Chapter 63

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January 2015

Against my better judgment, I agree to attend Caroline's birthday dinner at a swanky new restaurant downtown. I arrive early and am already seated at the table when the Allston's stride in as a cohesive unit, reeking of status and money. Something must have gone down on the way over here because each is in a worse mood then the next.  

I get up to give Caroline a birthday hug and offer Derrick my cheek which he stiffly kisses. They both look so tan and healthy after their Hawaiian vacation and I can't help but feel a little envious, wishing that I had more than a night to get away from all this myself. I say hello to Theo and Allison Allston, remembering that they were also on the trip makes Hawaii suddenly sound a little less desirable.  

We all sit awkwardly around the table until the waiter comes and takes our drink orders. Everyone falls silent again as we pretend to pour our interests in the menu. There is little small talk. I could kick myself for agreeing to this, especially after I specifically swore to myself I'd never do it again, not after 1943 and the last time I was ambushed at a dinner by him. I glare over the top of my menu at Derrick sitting diagonally from me. The waiter returns with our drinks and we place our orders. Now there is nothing to do but wait. Theo breaks the silence by making a toast. 

"To our wonderful daughter Caroline on her birthday. Salute." He and Allison take sips of their expensive cocktails while the rest of us follow suit with our sodas. I sneak a glance over at Caroline, who doesn't seem to be enjoying the dinner thrown in her honor as much as I would expect her to. She seems preoccupied. She must not have gotten the car that she's been rallying for ever since missing out on one on her sixteenth birthday. I wonder if Derrick has told her about the party he's put together for her after we get this stuffy dinner out of the way. Surely that at least would have brightened her mood a little. 

"So Ellie, how did you spend the holidays?" Theo Allston's voice slices through my wandering thoughts and steers me back on course. His eyes are locked on me, staring me down. 

"I stayed here." It's almost a whisper. I'm still intimidated after all these years; it's pathetic. But I know what he's capable of and what he thinks and if I'm lucky, I won't have much to do with him this lifetime. 

"And whatever trouble did you do get up to here?" he laughs, not finished with me yet. 

"I worked." He lets out a big laugh and grins impressively at me. 

"From what I understand you're a very hard worker, and top of your class too?" I shrug, not comfortable taking a compliment from him. "Very admirable." He shoots a look over at his two children. "You two should be learning from this," he chastises, pointing in my direction with his fork. Allison snorts before taking another sip of wine. The whole thing is awful and incredibly uncomfortable. I look around praying for the waiter to appear with our appetizers and end this torture. Caroline pipes up from her funk. 

"I don't know daddy, I think we do pretty well for ourselves. I mean Derrick is on the varsity basketball team and in student government, and I'm super popular and was the lead in last year's play. Plus we were both smart enough to pick Ellie, me as a best friend and Derrick as his girlfriend. Of course, I might not be as popular anymore, not without a car..." She smiles innocently up at him, but keeps her eyes wide and full of hurt; it's a masterful performance.  

"Enough with the car!" snarls Allison from across the table. "You are not getting a car until you can show some responsibility young lady. Sneaking out at all hours, lying--" Her tirade is cut short by the arrival of our appetizers. The table falls quiet, putting on masks of civility for the waiter. We all silently begin to eat our meals.  

I sneak a glance over at Allison, its hard knowing exactly what she thinks of me and its equally hard knowing she has so many of her facts wrong. Giving my head a slight shake, I force another bite. I made it a point to sit as far away from Theo Allston as possible, and now, observing him watching me over his soup spoon, it seems it was a wise decision.  

Dinner is long and unbearable, with snide comments and outright unpleasant behavior displayed by all of them. It's a relief when Theo finally pays the bill and we get up to leave. In the after dessert chaos, Caroline goes to the restroom, Allison gets a phone call, and Derrick goes back to the car to see if he left his parking voucher. Before I know how it happened, I'm standing at the front of the restaurant by the bar, alone with Theo Allston. He puts his jacket on, while keeping his eyes locked on me.  

"You look lovely tonight Eleanor," he says in what almost sounds like a gentle voice but has a crudeness lying in wait there somewhere. I smile my thanks at him, but don't respond in any other way. He takes my coat from my hands and I begrudgingly let him help me on with it, having little choice in the matter. My body moves stiffly as I slide my arms into the sleeves, careful not to graze against him in any way.  

"I'm surprised that you've chosen to date Derrick. I'm sure a girl like you has many choices." He runs his hands down along the sides of my body and I step away from him in a flash, wrapping my coat around me and cutting him off. 

"A girl like me does have many choices Mr. Allston," I confirm. "And I'm confident that I've made the right one." 

"But surely Derrick can't make you happy?" he asks, leering at me. He sickens me but I manage to keep eye contact with him. 

"Derrick makes me incredibly happy, in every way." He leans back against the bar and looks me over. I haven't managed to ruffle him and he still looks like he's holding the power. 

"Oh I doubt that." He shakes his head and then I notice his eyes glaze over as he takes in my flushed face and burning glare. "You remind me of someone I once knew." He's staring at my hair now and then he finds my eyes. I can tell he's had a little too much to drink by the confounded look that takes over his face. I lean into him, unsure of the move I'm about to make but thrilled at the same time. 

"Do I?" I whisper into his ear as his eyes grow large with excitement. He nods. "Do I remind you of Sarah Craig?" I breathe delicately, noticing his body stiffen against mine.  

At that moment Derrick happens to return, knowing nothing of the inappropriate conversation his father and I were just having. I straighten up and smile at Theo who looks like he's seen a ghost. Sliding my arm around Derrick's waist, I do my best to look lovingly up at him. For the slightest moment he looks amused, but then he quickly gets into the act for the benefit of his father, and looks adoringly back at me as his mother and Caroline round the corner. Theo just stands there studying me, making no attempt to hide his gaze. 

"Thank you so much for dinner Mr. Allston," I say sweetly, as Derrick kisses his mother goodnight. I feel his father's eyes on me the whole time. He's made the connection and I'm not sure what this will now mean, but I welcome the chance for some more answers. Just as Derrick ushers Caroline and me out the door, I hear Theo call out to us. 

"You kids have fun!" he hollers after us. "Don't go looking for trouble." I flinch. The malice in his voice doesn't go unnoticed by me.

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