It’s been one day since I quit my job.
Well, it’s been one day since I terminated my services to Garrett. Because if I would have quit completely, I would have been packing my things and hauling my ass back to Los Angeles, looking for a publications firm that would possibly want me. But no. Instead, I’m in my room in the guest house, tucking my lavender silk blouse into my black slacks as if I’m still a working woman, and thinking of more press strategies that will mend Sebastian’s image.
I haven’t told anyone that I have quit; everything happened so fast. One moment, I was standing next to Sebastian in the hospital hallway, accepting the harsh words being told to me by Patrick, then the next I’m trying to get out of the hospital. After that, I’m stuck in an elevator with Garrett himself, and lastly, I’m denouncing my loyalty to him all while throwing a two-million-dollar check in his face.
Each of my days are like lifetimes condensed into 24-hours.
So my plan is to waltz into that library and pretend like nothing is wrong. Lucas, Sarah, Sebastian and I are meeting together for the first time with some normality into play; I can’t remember the last time we’ve actually sat together in our meeting spot with the intent of getting work done in mind, because these last weeks have been a hectic mess. Though our stay here is almost over, we still have some work to do, and I’m determined to get some events in for Sebastian in the southern area before we go back to L.A., where the big prizes are ripe for the picking.
I check my phone before I head downstairs. Darcy hasn’t texted me or contacted me at all, which makes me assume that she wasn’t told about me quitting. I know soon that Darcy is going to have to find out, and I’m going to have to clean out my office, too. With that in mind, the reality kicks in harder than before.
Think of the positives, Leslie. For one, you aren’t under Garrett’s manipulative control anymore for now, which is good. And, soon you will be going back home for good, where you can see your only two friends and your socially awkward Chihuahua, Pedro. All while still being jobless from the job that was once the occupation of your dreams.
Well that didn’t help much.
I go downstairs and find Loretta at the table, mug of hot coffee in one hand, and a plate with a bagel on top in the other.
“Good morning,” she greets to me. Her spirits are much higher than I’ve ever seen before.
“Good morning, Loretta.”
She sets the plate and mug down and gestures for me to sit. I thank her before taking a sip of coffee. And I don’t know what it is, but this woman brews the richest cup of coffee I’ve ever tasted.
She sits down across from me. And for once, she looks eager to talk to me instead of eager to avoid conversation.
“I talked to Cecil yesterday evening,” she tells me. “She was quite happy about Sebastian stopping by. It was good for all three of them.”
“I think so, too,” I say. “I noticed Sebastian was a little better than before.”
Now that I think about it, he was a little too happy yesterday when we left the hospital; like someone told him a funny joke. After my encounter with Garrett, I decided to wait in the car until they were done, and after an hour inside, Loretta and Sebastian finally came out of the hospital. His face was lit with this cocky smirk that confused the hell out of me.
“Is he gonna be going to the luncheon Fiona is holding today?” Loretta asks me.
Luncheon? I wasn’t aware of that.
“There’s going to be a luncheon?”
Loretta nods. “Mhm. Sort of a ‘Family Reunion’ and ‘Congratulations to Elizabeth having her baby’ thing before she leaves tomorrow.”
Now that I hear of this “Family Gathering,” Sebastian must go to it. If Sebastian is the only one not present at the first family luncheon and the last day of Elizabeth being here before she heads back home, people will be curious; people will probably blame me, for all I know. And the last thing I want is to be on the Vaun’s hit-list.
“Well I’ll make sure he does go, because I’m certain he’ll conjure up any excuse not to attend.”
“Well none of the maids and nannies have a choice since we’re waiting on the luncheon, so I’ll be in attendance myself.”
Her dim and somber attitude to being with the Vaun family all day makes me laugh. After I finish my bagel, I leave the guest house and head to the library. Outside, I see workers taking tables, chairs and other set-up items down the trail the opposite side of the house, where the lake resides.
It’s still early in the morning, so I assume that most everyone is still sleeping. The only sounds inside the house come from the kitchen, where the cooks are preparing breakfast and food for the luncheon, from what I see—chicken being prepped and put into the oven and potatoes being covered in tin foil.
When I walk into the library, Sarah, Lucas and Sebastian are already inside, sitting and conversing on the couches.
“Oh!” I close the door behind me. “You’re all already up?”
“It pays to be up bright and early, Ms. King,” Sebastian tells me, a wide smile planted on his face. “Your dreams must have kept you through your alarm?”
I frown, confused. “Um…no, I just…I was talking to Loretta before I came here and we kind of got held up.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Sarah says to me. I notice her eyes bore into Sebastian, causing him to look away from both of us.
Still a bit confused about the odd atmosphere, I let it go before setting my laptop and purse down on the table. Considering that I’m no longer obligated to work this operation Garrett’s way, I have a different path for us. And they’ll probably be a little perplexed at my change of spirit. But if this last month has taught me anything, it’s made me realize what’s good for Sebastian, instead of what’s good for his father.
“Before we start, I’d like to say something important.”
I have everyone’s attention as I walk to the front of the desk. I take a deep breath before I begin.
“I know that the last three weeks have been very confusing. I’ll admit, ever since that day Sebastian and I got lost in the woods, tensions have been kind of high between everyone here in the manor.”
The amusement on Sebastian’s face is gone. Instead, he looks anguished, remembering the events that proceeded that day.
“We haven’t really been on the same page. It’s almost as if we’ve forgotten the reason why we’re here in the first place. We’ve been very divided, detached and distracted. And I don’t want that anymore. Garrett officially announces his retirement in about three weeks, and we have one more week here. Which means we have two weeks after we leave to make Sebastian seem ready and able enough to the Board to run Harrison Incorporated. I’ve been thinking a lot about our approach and I think it’s time we take a different route.”
“I appreciate the incentive on being more united,” Sarah says. “But what do you mean by ‘different route?’”
“Starting fresh,” I reply with an amount of optimism that lets them know I’m serious. I’ve known since Sebastian revealed his past to me that I’ve been going about this all wrong. And I believe quitting my job has made me realize how we should have handled this situation in the first place. We should have advertised Sebastian as who he is instead of who we wanted him to be. And the only way we can do that now is if we go back to the drawing board. But I don’t want to propose any sudden moves unless we all agree.”
The library is silent. Sebastian exchanges a look with Sarah, who has her arms crossed over her chest as she thinks hard to herself. Lucas has this doe-eyed look on his face that reads “I’m the assistant, so I don’t have much of a choice.”
“I like it,” Sarah suddenly says to break the silence. She smiles widely; it’s almost contagious.
“I like it, too,” Lucas adds. “I love it, actually.”
I look towards Sebastian, who is a bit distant. Is he reluctant on the idea of showing the world who he really is?
“Sebastian?” I say to him. “What do you think?”
It takes him a while, but after a prolonged silence, he smiles slightly and says:
“That’s a great idea.”
Sarah, Lucas and I are ecstatic with Sebastian’s approval. We begin suggesting new ideas to start creating a new brand for Sebastian, but then I remember one detail I forgot to mention to Sebastian.
“Sebastian, can I talk to you for a minute?”
Sebastian raises his head and looks around like I meant to ask someone else, but compliantly he gets up and follows me out of the library. Sarah and Lucas continue on with their discussion, but Sarah’s eyes linger on us for a little while longer, with an emotion in her eyes that I can’t quite pinpoint.
I close the door when we’re in the hallway, but decide to stay close instead of wander off; I don’t want to run into any family members who are now awake.
“So what’s up?”
I shrug, “Nothing. Just wanted to check in with you and see how you’re doing. All with going to Cecil’s and everything that happened before that.”
Stupid excuse. I’ve never been good at making smooth transitions in conversation. And Sebastian sees that, for he raises one eyebrow at me and starts laughing, like I told Loretta he usually does when he doesn’t get something.
“Um…I’m doing pretty good.”
“That’s good.” I softly punch his shoulder and laugh a little too loudly. “It must feel great to be an uncle, huh?”
“Is something wrong?” he asks me. That same cocky smirk from yesterday is still planted on his face as he looks down at me, and I also notice him standing awfully close to me. I take a step back and look away from him.
“Nothing’s wrong.” I pause. “Well…besides the fact that I quit working for your father yesterday.”
All Sebastian’s enjoyment is replaced with shock.
“Are you serious? Why? I mean, I’m not surprised you’ve come to your senses but…why now?”
“Like you said—I came to my senses. Maybe a little too late but better late than never.”
Sebastian nods in agreement, still a bit stunned. “Yeah, you’re right. So, what does this mean?”
“It means that I’m currently unemployed, and that technically, I shouldn’t actually be here because I was brought here on Mr. Harrison’s orders. But since I don’t work for him anymore—”
“You don’t have to stay,” he finishes quietly. The somberness in his voice adds a weight to my chest.
No one speaks for a minute. I’m caught between letting it go or asking him what I wanted to ask in the first place.
I decide on the second option.
“The other reason why I brought you out here is because I wanted to ask you something,” I start off hesitantly. “I know how negatively you feel about having a full-time publicist from what you’ve told me in the past, but I just figured that since we’ve been working together for a while through your father, and your name is starting to make different headlines in the press, that you would consider—”
“Hiring you?” he finishes again, only this time not as lowly.
“Yes. I completely understand if you’d rather not, though.”
Sebastian begins laughing, even though I’m sure what I said wasn’t funny. Was it?
“Leslie, of course I’ll hire you,” he then says. “I was going to ask you myself anyway.”
He nods. “After all you’ve done for us? For me? Why wouldn’t I want to be your client?”
I shrug, unsure of how to answer the question. Frankly, the fact that I lied to him about being compensated for the job is a reason why he wouldn’t want me to publicize him? But then again, he doesn’t know that, and I don’t know if telling him that I threw the check in his father’s face would make a difference.
“So it’s official? I’m your publicist?”
“You’re my publicist,” he says with a smile.
I know I shouldn’t feel too different, but this really changes everything. Where am I to work now that I don’t work at Harrison Inc. anymore?
“I’ll have Lucas print out all the necessary paperwork and call my accountant to handle how you’ll be paid and all of that. And I’ll have Sarah make a few calls to a couple firms and see if we can get you an interview.”
The word “firms” makes me cringe. I haven’t worked for a publications firm in over a year, and the thought of being in a different environment scares me a bit. But the fact that Sebastian is my official client know makes all the difference, and for that, I’m thankful.
We exchange a handshake that we can’t even do without laughing. After a while, Sebastian’s smile falters a bit.
“Is something the matter?” I ask him.
He shakes his head, chuckling to himself. “Nothing it’s…I guess me being your client might serve as a conflict of interest, especially when—if, I become CEO.”
“And why is that?”
Sebastian hesitates, but even before he can answer, a loud screeching sound down the hallway makes us both jump in surprise, and three seconds later, a myriad of pajama-wearing children ranging from four years old to around eleven years old run down the hallway towards us, screaming and laughing.
This is why I don’t want kids.
Sebastian and I quickly step out of the way, and as if we’re not even here, they all run through the library doors and storm into the room. Lucas’s screams and Sarah’s angry and surprised shouts are heard shortly after.
“What the fuck?” Sebastian mutters, staring through the open doors at the kids piling on top of Lucas and laughing at how furious Sarah is.
There’s one more voice at the end of the hall—one that’s much younger than the rest we heard before. A boy barely reaching the age of one and a half waddles down the hallway, giggling, trying to follow the crowd of kids; kids that are most likely his cousins. Poor thing can barely keep his balance, but he’s determined to get to where the fun and commotion is at in his blue dinosaur-themed onesie.
Sebastian and I just watch him. He almost makes it towards us until he trips over his own little feet halfway and falls face first.
“Alright,” Sebastian says as he walks over to him. “You’re done, buddy.”
The little boy picks himself up, balancing on his hands and feet for a moment with his butt in the air, but Sebastian grabs him and carries him in his arms before he can walk again.
“Da?” he coos at Sebastian, pointing at the kids with a look of longing on his face.
“That isn’t your crowd yet,” he tells him reassuringly. “Give it a couple more years.”
Suddenly, four to five nannies come running down the hall in a frazzled state. One after one, they all enter the library, and the kids start screaming and running away from them around the couches. Lucas tries to get up, but three kids jump on top of him before he can make a run for it.
“I’m so sorry,” the last Nanny to come down the hall apologies sincerely. “They all just rebelled against us all at once.”
“Please, don’t apologize,” Sebastian responds. “I think you out of all people deserve an apology.”
She smiles at us, like a quiet thank you, before taking the boy out of Sebastian’s arms.
“C’mon, Levi. Let’s go to your mommy,” she tells him.
“Mamama-mami!” he exclaims as she takes him down the hall.
We both then focus our attention to the library—a chaotic mess. Rushing inside, we stare at the array of kids running away from the Nannies all at once; the four of them don’t stand a chance against all of them.
It’s like a tornado was unleashed in here; I’ve never seen Sarah so angry, and if it weren’t for the children acting like headless chickens, I probably would be laughing at her face right now.
Suddenly, the loud baritone of Sebastian’s voice screaming “hey!” at the kids startles everyone into silence.
Like someone froze the motion in the room, the kids halt wherever they’re at and stare at Sebastian with wide, frightened eyes.
Even Lucas is scared.
“Is this how your parents expect you to behave?” Sebastian asks them all assertively.
“No,” they all say, ashamed.
Sebastian crosses his arms over his chest and stares down at all of them, and they all stare up at him in wonder and awe.
“Apologize to them,” he orders, gesturing to the Nannies who are standing around unsure of what to do.
“Sorry,” the kids say at the same time. Seeing Sebastian so authoritative over the kids, and seeing the children actually listen to him is crazy to see.
“But it isn’t our fault, Sebby” a familiar blonde girl—Rachael—says from behind the couch.
She nods, “Oma told us to do it.”
Oma. Sebastian’s Grandmother.
Once the name leaves Rachael’s mouth, Sebastian immediately sighs irately and rolls his eyes. Knowing that Sebastian’s change of mood has made the situation a lot worse, the Nannies quickly usher the kids out of the room, all of them slowly walking out the door. Rachael is the last one to walk out, but before she does, Sebastian scoops her up in his arms and hauls her over his shoulder.
“And my name isn’t ‘Sebby,’” he tells her playfully. “It’s Sebastian!”
“No,” she giggles. “It’s Sebby! Sebby, Sebby, Sebby!”
I can just die from cuteness.
When the children and nannies are out of the room, Sebastian apologizes on behalf of his family. Lucas adds that the day we were at Cecil’s, the kids and Oma herself had grown a liking to Lucas and Sarah, which would explain the stampede targeted right at Lucas.
“I don’t know what it is about me, but kids just love hanging around me!”
Sarah scoffs at Lucas, “They thought you’re a Leprechaun; they were looking for gold.”
Lucas glares at Sarah before mumbling something about her under his breath.
“Anyway, did you see them setting up the chairs and tables for the luncheon by the lake?” I ask Sebastian, not wanting to sound too forward.
He laughs, like it’s a mockery. “Yeah. Hope they have fun at that.”
“You mean you’re going to have fun at that,” Sarah interjects. “You’re going.”
“I agree,” I add. “It’s a celebratory luncheon for your sister and your family coming in to visit. It would be rude of you not to be there.”
Sebastian ponders on the fact, his green eyes dark and annoyed, but he knows that we’re right about this. And even though his reaction is oppositional, it’s better than how he would act before; he would glue his shoes to the ground and refuse to even hear the option. But now, he knows right from wrong. And I can’t really blame him; his family isn’t an understanding lot at all. If I had gone through what Sebastian went through when he was younger, I wouldn’t want to be around the family who didn’t even bat an eye.
In a sense, Sebastian and I have gone through similar things in our teenage years in terms of self and peer-inflicted abuse, but in general they’re both different sorrows.
“Fine,” he groans in defeat before plopping down on the couch. He wears a grimace on his face until he pulls a child’s Barbie doll from underneath him and throws it on the ground carelessly.
“Look on the bright side,” I optimize. “You’ll be out enjoying the picnic, maybe playing some games with your family while we slave away in here.”
Lucas points at me with enthusiasm, “She’s right, Sebastian. The hot, scorching sun is miles better than the comfort of this nice, air conditioned, quiet library.”
“I’m glad you feel that way, Lucas. Because you’re coming with me.”
Lucas’ smile fades immediately.
As Sebastian’s assistant, he’s in absolutely no position to say no, so he nods and tries to hide his disappointment.
“You dug that hole for yourself, Lucas,” Sarah laughs at him.
“I’ve been doing that a lot lately,” he reminisces ruefully.
By noon, Sarah and I start planning the new drawing board for publicizing Sebastian Harrison. For the last three hours, we’ve been making calls, answering emails, writing out plans and searching Google News of Sebastian’s name until our eyes burned. Eventually, we came to the conclusion that it is time Sebastian made an Instagram and Twitter account.
“Social media is hands down the best outlet for him,” Sarah says. “And he’s been running away from making an Instagram for far too long.”
I don’t have an Instagram myself, but I know that it is an influential platform. With that, we write the plan down in the notebook we have devoted to our new start—a notebook we will show Sebastian when he gets back. Lucas has called twice giving me mandatory updates.
“Everything is going great,” he told us over the phone. “The kids are playing, everyone is eating, and I’m stuck at the table by myself because Sebastian is engrossed in a conversation with his cousin, Claude.”
Sarah still is unaware of me quitting my job, let alone taking up employment with Sebastian officially instead of through his father; Sebastian hasn’t told her yet. Since she’s his manager, she’s technically the overseer of everything involving him; she’s a publicist, assistant, agent and therapist all in one for him. So I don’t know how she’ll feel about me injecting myself into the mix permanently. And not only that, but Sebastian saying he loves me still lingers in the very back of my mind. It’s absolutely idiotic for me to continue thinking of something he said while he was drunk, but I just can’t figure out why I can’t help but think about it from time to time, whether or not he really meant it.
“Alright. What’s eating at you, now?”
Sarah’s voice snaps me out of my thoughts. I’ve been staring at my computer screen for a good two minutes without doing anything.
“Wh-what? Oh, nothing. I was just thinking.”
“Thinking about what?”
Sarah leaves her spot on the couch and walks over to where I sit at the desk. No matter what, Sarah has this way of grinding the truth out of you. Maybe it’s her eyes; small, dark and intimidating, but honest and wise.
“Well, for starters, I quit working for Garrett, and officially…well, unofficially, I work for Sebastian now.”
I wait for a reaction like the one I picture in my mind, but instead a smile showing off her bright teeth appears instead. It almost shocks me seeing Sarah smile this way.
“Are you serious!? That’s amazing! Why did you quit, though?”
I can tell her about the dark, twisted past Sebastian endured thanks to his heartless father, the blackmail, the threats, the intimidation, the secrets bestowed upon me about Garrett being involved with drug cartels as well as political and corporate corruption, conspiracy and money laundering. But instead I opt for:
“I feel more comfortable working for Sebastian. I know him better.”
She shrugs with understanding. “I see that. Are you ready to be working in a firm? You’ve been cooped up in your little castle of an office for a while.”
“I’ve worked in a firm before, so I know what to expect. It’s just nailing the interview that I need to worry about.”
“Trust me, if they know that you worked for Garrett Harrison and are currently working for his son, they’ll hire you in a heartbeat. That’s publicity for their establishment that they can’t pass up.”
She has a point there. Hell will freeze over the day that Garrett passes down a reference for me, but I think I’ll still be in shallow waters without it.
Sarah sees that something else is eating away at my ceaseless brain.
“What else is bothering you?” she asks me. I rub my eyes and prepare to tell her the truth about what Sebastian said to me, but the loud sound of someone bursting into the library scares us both out of our conversation.
Rachael enters the room, dripping wet in her swim suit, both excited and anxious. She leaves a trail of water as she jogs into the room with a towel wrapped around her body.
“Rachael? What are you doing here?”
She pants for a moment, gives me a damp hug, and catches her breath before saying:
“Sebastian is looking for you!”
Sarah and I exchange looks that speak louder than any words could.
“He’s looking for both of you!” she informs both of us. “All the-all the boys are throwing all the girls into the lake!”
You’re fucking joking.
“That piece of shit,” Sarah growls, excusing herself for her language around Rachael.
“Okay, wait, wait. Start from the beginning, Rachael.”
She nods, shivering. “Claudie and Daddy started throwing the kids into the lake when we started swimming, and Auntie Barbara splashed Uncle Jude with water, so Uncle Jude and Daddy grabbed her and threw her into the lake, and then Willi, Trey, Sebby, Patty, Daddy, Claudie and Uncle Jude started to throw the girls into the lake! And they didn’t have their swim suits on or anything!”
They’re in the library, Claude.
All three of us freeze when we hear Sebastian outside by the window.
Like we have no sense or logic, Sarah and I start running out the library and through the hallway until we reach the staircase. Rachael is right behind us, laughing until she’s tickled pink and leaving an obvious trail of water behind her. We check all the doors for refuge, but they all seem to be locked.
“This is bullshit!” Sarah whispers out of anything but humor. I agree, though—the last thing I wanted to do today was run through the manor over a tip provided to us from a little girl. Hell, I’m close to just turning back to the library and calling their bluff, but once we reach the edge of the east wing, we see for ourselves—grown women, no matter how big or small running from unnamed male family members chasing after them. Sarah and I see one woman being thrown into the lake and our hearts drop. Respectably, they aren’t throwing any of the older women in; they laugh at the spectacle instead.
“I swear to God, I’m not going without a fight,” Sarah says defensively. “Sebastian’s on pure crack if he thinks he’s throwing me into a fucking lake! Who does he think I am?”
“What if this is revenge for making him go to the luncheon?” I ask Sarah, staring at the chaos outside by the lake.
“Technically, we didn’t make him go! And what if he just sent Rachael here as a joke? I mean, we aren’t even family! We have no business in that…game!”
Sarah’s right, but who knows what Sebastian’s motives are? If anything, I would think he would spare us since we work for him.
“I think our best bet is to make a run for the guest house? Suggests Sarah. “Lock ourselves in there? They’ll eventually get tired of waiting and leave us alone.”
“Good idea. I think we should split up and rendezvous by the stables.”
Sarah arches a bow at me, but trusts in my judgment. I don’t know if my judgment is right, but then again I didn’t expect to be playing a game of cat and mouse today.
“Can I help!?” Rachael asks excitedly, like this is some sort of fun game.
“Keep watch,” Sarah tasks her. I give her a disapproving look for employing a five-year-old.
She runs off down the hall and down the stairs.
“All clear!” we hear he scream.
Sarah and I make our way through the second floor, down the staircase and go our separate ways. I decide to go through the living room, while Sarah goes through the front door and treks all the way around. Rachael is hiding behind a plant giggling her life away while giving me a thumbs up.
Through the living room, I hear Sebastian’s voice along with another male’s voice; they’re near the front entrance of the house laughing and joking about finding us, which gives me a clear opportunity to make a run for it to the guest house.
“I did not sign up for this!” I whisper to myself.
Kitchen. I’m nearing the back door, ignoring the loud and boisterous screams coming from the lake. Just as I’m about to open the back door, I hear laughter behind me.
Belonging to a baby.
I turn around to find Levi behind me, staring up at me with his brown eyes. His fingers are in his mouth, covered in drool.
“Oh, God. You’re kidding,” I kneel down to his height. “Where is your mom?”
Seriously; where is this kid’s mom?
He just laughs at me, his two bottom teeth the only teeth that this boy has. I look around, but the house is practically empty. I can’t just leave this boy here.
I deserve an award for being such a saint.
“Come here, Levi,” I say gently, but he nears me only to give me a hug. I hug him back, dreading the thought of rejecting this baby, before picking him up and trying to remember where the nursery is—the place where the toddlers and tired kids stay with the Nannies.
After two minutes of running around, I finally find the nursery by the east wing downstairs, where Sarah decided to run. I wonder if she’s at the guest house?
I make it inside the nursery. The Nannies are reading stories to the toddlers and tending to the sleeping children. One of the Nannies sees Levi, looks around, and wears an embarrassed look.
“Oh, God. How did he get out this time!?” she takes him from me. “Thank you.”
“No problem.” I tell her before leaving. And upon leaving, I realize that I can find safety inside the nursery; they wouldn’t dare disrupt a nursery, right? And plus, I can try to mend my unexplainable uncomfortableness around children.
I pivot and turn back towards the room, but before I can even near the door, I hear the back door open; the one that happens to be a few yards away by the sun room. The tall, green-eyed man that I have just employed myself to enters the house, his t-shirt splattered with water and his hair damp, hanging by his eyes. I don’t move and hope for the best, but it’s no use, because once he turns his head to the left, his eyes lock with mine, and a smile slowly creeps onto his face.
And the first thing I do is take off my flats and throw them at his face before I take off through the house screaming.