{XAVIER MEETS THE VANDERHALES}

 

     In one version of Flight, Xavier actually meets Mr. & Mrs. Vanderhale in their home. I ended up not using this because I felt it slowed the story down too much. It's still a great scene and I was sad to lose it. Other than Camille's graduation, it's the only time you actually get to see the Vanderhales interact with Xavier, so I thought I would share it with you here:

 

 

            IT’S 6:50 AND I AM BUSY PUTTING THE LAST FEW TOUCHES ON MY OUTFIT FOR THE EVENING. I’ve decided on a simple ivory sheath dress and I’ve pulled my hair back into a low ponytail. To please my mother, I’ve picked out matching emerald earrings and an emerald cuff bracelet. I add a little bit more shine to my lips, spritz myself with perfume, slip on my cream colored Manolo Blahnik’s and make my way downstairs.

            I would have thought I would have been completely nervous about tonight. This is the first time I’ve ever invited a boy to dinner before or had anyone officially meet my parents. There’s never been anyone to invite. There were always boys wanting my affection, but none that I wanted to give that affection to. Tonight is a very big deal for me.

            Having said that, one would think that I would be completely anxious over tonight, but I’m not. Maybe it’s because my mother so easily accepted that I was inviting Xavier to dinner that made it easier. Maybe it’s because I’ve already resolved that no matter what my parents reaction is, I’m going to keep seeing Xavier. I am 18 now and I should be allowed to date who I want. And besides, once I leave for college, there’s not much more they can do in so far as controlling who I choose to date. But moreover, I think the reason why I’m so at ease is because it’s Xavier. Xavier brings out the best in me, in every way possible. His confident demeanor calms me, his gentleness soothes me, and his grace impresses me every time I’m around him. I know that Xavier is going to win over my parents.

            I am making my way down the stairway when I hear a set of familiar voices in the foyer laughing easily. I break out into a huge grin because two of my favorite people are waiting for me.

            I stop at the top of the stairway and see Xavier and Mrs. Taylor talking comfortably. He hasn’t noticed me yet, so I take full advantage of that and look him over hungrily. He’s wearing a tailored dark grey suit with a white dress shirt underneath, no tie. He looks both elegant and comfortable and hot all at the same time. He laughs at something Mrs. Taylor said and his face lights up. Seeing him there, with his aura ebbing all around him, I am in awe and for the millionth time can’t believe I have the good fortune of calling him mine.

            Xavier must feel my eyes on him, because his eyes immediately travel up the stairs and lock with mine. His smile gets even bigger and I see his lips part ever so slightly at seeing me. He likes what he’s seeing just as much as I do, I can’t help but think with a small smile.

            “Excuse me Mrs. Taylor,” Xavier says politely before making his way towards the stairs.

            Mrs. Taylor blushes and smiles. “Of course. I think I’ll help the staff continue to set the table.” She hastily leaves the room, leaving the two of us alone.

            I make my way slowly down the stairs, my eyes never leaving his, my hand grazing the railing as I move towards him.

            I reach him and stay on the stairwell so that we’re eye to eye.

            “Hi,” I say in a whisper.

            “Hi yourself,” he whispers back.

            He takes my hand and kisses it ever so gently. Immediately, a chill runs up my spine and warmth takes over my hand. It’s amazing that he can still evoke those sensations out of me, even after we’ve spent so much time together.

            “You look incredible.”

            “I could same the same for you.”

            “You need to wear those heels for me later,” he whispers, his eyes growing dark.

            My eyes widen in pleasant shock and I can’t believe the heat that’s coming off of the both of us. He’s standing so close, I can feel the warmth of his breath and am practically breathing him in as his lips are right at my level. I hold onto the banister a little more tightly to get my bearings.

            I hear someone clear their throat uncomfortably. Rosa is standing at the doorway, trying to get our attention.

            “Miss Camille, Mr. Williams, your parents are waiting for you in the lounge.”

            “Coming, Rosa. Thank you.”

            The spell that was just there a minute ago is broken and my eyes meet Xavier’s.

            “Ready?”

            “I’m more than ready, Camille. I’ve been waiting for this moment for far too long,” he says before gently caressing my cheek.

            “Let’s go,” he says confidently before grabbing my hand and leading me to the lounge.

            We make our way through the foyer and towards my waiting parents. I can’t believe how excited I am for this. I take one more look at Xavier and stand a little bit taller. I can’t wait for my parents to meet him.

            We enter the lounge and the first person I see is Mrs. Taylor, who is looking sheet white and standing at the entrance of the room, with her back to my family so they can’t see her expression. Her eyes are round and she has a look on her face I’ve never seen before. She looks afraid. Deathly afraid. Her eyes meet mine and she almost looks tearful.

            Xavier catches her expression and his beautiful face contorts into confusion.

            I tear my eyes away from Mrs. Taylor and look around the room. Standing next to my parents, looking absolutely breathtaking in a chic new fire red cocktail dress that looks like it just came off of a Paris runway, her hair cut in a new hairstyle and her face painted elegantly looking years beyond her age, is my sister.

            It’s Noelle.

            “Surprise.”

            I feel Xavier take a deep breath in and he instinctively grips my arm, like he wants to grab me and make a run for it. And all of a sudden, he’s got the same expression on his face that Mrs. Taylor has. He’s afraid.

            And judging by the way his eyes have locked onto her, he’s afraid of my sister.

            He’s afraid of Noelle.

            We all stand there. Mrs. Taylor and Xavier are standing there stiffly, Noelle is looking smug and beautiful, my parents are completely oblivious and I am stupefied.

            My father breaks the silence.

            “We wanted to surprise you. Noelle’s symposium was postponed so she decided to take a later flight into the city and come home,” he explains.

            “See darling, and you were worried for nothing. I told you Noelle was fine,” my mother says easily.

            “I literally just landed,” Noelle purrs. Her voice sounds different. Is that a French accent she’s speaking with? She’s only been gone a little over a week. But it’s not just that. She seems older, more confident; totally unlike the Noelle that left me a week ago.

            “What, no hug for your baby sister?” she says incredulously as she opens her arms out to me.

            I didn’t realize that I haven’t said a word, I’m just standing there open mouthed trying to take this all in. Numbly, I cross over and give her a hug, but it’s awkward and stiff. She smells different. Everything about her is uncomfortably different.

            And just as I’m about to pull away, my dress gets caught on something and it stabs me slightly through the material.

            “Ow,” I say before dislodging myself. The minute I say the word, I feel Xavier’s presence behind me, protectively.

            I look down to see what I caught on and I see it.

            A broach with seven golden flames surrounding a solid onyx stone.

            It’s the pin. The pin that all 7 members of the Illuminati were wearing in the photo.

            And my sister is wearing it.

            I am trained in the art of masking my emotions, never letting anyone know what I’m really thinking, what it is I’m really feeling. My talent is that I know how to put on a show, I know how to make people think that I’m calm and cool, poised and unbothered, when in my reality my universe is being torn inside out.

            I have never needed that ability more than I need it now, because I’ve got to fool the one person in the world I would have never thought I’d have to fool in my life:

Noelle.

            I throw my shoulders back, deepen my smile and plant my stilleto’d heels more firmly into the lush carpet below me.

            “Oh, you’re broach is beautiful,” I say lightly, admiring it, but not touching it. I can’t bring myself to touch it. “Did you get that in Paris?”

            My mother interrupts.

            “Isn’t it lovely? When we were in Paris, Jackson Hall gave it to her. “

            “Jackson was in Paris?” I ask, my voice as airy and nonchalant as if we were talking about the weather outside.

            “Yes. He met us out there to give Noelle a tour of the campus and introduce her to some of the staff. Jackson was a tremendous help while we were in Paris.” My mother turns to my sister. “He had that lovely Grayson girl with him. What was her name?”

            “Melanie Grayson,” Noelle says. I notice that she’s eyeing me carefully. Too carefully. This has become a game of cat and mouse. Does she know that I’m gritting my teeth under my carefully applied smile? I hope to God not because I can’t let her know what I’m really thinking. I allow my face to soften even more, hoping that a softer mask will help to hide my feelings.

            “Of course,” my mother continues, completely unaware of the tense moment all around her. “Camille, you remember the Graysons? They live in East Hampton. We run into their family from time to time.”

            I allow a faint hint of comfortable recognition to pass through my face, as though I only remember her vaguely. My mask is still carefully put together, my real emotions never straying from the moment. Inside, my thoughts are racing, my brain starting to put all these pieces to the puzzle together.

Melanie Grayson and Jackson Hall were in Paris with my sister. Two of the descendants of the Illuminati were alone with Noelle.

Melanie wasn’t after me. She was never after me. She was after Noelle.

 Xavier has never moved from behind me, his protective posture still strong and present. I continue with the act and place an arm lightly around Xavier and bring him towards us. My stance is light and my arm is barely touching Xavier, but inside I am on my knees, gripping onto him to keep from losing it. Inside, I am drowning.

            “Mom, dad, I’d like you to meet Xavier Williams. Xavier, these are my parents, Claire and James Vanderhale.”

             I turn to him, completely overwhelmed and numb, but never allowing that to show. My eyes lock with his and in that instant, he knows. He knows what I’m doing and that I’m begging him to do the same. His eyes meet mine, and the briefest moment of recognition flashes. He knows what I need him to do. In one instant, he goes from being uncomfortably stiff to comfortably calm. I see his stance change and see his shoulders throw back. He smiles confidently and coolly. I’ve seen this Xavier before. It’s the Xavier that presented himself to all of my parent’s friends at the gala. This is the Xavier that comes out when he has to be on for a judging audience. This is the Xavier I need by my side now.

            He steps forward easily and shakes my father’s hand then my mother’s.

            “So nice to meet you both,” he says comfortably.

            “Nice to meet you Xavier,” my father says.

            “We’ve heard quite a bit about you,” my mother says knowingly. “Mrs. Bauer was quite impressed with the philanthropic work you had done with the inner city students at Juiliard.”

            There’s a momentary pause in the conversation before Noelle interrupts.

            “Camille, aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?”

            “Oh, I’m sorry,” I say, my voice never wavering. “Noelle, this is Xavier. Xavier this is Noelle.”

            Xavier shakes her hand and I can’t help but notice how stiff he is when he does so. Even though he’s stepped forward, his body has never really left my side. It’s like he’s getting ready to grab me and bolt at a moments notice.

            “Noelle. Camille’s told me so much about you. Welcome home,” he says with a deep smile.  And maybe because I know the game he’s up to since I’m playing right along with him, but his voice has never sounded more empty.

            “Nice to meet you, Xavier,” she says comfortably. And without missing a beat, she continues on. “You look familiar. Have we met before? At school perhaps?” she asks innocently.

            And I hear it in her voice. She’s baiting him. My eyes widen as I realize she recognizes him from school as the former janitor, sorry, head of maintenance. I find myself grow angry at her. If my sister wants a fight, then bring it on. Noelle is locking horns with a pro. 

            “Yes, you probably saw him at the Masquerade Ball,” I address her with a knowing smile. “But then again, you were so ill that night, I’m sure most of it was a giant blur. What was it that you were sick with again that you had to miss the entire evening?”

            She smiles back at me and knows not to push it. I may have my secrets, but she’s certainly got her share too. I know because I’ve been the one hiding them for her.

            “Well, Mr. & Mrs. Vanderhale, dinner is ready in the Blue Room,” Mrs. Taylor interrupts. I turn to her and I see the same mask that Xavier and I are wearing, except hers isn’t as iron clad as ours is. I can hear the slight tremble in her voice and I can see the fear in her eyes. It’s faint, but it’s definitely there. She attempts a smile, but it is forced and insincere.

            And then I hear it. What used to sound like unintelligible mumbling, I now understand is Aramaic. Xavier and Mrs. Taylor are talking to each other. It’s said quickly and in a whisper. They speak so fast that I miss what they just said to each other.

            Suddenly, a cel phone rings. I don’t have anything on me except my jewelry, so I know it’s not mine. Xavier reaches inside his pants pocket and pulls out his cel phone. He glances down at it.

            “I’m so sorry, but would you all excuse me for a minute. I have to take this call,” he says before quickly leaving the room, leaving all of us standing there. Who’s calling him that he would have to leave? And right at this moment?

            “So,” Noelle starts. “We have so much to catch up on, Camille. I’m sorry I haven’t returned your calls, it’s just been a whirlwind. I’ve learned so much in such a short amount of time. I can’t wait to fill you in on everything.” Her eyes are bright and her voice sounds innocently eager, but I don’t believe any of it. No one knows my sister as well as I do and I can tell she’s hiding something. Her fake, gloating, new-found French accent isn’t helping her seem any more sincere either. And there’s something else, something I can’t put my finger on.

            “I can’t wait. I’m sure you’ve got quite a few stories to share.”

            “Oh, you can only imagine,” she says with a purr. My eyes widen and my eyebrow raises. Why did that last sentence sound like a challenge?

            Xavier comes in back in the room.

            “I’m so sorry to have to do this, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to join you for dinner tonight. There’s been a bit of a family emergency and I’m afraid I have to leave.”

             His voice is sincerely apologetic but there’s an urgency there that is unmistakable too.

            “Xavier, what’s wrong?” My carefully put together demeanor fades for the briefest of moments. There has to be something really wrong for Xavier to leave me like this, here and now, and I know for a fact that it’s not a family emergency.

            His eyes lock with mine and immediately, I understand. I’m right by his side again, like we were at the gala, sharing an unspoken language, knowing what the other person needs. I can see it in the intensity of his eyes; he wants me to go with him. Now. And somehow, someway, I have to figure out a way to do that.

            “I’m going with you,” I say definitely. I don’t know who I’m addressing at this point, if I’m addressing Xavier or my parents. It doesn’t really matter. I just know I have to leave.

            “Camille,” my mother says cautiously. Her voice is both questioning and foreboding. She doesn’t want me to leave. Instead, she turns to address Xavier.

            “I’m so sorry to hear that,” my mother says. She sounds genuinely disappointed, which is a bit of a surprise. I guess she was looking forward to meeting Xavier more than I thought. “I do hope everything is alright. Is there anything we can do?”

            “It should all be fine. I’m sorry to have to miss out on Noelle’s welcome home dinner,” he says. Again, his voice is full of apologies, but he’s also anxious, like there really is a family emergency he’s got to run off to. Xavier grabs hold of my hand as if to take me with him, despite my mother’s protests. “I’m hoping we can do this again soon.”

            Without missing a beat, I turn to leave the room, towing Xavier behind me.

            “I’ll just grab my jacket.”

            “Camille,” my mother says, a definite bite to her voice. “It’s your sister’s first night back. Don’t you think you should spend some time with her?”

            And then I do the unheard of and actually speak back to my mother.

            “It’s not my fault she came back into town early. Xavier needs me and I’m going with him,” my voice never raises, but I manage to put in as much severity as I can. I am walking out this door, whether my mother gives me permission or not.

            “Camille,” I hear Xavier start. This isn’t what he wanted. Or maybe it is. I don’t know anymore. My head is so filled with half answered information, I don’t know what to do other then get the hell out of here. Maybe it’s time I rocked the boat a little bit with my mom.

            “Xavier, no,” I say definitely. “You need me and I’m going with you. I can spend time with my sister later.”

            I see Noelle’s eyes widen. This is probably the first time I have ever put her in second place and I can see both the betrayal and anger in her face. If I looked hard enough, there might even be a trace of hurt in there somewhere too, but the person standing in front of me is some odd copy of my sister and someone I don’t recognize anymore.

            “Let’s go. Mom, dad, I’ll be home later.”

            I turn to walk out of the room before I hear my mother’s voice.

            “Camille!” And it’s undeniable. She’s angry. Really angry. “Young lady, I think it’s best you stay home, with your family.”

            “Mom, I think I know what’s best for me. I’ve been able to make those decisions for myself for a long time now,” my voice low and level.

            My mother’s eyes widen and meet mine, ice blue meeting deep chestnut. I’ve never spoken back to her before, and certainly not with this tone. I hold firm and stand my ground. I know in my heart that this is a losing battle. Either I give in and stay to appease my mother, or fight back and have to deal with the wrath of her anger later. I don’t want either. I need back up. I need someone else to support me on this.

And then I do something that in a million years, I never thought I could do, let alone try. But if there was ever a time to be daring, now was it. My stare never leaves my mother, but my mind wanders somewhere else. I take a deep breath in and try and settle my rattled nerves, and focus. My mind wanders and finds the one person in the room that I may be able to get through, the one person who I may be able to connect with. Natalie said I could do it with her that day at Angelo’s. I may just be able to do it now.

            Without even so much as a glance in his direction, I reach out to my father.

            It’s alright. Let her go. Camille needs to be with Xavier.

            He needs her now.

            She needs to leave.

            I have no idea how my father is hearing this. Is he hearing my voice? Or is he hearing some weird disembodied voice? Or does he think he’s hearing his own intuition? How many times do I have to keep repeating this before I know he’s heard me? Is this even working? Maybe Natalie heard me that one time because she was an angel. I don’t know that I can reach a mortal like my father.

Seconds that feel more like years pass, with my mother staring at me warningly, daring me to make my next move, and me passionately trying to reach my father.

            Please, let her go.

            And then miraculously, somewhere in the middle of the stare down between my mother and I, my father decides to speak up.

            “Claire, I think it would be alright if Camille went with Xavier. We can all catch up later. It sounds like Xavier could use her help.”

            And all heads in the room, mine included, swivel in his direction. I don’t think my father has ever gone against my mother, ever. I did that. My father actually heard me! Without missing a beat, he strides over to me and plants a swift kiss on my forehead.

            “Grab a jacket, Camille. It’s pretty chilly out there.”

            “Xavier, it’s nice to have met you. I hope everything is alright with your family. Let’s try and reschedule a dinner again sometime soon,” he says and shakes his hand.

            “I look forward to it sir,” Xavier says sincerely. He looks apologetically out to the rest of the room. “Again, I’m so sorry to have ruined everyone’s night. I hope to see you soon.” With that, he tugs on my hand and we both leave the room, with my mother and sister still in shock. We pass Mrs. Taylor who suddenly has a very different expression on her face than she did earlier. She looks relieved.

            She leans in and hugs me in an embrace that is far too tight to just be a light goodbye, before whispering in my ear.

            “Well done, sweetheart.”

            Mrs. Taylor heard me too! I don’t even have a chance to bask in her compliment before Xavier is grabbing me and pulling me towards the front door.

            “Wait, I need a jacket from upstairs.”

            “We’ll get you another one later. I have to get you out of here. Now.”

            My head turns towards his and I hear it in his voice. He’s afraid.

            We walk out the front door where Xavier’s Audi A7 is parked out front. Quicker then I think is possible, he’s opening my door, shoving me inside and speeding away from the curb.

            The minute we leave my house, I see him relax, but only slightly.

            “Did you see that?” I ask excitedly. Despite the anxiousness we just left, I am beyond stunned at what I was just able to do. “I reached out to my father and it actually worked!”

            Xavier breaks out into a small smile.

            “That was great. I’m really proud of you.”

            And I can tell that he is, but his mind is a million miles away. The glory of my accomplishment leaves quickly and all that happened with my family bubbles to the surface.

            “Who called you? What family emergency could you possibly have?”

            His eyes never leave the road and I can feel him accelerating.

            “No one called me.”

            “But your phone rang?”

            “Ringtones are music too. I just played what everyone needed to hear to get you out of there.”

            My eyes are round at hearing this.

            “So you lied? There was no family emergency?”

            Xavier looks insulted.

            “Of course I didn’t lie. There is a family emergency. You’re my family emergency. You are in very real danger.”

© 2015 by Charlene Moncrief. All rights reserved.

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