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.