New short story based on the writing prompt “Complicated”. It needs a good trimming but see what you think.
“Do you know what time the Robinson’s expect us?”
“The Evite said 6.”
“I hope they don’t drag this out too much, I have an early flight. We need to be out of there by 11.”
“Ok, we’ll pull a Cinderella so you get your beauty sleep. Have Gerin bring the BMW around, the Cadillac still stinks.”
“Get over it already, it was 8 months ago.”
“We should have it crushed and melted into a coffee table.”
“Go fuck yourself, Ric. I love that truck”
“Already did that once today.”
“Gods, you are impossible.”
“Have been since birth.”
Donald finished tying his tie as he walked across the second floor bridge and called down to the first level great room. His smooth baritone echoed slightly off the floor to ceiling windows. “Gerin, bring the BMW around, eh?”
Gerin stepped out of the bar area, “Certainly, sir. What time are you expected at the party?”
Donald fiddled with the starched collar on his dark burgundy shirt as he settled it solidly over the black silk tie. “6:30 or so. Can you call some of your buddies and find out when they are dropping the rest of the geese? I hate arriving first.”
Gerin smiled slightly, “Yes, sir. Arrival with the rest of the flock. Understood.” He started dialing his cell as he turned down the hall toward the garage.
Donald strode back into the split dressing area between the dual master suites to retrieve his jacket. Ric was done dressing and was busily texting, his brow winkled.
“Everything ok?” Donald stepped into the cedar-lined closet and selected his jacket for the evening’s festivities. It was one of his new favorites. It was a luxurious black masterpiece from Henry A. Davidson. Hand crafted with Dormeuil’s latest fabric creation, iconik, it fit him to perfection. Though he wouldn’t admit to being a clothes pony, he nonetheless appreciated the magnificence of his attire.
Ric paused in his texting to respond, “Yeah, just texting with Leah. She’s having pain in her back and leg again. I’m setting up time to take her to the chiropractor.”
“Is she still coming next Saturday? It will be pretty damn awkward without her.”
“Yes, she is still coming, chill. She’s looking forward to a bit of escape. She’s bored, being on bed rest has been miserable.” Ric’s thumbs flew through another series of silent conversation. He sighed and slid the phone into the frame on his belt. He glanced into the mirror and adjusted the blue sapphire dragonfly on his lapel a slight adjustment.
Donald turned back to the walkway. “Thank god, my mother would freak completely. She’s spent months on this party.”
“She’ll be a freak anyway. I hope she doesn’t skip her meds in the morning, that would just be classic.”
“Ease off, she’s really excited about all this. Besides, it was your parents that hired a band.” Donald slipped his phone out of his pocket and checked the time. “Gerin is probably out front already. You ready to go?”
“Yeah, let’s go appease the masses.” Ric grabbed a grey wool and silk scarf of the hat stand and took a moment
The two men crossed the bridge over the great room and turned down the floating grand stairs. The sunlight through the windows gave the wooden logs of the walls a warm glow. The house, built in the early 2000s, prior to the recession, was a homage to the glorious visitor center of the National Parks system. A log cabin to envy the resorts of Yellow Stone and Grand Teton. It sported five full suites with on suite steam baths. A centerpiece of the home was a 30-foot long redwood bar in the massive game room. It was rescued from a defunct, turn of the century, California resort. The deep red hue of the single log bar top accented the Canadian timers beautifully. There was a private theater that seated 15, a huge kitchen, a heated pool and sheltered spa. The exterior boasted wrap around porches, with an exterior kitchen for barbecues. Inside, a formal dining room reigned in a two-story octagonal corner spire that allowed 230-degree views overlooking the National Park on the west, a crystal blue lake to south, and showcased the beauty of the mountain ranges of two States. The eight bay garage had staff apartments on the second floor and connected to the main house by fully insulated walkways. The property nestled into a rocky hillside centered in 80 acres. A pristine wilderness yet only 55 minutes to the Las Vegas Strip. A remote, albeit uber-lavish, ‘cabin’ retreat.
Gerin pulled the copper colored BMW into the driveway of the Robinson’s home at 6:45. He smiled to himself; they were six back in a steady line of vehicles arriving at the party. Party was a loose term that Roy and Erin Robinson used to round up the area elite and ‘encourage’ them to donate to Erin’s cause of the year. Failing to give generously resulted in social shaming that bordered on scandal mongering. Tonight’s party featured speakers from Kiva. Kiva provides micro loans to women in India. Erin and Roy traveled to India twice in the prior year and had become rabid sponsors of the program. Their enthusiasm transferred to their social network through events and parties.
Donald watched the vehicles ahead of theirs disgorge their passengers onto the white steps of the entryway. Two figures emerged from the black Escalade ahead of them and he nudged Ric. “Rose and Shane are here.” Ric glanced up from his texting, “Thank god, at least we’ll have someone to talk to at dinner. Last time we ended up with that annoying car hawk and his trophy slut. She spent 40 fucking minutes talking about the difference between Korean and Japanese nail techs and he just wanted to sell us a Jeep.”
“Reign it in Ric, put on your smile and charm. It’s only a few hours. And for fucks sake lay off the fucking swearing this is a fucking charity event.” Ric laughed and the smile and charm were instantly in place. Donald reached forward and patted Gerin on the shoulder, “Good job, Gerin, perfect timing. We’ll need you back around 11. You don’t have to hang out here.”
Gerin, nodded, “Thank you, sir. There are a few of the drivers getting burgers and hitting a movie. I’ll have my phone if you need me early.”
Donald and Ric stepped out of the vehicle and headed into the palatial estate. They caught up with Rose and Shane in the foyer. Ric hugged each of them just slightly too long then grabbed Rose by the shoulders and stared into her eyes intently, “You have to save me! You are the only person I can eat dinner next to this evening. If I have to sit next to some shallow spitball loser or trophy girl who has bleached her brain cells into cream of wheat, I will stab one of them the eye with my steak knife. I am too pretty for prison! You MUST allow me to share your table and participate in legitimate conversation that doesn’t include nail color or reality television.”
Rose laughed and hugged Ric again, “Yes, I’ll rescue you! Come on, we’ll swap out the seat tags.” She looped her hand into Ric’s elbow and the two of them gave Shane and Donald a flippant wave as they strode purposely toward the dining room to lay waste to Erin’s weeks of carefully plotted seating. Shane shook his head and looked at Donald, “Let’s get a drink old boy; they’ve abandoned us, again.” Donald clapped his friend on the back and the two headed toward the rear veranda and the sound of conversation and clinking glasses.
The evening progressed quickly through its prescribed stages. Dinner, conversation, platitudes, pressing the flesh, passing the courtesies. Then came the speeches, pledges, and praises. Toasts, dessert, and promises to catch up again soon. By 10:30, Donald and Ric were settled into the back of the BMW and Gerin was clipping along the mountain road back to the house. It was a good evening even if it did cost them each a $2,500 donation.
The sun was hours from being up when Gerin was back in the driver’s seat. This time the deep blue sheen of the Cadillac Escalade cut through the dark roadway headed for the airport in Vegas. Donald poured over the spreadsheets and details of his proposal on his iPad. Steam wafted from the travel cup beside him. Gerin glanced at him in the mirror, “Do you want me to pull through somewhere so you can grab food?” Donald didn’t even look up, “Yeah, not McDonald’s though, I don’t need the shits while trying to convince these investors to pony up 13 billion for a new plant.” Gerin nodded, “Sunline Café it is, then, Sir. What day will you be back?” Donald snapped his iPad closed. “I’ll land on Wednesday at 1pm. I’ll need you to pick me up and then take me to the office. I’ve got a 5pm conference call so it will be a late evening.” Gerin winced, “Understood, sir.”
Ric slapped the alarm on the bedside table and groaned. He wiped his blurry eyes and grabbed his phone. Donald had texted him at 4 a.m. when he’d left. Ric clicked off a quick ‘see you when you get back’ and rolled out of bed. He listened to the quiet of the empty house. It was always too quiet when he was there alone. It sent a bit of a chill across his naked skin. He shook off the feeling and stretched. He sauntered downstairs and into the kitchen. He pushed the button on the Keurig. While the coffee brewed, Ric rummaged through the freezer and grabbed a blue container. He read the label and noisily tossed it in the microwave for 8 minutes. Diane, the chef they’d hired in the spring, came by twice a month and constructed individual meals. She packaged them and popped them into the freezer in color code containers. Blue for breakfast, yellow for lunch, red for dinner and black for special treats. Diane was a certified nutritionist as well so everything was healthy as well as delicious. After Ric’s dad had a fatal heart attack 2 years ago, Donald insisted that the household get in shape. That meant eating right as well and with their crazy schedules, the chef was the best way they could manage. Staying in shape wasn’t nearly as hard once they weren’t consuming crap. Ric’s college roommate was a body dynamics specialist. He set up group training sessions for the whole household and after three grueling months everyone had achieved their first goals and were on “maintenance” schedules of once a month sessions. Ric loved the personal training, the accountability, the competitive nature. He loved keeping his progress ahead of entire crew. Not that he ever boasted or bragged, or teased. Ok, so maybe he bragged a bit, and teased Gerin when the younger man’s pace lagged behind. Standing naked in the kitchen, Ric tightened his abs and ran his hands down his stomach, the distinct tone and depth of the cuts in his muscle structure assured him that a bit of boast was warranted. Ric let his fingers trail further over his skin, tracing the outline of his lower abs. He flexed his legs muscles and felt the muscle jump and harden. He turned and looked at the reflection of his honed structure in the glass windows, “Yeah, all the work is worth it.” He turned and tensed his butt. His cock throbbed under his pulse. He hefted his cock and balls lightly. Just as his brain threatened to shift into beast mode…the brewer beeped and was quickly followed by the microwave. One hunger overwhelmed the other. “Perfect!” Ric poured the coffee, gabbed a fork, he nearly burned his fingers on the microwave dish before juggling a towel under the heated glass. He headed for the great room and settled his morning mini-feast on the hand-hewn coffee table. He glanced at his watch, it was only seven, and he had hours before he had to pick up Leah for her chiro appointment. He plopped onto the couch, sipped his coffee and grabbed the TV remote.
An hour later, Ric was finished with breakfast, morning TV and his shower. He was clean, dry, and shaved. His unruly mop of brown hair and been tamed into a fashionable style. He was still flipping through clothing choices. He didn’t hear Gerin come to the entry, the young man cleared his throat and then again a little louder. “Ehhem, Sir?” Ric spun in a startled panic, “Gods, sheesh!” He stumbled backward and flailed into the rainbow variety of pressed shirts. Hangars and fabric scattered in a torrent. Gerin reached for Ric and grabbed his arm before the naked man tumbled onto the shoe rack. “Whoa, Ric! Hang on!” Gerin pulled him forward and out of the cascade of clean shirts. Ric over balanced and staggered, he fell hard against Gerin who immediately turned a deep crimson color as he awkwardly tried to stabilize and simultaneously step away from his employer. “I am so sorry, sir!” Ric started laughing as he righted himself. “You’re fine, Gerin, it’s me who should be apologizing! I jumped like a bunny and caused this mess.” Gerin stood stiffly rigid and was staring hard at the closet wall to avoid eye contact with Ric. His voice came out weirdly stiff, like some formal robot, “Sir, I was just letting you know the car is ready and we need to leave soon for Ms. Tanner’s appointment as there is an accident which is snarling traffic near the medical center.” Gerin’s blush hadn’t faded and he his fingertips fidgeted against his pant leg. Ric cocked his head at the strange formality, planted his hands on his evenly tan, and sculpted hips. “Gerin, what is the matter? Haven’t you dealt with a clumsy naked man before?” Gerin’s blush deepened, “Yes sir, just,” the young man stammered, “just not quite in such close quarters. If I may, sir, I’ll go check the traffic report.” Gerin spun on his heel before Ric could answer and nearly ran for the lower level. Ric watched him bolt with an interested eye. He smiled to himself as he fished a pale green polo shirt from the tangle of hangars and fabric piled in the bottom of the closet.
Gerin pulled the BMW into Leah Tanner’s gated condo complex. He used the resident gate that opened automatically from the transmitter under the front grill. Ric was working on his laptop in the rear passenger seat. Gerin didn’t intentionally keep glancing at him in the mirror, but the morning’s fiasco had him out of sorts and he didn’t know if Ric’s behavior was normal or if he was angry. Gerin was worried he’d really screwed up by startling the crap out of his boss. His brain was jumping through every worst case Then the whole “naked man” thing had him a bit freaked out still. Ric glanced out the window, “Gerin, are we taking the scenic route?” Gerin snapped back to focus as they rolled past Leah’s driveway. Gerin frowned, ‘I’m sorry, sir.’ Ric waved his hand, “Relax, Gerin, really.” The flustered driver pulled into the next drive and tuned the vehicle around. A minute later, he was parked and hopped out to ring the bell and escort Leah back to the vehicle. Gerin’s brain was in self-depreciation over drive, he felt like the day was just headed downhill by the minute. Leah’s voice came over the security com “I’ll be just a minute. Got make another pee stop.” Gerin clicked the button, “No rush, ma’am.” Gerin waited by the door. A few fretful minutes brought Leah to the door. She locked up and turned to Gerin. She punched him hard in the arm, “Stuff that “ma’am” bullshit up your ass, I tell you every damn time to quit that shit.” Gerin looked more wounded than usual, “Sorry, Leah, its habit.” Leah looked at him, surprised by his demeanor, “whoa, grumpy bear, what’s up?” Gerin offer her his elbow for the short but tediously slow walk to the BMW. “It’s been a weird morning.” He manages a weak smile and Leah nods, “ok, grumpy bear, let’s just get to the beamer.” Leah exhaled with each slow step. Every movement seemed to cause her pain.
Ric leaned the seat back as far back as it would go and then stepped out to greet Leah with a sweetheart kiss. She looked exhausted even though she’d been on bed rest. Ric held her hands and looked at her intently, “You look,” Ric hesitated, “Are you taking your vitamins? Do I need to get Diane come by and adjust your meals?”
“Yes on the vitamins, no on the meals, and I’m drinking lots of water. Which consequently keeps me pissing every six minutes.”
“Has the maid come by? What did Doc say last week?”
“Yes, the house cleaner came by! I’m fine! Fuck, Ric, you are worse than my mother! I’m resting, I’m eating right, sleeping, I’m doing my breathing practices, I’m focused on the positive! I’m not a kid, I get it, I’ve got this and I’m sick of being treated like some porcelain doll!” Leah wanted to shout the last part but she could barely catch her breath and instantly started crying. “Fuck,” Leah gasped between sobs, “now look at me! I can’t even be pissed off right.”
“Come on, hop in and we’ll stop for soft serve and fries on the way.” Ric patted the seat and stepped out of the way.
Leah glared at him through her tears, “Hop?! Hop?! FUCK YOU!” She shoved Ric aside and labored her way into the BMW. “You go fucking ‘hop’ and I want a large fries. Large!” At least she managed a smiled at him as Ric closed the door gently.
Gerin whispered quietly as he open Ric’s door, “How long does Doc thing she has, Sir?” Ric put his hand on Gerin’s shoulder and replied under his breath, “not long.” Ric thought about how quickly the mind can shift focus. For hours, Gerin had been wrapped around some minor craziness and now he was fully back in his normal, solid, service oriented self. Gerin closed the door and ‘hopped’ into the driver’s seat to get them headed downtown. Ric texted Donald as the car entered the downtown crawl. ‘Hope you land the billion dollar deal. I don’t think Leah has much more time.’
The wings tipped and the captain announced their imminent arrival to and rattled off the quips the tourism department created for pilots to spew about the area. Donald wrapped up the excel sheet he had worked on since take off and tucked his iPad into his backpack. The trip had not quite gone as he expected. He didn’t land the multi-billion dollar deal but he’d had gotten both the smaller contracts he had bid the prior quarter. The big fish swam away under the gloom of EPA regulations and failed permits. He was annoyed about spending so much time on a miss but he knew that this stuff happened, especially in the high stakes world of industrial plant contracting. It wasn’t as glamourous as building resorts or shiny high rises but it was profitable. He walked down to the baggage claim area and spotted Gerin standing in his usual position. He waved at him and pointed to baggage claim. Gerin scanned the overhead displays for the flight number and held up four fingers. Donald caught up with him at the belt. “My conference call has been rescheduled so no need to head in to the office. I think we’ll be back in time to meet with the crew about the remodel. Ric and his mom want to handle most of this.” Donald groaned at the view in front of him.
Nothing was moving except the hoard of travelers milling around. Donald sighed, “Did you park in taxi? You may have to move if the bags don’t drop soon.”
“No, Sir. I parked in short term. The new contractor for the taxi lot won’t let any of us park there.” Gerin looked at the stagnant belt, “I guess it might be a while. Do you want to go up and get lunch? I can wait for your bags.” Donald shook his head, “No way, I’m not eating alone. Let’s go up and grab a burger from 5 Guys.” Gerin looked shocked, “5 guys? Diane would have your head!” Donald smiled, “Yep, let’s go!” The two men headed up the escalator to their calories laden little secret. A greasy bag of fries and a tasty burger later the men arrived back to baggage claim to find the only bag still on the belt was Donald’s. “Well that makes things easy.” Gerin grabbed the bag and they headed to the parking garage. Just as Gerin loaded the bag into the back, his phone began a distinctive ring. The next moment, Donald’s phone went off as well. The two both looked at the same message from Ric. ‘Get here ASAP! Mother has the contractor and the interior designer cornered in the bathroom!’ Donald jumped in the front passenger seat as Gerin started the engine. Donald smiled at him and clapped Gerin on the shoulder, “Hit it, Robin, we need to save Batman from Cat Woman!” Gerin laughed, “If I’m Robin and Ric is Batman, then who are you?” Donald grinned, “Alfred, of course, he’s the brains behind the whole lot of them.”
Donald walked into a firestorm at the house. Ric, his mother, the contractor and the interior designer were gathered around the pool table in the game room arguing over changes, color tones, layout and wiring diagrams. Donald made an entrance with a jovial, “Hello everyone, how is the build coming?” Ric stepped back and held up with hands, “You have to help here, none of this makes sense.” Donald looked at the papers, the designer and Ric’s mom. “Let’s take a break for a bit and let me catch up with where we are.” Ric just shook his head and walked over to the bar, “Whose ready for a drink?” Wisely, the designer and contractor followed. Ric’s mother strode around the table and threw her arms wide and dramatically hugged Donald. “Donald, where have you been? This is no time to be off on the golf course or batting around the country.” Estelle Himelbaum was the epitome of Jewish old world snobbery and wealth. Every stereotype of ‘back East, old money, high society’ came to life in the woman. She dripped with bling and designer threads. Her airs and ways showed the carefully honed history of her family and breeding. “This cretin of a contractor you hired has no experience with what it takes to pull off our vision. All this rustic wood is so, well, so rural, there isn’t any way to give it the atmosphere we need.” Estelle gestured wide to the great room walls and tone fireplace, “The whole place is drafty, your maid just be a magician to keep all the dust down. How are you ever going to bring this up to par?” She turned back to Donald and took his hands, “Really, Donald, you just must trade up from this shack to something more suitable. There is a suite available in our building, it isn’t penthouse level but respectable. You could bring my Ricky home to the City!” Donald smiled as warmly as he could muster. “Estelle, you know my business keeps me out west. Ric has all of his contracts out here as well. We can’t just toss aside such wonderful and growing opportunities to indulge our cultural needs.” Estelle sighed, “I know, you two both run off and leave his family, his culture, everyone who loves him, just to live in this hotseplots!” Donald felt his jaw clench ever so slightly. Estelle sighed dramatically again, “At least you’re making a decent living. But really, this place is just so…” Donald interrupted her before she launched into another Yiddish slander or turned on the tears. “Estelle, this is a majestic area and I still have the apartment Yorkville.” Estelle barely stifled the sniff of derision and Donald pretended not to notice. “Ric can use it anytime he’s back in the City.” Donald gently steered the woman to the table of papers and designs. “Now, let’s you and I go over the issues with the design and colors and get this very expensive crew back to the task at hand.” Forty minutes later, Estelle was happily sipping wine out on the pool deck and talking endlessly at Ric. Ric was on his third Amberbock and texting away while providing Estelle with nods and, “yes, mother. Really? Go on” at regular intervals. The designer had completed her initial work, with Estelle’s single change in paint hue, and left to see to other appointments. The contractor and crew were busily removing the furnishings and fixtures from the two of the guest suites on the lower level. Donald caught the lead carpenter by the sleeve, “Joe, on the new door between the rooms, can you salvage what you can of the logs for me? I want to use them for seating around the fire pit.” Joe nodded, “Sure, most of them will be fine for that, but where is this fire pit? I don’t remember seeing one.” Donald pressed his fingers to his lips, “Shhh, it isn’t built yet. Andy is going to pour the base down in the clearing by the spruce grove.” Joe glanced out to the pool deck, “Mums not going to like that idea unless it comes with a veranda, an elevator and catering.” Joe snickered, “It will be great!”
By Friday afternoon, the majority of the construction was complete, including the secret fire pit with the rustic log seating. The designer was in and would be finished by the end of the day. The two former guest rooms now connected by a hand-hewn archway. Each room had new fire suppression in the ceilings and connected to the high tech digital systems in the house. The furniture and fixtures had up graded to suit Estelle’s eastern sensibilities. Donald stood in the doorway that connected the area to the great room and took it all in. This was really happening, he couldn’t suppress a smile. He heard Ric’s footsteps behind him. “It’s pretty amazing, Ric.” Ric stepped past him into the room, “I think mother will approve. Just in time too, the party is tomorrow and she is going to be giving guided tours.” Donald and Ric both laughed heartily until they heard Estelle coming in from the spa and guiltily snapped their mouths closed like two schoolboys caught with chewing gum.
Saturday arrived like the invasion of Normandy. The normally quiet house was as active and full as the landing beaches and nearly as noisy. Flower trucks, catering trucks, bakery trucks, party planners, rental equipment, stage crew and lighting guys had descended on the estate promptly at 8am to begin the formidable preparations for the party that evening. Donald’s father and ‘step mother’ arrived with their entourage around noon and took up residence in the apartment next to Gerin’s over the garage. Donald’s father was a US Congressman and the secret service detail had been swarming the property with dogs and metal detectors since sunrise. Antonio Scalati was the head of the Italian American Congressional Delegation in Washington and was the minority Whip. His wife, Ariana, was 25 years his junior and a stunning woman. Her biggest claims to fame were a string of pageant wins and a Cover Girl contract. She disliked Estelle and the sentiment was mutual. The two women promptly set to out doing one another in drama and demands. Ric watched it all from the safety of the second floor walkway. Donald joined him in observing the fracas below, “Ariana may be young and beautiful but I doubt she’s run into anyone as skilled at womanly jousting as Estelle.” Ric nodded, “She’s about to get a dose of it. Mother is coming in hot from 3 o’clock,” He pointed to Ariana redirecting the flower guy. Estelle appeared and set about asserting her dominion over this event. Even the secret service agent took a couple steps back from the scene that was unfolding. It took just 52 seconds for Ariana to be in tears and racing to the guest apartment. Estelle shifted from beast to sweet so quickly even the flower guy was shocked into statue mode. Donald and Ric eased back from the rail so they did not attract Estelle’s attention. Donald whispered, “I think we should be busy somewhere else.” Ric was already headed for the stairs.
Gerin shook his head and spoke into his hands free mic, “They’re all nuts. The house is a zoo, the place is crawling with suits and vendors. It’s not the fucking inauguration for god sake.” He listened as he drove, nodding, he talked often with his brother, “Yeah, I’ll be glad when the ‘rents are gone. They are ok, but together they are the perfect storm. Plus, that Ariana chick kept comin’ on to me last time they visited. Like that’s gonna happen. No skirt is worth screwing up this gig.” He listened again, “Nah, I think it’s just the way she is, one of those party girl types. Downs a bottle of wine, beds some schmuck, blames the booze, and it’s him that gets a visit from the Guido guild.” Gerin laughed, “No, no Antonio is awesome. But it’s in their blood. Italian from way back, Estelle is old school Jew. It’s like a Hollywood movie! All we need is a plot twist and it’ll be a blockbuster. Oh hey, I’m crossing the county line. I’ll talk to you next week, eh? Yeah, pizza and beer, my treat.” Gerin was glad to be on the way to Leah’s condo and out of the fray at the house. Estelle had a knack for finding him when he wasn’t busy and rectifying the situation immediately. He felt like her personal servant since she arrived.
Leah looked in the mirror. Her makeup was soft and natural but heavy enough to hide the dark circles under her green eyes. It showed her beauty without too much emphasis. Her dark auburn hair was pulled back into an elegant and innocent style. It still cascaded well past her shoulders. The invite had been specific about attire, “Summer Mountain”. Estelle had even had a website set up to explain what the hell it actually was. It was not river casual, but not city formal. Leah had made Ric go with her to the mall to find a dress. The pale yellow material had a soft floral print and the gathered sleeve hid most of her tattoos. She would never have worn this get up in a thousand years but tonight was special, important to Donald and Ric. She would much rather have donned a pair of cotton pj pants and a ratty button down shirt. That would not have gone over well with tonight’s well-heeled crowd. Appease the audience, give them what they expect. She had learned that her first foolish year in Vegas. Tonight was her Nevada swan song, she was going out in style. Bed rest had kept her off her own anemic social scene for months. What acquaintances she had thought she’d blown town. It wasn’t unusual for people to fade into and out of Vegas. She finished the look with a pale lip gloss. She lean forward and kissed the mirror, “Picture perfect.”
Gerin pulled into of the drive and repeated the scene from earlier in the week; Slow steps, careful driving, quick run through the drive through for soft serve and ice cream. ”You know Diane will have my head for this.” He turned in his seat to hand Leah the cone and fries. Leah gave him a wink and a conspiratorial smile, “Secrets are my specialty, Gerin. I’ve got your back.”
Gerin called Ric when they were a few minutes from the house. He had stopped at the newly establish security checkpoint the suits had devised where the driveway met the public road. “We’re inbound at the check point.” Gerin listened as Ric railed, “Yes, Sir. Checkpoint. I understand but this is the government boys protecting their own. After all the failures this year, they have to tighten up.” He kept his composure even as Leah pantomimed Ric’s ranting in the mirror. “Yes, Sir. I will. We’ll be pulling in in about 8 minutes. Yes, Sir.” Gerin hung up and laughed. “He is fit to be tied.” Leah laughed, it made her breath catch and she coughed. “You ok?” Leah wheezed a bit, “Yes, damn it, don’t you start that crap too.” Gerin nodded but kept an eye on her as they finished the trip and pulled in front of the house.
Donald and Ric met them at the front with a wheelchair. Leah wasn’t happy. “I don’t need a fucking chair, I can walk.” Donald gently helped her out of the vehicle, “It’s going to be a long and stressful evening as it is, Leah. Please, humor me and make things easier on us all.” Leah looked resigned, “Fine, but you better not leave me parked with either of your parents! I’ll bolt, I swear it.” Donald put the foot rests down, “I swear it, and either Ric or I will be at your side all evening.” Ric stepped over to Gerin, “Do I smell fries?” Gerin looked him in the eye, “Sir that would not be in keeping with Leah’s diet.” Ric snickered, “Ok, you have pass on this one but help keep the traffic flowing would you. It’s going to be tight with all the security. Park the early ones down by the clearing. The drivers can hang in the garage, we set out food and rolled in the TV for the game.” Gerin was glad to hear that the working folks were given more than a passing thought, “Thank you, Sir.” With that, the little entourage moved into the house just as the parade of guests began to arrive.
Estelle strode purposefully toward Ariana who was clinging to her husband’s arm like a frightened child. She greeted Antonio with a warm hug and kiss on each cheek. “I’m so glad you made it, it just wouldn’t be the same without you. You’re both seated at the head table. I do hope you will give an opening toast, your silver tongue is so memorable.” Estelle placed just the right emphasis on her words and met Ariana’s wide-eyed look with a knowing smile. “Antonio, would you be a dear and get your beautiful bride and I a cocktail?” Ariana looked close to panicking but Antonio patted her hand and left her with Estelle. Estelle waved and smiled to someone across the room then turned back to Ariana with a predatory look, “My dear, you must relax. It just won’t due to have you acting like a 14 year old at her first debutant ball. This isn’t your first social outing. Do pull yourself together and be a perfect little pet.” Estelle leveled a hard look at the girl, “Otherwise, you’ll embarrass us all with you ill behavior, and I won’t have anyone ruin this evening.” Ariana nodded but said nothing. She did straighten her posture and put on her pageant charms before Antonio returned with their glasses. He kissed Ariana on the cheek, “see, all better.” Then he handed her a virgin cocktail.
The party was a woodland dream. Tiny firefly like lights stretched above the crowd. White trees with silver leaves glistened in the light. The pool had been covered with a deck and held seating. Hidden machines laced the decks and grounds with a white fog. The stage hosted a small orchestra, heavy on strings, but which included electric guitars and high tech synth. The guests mingled and enjoyed fine foods, superior music, the cocktails flowed. About an hour in, Estelle found Antonio and Ariana. “We should bring up Leah, and the boys, of course.” Estelle signaled the conductor to wrap up the set while Antonio found Donald, Ric, and Leah. The trio moved to the front of the stage area and the guests gathered around. Estelle and Antonio stepped to the mic. Estelle began, “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for joining us in this celebration this evening. We are here to honor an amazing young woman who has become part of my family. She has overcome many obstacles and demonstrates an incredible amount of strength and determination. Please welcome, Leah Tanner. The crowd applauded as Donald helped Leah stand and wave to everyone. Estelle stepped aside and let Antonio have the mic. Leah remained standing while Antonio made his toast. “Let’s raise a glass to life, love, and family. Leah has allowed our family to come together and we honor everything she has done. Leah, thank you for being the amazing person you are and bringing such joy to our families.” Antonio raised his glass, “cent’ anni di questi giorni!” The guests applauded again. Estelle stepped back to the mic, “The construction is complete, and we’re showing Leah the new rooms. Please join us for the tour!” The crowd cheered and Ric and Donald escorted Leah and Estelle to the new renovations. Leah loved the colors, the space, the furnishings and the safety. She brushed her fingertips over the brass fixtures in the bathroom and eyed the Jacuzzi tub jealously. The crowd had milled in and out while she was looking at the pass through into the companion suite. “Estelle, this is so beautiful, you did an amazing job.” Estelle patted her hand, “Nonsense darling, you’re doing the real work here.” Antonio came in and whispered something to Donald. Donald visibly tensed, “Ric, can you look after Leah for a bit, I need to see to a guest.” Ric scanned Donald’s face and immediately knew something was very wrong. “Certainly, Donald, it would be my pleasure.” Estelle eyed the two men, “I’ll come along.” Donald shot Ric a quick warning glance and Ric intervened, “Mother, we haven’t shown Leah the new private patio deck. We can’t leave this half done!” Estelle melted under her son’s attentions, “Of course, Ricky, anything for you darling.” She turned back to Donald, “Let me know if you need me.” Donald nodded and followed Antonio out. Once they were out of earshot, Donald asked, “Where did she get it? All my staff were warned and I would assume your people know what the deal is.” Antonio looked annoyed, “I don’t know it’s a constant fight. I put her in your room I couldn’t get her out to the apartment.” Donald nodded, “That’s fine. I certainly don’t want a public scene tonight. Estelle would just come unhinged.” The men crossed the walkway to the master suites and stepped into the room. The reek of vomit nearly knocked Donald over. There was a large, viscous puddle near the closet door. Ariana lay face down, crosswise on his bed, another pool of vomit oozed over his grey satin duvet and slid onto the lamb’s wool rug. The odor made Donald retch. Gluey bubbles formed and popped in Ariana’s matted hair. At least they indicated that the woman was indeed still breathing. Antonio moved quickly past him and to Ariana’s side. He gingerly turned her head to lift her lipstick-smeared mouth out of the foul puddle. She didn’t make a sound. Antonio winced and turned away, coughing slightly from the smell. He looked at Donald, “I’m so sorry, son. You know I’ll make this right.” Donald covered his mouth with his tie, “Dad, come on, it’s just stuff.” He dropped his hand to his father’s shoulder. “How long has this been going on?” Antonio just shook his head, “It’s been a while. She went through Betty Ford last year and was doing so much better. Then this spring, I came home from a town hall meeting to find her…” Antonio cleared his throat of the emotion, “…to find she’d relapsed.” Donald’s eyes were watering from the stench. He patted his dad’s shoulder reassuringly and then stepped to the bathroom. The distance gave him a minute to swallow his bile and shake off the effects of the grotesque mess ruining his bed. Antonio stared at his hands, “after your mom…” his dad paused and wiped his eyes, “well when this started a couple years ago, I began to think it was me. That I do something to them, or that something about me causes…” he waved his hand over the prone woman, “…causes this.” Donald looked at his dad, the man had aged 10 years in the last few minutes. “Dad, you didn’t cause this. Not mom either. You just attract the wrong kind.” Donald hated that his mom wasn’t here. She missed so much. However, his dad never faltered, never turned away, was always there for him. Now, it was his turn to repay that loyalty and love. He dialed Gerin on his phone while turning on the hot water and tossing wash clothes into the sink. “Gerin, I really need help here.” Donald winced and rung out the excess water. “Vomit. Yes, a lot…like a Kill Bill movie. Everywhere…No, Ariana. Shit, just please get up here and help. My bed… Yeah, my whole fucking room. This isn’t funny; it’s serious, shut up and just get up here.” Donald hung up the line, grabbed some towels and headed back to his dad’s aide.
Ric entertained Leah and his mother; he made small talk and proper socialite conversation with the partygoers. He had just about exhausted his big bag of social party tricks when he saw Donald step back onto the walkway and come down stairs. He met him at the landing, “What IS going on, geeze it’s been hours! You stranded me here!” Donald just shook his head, “It’s been 35 minutes. Ariana passed out in multiple pools of vomit on my bed. Dad’s a mess; apparently this has been going on a while now.” Ric looked stunned, “Damn, Donald. I’m sorry. Damn.” Ric knew Donald’s history. He also knew that Donald had no stomach for rogue bodily fluids. Antonio joined them on the stairs. “Gerin is going to stay with her until the party clears out. Then we’ll get her to the apartment.”
The men rounded the corner and Donald watched in silent appreciation as his father’s prior look of tired disappointment vanished. It was instantaneously replaced by the smile and confidence of the skilled politician. He slid into a nearby gaggle of chatty society dignitaries like the seasoned pro he was. Not a soul would imagine he’d just spent half an hour hosing vodka and heavy appetizers off his wife in his son’s shower. Ric and Donald made their way side by side through the various conversations and handshaking to the pool deck and into the night air. Donald breathed deeply and then looked across the patio with a smile. Estelle was in her glory; drink in one hand, dressed to the nines, talking with gusto and flair about whatever topic came along. A glorious and elegant creature in her natural habitat. Ariana could learn a lot from Ric’s mother. He scanned the area again and then turned to Ric, “Where’s Leah?” Ric looked around, “Dunno, let me look inside.” Donald nodded, “I’ll check the game room.” The men parted to find Leah.
Leah was standing in the midst of the new renovation. She couldn’t believe how beautiful it all looked. Everything was perfect. Perfect. She ran her fingers along the back of a cherry wood rocker that nestled in the corner next to the bay window overlooking the valley. Donald entered the room and shot Ric s quick text before he interrupted her reverie. “Everything ok?” Leah smiled softly, “Yeah, it’s amazing. Like something out of a magazine.” Donald stepped to her side and gently hugged her. She didn’t pull away but didn’t get comfortable either. She had gotten used to Donald’s easy informality but it really wasn’t her style. “You did a great job with all this. Just seeing it makes everything so much more real.” Donald nodded. Ric joined them and lightened the mood, “I think we had the easier set of tasks in all this.” Leah smiled, “Fuck yeah you did,” she laughed a bit then suddenly went still. Ric looked at Donald then back to Leah, “What’s wrong?” Leah looked at the floor then back to the men, “This has been really nice, a great party. But I think we should probably ask Estelle to send everyone home.” Donald and Ric became more concerned, “What’s wrong, why?” Leah smiled at them, “Well, things are about to get complicated.” Donald looked confused, “Leah, what?!” Leah sat down on the edge of the rocker, “My water just broke.”