I wasn’t stupid. I knew what Eric thought when he looked at me. He presumed that I was just some snobby rich kid in the midst of a tantrum. I suppose it could be seen that way but that was oversimplifying things. More than once I’d seen people haul out the world’s tiniest violin when I was having problems, as if somehow having money wiped the slate clean all the time.
In fact, having the kind of money I came from often meant I had a completely different set of problems to deal with. I was guarded because I didn’t know who was approaching me just because they were hoping I would become their piggy bank. I didn’t have to marry Bill for his money. My own trust fund was significant. In fact, we had even signed prenuptial agreements at the insistence of both of our parents.
Had to protect the family fortunes.
I could concede that I was a little spoiled. My parents had raised me to have high standards and accept nothing below them. So while Eric might have thought I was a snotty bitch for balking at the offer to be a waitress, I didn’t care. Going by the standards my parents had raised me to have, it was beneath me.
Plus, one look at him and I knew the reason he’d come to talk to me was because he was checking me out. Like I said, I wasn’t stupid.
Amelia’s house was gorgeous. Not quite as fancy as I was used to, but nice all the same. She was right on the beach and there were pretty views from just about every room in the house. My room overlooked the street, but there was a little living area just outside of my room with a panoramic window and the sunsets were breathtaking. If the sunsets looked like that in New York maybe my life would be different.
That probably wasn’t true.
I was lounging on a chaise in a blue and white striped bikini when Amelia got home from wherever she’d been. She was already gone when I woke up that morning, probably at yoga or something like that.
“Hey,” I smiled up at her.
“Hey, how are you doing?” she smiled back.
“Alright. I took my car by the shop and everything checked out just fine.” It was a barely used Infiniti SUV but I just wanted to make sure everything was fine. One never knew with dealers if they were being completely honest about their inspections. “I met Tray’s friend Eric. He said we met before but I don’t remember meeting him.”
“Oh yeah, it was when you and Bill came out for that week after Tray and I got back from our honeymoon. He was the one with the little girl that wouldn’t let him put her down at that little dinner party,” she said.
I searched my memory but it wasn’t ringing any bells for me.
“Nope, I have no idea who that was,” I told her. “Apparently he didn’t make much of an impression.”
“Not surprised. He was going through a divorce and dealing with child custody issues. He stayed pretty quiet since Josie was being so clingy,” she shrugged. “He’s a great guy though.”
“Really? Seemed like a bit of an asshole to me,” I told her.
“Huh, that’s actually surprising. He’s usually really sweet,” she replied.
“Maybe I caught him on an off day,” I shrugged. I wasn’t going to worry about it. It’s not like I planned on spending a ton of time with him anyway.
“Could be. Do you want to hang out here, or run with me to get some coffee and pick up something to make for dinner?” she asked. “I want to go to the farmer’s market.”
“I’ll go with you. It would be nice to see more of the city,” I said. I wasn’t that great with directions and driving around by myself, even with the GPS made me a little nervous I was going to get hopelessly lost. The fact that I made it to California in one piece was nothing short of a miracle.
“Okay. You may want to get dressed. Your tits are great, but they may be a little distracting in public,” she joked.
I snickered and sat up slowly.
“One guy went by on roller blades and totally wiped out in the sand because he stared too hard,” I told her.
“See?” she chuckled. “Cover those puppies up or you’re going to hurt someone.”
“It’s not my fault they stare at my tits,” I shrugged. I managed to not stare at other women’s breasts every day.
I got up off my chair and followed Amelia inside the house. Up in my room I changed out of my bikini and into a magenta sun dress I had planned to wear while out and about doing touristy things in the Bahamas. Instead I was doing touristy things in California.
Eric’s question about how long I planned on staying had me thinking.
I’d always wanted to live close to the beach. Bill and I had spent a few summers out in the Hamptons and several wonderfully romantic weekends out in Montauk or at Martha’s Vineyard, but it wasn’t the same as being on a beach in southern California. Things felt a little more relaxed and definitely less… WASPy. It wasn’t so pretentious, I guess.
I needed something less pretentious.
I finished getting dressed and then went back downstairs to meet Amelia in her kitchen. She was making a list, or so it seemed.
“Ready,” I said with a smile.
“Okay. Is there anything you need while we’re out? I can plan our route accordingly if we need to stop somewhere else,” she said.
“I don’t think so. I can always go out later and get it if I think of something.” I was going to have to learn my way around sometime, right?
Amelia set her pen down and looked at me. “How are you doing with all this? What happened, anyway?” She didn’t say much when I arrived, I assumed to give me some time to breathe.
“It’s like I said, I just realized Bill wasn’t the right one,” I shrugged. “Nothing about the wedding felt right to me and I didn’t want to end up in some business arrangement masquerading as a marriage, so I ran. I feel terrible about hurting Bill because he didn’t deserve it, but it would have only hurt more in ten years.”
No doubt I would have gotten pregnant and then we’d have to put our kids through a messy divorce. Even if Bill and I split amicably, our parents would make it messy with their lawyers and nonsense.
“I’m glad you figured it out before you went through with it,” she said. “Do you think you’re going to stay here a while? You’re welcome to stay with us as long as you need to.”
“I think I need to be somewhere away from the influence of my family while I figure out what I want. You know I never really cared that much about majoring in history in college. I did that for them. I can’t keep living life that way. I’m not happy, Amelia. I haven’t been for a long time,” I confessed.
“You’re a smart girl; you’ll find your happiness. On those days you feel like you can’t you have me here. I’m sure Tray would be happy to talk to you or hug you if you need it too,” she said with a soft smile. “I’m proud of you.”
“It’s pathetic, I know, but I’m not even sure what I like versus what my parents groomed me to like, you know?” Amelia was much more rebellious than I ever was. She had no problem telling her old man to fuck off. Me? I rarely ever cussed out loud because it wasn’t ladylike.
“It’s time to figure it out,” she grinned. “Do they know where you are?”
“I emailed them both.”
“Good. If they show up I have a pair of strong men to keep them away from you if they try to take you home,” she told me.
“I doubt they will.”
“Well, we have a backup plan in case they do,” she said.
“Will you promise me something?”
“Maybe, depends on what it is,” she teased. “Of course. You know I’ll do anything for you.”
I didn’t deserve that after the way I’d snubbed her but I was grateful for her support.
“Promise that you won’t let me chicken out and go home,” I told her. I knew me, and I knew it was possible I could just tuck my tail between my legs and go back because it was easier.
“I promise. You promise me to wake up every day, look in the mirror, and tell yourself you’re better than that. You’re better than the Stepford wife your parents want you to be. You’re strong and you have a sense of self-worth. Tell yourself that enough and you won’t need me to hold you back if you try to go home. This is home now. You’ll be happier here,” she smiled.
“I’m going to work on it,” I nodded.
“Good,” Amelia said. “Come on, we’re losing daylight. Do you still drink wine or have you graduated to the hard stuff yet?”
“Bill didn’t really like it when I drank so–” I stopped when I saw the way she was looking at me. “What?”
“Bill is a bad word in my house. Bill or anything elder Stackhouse related. I don’t want to know what they liked. You’re going to learn what you like. We’ll start with beer tonight,” she nodded.
“Okay,” I agreed.
“And you say whatever you want to say. If you want to say fuck, say it. Add that that’s only a grown up word if Josie is around. She’ll call you on that shit real quick,” Amelia snorted. “If you want to belch at the table. Have at it. You’re a big girl, Sookie.”
“Who is Josie?”
“Eric’s daughter. She’s eight and the cutest thing you ever did see. She’s a good kid,” she smiled. “She’s in love with my husband which is absolutely adorable.”
“With a dad like Eric, I can see why,” I snickered.
“Sookie, he’s not a bad guy,” she told me again.
“I’m going by first impressions.”
“What did he do?”
“He stared at me like I was a piece of meat and then when I declined his job offer he got all huffy with me,” I replied.
“I see,” she nodded. “Give him a second chance.”
I shrugged again. “I don’t really see us having much in common. He’s covered in tattoos and he’s got a kid. I… don’t.”
“You realize you sound like your mother right now, right?” Amelia said.
“Who else am I supposed to sound like, Amelia?”
“You’re right, Sookie. I’m going to challenge you to not judge a book by its cover. Tray is covered in tattoos and comes home caked in grease each day but you know what? I love him anyway even though the smell of grease makes me cringe,” she reminded me. “And you like him, don’t you?”
“Like who, Tray? Yes, I like Tray. I don’t see what that has to do with Eric though.”
“I’m not saying about Eric specifically, but in everyone new you meet. Don’t look at them and pass judgment. Eric is just an example. Yes, he has tattoos, but that doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy.”
“I didn’t say they did.”
“Or that it means you have nothing in common,” she added with an arched eyebrow.
“Well you know us both. What do we have in common?” I asked her.
“You’ve both grew up with nannies and silver spoons. You’ve both been in situations where the progression of the relationship was based on what someone else wanted. You both love classic rock,” she finished with a smile. “You love to watch sunsets…”
“That doesn’t mean we’re supposed to be besties and braid each other’s hair,” I said stubbornly.
“I didn’t say you are. I’m just saying he’s not the scum you probably think he is.”
“Okay, I never said scum.” Not even close to that.
“I’m willing to bet that’s the look you gave him when he offered a job,” she shrugged. “I don’t think you realize you do it.”
What the heck was she talking about?
“What look? I don’t give people a look,” I insisted.
“Sweetie, you’re making it right now,” she pointed out. “I can grab a mirror if you want to see it.”
“Ummm this is just my face,” I told her.
“No, you have a beautiful face. The way you contort it when Michelle comes out is a little offensive. You can’t hide what you’re thinking, Sookie. Everyone can see it.”
“Is it more offensive than someone staring at you like they’re trying to figure out how fast they can get you naked?” I countered.
“No, that’s pretty offensive too. If that’s how he was looking at you, then you were well within your rights to tell him so, or give him the stink eye,” she chuckled. “I’m just using him as an example though. You give judgy looks. He eyefucks people without realizing it, that’s something I’ve talked to him about too, especially with the kiddo around. That being said, I’m not the boss of you. It’s just a suggestion, Sookie.”
“Well I’d rather people think I’m a bitch for being honest than think the world of me for being fake,” I told her. If people didn’t like my opinion of them then maybe it said more about them as a person than it did me.
“Alright,” she shrugged. “Are you ready to go?”
“I was ready ten minutes ago.”
“Right.” She picked up her keys and turned to walk toward the garage.
Amelia drove a hot pink pickup truck. It was old but Tray had obviously refinished it for her.
“How old is this thing anyway?” I asked her.
“It’s a ’41,” she told me.
“This thing is almost as old as my Gran,” I said as I got in.
“Yep,” she replied. “Tray gave it to me as an anniversary gift two years ago.”
“That’s right; you guys have been married for four years already.” The weekend after we graduated from college she got on a plane, married Tray and never looked back. I thought she was nuts for marrying a guy she met online and had only spent a few wild weekends with, but they seemed to be happy together. If I was being honest, I kind of envied how easy they made it look.
“Yep, best impulsive decision I’ve ever made,” she said with a wistful smile.
It went without saying that I wasn’t the impulsive type; at least I wasn’t until a few days ago. Regardless of my decision to ditch my wedding, I wasn’t ever going to be the kind of girl who went skydiving or got married on a whim. The sad truth was, I was just too timid for something like that. It wasn’t in my nature.
At least I didn’t think it was.
It was pathetic that I didn’t know. I was past the age where it was acceptable to blame my parents for my character flaws but it was their fault. For my whole life I had been convinced that I had to do things their way. As far as I was concerned there was no other way. No one had outright said the words but it was implied.
I had been groomed to be a certain way and I had jumped through all of their hoops. I was done with all of that. While there was security in going back, it wasn’t what I wanted. I wasn’t sure of what I did want, but knowing what I didn’t want was a start.