I heard Will end our call, and then I felt myself collapsing back onto the bed. My mind was whirling, and I felt myself getting dizzy, and then going into a trance-like state. I recognized the symptoms, because even though this had only happened to me twice before, those events had been memorable. The first time I’d been transported back into time, to 1968, when I’d met my real father for the first and only time. The second time had been last year, when I’d had my last argument with Robbie, posthumously. Only this time I hadn’t gone back to a time, I had gone to a place. It was my psychologist’s office, and I was lying on his couch, something I’d never done, but it seemed quite natural this time.
I stared at the back of his chair, and watched even as it pivoted around, expecting to see my shrink, who would gently scold me for totally blowing him off. He’d tell me that I still had issues to work through, and I’d internally roll my eyes at him because I’d been doing just fine. Only I wasn’t doing just fine, and here I was, in his office, lying on his couch. The chair turned around, but it wasn’t my psychologist, it was Robbie, wearing a white lab coat. I chuckled, at how he was trying to look all medical. My shrink never wore something like that.
“What are you doing here?” I asked him playfully. It was like I was in a dream, with limited control over it. I wanted to grab him, to be with him, this man that I missed so much, but my body wouldn’t let me.
“You’re fucked up,” he said coldly.
“I’m happy,” I insisted.
“Are you?” he challenged. I thought about that, but before I could respond, he went on. “You know, all the years we were together, you gave me so much shit whenever I let you down. I’d get wanderlust, and want some strange dick, and you’d lose your mind and make me see how badly I’d fucked you over. And I’d feel like total shit about it. And you know what?”
“What?” I asked automatically.
“You were right. I did let you down. I did let myself think with my dick, and I totally blew off the person I loved most. And I felt like shit about that, I always felt guilty.”
“Don’t feel that way,” I said urgently, trying to reach out to him.
“I probably dragged it out a little more than I needed to,” he admitted, and hit me with his cute grin.
“Probably,” I said, smiling back at him. Only his smile faded, and he got pissed off again.
“So now you’re doing the same thing to me,” he said.
“How did I let you down? You think it’s wrong of me to go out with Marc? I have to be fucking celibate?”
“I never said you had to be celibate…” he started, but I was wound up now, so I interrupted him.
“I can’t fall in love with someone else? Is that it? I have to be devoted to you, even when you’re dead?”
“I was the one who told you to find someone else,” he said. Man, he was pissed at me. Usually when I got mad, he backed up, but this time, he came back at me even stronger.
“Then how did I let you down?” I demanded.
“You destroyed our family,” he accused.
“How much time have you spent with our boys over the last six months?” I said nothing. “How much!?!”
“Don’t yell at me,” I said loudly. “I don’t know.”
“Guess,” he said, in a smarmy way. It was like I was still talking to Will on the phone. My mind whirled, as the two events seemed to collide in my brain.
“Not much,” I admitted.
“I guess they’re older now, and they don’t really need or want you around anyway, right?” he demanded.
“No, that’s not it…” I said.
“Well then what is it?” He stared at me, those violet eyes of his boring into my soul. I just shook my head. “You blew them off, totally and completely. You promised me you’d be there for them. You lied to me, and you let me down.”
I opened my mouth to speak, but no words came out. I wanted to argue with him, but he was right. I was vaguely aware that there were tears flowing out of my eyes, or at least that’s how it seemed. I guess it made sense that since this was my freaky hallucination, that he wouldn’t say anything until I spoke. “I did,” I admitted.
“You did,” he confirmed. He wasn’t relenting; he wasn’t giving any ground at all. Normally, seeing me lose it like this, he’d comfort me, but not this time.
“I am so sorry,” I said. He didn’t move, didn’t budge, and that made me almost desperate. “You’re right. I let you down. You have to forgive me. You have to help me.”
He smiled weakly at me. “I’m not the one who has to forgive you.”
I was going to argue with him, but then I sighed. “I’m going to have to grovel to Will. He’s going to take a huge chunk of my ass for this one.”
“You deserve it,” he snapped, not willing to let me off the hook at all. “And he’s right.”
“I know that, but he’s such a pain in the ass when he’s right,” I whined. That actually made him laugh. “JJ, Darius, and Matt…shit; I have to try to make things right with them too.”
“What about Marc?” It was intensely weird to have him asking me about Marc.
“I don’t know,” I said. I started to dig deep, to see how I felt, but I stopped myself.
“Tell me,” he insisted.
“It’s weird to talk about this with you.”
“Why would it be weird? I talked to you about it when I thought I loved Neil, and I thought I loved Carson.” Thinking of those two pissed me off enough to pull myself together.
“Did you love them?” I challenged.
“I thought I did, but I didn’t,” he said. “They were new, and that always had an appeal to me. And they made me feel good.”
“The newness thing isn’t really all that important to me,” I said, something we both knew. “But he makes me feel good.”
“He makes you feel safe. He takes care of you,” he said, and I felt myself smiling. “Only he does it by wrapping you in a cocoon.” That made my smile fade.
I stared at him for the longest time as I processed what he said. “This is what you went through!”
“I don’t know. What are you going through?”
I thought about it for a bit longer. “He’s like Novocain for my soul.”
Robbie laughed, and then got serious. “That’s what I went through.”
“Why didn’t you tell me this before?” I asked.
“Like you ever listened to me, anyway,” he teased.
“That’s true,” I joked back. “Not that you had much smart to say.”
“I did today,” he said, and raised his eyebrow playfully.
“You did today,” I agreed.
“I asked you before if you were happy. You didn’t know. Do you know now?”
“I’m confused,” I admitted.
“Do you remember when Will went to see his psychologist, and the guy described how Will felt about his family?”
That made me laugh again. “The guy told him he was like a Borg, and that his family was his collective. And when he got cut off, he was all alone, and miserable.”
“You’re like that too,” he said.
“Not as bad,” I insisted.
“No, not as bad,” he agreed. “Now you know why he’s so upset with you.” Because I’d cut him off, and left him hanging out there alone. Holy shit. I remembered how painful it had been for me when that had happened. I remembered when Robbie and I had run away to Malibu. I’d had no anchor. I remembered when that had happened to me during the conflict with Brian. I was overwhelmed with guilt, only now understanding the pain I’d put him through. And JJ, shit, he’d gone through his first breakup. He’d fallen in and out of love, and I missed the whole thing. When he needed me the most, I wasn’t there. I turned back to Robbie, but he was gone.
“Wait! Who else do I have to ask for forgiveness?” I asked frantically.
I couldn’t see him, but I could hear his voice. “Yourself.”
I opened my eyes slowly, and freaked out because the tears had been real. I wiped them away in frustration, and got up too quickly. I sat back on the bed until my dizziness faded, then stood up and started getting my things together.
We’d just gotten here last night, so most of my stuff was still packed. I looked at the clock and checked the time. 8:00 in the morning. Marc was already at the gallery, getting set up for his Beijing premiere tonight. He would be running around frantically, trying to make sure all of the crates were here, just like he’d done in Hong Kong. I found him particularly annoying when he did that, and he didn’t really want my help, so I’d stayed up here to make some calls. I finished packing, called for the bellman, and then called Stef.
“Good evening,” he said coolly. “How is China?”
“It is morning here,” I said pleasantly. “How long will you be in New York?”
“I would expect to spend at least a few days here,” he said. “Why?”
“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” I promised.
“If we go somewhere else in the meantime, we’ll let you know,” he said.
“Thanks,” I said, then hung up. The bellman took my bags, but I kept my briefcase with me. It was a leather affair, and stuffed pretty full with papers, my laptop, and my jewelry and other valuables I kept close when traveling. I lugged it down to the hotel lobby and got in the car, instructing the driver to stop at the gallery. He looked at me in confusion, but after a few brief interchanges, I discovered that he spoke French, so I gave him the gallery’s name and directions in that language. He pulled up in front of the building, I told him to wait, and took my briefcase in with me.
“Hey there!” Marc said, then turned away to describe a crate he had one of the people looking for.
“I have to go home,” I said, interrupting them.
“Is everything alright?” he asked, concerned.
“No,” I said. “I can’t really go into it right now. I’ll call you later.”
“Is everyone healthy?”
“They’re healthy, but they need me,” I said.
“I need you,” he insisted. “Tonight is my big opening, in fucking Beijing. I don’t know anyone here.”
“They know you,” I said, smiling, but it didn’t work.
“Wait until tomorrow morning, at least,” he said.
“I can’t,” I said. “I have to go.”
“Fine,” he said, and pouted, thinking that would work and would change my mind, but it had no effect at all. I took that as an exit cue, and I was out of the gallery before he could say anything else. I called the travel agency on the way, and had them book me on the first flight back to the US.
August 2, 2003
Bridgemont House, UK
Mary Ellen came strolling into the Great Hall, where we met her. “Wade, how nice to see you,” she said, and gave me a distant hug and fake kisses on the cheek.
“I just got here not too long ago,” I said.
“Well that’s wonderful,” she said.
“So the press was chasing you?” I asked.
“Those people are impossible,” she said with a sigh.
“Was there some new story to pique their interest?” I asked. I saw her eyes furrow slightly, which told me I’d hit awfully close to home.
“I would have to read their rags to know,” she said. “I’m going to go upstairs and check on Ricky.”
“I’ll join you,” I said. “I haven’t seen him since I’ve gotten here.”
The two of us chattered about nothing in particular as we walked away from Alex, Nana, and the Duke. As soon as we were out of earshot, Mary Ellen turned on me. “I should have cut that little shit’s balls off.”
“JJ, who else,” she spat.
“What did he do?”
“Accused me of having sex with him when he was 16 and I was 21,” she said. “He filed charges in Virginia. Accused me of being a sex offender.”
“You think you’ll have to register?” I asked innocently.
She gave me a dirty look. “You’d think we’d be able to squelch something like that in Virginia.”
“And it hit the papers here?” I asked. It truly did take a herculean effort not to laugh hysterically.
“Yes,” she snapped. We went into my room and I pulled out my laptop and logged on, while she stared at me impatiently. “The Daily Mail, of course, those cretins.”
I went to their website, and saw the headline: SCHLUTER SAYS LADY BRIDGEMONT RAPED HIM. And then I lost my vaunted self-control, and started laughing my ass off.
“It’s not funny, Wade,” she snapped.
“You sounded just like Mother,” I said, as I got myself under control.
“There’s no need to insult me,” she said, but in a mildly playful way.
“So how are you going to handle this?”
“I’ll deny it, of course,” she said. “He can’t prove anything.”
“You hope,” I said.
“What do you mean?” she demanded.
“I don’t have any information, I’m just wondering,” I said. “I had no idea this was going to happen.”
“I’m not sure if I believe you,” she said.
That really made me mad. “Are you calling me a liar?” I was unusually forceful, because she’d struck a nerve and she knew it. I prided myself on being honest and honorable.
“No,” she said, relenting. “I will make him pay for this.”
“You already ruined his life and destroyed his career,” I said. “This is just payback. You can’t be mad because he’s fighting back.”
“Sure I can,” she said. “Besides, I didn’t ruin his life.”
“Please,” I said sarcastically. “I know what happened.”
“I’m sure you don’t know what happened,” she said.
“So you didn’t whine to Mother about JJ, and you didn’t recruit her help to get him out of your life?” She stared at me, and she was going to argue with me, but she knew that wouldn’t work.
“That was her wedding present to me,” Mary Ellen said. That made me laugh again, and the thought that our mother was so evil that she would do that as a wedding present was so pathetically hilarious Mary Ellen laughed too.
“Someday karma is going to bite her in the ass,” I said.
“Maybe,” Mary Ellen said, and then got sincere. “Look Wade, I know it was extreme, but was it so wrong of me to want my husband to be with me and our son?”
“It’s not wrong to want that, but it’s wrong to make JJ pay the price,” I said. “This was Alex’s decision. All he had to do was end it with JJ and this would have been over.”
“So it’s his fault,” she concluded, so happy to be off the hook.
“Not that easy,” I said, shaking my head. “You don’t get a pass on this. You ruined JJ’s career, and you destroyed JJ’s relationship with Alex.”
“Like I give a shit,” she spat.
“I’d say JJ figured that out, so he’s making sure that karma gets you,” I said.
“You’re enjoying this,” she accused.
“Not really,” I said honestly. “I am tied to both families, and you’ve started a war between them. That puts me right in the middle. So it’s probably more accurate to say that I’m pissed about this.”
“One newspaper article is not a blood feud,” she said. “I can overlook this one, if he can overlook the first one.” That was her peace offering. “And if he drops the charges.”
“I’ll talk to him about that, but that’s only part of the issue.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Mother doesn’t have simple plans like that,” I said.
“I knew about the article in the Daily Mail, but that’s it,” she said. I could tell she was being honest.
“For your wedding present, Mother pulled out all the stops,” I said. I laid out the whole plan, pretty much like I’d done for Nana, Alex and the Duke. I watched her reaction, and it seemed that she didn’t really know the story. That didn’t surprise me. Part of her ability to maintain plausible deniability, and to pass lie detector tests, would have meant she had to be mostly in the dark.
“I can’t believe she got Trevor involved,” Mary Ellen said.
“I can’t believe she went after Will,” I said.
“He’s got that closet case boyfriend,” she said. “Makes him an easy target.”
“That’s what Trevor thought, but now he’ll have Will gunning for him,” I said.
“I’m sure Trevor can handle him,” she said with disdain.
“Will is one of the most dangerous members of that family to cross,” I said seriously.
“He’s sixteen,” she said, rolling her eyes.
“Don’t you remember how evil you were when you were sixteen?” I teased.
“Shit.” I chuckled at that, at her realization that she was hell on wheels as a teenager.
“He is really smart, and he’s an amazing strategist,” I said.
“You have to talk to him and try to keep Trevor out of his clutches,” she said earnestly.
“So you’re still hung up on him,” I said.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” she demanded, all pissed off.
“Trevor. You’re still hung up on him,” I accused more forcefully, after her reaction to my first comment.
“Trevor is my cousin, Wade,” she said. “That’s gross.”
“I’d fuck him,” I said calmly, and that shocked her so much, it made her laugh.
“No doubt,” she said. “Trevor is my best friend. That’s how things have been, and that’s how things will be.”
“Let’s go see my nephew, then you can do damage control with your grandmother, your husband, and your father-in-law,” I said.
“Yeah, that will be a blast,” she said. We went in to see Ricky, and then went downstairs so I could watch Mary Ellen put on her best spin act.
August 2, 2003
New York, NY
“Mary Ellen molested you?” Stef asked.
“According to the law, yeah,” I said. Grand was really irritated, but the rest of them just seemed pensive.
“It must have hit the papers,” Stef said.
“Let’s check,” Will said. He pulled out his laptop and logged on to the internet. He was so much better with technology than I was. I was more than happy to sit back and let him do the work. The only thing I did was tell him the name of the paper.
He pulled up the article, saw the headline, and started laughing, almost hysterically. Stef and Aunt Claire smiled, while Grand still looked annoyed. Zach was just freaked out. “Dude, this was brilliant!” Will said as he got up and high-fived me.
“Thanks,” I said. It’s rare that I got such genuine and earnest kudos from him that didn’t involve skating. And he never gave me credit for being smart. No, that’s not fair. He wouldn’t give me credit for being as smart as him. I probably wasn’t, but I wasn’t going to admit that to him.
“And why exactly is it so brilliant?” Grand asked acidly.
“You think we should just sit around and let them attack us?” Will challenged.
“Escalating the situation can only make it worse,” he said. I didn’t get him. Usually he was the one who defended his family like a tiger, yet here he was, advocating that we just turn the other cheek. As if. I guess all that anti-war bullshit had turned him into a pussy.
“No way,” Will said, as if he were uttering an oath. “No way can you let them get away with that. Those people, if they mess with you, you have to go right back at them and make it hurt, or they’ll come at you again.”
“This is not a grade school playground fight,” Grand said.
“I think that perhaps it may be similar,” Aunt Claire said. “Explain to me why this plan is so brilliant.”
“Because no matter what happens, even if JJ drops the charges, people will remember that Mary Ellen was accused of child molestation, and that will stick with her,” Will said. “You can shake some things off, but not this. She’s scarred for life, or at least for a really long time.”
“That was on my mind,” I said, smiling at him.
“And you don’t think that’s a little drastic?” Grand asked.
“This woman attacked your grandson and probably ruined his career. He could have gone to the Olympics if he wanted to. That’s what she took away from him,” Will said assertively. He wasn’t yelling, but he was at the upper end of Grand’s acceptable volume level. “She connived to end his relationship with the man he loved, and in fact, his first love.” Now that was simply unnecessary. There was no need to point out how inexperienced I was.
“I did not say that what she did was alright,” Grand responded, just as vehemently.
“So in exchange for that, her reputation is pretty trashed. Big deal. It’s not like everyone didn’t think she was a whore before this,” Will said. That was so funny, I had to smile, and even Zach was grinning.
“Whatever,” Grand said, and that was so hilarious, all of us laughed. He never used that word. He gave us all really dirty looks, but then he ended up smiling.
“There’s an even better reason why this was so freaking smart,” Will said.
“And why is that?” Stef asked.
“JJ’s career was pretty much ruined because the first article made it look like JJ was gay, and he was involved with Alex,” Will said. “This one makes him look straight.”
“Yep,” I said. He high-fived me again.
I stared at Grand, letting him digest that. He looked up at me with a slight smile and said, “It was very clever.” That made all of us laugh again. I never thought we’d be talking about this crap and laughing about it so much.
“Thank you,” I said.
“Yes it was,” Stef said, and patted my back. Praise from him was even more important to me than praise from Grand, which probably worked just the opposite way for Will.
“I am wondering if you feel that vengeance has been satisfied with this exchange.” Grand asked.
“I’m done with her,” I said. I’d made my point, and I’d given myself a chance at saving my skating career. I was willing to declare victory and move on.
“Then I will convey that to Wade,” Grand said.
“JJ may be done with them, but I’m not,” Will said. “Was what they did to Zach okay? Should we forget about that?”
“It’s fine,” Zach said. “I’ll work it out somehow.”
“No, you won’t,” Will said. “You were just an innocent bystander in this whole thing. You’re like a drive-by victim. We have to make this right. We have to clear your name.”
“I didn’t mean to imply that we were ignoring Zach,” Grand said, now totally annoyed at being rude and not addressing Zach’s issue.
“I won’t start anything with them,” Zach pledged.
Grand looked at Will. “I’m not making any commitments. I’m gloves off on those people.”
“And what are you planning?” Grand asked, but it was more of a demand.
“How about this? How about I agree to let you know when I’m ready to join your Grand Détente and declare peace,” Will said. He was really wound up about this, not that that was unusual.
“We can revisit this tomorrow,” Grand said to him, but he was seriously annoyed.
“That sounds good,” Stef said, intervening before Will made some really smart-ass comment. He looked at Claire and chuckled. “I am wondering if this exchange did not make you feel younger?”
“I rarely feel old, but why would this make me feel younger?”
“I thought that perhaps it had taken you back in time to when you were a teenager, and you witnessed JP and Bradley jousting,” Stef said. Claire chuckled with Stef, while I just rolled my eyes. I didn’t get why they thought it was so amusing to watch Grand lose it when dealing with a hothead.
“I talked to Dad today,” Will said to me.
“No wonder you’re in a bitchy mood,” I said. “How did it go?”
“I called him out for totally blowing us off,” he said. “I also sent him a notice removing him as trustee on a bunch of my trusts, and told him I did it because I had no confidence in his judgment, especially after he abandoned his family.”
“And how did he react to that?” Claire asked.
“Well, it wasn’t the most pleasant conversation we ever had,” Will said.
“I shouldn’t wonder,” Grand joked. It was cool, because with that statement, he had eliminated the residual conflict between him and Will.
“Between JJ and me, we managed to spend ten million dollars in the last couple of weeks,” he said. He looked at me. “Two million of it was you.”
“I told you I’d do my part,” I joked.
“I am curious what you found to buy for eight million dollars,” Stef said.
“Mostly real estate,” Will said. “I’ll fill you in on that later.” His mystery annoyed me, but I wasn’t going to fall into his drama trap.
“How did your phone call end?” Grand asked.
“I hung up on him,” Will said.
“Don’t you always do that?” Zach joked, cracking us up.
“I think this time I actually connected with him,” Will said. “I think I busted through his cocoon.”
Stef’s phone rang, and he looked at it curiously. “Good evening,” he said, then turned away to have his conversation. We stood there, unsure about what to do, but he ended it pretty quickly. “That was your father,” he said to Will and me.
“What did he want?” I asked with dread.
Stef focused on Will. “I think that maybe you got through to him. He is on his way here. I told him we would probably stay in New York, but if we left, we’d let him know.”
Will smiled, a huge smile, and I felt bad for him, because until that moment, I hadn’t realized how hard on him my father’s absence had really been. My father was more likely to annoy me than anything, but Will thrived on their time together.
“I think I will retire,” Grand said.
“You’re not leaving Stanford?” Will asked, pretending to be worried.
“I am going to bed,” Grand said, while the rest of us giggled.
“I will join you, and try to improve your mood,” Stef said in his slutty way. When he was like that, it was cute. When Will did it, it bugged me.
“My mood is fine,” Grand objected.
“I will make it better,” Stef said, and led him off. I played the good host and showed Aunt Claire to her room, then came back out into the great room to find Will and Zach arguing.
“What are you going to do to those guys?” Zach demanded.
“What guys?” Will asked.
“Trevor,” Zach said.
“What do you think I should do to him?” Will asked. I caught his eye from across the room but we said nothing, because I knew his plan.
“Just let it go, Will,” he insisted.
“You don’t get to make that call,” Will said. “You want to go back and review who broke up with whom?”
“Whom?” I teased, to help get him out of that conversation. “No one uses that word anymore.”
“Grand does,” Will said.
“Great. You’re a 65-year-old dude,” I joked.
Zach looked at us, pretty annoyed, but then he seemed to decide it was a losing battle, so he just sighed. Carullo came bounding through the door. Why he couldn’t just walk into a room calmly and quietly was beyond me. “Dude, I got the job!” he shouted. He came over, picked me up and swung me around. He was so fucking strong, I felt like I was light as a feather. I wrapped my hands around his neck for balance, feeling myself getting hard as a rock at being hoisted up like that and being totally in his power. He pulled me in and gave me a monster kiss, and that just took my breath away. “Woo hoo!” He put me down, leaving me there, absolutely dazed, and then went over to celebrate with Will.
“Congrats!” Will said. “This is Zach.”
“I met you once before,” Carullo said. “You are one amazing fucking football player.”
“Thanks,” Zach said, grinning shyly. “I heard you were pretty good too.”
“I know how to punch a hole, if you know what I mean,” Carullo said lustfully.
“I know what you mean,” Zach said, in his low, sexy voice.
“JJ said we’re short on rooms. You two can stay with me, if you want,” Carullo said to Will and Zach.
“I want,” Zach said, and then looked at Will a little nervously.
“I’m in,” Will said, and the three of them went off to Carullo’s room. They just left me standing there, like I didn’t matter. I mean, they could have invited me, just to be polite. There was no reason to be that rude. I frowned as I went back to my room and I turned on my noisemaker so I didn’t accidently overhear them, but that didn’t stop me from beating off while I imagined what they were doing.