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

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Chapter 38

February 10th, 2002

Beverly Hills, California


I ran inside my front door with the widest smile on my face.

I’m out of breath, sweaty, and so excited I can’t seem to keep my head straight. My driver almost fell on our front lawn from how fast I ran inside the house, but after a quick apology I think he’ll forgive me.

“Gloria!” I scream, looking around our living room to see if she’s anywhere in sight. The housekeepers are on ladders cleaning the windows, and jump when they hear my voice.

“Sorry,” I laugh up at them. “Have you seen Gloria?”

“Check the kitchen,” one of them says, laughing a bit at my frazzled state.


And then I’m off again, running through the halls until I reach the kitchen. Gloria is, as I was told, inside the kitchen seasoning chicken laid out on a cutting board. Loretta is by the stove, stirring something in a big pot.

When Gloria hears me enter the kitchen, backpack flopping all over the place, a smile stretches on her face.

“Hey, baby,” she beams, “why are you all red and sweaty?”

“Guess what happened today?” I pant, ignoring her concern.

“Can you tell me after you put on your retainer?”

For a moment I’m confused on what she’s talking about. That, or I’m so excited to tell her the news that nothing else even matters. But when it registers, I roll my eyes, dig in my backpack and pull out my retainer case. I snap on my sets and adjust them before speaking again.

“So guess what happened today?” I repeat with an apparent lisp from the metal contraption in my mouth.

She purses her lips, “Now, you know I don’t like guessin’.”

Shaking from impatience, I pull out the letter from my backpack. The wrinkled paper is stretched out to her, and she takes it with a quizzical expression. She probably thinks it’s a letter of condemnation, which makes no sense; look who we’re dealing with here: straight A student, never had a detention or anything pertaining to the behavior of a “bad student.”

After a while of reading, she does that thing with her eyes when she finds out something exciting; they start to blink rapidly over and over again and get really wide.

Without saying actual words, she runs up to me and hugs me tight enough to cut off my breathing. Now we’re jumping up and down in the kitchen, squealing and laughing together as we twirl in circles.

“Oh my God this is wonderful, Sebastian! I’m so proud of you!” she exclaims. Her voice has a bit of the southern twang it has when she’s either very angry or very happy.

Good thing she’s very happy at the moment.

“What’s all the commotion about?” Loretta asks at the other end of the kitchen. She looks scared, which makes Gloria and I laugh.

Gloria holds up the paper. “Sebastian’s artwork has been chosen to be featured in a museum!”

“A gallery,” I correct shyly. “And a small one. But—”

Now Loretta is jumping up and down with Gloria in excitement now. I can barely even get a word out, but I don’t mind much.

“What sixteen-year-old do you hear about gettin’ their artwork in a gallery!? A gallery!”

Gloria is right, though. A couple of days after I had turned in my portfolio for my art class, Mr. Kong had pulled me aside while he was grading mine and said he wanted to submit one of my paintings into a “raffle” for a chance for it to be in a gallery showing in Santa Barbara. There was no guarantee the gallery director would accept my piece, but this letter says otherwise:

“On behalf of myself and the associates here at the Harper Morgan Gallery of Art, we would be honored to showcase your piece titled ‘Onliest’ in our gallery showing in March. This is a tremendous opportunity, and a great milestone to demonstrate your hard work and artistic abilities.”

I almost passed out when Mr. Kong gave me the letter today.

“We’ve gotta celebrate! How does a big ole chocolate cupcake with vanilla frosting sound!?”

“What is the occasion, Gloria?”

All of us freeze at the chilling yet familiar sound of my mother’s voice. She enters the kitchen, wearing a bright lavender dress suit that could easily blend herself between the flowers in our garden.

Mother stares at all three of us, putting the backing into one of her diamond earrings and adjusting the bright rings on her fingers. Finally, her eyes rest on me, and I hope no one will ever know the feeling of fear and awkwardness I feel when I look at the woman who gave birth to me.

She raises an eyebrow at Gloria, her eyes cold and superior. “Well? I’m waiting.”

“We were just—”

“I believe I asked Gloria the question, not you, Loretta,” Mother snaps softly. Loretta holds her head down and turns back to the boiling pot on the stove. I bite my lip.

“S-Sebastian got an A on his portfolio work in art, ma’am. I was going to make him a treat to celebrate.”

When mother smiles, it chills me to know that it isn’t sincere.

“Well that’s lovely and all, but there isn’t much accomplishment in getting a passing grade in art now, is there?” she chuckles. “Dear, how about the history test your Social Studies teacher and I were discussing? What did you receive on that exam?”

I avoid her eyes when I answer. “I got an A; I set the curve for the class.”

“Now that is something to celebrate! Isn’t it, Gloria?”

“Yes, ma’am. It is,” she replies without a second’s delay.

“One step closer to Yale, Sebastian. This is your junior year. There is no room for distraction.”

Her grin grows wider until I can’t see my mother’s eyes anymore. She then walks up to me, but I back away from her instinctively. She stops, her smile gone, and looks around the kitchen. Gloria and Loretta watch her and look away suddenly when they see that I have detached from whatever she was going to do. Embarrassed, she huffs and walks out of the kitchen.

“You have piano lessons at four. Galloway will be waiting for you in the driveway,” she says. And then she’s gone; the clicking of her heels echoes until it fades into the stone cold silence of the kitchen air.

No one says anything after that. Why? Well, we all know that if my parents—especially my dad—find out about the gallery opportunity, they will shut it down quicker than I could explain it. If it doesn’t have to do with piano or business classes or potentially joining the football team, they don’t want to hear it. So Loretta, Gloria and I will keep this to ourselves.


“Bro, that’s tight! Which piece did Mr. Kong submit to them?”

Sonya, Andre and I are at our same spot, underneath the big oak tree in one of the grass areas out in the quad. No one comes over here because of how secluded it is, so we’ve made this spot our go-to place for lunch.

I take out my lunch from my backpack with one hand, since Sonya is practicing her aspiring tattoo skills on my captive arm—Mr. Tracey will be skeptical when he sees flowers and skulls on my forearm next period.

“Do you know that painting I did for our last portfolio?” I tell Andre. “The one that was kind of a self-portrait?”

He nods, “Yeah, the acrylic one?”

“Yeah, that one. Mr. Kong really liked it and apparently the gallery director did as well.”

“That’s so cool, bro! I’m so happy for you!”

Sonya looks up at me, and I look down at the weaving of roses on my arm.

“We’ve gotta celebrate,” she says with a wide smile. You know she’s serious when the famous “Sonya gap” comes out when she smiles big enough.

I shrug, “I don’t know. I still have to get my parents to sign the permission slip and I know for a fact my dad isn’t going to go through with it.”

Sonya and Andre exchange a look before Sonya looks at me again and says, “Why don’t you just forge the signature?”

Did I just hear her right?

I can’t help but laugh. “Now that’s funny. But if you were serious, I have no idea how that would even work, I mean I don’t look at my dad’s signature often, and when I have seen it, it’s complicated squiggles and stuff. You know—business men and their complicated signatures.”

Combing her small fingers through her purplish-black hair, Sonya continues to think of an idea, as does Andre. While they try and conjure up a plan—Sonya filling in the roses on my arm with a red pen—I begin to open my lunch. Inside is the usual: ham and cheese deli sandwich, fruit, juice and crackers. I read Gloria’s note first:

Don’t worry, Sweetheart. We’ll find a way, whatever it is, to get you to that gallery. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Until then, keep your head up! I love you.

P.S. Now that you’re getting your art in galleries, I would love a Sebastian Harrison original painting from you.

“What did Gloria write us today?”

Sonya wraps her arms around my shoulders and reads the letter, as she does every day. It’s almost as if she loves reading Gloria’s words more than I do, even though she’s never met her. But I don’t mind at all. In truth, I actually like reading the notes with someone else. And plus, Sonya being so close gives me hope of a stable friendship, centered around lunch letters and her perfume that smells like raspberries.

I laugh. “Just talking about the gallery.”

When she finishes reading the note, she sighs and lays on the grass, placing her black (and heavy) platform boots on my thigh.

“God, I love that woman,” she says up to the sky.

Andre grimaces as he takes off his retainer and puts it in the case, “You haven’t even met her, Sonya,” he starts laughing, wheezing, which makes me snort trying to hide my own chuckling. “You’re such a weirdo!”

Sonya grabs her fruit cup and chucks it at him, barely missing his hair by an inch before landing on the grass a yard away with a splat! The shocked look on Andre’s face and the wideness of his eyes behind his glasses makes me laugh even harder.

“Dang it! I wasted my fruit cup on you!”

“Maybe next time you shouldn’t throw it!” he yells.

Sonya sticks his tongue out at him playfully. These two, Andre Parker and Sonya Ramirez, are the two whom I call my best friends, ever since we met in Mr. Kong’s class my first day here over a year ago. And we’ve been unstoppable ever since.

“You know, you can always come over to meet her if you want to.”


Sonya and Andre both look surprised at me. And even though I don’t know what I said wrong, I still regret what I said.

“Are you…serious?” Andre asks.

I nod slowly, “Yes, wh-why wouldn’t I be?”

Sonya shrugs, “Well it’s just… you’ve never invited us over to your house before. You’ve never even talked about your family, either.”

Knowing they’re right, I try to think of an explanation for my secrecy. But in all honesty, it’s an issue relative to trust. I’ve had instances before at my private school where kids would only talk to me because they knew of my family background. And it hurt, knowing they only wanted to run around my rose garden or play with the toys that I had (and didn’t even want), so when I came here, I wanted a new start. Of course, I knew it would be a matter of time before people would find out who my father is. And they have, but haven’t made much of a big deal, with the exception of a few football players who like to target me. Nevertheless, I just didn’t want to risk the good thing we had going, Sonya, Andre and I. But now I’m certain that it’s real.

And as for me never talking about my family, who would want to talk about my brothers and sister? Or my parents, for that matter?

“I guess I just…never thought it was important. But my family will be out of town for a few days and I’ll be home alone. You guys want to come over then?”

Now I’m treading dark waters. Yes, they will be out of town, and yes my mother agreed to let me stay home since I’m “not good with public events,” but if my parents found out that I invited friends over? They wouldn’t be too happy. And I’m certain my father isn’t going to approve of them either.

But he doesn’t have to know, does he?

“Awesome!” Andre beams. “That sounds like fun!”

Sonya is filled with excitement. “Yes! Now I finally get to meet her!”

“A-and you guys can sleep over if you want!”

Slow down, Sebastian. You don’t want to scare them off.


Sonya is now standing up and doing a happy dance. And as Andre is shaking his head at his crazy friend, I think about how I will get this to work.

“Your dad is cool with you sleeping over with a couple of guys?” Andre asks her when she sits back down.

“Well I trust you. And he knows I’m into chicks anyway, so he doesn’t care.”

Andre shakes his head and opens his chicken tenders on the cardboard lunch platter. “Wow, is all I have to say.”

Sonya grins widely.

“We could celebrate your gallery offering at the sleepover, too! I’ll bring…stuff.”

I furrow my eyebrows down at Sonya, especially with her devious smile. “What kind of stuff?”

“Oh, you know. Drinks, powder substances. We’re gonna get so messed up.”

I’m cold as ice. Did she just say what I think she said?

Andre announces that he’s going to get up to get a fork and a fruit cup for Sonya when she asks, but before he can even stand, there are three large shadows over our group.

“What the fuck is that?” Adam Mendez laughs, pointing at my forearm. You remember the football players I mentioned earlier who consider me a target? Well Adam Mendez happens to be the ring leader, and the two next to him are his lapdogs, doing whatever he desires.

And I can’t seem to run away from them.

I quickly pull my sleeve over my arm. “It’s nothing.”

“It’s gay!” Tom Seltzer says loudly, looking to his friends for approval at his “joke.” I feel bad for him a bit—he’s a total airhead. A big, beefy airhead.

Yeah, I said it. I called him an airhead.

“Why don’t you go stuff your head in a microwave?” Sonya tells them. She stands up in defense, which does little considering how tiny she is, even with her platform boots on.

“Were we talking to you, little girl?” Tom says down at her. She doesn’t back down, but instead cranes her next and stares deeply at him. I see Andre balling his fists, but he counsels himself to calm down.

I feel weak for not knowing what to do.

Adam shifts his eyes to me. “So I heard you set the curve for the APUSH test? Thanks to you, I got a D on the exam and it brought my grade down.”

I go over Gloria’s words: Ignore them. Don’t let them get to you.

“I’m sorry to hear that, Adam.” I open my lunch bag. “But it isn’t my fault you didn’t study.”

I know I made him angry from the lack of eye contact, because he kicks my lunch across the grass without even a reply. I’m so shocked I can’t move. All I do is stare at the food scattered on the ground.

“What the hell, you ass?!” Sonya yells at him.

Adam laughs, his dark brown eyes cold and mean. “It’s nice to know you’re having your dyke friend fight your battles for you.”

That’s it.

I don’t know what it was exactly. Maybe it was the fact that Adam Mendez and his posse came after Sonya in that way, or maybe it was the way they came after me. Regardless, I stand up and approach Adam so closely that our noses are nearly touching. Now Adam, as well as the rest of the group are not nearly as tall as I am. The third guy, Seth, is the closest to my height, but he’s the quietest of them all. Therefore, Adam has to tilt his head a bit to reach my eyes with his. But what am I doing this for? The thought of fighting him doesn’t even seem right. There’s no way I would ever throw a punch; I don’t even have it in me.

But Andre does, which is why Sonya is standing by him, making sure he doesn’t do anything rash. Because by the ravaging look on his face, it wouldn’t surprise me if he tackled Adam or Tom right now.

“What are you gonna do, pretty boy?” Adam whispers intimidatingly. “Call your rich daddy to save you?”

Say something, Sebastian. Say something!

I don’t say a word. And they laugh at me for it. I feel Sonya’s hand on my arm, but it’s as if Adam and I are the only ones outside.

“See you next period,” he says before him and his ensemble walk away. The only sound for a while is the wind rustling through the trees and the faint laughter coming from the students enjoying lunch.

“You alright, man?” Andre asks. I can hear the pity in his voice, and it makes me embarrassed to even be me.

I slump down on the grass and lean against the trunk of the tree.

“God, Adam is just so...just so...ergh! If only I could just show him back in his place and just...ugh.”

I’m so angry that my fingers are bent like I’m a maniacal villain, pretending Adam Mendez’s neck is between them. But even the thought of hurting him doesn’t sound remotely like me.

Sonya scoffs, “The reason you can’t is because you don’t have a bad bone in you to do that to him. And that’s something to be pretty proud of--you’re practically a saint.”

I manage a small smile, “I doubt that.”

“Are you kidding? Sebastian you’re pretty much perfect. Hell, if I weren’t gay I’d go out with you in a heartbeat.”

Dang it. Now I’m blushing.

I hide my face in my hands. I know Sonya’s only saying this to make me feel better, but at the same time I’ve noticed more girls looking at me in more than just a “friendly” way, and Sonya has been the first to comment on it ever since it started happening. But I can’t fathom the idea of a girl finding me attractive--no one’s ever come up to me and told me besides Sonya, which is all out of friendship.

“I’m sure if Andre was gay he’d go out with you, too.”

Again, Andre’s eyes are as wide as marbles, “Woah, woah, woah! Hold the phone!”

But Sonya doesn’t hold the phone; the call is only beginning. “And Adam Mendez is an ass because his dick is the size of my thumb and his mommy doesn’t give him enough love at home!” Sonya declares loudly, loud enough for Adam himself to turn around for a brief moment and stare at us before turning back.

Even though Sonya has deemed me a perfect saint, I doubt a perfect saint would laugh at that joke as hard as I am laughing at it right now.

When I get home, the first thing I do is tell Loretta and Gloria about what happened with Adam Mendez today, as I always do. They give me the same advice.

“Don’t let him get to you, honey,” Gloria tells me.

“She’s right. Ain’t no good coming out of startin’ a fight,” Loretta finishes.

I understand where Gloria is coming from. Gloria is a lover, not a fighter. Everything about her just screams the soft, loving nurturing woman that happened to raise me, from her large frame that reminds me of a comforting grandmother to her almost constant smile that reminds me of hope. Either way, I nod at her words, and smile when Loretta winks at me. I haven’t mentioned Sonya and Andre coming over yet, nor have I even mentioned the talk of a sleepover. But I will. Eventually.

“Have you finished your homework?” Gloria asks me, rolling dough on a cooking sheet.

Just as I’m about to answer, someone else does for me.

“He will, once him and I have a talk.”

We all stop, turn, and suck in a sharp breath at the sight. My father, standing in front of us at the entrance of the kitchen. The dark blue of his suit resembles the night, making me shiver; only my father can make night frightening for me.

“I just received a phone call from your art teacher,” he says without any kindness in his voice. “When were you going to tell me about the gallery, Sebastian?”

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