All Your Life by Lily Foster
Blue eyes…It’s virtually impossible.
Parker snaps his fingers until I look up. He thinks he’s being funny, when in reality the move is borderline aggressive.
“Earth to Sarah,” he teases.
My fingernails dig into his skin for a split second before I push him away. “Get your hand out of my face.”
I’m usually easy going and oh so agreeable, so the force of my anger surprises him. “What’s the matter with you?” He looks behind him to where his two lap dogs are waiting before turning back to me. “Got your period or something?”
“Nope...Got your period?”
Still reeling from what I found out this morning, I’m surprised his lame insult even registers. It’s just another item on the ever-growing list of things that irritate me about Parker. He has a habit of quoting poets he doesn’t understand, plagiarizing term papers off the internet, using ridiculous words like ubiquitous with a straight face, and wearing a blazer to school for no reason other than to make himself look important.
Parker presents himself to the world as a distinguished, powerful man, with the lineage, connections and money to make his future a guaranteed success. And while he does have all of those things, he hasn’t lifted a finger to earn any of it. He’s not particularly bright, but it’s all but guaranteed he’ll be admitted to one of the finest private universities in the country based on his legacy connections alone. He has no worries and lacks ambition, but what does it matter? Like most of the people I’ve been surrounded by since birth, Parker benefits from the ruthless ambition of his ancestors.
Shake it off.
Right, I just have to get through the next hour or so before I can hunker down and figure this shit out.
Smiling up at my dumbstruck boyfriend, I muster up a more conciliatory tone. “Are we going to lunch or what?”
He backs up a step and lets me pass. I walk a pace ahead of them, half-listening to their sickening bro-talk all the way to the cafeteria.
“What up, Jessie?”
Coming from my girl Penny it’s not a dig, but I can’t say the same for the others.
My tendency to come into school with pieces of hay stuck to my jacket earned me that nickname back in middle school. Back then I was so crazy about my horse that I’d beg my mother to swing by the stables on my way to school just so I could brush Shadow and talk to her for a few minutes every morning.
And while I still ride Shadow more days a week than I don’t, I’m not obsessed the way I used to be. Show jumping may look pretty, but that world is intense. When my coach started talking to my parents about boarding down in Wellington for the winter—a necessity if one is to be considered serious in the sport—that’s when I bailed.
So now, whenever I bow out from an afternoon at the mall, or pass on day drinking at one of my unsupervised friend’s estates so that I can ride, I’m pulling a Jessie, a reference to that hillbilly cowgirl from some old movie. Fine with me.
This is northeast horse country, so a lot of people ride, but my besties are overachievers in other ways. Penny sails, my friend Clara is somewhat competitive on the junior tennis circuit, and Tatiana has already had her photography featured in a gallery in New York. It was her mom’s gallery, but still.
We are the offspring of the one percent. We attend private schools where the crew, fencing and squash teams compete alongside the football, field hockey and basketball players. And golf? We have our very own nine-hole course on campus, naturally. We get our first credit card when we turn sixteen, and a shiny new car when we turn seventeen. I’m not a hypocrite, and I’m certainly not trying to distance myself when I point out the absurdity of this life. Seriously, how could I? I got a freaking horse for my eighth birthday.
Old money versus new money—where I come from it’s the only divide that exists. The members of the establishment would like everyone to believe old money is the only money worth having. The kind of money that’s linked to a name.
My family is tolerated, but we’re new money. Excuse me while I gasp and then stage whisper when I add, hedge fund money. It’s comical the way they say it. It’s as if they’re holding their nose to stave off the smell of rotting fish. New money is dirty money in their eyes.
My father, a titan in the world of finance, is only one step above the guy hawking his pillows on the home shopping channel in this neck of the woods. Yep, he earned a full scholarship to a top school, worked his way up and then went out on his own and made a success of his life. He could probably buy and sell most of the blowhards at the country club we belong to, but he’s not one of them.
You’d think from the way these morons talk that each and every one of them has a direct link to someone who sailed over on the Mayflower. Let me assure you, they do not.
Parker’s family has been here for five generations and their last name is synonymous with banking. Tatiana’s family too, but they were bankers in France—ooh la la and so much better than being descendant from, say, a Russian oligarch. Penny’s family is known for their philanthropy and years of public service. Her great-grandfather was a senator, her grandfather was a cabinet member under President Reagan, and her father is a judge on the federal court of appeals. They have a second home in Georgetown where he spends most of his time. No joke, I haven’t seen him live and in person for years. I used to think that was weird, but I’ve come to understand that marriages come in all shapes and sizes.
My father laughs it off as nonsense, but my mother takes this status stuff seriously. She strives to be one of them, and I’ll concede that she has edged her way in, at least to some degree. She plays tennis and pickle ball at the club with the ladies, she’s on the board at my tony private school, and she chairs an annual fundraiser for the fair and ethical treatment of animals. I’d like to point out that she does eat meat and shops weekly to feed a nasty leather handbag addiction, so I’m not sure why she chose to support animal welfare over any one of a thousand other worthy causes. But I do know. It’s all about who else is on the committee. It’s how the game is played.
The fog clears when I catch onto Penny scolding Tatiana, “Leave her alone.”
“Nothing, space cadet. I was just asking if you were coming tonight.”
“Where?” I ask Tatiana, and the three of them bust out laughing. I feel out of it, literally and figuratively. I should have snuck off to the library for lunch.
Clara leans into me, wrapping one arm around my shoulders. “Tatiana is having a party tonight. Her parents are away for the weekend.”
“So technically,” Tatiana says, “I’m having a weekend sleepover.” Looking to the three of us, she adds, “Tell your parents you’re staying over at my house.”
I’m quick to answer, “My mother won’t go for that,” even though nothing could be further from the truth. Tatiana’s mom is on my mother’s hit list. And by that, I mean that Tatiana’s mom is a top-tier society gal, a card-carrying member of the inner sanctum, and therefore my mother wants in with her more than she wants her next breath.
“I’ll mention it to Audrey.” He can’t see me rolling my eyes, but the girls do. He’s always hovering lately, crowding me. I want to tell Parker to mind his own business and to get his hands off my damn shoulders. He’s holding on to me like he owns me, giving me a squeeze when he adds, “If I ask, she’ll definitely say yes.”
It’s sad to admit this, but my mother would indeed say yes if her darling Parker asked. She’d give tacit permission for her little girl to lose her virginity if it meant there might be a marriage proposal from the Parker Hastings somewhere down the line.
I turn and look up to him, shaking my head. “Thanks, but no. I’ll be there tonight but I’m not asking to sleep over.” For emphasis, I add, “I’m going riding with my father early tomorrow morning.”
The lie slips off my tongue with ease. They always do.
Standing in the doorway of my parents’ bedroom a few hours later, I tell another lie when my father asks what’s wrong and I tell him I’m fine.
I am not fine.
I sit on their bed and watch them just like I used to when I was little. I was in awe of my mother and father back then, watching in wonder as they transformed from their everyday look into a glamorous couple. Tonight is no different.
My mother is in her late forties, but still effortlessly slim, with glowing skin and a sense of style to rival Coco Chanel’s. I watch as she fastens her understated diamond studs and then smiles at her reflection in the mirror as she brushes the apples of both cheeks with blush. Her eyes sparkle when she smiles.
My father, too. Early fifties, but I see the younger wives at the club eyeing him with appreciation when he passes by. I think they even dig the laugh lines and the few grays that contrast with his jet-black hair. My mother calls him a silver fox to tease him, but he doesn’t look old and he knows it. And tonight he looks sophisticated in his custom-made suit. It’s a black-tie affair but he refuses to wear a tux.
“I’m wearing an obscenely expensive suit. If they want their donation check, they’ll keep their traps shut.” My mother shakes her head even though she doesn’t really care, and he walks up behind her to kiss her cheek. “You look gorgeous, by the way.”
He smiles at her in the mirror and she winks back at him. His eyes sparkle with mischief and desire just like hers.
We covered the basics of genetics in biology back when I was a sophomore, but now I’m taking Anatomy, Physiology and Biomechanics, a college-level course for students considering a career in medicine. It’s my first class of the day and it’s intense, but this morning’s topic of discussion sent me into a tailspin that I haven’t come out of just yet.
It’s virtually impossible.
Mr. Rogers teaches the class, but he’s nothing like the tennis sneaker, cardigan-wearing softy that Tom Hanks played in that movie. No, my Mr. Rogers is a grouchy, pissed-off loser who didn’t make it through med school at Johns Hopkins. Hence, he’s had to settle for teaching snotty, precocious high school students who park their sweet rides alongside his spruce green mid-level sedan every morning. He’s got the look of a man who believes the world owed him something but didn’t deliver.
We were doing a lesson on inherited traits, and he let out with a loud, bored sigh when I asked for clarification. I know about recessive and dominant traits, but he was getting into more advanced stuff: monohybrid versus dihybrid crosses, gametes and alleles. On a normal day I’d do my best to follow along and then read up on anything that wasn’t crystal clear after class, but today I was stuck, and Rogers was none too happy when I raised my hand for the third time.
“What exactly is it that you don’t understand, Miss Hamilton?”
“It’s just that blue eyes can come from two brown-eyed parents, so why can’t two blue-eyed parents produce a child with brown eyes?”
“I said it’s possible but incredibly rare. As we discussed already, it would require a damaged HERC2 gene.” He turned back to his laptop, dismissing me. “It’s virtually impossible.”
Watching my mother twist her hair into a sleek knot, I swallow back the emotion. I don’t look anything like my blonde, blue-eyed swan of a mother. She is lean and graceful, nearly matching my father’s six-foot frame when she’s wearing heels. My father’s hair is dark like mine—I check that off in my favor—but there is nothing else. I measure in at five-foot-three on a good day and I’m curvy. Eyes, lips, skin tone, even mannerisms—I don’t laugh, talk or move like either one of them.
I have a foggy memory of the words chosen and special being used to describe me when I was very little, but when I’ve asked about it in more recent years, I’ve been diverted with a hug, a kiss and a topic change.
It’s a feeling you have, one that’s hard to explain. I’m always studying the people around me, half-listening, never one hundred percent engaged. I am an outsider, even when I’m surrounded by family and friends. If I saw a therapist like a solid fifty percent of my classmates do, he or she would tell me that this limbo I find myself in is perfectly normal for my age. The struggle for a sense of identity is real. I know this. But this disconnect I feel, day in and day out, is different. I try and talk myself out of it, tell myself I’m no different from every psychosocially messed up adolescent I know. You’re not special, I tell myself, even though I know that I am.
I am different, but not in some extraordinary, plucky, offbeat kind of way. No, I feel peculiar and abnormal, like an alien trying to fit in amid earthlings.