Monday, August 27, 2012

Sister Ella - Chapter One

“Ugh, I hate parties,” Patricia said as she collapsed into a chair. “I never want to serve another drink in my life. I don’t care if it’s for charity and those are some dignitaries I am supposed to be honored to meet. That fat old, guy spilled jelly down my shirt, and this is my last white shirt! I mean, it was on sale for six bucks at Wal-Mart, but still!”

Ellen and Dakota joined her. Ellen pushed the bangs she was growing out out of her eyes for the hundredth time as Dakota began drinking from one of champagne flutes from the tray he was carrying.

“Think of the starving children in Africa, Pat,” Dakota said, wiping the champagne from off his lips. “Yech, people pay lots of money for this? Give me a soda over this any day of the week.”

“We are such plebes with our Wal-Mart clothes and our sponsored by Pepsi beverage preferences,” Ellen said with a self-defacing laugh. “On the bright side, I think we have the rich people liquored up enough so that they’ll be stumbling over themselves to outbid each other for the auction.”

“What are you guys, vampires?” Marie opened the kitchen door and turned on the light. She was unique in the fact that she wasn’t dressed in the uniform of a server, but in a glittery ball gown. 

“Yes, and now we’re melting. Oh, what a world!” Patricia declared, sliding farther in her seat and onto to the dusty floor. The party had been catered by some outside company who had jumped at the opportunity to serve food for rich people and call themselves philanthropists, which left the kitchen conveniently empty, hence the grouping of servers.

“Really, guys. What are you doing down here?” Marie asked. As she moved, the silver dress she wore sparkled magnificently, even in the harsh fluorescent light. Her hair had been perfectly coiffed into an intricate braided bun with small ringlets hanging at appropriate places. She looked as at place with the ragtag servers as a rose among weeds.

“If I have to inquire if the sir or madam would like an 
hors d'oeuvre one more time, I’ll strangle someone,” Pat explained.

“I was thirsty,” Dakota said, raising his champagne flute, which he was draining despite his aforementioned distaste of the drink.

“Out of drinks, and I saw Pat and Dakota disappearing, so I figured I would emulate.” Ellen waved her tray back and forth to demonstrate its emptiness.

“You guys, they have all sorts of important people out there. I mean, Dakota, don’t you want to meet the French ambassador? And there’s that senator and even the Vice President,” Marie nudged.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. Although, I’d prefer it if the way I started my political career was not by serving the ambassador drinks,” Dakota groaned, standing up.

“Sit back down, Kodiak. She’s just pulling your chain because she doesn’t want to mingle with the minglers all by herself,” Patricia said as she rubbed her temples. Marie decided to ignore the comment.

“You can just tell him that you’re the vice president of the UNICEF chapter at the University of Texas, Houston and that your very interested in his policies with France,” Marie explained.

“All I hear is, ‘Pwease come with me because I’m too afraid to goggle at a hot politician’s son by myself.’ Personally, m’dear historian, I’d say you’d have better luck finding someone already in a pretty dress to oogle with you. I thought you said your little sister was coming with you and your parents,” Patricia commented.

“Well, you know Sophia. She’s only fifteen, and she thought her dress didn’t fit her right and got a little angry when my mother didn’t rush off to buy her a new one. She says she won’t eat until the dress fits her. She’s indisposed to say the least.” Marie blushed slightly and gave a grim smile.

“God, and I thought my little sister was a brat,” Pat exhaled. “Dakota, don’t go with her. I saw that French ambassador, and he was schnockered. You’d be wasting your breath.”

“I don’t really want to go out there, not dressed as a waiter. It’s not what we are supposed to do anyway. Plus, I thought your parents wanted you to be out there making political connections on your own,” Dakota said finally.

Marie deflated. She stuck out her bottom lip and gave a pout, before she realized what she was doing and retracted the lip. Pat had already burst out laughing however.

“Ellen, can you come out with me?” Marie asked, switching tactics.

“Only to serve you a drink,” Ellen said. “Dakota’s right. As servers, we should probably only serve the guests, not mingle with them. We only have about four more hours until the party’s over.”

“Then, we spend the next six cleaning-up and return to our respective abodes deader than doornails,” Pat interjected. “That’s a strange phrase to think about, ‘dead as a doornail.’ Why is a doornail so dead?”

“Well, I’ve read that the phrase came from around a hundred years before Shakespeare. To make a nail ‘dead,’ they would flatten the opposite side so that it couldn’t be removed or used again. This made the bond stronger, which was important since they hadn’t invented the screw yet. Appending door to nail was probably just for the alliteration besides that the nails used in doors were commonly ‘deadened’,” Ellen explained cheerfully.

“How come you always answer my rhetorical questions?” Patricia asked with a groan.

“Because they are still questions that can be answered,” Ellen smiled.

“Note to self: never invite the trivia-collecting, all-knowing science geek again or risk being educated,” Pat said good-naturedly.

“Wait, Ellen, you are about my sister’s size. Do you want to put on her dress and come with me?” Marie asked.

“Oh my god, do it,” Patricia exclaimed, suddenly forgetting her tiredness and jumping from her chair.

“I haven’t wore a dress in years,” Ellen said, shaking her head.

“All the more reason. Let’s see some evidence of that second x chromosome,” Dakota added.

Ellen laughed. “You know, dressing up wouldn’t prove I’m a girl. I mean, there have been plenty of spies who have posed as women in order to infiltrate different areas. In particular, there was a case where I heard about a man during eighteenth century France-” Ellen countered.

“Enough with historical figures, what about your life? You have to go put on that dress. It would give me so much joy it’s hard to articulate,” Pat declared.

“Think about it logically. You like logic. When is the next time you’ll get the opportunity to rub shoulders with the political elite?” Dakota asked.

“Probably not until you are an old, gray, distinguish Nobel Laureate, i.e. in fifty years,” Pat returned. “Come on. Take the chance!”

“But, don’t you guys need me to help serve?” Ellen asked weakly.

“Hell no! I plan to spend most of my evening back here anyway, but now I can do it with a stupid grin on my face, imagining you in pumps. Have you ever worn high-heeled shoes? I mean, ever?” Pat asked.

“Well, no,” Ellen admitted.

“That’s it, you’re going. Come hell or high water!” Patricia asserted. Dakota nodded his affirmation.

Ellen examined their faces and glanced at her watch. She bit her lip, thinking.

“Please,” Marie said, bright eyes opening wide in a perfect facsimile of a small child. Ellen sighed, realizing she was beaten. 

“Fine, but only for an hour. I really don’t like fancy clothes, and I have a tendency of spilling whatever I’m eating or drinking on them,” Ellen said. “I mean, that dress could probably feed twelve African children.”

“With this fundraiser, we’ll feed thousands. Now get up there and make me happy,” Patricia proclaimed.

Marie led Ellen up the stairs to give her the flouncy, golden dress. It was too big in some places, too small in others, and it showed. The moderate heels was enough to cause Ellen to wobble miserably. The most that could be done with the rat’s nest of curls was a simple bun restrained by Ellen’s pen, and it took the combined efforts of Dakota, Patricia, and Marie needle and wheedling for any amount of make-up to be applied.

“I feel silly,” Ellen said as the process was complete, scrunching her face and lips  as she tested the flexibility of the make-up. “I’m sure a dead fish would look more appropriate in this dress than I do. I’m just not meant for the high life. Give me a night in the lab in my pajamas any day over this.”

“I’ve heard you were a girl, but I’ve never seen the evidence until now. I’m going to take a picture,” Patricia declared, fumbling for her pockets in glee.

“No, please don’t,” Ellen begged, her blush overcoming the make-up.

“Fine. But you hardly look like you anyway. I swear, I could show it to your stepmom, and she would have no idea who she was looking at,” Patricia humphed.

“I hardly have any idea who I’m looking at,” Dakota agreed.

“Yes, yes. I’m all dressed up. Now, can I get this over with? Your sister must have a tiny rib cage, I can hardly breath. Does the reduced lung capacity affect her aerobic performance, out of curiosity?” Ellen asked.

Patricia rolled her eyes. “Please, Marie, take her away before she goes all science on your ass. It will get all over your sister’s pretty dress. Then, you’ll sister will start spouting Newtonian Laws and it’ll be a sign of the apocalypse!”

“Hey, Newton’s cool,” Ellen protested.

“Come on. Let’s leave the children alone,” Marie said, pulling Ellen away.

Ellen did not know what to think as they descended into the ballroom. It was different as a server where everyone ignored her and refused to look at her face when they raided her tray. Now, people looked, mostly at the stunning young woman on her right, but she was included in that field of vision.

“How can you stand it?” Ellen asked in a whisper.

“Now you know why I wanted back up. They laughed at me, but it truly is frightening,” Marie returned. “I’m going to get a drink, do you want anything?”

“No, I’d just spill it on the dress,” Ellen said.

“Wait here, then.” Marie disappeared among the throngs of people, and Ellen was alone. She was quite unsure what she was supposed to be doing. She was in the middle of the room, where everyone around her had formed into circles, discussing one topic or another. She knew none of the people, so it felt rude to join a circle, but it felt awkward to stand out in the center. Not to mention that each seemed like they had enough money for its representation in dollar bills to span from the Earth to Jupiter and enough political pull to declare war on Switzerland.

Ellen was quite sure Marie had gotten lost before she saw her chatting privately with a young man around her age. Marie’s cheeks were bright red and she had an ear-to-ear smile that showed off each one of her perfect teeth. Well, Marie didn’t need Ellen anymore. Maybe she could just sneak back to the kitchen as the dress was quite itchy and the shoes, impossible.

“I don’t believe we’ve been introduced,” someone said from behind her. It was a tall, dark, thin, young man in a expensive-looking black suit. He gave her a small bow and raised her hand to his lips

Suddenly, she wanted to laugh. It was all entirely too ridiculous. People didn’t actually act like this, did they? He was probably in a similar boat to her and was joking around. With this in mind, Ellen made her introduction. “My name is Mademoiselle Joelle de Lafayette.” She had no idea why she decided upon French lineage when she didn’t look remotely French, but she went for it with the help of the Marquis de Lafayette of the American Revolution. She attempted a haughty look, but couldn’t keep it, and she burst out laughing. The man, however, was better at keeping a straight face throughout the charade. He only smiled lightly.

“I am pleased to meet your acquaintance, Mademoiselle Lafayette. My name is Atamai Iona, Crown Prince of Naun,” he said with a grave air.

“Nice to meet you, Prince Iona,” she smiled back, curtsied, then completely abandoned the pretense. As she knew she must look out of place, she decided to explain herself. “My friend back there begged me to come with her, and then she decided to go make goo-goo eyes at the blonde guy. How come you’re standing in the middle of the circle of isolation?”

“The circle of isolation?” he asked.

She traced the circle around them with a finger. “You know, they stand around and talk, and you feel too awkward to attempt to squirm your way into the conversation. You don’t know anybody, so you stand in the circle of isolation, attempting to look like you’re doing something and not a complete loner. At least, that’s where I was at.”

“Well, I saw a very pretty, young little lady-” he started.

“I’m not nearly as young as I bet you’re thinking. I’m not prepubescent; I just have a baby face. My twenty-first birthday was actually earlier this month. And you don’t need to attempt the pretty stuff either. I know what I’ve got is up here,” she tapped the side of her head, “Not here.” She gestured broadly to her body.

“You’re an academic?” he asked.

“A computational chemist in training. I don’t get my bachelor’s until the end of this year. Then, I’ll get my PhD. And, who knows? Maybe I can become a science advisor to Congress and clear up some of their continued misinformation on climate change, alternative energies, and the like,” she explained. “What about you?”

“I graduated with a political science degree from Oxford,” Atamai returned.

“So, are you going to become a politician?” Ellen asked.

“Well, that’s the current plan,” he said with a smile.

“Awesomeness. My friend wants to become a politician too. He’s a server, and was quite disappointed that the French ambassador was too drunk to converse with,” Ellen said. “His big thing he wants to fix is global education. His brother was a computer science major, so together they are attempting to build a cheap computer with capabilities to connect to the Internet via satellite along with some elementary school software. If they can distribute them and get everything working, a little girl from Zimbabwe can still learn mathematics like any American girl.”

“He has big plans,” Atamai returned.

“My friends all do. It is what college brings out in you: the idea that you can change the world. It is the reason that I wished it was easier for more people to attend college. Ideally, everyone would be educated to about a college level as with a democracy, you can’t afford to have an uneducated public.

“It’s ridiculous that in times of economic hardship, college tuition can skyrocket and they cut funding to scientific research. Instead, they provide stimulus to banks and auto manufacturers? Really, science and education are the two keys to making the country greater. They push the world forward,” Ellen concluded.

“I do not mean to contradict you, but have you ever thought that completing college doesn’t make achievers, but it’s just that achievers are the type to at least make attempts to attend college? Surely you’ve heard of the successful college dropouts: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg,” he returned.

She gave a sly smile. “You don’t mean to contradict me? Please, by all means, contradict. It is only through contradiction that better opinions can be formed. You know, thesis, antithesis, and the final, superior synthesis. Yes, college does attract more of the academically- and success-oriented people, but there is still an inherent instillation of drive to most people that attend. I couldn’t help but notice all the successful drop-outs you named were computer people. Why not Frank Lloyd Wright or Buckminster Fuller?”

“I did not know that Wright dropped out of college. You said you were a computational chemist?” he asked.

“And endless collector of historical trivia. Don’t ask me why, but little stories like that stick in my head. Be glad I remember the name though. Usually, it’s more like, ‘Did you know there was this one guy who did this really cool thing-’” Ellen said bashfully.

He smiled. “So, do you believe college education should be free, Mademoiselle Lafayette?”

“Please, call me Joelle,” she said, laughing as she failed in her attempt to seem as if her first name was reserved for none but the closest of companions. “And as for your question, Prince Iona, we come to a difficult conundrum. Part of the reason people work so hard in college that it does cost them money, so they don’t want to waste it. If it were made free, it might end up like high school all over again. And if we simply made if of maintaining a certain GPA, than the professor would be overwhelmed with whimpering students begging for their grades to be bumped up. It’d be worse than the pre-med gunners! It is almost as if we need another value commodity to trade in exchange for schooling.”

“And what would that value commodity be, Joelle?”

“Well, that is where I am at an impasse. I’ve also thought that we could have students pay for their education by doing research, but after working in a lab for a couple of years, I’ve realized that that is impractical. If you take enough classes, then you cannot do enough research, and vice versa, Prince Iona,” Ellen returned.

“If you don’t mind, call me Atamai. I mean this in the most amiable way, but it seems you are more than capable of listing many problems, but have you suggestions for solutions? Imperfection is the nature of the world, and unless some greater alternative can be reached, was is the result of bemoaning it?” he asked.

“Actually, I do, well sorta. I think the solution lies a lot in how underprivileged Americans and the world view education. If we can get the message to them that education can build a better life, then we can have leagues of innovators from every walk of life that need no prodding to study. We could make college free. I mean I study plenty hard even though I’m on scholarship, so surely this can be extended to many more students. Then, we bump taxes up a little to pay for it, and you won’t have a bunch of people voting some guy in as president because he reminded them of their favorite actor who once played a president.”

He gave her a questioning look, and she explained. “It’s why my sister voted for our last president.”

“You have definite opinions, Joelle. Implementation is always more difficult that saying, ‘bump up taxes,’” he said with a laugh.

“Too true.”

“And you forget that some feel that the metaphysical subjects most often associated with a college education could never improve their lives. Moreover, if everyone is a scientist or a doctor or a computer programmer, who will be the truck drivers and the janitors?” he continued.

“So, correct me if I’m wrong, but you are saying we should allow the economic barriers between the underprivileged and an education stand because we need someone to clean up our trash?” Ellen asked, eyebrows raised.

He seemed ready to offer a retort before he looked at Ellen who had one eyebrow raised expectantly. He shook his head and smiled. “I suppose it makes me seem a little heartless when you phrase it in that matter."

“Just a wee bit, Atamai.” She grinned back. “But we would need no truck drivers or janitors if our computer programmers were able to create robots to do those menial labor tasks for us. Ah, but I forgot the robot revolution that would be on our hands. We would have to start giving them voting rights and offering them an opportunity to attend college, and we would be right where we started.”

“I’m not quite sure how, but you went from public education to a robot revolution. I’m quite impressed, Joelle,” he laughed. It was a genuine laugh. It made his dark eyes gleam brilliantly, breaking the cool, polished demeanor of the hideously rich.

“Well, I am quite impressive,” Ellen said, attempting a false aristocratic air, but failing as she lapsed into laughter half-way through and fell off her high heels. He caught her hand, but she waved him off.

“Whoever designed high-heeled shoes hated women. Oh wait, I know this. They were designed for keeping nobles above the sewage in the streets, but historians theorize that like the lotus feet-binding of Asia, eventually served to limit the movements of women. However, it was, huh, who was it? One of the Medici women." Ellen bit her lip, trying to probe her memory, but gave up on tracing the name.

"Anyway, she was said to popularize them as a fashion statement. So, I guess it depends on who you want to credit with the invention of high heels, and I’m rambling again, sorry. There’s too much in my brain that I want to sputter out all at once,” she said with a laugh. She took off the shoes and examined one of them. “That’s quite unfortunate; I managed to crack the heel of this one. I borrowed them, and I would rather not replace them. They probably cost as much I get from working in the lab for a month or two. They don’t even have a label!”

“My family has a cobbler if you wish me to see if he could fix it,” Atamai said.

“You have a cobbler?!? I’m sorry, but that is made of incredibly 16th century awesomeness. That’d be very nice if he could fix this though,” she handed him the shoe. “Here, you can have my email.” She fished out the pen she was using to secure her bun, allowing her hair to tumble down her shoulders and her bangs directly into her eyes. She blew them out of the way with short burst of breath while she went to write on his hand, but he looked confused.

“Can I write my email on your hand? Or here, you give me yours, and I’ll email you,” she said, taking the pen back to apply to her own hand.

He gave her his email, which she jotted down quickly. She noticed that Dakota and Patricia were both out and about, darting around to groups of people quickly. The auction must be starting soon, and they had to do their best to make people drunk and lenient with their wallets. She should help, as Marie no longer needed her.

“I have to go, but I’ll email you,” she said with a wave. He might’ve said something to her, but she didn’t hear. She ducked around people, before she found her way to the kitchen. She quickly scrubbed off her make-up, undid the dress, and hopped back into her server uniform and spent the rest of the night serving drinks, and cleaning up afterwards.

Marie joined them to clean-up with an enormous smile. “So, who was the blond guy that swept you off your feet? Ellen was telling us she went out there with you only to have you disappear on her,” Patricia taunted, complete with kissy noises. She leaned on her broom.

Marie blushed. “It was the ambassador’s son. His name’s Raoul.”

“Ooh lah lah, Raoul! Does he have a sexy French accent and call you his ‘mon chouchou’?” Patricia asked. “It’s not every day one of us gets all flirty with a fancy French guy, spill the dirt!”

Marie was blushing so furiously now that it seemed her golden blond hair had taken on a warm tint. She batted her eyes in embarrassment as she attempted to find some spot of floor she could comfortably avert her eyes to. “We just talked.”

“Just ‘talked’, eh? I think we all know what that's code for,” Pat was winking heartily, and Dakota was attempting to stifle his laughter. Even Ellen was smiling at the obvious fluster Marie was getting herself into.

“Ellen was talking to a boy too!” Marie blurted. Both Dakota and Pat whipped their heads around so quickly, Pat tripped on her broom and fell into a pile of tattered napkins and streamers. Still, even spread on the ground, Pat stared. The whole group falling into an utter stunned silence. Ellen quickly took a step back, finding herself uncomfortably at the center of attention.

“What?” Pat exclaimed after a moment.

“No way! Not Ellen!” Dakota echoed.


“It can’t be.”

“It’s a sure sign of the Apocalypse.” The two stared at Ellen, expecting her to dismiss the accusation quickly. When she didn’t, the two turned to each other, enormous grins growing on their face.

“Oh my god, this is the happiest day of my life!” Pat exclaimed. “Ellen. Our Ellen Metcalf with a boy. I never thought the day would come when we could finally find evidence that Ellen is indeed human with carnal desires. So much for that ivory tower you have been constructing all these years. Now that you have a boy, you can have we little Ellen-lings-”

“Wait, wait, wait. Hold on there, fellas,” Ellen said, finally regaining herself. “We talked for like ten minutes, tops. We were just joking around. I didn’t even give him my real-”

“Do you like him,” Dakota asked suddenly, cutting off Ellen’s explanation.

Ellen could feel the weight of their stares glaring into her. She felt as if they could see into her, sense any lie or falsification she made. She gulped, noting that their grins were growing. “He was nice.”

Pat jumped from the ground and did a sort of mid-air jig. Marie was smiling calmly and benignly as she took Ellen’s hand, “I think it’s sweet.”

“Hey, look guys. Calm your horses. We are adults here, not preteen adolescents snickering about who likes who,” Ellen said, trying to find her way back into her stable emotionless bubble.

“Have you ever even kissed anybody?” Pat asked.

“Well, no-” Ellen started. Her ears felt hot. She must be blushing, and she hated herself for it. She wasn’t ashamed of herself. She kept busy throughout high school and college; there was little time for fraternizing, and she liked it that way. Still, their demeaning laughs made her feel like a child again.

“For all intents and purposes then, you are still a preteen adolescent, at least romantically.” Pat was beside herself.

“She has a point,” Dakota noted.

“Can we please get off my lack of a love life and the fact I talked with a male of similar age,” she asked. It was strange, but even as they were annoying her, it was hard to get angry. She felt as if someone had inflated a balloon in her stomach, lightening every load from her shoulders. She couldn’t figure out what the feeling was coming from.

“We should, you guys,” Marie assented.

“Okay, okay. Fine. But let me know one thing: did you guys have plans to meet again or exchange phone numbers?” Pat asked, settling herself back to leaning on the broom.

“No,” Ellen said, glorious in the triumph of a poorly worded question.

“What’s on your hand then?” Dakota asked. Ellen immediately withdrew the offending limb behind her and was summarily accosted by Pat and Dakota.

“Hey, you guys,” Ellen laughed. It was now almost preposterous their curiosity.

Pat had wrested one of Ellen’s arms from her side while Dakota had the other. “Read it, Kodiak,” Pat ordered attempting to restrain Ellen’s squirming hand.

“It’s an email address,” Dakota said triumphantly before Ellen wiggled free.

“Ah, so you’re going to email, Prince Charming, eh?” Pat asked, heartily winking.

“Marie talked to a guy too, how come I get all the attention now?” Ellen asked.

“Because you’re Ellen,” Dakota responded in a way that he suggested this was a very reasonable argument. The others nodded their agreement.

“Fine. I have his email. I was going to email him because he offered to have one of the shoes I borrowed repaired because I kinda broke it. By the way, sorry, Marie. But that’s it. End of story. No princes nor pumpkins nor fairy godmothers,” Ellen said, shaking her head. “Let’s finish cleaning up before it’s too early in the morning.”

“Who uses ‘nor’ anymore?” Dakota asked in a reflective manner.

“Ellen and dead, white guys,” Pat said with a nod, beginning to resume her sweep of the room. “Who else?”

Dakota gave a laugh, but eventually eveyone’s desire to go home and sleep overcame their need to torture Ellen, for which she was exceedingly grateful.

“Ellen and a guy. Now that is gonna keep me merry for a while,” Pat whispered under breath as they left the hall.

It seemed strange to Ellen that they had suddenly thrust her into this relationship, but the even stranger thing was that she wasn’t even that repelled by it. She guessed she hadn’t known the guy enough to dislike him. That must be it. Familiarity bred contempt.

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