Chapter 1: The Congregation of Estranged Exes
The world hated me.
How did I know that the world hated me, Evangeline Eleanor Kaiser, of all people?
Well, for starters, my lovely parents decided that, with a surname beginning with the letter K, their daughter ought to have first and middle names beginning with the letter E. Needless to say, I was one of the few kids who never had one of those initialed L.L. Bean backpacks.
Luckily, the humor of the "EEK!" jokes wore thin after elementary school. Of course, people made some cracks about my last name when we studied World War One in middle school, but calling me "Wilhelm" and demanding that I pay war reparations got old pretty quickly as well.
The more poignant evidence of the world's apparent disdain for me was the terribly awkward scenario I'd just been placed in. I had barely been on the campus of Cornell University for four days when I discovered that, by some sadistic coincidence, my ex-boyfriend, Amory Atherton, was rooming with none other than Tully McFadden, my estranged childhood best friend.
The McFadden family had lived next door to mine on a quiet street near the ocean in Gloucester, Massachusetts since April of 1989. My mother and Mrs. McFadden had bonded over the fact that they were both expecting, having bitch sessions about morning sickness, collectively ordering their husbands to get them macadamia nut cookies at strange hours of the night, buying baby clothes, and whatever else two pregnant women on the prowl might do together. When Tully had come along on August eighth, my parents had nervously paced the waiting room along with his father and godparents. When I'd followed on October twelfth, Tully had been the first person of my generation to make my acquaintance.
Mrs. McFadden was a housewife and had graciously offered to look after me along with Tully until my parents returned from work in the evenings. This found me at his house every day without fail. As a toddler, he'd been a biter, and I'd been his favorite chew toy. I'd put up with it for quite a while before, at the tender age of three, I'd finally kicked him in the shin. This was my earliest memory.
Tully had never bitten me again after that. In kicking him, I'd somehow earned his respect and become a suitable playmate. We'd grown up practically attached at the hip and had been one of the few boy-girl best friend pairings in existence at our elementary school. Our entire first grade class had actually come to realize that cooties were fictional based solely on the fact that Tully and I hadn't gotten sick yet. Every day, recess had found us together, climbing on the jungle gym, attempting to dig to China in the sandbox, or simply lying on the grass and staring at the clouds. We'd taken care of each other: I'd kissed his cuts and scrapes to make them feel better, and he'd given cuts and scrapes to any boy who dared to pick on me. Every winter, I'd go to his pee-wee hockey games, and every spring, he'd go to my dance recitals. We'd been inseparable.
All this had changed (for me, at least) when sixth grade came around. Sure, we'd still been Tully and Evie, the Terrific Twosome, but my feelings toward my best friend had started to change.
I'd accidentally developed a crush on Tully McFadden.
For obvious reasons, I'd refrained from telling him this. I'd carried on as usual, keeping my amorous feelings locked away in a vault somewhere in my heart. Tully had never come to suspect anything, and life had continued.
In the fall of eighth grade, I'd applied to go to a prestigious private boarding high school. This had mostly been because I'd figured it would help me get into a good college, but I'd also entertained the idea that putting some physical distance between myself and Tully (while still remaining friends, of course) would help me to get over him. If I didn't have to stare into those bright green eyes of his every day, I'd figured, my heart would stop hammering like a marching band drummer on steroids every time he was near me.
I'd managed to convince Tully that I was only applying to see if I could get in, more or less to avoid an awkward conversation about exactly why I wanted to go. He'd believed me. Naturally, when I'd come running over to his house, acceptance letter in hand, and, forgetting what I'd told him, babbled at length about how excited I was to go, it hadn't gone over well. I never figured out why, but he'd completely blown up at me, and the resulting fight created a rift between us that never mended. I'd gone off to boarding school in the fall, and that was that.
Now, many people probably wouldn't still be affected by something that happened when they were fourteen by the time they entered college. Not me. There were two things in life that I dreaded: awkward situations and elements of my past finding their way into my present. Tully rooming with Amory involved both, so I naturally did what I always tended to do when a problem arose in my life: I went to a friend for advice.
Elena Theodorou, my roommate of four days, with whom I had instantly clicked, tapped her chin thoughtfully as she considered my predicament. "That's a bizarre coincidence," she commented in her adorable British accent. "You're not dating Amory anymore, though, so you can probably avoid Tully."
"I wish," I sighed, flopping down on my bed. "Amory and I are still friends, though, so avoiding the two of them isn't really an option."
"Oh. Well, that complicates things. What's the story with you and Amory anyway?"
I shrugged. "We dated in high school."
"Well, yeah," Elena chuckled, her warm brown eyes twinkling. "People usually do date their exes before they break up."
I grinned. "Alright, you got me. We were in the same US history class in eleventh grade. The thing about Amory is that if you don't know him well, he's kind of a tool. Loves to argue with the teacher, always thinks he's right, you know the sort." I rolled my light blue eyes for effect.
"Where's he from?" she asked.
"Greenwich, Connecticut," I answered. "More or less the richest town in the country. He's basically rolling in cash. His dad runs a hedge fund on Wall Street or something like that."
Elena raised her eyebrows. "That's intense."
"Yup," I agreed. "He basically reads The Wall Street Journal for fun. It's pretty handy if you want a stock tip, though," I added as an afterthought. "Anyway, we were in that class together, and I always thought that he was kind of an ass - an attractive ass, but an ass nonetheless. I usually just sort of rolled my eyes at him, but when we were studying the Great Depression, we got into a pretty intense debate."
"What about?" she inquired.
"Our teacher basically blamed Wall Street for what happened, and Amory jumped in and started arguing with him." I smiled at the memory. "He went on this huge anti-Roosevelt rant, and then I piped up and blamed it on the Federal Reserve and government mismanagement."
Elena smiled sheepishly. "Sorry, I don't know a whole lot about American history."
I waved my hand casually. "Don't worry about it. You're in architecture; you don't have to know any of that, just like I don't have to understand how to use a t-square."
We both had a good chuckle at that.
"Anyway, I guess he thought my arguing with him was cute or something, cause he asked me out. We broke up in June, but we're still on good terms."
She inhaled deeply, mulling over what I'd told her. "Sounds like you're just going to have to deal with it, then. Tully, I mean," she added, noticing the confused look on my face. "I mean, there's no way 'round it really, is there?"
"I guess not," I sighed, raking a hand through my long black hair. "Damn, I hate it when stuff like this happens."
There was a knock on our door.
"Come in," I called, too lazy to get up from my bed.
Elizabeth Dalton poked her head into the room. Elena and I had met her during a campus tour and taken a liking to her, then discovered that she lived just down the corridor from us in Mews Hall (also known as "The Mews"). "You guys up for some dinner?" she asked. "Dorianne's being a pain in the ass again and I needed to get out."
Ah, Dorianne, Elizabeth's bitchy French roommate… The first thing she'd said when I met her was to inform me (in an incredibly condescending, disgusted tone) that I had - oh horror of horrors! - spinach between my teeth. Not even so much as a "pleased to meet you" had passed her lips. "Is Dorianne ever not a pain in the ass?" I asked.
Elizabeth giggled. "Not that I'm aware of, but I've only known her for four days, so yeah."
"What was she doing this time?" Elena inquired.
"She was on the phone with someone, probably her mom or something, and she sounded like she was complaining about stuff." She shrugged. "I'm not really sure, since I don't speak French. She was being pretty whiny, though. So, dinner?"
"Sounds good to me," Elena replied, swinging her legs over the side of her bed and standing up.
Making a noise of assent, I followed, heading out the door behind my friends.
A hard, leather object collided with my head. I blinked a few times, then looked at my feet, where said object had fallen.
It was a football.
"What the hell?"
A large, refrigerator-shaped male came jogging down the hall. "Oh, sorry 'bout that. We were just practicing." He gestured off to my left at a second, rather guilty-looking boy. "Guess Grant there needs to work on his aim, huh?"
I could have responded with a snarky comment, but I had no desire to make enemies for myself during my first week on campus (or ever, for that matter). "Er, sure," I replied. "Don't worry about it."
"You coming, Evie?" Elena called from the end of the hallway.
Giving Football-Dude a smile and excusing myself, I ran to catch up with my friends, both of whom were having a difficult time containing their laughter.
"Oh, Evie…" Elizabeth chuckled as we headed down the stairs.
I pouted up at her (at 5'9", she easily towered over my meager 5'2"). "Like that's never happened to you. You're a self-proclaimed klutz."
She grinned. "I know. That doesn't mean I can't laugh when it happens to you."
"She's right, you know," Elena pointed out, patting me on the back. "We're all entitled to a good laugh at other people's expense now and then, as long as it's not cruel or anything."
"And laughing about you getting beaned with a football isn't cruel," Elizabeth added as we reached the ground floor.
I rolled my eyes, albeit with a grin, and shoved the door leading outside open. "Yeah, yeah."
Enjoying the warmth of the late-August evening, we made our way over to one of the nearby dining halls. After swiping our IDs to get in, we looked around for a table. From across the room, my gaze lit on a familiar, tall brunette.
Meeting my eyes, Amory raised a hand in greeting and motioned for me to come over and sit with him at a round table near the beverage dispensers.
"Already catching boys' eyes, Evie?" teased Elizabeth, nudging me.
I chuckled. "That's actually my ex."
"Amory?" Elena inquired.
I nodded, then began to head over toward the table where he was sitting, motioning for my friends to follow me. When I was about ten feet away, however, a second male appeared and set his tray down next to the first.
I suddenly felt queasy. I couldn't turn away, though, because Amory would probably assume it had something to do with him. I had yet to inform him that I had an iffy history with his roommate. In fact, he had no idea that Tully and I even knew each other at all.
Well, he was about to find out.
"Evie!" Amory greeted me, standing up to give me a hug. "How are you?"
I pasted a smile on my face. "I'm alright, thanks. How about you?"
He shrugged. "Can't complain. Are you going to introduce me to your friends?"
I chuckled. Amory had always been straightforward. "This is Elena Theodorou, my roommate." I indicated the curly-haired Brit on my left, then gestured to the tall brunette with deep blue eyes on my right. "And this is Elizabeth Dalton."
Amory shook both of their hands in turn. "It's nice to meet you both." He then gestured to the somewhat shocked male still seated at the table, who was staring at me in complete disbelief. "This is my roommate, Tully McFadden. Tully, this is Evie Kaiser. We went to high school together."
I took a moment to give Tully a once-over. In the four years we'd been apart, I'd only seen him on school vacations, and then only when I couldn't avoid him. Our parents were still quite close, so it was inevitable that we'd run into each other now and then. His dark red hair, the color of red clay, had grown a bit longer. Though it was straight, as it had always been, the ends curled out ever so slightly against the nape of his neck in a way that, I had to admit, as rather attractive. His bright green eyes were just as iridescent as I remembered them to be, but when he snapped out of his daze and stood up, I noted that he had grown taller. He was now nearly as tall as Amory, who was a whopping 6'4". Though I didn't have a measuring tape on hand, since I wasn't in the habit of carrying random tools around (with the arguable exception of Amory), I could tell that Tully had cleared the six-foot mark.
"Actually," added Amory. "I think the two of you are from the same town. Gloucester, right?"
I nodded dumbly.
"You know each other at all?"
"Er, you could say that…" I replied uneasily.
Elena observed the scene with wary curiosity, as if she were visiting a volcano and expecting it to erupt, yet were interested in the results of the explosion.
Elizabeth just looked confused. I shot her an "I'll-explain-later" look.
Tully gave me his signature lopsided grin and tentatively took a few steps toward me in the manner of one approaching a wild animal that was likely to take fright and flee. "Hey, Evie," he nervously greeted me. "It's been a long time."
If there was a Guinness World Record for "Most Awkward Forced Smile," I would have clinched it right then and there.
"Yeah, it has," I replied.
Hesitantly, Tully reached out and pulled me into his arms. Though I couldn't help but notice that his body was lovely and toned (and very, very huggable), I was extremely uncomfortable. Attempting not to let on, I snaked an arm around behind him and awkwardly patted him on the back.
Second Guinness World Record of the day? "Most Awkward Hug."
When we pulled away from each other (to my enormous relief), Amory and Elizabeth were both giving us rather odd looks. Elena seemed to understand the situation, but that was likely due to my in-depth explanation of why Tully's return to my everyday life bothered me so much.
An uncomfortable silence fell over the group. The word "awkward" was beginning to define my evening, and I did not like it one little bit.
"So," Elena piped up. "Shall we get some food, girls?"
I could have kissed her. I made a mental note to thank her for rescuing me as soon as we were out of the boys' earshot.
Elizabeth perked up. "Oh yeah, I'm starved."
The three of us headed off toward the assorted food kiosks that dotted the kitchen area of the dining hall. Casting what I assumed was supposed to be a furtive look (it failed) over her shoulder, Elizabeth yanked me off to the side. "What was that about?"
I groaned, not looking forward to explaining everything again. "It's a long story."
"Well, let's hear the short version," she suggested.
"Alright," I sighed, picking up a cafeteria tray from a large stack of them. "Long story short: Tully lives next door to me, we were best friends growing up, I liked him in middle school - don't tell him that; he doesn't know - and when I went to boarding school, we had a huge fight, and we haven't really talked in four years."
By this point, Elizabeth's eyebrows were hovering somewhere around her hairline. "Well…that's interesting. He certainly seemed happy to see you, though, if it makes you feel any better."
"That doesn't make it any less weird," I insisted, getting in line for quesadillas.
"No, I guess not," she conceded.
I waited patiently while the geeky-looking kid in front of me ordered.
"Hey, guys." Elena approached us in line, a plate with chicken and a salad already on her tray. "I'm going to go sit down. Evie, do you want me to sit next to Tully so that you don't have to?"
I smiled gratefully at my friend. "Could you? That would be amazing. Thank you so much."
"No problem." She turned and headed for the table, calling "See you in a bit," over her shoulder.
The guy in front of me finally received his quesadilla and trotted off happily to join his friends. I stepped up and politely placed my order (cheese, broccoli, mushrooms, and peppers). Five minutes of sizzling later, it was complete, and I smothered the entire thing in hot sauce.
"Should I wait for you?" I asked Elizabeth.
"Nah, that's alright," she replied, raising an eyebrow at the reddish condiment covering my quesadilla. "Dude, you're so going to burn the roof of your mouth off."
I shrugged off her concerns. "I love spicy food; everyone in my family does. I think it's genetic or something. You should see my little brother. He puts hot sauce on salad." Leaving a laughing Elizabeth to order her dinner, I headed back to my table, preparing myself to sit through an inevitably awkward hour or two.
"That quesadilla is more red than your Marxist grandma," Amory teased as I set my tray down next to Elena's.
I rolled my eyes. "How many times do I have to tell you that Grandma Helen is not a commie?"
"At least once more," he replied, the corners of his chocolate-colored eyes crinkling with merriment. "When I met her, she told me that the government should confiscate my dad's yacht, sell it, and give the proceeds to the steel workers' union."
Okay, so maybe my grandma was a bit strange…
"She was kidding," I insisted. "She thinks it's fun to start fights, and she knew that talking about violating your property rights would piss you off. Enjoying getting a rise out of you doesn't make her a communist."
"What about commies?" Elizabeth jumped in, sitting down between Amory and I with her quesadilla.
"Amory thinks my grandma's a Marxist, which she's not."
"Nope," Tully added with a grin. "She's just clinically insane."
I scowled at him. He was probably right, but I wasn't about to admit that.
"My last boyfriend liked to think of himself as a commie," Elizabeth commented. "Had a huge poster of Marx in his room and all that." She shrugged. "Oh well, to each his own."
"You should have enlightened him," Amory contended. "Capitalism is the only system that works."
I'd unfortunately not yet been able to inform Elizabeth of Amory's…personality quirks, and she evidently hadn't been expecting a lecture in response to her anecdote. "Well, excuse me for not wanting to pick a fight with the guy I was dating," she huffed indignantly.
Oh no, not again, I thought, sensing a bickering match coming on. I doubted that Amory would ever learn to state his opinions in a way that wouldn't result in an argument.
"It would have been for his own good," he countered, glaring haughtily.
She returned his glare with equal venom. "How do you know what's best for him?"
He smirked and crossed his arms over his chest. "Because I'm a Wall Street god."
"So," Elena skillfully interrupted before Elizabeth could open her mouth to protest. "How about those Red Sox?"
Hearing that phrase coming from a Brit was about the funniest thing I could have imagined. Unable to help myself, I burst into laughter and was quickly followed by Tully, the other vehement Boston fan at the table.
"I don't know, Elena," he replied, catching on to her conversation diversion tactic. "How about Manchester United?"
She snorted. "Oh, sod them. I'm a Liverpool girl."
Tully chuckled at this, then continued the attempt to steer the conversation away from the dangerous realm of politics. I couldn't help but feel grateful. "So, Evie, Elena, and Elizabeth, huh? Great team; you guys could call yourselves the Three E's and make T-shirts."
My two friends giggled, never having thought of this (well, I hadn't either, to be fair). I just sort of smiled awkwardly. Tully picked up on this.
"What, you don't think I'm funny anymore, Evie?" he teased.
Oh God, I really didn't want to answer that question. The "anymore" implied that I had found him funny at some point, and any response I gave would require me to reflect on the past, which I wanted to avoid doing for as long as possible.
Luckily, Amory's curiosity bailed me out.
"How do the two of you know each other, anyway?" he inquired.
Okay, perhaps that wasn't so lucky after all.
My eyes locked with Tully's, and we simply stared at each other, stupefied as to how we should explain our uncomfortable relationship.
"Um…" I trailed off, hoping that he would somehow rectify the situation, since he was generally better at handling awkward situations than I was.
"Well, we live next door to each other," he supplied. "So we were, you know, pretty tight growing up. We were, um…actually…well, best friends."
Amory raised his eyebrows expectantly. "And then what happened?"
Elizabeth jerked slightly in her seat and Amory winced as her foot collided with his shin, wordlessly telling him to stop being a nosy prat and shut the fuck up.
"Then, um…" Tully went on, looking decidedly uncomfortable and running a hand through his dark red hair. "Then…Evie went off to boarding school…How about you two?" he hastily inquired, deftly steering the conversation away from our rocky past. "How do you know each other?"
I allowed Amory to take that question, having no desire to describe the history of my love life to Tully.
"We dated for about a year," Amory answered nonchalantly.
Tully choked on the water he'd been sipping, prompting Elena to whack him on the back a few times. Apparently, the twist of fate was just too much for him to stomach.
"That seriously has to be the weirdest coincidence I've ever heard of," Elizabeth chuckled.
"Tell me about it," I muttered.
"You dated my roommate?"
"Drop it, Tully," I grumbled, not looking up from that week's issue of The Economist. I'd come outside to have some peace and quiet and read about inflation in South America, not to be interrogated.
"Because I don't want to talk about it."
Not picking up on my not-so-subtle hint that I wanted to be left alone, he sat down next to me on the grass outside of The Mews. "So, Evie, how've you been?"
How can he just be so casual about this? I squirmed uncomfortably, still staring determinedly at my magazine. "Fine."
"What have you been up to?"
Tully let out a frustrated sigh. "Come on, Evie, talk to me," he pleaded, plucking The Economist out of my grasp and setting it off to the side.
I just stared off over the lawn, feeling more awkward by the second.
"Do I sense a grudge here?"
"No, of course not!" I immediately protested, finally turning to face him. I wasn't mad at him, after all. It was just weird being around him again after everything that had happened between us.
"Then why won't you talk to me?" he asked, a rather hurt expression marring his features.
I bit my lip. "I guess I…just don't really have anything much to say."
He chuckled, attempting to ease the tension between us. "I've known you for a long time, Evie, and I've never known you to not have anything to say."
"Are you implying that I talk too much?"
He grinned. "Maybe."
"Well, maybe I've changed," I retorted, scowling.
"And maybe you haven't," he countered.
I couldn't come up with a suitable argument, so I settled for simply glaring at him.
His expression softened. "Come on, Evie. Don't be like that. I mean, I know you're probably kind of shocked-"
"You're the one who was staring at me like I were Hamlet's father's ghost or something at dinner," I interrupted.
"Well, it was a pretty big surprise that you knew my roommate, not to mention dated him," he defended himself. "Don't try to tell me you weren't surprised as well."
"I already knew about it," I admitted.
He stared at me incredulously. "And you didn't tell me?"
"What was I supposed to do?" I asked. "Pop into your room, say 'Hi, Tully, how are you? Oh, and by the way, your roommate's my ex'?"
"Well, no, I guess not," he conceded.
There was an awkward silence. Then again, all of the silences between us had been pretty awkward so far, so this one was nothing out of the ordinary.
"So…" he began.
He gave me a look.
"Sorry," I chuckled, grinning. "I couldn't resist."
His face lit up with sudden glee. "There's that smile! And to think it only took us…" he consulted the clock on his cell phone"…ten minutes!"
I shrugged. "That's progress, I guess."
"Do you think we'll make any more?" he asked sincerely before realizing that his question could easily be misconstrued as a sexual innuendo. "I mean, not like that, just…in general."
I sighed. "I guess we can't really go backwards. It'll take time, though, cause things are still pretty awkward."
"They're only awkward cause you make them awkward, Evie."
"Maybe so," I conceded. "But that doesn't mean the awkwardness doesn't exist."
"You and your awkwardness phobia…" he muttered, rolling his bright green eyes.
Suddenly, a bunch of loud, whooping shouts split the evening air as a pack of boys dashed across the lawn toward Appel Commons, all of them stark naked. It was my first experience with streakers, and I was thoroughly amused.
Momentarily forgetting my problems, I laughed out loud freely. Tully soon joined in with his far more manly chuckle. It was deep and rich, rolling around in his chest and creating a warm, pleasant sound.
I'd missed that laugh, not that I was going to tell him, of course. Still, I couldn't help the pang of nostalgia that shot through my heart, and I turned my face away, hiding from my old best friend the one tear that had managed to break free.
A/N:Hm, I think that ended on a much more angsty note than I was going for. Well, anyway…
Here's the first chapter of my new story, Confessions of a Former Chew Toy. I hope you all liked it! I'm sorry if it came off as overly beginning-ish, but…well, it's a beginning! Coming chapters will definitely be a lot more humorous now that we're past all the perfunctory introduction stuff.
I should probably say that I don't own Cornell University. It owns me…or rather, it will starting August 22. :-) Nor do I own the Boston Red Sox or The Economist, which is a shame, really, because that would be freaking amazing. Also, I genuinely apologize to any and all Manchester United fans. Elena's sentiments don't reflect mine, just to let you know, since I don't really follow soccer/football outside of the world cup (and then I only really pay attention to Germany). I definitely enjoy playing it, though.
Anyway, there will be more of this to come soon. Please review if you are so inclined. :-)
Lots of love,