August 21, 2014

Elizabeth's Story

by Jessica Knoll

Peter and I had been dating for four months when I first introduced him to my mother. He knew my father, of course. Loved him, the way everyone does. The man is rich and handsome and charming and very, very powerful. What's not to love?

There is a lot to not love about my mother, but I did, loyally, intensely, and to my own detriment.

"Get ready," I breathed, standing outside my mother's depressing excuse for a bachelorette pad. The place she was forced to move into after the divorce—a one bedroom in a full service building on 71st and 3rd—was far from a dump, but it was a mortifying two avenues east of Park Avenue with windows that stared into a grungy alley and for Anastasia Van der Deer, née Buchanan, who was raised by a governess in Greenwich, Connecticut and who Gotham Magazine once extolled as throwback to socialites of another, more glamorous era and who counted a number of Rockefellers and Mayor Mike Bloomberg as close, personal friends, she might as well have been exiled to Hunts Point.

Peter gave me a nervous smile. Peter has a kind heart, but he was never very good at dealing with anything ugly, or sad. It was why I kept Thayer from him for so long. It was why I kept a lot of things from him for as long as I did.

The door opened, my mother's caregiver, Ariana, on the other side. "Hi, Miss Elizabeth," Ariana said, even though I've told her time and time again to just call me Elizabeth. There is something about me that makes people afraid, and reverent, and I've certainly worked that angle. Why not? I'm not well-read, I'm not ambitious or passionate nor was I blessed with traditional smarts. My intimidation factor is a God given gift, and it would be wasteful not to use it.

"How is she today?" I asked, stepping into the cool din of the apartment's foyer, Peter following close behind, his hand on my lower back. I normally loved when he put his hand on my lower back—but this wasn't for me. This was for him.

"She is excited to meet you," Ariana said to Peter. "Made me break out the hot curlers and everything."

I threw Peter a reassuring smile over my shoulder. "You're in trouble."

I swear I saw him gulp.

We followed Ariana down the dark hallway, the dingy white walls peppered with photos of our family in happier times. Thayer waved at me from the carousal in Central Park, and I quickly averted my eyes. If Peter noticed that at one point the Van der Deers were a family of four, and not three, and asked me about it, I would have told him. But Peter never asked.

Ariana knocked on the open bedroom door and said, "Your guests are here, Mrs. V."

My mother was propped up on an impressive collection of frothy white pillows, her hair and makeup immaculate and Jeffrey Eugenides' The Virgin Suicides flung open in her lap. I bit back a smile—at least the woman still had a sense of humor, morbid as it may be.

"Hi, mom," I said, leaning down to give her a hug.

"Bayer," she mumbled into my shoulder. The doctors warned us all that that first heart attack would only precipitate more, but they hadn't anticipated the stroke that froze the left side of this gracefully aging beauty (not that my father saw it that way), that jumbled the words in her brain before she released them from her mouth, this particular "Bayer" reference, I'd deduced, an amalgam of the end of my name, "Beth" and that of my brother's, Thayer.

"Mom," I said, straightening up and smoothing out my sweater. "This is Peter."

The right side of my mother's mouth fought its way upward and she extended a shaky hand. To Peter's credit, he leaned down and gave her a kiss on her cheek, which I knew had made her entire week.

"I see where Elizabeth gets her good genes," Peter said, which is a compliment most men try with their girlfriends' mothers, but in our case, was the God's honest truth.

My mother's face flushed—it was the most vibrant I'd seen her in years. I had rarely brought boys home to meet her. My relationships with men, up until that point, had been pretty uncouth. So that was when I knew. That I would marry Peter even though just the thought of Campbell made my blood pump harder and the crooks of my elbows pebble with sweat. Because Peter, and the idea of me with a man like Peter, made my mother happy. And I owed her that much.

- -

"You haven't been to a single class in three weeks." Professor Clemmons stared at me over the Swedish design, art deco expanse of his sixteen thousand dollar desk. "That's a record. Even for you."

I slumped down lower in my seat and released an angst-ridden sigh. I'd had my father place a phone call to the Dean to switch my advisor from Professor Imbillati, the anti-marriage, anti-armpit-shaving, anti-bra-wearing Italian Renaissance art professor, to Professor Clemmons. He was the faculty's most popular professor, the students' most requested advisor (especially by the girls). All the Turq and Grey House girls had fought tooth and nail to be assigned to him, but few had succeeded. Bridget had.

"Elizabeth," Professor Clemmons sighed right back. He had been tapping his full bottom lip with a pen but now he stood and made his way around his desk and to the door. I heard it click shut, followed by the sound of the lock, latching into place. "Talk to me," he said to the back of my head. And then there was his finger, tracing the naked nape of my neck. "Why did you do this to your hair?" he mumbled.

I didn't say anything. I didn't even move.

Professor Clemmons hunched down, and his breath was warm with vodka on my shoulder. He never went anywhere without his "water bottle." It was always with him, in class, at the gym—he had an amazing body, hard and broad, defiant of his forties, which he was a healthy few years into—while he road his bike to and from campus. I don't know how many DUIs it takes for you to lose your license, but whatever it was, Professor Clemmons had amassed them.

"I've missed you," he said, and nipped the skin of my neck. He pressed his finger underneath my chin and tried to turn my face, so that he could kiss me. For the first time, I resisted.

"Come on," he goaded, softly at first. But when I wouldn't give in, he squeezed my chin harder, and said my name, aggressively.

"Stop," I finally said, the word coming out like I had a mouthful of food. He was pinching my cheeks so hard my lips smushed together.

"Why are you being like this?" Professor Clemmons grunted, jamming his hands underneath my arms and heaving me onto my feet. He pinned me against the desk and I cried out as the hard edge pierced that tender spot in your lower back.

Professor Clemmons looked just as shocked as I did when he slapped me across the face. We just stared at each for a moment, before he hissed, "Quiet!" Like he had had a reason to backhand me, and that made it somewhat more acceptable.

I glared at him for a moment before breaking into a maniacal smile. Then I started screaming my goddamn head off.

Professor Clemmons clapped his hand over my mouth and hushed me frantically. I found a fold of his skin, that fleshy knob where the finger meets the palm, and bit down like I was ripping into an overdone hamburger. Professor Clemmons shrieked and pulled his hand away so fast I tore off skin. I smirked, pleased with myself, when I saw the blood bubble to the surface.

Professor Clemmons had a frenzied, rabid look in his eyes, but before he could act on it, there was a knock on the door.

We both froze, staring at each other accusingly. The knock came again and Professor Clemmons' expression changed from furious to terrified. I nodded at him, letting him know I'd play along. It wasn't even worth it to take him down. I'd have to get into the fact that we've been fucking on and off for the last three years and I just couldn't even deal with all the hand-wringing and pearl clutching—the administration wailing about how I'd been taken advantage of when really, I'd been the one to take advantage of him. The man was a horny alcoholic with a thing for nubile coeds. Come on, how was I not supposed to be all over that? Wrap him around my finger so that when I needed him to change a grade or pass me for a class I never even bothered to show up to, he would?

"Just one moment!" Professor Clemmons called, cheerfully. He smoothed his hair—which was standing up wildly, sharp spokes all over his head, and snatched a tissue out of the box on his desk, pressing it into his wound. I smirked again when I saw him wince.

Professor Clemmons unlocked the door and opened it to reveal a frowning Detective Campbell and Detective Roth.

Detective Campbell's eyes jumped from me to Professor Clemmons back to me again. "Is everything okay in here?"

"Peachy keen!" I chirped. "Professor Clemmons was just telling me what a great job I did on my mid-semester term paper. I focused on how the Byzantines survived the fall of the Roman Empire. Fascinating stuff." I beamed. "The highest grade in the class, right Professor Clemmons?"

Professor Clemmons was staring at me like I was the devil incarnate, but he gave me a weak smile. "Highest grade in the class," he repeated, obediently.

I gave him my most magnanimous smile and turned to face our visitors. "What are you doing here, detectives?"

"That's not your concern"—Detective Roth started, at the same time Detective Campbell said, "To discuss Bridget Mason." Detective Roth made a face at him.

"Bridget Mason," Professor Clemmons echoed. "Yes. Terrible thing that she's missing. Great girl. One of my advisees. Any way I can help, I'm happy to. Please, come in." He opened his arm and gestured at the open couch. Detective Campbell stared at the bloody tissue, clenched in Professor Clemmons' trembling hand. His jaw ticked, and he looked at me, pointedly. I held his gaze.

"Miss Van der Deer," Detective Roth said to me, "this isn't a conversation we need you for."

"Well!" I said, feigning my hurt. "I know when I'm not wanted." I collected my things and made my way to the door. I had to turn to the side to get past Detective Campbell. He didn't move out of my way and our hips grazed as I slid past.

"See you later, Professor Clemmons!" I sang over my shoulder.

I was halfway down the hall when I dropped the cheerleader on crack act. I fell against the wall and doubled over, breathing as though I'd just completed the mile test in gym class. I was fine. But I had been really close to not being fine.

I jumped when I heard his voice. "What the hell just happened in there?"

I swung upright, pressing my hand into my heart, trying to still its fevered beat. "Detective Campbell," I gasped. "I didn't even hear you."

Detective Campbell took a step closer and bent at the knees, so he was level with my eyes. "Are you okay?" He reached out, his fingers cupping my chin gently, the way Professor Clemmons had not, and stroked my cheek with his thumb. I realized that Professor Clemmons had hit me so hard that my cheek must have been red and swollen. The pain prickled up at his touch, along with a host of other emotions. I wondered if that was what Campbell did to the women he fucked. If he became gentle and tender, if he held your face in his hands like he had to be sure that anything this beautiful was actually real. "Did he attack you?"

I jerked my head away and avoided his eyes. "I'm fine."

"You're not fine," Detective Campbell determined.

I looked at him then. "I'm fine," I insisted, and turned to go. Detective Campbell grabbed my arm, and I stared at his hand on my wrist, the way my skin whitened beneath his grip. I remembered how he had pushed me away when I tried to kiss him, after he had been so kind to me, so empathetic about my brother. I bristled with fresh humiliation at the memory, and my breathing grew labored again. "Why," I seethed, "do you even give a fuck?"  

Detective Campbell dropped my arm abruptly, as though I had electrocuted him. "I don't know," he said, softly.

We stared at each other for a second, and then Detective Roth started calling Campbell's name. The spell broken, I turned on my heel, hurrying down the hall as though I had somewhere to be, as though I was going to be late.


15 comments:

  1. well then. glad I never had to get spanked by a professor to get a good grade.

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  2. Good post, Jessica.

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  3. I LOVE Elizabeth's stories! I love the heat between her and the detective! Great posts Jess. Thank you!

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  4. I wish this were a book!!!!!!!!!!

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  5. Loving this blog!!!

    I've recently started writing a secret blog about my own life!! Take a peek!! Things have been interesting lately.. I'm sleeping with my boss.

    http://thepinotdiaries.wordpress.com/2014/08/20/flying-under-the-radar/

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  6. Really starting to like Detective Campbell; love the storyline and interesting characters overall. Take care.

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  7. I love this story line and the characters drive me nuts! I loved Josie's story but this is just amazing!

    Www.poetsandheartbreakers.com

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  8. This is interesting and different. I liked Josie's story more though, I think this is much darker.

    http://elinainlondon.wordpress.com

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  9. Another great post Jessica!!! Your awesome

    http://playingwithwildfire.blogspot.com/

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  10. I love that this is completely different writing from Josie's blog. It's so much darker and more menacing which is the type of writing I LOVE! I like having a darker story to read on Thursdays and then a more light/romantic one to read Tuesdays with Zahra! Can't wait for more!!!

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    Replies
    1. Agree! This is so great!

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  11. I just want to say I like Elizabeth so much more than I thought I would. Sure she's a bitch, but she knows she is, and doesn't make excuses or try to justify it. Can't help but have respect for that kind of self awareness and moxie lol.

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  12. Loveeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee this blog (Tessa's story too)! But Elizabth's is my fave story of all times! Can't wait until she finally hooks up with Campbell <3

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