Character List

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Catching Up

I could hardly believe that it was already December 22nd.  Three more days until Christmas and I still hadn't gotten my Christmas shopping completed.  Fuck, I didn't even start!  I'm usually on point but this year I've had a great deal on my plate.

The last three weeks seemingly flew by.  Priya was still being her erratic self but at least now we were starting to put the pieces of the puzzle, of her life, together.  Turns out that the white powdery substance that the police obtained from my bedroom was in fact cocaine.  From Depeka I learned that police contacted Priya and even spoke with her.  They wanted to get a statement and an alibi.  She was the only one, other than me, who had keys to the apartment.  In addition, the security videos showed Priya entering our building with a gentlemen hours before I got home. 

Depeka shared that Priya was freaked out about speaking with the police.  She was worried about the implications and how it would affect her goal of becoming a doctor.  Maybe she should have thought about that before she started using cocaine, marijuana and whatever other shit she was on but I digress.  Priya insisted that she had nothing to do with ransacking my bedroom.  According to her, she came back to the apartment with a male friend to get her wallet which she had forgotten.  They were in and out.  She suggested that it was possible that she left the apartment door open and an intruder walked in.  Her theory went against the security video and the circumstantial evidence obtained but Depeka kept quiet.  She didn't want to drive a wedge in their relationship.  Instead of countering Priya's ludicrous claims, she listened patiently.  Maybe I'm morphing into a cold-hearted bitch but I'm starting to think that Depeka's behavior is enabling Priya instead of helping her.

Priya hasn't reached out to me at all and I haven't seen her since that night at Eleven Madison.  I've managed to move all of my things into Lukas' apartment.  Each time I went back, I was a nervous wreck.  I drove myself crazy, wondering if Priya would be there and if so what I would say to her. After having time to think, I was over being nice and understanding.  Enough coddling and enabling Priya....that wasn't working.  What she needed was tough love.  She needed to realize that her actions have consequences.  For example, I usually I give Priya my portion of the rent but since discovering her dependency on illicit drugs, I've started sending my check to Depeka instead.  I didn't want Priya to use the money for anything else.

I was still worried about her well being but I realized that I couldn't solve the world's problems.  When Priya wanted help, she'll take the necessary steps.  That said, if she were to reach out to me, I would be open to hearing her out.  She was still my friend and in dire straits.  However, the first step was her admitting that she has a problem and needs help.

------------------
Work has been interesting as of late.  Cole wasn't turning out as we envisioned.  In fact, each day it became abundantly clear that he wasn't what we were looking for.  Instead of paying attention and studying for certification tests, he spent his days texting on his cell phone, surfing the internet or socializing.  Did I mention that he seems to have a crush on Alison's replacement, Shirley.  She's such a sweet girl and clearly not interested in Cole but that doesn't deter him from bringing her coffee on a daily basis or complementing her.  I could tell that she was becoming uncomfortable with the unwanted attention and decided to discuss the matter with her.

Last Monday when I got to work, Shirley looked frazzled but still greeted me with her cheerful, "Good morning."

I looked around before approaching her desk.  "How are you?"

"Not bad" she replied.

"Listen I've been noticing Cole hitting on you and I sense that you're a little uncomfortable" I started.

She nodded, "I am. I don't want to hurt his feelings."

"I understand but it's clearly creating a hostile work environment.  You shouldn't have to put up with unwanted advanced.  I'll have Nick talk with him."

She smiled appreciatively at me.  "Thank you Elisabeth."

I returned her smile, "Anytime.  If there's anything you need help with or if you need advice, let me know. You've been doing a wonderful job since you started and from your work ethic I can see you going very far in this industry."

"That means a lot. When I graduated, I didn't picture myself being a secretary.  I have bills to pay and this was the only job I could find at the time."

I nodded, "I understand.  It's been a tough job market but things are looking up now.  I urge you to look on the intranet and if you see a job that you like or are interested in, let me know.  John is all about empowering and assisting his employees with achieving their career goals.  We want you to be successful."

"Thanks.  I don't mean to be weird but I kind of look up to you.  One day I want to be a successful woman like you."

I blushed, "You will be."

I genuinely meant it when I said that I was willing to help Shirley achieve her goals.  Sometimes when you're in a male dominated industry, you become discouraged and fear that the glass ceiling is lower than it actually is.  I was fortunate to have a wonderful female mentor when I first started out in the industry.  She encouraged me when I lost hope and made me realize that I was the master of my career.  I've always vowed that I would do the same for young women starting out.

During our usual coffee run, I broached the subject lightly with Nick.  "So I've observed something and brought it up with Shirley this morning" I said nervously.

With a blank look he asked, "Did I do something to offend or upset her?"

I shook my head vehemently.  "No. Oh my God, I totally didn't mean to insinuate that."

"It's okay.  I just assumed.  What's up?"

I sighed, "It's Cole."

"He's a fucking slacker" Nick said strongly.

"Yeah but he's also been making unwanted advances towards Shirley.  I mean he brings her coffee, flirts and complements her.  I noticed that she looked uncomfortable and asked her this morning."

Nick shook his head in disbeleif.  "Shit.  Fucking kid doesn't know how to act."

"I was hoping that you'd talk to him.  I don't want to go to HR and make this into something larger than necessary right now" I said optimistically.

"I can do that" he said with a small smile.

"Thanks. Please don't mention my convo with Shirley though."

"Never.  I'll say that I observed him acting inappropriately and he needs to straighten up and focus on his job.  This is a freaking investment bank not a pickup bar" Nick replied.

I couldn't help but giggle.  "Let me know how it goes."

"Yes.  I was hoping you'd help me with something too" Nick said quietly.

"Is that so?"

He nodded, "My wife is pregnant and I want to do something nice for her for Christmas but I don't know what.  Do you have ideas?"

I thought about it for a moment, "How about hiring a babysitter and taking her to a Broadway play.  Afterwards you can do a dinner at a nice, romantic restaurant.  Or maybe you can take her on a babymoon?"

He wrinkled his forehead, "A babymoon?"

"Yeah.  It's a mini-vacay with only you and your wife before the baby comes."

He chuckled, "As wonderful as that sounds, my wife isn't willing to leave our twins for more than a few hours."

"Aw, that's really sweet.  I'm sure that whatever you get for your wife, she will adore because it came from you."

Two days later, I noticed Nick and Cole talking in a conference room when I came in.  Cole had a stoic look on his face while Nick spoke animatedly.  About fifteen minutes later Nick came back to this desk, Cole no where to be found.

"Hey" he said.

I looked at his expectantly.  "What's going on?"

He shrugged, "I spoke with Cole and he wasn't as receptive as I anticipated."

"What to do you mean?"

He looked around and lowered his voice, "Cole said that he is only being friendly and if Shirley has a problem with him, she needs to talk to him.  He accused me of stirring the pot and making an issue when there is none."

My eyes widened, "Get the fuck out of here.  He had the nerve to turn this on you, when he can't act like a grown ass man at work?"

Nick nodded, "He's a punk.  I had a bad feeling about him all along."

"What are we going to do now?"

Nick leaned forward, "Let's talk to John and see what he thinks.  Personally I'd do straight to HR and file a complaint but maybe John has a better idea.  Plus, I want to keep him abreast of what's going on within his team."

"Agreed.  He's been in an meetings all week and off from Monday through the New Year."

Nick nodded, "I know.  In the interim, we'll keep tabs on Cole and make sure he isn't bothering Shirley.  I'd hate for her to up and leave because of him.  She's been a huge asset."


--------------
After work I had dinner plans with Melissa. It had been a while since we last got together and I wanted to see her before she and Josh went away for the holidays.  When I walked into Dos Caminos, I looked around but she was no where to be found.  I was a little early.  I ordered a margarita and saddled up to the bar.  I took out my phone and started texting her when a man sat next in the stool next to me.  I could feel his eyes on me and I looked at him uncomfortably.

"Hi, I'm Ken" he said smiling.  His hazel eyes crinkled.

"Um, I'm Elisabeth" I responded, shaking his hand.

"I hope I'm not being too forward...you're beautiful and I would be honored if you'd join me for a drink."

I blushed. "I'm sorry.  I have a boyfriend."

"I'm sorry.  I should have know a beautiful woman like you would be taken" he said quickly.

Thankfully Melissa arrived just in time to take both of us out of our misery.  "Who's your friend?" she chirped.

"Oh, this is Ken" I said quickly.

"It's so nice to meet you Ken" she squealed.

Before either of them could proceed with this awkward conversation I said, "Ken, I hope you have a great night."

-------

As we settled in at our table, Melissa asked what that was about.  I filled her in and she laughed. "I had no idea.  I assumed he was a guy you worked with or knew beforehand."

"No but I'll admit he is hot.  It's a shame we don't have any friends to set him up with."

She nodded before changing the subject.  "It feels like I haven't seen you in so long."

"With me moving into Lukas' place and Priya's situation and work, I've been overwhelmed.  I haven't even started Christmas shopping yet."

"I've tried to reach out to Priya but for the most part she's been ignoring my calls and texts.  She probably feels that I'm going to get on her case," Melissa shared.

I quickly drank the remainder of my margarita.  "I hope she gets help fast.  She has so much going for her and it sucks that she's literally throwing it away because of her dependency on drugs."

"Yeah.  I talked to Depeka and she's besides herself.  She wants to be a good sister but doesn't know what to do.  If she calls Priya out, she'll ignore her.  She has no choice other than to be 'supportive'."

Our waitress appeared with our drink and took our orders.  Once she left I said, "I hate to be a judgmental bitch.."

Melissa interrupted, "But you're going to be anyhow."

We both laughed.  "I guess.  I think Depeka is enabling Priya by being so supportive and understanding.  Her approach isn't working.  I think Priya needs tough love at this point."

"Maybe you're right.  However, it isn't my place or yours to decide" Melissa reasoned.

I sighed, "I guess.  Enough about that.  How's your wedding planning coming along."

"Oh God!  I can't believe we're getting married in seven weeks.  SEVEN WEEKS!!!! Elisabeth."

I stifled a laugh.  "I know, aren't you psyched?"

"Yes but my bridesmaids are dropping like flies!"

I frowned, "I know you and Josh had your wedding party all set.  What's the plan now?"

"I don't want either Britney or Priya in our wedding party.  At this point, they're both unstable and liabilities.  I've asked my cousin Monica to step in for Britney.  I might swap Priya with Depeka.  I'm not sure yet."

"Do you need help with anything?  I more than willing to pitch in," I said genuinely.

She smiled, "That means a lot.  I don't need anything right now but I might as we get closer to our wedding date.  Our wedding planner has been great."

"Do you want to do a bachelorette weekend or do you prefer something local?"

Melissa shrugged, "We're getting married on Valentine's day.  I don't know where we could go from now to then and to be honest I don't want to take too much time off before the wedding.  I work for my own company and all but I want to have my shit in order before Josh and I go on our three week honeymoon."

"I'll arrange something local.  How is Josh?"

"He's good.  We're going to Miami for the holidays and he's excited to see his family in West Palm.  We spent Thanksgiving with my family and it makes sense to spend to Christmas with his.  Plus, we're making it into a mini-vacation" she replied.

"I agree.  Sometimes you have to compromise" I agreed.

"If only Priya had tried to compromise with Anthony, they'd still be together and she wouldn't have spiraled down so quickly."

I shook my head, "She was having issues before they broke up.  It's not fair for us to pin her problems on Anthony.  He did all he could.  She's the one that chose to break up with him."

Melissa shrugged, "If you love someone, you stand by them unconditionally.  I love Anthony but I find him fickle at times."

"That's not fair.  He's had the worst luck with love and doesn't need any of us talking shit about him.  Priya made her own mistakes and needs to live with them" I said firmly.

"I guess we'll agree to disagree on this one" Melissa said flatly.

We made small talk for the remainder of dinner but it was apparent that Melissa was upset that I didn't agree with her.  Truth is, I don't fault Anthony for Priya's issues.  He tried his best to get her to open up to him.  She chose to push him away and break up with him when he wasn't willing to up and go to California for Thanksgiving.  I wished they could have worked things out but no one can predict the future.  It's not anyone's place to pass judgement.

When the waitress finally arrived with the check, we debated over who would pay.  I insisted and Melissa finally relented.  Once outside she gave me a hug, "Thanks for dinner.  I hope you have a great Christmas."

I hugged her back, "I hope you have a great time in Miami."

She nodded and emotionally said, "I'm sorry that I ruined dinner with my opinions.  It's just that I want Priya to get well and go back to being how she was.  I know it's not Anthony's fault.  Sometimes it's just easier to blame someone than accept the truth."

"I know you and Priya go way back and this situation is hard on you.  I get it.  I want her to get help too.  I think that instead of throwing stones, maybe we could work together and come up with a plan of action."

She hugged me again, "When I get back from Miami, we'll do that."


Friday, December 26, 2014

Best Kept Secret

During my commute Monday morning, I still couldn't wrap my head around this weekend.  Apart from hitting it off with Linda (who I absolutely adore), everything else was confusing.  Priya at the restaurant, my room being ransacked and my awkward conversation with Depeka.  When I called her yesterday, she was shocked to learn that Priya didn't spend Thanksgiving with me and my family.

"She said she couldn't come to home because she was inundated with schoolwork.  When I mentioned that no one should be alone for Thanksgiving, she said she wouldn't be because you invited her for dinner with your family and she accepted.  I'm totally flabbergasted that she lied.  I guess I shouldn't be but I gave her the benefit of doubt" Depeka said quietly, not wanting to alarm her parents.

"It was so weird seeing her with two random men at Eleven Madison and then to come home and find my room ransacked.  Lukas, my boyfriend, insisted we call the cops" I shared.

Depeka took a deep breath, probably bracing for the worse.  "What did the cops say?"

"They found a joint in my bedroom and an empty Corona bottle with red lipstick around the rim.  It looked exactly like the color Priya was wearing when we ran into her earlier. The had some white powder looking thing in a Ziploc bag too. I guess it's either crack or cocaine. I don't know what to think anymore Depeka."

"I'm confused and scared too.  I knew something was going on with Priya but I didn't realize how bad things have gotten.  Shit, how couldn't I see that she was becoming an addict.  I feel like such a shitty sister" Depeka cried.

"I live with her and didn't think anything of her behavior until recently.  Don't be so hard on yourself.  Right now the most important thing is getting to the bottom of this and helping her.

"You're right.  We have to help her.  I'm surprised that you're still willing to after what she did.  I'd be terrified if someone went through my personal belongings; that such an invasion of privacy and wrong on every level" Depeka said.

"I'm conflicted.  I feel violated but then I also feel awful that I couldn't recognize the warning signs earlier."

Depeka cleared her throat, "How were you suppose to know?  Shit...she had all of us fooled. Finding out what a train wreck her life is, makes me feel disappointed in myself."

"Don't blame yourself for Priya's choices" I said gently.

Before hanging up, Depeka promised to talk to Priya and give me a heads up.  We were both concerned and wanted to help her in any way possible.  

---------

The train pulled into my station and I pushed my way out.  It's never ceases to amaze me that so many commuters try to push their way into a crowded train when commuters are trying to get off.  I am totally going to lose my cool one day and tell them off.  As I walked towards my building, I stuffed my hands in my coat pockets.  It was freezing and the winds made it feel at least ten degrees colder.  I was relieved when I stepped into the warm lobby of my building.

My workday was a mixed bag.  While it was crazy busy, it was also Cole's first day.  Since his computer wasn't completely setup, he sat with Nick and I to learn the ropes.  At first he seemed to be interested and catching on; taking notes and asking questions but after about an hour and half he started looking around for some type of stimulation.  I asked him questions to see if he was paying attention and the majority of his responses were way off.  This led me to second guess his motivation and work ethic.  I kept my fingers crossed and hoped that I was mistaken.

--------

That night, I went back to Lukas' place.  I wasn't comfortable staying in my apartment with Priya after she ransacked my room.  Who knew what she or her "friends" were capable of?  Both Lukas and Linda helped me pack the majority of my belongings and schlep them to Lukas' apartment.  I was thankful that both of them were being so supportive.

When I entered the apartment, I spotted Linda on the phone.  I wave and mouthed "hello" before entering Lukas' bedroom.  I took a quick shower and changed into a white v-neck t-shirt with black leggings and fuzzy socks.  I was about to enter the living room when I heard Linda's voice.  "I love you, Faisal.  I swear I tried to tell my family about you but I couldn't.  I chickened out.  It would've been easier if you were here with me, to soften the blow."

Faisal?  Her boyfriend? Why couldn't she tell her family about him?  Was she afraid they would disapprove?  If anything, Lukas' parents seemed like the type who wanted their children to be happy and didn't interfere much in their personal lives.  Why was Linda so apprehensive about opening up to them?  I paced around Lukas' bedroom, wondering if I should ask her about Faisal?  I ultimately decided not to.  If Linda wanted to talk about it, I'd be more than willing to listen.

I coughed loudly before entering the living room.  I heard Linda say, "I'll see you in a couple days" before ending the phone call.

"How was your day at work?" she said pleasantly.

"It was alright.  We have a new junior trader that started today.  He seems really smart but I get the impression that working on a trading desk isn't for him.  He sat with my colleague and I and appeared totally disinterested.  I hope it was just a case of first day jitters and tomorrow he'll come in wanting to learn."

I couldn't read the look on Linda's face or predict what she was about to say.  "I got married three weeks ago" she said bluntly.

It took a moment for the words to register.  I glanced at her and saw a look of helplessness in her eyes.  "Congratulations!" I replied with a huge smile.

"I haven't told my family yet.  I meant to this weekend but the timing was never right.  Between Lauren's fucked up attitude and my family trying to de-stress after she was taken back to rehab, I guess you could say I lost my courage."

I nodded, "Do your parents know about your husband?  I mean did they ever meet him?"

She shook her head, "No.  We dated for over a year and half but I've been scared to bring him up to my family.  You see, he's different."

"What do you mean different?" I asked, not fully understanding.

"He's a wonderful man and I love everything about him.  He makes he so happy" she shared.

I smiled, "I bet your parents would be thrilled to hear that."

"He's Muslim.  You know how people discriminate against Muslims.  Everyone jumps to irrational conclusions that they are all terrorists or involved with Al Queda.  He's nothing like that.  He's owns his own business in France.  He was born and raised there."

"There are a lot of ignorant people in the world.  You can't let fear stop you from opening up to your family and letting them share in your happiness" I said softly.

"I know you're right. I have to tell them but how?" she asked.

I shrugged, "I don't know.  Maybe the same way you told me?  I have an idea, why don't tell Lukas when he gets home and see how he reacts?"

"That's a great idea.  I know Lukas would be more open minded than my parents and probably more accepting."

She  seemed deep in thought for a moment and I interrupted, "Linda, why did you tell me?"

"Because you're so easy to talk to and I knew you would be supportive.  I needed to tell someone and I felt you would be my best option, which you were."

I smiled and grabbed her hand.  "Thank you for sharing such a huge part of your life with me."

She leaned over and gave me a hug.  "Thank you for hearing me out and giving me kick ass advice."'

"Anytime" I responded, hugging her back.

--------

Wednesday night when I got back to Lukas' apartment I was saddened to not have Linda there.  She was such a breath of fresh air and super sweet.  Even though we'd still text and talk on the phone, it wasn't the same as having her in New York.  I was thinking of convincing Lukas to go to Paris.  After all, he seemed open to getting to know her husband.  He understood her apprehensions and was extremely supportive; going with her to Connecticut to tell their parents in person.  At first they were upset.  Angry, that Linda had kept such a huge part of her life hidden from them. After a long discussion, they begun to understand Linda's perspective a little better.

She and her husband had experienced a lot of racism being an inter-racial and inter-faith couple.  Many wrongfully judged both of them.  She was fearful that the same sentiments would be echoed from her own family.  They weren't.  In fact, her parents insisted on visiting her and her new husband in parents, which made Linda ecstatic.  They wanted to get to know her husband and welcome him into their tight-knit family.  I was glad that Linda was finally able to share her "secret" life with her parents.

That night as I wait for Lukas to get home from work, I decided to make him dinner.  It was the least I could do.  An hour and a half later I was sauteing broccoli when I heard the apartment door open. "It smells great in here" Lukas said happily as he walked towards the kitchen.  He engulfed me in his arms and drew me closer to him.  I shivered against the coolness of his cashmere coat.  I got on my tiptoes and kissed him gently before pulling away.

"What are you making?" he asked intrigued.

I giggled, "It's a secret.  Go get changed and then we'll eat."

He gave me a quick kiss and headed towards the bedroom.  I broke into a huge smile.  It had been a while since Lukas and I had been together alone.  Even though I had spent the last four nights at his place, we didn't do much.  His bedroom shared a thin wall with the guest room where his sister was sleeping.  Instead we cuddled and tried to make sense of Priya.

I was finishing up the mashed potatoes when I felt Lukas' hands on my waist, his lips finding my neck.  I pushed back against him, feeling his hardness.  I turned around and wrapped my arms around his neck, my lips brushing against his.  I pressed my body against his as our kiss intensified, his hands sliding down my back and squeezing my ass.  My fingers were in his hair pulling while our tongues skillfully played with each other.

Lukas pushed me against the wall.  His hands made their way up my shirt and cupped my breasts.  I pulled away from him, both of us breathless, and raised my arms allowing him to take off my shirt.  He unhooked my bra and dipped his head.  His mouth finding my left nipple and sucking hungrily while he rolled my right nipples between his thumb and forefinger.  I gasped in pleasure, arching my back and thrusting my breasts forwards.  He grinned at me before nipping my right nipple between his teeth.  I wanted him so bad.  I pushed him back and pulled his t-shirt over his head, my hands tugging at the waistband of his sweatpants.  My fingers immediately wrapped around his hard, throbbing cock.  His lips found mine with renewed urgency as I stroked him faster.  He picked me up and started carrying my over to the couch when his phone rang.  I sighed and he shook his head, "If it's important, they'll call back."

He laid me on the couch and pulled off my yoga pants and panties.  As he teased my nipples, his hand trailed up my thighs and between my spread legs.  His fingers stroked me slowly, my hips bucking against his teasing fingers.  One, then two fingers slid into my wetness.  My moans became louder and my body trembled with pleasure when the damn phone started ringing again.  He continued his skillfully assault bringing me to an intense climax before glancing at his phone.

"It's my mom" he shared.

I nodded, trying to catch my breath.  "Maybe it's important?"

He sighed and proceeded to dial his mom's number.  While his mom droned on and on about Linda's secret marriage, I scooted behind Lukas, my breasts pressing against his back.  I kissed his neck softly before nibbling on his earlobe.  He relentlessly tried to get his mom off the phone but she wouldn't take a hint.  I kissed the side of his neck before pulling on my clothes and heading into the kitchen.  I was starving and proceeded to finish up with dinner.

About ten minutes later Lukas joined me.  "I'm so sorry about that" he said apologetically.

"It's okay.  Let's eat and you can tell me what's up with your mom."

He immediately agreed.  Between bites of chicken and mashed potatoes, he shared that his mom was planning a family trip to Paris for Christmas.  She tried to convince Lukas to go but he declined.  With the contractors in the midst of renovating our apartment and finalizing the business expansion in Miami, there was no way he could pick up and go to Paris.  I could tell that Lukas' mind was wandering, as his eyes glazed and he stared ahead.  I reached over and rested my hand on his arm and he jumped.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you.  It's just that you seemed so far away.  What were you thinking about you?" I asked gently.

He chuckled, "This might sound silly. I was thinking that this is the first time that I won't be able to see my parents for Christmas."

"Aw.  Maybe we can plan like a pre-Christmas celebration before they leave?" I suggested.

He smiled, "Maybe.  It just seems weird to not have them around on Christmas."

I nodded.  "I know it won't be the same but I would love for you to come with me to my parent's place for Christmas. At Thanksgiving they were hounding me about bringing you to Christmas.  They'll be lots of food and alcohol and my family loves you."

He thought about it for a moment before agreeing.  "I'd like that a lot."

My Dears - I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas.  I have some thoughts that I'd like to share.  First, my thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the two NYPD officers killed while in their patrol cars.  This has truly impacted us in New York profoundly and brought an air of sadness to this holiday season.  I won't pontificate because I do respect all opinions, even if they are different than mine.  I'd like to say a big thank you to the men and women who put their lives on the line each and every day to protect us.  Second, this seems trivial in light of all that's going on in our country.  However, I'd like to thank all of you for supporting this blog and me.  The last few weeks have seen sporadic posts from me but I am determined to get back on schedule after the new year.  Thank you for sticking by me and Elisabeth's story.  Lastly, I want to take a moment to wish you and yours a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2015. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Meet the Sister....Take Two

Lukas and I stood still for a few moments, inconspicuously looking in Priya's direction.  He nudged me and insisted that we get going and not create an unnecessary scene.  As I rushed to catch up with Linda and our waitress, I couldn't get over the fact that Priya wasn't even in California.  She was right here in New York, having dinner with a forty-something balding man with glasses and a younger man about 30'ish with blond hair.  Priya was well made up and wearing a low cut black dress that showed off a little too much cleavage.  They were engaged in what appeared to be an animated conversation and thankfully didn't notice Lukas and I gawking in their direction.  I had many questions.  Priya had been droning on and on about Thanksgiving in California with her family; why the hell was she having dinner with these two men instead of her parents?  What was her connection to them?  Why was she dressed so provocatively?  What the fuck was she hiding and why?!?

As we took our places at our table, Lukas ordered a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.  Even though all I could think about was Priya, I knew I had to push all thoughts of her to the side and get to know Linda.  I glanced at her and she smiled.  "So Elisabeth what do you do for a living?"

"Funny you ask.  I literally work about five minutes away from here at an investment bank, SIB.  I sell financial products, particularly bonds and derivatives to institutional clients.  It's not all that interesting to talk about."

She nodded, "When I was in college I took a few finance courses but it definitely wasn't for me."

"I completely get that.  What do you do in Paris?" I asked politely.

"I work for Prada but it is definitely not as much fun as you'd think.  Right now I'm helping them finish up their fall 2015 collection" she shared.

"Are you a designer?" I asked, intrigued.

She shook her head, "No.  I work on the production side, meaning that I go over the sketches, fabric, all the specifications for the garments and then the final product.  After that we have the models come in, try on the outfits and we remediate whatever we think is necessary."

"I can totally tell how much you love your line of work.  Do you get to go to fashion week?" I inquired.

Her eyes lit up and she started speaking excitedly, "Oh my God! That's like the best part and what makes all the long hours worth it.  The shows are amazing and the after party is out of this world."

"I'm so jealous!  Maybe you can hook me up with tickets for Fashion Week next year.  I'll take Lukas with me."

She laughed, "Lukas?!? He wouldn't go there.  That's too stuffy and pretentious for his taste but if I come to the one in NYC, I'll take you with me."

I grinned, 'That would be a dream come true."

Lukas listened to us chat with a content look of his face.  He seemed relieved that Linda and I were actually getting along.  This was a complete 180 from my first meeting with Lauren....well our first official meeting.  When we had dinner with her and her two gorgeous kids.  She was a total bitch and had no desire to get to know me.  Compared to her, Linda was a breath of fresh air and definitely someone I could see myself becoming friends with.  The waiter returned with our bottle of wine and poured a little in Lukas' glass for him to taste.  I watched as Lukas lifted the glass and inhaled the delicious aroma before swirling the wine in his glass expertly and taking a long sip.  "Is it good?" the waiter asked in a heavy French accent.

"C'est parfait" Lukas responded and the waiter proceeded to fill our glasses.  I had no idea what Lukas said, nor that he spoke French! When I was in school I took Spanish and only knew the typical French words.  I figured whatever Lukas said was complimentary.  

Lukas raised his glass, "Here's to an evening with great food, conversation and memories."

We are clinked our glasses before taking a sip, which by the way was delectable.  We had opted to go with the prix-fixed menu and let me tell you each course was better than the last.  In between the scrumptious bites, Linda shared that she would be in New York until Wednesday.  I immediately said, "I absolutely love your style and if you have time and are up to it, I'd love to go shopping with you."

She smiled happily, "I'd love that!  I've been trying to get someone to go shopping with me but all my friends have moved away or are busy with families of their own."

I nodded, "Aw, it's hard to get your schedules to gel sometimes."

Lukas stood up and excused himself.  Linda took a huge gulp of wine before saying, "Elisabeth, I'm thrilled to meet you. When I heard that Lukas had a girlfriend, I didn't know what to expect.  Isabella and I were close; she was like my older sister.  I know you're thinking; what about Lauren?  Well, she was married and we drifted apart and Isabella stepped in and was always there for me."

She paused and I said, "I would never try to take Isabella's place.  From all I've heard about her, she sounded like a wonderful person."

"She was and we were all blessed to have her in our lives.  With that said, I'm glad that Lukas found you.  I can tell that you're exactly what he needs and more importantly I can see how happy you make each other."

"Lukas is great.  I feel very blessed to have him in my life" I said, honestly.

She nodded, "When you find that special person, don't let them go."  I could tell from the way her voice trailed off that she was thinking about a lost love.

I quickly changed the subject, not wanting Linda to get lost in her feelings.  "Is it hard being so far away from your family?"

She sighed, "At first, I was so homesick.  Now, I worry about them and not being close by.  When my dad had his stroke I felt so guilty that I couldn't be there in the same capacity as Lauren and Lukas.  I wish I were here more but my life is in Paris now."

"I understand.  I lived in Los Angeles for a few years and it's hard at times."

With a small smile she said, "Maybe one day, years from now, I'll come back."

"In the meanwhile, you're in Paris!  Who doesn't love it there?"

She grinned, "That's what I like about you....you find the good in every situation."

Lukas approached the table, looking pale.  My first thought was that he wasn't feeling well.  Both Linda and I started to talk at the same time and Lukas waved us both off before leaning forward.  "I ran into Priya and she's going to come over to say hello" he said quietly.

Before Linda could ask any questions, I started explaining, "Priya is my roommate.  She's been acting really weird lately and I have no idea why.  Her being here tonight is even a huge surprise because she said she was going to California to spend time with her family."

"That's shady" Linda replied.

"I don't know what to think anymore" I said flatly.

Lukas cleared his throat, "She's headed this way."

I downed the remainder of wine in my glass and took a deep breath as I waited Priya's arrival.  I didn't have to wait long.  "Hi Elisabeth" she said, meekly.

"Priya, what a surprise!  When did you get back from California?" I asked with a smile.

I could see the blood drain from Priya's face.  "Oh, about that, I...um...had...a....um....I had a change of plan and ended up staying in NYC for Thanksgiving."

"With Depeka?" I asked sweetly.

She shook her head, "No, Depeka and her husband are in California.  I spent Thanksgiving with some...um.....some friends."

"That's nice.  I wish you would've said something earlier.  If I had known you were in NYC, I would have invited you to have Thanksgiving dinner with my family."

"Thanks.  That wouldn't have been necessary" she said shortly.

Lukas interjected, "Priya, I'd like you to meet my sister, Linda."

Priya and Linda acknowledged each other.  "It was nice meeting you Linda.  Elisabeth, Lukas, always a pleasure."

As she turned to leave I asked, "Are you going back to the apartment?"

"No.  I haven't been there in days.  I'm spending a few days with a friend."

I could tell that she was hiding something and decided to push forward.  "Is your friend here?  I'd love to meet her/him?"

She looked around nervously, "Um, that's not necessary.  I really have to go.  Have a good night."

With that she was off.  "What the fuck is going on with her?" I asked aloud.

Linda looked at my sympathetically while Lukas shrugged.  "No clue.  I wonder who those two men were."

"Part of me wants to text Depeka but I don't want to get caught up in drama."

"From my experience, all you can do is be supportive and hope that she reaches out to for help.  I can tell that your friend is troubled and afraid.  Don't do anything that might sever the friendship and prevent her from confiding in you when she needs a friend" Linda said gently.

The remainder of dinner flew by.  Our conversation shifted from Priya to Linda and I getting to know each other.  That evening I found out that Linda was a foodie like myself, was enarmored by fashion and genuinely liked having Lukas as her older brother.  She shared that during her teenage years he was overprotective and it pissed her off but now she appreciates everything he did for her.  When they were younger, the two of them didn't get along well and butted heads but now she is grateful to have such an awesome brother.

-----

As we headed towards coat check, Lukas grabbed my hand.  I turned around and faced him.  "Liz, I don't think it's a good idea for you to spend the night at your apartment.  Stay at my place."

"I'd like that but what about your sister?" I whispered.

"My sister won't mind.  I'm worried about your safety.  Something's off with Priya and those two men and I don't want anything happening to you."

I took a deep breath, "I'd like to go back to my apartment, gather some things and then head over to your place."

He shook his head, "That's fine but I'm going with you.  I have an uneasy feeling about Priya."

I nodded and gave him a quick peck on the lips.

----

The three of us cabbed it back to my apartment.  Both Lukas and Linda insisted on escorting me upstairs.  I opened my apartment door and flipped on the lights.  The living room looked exactly as I left it and I was inclined to tell Lukas that he was worried over nothing.  Linda sat on the couch while Lukas looked for a bottle of water in the kitchen.  I pushed open my bedroom door and gasped loudly.  My clothes was scattered on the floor and bed; my shoes thrown all over the room. I rubbed my eyes to make sure I wasn't imagining anything when Lukas rushed in.  "What wrong?" he asked, concerned.

I looked around once more.  "Someone has been in my room.  I mean, I didn't leave it like this.  All my stuff is all over the place" I said, fearfully.

"That's what I was afraid of.  Priya's up to no good and we need to get you out of here" he said softly, brushing a strand of hair behind my ear.

I held him close, feeling safe in his arms.  "I don't know what I'm suppose to do" I replied.

"First I think we need to call the authorities and make a police report" he said firmly.

"I don't want to get Priya in trouble though."

He turned me so I was facing him.  "I don't want to either but at the same time we have to consider what's best for you."

I started crying.  "I feel so violated."

He stroked my hair gently, assuring me that everything would be okay.  When I pulled away I realized that Linda was looking at both of us with a scared look.  "What happened?" she stuttered.

Lukas filled her in quickly and I heard her exclaim, "Oh shit" before walking over to me.

"Elisabeth, I'm so sorry" she said, hugging me.

"Thanks, Linda" I answered.

"Listen I want to help.  Tell me what you need me to do.  Do you want me to help you clean up?" she asked.

Lukas interrupt, "No.  Neither of you are cleaning up.  I'm calling the police.  Don't touch anything until they get here."

----

An hour later, we sat in the living room while the cops looked through my bedroom for evidence.  It was clearly an inside job since the locks weren't tampered with.  Plus, we lived in a doorman building.  Random people weren't allowed up without the resident's approval.  After about fifteen minutes Officer Cruz, a middle aged man with salt and pepper hair exited my bedroom.  "Elisabeth, is this yours?" he asked holding up a blunt.

I shook my head profusely.  "No."

He placed the blunt in a small plastic bag as evidence.  The other officer, a handsome twenty-something with piercing blue eyes and jet black hair came out of my room carrying a bottle of beer that had red lipstick around the rim.  The same color of the lipstick Priya was wearing earlier.  I began putting two and two together...Priya had a drug problem.  That's why she's been acting so erratic.  But why would she feel the need to go through my things?  My thoughts were interrupted by the officers questions....did I live alone?  Where was my roommate?  What type of relationship did we have?  Etc.  After what seemed like an eternity, they finally left.

Linda helped me clean up while Lukas looked on with a concerned look.  The silence was driving me crazy.  "Do you think Priya did this?" I asked, already knowing the answer.

He nodded, "I'm positive it was her.  The cops are going to watch the security video to see who entered and left the building."

"She has a drug problem" I said flatly.

"It looks that way" Lukas replied.

"But why would she feel the need to ransack my room?" I asked.

Before Lukas could respond, Linda said, "Because she needed money for her next fix.  She probably went through your belongings looking for fast cash."

"Shit" I said angrily, "I can't believe I didn't figure this out all along."

-----

I awoke Sunday morning in Lukas arms.  I felt comfortable and safe but knew what I had to do.  I shifted onto my back and slipped out of bed slowly, not wanting to disturb Lukas.  I quickly brushed my teeth, showered and got dressed.  I threw my hair into a messy bun and put moisturizer on my face.  I tiptoed back into the bedroom and was surprised to see Lukas awake and staring at me. "Morning" I chirped.

"What are you up to?" he asked with a raised eyebrow.

I chuckled, he knew me so well.  I walked over to the bed and sat next to him.  "I was going to call Depeka and see if she knew what was going on."

He rubbed my back gently, "That's not a bad idea."

I was surprised.  "You don't think I'm pushing myself into unnecessary drama?"

He shook his head.  "No.  Priya needs help and you're doing what you think is best.  I'll always support you and the choices you make.  I don't know why you always feel that you have to second guess yourself to please me.  I love you just the way you are."

I pulled him to me, hugging him tightly.  "Thank you.  That means so much to me.  I only want to make you happy."

"And you do by being yourself.  Trust me I don't need you turning into the female version of me" he said with a laugh.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Final Goodbye

I diverted my eyes from Britney's as a sea of emotion engulfed me.  At first I thought Melissa was fully aware that Britney would be "joining" us for dinner but after glancing at her surprised, pale face I became conflicted.  In fact, I started feeling slighty guilty for even thinking that Melissa was setting me up.  Britney softly called my name, trying to get me to interact with her. "Elisabeth, please say something," she pleaded gently.

I glanced in her direction.  Her once long brown hair was now dirty blond and shoulder length with layers.  Her face looked drawn but her eyes shone with hope....hope of possibly reconciling.  My thoughts drifted to my mom telling me that Britney needed as much support as she could garner.  Britney spoke again but this time I was too consumed with my own thoughts to make out what she said.  I raised my eyes, meeting hers once more.  "Britney" I said flatly.

She nodded acknowledgement.  "I'm glad to see both of you.  It seems like an eternity since we were all together."

I took a deep breath and looked at Melissa and then Britney.  I knew had to do this.  I might regret my choice but I had to do what I felt was best right now.  No more putting myself second and trying to make everyone else happy.  "Britney, I really can't do this."

She interrupted, "I"m sorry about how I acted and the lies.  What I did was inexcusable.  I fucked up our friendship and I'll do whatever it takes to fix it."

Part of me wanted to let her in again; to embrace her and tell her that it was okay; to work on rebuilding the friendship I once treasured and held so near and dear to my heart; to get my "sister" back; but I knew I had to think with my head and stop letting my heart guide my decision.  I  cleared my throat and shifted uncomfortably in my seat.  "Thanks for apologizing.  I forgive you, Britney, but I cannot move past all the deception and the hurt right now.  I trusted you implicitly and what you did cut me really deep.  It'll take a lot of time for me to soften and come around."

With a look of defeat, she said, "I understand.  I can't explain why I did and said what I did but know that I didn't mean any of it."

I nodded, "Thank you."

Melissa looked confused by the entire exchange.  She looked from Britney to me, trying to make sense of this random meeting.  "Are you okay?" I asked Melissa gently.

She nodded, "Yeah.  Britney, what are you doing here?  Didn't you tell me that you're holed up in your parents house 24/7?"

"I did.  I figured that I'd take a huge step and venture out.  It's Black Friday.  The mall is packed.  I doubt anyone is going to recognize me."

My mind immediately started running a million miles a minute....what if someone saw me talking to Britney?  That would be career suicide if anyone linked me to Britney and assumed that I was part of the conspiracy and Ponzi scheme.  I felt my mouth run dry and my hands were clammy.  I opened my mouth to speak but couldn't.  I took a took sip of my iced tea and hoarsely with a tinge of fear said, "I don't want to be rude but I can't here right now."

Melissa seemed to know what I was getting at and shot Britney a sympathetic look.  "Brit, we have to get going but how about you and I do dinner and a movie tomorrow night?  We'll go to a local diner or something and then catch Gone Girl.  What do you say?" Melissa asked enthusiastically.

Britney shrugged.  "Okay."

After taking care of the check, getting our food wrapped so we could take it home with us, we proceeded to the exit.  I could feel Britney's eyes on us but I trudged forward.  We were at the door, when I couldn't take the guilt anymore.  I stopped in my tracks and turned around.  I walked towards Britney and embraced her.  I could hear her sniffle as I said, "Regardless of what happened, I'm still pulling for you.  I don't know if we could ever go back to how things were but I want you to know that I want the best for you.  Stay strong."

As I pulled away, she rubbed her eyes and whispered, "Thank you.  That means a lot to me."

I squeezed her hand and with a small smile, proceeded to leave.  My heart was heavy.  In a way that was my swan song to my lifelong friendship with Britney.  Seeing her today, arouse feelings of hurt and pain that I kept buried deep within.  There wasn't any way to fix the deception or take away the hurt.  The memories would continue to consume my thoughts whenever I saw or spoke with Britney.  Melissa and I walked silently through the mall, towards the exit and into the parking lot.  I pulled my coat around me, trying to shield myself from the cold, arctic air.

Both Melissa and I were shivering as we slipped into her car.  She turned on the engine and heated seats.  I glanced in her direction and noticed that her face was expressionless but pale.  Could she have set up this meeting?  Even though she seemed just as surprised as I was, I couldn't help wondering if it were all an act.  She had done it before with Joe and then Depeka.  I decided I needed to ask her and get it over with.  I fidgeted in my seat and boldly asked, "Did you invite Britney?"

Melissa gripped the steering while so tight that her knuckles turned white.  Her lips quivered;  she looked hurt and saddened by my question.  "How could you ask me that?" Melissa said unevenly.

"I'm not accusing you.  I'm only asking because it's so weird that she'd show up while we were having dinner."

Melissa shook her head in disbelief.  "I didn't invite Britney.  The last time we spoke, she said that she couldn't and wouldn't leave her parents house.  It was too risky.  I was just as shocked as you were when she arrived."

"I didn't mean to accuse you.  I'm totally confused" I confessed.

She nodded, "I am too."

"I'm sorry.  Please don't be mad" I said genuinely.

"You don't have to apologize and I'm not mad.  I can understand why you'd think I invited Brit but I didn't.  I learned my lesson" she shared.

As we drove down congested Old Country Road, we discussed Britney.  "She's lost a lot of weight and her face looks so drawn" Melissa said.

"Yea.  Do you think I'm a shitty person for not reconciling with her?" I asked bluntly.

Melissa shrugged.  "No.  You're doing what is best for you.  Right now Britney is a liability to you.  Even if she wasn't "involved" with Grant, she'd still be.  Plus how can you be friends with someone you don't trust?"

"When we were leaving earlier, I had to turn back and say goodbye and wish her well.  This might sound dramatic but I felt like it was our last goodbye."

--------

I was mentally exhausted when Melissa dropped me home and headed straight to my bedroom.  I plopped myself on my bed and reached for my phone.  I saw a text from Anthony that was sent about three hours earlier. "I need some advice."

I wasn't in the mood to start a texting marathon and opted to call Anthony.  He picked up after four rings.  "Hey!" he said cheerfully.

I couldn't help but giggle.  "You seem to be in a good mood.  What's up?"

"Ah, same old same old."

I rolled my eyes, "Yeah, yeah.  What type of advice do you need?"

He chuckled, "You're not wasting any time, just cutting to the chase."

"I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to rush you.  Can you please tell me what's going on?" I replied calmly.

"I'm just playing.  I wanted to get your opinion on something."

As I twirled a strand of hair around my finger I said, "Okay, tell me."

I heard him sigh, "Wednesday night, I met this woman....Sarah.  She was beautiful and easy to talk to. And it seems like we have a lot in common."

He hesitated and I urged him to continue.  "I asked her to dinner tomorrow night and she agreed."

"That's great.  I'm happy that you're moving on with your life."

"Am I though?  I like Sarah but now I'm second guessing going out with her."

Calmly I asked, "Why?"

"Even though she broke my heart, I still have feelings for Priya.  I don't want to lead Sarah or any other woman on."

Anthony is such a stand up guy I thought to myself.  "I totally get what you're saying.  I think you need to follow your heart.  I know you still care for Priya but maybe getting out will give you some clarity.  I mean there isn't any harm in going to dinner with Sarah."

There was silence on the end of the phone for a moment before Anthony said, "I guess you're right."

"So you'll go on your date tomorrow night?" I asked.

"Yeah" he said with a laugh.

"Good.  How was your Thanksgiving?"

Anthony proceeded to fill me in on the huge Thanksgiving feast his mom made and all the relatives that came over for dinner.  They ate and reminisced about the past; watched a little football; ate some more and truly enjoyed each other's company.  He shared that dinner became super emotional when his mom reflected on how lucky she is that Anthony is alive and seemingly happy.  He revealed that many relatives spent the night.  "Elisabeth, this was a special Thanksgiving and I'd be filled with regret if I wasn't here."

I knew he was alluding to Priya's demands that he go to California with her and meet her parents instead of spending Thanksgiving with his family.  I didn't want to pour salt into an open wound or disparage Priya.  Instead I said, "I hear you.  I love getting together with my family for the holidays.  We have our ups and downs but we love each other unconditionally."

"I agree.  Did you have a good Thanksgiving?" he asked politely.

"I swear I gained five pounds from dinner and dessert" I shrieked before sharing all the details of my Thanksgiving.

When I was done he said genuinely, "I'm happy for John."

"Me too.  I'm glad he's back to normal.  He scared me, well all of us, for a little while."

--------

It was close to three in the afternoon when I returned to my apartment.  I had spent part of the morning at the hair salon getting a trim and of course left there looking like I belonged in one of those shampoo commercials.  Being in the apartment now filled me with a sense of anxiety.  It made me think of Priya's inconsistent behavior and our arguments.  I wanted my friend back and would help her in any way I could.  Sadly, she was unwilling to open up and her actions and words were oftentimes conflicting.

I straightened up the living room before getting started on my makeup.  Admittedly, I was slightly nervous about meeting Lukas' sister, Linda.  Even though, from his description, she seemed pretty awesome, I wasn't sure what to expect.  After my experience with Lauren I was apprehensive.  When Lukas and I were talking on the phone last night, he shared that Lauren was actually allowed to come home for Thanksgiving dinner.  She was very reserved and didn't say much.  He was worried about her condition and if her quietness was a sign that she slipping further into depression.  Even the sight of her children didn't seem to cheer her up.  Jeff, her soon to be ex-husband, was sweet enough to stop by for an hour or so to allow Lauren to see the kids.  While there wasn't any drama, the reunion was not as joyous as envisioned.  Lukas shared that he was quite relieved when it was time for Lauren to head back to her rehab facility.

As I got dressed I thought about Lukas.  It has been a few days since I last saw him and I missed him so much.  Even though I had reservations about moving in with him initially, now it was all I could think about.  Seeing his face first thing in the morning and kissing him each night before we drifted off to sleep seemed like a dream come true.  I could hardly wait to start this new chapter in our relationship.

I took my time putting on my makeup.  I did a dark smoky eyes that made my hazel eyes pop.  With a little bit of contouring I was able to enhance my cheekbones.  I applied some blush and a neutral lip gloss with a tinge of pink.  I flipped my hair over and spritzed some Dolce perfume in my hair, on my neck and wrists.  I proceeded to slip into the dress I purchased on Black Friday with Melissa.  Since Linda was working in Paris and into fashion, I wanted to look chic without making it seem like I was trying too hard.  I slipped into my Christian Louboutin slingback heels and Burberry wool coat.  I grabbed my black clutch before leaving.

On my way to the restaurant, I texted Lukas.  He responded that he and Linda should be there in about five minutes and would wait for me inside.  I became increasingly nervous as we neared Eleven Madison in the Flatiron District.  As we pulled up in front, I spotted women in gorgeous fur coats entering.  I slowly got out of the cab and entered the restaurant.

I spotted Lukas immediately, conversing with a petite brunette whom I assumed to be his sister.  He looked tense and agitated as they spoke.  To buy a little time, I checked my coat and then glanced in their direction.  Linda had her arms folded across her chest looking annoyed while Lukas looked at his phone.  I walked over and said cheerfully, "Hi, Lukas."

He smiled and embraced me pulling me near.  He smelled amazing and my heart skipped a beat as he whispered, "I've missed you."

He gave me a quick kiss before motioning towards Linda.  She was about 5'2" with light brown straight hair, she was thin but had curves if that makes sense, unlike Lukas she has deep blue eyes.  She wore skinny black pants with a silk low cut black top and super high booties.  As she looked in my direction, I smiled and extended my hand, "You must be Linda, I've heard so much about you."

She returned my smile, "It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Elisabeth."

"How are you enjoying being back home?" I inquired.

She chuckled, "I'm not use to having my older brother trying to tell me what to do, that's for sure."

I giggled, "I have three older brothers, so I can totally relate."

Linda and I were chatting like long lost friends when our waiter came to escort us to our table.  I glanced around and took in the ambiance.  I stopped abruptly, causing Lukas to bump into me.  "What's wrong?" he asked in a hushed tone.

"Isn't that Priya over on the left?" I whispered.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Thanksgiving

I was awaken from my peaceful slumber by the smell of freshly baking bread and turkey.  It felt amazing to be home for Thanksgiving.  I stretched and sat up in my bed, taking in the delicious aromas before checking my phone.  I had countless texts...apparently Eric and Anthony included me in a group text which chronicled their night out.  I looked at the pics attached and they seemed to be having a good time.  There was even a picture of Anthony speaking animatedly with a group of attractive women.  I relieved that he was taking steps to move on with his life.

Priya's crazy behavior and mood swings were overwhelming and I had enough.  Anthony needed to be with someone who would appreciate and love him unconditionally.  With Priya there was a huge condition....she couldn't fully commit to him without her parents blessings.  I understand and very much respect coming from a traditional family and wanting to live a certain way.  However, it seemed like Priya flipped a switch and transformed into a completely different person. Even her sister, Depeka, mentioned that Priya never cared much about getting approval from their parents.  The entire situation left all of us with a million unanswered questions.

I smiled seeing a text from Lukas.  "Happy Thanksgiving.  I miss you and wish you were here."

I grinned and responded that I missed him and couldn't wait to see him on Saturday.  

After showering, I slipped into boyfriend sweatpants from Victoria Secret (is it just me or are they super big?) and a black henley top.  My hair was wrapped in a towel.  I walked down the stairs and into the kitchen.  My mom was busy peeling potatoes and all stove four burners were on.  

"Hey Mom! What can I help you with?" I asked in a sing-songy voice.

"You seem to be in a great mood.  Did you sleep well?" she asked with a smile.

I nodded, "Yes, I slept like a baby.  It feels so good to be able to come home for the holidays."

"You know honey, you can come home anytime you want to."

I smiled.  "I know.  I've just been so swamped with work and my personal life."

She glanced at me.  "You look happy and positively radiant."

"I am happy.  When I moved back to NY eleven months ago, my life was in shambles and now it seems like everything is falling into place."

My mom moved towards the stove.  "God works in mysterious ways.  Seeing you this happy, makes me happy."

I walked over and gave her a hug from behind.

"That means so much to me."

-----

It was close to three in afternoon when the doorbell rang.  I rushed down the stairs in my black dress with a Peter Pan collar and black tights.  I swung open the door and threw my arms around my brother John.  "I'm so glad to see you" I exclaimed.

I proceeded to hug his wife Kristen and then pick up my three year old niece Emma and spin her around while she squealed excitedly.  Next up was my five year old nephew, Matthew.  He had grown so much since I last saw him. I squatted down and hugged him tightly before kissing him on both cheeks.  "You've gotten so big" I said excitedly.

"That's cuz I'm growing up" he said matter-of-factly.

I giggled and led them into the kitchen, where my parents were.  I played with the kids for a little before turning my attention to John.  It had been a while since I last saw him but we have been speaking on the phone and texting at least twice a week.  After his health scare, I realized how important he is to me and made it my duty to check up on him.

Looking at him now, you could hardly tell that just a few months earlier he was being wheeled away to surgery.  Even though the weather was gloomy, John's olive skin made it seem as though he had just come back from a sun-filled adventure.  His eyes were bright and vibrant; happiness radiated when he spoke and smiled.

From the corner of my eye, I saw Kristen speaking animatedly with her kids while they stared at her, completely captivated.  I smiled at them before lightly elbowing John.  He turned to face me with a questioning look.

"How have you been?" I asked timidly.

"I can't complain.  I'm doing a lot better and things are going well for me" he said with a mischievous smile.

I couldn't help but think he was hiding something.  "Hmm is that so?"

He grinned and leaned closer, lowering his voice.  "Kristen's pregnant."

I studied his face, looking for a sign that he was joking but there was none.  I threw my arms around his neck, hugging him once again.  "Oh my God!! That's amazing. Congratulations.  I'm so happy for both of you" I said excitedly.

Before he could say anything, I rushed over to Kristen and hugged her.  "I'm so happy for you guys and totally psyched!"

"It was a total surprise but we couldn't be happier" she shared.

"Have you told anyone yet?"

She shook her head, "I told my parents and siblings but we wanted to tell all of you at dinner.  I literally found out two days ago."

I hugged her again, "Congratulations! I promise I'll act surprised when you tell everyone."

She chuckled, "You better."

--------

We were all catching up over wine, except from Kristen naturally, when the doorbell rang.  My mom excused herself and moments later we heard her leading my brother Danny and his wife Victoria into the kitchen.  Out of all my brothers, Danny is my absolute favorite.  Growing up were inseparable, probably because we were closest in age; he was only two years older than me.  Plus, he always did whatever I wanted.  Even today we are still super close and talk on a regular basis.  His wife Victoria is very bubbly and sweet.  She placed two pies on my parent's huge granite island, "I made pumpkin spice cheesecake and an apple pie.  I was trying to convice Danny to stop to get ice cream but he didn't want to" she shared.

"I'm sure mom and dad have ice cream in the freezer" I said cheerfully.

Danny poured both he and Victoria glasses of wine.  "Where's your boyfriend?" he asked me.

"In Greenwich, with his family."

He nodded, "I like him for you.  He seems like a good man."

A huge smile encompassed my face.  "I actually have some news."

I felt all eyes on me.  Victoria exclaimed, "You're engaged!?!"

I waved her off and shook my head.  "No, I'm not engaged" I said quickly, showing them my hand.  "See no ring."

"What's your news then?" Danny asked with a raised eyebrow.

I took a deep breath.  "Lukas and I are going to move into our own apartment together."

Danny and John exchanged looks before John said, "That's great news."

Danny nodded, "What's going to happen with your roommate."

I sighed, "I don't really want to talk about her."

"Why not?" the both asked simultaneously.

"Because....because she's been so weird lately" I said quietly.

Victoria asked, "How so?"

I filled them in quickly and when I was done they all had a looks of confusion on their faces.  "I think she might have an alcohol or drug dependency problem" Kristen proclaimed.

"You know Lukas suggested the same thing" I shared.

She nodded, "Her inconsistent behavior, mood swings...it makes sense.  Maybe she's having withdrawal symptoms?"

I shrugged, "I don't know.  Right now, I don't know which Priya I'm going to encounter and then there are days when she doesn't even come home.  I'm really worried about her well being.  I want her to go back to the person I once knew."

John was about to say something when the doorbell rang.  We all knew who it was and an uncomfortable silence filled the kitchen as my brother Ryan entered the kitchen with his wife Tina.  There weren't any warm embraces, smiles or greetings; only a simple hello.  All of the energy was drained from the room by their arrival.

Victoria attempted to make small talk, "I love your dress, Tina."

With a fake smile, Tina replied, "I bought it in Paris last month.  Have you ever been there?"

Victoria shook her head, "No.  I hear it's a beautiful city but I'm not into the pretentiousness."

Tina shot her a dirty look and asked Ryan to make her a martini.  After gorging on the wide array of appetizers my mom made - clam in a white wine sauce, shrimp scampi, lobster with linguine and seared scallops - we made our way to the living room.  The plan was to relax a little before having dinner.  I played with the kids while my brothers talked about sports.  From the corner of my eye I saw Tina doing her best to avoid any type of interaction with Kristen and Victoria.

Let me tell you a little about Tina.  She was nice enough when Ryan and her were dating but it was apparent that she felt that she was better than us.  She came from a very successful Persian family and often boasted about the lavish places they visited or how expensive her clothes were.  There were many instances of her referring to her outfits as couture because she couldn't bear the thought of buying things off the rack like us minions do.  Even though I wasn't enamored with her personality, she made Ryan happy and that was all that mattered.  After they married, she seemed to open up to us more.  She spoke freely initially but now I think it was all an act.  From Danny I learned that Ryan and Tina were having financial issues.  After my parents refused to fund Tina's spending habits, her demeanor cooled and then completely iced towards them and our family.

I understand asking for financial assistance if you fall upon hard times but this was totally not the situation here.  My brother, Ryan, was a director at a hedge fund and Tina was a lawyer.  Salary wise, they earned more than 90% of the United States population.  Why they were struggling and couldn't keep their finances in check was beyond me.  Acting like petulant children because you didn't get what want you wanted is completely unacceptable.  I hoped that in time their relationship with my family would begin to thaw and then warm up. It's possible, right?  Stranger things have happened!

We were watching old videos...my mom had taken the tapes to Costco and had our childhood videos transferred onto DVDs....and laughing.  Reminiscing about our younger years and all the fun we had. Even Ryan joined in for a moment, laughing while sharing how he and John use to sneak out during the day to play with neighborhood kids while mom was tending to Ryan and me.  Him and John bantered back and forth until Tina interrupted and asked to speak with Ryan in private.

Ryan sighed, stood up and followed her into the kitchen.  About five minutes later they returned and Tina smiled happily at us.  "Ryan and I really need to get going. My family is at my cousin's house in Great Neck.  It's been so long since we've all been together" she chirped.

With a defeated look Ryan said, "I'm sorry we have to leave so abruptly."

"Yes, I'm sorry too.  We were having so much fun" Tina said through her fake smile.

Mom nodded knowingly and walked them to the door.  When she returned, she plopped onto the couch.  "I'm worried about Ryan.  I can tell how unhappy he is but I don't know what I can do."

John reached over and took his hand in hers, "Mom, Ryan is grown now just like all of us.  You have to let him make his own mistakes and learn from them."

With a small smile, she nodded.  "I never liked that Tina.  From the minute Ryan brought her home, I knew she was trouble" my dad said flatly.

-----

While we sat around the dinner table, kids included, we talked about what we were thankful for.  When it was my turned I said, "I'm thankful for my family.  All of you mean the world for me.  When I came back to NY, I had no idea where life would lead me and I was scared.  All of you helped me to get back on my feet and find my way and I am eternally grateful.  I'm thankful to have found Lukas and of course for all of my friends.  I can't picture my life without any of you."

As we made our way around the table, the kids shared that they were thankful for their mom and dad and aunts and uncles and grandma and grandpa and of course each other.  It was super cute!  Finally it was John's turn.  He glanced at Kristen and she nodded.  "Like Elisabeth, I'm thankful for all of you...my wife and of course my children.  This year has had it's ups and downs.  I'm thankful for my health.  Many people go through what I did with devastating results.  I thank all of you for your love and support.  Kristen and I have one more thing to be thankful for."

With that he turned to Kristen who said, "This year has been filled ups and downs.  More ups though.  I'm thankful to be here with all of you.  You've all accepted me with open arms and I can't think of any other place or any other people, except my own family of course, that I'd rather spend the holidays with.  Lastly I'm thankful and excited to announce that John and I are expecting."

There was a flurry of congratulations, hugs and well wishes.  Everyone seeming to talk over one another.  The kids looked confused and taken aback until John explained to them that they were going to have a "little brother or sister" soon.  Then they looked just as excited as the rest of us.

During dinner we talked excitedly and made plans for Christmas.  Mom and Dad were planning a Christmas Eve party and insisted that I invite Lukas.  "I will but I don't know if he has plans with his family in Greenwich."

Kristen added, "John and I are planning to spend Christmas Eve with you guys and Christmas day with my side of the family.  It's all about compromise."

I nodded, "I know.  I just don't want o disrupt his family traditions.  Most Italian families do get together on Christmas Eve and do the seven fish feast."

"I remember when all of you were little, how excited you were for the seven fish feast."

"It's the meal I look forward to each year.  It supersedes any present for me" John shared.

-------

It was close to two in the morning when John and Kristen left.  I helped my mom clean up before heading upstairs.  After changing and taking a quick shower, I slid into bed.  I close my eyes, feeling the softness of the thick fleece sheets.  It wasn't long before I fell asleep.

I was in the throes of a wonderful dream (you know the type where you're basking in the sun on a warm island, drink in hand with the love of your life) when my phone rang.  I rolled over and reached for it, groggily answering, "Hello?"

"Liz, I'm on my way over.  Are you ready?" Melissa chirped on the other end.

"Ready for what?" I asked hoarsely.

She laughed, "Black Friday shopping!  Remember you promised that you'd go to the mall with me?"

As she spoke, I vaguely began to remember our conversation days prior.  I didn't exactly agree to go Black Friday shopping but I didn't decline either.  The thought of the crowds and rummaging through clothes racks wasn't very appealing to me.  "Not exactly.  I'm still in bed and I don't want to delay you.  How about you go without me?" I asked with my fingers crossed.

"That's okay.  I'll wait for you.  I'm going to stop at Starbucks and get us some coffee.  I'll be over in a half hour."

I glanced at the time on my iPhone 9:48 AM.  Ugh,  I wanted to sleep in more.  I groaned and rolled myself out of my warm, comfortable bed.  I wasn't enthused by the idea of going to the mall but might as well make the most of it. I needed to find a cute outfit to wear to dinner tomorrow night with Lukas and his sister.  After a quick shower, I slipped into skinny jeans and a v-neck sweater. I was slipping on my boots when my phone pinged with a message from Melissa, saying that she was outside.

I grabbed my coat and gave myself a look in my full length mirror before yelling to my mom that I was going to the mall and rushing out the door.  Once inside the car, Melissa handed me a grande Chai Latte.  "Thanks" I said, taking a sip.

"How was your Thanksgiving?" she asked in a sing-songy voice.

"Pretty good.  What's up with you?  You seem even more perky than usual."

She chuckled, "I made up with Anthony and it was great coming home for Thanksgiving."

"You made up with Anthony?" I asked, confused.

She nodded, "Yes.  Eric invited me to their little gathering Thanksgiving Eve.  At first I didn't want to go but then I realized that would be the perfect place to get Anthony to talk to me."

"I didn't know you were going" I said a little disappointed.

She glanced at me quickly before diverting her eyes back to the road.  "Don't be upset.  It wasn't planned at all."

"I'm not upset, I swear.  I actually wanted and needed to stay in Wednesday night to talk to my parents."

She nodded, "About Lukas?"

"Yes.  I thought they were going to throw Jason in my face and have a fit over me and Lukas moving in together.  Surprisingly they were really cool and uber supportive."

Melissa smiled, "That's because they know how much Lukas means to you.  Anyone can see how happy he makes you and vice versa."

After a another sip of my drink, I said, "Enough about my Thanksgiving, tell me what happened with Anthony."

"I explained myself.  I didn't mean any harm inviting Depeka.  I honestly thought she'd be able to tell us what's going on with Priya.  I understand why Anthony felt I blindsided him and was setting him up.  However, that wasn't my intention."

"I know" I said gently.

She continued, "Anthony and I cleared the air and I'm glad we're on a good terms again."

"That's great" I said, smiling.

------

We were both exhausted from shopping, the crazy lines and the endless amount of people.  I was happy that I found a dress to wear to dinner Saturday night and a pair of boots.  Melissa ended up getting over the knee boots, a wool pea coat and a some things for Josh.  As we walked through the crowds, Melissa suggested we grab dinner at a sit down Italian sandwich/salad place at the other end of the mall. I was starving and immediately agreed.

Once we were seated, we ordered iced teas, a large chicken ceasar salad to share and grilled chicken paninis.  We had just gotten our food when I heard a familiar voice, saying, "Melissa, I haven't seen you in a so long."

The color immediately drained from my face and my heart pounded against my chest as  my eyes locked with Britney's.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Catching Up

It was close to four in the afternoon on Thanksgiving Eve when I scurried through Penn Station, doing my best to dodge holiday travelers rushing in all different directions.  After almost being tripped countless times by travelers with rolling suitcases/bags, I found a spot among the massive crowd in front of the LIRR (Long Island Railroad) board.  As I waiting for my track number to appear, I studied the crowd.  There were college students, parents that looked exhausted while attempting to keep an eye on their overly hyper kids, tourists who seemed lost, impatient travelers waiting in line to purchase LIRR tickets before their train departed and of course every day commuters heading home after work.

I breathed a sigh of relief when  I saw that my train was on Track 20, which was about 50 feet to my left.  I rushed down the stairs and boarded the train; landing a window seat in a three-seater.  In no time the train was packed with barely any standing room.  I closed my eyes and reflected on the past two weeks. 

Things were definitely changing at work.  John officially made Cole an offer on Monday and he accepted.  While I was excited he was joining our team, I still had reservations.  Whether or not he could thrive on a trading floor was to determined and time would surely tell.  I was relieved that he would be taking over some of my minor responsibilities.  After Grant's sudden departure and Rob's death, I was inundated with work and barely had time to even go outside to get lunch on most days.

Speaking of Grant, there was news that he was contemplating a plea bargain.  That would allow him to minimize the punishment for his unscrupulous Ponzi scheme.  Deep down, I hoped he wouldn't cop out and face the consequences of his actions like a real man.  Britney, on the other hand, I was seriously worried about.  Melissa had called me a couple days earlier and shared that Britney was going crazy; she was afraid of being sentenced to jail for a crime she supposedly didn't partake in.  I loved and still love Britney as a sister and want the best for her.  However after her hurtful words and lies, I was reluctant to even call her.  I hoped that her parents and friends would help her get through such a hard and unsettling time.  

My train had just begun to move when my phone vibrated.  I opened my eyes slowly and saw a message from Anthony, "Eric's planning a get together later.  Want to join us for a drink or two?"

While Thanksgiving Eve was one of the busiest party nights, I was exhausted and couldn't wait to spend time with my family.  Plus I wasn't in the mood to talk about Priya.  Truth be told I was still utterly confused by her actions.  She had been avoiding me and the apartment for a couple weeks now or so I thought.  I was shocked when I came home Monday night and found her cooking dinner in the kitchen.  I anxiously said hello to her and tried to proceed on my way but she wanted to talk.  After changing I asked her if she needed any help and she shook her head.

I nervously sat on a bar stool, bracing myself for whatever Priya wanted to say.  It was a while before she even turned and looked me in the eye.  "I know you're worried about me" she said quietly and I nodded.

"Yes.  It's been a while since I've seen you and I was going crazy trying to figure out where you were and if you were okay."

She nodded, "I apologize.  I didn't know how to face you.  I fucked up with Anthony and I needed time alone."

"So where have you been?"

She sighed, "No where fun.  I've been spending my nights at the library, studying.  Then I'd come home after I knew you were at work to shower and eat."

I frowned, "I get wanting to be alone but don't you think it's a little irresponsible to disappear without even a note or a text.  I texted you numerous times to make sure you were okay to no avail."

"What do you want me to say, Elisabeth?  I screwed up and I'm sorry" she yelled.

I took a deep breath, "I'm sorry for lecturing you.  I care about you and value our friendship. I'd like to help you, if you'd let me."

She walked over and gave me a tight hug.  "Thank you."

While we had dinner, Priya shared that she was excelling in her classes and that she missed having Anthony in her life.  "I really miss him but I know he won't even hear me out" she said despondently.

"How do you know that?  Did you talk to him?" I asked gently.

She shook her head, "No, but I did something horrible to him."

Tears pooled in her eyes as she reflected back on that faithful night in Atlantic City.  "All I wanted was for Anthony to try and understand my point but he wouldn't.  He scolded me like a child, telling me it wasn't the right time to talk about things.  He was upset that people were watching and kept telling me to calm down.  I don't know what came over me but I slapped him.  I didn't mean it and I immediately regretted it.  The look on his face....shock, surprise, anger and then unbeleivable hurt and pain told me all I needed to know."

By this point the tears were rolling down her cheeks steadily.  I was suddenly tongue tied and didn't know what to say.  Thankfully, Priya continued.  "How could I call him when I knew what I did was screwed up?  I hurt him in the worst way.  I disappointed him and myself.  I never hit anyone in my life before that."

"I won't lie...you shouldn't have hit him.  I see that you're remorseful and I wish you'd talk to Anthony."

She wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand.  "He won't talk to me."

"Priya you've been saying that for weeks now.  First when you suggested going on break and now.  If you don't talk to him, how the hell is he suppose to know what's going on or how you feel?  Anthony isn't a mind reader.  You keep assuming that he won't talk to you as a way to avoid any type of confrontation."

She stood up and took her plate to the sink.  "I'm going to California tomorrow.  I hope you have a nice Thanksgiving."

It felt as though she were dismissing me.  "Priya" I started and she interrupted me.

"I'm over this conversation.  I have a lot of studying to do."

I smiled weakly at her, "Okay.  Have a safe trip."

I was utterly confused by Priya's hot and cold temperament.  I wanted to help her but she seemed so closed off.  She keeps saying she missed Anthony and regrets her actions, yet she won't take the first step and talk to him.  Even though he is hurt and disappointed by Priya's behavior, I know that he would hear her out.  

I sighed and peered out of the window at the dreary, wet, chilly day.  Even though it was almost December, we had been spoiled by warm weather.  Today was surely a reminder that winter was right around the corner.  I closed my eyes and smiled, thinking about Lukas.  Lauren was in a rehab center in Connecticut getting the help she needed.  Even though we didn't get along, I wanted her to get better for her children.  Lukas was super excited about her meeting his younger sister, Linda.  We had planned to meet for dinner on Saturday night in the city.  

Renovations at our apartment were coming along and I could hardly wait to move in with Lukas.  I know that's a huge step but we were at the point in our relationship where it just felt right.  I had held off on sharing my wonderful news with my family; I wanted to tell them in person and was planning to do so tonight.  Admittedly, I was apprehensive; I had no idea how my parents would react and I was afraid that they would disapprove.  My heart pounded in my chest as we neared my stop.

I gathered my things and stepped onto the platform, shielding my face from the rain with my hand.  Did I mention that I left my umbrella at the office?  I'm so careless at times.  I scanned the parking lot twice before spotting my mom in a black BMW X5.  That must be new, I thought to myself as I rushed over to the car.  I opened the door and slid in, engulfing my mom in a tight hug.

"It's so great to see you honey" she said emotionally as she pulled away.

"I've missed you, mom" I said gently.

With a smile, she asked, "What have you been up to dear?"

I cleared my throat, "I've been so busy at work with Grant quitting and Rob passing away."

My mom interrupted, "Grant, he's the boy that Britney got involved with, right?"  I nodded and she continued, "Her parents are heartbroken at the prospect of her going to jail.  At the country club there's a rumor going around that he scammed her."

I took a deep breath, "Mom, I feel terrible that Britney and her family are being dragged through the mud by the media.  I don't know what happened or even if she was involved.  I'd hope she wasn't but you never know."

My mom frowned, "I know you and Britney went through a rough patch.  However, you know that deep down she is a good person."

I nodded, "I know but sometimes good people make mistakes.  I love Britney but I just can't be her friend after all the lies."

"Honey, Britney needs all the support she can get.  It would be nice if you would talk to her.  She's been holed up at her parent's house for weeks" my mom shared.

From the look on her face, I knew my mom wasn't going to budge.  "I'll think about it.  I promise."


She smiled, "That's all I ask.  Now, how's Lukas?"


I returned her smile, "He's great.  He's spending Thanksgiving in Greenwich with his family. His sister is back from Paris and he wants me to meet her."

"The same on that was in the hospital?" my mom asked with a confused look.


"No.   No this is his younger sister and from what he says, she seems pretty cool."


Mom nodded.  "It sounds as though things are getting very serious between the two of you."

I didn't reply, only smiled as she pulled into our driveway.

-----------

After changing into leggings and and oversized sweater, I headed downstairs to have dinner with my parents. The conversation was light with us catching up.  I tensed as my dad asked about Lukas.  He sensed this and asked, "Is everything okay with you two?"

I took a huge gulp of wine and nodded.  "There's something I need to tell the two of you."

My parents exchanged looks before turning their attention to me.  "It isn't bad or anything.  I just wanted to tell the two of you in person" I said, nervously.

"You can tell us anything" my mom said patiently while my dad nodded in agreement.

"I really care and love Lukas and I know he feels the same way about me.  When we're together he makes me feel so special and loved.  I'm not the easiest person to get along with and I know he brings out the best in me.  I can't picture my life without him" I said softly.

My mom smiled tenderly at me, "Your dad and I like Lukas very much.  We see how happy he makes you and we're thrilled he's in your life."

"Mom, Dad....Lukas asked me to move in with him and I said yes" I blurted out.

My parents seemed unfazed by my news.  I wondered if they heard me until my dad asked, "Is this what you want, Liz?"


I nodded, "More than anything.  It just feels so right."

My dad rubbed my hand gently, "Liz, your mom and I love you and want you to be happy.  When you speak of Lukas, you light up and we both know how important he is to you.  We're also fond of him."

"But you don't want me to move in with him?" I asked quietly.

Once again my parents exchanged a knowing glance before my mom said, "Honey, we want you to do what's best for you.  We support your decision.  Moving in together is a huge step but I can tell....we can tell, how much you want to do this."

My dad agreed, "Liz sometimes it's hard for me to let go and realize that you're an adult.  In my eyes you'll always be my little girl.  This is your decision and I'll always be right behind you."

My eyes welled up with tears as I hugged my parents.