Little Audrina is going to start school, which can only end badly for our poor girl, since everything always does. Damian takes Audrina clothes shopping, where he refuses to let her buy jeans or pants, as they “show too much”, and loudly reminds Audrina (while still in the store), that she’s to sit with her legs together and not even LOOK at the boys. This is already going so well!
Note: The title of this chapter is “Almost a Normal Life” which is heartbreaking.
Audrina will be attending school in the city, unlike Vera, who goes to the local school. Damian will drive Audrina in the mornings and she’ll get to ride the bus home in the afternoons. Vera, who has until this point always given her sister-cousin glowing reports about how much fun school is, now informs Audrina that it’s awful and boring, that the other students will be mean and the teachers won’t care about her. Audrina (sigh) simply doesn’t understand why Vera’s reports were always so different before, but now that Audrina is allowed to go to school, they’ve changed. I want to support Audrina so badly, then she does something like that. Sweetie, VERA DOESN’T LIKE YOU. VERA WILL DO WHATEVER IT TAKES TO MAKE YOUR LIFE MISERABLE. Can we please all get onboard with this?
Audrina goes off to sit in the rocking chair and tell Momma her news (NOT HEALTHY), and has visions of the First & Best running in a field of flowers, being chased (playfully this time) by a boy whom Our Audrina somewhat recognizes, and of the Best & Most Perfect having her braids dipped into a bottle of ink by another boy in a classroom. Audrina tries to make sense of these visions, only to be interrupted by Vera, who demands (with singsong chanting!) that Audrina give up the rocking chair, as Vera needs the gift more than A does. Audrina lets Vera have the chair, since, after all, the First & Best didn’t go up to eleven, so Our Audrina is already winning, gift or no.
Audrina goes to school in a blouse/wool skirt/hair ribbon ensemble that makes the sweater and jeans-clad Vera laugh at her, saying that no one dresses like that anymore, and Audrina goes into her first day of school feeling pretty lousy. And I quote: “I felt six years old. Then I panicked more, for I couldn’t remember being six years old.” (AGAIN: NOT HEALTHY) Damian tells her that this is what she’s begged for, so she’d better enjoy it if she can. God, he’s such a good father.
Her day goes about as well as anything Audrina does ever has: she takes her hair ribbon out when she notices that no one else is wearing one, and tries to drop it discreetly, but is of course found out and retrieves the ribbon after several kids have already stepped on it; the teacher gives her funny looks and starts explaining things like roll call and the Pledge of Allegiance to the class (though Audrina doesn’t realize why, the teacher is clearly directing these lessons at Audrina); other kids ask if Audrina’s been to school before (some seem to recognize her), so she uses Vera’s history of broken bones as her cover story; she doesn’t know how to excuse herself to use the bathroom, so she does the potty dance in her seat until the teacher tells her to go; and she can’t play around with the boys like the other girls do, given that she’s dealing with the inherited gang rape memories and all. Eventually, though, she makes one sort-of friend, and starts to get along as well as she can.
Easter Sunday comes along, and Arden comes over to the Adare house for Easter dinner. It’s pretty terrible: Damian spends the whole time grilling Arden about his father and what his father had done for a living and why his father left Billie and Arden, and Vera spends her time batting her eyes at Arden and showing off her bra-free chest. Arden is clearly uncomfortable by the size of the house and by the family’s apparent wealth, and it’s an all-around awful day. Summer comes again and Arden teaches Audrina to swim, but every time she tries to escape the house and leave Vera behind, her cousin manages to tag along. Vera is spending her summer lolling around in a bikini, getting Arden to help her down inclines and to put suntan oil on her. After one such afternoon, Audrina runs back to the house, furious and jealous. It’s interesting to note that when Vera comes back to the house to taunt her, it’s apparently hours later. Nice, Arden. Nice. Vera tells Audrina that she’s really not interested in Arden: she’s got her sights set higher, though she might let Arden put the oil on all over the next time anyway. Audrina points out that if Vera starts whoring it up, Damian will kill her, and Vera tells Audrina that she won’t tell on her: after all, Audrina’s taking piano lessons from the “Don Juan of Whitefern Village”. Surprise! Lamar Rensdale is a creep! Audrina protests that he’s never done anything, but Vera knows that Damian will believe anything that the villagers tell him, especially when it comes to Audrina and men, so Audrina had better just keep her mouth shut about Vera’s activities. With that, Vera takes off her bathing suit in front of Audrina and strolls out the door, like she’s on an episode of Rock of Love Bus. She also leaves her wet bathing suit on Audrina’s rug, which is just rude.
Audrina is now nervous at her piano lessons, and tells Lamar that she’s “heard some things” and it’s better if she doesn’t come to lessons any longer. He immediately gets pissy, accusing her of being like the rest of the villagers and believing the worst of him. He tells her he’s felt that even if he never makes it on Broadway, he’s kept himself going by thinking that he’s giving the world a fine musician in Audrina, but that small-town gossip will rob him of his best student and Audrina of her future…and nice to give that guilt trip to an ELEVEN-YEAR OLD GIRL YOU DIPSHIT. Audrina feels badly, and tells him that she believes in him, she’s just afraid of what Vera might say and what her father might do. She also refuses to call him Lamar as he has frequently requested and not Mr. Rensdale*, as Damian has told her that calling men by their first names is the first step. DAMIAN GOD DAMN IT.
Lamar (I’ll call him that, by god, he won’t get anything from me) assures her that he’ll talk to Vera at her next lesson, which, by the way, is a waste of his time, her time, and Damian’s money, since she is not talented (musically) at all. She’s only coming to the lessons to compete with Audrina: she wants her talent, she wants Arden, she wants Damian’s love; in short, Vera is jealous and dangerous and Audrina should look out. Audrina promises to come back for more lessons, but tells Lamar to look out for Vera too. He smiles a crooked smile “very much like Vera’s” and wipes Audrina’s tears away.
Audrina plays the piano as the winter comes in and feels like something is missing from her life. She’s decided that if she only had Sylvia (remember her?) in her life, she would be fulfilled. Damian and Elly still won’t tell her anything about her little sister. Later, Vera comes busting through Audrina’s bedroom door like a deflowered Kool-Aid Man, and announces that she’s done it. With a man! Like, a real live man! With chest hair! (She describes the hairiness pretty lovingly, I guess we know what Vera’s into) She also ruins yet another piece of Audrina’s bedroom set when she throws her snow-covered coat over a chair and stains the cover. Audrina, for whatever reason, doesn’t really want to hear her cousin describing the body and naughty parts of the man she just slept with, so she tries to make a break for it. Vera tackles her to the floor and straddles her, all the while daring Audrina to guess who she was just with. Audrina says that she won’t believe whatever Vera tells her, since she’s a liar (see, that’s the way, Audrina!), and anyway, why would Lamar Rensdale want a kid like Vera?
….Not gonna go there. Yet.
Vera throws back that no one but a kid like Arden would want Audrina, and that’s only because he feels obligated to her (“and I could tell you so much about that you’d probably lose your mind”), and Audrina refuses to believe that Lamar would want Vera after the warning Audrina gave him about Damian. Vera finds it hysterical that Audrina thinks that anyone could ruin their family name, and she rolls around on the floor laughing for a while, before telling her cousin that “He likes young girls. Most men do. Why if you could see him striding to me without a stitch on, with that great gun cocked and aimed…”, and with that, Audrina’s heard enough and she runs from the room, going to the kitchen to help Aunt Elly with the chores. She notices that Aunt Elly actually looks happy, and realizes that it’s been a while since she’s heard Aunt Elly insulting Damian, and vice versa.
Elly sits Audrina down and tells her that she doesn’t owe her father anything and can’t let him dominate her life any further. He will keep Audrina in that house with him until the day he dies unless she cuts herself free, but Audrina needs to remember that “blood ties aren’t supposed to be chains” and that neither he nor Sylvia is owed Audrina’s life. Damian is bringing Sylvia home in the spring, and once he does, Audrina won’t have time for anything but caring for Sylvia unless she rebels. Elly denies that Sylvia is deformed (which Audrina fears), but that she’s a beautiful child and will, hopefully, someday look exactly like Audrina so that Damian will take some of the pressure off of his second daughter and onto his third. (NICE) Audrina is confused, as she never even thought that Aunt Elly liked her, but Elly tells her that she resented Lucky for making her into a servant and because Vera adored her, and Elly was afraid to let herself care for Audrina. Elly stayed on, though, because she knew that one day her patience would be rewarded. Audrina finally figures out that Damian was the man that Elly loved and was heartbroken by, and that Lucky was the one who had stolen him away. Audrina asks her aunt if she still loves Damian, despite the things that he does, but Elly has said enough for one day, and with the end of that chapter, I have as well.
This was a short one, I know, but some BIG DAMN STUFF is coming up, and I want to give it plenty of space. Plus, I think I’ll get these up faster if I make them shorter, at least for now. The trouble with this book is, like I’ve said before, how much happens! Those first four paragraphs came from TWO PAGES of the book.
Up next, though: SYLVIA.
*This is important later on. Oh, you’ll know it when you see it.