Author's note: I owe Daysfan a HUGE debt of gratitude for helping me with this, for helping me come up with character names and for being an idea bouncer. This is an original series Soap Opera of my invention, with a lot of help from Daysfan. So... if you're reading this, I hope you like it.
Melissa Howel, a 19-year-old girl with brown hair, was nervous, and she made no effort to conceal that fact. She swallowed, wiping away a thin bead of sweat that had formed along her forehead, brushing her bangs as she did so. It was Christmas morning, and her family was waiting for her downstairs, and she could hear her father calling her name.
"Melissa!" came his deep voice. "Breakfast is ready."
"I'm coming!" Melissa called out over her shoulder, and leaned over her table again, looking into a small mirror perched on top of a lovely jewelry box, which had been given to her years ago by her mother's best friend. She ran her brush through her hair again, then hurriedly set it down on the table. "It'll have to do," she said to herself, then left the room, and hurried downstairs.
She went into the kitchen, where her family was already seated and eating breakfast. Her brother, Steve, was eating a bowl of cereal, as usual, but he was also in the process of devouring a small slice of ham. As she took her seat at the table, which was large enough only for four, (and was perfect for her family) she saw that everyone had a slice of ham, alongside their usual breakfast dishes. Her dad had an egg sandwich, and her mother was eating french toast. She then looked at the dishes served at her own sitting spot, as she sank down into her chair. A toasted cheese sandwich, just as she liked it, plus a small slice of ham.
The family ate in silence for the most part, as they usually did. They didn't say grace, nor did they do much more than make small talk. Although there was a gentle excitement in the air, since it was Christmas day. But even as Melissa ate her breakfast, her mind wasn't on her family, or on the food, or even on the pile of presents under the tree. Her mind was on something else.
Finally, when breakfast was over, Melissa put her dishes in the sink, then joined her family as they gathered around the tree, ready to enjoy their Christmas morning, and exchange of gifts. Melissa sat down in the rocking chair next to the tree, and her mother and brother sat down on the couch, while her father stood next to the tree. He picked up a present, examined it as if looking for the mail address on a shipping package, then handed it to Melissa's brother. "This is from your mother and I," he said with a smile, and Steve proceeded to rip it open. Her father then picked up another package, which he handed to her. "And this is to you, from your mother and I," he said warmly.
And so the rest of the morning went, opening gifts, until there was a small pile of items around Melissa's feet, including a couple of computer games, a new set of pajamas, a couple of movies she'd been dying to see, and a couple of figurines. She was overall pleased with the gifts she had recieved, and saw that her family was pleased with their gifts as well. She also noticed that the garbage was nearly overflowing with wrapping paper.
Melissa carried her unwrapped presents into her room and deposited them on her bed, where she would sort them out and enjoy them properly later. Then she returned to the living room, helped her mother in writing the standard yearly thankyou notes, which were, to Melissa, nothing more than a yearly ritual that acknowledged to everyone who had sent gifts that the gifts had been well-recieved and were well liked. Once that was accomplished, she stood up, grabbed her jacket, and headed for the front door.
"Where are you going?" came her father's voice, just as she touched the doorknob.
She looked over her shoulder. "I'm going down the street," she answered. "I'm going to go get a newspaper."
"Ah," her father said, and nodded in an understanding way. He knew that she had written an article for the paper, and was hoping to see it published in today's paper. It was supposed to have been published in the paper two days ago, but the editor wanted her to correct some spelling errors, but if all went well, it should be in today's paper. "Go ahead then," he said cheerfully. "Just hurry back."
Melissa smiled, then fastened her jacket around herself and hurried about the door, blowing out a frosty breath as the chilly wind whipped her in the face. She then quickened her pace, heading down the sidewalk. The sun was shining down brightly, making her skin feel warm, but the frosty breeze was enough to set her teeth on edge.
Overall, there wasn't that much snow, only a few inches. The sidewalk had been shoveled, and the roads were plowed. Cars passed by, and Melissa passed by a few other people on the sidewalk, who seemed to be wishing their neighbors a merry Christmas, or perhaps out to run some sort of errand. "Like I am, sort of," Melissa murmured under her breath, smiling a little.
Finally she made it to the general store, and went inside. A stack of newspapers sat in a pile right next to the entrace, and she picked one up, and looked at it--
And let out a high-pitched squeal that had any passersby who happened to be in earshot stopping to stare at her, startled. She had not only been published--her article was one of the ones on the front page! "I did it!" she whispered, grinning from ear to ear. "I've been published in the paper!"
The passersby went back to their general shopping, apparently deciding that Melissa's squeal was nothing to be concerned about. Melissa, still grinning, bought the newspaper, and then proudly tucked it under her arm to take home to show to her parents. And when they saw it, they were quite impressed.
"Very good article," her dad said, as he finished it and folded up the paper. "And very well written." He smiled.
Melissa beamed. Her family had only just moved to Knights Town just a few weeks ago, almost a month ago. And she had sworn she would get something published, somehow, somewhere, once they had gotten settled in their new home. And now, she had done just that. "I'll write more, I just know it," she said enthusiastically. "And someday, I'll write bigger things... maybe even a book, or something."
Before her dad could reply, he suddenly glanced down at his watch, as though he suddenly remembered something. Then he quickly rose. "We need to get going," he said, "if we're going to make it to the Town Christmas Party that Mr. Lewis is throwing," he said. He rose from the bed, and stretched. "It's a fund-raising drive for the local charities," he added. "And we did say we would be there, so we'd better get ready. Otherwise we'll be late."
The Town Christmas Party was taking place inside an old mansion, where Mr. Lewis's family had lived for generations. Lewis was a very wealthy businessman, and he was not only a very resourceful man, he was also a very powerful man. And his family had had a high influence in Knights Town for many, many years. He was dressed in a tuxedo that almost seemed to shine in the room's light, and his smile was very charming. At first glance, one would think he was probably one of the most charming, compassionate people one had ever met.
"Dad," Melissa said quietly at one point, when her father was pouring them each some punch, "why do you keep looking at him like he's a rat in human skin? I mean, he's put this whole shingdig together to raise money for charities, right?"
Her father cast another glance over his shoulder at Mr. Lewis, then turned back to the task of filling a cup with punch, looking like he had just looked at something vile. "Mr. Lewis does good deeds only to get noticed for these deeds," he said, and handed her a cup of punch, then poured a second for himself. "And it's rumored that his daughters are just like him in that way. Should you ever meet them, be very, very careful."
Melissa frowned slightly, confused, then took a sip from her glass. She then cast another glance at Mr. Lewis, who was mingling with the crowd, and shaking hands, and looked totally delightful to be around. She shook her head slightly. How could anyone possibly have a problem with a man who was obviously so friendly? Especially her own father?
Just then, something caught her eye. It seemed that Mr. Lewis was embracing a pair of young ladies, who were close to Melissa's age. Then he seemed to introduce them to the crowd of onlookers. She could just barely make out his voice, above the general noise of the party-goers, "This is Vivian, my eldest daughter," he announced, indicating the lovely girl with golden-blonde hair, "and this is Daphne, my younger daughter."
Melissa looked over at the girls with interest, trying to make them out through the crowd. They were wearing beautiful gowns, ones that looked almost like prom dresses. And they, like their father, seemed friendly and charming, and had lovely smiles. In fact, they looked very much like princesses. Melissa felt a pang of envy as she watched them. They were instantly popular, just by being who they were, and their beauty only intensified the attention they got from the bystanders.
"Do you envy them?" Her father's voice startled her out of her thoughts, and she realized she had been staring. She blushed slightly, and looked down at her cup... only to realize she had absent-mindedly spilled half of it on the front of her shirt.
"Damn!" she muttered in frustration, and grabbed a nearby napkin, hoping no one would notice. "Good thing I wasn't wearing anything white," she muttered. Everyone knew that stains were very difficult to get out of white clothing.
Her father carefully contained his amusement, but she could still see it there in his eyes, merely a soft twinkle. But his features remained slightly serious. Concerned, even. "You didn't answer my question," he said. "Do you envy them?" He didn't wait for an answer, he merely shook his head and continued. "Actually I know the answer to that. By the way you were staring at them, I know roughly what you were thinking."
He sighed, glanced again at Mr. Lewis, and his very attractive daughters, then turned back to his own daughter. He placed a hand on her shoulder. "You're out of high school now, and need to think of your future," he said slowly. "But remember... there were reasons why we chose to homeschool you. It was so you could be spared of some of the things in this world... that are just plain bad. Peer pressure is one of them. However...." A trace of regret seemed to cross his features as he continued, "perhaps in a way... you really do not know some of the things that can happen among your peers. Melissa, you have a very bright future ahead of you. Just... you need to be careful, and discerning. Remember that."
Melissa listened to his words, but felt a little puzzled by them. She heard him, but she wasn't sure what he meant. And as she looked over at Daphne and Vivian, who were now mingling in the crowd, she felt the pang of envy intensify in her chest. They were so gorgeous, and it seemed like everyone wanted to hear what they had to say, and they felt honored if either of the Lewis girls would just LOOK at them, let alone speak to them directly. And yet, both of the girls seemed to have an air of... what, sophisication, perhaps? It was just something that seemed to set them apart from everyone else at the party. It almost seemed to set them ABOVE everyone else. And whatever it was, Melissa, deep down in her heart, wished she could have it, if only just for a little while. Heck, she even wished she could talk to them, and somehow... be one of them...
Just then, another sound broke into her thoughts--it came from her father, but he wasn't speaking to her, or anyone else. It sounded more like a strangled gasp, and he was clutching his wrist as though he were in pain. Melissa saw her mother's eyes widen with concern, and her mother rushed over to her husband. "Greg, are you alright?" she asked him, concerned.
Her father started to answer, but then he groaned loudly, clutching his chest, and his knees buckled beneath him. "Greg!" her mother cried out, which was almost outshouted by Melissa's cry of "DAD!" By the time she reached her father's side, he was on the floor, barely moving... and seemed to be barely breathing. "Someone, call an ambulance!" came her brother's voice. "NOW!"