It’s my fault for thinking this wouldn’t happen.
Usually I would admit to my own fault with a hint of uncertainty, using words such as “I guess” or “I suppose.” I won’t use them this time; this is my fault. Point. Blank. Period.
I went this long, letting the lie accumulate into something that it never would have been if I were just honest in the first place. In my defense, I thought Sebastian wouldn’t open up to me if he knew I was paid a very large sum to be with him. Is that a valid argument? I hope so; it’s the only one I have. That, and the fact that my feelings have changed drastically during this month with his company.
Garrett strides into the conference room with an ulterior motive set deep into his dark blue eyes. Everyone is puzzled; I’m not. I know exactly why he’s here. And it’s too late to run.
I recognize the man walking in behind Garrett—Alexander Danger, the awkward attorney who was present when Garrett, Sebastian and I held our first encounter a month ago. Nothing has changed; he’s still awkward. He’s like a male version of Ingrid.
Mr. Danger sets his brief case down on the table. All of us silently stare at it like it’s hazardous material. I look at Garrett, but he isn’t looking at me—the usual malicious expression he wears around me isn’t there anymore. Instead, he looks purely angry.
“Again, I hate to interrupt your meeting,” he repeats. “But I figured that now would be a good time to address you while you’re both here.”
He’s talking about Sebastian and I. No question. Sarah and Lucas already know they have nothing to do with why Garrett is here, yet at the same time, knowing Sebastian is involved, it still seems like it’s their problem.
“It isn’t a bother at all, Garrett Harrison,” someone from the social media team says, awestruck. “It’s an honor to have you here. W-would you like us to step out while you…conference?”
“That would be best.” His smile sends chills up my spine. Immediately, the social media team shuffles out of the room. I remember that there’s a chance Garrett owns this building, too; his influence is truly widespread. At a time, I would admire this. Now, it scares me.
I yearn deeply to walk out with them, but the door closes coldly behind the team, the chance escaping as well. The only place I can look is down on the table; to meet Sarah, Lucas, or Sebastian’s eyes would give them easier access to my thoughts and emotions.
“I know that you all must be confused as to why I’m here,” Garrett begins. “But the reason is clear—I’ve been dishonest. Especially to you, Sebastian.”
The briefcase on the table clicks open. My eyes flicker up briefly to it, recognizing the small flimsy paper with a valuable number written on it. Mr. Danger takes it in his hand and gestures it out to me. Sarah, Lucas, Sebastian—I know what they’re thinking. And it makes my heart beat hard in my chest.
Mr. Danger reads off of a paper in his suitcase. “As per Garrett Edmond Harrison and your agreement, Leslie Muireall King, I present you with the rightful compensation of two-million-dollars and fifty cents for fulfilling your special assignment to…rehabilitate Sebastian Noel Harrison in preparation to conference with the Board of Directors of Harrison Incorporated in approximately one week from now, where they will deliberate and decide whether or not Sebastian shall be appointed as next Chief Executive Officer of Harrison Incorporated.”
Silence. Stone cold silence.
“As for you, Sebastian,” Mr. Danger says. “Your contract is still in standing, however, if you succeed to gather a unanimous vote from the Board of Directors and fulfill your duties as Chief Executive Officer of Harrison Incorporated for a minimum of two years, the terms of your contract will be met, and you will then be allowed to choose another name to replace you, if the Board of Directors repeats the same process with a unanimous vote for the unnamed party…”
Mr. Danger stops reading when even he feels how horribly awkward this is. I feel like I’m going to throw up, seeing the pained, confused, and shocked look on Sebastian’s face. It seems as if he’s putting the pieces together in his head, but it still isn’t making sense. And upon seeing this, all I want to do is go back to Monday night with him at his house, enjoying dinner and other things deep into our denial.
“R-right…well,” Mr. Danger sets the check in front of me when I don’t take it from his hand. “Congratulations, Ms. King. Spend it well.”
And just like that, Mr. Danger leaves the room, briefcase in hand. We all sit, staring at each other with Garrett still looming over us. I want to speak so badly—to tell them exactly what happened and to plead my case, but I can’t; Every time Garrett is around me, I’m robbed of words. All I can manage to do is stutter, shiver, sweat and shake; Sebastian’s expression is one I’ve never seen before; it scares me.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” Sarah mumbles, her eyes narrowing at me.
“I mentioned earlier that I was not honest with you, Sebastian,” Garrett says; Sebastian doesn’t even meet his father’s eyes. “I told you at the country club on Sunday afternoon that Leslie King still had the check in her possession. That obviously isn’t the case—”
“He’s lying, Sebastian!” I burst out when I hear Garrett’s dishonesty. I hope that they will at least want to hear my side of the story, but Sarah, Lucas and Sebastian don’t seem like they want to—Sarah is obviously angry at me, Lucas looks as if he pities me, and Sebastian…I don’t know what he’s thinking. It hurts.
“You’re right, Leslie.” Garrett’s eyes bore into mine. “I am lying. You took the check before this all officially began, correct?”
“Y-yes,” I finally admit. “But that’s when it was…it was different. Things are different now—”
“To my knowledge, you lied to my son about this. You told him you weren’t compensated for this assignment, and you were there on your own accord, giving him the impression that you truly did care about learning of his…’tattered’ past. But you didn’t—you knew that if he thought you were with him on a different motive, he would open up to you and cooperate. Thus, you would fulfill your assignment to my expectations. Correct?”
“I gave the check back anyway,” I reply shakily, not even answering his question in fear of exposing myself further. “I threw it in your face at the hospital!”
“The way things work with me, Leslie—and I would assume that your previous work history with me would have granted you with this knowledge—is that I reward hard work where it’s due. Always. And from what I’m seeing of Sebastian right now, you did your job exceptionally. It’s only right of me to fulfill my end of the bargain regardless of your feelings—both professional and…romantic.” He tilts is head to the side mockingly. “Why? Was this a bad time to return to you what’s rightfully yours?”
I’m now fully convinced that Garrett Harrison is Satan himself; Lucifer in an expensively-tailored suit. He loves seeing happiness stomped underneath his shoe, even at the expense of his own son’s joy. From my mother and my ex at the Harrison Inc. party, to now, I hate to admit that I regret ever believing I could win against Garrett Harrison himself; I hate to admit that I regret ever asking Loretta anything about what Garrett wanted buried. I regret everything that I’ve done this past month except for meeting Sebastian, but how would that—and everything we’ve accomplished together—have happened without Garrett’s influence?
Garrett sighs. “I suppose now, describing Sebastian with the adjectives “immature,” “difficult,” “ridiculous,” “disgusting,” and most importantly, “pathetic” don’t apply any longer, do they, Ms. King?”
I slump down in my seat, a knot teasing my throat and begging me to cry. I hate crying, and I express this fact whenever I can. I suppress tears with all of my might; my mother always told me crying is a sign of weakness and worthlessness. I hate that wherever I go, she comes with me forever.
“Why?” Sebastian finally speaks. His voice doesn’t sound furious or defensive. He sounds…disappointed.
Words fail me again. I know Garrett is reveling in this encounter.
“Why did you lie to me, Leslie?” Sebastian asks again. “You thought you could sweep two-million-dollars under the rug and call it a day?”
“You just what?”
I look up into his eyes, and they aren’t the same bright, hypnotizing and accepting pair of green eyes I’m used to seeing. They’re dark, sad and bewildered.
“I just wanted to know you better. I wanted to know the real you, not the person you were hiding.”
He laughs, despite the seriousness in my reply. “So you achieved that by lying to my face multiple times? If you were just honest with me from the start, we could have…I mean…I-I had to find out the truth from my fucking dad? My dad?”
“I was going to tell you, I just…I couldn’t find the right time—”
“Bullshit,” Sarah suddenly says.
Lucas rubs his eyes. “Sarah—”
“No, Lucas! She told Sebastian that she wasn’t paid, and even went as far as to make him believe that she listened to him because she cared, when it was really to forward her own agenda. Who knows what else she’s lying about?”
You’re a liar, Leslie. Why don’t you leave us alone and go back to the bathroom to cough up your lunch before 5th period?
“You aren’t being fair,” I tell Sarah lowly.
“Look. I like you, Leslie. I do. I really thought that we were going to all prosper by working together. But hiding something like this and expecting it to just disappear? That’s fucked up. Especially to Sebastian. Did you quit working for Mr. Harrison knowing that Sebastian would hire you?”
Yes. “N-no! It isn’t like that!”
They don’t believe me. None of them do. Out of habit, I look to Sebastian for protection, but I realize I won’t receive any.
“I know you hate me, Sebastian,” Garrett explains to his son. “I know you despise every fiber of my being. And I understand that completely. But both of us have been falsely led on by Leslie King—she deliberately tried to sabotage everything that I’ve worked for all while taking my gestures for granted, and she lied to you and obviously let you develop romantic feelings for her. If we can both agree on one thing, it is that Leslie is not who she claims to be. There are things I’m sure she hides from you, all while you open up and confide in her so passionately. How can you trust a woman with secrets, Sebastian?”
We tell no one about this, Leslie. Axel never existed, and we were never there. Understand? Leslie! Calm down and listen to me, dammit! Do you understand me!?
“Sebastian, think of everything we’ve gone through? I wouldn’t have been at your side if I didn’t genuinely care—”
“Two-million is also another convincing reason,” Sebastian interrupts.
I see his point of view like he’s transparent—he’s been hurt over, and over, and over, and over again in his life. The fact that I may be the new addition doesn’t settle well with me. If I weren’t so prideful, I would openly accept all wrong doing I have committed. But I can’t; I only mentally see how wrong I am. Externally? All I see are people not allowing me to speak. All I hear are voices of the present and voices of the past scorning me. My pride disallows me from showing people that I’ve fucked up.
Sarah shakes her head. “I had this gut-feeling that something was up; I knew I should have followed it.”
Bastanza! You aren’t my daughter! You are homewrecker!
“Do you have anything to say for yourself, Ms. King?”
Muireall, darlin’. You’re coming to live with me from now on. Your ma ain’t a safe place for you anymore.
“Your commentary isn’t helping, Dad. You just enjoy seeing shit get worse!”
You’ve always loved Leslie more than me, Dad. It’s never ‘Samantha, it’s alright,’ or ‘Samantha, I’m here.’ All you care about is her, even though she almost killed herself yesterday!
“And is that my fault, Sebastian? No. It’s hers, and you know it. There are things that she doesn’t tell you that would definitely completely change your outlook.”
Gesù Cristo, Leslie! Do you understand everything I am doing for you and Candy? You would be arrested right now if it weren’t for me.
“I already know about Axel, if that’s what you’re wondering. You’re going to have to try harder than that.”
My name’s Axel, and I’m in need of a friend, too. How convenient for both of us?
I’ve been trying to get clean for a couple of years now. Just trust me on this.
I’m planning on getting clean soon, Les. Just let me take this hit. Just one more hit.
Don’t touch him, Leslie! There’s nothing we can do; we need to get out of here!
Axel is dead, Leslie! Let that shit go! We had nothing to do with it and there’s nothing we could have done!
Shut up, Leslie!
“I told Leslie—”
This is your fault, Leslie!
It was an impulse that made me do it; slam my hands on the table, startling everyone in the room, and stand up with the deepest fury coursing through me. I have no control over my body, my mind, or my words now—it’s all my past self, who still dwells inside my head, that speaks for me. And believe me, I want to control her, but I can’t. The moment Axel’s name left Sebastian’s lips, it was as if a switch was clicked on, and the cage keeping ‘her’ locked away was opened.
My eyes dart straight to Sebastian’s. He’s never seen this side of me. I suppose this helps Garrett’s case.
“You don’t know me!” I scream at him so loudly my throat hurts; I have no discipline. “You sit there and judge me when you don’t know everything I’ve gone through; all the pain I’ve been through! You know nothing—nothing! I made you, Sebastian. If it weren’t for me, you would still be a depressed drug addict putting your dick in anything that moves to satiate your loneliness! It isn’t my fault that Gloria is dead and it isn’t my fault that you were rap—”
‘She’ jumps back into her cage and locks it, leaving me with the aftermath. I cover my mouth; like that’s going to take back what I just said. For a few seconds, it feels like a dream.
Then reality sets in.
Sarah and Lucas didn’t know about Gloria and Sebastian’s assault until now, so they’re surprised and shocked at the new discovery. Do they say anything? No—they know better than to reply to something like that being said to Sebastian. Garrett even looks awestruck I said that, but I know he’s pleased with what has unfolded.
Sebastian? I’m pretty sure you can guess his reaction to my horrible words. The fact that his face resembles his looks during his youth makes this the hardest thing I’ve had to go through. I wish I could rewind the last fifteen minutes so they never happened; so ‘she’ never escaped that way.
“I’m so sorry,” I apologize, but no amount of apology is going to fix this. And when the anguish and hurt is evident on Sebastian’s face; when he shows heartache and collapse in his eyes instead of the rage I expected, that’s when my tears fall.
Sebastian doesn’t say anything. He stares at me like I’m a different person, and I realize that sitting with him at the edge of a road; laughing with him in an old southern bar; holding his hand outside of a diner, holding him as he cried; helping him find himself; dancing with him; kissing him; crying with him; sleeping with him in the most passionate of ways I’ve ever experienced—all for nothing.
I’ve thrown that all into the abyss by using the fragility of his past against him.
Sebastian slowly gets up out of his chair. “Happy now?” He asks Garrett before walking around the table, pushing past me, and exiting the room with a loud and startling slam of the conference room door.
I go after him. I doubt I can fix anything at this point, but I’m going to try.
I’ve never succeeded at keeping up with the pace Sebastian’s long legs walk; my short legs have to jog in order to keep up.
“Sebastian, wait!” I call out to him, and to my surprise, he actually stops and turns to face me. Only the way his eyebrows furrow and the way his lips curl tell me I shouldn’t have left the conference room.
“Was that the shit you had up your sleeve this whole time?” he asks me. His voice is loud enough for people in the lobby to focus their attention on us.
“I’m sorry,” I say as sincerely as I can. “I-I don’t know how that came out it just…if I could take it back I—”
“You could have avoided all of this bullshit if you were just honest with me from the start,” he cuts me off. “But again, you get yourself into shit you know you can’t control. Were you ever going to tell me about the check? Or were you going to keep it a secret and pretend like my father would forget about it, too?”
“No! I was going to tell you—”
“No you weren’t!” he yells at me; I’m stunned into silence. “You weren’t, Leslie. You weren’t going to tell me.”
A part of me wishes that Sebastian would forgive me, but another part knows that’s a selfish thing of me, to wish my transgressions away.
“Bringing up Gloria?” his voice falters a bit. “The rape? What the fuck is wrong with you?”
I apologize again, over and over, but the damage is done in too deep. When my denial diminishes about how my apologies are doing nothing, I become quiet and look up at him.
You do know that you can come to me if you need anything, right? Whether you want to vent about shit or whatever else you need. Anything.
When Sebastian laughs, it’s worse than seeing him angry. “And the crazy shit is—I am so unbelievably furious at you right now. But no matter what, no matter how many times I play over in my head the shit you shouted at me in the conference room, I…I can’t hate you. And that? That makes me even angrier. But you know what? It’s my fault. I should have known that this was too good to…to think, I actually felt…I felt…”
Sebastian’s hand runs across his face in agitation before he looks at me one last time, taking a few steps back.
“At least I know how you really feel and what you really want to say,” he avows. “I hope all of this bullshit was worth it. Good luck finding someone who will be willing enough to show you a fraction of the attention that I showed you.”
Believe me completely—I want badly to kiss him and sob into his chest, expressing how sorry I am and how much I hate the mere thought of my existence; anything to make things right again. But the weight of my words bears heavy on us both—like a cloud lingering over our heads.
So instead, I watch him turn the corner and enter the elevator without a word.