Authors: Callie Hart
copyright © 2015 Callie Hart
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This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to peoples either living or deceased is purely coincidental. Names, places and characters are figments of the author’s imagination, or, if real, used fictitiously. The author recognises the trademarks and copyrights of all registered products and works mentioned within this work.
For Alice — for being the best bitch in town.
For Ryan — for shutting down every bar in Sydney with me.
For Andy —for every single cringe-worthy pun.
For Astrid & Campbell —There isn’t enough wine and cheese in the world.
LOUIS JAMES AUBERTIN III
“You’re a fucking embarrassment, you know that don’t you? I can’t believe you’re my goddamn son. If you hadn’t been born within the walls of this house, I’d think the wrong child had been brought home from the hospital.”
My father throws back the last of his champagne and hands off the empty glass to one of his faceless servants. Faceless to him, but not to me. I know Sarah, know that she just became a grandmother for the first time this morning and no matter how badly my father treats her today, even he won’t be able to keep the smile off her face. She gives me a wry shrug, placing the glass carefully on her silver tray, and then she vanishes off into the crowd.
My father is oblivious to the entire exchange. “You had no business inviting people here this evening, James. This is a political event. There are important people here. Serious people. Your little friends aren’t suitable company for you to be keeping. You’re not a child anymore. Lord knows you might still act like it, but you’re not.”
I dig my fingernails into my palms, though the action is hidden inside the pockets of the four thousand dollar Ralph Lauren suit I’m wearing. The suit he made me wear. “Cade Preston is a veteran, the same as I am, Dad. He served his country for four years in one of the most dangerous places on earth. And Laura’s just been made partner at her father’s law firm. How are they not
My father scoffs. “Cade followed you to the other side of the world because you two boys have always had ridiculous, romanticized notions of war. That’s why you both only lasted for two tours. Neither of you accepted the rank owed to you because of your station. You went out there, full of piss and vinegar, thinking it would be easier to start at the bottom rung, where you’d have no responsibility. And then you didn’t like it, didn’t want to stick it out, so you quit and came home before the job was done.”
Louis James Aubertin II loves baiting me like this in public. He knows if he says these things to me in a crowd, there’s nothing I can do but grin and take it from him. Makes him feel big. Superior. Thing is, my tolerance for this kind of treatment is wearing really fucking thin. “The U.S Marine Corp is not
the bottom rung.
The Marines are an elite unit. It takes an insane amount of hard work and dedication to even get in. If you think I had no responsibility as a Marine, then you clearly have very little understanding of how the United States Military is run.” I don’t bother defending the length of time my friend and I spent barely surviving out in the desert. What would be the point? Old Louis has no fucking clue. He’d simply say I was making excuses for myself. He can’t possibly comprehend what four long, never-ending years in that environment is like. How the dirt and the sand and the hostile locals and the poverty and the disease and the heat and the IEDs and the amputations and the Taliban and the rape victims and the pain and the suffering all eventually wear you down.
My father’s eyes flash with the same unbridled fury I’ve been provoking in him for years. “I was there in Vietnam, you little shit,” he spits. “I was there from the moment the war started until the moment it ended. Don’t you tell me I have no idea how the U.S. military works.”
Yes, Old Louis was in Vietnam, and yes he was there from start to finish, but he has nothing to be proud of. He never held a rifle or got his hands dirty a single day of that war. He sat with his other command buddies in a hotel fifty miles away from the jungle, where the only conflict they ever encountered was when the toilet paper was too rough to wipe their pampered, lily white asses on.
I say all of this in my head, but the thoughts don’t make it out of my mouth. I press my tongue firmly against the back of my front teeth, just in case a rogue insult should try and escape me. This is how it’s been for years now. So many fucking years. Our mutual hatred of one another only magnifies itself as time passes. I hate him because he’s a vile, angry, malicious old man. He hates me because I killed my mother.
In truth, I hate myself for killing my mother too, but there wasn’t much to be done about it at the time. I had to be born, and fate decided to take the woman who carried me in her womb for nine months, only three seconds after I came kicking and screaming into the world. It was entirely unintentional on my part.
My father swoops down on another of the wait staff, Gavin this time, and snatches up a fresh glass of champagne without uttering a word of thanks. “And what about the girl? Laura Preston is a brash young woman who doesn’t know when to hold her tongue. She’s only made partner at her father’s firm because it’s exactly that—
her father’s firm
. She wouldn’t have accomplished anything if she’d had to fend for herself, James. There’s no denying that. And just…just look at what she’s wearing, for crying out loud. She looks like a fucking prostitute.” He points off across the other side of the room to where Laura, Cade’s sister, is laughing with a young guy I don’t know, her head tipped back as she lets out a throaty bark of amusement. Her blonde, cropped hair has been pinned up out of her face—a minor miracle, considering it’s normal, wild state—and there’s the faintest hint of blush reddening her cheeks. She always said she’d never wear make up when we were growing up, and for a long time she didn’t. She doesn’t need it, and she’s sure as hell never been a girly girl, but tonight she looks great with that tiny splash of color brightening her face.
The dress she’s wearing is decked out in gold sequins, which reflect the light from the illuminated chandeliers overheard, sending fragments of golden, fiery light dancing and skittering on the walls and on the ceiling. It’s not something a respectable Alabama woman would wear in polite company, and that is precisely why she’s worn it. I want to high-five her so badly, but that sort of behavior would be frowned upon.
“As soon as the speeches are over, I want the three of you out of here. You understand me? I don’t care where you go. Just make sure you’re not on the property. God knows what’ll happen if the three of you start drinking.”
I bare my teeth at my father, arranging my face into a rictus of false civility. “Gladly.” Little does my father know, I’ve already started drinking and I have zero intention of fucking stopping. That would be a really dumb idea at this point in the proceedings. After all, the speeches won’t be for another hour. I have to survive this ridiculous circus until then, and I doubt my father would prefer I inhaled a shit load of coke up my nose instead.
I give him a mock salute as he turns and saunters off into the crowd, grinning like we were just having a pleasant father-son catch up and he doesn’t have a care in the world. On the far side of the room, the string quartet I saw setting up earlier begins to play, sending the glossy, warm notes of Boccherini’s Minuet floating up toward the high ceiling. Such a fucking farce.
Suddenly the tie around my neck feels like it’s choking me. Laura looks up from the conversation she’s sharing with the young guy I don’t know and gives me a small wave, beckoning me over. I don’t want to go over there and be introduced to the halfwit son of one of my asshole father’s Harvard buddies. I’d rather poke my eyes out with a shitty stick than do the whole run of the mill,
yes, I went to MIT. No, I don’t know so-and-so. Yes, I served in the military. No, I won’t tell you the most fucked up thing I ever saw. No, I won’t tell you how many people I killed, you fucking tourist
bit. Still, it would seem I have very little choice in the matter. Laura grins at me as I weave my way toward her.
“Jamie!” She throws her arm around my waist, inserting herself into the space at my side so that I naturally put my arm around her shoulders. She looks up at me with those big, brown eyes of hers and winks. “Jamie, this is Edward Lamont. He’s the son of one of your father’s friends. They…” She frowns, turning back to Edward. “How does your father know the governor again?”
“Oh, they went to college together.”
Well, color me motherfucking surprised.
Edward holds his hand out to me, a wall of white, glow-in-the-dark teeth almost blinding me as he sends a smile my way. “Pleased to meet you, Jamie. I’ve heard a lot about you. Your father is an incredible man.”
“Isn’t he just?” I pump Over Eager Eddie’s hand firmly just the once and turn my full attention on Laura. “Where’s your brother, anyway? I haven’t seen him yet.”
“Oh, he’s here somewhere. I think Daddy was showing him off to the head of some private security firm or something. Hey, you’re not going, are you?” She has that kicked puppy thing going on as I disentangle myself from her embrace. I know she was trying to use me as a shield between her and Edward, but I really don’t have the energy to play nice at the moment.
“Sorry, Lore. I’ll be back soon, I promise. Edward, it was a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” Laura shoots daggers at me as I duck off into the confusion of people. I’ll probably be hearing about it for weeks, but I had to bail. No two ways about it. I can’t find Cade in amongst the sea of dusty, gray-haired old fucks and their plastic, bleach blonde wives, so I grab a whiskey from Sarah, ask her how her new grandbaby is, and quietly go about getting drunk alone in a dark corner.
My father moves from one small group of people to the next, continually shoveling canapés into his mouth and pouring champagne down his throat until he’s tripping over his own damned size tens. Looks like this year’s speech is going to be slurred again. Eventually the quartet stop playing and take a break, and I spy Cade on the other side of the room, talking to Laura and Over Eager Eddie. No way am I going over there now. I’ve had six whiskeys and I already successfully escaped that clusterfuck once. Cade will come find me when he’s had enough of this pretentious bullshit, by which point I will be comfortably numb, anyway.
“Excuse me? Do you...? Hi. Do you know where the bathrooms are? I’m dying over here and I only have a few minutes.” In front of me, a petite little brunette with pretty cornflower blue eyes is clasping her hands in front of her stomach, looking like she’s about to pee on my father’s highly polished parquet. The short black dress she’s wearing shows off her tanned, rather delectable legs.