The Publicist's Plight (Book I in The Harrison Inc. Series)

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Chapter 28

It’s been six hours since I’ve had contact with Sebastian last.

I’ve slept and showered the remnants of yesterday away down the drain. My skin is red and sore from how hard I’ve scrubbed the dirt and sweat off of my body. But somehow I still feel unclean.

After showering, I step out and wrap a towel around my body. The mirror is a perfect representation of how my brain feels right now: fogged. Cloudy. I defog the mirror with my hand, but in my reflection I don’t see anything worth praising.

I get dressed in casual attire for the day—flats, a pair of jeans and a sleeveless blouse. I check my phone after applying my makeup and doing my bun. Sarah texted me, telling me to meet her and Lucas in the library.

“Okay,” I reply. I’m hesitant to continue. “Has Sebastian talked to you?”

“No. Why?”

“No reason. I’ll meet you in ten.”

“Ok.”

And before I lock my phone, she responds: “I hope he’s alright. Last night was horrible.”

I walk downstairs with my things. Loretta is at the table with a roll of gauze and ointment by her side.

“C’mon. Gotta make sure that bandage is changed frequently,” she says kindly.

I sit down at the table and watch her re-bandage my foot in silence. I’m sure she heard about what happened last night. But discretion seems to be in her nature, because she hasn’t asked one question, not even when I first came here. She just told me to rest and shower, assuring me she’ll wash the sheets and blankets since I slept before I bathed.

When I make it into the main house, there’s an eerie feeling—a feeling from earlier in the morning. I check my phone to avoid the plaguing heaviness but I can’t bring myself to reply to anything. I open emails and old messages but don’t respond. Even Garrett sent me a text earlier, apologizing for the fiasco that unfolded. I remember his talk with Sebastian and teeter between replying and ignoring the message.

I walk into the library. Lucas and Sarah are sitting on the couch, staring in opposite directions in silence. I set my coffee cup on the coffee table and stare at both of them. They turn and look at me, like they didn’t realize I was in the room.

“Hey.”

“Good morning,” Lucas replies. Sarah just smiles.

I sit down in the chair by the end of the coffee table. The only noise around comes from the ticking clock on the wall and the horses neighing outside.

“Um…I don’t know if we should get to work,” I say.

“Me neither. I think we need a couple of days,” Sarah says, rubbing her eyes.

“We can prep without him,” Lucas proposes, standing up. “I think, when he’s ready, then we’ll be ready, too.”

“Wait, he’s not coming?”

Sarah shakes her head, “No. I knocked on his door before you came in and he said he didn’t feel up to it today.”

I feel sad, strangely. This would be the first official time I would be working without him. But not only that—I can’t help the worry dancing around in my mind. But at the same time, I can’t bring myself to express it.

“I guess I’ll make a few calls. See if anyone would be interested in Sebastian. We still sticking with the conservatives or…”

“No,” I tell Sarah. “Yesterday didn’t go well at the Collingwood house.”

“Then what do we do?”

“Um…I don’t know. I’ll think of something.”

“You know what? Just lay off for a bit. You’ve done a lot already and yesterday was a load for both of you. Lucas and I will figure something out.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes,” she groans. I laugh. “Just stay put, alright?”

“Alright,” I give her an approving nod and try to think of something else to prompt conversation. “How did the meeting with Felicity go yesterday?”

“Very well, actually,” a devious smirk stretches across her face. “She won’t be bothering us anymore.”

“Um…why is th—”

“Which reminds me, I need to call her manager and re-brief.”

“I can do that.”

“Na, ah ah, Ms. King. Stay put. I’ve got this.”

Sarah pulls out her phone and walks away. And now, I sit by myself on this comfortable leather seat, watching Lucas possibly google search updates on Sebastian in the news, and Sarah on the phone, pacing the room. I get up from my chair out of sudden boredom. Not having work gives me anxiety.

“How is the news looking?” I ask Lucas. He looks up at me and shakes his head.

“Not too good. Still the same stories. Nothing has changed. We need to act fast before this settles any deeper, but the way things happened this morning, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Do you think Sebastian’s alright?” I ask, the question leaving my mouth quicker than I had intended.

Lucas plays with his auburn locks as he thinks, “Well, considering the way he was bombarded yesterday, not really. But being his assistant for so long and seeing the complete chaos he’s gotten himself into before, I think he’ll hold up okay.”

I nod, yet still can’t help but wonder.

“I understand you’re worried, Leslie,” he says with an understanding smile. “But one thing about Sebastian that many people don’t know is that he has a heart of steel. It takes a lot for something to get to him. I say give him a couple of hours.”

“Alright. Thank you.”

Lucas rubs my hand reassuringly before getting back to his computer. I try to believe his words, with every part of my will, but I can’t. Why? Because the validity of them doesn’t coincide with the argument Sebastian had with his father by the library. If Lucas knew the words he said to Sebastian, I’m positive he’d be worried, too. I just don’t think it’s in my place to tell him.

I sit down on the couch and take out my phone. I’m going to text him. I have to. But I’m too afraid, for some reason.

“Just text him, Leslie,” I coach myself. After deep thought and a lot of lip biting, I go to my contacts, scroll down until I see Sebastian’s name, and start to compose a text message.

“Hey,” I text before pressing send. I roll my eyes at how stupid it looks sent, and curse at myself when it says he’s read it.

“Are you okay?” I type, and quickly I send it before he can reply. He reads that message almost instantly, and the gray thought bubble indicating he’s typing appears on the screen. I wait patiently. His reply is obviously long, as the thought bubble has been on the screen for a good minute. With impatient tapping fingers, I wait for the response. But then, the bubble disappears, then reappears for five seconds before he replies:

“I’m fine.”

He’s lying. Or is it just me underestimating his heart of steel?

I lock my phone and look at the clock. I give it two more hours. That’s when he should be downstairs in the library.

Two more hours.

***

It’s been two days since I’ve had contact with Sebastian last.

The house is quiet again on this Wednesday morning, just like yesterday morning, and just like Monday morning, later after the Harrison family meltdown.

My cut is healing. Of course that’s an obvious fact, but I’ve tried to find something minimal to occupy my mind. Loretta says she thinks next week would be best to stop wearing bandages. I say now, for the bandage is a memory of endeavors I want to forget. Or at least endeavors I want to forget until the person who shared them with me gives me a sign that they’re okay.

“Have you heard from Sebastian?” I ask Sarah once I’m in the library.

“I knocked on his door this morning. He said he was fine. But he sounded persistent, like he was waiting for me to leave,” she then averts her eyes to Lucas’s tired figure. “So you think his heart of steel is a strong defense now?”

“He just needs time,” he says at her with a raised voice. “He just needs time. Let him isolate himself from everyone for once.”

I trust in Lucas’s judgement. Not because I want to, but because I have to; trusting in my own judgment will probably lead me to do something stupid.

We try to get to work, but the absence of the familiar condescending voice and signature lazy nature make it hard for us. Eventually, Sarah and Lucas resume their same routine from the last two days: call people and search Sebastian’s name on the web. I know we’re all going insane. Especially I, because I have nothing to do, and I also have nothing to do while I’m completely in the dark about how Sebastian is doing.

I tell myself I should go upstairs and check on him. But I decide against it.

I give him until noon, now. He just needs until noon.

**

It’s been four days since I’ve had contact with Sebastian last, and I’m worried out of my fucking mind.

The worry made Sarah and Lucas snap and argue today. Lucas claimed that Sarah is too incompetent to care for the wellbeing of Sebastian’s image for she is an uneducated manager, and Sarah argued that Lucas is the reason Sebastian ends up drunk whenever he’s allowed the chance because he’s a lousy assistant with no moral compass. I had to break up the fight; it was getting very carried away.

Now I’m on the couch in the guest house living room. It’s midnight, and I can’t sleep. I tap my foot and stare at the black screen of my phone before I break and text Sebastian again.

“Sebastian, we’re all worried about you. Are you okay? I don’t think I can last gi—”

I delete the recent part of the message, “—I don’t think we can last giving you this much space for this amount of time.”

I send the message and wait for him to respond, or at least read it. But neither happen.

“Sebastian. Please don’t ignore me. You know how inquisitive I am and it won’t help either of us,” I text.

No response.

“Maybe he’s sleeping,” I assure myself, but how can I even believe in those words of solace. I feel selfish, sitting and just hoping that nothing has come upon him.

“Fuck this,” I mumble and run to the door with only my slippers and phone on my person. Outside, the moist heat invites moths and mosquitos to my front porch. I should have gotten my bug repellant, but frankly there are more important matters on my mind.

I turn on the flashlight on my phone and follow the dirt trail to the lit main house. There’s already sweat accumulating in the most uncomfortable places underneath my silk pajama set. At least I’m alone; I can adjust my boobs without the fear of judgment.

The back door is unlocked. There must still be people up, or someone would have locked it already. Quietly, I enter the cool kitchen and close the door behind me. The area is empty, but I hear voices in the living room.

“I just don’t know what to do,” Fiona says.

“None of us know what to do,” Elizabeth says. “Monday made us realize the façade we were living in.”

Both of them are in the living room, their backs turned to the window overlooking the dark acreage. They are in their pajamas, with tea cups in their hands.

“I’ve made so many mistakes and I’m afraid there isn’t any way for me to pay for them, sweetheart. No matter what I do, nothing works. I feel like I’ve failed as a mother.”

“Mom, no,” Elizabeth whines. “No, you haven’t. You’re human. Humans make mistakes, that’s just how it is. You’re the best mother anyone could ever ask for.”

Elizabeth and Fiona hug, and this is when I take my chance to sneak upstairs. I tip toe up one of the staircases until I’m overlooking the entire first floor. The doors to the rooms are ahead of me. I grow nervous.

I take a deep breath and walk through the hallway to Sebastian’s room. All of the lights in the hallway are off, except for one light at the end, where his room is. I can feel the almost dark energy exuding from behind the door.

I approach the door and knock softly three times.

“Sebastian? It’s Leslie,” I say softly. “Are you up?”

Silence. I knock a few more times, and eventually grab the knob only to realize the door is unlocked. I turn the knob and let myself in.

Sebastian isn’t in the room. The bed is made, and the entire room is clean even though I was under the impression he wasn’t letting anyone in, not even the housekeepers to clean. I look around, realizing this is my first time being in here. The design is similar to the rest of the rooms in the house—big, wide interior with light colors. The bed is a little bigger than mine, though, and there are bigger windows around the room.

I notice a desk by the end of the room with pictures scattered on top. The pictures are developed and in good shape, though some of them are cut or burned. I approach the desk and look over the photographs. One has a date written in marker on the bottom—March 4th, 2000. Sebastian must have been fourteen or fifteen at the time.

There’s a girl and a boy in the photo with him. The girl is on Sebastian’s back, holding her hands up with a wide gapped smile, and Sebastian is smiling as well, with a mouth full of braces. It’s genuine, his smile. Of course, I’ve seen Sebastian smile countless times, but in this photo, it looks real and untampered, like he isn’t forcing or holding back from it.

The boy is standing with his arms crossed, wearing a pair of shades and obviously posing seriously for fun. I turn the photograph around, finding “Sonya, Sebastian & Andre” written in marker as well.

I was fourteen. And it was with a friend I had. Sonya. And it was awful because one, I didn’t know what I was doing, and two, she was a lesbian so she didn’t even like it.

I remember Sebastian mentioning Sonya at the bar briefly. I also remember the uncomfortable feeling that came with her name when he mentioned it.

The rest of the pictures are the same in context—him with Sonya and Andre when they were younger. Sebastian’s happiness is so strong I can feel it through the photographs as I smile to myself at his memories. I also laugh at how skinny he was. Paired with a mouth full of metal and his height, it wouldn’t be a surprise to find out he was a target for the school jocks. Especially since he was a rich kid who went to a public school, from what I see in the background in some of the photos.

There are only ten photos that are burned. So burned, it’s nearly impossible to make out what they are or who’s in it. I lightly trace the rough foundation of the photograph and strain my eyes to decipher the situation, but with no luck.

“What is it?” I whisper to myself, beyond curious at the subject beneath the burnt remains.

One photo happens to be burned, but not badly enough like the rest. You can clearly see the face of a woman smiling to someone below but the rest had fallen victim to flames. She’s an older woman, with dark skin and short black hair tied in a bun. I’ve never seen her before.

Then, beneath the materialized memories, is one old photo in perfect condition with the same woman and a small boy at her side. The boy is around three or four years old, and adorable beyond mention. For a moment, I think to myself that it can’t possibly be Sebastian since the boy in the photo has light brown curls nestled on his head, similar to William’s hair. But then I see the eyes and know for sure it has to be Sebastian; no one has eyes quite like his.

He’s sitting on the woman’s lap at a table. They’re both looking at a paper she is holding up, paint all over their hands and face. Sebastian is clapping happily at his achievement while the woman cheers him on. The photo is both sad and heartwarming at the same time. And I don’t know why.

“October 5th, 1989” is the date on the back. There are no names.

CRACK.

I jump at the sound of breaking glass coming from the bathroom, paired with a painful groan. I remember that bathroom—the bathroom Sebastian and I accidentally shared when we first arrived here.

“Sebastian?” I call out. I know he’s in there, but I want a response, knowing that he’s in his right mind.

I slowly open the bathroom door and instantly am hit with the strong smell of alcohol.

“Jesus,” I mutter.

There are beer bottles and cans all around the bathroom. Sebastian is in a corner, surrounded by a few bottles of alcohol, his open laptop, and plastic bags filled with a white substance, one filled with gray pills.

But that’s the least of my shock. Because when I look down into Sebastian’s eyes, I gasp and hit the back of the door in fright. He resembles a ghost or something even worse. Anything dark and empty can be a perfect description to fit him. His eyes are a pale shade of green that I’ve never seen before; they’re haunting yet crying for relief. Underneath his eyes are dark circles and bags that drag the appearance of his pale and lifeless face, indented with the hollow abyss of his cheeks. He wipes the sweat off of his neck and face, but he is still damp with a layer of perspiration all over his body.

Is this really him? It can’t be.

We stare at each other. I clench my fists to control my wave of strong emotions staring at the inanimate body of life in front of me. Eventually Sebastian sluggishly picks up a half empty beer bottle with an agonizingly painful groan and holds it up towards me, smiling the darkest, most menacing smile I’ve seen on his lips.

“Welcome to the party,” he slurs at me before taking a messy drink.

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