Chapter 11. Coming Undone
Lilly and Casey arrived on schedule while Angie was still out with her “Uncle Brandon,” as she affectionately called him. The two were inseparable and I almost gave in and let her spend the summer in Manhattan with him, but all these years as I watched Casey grow up, I thought of Angie, who was only three months younger than her cousin. Lilly and I had wished that our girls could have grown up together, and that didn’t happen. Now they had a chance to bond, and I couldn’t say no to my sister. Rather, it was easier to say no to Brandon than Lilly.
I called Brandon and left messages on his cell phone that he had to return his prodigy before dinner, because her cousin was anxiously awaiting her. Each message went unanswered and I supposed went ignored as the two would make up some excuse when they arrived late for dinner.
Meg was busy working on the details of yet another grant application when the office phone rang and she reached for it. Whoever it was hung up almost immediately as Meg returned it to its cradle, not missing a word that she was typing. The phone rang again, this time a house extension, and once again, the caller hung up. After playing hang-up tag between the two phones, I checked the caller I.D. Unavailable. Yeah, right, I had a suspicion as to who was on the other line.
“But we blocked his number,” argued Megan becoming agitated by the constant phone games.
“I’ll bet he has a new cell phone,” I replied, reaching for the phone as it rang once more.
“Fuck off and never call this number again or the next number I call will be the police,” I exclaimed as the caller hung on.
“Daddy?” asked Angie.
“Oh, Angie, I’m sorry.”
“Is he at it again?”
“Yeah, with a vengeance. When are you coming home?”
“Uncle Brandon wanted me to call and tell you that we have one more client to see, and we’ll be home before dinner. Can he stay and eat with us?”
“Angie, that’s not necessary—” I heard Brandon in the background.
“Of course he can, I’ll tell Anna right away. Tell Uncle Brandon he can ride along in the RV, there’s plenty of room and Lilly could use all the help she could get with two teenage girls.”
“Daddy says you can come with us, Uncle Brandon.”
“And who would mind the gallery? Ask him if he’s going to run the gallery while I’m gone.”
“Give him the phone.”
“I know it’s hard for you to say good-bye to her for the summer, Bran’, but she’ll be back at the end of August. I’m going to need your help pulling some strings down at that art school to get her in it.”
“You’re not serious? You’d let her go to school in Manhattan?”
“Yeah, well, why not? You said she’s got talent.”
“But you’d drive her into Manhattan every day?”
“I could have a car service do that, if you think it’s necessary.”
“You know I still have that extra bedroom.”
“You think about it.”
“I could have her for five days, and you’d get her for the weekend.”
“Custodial arrangements already? Bran’, I’m shocked.”
“I don’t want her going anywhere, Alex. You have to take that unfit mother of hers to court and get sole custody of Angie so we don’t lose her again.”
“Is that an order?”
“Do I have to call Daniel myself?”
The head of my legal department has always fancied Brandon. The two even had a monogamous long distance relationship at one point, but with forty some states separating them from one another, the two finally gave up on being together and muddled in and out of casual relationships as if they could never have each other. “I’m sure Stockton wouldn’t mind a call from you,” I replied.
“Really? Is he still seeing what’s-his-face?”
“How should I know? I got sent home from California by Mommy Megan, remember? I didn’t have time to find out the play-by-play of their last battle. Maybe you should call and help him lick his wounds and get all the dirt for me, eh?”
“You’re incorrigible, Alex Corwynn. We’re here at my last clients’ estate. We’ll be there by dinner.”
I never minded all the time that Angela spent with Brandon; in fact, I really liked it, as he was a good influence on her fashion-wise. While she preferred the baggy grunge look, Angie couldn’t get away with that in Brandon’s presence and styled her hair, put on make-up and some of the acceptable clothing he took her out shopping for on my plastic.
The hour before dinner was the worst time to concentrate in the office. The scents of Anna’s cooking wafted through the hallway, titillating my senses until I couldn’t stand it any longer and just had to investigate. When I entered the kitchen, Anna slammed the phone down again.
“That’s the fifth one in the last ten minutes. At this rate, I’ll never finish dinner,” she said as I lifted a pot lid and found freshly mashed potatoes.
“Easy, Anna, I’ll stay here and answer the phone. What’s for dinner?” I asked, as she handed me a clean spoon from the drawer to scoop a bite of potatoes.
“Even though Meg said no, you’re getting red meat. I’m making a beef roast.”
“Bless you, Anna,” I replied, taking a bite of potatoes, rolling my eyes at the fantastic flavor and wanting at least a bowlful to satisfy my longing for them. I kissed her cheek and handed her the spoon then took a seat at the center aisle’s bar on a stool, near the cordless phone off the extension. Anna reached into the fridge and got me a lager, putting her dishtowel over its neck and unscrewing the lid before handing it to me.
“I’ll be in trouble with Meggy, but I’m sure she’ll let me off with a warning since you’re having company for dinner. Just go easy on the meat, Mr. Corwynn, so she won’t be too peeved.”
“Yeah, the last thing I want is ‘Meggy’ sticking a fork in my hand as I’m reaching for seconds,” I replied before taking a swig of the cold lager.
“She’s not that bad is she?” asked Anna. As she lowered a brow and wrinkled her face further, she dried a pan in the rack. In the distance, I heard the office phone ring.
“She’d like to think she is.”
“It’s all an act.”
All of a sudden, we heard Megan yell into the phone, “Cut it out now!”
“I better go see,” I said, getting up from my perch at the center island bar from the middle of the kitchen with the house phone in one hand and the lager in the other. I took another sip before I entered the office, knowing I might need the added reinforcement that a shot of whiskey would have settled immediately, but I had to settle for the lager. As I turned into doorway, Meg’s face was red and she quickly turned it back to the computer monitor to avoid me.
I set the lager on her desk and walked behind her, and put my hand on her shoulder that was only covered with the thin spaghetti strap that I couldn’t help messing with until she covered it with her tiny hand for a moment.
“I’m sorry,” she sighed. I turned her swivel chair to face me, as I bent down to her level.
“You’ve done nothing wrong, there’s nothing to be sorry for.”
“He’s a fool, thinking he can get away with this. I want you to run in the gym today. Use the treadmill.”
“No, I don’t want to.”
“You don’t want to run? Are you sick?” I teased. I checked her forehead with the back of my hand and made Megan smirk in her attempts to ignore me. I brushed away a tendril that fell from the braid into her face and cupped her chin with my palm, making her look up at me and tell me the truth.
“No, it’s not that, it’s that I don’t want to give into him by running in the gym. He wants to isolate me.”
“I agree. Would you rather Mike or I followed you in the car?”
“Either Mike or I follow you, or you run in the gym.”
Meg turned away from me and put her face in her hands as she rested her head on her arms on her desk. Her whole body shook as she sobbed. I reached for her but she held tight to the desk.
“Come here,” I said, pulling her up from the desk. She clung to me then reached for my hand.
“Can we go into your office?”
“Yeah, sure,” I replied. Between my two fingers, I grasped the neck of the lager bottle from her desk and the house phone in my free hand.
Meg wiped her face with a tissue and led me in past my desk, and I knew what she wanted as I sat down in my leather chair and she climbed onto my lap. I just held her as she set her head on my shoulder and sighed. Over the last month, we’ve had many heart-to-heart talks in this chair. With Megan on my lap, my hand always found a way into her hair, tossing pencils or clips out of it just so that the long tresses would fall down about us.
We had a special relationship, a friendship of sorts, but being almost twelve years older than her, as far as I was concerned I felt like I was a big brother or uncle or father figure in her life. In my opinion, if you asked Meg what her ideal role for me would have been, I knew that she wanted an intimate relationship with me.
How could she not with her sitting here on my lap, touching me, being close and intimate, and confusing the hell out of me? Honestly, I couldn’t deny considering it myself. Meg, unlike Bianca, needed me. I can’t begin to explain how much restraint I had utilized not to tilt her face up to kiss those pouty lips rather than her forehead.
“I’ll take care of the bastard,” I said. My hand caressed her bare thigh exposed in those cute little shorts. Without realizing it, Meg had me considering moving the foundation to California so I could see her in them for more than three months out of a year.
“I know. You always take care of everything. You don’t need this stress with your heart—”
“Leave my heart out of it, Meg. I don’t like what he’s done to you, nor do I like how you’ve done nothing about it.”
“What can I do?”
“Deal with it. I don’t care how, but you better just deal with it already.”
“So you think I ought to go to some therapist or support group or something?”
“Wouldn’t hurt. Besides, I know someone good.”
“She’s a great lady. Her name is Ruby.”
I nodded and wiped a limp tendril from her temple and the tear that fell with it. “Her number is in my Rolodex. Do you want me to call her?”
“Then you’ll call her?”
“I’d rather not.”
“I can’t have you short circuiting because of this asshole. Should I call her or will you?”
“You’ll like her, I promise. She’s down-to-earth and very wise. Her name is Ruby, yet she’s very fond of the color purple.”
“Yeah, and one more thing—”
“Ruby knows when you’re not being honest with her. You can’t muck her about like you do Anna and me. She won’t let you. We let you get away with it now because you’re coping.”
“I don’t muck you about.”
“Yes, you do. What do you call this?” I asked her. With an offended look on her face, Megan rushed to get up, and I held her against me. “Don’t go, it’s fine that you’re here. I didn’t mean to disrupt you.”
Megan relaxed in my arms and put her head back down. I felt a tear drip on my neck as she buried her face there. The last thing I needed was Megan falling apart with my sister here. Lilly may be an anthropologist, but she analyzes everything to death like a psychologist.
“I want to go someplace where he won’t find me. How about we pack up and get in the RV with them?”
“No, I have a label and foundation to run, and you have to work this out with Ruby.”
“But it’s summer,” she whined.
“So? What am I going to do when you turn into a pumpkin in October? When all of a sudden you realize that you can’t handle Davenport, the foundation or anything else in your life? This is non-negotiable, Megan. You will go see Ruby as soon as she can fit you in. Have I made myself clear?”
“Crystal clear,” she whispered. I reclined the chair and held Megan in my arms. It felt nice. She was always taking care of me, and it felt nice to reciprocate. Meg had just fallen asleep when the phone rang again, and I had to hold onto her so she didn’t leap off of my lap in a panic. I picked it up. The line went dead again, and I heard the dial tone.
“He can’t do anything to you via the phone line, hush now. Hush, hush,” I repeated, as the phone rang yet again. Lifting the receiver from its cradle, the caller hung on.
“What is it, Davenport?” I asked, “Tell me, what is it that you want?”
“I want to speak with Megan,” he replied. Megan heard his voice and jumped up from my lap.
“She doesn’t want to speak to you,” I replied. I set the chair up as our eyes met. I tried to keep eye contact with her but she paced the office.
“I must speak with her or this will keep up through the night.”
“What is it you want to tell her so badly?”
“She’s mine, tell her she’s mine and she knows it.”
“Fuck off, Davenport, she is not yours.”
“You can’t keep her from me. One of these days Corwynn, you’re going to let down your guard. I will have her right where I want her, and you won’t be able to do a thing about it.”
“I take it that’s a threat?” I replied. Megan’s arms wrapped about her waist as she stood silently in front of me.
“No, on the contrary, it’s a promise.” With that, Randy ended our conversation with a dial tone.
“What did he say?”
“Just keep calm,” I replied, picking up the receiver, hitting a line and dialing 911.
As I explained the situation to the dispatcher who said she’d send a car out right away, I gave her the name of a detective I knew, and she patched me through to his desk.
Rex, a detective I had worked with on a community board, was out before dinner, taking the statement. I had written it all down, every word of my conversation with Randy and sent Megan down to the gym while I spoke to Rex. After I grabbed each of us a bottle of spring water, Rex and I sat out on the patio to discuss this mess. Rex, a retired Navy colonel, was a cynical skeptic who sported a graying high and tight buzz cut, had a clean shaven face and a bit of a paunch on the front of his gut. A decent man with a K-Mart wardrobe, he wanted to know why we didn’t press charges immediately when the hospital had reported it. I explained that the publicity of the assault and rape was not something I wanted, nor did Megan for that matter. Besides, I thought the bastard would give up and leave her alone. I didn’t expect him to become this obsessive stalker.
Megan brought me the telephone in her workout garb and said it was Margery. I motioned her to sit in one of the table’s matching chairs and watched as she picked at her T-shirt wet with sweat, signaling that she wasn’t presentable enough to sit in our presence. After asking Margery Simms to hold on for a second, I put my hand on the mouthpiece of the receiver.
“Sit, we need to talk.”
“But I’m not done with my run yet.”
“How much more?”
“Another mile, maybe mile and half.”
“Go on, but come right back here when you’re done. Do not go up and hide in the shower, get a water and come out here.”
She nodded and left us while I answered Marjorie’s question. No sooner did I set the phone down when Rex’s interrogation began.
“Tell me about Davenport, and why he hates you so much.”
As I told Rex everything I knew, he smoked a cigarette and picked my brain. About ten minutes later, Megan joined us on the patio as I finished explaining my own confrontations I had with Davenport. She drank down half of the bottle of spring water and sat next to me. Sweat lined the front of her T-shirt and down her spine. Her reddened face beaded with sweat at the brow that she kept daubing with the tips of the towel around her neck. Meg was in the middle of Rex’s interrogation, trying to explain why she was so stupid to park her car in his garage in the first place. When I heard a car pull up in the drive, I left them to talk, hoping it was Brandon and Angie since Casey was anxious to meet her. Anna had answered the door and I heard Brandon’s voice as I crossed through the great room towards the foyer. The trio was on their way to the kitchen for a glass of iced tea when I came upon them.
“Hi Daddy,” said Angie when she saw me. Before I could reply, she hugged me and I smiled as I held her for a minute. Our relationship started out very stressed and for it to progress as much as it did in those months was miraculous as far as I was concerned. A few minutes later as Brandon told me about the fiasco of hanging the last painting, Meg walked through the foyer and up the staircase, wiping her face with the back of her hand.
Rex approached me next with his spiral bound notebook curling in his grip. “She’s beautiful but a mess,” replied Rex. “I’ll say this much, Alex, in order to get anything done with a bastard like that, you got to press charges. The longer you take, the more opportunity you give him to continue to harass her. From the looks of it, I wouldn’t wait much longer. She’s something close to a disaster now as it is.”
“What do you suggest?”
“Go get the restraining order in the morning, first off. If he has a camera in a tree across the street, we can bring him up on charges for that as well, but the next time he sets foot here by physical presence or phone, or anywhere near her, he violates the restraining order.”
“I probably ought to have Mike here around the clock then as well?”
In front of Angela and Brandon, Rex reiterated his earlier argument, “Yes, and I really think you need to send your daughter and company away as soon as possible, for their own safety. We have no idea what he could do to get to you or her.”
“I understand. I’ll talk to Lilly and see what she thinks, but she’s got a serious case of jet lag.”
“What’s going on?” asked Brandon, sensing my concern. Pencil thin Brandon in chinos and a designer button down shirt with the sleeves pushed up, put a fist on his hip, making his gold bracelet fall down his thin tanned wrist to the breadth of his hand. Rex, taking in the sight of the queen before him, chose to excuse himself as I explained the situation. Brandon cocked an eyebrow at the old detective, rolled his brown eyes that matched the highlights in his styled brown hair, which fell in straight layers about his face, framing his square jaw perfectly. Anna brought the pitcher of iced tea to refill glasses as Brandon offered to drive Lilly and the girls up to the Finger Lakes Resort tonight.
Angie had left us to seek out her cousin and we could hear them squeal as we walked through the French doors. We sat at the wrought iron umbrella table that overlooked the hot tub with a waterfall on one side and the large oblong pool on the other.
“Can you handle one of those RV’s?” I asked Brandon as we walked out onto the patio to sit. Brandon squeezed the wedge of lemon on the side of his drink and dropped it into the glass, sipping the freshly brewed tea.
“Well, I’m probably better off than your sleepy sister at this point,” said Brandon, putting a hand through his bangs that drooped into his eyes from the humidity.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I’ll drive them to the resort and get them checked in. I’ll sleep in the RV, then in the morning take a rental car back here.”
“And the gallery?”
“I’ll call Philip and have him take care of things tomorrow.”
“Are you certain?”
“Yes, of course.”
“I owe you one, Bran’.”
“It’s nothing, you gave me the best news today about Angie. I just don’t want anything to happen that could give that unfit mother of hers an opportunity to take her back anytime soon. You need to get permanent custody of her, Alex. She wants you to. Where’s Megan?”
“She was in the gym, then I saw her go upstairs. God only knows where my drama queen is at the moment.”
Brandon excused himself and disappeared to seek out Megan, while I went upstairs to see how the girls were getting on. I found two teenagers in the master bathroom, doing their hair in matching clips. I leaned on the door jamb watching them, trying not to impede their personal space and experience. In the mirror’s reflection, I saw how the pair with their black hair pulled back could have passed for sisters. While they worked on their faces and got acquainted, I left them to find my sister Lily and tell her the news.
Lilly sat in the chaise in her room, her slight form freshly showered and in a cotton caftan, with her notebook computer on her lap and her cell phone in her ear. She waved me to enter, told her husband she’d talk to him later.
With the words “I love you,” she smiled and her dimples, even deeper and more pronounced than my own, dented her cheeks. I sat at the bottom of the chaise and explained the situation to her, hoping she wouldn’t hate me for kicking her out of the house within a half of a day of her arrival.
“I just don’t know what this idiot is going to do, and it would be safest if you and the girls left tonight.”
“But you have security here. Alex, you seem stressed, and I don’t like this with your heart and all. Is this assistant really worth all this aggravation?”
I patted her bare calf. “Lil, I know you’re concerned. Health wise, I’m better now than I’ve been in years because of Megan. She’s a health nut who’s had me on a diet since the heart attack, and truth be told, she is worth the aggravation. Megan manages more for me beyond the foundation, so that I could recover. This whole thing with her ex, it’s insane to say the least, but I have to agree with Rex, I need to send you all tonight. Davenport doesn’t expect anyone to leave. Not only that, but we can be certain then that there is a camera hidden somewhere close, if he calls after the RV leaves tonight.”
“What if he thinks Megan is with us?”
“He’ll call to find out, so I’ll make sure she answers the phone.”
Finally, after much questioning, my sister set aside her laptop and cell phone just to hug her baby brother, and Lilly agreed to go with Brandon and the girls that night.
Now that it became a covert operation, Casey and Angela were even more excited about their adventure. I could hear the two of them giggling in the next suite while they perused Angie’s closet to pack her for the trip, like they were old friends instead of new acquaintances. As I stood in the hallway watching them, Brandon sought me out while Megan hid in her office.
“We need to talk,” he said, placing a hand on his hip as he approached me. His leather loafers resonated against the hardwood floor as I followed him into my master suite at the end of the wing. Because our voices would carry down the staircase with the high ceilings, I shut the door so we could talk in private.
Brandon peered about the suite to see if I had changed anything from the last time he was up here. “She’s cracking up,” said Brandon.
Before I could respond, Brandon left me for my walk-in closet and started checking out my wardrobe. Because I hate to shop and never make the time for it, Brandon did it for me, so I’m used to his perusing my closet whenever he’s around.
“I know.” I stood in the doorway between the walk-in closet and the bedroom.
Brandon examined the tie rack and pulled off one he didn’t recognize, taking it over to put against the dress shirts that hung there. “What do you plan on doing about it?”
“I’m going to call Ruby in the morning.” Brandon stopped and stared me down. The tie now in a hand perched on his hip, he raised his eyebrow as if I was crazy or something. Brandon shook his head as he looked at each shirt, taking one off the rack and putting the tie against each one; examining, sighing and depositing the coat back on the rack. “No, call her now. Contact her service, leave your number and have her call you back tonight. She’s got to be seen tomorrow sometime.”
“Where on earth did you get this and why do you think it goes with anything in this closet?” he finally asked at last out of frustration.
“Mom bought it for me.”
“Fine, I’ll take it with me and find you a shirt that goes with any of these looks. I can’t have you wearing it with any of these, this eggplant, now it’s nice but Alex, really—”
“Take the tie, knock yourself out, Brandon. Does Megan seem scared to you?”
“Yeah, and she’s worried about her job,” he said. Brandon reached for one of my tie keepers that I used when I traveled. He neatly lined it with the tie, and then zipped it shut before tucking it under his arm and examining the rest of the closet.
“Her job? What does that have to do with anything?” I asked. As he went through the dress shirts all pressed and at least three inches apart on the rack, he put a blue and black striped one up against me and gave me a scrutinizing look, then motioned for me to turn around while he held it up to my back.
“She’s afraid you’ll fire her before this whole thing gets ironed out. Don’t wear this until you shed about ten pounds, the stripes are too wide and I don’t like the cut; it will make you look wider than you are,” he said. Brandon took the shirt and hung it on the rack near the back of the closet where he always hung the ‘do not wear’ items.
“Wait, do you mean to tell me she’s afraid I’ll find a reason to get rid of her because of all this? Never! She’s brought this foundation its first million this year. Meg’s not going anywhere. Do I need to tell her that?”
“Yeah, I think so,” answered Brandon now opening the drawers to see the socks and underwear. He took out an undershirt and unfolded it, holding it up to me by the shoulders, at first, then holding it to my chest with the flat of his palm while he examined the length of the hem, shaking his head and checking the tag.
“She’s having flashbacks from the rape. She can’t block out the images any more. Megan needs to start an exercise regime with you as soon as Doc Jamison says you are able. This,” he said poking my gut with his thin manicured finger, “is a problem.”
“So what else can I do about Megan?” I asked. There was no point in trying to talk to Brandon about anything else when my wardrobe was on his mind. Unless it’s important I usually didn’t try, but today I had no choice.
“I don’t know, Alex. You had better keep a close eye on her though. There’s no telling what she could do, especially considering how upset she is.” He found a cashmere sleeveless sweater vest that he bought me that spring with the tags still on it and brought it over to the dress shirt rack, checking out cuffs.
“You don’t think she’s suicidal, do you?”
“I think that Megan is afraid and depressed. I think the flashbacks were spurred by Randy’s constant phone calls and the threat has forced her into anxiety and fear. This sweater, you wear it with the French cuffs, not the button. If it’s warm, then push them up like I showed you. If not, wear with the cufflinks.”
He insisted that I put it on over the shirt I was wearing and I obliged Brandon who led me to stand in front of the three-way mirror fixing the sweater about my waist. “I think I look fat in this sweater,” I said.
“I think it’s very slimming on you with the right trousers. Wear the matching navy chinos with it, the white Lauren shirt, and do as I told you with the cuffs. You wear it with these slacks and it doesn’t look right with these pleats. Put on the flat front chinos and its perfect. Besides, I bought those to be worn together.” He went over and saw that the tags weren’t off the chinos either. Then I got an even more perturbed look out of him.
“Next exhibit this fall, you wear this.”
“She sat on my lap again today.”
“She what?” asked Brandon. He stopped putting the chinos back on the rack and stared me down as if I had something to do with it. When he put the hanger back where it belonged, he purposely made the hanger’s hook clink loudly on the metal rod.
“You heard me. She climbed on my lap and cried on my shoulder,” I replied. Brandon took the sweater off me as if I were a child who couldn’t dress myself. I was so used to Brandon raiding my closet and playing dress-up with me, that I learned long ago just to go along with it. The sooner I let him have his way, the sooner we were out of the closet and he had his laundry list of necessities for my wardrobe.
“In the office,” I replied, watching him fold the sweater and put it back on the shelf.
“Oh God, she’s lost all sense of decorum.”
“I told her she had to see Ruby. There was no other way out of it. I can’t have her cracking up here, Bran’.”
Brandon sighed and left the closet. He crossed the bedroom for my bathroom and opened the medicine cabinet, checking the levels of my moisturizer, cologne and aftershave.
“You haven’t been using your moisturizer, have you?”
“It irritates my eyes. They burn whenever I put it on my face.”
“Must be the scent in it. I’ll get you the unscented. Had I known, I would have gotten it last week when it was on sale. You’re getting low on cologne,” he said, “and I told you it belongs in the closet, not in here. The humidity affects it, Alex.”
I took the bottle of cologne and replaced it in the closet just for him, but tomorrow morning when I’d use it, I’d put it back in the medicine cabinet.
“A lot of this has to do with her dad, you know?” he asked. Brandon sat in the winged back chair and took his Blackberry from the bag he had slung over his shoulder. Like a masculine purse, it was always on him. He made a list with the stylus, crossing his legs as he sat there.
“What’s this got to do with fucking Howard Beal?” I demanded to know. I was tired of Brandon pussyfooting around this subject, it was time for him to share what he knew.
“Meg avoids conflict in her life because of him. The only way she’s going to deal with this is if you force her. She has no desire to do anything about it.”
“Why the hell not? She’s safe here. I’m not going to fire her because she’s got baggage, Brandon. If anything, this is a good time for her to deal with it and learn how to stow it in the above compartment. Look, I’m not a typical boss when it comes to her and really, Meg knows that I like—that I care for her,” correcting my faux pas as Brandon looked up from his cell phone and smiled.
“Don’t get any ideas, Bran’—” I said as the intercom buzzed.
“Yes?” I asked, loudly, figuring it was Anna on the other end.
“Dinner is ready, Mr. Corwynn.”
“Thanks, Anna, we’ll be right down.”
“Like, eh?” asked Brandon. “I’ll bet you the new Armani collection that it’s more than that,” said Brandon. He stowed his cell phone and tie keeper in his “purse” and left the top unzipped since the tie keeper stuck out of it. As he slung it over his shoulder, Brandon left me to get Casey, Lilly and Angie, while I went to fetch Megan.
After knocking and getting no answer on her closed bedroom door, I opened it to find her wrapped in a big towel and standing at the window, staring aimlessly out at the pool below.
“Megan,” I said, from the threshold.
“Don’t hold up dinner for me.”
“You need to eat.”
“I’m not hungry. I’ll be down later.”
“Get dressed,” I said to her, “Lilly and the girls are leaving tonight with Brandon. I need you at dinner.” She still stood there like a statue.
“Meg,” I repeated, walking into her room and shutting the door behind me. I could see the reddening of her skin from where she scalded herself in the shower.
When I touched her arm, it was hot to the touch. Startled, she turned towards me. Embarrassed by her reaction, Meg bit her lip and looked aside.
“Make it go away,” she said. My hand brushed the tear stain from her soft heart-shaped cheek, careful not to topple over the pile of hair wrapped up in a towel on top of her head.
“I’ll do anything you need me to do except avoid it or to let you do likewise. Stop trying to burn your skin off in the shower.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“It does to me. I don’t want you turning your beautiful skin into shoe leather,” I said, stroking her cheek.
“Come now, get dressed,” I said, stroking the round of her shoulder with the other hand, wiping a bit of wet from it, then kissing her forehead and handing her the shorts and shirt she had laid out on the bed. She nodded, and I left her. After waiting outside her door for five minutes, I knocked, and she didn’t answer. When I opened the door and stepped inside, I found her in the bathroom, fully dressed and plaiting her hair with her back to me. Near the end of her braid, she dropped the ponytail holder she had ringed about her thumb. I bent down and picked it up, watching her fingers quickly finish plaiting her hair. She smiled at me as I handed it to her.
“I smell beef.”
“Yes, indeed, Anna made me beef.”
“One portion, that’s it.”
“Okay. Just for tonight, I’m not going to argue with you.”
Meg nodded and I followed her out of her room and down the back stairwell to the kitchen. The others were already in the dining room waiting for us. Meg apologized for delaying dinner, and Brandon sighed as I sat down next to him.
The phone rang continuously through dinner and Megan came unglued, excusing herself before rushing up to her room. Anna followed her upstairs and sat with her while I entertained my guests.
After dinner, we got right to work packing the RV. Anna packed the RV’s fridge and pantry while I loaded it with towels and sheets and the girls stowed their bags. Megan hid in her room and Brandon stayed with her while the rest of us worked. When I entered a couple of hours later, I found Megan on the window seat with Brandon, with only a tissue box between them. Meg moved the box and I sat where it had set a moment before.
“Meg’s realized that her relationship with her Dad has not helped these matters any and that it has only built up her need for chaos in her life.”
“Ah,” I replied, wanting to escape this conversation altogether.
Her wastebasket was filled with used tissues, and as our eyes met, I saw that the whites of her eyes weren’t, they were red. Casey came upstairs with Angie for Brandon.
“We’re ready, Uncle Brandon,” said Angie, coming into the bedroom. Meg looked out the opposite side of the window bay, embarrassed to make eye contact with the girls.
“Are you coming down to say good-bye?” I asked her. She shook her head. Brandon bent over, kissing her on the cheek and squeezed her hand with his own. Angie hugged her next and told her to take care of her dad while she was gone.
“You’ll be all right after you see Ruby, I promise,” said Brandon, hugging Megan.
Within minutes of the RV pulling out of the front gate of the estate, the phone rang as the gate shut. It rang ten times until my eyes met Megan’s as she approached the ringing receiver.
Loud enough to be heard across the room, I clearly heard him say to her, “You’re still mine.” Click.
As Meg rushed upstairs, I replaced the dropped receiver to its handset and gave her some time to collect herself. When I found her in her room, I didn’t know what to expect Not certain what to expect, a panicking Megan rifled through a dresser drawer with one hand, in the other was a CD player that she dropped on the floor and the batteries fell out of the back. The player seemed old, abused, worn, and I would be surprised if it even worked. I bent down and helped her trembling hands reassemble the CD player.
“Was it him?” I asked. She nodded and paced about the room, but at least she wasn’t crying. “What did he say?”
“He said, ‘you’re still mine.’”
I snorted and shook my head. As she opened the CD player lid briefly and shut it again, pressing play and not seeing the CD spin, I watched her flip it over and remove the batteries again, reinsert them with shaking hands.
“Meg, let me,” I said, holding my palm out for the batteries.
She set them in my hand and got up from the floor, pacing the floor and wringing her hands and pacing about the room.
“You’re not his, he can’t hurt you. If I have to have Mike with you all the time, I will. If I have to hire someone for your protection, then so be it, Megan, but you have got to live again. This is misery.” I snapped the lid onto the battery pack and flipped the player over to press play. Before I could open the lid, Meg snatched the CD player from me.
“I told you, you can’t protect me, Alex. He won’t give up.”
“I should have sent you off in the RV with them. He’s watching the house. There’s a camera over there, and I’m going to have someone find and dismantle it. Unless you’re with me or Mike, you’re not leaving the estate, understand?”
“So I’m grounded?” she asked with a giggle, making me laugh.
“I should ground you for disobeying me in the first place, but you’re not Angie, my daughter. You’re Megan, my assistant, who shouldn’t behave as impulsively as a teenager. We got to work on that, Meg. That’s neither good nor safe.”