I walked into the sitting room, and I was so furious I was unable to hide it. I saw JP and Stef, wearing the same expression I had. “I see you talked to Will.” I’d just talked to him about Zach’s positive drug test. It was pretty obvious that he’d been set up.
“We have,” Stef said. My phone rang, and I was going to ignore it, but I saw that it was Trevor. I’d been trying to talk to him for three days now, but he’d avoided my calls. I’d left a message last night threatening to go postal on his ass if he didn’t call me back.
“I have to take this,” I said, and hit talk. “Hello.”
“Hey Wade!” Trevor said happily, as if this was some big social call. It was morning here, and night in Virginia. His voice slurred a bit, telling me he’d been out drinking.
“You and I are going to have a conversation about what you’ve been doing,” I said firmly. I was pissed and he knew it, but I had to be careful, because if I was too aggressive, Trevor would hang up and I’d have a hell of a time getting him to talk to me.
“What do you want to talk about?” he asked casually, like we were going to talk about the weather.
“Your conversation with Zach Hayes,” I said. “Who set you up to do that, or did you just come up with that idea on your own?”
“That’s not my gig,” he responded, as if I had somehow impugned his honor.
“Well you went to see him, and convinced him to break up with Will,” I said. “You blackmailed him, showing him incriminating pictures and threatening to release them.”
“Relationship wasn’t going to work anyway,” he said lamely.
“Dude, that is not our decision to make, and you had no right to do that to him,” I insisted. “Who set you up to do that?”
“I can’t talk about that,” he said firmly.
“Was it Mary Ellen?”
“I said I can’t tell you,” he said.
“Well this time you stepped on my toes, and this time you pissed me off, so here’s the deal,” I said loudly. “You’re going to tell me what happened, and who’s behind this big plan, or I’m coming after your sorry ass. My mother isn’t the only one with those bank records.”
“You’d do that to me?” he asked, outraged.
“Trevor, you can’t make a pact with the devil and expect to get off unhurt,” I said. “So spill it.”
“It wasn’t Mary Ellen,” he said. “I haven’t talked to her since her wedding.”
“So it was my mother,” I said. He said nothing. “She held that bank thing over your head, and offered you some cash as an additional incentive.” That was her modus operandi.
“I didn’t really think it would hurt them,” he whined. “And the little shit wasn’t supposed to tell anyone.” He was referring to Zach.
“What if he did? What was the penalty for that?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
“Alright, I have one more question for you,” I said.
“Go on,” he said.
“Did you set up a deal with Zach’s roommate to spike his power drinks?”
“What? What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Did you set up a deal with Zach’s roommate to spy on him?” I asked, broadening the question.
“I don’t even know who the fuck his roommate is,” Trevor said. He was pissed, and getting a little too upset. I had to be careful or I’d lose him.
“I didn’t think you did, but I had to know,” I said. “The dude put meth in Zach’s energy drinks, and he tested positive for it.”
“Fuck,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about that.”
“Like I said, I just had to ask you,” I said. Trevor was pretty easy for me to read, even over the phone, and I was almost certain he hadn’t done it. “I guess Mary Ellen must have hired my mother to do her dirty work,” I concluded. I’d pretty much come to that conclusion already.
“No one’s better at stirring up shit than your mother,” he said.
“Well here’s the deal,” I said. “You guys picked on some pretty powerful people this time, and they’re hella pissed.”
“Fuck,” he said, and was despondent again. “No one was supposed to find out about this.”
“No, no one was supposed to figure out my mother was behind this, and there was definitely not supposed to be a trail back to Mary Ellen,” I said. “The only one who was out there in the open is you.”
“I’m supposed to be the fall guy?” he asked, as if that were impossible.
“Looks like it,” I said.
“Fuck!” he said again. “How do I get out of it?”
“I don’t know, but I’ll work on it,” I said.
“As long as your mother is alive, it looks like I’m her bitch,” he said, with a combination of hatred and fear.
“Dude, saving your soul is probably beyond my power, but I’m willing to try,” I joked, to lighten the mood.
“I appreciate that,” he said sincerely.
“In the meantime, if I call you, you call me back in five minutes.”
“You got it Wade,” he said, and was about to hang up.
“And…” I said loudly, to stop him.
“Go on,” he said.
“If you talk to my mother, Mary Ellen, or anyone else about this, you call me and tell me about it within an hour of the conversation.”
“Alright,” he agreed. “You think you can get me off the hook on this deal?”
“I’m going to try, like I said, but you have to do what I told you to do,” I said firmly.
“I’ll do it,” he said. Then he ended the call, and I looked at JP and Stef, shaking my head in disgust. “My mother blackmailed Trevor, and bribed him for good measure, to fuck with Zach’s mind.” Stef and I were so enraged it was palpable in the room.
“Much as we suspected,” JP said calmly. It was amazing that his steady demeanor had such a strong effect on both Stef and me, effectively settling us down. “It was our intention to fly out this afternoon for New York. Claire is going to meet us there. I am trying to convince Will and Zach to join us as well, but that may not be possible.”
“I’m going up to Bridgemont to discuss these issues,” I said.
“Do they know you’re coming?” JP asked.
“I can hardly just drop in, unannounced,” I said with a raised eyebrow, teasing him for intimating I could be that rude. Stef chuckled.
“Certainly not,” JP said.
“Which reminds me to thank you both for staying here and helping to unwind this picture,” I said. We’d set up camp, delineated all the things we could think of that coincided with the JJ & Alex and Will & Zach issues, and after two days of reaching out to every contact we had, we’d pieced together a pretty good picture of what had happened.
“We are allies in this battle,” JP said. He was right about that, because this looked to encompass quite a few more people than I had originally thought.
“We are,” I confirmed, even though I felt that tug of loyalties inside.
“What are you hoping to accomplish at Bridgemont?” JP asked.
“I think that at this point, we have to avoid a full-scale war,” Stef said, answering JP’s question for me. “JJ and Will are going to be out for blood, and Brad doesn’t even know about it yet.
”No one has talked to him?” I asked, stunned. I knew that he had been largely written off by his sons, at least temporarily, but the fact that he was this far out of the loop spoke volumes about how low his reputation was in his family.
“Neither Will nor JJ wanted him to be involved,” Stef replied. “As he has not called to check up on them, I think that is a reasonable request.”
“I have spoken to Will, and he has been relatively calm, but I could get no assurances from him that he would do nothing until we talked,” JP said.
“JJ was even less willing to make that commitment,” Stef said. “It is perhaps a good thing we have not involved Bradley in this.”
“It’s not like Will to give up on Brad,” I said.
“Will is not giving up on Brad, he is trying to piss him off enough to pull him out of his daze,” Stef said. “He has been spending a considerable amount of money, and I suspect that when Brad finds out about that, it will have an impact.”
“What’s he bought?”
“Well, his charter bill for the month is over one million dollars,” Stef said. “There is also a $750,000 Ferrari sitting in the garage at Escorial.”
“No shit?” I said, but couldn’t help chuckling. “I’ll bet that’s one sweet ride.”
“He got a ticket on the way home from picking it up,” Stef said. “There are also other expenses. He apparently bought the two lots next to his house in Hawaii. That was another $2,000,000. And rumor has it there is a miscellaneous cash demand for $4,000,000, although I am not sure what that is for.”
“That shouldn’t be a huge problem,” I said. They had more than enough money to cover those expenses.
“It is not a problem, but it is an annoyance,” Stef said. “I think that Will is reading the situation correctly.” Those two knew Brad better than anyone, so I let it go.
“I’m going to have to fly out and drive that Ferrari,” I joked.
“It is an Enzo,” JP said. He was a car guy. “There are very few out there, and they all must be custom ordered. The first offer was made to those who already owned a Ferrari, which was how Will initially got the idea to buy it.”
“In any event, it will probably be a good investment. The dealer said he could already make $50,000 by selling it right now,” Stef observed.
“He’s turning into an astute businessman,” I teased.
“Perhaps,” Stef said, grumbling. I looked at him, asking him to explain. “He has not handled Josh and the bar as well as I thought he would.”
“What did he do?” I asked.
“It is not what he did, it is what he did not do,” Stef said. “Josh has hired too many people, and is comping too many drinks, so the bar is not making very much money.”
“Will explained to me that he was pleased with the bar, and that all the parties involved seemed happy,” JP said. “He noted that it was not worth a potential profit of maybe $100,000 to become a mercenary cost cutter.”
“You mean it’s not all about the money?” I asked playfully. Stef gave me a dirty look, while JP laughed.
“We must be going,” JP said. “You should feel free to call us any time.”
“As should you,” I said, mildly teasing him by adopting his stodgy tone.
Stef gave me a hug and left JP and me alone. “I want you to know that I am proud of you for how honorably you are approaching this issue.”
“Thank you,” I said, and then frowned. “I feel like an idiot for letting myself get duped into that trip to Africa. We got there, and it was good to see Hammer as a productive person and not an asshole, but there was no reason for me to have to go there. That should have made me suspicious.”
“And I should have been skeptical about being invited to a conference that wasn’t closely related to my field of study,” JP said. “We are, perhaps, victims of our own vanity.”
“Perhaps,” I agreed.
“I would hope that you would look at this with a more measured approach,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“You went to Africa on what seemed to be a fool’s errand, but based on the way you described your trip, it was a memorable experience for all of you, especially the children,” he said.
“It was,” I agreed. He was right. It had been a great trip. “And I should also observe that you seem much happier after your sojourn.”
“I am doing better, even though my problem has not completely corrected itself,” he grumbled.
“Good luck,” I said, and gave him a very warm hug, one that he reserved for his grandchildren and for me.
August 2, 2003
I sat out on the deck, drinking a beer, while I waited for Zach to finish getting ready. We’d had to scramble to get clothes together for him, since he had no desire to go back to his dorm and deal with Julius.
Ryan and Jeff came out and joined me. “Thanks for helping me out,” I said to Jeff.
“No problem,” he said casually, even though it had been a pretty big deal. Ryan looked at us curiously, wondering what we were talking about.
“Beer?” I offered. I got up and got them a Corona.
“No lime?” Jeff asked.
“You want a lime, you can go in the kitchen and carve up some fucking fruit,” I said. “I’m going to just enjoy the beer.”
“Someone is bitchy this morning,” he said.
“Someone spent the morning arguing, so someone is bitchy,” I said.
“Did you win?” Ryan asked. He was almost back to his old self, or at least he seemed that way. I could see the sadness that seemed to live just below the surface. He was a pretty closed person, so only people who knew him well would notice.
“I always win,” I joked.
“I’ve got to figure out what I’m going to do,” Ryan said.
“I told you that you can stay here,” I said. “That goes for you too.” That sentence was directed at Jeff. Jeff and Ryan had been inseparable. It was really sweet to see the fraternal bond develop between them.
“Yeah, but I’m not sure if I want to go back to Harvard-Westlake,” he said.
“Shiloh will be there, and that will suck,” I said in a commiserating way.
“Yeah, and I’ve been a total douche to all my friends, so it will be like I don’t know anyone,” he said.
“So go somewhere else,” I said, even as an idea formed in my mind.
“My parents are barely willing to fork out the cash for HW. If I try to go somewhere else, they’ll pull the money out from under me,” he said.
“Why don’t you finish your senior year with me,” I said.
“What? Where?” Ryan asked, confused.
“Menlo, in the Bay Area,” I said.
“Dude, I cannot move in with you,” he objected.
“Why not? You’re pretty. Everyone likes to look at you,” I joked. Ryan was gorgeous.
“Yeah, and it’s hard to blame them, but it is a little creepy,” he joked.
“Creepier than your step-father?” I asked.
“No,” he said, giving me a dirty look. “I’ll think about it.”
“Alright, well here’s the deal. You’ll be able to start over at a new place, and you’ll have a built in group of friends. And you won’t have to put up with any of this bullshit,” I said, referring to his parents and their drama.
“I said I’ll think about it,” he said. “My grades are only OK. I probably can’t even get in.”
“I’ll talk to my aunt,” I told him. “I’ll see her in New York. They won’t say no to her.”
“That actually sounds like a good idea,” Jeff said.
“And you can watch my aunt lose her mind,” I said.
Zach came out, frowning, and sat down. I got up and grabbed him a beer while he greeted Jeff and Ryan.
“Why is Claire going to lose her mind?” Jeff asked.
I pulled out my phone and showed them a picture of John with an earring. “John got his ear pierced.”
“No shit?” Zach asked, laughing as he looked at it. “Mr. Abercrombie goes emo.” We all laughed at that.
“He’s all into his band. They’re trying to look more radical,” I said. It was pretty ridiculous, and they weren’t even good, but he was really into it.
“Dude,” Zach said, shaking his head.
“Even Marie is giving him shit for being outrageous,” I said, chuckling.
“John’s rebellion,” Jeff concluded.
“Somebody took psych class,” I said, smirking at him.
“Fuck you,” he said, making all of us laugh.
“I really don’t think this is a good idea,” Zach said, starting our argument again. “I should stay here.”
“You’re going to New York with me,” I said firmly, and watched his eyes flash fire, but I didn’t give a shit. “You’re doing this for me.”
“But…” he started, and with that, he finally exhausted my patience.
“Look asshole, I put up with all kinds of bullshit from you, and I’ve still been a supportive little doormat for you during this crap with the meth. This is your time to do something for me. You can’t do that, you can go fuck yourself!” I was yelling by the time I was done, and forced myself to calm down. Ryan and Jeff looked at me strangely, a combination of worry and amusement, but I didn’t really care about their reactions.
Zach glared at me, but when he saw how absolutely determined I was, he relented. “Fine. I’m ready to go when you are.”
“We’ll see you in a few days,” I said to Ryan and Jeff. “I need to spend some time in Hawaii. Go with me.”
“We’ll see,” Jeff said, answering for both of them. Zach and I grabbed our bags and went out to the waiting car.
Neither one of us said anything for about fifteen minutes, and then Zach spoke. “I’m sorry I bitched about going with you.” I didn’t say anything, because I wasn’t ready to forgive him for all this bullshit yet. “I’m completely out of my league with this shit.”
“You know, that’s bullshit,” I said. “You are smart, and you can be devious, and you can be a total prick.”
“Fine, I’m an asshole,” he said. He was irritated that his big plan to apologize and end our battle had failed.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “You are, and you will be.”
“Then why are you with me?”
“Well, technically I’m not with you, because you broke up with me,” I said coldly. “But unfortunately, I still love you, so that’s why I’m putting up with you and your crap.”
“I’m glad you still love me,” he said, smiling. He was such a little shit. He knew my weakness, and it was really hard for me to stay mad at him when he was being nice and adorable at the same time.
“You are never going to be happy.”
“What does that mean?” he demanded.
“You cannot play football and be happy,” I said. “You’re good at it, you’re amazingly talented, but it makes you miserable.”
“You don’t know the rush that I get…” he began.
“Zach, it’s not about the win, the victories, or any of that shit. It’s about you not being you. You are gay, and you’re playing a sport where you can’t be gay. So not only are you unhappy, you are vulnerable.”
“Because I let Trevor fuck with my mind?” he asked, outraged.
“Yeah, and because of the other people before that,” I said, referring to the advisor he’d hired when he was in high school. “You can keep going down this road, and maybe you’ll end up as one of the best football players ever, but you’ll be fucking miserable.”
“So I should give it all up? Throw it all away? Everything I’ve worked for, my entire life?”
“You’re 18 fucking years old,” I said, to remind him that it wasn’t like he was a grandpa.
“I don’t see it that way,” he objected.
“That’s fine,” I said. “But I can’t go on with you if you do this.”
“What? You’re breaking up with me?” he asked, really upset and all pissed off.
“We already broke up,” I reminded him. “I promised you I’d be your friend, but that’s all I can do, as long as you play football.”
“So you’re giving me an ultimatum?”
“I’m not giving you an ultimatum,” I objected.
“You said that you’d break up with me if I don’t quit football,” he said. “That’s a pretty big threat.”
“That’s not what I said,” I explained through clenched teeth. “Let’s review. As of this point, you and I are not together because you ended our relationship.”
“So all those times we made love since then, that meant nothing?” he challenged.
“I didn’t say I don’t love you, and they meant a lot,” I said, then smiled to ease the tension a bit. “Plus it was a whole lot of fun.”
He grinned, looking like a little wolf. God, it was hard to be this tough with him. “It was.”
“So you broke up with me, and I promised you that we’d always be friends, so that’s where I’m at. We’re friends with benefits, because I like the benefits.”
“I like the benefits too,” he said. We got to the airport and stopped our conversation while we got on the plane. I’d actually scored a good deal on this charter. Since the plane had flown some people out here and was going to just dead-head back to New York, they gave me an awesome price. I guess any revenue was better than no revenue. I told Zach all about that to make harmless conversation while we boarded and got settled in. “How are we getting home?”
“We’re going with Stef and Grand on Stef’s new flying palace,” I said. I described it to him as best I could, based on the pictures Stef had sent me. That occupied our time until we’d taken off and gotten to our cruising altitude, but then I’d finally exhausted that line of conversation, so we talked about the issue that was still on the table.
“Will, look, I’m sorry about all this. I totally fucked up. Can’t you forgive me?”
“It’s not about me forgiving you,” I said, even though it sort of was. “Look, you hurt me too fucking badly for me to just blow this off. You did this before, promised me you’d never do it again, and you did.”
“I know,” he said, totally defeated.
“I never thought I’d meet someone like you, who meshed with me so perfectly,” I told him. “I never get tired of being with you, and you usually don’t piss me off.”
“Usually,” he said with a grimace.
“I can’t be with you and share you,” I said.
“You don’t have to share me,” he objected. “I don’t need to fuck other people.”
“I’m not talking about other people, I’m talking about football,” I said. “As long as that’s what you’re doing, it will always have priority in your life.”
“So you have to be my priority?” he asked, making me sound like a pathetic drama queen. I bit back my anger.
“What if you and I were together, but I was still seeing Tony?” He was really insecure about Tony because he guessed how tight we’d been. For that reason, I rarely mentioned Tony, but this time it worked. “How would you feel?”
“Pissed,” he said. “But that’s different. He’s a person, football is a sport.”
“You’d be pissed off because you’d think you were fighting for me, and every time I was with him, you’d think you were losing,” I said. I saw that resonate with him.
“I can’t see myself with anyone else,” he said.
“Dude, you are a freshman in college and I’m a senior in high school. There’s a lot of time for us to work things out,” I said philosophically.
“I may not have a choice with football,” he said sadly.
I picked my words carefully. I wasn’t willing to just sit around and wait for him to figure things out. And it irritated me that I’d only win him by default, if he couldn’t play football. “No matter what happens with us, you will not be happy with things like they are,” I said. “That’s a different decision to make.”
“Not really, since I can’t have you and football, and I have to choose.”
I sighed. “What I’m telling you is that you can’t have me anyway.”
“What?!” he asked, much too loudly.
“You’re my best friend, and I love you, but I can’t be with you right now,” I said.
“I don’t get it,” he said, shaking his head. “If that’s the case, why am I even going with you to New York?” Now he was being bitchy.
“Because I’m fighting for you, and I’m in your corner, and you owe it to me to do the same thing, and I need you to be here,” I said.
“I’m going to go crash,” he said, and got up and went back to the bedroom. I watched him go, and only after he was gone did I allow myself to shed a tear. He was thinking of right now, and I was thinking ahead. If we tried to be a couple now, it would be a disaster. I was betting that if we waited a couple of years and then got fully back together, we’d both be in a much better place. I wondered if my gamble would pay off.
August 2, 2003
New York, NY
I stood in the great room, admiring the way it looked with the new color on the walls. I’d made the right call on that, even if Stef would be pissed off. Carullo came wandering in. “Told you he’d do a good job,” he said, referring to his cousin who had painted it.
“He did,” I agreed. “Where are you going?” He was dressed nicely in one of the new suits I’d gotten him.
“Got an interview,” he said with a big smile.
“You look great,” I said, to pump him up. He cleaned up well. “Where are you interviewing?”
“ESPN,” he said. “I am so stoked. I hope I get this job!”
“What is it?”
“They’re working on fantasy football, so I’d get to be involved in developing that,” he said. “It’s totally kick ass.”
“What the fuck is that?” I asked. He started to explain it, but I stopped him with a bitchy ‘whatever’.
“I love that shit. Don’t know how I got an interview. Shit, I didn’t even send them my resume,” he said.
“I got a cousin…” I joked. Every time I needed to get something done, that’s what he said to me. I think he was related to half the fucking city.
“You set this up?” he demanded.
“Not directly,” I said. I was pretty sure Stef had done it, but I had no proof. He started to get that pissed off attitude. “So what if I did? You do nice things for me all the time. I can’t do something for you?”
He gave me a dirty look, and then smiled. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” I said. “You still have to convince them you’re not a complete idiot.”
“Yeah, that’s going to be tough,” he joked. “So who all is coming in?”
“Grand and Stef are coming in from London,” I explained. “Aunt Claire is flying in from Paly. Will and Zach are flying in from LA.” He did some quick math on that.
“We’re not gonna have enough bedrooms.” We only had four bedrooms in this condo.
“I’ll figure it out,” I said. “I’ll put Will and Zach in the staff quarters. I have to hire a housekeeper who cooks too.” No way I could convince Rosa to leave Boston. She was totally into the brats. Figures they’d steal Rosa from me too. Kids suck.
“I got a cousin…” he joked. “Seriously, Will and Zach can have my room.”
“Where are you going to sleep?”
“It’s Saturday night. I’ll find somewhere,” he said in his sexy voice.
“Just come back here. We’ll work it out,” I said, being bitchy.
“Or maybe they can crash with me,” he said, all but drooling.
“Whatever,” I snapped. “See you later.” He smiled at me while he raised an eyebrow, then he left. I stood there, frowning after him, more angry at myself than at him. He frustrated the shit out of me, not because he wasn’t a nice guy, and not because he wasn’t a good roommate. He was both of those things. It just bothered the shit out of me when he fucked people. I dove into my brain, and tried to think about it objectively. I liked him as a friend, but I wasn’t attracted to him. No, that was wrong. I was attracted to him. But I didn’t ‘like’ him. I didn’t see us as a couple. There was no fucking way. It was just a physical infatuation, I decided, even though I didn’t know if that was even a real thing.
I let my mind wander, and that made me remember the scene where I’d seen him fucking Will. It was all kinds of twisted that the thought of that made me hard as a rock, and even more annoying that I had to go jack off because I was so damn horny. When I was done, and not as hormonal, I decided that Will would love something like that, a physical relationship with no real emotional attachments. Shit, he did that all the fucking time. There was no way I was going to be that slutty. There was no way I was going to jump in bed with Carullo just because it would be fun. Sex was about more than just fun. I was going to keep my self-respect.