SEVENTEEN - MEETING THE PARENTS
The night was chilly as dark clouds hang in the sky. Trees swayed in the light breeze that blew around the city and the beautiful gardenias in the compound of the Niles mansion were no exception.
Tonight, the spots that were usually empty had cars occupying them. Anderson’s black Bugatti and Hansen’s white Ferrari stood together with Mary’s SUV and Mr Niles’ limousine.
The family was inside, gathered around the large dining table, having dinner. At the head was Mr Niles, looking thin and pale as ever. To his left was his wife, Mary dazzling in a sparkling white dress and Hansen in a black suit. To the right hand side was, Anderson and Sydney. He also wore a black suit while she dressed in a hot pink, knee length dress.
The room was cosy, but the atmosphere was not. Mr Niles was keeping an eye on his son and his fiancée. Mary, on the other hand looked at the plate in front of her and nowhere else, whereas Anderson and Hansen exchanged glances every now and then. They both sometimes peeked at Sydney who looked anywhere but at them.
“Sydney, what do you do?” Mr Niles decided to end the tight silence that fell between them after they sat down about ten minutes ago.
Bringing her head up from her laps, she glanced at the old man. A pair of sharp blue eyes stared back at her through wrinkled and sunken eyelids. A shiver ran down her spine as she stared at the pale man. His sickly appearance reminded her of when her own father was also this ill. He had lost so much weight that one could count his ribs. A lump built in her throat and she took her time to swallow it.
“Ah...” Her voice was wobbly and she quickly cleared her throat. “I am an actress.”
Mr Niles and Mary’s eyes shot to her, the same time Anderson took her hand from beneath the table and squeezed it. Sydney narrowed her eyes at him and detangled his hand from hers.
“An actress?” Mary asked and she replied proudly.
“I see.” A small smile played on Mary’s lips as she looked between Sydney and Anderson.
“I have not seen your movies in the theater.” Mr Niles mentioned.
“I am not yet a big actress whose movies would be showed in theaters. I star in local TV shows.”
There was a snicker as all heads turned towards Mary who was not trying to hide her laugh. Confusion registered on their faces as they exchanged glances between themselves.
“What’s so funny mother?” Hansen asked.
“Pardon me. I should not have laughed like that, but it is just so hilarious.” Mary continued to laugh and tears slipped out from the corners of her eyes. She reached for the napkin on her lap and wiped them away. “Is it not funny, how a small town actress who is not from the city could just run into the son of a billionaire?” She glanced at Sydney with a bitter look.
“It is called fate, if you don’t know.” Anderson replied with a smirk.
“Is it fate or ambition?” Mary forked a piece of meat into her mouth and chewed, while keeping her eyes on Sydney who sat immobile in her chair.
“It’s good to be ambitious. One will not get what they want if they do not have ambition.” Anderson defended.
“Oh, it is good you mentioned that. This just states that your fiancée is with you for ambitious reasons.”
“She isn’t.” Anderson snapped, clenching the cutlery between his palms.
“Is she not? Just think about it, all of you.” She looked from one face to the other and finally fell on Sydney’s at last. “A worthless, small town actress is engaged to the son of a billionaire. What does this tell you? She is using you to get what she wants, and that is fame and recognition. You are her springboard to bigger TV shows and movie roles.” Mary shook her head and rolled her eyes. Glancing at Anderson, she added. “I would expect this from a lowlife man, but not you. How desperate were you to find a bride that you will say yes to the first gold-digger who comes your way.”
“Mary, that’s enough.” Mr Niles spoke up. “You are disrespecting our guest.”
Sydney’s eyes turned glassy and her head hang low. Underneath the table, Anderson was clutching her hand. She felt everyone’s eyes on her, but she did not dare raise her head.
“Sydney,” Anderson whispered her name, but it did not register in her brain as it had gone numb. Her fingers curled into a ball on her laps and her chest rose and fell rapidly.
“Excuse me.” Her voice was thick with emotion when as spoke. Before anyone could stop her, she rushed out of her chair and ran across the dining room, disappearing in the corridor.
“Mother!” Anderson’s bulged hands, pounded on the table while his yell echoed around the dining room. “What is the matter with you? Can you not spill poison on whoever you lay eyes on?”
“I did not spill poison on anyone. In fact, I spilled the truth. She is a gold-digger.”
“Sydney is not!”
“That’s enough!” Mr Niles raised his voice and silence fell around the table. Moving sunken eyes to his dear wife, he spoke. “You should not have spoken such hurtful words to that woman.”
“My love, I know pretentious women when I see them.”
“I guess you are speaking from experience.” Anderson shot and she averted dark eyes at him. Their gazes locked and they shared the same resentful look.
“Excuse me. I am going to find Sydney.” Hansen’s calm voice filled the hateful atmosphere.
“No, I am going.” Anderson shot out of his chair. Glaring at his mother, he added. “The air in this room just got poisoned and it is suffocating.” He threw his napkin with force and it landed with a soft thud on the table. “We will go ahead, then. You all enjoy your meal and hope you do not die. Father, excuse me.”
Mary gritted her teeth and dug her nails into her napkin as she glared at Anderson’s retreating figure. Mr Niles sighed and picked up his spoon. Their dinner was not supposed to end like this. He had imagined it going smoothly. However, deep down, he knew that they could never sit together as a family without quarreling, especially, Anderson and Mary. Fetching the chicken soup, he sipped the hot liquid until it was empty.
“Honey, did you see how he disrespected me?” Mary complained, eyes bulging and nostrils flaring.
“Yes I did.” He replied.
“So what are you going to do?” She asked.
“Nothing,” he replied and fetched another spoon if chicken soup.
“Nothing!” she gasped, mouth parting. “He disrespected me, his mother! And you are going to do nothing?”
“Honey, but you disrespected his fiancée first.” Mr Niles reminded.
“Ha!” she huffed, folding her arms on her chest. “She is a gold-digger! I was not disrespecting her but showing her true colors to you all.”
“Mother, please stop.” Hansen begged. “Sydney is not a gold-digger.” Sighing, he placed his napkin on the table and rose from the chair.
“Are you also leaving?” Mr Niles asked and he smiled.
“Unfortunately, yes.” Hansen pushed his chair backwards and moved around the table to throw his arms around his father. “I will come back tomorrow.” They separated and he moved over to hold Mary too.
“Take care, okay?” She whispered while rubbing his back affectionately.
“Alright, see you tomorrow. Have a lovely evening. And, the meal was delicious.” Mary smiled from ear to ear and planted a big kiss on Hansen’s cheek. He greeted his parents one last time before heading out of the dining room.
As he moved through the corridor, he wondered if Anderson caught up with Sydney. If he did, then where were they? If they were together, then she probably would be yelling at him right now. Turning into the next corridor, he listened for yells or screams.
Just as he was about to round the corner into another corridor, he heard light sobs. He stopped and moved two steps backs, then stopped in front of the powder room door. Taking the handle, he turned it and it clicked open.
Crouching on the floor was Sydney, with folded knees meeting her chin and arms around her shoulders protectively. Her body shook with the sound of her cries and the sight of her made him feel sorry for her.
“Sydney,” the mention of her name brought her head up. Her eyes bulged in alarm and lips quivered. Quickly, she hid her face in her knees and tried to wipe away the tears.
Hansen fell to his knees. “Sorry for what mother said.” He apologized, head hanging low. “Also, I apologize. I should have told you the truth from the start.”
“Yes, you should have!” Her voice was firm and filled with anger, as if she had not been crying a second ago. Meeting his gaze, she repeated. “You should have.”
“Sydney, please understand me. I really wanted you to be my brother’s bride. You were the only one who fitted the bill. The other girls were money and fame-hungry, gold-diggers.”
“And I wasn’t?” She scoffed. Meeting his gaze, she added. “I was. No, I am 'cause I am here. Your mother is right.”
“No, she isn’t.” He cut in.
“Yes she is. I agreed to do this because I saw possibilities and opportunities in it. I saw the fame that came with being married to a billionaire’s son. I saw opportunities in which I can get movie roles. I saw my career growing in this offer. I saw me achieving my dreams.” Her knees fell to the ground and she leaned the back of her head against the sink, eyes turning glassy again. “I am everything your mother said I am. I am ambitious and a gold-digger.”
Hansen reached for her hand, but she quickly refused it. Sighing, he spoke. “Mother’s words are not true. You are a hardworking young woman who has the best intentions.”
“No, I do not!” A tear rolled down her cheek. “I stated in the document that I want him to find me a job. He should use his connections to linked me up with a famous director and help me become a world famous actress. My intentions are ambitious.” She sniffed and another tear rolled down her face. “I am such an ungrateful person. I demanded so many things in the contract, but Anderson only asked me for one thing. I am using a man who is trying to fulfill his dying father’s wish.”
“No, that’s not true.” A soft voice interrupted them and their heads whipped around in the direction of the door. Standing in the doorway, was Anderson. He stepped inside the room before adding. “I am using you too.”
Sydney’s brows arched in confusion as she wondered how he was using her. Her mind raced with so many questions. Does he have ulterior motive for helping her? For what was he using her? Was it something dangerous?
“I_I don’t understand.” Her voice quivered.
“I am not marrying you to fulfill my father’s dying wish. That was a lie.” Her jaw dropped and he added the kicker. “I am marrying you to acquire my inheritance.”