"My mother is coming," Eleanor says, sounding like some terrible tragedy happened.
"If you need to let her stay here, you know you are welcome to my room while she's here," Justin offers. That wouldn't any change from their current arrangements; she sleeps with him every night.
"Oh, no," Eleanor sighs, visibly relieved, "She's staying at a hotel. But, Justin, when she's in town...She can't know about us. If she comes here, she can't see us together."
"I'm your dirty little secret," Justin assesses the situation. He plays that role in many people's lives, but that's his job. With her, he thought it was different.
"It's not like that," she protests, "She's coming out here because she wants to bring me back with her. If she thought...if she thought...,"
"You don't have to say it, princess. I get it. Just tell me one thing; what am I to you? Is this some college thing you're going to toss aside when you graduate?"
Eleanor presses her head against his shoulder. "Never," she says, "I love you."
Whenever she says that, Justin melts. "Whatever you need from me, I'll do it," he says, burying his face in her hair.
Today is the day her mother arrives. Eleanor drops the toothpaste, her hands too shaky to maintain her grip. "What did this woman do to you to make you so frightened?" Justin asks, concern evident in his voice.
"It's just the way she is," Eleanor sighs, "Just thinking about seeing her make me feel like a child who's about to be punished for some terrible misdeed."
"You aren't a child, Elle," he says taking her hands, "You're stronger than that. You can stand up to her."
"I wish," Eleanor sighs.
"Not good enough," he insists, "Don't let this woman make you a child. Take the upper hand. All her power comes from your weakness; if you stay strong, she'll crumble."
His pep talks always make her feel like she can conquer the world. Before she gets dressed for work, Justin gives her a long kiss goodbye. "Remember," he says, "Stay strong."
Eleanor feels her mother's presence before she sees her enter the gallery.
"This is your job?" Beatrice exclaims in disgust, "Why, you're nothing more than a receptionist."
"I'm actually a lot more than just a receptionist," Eleanor protests, but not strongly enough to be heard.
Beatrice continues her rant as though Eleanor hadn't spoken sat all, "I cannot believe you would choose this menial job over returning to your home for the summer."
"I'm not staying for the job," Eleanor explains, "The job is what allows me to stay."
Mercedes comes out of her office and introduces herself to Beatrice. This ought to be good, Eleanor thinks, pretending to work as she watches the encounter. Mercedes is exactly the kind of nouveau riche pretentiousness her mother so often rants about, and Eleanor expected Beatrice to treat her with open disdain.
But Mercedes can smell the old money on Beatrice and approaches with a sycophantic grovel, stroking Beatrice's ego so that within seconds they are dear and darling each other. It's enough to make Eleanor sick.
Then it's off to the Catriona Club for lunch. "This city is so gauche," Beatrice proclaims while they have their first drink, "Tell me, what is so special about this place that you prefer it over your own home?"
Well, Eleanor thinks, it's thousands of miles away from you. "I just think it's time I became independent, and lived on my own," she says.
"Nonsense," Beatrice says, "You'll be independent when your trust fund matures. Until then, you depend on me and my wealth. Don't you forget that, child."
"Lyle Vanderburg was looking forward to seeing you," Beatrice says over lunch, "He was so disappointed when I told him you intended to stay in L.A. for the summer. You know, child, Lyle won't wait around forever for you."
"Lyle Vanderburg is a womanizing drunkard, just like his father," Eleanor says, making her mother gasp. Her stomach knotted from the tension between them, Eleanor barely touches her plate.
"There are galleries in Boston, you know," Beatrice says as they have another drink, "You could get a place in the city and be 'independent' while still being near home."
"I'm staying here, and that's final," Eleanor says.
"I'll want to meet your friends," Beatrice says, 'I want to see what kind of company you keep out here." Eleanor downs another drink.
"You're tanked," Justin observes as Eleanor sinks down onto his floor, "Tell me you didn't drive like this."
"I'm fine," Eleanor says, her head dropping back against the bed.
"Here, let's get you to bed," he says, lifting her up from the floor and helping her out of her clothes.
Eleanor scheduled a small party so her mother could meet her friends. "Don't worry," Justin assures her, "I'll be somewhere else while she's here."
"No, I want you to be here," Eleanor says.
"I don't think I can do that, Elle. I don't know how to be near you without being with you. If you don't want her to know about us, it's better to just keep me out of sight."
"I need you to be there, Justin," Eleanor insists.
Justin agrees, reluctantly, because he can refuse her nothing.
Justin stands off to the side as the guests start arriving. It's going to be torture, spending the day around Eleanor, pretending they're nothing more than casual acquaintances, neighbors.
Beatrice scopes the yard, picking out the male guests for her attention. It must be a romance that's keeping her daughter here, some gold digger has wormed his way into her heart and holds her here, and Beatrice is going to find out who it is.
Her first target is Rainier Lecocq. Oh, if only, she sighs to herself as the young Belgian compliments her beauty in his flawless French. Beatrice would be happy to see her daughter on this one's arm.
But the arrival of his possessive girlfriend quickly squashes that notion.
"You were flirting with that hag!" Stina accuses when she gets Rainier alone.
"I wasn't flirting, I was just being polite," Rainier says, "And she's not a 'hag', as you say. I've learned a lot from older, experienced women like her."
"Oh, ew, I just threw up in my mouth a little," Stina says.
"That's not very attractive," Rainier answers.
That one, Beatrice thinks, noticing Justin, the way he looks at Eleanor. While she may not have the highest confidence in her daughter's judgment, she's quite sure Eleanor would have better taste than to involve herself with...that. But she'd do well to warn the girl about the obvious predator in her social group.
Justin finds himself facing down a death glare like he hasn't seen since Sister Mary Margaret. Well, he's taken on more ferocious enemies, and he meets her gaze, unflinching, until she finally drops her eyes and backs off.
"Stina, I thought you wanted to be an artist?" Gavin takes a moment to counsel his former girlfriend, "You failed most of your classes!"
"Did I ask for your advice, Daddy?" Stina snarls. She's having a hard enough time explaining her grades to her real parents, she doesn't need to hear it from Gavin, too.
Tori looks on, wondering why Gavin is still so involved with his ex-lover's life.
"I'll be leaving town again in two days," Beatrice informs her daughter, "Let's have lunch tomorrow. We have some things we need to discuss."
Eleanor agrees to the lunch, though she can't imagine there's anything left to say. Probably just more bitching and wheedling, she thinks with a resigned sigh, but at least it will be over soon.
When the guests are finally gone, Justin sweeps Eleanor into his room. "I've wanted to get my hands on you all day," he growls, pressing her up against his dresser, making love to her fiercely, like they'd been separated for days, not just hours.