In honour of the one year anniversary, I've decided to post the VERY EXTREMELY rough draft of the first few pages of "Social Skills" from Hal's point of view. I don't know how many of you will actually read it but, hey, here you go. Happy 2012!

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Eighty-six bottles of beer on the wall, eighty-six bottles of beer, you drink one down, pass it around, eighty-five bottles of beer on the wall… Hal Monroe was bored. He tried to appear interested as he counted beer bottles in his head, yet the sound of his father's voice droning on and on about oil prices in various countries was nearly killing him.

Originally, "Take Your Son To Work Day" sounded like a great idea. Get out of school for the day and miss a Geometry test. Plus, although he'd never admit, Hal wanted to spend time with his dad. Mr. Monroe was like a king who had time for everyone else but his heir.

Six-two bottles of beer on the wall

"Well, that's it for today, gentlemen. I'll see you next month." Mr. Monroe said, standing up.

Hal blinked to clear his misty eyes and tried to seem pleasant as everyone told him goodbye and what a smart young lad he was. Suck ups. "What's next, Dad? Please say lunch."

"Yes, Henry, lunch it is."

Hal heaved a sigh of relief and stood, stretching.

"Lunch with some very important investors, so remember your manners." Mr. Monroe glared sharply at him.

Hal grimaced at the word investors. Investors were stuffy old people who weren't quite as rich as his father, but wanted to be, so they threw their money at his feet, and then pranced around pretending to be very important. Investors had wives who pinched Hal's cheeks and granddaughters that everyone subtly hinted would be a wonderful match for him. Investors were from a missing segment of Dante's Inferno.

Hal followed his father to the restaurant in the office building, tugging at his tie. He was starting to miss his school uniform.

"Don't mess up your tie, Henry." Mr. Monroe said. He turned around, "I'm glad you're here today, son."

Hal looked a little startled, "Oh... thanks. It's been cool."

"The investors we're about to meet are different than usual. It's a group investment project from a firm that's hoping to start their own business."

"Their own oil business?"

"No, something else. But they're young and getting a fresh start in the business world. You should connect with them."

Hal frowned at his father's back. So much for father/son time. He was only here to help his old man connect with new investors. He determined to be as awful to them as possible without actually jeopardizing the meeting.

The investors were three men, probably in their late twenties, wearing sports jackets instead of suits, lounging at the table like they owned it. Hal found it hard to hate them. Once introductions were made, Mr. Monroe motioned for Hal to talk to Luke, the head of the company.

"So, Mr. Falkland…"

"Call me Luke, seriously. Mr. Falkland is my dad."

Hal smirked, "Luke, my dad told me you're not in the oil business?"

"Nope, we're in the movie business."

Hal perked up, sitting straighter, "Movie business?"

"Yea, we're starting our own production company where I produce what Mark writes and then Ken directs. We've got a few scripts ready to go, we're just waiting on the money."

"So that's why you're investing in bigger companies?"

"Yea, man. We have some money, if we want to make those lame low budget films, but we don't. We want to start off, right away as competitors for companies like Fox and Disney, you know?"

"Wow. What kind of scripts?" Hal wanted to know.

Mark shrugged, "We want to start off with an action film, with a young kid and an old star." He leaned forward, "How old are you kid?"

"I'm 16. I'm a sophmore."

"I like the way you look."

"I was thinking that too." Ken said, "He would look good on film. His skin is just the right tone."

"You think?" Hal asked, nearly bouncing out of his seat. He wondered is his dad had set this up on purpose. But he couldn't know… how could he know that Hal had been desperately wanted to act for years?

Mr. Monroe laughed, "Now, gentlemen, don't fill his impressionable head up. Henry is on his way to taking over the company, you know."

Luke leaned back, "That's what my dad said to me when I was 16."

"What kind of company does your dad have?" Hal asked.

"Tire factory. Most boring job ever. You gotta do what you love, kid."

Mr. Monroe quickly steered them in other directions but at the end of the lunch meeting, Luke slapped a card in his hand, "Call me, kid. Hal Monroe. I like that name. I want to see it on my posters."

Hal went home still on a cloud, imagining his acting career taking off. When he got there, he was surprised to see a moving van inside the gate.

"Mom, what's going on?" he asked, "We're not moving, are we?"

His mother swept down the stairs in her usual way: dramatic and old fashioned, "No Henry, Netherfield Hall is let at last!"

"Huh?"

She giggled and patted him on the cheek, "We have a new housekeeper, love. She and her daughter are moving into one of the cottages."

"Her daughter?" Hal was used to housekeepers. His mother went through them quicker than an addict went through cigarettes. They could never dust fast enough or cook well enough or do anything well enough. None of them had ever moved in. They simply stayed in a room next to the laundry room until they were fired.

"Yes! I met Juliet Thames, that's her name, the housekeeper, at an event in the city. It was wonderful, perfect, and clean. Well, she'd planned it all! Can you imagine? So I asked for her references, she comes highly recommended, so she's moving in. And her daughter is exactly your age. Isn't that nice? You'll have a little friend around here."

"Little? Is she like a midget or something?"

"No, Henry, why would you say that?"

Hal sighed and shook his head, "So when will they get here?"

"Oh they're here! You can come with me." She pulled his hand toward the living room.

He saw them before they saw him. A woman, who was somewhere in her early thirties, was sitting on the couch. She was beautiful with flowing hair and a soft smile and yet there was something about her that he had to respect, a certain strength that made her even more beautiful. Beside her was a girl that Hal knew was his own age. She was awkward looking, with frizzy hair and she sat lumped over like she didn't want anyone to see her, but she had that same strength in her. She just hadn't realized it yet. And Hal liked that.

"Juliet, Katharine?" the girls turned their heads and Hal got a better look at their faces. No, the girl wasn't a beauty, but there was something in her eyes that held a life that he'd never seen before. Something that made him want to keep looking. "This is my son, Henry Percy."

She snorted. The girl, Katharine. She was laughing at him.

Okay, so Percy wasn't a great name, but he didn't name himself, and he was named for his grandfather, which seemed to get him off the hook with everyone else. She turned to look at him and blushed a little bit when she noticed how angry he was, but her own eyes still held laughter. What was so funny, anyhow? What kind of last name was Thames? She sounded like she walked out of a Dickens novel. Hal turned on his heel and walked out without another word to them.

"You know how 16 year old boys are." He heard his mother explain.

Hal spent the weekend with his friends Kenny and Wallace. Wallace had just gotten his driver's license so they spend their time riding around town doing nothing, but enjoying playing their music as loud as they wanted. Hal didn't say anything about his new house tenants.

Sunday night he had dinner with his parents and the new housekeeper and her daughter. They had never had dinner with a housekeeper before and Hal thought this was extremely awkward.

"So, Juliet, tell us about yourself." Mr. Monroe prompted.

"Well, there's not too much to tell. I grew up probably a lot like Henry here, and then I went through a… ah… rebellious stage. I was blessed with Katie and I found out I love planning events. And now I've been blessed with this job." She smiled a million watt smile, turning to her daughter, grabbing her hand. Her daughter smiled back. Hal felt sort of like someone had punched his stomach.

"What about you, Katharine?"

She looked up nervously, "I play violin. I want to do it forever." She said.

"Anything else? What's your favorite subject in school?" Mrs. Monroe asked.

Katharine wrinkled her nose, "School is for followers of the bland and those who need to be told what to do and how to think. I'm a free spirit. I am a strong independent woman and I only need myself." She declared.

Hal rolled his eyes.

"Oh, that's so precious!" Mrs. Monroe cried.

"Bravo, young lady. I wish my son were half as dedicated and sure as you are." Mr. Monroe told her.

Hal bristled. If he stood on his chair and declared that he was a free spirit and that law school wasn't for him, his father would probably shoot him, not give him a bravo.

Katharine smiled a little, "Well, I'm sure he could break free of the prison of media enslavement just as well as anyone else could."

That girl was crazy.

"I like that, 'media enslavement.' I'm going to use that in my next DAR talk." Mrs. Monroe said, tapping her chin.

Hal's parents continued to praise Katharine until dinner was over. Hal continued to grow sick and when he was finally allowed to leave the table, he found the loudest music he had and blasted it from his room.

"Henry! Turn that awful racket down!" he heard his mother call.

Hal didn't even look up from his book when he yelled back, "I'm breaking free of media enslavement!"

Monday when Hal walked out to the bus stop, he was greeted with an unpleasant surprise: the Katharine girl was standing at his bus stop. He didn't ask her anything because he didn't want to talk to her. But as they waited for the bus, she couldn't seem to control herself.

"I'm Katie." She said. He didn't respond, "So I guess we're going to the same school. Um… do the girls have to wear skirts? Because that's a little chauvinistic, don't you think?"

He didn't know at all. He looked down at her without even turning his head. She still had the frizzy hair and was wearing an over-sized school uniform, letting everyone know she'd gotten it second hand. She had the weirdest shoes ever on: people had written on them. And yet, her blue eyes were entrancing, like a good piece of music, and the way she bounced around on her feet was endearing, even if she did keep stumbling.

The bus rolled up and Hal got on first and headed to the back where his friends sat. "I can't wait until I get my license." He announced loudly as Katharine got on the bus. Her face turned red and she tripped over nothing, stumbling in the bus aisle. Her face turned even more red and she looked for an empty seat. Hal felt a pang of guilt. If she didn't find a seat in thirty seconds, he would offer her one… maybe. No, the blond girl who always looked at him through her eyelashes was offering her a seat.

He had no classes with her, so he didn't have to think about her and the way that she made everyone like her better than him. He saw her at lunch sitting at a table with the blond girl, his friend Noah and the girl he liked, Ruth, as well as a few of his other friends. They were all talking to her like she was the greatest thing on earth. The words "media enslavement" drifted over to his ears and Hal slammed his tray down at the nearest table. He looked down and realized he'd nearly dumped his drink all over the kids from glee club. "Sorry." He mumbled.

He found Kenny and sat down. "So there's a new girl." Kenny said as Hal devoured his chicken sandwich. "She's kinda hot."

"No she's not." Hal said.

"Well, not like Audrey or something, but she's got this cute thing. I like it."

"She's hideous. She's like a Cyclops."

Kenny turned and looked at him, surprised. It wasn't like Hal to be cruel, "What, did you ask her out and she turn you down?"

"No, she's just awful. I mean, look at her."

"I am."

Hal rolled his eyes and shoved his second sandwich into his mouth. The more he looked at her, the more he knew she was just awkward and gangly. She tripped over air and anything else that was even remotely more solid. No, Hal had bigger things to worry about. Like… how was he going to convince his parents to let him be in a movie? They were convinced he was going to law school and he was convinced he would die first. Something had to give, he just wasn't just how it would happen. He needed a plan.

In English class that day, they started reading a new Shakespeare play. Hal secretly liked Shakespeare, just like any plays. He loved getting the chance to read the characters out loud. Only he had to pretend to be uninterested because it would be really dorky to actually stand up and pull out an accent like he wanted. So he just read with a mild flair.

They were reading Henry V part II, which Hal liked every more because he shared his name with the main character. He liked that someone in history with his own name also seemed to have his same problems: an over bearing, crazy father who expected way too much and didn't appreciate the son he had. And how did Prince Henry deal with it? Well he acted just as his father expected him to, then burst out at the last second as the perfect king.

Hal began itching in his seat. The second the bell rang he ran for the doors, pushing past two girls who tried flirting with him, in order to get cell phone reception. "Hi, Luke? This is Hal Monroe. I met you the other day with my father."

Hal couldn't believe what he'd done. He'd scheduled a movie audition in New York City for that Saturday night, behind his father's back. He'd have to sneak out, get into the city, and get back, all without his dad finding out. His whole body pumped with adrenaline every time he thought about it.

He was sitting at the lunch table on Friday, practically bouncing up and down. Audrey was at his table today, which he guessed was a good thing, because he really liked her, but he just couldn't concentrate on her at all.

Suddenly, she was there. Hal hadn't seen her much at all, except for the occasional sighting around the corner near the laundry room. Mostly, though, they stayed out of each other's way. But now, here she was, the housekeeper's daughter, standing in front of his table, holding a big stack of papers.

"Sign my petition?" she asked, holding out a pen.

"For what?" Audrey asked, looking horrified. Hal guessed it had something to do with Katharine's crazy hair or the bracelets up and down her arms.

"For us, for sisters united! Women shouldn't be forced to conform to an ancient chauvinistic code. Sign and be a free, independent woman!"

"What?"

"Girls should be allowed to wear pants." Katharine simplified.

Audrey rolled her eyes, "I like my skirt. And if you had legs like mine, you'd like yours too."

Katharine looked appalled, her mouth opening and closing several times. She hugged her petition to her chest before snapping, "It's people like you that set women back twenty years. I bet you don't even vote."

"Of course I don't, I'm sixteen."

Katharine turned her eyes on Hal for one brief second, as if wondering if he would help her based on association. A part of him wanted to: he thought she was funny with her petition and comebacks, but the part that didn't want to help won: Audrey sat by him, Audrey didn't like Katharine. And Audrey's legs did look really good in her skirt.

Katharine, realizing that no help was coming to her, simply flounced away, moving to another table. Audrey rolled her eyes, leaning toward Hal, "What some people will do for attention. Really. She might as well have just jumped you."

"What?"

"It's so obvious she likes you." Audrey said, patting Hal's arm. "It's cute, really. That she thinks she has a chance. But honestly, who does she think she is, coming over here like that? It's not like she knows you."

Hal realized that to say Katharine did know him, that she was his housekeeper, would only do more damage to her. So he just shrugged and took a bite of his pizza. Whatever reputation the girl was going to have, he'd let it be of her own making, not because he brought her down with his gossip.

Friday found a nervous Hal easing out of his garage door and meeting Wallace on the street. "If I get caught doing this, I'm so grounded forever, man." Wallace said when Hal jumped in his car.

Hal sighed, "Just get me to the train station. And if my parents call you, tell them I'm in the bathroom."

"What if they call more than once?"

"Tell them I ate your sister's bean dip again."

Hal could hardly believe he was sneaking all the way to New York City. He'd slipped out of the house to go to parties before, but not this far. Well, it was for a good cause. The Hal-Monroe-Sanity-Foundation. He had to be in movies or else he'd go crazy.

He found the hotel where Ken and Luke were staying easily enough. The doorman directed him to the conference room where the two were lounging at a table, sipping on sodas and reading scripts. Hal thought no one had ever looked cooler.

"Hey, man, you made it!" Luke called, sliding off his seat. "Here, take this script, read over that highlighted section for five minutes, then we'll film your cold read, okay?"

"Oh… sure." Hal said. He shrugged off his jacket and took the script, settling into a seat.

"Let the kid breath, Luke." Ken mumbled.

"No, it's cool." Hal said. He didn't want to seem like a baby. He had to look like he could jump right into the fray. He scanned the portion of the script they wanted him to read. It was easy enough, but he wished he knew more about the character, but it seemed weird to ask. He read through it again, shifting anxiously in his seat. He had to know more about the character. "Luke?"

"Yea, you ready?"

"Almost. I was just wondering… is it allowed… can you tell me some about the character?"

"Oh, yea, sure! He's this kid whose parents have just been killed. And he finds out they were a part of a secret organization, and their long-time partner comes to him and together they go to track down his parents' killer and save the world and stuff. The scene you're going to read it where he finds out the killers weren't even after his parents, they were after him."

"Wow, that's crazy. It's sounds awesome."

"There's going to be lots of action. Anyhow, take a couple more minutes."

Now that he knew the story, Hal understood his scene a lot better. When he stood in front of Luke and Ken and their camera, he shrugged into his character expertly. He lost sight of the guys and the weird metallic wallpaper behind them. Instead he saw his parents' friend, looking at him sympathetically as he tried to make sense of all the tragedy that had taken place.

Once he had finished his lines, Hal re-focused on the men in front of him. "That was awesome, man." Luke said. "How much have you acted before?"

"Here and there in school plays. I took acting as an elective last year."

Ken shared a grin with his business partner, "We'll call you kid. But you definitely have a future in acting ahead of you. I don't doubt that, even if we can start you off."

Hal thanked them and left the hotel, bouncing somewhere on cloud nine.

He was anxious that week at school, biting his pencils and snapping at freshmen (they deserved it anyhow).

"What's wrong?" Audrey asked as they sat on the steps outside of school like all the cool Sophmores.

He shrugged. He hadn't told anyone about the audition except for Wallace and he planned to keep it that way.

"I can help." Audrey told him.

Hal turned to look at her to ask how and she kissed him on the mouth. He heard a whistle in the background and grinned on her lips... Audrey's lips. Holy crap, he was kissing Audrey!

"Get a room, you two!" one of her friends called, laughing.

Hal felt a smack on his head and broke apart from her. Twenty seconds of awesomeness. He was the coolest man ever as his friends patted him on the back.

He walked Audrey to class, "So... do you want to go out?" he asked her tentatively.

"Why?" she asked, turning the combination on her locker.

"Well... you just kissed me."

"So?" she laughed a little bit, "Aren't you tired of boys and girls being forced into relationships all the time? Why settle down when we're too young to settle down?"

"Yea, but..."

"Hal, I like you. But I don't think you have to be my boyfriend for me to kiss you. Do you?"

"Well... no. But what does that mean? Do you want to date other guys?"

She sighed, closing her locker, "I don't know what I want. I'm 16. I just want to have fun." She pulled his head down to give him another kiss. "Don't you?"

"I don't know." He told her. Were girls supposed to act that this? He needed to play less video games in favor of watching TV.

She backed away, "Well let me know what you do." She told him, her hands on her hips.

Hal was about to answer her when he saw a mass of frizz darting around the corner. Was that girl eavesdropping on him? He walked around Audrey and stalked around the corner, seeing her huddled next to a door.

"Don't you have anything better to do that spy on me?" he snapped. Had she been listening to him and Audrey? Did she know he was nervous around her? Would she tell?

Her look turned from sheepish to angry, "I'm not spying on you. I'm waiting for the band room to open."

"Sure." He said, ruffling his hair, "Look, just because you feel like you know me doesn't mean you can stalk me."

Her mouth dropped open, "I'm not stalking you, you arrogant pig! I'm standing beside the band room, I'm holding music, and a musical instrument. Clearly, I'm here for a reason that doesn't involve your inflated ego."

He felt a hand on his shoulder and jumped a little, "Problem?" Audrey asked.

"Of course." The house-keeper's girl said, rolling her eyes. "You have minions."

Audrey looked down at the girl in what could only be called fake pity. "Dear, I know you have this little crush on Hal. So do all the girls. But you don't need to be this desperate."

"Okay, really? I'll go through this again for your peroxide-popped brain. I'm holding music." She said, waving the book around in the air. "I have a violin." She held up the case. "And I'm standing in front of the room where these will be best utilized. I can't help it that you two decided to swap spit in the same hallway."

Audrey ran her hand up into Hal's hair. He felt it in his back. "Let's just go Hal. It's no use trying to talk to... what's her name again?"

"Hello? I'm standing right in front of you."

"I dunno. Callie? Kimmy?" Hal asked, starting to turn around with Audrey.

"Katherine!" he heard her yell to his back. "My name is Katherine, you ass!"

But he had known that all along.

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How have you been? I've missed Hal and Katie so much. And you guys too! I'm super busy, working full time and living over-seas is keeping me pretty busy, but I thought I'd post this and see what happens. Just to answer up front.
NO: I am not posting this whole story. Mainly because I don't have it written. I just don't have enough time to commit to writing anything right now. Just wanted to give you a New Year treat. Enjoy!