Tag Archives: parties

Generation 4 – Chapter 3

Waking up the morning after the disastrous dinner party Electra let out a loud groan. She had hoped the entire thing was a dream, but unfortunately she was back to reality. The modelling shoot she had been so apprehensive over now seemed like a blessing, it gave her an excuse to get out of the house for a few hours. Jumping out of bed she jogged to the bathroom, hoping not to wake Ryan. After brushing her hair, which she was thinking of dying once more soon, she padded into her walk-in-wardrobe and put on a tiny pair of denim shorts and a plain black vest. After slipping into a pair of cowboy boots she had picked up at a vintage store on Baywood she was ready to go.

Riding in the elevator up the huge monolith of glass after the short subway ride Electra felt excitement more than nerves, sure she she had been a little apprehensive over the shoot, she was a 19 year old being photographed by a famous fashion house. Despite her reservations she was still more than willing to give it her all now that she was there, and throwing open the double doors in front of her she stepped into the studio. A rail of clothes flew past her carried by an ematicated helper in four inch stilettos, a random photographer took a candid shot of her, and three makeup girls rushed past into the next room, where a much more famous rock star was also having a photoshoot.

Looking around the room she spotted Marc, stood in the shooting area on the huge white sheets which covered the walls and floor, engaged in conversation with the photographer. He was evidently telling some sort of joke because the man kept bursting out in laughter.

“Slim!” Marc shouted, noticing her bright purple hair from a mile off, and admiring her legs in the tiny shorts as she crossed the room. After introducing himself with a peck on each cheek the photographer went to prep his cameras, giving Marc the room to embrace her in a tight hug.

“Still recovering from last night?” He asked with a laugh as he thought about the dinner party.

“You’re the one who should be recovering!” She replied, grabbing his arm to look for the mark, fortunately Maud’s violence had only left four tiny dots.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ma  big boy, I’ll be fine. You excited to be a model!?” He said with a theatrical gasp, causing her to break out in laughter, he never took anything seriously, which was one of the reasons they got along so well.

“Yeah, totally.” She joked back, “I’m just doing it to get out the word on the band.”

“Come on lovebirds, let’s get started!” The photographer, Lorenzo, shouted, now in position. Electra wasn’t phased by the lack of hair and makeup, this was her and she was happy with it. “This is a natural shoot honeys, don’t worry you both look divine, love suits you!” Lorenzo said, not really noticing that neither of them cared. “So you’re the two who are dating, right?” He asked as he began snapping away.

“No!” Electra said at the same time as Marc’s “Yes!” She looked at him in shock, but he only grinned back.

“Get into it, pose for me!” Lorenzo shouted, shooting away. “Fabulous!” He said as they struck pose after pose. He eventually came up with quite a few shots he liked, they were both naturals. After a rather slow start the two of them had gotten right into it, posing without any embarrassment. Neither of them took themselves too seriously, Electra had grown up with the pompous air which Olive employed all around her – and hated it. Unfortunately Lorenzo had skipped the shots of them sticking their tongues out and dancing, he was a more serious guy.

It was over before it had even begun, and Electra was surprised to learn she loved it! It had been the easiest thing in the world to fall into a few poses, it wasn’t as if they were high fashion models being exposed to the world, the fashion house had simply thought they had style and were going places, and that it would be good to give them a photoshoot so their name could get out there a little more – hopefully they would remember it when they made it.

“So, what’s your story – who are you – where’d ya come from – all that jazz.” The photographer said, whipping out a pad as Electra looked at Marc with an amused glance, he knew she hated interviews, she had seen her mother be misconstrued so badly in the press and didn’t want her opinions being twisted to suit the needs of the interviewer.

“I’m Marc, this is Slim, and the other members of the band are Ryan and Sammy. Newly formed and trying to make it on the Bridgeport scene. That’s about it.” Marc said, taking the edge of the tiny interview with a big grin. They didn’t want to ride off the Belgravia name, and referring to Electra by her nickname helped to cover who she was – it wasn’t exactly a secret, she just didn’t talk about it.

“Hmph. Well – good luck, I better go see to the star next door.” He said with an imperious tone, and left the room. The two of them were alone now, and for some reason Electra felt a sexual tension in the room, she had no idea where it was coming from, Marc was purely a friend.

“So, you enjoyed it then? You looked hot.” Marc said, knowing that she had liked the experience as much as he had. He was close to her now, closer than what her mother said ‘was appropriate’ and she found herself a little put out, although she’d never let Marc know that.

“Loved it, how about you?.” Electra asked, moving back a few steps trying to get out of range from his glinting, flirting eyes. As much as he enjoyed flirting with her Marc also felt he could relate to her – got the problems with Maud, having a rather troubled mother himself. Luckily his father was still around to take care of her, so he didn’t have as much responsibility as Ryan, but he knew sometimes you just needed to get away, and that’s what he wanted to do for Electra.

“Wanna hit the clubs?” He became flirtatious again as he spoke, causing Electra to look down a little shyly. She and Ryan had been monogamous since they started dating, but she had flirted (and more) a lot before she met him, it was kind of a kick to do it again.

“C’mon, as friends.” Marc could sense that she was enjoying the slight flirting, but knew it would upset her if she thought this was some sort of date – she really did love Ryan, just couldn’t deal with his dysfunctional mother right now.

“I can’t, Sebastian’s friends from school have flown in and are staying at the loft, we’re having a little party tomorrow, I’ll see you there about 8.” She gave him a friendly peck on the cheek before dashing out of the door. Oddly she felt wildly excited by the attention Marc had shown her, Ryan had been so caught up with his mother lately she had felt a little neglected. The arrival of Sebastian’s friends was a welcome one, lately it had been show after show after show, where they didn’t really get a chance to experience the night properly, followed by hours fretting over Ryan and Maud. She was desperately excited for the house to be full of people, things had became awkward between her and Ryan lately and she just couldn’t bare another night with him and Maud. Coming out of the building her mood was ruined by the sight of her mother – locked in embrace with a man who definitely wasn’t Marcus – across the street.

Even from such a far distance Electra was blinded by the huge diamond on Olive’s finger which caught the light in a dazzling show, the ruby in the centre seeming to cast its own aura. This was probably Olive’s new husband, how could Electra be surprised?

*      *      *

Electra, Sebastian, Ricky, and Nate all walked into the apartment in an amazing mood after a few hours down at The Polo Club. While not great friends with the two boys Electra had known them socially from school back in Redcliffe, they were fun, carefree and glamorous, with six-goal handicaps and deep suntans from spending the past 12 months jetting around the world playing polo on the fields of Argentina, Palm Beach, Deauville, and England. Electra was glad that before she had met up with her brother and the boys she had booked herself an appointment to strip the purple from her hair, everything that wasn’t black had clashed horribly with it and it would have made her look so out of place. While she liked doing her hair crazy for the shows, it just wasn’t for her to have it like that at all times.

“Great flat Electra – oh it’s Slim now, right?” Ricky said with a smile as he looked around the loft.

“Call me whatever!” Electra replied as she poured them all massive vodka and oranges in the kitchen, simultaneously looking around for any sign of Ryan – or more pressingly, Maud.

“You need a dog in here, mans best friend you know.” Nate informed the group as he flopped onto the sofa after depositing their polo sticks in Electra’s bedroom, rubbing a bruise under his breeches were Electra had rapped him with her mallet during their match.

“We were thinking of getting one, weren’t we sis?” Sebastian shouted to Electra as leafed idly through a book on thoroughbreds.

While Electra had no difficulty in leaving life with Olive behind, Sebastian, who had always been far more attuned to that lifestyle than his sister, still missed it. He still wore his Ralph Lauren shirts, visited art galleries full of Old Masters (which he could have seen much closer up if he had visited one of Olive’s many homes, which were loaded with them), and went to the Polo Club a few times a week to play on a horse he rented, as all of his own had been left at Belgrave Ranch. He had an ability to get on with anybody, but it was good for him to have Ricky and Nate around, his two best friends from school; they were similar to Sebastian, he felt he could be himself more around them.

“Need any help?” Ricky asked in his English accent as he approached Electra at the bar. He had always admired Sebastian’s sister, and thought she was looking better than ever lately.

“Sure, take these over will you?” Ricky took the two drinks Electra had already made and delivered them to Nate and Sebastian, who were discussing the first chukka.

“How’s your music going anyway?” Ricky asked Electra, only half heatedly listening as she replied, all Ricky listened to were the evening racing results and occasionally The Beatles. He was more interested in looking at her.

“Where’s that boyfriend you mentioned?” He continued, hoping that Ryan, who Electra had mentioned briefly during their game earlier, wouldn’t make an appearance so he would have a shot at Electra.

“Oh – I dunno.” Electra replied, a little sadness in her voice. She had joined Ricky  on the bar-stools now, and listened as he told her a little about his year, it sounded so fun and interesting, all she had done was a few gigs which hadn’t gotten them any recognition from a recording company.

“Look – I’m positive you’ll get recognition soon enough. Anyway, if you don’t you could always come join us on the field, my patrons always looking for great looking, really good girl players to sponsor,  they add such a higher level to the games.” Ricky lingered for a while over the words ‘great looking’, his disarming eyes staring at her with lust – she looked away.

“How the hell did you manage to get to six so soon?” Sebastian asked Nate as they sat together on the sofa. While he may have missed some parts of his old life, he still enjoyed the one he was living – he loved the loft, and being Revolutionis’ manager, he just wished more was happening. No matter how hard he tried he just couldn’t get record companies interested in the band, making him feel like a failure.

“Jesus! Have I walked into a prep school?” They all looked up from their positions on the various sofas as Sammy walked unannounced into the loft, looking the polar opposite of the four of them, who hadn’t bothered to change from their polo clothes, in her all black outfit, with her sunglasses on and a cigarette between her fingers.

“Hey Sam!” Electra threw Sammy a smile, remembering not to jump up and hug her – Sammy hated physical contact.

“Whatsup?” Sammy replied as she flopped onto the sofa next Nate, in Sebastian’s old seat. “Saw your mom in the paper today,” she said to Sebastian and Electra, “got herself married again.” Sammy flipped through a pile of CD’s which were piled up on the end table as she spoke, looking for something more to her liking as Sebastian and Electra exchanged amused glances – so the man Olive had been with was a husband number four.

“Who the heck is she?” Ricky asked Electra, a little put out by Sammy’s appearance.

“Our keyboard player.” She replied with a laugh, in a way his reaction reminded her of the night she took Sebastian to his first bar, he had acted so conservative before then, out of the bedroom that is.

“Why are you guys dressed like idiots anyway?” Sammy asked as she took a drag on her cigarette, opening the pack up to Nate who took one for himself.

“Polo.” Nate replied as he lit the cigarette, passing the box back to Sammy.

“Ugh! I should have known. I always forget you two,” she waved airily at Electra and Sebastian, “are thoroughbred blue bloods. Must have got it from your mom, have you heard who she’s marrying?” She asked, pausing dramatically, “Charles freakin’ Peredin-Bauer, governor of Bridgeport.” Sammy shook her head in amazement.

“Really?” Ricky asked casually, “he plays polo with my father sometimes when we’re over here, quite a nice man.”

“You gotta be kidding me.” Sammy said, laughing. “Anyway, where’s Marc? Oh and Ryan?” She said, just noticing that Ryan wasn’t here as she had expected him to be.

“Marc just text me, he’s on his way.” Sebastian said, hardly looking up from the book which he had quickly became engrossed in.

“And I’m right here.” Ryan said as he walked into the room. Electra jumped up and ran over to him, she was thrilled that Maud was nowhere in sight.

“How was your day?” She asked, moving in for a kiss. He turned his head to the side so it landed not on his lips as she had planned, but his cheek.

“Moms not doing so good, I better go call her.” He spoke softly, hardly looking at Electra.

“Whats wrong?” Electra was hardly Maud’s biggest fan – but she was Ryan’s biggest fan. “You can tell me.” She stared at him, hoping for answers. He merely looked away, taking in the guests.

That’s her boyfriend?” Ricky asked Nate, who had moved to sit next to him, “I was expecting a lot more, I mean, why’s he being so blunt? She’s gorgeous…” He looked at Electra, with the same lust in his eyes as he had shown earlier.

“Where’s he going?” Nate asked as they watched Ryan move behind the rooms partition, where he pulled out his phone and immediately called Maud. Ricky quickly looked over at Electra, it had been the first time she had really smiled in hours when she embraced Ryan, only Ricky saw her features fall into dismay before she took a deep breath and pulled herself together.

“Arsehole.” Ricky muttered.

“Don’t hang up!” Ryan could be heard shouting from the dining area. Maud, who wouldn’t tell him where she was or who she was with, had slammed the phone down on him. He could feel the emotions churning inside of him, he felt desperately guilty for not giving Electra more attention recently, she had been so patient and understanding, but it must be getting frustrating. He simply didn’t want to upset her with all of Maud’s troubles, he would deal with them – it had always been that way. With a resolute sigh he began dialing her number again, he would call her all night if it would keep her away from drugs.

“Hey guys!” Marc’s unrelenting cheer raised Electra’s spirits a little as he walked into the loft. Giving him a friendly peck on the cheek she crossed the loft and went to the bedroom, locking the door firmly behind her.

“I see it’s polo season.” Marc continued, shaking hands with Ricky and Nate, who instantly liked him far better than Ryan.

“Nice to meet you all. Where’s Liberty?” He asked as he looked around the room, which now contained Sebastian, who was sat on a chair still engrossed in his book, Ricky and Noah, who were having an in depth conversation about ways to get their sponsor to give them more money, and Sammy, who, having been left alone on the sofa, was chain smoking while talking animatedly into her cell phone.

“You asshole! I’ll tell everyone how you like to dress up in my panties!” Sammy screamed in to the phone as she jumped up from the sofa, “you think I won’t? Watch me!” She kept him on the line as she turned to the group and burst out laughing. “Everyone, you should know my now ex-boyfriend really loves dressing up in my panties!”

“Interesting!” Laughed a voice which rose above the other whoops of laughter. “How is everyone?” Liberty smiled as she crossed the room, the expansive and intimate smile that had today won her a three-part guest role on a medical drama.

“Hel-lo! And who are you?” Nate said, jumping up from the sofa and kissing her hand, causing her to break out in giggles.

“She’s my girlfriend, so hands off.” Sebastian said with a grin as he enveloped Liberty in a huge hug before planting a long, lingering kiss on her lips.

“You always did get the pretty ones.” Nate said, sitting back down. Now that Sammy had broken up with her boyfriend he decided to have a try with her.

“Oh Liberty, nice to see you!” Electra said as she came back from the bedroom, no one clocked onto the fact that her makeup was completely fresh, having washed it all away with her tears. Liberty grabbed Electra’s hand and dragged her onto the sofa next to Sammy, where she started to fill the group in on her audition. Marc grabbed Sebastian while the rest of the group were preoccupied and pulled him to the side.

“Listen man, I gotta ask you something.” Marc spoke quickly, nervous that the conversations going on across the room would lull and everyone would hear him.

“What is it?” Sebastian replied, worried that something was seriously wrong.

“Well – it’s Slim.” Marc blurted out as Sebastian looked at him in shock, “I can’t stop thinking about her, I haven’t ate, I haven’t slept, I mean I haven’t even had a smoke since we finished the photo shoot yesterday!” Sebastian laughed, as if breaks from cigarettes made it so serious.

“Look – she loves Ryan.” Sebastian replied evenly, resisting an urge to punch Marc in the face, I mean this was his sister he was talking about.

“I know, I know, but they haven’t been getting on recently, we’ve all noticed it  you must have too. Ryan’s just so preoccupied, it’s that god-damn bitch of a mother of his, I could make her happy!” Marc was getting excited now, thinking how much of a better boyfriend he’d be to Electra.

“Just leave it, okay? If Electra,” – Sebastian never did get into the habit of using his sisters nickname – “and Ryan aren’t meant to be then yeah, maybe you’ll have a chance. But don’t break their relationship apart, its not fair to Ryan.” Marc and Sammy were sick of Ryan’s mood lately, but Sebastian saw past it – he knew he was going through a rough patch and tried to be understanding about it.

From his position on the chesterfield Ricky had heard most of what Marc was saying – Nate had been staring at Liberty the entire time, oblivious to everything.  If Marc was making a play for Electra he had to beat him too it, he had planned on waiting until their relationship had broken apart – it was clear it was about to, then moving in on her, but if Marc was playing dirty, he would too.

“And then they told me I had the part!” Liberty exclaimed happily, finishing her audition story, only slightly put out that Ryan was pacing up and down behind her waiting for Maud to call back.

As the night wore on the small party got wilder, the drinks on empty stomachs had made everyone quite giddy, and when Marc suggested dancing they all – well, most of them – were more than up for it.

Sammy, who had found Nate far to upper class and far too full of himself earlier in the day, was now very susceptible to his considerable charms, and had even allowed him to dance with her. Granted he was doing more of a ‘dad dance’ than her wild moves, but the way he was looking at her made her forget all about it.

Sebastian, who loved to get lose at the Revolutionis gigs, was showing off some of his dance moves, causing everyone to burst out laughing as he went from move to move, laughing his handsome head off.

Even Ricky, usually appearing very macho by refusing to dance, got up and shook his lean hips a little, he couldn’t help himself, hanging around with Sebastian and Electra’s friends had loosened him up considerably, he felt he could relax more than he could with the trust fund babies who he usually hung around with.

The only two people who weren’t having fun were Ryan and Electra. Hidden from the group by the rooms partition, their voices blocked by the extra loud music, no one knew what was going on.

“Just tell me what’s wrong Ryan, please. All I want to do is help!” Electra said, her sympathy breaking a little as she became more and more annoyed at his guarded nature.

“Leave it Electra!” He shouted back, resisting the urge to strike her, his mother had done it to him growing up and it had always worked, but he had vowed never to hit a woman.

“Oh for god sake!” Electra screamed back, finally losing her temper, “its all Maud’s fault! Why can’t you just check her into a clinic or something?! If you’re worried about the money I can pay for it! She needs help!”

“You’re so fucking selfish! She’s my mother and I’m gonna be there for her, we don’t need your charity!”

“Ryan, please!” She shouted back, becoming more frustrated by the second. Was Arielle right when she said the money would drive them apart? All she wanted to do was help!

“JUST LEAVE IT! Don’t ask me to chose between you and my mother because guess what – you’ll lose!”

“I – I wasn’t…” Electra muttered, shocked at how angry he was getting. What was it about his damn mother?!

“I’m out of here, I’ll be out searching for my mother – enjoy your damn party!” He shouted back, beginning to storm out of the loft.

“Ryan…” She reached out her hand, hoping he would just turn around and take it, but he didn’t. He stormed out of the loft, slamming the door behind him. Feeling utterly selfish and guilty Electra sloped off to her bedroom, she felt like it was all her fault, if she could have just kept sucking it up everything would have been okay, she knew all about bad relationships from Olive, she should have been an expert at having one of her own.

A few minutes after Ryan had stormed out of the apartment Ricky noticed Electra’s absence. He had seen her stood with Ryan earlier, although he couldn’t hear anything they were saying over the music. Sauntering towards the dining area, a little tipsy, he started shouting her name, ready to get her to join in.

“Eee-leeeect-raaa?!” He said with a grin as he walked around, illogically checking if she was hiding under the table or behind plants – he was drunker than he thought.

“Where is she hiding?” He mumbled to himself with a laugh as he made his way into her bedroom. Taking a quick look around he was about to leave when he heard a muffled sob from the closet. Taking a closer look he saw the huddled figure of Electra, she had pulled the privacy curtain across and was sobbing into her arms. Suddenly he felt completely sober.

“Electra… are you okay?” He asked, keeping beyond the curtain.

After a few minutes of her sobbing he decided something had to be done.

“I’m coming in, okay?” Hearing no response from her he took it as a yes, and entered the closet. With a groan he eased his aching limbs onto the ground next to her, polo season took it out of him. Then he began to talk. He just spoke about what he knew – polo. He told her of the glamorous girls who tried to bag him in Palm Beach, of playing with the Prince of Wales in England, and how difficult it was sometimes – he refused to take his billionaire fathers money, insisting on paying for everything for himself, which made it extremely difficult, but made him feel a thousand times prouder.

Very slowly, after talking to her for an hour or so, Electra came around. Looking up into Ricky’s eyes she smiled – a weak smile, but a smile nonetheless – she was so grateful, he had been so nice to her.

“It’ll be okay.” Ricky said with a slightly stronger smile. He didn’t let on that he had never wanted to kiss someone so much, she was so radiantly beautiful, even in her vulnerability.

“Thanks for staying with me, you didn’t have to.” Electra said, wiping away the smudged mascara on her face as they both hauled themselves up off the floor. Looking into Ricky’s eyes after almost stumbling on the way up she felt she was safe, he was so nice.

They embraced in a totally natural hug, both feeling as if it was right, and as they pulled away Electra didn’t back off, and neither did he. She closed her eyes and moved in to kiss him, he was just showing too much kindness for her not too. Watching the tantalizingly full lips moving towards him Ricky had to exert every ounce of self control to pull away. He wanted her more than he had ever wanted a woman, and despite his thoughts about playing dirty to beat Marc to her he just couldn’t do it like this – if it was going to happen he wanted it to be real.

“Electra, I can’t, not like this. You’re upset, I don’t want you to do anything you might regret.” He was churning inside, how was this possible?! It was as if he was falling in love with her, they hardly knew each other!

“What the hell’s going on here?!” they both jumped at the sound of Marc’s voice. He was framed in the doorway, seething.

“Marc! Don’t be upset!” Electra said quickly, she knew that he liked her and couldn’t bring herself to hurt someone else.

“Save it! You knew that I liked you, or haven’t I made myself clear?! And you get with him?! Well you can forget about it, and you can forget about the stupid band too!” With that he turned on the heel of his brown leather boots and stormed out of the room.

“Please, go after him!” Electra begged Ricky, who quickly complied, running after Marc. Alone in the closet again Electra slid to the floor once more, the sobs that Ricky had worked so hard to subside coming back worse than ever. She had drove Ryan away, Ricky didn’t want her, and now Marc hated her. It had been the worst party she could have possibly imagined.

*      *      *

So – how are you enjoying this generation?! I’m loving writing it, I’m so glad you guys voted in Electra. Who would you like to see Electra end up with? As you can see she’s pretty conflicted at the moment.

– Marissa x

Generation 3 – Chapter 9

“So nice to meet you.” I said as I shook the strangers hand. We had been in China for a few days, and this was the fourth party Dimitri had taken me to. It was nice to be introduced to his friends, but I was being thrust around the room being introduced to everyone and anyone, and it was getting old.

“You too. Dimitri didn’t lie when he spoke of your beauty.” He looked at me lewdly, staring at my cleavage. Thank god I had a thin layer of chiffon covering it or he may have had a coronary. “Ah and here comes my beautiful wife. Alexia, come here sweetie.” He gestured to the buxom blonde who had been approaching us from behind.

“Hi.” She said lazily as she joined our conversation, not seeming to be interested.

“I um- love your dress.” I lied as I gave her a once over, how slutty did she need to dress? This was meant to be an elegant event.

“Henry bought it for me. Shows off my assets.” She grabbed a drink from a passing waiter, quickly downing it and throwing the glass over the terrace. What was she doing?! How embarrassing. “I didn’t know people still wore black. Are you in mourning?” Her face showed no emotion as she spoke, her ghostly eyes seeming to stare right through me. I noticed a scattering of white power on her nose and was reminded of Miami and Reena, definitely a coke addict.

“I was going for classic.” I said laughing and leaning back in exaggerated joy. “I should go and mingle, so nice to meet you both.” These people were so dull, but I had to be friendly with them if I ever hoped to get along in Dimitri’s world. Well, I suppose it was now my world too, it had been ever since I’d been with Max.

“Oh thank god you got away from them.” A very pretty oriental woman said, gently grabbing my arm as I crossed the room and looking across the room to Alexia with a mocking in her eyes.

“I’m Niya by the way.”

“I’m Olive, nice to meet you. I love your outfit.” I admired the classic Chinese robe, clearly a designer version with the exquisite stitching and the wonderful pattern.

“Well it’s not my usual choice, I’d probably be in something closer to your outfit. Chanel?” I smiled and nodded my confirmation as she admired my dress. “Have you seen Alexia’s dress? You know she’s 20 years younger than her husbands daughter? What a pig. They deserve each other”

“I noticed a little white power on her nose! I don’t remember seeing coke whore on the runway at Bryant Park this season.” I laughed, pointing to Alexia.

“Tell me about it!” Niya tried to stifle her laughter as we looked over at Alexia, her ample assets threatening to burst free from the barely-there dress. “Last week she came in a leather mini and a luminous pink crop top, please!” We both laughed at Alexia, in the back of my mind I felt a little bad, but she was doing it to herself.

“Now who is that decidedly attractive man talking to my husband?” Niya asked as she looked across the room to where Dimtri was engrossed in a conversation with a man who was evidently Niya’s husband.

“Well that’s who I’m here with. I suppose he’s my ‘boyfriend’, god I feel 17 again.” I’d never actually had a teenage boyfriend, those years were plagued with bulimia, alcoholism, and partying in Miami, but she didn’t know that.

“Good catch! Although boyfriend is such an unbecoming term for women like us, you should nail him down in marriage.”

“Well to tell you the truth I’ve only recently escaped from a marriage, going for another may be pushing it.” I hadn’t even thought about marrying Dimitri, but we had only been seeing each other for a few months… but husband sounded much better than boyfriend.

“Nothing wrong with that. Alan’s my fourth. At least I can pawn the rings to pay the divorce lawyer.” She joked with a loud, expressive laugh that made people turn around and stare.

“I should go say hello to him. We should have lunch some time, here, take my card.” I fished a card out of the discreet pocket of my dress and gave it to her. Dimitri had made them for me, saying it would be useful for the people I’d meet at all the parties he had been taking me to. Crossing the room to Dimitri I saw him exchange a goodbye with his friend as he saw me coming. He was so good to me, always making time for me.

“Hello beautiful.” He kissed me before I could say anything back, letting everyone know we were definitely together. Niya was right, he was definitely a catch.

*      *      *

I yawned. I stretched. I opened my eyes. Ugh, time to wake up. I loved my bed so much, it felt like I was laid in heaven… wrapped my wonderful duvet covered in a princess pattern. Mama said it was the best money could buy, Marie said it suited me because I was a princess. Hehe.

Mama! She would be back from her date by now, I wished she’d been able to spend more time with us last night but it’s okay, parents have to have lives too. At least she had wanted to do something with us before Dimitri came and picked her up. Stupid Dimitri, I’d have to do something about him if I wanted mama to spend more time with us… the princess dress up hadn’t been the best plan, but I had time to think of another.

Running into the kitchen I flicked the kettle on and started rooting around for mugs, the tray, the book mama had recently been reading, and her newly prescribed glasses, which she was too vain to wear but wore them when no one was around and she had to read or something. Now what? Milk for the tea, yeah.

Arghhh! How did anyone see anything in this fridge? The light was blinding, I could barely see the milk in here! Pouring two cups of Earl Grey, one for her and one for me, I looked over my work. Pretty good, mama would definitely want to spend the day with me now.

I put the tray on the coffee table to cool down and admired the city for a second. It was so beautiful, mama said that we practically owned this city, and I could have whatever I wanted. But what about everyone else?? Oh, the tea, I almost forgot. Bursting into her bedroom I felt bad for a second, what if I’d woken her up? But that soon vanished, and was replaced with a sinking feeling in my stomach.

Why wasn’t she in her bed? It looked like it hadn’t been slept in, I mean I know we had maids that came in every day and cleaned the house but they usually came in really early to do the living area and kitchen, then later in the day to do the bedrooms. Maybe she was in her bathroom. I threw open the door in hope, but no.

I stared out of the window at the beautiful view she had, facing the ocean. I had known she wouldn’t be here, in the back of my mind. I guess that’s goodbye to the tea and a day with her.

“Miss Electra? What are you doing?” Marie asked as she came into the room. At least she was always here for me.

“Where’s mama?” Where could she really have gone, she had to be back later, she was always coming home to get changed after different lunches and parties, she said it was ‘gauche’ to be seen in the same outfit at different events. I guess I needed more clothes then.

“Your um- mother has gone for a little trip, to China.” China?! Why hadn’t she at least said goodbye, I loved her so much and all I wanted was to spend time with her. Marie might as well be my mama. I suppose I better make other plans, mama was obviously not interested.

“Lets go to the park then! We can have lots of fun Marie!”

“Marie!” I said as I moved towards the door, with her lagging behind, “chop chop, when I say you do. Come on!” That’s what mama always said to her, I suppose that’s what I should do to.

*      *      *

“Olive, are you ready?” Dimitri shouted as I strategically placed the magazine where he would definitely see it and applied a final layer of lipstick in the bathroom mirror.

“Oh finally.” He said, hopping up and down on the spot, clearly desperate to relieve himself. Why we only had one bathroom in the suite was beyond me, how common did this hotel think we were? “Oli-ii-ve…?” I heard from the bathroom before the chain flushed. He must have seen the magazine.

“What is it?” I said as I came in from the balcony to see him clutching the magazine in his hand.

“You left this in the bathroom.” He put the bridal issue of Vogue down on the table before he stood staring at me, absently stroking his chin. “Do we need to talk about this?”

“What?” I feigned ignorance, my plan was definitely working. “I was just looking, this is such a good season for bridal couture.”

“Do you want to get married?” He asked, his brow furrowing as he spoke.

“Do you?” I snapped back, the two of us staring at each other across the coffee table uneasily.

“I hadn’t thought about it.”

“Me neither. I have to go and meet Niya for lunch anyway, I’ll see you later. Where are we going tonight?” Adjusting my earrings in the mirror I acted as if I’d forgotten all about the conversation. A woman couldn’t be the one to propose, what a terrible story to tell your friends.

Rushing into the dressing room after lunch I was aware how painfully late I was. The lunch had been such a good one, although Niya was just as rich and glamorous as I was, and had been married to men with even more power, she was fun and knew how to tell a great story, we had chatted for hours before I realised the how late I was. I’d usually take my time regardless of where I was going but Dimitri had text me telling me tonight it was important, so I was determined to be ready.

Throwing my clothes into the dresser I quickly freshened up in the bathroom; having a quick shower; applying a fresh layer of makeup; redoing my hair. Moving back into the dressing room I threw open the drawers and rooted around for a dress. After slipping into the pink silk and tying a row of pearls (a gift from Dimitri) around my neck I was ready. I checked my reflection in the mirror… perfection.

“Ah Olive, you exceed even my high expectations.” Dimitri said as he came into the room straightening his tie.

“You look rather handsome yourself.” The two of us embraced in front of the traditional Chinese windows as the sun set in the distance. I think I really did love him.

“Come, the car’s waiting downstairs. Tonight’s really going to be special.” Well he’d never told me something was going to be ‘special’ before, what could he have planned? Perhaps we were going to a ball, or a party full of important people.

“What the hell?” I asked in shock as I stepped out of the car. Well this wasn’t what I’d been expecting, where was the building, or at least the outdoor party? We were at the highest point in the city, where there was nothing but air. Um… amazing surprise…

“Come on!” He laughed at the confused expression on my face, dragging across the small square of land that made up this ‘viewing area’. “Sit down.” He patted the ground next to him as he settled himself on the damp grass.

“Dimitri…” I laughed, “this is a lovely spot but can’t we take in the view from the car? This is silk.” However much I wished he would just let us sit in the comfort of the limousine he wasn’t taking no for an answer, and I soon had to force myself to sit down next to him.

“Come on Olive, relax.” How could I relax when I was sat on wet grass ruining my dress? I felt Dimitri’s arm linking with mine as we got closer. The dress was ruined, oh well I’d just buy another. The stars were beautiful after all.

“I hope you know that I love you Olive. We’ve only said it to each other once, but I meant it, and I want you to know that.” It was lovely what he was saying, but did he really have to drag me all the way up here just to tell me he loved me?

“I love you too Dimitri.” I wanted to make a big speech like he had, but I didn’t know how to follow from that. I just lapsed into a comfortable silence, occasionally resting my head on his shoulder or giving him a quick kiss.

“And there’s Orion, or The Hunter. And if you look closely you can see Jupiter, just there.” He gestured to a thousand stars that all looked the same. It was still, however, quite romantic.

“Dimitri I have to say…” I leaned in close to him in mock seriousness, “I don’t know anything about the solar system.”

Thankfully he wasn’t offended, choosing instead to laugh. I may have thought this was all very romantic, but it was very serious too, I wanted to lighten the situation. Unfortunately (or not…) Dimitri was about to make it a whole lot more serious.

“Olive, I hadn’t been thinking of marriage until today when I saw that magazine you left in the bathroom and realised how stupid I’d been. It’s so undignified for people to be unmarried, and I don’t wish to spend another day not being married to you. So,” From his position on one knee he pulled a box out, and popping it open revealed an exquisite diamond that sparkled even without the glare of the sun. “Will you marry me?”

“Oh Dimitri, of course I will.” I smiled at him warmly as he slipped the diamond onto my finger. It had actually taken me by surprise, his proposal. I had thought it would have at least taken a little more scheming to get him to propose, maybe I was better at this than I thought.

“You,” I began as I clasped my arms around him; my fiancee, “are a fabulous man. And I cannot wait to be your wife. I love you, Dimitri.” Did I really mean it? I didn’t know; but I wasn’t going to let the opportunity to find out pass me by.
*      *      *
Olive bags herself a new husband 😉 hope you enjoyed the chapter. Two quick questions: What do you think of Olives new hair?
What do you think of the apartment? (from what you’ve seen in the last few chapters)
– Marissa x

Generation 2 – Chapter 11

– Arielle –

“Now you know that you had some irregular cells Arielle… Arielle?” Of course I knew my cells were irregular, it was the results of the next test that I was dreading.

“Yes, yes.” I answered slowly, could she just get a move on?

“Well the samples that we took for your second tests have came back.” Oh God, what was it? I was dying, I had to be, why would she be going so slow with the news. Just tell me! I wanted to scream, this part was worse than the actual results, gosh. “The prognosis is not good Arielle, I’m sorry.” She stroked the back of her neck awkwardly.

“Arielle, I’ve known your family for years, you know I diagnosed your mothers pregnancies, this is hard for me.”

“Hard for you? What about me? Can you please just tell me?!” I was being a total bitch and I knew it, but I just couldn’t help it.

“It’s lymphoma Arielle.” Oh God, cancer. The big C. It happened all the time, but not to me, how could this be happening to me? What about my children? Kitty could probably handle it, she was strong, Tommy would also be strong and silent, but I knew he relied on me, oh and the little ones, and newborn Cora, who was at home with Noah right now. I’d told them I was going to Lily’s, I couldn’t deal with Noah sat at home, worrying.

“Um – How do we proceed.” I could barely get the words out, my throat was so dry.

“Unfortunately it’s spread to other parts of the body, putting it at stage 3.” Couldn’t she have told me that in the same sentence?! Now my chances of survival were even less. At least it wasn’t stage 4. I could hear that she was speaking, but I had no idea what she was actually saying, everything was a blur. I stared downwards in disbelief.

“Arielle! I know it’s hard to take in but you really have to listen. Now there are options, we can go the chemotherapy route, or there is a new experimental treatment that has had good results, although the risks are higher.” This was too much to think about right now, I had just found out that I was dying! What should I do?

“Doctor what do you recommend? I have to survive, I have 5 children I -” She interrupted me just before I started my rant.

“Arielle I can’t tell you what to do, all I can tell you is that the sooner you make a decision the better.”

“Doctor please – I don’t, I – I can’t do this!”

“Arielle as I have said I’ve known your family for years, please don’t ask me to make this decision for you, however much I want to, I can’t.” Her face was set, I knew she wasn’t going to tell me, I’d have to make this decision on my own.

– Tommy –

I swam up and down, keeping everything even, keeping myself at a decent pace. I had a lot to do yet, couldn’t exhaust myself at the first hurdle. If I wanted to make the team I had to be perfect, physical perfection. Coach only accepted the best, which was probably why Austin got on the team. 197… 198…199… I muttered under my breath as I touched the end of the pool and spun around to go back. 200. Phew! I was panting a little, and my muscles were aching from all the hard training I’d been doing, but I had to keep it up, hauling myself out of the pool I stood for a few minutes and stretched my aching muscles.

My gym clothes were tossed on one of the loungers, quickly throwing them on I felt sick, they stunk! I’d forgotten to wash them after my last jog, whatever, they’d do. Mom knew I was going for a jog but she still shouted to me as I ran through the archway onto the front lawn and down the street. The gym wasn’t far, so I took a detour around the town. I had to do at least an hours jogging per day, stamina was one of the most important parts of making the team. I wish I had as much stamina as Austin, damn!

I felt like I needed to take a little break before I hit the weight machines but I couldn’t afford to take a break right now, I had to make the team! If I could make the team then everyone would stop focusing so much on my grades. Kitty had offered to write my English essay, Kitty! She was younger than me and she could write essays better than I could myself. Mom couldn’t find out that I was struggling so much with the academics, it would be the perfect excuse for her to pull me out of school and join Kitty at the private school, I still didn’t know how she’d convinced dad, well Noah, to let her go there.

“Unnghhh!” I clenched my jaw as I exercised my legs, they had to be strong! It was tough work but it would definitely be worth it in the long run.

When I got home I ran straight up to my room, and after a quick shower I threw myself straight into bed, this bunk was so annoying, mom promised me I could get a new one soon though. Sleep was such a welcome release, all day long I never got a break, I was always training or hanging out with my friends or babysitting one of the little ones, I loved being asleep, but it felt like I’d only had this welcome release for 5 minutes before moms voice was ringing in my ear.

“Tommy! Wake up now, you have school! Now Tommy, and take these dirty plates down while you’re at it.” God could she not just shut up for 5 minutes, I needed more sleep! I was about to roll over and go back to sleep when it hit me, today was the tryouts! I had to get a move on.

– Kitty –

“Kitty darling can you come in here?” Dad shouted from his study. What could he want, I hadn’t done anything wrong… had I? I tried to think as I made my way towards him, no, it must be something else.

“Yes daddy?”

“Kitty can you go and get your brother, I have something I want to talk to the both of you about.” He asked, not looking up from his computer. Oh no, this must be bad, he never wanted to speak to both of us together. Maybe he’d found out I’d wrote Tommy’s English essay and he was going to punish us both together, a thousand excuses I could give him ran through my mind as I went and got Tommy from the garden. Playing with that damn football again, just because he made the team he thought he was a superstar or something now, who want would to play with a dirty ball anyway.

“What’s up dad?” I asked as Tommy stood behind me, I could tell he was nervous. I was nervous too, but I didn’t let it show, well I at least tried not to.

“Kid’s me and your mom are going away.”

“What?!” Oops, I didn’t mean to blurt it out! I thought he was about to give us 2 weeks confined to the house and a chores list that would take a month to complete. Clearly we had done nothing wrong (as far as he knew).

“What do you mean Kitty?” He looked at me with a puzzled expression on his face. Quick Kitty, think fast.

“Um- well it’s just that um… you never go away!” That was it. “Yes, you never go away, and it just came as a surprise.”

“Well we’re going away now. You know your mother used to love going away, of course she met Leo on a vacation in France, and I proposed in China. Now we’re going away again.”

“Oh let me guess, Egypt? It seems like people round here only ever go to three places. Why does no one go to bloody Hawaii or something?” I ranted as dad stared at me with a glint of amusement in his eyes.

“No Kitty, just to Sunset Valley, and only for two nights. We just wanted to make sure you kids were okay with being alone for a while, we think you’re ready for that.” I probably was ready, so was Tommy I suppose, Olive was in the same age bracket as us but she was very young, that was clearly why she wasn’t here.

“But dad what about practice? Who’s gonna take me there?” Tommy asked, looking confused.

“Tommy are you missing brain cells or something, I’ll take you. You know I passed my test.” I snapped at him. Sometimes he could be so dumb.

“Kitty be nice to your brother.” He smiled as he said it. “Now that’s all, get out, I have work to do!” We filed out of his office, in relief. Home alone for 2 nights, not bad. I could probably get a lot of reading done in that time, maybe even write a few more articles for the college newspaper… I pondered my options as me and Tommy went upstairs. I was just about to go up to the third floor, where my room was, when Tommy grabbed my arm and dragged me into his room.

“What the hell are you doing?!” I fumed as I nursed my arm.

“Shhh.” I have to make sure no ones here. I stood behind him, bewildered, as he stood by the door and listened intently. What was he doing?

“What? What is it Tommy? What’s so important that you have to drag me in here like that?”

“Lets have a party.” He threw his arms wide as if he had just had the most original and fun idea in the world. A party. Just like that?!

“Ohhh no, no, no, no. Tommy – I’ve seen those shows where the kids are left alone and they have a party. In the toned down ones something goes wrong, the house gets trashed or something, and in the really bad ones, someone dies! We cannot have a party, mom and dad would kill us!”

“Kitty stop being such a geek! Come on it would be so cool, you could invite Rosy for me, I totally want to talk to her.”

“Oh my God you like Rosy, I forgot. Well if you want Rosy then I want you to invite that cute guy… what was his name?”


“No not Austin, the other one… um – Jake!” Jake, ahh he was so cute.

“Yeah, I’ll invite him. Does this mean you’re on board?” I still didn’t know… if mom and dad found out we would be dead! “Come on Kitty it would be so cool, and it would stop people thinking you’re a total geek.” Geek?!

“I’m not a geek Tommy, I just care about school. I don’t hear you complaining when I write your essays!”

“Okay, okay, forget I said anything. Party?!” I looked at him nervously, I was definitely swaying towards it…

“Come oooon Kitty. You know how fun it’ll be!”

“…Yes.” Yes? Had I just said yes? Yes! “Yes, yes! Okay, let’s do it. Party!” I smiled widely at Tommy, I was actually excited now!

– Olive –

“Kitty?” I said as I peeped my head around her doorway.

“Ah!” She screamed, falling onto the floor by her wardrobe. I didn’t mean to make her fall, but I suppose it was kind of funny!

“What the hell is your problem Olive?! Why are you sneaking up on me?” She was livid, I hadn’t even done anything wrong!

“Can I get ready for the party with you? We’re gonna look so great, this is gonna be the best party ever!” I was in my element, ignoring everything she was saying back to me. Gosh I couldn’t wait for the party.

“OLIVE!” I finally stopped talking and stared at her, what?! “You can’t get ready with me. You’re too young!” Too young?!

“I’m not that much younger than you Kitty!” I followed her into her en suite bathroom, sitting myself down on the side of the bath. Wow I wish I had all these things that Kitty had, she made mom buy her every product in the world, she didn’t even go to parties though! “Why do you have all this, people say you’re a geek Kitty.”

“Not after tonight they won’t.” She murmured, checking out her pores in the mirror. I stared at her intently, did she have something special planned?

She walked off to her bedroom, blowing the nails of one hand to dry the nail polish and reading the politics section of The Evening Standard with the other hand. She was so weird. I might as well get ready here, she couldn’t exactly throw me out. I applied a thick layer of mascara and plenty of eye-shadow, I wanted to look older than I actually was. Maybe there would be a cute boy at the party, but I doubted it. The only boy I liked was Austin, Tommy’s best friend. He was soo cute! His grandmother was Korean and hen had these really interesting ethnic eyes, wow!

“Olive what the hell is on your legs?” Kitty asked, averting her eyes from an article on the economic downturn as I paraded out of the bathroom.

“My new tights! They’re soo cool don’t you think?” They were totally cool I loved them! Mom had bought me a whole load of new clothes when I started to grow out of my little blue dresses, these new ones were so much cooler.

“They’re cool if you’re living in 2003 dancing around to an Avril Lavigne song, maybe not so much now.”

“Shut up Kitty, you’re just jealous that I can pull off such an interesting look.” I huffed as I walked up and down the room, breaking in my new flats.

Kitty was trying on so many outfits it was unreal. Clothes were flying across the room, Dolce, Halston, Gucci, Prada, DKNY, Ungaro, jeez how did she have so many?

“When did you get all these?” I asked, picking up a black Marchesa gown that she wore to Lily’s premiere last month.

“I don’t know, I just use moms credit card.” She replied, searching through her cardigans and jackets for the perfect one for tonight. I was definitely borrowing some of these. One of the perks of having a big sister – free clothes!

“Okay, okay, I’m ready. Come.” She dragged me to the huge mirror beside her door and we both stood staring at ourselves. Yep. Definitely ready for tonight.

– Kitty –

“Hey Kitty!” Jake waved to me from across the room. Oh no, he was talking to me, no, no! I was too nervous to talk to him yet. Mom always had a drink when she was nervous so I ran into the kitchen and took a huge swig from the vodka bottle that was always kept in the fridge. Yuck! My throat was burning, but I did feel a little calmer. Okay just breath. Olive and I began dancing together in the den, where the party seemed to be centred. Jake was right behind us, and I kept looking over and smiling, but I didn’t dare speak to him, what was wrong with me?!

“Kitty! Go dance with him, he totally likes you!” Olive whispered, nudging me towards him.

“No, no! Stop!” I whispered in anger, what was she doing?! Oh no, too late. My face turned from a frown to a huge smile as Olive practically threw me on top of him. He was talking to me, asking how I was doing and stuff, but I just couldn’t stop staring at him. He was so cute, even the eyebrow piercing didn’t put me off, it was kind of hot actually.

Oh no. I know he’s cute but really, the dancing? Could he get any more uncool. I didn’t care, the vodka had been found by Kirsty Allaham (the party girl of the school) and she was weaving around the room with a tray full of shots, screaming with joy every time someone downed one, usually followed by a lot of spluttering and choking. I looked up at him, would he just get his arms down? We weren’t down and dirty in the club, we were at a teenage party.

I could feel the vodka going to my head quicker than I anticipated, oh no, I had to stop drinking and I knew it, but I could tell that everyone was changing their opinion of me, Kirsty even came over and said she ‘never realised how cool I was until tonight’. Wow. I mean it’s not like I looked up to her, she was kind of dumb, but she was the most popular girl in school.

– Tommy –

Mindy was cute I suppose. At least I finally got to dance with some girls, I never usually had the time to go to parties. Mom was always pushing me on the sports, I mean it wasn’t her fault, I had made her promise to keep pushing me, and she had agreed. I was glad that she did it, but I still needed a break, and this was the perfect opportunity.

“I heard you made the team!” Mindy shouted over the music.

“Sure did.” I smiled back at her, guys on the team were targets for girls like Mindy. She might not have the cleanest reputation in the town, but at least she was fun and would give me something to do. Oh, there was Austin, he came!

“Excuse me Mindy.” I said, softly touching her arm as I side stepped her and went to see Austin, it had been a few days since I had seen him, we usually hung out everyday.

“Hey man! Cool party!” Austin shouted over the music, giving me a friendly slap on the arm.

We moved through into the kitchen to get a beer, Mindy looked a little peeved that I was leaving her hanging but whatever, Austin was my best buddy!

“You came with Mindy?” He asked as he cracked open the beer with his teeth.

“Yeah I invited her, she’s cute right?”

“Yeah, if you don’t mind having an STI. She’s been around the block and then some man!” Woah, he really didn’t like Mindy.

“Listen it’s not like I’m having sex with her or something!” I could feel myself going red as I said it, he knew I was still a virgin, which was kind of embarrassing.

“I’m just saying you want your first time to be special.” What was this!? I wasn’t going to have sex with her or anything, I didn’t even want to. I might not have even kissed her.

“What is this Aunt Austin’s help line? Leave me alone!”

“Okay, okay. Sorry I mentioned it!”

“I’m just saying you don’t wanna just throw your virginity away!”

“I DON’T EVEN WANT TO HAVE SEX WITH HER!” I shouted at him, luckily the music was too loud for the people through the half open doors of the den to hear, would he just leave it!

“Sorry man, really I am.” Hopefully he’d stop talking about it now. “So do you like anyone else?” He looked at me intently, what was the big interest in my love life, he knew I never had time for stuff like that.

“Me? I dunno, do you?”

“Well yeah actually, there’s something I wanna talk to you about…”

“TOMMY!!!!” Jesus, what was with the screaming?

“I gotta go Austin, talk to you later.” I walked into the den, a lot of the kids had left by now, Kitty was flirting with Jake, I suppose he was a good guy, but I still worried about my little sister, even though she acted twice my age.

Oh. That’s where the screams were coming from, Olive slumped in the front hallway, clearly drunk out of her mind.

“Okay, shh.” I said as I picked her up into my arms and carried her upstairs. “Where are your clothes Olive?” Why was she in her underwear? Good job someone had put a hoodie on her.

“We went swimming…” She mumbled almost incoherently. Good job I was strong or we would have had to dump her on the sofa.

“Tommy I don’t feel good.” Olive groaned as I laid her down on top of the bed. She better be okay by tomorrow, mom and dad were supposed to be home tomorrow, maybe Kitty was right, maybe this was a bad idea.

“Is she dead?” Oliver asked as he stood by me next to the bed, both of us staring down at her as she shielded her eyes from the light.

“No kid she’s not dead” I laughed as I ruffled his hair. “Now get to sleep, you’ve got school in the morning.” That night was a restless one for me, huddled uncomfortably in Olive’s chair in case she woke up and was sick again. It was as if she had cancer or something, I was being so vigilant. God if someone had cancer I don’t know what I’d do, I was worried sick about Olive, and she’d only had a bit too much vodka. The next morning I was roaming around on the upstairs landing, picking up old bottles and other crap from last night when I heard the door open.

“Hello?! We’re home early!” I heard mom shout. Oh God, no! What were they doing back!!

“What the hell has happened here?!” Noah fumed… oh no, they were going to kill us.