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

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Chapter 31

I open my eyes to the soft, delicate sounds of rain hitting the bedroom window. Everything is a blur at first, but once my eyes adjust to the light, I realize I’m in Sebastian’s room on his couch.

I lay still for a minute and listen to the rain. I stir a bit and realize there’s a blanket on me—I don’t remember grabbing one when I dozed off, nor do I remember taking off my slippers either.

Maybe I did those things while I was sleeping.

I sit up and stretch my muscles. Sebastian’s bed is empty, and for some reason I’m suddenly worried. Of course there could be a logical reason why he isn’t in bed anymore, like he actually went downstairs (which I doubt) or he went into the library (which I also doubt), but with the events of early this morning ripe in my mind, it’s hard to think of a logical conclusion when what you thought made sense and what you thought fit perfectly actually doesn’t.

With those thoughts eating away at my tired conscience, I stand up and put on my slippers. My phone is dead, but that doesn’t seem to bother me compared to it being dead any other day.

I fold up the blanket and place it neatly on the couch before heading to the door. There’s a lot I need to think over today, especially in regards to the next moves, both corporately and emotionally for Sebastian. I know for a fact he doesn’t want anyone else knowing about what happened, but who am I to keep a secret so big like that? A woman who was brought here to make him a saint in the public eye, not find out the darkest depths of himself?

You can always call Garrett and tell him you’re not up for it anymore, I think to myself. But even though the idea crosses my mind, I can’t bring myself to do it. And it isn’t the money that’s keeping my feet planted in the same place. It’s the inability to leave something, someone unfinished behind.

I walk past the bathroom door and notice it cracked open. The shower is on, and I see the figure of a man, Sebastian, standing underneath the running water. The moist air sticks to my cool skin, inviting me inside. But what the hell am I doing, walking into an occupied bathroom?

My mind chides myself to leave, but instead I linger between the beckoning sounds of the shower and cool draft of the bedroom, because he’s just standing there, head tilted up at the shower head, letting the water fall around him and his closed eyes. I swallow hard as my eyes drift along his naked body, blushing at the forbidden path my gaze has taken across the sculpting of his back muscles, contracting with every ragged breath. Fuck, what am I doing? It’s making my skin crawl; how unprofessional I’m being right now. Then again, when has anything been remotely normal or conventional this past week?

He runs his hands through his hair, down his neck and rests them on his shoulders. His back it facing me; I can’t see his face, and he can’t see mine. But there’s an undoubtedly clear entity trying to stop me from being so creepily prying, because the towel from the shower door towel bar prevents me from seeing anything “too” private. And that should be an apparent sign that I need to leave, which I should...but I can’t, and I don’t; his physique is a masterpiece, as well as the entangled rest of him that he is more intent on keeping locked away from the world—away from me. Maybe that’s my curiosity speaking, or my confused set of hormones and emotions intertwined to create an opinion on him and his private nature, both physical and mental. It makes me wonder: is his naked mind more intricate than his naked body? Or is it so fragile that his skin is the only thing he wishes women to caress?

“You planning on joining me or something?”

I look up and gasp shortly in horror at Sebastian staring at me inquisitively. There’s no humor in his eyes, yet there’s no seriousness either—like he actually wants me to join him. He’s just...curious, staring at me expressionlessly like he isn’t naked in front of me.

“Oh, oh God, no I-I didn’t...I didn’t mean-I was-I just...I-I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”

And like the blabbering idiot I am in awkward situations, I cover my eyes even though the image of Sebastian’s bare ass is imprinted in my brain, and slam the door shut after I let myself out.

And the rest of the day, for once, is purely unknown to me.


I walk back to the guest house in the rain. The air is hot and moist; sticky, and the rain drenches my pajamas. When I walk inside, the cool air makes the rain droplets on my skin quiver. I sigh and cover my wet body as I walk up the staircase. Loretta isn’t even up yet. Either that, or she left somewhere again, wherever she seems to go.

I walk into my room and strip off my clothes, throwing them carelessly onto the ground with a loud thump. It’s unlike me to leave my clothes on the ground as opposed to a dirty clothes hamper, especially when they’re wet, but right now my mind is so fogged and preoccupied, nothing I do is certain to be my normal behavior.

The shower is set onto the hottest setting I can handle when I enter the bathroom and turn on the water. I step inside and let the hot, scalding water run along my skin. Showering is one of the only ways I can unwind, only this time my worries don’t wash away down the drain. All I think about is him; what he’s thinking, what he’s doing, how he’s doing. I mean for God’s sake, he had an actual mental breakdown this morning, and it makes me even more anxious, knowing that it will take tearing down brick walls for him to open up to me sober.

I sigh into the steam and stare at the ceiling. Everything make sense and doesn’t make sense all at the same time, possibly because I was never meant to see this side of anything, of him. My mind tells me to live and let live; do what I was brought here to do, and avoid getting weaved into the obvious mess of past memories so dark they continue to haunt Sebastian into emotional denial and physical submission.

But the other part of me, the part that knows loneliness and concealed pain as long-time friends of mine, tells me there is another reason, besides worry, that I was the one who found him.

And there is another reason, besides publicity, that I was brought here.


“Lucas! It’s been almost a week! You’re reasoning is sounding very delusional right now!”

“Like I said before just give him time! You aren’t around him all the time like I am!”

I sit and watch Lucas and Sarah argue over the sounds of the light rain outside. I grip the sides of my hot coffee cup, play with the caffeinated steam with my breath, and seesaw my eyes between the two of them. I want to tell them, I really do. But I can’t...I think.

My phone is at my side. I can text Sebastian right now and ask if he is coming down today, or I can be completely obtrusive and go upstairs to his room. Doing it before has given me a sense of urgency and comfortability with the thought, but at the same time I’m unsure of the right thing to say. What would he say?

He’d probably talk about you gawking at his ass in the shower to avoid the more important subject, I think to myself.

My trance is interrupted when I hear Sarah calling my name.

“W-what was that?” I stammer.

“I said that you have to agree with me, right? Not only do we still have work to do, but he’s been up there for days, refusing to open the door. I’ve never seen him like this, I mean his family is so—”

“Not any of your business,” Lucas finishes.

“It is my business, I’m his fucking manager and I’ve got to make sure he’s alright. Plus, I’ve got the PR for St. Vincent Children’s Hospital in Seattle reaching out to me for that ‘celebrities-meet-sick-kids’ thing and it would help if Sebastian is actually there.”

A children’s hospital? Calling about Sebastian? This fact is extremely hard to believe but regardless, I should be excited; a children’s hospital is the best source of pure publicity. Hell, I’d expect myself to be smiling from ear to ear.

But I’m not.

“Well look at you, doing your job for once!”

Sarah’s eyes are an onyx abyss of fury, “Excuse me? Who the fuck are you talking to?! I’ve been pulling my weight as much as I am supposed to. It’s you who has an entitled stick shoved up your ass, you self-righteous prick, thinking being someone, let alone Sebastian’s assistant is a hard task!”

“Well excuse me for taking my job seriously! You should try it sometime!”

“If you took your job seriously, Sebastian would trust you enough to tend to his beck and call upstairs! You know, because that’s an assistant’s job!”

Lucas’s mouth is open, ready to reply with a hearty comeback, but the creaking sounds of the opening library door silence both of them and turn all of our attention to the noise. The rain pounds relentlessly against the window amidst the apprehensive quiet as Sebastian slowly enters the library and closes the door behind him. He isn’t wearing his normal attire of jeans and a cotton shirt, but a pair of sweats, a white T-shirt and a hoodie, similar to what he was wearing when I found him in the bathroom early this morning, minus the sweater. His outer state hasn’t changed much either, except for the fact that he has shaved; his eyes are still red and puffy, his skin is pale—greyish, his hair is disheveled and the same color as the circles underneath his eyes.

He is the physical embodiment of a phantom.

No one says anything. He sits down on the couch, away from everyone, and pulls out a muffin from the pocket of his sweater. His hand is re-bandaged with a clean gauze, but his other hand still has the faint remnants of blue on his knuckles, unlike his neck, which has healed from the marks.

He picks at the muffin and avoids everyone’s curious gaze. Wordlessly, Sarah looks to Lucas for action, and he does the same.

“S-Sebastian,” Sarah starts, surprised. “You’re...finally down.”

He looks up. I can tell his eyes frighten Sarah a bit.

“Yeah,” he replies. His voice is light in essence yet heavy in delivery, kind of like the rain.

“Are you...okay?”

No.

“Yes,” he puts a tiny piece of the muffin he was playing with in his mouth. “I’m alright.”

“You don’t look good,” Lucas adds. “I’ll go make you some coffee.”

Sebastian shakes his head, “No, I’m fine.

Sarah and Lucas meet my eyes, like I’m the last resort who hasn’t contributed to the effort to understand Sebastian’s issue. And all I can do is stare at them with a look that says “I don’t know what’s going on nor do I know what to do,” when I know, and Sebastian knows, that that’s a lie. Still, I play the ignorant card in order to avoid saying anything I’m not supposed to. Sebastian and I haven’t made a verbal “pact,” if you will, not to disclose his nervous breakdown, but I’m certain it isn’t something he would be comfortable with sharing; he can’t even look me in the eye or acknowledge my existence in the room.

So I keep quiet.

Sarah’s hands fall through her hair until it’s pressed against the nape of her neck. She sighs loudly, closes her eyes, and opens them again with a new location on Sebastian’s sitting figure.

“Okay, then. Are you sure?”

“Yes,” he answers quietly yet confidently, almost like a lying child.

“Alright, then. So some breaking news to report, I guess, is that St. Vincent Children’s Hospital contacted me, asking if you could attend their...” she picks up her phone from the table and stares at it with narrow eyes. “‘Draw for Cause’ event tomorrow. I know it’s late notice, but—”

“Okay.”

“Wh-what?” Sarah stutters.

“Okay,” Sebastian shrugs, his eyes on his shoes. “I’ll go.”

“You’ll go?” Lucas asks with wide eyes filled with disbelief, “Where there are...cameras and children?”

“This is in Seattle,” Sarah adds, as if that new fact will sway his quick decision.

“Alright.”

Lucas’s jaw drops. We all expect opposition from Sebastian, but when there isn’t any there is no doubt that something is wrong. So Sarah and Lucas look at me again and wait for my usual irrational reaction. But I just stare blankly at them. And with the absence of Sebastian’s arguing and my forced persuasion stemmed from the irritation of his objection, Sarah immediately suspects secrecy.

“Um, okay. I’ll email them back about it,” she responds. I can tell she is waiting for me to say something, mostly along the lines of what I’m going to do on my part as the publicist, and I already know exactly what to do to get the news out about this appearance, but the ability to vocalize my game plan is gone.

The shift in the air is now noticeable.

“I’m going outside,” Sebastian announces as he pushes himself up with a hint of difficulty.

“I-in the rain?” Lucas says.

Sebastian flips his hood over his head before walking out the door.

“Okay,” Sarah shakes her head, “what the fuck was that?”

I get up, too, because now I know I need to talk with him. The fact that he’s pretending that nothing significant has happened is extremely unsettling.

I pick up my umbrella from the coat rack and exit the library. Walking down the hall, I hear the sounds of the bustling kitchen echoing through the walls, the loudest it’s been since Sebastian and I got back. I walk out into the rain, and immediately upon walking outside, I see Sebastian at the far end of the porch with a joint in his hand, lighting the end with his lighter. I’m hesitant to approach him, but once he sees me I’m compelled to do what I came out here to do.

What do I say first?

“I’ll put it out,” he tells me.

“No, no, no,” I stand next to him. My muscles are tense. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but...go ahead.”

He still isn’t looking at me, but he is definitely listening. He inhales smoke and pulls it into his nose before exhaling it all into the air. The smell of the marijuana isn’t as irritating as it was before.

We sit in silence, watching the rain fall onto the ground and create puddles on the dirt. The wind is soft, rusting through the trees occasionally. I swing my umbrella in my hand and bite my lip. The tension is unbearable, mutually felt only Sebastian is better at concealing how uncomfortable he is.

“I know you don’t want to talk about this morning,” I start suddenly. “I understand completely why you...wouldn’t want to.”

Still isn’t looking at me. I turn the other direction and pretend that I’m talking to a statue, with the inability to keep record of my words in his brain.

“I don’t know you well. Hell, I’ve only really known you for a week since the second week, this week, was spent not having contact. Most of the info I’ve heard from you has been here say or from the media. So it makes sense why you don’t trust me, I mean to you I’m just the bitchy publicist who is here under your father’s request. And maybe you’re right, you know, maybe I am just the bitchy publicist who cares about the outcome and not the journey to get there. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be concerned,” I kick a rock off of the porch, “’cause let’s face it, we’ve been through a whole bunch in the seven days since we met. A whole bunch.

“And...I’m not going to force you to acknowledge what happened and I’m not going to talk about it unless you want to because that’s your business I happened to walk in on. And I’m not going to tell Sarah or Lucas or your family but...it isn’t something I’m going to brush under the rug. I hope you don’t ignore it, either. I nag and babble and talk a lot but I also like listening...not because I want to try and-and forcefully counsel you but because it’s important to vent, believe me. Of course I’m being a hypocrite now, I mean I never vent to anyone, not even my dog.”

I chuckle a bit, like I’m receiving a response from him. It’s easier to speak to him when I have that mentality, though.

“Anyway, I guess the point of me coming out here and talking to you and obviously making you uncomfortable is that...well, I’m here. I’m not a therapist...and I’m not implying you need one!” I say nervously. “I just-I...I don’t know. Sorry for coming out here, you probably want to be alone, and I’m bothering you,” I think of something else to say. “You don’t have to go to Seattle if you don’t want to. If you want to take a break, that’s fine...no rush. Honestly speaking, I’m just...I’m curious to know what goes on in your head now.”

I lower my voice, low enough so even the birds and the bugs and the trees can’t eavesdrop.

“I don’t want to find you again like that after your last breath, knowing I could have done something since I’m aware of...things now.”

Stop talking. I’ve got to stop talking or I’ll say something that will tick him off. I stare at the acreage for a moment, and out of the corner of my eye I see Sebastian look down at me for the first time this morning, and when I look up at him, he turns away as if it never happened. But I respect it, because it makes more and more sense with time.

I leave him alone and walk back into the house. My blood runs cold through my veins, rich with eagerness that may never be satisfied. The kitchen is filled with food, and Fiona and Elizabeth are watching the cook prepare breakfast.

“Leslie,” Fiona says when she sees me.

“Good morning,” I tell her.

“Good morning,” her eyes are sad now, and I know what is to come. “I’ve been wanting to speak with you but I couldn’t find the right time.”

“Speak to me about what?”

Before she can reply, the back door opens. Sebastian is inside the kitchen now after the slam of the door behind him. Fiona stares hopefully, like an opportunity has finally graced her eyes.

He walks ahead without even locking eyes with any of us. The entire kitchen now smells like weed and rain.

“Sebastian,” Fiona starts. “I need to talk—”

“I need to pack,” he interrupts, with a rudeness in his tone that is deeper rooted than I can estimate. Fiona blinks several times like she can’t believe what he just said, and Elizabeth raises her eyebrows.

The whole kitchen is quiet with curious eyes as Sebastian leaves the room, walks loudly up the stairs and slams his bedroom door shut.

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