AN: And we're back. I've completely re-edited this story and changed a few things (nothing major, no worries.)
Lizzie wiped the sweat from her forehead with her sleeve. The basement was not air-conditioned. She'd have to speak to Luke about that. There weren't many paintings left there now that Lizzie had spent the past two weeks cleaning out the sweltering room and storing the artwork properly, but if it wasn't air conditioned, then the space couldn't be used for anything. And Lizzie knew as well as anyone that if you had space in the city then you used it.
She heaved the last painting onto the table and wrapped it foam, then slid it into a cardboard box with handles.
"Carter?" she yelled. "The last painting's done, help me carry it up!" After a moment, Lizzie climbed the narrow stairs looking for her best friend. "Carter! Where are you?"
"Ah, Lizzie!" Luke called from across the nearly empty gallery. "Carter went down the street for some food. He should be back in a moment. I'm sorry I didn't provide food for you. But thanks for helping me clear out the gallery and store the artwork properly. We'll have plenty of room down there for the new stuff I've got coming in for the show. I just hope we can get everything set up in time."
"Lizzie sat down on the floor with a plastic cup she'd filled with water and drained it all. "Don't worry about it, Luke," she said wiping her mouth. "We've got another month to get it ready and I would be more than willing to help you with anything you need. You know I love this kind of thing and I'm learning so much anyway. When does the new art come in?"
"Next week. Wednesday, I think."
"Oh, excellent. I can come by after work, if you like."
Luke nodded and then looked absently around his gallery. Suddenly, he frowned and looked at Lizzie. "Your mother called earlier, looking for you." Lizzie's smile faded off her face. "Don't worry, I told her I thought you were at work. She spoke for quite a while about you...she asked me whether or not I thought you might apply for college this fall."
Lizzie rolled her eyes and got to her feet. She could feel her temper rising. How many more times would she have to go through this? It had been three years since she had graduated from high school and moved to the city. And she'd been happier in those three years than she ever had been in high school. Her mother was insufferable. And why was she trying to bring her uncle into this?
"Luke you know how I feel. I don't want to go to college. I'm not Jane. I'm not Lydia." Lizzie walked back to the water cooler and filled her cup.
"Well, do think about it Lizzie. I know you're taking classes on your own, and that's wonderful. But the opportunities that college affords, the resources that could be at your finger tips, the connections you could make...Don't you think you should at least consider it? For the sake of your art? You are so talented and yet you restrict yourself so much by not even applying. Just apply. You don't have to leave the city or stop taking the classes you're taking now. You would only be opening another door."
Lizzie was fuming. This was the last place she had expected to hear this. Luke had caught her quite off guard and she resented him for it. At least when she was around her mother she could see it coming. She stormed away from Luke and he continued to follow her around the barren gallery. "Luke, why don't you and mom and dad just accept my decision! I know what I do and do not want for myself. I'm happy this way! I don't want to go to college!"
Luke sighed. "If you would just listen for a second, you would--"
"I don't want to listen to this! I've heard it a million times before!" Lizzie couldn't believe her uncle was pushing this. "Why are you concerned all of a sudden? You used to on my side! I've done nothing but help you at the gallery! I have a steady job, which leaves time for me to paint without having to worry about silly, stupid grades or GPAs or tuition or dorm living. Just leave it!"
"Lizzie, stop shouting. I'm not the enemy. I'm trying to help you!" Luke was beginning to plead. He pulled a folded piece of paper from the inside pocket of his sports coat. "Look, I've just looked up some of the best art schools in the city. Just look at them. Please." He held out the paper to her.
Lizzie looked at the paper with disgust. She grabbed it from her uncle's hand, crumpled it up and threw it into a corner. She ran to the front door and straight into Carter and his sandwich. She started to fall and Carter made to steady her but the force of Lizzie running into him caused him to lose his grip on the sandwich and on Lizzie. They both fell to the ground amid shreds of lettuce and tomato.
"Dammit!" swore Carter. "Lizzie, come on now. You didn't have to run after me, that sandwich was for you." He helped her to her feet and she brushed the bits of food off her pants.
"I wasn't running after you, Carter," she snapped. "I was running away from him." She gestured sharply toward Luke.
Carter laughed. "Ah, Luke. You weren't trying to get her to try watercolors again, were you? You know she doesn't touch the stuff."
Luke shrugged and walked away from them. "Clean up the mess," he said softly as he disappeared behind his office door.
"What's just happened?" Carter asked Lizzie, who was still picking bits of lettuce out of her hair.
Lizzie sighed loudly. She was beginning to feel ashamed of what she'd done. "I lost my stupid temper with him."
"I'll say. Over what? You and Luke never fight."
"He wants me to go to college," Lizzie glanced up at Carter. He was a whole head and shoulders taller than she was and his familiar smile reappeared as he caught on.
"Ha! That'll teach him not to try and educate Elizabeth Bennett! She will remain ignorant for the rest of her life or die trying!" Carter proclaimed. Lizzie promptly hit him on the shoulder and bent over to pick up the rest of the sandwich.
"Shut up, Carter. I know I shouldn't have lost it, but I have heard the same speech so many times. You know how it feels! I'm tired of people thinking I'm lazy and stupid just because I don't go to college. That's ignorance for you."
"Luke does not think you are lazy or stupid. And how many times have I heard this speech? It's been three years now, Liz. You need to learn to let it go. You can't fly off the handle every time someone gives you grief about not going to college. It's going to keep happening, so just let it go. Just remember that this is your life and you're happy with it."
Lizzie dumped the trash into the garbage can and turned, sighing. "I know. I know! I just...I didn't expect it to come from Luke. He's always been so supportive of me. I mean...what does it mean when he starts telling me to go back to school? What does it mean when he starts listening to my mom?"
"Relax, Lizzie, you're starting to go into depressed, conflicted artist mode," Carter joked.
"Don't you know? That's when I do my best work!" Lizzie smiled broadly.
"Ha! There's the Lizzie I left half an hour ago! Let's finish up downstairs, shall we?" They both went to the basement and carried the painting up the stairs and loaded it into Carter's pick-up truck in the alley next to the gallery.
"Ok, ready to go?" Carter asked. "I can drop you off if you like."
"Wait, I think I should apologize to Luke before we go," Lizzie went back into the gallery only to find the Luke had already left. She suddenly felt terrible for yelling at him. He was only trying to help, after all. And he had supported her faithfully for the last three years. The least she could do was hear him out. She looked around for the piece of paper she had thrown on the floor, but she couldn't find it. Reluctantly, she grabbed her bag and locked up the gallery. Carter drove her to her flat in silence.
When she got back to her flat, it was past eight o'clock and she still hadn't eaten anything. She searched the kitchen for some leftovers and, finding none, settled on making herself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The flat was awfully quiet. Usually Lydia and Carly were watching some primetime television show at this hour but it appeared as though there was no one home.
"Hello?" Lizzie called, her mouth full of sandwich.
"In here!" Lizzie heard her elder sister Jane calling from her bedroom. Lizzie opened the door and leaned against the frame eating her sandwich. "Hey, what's up? Where is everyone?"
Jane raised her eyes from a very large and word-filled page of an enormously thick textbook on her desk. "I'm studying for a test. The finer points of organic chemistry."
"What a delight," Lizzie smiled at her sister. Jane was getting her masters degree in physical therapy at Columbia and was always studying some subject whose name sent shivers down Lizzie's spine whenever anyone mentioned it. "You do know that it's Friday."
"Yes, Lizzie," said Jane, smiling back. "Lydia is out. Apparently one of her friends is auditioning for some sort of reality show and the whole pack of them decided to go and show their support." Lizzie rolled her eyes. "And I don't know where Carly is. Although, I must say, she has been worrying me lately."
Lizzie raised her eyebrows. "Lately? How about for the past six months?"
Jane frowned. "Well, obviously. She hasn't been the same since the wedding was called off, but lately she's been mentioning how she can't find a boyfriend and Lydia says she's been going to singles bars and those restaurants where they fix you up with other single people for like, ten minutes or so... It's worrying me. You're her best friend. Would you talk to her?"
"I'm not sure there's anything I could say," Lizzie muttered as she sat down on Jane's bed. "I think she sensed that I was less than pleased at the idea of her getting married in the first place. We haven't really been as close since she got engaged. She's been hanging out more with Lydia than me. And honestly, who wants to get married at twenty? It's ridiculous. I'm glad the wedding was called off." Jane looked at Lizzie in surprise. "Well, obviously I'm not happy that she's depressed!" Lizzie clarified. "I'm just glad she's not attaching herself to that boring carpet boy. He was so boring!"
"Lizzie, not everyone is the same. She loved him," Jane said, returning to her book.
"Oh, please. She loved the idea of getting married. I didn't know she was like that until recently. She certainly has changed over the past year."
"Mmmm," Jane murmured. "Anyways, Lizzie, will you talk to her? I know Uncle Luke is worried about her. Do it for him at least."
Lizzie silently agreed. She did need to make up for her behavior to Luke today. She supposed putting his mind to rest about his daughter would be more than adequate. "Ok, sure," Lizzie said as she began to leave her sister's room.
"Wait, Liz," Jane said. "Mom called today." Lizzie curled her fists into balls and waited for Jane to continue. "She and Dad are coming to Luke's new show."
Lizzie whirled around. "What? Both of them?" Jane nodded. "Together?" asked Lizzie in disbelief. "Yeah, I know." said Jane.
This was unreal, thought Lizzie. Her parents hadn't been in the same room together in ages. They weren't even going to go to Carly's wedding together. Her mother was going to the ceremony and her father was going to go to the reception.
Lizzie walked back to her room in a stupor. The day just had to be over. There wasn't any more weirdness that could fit into it. Why? Why on earth were her parents both coming to one of Uncle Luke's openings? He showcased a new artist every year. This wasn't the momentous occasion Lizzie had always imagined would be necessary to bring them into such close proximity again.
Lizzie painted for the next few hours. She usually did when she couldn't think of anything to say and Jane's news had left her speechless. She didn't stop until she heard both Lydia and Carly come home. Exhausted and a little angry with herself for using so much expensive canvas and paint for one evening, she put her paints away and washed her brushes. She flopped onto her bed and fell asleep before she remembered that she hadn't yet changed into her pajamas.
The next morning, Lizzie woke up late. Lydia, Carly and Jane were all up and watching TV when she walked into the kitchen.
"Good morning Lizzie," said Jane cheerily.
"Mmmeehhh," grunted Lizzie. She reached for the pitcher of orange juice and poured herself a glass.
"Oh good!" squealed Lydia. Lizzie glared at her younger sister. "Now that you're all up, I can tell you the news. I have been invited, by Tom, the Varsity lacrosse captain at Hofstra to a very hot party tonight and I can bring guests!" She looked at the rest of them with a very self-satisfied look on her face.
Jane and Lizzie looked skeptical. Carly seemed very enthusiastic. "Really? Ooh! Where is it?" she asked.
"I don't remember the exact name. Tom's going to call me tonight with directions. Apparently it's near your school, Jane," answered Lydia.
"Exactly how long have you known Tom Varsity Lacrosse Captain, Lydia?" asked Lizzie.
"Oh don't be silly, Liz," said Carly, sounding slightly annoyed. "It will be perfectly fine if we all go together. It will be a wonderful opportunity for all of us to meet some new people. You and Jane really should get out there more."
Lizzie opted for finishing off her orange juice rather than say what she wanted to say to Carly.
"Exactly," said Lydia, glad to see she had someone on her side. I definitely plan on going and so does Carly. It will be safer the more of us there are. You two should come! You'd have fun too, I promise!"
Jane gave Lizzie a look that she couldn't interpret so early in the morning. "Why don't we wait to see if Tom calls," Jane said, noncommittally. She rose and went to her room. Lizzie put her glass in the sink and went back to her own room. Stupid Lydia and her stupid parties. Another one of the reasons Lizzie didn't want to go to college. Of course she loved to have a good time, but the whole college party scene was really not her. She continued painting and completely lost track of time until she heard a knock on her door and glanced at the clock as she went to open it. It was a little past five o'clock. "Hey, Jane," Lizzie said as her sister came in.
"Wow," Jane said, looking around the room. "Been quite busy haven't you? Can I see anything?"
"Not yet," Lizzie flushed and covered up the canvas she had been working on. Jane didn't ask again. She knew she'd be able to see the painting when Lizzie had determined that it was finished.
"I went grocery shopping. Got you some sushi. I imagine you're hungry."
"Ooh! Thanks, Jane!" Lizzie took the little box of sushi from her sister and began to eat. She was starving and didn't even realize.
"Listen, Tom called Lydia and she and Carly are set on going. I think we should go with them," Jane said in a soft voice.
"Why?" Lizzie answered with a full mouth. "You and I both can't stand those parties. And they can always take a cab home."
"Lizzie, I'm really worried about Carly. I think we should both go and keep an eye on her. I don't think she should go to a party where she only knows one person who, in all likelihood, will leave with someone else. Lydia won't watch her. I think we should."
Lizzie grumbled. "God, I don't know why Carly is being so stupid about this. I'm so..." Lizzie couldn't think of what she was. Angry that Carly was being so careless. Sad that she had lost one of her best friends.
"Lizzie," Jane said quietly. "I know you're upset with Carly for more than one reason. And rightly so. But she is still your cousin and best friend. We need to watch out for her."
Lizzie knew her sister was right. She knew from the moment Jane had said they should go to the party that they would. She knew she couldn't say no to her sister and she couldn't let Lydia and Carly go to the party by themselves. All she really wanted to do was stay home and paint. She wanted to call Luke and apologize. Lizzie swallowed the last bit of sushi. "When are we leaving?"
Jane smiled. "Around nine I think. Thanks Lizzie!"
Lizzie tried to get a little more painting in, but found she couldn't concentrate. She cleaned up and began to get ready. She wasn't usually overly concerned with how she looked when she went to a party, but she figured if she was going to be upset about being there, then she wouldn't be upset about the way she looked. She was going to look hot!