When the session finally ends at five, Lynette tries to bolt without so much as a goodbye, but I somehow manage to force some homework on her before she does. She huffs at the light work load in her hands, scowls at me then turned on her heel with another little “hmph”. By the time I could think of something witty to say, she’s out the door.
Snobbish as well as stubborn…? Well, isn’t that dandy?
The entire time we were working, all she did was sigh and groan, replying in short sentences and half-listening to me whenever I explained something to her. I wasn’t really expecting anything from someone like her, but just from spending an hour in her presence I realize there’s nothing redeeming about this girl. I didn’t get it; she acted like she didn’t want to succeed. Who is like that?
After I packed up and left, I texted Brandon asking if he’s ever heard of this girl before, hoping for some insight, and in reply all I got was:
"YOU. ARE. SO. SCREWED."
I didn’t need to know more than that. If she’s really the delinquent I have no doubt she is, it’s no surprise that the teachers paired her up with me. Put one of the smartest kids in school with someone like Lynette, and the results are split two ways. Either it’s a success story in the making or the underlining motive for a homicide.
But that doesn’t matter. In the short time that I’ve known her, Lynette Brooks became the most frustrating – no, the most infuriating girl I’ve ever met.
It’s not like me to get so easily flustered by someone so quickly. I’ve spent years dealing with people almost as bad as her at school. In that time I know I’ve become something of a thorn in everyone’s side even when I don’t mean to be. I don’t blow up on people just because they’re not like me – I’m not that much of a jerk – but if I had to spend even one more day with that girl things could easily change. Sure, it’s just as much a chore for people to put up with me as it is for me to put with them, but Lynette’s a different story. Not only do I have to put with her, I’d have to get along with her long enough until she became…above average.
This isn’t going to end well. By all means a cliché thing to think, but when I finally got home, there was a heavy feeling in my stomach and all I wanted to do was take a hot shower and wash it away.
I lived in an apartment in the middle of Los Angeles, and most weekends I had it to myself. The housekeepers would be gone, my father still at work, and my brother Riley probably at some social event or membership club. It was nice if a bit lonely.
And of course, the one day I’m looking forward to an empty apartment is the one day it isn’t.
I drop my school bag in the hall and make my way to the living room and start taking my shirt off, ready for a nice long shower. It’s half way over my head when I hear someone clear their throat.
I stop and gaze up, the shirt halfway off, one arm in the other almost out. My dad and Riley were sitting on the leather couch, the latter grinning from ear to ear.
“Ethan if I wanted a strip tease, I would’ve asked.” Riley winks at me and I’ve already gone red.
“I, uh, I thought no one was home,” I say, pulling my shirt down and firming out the wrinkles with my hand.
My father looks at me with a less than amused expression. “Is that why you were undressing in the middle of the living room?” He’s sitting cross-legged, hands neatly fitted in his lap. Riley is less elegant, lounging with his legs apart like he owned the room. Twenty-eight, and I have no idea why Riley still lives with us.
He does have his own place in the city but as far as I know it’s more of a make-shift loft he uses to crash at or bring his dates home to. If he’s not out and about, Riley’s most likely here.
When was the last time we’ve all been in the same room together without social obligations prompting it? No idea.
“You’re not usually home this early,” I said before sitting down.
“Oh, so you’re usually naked when we’re not around? Oh baby brother, I never thought– ”
“What your brother is trying to say,” my dad says, shooting Riley a look, “is that I tried to reach you but you weren’t answering your phone. I was worried.”
I pat down my pockets and remember that I stuffed it in my bag. “Yeah, sorry didn’t hear the ring. What’s up?”
Or rather, what the hell do you want?
Things are tense in my family, to say the least, and have been since my mother died five years. Gradually it’s been getting better with my dad even going as far as getting remarried, but “plans” meant motive and Kenneth Brooks is not entirely above manipulating his sons even with good intentions.
“Annual charity gala at a new art gallery presentation.” He tosses a card on the coffee table and I pick it up. “This one’s a little important and I thought now would be a good time to introduce you properly to the business. Start testing the waters.”
“You know I don’t like going to those sorts of things.” I knew dad’s business associates by name, but Riley’s the social one. People like him.
“I know, but it’s a family themed evening; chairmen are inclined to bring their kids.”
There’s a whole underlining meaning to that, probably about social standings and how family shows unity in a company, although I have no idea how a shipping company has anything to do with family values.
My dad’s expression remains cool as he watches me, the same face he wears when brokering a deal I’m sure. We look so alike – same blonde hair, same eyes, same everything except he’s withered, barely resembling the man who set me on his knee and called out the types of ships that came into port.
Riley’s giving me a look too, one only a sibling would understand.
I feel that heavy feeling in my stomach again and I can’t concentrate enough for an excuse.
“Do I have to go?”
“No,” my father replies, “but I’d appreciate it if you did.” Maybe there’s subtext to that as well, but I’m off my game today and I can’t interpret it right now.
I could say no, tell him I have plans with friends, but that would be lying. It’s not as though I spend much time with either of them as it is.
I keep my shoulders from slumping as best I can. “Yeah, sure alright, I’ll go.”
“Thank you, Ethan.” He smiles slightly and in an instant he looks years younger. Yeah, he’s trying, but I’m in no mindset to appreciate it. He gets up to leave then, saying that he has a meeting to get to and that the gala is tomorrow at seven; Riley would help me find a suitable tux. Then just like that, he leaves and the brief moment is gone and I’m left feeling bitter frustration all over again.
In the corner of my eye, Riley’s still staring at me, but he’s got that grin back on his face like he gets me but really he doesn’t and….God, I hate Fridays.