“Emily…hurry up, or we’re going to be late.”
I groan as I hear my mother call up the stairs to me. I am just putting my jewelry on and glance at my Patek Philippe watch. I still have ten more minutes before we have to leave and I grit my teeth that my mother is so controlling.
Taking a deep breath, I repeat to myself, Just one more week, and then I’m out of here.
“I’ll be down in just a moment, Mother.” I try to keep my voice lilting so she won’t sense the frustration I’m feeling toward her.
This summer has been absolutely brutal coming back to Boston. I had wanted to stay in New York after finishing my second year at Columbia but my mother insisted I come home so I could attend an array of political and social functions with them. My father, Congressman Alex Burnham, will hopefully be making a bid for the White House in two years and my life has been overtaken by my mother’s need to present the perfect Presidential family to the press.
So, all summer I have been polished, shined and instructed on the best way to behave in front of the camera. I’ve had my clothes chosen for me and I’ve been assigned young, affluent bachelors to escort me to parties. My mother will not let me leave the house unless she approves of what I’m wearing and with whom I’m going to be.
And I am suffocating.
Just one more week, and then I’m out of here.
It’s a bit surreal to think about how much I’ve changed in the past few years. I used to adore my life as a socialite with all of the fancy clothes, the snobby friends and the endless stream of parties. Now, I would give anything to just be a normal, college girl who could fade into obscurity anytime I wanted to.
I owe a lot of my change to my older brother, Ryan. Three years ago, he met and fell deeply in love with his one and only, Danny. I admit…I didn’t like her at first and I’m equally as embarrassed to say that I decided not to like her without knowing a damn thing about her. My mother told me to hate her and so I did.
And it wasn’t hard to follow my mother’s orders. I mean, she told me that Danny worked in a diner, had dyed purple hair and piercings in her face. Skank-a-rific! Right?
Oh, how wrong I was.
I had never been that close to Ryan as we grew up. We were almost four years apart in age and he never was one to completely conform to my parents’ dictates.
Unlike me. The rat that followed the Pied Piper.
At any rate, Ryan fell utterly and completely in love with Danny and I just didn’t understand it. But it intrigued me and I decided I had to find out why.
It took two very important moments in my life to completely re-evaluate the type of person I wanted to be.
First, Ryan had an honest conversation with me explaining all of the reasons why he loved Danny. They were fairytale reasons…reasons I didn’t believe were possible. In my world, people married because they were suitably matched on paper and if they were lucky, they grew to love each other. But not Ry…he wanted love first and to hell with everything else.
So Ryan told me that he loved Danny because she was kind, generous, witty and caring. Yeah, yeah. Easy for a guy to say if he’s getting some, right?
The second thing that happened to change my life was that I decided to check Danny out for myself. My mother had successfully broken Danny and Ryan up, but I guess true love always prevails and that didn’t last long. After Danny and Ryan got back together, I called Danny and asked her out to lunch.
Behind my mother’s back, of course.
I can still remember that day, sitting across the table from Danny. She was remarkably beautiful, but I knew that. I had seen her once before and I was such a bitch to her then. I didn’t apologize to her right away, because I still wanted to know if what Ryan saw in her was legitimate.
So during lunch, while being sidetracked a few times by looking at her nose ring and purple hair, I actually was able to listen to Danny. I mean really listen.
And it became abundantly clear to me why Ryan was in love with her. Hell, by the end of lunch, I was in love with her.
She was everything I was not. The kindest and most non-judgmental soul I had ever met. She had suffered tragedy time and again, yet she still looked at the world as if it was her personal oyster bed. I know a few times during our conversation, I just sat there with my mouth hanging open over some of the things she was telling me about her life. Horrible, horrible things that she had suffered…and yet, she still wore a genuine smile on her face.
By the end of that lunch, two things happened. I apologized profusely to Danny for my behavior and my thoughts. Danny —being Danny —didn’t even bother to accept the apology. Instead, she insisted that there was nothing to apologize for. She understood that I had been influenced, and that my loyalties should have been to family. And then she told me that she would very much like to start over with me and become my friend.
See why I fell in love with her?
The other thing that happened after that lunch was an immediate, embarrassing and crushing realization that I was a complete bitch. Danny’s open acceptance of all people, most notably myself, made me vow that I needed to change. I needed to knock down those walls of invincibility and entitlement that I had put around myself, and I needed to open up to people. All kinds of people.
And the next two years I was at Columbia were the happiest of my life. I made it my goal to open myself up to experience. I wanted to try everything that I had always been denied.
And the freedom was intoxicating.
I was away from my parents and I had made new and very, very interesting friends that my mother would surely hate if I ever brought them home. That filled me with joy beyond measure for if my mother was sure to disapprove, that meant it was probably perfect for the new Emily.
Best of all, Ryan had signed with the New York Rangers and Danny returned to Julliard so I got to spend a lot of time with them. I had a lot of lost time to make up for with Ryan, and I had a new and blossoming friendship with Danny to build.
The only thing that sucked about my life was having to return home to Boston in the summers.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Boston. It’s my home. But it also means that I am back under my mother’s watch and I now have to put on an act. The Emily that they sent off to Columbia no longer existed and they had no clue of her demise. Perhaps a future in Hollywood was in the cards for me because I had my snotty, debutante act down to an actual science when I was around my mother. I was even able to hang with some of the people in my old crowd and they still thought me to be one of them.
Luckily, I had only one more week of summer break and then I was heading back to Columbia. I missed New York so much. I missed Ryan and Danny, and I missed my crazy roommate, Fil.
Fil was a prime example of my zeal to try all things new and to be accepting of those things with which I had no experience. We were paired together as dorm mates our first year at Columbia and she was my first real test as the new, accepting and non-judgmental Emily. Thinking back at our first meeting, I’m surprised we didn’t kill each other.
I had already moved into my dorm. My parents couldn’t be bothered to help me so Ryan and Danny came over and got me settled in. Not ten minutes after they had left, my dorm room burst open. I had been busy making my bed and turned to see a tall, lithe woman standing there. She was wearing a pair of ratty, Levi jeans, a plain white t-shirt and dirty sneakers. She was really quite pretty with an olive toned complexion and very short, very black hair that couldn’t have been more than an inch in length. She wore no makeup and had beautiful blue eyes.
Once I got past my initial perusal, I noticed that she was sneering at me. I can’t say I was overly shocked when she said, “Oh, great. I got stuck with little Miss Debbie Debutante.”
I looked down at my clothes wondering how she could guess that. I was wearing jeans, but they were a three hundred dollar pair of True Religion’s. I then inwardly groaned when I realized I was also wearing a Chanel blouse, a Hermes scarf, Louis Vuitton shoes and of course, my Patek Philippe watch.
But I couldn’t let her intimidate me. So I responded, “Looks like I got stuck with a supercilious bitch.”
I tensely waited a few seconds to see if she would punch me, but she did nothing more than grin when she said, “You got balls. I like that.”
She then threw her backpack on her bed and walked over to me. Sticking her hand out, she said, “I’m Fil Larson.”
I shook her hand, responding, “Emily Burnham.”
“Sorry if I came off strong,” she said. “It’s a bad habit of mine. I’d tell you I’m working to overcome it, but I’m not.”
I don’t know what possessed me to respond with brutal honesty but I said, “Well, I actually am a snotty, rich brat, but I am seriously working hard to overcome that.”
Fil’s grin turned evil. “I can definitely help you with that.”
I smiled back and returned to making my bed. “So, your name is Phil? Is that short for like Philamena or something?”
“Nope. It’s even worse than that. First, it’s Fil. F-I-L. It’s short for Filet.”
My mouth gaped open. “You’re parents named you after a steak?”
“Yup. But they didn’t name me Filet. They named me Mignon. Which I hate. I abhor. I will do bodily harm to anyone that calls me that. My friends—and I use that term loosely —used to call me Filet Mignon when I was growing up and it eventually shortened to Fil. So that’s what I go by now.”
“Okay. Fil it is.”
Breaking free of my memories of Fil, I give myself one last glance in the mirror and pick up my purse before heading downstairs. I really miss Fil and cannot wait to see her in a few days. We bonded fast and she is my bestie. We moved out of the dorm after our freshman year and got an apartment instead. It made me feel more…grown-up.
I snicker to myself as I walk down the stairs. I can’t even imagine bringing Fil home to meet my parents. She is crass and borderline rude. Oh, and she is out of the closet, in your face gay. Celia Burnham, for sure, would have a heart attack.
I reach the bottom of the stairs and my mother is waiting there for me. She is a beautiful woman but her face holds an icy veneer that I’ve rarely seen crack.
“Honestly, Emily, why do you always have to be late,” my mother chastises me.
I sigh. “I’m not late, Mother. I’m here at the exact time you told me to be here.”
She picks up her purse and gives herself a quick once over in the foyer mirror. Patting her chignon for non-existent stray hairs, she says, “Well, you know I don’t like to be late and what if we hit traffic?”
I sigh again, a little more loudly this time. “Then you should have told me to be ready a bit earlier.”
“Don’t patronize me,” she snaps. “I’m under a lot of stress right now trying to organize the Boston Hospice Charity Gala and I don’t need you making it worse.”
It would serve me no purpose in arguing, so I merely said, “Yes, Mother. I’m sorry.”
But I’m not.
It is so rotten of me but sometimes I like getting under my mother’s skin, just so I can see something other than her plastic exterior. If I can get her to show emotion, any emotion, then I can convince myself that she has the capacity to feel things other than disdain, judgment or antipathy.
I follow her out of the house and we get into the waiting limousine. As soon as we are seated, she starts in on me. “It’s time for you to declare your major at Columbia. Have you decided yet?”
I know what this means. She’s not asking me what my choice is…she wants me to tell her that I will agree to her choice. My mother expects me to go to law school or medical school. Or, she would actually be perfectly happy if I met and married a wealthy bachelor and raised perfect little, wealthy babies.
“I’m still undecided,” I say vaguely.
I’m not, actually. My mind has been made up for months that I wanted to pursue a Journalism degree. I want to be a sports writer and that’s about akin to me telling my parents I want to be a topless dancer.
“How can you not be decided? We talked about this. You are either pre-med or pre-law.”
I really don’t want to fight with her about this so I just tell her, “I can’t decide between the two. I’m still thinking.”
“Well, don’t wait too long. I want to release it to the press as soon as you declare. It will be a nice, domestic piece your father can use in the media.”
Of course. It’s all about what will help my father’s political aspirations, not what will make me happy and fulfilled.
Just one more week, and I’m out of here.
My mother changes the subject to one that is equally abhorrent to me. “Remember your father will be home this weekend and we are attending that fundraising dinner at Stan and Margot Craft’s house. I’ve invited Todd to be your date.”
I feel my face redden as I sputter, “Todd?”
“Yes, he’s such a nice man and if you give him half a chance, he’ll prove himself to you.”
I am beyond furious. “You cannot set me up with my ex-boyfriend, Mother. I will not go with him.”
She doesn’t even blink when she responds. “You will go with him because his father is one of your father’s biggest contributors.”
I take a deep breath and try to calm myself. Todd Fulgram was my boyfriend during my junior and senior years of high school. Although at first our relationship was nice, we parted on very bad terms the summer before I left for college. He used to be charming —in a rich and cultured way —and he was very cute. He also pressured me for months and months to give my virginity up to him and I did near the end of our senior year.
And it was horrible.
And then he turned horrible.
Todd became mean and verbally abusive. He always seemed to be angry at me, his parents and at the world. I took the brunt of his angst because I was the most accessible and frankly, I was able to ignore his tirades most of the time. I was the perfect outlet for him.
Sex with Todd sucked because it was all about him. I never once had even achieved an orgasm when we were together because the two-minute man couldn’t last long enough and he couldn’t be bothered to spend any extra time on me. After that first time I gave in to his pressures, I was always the one that had to initiate any sort of intimacy. Sometimes, I felt like it was a chore for him, which didn’t do anything for my sexual ego. Luckily, back then, I had enough of an elitist ego that I could let that one roll off my back. This meant we had sex very infrequently, which ultimately became fine with me. I never really felt I was missing anything with him.
The old Emily could easily overlook the lackluster sex. I mean, back in those days, I was only thinking about my wealthy, socialite future and Todd Fulgram was a great catch. But his abuse was something I would not tolerate. It started out as verbal but soon escalated. He never hit me but there was no doubt in my mind that real violence was just over the horizon. He mostly just grabbed me hard or shoved me, particularly when he was drinking. And he drank a lot.
One month before I left for college, we got into a major fight and he went ballistic. He shoved me up against the wall of my bedroom so hard my head bounced off it and it knocked a painting to the floor. I kneed him in the nuts and then ran out of my room. I love to reflect back on that moment as I consider that move to be my official breakup notice.
Since then, I have painstakingly tried to avoid Todd. After that incident, he turned to stalking me. Begging me to take him back, offering the sappiest and most insincere of apologies. And I’m not really sure why. In hindsight, he always seemed to be angry with me and didn’t really seem to legitimately care about me as a person. The old Emily was so wrapped up in her own sense of self-importance, that she never noticed her unimportance to Todd. On top of that, I couldn’t tell my parents the real reason I broke up with him, so for the past two years my mother has been pressuring me to give him another chance.
The absolute worst thing of all though, is the fact that Todd goes to Columbia as well. When we were together, we both decided to go to the same university so we could be close to each other.
Unfortunately, Columbia is not a very large school so I tend to run into Todd more times than I would like. I merely walk the other way when I see him. He’s tried to corner me a few times but luckily, there has always been someone around. The best is when I’m with Fil. She scares the crap out of Todd, I can tell. If he even starts approaching when she’s around, she merely growls at him, “Walk the other way, Shithead, or I’ll sneak into your dorm room at night and cut your balls off.”
Oh, I love Fil!
Luckily, I haven’t seen Todd all summer and he’s been noticeably quiet. No creepy texts about how he misses me, or voice mails begging to see me. And now…my mother wants me to go on a date with him? This is just going to get him hopeful again and I can barely stomach the thought of being in the same room with him, much less on an actual date.
I try one more time to appease my mother. “I can’t go out with Todd. Things were terrible between us. Frankly, he’s a little scary. How about I find someone else instead?”
I know what Ryan means when he constantly complains that our mother never listens to us. She just scoffs and says, “Nonsense. He’s a perfectly nice man. Don’t disappoint me on this, Emily.”
“I’m not going to do it, Mother,” I say in a spurt of wild bravery.
Celia Burnham turns her icy blue eyes on me. She’s silent for just a minute as she appraises me and a thin sheen of sweat breaks out on my forehead. Then she lowers the bomb. “You will do this, Emily, and you will do it with a smile on your face. If you do not show up Saturday with Todd Fulgram on your arm, the following Monday I will meet with our attorney and have your trust revoked.”
I stare at her in stunned silence. I try hard not to be materialistic anymore. I mean, I can’t help the tons of designer clothes and expensive jewelry I already have, but that trust fund is my means of independence from my family. I inherit control over it when I turn twenty-one, just a mere ten months away. Once I get my hands on that money, I can be free of my mother’s rule and I can go to grad school for Journalism.
Ten more months.
I can do this.
Just one more week and one sickening date with Todd Fulgram, and then I’m out of here.