Summary: They were best friends since kids, but now they were pretending to be engaged for the sake of the families, and their own peace of minds. Jack was never serious about any girl, so Alex was safe to count on this 'relationship' to satisfy her mother's constant match-making needs. Right?
Lesson One: Keep Your Mouth Shut
Sophistication, if one were to really sit down and think about it, was purely a matter of relativity or comparison. Hence, it wasn't that Alex was unsophisticated; she was just surrounded by people who were more sophisticated than her. Pleased with this new found insight, Alex continued to stare at the paper in front of her, awaiting the moment she could use this new wisdom against her mother. Cynthia Carmichael was particularly fond of pointing out her daughter's complete lack of experience in the social front, especially when they had company.
"Mother," Alex imagined drawing herself up to her full size - and a respectable size it was! - "I will have you know that sophistication requires a reference" No, wait, that was wrong. Dang! Alex scrambled around for a pen; then quickly scribbled whatever she remembered of her brilliant analysis.
"I believe Ms. Carmichael knows the answer. Ms. Carmichael, do enlighten us with your view on the subject" said the cold voice of Marcus Fisher, bringing her back to her surroundings, reminding her she was in class with a professor who was out to get her. Doing her best to avoid a blush, she cleared her throat and brought her attention back to the topic scribbled on the blackboard. Someone helped her out with the question she'd been asked and she answered the best she could. He nodded once before proceeding, and Alex finally let herself relax.
The drive home was not as calm as it normally was. "Mother" she tried again, practicing for the fiftieth time that day, as she pulled into their gigantic drive way. "Sophistication is a point of view" she continued, waving to the security guards. No, curses, that wasn't right either. "Mother!" she tried again, as she handed the keys to the valet and walked up the gigantic steps to her house "Sophistication is in the eye of the beholder"
Well, it was better than nothing. She walked into her massive bedroom, walked into her cupboard, ignored all the new dresses and walked straight to the black dress she always wore on such occasions. She stripped off her jeans and shirt, headed for a shower and was out within ten minutes. She applied what little make-up she knew of, and slid into her gown. She frowned at her reflection, wishing she were thinner and that her hair didn't bend so much at such odd angles.
At five-feet-nine-inches, Alexandra Carmichael had the advantage of height over most people she knew. Aside from the sprinkle of freckles around her nose, she had clear, pale skin, which contrasted with her raven black hair. She was not over-weight; she was only as concerned about her figure as the next woman. She was only proud of her clear brown eyes, which had been hidden behind her spectacles most of her life, now visible thanks to the aid of contact lenses.
A knock at the door made her turn around. "Are you ready yet?" asked her elder brother Gerald. She sighed, giving her reflection another look. "As ready as I'll ever be" she replied and strode out to meet him. "I take it Marie and Susan are already at the party?" she asked, referring to her two younger sisters. Gerald nodded "And all the Hunters. You're the last to arrive" he informed her. The Hunters – Osmond and Fran Hunter, with their children Derik, Jack, Elijah and Rose, were the Carmichael's closest friends. Since the children were respectively of similar ages, most of their lives were spent together too. They grew up together, went to the same school; and in the case of Gerald, Derik, Jack and Alex, they also went to the same colleges.
Which meant Jack, despite being two years her senior, should have been driving down from college with her, but he'd arrived the day before with the elder brothers.
"How was the journey?" Gerald asked, making conversation, but Alex was hardly listening. As they descended the marble staircase together, Alex's grip on her brother tightened. "Don't worry. She's in a good mood" he whispered, but she couldn't calm down. Her mother was intimidating to everyone around her, and Alex couldn't feign any kind of immunity.
They reached the ballroom, and Alex quickly made her way towards the bar. She almost never had alcohol, but she heard it was good for the nerves and she was ready to test that theory. "I'll have…" she said bravely to the bartender, but faltered when she didn't know what to order. "… a lime soda" she concluded, knowing it was useless, her mind had gone blank.
"Darling, a soda? At a party like this? Really dear, have you learnt nothing from us?" Cynthia Carmichael was a short, thin, beautiful socialite who strongly believed in two things: women can do anything men can, and they can do it with style.
Whoever said "never judge a book by its cover" knew what they were talking about, because on the surface her mother looked like a fragile, mild-tempered woman, but Alex knew better. With nothing more than a look, her mother could reduce absolutely anyone to a shivering puddle of tears.
Beside her mother, Alex felt like an overgrown hippo, with a special talent not being able to remember the right stuff at the right time.
Like now. She knew there was a perfectly line in her head for this perfect opening... but it was lost in the deep sea that was her memory. "Anyway" her mother continued as if sensing Alex was struggling for a good reply, "I've come to remind you to keep your appointment tomorrow morning"
Oh no, please don't be a manicure! Alex silently begged. In all her nervousness, she'd bitten off most of her nails, and if her mother caught sight of them… well, it would be safe to say that Alex would probably never lift her hands to her mouth, even to eat. Her eyes began to dart around for someone – anyone – who could rescue her from this predicament.
"You're going with Susan and Marie to the mall. She needs to have her dress fitted, for the wedding and no one else has the time to do it"
"Do I have to? I have some pretty important exams coming up..." she tried to deflect. "I just asked Jack, he said all exams had only just finished last week" Drat that man! "Mooooom..." so what if Alex turned eighteen? You were never too old to complain
"Just accompany Susan, okay? I don't trust her. She's in her hormonal phase. I think she has a thing for older men"
"Okay gross mom, can we please change the topic?" the last thing Alex wanted to do was talk about her fifteen-year-old-sister's infatuation with the opposite sex.
"Alex! You've already turned eighteen. Can you at least pretend you're not socially inept?" her mother chided.
"Sophistication" her mom corrected her.
"Yes, yes, sophistication" Alex continued, trying to maintain the flow, now that she'd started "depends on your view of things. It changes from person to person" There she'd said it! Ha ha ha!
"Yes, and it is my view that you are not good at it!" her mom replied unfazed.
Good heavens, there went an entire day's practice down the drain! She should have known her mother would have had the perfect reply, no matter what Alex came up with. She turned her focus on the task at hand, instead.
"Look mom, what do you want me to there? Stop Susan and hurt her feelings? Explain to everyone she sets her eyes on that she's just fifteen?" Alex fought back.
"Yes" her mom replied coolly. "If necessary, distract him."
"How, with my supreme lack of knowledge about shopping and the mall? My awkwardness around men? By the clear, obvious fact that I have no idea whatsoever about what I'm doing with my life?!" Alex turned hysterical. Her mother turned towards the bartender and ordered herself a stiff drink. "You're right of course. What was I thinking? Men abhor hysterical women" she coolly replied, sipping her drink. "Alright, dear, ignore that, don't distract him or them. You will go, and you will keep an eye on your sister. Ta!" she said before walking away to mingle with the rest of the crowd. Alex's time with the Queen was up.
She sought any source of help – her father, Derik, Gerald, Derik's fiancée who she'd been introduced to on the spot – but no one wanted to trade places with her. She fixed a scowl on her face and made her way to the balcony. She nursed her drink (which turned out to be a bad idea, since she happened to let all the soda escape) while staring at the grounds and struggling with herself.
"You loved that swing" came a voice from behind her, following her line of sight that happened to gaze at a pair of swings in the garden. She glanced over her shoulder to see Derik casually lounging against the doorframe, his arms across his chest. "Why the past tense? You're never too old to love to swing" she asked, inviting him to stand beside her. She heard him laugh softly and hid a smile herself. Derik had been her one-time-crush. She would gaze at him longingly when she'd be at the Hunter's house with Jack, wishing he'd notice her and give her more importance than he'd give a sister. But it was never to be. Looking at him now, Alex felt a slow familiar feeling, but realized it was a more "what-if" than a present emotion. "I really like Sandra" she said, referring to Derik's fiancée. "Thanks!" he replied, continuing "she likes you too. So much so that she spoke with your mother, and you're off the hook"
"What?!" it came out louder than she intended. "Sandra agreed to take the kids to the mall –" caught up in the excitement of freedom! Alex threw her hands around him and enveloped him in a hug. Someone cleared their throat loudly and they broke apart equally quickly. "Jack!" exclaimed Alex, so happy in the moment she hugged him too. "Did you hear the news?! I'm free tomorrow!" she sang, letting go of him and beginning to laugh.
The unexpected hug made Jack smile too, and not for the first time she caught herself staring at the Hunter brothers. Between them, it was as if they'd won the lottery at the gene pool. Perfect blonde hair that blew hypnotically in the wind. Chiseled features worthy of any Greek god. Tall, lean frames that exuded lithe power every time they moved.
Derik was taller than Jack, but Jack had the upper hand with brilliant green eyes, the only sibling who inherited their mother's eyes. Beside Derik, Jack was the more approachable, easy going brother – although that could be more because of the amount of time Alex spent with Jack.
Also, Jack was the shameless playboy to Derik's more – um, discrete affairs. Jack also had a weakness for blondes; Alex was yet to see a brunette who caught Jack's attention. His current flame Jessica was nowhere in sight though.
"What, your mother let you off the hook?" he teased. "Not quite" replied Derik, before she could answer. Alex whipped her head around in panic. "What do you mean, 'Not quite'?!" she demanded, not realizing she was still holding on to Jack subconsciously, for support. "Well… She said something about a conversation you two had that had gotten her thinking. Something about hysterical women not being able to find men?"
"What about it?" Alex continued, ignoring Jack's attempts to catch her attention and ask for her release. "Lex, you're killing my biceps. Let go" he tried, but she just stared at Derik, who seemed uncomfortable under her frightening gaze. "She inherited it from her mum" he muttered under his breath, but proceeded before she tore his biceps off, too. "I think she's trying to set you up with someone. Says you need a man or something, and that you haven't been with someone since – well, you never did bring any boy home…"
Jack didn't let out even a squirm, but he knew he would have to explain the deep nail marks on his biceps to Jessica.
Author's Note - Hey guys! So, those is just one of those stories that were in my head and I needed to get out. Feel free to review and comment!
Will update the other chapters soon!