“Ms. King, this is Matthew Carter, Mayor of Maryville. How are you this fine afternoon?”
“I’m fine, Sir, thank you for asking. I hope you, too, are doing well.” I try my hardest to contain my breathing, keeping it steady since my lungs sting from my sprint-race with Sebastian.
I lift myself off of him and he quickly gets up and adjusts his shirt, which is already damp with sweat. His eyes bore into me, but I give him a big smile in return that sets him off.
“I am, I am, thank you. I’m just calling in regards to our lovely county fair that kicks off tomorrow. We’re aware of Sebastian’s presence here in Tennessee, and would love for him to attend the opening festivities.”
“Why, Sebastian would love to go,” I respond. Sebastian’s face says otherwise.
“Splendid! Splendid! We are all looking forward to it. I expect to see that young man and his lovely team here tomorrow.”
“Certainly, Mr. Carter, we will definitely be there.”
With one friendly goodbye, I hang up the phone and place it gently in Lucas’s hand. He looks at me, then Sebastian, then me again with befuddlement in his eyes.
“What...what just happened?” He asks, pointing at us.
“We just got Sebastian’s first ‘gig’ to redemption!” I exclaim excitedly. “Did Mr. Carter call you first?”
Lucas nods, “Yes, yes he did. He told me that he would like to speak to Sebastian’s Press Representative about him making an appearance at the fair.”
“Perfect, perfect. That means they definitely want you there if they’re willing to dig some deep dirt to find out that you’re here. They also know that you being at the fair will bring a considerable amount of publicity to their county,” I frown at Sebastian. “Good publicity.”
“It’s not like I have a say in any of this anyway,” he sits on the leather couch and sighs, wiping the sweat off of his forehead.
“Exactly. So, I’m going to have to put a statement together about the fair, get the word out. I’ll call Darcy so she can help me orchestrate it-”
“Hold on to your flapping gums, princess,” Sarah says from the other end of the library. “I think we need to fix this problem before we can move onto the next one.”
I’m confused about what Sarah means, and a little offended that she thinks I’m a “gum-flapper,” until I see her standing in front of the television staring at it intently with the remote under her arm. My heart beats faster when I see who is on the screen.
Wendy Williams. Great.
Sebastian, to my surprise or actually not to my surprise, is interested in what Sarah is talking about.
“Play it,” he tells her, crossing his arms over his chest.
Sarah presses the “play” button on the remote, and we all watch with bated breath.
Fortunately, Wendy is already situated in her chair, so we don’t have to endure the annoying over-enthusiasm of the audience’s clapping and yelling.
The corner of her lips are pulled up in a small, almost non-distinguishable smile. And the audience becomes quiet.
“This man has quickly become my favorite ‘Hot Topic,’” she finally says with a gradual laugh that the crowd soon mimics.
“Everyone,” she resumes, “who do you think I’m talking about?”
“Sebastian Harrison!” they yell in response.
“You all know me so well,” Wendy giggles.
I look over at Sebastian and find him with his eyebrow raised at the screen, like he’s waiting to laugh or mock whatever Wendy is going to say.
“Actually, I have two stories for you about Sebastian, and both of them I actually found...pretty funny,” she laughs. “So yesterday evening there was this huge Opera event in downtown L.A., and Sebastian decided to go along with his father, Garrett. Innocent enough, right? Doesn’t sound like our typical Sebastian?”
“She’s speaking as if I belong to them,” Sebastian says with a snort after.
“So anyway,” Wendy continues, “he gets to the Opera and you can already tell-”
She points to the screen behind her without looking back, and the audience gasps and whispers amongst themselves when they see Sebastian’s tattered state. I remember the limo ride yesterday, in which Sebastian didn’t even know how to tie his own tie and denied doing drugs before despite the cocain on his nose. Not to mention the group of topless girls that wished him farewell inside his property. I breathe in sharply at the memory.
Wendy turns around and examines the screen, “I mean, you can obviously tell...he had a little bit of fun before he arrived there...well, anyway his publicist decided that it would be okay for him to answer a few questions for the press before he went inside. Simple enough, right?”
The camera pans to a young woman nodding in agreement.
She opens her mouth again, but grins widely, making her eyes crinkle at the sides. Then she starts laughing so hard she covers her mouth to hide her smile. Taking a sip of her tea followed with a deep breath, she stares straight into the camera. And I know what’s coming.
“Well, one reporter asked about his relationship with Felicity Felix...and Sebastian replies with, and I quote: ‘she’s just a good grind.’”
Everyone in the studio starts cackling.
I place my hands over my eyes and surround myself in darkness while the TV laughs...and laughs...as if it’s making fun of us.
“Felicity, I hate to say I told you so but...I-I told you so, sweetie. I mean, I said Sebastian was a man that can’t be held down and brought into a serious relationship and look, even he agrees,” Wendy snorts to stop herself from laughing again. “I can’t count not one woman he has been with, that’s been able to either hold him down, or make him settle down, or even just make him visibly happy. Every single ‘serious’ relationship is a joke. And these women think they can turn him into Mr. ‘Honey-I’m-Home’ but that’s not the case.”
Sebastian starts laughing, “Mr. Honey-I’m-Home. That’s actually pretty fu-”
He pauses when he see’s me scowling at him and doesn’t finish his sentence.
“I don’t think there will ever be a woman for him—you know, a woman that can successfully tame him. I’m sorry...nope, I don’t think so. Anyhow, Sebastian and Felicity’s reps haven’t made a comment on the situation yet. I wonder why?”
For some odd reason, everyone starts clapping.
“And this isn’t even the funniest part,” she announces with a devious smile.
“Shit,” I curse under my breath.
“Apparently during the Opera, Sebastian was chewing gum a little into the performance with Andrea Bocelli and Liliana Diacello. And somehow the gum fell out of his mouth and dropped into Bianca Jimenez’s hair!”
Everyone laughs harder than before when a photo of Bianca screaming and crying with gum smothered on her hands and in her red hair.
“She had to get a pixie cut!” Wendy wails when the second picture of Bianca’s hair comes up, now several inches shorter than the initial length.
“Oh, what a day for Sebastian Harriso-”
Sarah turns off the TV.
“You’re going to that damn fair, Sebastian,” she sets the remote on the huge desk that sits right in front of the window.
Sebastian sits down again and rubs his eyes, “You guys are over exaggerating.”
I’m appalled. “Over-exaggerating? Over-exaggerating?” I extend a pointing finger at the TV. “That speaks for itself! We can’t do this if we have this constant weight around our ankles.”
“For once, I agree with her,” Sarah adds. “Sebastian, you need to cooperate if you want this to go smoothly. I know random women who sneak into your bathroom and women who throw themselves on you while wrestling you for a telephone is overwhelming-”
My mouth drops at her words.
“-but just think of the money. It isn’t hard to smile, pretend you care, put your college knowledge to use. Get these supporters and get on their good side. Right?”
Sebastian listens to Sarah without a hint of opposition., and I’m almost bewildered.
“Great,” she tells him. “Practice your smiling techniques. You’re going to need them a lot tomorrow.”
“I am deeply sorry for-no, that’s not going to work...how about, I know my actions were inexusabl-no, that won’t work either.”
I press backspace for the third time, unable to get a single phrase down on my laptop without scrapping it. Working on apology statements is something I’m usually good at, since I don’t have to do them often with Garrett. But now, having two on my plate, it’s hard to make it sound sincere and convincing, especially given the circumstances on why I need to write these said statements and who will be representing them.
I sigh and grab my glass of wine from the coffee table, taking a sip of the bitter-sweet drink. The crickets outside pair along with the birds for a late night melody of the wilderness that seems to relax me more than the usual music I listen to when I work—Goldmund and Ludovico Einaudi.
Loretta is in the kitchen making dinner. I decided not to have dinner with everyone else on the terms of work and preparation for tomorrow’s fair, but in actuality I preferred to avoid the awkward air that lunch set out for me earlier today.
I emailed Darcy the statement about Sebastian’s appearance tomorrow for a few readjustments before publishing, and as she works on that, I sit here, unable to get one of two apology statements down. The emails begging for a comment about the Opera are piling in, and one good statement is needed to put them all at rest, all at once.
After a minute of deep thought, I close my laptop and set it on the couch before standing up and walking into the kitchen. The aroma of herbs and spices fill my nostrils and make my mouth water.
“Something smells great,” I enter the kitchen hesitantly and sit on a bar stool in front of the island, where perfectly sliced vegetables are sprawled out on a cutting board on top.
Loretta turns around with a smile on her face and a soft laugh that follows. She then hits the wooden spoon in her hand on the side of the pot several times, then sets it back into the pot to disappear slightly behind the steam.
“Vegetable soup,” she says while opening the oven to reveal golden, buttery pieces of bread baking. I grit my teeth at the sight.
“I haven’t had a home-cooked meal in what seems like ages,” I stop myself, wondering if Loretta even wants to hear what I have to say, but continue anyway. “Fast life calls for fast-food, unfortunately.”
Loretta grimaces, “Child, when I was growing up there was no such thing as fast-food. My mama would cook everyday until me and my siblings were old enough to do it ourselves...without burning the house down.”
We both laugh, Loretta a little harder than I at her childhood memory.
“Where are you from?” I ask.
“Compton, California. It wasn’t always gangs and thugs, you know. It was actually a white man’s city when I was growing up.”
I bite my lip, wanting to ask but unsure of the outcome.
“Thirty years,” she tells me out of the blue.
“I’ve been working for the Harrison’s for thirty years. Moved out here with Fiona when the manor was finished being built. I had a feeling you wanted to ask.”
My eyes widen, watching her as she checks the bread one more time before pulling brown oven-mitts over her hands and taking the tray out, placing it on the stove.
She nods, “Mhm. Watched them grow, watched them change.”
My tongue works faster than my judgment, “Has Sebastian always been this difficult?”
Loretta stops stirring the soup.
She slowly turns to face me, and it looks as if her eyes have grown heavy. She tries to smile, but instead sighs.
“No, not always. Used to be a bright kid from what I remember,” she leans against the handle of the oven. “Very quiet, very kind, very smart—smarter than anyone I’ve ever seen. Never with his siblings but was the nicest to the Help of the house out of all the Harrison’s. I think it was ’cause we were the only ones who listened and talked to him. Everyone else-”
She brushes her hand in front of her, symbolizing broadly the communication between Sebastian and the rest of the family.
I lean on the island, and can already tell Loretta has noticed the peak in my interest, “What...happened?”
Loud ringing makes us both jump. Our attention flickers to the home phone ringing on the counter next to the floral canisters behind us.
“I’ll get it.” Loretta is more than eager to answer the phone, something I don’t forget too quickly. It’s obvious I’ve hit a nerve. But I’m unsure why or how?
“It’s for you,” she holds the phone out in front of her. I take it from her grasp kindly.
“Hey, Leslie! Group call!” Lucas’s voice is chipper, even for it being almost eight o’clock.
“He means that Sebastian and I are on the other line,” Sarah says.
“Unfortunately,” Sebastian chimes in lastly.
“Hello everyone. What’s the topic of discussion?”
“‘Topic of Discussion.’ So professional,” Sarah replies almost dissing the way I speak.
Lucas ignores her, “The topic of discussion is tomorrow’s fair. We’re expected to arrive early, so I’m thinking leaving by seven, getting there around eight thirty?”
“What?” Sebastian snaps, “That’s too early!”
I roll my eyes, even though he can’t see, “Is there anything more important you’re doing at said time?”
“Please don’t answer that. I don’t wanna know,” Sarah groans. “Just be up early, Sebastian. Don’t screw this up.”
“Alright, see you guys tomorrow.” I hang up the phone and place it on the receiver. Hearing the expected time we’re supposed to leave doesn’t affect me; I’m the biggest morning person I know. But it’s Sebastian that I’m worried about. I’m certain he won’t wake up on time.
“Dinner is ready.” Loretta’s voice and the strong smell of the soup soon makes me forget about what I was thinking about.
“Thank you, Loretta.”
“You’re welcome,” she smiles while walking over to the counter by the small window to retrieve her bag.
“You’re...leaving?” I ask. “This late?”
“It ain’t a problem for me, sweetheart.”
“No, no, no, why...why don’t you...stay here? There’s extra rooms and you don’t have to make the trek every morning and night.”
Loretta ponders on my words, “Hm...well, I guess that’ll be better, huh?”
I nod. Of course I proposed the idea for Loretta’s safety, but a part of me liked having her here. I’m an introvert, it’s a fact, but there are times when being by myself isn’t as mighty and great as I make it out to be. And besides, Loretta is very knowledgeable about the Harrison’s, which can prove beneficial on my end.
“I’d just have to get my things from my room at the main house.”
“Yeah, yeah of course.”
Loretta passes by me to exit the kitchen, and I am left in silence. The soup sits in the pot, with steam radiating from it’s contents. I rub my hands together before getting a bowl.
After devouring three helpings of Loretta’s delicious soup and bread like a barbarian, we engaged in conversation about what life working for the Harrison’s was like for her, and what life as a publicist was like for me. Still, I could tell that she was holding back from me, but I didn’t pressure her, nor try to resume the topic we started in the kitchen earlier.
Thanking Loretta for the dinner, I waddle up to my room, feeling as if I’m going to explode from how much I ate. Late nights of mediocre pasta and salad at my office have made me forget what genuine ingredients of basil, fresh tomatoes and soft carrots taste like, especially when they’re thrown together into a soup dish.
I open my door, and slump my shoulders when I see the unpacked bags lying open on my bed. Hours of work undone and a few more at dinner with Loretta made me forget I actually have clothes to unpack. Despite the tiredness pulling at my eyes, I push through and begin unpacking—underwear, socks and bras in the top drawer—separate, shirts in the second, bottoms in the third, and so forth. I spend an extra ten minutes making sure the fabric of each piece of clothing doesn’t touch each other. Suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder majority of my life, the thought of disorganization or lack of control in situations drives me insane. Gratefully, clothing is the most ‘sane’ part of my disorder that I have to go through.
After my suitcase is empty, I zip it closed and start working on hanging my work clothes in the closet. I contemplate picking out my outfit for tomorrow, but decide against it; I’m too tired and too full to even keep my eyes open.
When everything is unpacked and stored away, I undress and slip on a pair of cotton pajamas, then climb into the bed, which envelopes me in more warmth than my pajamas have given me. I’m fine with it, though; the AC makes the house freezing cold.
I check my messages, set my alarm, then turn off the light, hoping to get a good night’s rest before the big day tomorrow.
My eyes flutter open to the sun shining in my bedroom window. It’s quiet, except for the birds chirping outside and the slight hum of a lawn mower in the distance. The second I lift my head up from the pillow I regret it; the pillows are soft, plush, and I’m close to falling asleep again for an extra five minutes.
Until I see the time on my phone.
I blink once, twice, more times until I lose count at my screen. Seven? It can’t be seven in the morning. Maybe my eyes are so heavy they’re reading it wrong. Maybe it’s actually five in the morning, or if God is willing, six. But not seven, because we’re supposed to leave at seven. And if I’m here in my pajamas, reading the time as seven.
I’m late. And I’m never late.
“Oh shit!” I jump out of bed, accidentally tripping on my own foot and falling face first with the comforter tangled around my body. But I don’t have time to think of the pain. No, what I have to do now is get ready, because I’m late. Leslie King is late, and she’s never late. Never!
I sprint into the bathroom and quickly take off my clothes while turning on the shower. When I step inside, I lather the soap so quickly around my body parts of my skin turn red.
My phone is ringing, the “Jaws” theme song seeping into the bathroom—Sarah is calling.
I get out of the shower and wrap a towel around my body before running into the room to answer it.
“Hello?” I try to compose myself, but she isn’t buying it.
“Where are you? We were supposed to leave fifteen minutes ago.”
I put Sarah on speaker as I run into the bathroom to do my hair, “I know, I know, I’m sorry. I must have slept through my alarm.”
“Yeah, obviously, because now we might be late, and that isn’t going to look good at all,” she lectures while I rapidly brush out the knots in my hair.
“Look, give me, like, another fifteen minutes, okay? I’ll be there as soon as I can, I swear.”
“Well hurry up. Hell, even Sebastian’s on time.”
“Hey!” I hear him yell in the background.
Without saying another word, I hang up to finish getting ready.
By the time I slip on my heels, it’s 7:24AM, which is six minutes less than what I told Sarah. I still haven’t done my makeup, and Loretta just called Peter to come get me, which means I have three minutes to apply my makeup effectively.
“Leslie! Peter’s here!”
I have one minute to apply my makeup effectively.
“Shit!” I say while rubbing a considerable amount of sunscreen on the exposed areas of my skin before placing it in my purse and running downstairs.
“Peter’s here early!?” My voice vibrates by how fast I’m running.
“He was already by the shed talking to the landscapers. Wait!” Loretta yells after me.
I turn around so quickly I almost fall over. Loretta jogs up to be and gives me a canteen.
“Coffee, the way you like it. Now go!”
Thanking her with everything I have, I run outside to find it surprisingly crisp, but I know it won’t be this way for long. Peter sits in the cart and waves when he sees me.
“Late?” he laughs while shifting gears.
“Yes,” I sit down and sigh, “and I can’t believe it myself. I’m so...stupid.”
He drives off, faster than the other times he has given me a ride.
“Don’t sweat it. We’re human, we make mista-”
Peters words seem to be stuck in his throat when he looks at me.
“Whoa, where did those freckles come from?!” he exclaims.
I look at myself in the rear view mirror and frown at the freckled-woman that looks back at me.
“Scottish,” I answer, taking a sip of my coffee and mentally thanking Loretta again for making it just right. “My father’s side.”
“Well looks like you took a whole lot of his genes.”
“Tell me about it,” I reply, reminding myself to put on more sunscreen when I get the chance so I don’t fry like an egg on a hot sidewalk.
We pass the barn, and come up to a familiar tree. When we’re close enough to see the dent in the bark, I groan.
“Yeah, we all had a pretty good laugh about what you did to that poor cart and tree,” Peter chuckles.
“I’m so sorry. I feel awful.”
“Don’t feel bad, that tree is as tough as it gets. You must have been driving pretty fast to put a dent in that thing.”
I remember the race Sebastian and I had yesterday and cringe.
When Peter stops in front of the back porch, I thank him before jumping out and running into the house.
I speed through the kitchen, purse on my shoulder and coffee in hand, and the cooks look at me like I’m crazy.
“Excuse me!” I yell as I maneuver pass everyone and even duck under a tray of food.
Running through the dining room and into the living room, I hear an abrupt snap sound come from beneath me, and before I know it, my balance shifts to my right side, then forward, and I brace myself for an unpleasant fall until a pair of strong arms catches me.
“Wow, slow down,” William says as I’m held up from my elbows. “Are you okay?”
I make sure not to look into his eyes, “Yes I’m fine,” I reply, pushing myself up and hoping I don’t start blushing. When I try to stand straight, however, my right side is about a few inches shorter than my left side.
Shit. My damn heel broke.
I don’t even have time to give a proper send-off to my favorite pair of heels. Instead, I take off my shoes, grab the heel off the ground, and race through the living room, feeling bad for not thanking William for saving my ass from total embarrassment.
“Well look who decided to show up.”
I tune out Sarah’s banter and walk out of the front door to the car. I hiss at the ground, my bare feet making painful contact with the hot gravel.
“I’m sorry, I’m late.”
“What happened to your shoes?” Lucas asks.
“My heel broke.”
Sebastian begins laughing.
Irritated, I open the car door and step inside, “Can we leave? You all were on my ass about being late and you’re moving at a snail’s pace.”
“Damn, alright,” Sebastian get’s in the passenger’s seat, while Lucas and Sarah sit in the back, leaving me with a row to myself.
I take out the sunscreen from my purse and apply an extra layer to make up for the pathetic layer I applied at the guest house.
Sebastian sniffs a few times before gagging, “Shit, do you have to do that in here?”
“Hey, until you’re Scottish or Irish you have nothing to say to me!”
“She’s right,” Lucas says. He pulls out a small can of spray-on sunscreen with a smile. “Two generations of Irish immigrants, lad.”
Lucas places his hand on the cap, but Sarah stops him with her hand around his wrist.
“If you even think of spraying that shit in here, I will choke you,” she threatens. Lucas slowly and frightfully puts the sunscreen back in his pocket.
“You all ready to leave?” the driver asks.
“Well, now we are.”
I try my hardest not to turn around and give Sarah the nastiest look I can muster.
The driver starts the car, and begins driving down the road slowly until we’re off the property. In the absence of conversation, I think briefly about my almost-fall a few minutes ago, in which William had caught me. A little embarrassing, I’ll admit, but I couldn’t imagine anyone else at the manor doing that for me without laughing.
Dismissing the memory, I search through my purse until I find a small tube of super glue. And hour and a half on the road pressing heel-against-glue should hopefully get my shoe back in order.