enough away from here for it to be alright."

"What are you running away from?" I asked quietly, and Gabe glanced at me sharply.

He seemed to consider the question for a long time, and I guessed he was weighing his words, deciding whether he could trust me enough to give me an answer. Finally, he looked ready to speak again, and I could feel a bubble of anticipation in my stomach, but the front door burst open at that exact moment and Jessica stumbled out.

"Elen, there you are. Thank God I found you. Why have you been hiding? You should have stayed with me."

I was about to point out that she was the one who disappeared, but then I caught sight of her face and the tears streaming down it, smudging her mascara. I stood up worriedly and went to her side.

"Jess? What's wrong. What happened." The worry was clear in my voice, I was sure of that, and glancing around I found that Gabe has risen to his feet too and was watching us awkwardly.

"Oh it was terrible. Really horrible. I don't know what I've done to deserve this. I'll never live it down. I feel awful Elie, I really do. I don't think I've ever felt this terrible before."

I took a deep breath. "Jessica, please tell me what happened. I can't help you if you won't tell me."

"Gavin…Best." She gasped through sobs. "He…wouldn't….dance….with me. He…said I was…I was…he said I was too slutty." The last bit came out in a rush and then Jessica launched herself at me and began sobbing onto my shoulder.

I bit my lip as I caught Gabe's eye over her shoulder. I could feel a laugh growing in my throat and had to swallow hard to stop it escaping. I knew I shouldn't find poor Jessica's plight amusing, but I couldn't help it. The amusement was partly from relief, anyway. I had been so worried that something serious had happened.

I pulled away carefully. "Jess, I think we should get you home. You've had a little too much too drink."

"B-but Elie, my life is r-r-ruined."

I gave her a small smile. "Don't be silly. You know that you can't trust anything Gavin Best says. He's just a walking, talking load of crap. Come on." I took hold of her wrist firmly and led her down the stairs towards her car, shooting an apologetic glance at Gabe over my shoulder. He gave me a small smile and raised his hand in a semi-wave.

It took all of ten minutes to drag Jessica to her car, and once we were there she started sobbing again and refusing to get into the car. So it took another fifteen minutes before I had her strapped in and had seated myself in front of the wheel. I took another quick look at her before I started the car.

"You're staying at my house tonight, Jess. Okay?" Jessica sniffled. Well, at least the sobbing had stopped. "You can't go home like this."

She nodded. "My parents think I'm at yours anyway."

I rolled my eyes and started the car. Well, at least no one had proven me wrong about parties yet.

A/N: Voila, chapter two. Hope you enjoy. Thank you for all the wonderful reviews – 17 for one chapter, wow! I'm afraid the next chapter won't be up for a while, as I'm interrailing around Eastern Europe for the next three weeks, but I promise the next chapter is on its way to being complete.

Thank you to: moon-roses-and-love, Ck90, Banana Nut MuffinSkateForLifefloating awayPandemoniumExpress, verka90, groovacious, yv, Glinda the Good, SaRmelLexia for you reviews – I'm glad you like the story so far.

Kiryae J. SchroederGlad you like it. I try to write the way I like reading things. Years of being forced to read description heavy French novels has put me off extended descriptions when not necessary. It's nice to think that it's actually working!

Silent-Rebeland lady16: I'm not sure what to do about the translations. A lot of chapters won't have them at all, as Elen's parents won't appear too often. I might decide to put them right by the words, if that'll help, but I'll have to see. As for the typos and grammar mistakes – I try to catch them, but…I should probably try and get a beta…

Here I StandIntro to the boys…I suppose you might be able to guess who they are now…

violetauraI based the family on my family, kinda. I love writing Robbie, I must admit. And Elen's parents. Well, I just love writing about the family. Glad you think it works.

Sylvia MarriAll will be explained, surname-wise, never fear. Elen would never have considered accepting the job if she recognised the name!