The party was going spiffing. Spiffingly? I don’t know.
Long story short, nobody has died and both Riley and I have yet to escape. Not that we had much choice.
The gala was full to the brim. Old money, new money – every assortment of capital glory that my father lived off was here tonight (spare for people who actually mattered in the world). I recognized more than a couple of kids from school too but I made no move to talk to them and neither did they. All I had for company was Riley who, for once, decided to not flutter off and be a social butterfly. Instead, my father decided to take up the role for the night.
He was all smiles and professionalism, making nice with the cattle, shaking hands and such. And then, every once in a while he’d glance over to the corner exhibition we were situated by and offer a small smile. I’m not sure if he was actually delighted or simply satisfied with his sons’ presence but he remained at a distance. For once, I did not mind.
Riley managed to make up for it. Somewhat.
In near-matching tuxes, we might have looked twins if he had bothered to shave his five o’clock shadow. We were both blonde, broad, and bored. What made things worse was the fact that the majority of the people we spoke to lacked a pulse.
After entertaining another overly-flirtatious woman for the night, I turn to Riley and look him dead-in-the-eye as she scuffled off.
“This is not my idea of fun, Riley.”
His laugh turns into a whimper which he drowns with champagne. “Well, little brother, this isn’t my idea of fun either. In fact, my idea of fun is lying in bed with a hot girl or two. Or boy. You know, however drunk I can get.”
He looks deeply into his cup. “God, champagne tastes like ass,” he says and promptly tosses it back.
I just give him a look. “More champagne?” he says. “No? Good. Because I’m going to get more.”
I grab him by his coat sleeve as he takes one step forward. “Don’t you dare leave me alone,” I hiss.
That same prune-queen I was talking to passes by; we smile like five year-olds and I let go of his coat sleeve before she winks and turns her head away.
Our smiles drop. Glaring resumes.
“Chill bro,” Riley says. “If I’m not back in five minutes, I’m probably screwing or hiding.” He shrugs. “Or both.” Before I can say anything, he back-peddles into the crowd with a narrowly heard, “Don’t text me mid-coitus!” and disappears.
I sigh. Now what do I do?
Riley is right. Champagne does taste terrible.
I’m sipping a glass, admiring some naked people posing with fruit, when I hear the most god-awful sound. It’s like a mouse but mice aren’t 5’5’’ with rosy cheeks and a sequence dress.
Our eyes meet and I’m sure on impact – Lynette Brooks. And boy, did she bleach red. The most I can do to stifle my laughter is bite my lip but she rebounds behind a pillar regardless.
It’s then I notice the direction every head within earshot was looking towards. The laughter dies in my throat as the murmuring begins.
“Do you know who that is? I think it might be Devon’s girl.”
“Alexis… No, no can’t be.”
“…his other daughter. My son goes to school with her. An absolute disgrace, clearly.”
“No wonder I’ve never heard of her ‘til now. Devon’s right to keep her hidden. Poor man, first his wife leaves him and now his daughter…”
It’s hard to imagine this was actually a charity gala. Forget high school; high-brow society could make gossip an Olympic sport.
Sighing again, I look down into my glass. I watch for a moment as the bubbles sizzles up in the yellow liquid before I make up my mind. In a few quick steps, I move through the crowd, pass my glass off to a waiter, and make my way to Lynette.
I can see her knee poking out of from behind the pillar as I stop in front of it. God, was she crying?
I try to think of what to say but then I remember who I am and who she is. Shit – this was such a bad idea.
Behind me, the whispers persisted. I glance back, masking the movement by scratching my head. I make eyes with more than a few no-names who immediately drop their gaze upon realizing who I was.
That easy, huh?
“Alexis?” comes a voice and I whip around.
Lynette pokes her head from the pillar. Her eyes slowly scale up the length of my body before our eyes meet and her soft expression is lost. Replaced with, of course, a frown.
At least she isn’t crying, I think. “Yes. Me.”
She looks right about ready to bite my shins before she notices the few eyes still gawking and returns to hiding behind the pillar.
“Come to laugh at me?” she grumbles.
At this point, I could just walk away. But I don’t. I shove my hands into my pockets and lean against the pillar. Like this, I’d be facing our onlookers – whom lessened to shifty eyes – but I doubt Lynette would appreciate that, much less care. God, why was I doing this?
“Do I sound like I’m laughing?” I said.
There’s a brief pause before she speaks. “Then why are you here?”
Good question. Pity?
“Call it a moral obligation.”
“As my tutor?”
Again, another pause. “As Kenneth Marks’ son.”
A laugh bursts out of my throat before I can be compelled to hold it back and try to cover it up with a cough.
Good god – even I knew who she was, if only vaguely. Ashley made a point to fill me in the night before, capping off her family history with: “The girl’s rich and crazy. Also get me some of those doggy bags you fancy people get to take home.” Priorities.
I clear my throat. “Never mind. Let’s just call this a…”
“If you say ‘intervention’, I’m going to punch you in the throat.”
She sounds genuinely surprised. “I’ll be blunt – you hate me; I can scarcely tolerate you. But for every Friday until both of us get our grades up – or Mr. Trent is fired – we need to meet. So, I have an idea.”
She snorts. “This should be good.”
“It is. The idea is that I’ll talk with Mr. Trent about torturing you on Fridays outside of school. For the sake of your apparent allergy to libraries, that is. And, in exchange, you actually put in some effort.”
“What like, at my place?” She lets out a long, dry laugh. “Buddy, you are so not my type.”
“Cute. I actually have a more specific place in mind but if you’re unwilling…”
I lean up from the pillar, take one step forward, and Lynette’s hand shoots out from behind the column to grab my leg.
“Alright, alright,” she hisses and releases my pants’ leg, “you made your point. Let’s do it.”
Next, she offers her hand up to mine. I briefly consider it and everything that just flew out of my mouth. To be honest, I didn’t intend to bring this up until way later but if it made my life easier, fine. Hopefully that relief will latch onto my life.
I take her hand but rather than a shake, she uses my arm as an anchor to haul her ship to shore. I mean, she stands up. She’s really heavy, yeah?
“Oh stop moaning,” she says and frees my hand from her iron-like grip to smooth out her dress.
I make a show of rubbing my shoulder joint.
She then looks me up and down for…whatever reason.
“No, seriously –.”
“Marks!” someone behind me says. Someone who sounds very, very familiar. By the way Lynette’s eyes widen and cheeks flush, I have a good idea as to who it is.
I wince and shut my eyes. “Crowe.”