December 18, 2014

Elizabeth's Story

by Jessica Knoll

Quick note: There will be no Elizabeth posts until 2015 as next Thursday is Christmas (family time) and the Thursday after that is New Year's day (nursing a champagne hangover time). Zahra will post next Tuesday, but is taking the week of NYE off to enjoy her holiday too. Because of the hiatus, I am including a little "Next time on LSP" at the end of this post, as it really is the end of one important chapter in Elizabeth's story and 2015 will mark the beginning of a new.

Enough from me, let's get to it.

When I got back to my hotel room I climbed onto the bed and drew my knees to my chest and didn't move until I heard his knock. I knew he would come. I also knew what he would tell me, even though a few pathetic atoms clung to the hope that I might be wrong. That I hadn't figured out exactly what had transpired the second I laid my eyes on that paperwork, awaiting my signature. Campbell knew I knew, otherwise he wouldn't have said he was sorry.

My body actually creaked when I stood. After we left the police station, my father had insisted on taking me to breakfast. "You're not setting foot on or near campus until you get your head screwed on straight," he'd said. I sat through the meal, comatose, grunting replies and picking at my omelet which I'd ordered egg white but had arrived in front of me the color of an overripe banana. I hate omelets. But I wanted to eat healthy in front of my father to appease him. Anything to get back to my hotel room to wait for Campbell, to hear what he had to say for himself.

I slid the hotel's patio door open and gestured for Campbell to come inside. He paused before he did, looking over my shoulder nervously as if to make sure no one else was in the room.

"Relax," I snapped. "He's out to dinner with the dean."

"I wasn't"—Campbell started.

"You weren't what? Checking to see if dear old dad was in here to catch you dishonoring the agreement you made with him?"

Campbell opened his mouth and closed it. He did that a few more times, trying to find the words, looking like a fish gasping in air, flopping around the belly of a boat.

I folded my arms across my chest, and gave myself a hug. No one else was going to do it, not anymore. "Tell me I'm wrong," I whispered, hating how desperate I sounded. "Tell me he didn't wave a big fat check in front of you and everyone involved to make this go away." I looked up at him. "And in exchange for you to never see me again."

"You're wrong," Campbell said, and I would have gasped my relief if his voice hadn't broken over the word 'wrong.'

I slapped my hand to my face, so he wouldn't see how ugly I look when I cry. "What did he promise you in exchange for never seeing me again then?"

Campbell rocked back on his heels and sighed. "You're like a fucking mind reader, you know that?"

I dropped my hand and glared at him. Thinking about how much I hated my father made me stop crying. "You don't think I know how he operates? I know he didn't believe your little act in New York, and now that he knows what you really are, I know he definitely doesn't want me with you."

Campbell's face creased, each line meaning a different thing: hurt, guilt, anger, remorse. "I'm sorry I couldn't be good enough for you, Elizabeth."

"What," I took a fierce step toward him, my fury building now that I knew, for sure, he had just given up on us because some dick in a three piece Brioni suit told he had to, "did he promise you?"

"I never would have agreed to stop seeing you for money. Do you really think that lowly of me?"

There was a cheap knock off Herm├ęs catch all dish on the bedside table. I snatched it and threw it at Campbell, who ducked. It hit the wall and didn't even chip. Piece of fucking plastic. "What did he promise you?" I roared.

"A job, okay?" Campbell charged me. I didn't realize before he grabbed me that I was reaching for something else to throw at him. "He offered me a job. At the Chicago branch of his company."

My breathing was labored and noisy. "Chicago?" I repeated, weakly. If it had been money, we could have gotten around it. Snuck around. Figured something out. Chicago made Campbell physically out of my reach.

Campbell pulled me to him and buried his face in the top of my hair. It had grown out to a nice little bob by now. I liked it so much I had to decided to keep it that way and eventually, it became my signature look. "I love you, Elizabeth. I will always."

I started to cry again and wrapped my arms around him, holding on as if he was about to board a plane and go right that second. "Then tell him no. Don't make this thing go away. I'll go to jail, I'll serve my time. It can't be any worse than what Abby got. Seven years? We can wait seven years. And then we can be together."

I felt Campbell shaking his head above me. "It's too late. This thing is already in motion. And I'm not the only one he bought off."

I pulled away from him and wiped my face. "Okay, so pretend like you're going along with it and then don't. I'll empty my trust fund. We can run away together. Europe, Asia, somewhere tropical!" Campbell started to smile down at me and like a fool I thought this meant I had convinced him.

Campbell tucked a strand of hair behind my ear. "Do you really think the bank is going to let you walk away with several million in cash?"

I almost bit back that my trust fun contains much more than 'several' million dollars, but then realized now was not the time to be a disagreeable bitch. "Okay, so, what do we need money for anyway? Let's move to Costa Rica and bartend and live in a tent on the beach."

Campbell, to my utter surprise, started to tear up. He kept tucking my hair behind my ears, over and over. He brought both palms to my face and held them there, like he was trying to memorize every last detail in their frame. "You don't get it. It's not about money for me."

"Okay," I said, not understanding. If it wasn't about money for him then what did the job in Chicago matter? "So let's do it. Let's run away."

Campbell didn't speak, letting our fate hang in the silence between us. I imagined this is what it must be like for anyone who finds a lump in their body, sitting in the hospital room, waiting for the doctor to waltz in with the test results that could either change everything or nothing.

I watched him consider his two lives. One with me, one without. I could tell by the line of his mouth which one he'd chosen, before he even told me. "I can't," he said, dropping his hands to my shoulders. He gave them a little conciliatory squeeze.

I wriggled out of his grasp. "Oh, you can. You just won't."

Campbell held onto my shoulders tighter so I couldn't turn away. He crouched down, so that he was eye level with me. He really wanted me to hear whatever it was he had to say next. "That's right, I won't. Because unlike you, Elizabeth, I didn't get opportunities like you did growing up. And if I had, I certainly wouldn't have squandered them like you have."

I snorted. "You really have been talking to my dickhead father, haven't you?"

"Well, maybe you should listen to him!" Campbell said, exasperated. "The man has a point, Elizabeth. You have squandered so many opportunities, opportunities most people would kill for. You could have gone anywhere you wanted for college. You had legacy at Yale. Yale!" he repeated, with emphasis, and gave me a little shake. "Instead, you came to this two pony town and dicked around for four years and now you're just going to go back to the city and dick around some more until you get married and knocked up and turn into your mother and I don't want that life! I want to make something of myself. I want to be someone. And I need to be with someone who gets that. Who wants to be someone too."

I blinked, stunned by how much Campbell's words stung. I always thought our issue was that Campbell felt like he wasn't good enough for me. I never stopped to consider that I was the one who wasn't good enough for him. I suddenly had a flash of what his life would be like in Chicago. I could see him falling for a co-worker—a brunette, busty, Mae West wiggle in her Theory pencil skirt, genius IQ to boot. Running the show, intimidating all her male co-workers with her wit and charm, everyone except Campbell, that is. Now there was a woman who could actually give him a run for his money. My chest coiled in on my heart, like a snake suffocating its prey.

"Oh, you're someone, alright," I hissed. I didn't know how to be hurt. If he was going for the jugular, I would go for the aorta. "You're that guy who just tries so damn hard." I laughed, meanly. "God, everyone knows that guy right? At least in my world we do. There's always that one tool who thinks he's one of us. We laugh at you, behind your back." I gave him a little pat on his cheek, just a little too hard. "I hope you know that."

Campbell caught my wrist and twisted, hard. My breath came out as a grunt as he continued to apply pressure. He was biting down so hard, I could hear his teeth grind. "No Pollyanna bitch in Chicago will let you rough her up," I told him, through gritted teeth, and then I kissed him.

I felt the glorious release on my wrist, and then Campbell's hands were on my hips. He backed me up, and I slammed into the bedside table behind me so hard the lamp crashed to the floor. "I hate you sometimes," he was saying, as he pulled my shirt off, kissing my neck and my shoulders and my collarbone.

"I hate you so much," I said, viciously, starting to cry again. Campbell kissed away my tears. I was still telling him I hated him when he pushed inside me, both of us clawing like we were trying to get inside the other's skin. Campbell pressed his forehead to mine, the little side table wobbling beneath me, slamming up against the wall again and again. I knew how thin these walls were, but I also didn't care. Not with Campbell above me, fucking me like it was the last time because it was.

Campbell slammed his fist against the wall when he came. I couldn't believe this was the last time I had him. I ran my hands over his shoulders, his arms, his stupidly perfect stomach, trying to imprint everything to muscle memory. "I wish I could let you ruin me," Campbell said, when my fingers reached his lips. He kissed each one and I shut my eyes. I didn't want to focus on anything but the feeling of him still inside of me, the warm heat of his mouth on my finger tips.

There was a rap on the door, and then came the sound of my father's voice. Back from dinner at the most opportune time! "Elizabeth?" he was saying. "What's going on in there? Are you okay?"

Campbell and I leapt off each other, scrambling around the floor for our clothes, shimmying into underwear and pants and shirts. "I'm fine!" I shouted. "Just working out!"

"Working out?" my father repeated in disbelief. "You don't work out." I heard the door knob jiggle. "Open up. I need to talk to you."

"One second!" I called back, rushing over to the mirror and smoothing my hair down. I turned around when I felt a gush of cold air infiltrate the room, which had been sticky and hot just a few minutes before. The patio door clicked shut, and Campbell was gone.

"Elizabeth, God damnit!" my father was really worked up now, but I didn't have it in me to care. Not when I had just lost Campbell.

I made my way to the door and pulled it open, then trudged back to my bed, wordlessly.

"Jesus," my father gasped, taking in the state of the room, "what the hell happened in here?"

"I told you," I said, sullenly, "I was working out. I kicked the table over by accident."

My father stared at me sternly for a moment. I could tell he didn't believe me. I could also tell he didn't feel like getting into it with me. "Bart just heard from his office. They've redlined the agreement in a few places, but they're relatively minor language changes. You should be able to sign by tomorrow."

I picked at a scab on my knee. I always cut myself in the same place when I shaved. "Great."

My father took a seat on the edge of the bed. "I want you to understand what you're signing. You're taking responsibility for the role you played in the unfortunate event of Bridget's death, but this is not something that will go on your record. It's not something you are obligated to tell an employer about"—I snorted at that—"and the Masons won't pursue this any further. This is a literally a get out of jail free card, only it's far from free."

I glared at him over the ridge of my knee. "I understand."

"That's not just monetarily speaking, either," he said. "You are not to see that man again. That's how you keep up your end of the bargain."

"Why do you care who I screw?" I snapped, knowing, hoping, my language would offend him and just get him to leave already. What if Campbell was outside, waiting for me?

My father exhaled loudly. He dropped his head in his hands, and for a moment I thought he was going to cry. My father, the philandering, power-drunk, loveless bully, about to cry, right in front of me. He reached out and squeezed my knee, covering the bloody welt where a scab had just been. "I still have hope for you, Elizabeth. You can turn your life around. That's not going to happen with somebody like him. I hope you can see that this is not the end of something. It's a fresh start."

I couldn't even look at him. This sudden show of emotion made me too uncomfortable. "Fine," I murmured. I just wanted him out of the room. Campbell had to be waiting for me right outside. He couldn't have just left without saying a real goodbye. "I'll try," I said, with more gumption. "I'll really try, Dad."

That seemed to make him happy. He squeezed my knee and smiled. "Alright, then." He stood and tucked his hands in his pockets, suddenly awkward that he'd allowed himself to be so vulnerable in front of me. "Goodnight. See you in the morning."

I didn't move until I heard the door latch shut, my father's footsteps in the hallway, and finally, his door close as well. Then I made a beeline for the patio door.

The night was dagger cold, the kind that gets into your lungs and burns and burns. Campbell's name came out in three perfect puffs. I waited until my breath dissolved in the air, but there was nothing, just the lake clinking with ice further below me.

Well, not nothing. Because when I turned to go back to my room, I found his message. "Will always," he had written in the fog that had collected on the door's window.

I made a fist, pressed it against the glass, and rubbed. He could go to hell.

Next time on LSP: Part II of Elizabeth's story will pick up with the New York years! How did she meet Peter? What was their relationship really like? Does Campbell come back into the picture? Will there be a Josie appearance? All this will be revealed and more!

A happy and healthy holiday to all!