I glanced down at my watch. 8:07. Seven minutes late, definitely out of character for Andrew.
Stupid Jennifer. I hadn't even met her yet but I already hated her.
I looked around the restaurant self-consciously; I'd been seated at 7:45, and already the waiter had been to my table three times wanting to take my order. And three times I'd declined, saying I was waiting for others. And three times I'd been flashed that look of subtle pity. I tilted my wrist so I could see my watch: 8:09. Nine minutes late.
"Oh my god, you must be Gracie!"
I bit my lip and forced a smile onto my face as I turned my head. "Grace. Just Grace."
"Oh my god, I am so incredibly happy that I finally get to meet you! Andy just raves about you. Raves! But goodness, he didn't mention how absolutely gorgeous you are! Goodness."
Jennifer took the seat across the table from me and smiled her pearly, obviously-bleached teeth, and I smiled back. I was on my best behavior tonight.
As I futilely racked my brain for an equally peppy response, I felt my brother's big, strong hands on my shoulders.
"Gracie!" He enveloped me in a huge bear hug, a tradition for as long as I can remember. "My two favorite girls." He sat beside Jennifer. "So you've met Jen?"
"Yep." I smiled again, trying to make it as friendly as possible.
"Your sister is stunning, Andy. Absolutely stunning!" It hadn't even been five minutes since I met her but I was already sick of her high, nasally, giddy voice. For about the gazillionth time that day I silently wished that Tay was there. I could just hear her voice inside my head, making fun of Andrew's girlfriend.
Andrew- not Andy- grinned at me. "Did you tell her the news yet, Jen?"
"Not yet! You made good time, babe, I'd barely sat down when you walked in. Goodness this is so exciting! Tell her, babe!"
Babe. I suddenly felt the urge to gag.
"Hold on, let's wait til my dad gets here. How long til he comes, Grace?"
I bit my lip- something that was becoming a nervous habit that I really needed to kick- and frowned.
Andrew caught my eye. "You're kidding."
I shook my head.
I nodded, still frowning.
"Wait, did I miss something? Babe?" Jennifer looked back and forth from Andrew to me.
"Why?" Andrew didn't even take his stern eyes off my face, ignoring Jennifer.
I shrugged. "Work?"
"Damn it." Andrew leaned back in his chair and ran his fingers through his hair. "Damn it!" He slammed a fist against the table. "You know, this is why Tay left."
"BABE!" Jennifer squealed.
"He's not coming." Andrew stood up. "Let's go, Jen."
Jennifer jumped out of her chair and grabbed her purse. "Babe?"
"Sorry, Gracie." He took Jennifer's hand and started to lead her away.
My heart sank a little. It was happening again, watching someone I love walk away from me because of my dad.
"Oh, and Gracie?" Andrew had stopped. "We're getting married."
And then he was gone. Just like Tay.
"Miss? Would you like to order?" The waiter had returned.
"You know what? No. No I don't."
And then I was gone too.
Dad didn't have much time to spend with us. Once he made his first million, it was like he got this sickness. Workaholicism. I don't even know if that's a word, but if it is: Dad has it. He rarely came home from his office, and when he did his face was buried in a manilla folder that had papers spilling out everywhere. When he took a break from reading another stupid report to tell us what he planned for Tay's eighteenth birthday, it made her day. He'd made reservations at this amazing, super expensive restaurant in San Francisco for all of us. It would be the understatement of the year to see that Tay was extremely excited. That was why it was such a disappointment when Dad didn't show.
Tay looked beautiful that night. She had her long, wavy blonde hair done up in small curls, her bangs pulled back to reveal her huge emerald eyes. I'd gone with her to get her makeup done at a beauty parlor downtown that afternoon. It looked great. She had on a short strapless pink dress and white strappy heels. Tay was beautiful. I remember thinking that she was everything I wanted to be.
Her friends Glory, Rebecca, and Tiffany rang our doorbell at 5. Robert, our butler, showed them in. Lilly, Andrew's girlfriend of the time, got there shortly after.
Tay and I started getting nervous when Alex, Tay's boyfriend, and Dad still hadn't arrived at 5:15-- the reservations were for 6:15 and we didn't want to risk getting caught in traffic-- but Alex pulled into our driveway at 5:20.
Dad still wasn't there.
"Where the hell is he?" Tay paced the nail-polish stained carpet in her bedroom. Everyone else was downstairs in the living room, watching Seinfeld on our plasma screen.
"He said he'd be here," I interjected softly.
"Well he's not," Tay snapped.
"He will be. I bet there's, like, bad traffic or something."
Tay stared at me, her bottom lip starting to quiver.
"Tay don't cry! We didn't get the waterproof makeup, remember? Here, I'll call him again." Instead of calling his cell I dialed the number of his secretary.
"Hello, Susan Willis speaking. How may I help you?"
"Hi, Susan, it's Grace. Um.. is my dad in?"
"Oh hello sweetie!"Susan is one of those people that if you don't cut off, she'll talk for hours and hours and hours... "It's been so long since I've seen you! You're what, fifteen now?"
"Sixteen, actually. Is my dad in?"
"Sixteen! Oh my goodness. You're getting so old! I remember when I first met you, back when-"
"Susan I'm sorry, but is my dad in?"
"Oh, he's in a meeting right now. Can I help you with something?"
Crap, I thought. "How long til he's out?"
"Well, it's a dinner meeting. He drove to Sacramento to meet with a potential financial backer. It probably won't be til at least midnight, depending on how dinner goes."
I hung up on her.
"What did she say?" When I looked up at her I noticed her mascara running.
"Tay you can't cry!" I grabbed a kleenex and darted across the room to dab under her eyes. "I told you not to!"
"I'm sorry I can't help it!" She was starting to blubber. "I'm just so upset that he didn't even call and-"
"Tay I just talked to him!" I lied, "He says he had to go to a meeting tonight, that it was a last minute thing. He says he'll make it up to you."
"Screw him!" Tay blubbered.
"Taylor Leighton. You are going to go to San Francisco with all of your friends and me and Andrew and you are going to have an awesome eighteenth birthday. So go!" I gave her a little shove and she stumbled off her bed.
She took one look at herself in the mirror and groaned. "Look at me! I'm a mess."
"Go fix your makeup and I'll go talk to them. Okay?"
Tay nodded. "Thanks, Grace."
I smiled. "Happy Birthday, Tay."
I went downstairs and told our driver Gerald, who was reading the paper in the staff's lounge, that we were ready to leave.
Then I went into the living room, where Rebecca was telling a lively account of some hot guy she'd met at Starbucks.
Andrew jumped up and pulled me aside. "What happened?"
"Dad's not coming." I turned to the group. "You guys ready?"
I was met with