The Trouble Begins
tet•ra•gon: n., a geometric figure with four sides and four angles
Dinners like these were always uncomfortable for her. No matter how much small talk the co-inhabitants the huge table attempted to make, rancor filtered through veil of politeness in their voices.
It was enough to chuck the caviar in someone’s silken lap.
Gretchen Thomas knew that she was not a diplomat. It would have been too much to expect from her, a young woman who had spent her whole life enduring the haughty glares of snobby debutantes and stuffed shirts. Quite honestly, it was none of her concern to be spending time with people who probably got nosebleeds for having their noses so high.
But she had to, for the sake of love.
Quatre Raberba Winner was not a part of this aforementioned group exactly. Well, it would more apt to say that he owned the money and the status of the other elitists, but Quatre was simply more mild-mannered and more open-minded despite his wealth. Unfortunately, it was these people that were important to his business, and his business was important to him. It was simple deductive logic. And Gretchen had to play Miss Sulky Snobs all the way from a crowded house in New York City. Too bad she wasn’t a good actress.
The dinner concerned some kind of business deal that crossed Gretchen’s eyes when Quatre tried to explain it to her. But then again, she’d asked for it. Literally. But she cared deeply for him, and, even though she’d die before she admitted it aloud, she was in love with him. She was in love with his sweet nature and shrewd mind. She wanted nothing more than to fit into his world, but tonight, like many other nights, it was becoming more and more apparent to her that she could not.
In attendance at dinner were about ten people that Gretchen knew idly from Jessica’s Fortune 500 magazines. She couldn’t name them all because it really didn’t matter much to her. They all kind of blurred together and made up one huge mass of life that she would love to send to the Bermuda Triangle. But there was one lady—a society wife–that had been ribbing her all night long. Her name was something along the lines of Serena Dewalter–but the tightness of her face led Gretchen to secretly dub her The Missus Botox.
At the moment, the Missus Botox was sipping on crème of mushroom soup and appraising her with a malignant eye at her lime-green dress (made especially for her by her cousin Jennifer) and rocker girl hairstyle.
“You seem to have affection for lime-green, Miss Thomas,” she said.
Gretchen gave a slight nod, not knowing how to respond to that. “Well, it’s an interesting color, unlike blue or red.”
The Missus Botox picked up her red wine and sipped on it gingerly. “So what is it that you do?”
“Do? I live and breathe as everyone else does.”
Quatre, distracted by the arrival of the dinner staff with the main course, nodded at a serving of roast beef. The Missus Botox looked quite like she wanted to upset the whole table upon Gretchen’s lap. Instead, she said coldly, “I meant what do you do for a living.”
“Gretchen teaches little girls ballet at the Art Center,” Quatre replied, finally breaking his silence.
The Missus Botox appeared mildly surprised at the fact. Gretchen added, “That is my day job, actually. At night, my friend and I perform at a nightclub a few times a week.”
“So you have deprived yourself of a college education and have taken up consorting with the likes of a nightclub?”
Gretchen lifted her chin at the comment. “Well, I seem to think that the occupation gives me much more education than matriculating in some stuffy, expensive private institution.”
The Missus Botox raised an eyebrow at the young woman in disapproval. “Well, perhaps it would have helped with your breeding, young lady.”
Gretchen couldn’t stop the snort that erupted through her nose. “Breeding? You mean like the poodles you call your children?”
She could feel Quatre’s blood draining from his face.
“Mr. Winner,” the Missus Botox began in a tone dripping with frigid disdain, “I have no earthly idea how you associate yourself with such…trash.”
Before Quatre could give her a diplomatic kiss-off, Gretchen spoke instead. “I honestly believe that the only trash here is you, Mrs. Dewalter,” Gretchen retorted. “But since I am a lady, and I don’t need you to tell me so in your snooty voice, I will leave you to bleat about your silly feelings getting hurt.”
Without a sound, she rose and left the room, her dignity propping her head up like a leg on a table, heels clicking through the thick silence. Without stopping to get her coat, she rushed through (it was Southern California–did she really need the coat anyway?) the grand foyer and slammed the door behind her.
* * *
Author’s Note: When I originally wrote this scene several months ago, Elijah Wood was in it. That’s where the line “I think I have gas” came from. I imagined Elijah saying something like that. Go figure.
Meanwhile, in an apartment a few miles away, Samantha Dunne flicked the dial on the cardboard.
“Right arm on red,” she declared.
“Aw hell,” muttered Melanie Smith. “I think you’re going to have a bit of trouble with that one, girl.”
Well, yeah, especially since there were already two adult males on the Twister mat. One of which had a cigarette sticking out of his mouth.
“Hurry up, dammit! I can’t hold this for much longer!” bellowed Orlando Bloom as the cigarette moved at the side of his mouth like a toothpick.
“Maybe you’re out of shape, Bloom,” Samantha retorted. “I think a little Nicorette will help you with your little smoking problem.”
Orlando snorted and didn’t say anything to Samantha’s comment. Samantha thought for a moment, trying to see where she could fit herself on the already occupied Twister mat. She sighed, as her left foot was supposed to be two spots to the right of Chris’s left hand. The aforementioned spot was right under Orlando’s chin. She sighed. He’d give her hell for upsetting his cigarette.
“Alright, here we go.” Samantha placed her right hand on the board and her left foot near Chris’s hand. “There,” she grunted. “Mel, your turn.”
Melanie flicked the dial. At that moment, Chris murmured, “Um guys, I think we might have a problem.”
“A problem?” said Orlando.
“What the hell is your damage, Chris?” demanded Samantha. “I’m trying to concentrate!”
“I think I have gas,” Chris told them.
A moment passed. Samantha, mortified at the latter comment, lost her balance and her heel went right into Chris’s giggling mouth. She fell onto Orlando, who still kept up with his cigarette throughout the collapse.
They all fell into a fit of laughter in a tangle of arms and legs. They were so engrossed in their mirth that they didn’t notice Gretchen padding into the room in stocking feet.
“Hey guys,” she mumbled. –
The clamor paused. An enthusiastic “Hey Gretchen!” came from Chris, and Melanie gave her a “hey girl.” Samantha frowned as Gretchen moved from the spot she had occupied and quietly went into her room. Orlando sat up on his knees.
“What’s wrong with Gretchen?” he asked after taking a drag of his cigarette.
Samantha glanced at her watch. “It’s a little early for her to be back from that dinner she was going to at her boyfriend’s…” She sighed. “I don’t think things went well.”
“What–did she spill some soup all over somebody or something?” Chris asked.
“Only you could do something like that, Parker,” Melanie retorted, brushing herself off and climbing to her feet. “I think we should go check on her.”
“I agree with Mel,” Samantha said in a low tone. Gretchen would kill her, particularly, if she heard them. “Someone should go see if she’s alright.”
Pause. Chris tilted back his head and downed a Coke while Orlando sat perched on the couch, the cigarette resting between two fingers, smoke wafting up to the ceiling. Then Chris belched.
“Okay, Orlando, go back there and talk to her,” Samantha ordered briskly. She glanced reproachfully at Chris, who was staring at her back with a look of innocence.
“Why do I have to do it?” Melanie kicked him. “Bloody hell–what was that for?”
“She’ll hear you!” Melanie hissed.
Samantha glared at him. “Look, you smoke junkie, just go back there and make her feel better. Got it?”
“Right, I got it. Geez,” he added at Samantha’s glare.
Gretchen’s door was surprisingly open when Orlando found his way to her bedroom. Orlando took a seat amid a pile of shirts crowding a chair and watched as Gretchen picked up a picture frame from her nightstand and heaved it violently at the wall, after which it fell into the trash in pieces.
“I feel quite sorry for that picture,” Orlando commented affably, hoping to inspire some conversation. “Quite a nasty heave-ho you gave it.”
Gretchen settled peevishly on the bed with her arms crossed over her chest. “I don’t give a damn about that fucking picture frame.”
Orlando raised an eyebrow at the tone of Gretchen’s voice and leaned over to pluck the now-broken picture frame out of Gretchen’s small wastepaper basket. Through the spidery cracks in the glass, he could make out Gretchen hugging a young man with blond hair and blue eyes.
“Well,” began Orlando. “Is this the bloke you were primping for earlier?”
Gretchen didn’t answer but let out a huff. Orlando took that as a yes.
“Honestly, he looks like a bloody snob. What in the world were you thinking snogging this bloke?”
It was then that Gretchen looked up–glared really–and sat up on the edge of the bed. She plucked the cigarette from Orlando’s mouth and flicked it into her trash after crushing the smoking ash with her fingers. Orlando winced.
“That was my last cigarette,” he complained. Not mention she put it out with the tips of her delicate-looking fingers.
“Well, that means you should think about stopping.” She took the picture from him and it joined his cigarette in the trash. “He’s ancient history. I am not going to think about him anymore, so don’t ask me who he is. I might be tempted to take my anger out on you.”
“Alright. Fair enough.” Orlando rose and sat beside her on the bed, taking in her scent of lavender as it gently assaulted his nose. He couldn’t understand at that moment, being a red-blooded male (not American though), why any man would refuse a girl like Gretchen Thomas. He didn’t know much about the man in the picture, the one Samantha had called Quatre in idle conversation, but the name sounded vaguely familiar. But this Quatre character had to be an idiot. She was strikingly beautiful, even though she tended to ignore it, and she was one of the most fun girls he had the pleasure of romping around with. Well, in a friendly sense of mind. Quite honestly, it was quite clear that she couldn’t think of Orlando as a lover (probably because of that loathsome bloke who just broke her heart) but he wouldn’t have minded going out on a date with her just to see her eyes light up in laughter.
And it was girls like her, he decided as he put an arm around her, that needed to be protected from the likes of guys like…well, Mr. Money Bags.
“What do you say we go egg his house and put bananas in his tailpipe?” he suggested. It at least got a smile out of her.
“It would take too many eggs and bananas for the stuff he’s got,” she said after a moment. “Believe me on this one.”
Orlando nudged her with his free hand. “So are we ready to talk about the jerk or what?”
Gretchen shook her head silently, despondency coming back into her face.
“Look, if you still feel raw about it, we can go get drunk tomorrow night. You and Sam don’t have a set at SLL do you?”
“Not tomorrow night.” She looked at him. “Is this a date?”
Orlando’s eyebrows arched. “Gretchen Thomas…do I look like I’m ready to take you out on a date?”
“No, but your nether regions are quite hip to the idea.”
Orlando looked down at himself to find nothing out of the ordinary. He clamped a hand on her neck and squeezed, a sensation Gretchen hated and responded to by hunching her shoulders in defense.
“Very funny there, love,” he said, then letting go of her neck. He stood and headed out of her room. “You owe me a pack of cigarettes,” he added, over his shoulder.
“Oh bloody hell! Get a patch or something!”
Well, he was glad she was feeling better.
* * *
The next day, Gretchen put aside her unhappiness and plastered a smile on her face for ten little girls.
Unfortunately, they saw right through her.
“Miss Gretchen, are you feeling sad?” asked the ash-blonde Nancy Spencer. “You look like you just lost your goldfish.”
Gretchen smiled then raised an eyebrow. “I don’t have a goldfish… Are you trying to get out doing the barre exercises, Nancy?”
The little girl gave her a beguiling smile. Gretchen shook her head and sighed. Somehow she got through the rest of the class without anyone commenting upon her ill humor.
The girls left in a clamor of backpacks and conversation at the end of class, bidding Miss Gretchen goodbye. Left alone with her thoughts, she let out a heavy breath. Quatre would at least give her a day or two to simmer down before he called her, but she was determined not to wait for that. She decided she’d take Orlando up on his offer to go out drinking that night with him and the girls. The headache and anguish that had been plaguing her all day called for a medicinal dose of alcohol. As she went back down the hallway to leave for home, something stopped her.
The class of the teenage dance students was going through their barre exercises with much more grace than her cute little girls had. The instructor was unfamiliar to her, but Gretchen had heard that her name was something along the lines of Crystal. She couldn’t remember at the moment. But from what she saw, the girl was good. She had short hair that was blond enough to stick her in the category, but it would be considered brown to some people. Blue eyes accented a face that vaguely reminded Gretchen of a princess.
That girl, Gretchen thought idly, would probably be more of a match for Quatre than I would.
The thought somehow found its way into her head and she didn’t know where it came from. She shook her head as if trying to dislodge it from her mind, and continued to the exit. She stopped again, however, as another thought crossed her mind. She rifled through her messenger bag and found the item that had been on her thoughts.
It was an invitation, one to a charity ball or banquet of some kind that Quatre had invited her to. It just reminded her of him and all of his hypocritical associates and their rancor. She didn’t feel like dealing with another night like the night before. Even though her friends had been there for her, particularly Orlando, she couldn’t do it.
She stared at the invitation, then threw it away in the trash.