Hellooo there, lovelies! So I've FINALLY uploaded the first chapter. I'm very sorry about the wait! It might be a bit boring but I guess that's how it goes with the beginning of novels :P Moving on, I really really really hope you'll like it! Tell me your thoughts for this chapter? :) xoxo
Home – a word I’ve missed so much during my one year stay in France. Although the beauty of the country had definitely enchanted me, I was immensely relieved to be coming home. Late-night phone calls, Skype and Instant Messaging weren’t enough for me, a girl who preferred simpler things. The old-fashioned, face-to-face conversations and physical contact such as friendly hugs had much more meaning than modern day technology.
Every morning back in Paris, I would have to head out and find a cute little restaurant along with other students of the exchange program I had been in, instead of waking up to the smell of mom’s usual food: crispy bacon, eggs and toast. Also, although I still grabbed my usual latte on college days, it would always be from Starbucks and usually about ten minutes before class started. In Paris, I had tried so many different types of coffee and tea in the mornings and afternoons that it wasn’t funny.
I was also used to saying goodnight to my parents and kissing their cheek before heading to bed every night. I couldn’t wait to arrive home, just to do that. The first few nights in Paris had been awkward – I had accidentally called my roommate ‘mom’ when bidding her a good night. From then on, I had to remind myself everyday that I was far away from home.
After I had recognised and grabbed my trunks on the conveyor belt, I made my way outside, into the main area where loved ones of the passengers waited anxiously to greet them. The airport was full of commuters, so I resorted to pushing my way slightly through the crowd and politely apologising at the same time. I didn’t want to seem rude, but if I didn’t shove my way through everyone, how would I ever be able to make it out alive?
I reached a waiting lounge adjacent to a small McDonald’s café, and a grin made its way onto my face as I spotted someone familiar. Compared to the everyday faded jeans and t-shirts, Aubrey stood out in her classic navy shift dress and patent pumps. Her fashion sense definitely hadn’t changed, which made me feel at ease, knowing she was still the same sister a year ago.
“Aubrey!” I called, as I strode over to her.
Her dark curls bounced as her head lifted up, and she jumped up in her seat from delight. “Gracie!” she exclaimed as we embraced happily. “You’re finally here!”
“Sure am,” I replied in a matter-of-factly tone.
Aubrey then reached around to help me with my bags, which held clothes, souvenirs, and other beloved possessions, such as my electric toothbrush. We then made our way out of the waiting lounge and out of the airport. As we reached the parking lot, I spoke up.
“So is there anything new?”
Aubrey’s bold red lips twitched slightly. “You haven’t noticed?”
My eyebrows furrowed immediately. So there was news? “Umm … no?”
She clucked her tongue and kept walking, leaving me to stumble behind her because my mind was elsewhere. What did she mean by ‘you haven’t noticed?’ Was it in plain sight? I stared at my sister’s slightly amused face and concentrated hard.
Not a single thing came to mind. She looked exactly the same. I checked for a new piercing, a new shade of eye shadow, her hairstyle, new shoes, a new trench coat, a necklace on her throat or a ring on her finger –
My eyes quickly zoomed onto the glittering gold ring I had never seen before, and I blinked. “You’re … you’re getting married?!” I managed to splutter, quite ungraciously.
Aubrey’s twinkling laughter rung in my ears. “Yes! Jason proposed to me while we were on a cruise around the Caribbeans! Can you believe, Gracie? He’s finally going to be my husband.”
Just the word made me feel excited as Aubrey. We would have another family member and hopefully several more. I’d have a brother-in-law to joke around with and nieces or nephews to play hide-and-seek with. My sister and her husband would live in an elegant house, due to Aubrey’s great taste. I’d be able to visit from time-to-time, bringing over housewarming gifts such as mother’s famous pumpkin pie, jasmine scented candles for decoration, or Nicholas Sparks books for Aubrey to read.
Although I was surprised when I found out, it was expected. My sister was an amazing person and deserved every single beautiful thing in the world. I remembered that a few months ago, Aubrey had been going on and on about what married life would be like on the phone. She had told me that she had left clues for Jason everywhere.
For example, whenever they walked past jewellery stores, she had stopped and ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ at the dazzling engagement rings on display in the front window. She’d buy magazines with wedding themes and exclaim how exquisite the material of the bride’s gown was, or that a romantic traditional wedding would be so breathtaking.
“I’m happy for you,” I told my sister sincerely. “Jason is a good guy.”
And he was. I had met him a few times just before I had left for my one year stay in France. The first time I had talked to him was at my nineteenth birthday party – the day when Aubrey had brought him home to introduce him to our family, the Elwood’s. It had been about three o’ clock in the afternoon and I had just changed into my coral pink dress from Topshop, when the doorbell had rung. Once I had reached downstairs, dad had been shaking my sister’s new boyfriend’s hand and cheerfully smiling. Jason had given me a delicate pearl bracelet as a birthday gift and I had thanked him for his great generosity. I remembered that he had been friendly, caring and genuine, which was definitely different to Aubrey’s usual beaus.
The only gift I had gotten from any of my sister’s boyfriends was a simple vanilla ice cream with sprinkles, and that had only been because Aubrey had threatened to break up with the douche if he didn’t order me ice-cream as well.
No guy had dared disrespect Aubrey, because she had been the most popular girl in high school, but that didn’t mean they had to respect me. I had been a quiet girl in high school, so people had liked to jeer about that. But when Aubrey had rised up the ranks, everyone had loudly started to comment on how cute my shyness was, or how fashionable my vintage shirt was, just to show off to others that they were ‘friends’ with the queen bee’s younger sister. If anyone had been talking about me behind my back, Aubrey had hunted them down along with her friend, Michelle (although she only did that to show her loyalty to Aubrey). She was such a good sister.
“Of course he is, or else I wouldn’t be marrying him,” said Aubrey calmly.
I smiled. Touché. “When will the wedding be?”
My sister pursed her lips at my question. “I would love an autumn wedding, but Jason wants a summer or spring wedding. But we all know who’s going to win.”
I grimaced. Aubrey was not one to mess with – when she wanted something, she would get it. It was a good quality about her because it made her determined and focused, but sometimes it was a bit too much. I really hoped Jason would stick up for himself, because the bride and groom needed to have a choice in the wedding plans. Much like Jason, I would prefer a wedding in the spring or summer as well.
It was sunset when Aubrey’s Lexus pulled up onto the driveway of our house. Streaks of light pink, lavender purple, orange and yellow mixed with the vast blue sky to create one heck of a sunset. After living in Paris for a year and using my camera so much, I had the huge urge to take it out and snap a photo.
I pushed open the passenger door and headed over to the trunk of the car to retrieve my bags. Once Aubrey and I were ready, we strode up the footpath to the front door and rang the doorbell.
“Mom and dad are really excited to see you,” Aubrey mentioned.
I knew I was too. When the door swung open, I expected one of my beloved parents, but instead, someone else who I had missed extremely stood there.
“Ruby!” I dropped my bags from surprise and bounced forward to pull her into a long, tight hug. We both laughed from happiness.
“Well aren’t you pleased!” Ruby joked. When I scrunched up my nose, she gave me a reassuring smile. “I’ve missed you so much, G.”
She then ushered Aubrey and I inside, so we wouldn’t just be standing outside on the porch. As we stepped into the lounge room, Ruby asked how my airplane trip was, but I didn’t get to answer because my father came rushing into the room with his flyaway hair looking more grey than before and a large smile on his face.
“My darling Cece, never leave your old man again,” he said as he pulled me into a bear hug. ‘Cece’ or ‘Cee’ was father’s pet name for me. Ever since I was born, he had called me that. It came from the last syllable of my name.
I heard my mother and Ruby laugh. “Oh yes, your father was going absolutely crazy because he had no tennis partner,” mom added as she pushed her husband away to embrace me softly. “He complained like there was no tomorrow.”
Dad put a hand to his heart. “Now that’s an exaggeration, Evelyn.” He then turned to me and winked. “Don’t listen to your mother, darling.”
“You had me to play tennis with,” Aubrey piped up from the sofa.
I watched as dad waved a hand at her. “But everyone knows I love a challenge.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my older sister flinch slightly at father’s words. When I looked back to my parents and Ruby, they were engaged in a conversation about setting the plates and cutlery on the dinner table. I guessed no one noticed Aubrey’s reaction.
In the next few minutes, everyone decided that dad would bring my bags up to my room, Aubrey and Ruby would set the dinner table, mom would pour iced water in all the cups and I would get to sit back and relax. I hadn’t agreed with my role, but I was overpowered.
Once we started to dig into the food, Aubrey asked, “So Gracie, did you find any men in the city of love?”
I choked on my piece of pork belly, which made Ruby pat my back soothingly. “Careful there. We don’t want you to die, especially since you just returned home!”
“I hope not,” dad said from beside me. I turned to him, praying that he wasn't referring to what my sister had said. I guessed my prayer wasn’t heard because he added, “You’re too young to have a boyfriend, Cee.”
Everyone except Ruby rolled their eyes. Although she visited all the time and was practically a part of the family, she had never heard this conversation before. We’ve been over this a thousand times. Dad was strangely fine with Aubrey and her flock of admirers, but when it came to me, it was World War III.
I still had no idea why he didn’t approve of me and the word ‘boyfriend’. Although I wasn’t desperate for one, it was rather annoying. When the first guy I liked had asked me out on a date, my naïve answer had been: “I’m sorry, but my father doesn’t allow me to date. Maybe you could wait until we’re about … twenty years old?”
He had snickered at me and asked, “You’re joking right?”
I had stared quizzically at him, wondering why on earth he thought I was lying, until he stalked off. I never heard from him again, and from then on, every date I accepted meant sneaking out of the house or telling my father that I was over at Ruby’s.
What was wrong with having one anyway? Was it just because I was the youngest child and he felt the need to protect me? Or maybe he thought I couldn’t handle a relationship?
Countless times when dad had seen me talking with boys in high school, he’d give me the dreaded talk. Usually he repeated the same lines over and over again: “Cece, you’re quite young and there’s still a whole world to explore,” or “Cece, you’re too good for all of them,” and finally the weirdest one, “Cece, boys only want one thing, and that’s something for me to know and for you to find out.”
I always had the impulse to smack dad on the head whenever he said the last one. He didn’t want me getting pregnant and wasting my life, but he had said, ‘for you to find out’.
Good grief. Had he really thought that I would have gone to research it in the library in hopes that he wouldn’t have to go into the details? Any other teenager would have taken that as a sign to experiment. Luckily for dad, I have common sense.
“But Mr Elwood,” Ruby said after a small intake of breath. Even though she had permission to call my parents by their first names, but she still didn’t. She was so polite. “Gracie’s turning twenty one!”
Dad still remained adamant by pursing his lips in a smug way. “My Cece can experience love later.”
“And when’s that, dad?” Aubrey rolled her eyes as she took a small sip of wine from her glass. “Why don’t you stop coddling Gracie? You never did that to me.”
“She’s got a point there, Ken,” mom pointed out. “Gracie is old enough to make her own decisions now.”
Everyone then started to try and prove to my father that dating wasn’t such a bad thing, but with his confidence and wit, he always came up with a counter-argument. Even though the quarrel was about my rights and freedom, I was quite amused and leaned back in my seat to watch the show.
Home sweet home – nothing had changed at all.