"So, tell me a little bit about yourself."
"My name is Eloise Crawford. Um, I go to school at Benjamin Franklin Institute for the Gifted."
The shrink—a woman by the name of Dr. Thatcher—nodded and scribbled a few notes on her clipboard. I stretched my neck, trying to see what she'd written, but she pulled it up to her chest and out of my view.
"Ah-ah, no cheating. These are strictly for me," Dr. Thatcher explained.
I sighed and leaned back against the couch. The office was a little too cramped to house a bed like other psychiatrists had, and I was perfectly content with that. The last thing I needed was to feel like even more of a mental patient than I already did. Seeing a therapist had been my wonderful mother's idea. She claimed I was lagging, socially, and needed an outlet to voice my thoughts. This was trial number three.
Dr. Thatcher peered over at me with bespectacled brown eyes that matched her shoulder-length hair. She was young, newly certified, and her parents knew my parents through friends.
"Do you have many friends at Benjamin Franklin Institute, Eloise?" she asked, as though she didn't really care what my answer was either way. I recalled something about patient confidentiality and shrugged.
"A few. Two close ones and others on the outer-fringes of friend-hood," I said. "Most of the school hates me, though."
Dr. Thatcher tried to conceal the surprise in her eyes by looking down at the clipboard, but I'd seen it. The minutes ticked on before she spoke.
"I'm sure they don't—"
I shook my head. There was no point beating around the bush. If we were stuck like this, for a full hour each week, I felt it was my duty to take advantage of our time together. My fingers found the edge of my pink chiffon blouse and I bit my lip, choosing my words carefully.
"Rumor has it I'm one of those snobby types who feels she's too good for everyone else." My blue eyes found hers and she seemed to shrink back a little. Her hand moved furiously over the paper on the clipboard, however, as I spoke. "There's one person in particular. He hates me more than anyone else."
Dr. Thatcher leaned back in her seat, appraising me for a moment. Her next question caught me unawares and I had to think before answering.
"What is he like, this person that seems to hate you so much?"
Unkind, I thought, an automatic reaction, but I knew he wasn't. Cold? Yes, he was cold. Embittered? A little melodramatic, but yes… that's exactly what he was. I explained as such to Dr. Thatcher.
"Hmm… and have you known him long?"
I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and nodded. These sessions were quite tiresome, if I were being honest. They took a lot out of me. Dr. Thatcher seemed to know just where to poke to elicit a response.
"Yes. He's my mother's best friend's son. I've known him most of my life."
That was the loosest way in which I could describe him. He was much more than just… "my mother's best friend's son" but I had no label for him, and neither had I ever attempted to create one.
"What is his name?"
I faltered. Now, she was getting to the nitty gritty and I could sense her upcoming questions as though they'd been laid out in front of me.
"I see." I was getting somewhat annoyed at her objective, nonchalant tone of voice. "And why do you feel he doesn't like you?"
My relationship with Blake Henley went much further than dislike. He was quite frankly harsh and uncouth, burning me with icy comments anytime we were around each other. Our past was riddled with arguments and public displays of hatred. Even my school acknowledged our feud, and they never really noticed too much of what was going on in my life, so that was saying something.
"I couldn't tell you. Just a bully, I guess," I replied finally. My eyes strayed over to the clock behind Dr. Thatcher's head and I stood up without preamble. My mother had promised this first session would only last a half-hour. "Well, time's up. I'll see you next week."
Dr. Thatcher watched me stand and gather up my stuff, not saying a word. It wasn't until I was at the door that she spoke.
"You underestimate yourself, I think, Eloise."
But I shook my head and walked out of the room before she could accuse me of any other fictitious crimes.
"So, how did it go? Was it all you thought it would be? Anyone's better than the last one, I guess."
My gaze swept over the parking lot in front of me and I sighed. The car was on, the gear shift pointing at "R" but I hadn't pulled out yet.
Landon's tone was concerned on the other end of the line as he spoke again.
"Eloise? What happened?"
I took a deep breath. "Well, she went straight for the gut, asking me about Blake and school—it was pretty much awful, actually."
"And I'm sure you didn't fight her on it, did you?"
I rolled my eyes. "No… I told her what she wanted to hear."
Landon whistled lowly. "At least she didn't bring up—"
I pinched the bridge of my nose, sighing again.
"Let's not go there, okay? I've had enough soul-searching for one day."
"Okay, okay. I'm sorry."
"Have you heard anything from Francesca? I thought she was getting back today."
My other best friend, Francesca Malenkov, had gone on vacation with her family near the beginning of the summer and was supposed to have gotten back that day. She'd promised to call as soon as she got in, but I hadn't heard anything.
"She is. Tonight, though. Her flight's for nine or something," Landon explained, and I didn't understand how he knew so much more than I did.
"Oh, that makes more sense. Well, I should probably go. My mother will freak out if I'm not home soon," I said.
Landon agreed and told me we would talk later that day. I pulled out of Dr. Thatcher's parking lot and made the slow journey home.
The house, not surprisingly, was silent when I walked into the foyer. I'd seen my father's car in the garage when I'd pulled in, and my mother's was parked out front in the driveway, so I wondered where everyone had disappeared to.
In all honesty, my father wasn't much of a presence. And of course, in stark contrast to that, my mother was too present. It was difficult getting away from her most of the time; she enjoyed being in my business.
When I strolled into the kitchen, I found the cause of the house's silence. My mother was seated at the kitchen table with a pair of ear buds in her ears and a book called Learn Italian… FAST in her slim hands.
Random, I thought.
She glanced up at me when I entered the room and smiled.
"Just give me a moment, Eloise. The lesson is almost finished," she said.
Her hazel eyes drifted down to the book again. I leaned back against the counter, waiting for her to finish and taking the opportunity to examine the woman a few feet away.
Vivian Crawford, in the prime of her life, had been a beautiful, resilient woman with the prowess of any young starlet. My mother came from a well-to-do family and married into a clan of doctors. She'd been a lawyer for many years, until the realization that "her family needed her" had overtaken the desire to be a prosecutor. Now, she spent her days at home and at the country club, playing the part of mommy of the year and socialite of the century. The gorgeous auburn hair that had been her peacock feathers back in the day—and which she'd gifted me in the form of good genes—was always pulled back into a stiff bun, and her hazel eyes were encompassed by crows feet and a sharp coldness that was often directed at me.
As I watched her, my mother shifted around and finally pulled out her ear buds. She closed the book of Italian lessons, turning to me as she did. Her fingers strayed to the MP3 player on the table, and she clicked it off.
"How was your session?"
Knowing that being honest was never the best policy with Vivian, I shrugged noncommittally. Everyone in the family acknowledged that I couldn't lie to save my life, so it was better to remain silent.
"Is Dr. Thatcher working out better than the last therapist?"
I couldn't deny that she was. Then again, as Landon had said, anything was better than the last one. Dr. Mallory had been terrible. I nodded.
"Good. I'm glad to hear that. Now, take your medication and then go upstairs and get ready. Tonight is dinner with Caroline and Blake," my mother said.
At those words, my heart froze into a solid block of ice. The last thing I needed after a therapy session was to deal with Blake Henley. But I knew it was unavoidable. My mother and I did dinner with the Henleys every week over the summer, either on Monday or Wednesday depending on our mothers' schedules for the week. If nothing else, that was one thing I was looking forward to when school started: no more dinners. This would be the last one I'd have to suffer through until Christmas vacation, because my mother and Blake's continued the weekly tradition while we were away at Ben Franklin.
I nodded again, but Vivian was already at the cabinet, pulling out various bottles and boxes. My medication.
Most of my peers at school looked on me as a hypochondriac, always feeling sickly and taking pills. But, in reality, I was always sick. I had various allergies, like pollen, coffee beans, and wheat; asthma, for which I'd been given an inhaler; and I had lactase pills for being lactose intolerant. Not to mention, my weak immune system ensured I was the first to be contaminated when flu season came around, which did nothing for my minor case of mysophobia. My mother, of course, treated me like I should live in a plastic, germ-free bubble, and kept a keen eye on my activities while I was home from school.
"I need to order more asthma medication for you before you leave next week," Vivian said as she filled my palm with pills.
The whole process would have taken less than a couple of minutes, but my aversion to pills drew everything out. By the time I finally escaped my mother's clutches, it was already six o'clock.
I made my way up to my room, passing my father in his office on the way. While I'd been staying at home over the summer, I hadn't actually spoken to Penn in months. Whether it was because he was away at work or because we were never in the house together, my father and I just weren't close. At the moment, he was sitting behind his desk looking through some paperwork. I walked by without a second glance and he didn't bother stopping me. As if he ever would.
My mother and I left the house at six forty-five. We always met the Henleys around seven o'clock, give or take a few minutes, at an Italian bistro near the downtown square.
"You should have done something with your hair, Eloise. It's always so limp," Vivian said. "And your dress is entirely inappropriate."
I looked down at my choice of outfit. The dress I'd picked out was a simple, navy blue and white, polka-dotted sundress. My mother was critical of too much exposed skin, so I'd thrown on a white leather jacket to cover my arms and shoulders. I couldn't understand why she didn't like my clothes, but I didn't ask.
The Henleys were already at the restaurant by the time we arrived. They were waiting in the foyer, backs facing us, when my mother and I walked inside.
Caroline and Blake turned around at hearing Vivian's shriek. To my utter dismay, Blake's silver and green eyes landed on me almost immediately. I directed my gaze at the ground as our mothers greeted each other like schoolgirls. He must have mumbled a hello because Vivian began conversing with him.
"Eloise, darling, you look adorable."
I was forced to look up as Caroline Henley's attention turned to me. She made her way over to give me a hug, her blonde hair bound up in a chignon and her eyes lacking their usual iciness. I stiffened at the contact when her arms wrapped around me—not exactly the type of person to go for hugs—but she pulled away before long so I could breathe freely again.
"Hello, Caroline," I said.
"Come, come, Carol. Is our table ready?"
It seemed my mother was only too eager to catch up with her best friend. She pulled Caroline away from me and I was left in the foyer with Blake. Again, I refused to look at him.
"Can't even bear the sight of me, Georgiana?"
I flinched. He used my middle name—one of them, anyway—instead of calling me "Eloise" or "Ella" like everyone else. I don't know if he did it to annoy me, which it did, or because he just didn't like my name. Either way, it had become habit over the years and I couldn't even remember the last time he'd called me "Eloise."
I forced myself to meet his gaze and found those wretched frosted green eyes pointed in my direction. A shiver ran down my spine.
If ever held at gunpoint, I might admit that Blake Henley was attractive. No doubt, materialistically, he was rich and very handsome; only, his personality could have done with some tweaks. It wasn't necessarily that there was anything wrong with him, but it seemed he held a sharp darkness about himself that was ever present. He was perceptive in a way that other boys his age could never even hope to be, and never wasted words on anyone—but me, that is. Even so, it wasn't his shadowy nature that had girls dropping at his feet. It was his confident stature and general appearance. To my measly five-foot frame, Blake stood over a foot taller. He was a soccer player by nature which made him lean and muscular in just the right places. Like his mother, he had a pointed nose and high, strong cheekbones that angled his face harshly. His hair was jet black and always neatly combed, like a prep school boy from The Emperor's Club or The Dead Poets Society. Caroline had also gifted him pale silver and jade eyes which, directed at me, held amusement. I turned away again, blushing.
Blake spun on his heel and walked away without another word. I made my way through the crowd behind him until we reached a corner table where our mothers were seated.
"What, did you get lost?" Caroline asked, and the ice in her tone halted my movements for a moment.
When I realized she was speaking to her son, I relaxed and sat down. Blake ignored his mother, opting instead to pull open his menu. He disappeared behind it, and the glare on Caroline's face was frightening.
I mimicked Blake, opening my menu, as Vivian attempted to regain her best friend's attention. Dinner with the Henleys was always such a treat, I thought dryly.
My menu stayed firmly in place, hiding me from Blake. He reached up and pulled it down until my face was exposed.
"I think you dropped this."
My eyes were drawn automatically down at his outstretched hand on the table in front of me. I resisted the urge to groan. Sitting on his palm was my silver and pink inhaler. I reached out to take it, but Blake pulled his hand away.
"Is it really so important, Georgie? I mean, how much can it really help?"
And this was why our relationship was so strained. I watched as he curled his long-fingers over my lifeline, retracting my only hope if an asthma attack assaulted me right then.
"Blake," I pleaded.
His eyes met mine again and he sighed.
"Fine. Here. I wouldn't want you to die or anything," he said.
I took my inhaler back, breathing an internal sigh of relief, and mumbled a quiet, "Thanks."
After this short conversation, we were left in silence again, Blake and Caroline glaring at each other.
By the time the waitress had gotten our drink orders, the tension between them was palpable. My mother seemed to be doing a lousy job of keeping his mother busy, and I could hardly be expected to hold a decent conversation with Blake. So, it was no surprise when Caroline snapped just before our food arrived.
"You are so ungrateful, glaring at me like that. I brought you into this world, if you'd forgotten," she hissed.
Blake rolled his eyes. He fingered his glass of water, the condensation dripping onto his hand.
"Yeah, fat lot of good that did. Worst idea you ever had, wasn't it? Bringing a kid into this family."
Caroline looked ready to burst, she was so blue in the face. I shrunk back into my seat, trying to disappear into the cushions. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as people turned to stare at our table.
"I have been more of a mother than a disrespectful boy like you deserves," Caroline said.
Blake's face turned dark and his eyes grew paler.
"So, I'm charity work, hmm? And inviting a man and his sons to come live with
us? Is that charity work too?"
Caroline seemed to grow more livid at his words, if that was possible. I noticed her glance in my mother's direction. It was brief, but obvious, and I'm sure even Blake caught the short look. I wondered how Vivian played a part in this argument, but the thought was chased away when Caroline answered.
"My personal life and choices are none of your business. I suggest you learn that."
Her tone held such finality that I knew even Blake wouldn't push the issue. And he didn't. We were left in an unbearable silence for the rest of dinner.
I didn't dwell on the argument, but that was only because it wasn't any of my business. There was something brewing at the Henley residence, and it wouldn't be long before I found out what that was.
8/17/09 Author's Note: I figured the prologue was too short to really leave you with anything, so I finished up this first chapter as quickly as I could. I know there wasn't too much Blake/Eloise interaction, but it was more of a set-up chapter to introduce characters and such. There are certain things in this chapter that might change later because of timing issues (like the flashback date at the top), and if anything does change, I'll let you know. But just be aware... I tend to change things around sometimes to better fit the story, and first chapters always turn out more inconsistent than I'd like. Anyway, I'm rambling. Thanks to the reviewers!! I really appreciate the feedback. I know someone had thought the prologue took place in the past, but it's actually a future event that hasn't happened yet. Just to be clear!! Thanks again!! Please leave any comments. =]
I'll reply to reviews tomorrow when I'm not half asleep, lol.
EDIT: Uhm, I added two lines in the conversation between Eloise and Landon, so be sure to read over that. A reviewer brought up that Eloise was the one who actually told Dr. Thatcher about Blake... Dr. Thatcher didn't really force anything out of her. So, it should make more sense now. (August 19, 2009)
EDIT: Prologue removed. Author's Note prolly doesn't make sense anymore, lol. Sorry. (May 15, 2010)