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

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Chapter 47

November 5th, 2002

I heard Gloria yelling at my father in his study. It was late, or early actually—around 1 in the morning. The house was dark and quiet except for the bright and loud part of the place where they were yelling at.

I went downstairs to try and hear exactly what they were yelling about.

“You just don’t get it, Mr. Harrison! There are a bunch of people who live in those houses and you building over there is gonna leave them homeless!”

Right. My father’s company’s new construction project. Harrison Inc. has signed off on a new real estate deal that will wipe out the homes in some part of L.A. to build fancy condominiums. I don’t agree with it, but Gloria is more opposed to the idea than I am; she, as well as her family, lives in that area.

“You are in no position to question anything I do. The last time I checked, you’re a housekeeper, not a financial advisor. I would suggest you keep your mouth shut about this before you’re out of a job.”

“Sir, I’ve been working for you for many years and I have done nothing to upset you this whole time. But if you do this, my friends, my family, will have nowhere to go! I’m not taking them back to the projects!”

“Then don’t, Gloria.”

“That’s all I can afford.”

“Then I suggest you have a conversation with your husband before your family receives the official notice. I would think that you would be thankful that I’m giving you this heads up six months before everyone else.”

“I ain’t got a husband! It’s just me, my daughter and my son. I can barely make ends meet where we are and—”

“That isn’t my problem, Gloria. I’m not going to back out of a multimillion dollar deal because of your individual inability to find somewhere to go that is within your ‘standards.’ I’m sorry.”

“You’re not sorry. You’re never sorry! My family’s about to be put out on the streets and all you can say is ‘sorry.’ After all I’ve done for you? H-how would you feel if your children found out about the type of man you are?”

“They know the type of man I am, Gloria.”

“No they don’t. Loretta and I know things, Mr. Harrison. All those times we’ve cleaned your study for you and you were careless enough to leave things lying around that shouldn’t have been.”

And then Gloria said something to him, but it was so low that I couldn’t understand what she said. But after that, it was quiet. Really quiet.

My dad said: “You have no proof. That is mere hearsay. Allegations.”

“Loretta and I got the proof. We got it hidden in a secret place. I’ll go to the TV stations. I’ll go to the newspapers and all other places. I ain’t a lawyer or nothing, but I sure know that what you did and what you’ve been doing is illegal.”

“I swear on my mother’s rotting grave, if you dare open your incompetent, dimwitted mouth you will regret ever doing so! I will not hesitate taking Sebastian away from you!”

And then she said—

“Wow, you’re here already. Do you ever take a break?”

I quickly slam the journal shut when I hear Sarah’s voice and stuff it into my purse. She walks into the library with two cups of coffee in her hands. I assume one of them is for me, and I smile.

“For me?” I ask.

She rolls her eyes. “Yeah, yeah, I can be a nice person when I feel like it. Black with two sugars, right?”

“Just the way I like it.”

She hands me the cup, and I sip carefully. Shortly after she sits down, Lucas strolls into the library, combing his hands through the messy entanglement of orange locks on his head.

“Oh, come on,” Sarah says to him. “The flight wasn’t that bad.”

“Not all of us are morning people,” he replies, plopping down on the couch and rubbing his eyes.

“Is Sebastian on his way?” I ask him.

“I believe so. He might be coming a little later since he didn’t catch an earlier flight out.”

I set my coffee down. “Why didn’t he?”

“You remember that one little girl he was with when he visited that children’s hospital in Seattle? Katie, I believe her name was?”

I nod, remembering the sickly child that Sebastian spent time with a few weeks ago.

“Well she was transferred to St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton a couple of days after we left Washington, and he went to visit her yesterday evening.”

When I hear Lucas’ words, I rack my brain to try and remember any conversation any of us have had about Sebastian visiting Katie again. I don’t remember setting anything up for him to do that; I didn’t even know Katie was transferred.

Then I hate myself even more for linking any of Sebastian’s actions that pertain to the good of his heart to making his social image look good.

“Why didn’t you tell us this?” Sarah asks Lucas. Her eyes are narrowed into a glare from Lucas’ secrecy.

Lucas puckers his lips awkwardly, his eyes large and bright, “I…well I wasn’t supposed to tell you in the first place, now that I think about it.”

My spirits wane. “Sebastian didn’t want us to know?”

Sarah’s growing anger dissipates a bit. “Well I guess I can see where he’s coming from.”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

She shrugs, “It makes sense. We’ve been dragging him all over the place telling him where to go and what to do and shit. And it sucks the one time he wants to do something ‘good’ he has to not tell us.”

She has a point. And it makes me feel horrible when the truth seeps in.

Sarah and Lucas begin talking about possible event scheduling left for Sebastian, and how next week is actually our last week here at the manor. What the weeks to come hold for us? I’m not sure. But Sarah and Lucas are more than optimistic.

I still can’t seem to get over the fact that he visited Katie.

I sit and watch them converse. These past three days have been hell on earth and I can’t seem to get my head straight. Secretly, I’m waiting for Fiona to come into the library and kick me out of the manor for yelling at her and her children that way. I lost any sort of respect when I lashed out, but in truth it was from the accumulation of anger and detest I had for them and everyone else who disregarded Sebastian’s problems as unworthy of attention.

Maybe I should start packing just in case.

Sarah tells Lucas and I about Fiona’s family coming by. I already met two of the members, one of them being an invasive five-year-old and the other being the second wife of Fiona’s brother, his name I still don’t know. We agree, together, to stay in the library while the Vauns forego in their family affairs. It would be odd to partake in that.

And I’m sure Sebastian wants nothing to do with them during their stay, either.

Lucas suddenly gets up and tells us that Sebastian is here. My heart leaps in my chest, but I keep my face as emotionless as possible. He leaves, telling us that he’s going to help with his bags. Sarah leaves with him; I’m alone in the library now.

I think of what I can possibly say to him when he comes in. The last time we talked was when we were in my office together in L.A., and that entire conversation was enough to leave a substantial lasting impression. Maybe it’d be best if I just don’t say anything, but then again, if I don’t say anything what will that make Sebastian think? Shit, here I go again thinking too damn much—

Still working?”

Sarah walks into the library with Sebastian at his side. The way he walks in is very calm and collected; as if the last couple of days never happened. Maybe it’s because Sarah’s with him?

I force a smile. “What else would I be doing?”

“You’re right about that,” Sarah replies, rolling her eyes. I realize my coffee is becoming cold and take a sip—a very long sip.

Sebastian still hasn’t said anything, but he doesn’t look sad or distraught or anything. His skin is a little tanner, and I notice a bit of scruff on his face. I stop myself from staring.

Then it is painfully silent. Sebastian isn’t looking at me, and I’m not looking at him. But Sarah’s looking at both of us.

“Well,” she says to break the silence. “I’m going to see if Lucas needs help with bringing in your things.”

Damn you, Sarah.

Quietly, she leaves the library, closing the door gently behind her. Now Sebastian and I our forced to make something out of each other’s company.

Sebastian shifts back and forth on his weight and slides his hands into the pockets of his jeans. His eyes scan the books around the room, nestled into their tall, perfectly polished book shelves. It dawns on me that we’ve never taken the time of day to read any of these books since we’ve been here.

“Hi,” I say to him. I regret saying it after I realize how dumb I sound.

He turns towards me; I can never get over the intensity of his eyes. “Hey.”

Silence again.

I stand up from my seat and walk around to the front of the desk. I’m closer towards him now, but not too close.

“How was your flight?”

“It was good,” he answers. “I slept through most of it.”

“That’s good. It’s important to get sleep. You wouldn’t want to be tired most of the day, right?”

The corner of his lip turns up into a slight smirk. I force myself to stop talking so I don’t say anything else that makes me sound like an idiot.

“If you want to ask, just ask,” he then tells me. “No use lingering around awkwardly like this.”

My face grows hot at his forwardness. His expression isn’t rude, but just…calm.

“I read the first page of the journal,” I confess to him. “N-not the first page only but I-I—”

“You read the journal?” he answers for me to make up for my lack of articulation.

I nod, “Y-yeah, that’s what I meant.”

“And?”

“It’s good. I mean, it’s not good what happened but…I just…I just think it’s good that I’m finally gathering an understanding.”

“I know you have questions. So ask away.”

Sebastian takes a seat on the couch. Instead of sitting next to him this time, I sit right across from him on the other couch across the coffee table; I want to look into his eyes even though I’m sure it’s going to be painful to.

“Okay,” I start softly; quietly. “How did Gloria die?”

“Hit and run driver,” Sebastian answers. His reply is quick, and his face is calm again.

“I’m sorry.” I play with my finger nails to avoid his stare. “Did they ever catch the driver?”

He nods. “Yeah, a couple of weeks after the incident. It was some kid who was drunk behind the wheel.” He smiles at me, but it’s sort of a smile of pity and an absence of comfort.

“You mentioned that you believed it was your fault,” I say. “How?”

“That night, Gloria was working late detailing our living room with Loretta. Loretta left about an hour before Gloria since Gloria wanted to stay and work on the fireplace or the entertainment or something. Gloria usually took the bus home but that night since she was over so late she would have to walk. I offered to drive her since I had my license at the time but my dad was…he was against the idea for some reason.”

He shakes his head down at his shoes. I see the regret emanating from him. “I was such a dumbass. I should have just taken her home. If I would have just…I mean she could have still been here, you know?” He sighs sadly. “By the time I found out, she had already died at the hospital and I couldn’t really believe anything I was told. But after a few days of not having her there I knew that it was very much real. Loretta and I were the only ones who went to the funeral. William, Patrick, Elizabeth—they didn’t go. My father didn’t care that she had passed and my mom was just…I just knew she wouldn’t have gone. Seeing Gloria in the casket…watching her children and her loved ones cry I just…I felt as if I could have prevented it. I felt like it was my fault that it happened. I mean, Jesus she had a...a family.

He chuckles, yet out of anything but comedy. “I didn’t even give the family their condolences for their loss. I just needed to get out of there because it felt like I was suffocating. Selfish, right? For years they would try to get in contact with me but I forced myself to ignore them because I…I couldn’t deal with guilt. Gloria’s daughter looks just like her; when I saw her at the funeral I saw Gloria and I just couldn’t do it.”

I’ve come to realize that silence is the best comfort for him. So I do just that and listen to every word he says.

“You know, when I first got here at the manor I couldn’t even look Loretta in the eye. I haven’t had an actual conversation with Loretta since the night after that party. She’s the one who—”

Suddenly, the door to the library opens. Sebastian and I stand up at the exact same moment as if the conversation we’ve had never happened, but to our surprise it isn’t Sarah or Lucas entering the room, but Loretta, timidly entering inside as if it’s against the rules for her to.

“I’m sorry,” she says, flickering her eyes between us. “Am I interrupting something?”

“No,” I say. “Not at all. Is something wrong?”

She’s inside the library now, with the door shut behind her. For a brief moment, I heard laughter and talking in the main house before Loretta closed the door.

“Is Fiona’s family here already?” I ask her.

“Yeah. Whole living room is filled with people, and the kids are playing outside with Peter and a few of the cooks. I had a quick moment after setting up a few of their rooms and I decided to come in here.”

Sebastian and I look outside one of the windows. A group of children, probably about ten or eleven of them, are outside playing kick-ball with Peter on the acreage; they’re so far out in the meadow you can hardly see them.

I look to Sebastian again. “Do you have to leave? They’d probably grow suspicious if you—”

“Didn’t say hi?” He answers. “Yeah, you’re right.”

Regretfully, Sebastian turns to leave the room. He doesn’t even look at Loretta, and she doesn’t look at him. When he’s gone, I opt to leave as well to find where Sarah and Lucas are before Loretta stops me.

“Wait.”

She looks at me, biting her lip nervously.

“Remember what we talked about earlier this morning?” she asks me.

I nod. “Yes.”

“Well I want to do it. I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said to all of them and you’re right. I-I just don’t think I’d forgive myself if I didn’t contribute any way I can. And seeing you stand up for him like that…I want to do the same thing.”

For a moment I think she’s joking, but when I realize that she’s dead serious, I can’t help but smile.

“Loretta, you don’t know how happy I am to hear that.” I tell her. “Truly.”

“If I’m gonna tell you what you want to know,” Loretta says. “I think we’re gonna have to agree that the information is put to good use. I…I’ve seen a lot happen over the years to people who knew too much.”

We both sit down, Loretta sitting across from me where Sebastian previously sat. She takes a deep breath and begins to explain to me how her and Gloria met—they were both young maids for the Harrison’s before Sebastian was even born. Her and Gloria were best friends, both of their families growing closer to each other as years progressed. Gloria had a son—James. When James was two, he died at a family cookout when he fell into the pool. When people realized that James was nowhere to be found, it was too late by then.

“I had never seen her so empty before,” Loretta explains to me. “Her two other ones, Cecil and Elijah, were about five and six when their little brother died. They didn’t understand why their brother wasn’t with them no more, and Gloria had a hard time trying to explain it to them.”

I don’t know what Gloria looked like except from the picture I found of her and Sebastian in his room that night, but I can imagine the look on her face—on any mother’s face—if their children were to ask them where their passed sibling has gone to.

“Sebastian was around two at the time James died,” Loretta then says. “After that day, Gloria clung onto that boy with everything she had. I think she saw a bit of James in Sebastian, but who could blame her—seeing a two-year-old boy every day after your own two-year-old is gone from you.”

“That’s where the bond began,” I say.

Loretta nods, “Any toddler is gonna love someone who loves them back like that, but when Sebastian got older he started to give off that same exact love Gloria did when he realized how “loveless” his own mother was.”

So I was right. Gloria was like a mother to him, and him like a son to her, for their own specific reasons.

“Gloria and I mostly worked in the kitchen cooking meals and cleaning the rooms,” Loretta continues. “But sometimes we would be allowed into Mr. Harrison’s office to dust the window panes, wax the floor, organize his desk and such. One night Gloria and I found some documents that Mr. Harrison didn’t mean to leave around.”

Now Loretta’s expression is blank, like she’s travelling back in time inside her own mind.

“What did you do?”

“Mr. Harrison was on a business trip that week, so he wasn’t coming into the office any time soon. We read through them being our nosey selves, but soon we realized what mistake we had made. I told Gloria we should leave them where we found them; pretend we never read anything and just be on our merry way. But Gloria was more right of a person than I was, and she wasn’t gonna let what we read go.”

“What were the documents about?”

“Mr. Harrison was…is in cahoots with the big banks. He, and these banks, have been playing everyone who can barely make do with what they have. They loan out money to people only so these people can go into debt and borrow more money again from them when prices go up over time. Harrison Inc. has been involved in this for years; that’s why they, along with all those other bankers, were living it good during the recession of 2008. They knew how to play the system. The documents also talked about funding campaigns for politicians in order for those said politicians to become his pawns when they were elected into Congress. Notice how the politicians he funded supported drilling in poor areas across the world and also supported taxes not being raised across the grid.”

I stare at Loretta as if she isn’t the same person anymore, but the feared look on her face says otherwise. I’ve never been one to invest myself in conspiracy theories about the “one percent,” but hearing this truth changes my mind.

“The look on your face makes me think that there’s more.”

“There is,” she says. She’s even more nervous. “He was also in bed with cartels. I only know where one of them is from—Columbia. The rest, I’m not sure. He would use his influence and money to help them smuggle drugs into cities here in the U.S. for a price and a little…protection on his end. Mr. Harrison has thrown people in jail who have tried to get in the way of his agenda. Who knows what else he’s done, or what else the cartels have done for him.”

My head is spinning trying to process everything she just told me: corruption, conspiracy, drugs.

I’ve been working for a criminal.

A criminal who, despite having jailed people who have gotten in his way, hasn’t done anything to me.

Yet.

Loretta continues. “At the time of us finding out this stuff, Harrison Inc. was planning on building some fancy condominiums in Los Angeles—”

“Where Gloria and her family lived. I read it in Sebastian’s journal.”

“She threatened to go public with what she found out about him if he dared try to go along with the real estate deal. But he threatened to take Sebastian away from her.”

“How was he…how was he planning to do that?” I ask, reluctant to even find out considering the newfound information about Garrett.

“Gloria had a few tickets she didn’t pay off from when she used to have a car. With the influence Garrett has, he could have easily turned it into something more and put her away for it.”

“But she ended up being hit by a car soon after that. Do you think Garrett had anything to do with that?”

“I don’t know,” Loretta answers honestly. “But all I know is that it tore Sebastian apart. That on top of everything else that happened to that boy afterwards and he was just destroyed. I was there for all of it, and I wish I wasn’t. But one thing I tried to do to ease his pain was to encourage him to talk to Gloria’s family; talk to her children, to her mother, to all her relatives. They knew how much he meant to her and how much she meant to him, and they tried reaching out to him but he refused to speak to them. He felt that her death was his fault.”

“Because he didn’t drive her home?”

She nods in agreement. Everything is making sense now.

“He still carries that guilt along with him. I see it in his eyes. Which is why he won’t talk to me, and why he won’t talk to Gloria’s family either. After her death they moved out here to Tennessee, and I visit them when I can since our families our so close, especially after Gloria died.”

“So that’s where you went that one day you weren’t here?”

She raises her right hand. “Guilty.”

“And…and the paintings.” I mutter.

Her eyes lower, and she sighs ruefully. “My heart broke when I found out what that man did. When Fiona found out, she was furious. It helped her anger a bit that Gloria went off on Fiona a couple of months before on how she wasn’t a good mother to Sebastian; she was trying to fix the errors of her ways, and what Mr. Harrison did to those paintings set her off. After that she filed for divorce. But she was foolish enough to believe that a divorce would help mend the hurt in Sebastian’s heart; the pain he was going through. It didn’t even come close.”

I’m nearly speechless. To have Loretta so restricted in her words to me, then suddenly become so open is shocking. I take in all the information gratefully, but still cautiously; everything that Loretta just told me is what Garrett has been trying to hide from me. I must remember that.

“Do you think that talking to Gloria’s family will help him?” I ask her.

“It won’t completely fix all the problems going on with him, but it will help a little. And besides, that boy needs to understand that this is not his fault at all—this is Mr. Harrison’s fault. He’s the one who made us stay late to clean that damn living room, and he’s the one who made Gloria walk all the way home. That was a six mile walk to her house from his, Leslie. Regardless of who was driving that car, Garrett is also responsible for Gloria not being here today, and for ruining any good that Sebastian had inside of him.”

There’s so much I want to ask, but before I can, a loud thud frightens Loretta and I from the other end of the library. The doors have been pushed open, and Sebastian stomps into the library angrily before slamming them behind him.

My heart stops momentarily.

“Who told them?” he asks urgently, demanding an answer from one of us.

“What are you talking about?” I ask, even though I have a good idea what the subject is.

Fiona comes into the library before Sebastian can reply. William and Patrick are behind her, along with Elizabeth, who waddles into the room with an uncomfortable look on her face.

“Sebastian, please, can we just sit and talk for a minute?” William pleads with him. My eyes widen, surprised at the consideration in his voice towards his little brother.

Sebastian doesn’t turn to face him. “I don’t want to talk to you.”

“We just want to apologize! We didn’t know!”

“Yeah, well whose fault is that, William!?” Sebastian yells as he finally turns to face him. I forget how menacing he is when he raises his voice until it actually happens, given it doesn’t happen too often.

“Look,” Patrick says between Sebastian and William’s tension. “I understand that you’re upset, Sebastian, and you have every right to be. But all we’re trying to do is say that we’re sorry!”

“Really?” Sebastian is now facing his brothers. All the women in the room are standing on the outskirts behind the couches. “Now you’re sorry? Where were you when I needed you twelve years ago? When you treated me as if I didn’t exist or as if I was just some piece of shit that didn’t deserve your attention?”

“Sebastian, it was your father who spoon-fed them those lies!” Fiona calls out to him. “If he wouldn’t have lied about—”

“Oh, Jesus Christ stop defending him, Mom! How blind are you to ignore what’s right in front of your eyes? My father—” he turns to all of his siblings, “our father, is a selfish, greedy, sadistic asshole who manipulates you into thinking whatever he wants. If you knew even half of the things that he’s done to people…to me, you would feel even more horrible about yourselves than you do now.”

No one says anything. Maybe because we’re all stunned at Sebastian, or maybe because we’re stunned at the truth. William and Patrick have a vulnerability in their eyes that I have never seen before.

And then he levels his eyes specifically at Patrick, as if the entire room is empty and only housing them two in it.

“You want to talk now?” Sebastian asks him softly; sadly. “Well I hate to break it to you, but you’re about a decade too late.”

“Ouch.”

All of us turn to my side of the room, where Elizabeth is standing next to me, kneeling over and clutching her stomach while groaning in pain. Everyone’s facial expressions turn cold and hard as stone.

“I’m fine,” she assures us through a strained smile. “I’ve been going through some contractions today, but I’ll be okay. I just need a minute.”

But ironically, I suddenly see a small trail of clear liquid slowly trickle down her legs. I look at her in horror, even though I’m not the one with that situation hindering me.

“Actually,” she says timidly. “I think my water just broke.”

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