The next morning, I turn off my alarm clock and its loud, annoying ringing and get out of bed. Stretching my aching muscles, I force myself to set my focus on today’s party at Abraham Collingwood’s house. Which reminds me that I need to wear something red.
I open the closet and look through my clothes until I pick out everything that is a red hue; a silk maroon button-up blouse, a cardinal long sleeve top and finally a burgundy dress lay across my bed. After careful consideration, I decide to wear the silk blouse.
After showering and spending a good hour coming my hair under the water, I slick it back into a bun and begin to get dressed. Buttoning up my blouse, I look at myself in the mirror and wear a sour look at the reason for wearing such attire. Although I told Sebastian to remove any sort of Liberal thinking from his brain for today, I can’t help but hate myself for doing the same. The last thing I am is a Republican, but I try to respect people who are.
However, I’ve never dealt with Republican’s in the south before.
Slipping on a black pencil skirt and tucking my shirt in, I grab a pair of Louboutin’s I haven’t worn more than twice from the closet and ponder on wearing them today.
“Is it worth getting these dirty for a red party?” I ask myself, dangling the black stilettos with the signature crimson bottoms in front of me. I examine them all around, and not a scratch is on my beautiful ebony stilettos.
“I didn’t spend $900 on these for them to collect dust,” I conclude, before slipping them on and wiggling my toes inside to break them in a bit.
After applying my makeup and spraying on a bit of perfume, I grab my phone and head downstairs where my coffee and a banana nut muffin is waiting for me at the dining room table.
“Loretta?” I call out, but no answer. The coffee is still piping hot and steamy, which means she was just here.
When I pick up my breakfast, a note is attacked by the coffee mug:
Went to visit family today. Be back soon. – Loretta.
I set the note down at bite into the muffin, sighing at the wonderful taste. I think briefly about Loretta telling me she had family in Tennessee, but the memory doesn’t come back to me. Maybe because said memory never existed?
When I make it to the manor library, no one is inside. Either Lucas and Sarah are still asleep or they have left already to wherever they’re going. Their story about a man or woman named Joe and Lucas screaming for his life comes back to me again. What exactly did they do in Memphis during their Felicity sabotage?
Honestly, that’s the last thing I want to know right now.
I walk through the quite living room and am slightly surprised to find Sebastian up, dressed, and pacing in front of the front door on his cell phone. His suit resembles the one he wore at the opera, only this time he looks more clean cut and composed, given that time he was high off of drugs and marijuana.
His eyes do a double take when he sees me, obviously surprised himself I’m here.
“I’ll call you back,” he says to the person on the phone before hanging up.
“Nice to see you’re up and ready.” I notice he actually put on the red tie. Thank God.
“I look just like my father,” he says unhappily.
“Well then we’re on the right track. And can you try to be a bit more optimistic? Please and thank you.”
I huff, “Let’s go.”
I follow him to the door, but before he can even touch the handle, the doorbell rings.
“I’ll get it!” someone yells behind us. Daisy, the maid who helped us to our rooms the first day here, approached the door and opens it, welcoming us all to a short man in formal black clothing.
“Good day, ma’am,” he looks at Sebastian and I, “Mr. Harrison and Ms. King. Mr. Collingwood sent me to escort you to his estate.”
Sebastian and I lean past the door and see a shiny black limo sitting in the drive way. Sebastian whistles lowly.
“Mr. Collingwood sent you? I wasn’t notified about this.”
The man’s smile fades, “No? I’m sorry, his assistant must have forgotten. My apologies on his behalf.”
“Don’t worry about it. Thank you for coming by, this is certainly a surprise.”
He chuckles, stepping aside as Sebastian and I walk out of the door, the soft sound of it closing behind us. He runs to the limo and opens the door for us. I thank him.
Once we’re both inside, I reach into my purse and pull out a piece of paper.
“What is that?” Sebastian asks, looking at me from the seat across from mine.
“Your notes. Go over this before we get there, it has everything you are and you are not to say.”
“I told you not to write this down for me,” he says, lazily taking it from my hand.
“And I told you I would write it down.”
Sebastian sighs and doesn’t even bother to look at the paper before resting his head on the head rest and closing his eyes.
“What?” he whines, keeping his eyes closed.
“You didn’t even look over the paper.”
“I don’t need to, I already know what I need to talk about: how bad preventing mass shootings is and how women shouldn’t have a right to do whatever the hell they want with their unborn child. I think I’ve got it down.”
“Stop being such a condescending jerk.”
“I already know I’m beautiful, you don’t need to tell me twice,” he replies sluggishly as we drive off, making me want to strangle him.
The long drive to Morgan county consisted of Sebastian’s obnoxious snoring and myself looking through Abraham Collingwood’s Wikipedia page. Apparently there are rumors that he’s affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan, a rumor I hope to God isn’t true. But one thing that is factual is that his house used to belong to his great-great-great Grandfather, who happened to be a slave owner, and by the looks of it, the only thing Abraham has done to remodel the property was paint the house blue instead of its previous yellow color. The house is still two stories, a basic rectangular shape, with pillars standing out front on the porch to hold the house up.
Sebastian gets up right when we arrive. He stretches, yawns, and looks out the window past the cars parked outside and the people who look like a sea of red socializing out front.
“This looks like a plantation house, Leslie,” he says flatly.
Oh, the irony.
“I know, Sebastian,” I answer, unbuckling my seatbelt and taking my list from next to him. “Can you just ignore it?”
“Ignore that this place looks like a plantation house? Okie Dokie.”
I glare at him staring out the window with disgust on his face.
The driver opens the car door, inviting the sweltering heat inside. I step out and hold my hand in front of my eyes. Sebastian gets out and does the same.
“I read this story online once, something on a ghost forum I think, about how slave spirits haunt old plantation homes and kill the residents who live inside.”
“Sebastian, please,” I snap quietly as we step on the front porch and ignore the stares from those socializing in the shade.
“Good thing I’m not racist—”
“Shut up!” I whisper, guiding us both through the front door.
The inside of the house is spacious and absent of any furniture. It makes sense, really; the entire house is filled with people and servers with platters of champagne and hors d’oeuvres. Every single person in here is wearing red, whether it be a red blouse, red skirt, red tie, even a red suit.
“Everyone in here looks like they’re part of a cult,” Sebastian says.
I ignore him, picking up a glass of champagne from a platter and excusing myself by an older man.
“Here,” I hand the drink to Sebastian.
“Oh, so now you don’t want to drink?!”
He looks offended, “Hey!”
I roll my eyes and look over the shoulders of everyone to examine the place. And by said examination, I have come to about two definite conclusions. One, Sebastian and I are the youngest one here; the youngest one in the crowd looks to be in his late thirties, and Sebastian and I are both in our late twenties. Second, every woman who has laid eyes on Sebastian so far has looked at him with a hunger and lust even I can’t ignore; these women are old enough to be my mothers. The woman Sebastian just excused himself by eyed him up and down and giggled flush-faced with her friends, most definitely running at the chance for excitement in their boring lives as housewives. I hide my distaste.
By the back porch, Abraham Collingwood and a couple of his friends are talking and smoking cigars, drinks in their other free hand.
“See, look. There’s Abraham. You can’t be the only one without a drink when you go talk to him.”
“You want me to talk to him now?”
I push the drink into his hand and pull him towards Mr. Collingwood’s direction, “Yes! Remember what we spoke about!”
The area around Abraham is much less populated with people, giving us much more breathing room. The moment Abraham sees Sebastian, he beams with joy, letting cigar smoke leave his mouth in a small cloud above his head.
“Garrett junior!” he laughs, his accent the thickest Southern accent I’ve heard so far with the slow, dragging pronunciation of each word. “My, it didn’t take me a photo to know whose son you were!”
Sebastian smiles uneasily and shakes his hand like he coached himself on what to do next in his mind.
“How’s your Pa, son?” Abraham asks.
“He’s good, he’s good.”
“Glad to hear,” he places the cigar in his mouth and inhales once before exhaling smoke again. “Seems like ages since I’ve seen him face-to-face, ain’t nothin’ but a phone call from that man. You need to tell him to visit like old times!”
“I will, but he’s busy, you know,” he shrugs with an apologetic smile.
Abraham nods, “I hear you, I hear you,” his eyes avert to me. “And who is this tall…drink of water?”
Is he talking to me?
I reach out and shake his hand, “I’m Leslie, Sebastian’s publicist. I’m also Garrett’s publicist.”
“Oh, well any publicist of Garrett’s is a friend of mine,” he laughs while holding onto my hand, holding his drink and his cigar in the other. “Honest, you really do look lovely, lovelier than a Sunflower in the summer, Ms. King. I remember my assistant tellin’ me ’bout your name on the RSVP list.”
“Yes, and I’m sorry about Sebastian’s assistant and manager not being able to make it.”
He is still holding onto my hand. “Not a problem, not a problem. My apologies, it’s just…fellas, fellas, isn’t she just the most beautiful thing I mean, wow.”
All of his friends agree without hesitation, making me blush so hard I can feel the sensation all over my face. I know he’s only complimenting me to be polite and even boastful about the amount of his charm, but despite his motives I still feel odd about words I don’t receive much often.
“Um…thank you,” I respond.
“You’re makin’ her uncomfortable, Abe,” one of his friends says.
Abraham lets go of my hand and looks regretful, “I’m sorry was I makin’ you feel all weird? I’m sorry, darlin’.”
Even after I forgive him, his friends engage in harmless banter about Abraham’s behavior, Abraham continuing to defend himself with “I acknowledge a beautiful woman when I see one.”
When I look up at Sebastian, his eyes are on Abraham with nothing but raw, pure, detest and animosity. I stop smiling.
“So where is your wife, Mr. Collingwood?”
Abraham’s laughter subsides a bit, “Down in Ole Miss. She’s got a couple a friends down there she visits often. She loves Mississippi.”
“Yeah, well who doesn’t love Mississippi, especially that old flag, right?”
If I was drinking champagne, I’d spit it all over the floor by now.
Sebastian drinks the sparkling beverage as if what he just said didn’t come out of his mouth. Abraham catches Sebastian’s snide yet clever remark that all three of us know had to do with the old Mississippi flag having the Confederate flag in the upper left-hand corner. But instead of replying in the same manner, Abraham laughs his booming laugh, followed by his friend’s laughter, and plays with the ends of his graying mustache.
“Yup, great Ole Miss. Speakin’ of southern states, I saw you were in North Carolina on Friday, at Oliver Epps’s little shindig?”
Sebastian is now uncomfortable, “Uh, yeah I was.”
“I saw you had a mighty fine time from that video, am I right?”
His friends laugh, and Sebastian, knowing Abraham is trying to challenge him, laughs too.
“Yeah, well that’s the good thing about being young, attractive and full of energy.”
That did it.
Abraham’s friends couldn’t help but continue laughing, and even Abraham couldn’t force himself to laugh to prove that Sebastian didn’t get to him. All he could force himself to do was smile a smile that was almost non-existent.
“Uh, will you ’scuse me for just a moment.”
“No, take your time,” Sebastian eyes him from over his champagne glass as he takes another sip.
When Abraham steps away, I grab Sebastian’s arm and pull him the other direction, smiling through the crowd until we reach a distant spot away from everyone.
“What are you doing!?” I bark as discretely as I can.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Sunflower.”
My mouth drops open, “Don’t start that with me! We talked about this! You’re supposed to get Abraham on your side. The only reason he’s trying to be nice is because you’re Garrett’s son! If that advantage leaves this will be all for naught!”
“No, don’t you dare whatever me!” I see a passing server and take the last glass of champagne from the platter, down it, then place it back on the platter before he can get too far. “You…you can’t screw this up,” I see another server and take one of his glasses, but only sip little by little of the drink.
“You need to calm down.”
“Don’t tell me to calm down!”
Sebastian closes his eyes and sighs, not even having to turn around to know who’s calling him.
“Be nice. I mean it,” I advise as we walk over to Abraham, who has a new man by his side and a woman on the other, the woman about a little younger than Abraham but still quite old.
“Sebastian, Ms. King, I would like you to meet Rebecca and Edwin Jefferson. Edwin works for the Morgan county school district.”
We all take turns shaking hands before Abraham speaks again.
“Edwin and I were just talkin’ ’bout those new school curriculum changes.”
“Why yes, yes indeed,” Edwin starts. His voice is so high pitched and nasally I have to hide my astoundment. “Uh, the Board had decided to cut some programs for the twelfth graders this comin’ year.”
“What changes?” asks Sebastian.
“Oh, you know just a couple elective classes, nothin’ ’portant,” Rebecca replies with a stiff and almost manufactured smile.
“We had to cut…I think, piano, paintin’, choir, and some other ones to make room for more government and econ teachers and I think a few more calculus teachers.”
“It’s for the best,” Rebecca interrupts again. “It’s important for the children to know ’bout the government responsible for their freedoms and rights and liberties, such things that those poor African kids don’t get, right honey?”
I face Sebastian only to find him completely silent. But that silence doesn’t last long, because right after he suddenly starts laughing, he looks at Edwin and says:
“Well that was a stupid thing to do.”
“What did you just say?” I whisper to him through my tight smile.
“Excuse me?” Edwin raises an eyebrow at him.
“Um, sorry maybe I should rephrase that…why would you do something like that?”
“Well, when you weigh art and math together, which one is going to get you through life, son? Which one is going to get you into Yale and Princeton and even somethin’ like Mizzou?”
“Well if you’re going to cut all the art programs, you might as well incarcerate those kids because that’s what school is going to be like for them anyway: a prison.”
Edwin gasps, “I’m sorry?”
“Art, music, dance, theater, writing, those are all forms of creative expression. If you take away creative expression what do those kids have left? Hours of cramming in information about math they won’t even use in their lives and a government who doesn’t even follow their own constitution most of the time? If I didn’t know any better I would say this is just a cover up to put a couple of dollars in your pocket but you know, that’s none of my business. W-waiter?”
The server rushes by and with one swift movement Sebastian exchanges his empty glass with a full one while Abraham, Rebecca and Edwin stare at him, dumbfounded.
“Well if I didn’t know any better, I’d say you’s a left wing, son,” Edwin tells him, trying to joke.
Sebastian laughs, causing everyone to laugh even though the air is anything but funny.
“Yeah, next thing you know I’ll be a pro-choice advocate, right?”
Edwin, Abraham and Rebecca laugh even harder.
“Oh son, you’re a joker,” Abraham wipes his eyes with his forearm. “He gets it from his daddy, I tell you.”
“Like this house, correct?” Sebastian asks him.
“Huh? Oh—yeah, yeah I got this house from my pops, and from his father he got it, and from his father and so on. A lot of history in these fine walls.”
“Well you go that right.”
“Sebastian, stop it,” I whisper to him.
“Uh, I—what’s that s’pposed to mean?”
“Nothing, nothing. It’s just those plains out there hold a lot of history, too, don’t you think?”
Rebecca chokes on her champagne.
Abraham, for the first time since we’ve been here, is actually frowning.
“What are you thinkin’, boy?”
“Same thing you’re thinking.”
“Now, I’ma be blunt with you, if you think I condone slavery in the America’s you…you’s dead wrong,” Abraham stutters.
“I never said that. Those words didn’t even come out of my mouth,” Sebastian’s eyes flicker to Abraham’s hand. “But I’m really interested in that tattoo you attempted to laser off. On your wrist?”
Abraham pulls his shirt sleeve over his wrist without even leaving Sebastian’s gaze.
“You know, I did some really extensive research on you last night, being I was just so excited to meet you, and I found out some pretty interesting stuff. About your ancestors who owned slaves, and how they were part of an organization established after the Civil War. And there are some rumors that you’re part of said organization yourself. But judging by that tattoo I would like to think of it as something more than a rumor.”
“If you’re accusin’ me of bein’ part of that you’re dead wrong, boy.”
“I didn’t say that. I’m just saying if I was your wife, and you didn’t come home at night, it wouldn’t take me long to realize what you were doing.”
Everyone is speechless.
Sebastian flags down a server with the utmost nonchalant-ness, “Hey! Pass those hors d’oeuvres this way, please!”
“Unbelievable! Absolutely unbelievable! How could you possibly do something as stupid and ignorant as that!?”
We’re driving back to the manor after excusing ourselves from the party early, and I have never felt so angry in my entire life. But what fuels my anger, is Sebastian’s inability to even look at me as I’m ranting.
“I told you, I did nothing wrong,” he removes his eyes from the window and the forest-scenery to look at me, only this time he isn’t amused at his actions.
“You did nothing wrong? You did nothing wrong?! You accused Mr. Collingwood of being a member of the Ku Klux Klan!”
“Because he is a member of the Ku Klux Klan, did you see that tattoo he tried to hide? I wasn’t going to let that slide!”
“Oh, but that’s not the only thing you did wrong. What you also did wrong, was you embarrassed Mr. Jefferson about him and the Board’s choices on the art program? Do you realize how rude you sounded?”
Sebastian just looks out the window.
“And not to mention you bringing up slavery!?”
“You know why I didn’t follow your stupid list? Because it was all bullshit!”
“I don’t care if you don’t agree with it, you don’t have to love it and protect it, you’re supposed to respect it!”
He looks out the window again.
“God, you’re just…ERGH! You’re born with a silver spoon in your mouth and still think life is so hard! Because you have to work? Because you have to actually be an adult? All you care about is being so difficult even to people who are trying to get you what you want even more of: money. Oh, the world is ending because Sebastian Harrison has responsibilities! You don’t know the first thing about suffering, about passion, about love or about…anything! It’s so…pathetic!”
He turns his head so fast in my direction I jump in my seat. His eyes are so furious and so full of anger and what looks to be disbelief and sadness and a mix of so many other undistinguishable emotions that it makes my chest close in on itself. I sit still and stare at him, but he doesn’t say anything for about a good minute.
“Stop the car,” he tells the driver.
“Are you sure you—”
“Stop the car!” he yells.
The driver stops, on a road wedged between to expanses of forests and wilderness.
“I’m fucking done with you!” He hisses, before unbuckling his seatbelt, climbing out the car, and slamming the door shut behind him, disappearing between the thick density of trees and shrubs.
I sit in the limo seat unable to even think of a coherent sentence.
“Ma’am, what would you like to do?” the driver asks.
I feel my eyebrows press into a scowl, “Wait here,” I tell him before angrily unbuckling my seatbelt and climbing out as well. In the middle of the road, I look both ways out of habit but realize there’s not a car in sight. The heat lingers, but the trees in the woods are so tall they block majority of the sun’s rays.
“Goddamn him!” I yell into the sky to watch the birds fly out from the branches at the sound of my vocals.
I adjust my purse higher up on my shoulder and march across the road and follow Sebastian’s path.
Into the forest.