A part of me thinks that I must be hallucinating.
What are the odds that Garrett Harrison would happen to be attending this function and I wouldn’t know about it? And it isn’t just some random drop-by; his tux says otherwise.
“Mr. Harrison. What are you doing here?”
He smiles, similar to the way he would smile at me months before. But now, it doesn’t look too genuine in my eyes.
“Why, I wanted to surprise everyone with my appearance. I came a little late, but it’s the thought that counts, correct?”
I manage a laugh. “Yes, yes, I suppose. I just…I’m just shocked to see you. I feel as if it’s been so long.”
“It has been long.”
And then it’s quiet. Us alone in this hallway, with his insincere smile in my direction gives me goosebumps.
“I’ve been monitoring your progress, Leslie, and I must say that you are doing an exceptional job so far.”
“Thank you, sir—”
“But I do have one issue.”
His eyes aren’t readable, and neither is his motive.
I shift nervously in my heels, “Wh-what issue is that?”
Garrett stalks closer towards me, and out of instinct, I take a step back. Loretta’s words flood back into my brain, and I remember how frightened she was to talk to me because of the possibility of Garrett finding out. It’s as if I’m experiencing her emotions.
He sees how much I’m on the edge, but he purposefully doesn’t comment on it; he knows what he’s doing. “I heard about Sebastian’s interview with Ms. Moghadam in the main ballroom. And to be quite honest, I’m not happy about it.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Mr. Harrison.”
“You don’t sound too sorry.”
This is the first time that Garrett has ever used that tone with me. Now I know the cards have changed. But for what play?
Back taut, eyes leveled. Don’t show him you’re afraid.
“In actuality, I’m not sorry. I decided to take a different approach towards the public, since we’ve been generally unsuccessful so far.”
“I’m always open to new approaches, but I’m concerned that this new approach is guiding you into waters that you have no authority to sail through.”
My hands are clasped together so tightly the friction is painful. Garrett knows something. But what, specifically?
It’s so quiet you can hear us both breathing.
“Why are you really here, Mr. Harrison?” I ask.
“I know what you’ve been doing, Leslie. And I want it to stop.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about—“
“Don’t take me for a fool, Leslie!” he snaps. I suddenly don’t know how to breathe. “You know exactly what I’m talking about!”
He counts off on his fingers. “The interview in the ballroom? Loretta? The therapy? Did you honestly believe that I wouldn’t find out about all of this?”
“No! I had no intentions on being secretive because I didn’t think it was important for you to know in the first place.”
His voice is a menacing growl. “It is important. You’re prying into a family that isn’t yours, and that is not what I sent you here to do. I sent you here to make sure that Sebastian’s image is repaired. I sent you here, because I can’t possibly convince the Board to appoint a debauching heathen as the president of the company!”
“With all due respect, Mr. Harrison, I’m starting to believe that you’re the problem. Not Sebastian.”
Garrett’s intimidating demeanor vanishing instantaneously the moment the words leave my mouth. And knowing that I can’t take them back, I force myself not to succumb to him.
I take a step towards him, but unlike me, he doesn’t move back. “I used to have the same thoughts about Sebastian, too. I relied on what I saw in the papers and what I heard from the media and people such as yourself to construct my judgment on him. And it didn’t help that he came up true to his name when I first met him. To be truthful, I almost hated having to work with him. I hated him, for the most part—all he was to me was a sad, immature drunk and drug addict who slept with countless women and threw them out like old rags when he was done with them.”
It hurts to even say these words about Sebastian. It sounds like I’m not even speaking about him, considering how much things have changed.
“But after getting to know Sebastian? After being with him during his darkest moments? I know now that it’s just been a façade; none of that is real. Do you want to know what is real about Sebastian, sir? What’s real is that he is…kind, sweet, intelligent and funny. He’s charismatic and charming and passionate and talented and he’s just…he’s just…”
To constitute Sebastian Harrison into a few kind words is just not possible; it does his vibrant yet troubled spirit little justice. And I don’t realize that I’m internalizing the rest of the things I want to say about him until I notice Garrett staring at me in our silence; I drifted off, gazing at the wall in deep thought.
I clear my throat as if I didn’t detach. “What I’m trying to say is, if you took the time to know Sebastian, you would understand where I’m coming from.”
I brace myself for whatever reply Garrett is going to warrant. But he doesn’t say anything. His facial expression doesn’t even change despite the fact that I lashed out at him, for the first time. However, after a blank and apprehensive stare off, he begins to laugh. Slowly, at first, but gradually into a loud cackle that bounces off the walls and travels through the hall. I can see the real state of the man I trusted for over a year; the man I vowed loyalty too—his bright, fluorescent teeth. The wrinkles all over his face that greet me when he laughs. I wander over to his bright rings, his vacant ring finger, the shine of his shoes. And I am a fool to now see that Sebastian was right about his father all along.
And it makes me more reluctant to find out the person he was a time ago to the person Sebastian was a time ago.
“Forgive me for laughing.” He pulls out a handkerchief from his jacket and wipes his eyes with it. “I didn’t intend to.”
“What’s so funny?” I ask him with no politeness in my voice. I’m almost offended my previous testament is comical to him.
“It’s just…I never thought this was going to happen. I was never one to believe in Murphy’s Law but I stand corrected.”
“I don’t understand what you’re talking about.”
He tucks his handkerchief in his pocket before saying:
“You’re falling in love with him.”
Say anything, Leslie. Something. Just don’t give him the satisfaction by staying silent.
The little voice in my head is now screaming at me, demanding I get myself together. But I can’t get myself together when my heart is beating through my ears and my palms are damp with sweat.
“That isn’t true,” I finally manage to choke out.
He doesn’t believe me. “Right, right, my apologies. You’ve fallen in love with him. Is that correct?”
“No, it isn’t!”
“God, how could this be? I thought you were smarter than this, Leslie!? This is why I picked you to do this—”
“I am smarter than what you’re accusing!”
“Obviously not!” he yells in response. I bite my lip to keep from shouting even louder. “Obviously not, because you fell for it! You fell for Sebastian’s antics and tricks. The same antics and tricks that constructed your initial impression of him. But he finally manipulated you, and you fell for it. Congratulations!”
“You have no idea what you’re talking abou—”
“I know exactly what I am talking about.” He annunciates his words slowly, like I’m not intelligent enough to understand. “You have no idea how many women I had to pay off in some way of compensation to keep them from bad mouthing him to the press, because he did the same thing to them that he is doing to you right now. Did he tell you that you’re beautiful? Did he make you feel like you were worth something more than what you believe? Oh, don’t tell me that he made you think that he’s different and that he’s changed?”
Say something, Leslie!
He laughs when I’m dumbfounded into silence. “You aren’t the first one he’s done this to, and you certainly aren’t the last. Once he gets what he wants out of you, he will throw you away like the rest of them.”
“I don’t care if you believe me or not, Mr. Harrison. But just know that what you’re accusing isn’t true, and you are way beyond yourself to think it is.”
He frowns. “I did not pay you to be his therapist!”
“Fine! Then don’t! But I’m still going to carry out what I started, regardless of what you think and whether or not you pay me! If you want the check back, I’ll give it to you!”
Now he has nothing to say. But my chest tightens when he wears a satisfied smirk on his face.
“No. Keep the check. I reward hard work where it’s due, regardless of the circumstances. But if that is the case, why don’t we tell Sebastian about the large sum of money you were compensated to do this job? I doubt he would be happy to hear that your sentence here is far from a caring social visit—”
“Wait!” I plead, and in a blink of an eye, everything has crumbled down, because the moment I grab onto Garrett’s arm and tighten my grip, I’ve fallen into his deceptive grasp.
His smirk grows wider at my hold around him. I let go quickly, but the damage is done.
“Murphy’s Law,” he says. “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.”
“I’ll give you the check back,” I tell him. I hate how pathetic I sound. “I haven’t cashed it yet.”
“Your desperation is convincing. But I don’t want the check back.”
“Then what do you want?”
He sighs sadly. I almost believe him. “I’m not being confrontational for my personal gain. I’m being confrontational because I don’t want you to get hurt. If I could have prevented you from falling into his trap, I would have. But now, seeing it is too late, I will try to make you realize the error of your ways.”
“And how are you planning to do that?”
“Sebastian’s previous publicist, Ingrid Jefferson, happens to live in Los Angeles and work at a publications firm. Go talk to her. Hopefully you see things for what they really are after you two speak.”
I remember that name. Skippy and Mia told me about her when I was gathering intel on Sebastian. I was told that she quit, but for no specific reason.
“And if I don’t?”
He chuckles, “I know you quite well, Leslie King. You will.”
And then he walks away, but not before turning to face me and saying:
“I’m quite upset, really. You are exceptional at what you do, especially at such a young age. Unlucky for you, you allowed your emotions and your insecurities to get the best of you. I would think you, out of everyone, would know that it is not a good to allow your feelings to intermingle with your professionalism.”
Garrett trails off through the hallway, whistling a familiar tune. I realize when he’s gone that he was whistling the melody to the song Sebastian and I danced to not too long ago.