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KING'S CROSSING


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King's Crossing©

 

"...The groundwork of the treaty was now set. Brandon will be at my side to steer me through the hardships, the adversities. The ascribed mentor to aid me unerringly in my journey through the world. Even if I should betray him during the passage..."

 

 

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Summary

 

Shortly after Gillian Bisset and her family move into the rustically, gated community of King’s Crossing at the age of 11, she catches the eye of a neighboring boy named Brandon Scott.  From this early childhood, the two forge an enduring friendship where she becomes the lifelong object of his desire well into adulthood. Despite their growing companionship or any deep affection they share, Gillian doesn’t return his love, and constantly sets her sights higher for something more ideal.  Unwittingly inflicting cruelty through rejection as Brandon tries to assert his feelings that cross the boundaries of their friendship. Through the years, both she and Brandon, along with their clique posse of friends, become inseparable as they navigate their way through adolescence and eventually, through the dating perils and unwelcoming dilemmas brought on by adulthood.

The Crossing isn’t your typical elitist, suburbanite-snob neighborhood of pristine mansions and manicured lawns.  Some of the houses are haunted, fueled by the rage of the ghosts of its ancestors.  And the kids aren’t always welcoming of newcomers. What’s more, Brandon has a dark side that builds when he suffers from her unrequited love, one that Gillian, strangely enough, gravitates to.  And with his connection to his spiritual ancestors and a gift of clairvoyance, he’ll use his psychic talent and whatever means available to gain advantage against anyone who comes between them.

 

 





Excerpt



Early Adolescence


There was a time when I didn’t believe in ghosts. Actually, that’s not true. I did believe in spirits, had a respectable fear of them based on the premise that some may be malignant towards humans. But never to the point of paralysis. Even after watching Amityville Horror for the first time when I was eight, I slept exceptionally well that very same night, knowing that it was just a movie, regardless of the eerie, chanting of innocent children chorusing the final score in that hollow melody of horror, the very same tune that struck fear in movie goers across the board. No matter how frightening the theme, I managed to keep a sensible perspective on things.

I slept soundly on that night, slumbering in a deep recess of sleep, unlike my friends who demanded that their mothers remained close by when they slid down the dark hallway during a commercial break to go to the bathroom. Not me. Nothing scared me. That is, until I moved to King’s Crossing in Wickham Point when I was re-educated on that fear.

It was in the middle of a dream when the intrusion took place. Alfred, my friend’s brother, made an unexpected appearance. I liked to think of Alfred poetically. His features were so flawless, formatted so truly from textbook perfection he could have been carved from an Italian Renaissance sculptor. Any woman could develop a crush on him by just one emotionally fatal glance. The kind that could lead to an obsession if you’re not careful, or a hit on your self esteem if you’re disillusioned enough to think he just might consider you.

He was a parallel rendition to his sister. Each of them genetically blessed. Neither one of them more favored over the other as Mother Nature tends to do so often to siblings on cruel occasions. This time around she doled an equal portion, making both brother and sister equally comely, yet not without allotting the curse of being envied and admired by peers and foes alike. We never dated, just casually and coyly observed each other out from a safe distance.

That safe distance at times was usually nothing more than sitting across from each other at the cafeteria lunch table. But with his sister (my best friend) nearby, it was just as wide as a canyon’s throw. We were both off limits to each other. Strange how siblings can get into a ‘bidding war’ over friends, especially in a brother-sister relationship where a mutual crush can bring an instant threat to the friendship already in progress. She’d even purposely set him up with another girl to put a freeze on any chance. But tonight he was mine. And his sister Layla was nowhere. I was wrapped in a heady spell of ecstasy, the kind that was beginning to make its rounds on me more frequently since I turned thirteen.

At my age, it was all new to me. And something as simple as a touch could break the dam of eroticism. Alfred cupped my head in his hands, similar to the way I’d seen actors do to women in movies. I had no idea what love looked like; what it felt like, smelled of or tasted like. These were images I had to borrow. Images I’d imported from television into this rare fantasy. So this lucid dream was mine to manipulate. It was a gift, and I felt my groin ache at his imaginary touch. Alfred regarded me steadily, studying me in a way that made my breath hitch. His jade eyes turning a bottle green before he dove at me with a kiss so famished, it broke into my lip. That was when the ground shook. Literally, fast and hard beneath us. A colossal hand, corded and gnarled with age and strength, wrapped greedily around Alfred’s throat, throwing him back by a blunt force.

I dropped to the floor, finding balance as I lowered my center of gravity. But the ground shuddered only harder and the distant sound of thunder groaned, amassing in the curling smoke of clouds above me, ejecting me from the territory of dreams and back into my bed where the hard rocking only continued in a colder reality. The headboard slammed riotously against the wall. The very sound that had camouflaged itself as the thunder in my dream. My heart pounded to break free, like a wild gorilla wrestling with the bars of its iron-grilled cage.

“Mom!” My voice clamored to a fearsome pitch with calculated intent to alarm. I drew it out in length, exaggerating with an ominous stretch of panic, competing against the explosive gunfire of the headboard jack-hammering against the wall. I could just as easily have jumped off the bed, but I was too short sighted in my fear to think with any life saving, reactive logic. Two minutes later and my bedroom door swung open with my mother, executing a giant leap -Wonder Woman style onto the bed. Seconds after she landed at my side, the rocking subsided until it ceased altogether. Centered in the darkness, a quietness slid around us, like black silk settling in and rolling down the sides of the walls.

“This is ridiculous.” She muttered, familiar with this routine disturbance. This wasn’t the first time something like this had happened. It was common. And not just in this home. Stories like this ran rampant in other homes throughout the Crossing as well.

“Is she all right?” My father called from downstairs. My mother took a deep breath then sufficed with,

“Just another incident,” Not even a moment’s pause to digest this when my father replied,

“Do you want Hellmann’s with your sandwich?”

And with similar, casual stride, she replied, “No. Mustard.”

Then an added voice, coming two doors down the hallway from my sarcastic brother, Matthew’s room,

“Gillian, we thought you had a guy in there.”

My mother and I waited expectantly, her face a shroud of uneven worry, nearly iced over in stress.

“I think it’s passed.” She whispered, as if saying it louder would challenge another tantrum. Another three minutes we waited, from 9:04 to 9:07, when it was decided in the passing stillness that I was in the clear. She pecked me on the forehead and left the room, leaving the door a sliver open so that the light from the hallway could slip through.

I was no stranger to this dilemma. I knew with a guilty conscience what had brought this on. It was the ghost of Gannon Scott, my friend Brandon Scott’s grandfather, keeping me in line. Brandon loved me, but like the comedic parody of fairy tales, I had feelings for Alfred, and Alfred had a girlfriend toward whom, I suspected, he felt ambivalent. So no one really got to be with anyone, so to speak. I suspect Gannon wanted to keep it that way. Long gone by close to a century,he was keeping vigil over Brandon’s interests. And he would continue to do so as long as I stayed here, on his turf, in the Crossing.



The Crossing


Brandon Scott had been professing his undying love for me starting back from when we were in our preteens. He was exceptionally forthright for a fourteen year old boy, flavoring his words with the kind of poetic prose that only the most experienced men knew to exploit. That was back in the day when George Orwell and J.R.R. Tolkien consumed both his time and way of thinking.

When he would spend hours at the local library devouring books along the genres of fantasy and science fiction, then later trudge back home, disenchanted by what his own reality offered to him. Knowing that his life would never be as fascinating as that of the characters whose lives he’d just spent the afternoon reading about.

Even at an age that crested on the waves of adolescence, Brandon was light years ahead of his time. I used to laugh until one day I saw the way his English teachers regarded him with the kind of reverence typically reserved to comrade professors. This was right around the time he was taking a class in Creative Language and the Art of Literature 101. One semester his class was instructed to write a “thought evoking” essay of the overcast. Clouds were dominating the skies during one rainy week. Brandon was disgusted by the assignment. He hoped the class would offer students an opportunity to stretch their creative potential, imaginatively and linguistically; write the kind of stories he’d read about. Here was his chance to take the helm of his own tale, design a world of his own making. Cast himself as the dashing protagonist who gets the girl, maybe even beats up a few villains along the way. Not script briefings on the local weather forecast. He thought such assignments were puerile. So he reduced his essay to four sentences, sticking it to them by writing…‘The sky was flat and dull. The grayer part of overcast dooming the landscape to the threat of rain. Make of it what you will. That’s all you’re getting.’

And he still received an A.

Brandon and I first met when he was in the eighth grade. Whenever he professed his love, I knew there was a sizeable universe of beautiful women he had yet to see. When that day came, my beauty would fade relative to the women who would far outrank me in that domain. But the years passed and the myriad of women came and went. And Brandon, unshaken in his affliction to this burden of devotion to me remained steadfast in his love. I reminded him that I cared for him only as a friend. My response brought the reverse effect; a solid and repeated ‘no’ that only made him yearn for me even more.

Before any of this would happen, I had to arrive here first. When I was eleven, my family and I moved into a charming house that was part of a sweet community of old mansions called King’s Crossing located in the gentle, sloping hills of Wickham Point, Connecticut. The Point was located on the shoreline, but the Crossing was situated along the rolling hills’ northern end of town. It was the only one of its kind and reminiscent of a bygone era. It stood imperially but with a dilapidated charm; a cluster of Old-World European style English cottages built in the early 1900s, their age clearly apparent by the blackened stonework marking some of the older homes, giving a haunting sense of heritage and longevity.

The homes were ornate with opulent stonework, turrets and Gothic revival accentuations that rivaled the architecture of medieval England. They had period revival accents, stone exteriors, oriel windows, multiple gabled roofs and copper hooded cupolas. We belonged in a storybook setting found only in fantasy novels. But it wasn’t your typical elitist, suburbanite-snob type neighborhood of pristine mansions.

The houses were old, the smell of must giving foul stench to every basement with a funeral plot of decrepit tombstones tucked behind the neighborhood square. Some of them were haunted, rife with ancestral poltergeists. Most of the times the spirits were dormant, but whenever they acted up, I’d call my friend Layla to sleep over and keep me company through the night. Still, the neighborhood was unbeatably elegant in its own rareness; so supremely bucolic with steeply gabled roofs and rubble stone it belonged in another era. Once you lived there and experienced the harmony of what was King’s Crossing, you could never abandon it. Ghosts or otherwise.

With few exceptions; most of the residents who moved into it have rarely deserted its borders. If you were an outsider who wanted ‘in’, you were basically deadlocked out. No pun intended to its ancestors. The streetscape served as its equal match. Every avenue remained lit under the swirling, glow of fog from the gas lamp’s golden halo. It led to an open area called Gannon Square. From its summit, you could see the harbor ten miles facing south. When you drove down King’s Way you would wave hello along the way. If you were one of those solitary introverts pained by simple gestures of social niceties, then you didn’t belong. The spirits of its ancestors would drive you out. And the neighbors would assist in lending a hand or two to that end.

Providentially, it became a principality of its own, a village city where its residents, descendents of its original dwellers, resided there to this very day. When the last house was built in the late forties, a granite stone wall was constructed as an unfinished surrounding to its borders, partly ringing it in what would become our very own Camelot.

Two black iron gates flaked with rust hinged wide open at its entrance. Time had wedged them securely into place. Never to move again like the stoned Medusa trapped by the curse of her own reflection. We were a family domain of people who looked out and cared for one another. We checked in on each other when one of us succumbed to illnesses. We listened to each other’s problems, withheld any disparaging verdict that could be held over them and dispensed the most unbiased, heartfelt advice. Veteran couples counseled the younger ones on marriage and finances. And if by chance there was a marriage in the neighborhood that headed for the rocks, no one delved in the scandal of watching the drama unfold as would be typical of most people. You never saw anyone engage in catty gossip and delighting in the throes of what could become someone’s marital calamity or soul full suffering.

That which threatened one marriage imperiled the sanctity of the Crossing. The people who lived there wanted to preserve its sacredness, so any problem that arose had to be resolved and dealt with swiftly. Even the children of King’s Crossing were well mannered, attended Sunday school and participated in local food drives. With the exception of the pact I came to be friends with who resisted the sainthood of the neighborhood’s emerging youth, they were generally of proper social etiquette.

Usually, when their parents were watching.

One year during the late fall, my friends and I took part in a food drive in an effort to raise awareness for hunger. It was called The 24 hour famine. It centered on a 24 hour hunger strike while we serviced the community during our period of fasting. It wound up garnering so much press they featured us on the local news broadcast. The venture later landed us a slot as the front cover story in The Hartford Courant. The next night, prior to the local evening newscast, a news teaser was inserted during a commercial break while my family and I were watching TV.

Optimizing the lead effect, the camera zoomed in on Brandon, me and two of our closest friends and Crossing progeny, Cody Patrick and Layla DaVincio. We were warming ourselves under a shared flannel blanket. I recognized our pact instantly from the blue and yellow pom-pom knit cap that Layla had been wearing. The shot was taken an hour prior to when we started doing restorative painting for some older homes.

That was another defining moment for me. It was one thing to live at the Crossing in the first person. It was something else to see myself omnisciently in my new life.

You didn’t have to worry about someone toilet papering your house on Halloween or mischief night. The children of the Crossing were too careful to do such a thing to King’s Valley, its alternate moniker, the surrounding plain of hills and uplands located behind the neighborhood. Besides, toilet papering was a job the kids did to other people’s neighborhoods. And once in a while to each other if a mini war broke out between two tribes, typical to petty, adolescent rivalry.

I remember the warm feeling that overtook me the day we moved into our new home. It was on a Friday morning, a laid-back weekday in late May that allowed me the day off from school. The movers were carefully unloading the furniture from the truck with extreme tenderness at the constant behest of my mother’s anxiety that something valuable would get damaged. As they cautiously proceeded through the main entryway, I noticed the elaborate design on the doorway front paneling. It was the first impression made on me; a solid mahogany double-door of beveled glass flanked by two, slender, rectangular stained glass windows. Each window was the color of topaz and pewter caming that spanned the length of its height. It looked imperial.

Next to the dull paneled front door of our previous house, it was the gateway to heaven. Only it was the actual entryway to what was becoming our new home. It symbolized a new beginning and remains my first memory of the Crossing. I always subscribed to the notion that first impressions serve as a prediction to our future in that circumstance. Take the last house we came upon before we found the one at King’s Crossing.

On the day we went to look at it during a Sunday open house in Fairfield, a skinny, bald-headed neighbor with a thick-handlebar mustache as big as the size of his nose bitched at us for parking our car next to the sidewalk that bordered his yard. People were coming in droves and flooding the street. I didn’t want him as a neighbor and resented his bad manners.

Sure enough, after my parents made a reasonable offer to which the seller was open to accepting, the deal was later rescinded when another buyer came along with a higher bid. Although that would eventually become a blessing in disguise (our destiny at the Crossing awaited around the corner) it still supported my theory on first impressions. That house just wasn’t meant to be. If the neighbor didn’t get us out, the botched deal did.

But King’s Crossing was meant to be. The sun shined in a cobalt blue sky, so clear as to bestow the ultimate benediction on our move. Not even a trace feathering of clouds dusted the skyward landscape. And though the neighbors proved more welcoming, they were just as vigilant in guarding their keep. I’d come to learn this soon enough.

One night, after sneaking out my bedroom window to meet with one of my friends, I later returned home to the unwelcoming glare of a tube flashlight shining with razor assault against my eyes. I was caught trying to climb back into my room when the circumspect greeting of Can I help you? sounded from behind.

Startled, I flung my back up against the stone siding, arms spread eagle like a caught burglar. Embarrassingly enough, it was a neighboring friend’s father, Mr. Trawford coming to investigate after noticing a suspiciously dark shadow sidling up to the house. After realizing it was just me, he good-naturedly agreed not to say anything to my parents and watched me carefully scale my way back up to my bedroom window (a valuable skill taught to me by Brandon). You had to appreciate neighbors like the Trawfords.

After spending an hour watching the move from their front porch, Brandon and his mother finally walked over to our yard and welcomed us to the neighborhood. It was a welcoming break and a better reception to the one we received two months earlier from the schnauzer who barked at us in Fairfield. I later learned that Brandon had lost his father in his early childhood. He and his mother had a close relationship that grew from his absence. So while our mothers became acquainted, Brandon and I got to know each other in our own juvenile way. He opened with,

“That’s a nice lamp,” nodding in the direction of a mover carrying a touchier floor lamp with antique accents.

“Thanks. We bought it in Quebec last year.” I boasted, thinking the location of its purchase gave us a global edge. The neighborhood smelled like ‘old’ royalty. I had to fit in.

“Really?” He asked; his tone seemed unmistakably sarcastic.

“My mother got hers at the local flea market.” Having to save face, I asked,

“Are you sure? Ours was a unique piece.”

“I’m pretty sure. Besides,” he added, “flea markets are known for their unique pieces. Do your parents always travel far just to buy furniture?”

“Oh, God no.” I said, openly scoffing at the mere suggestion. I needed to demote the image I stupidly set off to create.

“My mother does sometimes.” He stated plainly, offsetting my effort in posturing, “You get some really good deals in the South.”

So at that point, I could either confess about my parents traveling all over the country, and sometimes even leaving it to buy furniture, or I could just stick with the lie I just told him. If I chose the latter, I would avoid coming across as an insecure fraud whose story changes depending on which way the popular vote leaned.

Besides, Brandon didn’t seem like the type of person who tolerated that kind of charade. He was always ahead of the curve with a ‘leg up’ on everyone else. When he would later vie for my affections, I’d feel sorry for anyone who competed for me against him. No matter what the circumstance, Brandon had a way of turning the tide in his favor. Some guys made it only too easy for him.

When Declan Bryce, a neighboring descendent of the Crossing, later came onto the scene in the eighth grade and began pursuing me, Brandon raised the red flag. Anything Declan would do, Brandon would surpass. So while Declan gifted me with mangled bracelets he found in a Caldor’s parking lots (he honestly thought it still held some value, almost like a “finders keepers” philosophy) Brandon gave potted flowers that could be planted in the terrace my father had landscaped in the front yard. That’s not to say that Brandon never tried to give me jewelry. On one occasion, he pulled a ‘Declan’ by giving me a vintage blue, rhinestone bracelet he retrieved from his mother’s jewelry box. Apparently, it was an heirloom passed down through generations in his mother’s family. I would never have known this had I not overheard his mother reaming at him through the open windows to get it back. We were neighbors after all.

Later he asked if I’d heard anything. I told him no. I figured I’d spare him the embarrassment.

“Geez, Gillian,” he lamented, “Your deaf and you live next door. Everyone did. They all thought the house was going to roll over.”

Again; I could be honest and confess that I heard his mother screaming at him about stupidly giving away a family heirloom. Or I could just stick with the lie and pretend that I didn’t hear anything. By then, I figured that it was better to be honest with him up front and save myself the aggravation.

Throughout our teens, our childhood phasing to adulthood, Brandon loved me through it all. He stubbornly reminded me every chance he had.

From a little stuffed animal whose tag would read I love you, Gillian, to outspoken words of I still love you, Gillian; Brandon made himself, plain and simple, a thorn on my side. Although some people thought it was endearing, I didn’t. I wanted only his friendship and I didn’t need him sabotaging it.

Yet strangely, he was hard to resist in other ways. He loved me with devastating devotion, curiously dispatching himself to my side to keep guard through the night. Sometimes after I’d fallen asleep, I would stir awake, only to find him lying next to me, pillow side with his eyes steeped into mine in a concentrated look.

Startled, I’d leap off the bed, watching as his image grew fainter and my sanity came into question. When I mentioned it to him the following day, he casually replied, ‘Sorry about that. Lucid dreaming, you know. I was thinking about you last night while I was falling asleep. Our minds must have crossed paths in some realm. Next time you see me, close your eyes and go back to sleep.’

I didn’t know what to fear more; the fact that he was so casual about this paranormal phenomenon. Or that there would be a ‘next time’.

Brandon was also a dichotomy. He had a darker side that would render him the anti-hero in any romantic novel. In similar vein to your typical antagonist of calculating means, with his brooding, extremist and all too consuming desire for me, he would sometimes date my friends just to provoke me to jealousy. It worked every time. I guess I didn’t want another girl gaining a monopoly on his attention over me.

I wasn’t ready to relinquish his worship on me just yet. I was probably just as possessive as he was. He would openly flaunt any romanticize play on them. Despite Layla’s warning that it was a farce I shouldn’t fall for, I did every time. Partially because he strategically chose girls he previously saw me socializing with, knowing that envy was riper when it involved someone I knew. When I’d later see him openly kissing the subject female in the hallways, I would confront him (naturally after she’d gone away) and demand “just what is it you think you’re doing?” I don’t know why I challenged him. It was scary to confront Brandon.

He could be intimidating and merciless. He stood his ground with a fierce resolve, making the opposition seldom worth the effort. Besides, it wasn’t any of my business and he was happy to remind me of that. He’d turn on me menacingly, a sinister satisfaction streaking his eyes to ask,

“Why do you care? I’m not your boyfriend. Ever think of that?” As if this was his ransom in exchange for my love. Brandon had a probing interest in the way my mind worked, what roused me to jealousy, and he loved to test the limits of those emotions on experiment. The intensity of this bizarre interest made me just as coercively curious in him. Sickeningly, it had a draw to it. The next time I saw him making his rounds on her again, I kept my mouth shut and my opinions to myself. Now having the inside ‘know’ of the green-eyed monster that lurked within the caverns of my mind, Brandon became determined to exploit the juice of envy that for him, tasted like nectar.

He would block my path, knowing that I’d seen them together and inquire “Has your jealousy run its course through your system yet, Gillian?” Then titillating the explosiveness of this sentiment, “How does it make you feel?” Caressing the word ‘feel’ with the blade of his tongue. Then he’d mock me, stroking my cheek and lip with his thumb before I jerked away from his touch where, against my own will, I’d felt an arousing tingle sliver through me. I hated him. The reaction he coaxed from me caused a reluctant pleasure that ripped through my groin.

But I ignored it, sweeping past him, purposefully slamming into him on the way (I hurt myself more than him; he was strapping, compact as rock, conditioning for football season) and strode off indignantly to fifth period class. The only thing I can think of to explain the irrational pang of envy that held me hostage was this; I thought of Brandon as belonging to me. I didn’t want to share center stage of his attention with her or anyone else.

But when that came to pass, those emotions quelled, I was able to gain perspective on our friendship. Once again, he was the love-him-like-a-brother type of guy. Always listening as I ranted about my problems, dropping everything he was doing to run to my aid.

Easy bait. Never challenging. Not the mean, tough jerk I usually aspired to having. I wanted to be friends with him. Not be with him. I warned him repeatedly that one day I would find someone else. It was far better that he move on now. He had my blessing to find love with someone else. And Providence, holding me captive to my own words, brought this prophecy to fruition.

Only on reverse. He had found someone, or rather, someone had found him. I was shocked but reminded myself that I never loved him romantically. That for me to feel possessive of him was nothing short of selfish. Until the day came when fate tested my resolve and forced my eyes on them together. From the way he pulled her near to him, to the way she held his gaze, he was no longer annoying Brandon vying for my affections. He was a man in love, wanted by someone else.

Worst of all, I no longer mattered to him. It was around this time when I realized that maybe I’d made a mistake. Determined not to give up, I had to find a way to get him back. The only problem; he was with her now. And given her tenacity to keep him, I knew she would never surrender him without a fight.




Present Day ~ August
Gemini’s Twin


"What do you think? I wrote it exactly as you said I should.” It was a warm Saturday afternoon in early August. I was sitting at the outdoor patio at Gemini’s Twin, the local coffeehouse in the downtown district of Wickham Point during lunchtime. My friend Layla sat across from me. Her arms folded on the table as she leaned forward expectantly. At my goading, she finally agreed to try online dating.

In return, I promised to help write her online dating profile. Get a printout of what you’ve written so far and we’ll go from there, I told her. And don’t post anything until I’ve had a chance to review it for you. Layla had a heart of gold but her naivety sometimes drove her to make dimwitted comments. I didn’t want her to make a fool of herself. Especially since it would be viewed by hundreds of people in the local area who would be on the same dating site.

In the female realm, she is my closest companion. Together, we steered our way through the hardships of adolescence until we reached the shores of womanhood, like the beaches of Normandy where the battle of life and love really began. On the night when I convinced her to join, both she and I were on a verbal rampage, venting at the men of the world.

She maintained she had more reason to be frustrated than me by virtue of the fact that she’d been at it a lot longer. Grant it, she just turned twenty-seven a week ago, so I would hardly qualify one year my senior a veteran of the dating scene. She simply had a mere lead on me of just ten months.

Our story: we’d just been ditched for what seemed to be the hundredth time. We couldn’t figure out why the men we wanted were always quick to trade us in for something better. At least she finally decided to give up on the hunt for Reed, a senior tax consultant working for Deloitte & Touche whom she met about three months earlier on a train ride one morning to visit Clay. He was the other guy she had been dating at the time who had an apartment in Stamford. After dropping Clay, Reed became the new object of her attraction, a fascination that lasted for nearly two months.

Supposedly, he was everything she’d been looking for in a man. He was tall, handsome and possessed the kind of magnetism that nice guys like Clay seemed to lack (who, by the way, were only too easy to come by). I met Reed one night at one of the local pubs when he came up our way from Stamford. Despite Layla’s aggressive campaigning for him, I wasn’t similarly impressed. All I saw was a smooth talker with chiseled looks and a New York fashion sense where he greased his hair back, a stamped look that rendered him a throwback to the 1920s golden age.

He took every opportunity available to admire reflections of himself that caught off of windows and mirrors. I nicknamed him Narcissus. And though Layla took offense, she wholly embraced it when he finally got around to snubbing her. I learned from experience that any guy who is that into himself is arrogant, sizes a girl up for the type of trophy she’ll make on his arm and leaves her when someone better comes along.

Similar to the way Layla left Clay for Reed. After their third date, she shot an Email over to Clay claiming that he was moving too fast: a run of the mill excuse letting him down easy. Clay wasn’t even trying to get serious at that point, just following through on an earlier date he had with her. And though he called her numerous times to talk it over, she would let it roll over to voice mail, vowing she’d call him back. Only to put it off until his calls became less frequent and a return call was no longer necessary.

At this point, her attention was far too absorbed into Reed, who incidentally started losing interest after three weeks when his calls became less frequent; although somehow it managed to drag out for six more weeks. I suspected it was likely due to Layla’s ensuing pursuit (she picked up where he left off) and the fact that there was an executive dinner coming up where Reed worked. He figured she’d make a model example to impress his peers. We only know this because Reed was cad enough to admit this to her, believing in his single- mindedness that he was paying her a compliment. Proving my theory that men like Reed had agendas that were only designed to serve themselves.

Today Layla wore a yellow baby doll top paired with cropped jeans and ankle strap sandals. She was the poster child for the buoyantly lighthearted model in a Lancôme advertisement. The ones featuring brides frolicking about on a luxuriantly green lawn in a billowy gown amidst an ensemble of garland headed little girls gazing up at her with infinite adoration. There was no reason for her to keep getting ditched, or for Reed to stop calling her (regardless of his agenda). She should be the one in charge, ‘calling the shots’ in a relationship and leave men pining for her.

The problem was that the ones she wanted stopped wanting her after the initial stage of interest expired.

I read it back to her, line by line, ridiculing her choice of words. “Social setting…life of the party?” I asked. My eyebrows rose skeptically. That is not what I told her to say.

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Lai, you’re a pleasure to be around, but… I don’t know.” I treaded carefully. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say that you’re the life of the party.”

“You don’t think I’m fun?” A look of hurt splattered her eyes as she took a sip of her Jet Tea.

“Of course you’re fun to be around.” I offered more encouragingly. “It’s just that you’re a little more…composed. That’s where your appeal comes from. You don’t have to try hard like some other people.”

She smiled. It satisfied her. I scribbled in the correction on her printout and moved on. “Okay…” I scanned the page, “height, five foot six?”

Her expression hardened. She knew where I was going with this. “Layla, you’re five foot eight. Why do you want to lie?”

“Men don’t like tall women.” She asserted indignantly, picking at the olives in her Mediterranean salad.

“Says who?”

“Says everyone.”

“Who’s everyone?”

“Look Gillian, men are insecure. Everyone knows that. They want someone who’s petite.” I could tell she was cross now. Embittered by experience.

“You are petite.” I insisted, crossing out the six and replacing it with an eight. “You know, five foot eight really isn’t that tall. And F.Y.I., men don’t like when they’re expecting one thing and something else shows up.” She raised her eyebrows, conceding to my point.

I continued inspecting the page, halting at the all the red flags that littered across the section of My Impression of Life. I was horrified by what I read.

Let’s get one thing straight. I am not a perfect woman. I am a living human being! I am a woman who’s just looking to love and be loved. If you are looking for that ideal woman, keep moving and don’t waste my time! I have had enough bad relationships to last a lifetime. If you are looking for that mythical goddess, then look elsewhere. You will not find it here! You have to keep it real with me if you want me to keep it real with you. You have to accept me for everything I am, flaws and all.

It was so outrageous I burst out laughing.

“What?” She asked, half smiling, half concerned.

“Lai, this paragraph where you talk about yourself in your own words, don’t write that.”

“You told me to.” “

I know I did, but,” Did she really have to buy into it? “I’m not sure that saying this is such a good idea. It’s too…bold.”

“What’s wrong with bold.” She objected, buttering a roll and nibbling at it, “Jackie is bold. It never hurt her.” I caught my breath as she uttered this.

Layla knew better than to compare herself to Jackie.


Before we knew anything about her, she was known all over as “Jack from the Tracks”. In the early stage of our youth, we were a tight clique; me and my neighboring friends from King’s Crossing: Layla DaVincio, Cody Patrick and Brandon Scott, four well-behaved, virtuous kids from Connecticut’s modern day Camelot. At least, we were recognized for being highly principled for our age before Jackie Lambros, the Greek, came onto the scene and corrupted us, or so was popular consensus.

One evening in Gannon Square, there was a new girl in town whom no one had ever seen before. She was contentedly sprawled on a bench, lounging tranquilly like a lion in the savannah grasslands after feasting on venison. Her hair was a dense coiling of jet black waves framed delicately around the slant of spiteful green eyes.

A complimenting scowl warned that she was not to be affronted. She reminded me of a witch, but not the ugly variety. The beautiful kind found in modern day fairytales who seduced men to corruption like the mythical Lilith. She called herself Jackie and let Cody be agent to her induction.

At first, we were worried that she might have moved into the neighborhood. Much to our relief, we learned she didn’t live there. She was from Eastford; another city on the other side of the river from Wickham Point. That didn’t stop Cody, the wanderer, from bringing her around. He’d met her during one of his reclusive exploits.

He was like a little boy hauling in a stray cat and expecting a unanimous acceptance of adoption from his family. We refused at first. But Cody was determined to give her permanent status in our domain. Up until Jackie, whoever was part of the Camelot Clique, a term we coined for the various groups in King’s Crossing, had to be from the Crossing. No exceptions. Nobody from the outside could be admitted.

Cody was ready to break that rule again, and he wasn’t about to let popular dissension stand in the way. It was like a conflict of interest between the governing body and the Head of State. He wanted her in. The King’s ‘senate of kin’ wanted her out. It was that simple. We knew nothing about her. Whatever little we did know was far from encouraging. Jackie came with a bad set of credentials. She was from the sordid part of another city near the I-95 underpass: a place where the kids from her region spent more time cutting classes and smoking joints rather than attending school.

We pegged her as someone who had no place in our society. On the contrary, the children of King’s Crossing had high expectations for themselves. Many of whom were being groomed for Ivy Leagues and top-tier SAT scores that would rank them in the upper ninety percentile of their class, the entire state not being ruled out. Back then, you were harshly judged by your background. We were far from perfect, but we wanted to preserve the piety of the Crossing, obstructing whatever attempt came to pollute it.

We thought Jackie would bring some of her unruly friends along with her. If that happened, it would be the beginning of the end. We had to nip the bud at the root at once. The unique quality about King’s Crossing was that it consisted of a subsidiary of different tribes, each one consisting of a clique of three or four kids from different homes. To the kids who comprised the offspring of the Crossing, it was a serious matter.

Layla and Jackie instantly took an innate dislike to each other that for me paralleled the fable of Snow White and the Wicked Queen. A hatred that resulted in a bout of fist punching and hair pulling before the boys ripped them apart. The street thug fist-punching, obviously, came from Jackie, whose brute actions only reinforced our dislike of her. By no means was Jackie envious of Layla. On the contrary, she pointedly accused Layla of envying her. As snooty as Layla appeared to be, she was far from depraved. Grant it, Layla was no saint. But she was no Jackie either.

Eventually, after insults were traded, accusations bled dry and bad feelings ventilated, we settled into friendship with Jackie. We just needed to go through the politics of insult and exclusion before consenting to her inclusion. Besides, we really had no choice. Cody showed no signs of relenting. We weren’t about to end a friendship with him over something so petty.

Yet in a strange twist of fate, Jackie, Layla and I became friends shortly after, our conflicting personalities becoming the adhesive force that would ultimately serve to bind us. Oddly enough, she became the ‘den mother’ of our crew, dispensing sage advice, supervising our love life and even slapping us around (figuratively), when we did something stupid. From the time she was in her mid-teens, Jackie seemed to have a unique sensuality about her that was more aptly fitting for a grown woman. I speculated it started in her childhood because she was in full swing by the time we met her at the age of sixteen; a skill suggesting she’d been at it for many years.

While I was painfully shy about wearing scoop necks that dipped low –though it would show nothing more than ribcage, or use eye shadows that ventured into darker shades of blue, Jackie wasn’t the least bit phased in flaunting her sculpted, olive-toned legs in mini shorts that crept high. So Jackie Lambros became the epitome of the ultimate bad girl: daring, audacious with a sexiness that bordered on the trashy.

She had no misgivings about her appearance, sometimes opting for pleated thigh-high skirts. She had an air about her that commanded respect. It was an explicit quality, a preemptive strike that warned others to back off before they even got started with her. She didn’t believe in starving herself to stay thin. She ate voraciously and flaunted her voluptuous curves. She busted the “skinny myth” ideologies and made lanky women standing next to her look adolescent.

In the old days where the sight of a thin, lissome bodied woman made you feel so physically substandard you were driven to starve yourself, a vista of Jackie made you want to go home and gorge on Devil Dogs and wash it down with a tall glass of Half and Half.

Jackie was twenty-eight, (almost twenty-nine, her birthday just around the corner) but she was the only woman I knew who could walk into a bar flooded with beautiful women in their early twenties and show them up, stealing the men’s attention to readjust their focus only on her.

She spoiled every party you went to. You’re stomach tightened when she showed up. When we walked into a club with her, we were greeted with a circus attraction typical to the whirlwind media found on red carpets. Every man and woman turned to feast their eyes on her.

You didn’t want her around, but you were curious to see how she mastered the game. She exuded the kind of allure that few women had. You had to be careful in those days with her egotism in overdrive. She had no qualms about going after other women’s men. If you spotted a guy you liked, Jackie would make a stealth play on them. Unlike most friends who played the couched rule of keeping distance from an implied claim, Jackie operated by her own rules.

She’d launch her feminine appeal into high gear and you could kiss any chance with him good-bye. The three of us would be enjoying a girls’ night out, laughing, sharing humorous stories. Then Layla or I would spot a guy from across the room and marvel at how attractive we thought he was (something we later learned never to do in her presence). Jackie would suddenly excuse herself to the ladies room and walk by the subject male enticingly, seductively swaying her hips and rocking her curvaceous bum.

Naturally, his eyes would follow her. Then he’d tap the friend sitting next to him and they’d both turn to watch her. Let alone one, that now made for two men off the rack. Jackie would continue on her way, pretending to be oblivious to it all, a triumphant smirk seen stealing at her lips.

“Oh, what a bitch.” Layla hissed, witnessing the shameless act. The thing about Jackie was that she was hypocritical when it was convenient. She wouldn’t think twice to flirt with someone else’s boyfriend. Yet when a guy she liked flirted with one of her friends, she hit the roof. Invoking the very laws of friendship and honor that she, herself had broken only a day earlier.

Fortunately, Jackie has since tamed her ways. A necessity, considering our camaraderie was being slowly unraveled by it, although she hasn’t completely abandoned her sex appeal. Age has made her all the more wiser and principled, earning back much of the trust she’d lost during those early days. I’m not sure how our friendship ever survived those years. With her curves and wiry mane of black hair, she cast a wide net in the men she attracted. If you knew him, chances were, she dated him.

If you just started dating a guy, you’d be wise not to bring him around her. Not that Jackie was in the man-stealing business anymore, but she would be a distraction and upset the balance of your fledgling relationship. She was one of the few people who had the steeled nerve to pull off something superlatively in her favor.

But Layla, pretty as she was, didn’t possess Jackie’s moxie or her knack of playing men. The more the guy showed no interest, the more Layla made it a mission to prove she was worth having. The reality was that a man still mattered to her and it showed all over her profile. It was my duty to guide her right on this.

"Never mind what Jackie would do,” I insisted, thinking of Jackie’s bold leopard print skirts, “You and she are different.” Vastly different. “So you have to work your own angle.”

“Then get a guy’s opinion. Take it to Brandon.” She insisted, maneuvering her way around my assessment. Given his discerning sense of judgment, we regarded him as the patriarch of our group. This reminded me of a time when Layla and I were in our early twenties. One summer, we both fell hard for two guys we met on the beach. We’d been walking along the rock pitted shores in Wickham Point when we noticed two men pushing a twenty-foot cuddy back into the water. Seeing an opportunity to meet two nice-looking guys, we offered to help, striking up conversation.

The exchange ultimately evolved into Layla and I sitting inside their boat while the two men pushed it back into the water (without our help) despite the addition of our weights. They took us for a boat tour to Lighthouse Point and by late afternoon, Layla and I had sealed the deal on our newly found summer crush.

One guy, Enzo, was exceptionally attractive with olive skin, sea green eyes but rotted teeth. He was Layla’s first choice. She didn’t care for the fact that he had a mouthful of bad teeth in need of serious dental work. She liked the contrast his eyes made against his russet skin. I was fine with the remaining choice that automatically defaulted to his friend. His name was Joel and in my estimation was cute enough.

Later that night, Layla and I double dated Enzo and Joel and watched the 4th of July fireworks from their boat in the harbor. Afterwards we speed-boated to East Haven and docked near Enzo’s home in Morris Cove. They were laid-back, easy-going and fun to be around. Layla had later said that when she was alone with Enzo, the thought of his putrefied teeth finally hit her in mid-kiss. So she forced the thought of it from her mind and went through with it. She reasoned that Enzo was nice enough and that his dashing good looks redeemed him from his lack of dental hygiene.

That summer, the four of us indulged in some summer fun, meeting up together as a group when after six weeks we both suddenly stopped getting calls. No explanations. Not even so much of a sign from our last date that there was a problem. Our happy foursome ended swiftly and with no warning. By then, we thought we were in love. We didn’t want to be left hanging just before the start of the school year.

So in the reaction of panic, we did the only thing that girls our age knew to do; we went after them in pursuit of an explanation.

First we telephoned Enzo (whom we dubbed the ring leader of the two), taking turns and making the call from each other’s house while leaving messages. When no reply came of it, we moved on to Joel. They started out innocuous enough, from Hey, it’s me. Call when you get a chance to…Hey what’s up? Haven’t heard from you guys in a while segueing to messages that were blatantly surly…What the hell? Suddenly you can’t be bothered with me? Of course, these calls went unreturned. There was just no getting through to either of them no matter which angle we took. That was when I got the bright idea to write each of them a letter.

And Layla, perched to chide Enzo for leading her on, readily agreed. We sat down one afternoon in her bedroom and wrote our own letter, reading and critiquing each other while offering editorial advice where we deemed fit. Layla’s commentary mirrored the letter she wrote to Enzo so many summers ago. A letter in which she had unconsciously pointed to her flaws while belting a slew of reprimands designed to make him penitent.

Oddly enough, the result of that effort had a mortifyingly reserve effect. My letter was not as heated as hers, though admittedly in hindsight was just as pathetic. Thankfully, it never saw the light of the mailbox. One Sunday night while watching a movie with Brandon in his living room, he noticed a folded letter peeking out from my purse.

I’d thrown it on the couch earlier that evening and some of its contents had spilled out. The letter was still in draft form. I had every intention of finalizing it later that night and mailing it the following morning. With the lights out and the bluish glow from the TV, we both noticed the brightness of the white paper.

Before I could grab it and tuck it back in Brandon, always helping himself to my business, snatched it.

“Give it back Brandon!” I coarsely demanded, the tone of my urgency piquing his interest. Brandon reached for the remote, put the movie on pause, unfolded the letter and began reading it.

His brow furrowed ruefully as his eyes roamed the page. I cringed while I waited for his verdict. At first he grinned amusingly while reading through the first paragraph. As his eyes continued scanning the letter, the smile died away, his brow crinkling perplexingly. When he finished, he calmly looked at me.

“Don’t send this Gillian.” He said, his tone pleading.

“Why not?” I asked, worried my plans were about to be thwarted.

“Because,” he looked at the letter again, taking in my words, disdainfully shaking his head, “because it’s just plain, I don’t know…weird.”

“There’s nothing weird about my feelings.” I said, snatching it back, gravely offended. Layla’s letter was even more forthright. I saw nothing wrong with it.

“Look,” he said, seating himself alongside me on the couch and pointing to the letter, “Guys get uncomfortable when girls want to rehash their feelings. Especially if it’s over.”

“Who said it’s over?”

“My point exactly. If he’s not calling you, he’s not interested. If you’re not getting that, he’s going to think you’re nuts. You might even scare him off. He’s counting on you to ‘get it’ and move on.”

“I don’t think that’s fair.”

“It’s not.”

“He could’ve called at least.”

“He could’ve,” he agreed, “but no guy is going to call just to tell you he doesn’t want to date you anymore.” He pointed to the letter.

“Do yourself a favor and don’t send this.” Brandon reached for the remote and put the movie back into play, “Who knows? Maybe someday you’ll run into this guy Joe again and he’ll want to get back together.”

“It’s Joel.” I corrected him. “Whatever.” He rolled his eyes. “But this letter will only close that door and guarantee you write yourself off his list for good. Trust me on this.”

I sat quietly for an extended moment, letting the truth of his words sink into me. This letter was my last chance. Joel was supposed to read it, be awakened by what he forgot he felt for me and call again. That was the plan. I had it all figured out before Brandon pulled a reality check on me.

What if Brandon’s motive was self-serving? Brandon looked carefully at my expression tarnished with suspicion.

Sighing, he added, “Look, do whatever you want.”

But I couldn’t go through with it anymore. After all, Layla and I had already tried contacting them by phone. Every message went unacknowledged, every call unreturned. I decided to heed his advice. I reasoned that Joel, cute as I thought he was, wasn’t worth the time and effort I had already wasted on him.

With that in mind, I never mailed the letter out. Layla, on the other hand, wasn’t so fortunate. There was no Brandon by her side to catch her in time and talk her out of it. By the time I reached her the following afternoon to stop her she’d already dropped that toxic letter in the mailbox.

We later discovered that Enzo was away in France due to the unexpected passing of his grandmother. When he finally received the letter upon his return and read through it, he was blindsided with offense. For one thing, the timing was bad. For another, he was appalled by what he thought was the embodiment of a fanatical fixation. The kind he claimed he never saw until he came to the States. Or so he said. When he later met with her face-to-face (apparently, he wanted to formally respond to her letter in person) he vehemently hailed her as being a loose, American girl who fell beneath his lofty standard of what he was looking for in a woman.

Needless to say, she called me that night, bawling her eyes out, ranting and spewing what a jerk Enzo was and ‘did I think she still had a chance with him?’ After some serious coaching that lasted an hour I single handedly talked her out of her summer crush. I made her realize that, yes; it was fun while it lasted. But Enzo had bad teeth, which could only translate to bad-breath. American men were cuter anyway. She was lifted by the pep talk and swore off European men for good. She even managed to ignore Enzo when we ran into him later that year at a dance club. Thankfully, he was without Joel that night, lest I eat my own words and succumb to the addiction all over again.

Long story short, I was glad to have never mailed that letter. Brandon’s advice served me well. Clearly, guys like Enzo and Joel didn’t deserve the time of day.

I wasn’t about to let history repeat itself. There was no need for her to make the same mistake twice. I felt guilty when she cried over that stupid letter, one that should never have been writer. A letter that was not only my idea to write but whose production I’d overseen. If only I’d called her that evening. Not wait until the next day so that I could watch the ending of Batman Returns.

“Layla,” I began, “remember that whole fiasco with Enzo?”

“Of course I do.” She said hotly. No need to expound there. His name was as uncommon as Zeus.

“Well, Brandon was against us mailing those letters we wrote to him and his friend.”

“So?” She rolled her shoulders in pleasant indifference, missing the point. Clearly, she hadn’t learned her lesson. I sipped my cappuccino. I’d been so absorbed with her love life, my coffee had turned cold.

“So…he was the one who discouraged me from sending it out.”

“You never mailed yours out to, what was his name?” She glanced up, her eyes darting to the ceiling as she struggled to remember. “Joel or something?” She returned her gaze to me. The look in her eyes now wounded.

Suddenly it dawned on me. I never told her. Not that I purposely intended to keep it from her. Back then, my focus had shifted to reaction mode in order to attend to her dilemma.

“Uh…no,” I admitted, uncomfortably, “but my point is this. Brandon made it clear that men shy away from women who have issues.” I lifted the page, pointing to the paragraph with my red pen, “People are going to think you have problems and not want to get involved with you.”

“Fair enough.” She said, airily accepting this with the unquestioning lightheartedness as that of a child. Layla was never one to dispute criticism. She opened her Coach and reached in for her compact mirror, flipping it open. After examining her reflection with moderate admiration, she searched for her Dior lipstick then dabbed a ruby red to her lips. Snapping attention back to me, she ordered,

“Then write something more suitable.” Her eyes danced as she formulated the concept in her head, “Make me sound deep. But don’t get too corny and whatever you do, don’t make me sound pretentious.” So now I’ve been delegated the task of having to re-draft her profile. It was typical for her to ditch her responsibilities on someone else. She always managed to do it with an authority that people rarely questioned.

Starting from when she was in junior high where she fraternized with the right people whom she targeted for key tasks. Layla wasn’t unintelligent by any means, but often enough went out of her way to avoid doing work of any kind. Hence, her faithful attachments to magazines like In Touch and Us. She once claimed the editorials in Newsweek gave her migraines. In junior high Physical Science class, she had her lab partner Sherri Sherelli do all the follow-up work preparing the reports. By the eager to please glint in her eye, it was obvious that Sherri was hoping to become Layla’s friend, considering her popularity at the time.

Sherry probably figured it would upgrade her to Layla’s upper-clique posse of friends (a group that I never connected with, even though my friendship with Layla endured regardless). Unfortunately for Sherri, the ends didn’t justify the means. Even though Layla appreciated the late night work that Sherri put into those reports, she never promoted her to friendship status. She did, however, say hello to her in the hallways, and Sherri seemed equally satisfied with that. Layla was practical in her view of Sherri; she was a reliable lab partner, but she didn’t make the cut as friend and therefore, had no use for her beyond that. I used to think Sherri was a fool.

Yet true to what she would expect of me, I found myself accepting the same role without objection. I settled on the notion that my reasons were different. It was better for me to correct this now than have to deal with making repairs to her mistakes later.

Actually, that sounds exactly like something Sherry might have reasoned.

Layla strapped her Coach over her shoulder and carried her plate over to the dish bin. I followed her, noting the way the cold, brown froth in my cappuccino congealed. I loved coffee and regretted letting it get cold.

“So we’re still on for tonight.” She asserted, grabbing a napkin to wipe her hands.

“Tonight?” I asked, foggy on the details of our plans. I folded the printout in half and tucked it in my purse with plans on finishing it later.

Rottweilers. Remember? Nine o’clock sharp. Don’t forget.” She said, punctuating the order with the stern point of her finger. “After the hour they start charging. And I don’t have any VIP passes to get you in for free.”

“I’ll be on time.”

“No you won’t,” she retorted, “which is why I have to emphasize it for the hundredth time.” |


“When was I ever late?” I asked, annoyed at the accusation. We headed out of Gemini’s and started walking to where we parked our cars further down the road. It was approaching noon and the streets were slowly becoming flooded with midday traffic.

“When were you not?” She asked acerbically. “You’re always late. You were probably born late. Don’t go blowing money when you can get in for free. Save it for the drinks.” She winked.

“Why not head out to Norwalk for a change?” “Rottweilers is easy. It’s nearby. Besides, Jackie suggested we start there. We could always move around.”

There was a reason I forgot tonight’s plans. It was called selective memory. As much as I loved it at one time, the bar scene was beginning to chafe on me. Rottweilers, the most popular night stop in downtown Wickham Point, could be stifling and congested at times, particularly on Friday nights. Given its popularity near and far, it was not unusual to find it densely populated on weekends. But once Jackie decided on a venue, moving around was never an option. Still den mother after all these years, she was the one in command who called the shots.