“Bro, look over there. Table five.”
Trevor slaps my shoulder, bringing my attention—and the attention of Franklin and Chris—to a table behind us at the restaurant we’re at—The Cabana on Melrose. The four women sitting there gives us smiles that say, “If you let me, I’ll gladly blow you in the back.” Don’t get me wrong—they’re hot. All four of them. But my mind is a little preoccupied on other things.
“You eyeing the redhead?” Franklin asks me. I didn’t even realize the girl was a redhead; that’s how much I don’t care.
“Um…nah, not really. Not my type.”
My friends stare at me like I have five heads. Trevor downs his drink and narrows his eyes.
“Hold up, hold up. Four hot chicks are staring our way—four that you know you can score all at once, and you’re looking like your dog just died. What’s up, man?”
“Nothing’s up.” Lies. “I’ve just got a lot of shit I’ve got to take care of.”
“Is this about Felicity?” Chris asks me. “’Cause if you aren’t hitting that anymore, I’ll gladly oblige; I’m sure she’d be down for Team Swirl.”
I laugh. “Man, you can have her. She’s fucking crazy.”
I don’t say that lightly. Ever since I left her at the party last night, Felicity has been blowing up my phone; 40 missed calls are cramping up my recents. That, on top of Sarah doing the same for a different reason. I replied to Sarah, telling her what happened and not to talk to Leslie about it, either.
After leaving her apartment this morning, I haven’t been able to stop worrying about her. She’s a big girl, I know—but fuck, that doesn’t mean I can’t worry, right? And it’s bad enough Claude hasn’t gotten back to me; I’ve been eying my phone all morning since I showered and came here, waiting for his call on the intel I asked him to sniff up.
Oh, shit—I still need to figure out how to pull off dinner tomorrow night. I decided on Surf and Turf earlier this afternoon, and sent Lucas out to get all of the stuff I need. Now I just need to make it taste good, and on my own, too; no help from my cook, Viv.
All four of us turn to the petite redhead walking towards our table. She stands close to where I sit, eying me with mischievous blue eyes and pushing out her tits that are close to popping out of her tank top.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” she says, her voice soft and alluring.
“No bother at all,” Franklin tells her, smiling. She glances at him before looking back at me.
“Um…you’re Sebastian Harrison, right?” she asks me.
I nod, and she chuckles down at her nails.
“This is so crazy, and I wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t for my friends over there encouraging me to talk to you, but they know how hot I think you are so they kind of dared me to do this.”
You can practically see the green radiating from my friends by how envious they are. I try to revel in the moment, but I can’t seem to. This girl is insanely hot, and usually by this point, I would ask her out for drinks later on tonight. But I’m just…silent—not wanting to be rude by dismissing her yet not wanting to be encouraging by returning her advances, either.
Is this what it’s like when your big head starts thinking for your little head for once?
Redhead pulls out a pen and starts writing her name on a napkin.
“My name’s Claire.” She places the napkin in my shirt pocket. “Call me when you want a good time.”
Claire’s hand rests on my chest, her eyes staring into mine without restraint. Then she leaves our table, and my friends watch her ass grow farther and farther as she walks back to her friends.
“I hate you so much, bro,” Trevor groans, rubbing his eyes.
I shrug, “Don’t. Odds are I won’t be calling her.”
“Are you serious?!” they all exclaim at the same time. As they ask me why I won’t call Claire “for a good time,” I get a text—A text from Leslie:
“I’m currently grocery shopping, and I just passed the alcohol aisle. I was hesitant about purchasing a bottle of wine because I’m sure that whatever you have is much more lavish than cheap Albertson’s wine. So I don’t know if you would like me to get the wine for dinner tomorrow or if you have something up your sleeve? And also, do you want me to do dessert? (I know you’re allergic to strawberries so I wouldn’t get that.) omg this text is so long I’m sorry lol.”
I reply to the text, unaware of how wide I’m smiling until my friend points it out.
“Who’s got you all cheeky, bro?” Chris asks, and before I can answer him, Trevor snatches my cell phone out of my hand.
“Give me my goddamn phone!”
Trevor ignores me and stares at the screen, gasping like an idiot. “Dinner? Wine? You…cooking!? This sounds serious, Sebby!”
Franklin and Chris look at the text over Trevor’s shoulder. Franklin reads my reply aloud:
“Don’t worry about it, lol. I’ve got everything covered. You just bring your—” his jaw drops dramatically, “—company!? With a smiley face emoji at the end, too?!”
“Aww!” they all say.
I’m close to strangling all of them right now.
“Stop the bullshit, you guys.”
Chris squints his eyes at my phone. “Who is…Leslie?” he asks.
“No one. Just a friend,” I answer.
“No, no, I know that name,” Trevor says. “Isn’t that the publicist you’ve been spending all that time with? The one I drunk dialed at that party you had last month?”
I sigh. “Yes, but we just work together.”
“You’re not hittin’ that?” Franklin asks.
Chris cocks a brow. “Not yet?”
All three of them start freaking out, roaring in laughter at their assumption.
“I could have sworn you said that she was an uptight bitch with a wood chipper for a cooch?” Trevor reminds me oh so animatedly.
I completely forgot that I said that about Leslie a month ago. A lot can change in thirty days, I suppose.
“Well, I did say that,” I admit. “But she’s different, I’m serious. She’s a real classy woman, who’s got a lot going for her. She’s independent, sassy, knows how to deal with her own shit and can handle everyone else’s, too.”
Chris takes a sip of his drink and thinks on my words. “Well, that still falls in line with the uptight character you were talking about,” he says.
“No, no, no, she isn’t like that. I mean, yeah, Leslie’s uptight but she’s only like that when it comes to her job. But aside from her work, she’s funny, and really smart and caring. She…she listens to you and understands what you’re going through.” I laugh to myself. “It’s so funny, she does this thing where she scrunches up her nose a little when she laughs and it’s really cu—”
I can’t even finish my sentence; my friends are staring at me with the dumbest expressions on their faces.
“What?” I groan.
“Bro, you like her,” Trevor tells me. “It’s so obvious.”
I shake the notion away. “N-no, I don’t—”
“Look, he’s blushing!” Chris laughs. “He doesn’t even believe in his own bullshit.”
I never knew how vexing my friends could be; this is like breakfast with Sarah all over again, when she constantly assured me that I had feelings for Leslie.
All of them start laughing at me and my denial; I blush harder. I hate that shit; blushing.
“But seriously. Do you like her?” Franklin asks.
I pause, the silence killing them. They’ve never seem me so whipped, and it’s entertaining to them.
“Fuck.” I rub my eyes. “It’s that obvious, isn’t it?”
As if my friends couldn’t get any louder.
“Dude,” Franklin says, shocked. “I’ve never seen you like this. It’s that serious?”
I don’t even think I can answer that; their mouths are so big they may accidentally tell the wrong person, and then boom—Leslie’s name is plastered on every gossip site after my name. That’s the last thing I’d want for her.
My phone starts ringing in Trevor’s hand. My heart drops when I see it’s a call from Claude.
I take the phone from Trevor and answer it, leaving the table and taking the back door to the sidewalk. I see a few paparazzi across the street snapping pictures; I ignore them.
“Claude. What’s up?”
He sighs, exhausted. “Some interesting shit. Very interesting shit.”
I hear the tiredness in his voice, like he took on more than he initially thought.
“What did you find?”
“Your assumptions were right. Garrett got in contact with a man named Hudson Bradford, offered him a large amount of cash in exchange for a spectacle with his girlfriend, Alejandra Flores, who happens to be in ‘line’ to becoming Garrett’s press representative or something.”
“So that marriage proposal was all bullshit?”
“Most likely. But there’s more about Leslie’s Ma.”
I pace the sidewalk, then advise Claude to tell me.
“Well, your girl is an interesting cookie. We couldn’t find and information on the number contacting Leslie’s phone, but we found that Axel was some junkie she was affiliated with when she was younger.”
“Died of a heroin overdose, I know.”
“Yup. But get this—she was there when it happened. Her and some other girl named Candy Ryan. They fled the scene and left Axel in the house where he died a couple of minutes later. Feds found him with…’vomit stained on his mouth, eyes rolled back into his head, pale and unresponsive.”
Jesus Christ. I can already tell where my Dad plays a part in all of this.
“But what does that have to do with Leslie’s mom?”
“Her ma paid off the witness to keep their mouth shut. As far as we’re all concerned, Leslie and ‘Candy’ were never there.”
“Shit. And my father knows all of this?”
“Unfortunately, yes. My guy and I got a hold of some emails between Francesca and Garrett’s assistant. Garrett paid her a hefty sum to hand over the info. This is some heavy shit; he had to dig pretty deep for somethin’ like this. And if this gets out, it could do some major damage to your little princess. Major damage.”
I’m so angry my hands are shaking; my vision is spotty; my skin is cold in the hot June air.
My father. Garrett. That son of a bitch.
“Hello, sir. May I help you?”
The host at the country club I’m at is staring at me, anxious at my expression. I didn’t think I’d find myself at the Hillcrest, but after what Claude told me, the only thing I wanted to do was see my father and ask him what twisted shit goes on in his compulsive head. So I called Harrison Inc. and demanded to the secretary that she tell me where my father is.
So now I’m here.
People are staring at me; mostly middle aged and elderly men enjoying their Mimosas and talking about golf or whatever the fuck old rich men talk about. They see me as an outsider. And I don’t blame them—I am an outsider. And If I’m “lucky” enough to become the President of Harrison Incorporated, I don’t know how I’ll be able to associate myself at places like this.
“I’m looking for my father. Garrett Harrison. Where is he?”
He’s taken back by my tone. “I’m sorry, sir, but I’m not authorized to—”
“Bullshit. Where is he?!”
His mouth is sealed tight, eyes bigger than the golf balls flying around outside. The host tells me timidly that he’ll call the manager and see if he can help me, but my eyes suddenly spot my father in the corner of the dining area, enjoying a meal with two other men.
I push past the host, who calls after me over and over again as if I’ll listen. Eyes shift onto me as I pass through the bright room, filled with jazz music and expensive silverware.
The look on my father’s face when he sees me is unreadable. The two other men—one around my father’s age and another a little older than I, turn around and stare at me.
“Sebastian.” My father smiles stiffly. “What brings you—”
“You sick son of a bitch!”
The room becomes deathly silent. My father doesn’t look embarrassed that every set of eyes in the room are on us. He sticks his eyes on me, like he’s challenging me.
Collectedly, my father takes the napkin on the table and wipes his mouth quietly.
“Salvador.” He says to the older man before turning to the younger one. “Paolo. Meet my son, Sebastian. Sebastian, this is Salvador and Paolo Quintanilla.”
Salvador and Paolo try to introduce themselves, but I’m past friendly introductions.
“Everything you’ve done to Leslie last night at the party. Why?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, son.”
“Dad, I’m not in the mood for your shit!”
Now I see my father a little concerned for his rep here. The manager is next to the host, staring at us and waiting to see if it’s appropriate to include themselves.
“Would you excuse us for a moment?” My father tells Salvador and Paolo, and immediately they get up from the table and walk towards the entrance to the golf course. Paolo’s eyes me suspiciously, and I eye him the same exact way until he breaks his stare from me and follows his father.
“Have a seat, Sebastian.”
I don’t move. My father sighs and continues to cut into his steak when he realizes that I’m not moving.
“Fine. Have it your way, son.”
Eventually, the manager and the host leave when they don’t detect a “threat.”
“Now, may I know why my lunch was so rudely interrupted?”
“Everything that happened last night to Leslie was your fault. Don’t try to deny it because I know for a fact it was you.”
“I still don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The fact that he takes me for a fool makes me want to wring my hands around his neck. He eats his steak with a nonchalance in his character and drinks is iced tea slowly.
“Are you doing this because she quit? Is that why?”
“No, because I’m not doing anything.” He speaks to me with his eyes on his plate, cutting another slab from his meat. “Her quitting was her choice, and I have nothing against her for that.”
“But you do have something against her for having me as her client instead?”
“Nonsense. Honestly, Sebastian, I don’t understand why you’re so dedicated to this woman in the first place. She’s just a publicist.”
“She’s more than that. You’re harassing her—pinning her past against her and fucking with her head!”
“Jesus, Sebastian, she’s playing you! Making you believe she’s an innocent girl who has a past that she’s trying to run from. She’s been playing you from the beginning!”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I know exactly what I’m talking about.” He’s looking at me now. “Did she tell you that she helped you because she cared? Because she had invested a genuine interest in you? Because that’s all lies. She played her roll in this because I paid her. Case closed.”
“You’re lying. She would never do that.”
My father doesn’t reply. Instead, he laughs—harder than he should be laughing.
“Two million dollars. That’s how much I paid her for this whole ‘operation’ in the first place. She quit being my publicist, but she still agreed to help me slap you into shape.”
“Bullshit. Leslie wouldn’t—”
“She still has the check!” My father tells me. “Probably has it hidden somewhere. After the Board appoints you with a unanimous vote, that’s when you’ll never hear from again. Did you really believe that she liked you? That a woman as sophisticated, intelligent and independent as Leslie would fall for a man like you? Please, Sebastian. Wake up. It was always about the money.”
And it is then that I see what I hadn’t seen before—the redness of my father’s face, the way he has suddenly started to violently cut his steak, the stressed look he has. It all makes sense now.
“Holy shit. I understand.”
My father smirks. “Finally. At least there’s some sense left in you.”
“Yes, there is. You’re obsessed with Leslie, aren’t you?”
He stops cutting his steak.
My father chuckles in an attempt to dissuade my assumption. “Is that what your conclusions have become? Ridiculous.”
“That’s why you didn’t want her knowing about my childhood, or investing any more time in me. It’s even why you went as far as to dwell into her past—you couldn’t handle knowing that maybe, just maybe, she was falling for me; growing an attraction towards me. So it gave you even more reason to pull the ‘dwelling-into-our-family’ card and threaten her. But really, this was all about your anger, knowing that you could never have her the way that I possibly could.”
For once, my father’s silence isn’t a sign that he’s gained the upper hand.
“When you realized that Leslie would never reciprocate the same feelings, you started thinking of ways you could make her miserable.” I can’t help but laugh. “It’s only a matter of time before you realize that no matter how much misery you cause her, she will never want a shriveled up, evil, sociopath like you. Never.”
I’ve never felt this liberated; never have I stood up to my father like this. Why? Well I never found a reason to prompt me to. Until now.
I lean over and stare into his eyes; it frightens me how much of myself I see in my old man.
“If you ever try to threaten, blackmail, or harass Leslie again with whatever bribery or past-bullshit you try to dig up, I won’t hesitate to ruin you. I know shit about you that can completely destroy your life, and I will gladly expose you, regardless of whether or not you’re my father. You’ve stomped on me and everything I love for far too long. I won’t let you do it anymore. You understand?”
I take his silence as an agreement.
When I back away from the table and walk through the room to the exit, it feels as if a heavy weight is lifted from my shoulders. I’m still surprised that I never realized my father’s intentions, and upon realizing this discovery, it makes me believe how much more vulnerable Leslie is; people do crazy shit for love.
The host follows me with his eyes, a bottle of wine in his hand. I take out my wallet and slip him three Benjamins in his apron pocket.
“Sorry for the trouble,” I tell him before continuing to the exit. Of course, paparazzi are outside waiting for me, but for once I’m not as irritated as I usually am. The only thing I wish to do now is head home.
I have a dinner to plan, and I intend on not fucking it up.