Chapter 7. 48 Hours in Hell
If our lives weren’t bad enough, my ex-wife descended upon my house the following day. Janice and I hated each other. Hate is probably not a strong enough word for the chasm that separated us. Loathing would probably have been a more appropriate word. As she entered the foyer, we held a brief stare and said nothing before Anna showed her to her suite. Janice had aged well. I’m certain plastic surgery helped in that department, as no crow’s feet gathered at her eyes. Her hair was perfect without a strand out of place, just like the good old days.
Janice’s lips wrinkled around her cigarette as she put it to her lips for a draught, and I sighed knowing I’d hear nothing but complaints about her cigarettes from Anna and Megan while she was here. When Janice inhaled the drag, I could see the fifteen years of age that had set into her face that plastic surgery could not hide, and smiled knowingly as she gave me an odd look. I shrugged it off and had Anna show her to her suite while I returned to the office rather satisfied.
Without Megan in the office that morning, I made some calls to ACR, handling as much as I could over the phone, postponing the rest since there was no way I’d be leaving her any time this week. After Mrs. Simms and I worked out the schedule, I noticed that it was ten o’clock and I hadn’t heard or seen Megan all morning. I stopped in the kitchen, refilled my coffee, poured her one, and walked up the back staircase. Megan’s bedroom door was cracked open, so I pressed on it after she didn’t respond to my knock. Her bed still unmade, I shut the door behind me, not needing to feed my ex-wife any more information than necessary.
“Meg?” I asked again.
“In here,” she said, from the bathroom.
“Are you decent?”
“I guess,” she replied. As I entered, I saw her in a pair of running shorts as a sports bra exposed the purple welts on her lower back. Her face close to the mirror, Meg was covering the bruises on her face with a concealer stick and foundation. She had half of it done when our eyes met in the mirror’s reflection.
“You should have been a make-up artist,” I said admiring her work.
“Yeah, well, I had to get used to it.”
“You never should have gotten used to it.”
“Yeah, well, I guess it’s too late for that.”
“It’s never too late for it. I brought you a cup of coffee.”
She turned to me and smiled as I handed it to her. “Thanks.”
“How are your stitches?”
“Okay, I guess.”
“Janice just arrived.”
“Do you want me to stay in my room?”
“No, that’s not necessary. If you hurt, I can understand if you want to rest.”
“This is nothing,” she said, turning back.
“Why do I feel as if you’ve been through this before?”
Meg stopped using the eye pencil and glanced up at me in the mirror. “A beating was as daily as a newspaper at my house growing up. You learn to develop a high tolerance for pain.” She sipped the coffee and focused her attention to the mirror, finishing her eye pencil, wincing as the tip pained the sore eye.
“This isn’t happening again. Not with him. Do all guys do this to you?”
Her eyes reflection sought mine in the mirror. “No.”
I turned and left her room altogether. After I took care of Janice and Angela, I had to get to the bottom of this and deal with Megan accordingly.
When Janice descended the stairs an hour later, Anna led her into my office. I offered her a seat and finished the call I was on for the label.
“How’d this happen?” she asked, as I hung up the phone.
“Angie went to his concert in Hartford. She had contacted one of the girls in my Los Angeles office and told them who she was and that she wanted a pair of backstage passes to meet Connor. My girl verified with me that Angie was indeed my daughter and what school she attended, so the passes were sent to her. I had no idea she’d run off from school though. Connor took a liking to her and had her back at the hotel that night, and then she toured with him for the last two months.”
“Lovely,” stated Janice, pulling a cigarette from her sterling silver cigarette box.
“Why didn’t you know your daughter was missing for two months? What’s more, why didn’t the school notify me? Had I known I would have personally marched her back to school.”
“I was on my honeymoon and never checked my voicemail. You weren’t listed as an emergency contact.”
“Or even father for that matter?”
Janice tapped the box with the cigarette, then flipped open the matching lighter and lit it, sucking in the first draught.
“This is nuts,” I sighed and reached for the Waterford Crystal ashtray that I kept paperclips and post-its in since I quit smoking after the last heart attack. I poured them into a pile on my desk blotter, setting the ashtray in front of her on the oak desk.
Janice’s emerald eyes pierced mine just like she did whenever we fought during our marriage. “Don’t you even begin to condemn me for this,” she stated, waving that cigarette about with her hand while she talked.
All these years I hadn’t missed those angry eyes once. Janice brought the cigarette closer to her mouth, her manicured fingers crooked precariously about it, showing off her big ring and slight wrist.
“I won’t have to. You’ll sign her over to me. Clearly, you don’t give a damn about her. You throw her in a boarding school and don’t talk to her for months? What the hell? All the while, you won’t let me be a part of her life, so the girl stays at school during breaks and holidays while you’re off somewhere.”
“Oh yes, Alex, that’s how it is. My daughter hasn’t even spoken to me in six months. I call, but she won’t come to the phone.”
“Why is that?”
“She doesn’t like my new husband, Fernando. You were all Angela ever wanted for a father. So if you want her, fine, but take heed of my warning, you’ll crash and burn up in her expectations when you do something parental. The girl is insolent.”
“She seems like a typical teenager to me.” As Janice filled my office with smoke, I opened the window behind me, hoping it would draw some of the smoke out, but blasted me in the face prior to its exodus. When I stood to avoid it, I stepped to the side of the opened window and leaned on the horizontal wood filing cabinet beside the window, folding my arms in front of me, ready for battle with the dragon queen.
“You’ve had her for what, hours now? I’ve had her for fifteen years.”
“Your daughter turned sixteen three months ago.”
“I knew that.”
“Where the hell were you for her sixteenth birthday?”
“Did you call the school?”
“No. Why bother?”
“It’s your daughter’s birthday and you don’t call? At least I sent her roses,” I exclaimed, getting enraged. My voice bellowed at my ex-wife while her shrill matched my tone. It was like old days all over again.
“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition from you,” she screeched.
“I don’t need to hear that my daughter has been neglected all these years for your other husbands, either,” I argued. I pounded my fist on the desk, rattling the lid on my crystal candy dish as the phone rang, over and again.
“Megan? Oh hell,” I said, and let the voicemail get it. “Damn it, Janice, don’t you leave this office, I’m not done with you yet. I have to find Megan.”
Megan huddled in a chair in the kitchen’s breakfast nook facing the atrium windows of the second back gable of the house with her back to me.
“I’m sorry, Meg,” I said, coming towards her. She put out her hand and didn’t want me to touch her. I wouldn’t be forgiven for raising my voice and upsetting her, at least, not right away. Meg dipped her head down between her knees and her chest to avoid me so I left her to search for Anna.
“Anna,” I called. As I walked through the dining room and into the great room where the staircase segued into the foyer, that separated the den and the offices from the front of the house, I searched for my housekeeper. “Anna, where are you?”
“I’m here, Mr. Corwynn,” she said, from the top of the staircase with a dust cloth in her hand as she dusted the top of the oak banister.
“Meg’s in the kitchen crying. Would you please see to her?” I asked the portly old housekeeper, who reached for the oak railing and slowly stepped down the staircase in her black skirt and blouse with the white apron.
“Certainly, Mr. Corwynn,” she replied, waddling down the steps.
“In her room.”
“I’ll get her. Please, go see Megan.” I passed Anna on the staircase then walked upstairs to Angie’s room and knocked on her door. She was on the floor drawing a portrait of Connor’s photo from his CD cover onto the same sketchpad she had drawn in the jet yesterday.
“Your Mom’s here.” Angela stayed where she was, she did not acknowledge my presence, her face on the sketchpad, her hand still working that pencil. Her black hair, out of the plaits, showed her natural wave. Spread out on the bedroom floor as she worked there, her body’s natural curves were hidden with her baggy jeans and flannel grunge shirt.
“Let’s go. We need to talk.”
“I don’t want to.”
“This is non-negotiable. Let’s go, now.”
She got up and left the tablet on the floor, so I could see how she purposely skewed Connor’s face on the tablet as if it were a reflection of his face in a broken mirror.
“You are quite the artist.”
“I’m all right. She’s pissed at me?” Angie asked on our way down the staircase.
“I think I’m more pissed at her than she is with you.”
I drew Meg’s desk chair into my office and made Angie sit on it near her mother.
“Before we begin, I want two things,” I stated. “First, Angie, kiss your Mom and tell her you’re sorry for running off.”
Angie seared a hole through my face with that stare. Her eyes, while they were dark like mine, gave me the same angry expression her mother did only moments before and made me chuckle as I leaned back in the chair.
“Non-negotiable,” I replied. She obeyed but left a quick peck on her mom’s cheek.
“I’m sorry for running off, Mom.”
Janice said nothing, nor did she look at Angie. She was livid.
“Second, we need to keep our voices down and not yell. My assistant has been through a personal trauma and cannot tolerate the raised voices. She is vital to the foundation and to me, so I need to make certain that her needs are met here too.”
“What happened?” asked Janice, suddenly concerned.
“Her boyfriend raped and beat her after she broke up with him,” filled in Angie.
Janice said nothing, took out a second cigarette and lit it there in my office.
“Angie’s pregnant.” I blurted, breaking the news not at all gently to Janice, who held fast as her eyes expressed that she wanted to scream at me as her first draught seeped from her lips. I heard Megan return to the outer office so I stood to shut my office door, as it was going to get ugly in here within the next few minutes. Meg turned to see me and nodded, then retrieved a file and sat on the futon in her office, opening it and reading it, tucking her legs up underneath her. I shut the door and returned to my leather executive chair behind my desk, taking control of the conversation again.
“I want Angela to have an abortion. She admitted to me that she did drugs while she was with Connor.”
“How could you?” shrilled Janice, making Angela cower in the chair within feet of her own mother.
“After all, I’ve done to teach you--” Janice stood up and shook her hand holding the cigarette at Angela, threatening to hit her.
“Lower your voice, and sit down, now,” I warned.
“I’m not allowed to be upset that my teenage daughter is pregnant, Alex?” she asked, turning to me.
“Just sit down and lower your voice, Janice. That’s all I ask. I have a fragile woman in the next room.”
“I’m not pleased with you, Angela Alexandra. I agree with your father, the abortion must be done.”
“It’s my body and my choice,” Angela defended. “Neither of you loved him like I did. You don’t know what a wonderful person he is.”
Janice groaned and looked to me, her adversary, for aid. We’d have to join forces to make this child see reason on this matter, regardless of the fact that neither of us wanted the other as an ally.
“He’s not totally wonderful, Angie, or he wouldn’t have called me to come get you. He would have brought you to me and decided what to do about the baby, rather than make me the responsible person for it.”
“I know.” Angela’s dejected eyes fell to the lap of her faded baggy jeans that were smeared in paint.
Trying to convince her to agree with me, I further argued, “I already told you what condition the baby would be in because of the drinking and drugging.”
“Sex, drugs and Rock n’ Roll--I guess some things never do change, do they Alex?” asked Janice, usurping my argument altogether. For once, couldn’t she just work with me for the sake of our daughter?
I felt the blood rush to my head as I was quick to defend myself, trying to calm down, but failing miserably as I quickly stated, “What happened between us and this are two separate incidents. I took care of my child, I provided financially for her over the years.” My defense was undermined by Janice, and if I didn’t take charge within the next moment, Angela would win this battle.
“Why didn’t you come to see me?” Angie asked out of the blue.
I didn’t know how to answer her at first; then I decided on the truth. Taking a deep breath, I moved out from behind my desk and to Angela, where I bent down in front of her.
“I gave up. Every time I found you, your Mom would move you again. It wasn’t worth hurting you anymore by uprooting you. You didn’t know me when I did see you, and the only person you knew was your Mom. Per your mother’s wishes, I let you be to live the life you knew. We made a deal of her design. I’d let you be, pay the support and alimony, and she wouldn’t move you again. Trust me, Angie, I knew where you lived, I drove by the house on many occasions and saw you playing in the yard, riding your bike, and roller skating in the driveway, but I knew that if I approached you, she’d uproot you again. My only chance was for you to come to me, so I waited. I didn’t like it, but I waited.”
“But I wanted you for a dad,” she said. A tear welled up in her eye, and visibly infuriated Janice who tried to replace me with many men over the years.
“You can still have me for a Dad,” I said. I reached up and brushed away a tear that dripped down her cheek with my thumb.
“And this baby? Doesn’t it deserve a dad too?”
“That baby deserves two parents who will love and care for it. You’re not ready to be that person, and Connor will refuse to be that person, judging on his actions these last two days.”
“I can’t kill it.”
“You’ll make it suffer if it has birth defects,” I replied. As Janice snuffed out the butt of the cigarette that she smoked in record time, she only lit another. For the next hour, Janice filled up the crystal ashtray on my desk with ashes and butts while I continued trying to talk some sense into our daughter. I returned to my side of the desk and Angela looked at me longingly, wanting me next to her instead of her mother, whose hands still threatened to slap her. Although the smoke was choking us, we both appreciated the cigarettes keeping her mother’s hands busy that hour.
“Your father wants you to live here with him. I have no choice; Fernando has made it perfectly clear that he doesn’t want me to bring you home. You’ve been expelled from school. Besides, I’d have a devil of a time getting you back into another prep school now that you’ve been expelled like a common criminal. How could you do this?”
“I didn’t expect to, Mom. It just happened. Connor does love me.”
Janice and I sighed in unison. There was no getting through to Angela about Connor. She’d have to come to her own conclusions in her own time. Angela excused herself from the conversation and returned Megan’s chair to her desk. When I stepped out to check on Megan, I found Angie sitting with Megan on the futon. Meg hugged the girl, letting her softly sob into her shoulder.
As I disappeared back into my office, Anna came in with a crystal vase full of blood-red roses and set it on Megan’s desk.
“Wow, what gorgeous roses,” said Angie, sitting up as Megan sat there staring at them like a doe in the headlights. When I heard Angie comment on the roses, I rushed out to the outer office and reached for the card that was already in Megan’s hand. Just like the last time he screwed up, Davenport sent her a bouquet of red roses, apologizing for hurting her and begging her forgiveness. Megan stared at the roses, opened the envelope, and read the card before I could intercept that which would convince her to give him another go at her.
Her lip trembling, Megan stared at the bouquet of blood red roses, then dropped the card. Sick of his lame apologies and her dramatics, I reached for the card scrawled in red ink, 'How many will he buy for your casket?'