Tris adjusts the emerald green graduation robe around herself, mildly hating the way her small frame swims in it. But not even her body image issues could deter her good mood right now, because after today, she will be officially done with high school.
Pulling the matching cap over her head, Tris examines herself in the mirror. Underneath her robes she's wearing a Natalie Prior original- a lace, cream colored dress. It is not a new design, in fact, it is a design from her first collection.
Natalie gifted Tris the vintage dress yesterday, and told her daughter that this was the first item she designed that she was fully proud of, and that truly made her believe she could make it in this industry. She'd be honored if her daughter would wear it at her graduation, as a symbol of inspiration for the future.
With her and her mother starting to rebuild their relationship that once was incredibly toxic, Tris decided to accept the gesture. It was very kind after all, and the dress is beautiful, and she can tell that Natalie is really making an effort to change. She truly believes that her mother is attempting to move past her manipulative ways, and to be a good parent, which makes Tris happy.
Giving herself a final once over in the mirror, Tris decides she is satisfied with her appearance, and makes her way downstairs.
"Que linda!" Maria exclaims as Tris descends the staircase.
"Gracias, Maria," she responds, affection rising in her as she opens her arms for a hug. Maria has never been just a housekeeper to her, she has always been family. So naturally, she'll be accompanying Natalie to the graduation as well.
When Tris pulls back from the embrace, she notices tears welling up in Maria's eyes, and can feel a lump forming in her own throat as well. She swallows it down, and sets her hands on Maria's shoulders. "Don't cry. I'm still here for the summer, and I'll visit all the time. And we can FaceTime too!"
"I know… But watching you grow, Beatriz, it all went by so fast. To me, you are always the eight year old girl with the Harry Potter books."
"Well, there are worse ways to be remembered," Tris laughs, as Maria cups her face in her hands and kisses her cheek.
"Group hug?" Caleb asks, approaching them from the kitchen. Tris grins at her brother, who looks handsome as ever in his own graduation robes, and opens up her arm for him to join in the hug.
Caleb towers over both Tris and Maria as he wraps his arms around both of their shoulders. "I can't believe this day is here."
"Yeah, and I can't believe the day that Caleb Prior is being sentimental is here either," Tris teases. Caleb knocks Tris's graduation cap off of her head and ruffles her hair in response. Tris laughs, running to escape him as he chases after her. They haven't behaved like this since they were young children, and Tris feels fortunate that she is growing closer to her brother again.
The both of them writing letters to their father a few weeks ago solidified a new sort of bond between them, one that forms over a mutual loss. For the longest time, both Tris and Caleb were so closed off with their feelings about Andrew, that it took them a while to find that they could be allies in this. They both experienced the same sort of heartbreak, they just needed to be willing to let the other in, and they finally did.
The letter that Tris wrote her father was lengthy, and she faced a lot of internal deliberation about whether to send it or not. In the end, she decided, with Caleb's help, to do so. And she doesn't regret it. Even if he never responds, or it never even reaches him, she'll be glad she tried, and that there is a chance he knows her true feelings. She and Caleb didn't share their letters with one another, they both knew that no matter how close they were becoming again, there are still lines that you don't cross, and personal matters that people may want to keep private.
She hasn't even told Tobias about the letter. It's that big of a secret to her. In a way, she felt embarrassed to have written it. She knows that Tobias would most likely be compassionate and understanding if she had shared her plans with him, but he didn't have to do anything for his mother to reappear in his life. He didn't seek her out at all, she came back of her own volition. Tris was worried that she would look weak and pathetic in Tobias's eyes if she had told him the truth.
"Now, now, children, play nice."
Tris and Caleb both put a halt to their roughhousing, staring at their mother in awe as she strides into the room. Natalie Prior is always the image of perfection, and this occasion is no different. Her blonde hair is tied back in an elegant chignon, and she wears a navy blue oblique dress that Tris recognizes from the Dior collection. Her makeup is done flawlessly, as always, and her toned and tan legs look amazing in her Louboutin pumps. She'll definitely outsell all other moms at this graduation, that's for sure.
Natalie wraps her arms around her children's shoulders. "I am so proud of you both," she declares. Tris wonders how her mother would react if she'd found out about the letters they wrote to Andrew. She and Caleb had been waiting for any indication from their mother that their father would be planning on making an appearance today. His offspring are graduating high school with near perfect grades, and are both on their way to elite colleges. What's the big deal about that? However, Natalie has spoken nothing about Andrew or his whereabouts, and Tris and Caleb daren't ask. And, after imagining different ending scenarios in her head, Tris figures that it's best her mother does not know about the letters. Especially with their relationship improving as steadily as it is.
"Thanks, mom," both siblings reply in unison.
"Now, I'm going to need some pictures," Natalie states.
She spends the next ten minutes setting her children up in perfect position, moving lamps around the foyer for the most optimal lighting, and testing which camera angles would work best, before she actually starts snapping photos.
The whole ordeal takes them half an hour, and that's when Tris checks the clock and sees that they are already late to pick Tobias up, which is going to make them late for the graduation ceremony.
She hurries her mother, Caleb, and Maria out the door then, and they all apologize to Alex for their tardiness as they climb into the Lincoln Town Car.
Tobias is already waiting at the sidewalk when they pull up, and Tris just about swallows her tongue at the sight of him in his black suit. As he slides into the vehicle, she has to physically resist from opening the buttons of his collared shirt, and kissing his neck as a welcome. She would love nothing more than to have her lips on that golden expanse of skin, but her family happens to also be present, so she resolves for a quick peck on the cheek. "Don't you look handsome!"
"And you look beautiful," he compliments her, "Congratulations."
Tris smiles, ducking her head into his shoulder, not even minding the watchful eyes of her mother, Caleb, and Maria, as Tobias politely greets them.
"So," Caleb states as the car rejoins traffic, "Let's go graduate!"
The ceremony went by far quicker than Tris was expecting. Speeches were given, special awards were announced, and then everyone was called up one by one to receive their diplomas. Tris was called before Caleb, and as she shook the headmaster's hand, she turned to her family, giving them a small wave. Even from across the courtyard, she could see pride and love shining through Tobias's eyes. She felt like the only woman in the world when he looked at her like that.
She had waited for Caleb to receive his diploma, and as he walked off stage she tackled him in a giant hug. They had done it. Finally, once every student's name is called, the headmaster summons them all to stand, and toss their caps up into the air. Tris smiles as she makes eye contact with her brother, and once they both retrieve their caps from the ground, she grabs his hand to pull him to join their family.
However, their path is abruptly blocked by a man who is standing still in the center of all of the commotion. When Tris lifts her head to meet his eyes, all of the blood drains from her face, because the orbs she is staring into are identical to her own blue-grey color. She feels Caleb's whole body go still next to her, and that is the only reason she knows that she is not hallucinating.
"Dad?" She asks, sounding quieter than she expected to amongst all of the chaos surrounding them. "What are you doing here?"
Andrew Prior is just the same as he was when he left, minus the bloodshot eyes and whiskey breath, it seems. His grey hair is neatly trimmed, framing his sharp and charming face, and his tall stature is as confident and commanding as it always is. In response to his daughter's question, he pulls out envelopes from the inside of his suit lapel. Tris recognizes her and Caleb's handwriting on them instantly. He got their letters.
Before anyone in the trio can speak a word, they are interrupted by the surprised gasp of Natalie Prior. "Andrew?!" Tobias and Maria stand behind her, looking equally as shocked amidst the whole clamor of happy people who have no idea about the messy family reunion that is occurring within this high school graduation ceremony. "What on earth are you doing here?" Natalie demands, seemingly not caring about how many people could potentially overhear this.
"Caleb and Beatrice both wrote me letters," Andrew states calmly, pushing the two envelopes back into his suit jacket.
"You what?" Tobias and Natalie ask in unison.
Andrew has redirected his attention from Natalie to Tobias, his eyes narrowed as he assesses him. Tris has no doubt that her father is noting the uncanny resemblance between Marcus, Andrew's former business partner, and Tobias. He's probably connecting the dots already.
"We wrote him letters," Caleb responds. "Is that so wrong?"
"How did you even get his address?" Natalie asks.
"I saw it in your office, mom. When I had an opportunity, I snapped a picture of it."
"And you just failed to mention this to me? That you were writing to your father?"
"Yes, we failed to mention it! Because we knew how you'd react, and we didn't even know if he'd received the letters."
Tris has been silent this whole time, letting Caleb do the speaking as she avoids meeting Tobias's gaze.
"And what now, you two? Are you happy? That your father is here, only because you reminded him in your letter that you two were graduating today? Do you think he would have come otherwise? Or even remembered that you two have a graduation to attend?" Natalie asks them. Tris and Caleb don't respond, because the two of them already know the answer.
Andrew has stuffed his hands into his pockets and is looking downward, a contemplative expression drawn on his face. Tris raises her gaze just a bit, to see Tobias giving her a very concerned look. She sighs, feeling awful enough for hiding this from him, and now, not knowing what to do with her father finally here.
Natalie closes her eyes and lets out a large breath through her nose. "Okay, okay," she murmurs, more to herself than anyone else, before opening her eyes again. "There is no way this will all be resolved here. Since you two," she shoots Tris and Caleb an angry glance, "Decided to take matters into your own hands, I suppose your father can come back to the penthouse for this afternoon while we figure things out."
Everybody nods as they begin filing out of the courtyard, hoping that they didn't create a large scene.
"No need to make room for me," Andrew states, "I've got a car waiting. I'll have it go to the penthouse."
Natalie purses her lips, no doubt thinking that the last thing she would have done is offer him a space in the same vehicle as her. Even if Andrew hadn't had other transportation methods arranged, she would have called a new car for him herself if she had to.
They split ways awkwardly, and when they approach their own town car, Tobias speaks up, "I can walk home from here, then."
All four of them, even Caleb, turn to give him a puzzling look. "What are you talking about, Tobias? Of course you're coming back home with us," Natalie states, as if it were plainly obvious.
Tobias looks at Tris. "Are you sure?" He asks her, and only her. Tris nods her head, feeling awful that her keeping this secret from Tobias is why he's even second guessing his role in her life in the first place. Of course she would want him by her side during a time like this, especially after he allowed her to stay with him as he processed the earth shattering return of his own mother.
The whole ride back to the penthouse, everybody is tense. Tobias keeps a comforting arm around Tris as her mind races. Her father has returned. What for? Is he back for good? Does he really want to see them, or is this just a gesture to assuage his guilt over leaving? What will this mean for their family? Will her mother end up going off the rails? Natalie does look like she's about to chew a hole through her lip.
Andrew arrived before them, and he gives them a tight smile which none of them return as they approach the building, and endure an awkward elevator ride up together.
"The place still looks amazing, Natalie," Andrew pathetically tries to compliment once they finally reach their floor.
"No thanks to you, Andrew," she replies airly, curving her lips into a sarcastic smile. Tris and Caleb exchange a side glance. The bickering has already started.
Tris's father shakes his head to himself. "So, Beatrice and Caleb, I've brought you both graduation presents," he tells them.
Tris suppresses a sigh. Of course he's going to butter them up with something shiny and new first. She is curious to see what the gifts are, though. Her mother hasn't given them her present either.
He pulls two new envelopes -not to be confused with Tris and Caleb's letters- from his pants pocket, labelled with their names. Tris hesitantly takes her envelope from her father, meeting his gaze and offering him a weak smile, as Caleb does the same. They both look at each other, and Tris can tell he's thinking what she's thinking; open them at the same time.
After she breaks the seal and reaches in, Tris feels more paper. She pulls whatever it is out, her eyes widening when she reads one of the five tickets that she grabbed. "Brazil?"
"I thought it would be a nice graduation present. An international trip this summer, for you and 4 other friends! And if you'd like to invite any more, I can always book more tickets for you. But really, Beatrice, I've frequented lots of time in Brazil and it's quite lovely. I know you will have a great time this summer."
All Tris can do is stare at her father like a gaping fish.
"And you gave me two tickets to Paris?" Caleb inquires.
"Since I know you are still dating the lovely Ms. Black, I figured it would be a nice getaway for the two of you, son, but again, if there is anyone else you would like to invite- just say the word."
Tris and Caleb exchange another side glance, both of them thinking, what the hell?
"Well, just sit on the idea for a while," Andrew speaks up, after no one has said anything for a few moments. "If you'd like to exchange it for something else, that can also be arranged, of course."
"Um… thanks, dad." Tris says. Her dad reappears after 2 years and gives her a trip to Brazil? All things considered, though, it would be a good getaway opportunity with Tobias… Maybe they could invite Zeke and Shauna, too.
"I'm sure that Susan will love this," Caleb states, his voice uncertain.
"I'm glad, children…" Andrew's face grows a bit more serious. "I really am sorry about the way things happened. I had no idea either of you felt the way you did."
Tris refrains from scoffing at her father's stupidity. Neither she nor Caleb responds to that, and so Maria jumps in quickly with a save. "Mr. Andrew, why don't I cook something for you. Your favorite meal: roast chicken with chanterelles."
Andrew claps his hands together. "Sounds wonderful, Maria. Thank you, and it's great to see you again."
Maria smiles in response and rushes into the kitchen. Tris wants to insist that Maria shouldn't have to be working on a family day, but she also knows that a nice hot meal is the only thing that might diffuse the tension, so she sighs in resignation.
"I suppose I can break out a bottle of Merlot while we wait," Natalie says, shooting her ex husband another withering glare.
"So, dad, why don't we move into the sitting room?" Caleb suggests, guiding Andrew to the couches. Tris stays behind, partially to give her brother some time alone with their father, but also to have a private moment to check in with Tobias. She grabs his hand, tugging him towards her.
"Hey," she whispers.
His eyes search hers for a second before he replies. "Hi."
"Are you upset with me?"
"No, I'm not upset with you, Tris. Besides, that is the last thing you need anyway, your dad showing up unannounced is already enough to take in in one day. I want to be here to support you."
Tris almost melts at his kindness, at his compassion. She pulls him in for a gentle hug. "Thank you," she murmurs. "But you are hurt, right? That I didn't tell you about the letter."
Tobias sighs, pushing back from her and placing his large hands comfortingly on her shoulders. "I understand that there are things you'll want to keep to yourself. Believe me. I'm just sorry if I did anything to make you feel like you couldn't tell me. I want to be there for you unconditionally, Tris. I hope you always know that."
Tris nods her hand solemnly. "I do… I was just… ashamed I suppose. I didn't regret doing it, but I was scared of what you would think of me."
"Nothing like this could ever make me think any less of you, Tris." He wraps his fingers gently around her chin, tilting her head upwards for a brief kiss.
"I love you," she tells him, so glad that she can say it freely, whenever she wants to now, instead of just thinking it.
"And I love you."
"Come on," she links her fingers between his and pulls him into the sitting room. Andrew and Caleb are engaged in quiet conversation, but they both look up when the couple enters. Tris doesn't miss the sharp look that her father gives to their conjoined hands, but she doesn't mind. Andrew doesn't get to feel any particular way about Tobias.
"Dad, you probably have heard of Tobias Eaton, Marcus Eaton's son."
Andrew draws on a faux jovial smile in an instant. "Of course. Tobias. The last time I saw you you were much smaller, but I knew I recognized you. Admittedly I was a bit surprised to find that you've become so close to my daughter. You guys never did cross paths when you were children, did you?"
Tris crosses her legs and leans her head into Tobias's shoulder, relishing the way her father's facial expression tightens. "No, no we didn't. We met recently, at my 18th birthday party. Oh, except you weren't there for that. In fact, you haven't been here for the past two years, nevermind even called me to ask how I was doing, so how did you expect to know that I'm seeing Tobias?"
Andrew opens and closes his mouth a few times, seemingly at a loss for words. Tobias, desperate to save the awkward moment, leans forward with his hand. "It's a pleasure to officially meet you, Andrew."
They shake hands firmly. "Likewise, Tobias. How is your father doing these days? I have been meaning to contact him now that I'm back in town."
The group pauses, and Tris can feel her boyfriend stiffen up next to her. Clearly none of them thought enough about what they would say once the conversation inevitably got to this point. Luckily, Natalie arrives just in time, with a bottle of wine and 5 glasses on a tray.
"Nevermind that, Andrew. We'll discuss Marcus later." She meets Tris and Tobias's gaze, her eyes flashing with meaning, saying I'll take care of it. Lately, Tris has been finding herself feeling more and more thankful for her mother. More than she's used to, at least.
Everyone pours their own glass, and Tris notices that her mother fills hers to the brim. Great. "So," Andrew begins after a brief sip. "USC. Are you excited, Beatrice?"
"I am." Tris answers, taking a deep sip from her glass.
"And Tobias, I'm guessing you'll be staying in the city."
Tris doesn't miss what Andrew is implying, and she has to fight her instinct to throw her wine glass against the wall. Luckily, Tobias maintains grace under pressure. "Yes, sir, I will be. I'm working on an art gallery in the city."
Surprise flashes briefly across Andrew's face, but it vanishes just as quickly. Tris has no doubt he is wondering how Marcus Eaton's son got roped into the art world. "I see. Well, congratulations to you. I suppose everyone will be separated now. I mean, Beatrice isn't even attending Columbia with her brother. And it's both mine and her mother's alma mater."
"A personal choice," Tris grits out, tipping her head back for another sip of wine. "Not everything has to be a fucking legacy."
"Watch your language, Beatrice," her mother snaps.
"Dad, Tris worked really hard to get into USC, and she did it all with no family connections. It's an amazing school. You should be proud of her," Caleb says.
"I am, don't worry. Beatrice, I'm amazed at all you've accomplished. I was just shocked to find out that you skipped out on a phenomenal opportunity like that. But I can see what a poised and intelligent young woman you've grown to be. And Caleb, you will no doubt be flourishing at Columbia, and I know you will make us proud as a biochemistry major."
The flattery clearly works on Caleb, his face stretching out into a shy smile. Tris suppresses an eyeroll.
"So, Andrew, let's get to it. What are you doing back here? Is this a permanent thing, or can we anticipate you jetting off again?" Natalie asks, leaning forward on the couch, her legs crossed.
"Well, that's actually what I wanted to speak with Beatrice and Caleb about. It's up to them, really. I don't want to overstep in their lives, but I want to be around if they need me. Of course, they'll be leaving in a few months, but I'd like to spend some time in the city with them, if they'd like." Andrew flashes his two children a tight smile.
Tris doesn't even know how to contemplate any of this. It's a loaded question. Of course she wants her dad around. She's missed him a lot. But the person she's missed is not the arrogant man sitting in front of her, it's her real father, the one who actually used to parent her, tuck her into bed, ask her about her day, take her to the Pier every weekend to ride the Ferris Wheel. Is that person still in there? And is it even worth it to find out?
"Where would you stay?" Tris asks. "If you moved back to Chicago. I'm assuming you're not moving back into the penthouse… you know… 'cause a nuclear war would probably ensue," she shoots her mother a look.
"There is a house for sale up in Lincoln Park. Very nice, you two would love it. I have my realtor on hand, I say the word, and the property is mine."
Tris's father has already planned to buy a mansion in Chicago. Is it just to be close to her and Caleb again, or does he have some ulterior motive? How can she trust him?
"Dad," Caleb starts, "Why did you leave?"
The question that no one genuinely knows the answer to. Andrew had said he'd just needed a couple of days to blow off steam, next thing they knew, he had left the country. Andrew regards his two children for a few moments with an indiscernible expression. Finally, he opens his mouth to respond, when Maria enters the room.
"The food is ready, Mr. and Mrs. Prior."
Tris releases a shaky breath, somewhat relieved that the intense moment was cut off. She wasn't sure if she was prepared to hear the true answer to that question.
Everyone is silent as they pick at their plates. The food is amazing, it always is, and so far the only words that have been spoken is everyone giving their compliments to Maria.
"Pass the salt, please?" Caleb asks Tris.
Tris hands it towards him, her eyes darting between everyone at the table, wondering who is going to break first.
"Okay. Enough." She was hoping it would be her father. "Beatrice, Caleb, I know… I know how much I hurt you. That part was fairly evident in the letters you two wrote me. Nothing excuses abandonment, I know. I am not going to show up here, and pretend to be an amazing father. Everyone at this table knows what a lousy one I am. My only answer as to why I left is because I thought I was doing more damage being present in your life than I would be doing if I were absent.
"After being gone for a few days, I don't think I was ready to face any of my actions, or how terribly lost I was beginning to feel. I mean, I'd sold my company young, I had no need to ever work again for the rest of my life, my marriage was going down in flames, and I was watching my children grow up, and realizing that I didn't understand them anymore. It doesn't excuse it, it doesn't even justify it. But in my messed up mind, that is why. It had nothing to do with either of you, and everything to do with me, not being prepared to actually be a father to two amazing children that I love and adore so much.
"So I left the country like a coward. Praying, hoping, that your lives would begin to improve without me there. That I left for something, that the days I spent missing the two of you were somehow worth it, because maybe you two would have a real shot at happiness. I know how twisted it all is, I know I'm in the wrong. But I'd like to be here now, if you'll have me."
The room is dead silent after Andrew's monologue. Even Natalie looks shocked. Tris bites back tears from spilling over her eyelids, offering Tobias a watery smile when he reaches for her hand from under the table.
What does anyone say to that? The real answer, they finally have it. In Tris's opinion it's absurd, but so was Evelyn's reason for walking out on Tobias and he still found it within himself to forgive her. At least her father was honest- something he hasn't been with them in a long, long time.
Caleb claps a hand on Tris's shoulder, and Tris feels grateful for these moments, the moments she knows her brother is going to be strong enough for the both of them.
"Um, thank you for being truthful with us, dad. It means a lot."
Tris looks up, making eye contact with her father as well. A tear splashes onto her cheek as she nods in agreement.
"Do you have to go?" Tris whines, pulling Tobias back towards her by his sleeve.
"Unfortunately yes, I do, Tris. I have an early morning tomorrow… and can't be facing… any… distract- fuck," Tobias sighs, not having enough energy to even pretend he's not enjoying Tris unbuttoning his shirt and leaving a trail of kisses down his chest.
He smooths a hand over her blonde hair, and Tris rises, pressing more open mouthed kisses on his neck and jaw. "While you were showering… your dad spoke to me."
Tris pulls back, her eyes wide. "He did? What did he say?"
"Just told me to be careful with you, and that I better not hurt you. I'm pretty sure your mom is filling him in on Marcus right now…"
"He doesn't get to tell you anything like that," Tris remarks, shaking her head. There's a slight smile on her face, though, and that's how Tobias knows that Tris likes that her father is behaving protectively.
"Well, it doesn't matter anyway, because I won't hurt you. I just love you too much for that."
Tris bites her lip before pressing her mouth against his for a quick kiss. "You're the best."
"Yeah, yeah… But for real, I've got to go. And aren't you going out with Caleb and your father?"
After Andrew's emotional speech, dinner carried on quietly. Later, Caleb and Tris both had some individual words with their father, both of them expressing their anguish over his actions, but also letting him know that they aren't opposed to a fresh start with him. Had it not been for Tobias's bravery with his own mother, Tris doesn't think she'd be able to face her father the way she did.
Andrew asked his children if they'd like to get deep dish pizza with him tonight, like they did when they were children, and they both agreed. Natalie didn't seem thrilled about this, but she seems to be putting her own personal opinions about Andrew aside so that the children can make up their own minds about him, which is uncharacteristically mature of her. Tris hurried to get ready after that, and emerged from the shower to find Tobias waiting for her in her room.
"Yes, we are going out tonight… and I'm incredibly nervous, and I want you to be with me."
"Tris, I know you're scared, but I think that this step is something you have to do by yourself. If you really need me, I will go, but I think part of the reason you want me to come is so I'll act as a buffer." When Tris doesn't respond, Tobias knows he's correct. "Your dad has admitted to being wrong, he wants to try again, and Caleb will be with you, too. You just gotta be brave."
Tris sighs, wrapping her arms around Tobias's middle. "Okay. I will be. I'll miss you, though."
He kisses the top of her head. "I'll miss you too. Text me how it goes, okay?"
"I will… Also, Tobias?"
"How do you feel about Brazil for the summer?"
Apologies for the delay. Halloweekend was very intense for me, and I've had lots of school work on top of that. On that note, happy holiday season! I hope you enjoyed this chapter.