A Cradle of Wolves

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Chapter Fifteen: The Engagement Party.

“Well aren’t you looking spiffy for your engagement party?” Helen laid on top of Theo’s bed with her phone in hand as she looked at him.

Theo fixed his collar and ran a hand through his coarse, brown hair. His close shaven beard was trimmed perfectly and the fitted suit he wore gave off an aroma of the most exquisite cologne; the horizontal scar on his cheek bone glowed ominously in the sunlight that shone through the bedroom window. “Correction: fake engagement party. You know I’m not going to propose to Jennifer. It’s all for show. My main goal is to destroy her mother’s reputation.”

Helen sat upright, her expression had changed completely. A minute ago, she was nonchalant about the occasion but as the seconds went by, she grew worried. What if he really does propose to her to further punish his enemies, she thought with anxiety. “How are you going to come about in destroying her mother’s reputation? I don’t think you’ve been clear on that little detail.”

“My personal assistant isn’t a technological whiz for no reason.” Theo smiled deviously. The night before, Theo was on the phone with Tobias checking if everything was ready for the big day. Tobias insisted that everything was set in place: the diary pages had been scanned and the security tapes had been edited to fit in a two-minute video. All that was missing was a Plan B just in case if things went awry. Theo was already determined to make his plan succeed. He didn’t need a Plan B.

Helen wasn’t convinced, however. She looked down, avoiding Theo’s gaze, and slightly jutted her lower lip. She was uncertain of the future.

Theo sat himself on the bed, caringly taking her hands in his. “Hey look at me.” She deliberately looked at him. “I’m coming back, ok?”

“As a free man and not engaged?”

Theo nodded with a smile. “Of course—after all I’m all yours for the taking.”

Helen blushed. He hadn’t formally confessed his love for her, but Helen was content with just that…for now.

Benjamin knocked at the door and came in looking rather nervous when he received the invitation to enter. Small beads of sweat glistened on his forehead and his golden hair shined even more as his rosy cheeks were bright red.

“Oh sweetheart,” Helen waved Benjamin to come and sit on the bed next to her. “Are you feeling alright?”

“Yea, I’m fine. Why?” asked the oblivious young man. Was he really clueless or was he pretending that he didn’t know what was wrong with him?

“You look stressed,” remarked Helen as she handed Benjamin a handkerchief to wipe the sweat from his brows.

Theo knew Benjamin very well. Therefore, he knew what storm was raging within the young man’s mind. “Are you nervous because you’re going to see Booker in front of many, including his homophobic mother and uncle?”

Benjamin exhaled through his mouth as if a huge weight had been lifted off of him. “Yes! What if Constance sees that I’m checking her son out?”

“So?” Helen had no idea how ridiculously old-fashioned Constance was when it came to social equality. She didn’t know that Constance hated the LGBT community, immigrants, and denied with all her heart that the earth was heating up due to human activity.

“Don’t act awkward around the Edmunds. That would definitely give away the fact that there is chemistry between Booker and you. Act normal like he’s any other guy,” was Theo’s advice.

Benjamin exhaled once more. “Ready to go?”

Theo nodded. “Ready.”

The hall was packed with everyone who had RSVP’d for the event by the time Theo and Benjamin arrived. Immediately, after they crossed the threshold they were separated by Booker and Jennifer. Booker whisked Benjamin away while Jennifer took Theo’s hand, bringing him to the table where she was sitting at. All the meanwhile Theo felt Constance and Julian’s cold, menacing glare from afar. Theo was at the precipice of his many planned victories so all he did was smile back at his enemies.

“This is Theo von Draken.” Jennifer introduced him to all of her friends who sat at the table with her. The group of girls all stood up and shook hands with the young man. They looked like a gang with their matching light blue dresses, heels with their corresponding light pink Prada purses, and blonde hair pulled back into neat buns.

“So, this is the Theo we’ve been hearing about for a month now,” remarked one girl with a pointed edge to her voice.

Jennifer flashed the girl an annoyed expression. “What are you trying to say? Go on and say it. You know we don’t sugar coat things around here.”

The girl set her cup of champagne down with a sigh. “Don’t you think it’s a little too soon for an engagement. Sure, he’s hot and all but an engagement…really?”

Jennifer pursed her lips, but the corners remained curved in a sly smile. “You’re one to talk about too soon. It was only recently that you got knocked up by some guy whose name you don’t even know. I must add that you met this guy at your father’s archery club. For all we know he could have been a janitor!”

The girl was taken aback by Jennifer’s swift response. Her eyes widened and her mouth fell agape in absolute surprise. She exchanged looks with all the other girls at the table, but no one came to her aid. Her face turned red with fury before she burst into tears, leaving the reception hall completely disgraced.

“How did you know she got knocked up?” asked another girl at the table, who almost couldn’t believe what had transpired before her own eyes.

“The bitch tells her servant everything and her servant is friends with one of my servants so obviously the word got around,” Jennifer replied nonchalantly as if she was used to exposing people on a daily basis. She took her glass of champagne and jugged it.

Theo observed Jennifer’s behavior. Her outburst at her friend and her constant drinking were signs that she was nervous. Theo noticed with satisfaction that she had no clear plan against him. If she failed today, she would fail her family forever. Theo was taken from his musing when he felt a hand press on his shoulder, beckoning him to turn.

“Mr. Clearwater,” said Theo with a smile as he shook the man’s hand. He walked away from Jennifer and her clique with Mr. Clearwater at his side.

“Theo von Draken. It’s a pleasure to finally see you once again. The last time I saw you…” Mr. Clearwater was about to recall the moment when Theo was humiliated but doing such a thing would expose him as being Hunter—a fact which Mr. Clearwater thought Jennifer was oblivious to and didn’t want to get involved in. When it came to Jennifer and Booker, Mr. Clearwater heard nothing and saw nothing. Therefore, he proceeded in bringing up a rather recent and glorious moment. “Your performance was undoubtedly amazing. I’m surprised you ultimately chose philanthropy over performing arts for a career.”

Theo rejoined with a half-hearted shrug. “I just go with the flow.” Theo couldn’t prolong his plan any longer, so he excused himself from Mr. Clearwater and took Jennifer to the front of the reception hall towards a rose-trimmed dais that stood above everyone by four feet. The girl gleamed with fabricated joy as everyone’s smiling eyes were fixed on the two of them.

All the noise in the hall had ceased. Everyone sat back down at their tables while the hired quartet stopped playing. Constance and Julian sat next to one another, gazing at the spectacle that they were about to behold. Benjamin and Booker came back into the hall, sitting at the table where a lone Ana was at. Meanwhile Mr. Clearwater and Marie Edmunds sat at the table where Julian and Constance were at. Mr. Clearwater had no clue what was going to happen, and a part of Marie Edmunds was clueless as to what might happen. No one had bothered in keeping her up to date and it was for a good reason too. Plus, she knew that whatever Theo was doing was out of vengeance towards Constance and Julian. Marie Edmunds accepted the fact that her two children needed to be punished for all their wrongs.

Theo got down on one knee, holding a small black velvet box in his hand. This was the cue for what he had planned to finally come to fruition. Alas, nothing happened besides Jennifer gazing downward at him, expecting him to pull back the lid of the velvet box. Theo’s heart began to beat faster in his chest as he realized that he was failing. Whatever happens, happens. With that in mind he pulled the top of the box to reveal a shining engagement ring.

“Ha!” scoffed Jennifer. She slapped the box out of his hand while her eyes flashed disdainfully at him. Everyone in the reception hall gasped aloud. “You think I was going to accept a ring from you? Much less a fake one at that, you fraud!”

Theo got on his two feet and shot the girl an equally loathsome look.

“I know who you are Theo von Draken. Behold everyone! This man you see is the same servant who stole my grandmother’s pearl necklace a little over a year ago at my mom’s holiday party. His real name is Hunter. You want to know where he really came from? He came from the slums. He’s more animal than man!” continued the hateful girl.

“Yes, you are right! I do come from the slums and I am not ashamed of my upbringing. But I did not steal your grandmother’s pearls. I was set up!” countered Theo. What happened with my plan? Theo had stolen a diary and Tobias stole security footage for no reason because instead of the Edmunds suffering it was he who was internally anguishing from failure.

“Lies!” shouted Constance from her table. “I’ll have you cuffed up and sent to jail this instance for being the fraud you are!” Just as she hit the first dial on her phone, everyone’s phone went off in unison. All the guests including the Edmunds and Mr. Clearwater received a message with a video attached.

First the video played.

Constance sat back down when she saw that the video was a compilation of security footage of her and Julian planning Theo’s downfall at the estate. Theo had proven his point in front of all that he was indeed set up. The reception hall was flooded with the voices from the security footage that was playing from every phone. All the guests turned in their chairs to glower at both Constance and Julian. After the video came the scanned diary pages where Constance wrote in full detail how she ruined Cristina’s life. The scanned diary pages were the final straw. Everyone rose from their seats and hastily made their exit, cursing Constance and Julian on their way out. They couldn’t stand being in the same room and breathing the same air with people as vile as Constance and Julian Edmunds.

Even Mr. Clearwater had enough. He felt terribly stupid for not listening to Cristina the other day about his wife being conniving. He shook his head at Constance and left her with her brother at the table after leaving with Marie Edmunds. The only ones who were left in the reception hall were the Edmunds, save for Marie Edmunds, and Benjamin.

Theo was left alone to face his enraged enemies.

“You’ve ruined our reputation,” began Constance. She clapped slowly and mockingly as she approached the top of the steps where Theo and Jennifer were at. Jennifer was on her knees, defeated. “I commend you, but you will pay for this!”

Cristina walked into the reception hall with Tobias just as the last guest left. “You’re not going to do anything.”

Julian laughed aloud. “I knew it! You and Theo have been in this together all along!”

Cristina rolled her eyes and shrugged at Julian. “Of course. You and your sister have wronged me and Theo. It was a matter of time before we struck back.”

“I would hit you but I’m a proper gentleman,” sneered Julian.

“I take that as a threat and clearly you haven’t seen the damage we’ve done to you and Constance. Do you really want to piss me off even further?” Cristina threatened back.

Constance grasped Jennifer by her arm, pulling her up. “Enough bickering. We have other things to do than to waste precious energy being around trash.” Constance tried not show her fear and anxiety from the repercussions that would eventually come from such a blow that Theo had delivered. “Our reputation is on thin ice. After we fix that you’ll wish you were never born,” she flashed her two enemies a loathsome glance before walking down the steps with her family following behind.

The reception hall had been emptied completely. All that was left were empty tables and an ominous silence.

“What took so long for the mass text to be sent?” Theo immediately inquired. He thought in the moment of it all that he was doomed.

“I think what we needed was for a call or a text to be sent within the hall for our mass text to invade everyone’s phones,” answered Tobias. He walked up to the cake at the banquet table, taking a slice. “Hmmm, I’m thinking about packing some of this food to take home.”

“There’s already enough food at home. It’s not like we’re starving,” retorted Cristina with a small laugh.

“Yea, but this is free food.”

Theo picked up the fake engagement ring as he laughed to himself. Before arriving at the reception hall, he stopped at a gas station. There were three machines, each with various things to get if you would only put in fifty cents. One machine had small alien figurines, the other had gangster figurines, and the last one had fake engagement rings. Luckily for him he got the best-looking fake engagement ring that shined as if it were a true one.

“I can’t believe we’ve come this far,” Cristina began to say as she wandered around the empty reception hall.

Theo looked up at Cristina and nodded with a sincere pressed-lipped smile before he spoke. “I decided to help you and that’s exactly what I’m doing.”

Out of nowhere Cristina took Theo into her arms, hugging him. It came as a surprise to Theo that she had done such a thing. Theo hesitantly hugged her back but when he heard that she was crying he gently pushed her back. “Are you okay?” He was concerned for the woman who could be his mom or couldn’t be. Either way, he couldn’t help but to feel empathetic towards her. Why was she crying?

“Yes, I’m alright. I’m just so proud of you.” She wiped her tears with a handkerchief and smiled while her eyes were still brimming with tears.

“Because I destroyed the reputation of our enemies?”

“Not only that,” she was about to continue on, but she realized that if she did, she would talk endlessly so she cut to the chase. “If I do find out that you are my son, I would be the proudest mother of all.”

Theo glanced at her thoughtfully.

“Not only because you did what you did but because…”

“It’s okay to admit that if it wasn’t for this success, I wouldn’t be anything to you.” Theo saw Benjamin waiting for him at the front door of the reception hall. He was about to leave to join his friend, but he was stopped by Cristina. She had grasped his arm, impeding him from leaving.

“Well it’s that and something else. Over the past few months I’ve grown close to you. I’ve begun imagining you as my oldest son because when he was little, I expected him to grow up to be a successful young man such as yourself. You’re handsome, educated, and your life is set. You are everything that I imagined my child to be. What I said to you other day…was a mistake. Just being at that tenement really clouded my judgement.” explained Cristina. This time she had no tears in her eyes as she spoke firmly and genuinely.

Theo saw in Cristina’s eyes that she truly regretted being stubborn over the possibility that he could be her son. “Would you have imagined your son to grow up in a tenement where he had to look out for himself most of the time? Where he was surrounded by nothing but misery and poverty?”

Cristina shook her head. “Of course not, but what can I do? Life happened, but if you were to be my son then I would want to make things right. I’m sorry for ever giving you reason to doubt me, I really do.”

Theo grabbed an untouched cup of champagne from one of the trays that were left by the servers and drank from it. Afterwards he handed the empty cup to Cristina. “There’s a DNA sample. Take it so we can finally prove whether I’m your son or not.”

Cristina took the cup, holding it close to her as she watched Theo leave the reception hall with Benjamin. She was so close in finding out whether her first child was alive or not. Her concern now was finding out what happened to her second child, Felix. For that she had to go to the Old Willow orphanage and ask the Mother Superior. She didn’t care if she had to pay a hefty amount to buy information from the holy woman—Cristina would do anything to reunite her family. As Cristina left the reception hall, she wondered how Constance and Julian were holding up now that their wicked deeds were known by the multitude.

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