“I’ve been all over the place, but recently have been nestled in Bolivia, traveling from village to village until I got your call.”
I hate to admit it myself, but I am actually staring at this man. Me, a woman who has just met this man, and actually called him out on his rudeness and brashness towards Sebastian, is staring at William Harrison as if there are pink hearts over my head and baby angles singing above his. Maybe it has to do with Sebastian’s inability to show a hint of gratitude at my defense for him. That, or the fact that Sebastian is a painful reminder of the bathroom incident. Even so, I listen intently on what William has to say on his endeavors around the world, a conversation started by Fiona herself the moment we sat down, and marvel at the enthusiasm in his voice.
In spite of Patrick and William’s haughtiness against their little brother, the tense air seems to dissipate when we sit for lunch. Of course, Patrick’s glaring eyes followed me all the way to the dining room, with William’s looking more quizzical, as if he was studying me, but even then Fiona managed to spark up the atmosphere at the table and make both of their attitudes melt away.
Including my own.
My elbow planted on the table, I gaze at William while using my hand to support my head, ignoring the chicken on my plate that probably now sits cold . He continues his passionate explanation about clean water and education for all children, and somehow, I start to feel both warm and cold as he speaks—how is it the men that I have met and have become close to so far in my life, besides my father, Garrett and Paul of course, have all been sex-crazed, selfish, closed minded, greedy and unloving? Call me biased, but it’s hard not to be while being exposed to males that have made me question the antics of their mysterious species. However, meeting William has opened my mind. He’s kind, avid, a bit arrogant and egotistic, but his ardency soon makes up for it.
I can tell by glancing over at Sebastian and seeing him roll his eyes as William speaks, that he isn’t convinced that William is a saint to our world at all.
William’s eyes meet mine and he laughs softly, and it takes me a while until I know he’s laughing because he finds my obvious transfixion amusing.
I quickly sit up straight and look down at my plate before picking at the carrots with my fork, being careful they don’t touch the rice or else they will no longer be edible to me.
“That’s wonderful!” Fiona says when he finishes. “I could have sworn you were in Argentina?”
“I was a couple of months before Bolivia.”
“Oh I see. God, I just find that so amazing. Why didn’t you go with him, Sebastian? He told me he tried contacting you but you never responded?”
Even though Fiona is smiling, she reminds me of a mother reprimanding her child in the least most noticeable way possible—a way that only the child would understand is anything but friendly. Sebastian may be an adult, but Fiona is more than happy to influence his decisions and manipulate them into smart ones.
I like her. A lot.
Sebastian sighs, loud enough to let us know he’s annoyed, “I don’t know. Not my thing?”
“Do you have anything that interests you?” She asks.
All Sebastian does is stare at her, like he’s offended.
“Please tell me that is a rhetorical question,” Patrick says, drinking his iced-tea nonchalantly as if he hadn’t said anything.
The awkward air then rises again. To my left, I see Lucas taking a bite of his chicken with wide eyes shifting from one end of the table to the other. As for Sarah, who sits on his left side, she exchanges one look at Sebastian that says “I feel sorry for you” all in her eyes.
After Patrick’s remark, Fiona’s eyes lower into a glare that is directed towards him.
“It wasn’t a rhetorical question. I was actually curious.”
“Hm.” Is all Patrick responds with. He looks like he is going to say more, but the side of Sebastian’s head, right by his eyebrow, catches his attention first. And I know why.
“Sebastian...what happened to your eyebrow?” He asks.
I lower my head.
“Your eyebrow. It looks like you hit it on something,” he points to Sebastian’s temple, “there’s a bump right there.”
Elizabeth and Fiona immediately erupt into a fit of dry laughter, wheezing and crouching over the table with their hands over their mouths. William frowns at his mother and younger sister while Patrick glares at them laughing like they’re idiots. Sebastian, on the other hand, glowers at me when the memory resurfaces in his brain. His irises become a darker shade of green due to him narrowing his eyes at me, and I sink deeper into my chair.
“Am I missing a joke or something? I’m really confused?” William asks.
“Its a long story, man,” Sarah says to him, smiling deviously. “I doubt the people involved would like to discuss it.”
“Why? What happened?” Patrick questions, utterly confused.
“Nothing,” Sebastian snaps. “Like Sarah said, no one wants to discuss it.”
And then it’s silent again.
I fight the urge to get up and scurry away to my guest house where I would be all in my lonesome. Well not all in my lonesome since Loretta is probably still there. But still. It sounds better than being here.
Patrick and Sebastian’s hatred is no longer able to be concealed; it can be seen from miles away, the way Patrick’s stare exudes a shocking amount of animosity in regards to Sebastian’s rude reply. It’s obvious they both were alienated from each other during their younger years, because what I see is a lack of connection, even from them being related.
“So, I haven’t had the chance to learn much about you.”
My thoughts cease.
I look up out of my deep trance and realize Patrick is talking to me. Everyone stares at me and waits for me to answer him.
“I-I’m sorry?” I respond.
“It’s just that I find it rude you work for our father and I haven’t given you the chance to properly introduce yourself.”
“Oh,” I smile halfheartedly. “Well I suppose that’s actually my mistake for being so introverted since we have met.”
“No worries. Please,” he gestures his hand out in front of him while relaxing in his chair. “Tell us about yourself. Where did you attend school?”
The entire table, even two maids who are passing through the dining room, stop whatever they are doing to listen to me.
“I attended Berkeley University in San Francisco.”
I notice Fiona and Elizabeth look at each other, surprised. Sebastian, however, looks at me like I’m bragging or showing off about my educational background.
“Berkeley? Impressive. What major?”
“Business—Communications to be specific. I also took a Public Relations class my second and third year, and minored in Photography all four years, as well; I graduated top of my class.”
Great. Am I babbling, now?
Elizabeth starts clapping after hearing my classes, “You go, girl!”
Sarah scoffs annoyingly, and only Lucas and I hear her. I gulp nervously.
“Have you always wanted to be a publicist?” William asks.
For once, I don’t know how to honestly answer that question.
I’ve been asked countless times about how I decided to become a publicist, in which I lie and say it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. But sitting here, receiving this question makes me rethink my predetermined answer. In truth, I never wanted to be a publicist. I actually wanted to become a photographer. It was a secret dream, a pipe dream of sorts that never left my diary or my Nikon camera. But when my mother found out about my aspiration she scolded me, telling me that photography is a pointless major that will leave me poor and unsuccessful. So, seeing her painstakingly discernible distaste for photography, I majored in something that would make her proud, that would guarantee “more money,” regardless if I wanted to do it or not.
It wasn’t until after my college graduation, however, that my mother decided to inform me that my four years of hard work and tears hadn’t pleased nor satisfied her at all; I majored in business for nothing.
“Y-yes, I’ve always wanted to be a publicist,” I lie. They all nod in approval.
Well, except for Sebastian.
“You know, sometimes I wish I would have gone to college,” Elizabeth confesses, staring out of the window while rubbing her pregnant stomach.
“Hey, only one of us went to college and we all turned out alright,” William tells her, sneaking a glance at Sebastian as if he wants to say “well, not all of us,” “and besides, I doubt college is something for you, Miss Best-Selling-Author and Beauty Guru.”
Elizabeth gives a mocking bow as the table claps for her, which somehow makes me feel uncomfortable given the almost detached reaction to my explanation about my college life.
Patrick turns to Sarah and Lucas, “How about you? Where did you guys go to school?”
“UCLA,” Sarah answers.
“I went to Cal State Long Beach.”
“I majored in Media studies,” Lucas says, his hand raised. “though I wish I would have majored in journalism, like Sarah.”
Sarah nudges Lucas, “Hey, I was supposed to give myself the grand entry.”
Lucas raises his hands in defense while everyone laughs.
“Anyway, I majored in journalism, as Lucas has stated,” she says, glaring at him.
“My boyfriend majored in journalism,” Elizabeth tells Sarah while smiling. “But I could have guessed that without anyone telling me; always a nosy one. No offense, Sarah.”
“None taken,” Sarah nods. “I’ve been known to be a bit of a chismosa. Since I was little.”
Fiona raises one of her eyebrows, confused, “What does chismosa mean?”
“A woman who enjoys to gossip or receive gossip,” I begin to explain to Fiona, despite Sarah’s previous attempt. “It...also means a woman who talks rudely about another person or other people. Well, chismos-a is derived from the word chismos-o, which has the exact same meaning except chismoso describes these attributes belonging to a man.”
When no one says anything, the temperature in my face sky-rockets to a thousand degrees. All everyone does is stare at me, processing what I just said into their brains, but it gives me the impression that not only was my small outburst rude, but a bit pretentious.
And with that, I reluctantly turn my head to Sarah, only to find her staring at me with nothing but hatred and annoyance in her cold, black eyes. I hold my head down shortly after our eyes meet and fumble with my pale fingers.
“Wow, that’s...interesting to know. Thank you, Leslie,” Fiona says. Her response makes me feel like a third grader being commended by a teacher out of pity after a class presentation.
“Yeah,” Sarah faces towards me, which catches my attention. “It’s not like I’m a Latina who’s fluent in Spanish or anything but you know,” she shrugs.
The whole table laughs except for me. Maybe it’s my inability to take a joke, or just the fact that I feel there’s only a few who actually like me sitting at this table, but whatever it is, it causes my face to tingle and sting out of embarrassment and humiliation. Sarah, whose attitude is nothing short of derisive, will obviously be hard to get to in terms of a strong relationship. I thought that getting through to Sebastian would be tough, but with his manager, who is supposed to be on my side, aiding him in the “I don’t need you to fix me, I hate you” stance, this is going to be harder than I thought.
But I’m determined to get Sarah on my good side, if it’s the last thing I do.
I catch up to Sarah after lunch.
Right when Sebastian got up and excused himself from the table, which was really just him getting up and leaving without a word, everyone else started to disperse. The library would be our workstation, and Lucas and Sarah got a head start over there as I took a while longer, checking to see where Sebastian was going first.
“Sarah!” I call out, jogging a bit through the hallway to meet with her.
She doesn’t turn around immediately. It looks as if she sighs when she hears my voice before pivoting towards my direction.
“Wow, you walk pretty fast,” I pant.
“Yeah, well I’m just trying to get to work. Is there something you need?”
I catch my breath for a moment, “Um yeah I just...I just wanted to make sure that we’re on the same page.”
“Same page?” she puts her hands in her slack pockets.
I nod, “I hate to be so forthright, but I feel like you don’t...like me. And I’m not sure exactly what I’ve done to deserve your disfavor.”
Sarah raises her eyebrows at my confession. While she stares, silent, I look out of the window and see Sebastian walking down by the front porch.
“You think I don’t like you?” she finally replies.
“Well...no. Considering we’ve only met today, I’m probably confusing our lack of connection with us not even knowing each other.”
Sarah laughs, “No, no, you’re right.”
“About me not liking you. But there’s a bit of untruth in your assumption.”
“I don’t dislike you. I just dislike what you do, how you speak, like you’re on a pedestal above everyone else, like you’re...better than everyone else.”
“I-I didn’t...I don’t understand?” I stammer, awestruck at her observation.
She takes a step closer to me, “You have this notion that because you’re Mr. Harrison’s publicist you’re better than everyone else. You look at Sebastian with disgust and detest in your eyes but disguise it as a business-friendly approach. You’re stick-straight posture, stone-hard demeanor. I don’t like it. It looks...fake to me. But it isn’t, which makes it worse. So, to answer your question—no, I don’t dislike you. I just dislike the way you carry yourself.”
I stand, dumbfounded at Sarah’s words. I’ve never had someone speak to me in this way. I’m almost one hundred percent positive that people have had similar thoughts about me, but to have someone say this to my face renders me speechless.
“Sarah, I’m sorry you feel this way, but this is the way I am. I don’t know what you want me to do.”
She pouts her lips, “Hm, well I guess you are right. I don’t like you, then.”
I clench my fists at my sides and feel my eyebrows press into a deep frown, “Maybe you’re the one with the problem, Ms. Gonzales, because Lucas doesn’t seem to have the same problem that you have.”
“Because Lucas is immune to bullshit,” she says. “He can’t see it or sense it like I can. From the looks of it, Sebastian seems to have the same assumption that I have. Pretty sure that doesn’t help you with your plan, does it?”
Sarah’s words hit me in a way I wish they hadn’t, the way she speaks to me like I’m nothing but dirt. It brings back painful memories, and I try my hardest to hide my anxiety.
“You know what? You aren’t the first person to not like me. And frankly, I don’t give a shit. But I refuse to have this little immature hatred you have towards me get in the way of why we’re here.”
She chuckles and crosses her arms over her chest, “And this is a threat to me because?”
“Because I can contact Mr. Harrison and inform him of your inability to cooperate efficiently.”
Sarah’s smile fades immediately.
No one speaks. We just stare at each other.
“Tattle-telling?” Sarah finally says after ten seconds of silence. “Is that what you’ve succumbed to?”
“If that’s what it take for you to-”
“I know you’re only doing this because this job is the only thing you have, in your pathetic life,” she hisses.
“One look at my paycheck compared to yours and we’ll see who’s life is actually pathetic.”
I can’t believe I just said that.
I think about apologizing to Sarah, despite her starting the “fallout” with her rude comments, but she storms off into the library before I can say anything, leaving me with adrenaline pumping through my veins.
It leaves my body when I realize what I’ve started.
From the corner of my eye I see Sebastian out of the window. He pulls something out of his mouth and exhales smoke into the air, and my blood boils in my veins.
Is he seriously smoking marijuana?
“That little-” I march off the opposite direction in the hallway until I reach a back door and walk into the scorching-hot Tennessee air. The heat burns my skin, and I remember I didn’t put sunscreen on before I left the guest house. Knowing I’m going to be as red as a tomato soon, thanks to my Scottish blood, I curse under my breath as I approach Sebastian.
“What are you doing?” I set my hands on my hips and tap my foot sternly.
Sebastian groans when he recognizes my voice, “Look, I just wanted to blow some steam. Cool off. What’s the crime in that?”
“Cool off, hm? Smoking weed in 95-degree weather, yes that sounds exactly like cooling off!”
His eyes meet mine, and he does a double take before a smile appears on his face.
“What’s got you all riled up?”
“Wh-what?” My features soften.
“Someone got you mad.”
He laughs, “Figures. Don’t think I didn’t notice that lunch didn’t prove to be in your favor either, Dora The Explorer.”
“Just because I know a little bit of Spanish doesn’t mean I am a know it all!” I yell. “Fiona asked a question and I answered it!”
“She asked Sarah. Not you,” Sebastian starts walking down the trail, and I have to walk faster to keep up with his stride. “Sometimes you just gotta learn how to sit back and just chill. You try too hard.”
“There is no such thing as ‘chill’ for me, in case you haven’t noticed. I’m a busy woman. And right now I’m busy with keeping you in the right limelight. Which reminds me, we need to get back into the air-conditioned library to start our work,” I begin counting off of my fingers, ignoring the rasping in my voice from keeping up with Sebastian. “First I have to get our your apology statements, then we have to schedule interviews, get you invited to a few Galas and parties-”
“I’m gonna stop you right there,” Sebastian says, exhaling smoke again. “You expect me to have the mental capacity at the moment to process all of that in my head?”
“Why wouldn’t you?”
“Because, does it look like I would go to a Gala?”
“No, but I can make you look like you would go to a Gala.”
He chuckles, rolling his eyes, “You can’t make me me into whatever you want me to be like your molding me into your own personalized sculpture with your small, clammy hands.”
Out of instinct, I wipe my hands on my skirt.
“You can’t fix something that isn’t broken. But you know what is broken? That shower curtain set you slipped on half-naked a couple of hours ago-”
I bring my hand up and slap the joint out of his hand. Stunned, Sebastian’s smile is gone, and I keep my face deadpan as I stomp and smother it with my heel until it is one with the earth. I smile with gratitude until Sebastian blows the smoke left over in his mouth in my face, in which I return with smacking him lightly on the cheek; the action only generating a small tap sound.
“Did you just slap me?” He laughs.
“Yes,” my hand twitches until I slap him again. “And I just did it once more.”
“You’re so fucking weird.”
“Oh, gag me.”
“Just say when, sweetheart,” he smirks.
I’m unamused, wondering how anyone can find this man a walking sex-god.
My phone ringing in my pocket interrupts our staring contest. My glare sticks until I finally reach and retrieve my phone; Lucas is calling.
“Hey, Leslie. You aren’t gonna believe this, but Maryville county just called wanting Sebastian to make an appearance at their county fair tomorrow.”
My cheeks hurt from smiling, “You’re serious?”
“As the plague. I put them on hold ’cause they want to speak with you about it before it’s settled. Somehow they found out that Sebastian is in Tennessee. Either way, they sound very enthusiastic about it.”
“Th-thank you so much, Lucas. I’ll be right over,” I say, before hanging up.
“Maryville county’s representatives want to speak with me about you making an appearance at their fair tomorrow,” I respond. My smile doesn’t leave my face as I walk back to the house.
“W-wait, wait, wait a fair? With animals and shit? What happened to Galas?”
“You’re forgetting who you are, Sebastian, we have to start small. Once the press snaps photos of you with the animals and children,” I clap excitedly, “God, we’re on our way!”
“No we’re not. I’m not going.”
“Yes you are,” I laugh, “you have to go.”
“I don’t have to go spend time at a fair in 100-degree heat with Pigs and sticky babies. And I’ll tell Maryville county that myself.”
Sebastian quickens his pace, and I grow nervous.
“What are you doing, Sebastian?”
“What do you think?”
I don’t ask anything else. Instead, I start running.
I hope that my head start will give me a lead, but instead Sebastian breaks into a sprint and speeds ahead of me in a mere second.
“Fuck!” I yell.
I try to run faster, but the mixture of the heat, my heels, and myself being out of shape make a horrible combination. It’s no use—Sebastian is already nearing the house. All hope is lost.
Until I spot a cart.
Without thinking it through, I run to the parked cart and thank God the keys are in the ignition. I start the vehicle and drive as fast as I can up the path, a warm breeze blowing stronger as I press my foot harder on the gas pedal. Once I pass Sebastian, he gives me a look of disbelief when he sees I car-jacked a golf-cart.
“Ha!” I yell behind me against the wind. “That’s what happens when people try to go against Leslie King, they lo-”
Suddenly, a strong force hits the front of the cart and makes me nearly fly out of the front. When I realize I actually hit a fucking tree, I frantically attempt backing up but stop when Sebastian runs by me.
Flipping me off.
“That asshole!” I jump-no, stumble out of the cart and run as fast as I can up the rest of the dirt path. The fact that this man is racing me still isn’t registering. Possibly because the heat is making me disoriented.
Once at the back porch, I fling the door open and run to the hallway leading up to the library, gasping when I see Sebastian’s back running through the door. I take a deep breath before running as fast as I can. My lungs burning, face sweating, feet in excruciating pain, I won’t let this man sabotage the first chance we have for his redemption.
I feel like The Flash, or Dash from The Incredibles, when I’m sure I look anything but. Regardless, the moment I enter the dark, giant library I charge forward at the sight of the tall, green-eyed man grabbing the phone from Lucas.
“NO!” I scream before I run into Sebastian’s torso with such force I knock him and the phone onto the ground. He lands with a loud oomph and a thud against his right shoulder after sliding on the hardwood floor a few feet, and I land directly on top of him, my head smacking against his rock-hard chest.
“Give me the phone!” I grunt while reaching over his head.
“Get the fuck off me!”
“Give...it!” I smack his face repeatedly, but he still doesn’t budge. Sebastian and I then result to wrestling on the ground, rolling over and slapping each other like children. Somehow, I manage to roll him over onto his stomach and push his face hard into the rug.
“Get ’fuck off sh’me, now!” He yells incoherently into the carpet. I ignore him as I snatch the phone out of his hand and place it on my ear, keeping my weight on his body and my left hand smashed against his sweaty face.
“This...this is Leslie King,” I greet, catching my breath.