Authors: Susan Ward
Tags: #coming of age, #New Adult & College, #contemporary
The Girl On The Half Shell
Cover Design by Laura Shinn Designs
Copyright © 2014 Susan Ward
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For my bugs
At eighteen I could not see the future. None of us can. What I didn’t know at eighteen is that none of us really see the present. It is full of random moments and others we think significant, but we can’t tell at the time, not really, which is which.
Table of Contents
People would have stared at my father even if he had not been famous. He is just that kind of man, but it has taken me until the age of eighteen to understand that. In my younger years, when I hated Jack in fleeting spurts, I thought fame was like a suit; he could take it off for me if he wanted to. Now I know better than to have childish expectations of what my father can or can’t do for me. Life with Jack is what it is. It is enough that he showed tonight, even if he did miss nearly the entire senior class spring recital.
I carefully conceal myself in the stage curtains as I watch Jack slipping into the auditorium and fading back into his customary seat in the far left corner. I can feel him in the darkened theater though I can only make out the hazy detail of his shape with my eyes.
Any other parent making that entrance would have had no impact on the audience. It is soundless. But my father is Jackson Parker, an icon of the sixties, forever part of the music and voice of a generation, and the entire chemistry of the room instantly alters.
Rene drops her chin on my shoulder as she stares out at the audience. “So, Jack did come,” she says. She frees my fingers from the shabby velvet and tosses a harsh glare at the curtains, their age-beaten elegance a thing she finds preposterous since the private Catholic boarding school we reside at costs a small fortune in tuition each year. The shabbiness of the facility she is certain is nothing more than deliberate proletarian punishment for children of non-proletarian families. “He said he would come and actually showed. Chalk one up for team Jack. That’s more than my dad ever does. Some girls just don’t know when they are lucky. It could be worse, Chrissie. Your dad could be my dad.”
Criticism with a joke chaser: a typical Rene-ism that might have made me laugh if it didn’t remind me that even Rene didn’t fully get me at times. In fairness, I don’t always get myself. I like my dad. I really do. Everyone likes Jack, but the first emotion I always feel when I see my father is an intense desperation for him to leave.
I brush at the little balls of dust on the formerly flawless black of my dress. “I should have practiced more.”
Rene gives me the look. “Practiced more? That’s all you’ve done since your audition for Juilliard was scheduled. You couldn’t have practiced more if you tried. Besides, I don’t think it’s possible for you to disappoint Jack.”
Another nails on the chalkboard moment:
. I hate when my friends call my dad Jack, the easy familiarity they manage with him when my own relationship with my father has never been anything close to easy.
As I wait for the music director to introduce me, icy nerve bands tighten my stomach. It is so stupid to want the floor to swallow me whole, but for some reason since scheduling my audition for Juilliard I have worked into my mind the notion that my future would be foretold by this performance. I’ve never known what I want to do with my life and the decision to audition for Juilliard seems the first decision I’ve made about who I am and who I want to be.
“Please, help me welcome our final performance tonight, our featured soloist, Miss Christian Parker, who we hope will soon depart us for Juilliard.” I nearly miss my introduction and, after hearing it, I wish I had. It seems an impossible to fulfill expectation since I know that my talent isn’t Juilliard gifted standard.
Focus. Sit on chair. Adjust instrument. Nod. Breathe, Chrissie, breathe. I start to move the bow and my fingers in a sheltering cocoon of Hayden’s Cello Concerto No. Two in D Major.
The music finishes and the music director comes to my chair offering his hand. I bow amid the thundering applause as Jack slips quietly from the theater before the ovation dies down. In and out of my world like a shooting star. This shooting star I know where to find next. It is a familiar routine to minimize the bullshit of other parents interfering in our father-daughter time. Exit scene left, reappear next scene in the privacy of my dorm room.
Backstage I start to carefully put my instrument into the case. Out of the corner of my eye I see the school’s three most popular girls closing in on me.
Crap, not Eliza and her mob. That’s the last thing I need tonight.
Eliza has that breezy confidence and overt sexuality of a girl who comes from money and knows she is pretty. Money somehow provides her a wash that her prettiness is more than it is, that she is more than she is, that she is somehow more in the room than anyone else could ever be. I am never in the room as much as Eliza is.
These girls are all from money, and they wear it like goddesses preparing for dazzling futures. Their confident prettiness makes me feel like there is something wrong with me. I never feel I fit with them.
It is Rene I identify more with, a girl genuinely suffering in her emotional convolution, no matter what she projects on the surface, no matter what people say about her. Still, it would be nice to know once what it felt like to be Eliza.
Her red, pouting lips curl into a cat-like smile directed at me. It should piss me off. It has the opposite effect: it diminishes me.
Eliza tosses her hair back over her shoulder, a signature move. “Hey, Parker, everyone is meeting up at Peppers and we’re having a party tonight. Sort of a kick-off before we all tailgate down to Palm Springs. Why don’t you come?”
Rene gives me a sharp look as if I need to be warned what they are up to. They are messing with me, obviously out for a little human sport tonight. Pick on the weak girl; make her feel inferior before going off for their super-duper plans. I hate this game, but even knowing they are messing with me I am stupidly flattered by the invitation.
I say nothing and Tami smiles at me. “We can pick you up at your house in about an hour. You are on your way home with Jack, aren’t you?”
The mention of Jack helps me find my voice. These girls are so obvious at times. How did they manage never to appear pathetic? They are still superior even in their obviousness.
“I can’t go. Rene and I are leaving early in the morning for New York,” I say.
“Ah, that’s right. You’re not off to Palm Springs with the rest of the seniors.” Eliza smirks.
“God no, we’re not off to Palm Springs. Why would anyone want to be anywhere you are?” Rene says.
Eliza lifts a perfectly waxed brow. “Because anyone who is anyone will be there. And that doesn’t include you, Rene. I don’t recall you being invited.”
I look up at the circle of girls. I hate that phrase: anyone who is anyone. Eliza works it into every conversation. Rene calls them perfectly wretched. They are strangely seductive in their artificial charm and downright meanness. Life looks so clearly defined and easy for Eliza.
“Come on, Rene, we really need to hurry,” I say quickly, trying my best to be cutting with icy civility. “I don’t want to keep my dad waiting.”
Eliza flicks a shiny black curl over her shoulder. “Don’t run home, Parker. It’s the last Friday before break. Everyone is going to be there. It’s not like you have to run home and practice for your audition. It’s not like they’re going to turn you away. You could play chop sticks with your toes and Juilliard would accept you.”
“You know what your problem is, Eliza? You don’t take anything in life seriously if it doesn’t involve you,” Rene snaps in quick defense.
In a moment the girls are surrounding Rene all angry and superior. Jeez! Not again. Eliza shoves her face into Rene’s. “I wasn’t talking to you. You know with her connections she doesn’t have to worry about anything. It’s clear that she doesn’t get the right kind of support from you. If you were a real friend you’d back off and stop pulling her down with you.”
“You’d be a lot more popular if you dumped Rene,” Jane says intensely into my face in a way that makes me want to slap her. “She’s a very odd girl. Everyone likes you, Chrissie. They just don’t like her. Too mean. Too messed up.”
“Too ready to mess around with everyone’s boyfriend,” Tami says snidely.
That should have humiliated Rene. It is cuttingly cruel partly because it is true. I stare at Rene, hurt for her.
Rene just glares. “It’s not my fault that the guys you date all get bored with stupidity and narcissism.”
“And being a slut makes you a genius?” Tami coolly lifts a brow.
“No, the sixteen hundred on my SATs makes me a genius. The sex I do for fun. You’d know that if you had sex for fun instead of to hide your lack of intelligence.”
“I don’t have sex at all,” Tami says.
Rene gives her a nasty smile. “God, what a phony you are. Lying about it is almost as bad as using your body for power. Both are self-depreciating. That’s what makes you not a genius. You don’t screw for fun and you lie about it.”
Eliza is wide-eyed staring at me. It is clear this isn’t going the way she wants and that she doesn’t know what to do with Rene’s comment. I watch as it seems to take Eliza an excessively long time to formulate her response.
“Look, Chrissie, we can pick you up in about an hour so long as Rene doesn’t tag along,” Eliza says firmly. Then, fake sweet face in place: “Look, you have to swear not to tell Brad that I told you, but he’s going to be there. He really wants to see you. I think he wants to patch things up.”
And there is the hook. There is always a hook with girls like these.
“It’s going to be a killer party,” Jane says enthusiastically. “Eliza’s dad booked the private room at Peppers. Everyone’s going to be there. Brad got some really, really good coke for his birthday. He wants to celebrate with you.”
I realize that Eliza is watching the change of my expression and enjoying it in some sort of sick way. Stupid and cruel. I turn my focus back to packing up my stuff. “Enjoy your party.” I snap the cello case closed.
Eliza gives me an impatient frown. “God, Chrissie. Do you have to be so touchy about everything? There’s no rule that says you have to do the drugs. You won’t end up like your brother just by going to a party and having fun. Don’t you think you need to get beyond your brother, Parker? I’m sure they have parties at Juilliard. Are you going to ditch those too?”
My face burns and my stomach turns. That easily Eliza can diminish me into something small and inadequate. Get over my brother? Where does a girl get the nerve to say such a thing to someone? It is insensitive and cruel and ugly. Why didn’t it make her look ugly? She still looks Eliza perfect. I stare at her. There is a sudden, painfully heavy quiet all around me.
“Back off, Eliza,” Rene screams in a voice that shakes the rafters.
Father Morris looks up from the first row of the theater. He locks eyes on me and I lower my gaze because I know what he is thinking. Father Morris sees too much, too much of the time, though he’s kind of cool in that young priest, reformer sort of way where he tries to work the problems one-on-one with the students. I’m one of his favorite projects and I know his reaction to this. He didn’t hear Eliza. He’s thinking I shouldn’t be friends with Rene. He’s thinking he should call my father even though I’ve begged him not to. He’s thinking I lie every time I tell him I am OK and everything is just fine.
I look back up to see if Father Morris is still watching and focus back on Rene’s tirade. “…And I hope someday you get everything you deserve in life.”
Rene says that with just the perfect amount of bite. I hate that I didn’t say something to defend myself. I rush offstage and set off across campus with Rene following, praying that Father Morris doesn’t follow to the dorm room as well. I’ve told Father Morris things I haven’t told anyone. Things I haven’t told Rene. Things I doubt I’ll ever tell Jack.