November 6, 2014

Elizabeth's Story

by Jessica Knoll

"What have you done to your hair?"

"Nice to see you too, mother." I leaned down to give Anastasia Van der Deer a kiss on the cheek. She was sitting on the white puckered chaise situated in front of our sweeping western view of Central Park, the treetops bruising in shades of red and orange and yellow, still full enough to conceal the runners cutting across the 72nd street transverse. It always seemed morbidly fitting that my brother died during the leaves' last brilliant flush, that we mourned him right as they shriveled and fell to the ground, crunching like cockroaches beneath our feet.

Every year, I say I won't come home for Thanksgiving, the anniversary of my brother's death lording over the three remaining Van der Deers like a metronome, counting down the days until we finally splinter apart. My parents would divorce in just a few short months, my mother's health would take a nosedive not long after that. I couldn't have known it then, but my senior year at Smithson was the last Thanksgiving we would all be together.

And I almost didn't show. As I was loading up the trunk of my little silver bullet of a BMW, Campbell had coasted to a stop, right in front of the driveway, blocking my exit.

"Home for the holidays?" The sky was an unrelenting stretch of grey, but he was wearing his signature Ray-Ban aviators. I use the word 'signature' facetiously, as every fucking Tom and Jane at Smithson wears Ray-Ban aviators as a part of their 'signature' look. I can't stand it. Have a little originality. But no, the Smithson ding-dongs are all so damn afraid of who they really are out of uniform: without the popped collars and pearls, the gold-rimmed shades, the Lilly Pulitzer and the waxed Barbour coats, how would they ever communicate their status to the outside world? Not that it even stops any of them from yakking on and on about it. "I'm a descendant of the original Mayflower family." "Well, my family summers next door to the Kennedy compound on Hyannis." "Your medal is coming in the mail," I want to tell every last one of them.

"I figure I should make an appearance," I said, slamming the trunk shut. I had stuffed those newspaper clippings and pictures of Campbell's sister back into the compartment where I'd found them, and I hadn't breathed a word of what I'd discovered to Campbell, or to anyone. Biz was literally falling apart, and I couldn't burden her with any more dramatic developments, not at this critical stage in the game when the police now had a body, could conduct an autopsy, and presumably amass more clues. I wanted to believe that Campbell had nothing to do with this, but I just couldn't, not entirely, and not yet. And now I was wondering if I should have been as quick to rule out Bridget's sister, Abby. Despite her whole shaky voice and sad eyes routine in my living room a few nights ago, it wasn't beyond the realm of possibility that she was putting on an act for me. Tricking me into trusting her so that she could finish her sister's work.

"I wouldn't mind a little vacation to New York right about now," Campbell said, and gave me a half smile.

I shielded my eyes as the sun butted in front of a cloud. I guess he did need his poseur glasses. "New York's not a vacation for me. It's my home. And it's emotionally exhausting, especially this time of year."

"Family drama?" Campbell guessed.

"Let's see," I started to count on my fingers,"my father is a misogynistic sociopath who is blatantly cheating on my mother, and my mother is your typical aging beauty who's turned to Xanax and the bottle in order to cope. Oh, and tomorrow is the anniversary of my brother's death, which really just seems to bring out our dysfunctional bests."

"At least you have a family to bitch about," Campbell said, and with his stupid shades on I couldn't tell if he was looking at me or at his feet.

"I thought your mom"—

"My mom and I don't speak. Ever since my sister died."

"So basically you're like a snapshot of my future," I said. My mother had tried to make us all go to therapy after Thayer passed away, but my father refused and I didn't have much interest in discussing my feelings with a stranger either. The one thing that had stuck with me though, was the therapist's warning that the death of a child is more likely to rip a family apart than it is to bring them closer together. That if we weren't careful, if we didn't work at it, that's exactly what would happen to us.

"In a few years," I continued, an angry heat building in my voice, "I'll be on my own, brooding and lonely and bitter." I didn't need to see Campbell without his sunglasses on to see that what I had just said had gutted him, and I almost felt like crying myself. Only I don't cry, not since my brother died. Biz is always on my case about it. "How can I say you're my best friend when I've never even seen you cry?"

"I get you," Campbell said, and I had to replay his words, so used to hearing things like, "I don't get you." But no, he had said he had.

I checked my watch. It was almost 10 AM, the morning before Thanksgiving. What should be a four hour car ride would take seven, thanks to all the holiday traffic. I looked at Campbell, who was just watching the road now. "How fast can you pack?"

Now, standing in my family's parlor, I put my hand on Campbell's shoulder. "Mom, this is Campbell. He's a, uh, graduate student. At Cornell."

"Cornell?" my mother asked, suspiciously. She looked Campbell up and down, her eyes lingering over his shoes for a just a beat too long. They were suede loafers, Prada, and I knew what she was thinking. Too flashy. New money. Maybe even a con artist. Not that any of it was that far off from the truth.

"We play Smithson in lacrosse," Campbell said, seamlessly picking up what I had just put out there at random. He took a step forward to shake my mother's hand. "So nice to meet you Mrs. Van der Deer. I hope I'm not imposing."

Anastasia Van der Deer gave Campbell the perfect hostess smile and insisted he wasn't. She took a sip of something that looked like water but that I knew was not. "Of course not. Thrilled to have you."

- -

My father cut open his steak and examined its oily red belly, oozing blood. "The filet is perfectly cooked, Ivette," he announced, smiling at our longtime maid, who played an integral role in raising me.

"Thank you Mr. V!" Ivette beamed. She topped off my water glass and gave me a wink. Only I knew what Ivette was really thinking: fuck you, you greedy, entitled fat cat. Ivette and I have an understanding.

"It's delicious," Campbell agreed, earnestly. I could tell how nervous he was. And if I could tell, my parents could definitely tell. Still, there was something...sweet about it.

"So, Campbell is it?" My father pointed his steak knife at him, only continuing to saw through his meat when Campbell nodded. "What program are you in at Cornell?"

"I'm getting my masters in business," Campbell said so quickly that I gave him a look. He didn't even have to think about it.

My father took a pause from carving his dinner to stare at Campbell. He had a pained expression on his face. "You know. I never really understand the point of a masters degree. What can you really do with it? You still have to start from the bottom once you get out in the real world, and you learn everything you would have learned in business school anyway, but instead you start at the same level as a bunch of recent undergrads and you're how many years older—how old are you?"

"Twenty-four," Campbell said, and I stopped sawing into my steak too. Twenty-four? I'd put Campbell at twenty-seven, twenty-eight. It seemed so strange that he was only two or three years older than me. He had the presence of someone much more mature.

"Right, okay," my father said, "so you're twenty-five when you finish and that's three years you could have been on the street, actually pulling in a paycheck. Instead, all your new income goes into digging yourself out of debt. Unless, of course, your family is paying for this degree." My father sounded woefully skeptical about that. Campbell may have been dressed like he was one of us, but a real blueblood can always sniff out his own kind. And my father wasn't picking up on Campbell's scent.

"They are, actually," Campbell said, so convincingly that for a second I even believed him. "And for me it's more about the connections I'll make. I didn't grow up in the city, and I can't rely on nepotism to get me where I want to be."

My father snorted, genuinely amused. "Here, here," he said, and raised his glass. "Tell that to my daughter."

I rolled my eyes. "Subtle." My father was always on my case—not asking me what I wanted to do with my life, he already knew that was a lost cause—but rather taunting me that I would never amount to anything other than a stay-at-home socialite. "Your brother was going to be something," is one of his favorite things to say after one too many tips of the Lagavulin bottle.

I felt Campbell's eyes on me as my father continued. "I mean, really Elizabeth. I ask myself this every day. I am basically flushing 50k down the toilet every year—and that's not counting all the donations I've had to make on your behalf just to keep you on the enrollment list—and for what? So you can get drunk and screw off and improve your bong making skills?"

"My bong making skills are top notch," I nodded enthusiastically. Campbell snorted and my father's face flushed the color of the Cabernet we were drinking with dinner.

"Don't get fresh with me, Elizabeth, or I swear to God"—

"Sweetheart, please," my mother whispered.

"Stay out of it, Anastasia," my father snapped. "You would think you would have something to say about your daughter's lack of ambition given the pathetic path your life has taken."

I slammed my fist down on the table so hard my fork clattered off my plate and onto the floor. "Leave her alone."

"You do not tell me what to do!" My father shouted. "Not in my own house! I will not tolerate it! Not from you! Of all people!" His voice broke over that last line, and he covered his face with his hands. His shoulders rose and fell in one giant, silent sob.

"Of all people," I repeated back to him, incredulously. "You mean of all the people you have to deal with in your hard knock life, you won't tolerate any disrespect from me, the child who should have died."

My father brought his elbows to the table, but he didn't uncover his face, and he didn't refute what I had said.

"Great," I said, balling up my napkin and tossing it on the table. "Thanks for dinner. It's been a real pleasure."

I rose from the table. "Sorry, mom," I said. I reached for Campbell's hand and tried to pull him with me as I turned to go, but he remained rooted in his seat.

"Your daughter," he said, to my father, "is an extraordinary person." He stood then. "I feel sorry for you that you can't see that."

My father was still crying. My mother was crying too. I waited until I was in the hallway to join them, until Campbell's hands were on my face, brushing away my tears with his thumbs, telling me it was going to be okay.




25 comments:

  1. That was an unexpected post, from bringing Campbell to Thanksgiving, to her father's strange attitude towards her. Now I'm more confused than before about her relationship with Campbell. What's he really doing with her?
    www.poetsandheartbreakers.com

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  2. Chris - @nylonlover69 on TwitterNovember 6, 2014 at 2:21 PM

    Campbell is definitely world wise and street smart. I too wonder what he is doing with Elizabeth, but I'm guessing that he wonders that in the dead of night too.

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  3. OMG! Their story is so sweet and twisted! Jess you are a genius with story telling!

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  4. Is it weird that I'm in love with Campbell? Because I totally am!

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    Replies
    1. Not weird at all... Love him!

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  5. This story is amazing! I didn't think I would enjoy this blog as I wasn't a fan of Elizabeth in your previous blog, but I'm always going crazy for the next post. You know a bonus post here and there wouldn't hurt!

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  6. I'm loving Campbell, too! mum

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  7. Can Elizabeth and Campbell fall in love please!!!

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  8. I love it, but I hate that I know she ends up with Peter, leaves Peter and eventually gets knocked up and ends up alone on a park bench crying.

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  9. I really wish we could do away with the Tessa story and post Elizabeth 2X's a week this is great!!!!

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  10. I always look forward to Thursday!!!

    Even though it is so twisted, I found this post really endearing. I love Campbell and Elizabeth together, even though we already know that their love is tragic!

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  11. So Campbell is the baby daddy in the original story righhhtttt?

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  12. Was thinking the exact same thing Ashley Tyler.

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  13. Yeah the more I read of this the more I need to go back and reread Josie's story to try and fit the pieces together! I'm so addicted to this story and your writing!

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  14. LITERALLY CAN'T EVEN. NEXT THURSDAY GET HERE ASAP PLEASE

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  15. This was unexpected... Campbell and Elizabeth are so hot and cold I can't keep up. I too wonder if Campbell was the father of her baby. Can't wait to see how this plays out and curious to know when Peter comes into the picture.

    http://jocelynseverydayjourneys.blogspot.com

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  16. oh man. I have to agree with your other readers. There's just something about Campbell...

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  17. I love Campbell, but for some reason I've been picturing him much older. Their relationship is twisted but sweet at the same time! Great post :)

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  18. whatever happens, don't let Campbell be using her as it was slightly suggested in the last post. I mean, they had that making love scene where he called her out on being distant... and he has been obsessed with her to some point now, we'd all be deflated if this romance was another twisted thing rather than actual love. I know that sounds cheesy but just wanted to get that off my choice. To those of you who aren't sure what you love about Campbell, it's easy. He's large, in charge, mysterious, bold, emotional but only subtly. We like that he shows up out of no where and always gives Elizabeth what she wants (romantic) but in a way that he's totally in charge of and cool about (masculine). I dated a guy like this, pretty magnetic. I do think he should've been older, 30 for good measure. Maybe we can assume he lied to the dad to be appropriate. I'd really like to get the rest of the backstory on Campbell at this point? How much did he know about Bridget's plan with Elizabeth, was he apart of it? How long has he been selling drugs for? Is it for revenge? Are we all okay with that? That parts a little weird and creepy. Maybe he gets busted and goes to jail and it's not that he breaks Elizabeth's heart or does Elizabeth just stop being with him because it won't impress her parents... hmmmm.

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  19. Hey can someone explain the timeline? In reference to when the events in this post take place, when does she start dating Peter? And when does her mom have the stroke?

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