Chapter 14: Out of My League - Fitz and The Tantrums
My hook up reputation preceded me. I wasn’t quite the player everyone made me out to be. I never pressured any girls to get with me – period. I always ensured they were comfortable with the level of intimacy we were on before moving forward.
On top of my moral code, I played by a certain set of rules. If a girl seemed overly eager to win my affection, I wouldn’t fool around with her. If a girl became clingy after we made out, I was nothing but nice during encounters, but kept an emotional distance. I didn’t lead her on by calling, texting, or allowing her to hang out with me. Repeat hook ups ceased after I made the mistake of having a girlfriend once. I never bragged or advertised a conquest, even with friends; that was both tacky and disrespectful. No sexting – it was a sure fire way to get into trouble. I never sent or took pictures of myself. I promptly deleted the photos girls sent to me. And most importantly, if the pants came off, a condom went on.
Safety was the name of the game on all accounts. I avoided drama, kept myself clean, and my heart remained intact. I was very comfortable with my no strings attached set-up. Elle caught me off guard our freshman year. She was absolutely stunning. It was hard for me to take my eyes off of her when we were in a room together. Many others fell victim to her looks as well. Listening to her speak, there was no denying that she was immensely clever. I did plenty of things to forget about her. She was a contributing factor to my games. Ironically enough, they were the reason she rolled her eyes each time the prospect of us being together was brought up. My shot was nonexistent; she was out of my league, but I was eager to spend alone time with her on her home turf.
There was a knock on the door of my hotel room. A large smile crept onto my face. I opened the door without checking the peep hole first, knowing exactly who it was.
“You look beautiful.” I stepped forward and hugged her.
“You never turn off the charm, do you?” I could hear the smile in her voice.
“You don’t need to play. It’s just me and you.” She pushed me back with her index finger.
“But it’s so much fun.” I closed my door.
She lowered her oversized sunglasses from the top of her head. I shamelessly observed her backside as she strutted down the hallway. We exited the hotel. Unsure of what her car looked like, I allowed her to lead me to it. She walked right up to a navy blue convertible. She pressed the unlock button on her key remote.
“You drive stick?” I eyed the stick shift as I buckled my seat belt.
“Yeah, my dad taught me. I like the control that comes along with manually shifting gears. Do you?” She adjusted her mirrors after she clicked in seat belt. She lowered the top.
“Not well. My mom started teaching me this summer. I want a sports car one day. It is only worth having if it’s stick. Both are goals I’ll work my way up to one day.” I answered as she backed out of her parking space.
“What are some of your other goals?” She sounded genuinely interested, just as she always did.
One of my favorite things about Elle was she didn’t ask questions unless she cared enough to hear the answer. She always gave who she was talking to as much attention as possible, even when she was juggling a number of things at once, which she did the majority of the time because she’s Elle.
“Georgetown University is my dream school. DC’s my favorite city. Their basketball team is hands down my favorite. My test scores are where they should be. If I keep my GPA up, I’ll have a real shot at it.”
“I love knowing that about you.” She smiled over at me as we waited at a stop light.
A small smile crept onto my face. “What are your plans for next year?”
“Yale. My ultimate goal is to pull an Orson Welles.”
“Write, produce, direct, and star in your own film. Nice. You’ll do it. You work harder than anyone.” I stated without a doubt in my mind.
“We’ll see.” She spared a quick glance in my direction after she resumed driving.
“How are you able to do so many things at one time? It’s hard for me to remember my name when I’m driving stick. You’re able to carry on a sincere conversation.” I asked, breaking the comfortable silence we were sitting in.
Her elated expression faltered slightly as she kept her eyes fixated on the road. “Staying busy helps me keep my compulsions in check.” She admitted somberly.
“I have OCD.”
“I’m aware you have the condition. I meant to ask what is your experience with it like. Everyone’s different.” I reiterated.
She paused for a moment. She looked over at me like she couldn’t believe what I said.
“What?” I questioned.
“It’s not that I don’t think you care. It’s just that – this isn’t exactly a fun subject.”
“You told me to stop playing.”
She breathed a small laugh. “Since when do you listen?”
“Exactly. I’m pretty sure that fact makes me an asshole, but it also means I’m serious about this.”
“It does.” She answered with a hint of a smile.
“First part or second?” I fired back with a small smirk.
“Mostly the first, but both.”
“So, are you going to tell me?” I pressed light-heartedly.
“Over ice cream at the beach. I like to use mise-en-scene to my advantage, especially in everyday life.”
I chuckled lightly. “All the world’s a stage?” I offered.
“The quote I live by.”
I looked over at her when we pulled up to a rod iron gates with the letter “W” in the center of both halves. She typed a numeric code into the keypad embedded within shrubbery. She lathered her hands with hand sanitizer before driving forward. The Mediterranean-style mansion was surrounded by gardens and palm trees; a large number of the walls were composed of glass, and terraces were present on the upper levels. It looked more like a resort than a home. I could not see water, but I heard waves crashing. All of it threw me for a loop. She dressed well, but she was not equipped with the latest of every gadget and she lacked the snobbery that typically accompanied that level of wealth.
“This is your home?”
“My mom made me promise to bring you by. Free ice cream is the best ice cream.” She lifted the roof as she drove into one of several garages.
“Is your dad home?” I kept my seat belt on and remained seated.
“Scared?” She smirked as she unclipped her seat belt and opened her door.
“You’re a daddy’s girl. I’m not even your boyfriend, but he’s genetically engineered to hate me because I am male.”
“It’s a weekday afternoon. He’s works late. She works from home whenever she can, especially in the summer for me and Jordan.”
I still wouldn’t budge. “And Malcolm?”
“My brothers too?” She giggled.
“Not both of them. Jordan’s ten. There’s no intimidation there. Malcolm’s your older brother. You’re the only girl. He keeps the watchful eye while your father’s away.”
“He couldn’t care less about my personal life. I’m sure he’s out doing something stupid with his friends, whom have missed him while he’s been away at college. You’ll live another day if you dare to venture inside.” She teased.
“I regret nothing.” I finally exited the car.
She unlocked the front door and held it open for me.
“Are shoes allowed?” I asked, remaining on the welcome mat.
“Yes, as long as they are not visibly dirty. Yours pass.” She shut and relocked the front door. She placed her keys into her purse.
Inside the foyer, I could see throughout the first floor. The large windows allowed for the emerald water of the cove to stand in for wall pigment and broke up the sea of neutral colors their furniture and hardwood floors created.
“This place is crazy.” I continued to look around.
“It’s baffling how many times athletes require legal help and the number of parties they and members of their entourage throw.” Her sunglasses were removed. “Follow me.” She flashed me her pearly white smile.
Together, we walked to the back of the house. When we arrived at a closed door down the hall from the kitchen, she knocked. After hearing a verbal reply, she opened the door.
Mrs. Woollard was on her office phone when we walked in, diligently typing notes on her desktop computer. Elle sat down in one of armchairs in front of her desk. I sat down in the other.
“I will. That sounds great. I’ll see you on Saturday.” She concluded the phone call with a smile and hung up shortly after we made ourselves comfortable.
“Welcome to our home, Ryan. We’re very happy to have you.” She stood up from her chair and made her way over to me with outstretched arms.
“Thank you for letting me come over.” I rose to my feet and allowed her to hug me when she arrived.
“It’s certainly not a problem. You are a sweetheart.” She smiled up at me after she pulled away.
It was easy to see whom Elle got her looks and fashion sense from. And both of them carried themselves with such confidence and poise. They lit up the room by serving as sociable hostesses.
She returned to her desk and I sat back down in my seat.
“How long will you be in California?” She clasped her hands in front of her, giving me her complete attention.
“Four days. The company my father works for is having their annual conference here. He let me tag along.”
“What have you been up to this summer?”
“Not anything of substance. Plenty of late nights and sleeping in. I wish had something moderately productive to share with you.” I flashed her an easy smile.
“Do you know what you’re doing next year?”
“College. I want to buy four more years of ‘find yourself’ time before entering the real world. I’m not quite as ambitious as Elle – not many are.” I glanced over at her.
She shook her head at me as a smirk turned up the corners of her lips.
“Will you continue to pursue acting after that? You’re very talented.” Mrs. Woollard pulled my attention back to her.
“Maybe. As of now, I want to. Things have a tendency of changing with time, though.”
She nodded in understanding.
“I don’t think you’ll be able to give it up for good. You’re addicted to the attention.” Elle replied.
“I can get it in everyday life. You’ve seen examples.”
“I’m speaking for everyone when I say this, PLEASE be an actor. We could do without your musical batter mixing and narcissistic team names.”
“Don’t knock it until you try it. Quick, without thinking, if you had to name an Elle-themed team, what would it be?”
“Elle-stars.” She retorted almost immediately.
“Nice play on words. That’s your new Camp Artsy team name.”
“Because of the scene we made at last year’s assembly, the majority of our team is ineligible to compete together. To make it interesting, we should do girls versus boys – Elle-Stars versus The Ry Guys 2.0. You in?” I offered her my hand.
“Absolutely. Mark my words, we will be victorious.”
“I’ve won Camp Artsy three years in a row. I will not be ruining my streak my senior year.”
“We’ll see.” She shook my hand, keeping her eyes locked on mine.
“Who will draft the contract and compile a list of rules? We’re both too invested.” She asked after a moment of thought.
“Finn and Sami would rig it. Iz and Miles would make it a joke. Mom and Dad will keep us from playing dirty.”
“Should we call Morgan and Nick now or wait until school starts?”
“School. The others contributing will yield interesting results.”
“I like the way you think, Sir.”
“I love how competitive you are, Ma’am.” I played along.
“She gets it from her father. The boys did too, but his little girl was the one that received an extra dose.” Mrs. Woollard mused, causing me to recall that she was in the room.
“It’s easy to see where Malcolm and Jordan got their names. Where did Eleanor get hers?” Elle pushed my shoulder for using her full name.
“Eleanor Roosevelt. They’ve got their names. The greatness will come.” She informed me with a smile.
I glanced over at Elle. She drummed her the fingers on her left hand on the armrest of her chair repeatedly as if she were struggling to keep her mind off of something. I flickered my eyes back to Mrs. Woollard.
“Would it be alright if Elle gave me a tour? I’m pretty anxious to see the rest of the place. What I’ve seen is beautiful.”
“Of course.” She smiled at me.
She shifted her attention to Elle. “Doors stay open.” She instructed.
“I know the rule.” Elle stood up from her seat.
“See you later, Mrs. Woollard.” I waved goodbye.
“Bye, Ryan.” She called after us.
She showed me all of the first floor – both of her parents’ offices, the kitchen, living, and dining rooms. The basement hosted their entertainment areas; it consisted of a game room, bar, and movie theater. The two of us headed upstairs. When we reached the first door on the right, she simply pointed, instead of opening it.
“That’s Malcolm’s room. He’s hardly home, but he still manages to be a slob. His bed’s made, but there are clothes all over the floor. I—um –I can’t open that door right now.” She avoided making eye contact with me.
She walked me down the hall. She knocked on the next door instead of opening it immediately.
“Open!” Jordan replied.
She opened the door. “Self-explanatory.” She stated simply.
He was sitting on a couch in front of his television, playing video games. I recognized it as one of the ones I owned.
“Ex, square, ex, circle” I advised.
He typed in the cheat code and advanced to the next level.
“Thanks, Ryan.” He kept his eyes glued to the screen.
Elle and I returned to the hall and she shut the door behind us.
“Parents’ room.” She simply pointed to their room as well.
We walked around the corner. “This is my room.” She turned the door knob and pushed the door open.
The walls were painted a reddish-purple color. She had a lavender canopy bed with a deep purple comforter and white sheets with purple flowers that matched to comforter. There was a small beaded chandelier above her bed. Her vanity table was a nearly black shade of purple. The oval mirror above it had a bronze frame. There was white cushioned stool beneath it with near black-purple legs.
I didn’t know how it was possible, but all of the different shades of purple worked very well together. The dynamic way her furniture was arranged and organized was very her. It brought a smile to my face.
“It looks like you.” I mused, taking in all of it.
“Is that good or bad?”
“Good. I like you.” I glanced over at her.
“You’re different when we’re alone.” She noted.
“You’re kind of a gentleman. If your groupies found out, it would totally shatter your bad boy image.” She teased.
I rolled my eyes, fighting off a smile. “Keep my secret?”
“I’ll think about it.”
“I need to get a blanket for the beach. Feel free to walk around.”
She left me alone and disappeared into her closet. I walked over to her desk. Right above it was a photo collage. The group picture we took a prom was up there. There were a couple of just her and Iz. Her pictures with Everett Woods were up there, of course. But for the most part, she was absent from the photos. She let me and the rest of our friends shine center stage, like she needed to see us when we were apart.
I moved on to the two wall length shelves that were filled to the brim with trophies, certificates, ribbons, pictures, crowns, and sashes. She had more academic accolades than beauty pageant ones. Visible proof of her success was overpowering; feelings of inadequacy grew with each award faceplate that I read.
“Ready to go?” She appeared beside me with a tote bag on her arm.
“Yeah.” I cleared my throat.
The two of us left her room. I shut the door behind us. We went to kitchen. She retrieved waffle cones from the pantry. She placed them on the kitchen island. She opened the door of the freezer.
“Vanilla almond, mango sherbet, strawberry, or cookie dough?” She rattled off the options.
“Fine choice. Me too.” She picked up the carton I requested.
She placed it on the counter and retrieved an ice cream scoop from the drawer beneath it. She initially went to scoop it right away. She oddly paused for a moment and sighed heavily, closing her eyes.
“I’m sorry.” Embarrassment was written clearly cross her face. She retreated to the sink.
She vigorously washed her hands, leaving no spot unscrubbed, before drying them off on a paper towel. She disposed of it before returning to the kitchen island. She silently scooped the ice cream into a cone.
“Elle, it’s fine – I promise.” I attempted to break the discomfort we were sitting in.
“I’m usually really good at concealing it from people. It’s not – It’s not okay. And you probably think I’m crazy.” Her voice broke a little, as if she were willing herself not to cry as she kept her eyes down.
“Don’t say that about yourself. You’re not.” I stated firmly.
She looked up at me after thinking to herself for a moment. “I won’t tell anyone that you’re a sweetheart.”
“That’s all I ask.” I offered her a warm smile.
Armed with our ice cream, the two of us walked to the private section of beach located in their backyard. I gave Elle my ice cream to hold as I laid out the blanket, thinking she wouldn’t want me to touch her ice cream because I didn’t clean my hands the way she had.
“Is this okay?” I looked to her for approval after I was finished.
“Tug the upper left corner to the right a touch.” A small smile graced her beautiful face.
I went to the corner she requested and did as told.
“You didn’t have to do that.” She sat down.
“I know.” I took the cone she was offering me.
She lowered her sunglasses from the top of her head to her eyes. I moved mine from the collar of my shirt.
“You have to answer my question now. The scene has been set.” I reminded her.
“My obsessive thoughts are usually centered around people not liking me if something I do isn’t perfect. Occasionally, they are about people getting sick or injured if something isn’t cleaned properly. My compulsions address those thoughts.” She explained.
“What’s an example of one?” I asked between licks.
“This morning, I had to strip everything off of my bed and remake it because I thought that a bed that was not as tidy as possible would reflect upon me poorly. I made eggs for breakfast this morning. I had to clean the counter and the edge of the bowl after cracking the eggs. I thought I or someone else would contract salmonella if didn’t.”
“And when you do the compulsions – does that make them go away?”
“Not for good. It relieves the anxiety until another thought creeps in.”
“What turns them off?”
“Medication and therapy. I visit the counselor at school once a week. It’s generally worse when I’m home. I don’t have a million things to juggle and I’m left alone with my thoughts.”
“And all of the pictures of us on your wall?”
“They buffer out my negative thinking at times. It reminds me that I’m not helpless – I had everything under control when I took each of those pictures. If I fixated on what wasn’t perfect, I wouldn’t have had any fun. I have a blast whenever I’m with you guys.”
I was about to reply when her phone started ringing. I returned my focus eating my ice cream. She quickly removed it from her purse. Upon seeing the name, a bright smile appeared and she brought it to her ear.
“Hey, Babydoll, you kept your promise! How has your day been going?”
She giggled. “You visited him again? That’s like the 5th time this week. He’s going to start thinking his name really is Peter Nincompoop.”
I looked over at her with an eyebrow raised.
She covered the speaker on her phone with her hand. “She met a palace pony. She calls him Peter Nincompoop.”
I chuckled and shook my head at her.
“But the real question is: have you met a mini horse?” Elle asked.
She laughed at Izzie’s reply. “When it happens, you need to take a trillion pictures and have Milo film a video. I need to witness that reaction. Yours are always the best.”
“Are you serious?” Her expression immediately shifted to shock.
“I just – what do I call him? I’m pretty sure I can’t go with Mr. De Luca.”
“King Vincent, okay. Do you know what he wants?”
“Wait! No, no – uh, hi, King Vincent. I’m Elle, one of Milo’s – I mean, Prince Milo’s friends from school.” She stammered in discomfort.
Whatever he said in response made her smile. “Okay, I’ll remember that for next time. Better safe than sorry this time around.”
“No, I’m not doing much of anything this summer.”
Her jaw dropped. “Uh, yeah! Absolutely! I’d love to!” She cried after the shock wore off.
“It’s [email protected]”
“Yeah, okay, I’ll have to check with my parents, of course, but I’m sure they’ll be fine after talking to you.”
“Will do. Thank you. I look forward to being there on Miles’ big day.” She smiled.
“Okay, take care.” She stated lastly before hanging up.
She turned to me. “We’re going to Listonenia.”
“What?” I cried in shock.
“Miles’s birthday. His dad’s flying us in for it.”
“Yes way. I just spoke to a freaking king.” She beamed.
“And you’re sure I’m invited?”
“You’re Milo’s best friend. He wouldn’t leave –“
My phone started going off. I immediately fished it out of the pocket of my cargo shorts. I saw it was Izzie calling and quickly answered before it was sent to voicemail.
“’Sup, Iz? Heard about Peter.” I greeted.
She giggled. “Elle texts fast.”
“Sitting beside her helps too.”
“That’s right! You are in California. I’m sorta slacking as a best friend at the moment.”
“I’ll let it slide. This makes us even for my guy code violation.”
“Deal.” I heard the smile in her voice.
“So, I’m here with Milo’s dad. He would like to talk to you.”
“We might have beef. I did remove my shirt in hopes of seducing his wife last year.”
She laughed. “Water under the bridge. I’m sure of it, but keep your clothes on this time.”
“My shirts have minds of their own, but I’ll see what I can do.” I joked.
“You better! Here he is.”
“Hey, King Vincent, I am pleasantly surprised to receive this call.”
“As Izzie stated, I have forgiven your past behavior. I am calling to invite you to Listonenia. There will be a celebration to commemorate the 18th anniversary of Milo’s birth, but I know it will not be special unless you are here. I will take care of everything from air fare to whatever need while you’re here. Can I count you to be a part of his big surprise?”
I smiled. “Absolutely. I’d hate to miss a party.”
“Fantastic. What is your email address? I will send you your plane ticket to fly to New York. There, our private plane will take you and the others to Listonenia together. I will also include information and a number that your parents can call if they have any questions.”
“[email protected] This will mean a lot to him, especially coming from you.” I told him sincerely.
“That is what I am hoping for. I will email everything to you shortly. Thank you for helping me.”
“No problem. I will never turn a free vacation with my best friends.”
He chuckled lightly. “I am sure. I will be in touch.”
“Okay, bye.” I hung up my phone.
“That’s gonna be a good time.” I looked over at Elle.
She nodded. “Our chaos is going international. I don’t think he knows what he’s getting himself into.”
“Neither do we. All of it’s improvised.”
She smiled. “It’s going to feel really good to be back together. It feels like something’s missing when we’re apart.”
“I know what you mean.” I was able to look at her instead of the water without embarrassment thanks to my sunglasses.