Authors: Elle Casey
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Romantic Comedy, #Contemporary Women, #Humorous, #Sagas
“What were you doing? Drugs?” Edward leans forward, his expression going serious. This is one for the record books, as Edward is never serious about anything.
“Don’t be ridiculous. You know I never touch the stuff.”
“Well, what is it then, man? Don’t hold back the goods.” He’s back to smiling, of course.
“I’d rather not say. Just that we were in a delicate situation.”
“A little slap and tickle, eh? A bit of snogging with a willing lass?”
“Quite. And more.”
“More? You mean to say that you shagged some bint in a dark corner of the club?” He falls back into his chair, shaking his head. “You jammy bastard.”
“She’s not a bint, firstly, and secondly, I’m not jammy. Not at all. I’m very un-jammy, if you must know. That bitch hanging onto Father’s arm is trying to ruin me. As it is, she’s forced me to bring her here under the pretense that it’s an actual date.” I shudder at the idea.
He rolls his eyes. “Please. She’d be doing you a favor by sharing that tape. A sex tape will enhance your reputation around this town. Trust me on this.”
“I don’t believe that’s correct. Our investors will not be impressed. I’m supposed to be the responsible one.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Edward’s expression darkens.
“You know exactly what it’s supposed to mean.” The fact that he’s sitting there denying his knowledge of our roles in the family scheme of things puts me on edge.
“No, I don’t, actually. Why don’t you enlighten me?”
Perhaps I should pay closer attention to his tone and heed the tension I sense there, but I’m too strung out to bother. “Fine, you want to hear it, I’ll say it. You’re the ne’er do well, the one who fancies himself a playboy, skipping about town with a different woman on your arm every night. I’m the one in the office first thing every day and out of it last thing every evening. I’m the one expected to keep the business running and the pension paying out for our father’s lifestyle. Unlike you, I cannot afford to have my reputation sullied in any way that would lead our investors to believe I am not the man for the job of protecting their assets.”
Edward smiles at me, but it has a bitter feel to it. “I had no idea you felt this way about me, brother.”
“Oh toss off, Edward. Don’t play the fool for me. No one is looking. You don’t have to pretend to be offended over something we’ve both known since you were in nappies.”
Edward stands just as my father and Ingrid come walking up the lawn to the terrace.
“Where are you going?” My father asks. He’s offended as he realizes the brunch is about to be ruined by someone leaving early. He hates when people leave before the appointed hour.
“Just leaving. I have an appointment. Must scurry.”
“But we haven’t even started with the eggs!” Father’s face is turning pink.
“Have my share. I found I’ve lost my appetite.” Edward doesn’t look at me as he leaves the table, and I can’t help but feel guilty.
“Edward, don’t go, stay with us,” I say. I plead, really, because I realize now that I’ve just made my team of three Stratfords against one viper a team of … none. There is no team if Edward leaves me behind. I never know on which side of the pitch my father fancies himself from one day to the next, but all my life I’ve known that when push comes to shove, Edward would be right next to me. And yet I’ve caused him to walk out the door and leave me here. With her.
“Cheers, then … give us a bell later,” Edward says, like it really means nothing to him that I’ve rejected him and that he’s done exactly the same to me.
I remain cemented to my chair, gutted yet emotionally unable to stop him from leaving. I have no idea why. We’ve been arguing all our lives. Why should today’s disagreement be any different?
The door slamming shut behind him reminds me of finality. Endings. Closures. I’m a perfectly capable, highly educated man, but in this moment I have a much greater fear for my future than I did before I came here today. Strange that it’s been brought about by the idea of Edward no longer standing beside me. I must be going mad.
“What’d you say to him?” my father asks, still standing there.
“Yes, Will, what did you say?” Ingrid is towering over me with an eyebrow raised at me.
“Nothing of consequence. I believe he has an appointment with the proctologist. Pass the jam would you?”
My father sits down with a storm cloud floating above his head. Ingrid ignores my crass comment and begins a discussion about roses that keeps my father occupied for the remainder of the meal. All the while I stare at my plate, my silverware, my water glass, and anything else I can find that isn’t Ingrid.
Somewhere between the bacon and the blood pudding, I send up a prayer in the hope that my mother the angel is up there listening this dreadful Sunday morn.
Mother, help me lose this lunatic woman.
I pause and then decide that if I’m going to enlist the help of angels, I should go ahead and ask for the moon while I’m at it.
And help me find Jennifer No-Last-Name so I can finish what we started, once and for all.
I’VE USED UP A WHOLE box of tissues by the time Mia comes by at lunchtime and sits down beside me at my computer. She’s the kind of friend who shows up to rescue me from the ledge after just a single text. I know I’m lucky to have her, but right now I’m wondering if I should have stayed off the phone so I could be miserable all alone.
“You look awful,” she says, handing me another tissue from her purse. “Please wipe your nose before you make me hurl.”
I do as she asks as I stare at the screen. I’m a mere robot. Tell me what to do and I will do it without question.
Beep boop beep
. There’s really no point in thinking for myself anymore. All it does is get me in trouble. Did I really say all that stuff in front of some of the most successful realtors in town? Yes. I really did. Oh, the humiliation.
“So what are we going to do with you?” she asks, pulling me sideways with her arm wrapped around the back of my shoulders.
I lean my head on hers, too weak to fight off her support. “Shoot me. Put me out of my misery.”
“Phooey on that. Come on, let’s go make a plan.” She stands.
I point at the screen and sniff. “I am making a plan. See?” I wipe the tissue under my nose. It’s starting to hurt. I’ll probably have a rash under my nostrils tomorrow from all the nose-blowing I’ve been doing. That’ll be attractive.
She leans down and looks at the screen. “Hmmm … a list. Let’s see what you have here… One, become a prostitute. Two, join the Navy. Three, drown sorrows in OJ and wait for sugar seizures.” Mia sighs and settles her gaze on me. “How about you just find another broker and keep doing what you do best?”
I stare at the computer screen and imagine myself sitting in another conference room getting the news that Hank is my boss. I never thought it could happen once and it did, so that means it could happen again and again and again. “Because. I can’t trust any of those assholes that they won’t sell out to the devil. Besides, Hank says he’s keeping my last commissions, so what’s the point? No one will want me.”
Mia snorts and it makes me feel even worse. “Please,” she says. “As if he could do that. You’d have a lawyer on his ass so fast it would make his head spin.”
My voice comes out all whiney. “I don’t have the
for a lawyer, Mia. I have enough savings to pay rent for a few months and that’s it. I’ll be eating noodles and using one-ply TP until I’m forty.” I let my head drop back so I can stare at the ceiling. The lumpy surface is stained from old water leaks. I hate my life.
“No, you won’t. Geez, would you stop with the pity party, already? It’s getting super old and definitely lame. It’s not like you to be so weak.”
I want to be mad at her for being so mean, but I can’t. She’s right. I’m even pissing myself off at this point. “What happened to me, Mia?” I look over at her with my puffy eyes. “When did I become such a wiener?”
She gives me a pity smile. “You’re not a wiener. You’ve just been knocked down and kicked a little bit by life, but that doesn’t mean you deserved it. It happens to everyone once in a while. The difference between a wiener and you is that a wiener would use this as an excuse to quit. You’re not going to do that.”
“No. Hell no, you’re not.”
“What should I do?” My arms hang listlessly next to my chair. I literally do not have the energy right now to lift them or make my own decisions.
“If this were me sitting here bawling and making stupid lists, what would you advise me to do?”
“I don’t know.” Dropping my chin to my chest, I stare down into my lap.
“Bullshit. Tell me. Advise me. You’re good at that stuff.”
“I am?” I look into her eyes again. It doesn’t seem like she’s just trying to make me feel better. My arms lift to rest in my lap.
“Yes. Who was the one who told me to follow my passions after my divorce?”
“Me, I guess.” We hardly knew each other then. I used to be an awesome friend when I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself all the time. Hank took so much from me. The question is, why did I let him?
“Exactly. And that’s what led me to working for Malcolm.”
Rolling my eyes, I respond. “And that’s worked out so well.”
“As a matter of fact, it has. I got a raise today.” She grins huge.
I narrow my eyes. “Tell me you didn’t blow him.”
She slaps me hard enough to sting. “No, bitch, I did not blow him. I worked my ass off.”
“Not bent over?”
Another slap, but this time I laugh.
“Ow, watch it.”
“Stop acting like I’m a ho. I worked for it the regular way. And he finally gave me a little recognition.”
“That was long overdue,” I say, reaching over and taking Mia’s waist into a hug. “Congrats. You’re awesome.”
She pats me on the head. “I know. But it’s nice to know my boss acknowledges it officially.”
We pull apart and I stare at her. She’s so pretty and smart and strong. “I wish I was more like you.”
She reaches over and tries to fix my hair but gives up pretty quickly. “You’re way better off being you, trust me.” Taking me by the hand, she makes me stand and walks over to my couch. Sitting down, she drags me down with her so we can sit side-by-side. We put our feet up on the coffee table and both sigh at the exact same time.
“So what’s the plan, Stan?” she asks. “New job, right?”
I shrug. “I guess. I have no idea where, though.”
“How about you call up William and ask him if there’s a position open for you?” She snort-giggles.
She whacks me on the upper arm with the back of her hand and sits up a little, suddenly excited. “No, wait, I’m serious.”
I roll my eyes. “I
smother you with a pillow if I have to.”
“No, really, listen.” She’s getting all amped up now, so I’m forced to turn around and give her my full attention. Otherwise, I’m likely to get hit again.
“He deals in investment property. You have all
of investment property in your client base. Go sell him some of your stuff!” She bounces a few times on her cushion.
“I need to hang my license with a broker. I can’t just walk around selling property as a freelance realtor.”
“Hang it with him!” She grabs my arm and squeezes the crud out of it.
“Ow, lemme go.”
“Geez, I’m listening, lighten up.”
She lets me go and claps her hands several times rapidly. “He must have a broker’s license or know someone who does. Just go there and then show him your stuff. I don’t mean stuff as in your hootchie, of course, I mean, he’s already seen that … show him your properties.”
Just the idea makes butterflies spontaneously appear and begin battle formations in my stomach. “No, I couldn’t do that.”
“Because. Just … because.” Goosebumps break out all over my legs.
She folds her arms across her chest and stops bouncing. “Give me one good reason. Just one, and I’ll let it go.”
I shake my head.
“One. That’s all you need to give me.” She’s teasing me now. I know this tone well; she senses victory on the horizon. Blood in the water.
I throw up my hands. “Fine. You want one reason? It’ll make me look desperate. There. That’s your reason.”
“Bullshit. It’ll make you look like a hungry businesswoman. You’re in
, for God’s sake. Act like it.”
“Yeah, but we slept together. Twice!”
“Slept? Are you sure there was any sleeping involved?” She giggles again.
I shove her but she goes nowhere. “Shut up.”
“Seriously.” She’s giving me the disappointed look.
“Seriously call him! What do you have to lose?”
“My pride, maybe?” She can’t be serious. I hate being desperate, but even more so, I hate looking desperate.
“And how much is that worth to you right now, being unemployed and two months from homeless?”
“A lot, actually!” She has some nerve judging me like this. I’m almost ready to be mad at her.
She stands. “Try and guess how many prideful people end up eating in soup kitchens.” She’s halfway to the door before I can answer.
She fixes me with a dead serious glare and drops her tone. “Think again, okay? Just … think again.” And then she’s gone.
I sit there on the couch staring at the door. I’ve known Mia for years, but it’s clear she has a past that she keeps very separate from her current life, a past I know very little about. In some ways my best friend is an open book, but when it comes to life before we met, her memories are locked in a bank vault that no one has the combination for. This is the closest I’ve been to learning anything about it.
Was Mia hinting that she was homeless at some point? How is that even possible?
I stand, shaking off the idea.
. Mia is and always has been sophisticated, confident, and balsy. No way could she ever end up on the streets. The streets are for people who have illnesses. Drug addictions. Problems way too difficult to handle alone.