Saturday, October 22, 2011

Handbags & Gladrags Part 3

Sorry it's taken me so long to get this next part done... I was chasing after some potential freelance writing jobs, and that took up some time.  Won't share yet, because they might not work out (will know in about 2 months if my writing was up to their standards??) and I don't want to jinx it or get my hopes up!  Okay, so... what you came here for (hope you enjoy):

         She awoke with a start, trying to grab hold of her surroundings and remind herself where she was and why she was there.  As her eyes adjusted to the dark room, lit only by a sliver of light through the curtains coming from a streetlamp outside, it all hit her with a force that would've physically knocked her over if she hadn't been lying down.  Tears sprang to life in her eyes and her vision was immediately cloudy and watery, like looking through stained glass.  She reached up and ran her hands through her hair, resting her shaking palms on either side of her puffy face.  As if those first few hours of bawling herself into exhaustion wasn't enough, she hadn't even been able to find relief after sleeping it off.  Eventually she knew she couldn't continue on like this, but for now, she was allowing herself some time to, well grieve.  She rolled over on her side and curled up into the fetal position, letting her arms drop and wrapping them around her.  She stared at the small crack of light and tried to let it warm her, shine some lucidity into her.  To most people, being disowned by the only family member who you had left might not be that big of a deal, but to her... well she was taking it almost as hard as she had taken her mother's death.
        When her mom had died five years ago, she had thought it was the end of the world, as would most fifteen year old girls.  Her mother had been everything to her.  Unlike most of the other girls she knew, her mom was her best friend, someone who she confided in, leaned on, hardly ever fought with.  The fact that she'd taken her own life, well to Cheryl it was almost the ultimate betrayal.  She hadn't seen any signs, had no idea that her mother was even in a state where she would consider such a drastic measure.  She felt like if she'd only seen or said one thing differently, this stuff would not be happening right now; things would be normal, like they should be.  She didn't leave her room, hell her bed for almost a month.  She took a leave of absence from school and began home-school (only because it was legally required, as she was a minor), though her "teacher" was more like a therapist and simply sat in the corner of the room.  He would read her work to her or try to get her to talk to him.  Mostly he forced her to get out of bed and walk over to the window and get some fresh air, or usher her into the bathroom to wash up and have normal bodily functions.  It was her ultimate rock-bottom, and after three months of cutting herself off from the outside world, her father came in one day and demanded that she go back to school.  He had been so patient and seemingly understanding, but Cheryl suspected that her teacher was planting some sort of seed inside his mind that if things didn't return to normal soon, her fate might become spending every waking moment in a psych ward.  Within a week she was enrolled back at her old school and she was seeing a shrink three times a week.  It took her a while to warm up to the psychiatrist, but she was nice and eventually it became easy to confide in her.  After six months, she cut her appointments down to once a week and after two years, Cheryl had finally accepted things as they were, as best as she knew she ever could, and she stopped going altogether.
       Thinking about those visits made her realize that it had also been around that time that her father had started dating again.  It had taken her almost three years to just come to terms her mother's death, and she still struggled with it from time to time.  But her dad, it had taken him only three years to get over his grief, his love, and his newly acquired singledom.  It made bile rise in her throat, and the metallic, acidic taste bubbling inside her forced her into a sitting position.  She hung her head in her hands, swallowing repetitively to wash down the vomit she hoped wasn't going to come, and allowed her thoughts to immediately shift to him.
       Sure she'd been given a year to adjust to his monogamy, but it would take her a lifetime to understand how someone could move on as quickly as he had.  It was as if the past twenty-five years of living, loving, and being with a single, wonderful woman, the mother of his only child, the woman he had vowed to be with until the end of time, those years were just memories, moments that had no affect on what was now happening, just a page in a book that he'd turned and had no intention of looking back on.  And she had tried to play devil's advocate with all this.  She understood he was lonely and sad and needed companionship.  She could see that he craved the company of another woman that was able to meet every need he had.  Maybe he was angry that his wife had destroyed the life they'd built together and offed herself. He might've even felt some resentment at having to raise a child all by himself.  He was crushed that his one true love was gone, and upset that he'd never get to grow old with her.  She got it, honestly she did.  She also fully grasped that not everyone grieved and remembered in the same ways.  Maybe this was just his way of dealing, shutting all the memories and feelings out.  She'd seen the many ways people dealt with death, she accepted the multitudes of personalities and various stages of mourning.  But the way he acted, not only about her mother's death, but towards her, towards Cheryl herself, it dumbfounded her.  It was as if she were no longer his child, just some person taking up space in his house, in the way of his newly active social night-life and more like an annoying cock-block than a daughter in desperate need of her father.
        After her mother's funeral, she had never once heard her him even utter her mother's name or make reference to her in any way ever again.  Every picture of her was taken down and either boxed up and sent to storage in the basement or crumpled up and thrown away.  When she'd come across a trashcan full of pictures, she quickly saved what she could and hid them in her room.  
        Quickly, her eyes darted over to a medium sized hat-box that was weathered and peeling, poking out of the top of a half-closed box.  She slowly climbed off the creaky bed and walked over to it.  She sat down on the floor and cradled the container on her folded legs.  She pried the lid off and looked down into what was left of her mother.  Photographs, trinkets, dried flowers & a program from her funeral, mementos and family heirlooms, jewelry that she would never, ever think about getting rid of, let alone hocking like that gaudy jewelry her father "showered" her with.  Jewelry like her mother's engagement ring and wedding band that her father had carelessly tossed at her at the hospital the night of her mother's death and said, "Well she won't be needing this anymore.  I certainly don't want it, but I figure you might... so here."  Just like that, a lifetime erased.  He'd thrown her out and tried to forget her as if she never existed.  None of it made any sense to her.  She let the cold metal rings fall back into the box and she put the top back on, physically and mentally shoving the thoughts of long ago off to the side.
        She stood and walked over to the window and pushed the curtain aside slightly.  She realized the light coming into her room wasn't a streetlamp, but was instead the moon.  It was full and glowing down at her as if shedding light onto some big secret that she couldn't know quite yet.  The stars twinkled softly, scattered throughout the deep, dark, midnight blue sky.  She knew she could sit all night thinking about the what-ifs and  trying to decipher the unknown actions and decisions of her parents, but none of it would change what was happening right now.  Dwelling on this stuff wasn't going to alter the situation she found herself in.  She knew that she had to start all over and she knew she had to do it on her own.  Sure she was frightened beyond belief and had absolutely no clue as to what she should do first, but she couldn't be inactive about this.  She'd allow herself the necessary amount of pity and despair; she was sure she'd spend a number of nights crying herself to sleep.  She wasn't in denial, and she knew that things weren't going to work themselves out on their own.  She had to be an effective and functioning part of her own life, and there were so many things that she wanted to accomplish for herself.  Thoughts like "It'll all be okay" or "Everything will work out" were not running through her mind, because she had no idea if they were true.  For all she knew, she might end up crawling back to her dad completely broken and a failure.  Or she might have to call upon the help of one of her "friends" from her family's "circle," and crash in their luxury house or 10,000 square-foot pool house.  She certainly wasn't going into this thinking she was going to fail, but she also wasn't pumping herself up for success.  Anything could happen, she understood that and she was accepting it.
        She let the curtain fall and slumped down in the ratty, old desk chair.  She caught a glimpse of a plastic picture frame which held a small sign that said, "Free Wi-Fi and HBO."  Luckily she hadn't yet gotten around to selling her laptop, so she bent over and shuffled through a few of the boxes near her feet until she came out with a power cord and notebook.  After letting it power-up and load the necessary programs, she stared at the desktop background, a picture of Cheryl with her two roommates from NYU.  It'd been a while since she'd spoken to them, and although she wished dearly that she could pick up the phone and cry her troubles out to them, she foraged ahead and opened Google Chrome, readying herself for a night of job-searching and Craigslist apartment hunting.

Okay that's it for now.  I'm not sure if I'll continue this or stop it here.  It has the potential for further storyline, and I could probably turn this into a novel-length piece, but I'm going to let this rest for now. (: Thanks for reading and I hope you'll come back for more of something new!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Handbags & Gladrags Part 2

          He'd hung up on her as if she were a wrong number or an annoying telemarketer. Her immediate solution was to think the whole thing was a joke or one of those "scared straight" tactics, but just to save face later on, she decided to pay a visit to the financial aid office anyway. She got information about loans, scholarship possibilities, and payment plans, but left still an enrolled student. She never imagined the conversation that was to take place when she got home. Mostly instigated by her witch of a step-mother, her father scolded her on the lack of responsibilities she had, that ultimately came down to the fact that her father had never allowed her any - but of course she didn't say that out loud. He also shouted at her about the way she "walked all over him" and "flaunted his money as if she'd done anything to earn it." To that she craved a chance to defend herself, though she was never given an opportunity to do so, as her father monopolized the entire exchange. She would've gladly brought up her previously voiced desires to make her own money and her father's insistence that she focus strictly on getting a proper education without any distractions.
          After the conversation, which was really a one-sided debate about the cons of being a father to a spoiled, clueless, college-aged child, she was informed that in addition to not paying for college anymore, he wasn't paying for anything else either. She was told "you'll have to get your own place after the wedding and start making your own money." He went on to say that with the help of his new wife (surprise, surprise), his eyes had been opened to the error of his previous ways. He ended the whole discussion with one last tidbit.
          "Oh and even if you do somehow come up with a way to pay for and graduate college (as if the thought of it was impossible and repulsive to him), your trust fund won't be there waiting for you. I've written you out of that, as well as the will. It's high time you learn that your problems cannot always be solved by me, or my money. And if you sit around with hope of money to come in the future, you'll never take this seriously."
          She sat completely stricken, not really caring that the money was being "taken away" but that he cared so little for her to basically erase her from the family tree in the only way he knew how. After a few minutes of contemplation, she struck up the courage to say, "Are you broke or something?" and then quickly regretted it once both he and his wife began an endless tirade of unpleasantness directed towards her.
         Thinking about it all only made the anger and frustration within her surge even more, and the overwhelming urge to walk over and slap sense into her father almost taking hold of her bodily functions. All she did, though, was continue to stare at him from across the room. She no longer saw the gentle, kind man he'd been when her mother was alive. She no longer sensed his love for her, that once swelled out of him and enveloped everyone around him. She no longer felt any connection to him, and feared she never would again.
          "No, Dad," Cheryl finally managed to squeak out, "I won't be needing Maxwell to drive me anywhere."
         "Fine then," he said after a short pause. As he guided his wife toward the hallway, he looked over his shoulder and shot her an almost sympathetic glance before exiting the room.
          All her fight evaporated the instant they were both out of sight, and she slowly slumped onto the bare mattress. She felt the sting of tears in her eyes and at the back of her throat, and immediately bit down on her tongue to distract herself and keep her emotions at bay.
          You can cry later, she thought. Just get done with this and get out of here. You'll have all the time in the world to wallow in your own self-pity.
          She immediately stood back up and began stacking her bags and boxes at the top of the stairs. The butler, who'd been with her family since her parents had married over twenty-five years ago, suddenly appeared.
          "Miss Cheryl," Frederick greeted her with a familiar smile and a warm, deep voice.
          "Frederick you don't have to help," Cheryl said as he bent down to pick up an armload.
          "But of course I do," he began as he turned to go down the steps. "If you aren't a member of this household anymore, that makes you a guest. Either way, I've got to do my job."
          As he hit the bottom of the stairs, he turned toward her and sent a wink back up her way. Cheryl felt herself smile a little at him and was extremely grateful he was there to help keep her calm.
          After a lonely and hardly acknowledged farewell to her ex-home and ex-family (made up of maids, butlers, drivers, and dead - both figuratively and literally - ancestors), Cheryl climbed into the idling cab and told the driver directions to a nearby motel.
          She went in and paid for a month up front, before returning to the cabbie and asking if he'd drive her around the building to her new "home." His generosity was ever-evident as he helped unload her pitiful belongings into the pitiful room that acted as combo bedroom/living room/dining room. She glanced around at her surroundings as the driver made his way to the door. It was as close to a "culture shock" as she'd ever been. The place wasn't nasty or gross, but it certainly wasn't extravagant or upscale like she'd been accustomed to her whole life. There was a small kitchenette off the far wall and an even smaller bathroom to her right, but overall, the place wasn't bad. At least it'd do until she found something more permanent.
          "Well if that's all miss, I'd better get going."
          Cheryl turned to look at the kind older man with wrinkled hands and deep lines in his forehead. She reached down to the small purse slung over her chest and resting on her left thigh and pulled out the cab fare with a little extra for his helpfulness.
          "Thanks for everything," she said as he shut the door behind him.
          The quiet and stillness that closed in on her was instant and it took all her strength to make it to the bed before she collapsed. Slowly she brought her knees to her chest and rested against the wall that doubled as her headboard. She wept all night and eventually exhaustion overcame her. She had no choice but to give into it.

Hope you liked it! Part 3 soon to follow (: Come back for more!!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Handbags & Gladrags Part 1

                 She was alone.  She had been abandoned, forced to fend for herself without much of a warning.  She knew she wasn't "unwanted" per se, but she certainly didn't fit into their plan.
                "We love you Cheryl, honestly sweetie we do.  But..." her step-mother trailed off and looked helplessly at her husband, the desperate pleading for him to say something, anything, etched in every Botox-ridden facial muscle.  Cheryl suppressed the urge to roll her eyes.
                "Cher..." her father began, clutching to his wife's trembling hands, "she's right.  We do love you, very much, but it's time you grow up and start taking care of yourself."
                "You're twenty years old dear," the witch began again, unable to meet her step-daughter's tear-filled gaze, "and um, we just think that it's best that you, ya know, do something with yourself other than wither away in this house."
                Funny, she thought, I was doing something with myself until you both decided things needed to change.
                "Stacey and I are worried that if we don't go to this extreme you'll never reach your full potential."
                It was at this point that Cheryl tuned out.  She'd heard this already, at least a dozen times, and every time she only got more and more confused.  Things were so out of control and upside down.  As she slowly began to drift into her own thoughts, she caught murmurs of the typical phrases, "your own good," and "we're always just a phone call away," when what they were really trying to express were the messages "we want to be newlyweds without you around all the time" and "you're a common undesirable topic of conversation among our friends."
                She didn't want to be crying, but it was just an involuntary reflex.  Anger and tears were so closely related in her mind that whenever she wasn't able to fight back, her ducts betrayed her.  Once the tears began streaking down her cheeks, she sensed that despicable surge of faux-pity welling up between her dad and his much younger wife, and it was like an open invitation for Stacey to step toward her with outstretched arms; completely unwelcome and overwhelmingly sickening outstretched arms, ones that Cheryl wouldn't fall into even if they were her only salvation.
                The moment her dad and this woman got married, she knew it was a matter of time before she would be completely shoved out of the picture.  When Cheryl's mom died five years ago, she never imagined her dad to be the type of widower to remarry so quickly.  At first he said he wanted a female role-model for his daughter during her most impressionable years, but it quickly became evident, once she saw the type of "replacements" he was lingering on, that her dad was much more interested in satisfying his hidden borderline-jailbait  fantasies.  He soon abandoned "project: new mommy" and instead took up the search for someone to fit the acceptable arm candy role.  He met Stacey a year ago and on the day she moved in, about three months later, Cheryl slowly began liquidating her few assets, taking all the overtime she could at her new (and first) job, and diligently searching for an apartment within her very limited price-range, all things she never imagined being on her priority list of life.  She knew it was only a matter of time before this conversation took place, but she'd been hoping she'd have a little more time.
                She suddenly realized how deep in thought she was and reeled herself back into the present situation.  Both of them were still trying to comfort her, though once she began listening to the words they were spewing, she didn't know why they even bothered; she couldn't quite comprehend how they felt their words to be encouraging or beneficial.  Ultimately, it didn't matter.
                She wiped away at her damp cheeks and uncrossed her legs.  She glanced around her bare room, a room that had once been a cocoon of warmth and had an undeniable feeling of home.  It was a time-capsule for every milestone moment of the past twenty years.  She'd been brought home from the hospital to this room, and had her first Christmas morning here.  She'd experienced her first steamy make-out session in the confines of these four walls, and broken up with her first true love right on this bed.  She'd come here, to this very spot, and wallowed in her misery when she found out her mother had killed herself.
                She let her eyes linger on the few belongings she had left, the ones she hadn't sold once she found out she was going to be "cut-off."  Her mahogany jewelry box was like a beacon of what was, a vessel for expensive possessions that she no longer had.  Only she knew of its minimal contents.  If her father ever found out that she'd pawned almost every piece of jewelry he'd ever given her, he'd go absolutely insane.  There'd been the two-carat diamond earrings that he'd given to her as a graduation present, or the matching platinum and diamond tennis bracelet and necklace set he'd had given to her, via  his secretary and a typed note, for her sweet sixteen.  There was also the 14-carat white gold wrist watch he'd given her after her mother died, his way of showing how much she meant to him and that he was glad she wasn't dead too, along with six or eight other extravagant and hardly-worn things.  He'd be especially pissed if he knew how little she got for it all, about a quarter of what it was "worth," roughly five grand.
                Her eyes continued to scan her almost-bare walls, but halted on the original Salvador Dali painting "Untitled" from 1972 that hung over the fireplace.  It was something that had been in her room for almost ten years, but it was not something actually ever given to her, just put in its place to add "culture" to her surroundings.  She felt her cheeks redden and hoped her father or step-mother weren't paying attention to her reaction as she quickly looked away from it.  She had thought long and hard about liquidating that asset right out from under their noses and silently pocketing the easy 100 grand she could've gotten for it, if she'd had the balls to go through with the sale.  She'd contacted a local art gallery and they immediately expressed an interest  in it, especially at the price she was offering.  They would've gotten it for close to half the retail value, a nice profit they weren't going to pass up.  She was in the process of acquiring a nice fake from an art major friend who had a flare for surrealism (one who she was going to reward generously with half her earnings) when she realized she couldn't go through with it.  Thinking over the severity of the possible repercussions of her illegal actions made her stop, but it wasn't so much her fear of what her father might do.  She was stricken more by her own moral code and the thoughts of what he mother would think, if she were still alive, of her daughter's desperation and desire to stick it to the almost unrecognizable man inhabiting her husband's body.  (But then, if she were still alive, Cheryl  certainly wouldn't be considering committing grand larceny).  Once she stepped back and looked at the situation through her mother's eyes, she canceled the appointment for authenticity verification and told her friend the deal was off.
                She shuddered slightly and turned her stare to her "parents."  They were both silently looking at her as if waiting for an answer to a question she hadn't heard.
                "Did you ask me something?" she managed to force out in an almost neutral tone.
                "Yea," her dad said, "um, when can you be out of here?"
                The question hit her square in the chest, literally knocking the breath out of her.  She blinked hard a couple times, desperately trying to clear her now-hazy vision.  After a few seconds, she felt her heartbeat slowing.  The painful pounding had resonated through her body, resting heavily in her eardrums.  Now that it was returning to normal, she found herself momentarily deafened as her mind raced to bring her back in touch with reality.  Of course she knew this was the ultimate outcome of the conversation, but hearing it, so bluntly and directly, from her dad's mouth - it had left her almost incapacitated.
                If this is how it's going to be, then I might as well not prolong this, she thought.
                She'd already sold all her expensive handbags and every piece of designer clothing that she'd owned.  Everything that was left, down to the last unmatched sock, was packed away in the few suitcases she'd decided to keep.  She'd been living out of them for a few weeks, preparing herself for the day when she wouldn't have any other option.  All that was left were the things out on her dresser and desk, her sheets and pillows, and her bathroom supplies, which would take her all of ten minutes to box up.
                She stood up from her bed, startling her step-mother, who was perched at the foot.  In one swift motion, Cheryl pulled the comforter and sheet down, an unvoiced signal to Stacey for her to get up, and began folding.  Stacey reached out to help and Cheryl stiffened, glaring over at her.  Stacey froze, allowing the blanket to fall, and then slowly stepped back into the warm embrace of her husband, getting the obvious hint from Cheryl that she was complexly capable of taking care of this herself.  Besides, isn't that what they wanted - for her to do things on her own?
                "Is this honestly how you're going to behave?" he father asked solemnly.
                Without stopping or turning towards him, Cheryl snatched up the now-folded linens, began cramming them into a nearby box, and said, "How am I supposed to behave, Dad?  You're kicking me out of the only home I've ever known for the most ridiculous of reasons.  Reasons that (she moved onto the picture frames, candles, and other knick knacks) you've conjured up to make yourself feel okay about what you're doing to me, all so you can live out some fantasy life with your sluttly new gold-digging wife.  A wife that's convinced you to write me out of your will, my trust fund, and most importantly, my role as your daughter."
                Cheryl swiftly moved over to the dresser and began boxing up the few items there.  After a few moments of absolute silence, her dad said, "Well, if you're almost done here, I'll have Maxwell take you wherever you need to go."
                She stopped, went stone still.  She didn't even blink.  After what felt like a solid minute, she slowly, but heatedly, turned to look her father square in his eyes.  She wanted to scream at him, shake him out of this trance-like state he'd fallen into.  She didn't understand any of it, none of his actions over the past year made any sense to her.
                Before this woman had come along, he was a fairly normal guy, and Cheryl was a normal girl.  She'd been attending NYU and was on her way to a degree in economics  when she got a notice that her tuition hadn't been paid.  She called her father who had forever told her, "As long as you make good grades and continually strive to better yourself, you don't need to worry about paying for school."  He'd always told her that she didn't need to pay for her daily expenses as long as she contributed to the household by picking up after herself and cooking on the weekends when the maid had off.  It was a family tradition that once you graduated college, you received a nice trust fund that was supposed to support you until you found your niche in the world, thanks to your newly acquired degree.  That was the way the family had always worked, for eight generations.  She was from the Astor bloodline for crying out loud, that was just the way the world worked for her.  She didn't smear it in people's faces, but she certainly wasn't blind to the fact that life was easier for her because of who her family was.  She still worked hard for what she did have and was eager to make a name for herself, and she wasn't afraid to take the help so readily available for her to do so.  And up until she got the notice, she hadn't worried about anything because her end of the deal was under control.  She'd held up her end of their bargain so far, and had never doubted that her father would hold up his.  But when she asked him what was going on, he'd told her through a cold, clipped, monotone snippet, "Things have changed Cher.  We can discuss it at dinner tonight.  Unless you can come up with the tuition on your own, you'll need to withdraw from the university before coming home."
                She was absolutely dumbfounded, but the impatience in her father's tone allowed her no time to stop and freak out.  Instead she quickly came back with the first thing she could think of, "But can't I just use the money in my trust fund?"
                "Well the condition of the trust fund is you graduating college.  You can't do that if you aren't enrolled. "
                She blurted the next thought that instantly came to her, "Okay, so can you cosign for a loan and after I graduate, I'll use the trust to pay it back?"
                "Cheryl, I said we'll discuss this tonight.  But I mean what I said, you have to come up with the tuition of your own accord.  I won't be helping you."
                And then he hung up.  

Look for part 2 sometime this week (: Thanks for reading.