The Impossible Vastness Of Us
“Great,” I agreed, and strode out of there feeling much happier than I had in a while.
It wasn’t until I hit the cafeteria and caught sight of Eloise’s table that I remembered I was supposed to meet Finn after school on Monday.
* * *
I failed to find Finn to rearrange a time to meet to start on our presentation, but I’d probably see him over the weekend at the house or first thing at school on Monday.
For the first time ever I returned to Theo and Eloise’s house feeling not entirely grim about my new situation. For once Hayley was home when Gil delivered Eloise and me to the house but she was with her wedding planner. They were surrounded by magazines, pieces of material and a couple of large folders overflowing with what I could only assume was mind-numbing wedding “stuff.” Not wanting to get dragged into it I called out a quick hello and ran up the staircase. From what I could hear Eloise didn’t make her escape quick enough and had been drawn into the wedding zone.
Smirking at her misfortune I got settled in my room and did my homework for a few hours before Hayley stopped by to tell me dinner would be ready in thirty minutes.
I waited for her to leave and then decided I was done with homework for the night. Taking the back staircase so I could grab a soda from the kitchen before dinner, I was passing the second floor when I heard Theo’s raised voice coming from his office.
The sound made me tense and without even thinking about it I tiptoed closer to his office door. It was open a crack and when I peeked inside I saw Eloise sitting in a chair opposite her father’s desk. Theo sat behind what was possibly an antique desk, glowering at his daughter.
“Do you want to know how I know you’re lying?” he snapped.
I flinched back so I wouldn’t be caught, but holding my breath, I stayed to eavesdrop. I thought eavesdropping kind of sucked, but I’d been dumped into this strange house with a guy I didn’t know at all, and I’d do anything to uncover who he really was.
Eloise hadn’t replied to his angry question.
I heard Theo sigh. “I asked Headmaster Vanderbilt to keep an eye on things at school and report back to me on India’s progress. Would you like to know what he told me?”
More silence from his daughter.
“He told me he overheard a student aid in the office gossiping with a friend about how you are not only not making India feel welcome but that there are some suspicions you are responsible for a heinous rumor spread about India on her first day at school. Something about her recent stay at a drug rehabilitation center and being a bulimic as well as a recovering drug addict?”
“Daddy, I didn’t spread those rumors. That was Gabe and Bryce. I told people they weren’t true. I did, I promise.” She actually sounded like she meant it.
I heard Theo sigh again. “I believe you. But that doesn’t change the fact that you have shirked your duties this week. I specifically asked you to look out for India. Instead you’ve left her out in the cold. Is there something I’m not aware of? Are you unhappy with my relationship with Hayley and taking it out on India?”
“No, Daddy. I’m happy you’re happy. I like Hayley a lot.”
She sounded sincere about Hayley and I felt a pang of unease at the thought of the two of them growing close.
“So why aren’t you being welcoming to India?”
“I didn’t mean to be unwelcoming. I just... I don’t know how to be around her. We’re very different. It just felt easier to go on as I did before...before she got here.”
I was shocked by the whole conversation. It would seem Theo did care about how well I fit into my new life. I still didn’t know if that was because it reflected well on him or if he really cared about my feelings.
“Eloise, you’ve lived a very privileged life.” His voice had softened now. “India has not. You’re right. Our world is very different than the world she’s used to, and I can only imagine how overwhelming it is for her. You have to try to put yourself in her shoes. Compassion, Eloise. Compassion and kindness. You will show both to India. You will help her navigate the academic and social world of Tobias Rochester and you will teach her everything she needs to know in order to thrive here. Next week I expect to hear something very different from your headmaster. Is this understood?”
I stepped away quietly, hurrying down the hall and downstairs out of sight. The conversation I’d overheard made me feel unsettled and I wasn’t quite sure why. What I was sure of was that nothing would change come Monday morning. Sure, if Theo had threatened to cut off Eloise’s allowance, then maybe she would listen to him, but he hadn’t so I suspected I’d still be enjoying my lonerhood come Monday.
Not too long later I found myself at the dining table with the configuration that called itself my new family. Theo had immediately asked Hayley about her day so we got to listen to her go on about wedding plans again for another night. When she stopped to draw breath, Theo quickly asked me about my day at school.
I thought about the happy way it had ended. “I got two positions on the Chronicle.” I shot a look at Eloise but she had her head down, her fork moving some chicken around and around her plate, not seeming to hear a word I said. I turned back to Theo and Hayley. “I’m their new book reviewer and their Ethics Maven.”
Hayley grinned. “Sweetheart, that’s wonderful news! Oh, we should have gotten your favorite dessert to celebrate.”
“Ethics Maven?” Theo’s grin was almost as big as Hayley’s. “Really? India...that is fantastic. I’m very proud you made that happen in your first week. On your own, too,” he added meaningfully.
It sort of bugged me that he got how important that was. I didn’t particularly want to like anything about him.
“What’s your favorite dessert?” Theo asked me.
“Pecan pie and vanilla ice cream,” Hayley replied for me.
“Well, Eloise and I love pecan pie and vanilla ice cream, too. We’ll send out for it. One second.” He disappeared from the table before I could say anything and when he came back a minute later he smiled. “The local bakery is closed but Rosa is running out to the store to see if she can get a frozen one. Not quite the same but it should do.”
Hayley looked at him like he’d just said he’d solved world hunger. She leaned over the table to kiss his cheek. Her eyes flicked to me as she sat back in her seat. “What do you say, India?”
I just stopped myself from frowning. I hated it when anyone prompted me to act a certain way. Since it was a pretty decent thing he’d done, though, I managed to say thank you without adding a growl of annoyance.
“Ethics Maven on the Chronicle.” Theo squinted thoughtfully. “This year Ethics Maven, next year editor.”
“That’s the plan.”
“Good.” He looked over at his daughter. “Isn’t Finn the Chronicle’s photographer?”
I was surprised when a subdued Eloise nodded.
Finn was on the paper?
I would be working with Finn at the paper and we’d be working on a presentation together? Maybe that was a little bit too much Finn for my liking.
If Finn was on the paper, then he had lied to me about meeting up after school Monday. He must have known he had a school paper meeting so that meant he’d planned on standing me up.
Quietly seething, not even the warmed-up pecan pie that arrived on my plate a while later was enough to dispel the cloudy thunderstorm above my head. I retreated to my room after dinner, angry at Finn and feeling generally gloomy about the quality of people in my new world.
I sat on my big princess bed watching the sun dip below the trees at the back of Theo’s grounds, my room welcoming in the shadows.
And when those shadows were swallowed up in the dark of the night I crawled under the covers to sleep and to escape the fact that not even the spots I got on the newspaper could change the fact that I was right where I was yesterday.
CHAPTER 5 (#u2e87e5b1-71a8-500a-9100-9d4ffe3b0fe2)
THE NEXT MORNING I opened the French doors and felt the chill breeze on my skin. Although the sun was out, it seemed the unseasonably hot weather was coming to an end. It was a beautiful morning, though, and I decided to enjoy a little of my new life and have my breakfast outside.