“So why are we going to Hawaii?” I asked Will. He’d been really tight-lipped about this whole trip, which was unusual, and a little nerve-wracking.
“I’ll show you,” he said, surprising me. I figured he’d stall me like he had done for the past several days.
“I also will appreciate being enlightened,” Stef said, letting his annoyance show.
“It was really nice of you to humor me and agree to come out here, even though you didn’t know why,” Will said to him politely, which completely flummoxed Stef, and made me even more worried. Will wouldn’t be this nice unless he had some big, wild, crazy plan.
“Excellent,” JP said. The four of us went back to the conference table. I decided that despite how cool the other compartments on this plane were, this room was the best. The conference table was perfect for meeting.
We sat down while Will went back to the guest room and brought back a tube, the kind that contained blueprints. He opened it up and laid several plat plans out on the table. “This is what I spent most of that money on.”
“On plans?” I teased.
“No,” he said, giving me a fake dirty look. “On property.”
That got our attention so we all focused closely on his layouts. “These are the houses next to my place in Hawaii,” he explained. There were eight houses adjacent to his property. They were small, older houses on relatively small pieces of land. “I bought them.”
I raised an eyebrow. “You bought all of them?”
He nodded. “The three that are on the cliff with an ocean view were the most expensive. They cost a total of $5.3 million.”
“You only spent $4 million on property here,” I noted.
“That’s just the down payment,” he explained. “The line of credit covered the rest.”
“And what about the other five houses?” Stef asked.
“Those were $4.6 million,” he said.
“So you spent $10 million buying up the property next to your house,” I concluded. “Why?”
He seemed pretty uncomfortable, probably because I was being so nice about this. He probably expected a tirade from me. But I was over all that shit, and I understood why he’d done what he’d done. Unless it was an idiotic plan, I was prepared to be receptive. To be honest, I was glad that he seemed to have spent the bucks on things that were worthwhile. He could have pissed it away on stuff that was a lot more useless than property in Maui. “I was thinking it would be cool to tear down those houses and build some villas.”
“Villas?” Stef asked.
Will nodded. “I thought it would be cool if everyone had a place of their own to stay.”
“Everyone?” JP asked.
“I talked to Steve about this,” Will said. Steve Kawaguchi was his realtor. “They’d probably let us build at least eight units to replace the ones we’d tear down. So that means that Darius, JJ, Matt, Maddy, John, Marie, and Courtney, and I could all have a villa.”
“You want to build a compound?” JP asked.
“I guess you could call it that,” he said.
“Why would you need a villa? You already have a house?” Stef asked.
“I think that you and Grand should have the main house,” Will said. The four of us stared at the plans, saying nothing as we processed what he was saying. For me, it was a stunning revelation and demonstration as to how important family was to Will. In fact, it was so important, he wanted to build a compound to unite everyone with property, and link them together. I thought about how Escorial had largely served that purpose for us, but this was different. JP owned Escorial, and was lord of the manor. Of that there was no doubt. Will was more egalitarian. He wanted everyone to have their own piece of the property, and to have their own vested interest in the whole. We’d all sort of spaced out as we pondered that, so I brought us back to the issue.
“What about me?” I asked, pretending to be annoyed and self-absorbed.
“I set it up this way so you have to be getting along with at least one person so they’ll let you stay with them,” Will said, giving me shit.
“I am not sure that is possible,” Stef said, piling on. “Perhaps we should work in a villa for your father.”
“You were thinking about the next generation, about bonding your siblings and your cousins together,” JP interpreted.
Will paused, as if to argue about that, and then nodded. “Yes.”
“Then why am I even here?” I teased.
“To surf, and to pay for it,” Will said, smiling at me.
“Suddenly, your idea sounds even better,” Stef said, making us all laugh.
“I like the concept,” I said. Will beamed, so glad that we hadn’t just tossed his idea out.
“So do I,” Stef said.
“I agree with them, but I am curious,” JP said, in his more thoughtful way. “What if no one liked your idea?”
“I figured that buying those houses, even if we decided to rent them out or something, was a smart investment,” Will said. He was right. Stef eyed him carefully, as if appraising his talents, while JP nodded approvingly.
“So what is our next step?” I asked.
“We’re going to meet with an architect that Malcolm set me up with,” Will said. Malcolm was the interior designer who’d finished off Will’s house, and he’d done an excellent job. “That’s why I wanted you guys to be here, so you could give me feedback.” He directed that statement to Stef and JP.
“When is this meeting going to happen?” I asked.
“Tomorrow, after we surf,” Will said with a smile. “We already have plans tonight.”
“We do?” Stef asked.
“We do,” Will affirmed. We spent time looking at the plans, and talking about how the buildings might be laid out, then Will put the blueprints away. We sat at the conference table, each of us pulling out our laptops, and it was a pretty communal experience. Another reason to like this table. I glanced over at Will, and noticed that he was agitated, and seemed to be getting more uptight with each passing minute.
“What’s wrong?” I asked him.
He looked at me and blinked, as if trying to decide whether to share his issues or not. “I haven’t heard from Zach since he left.”
“That was Wednesday morning, was it not?” Stef asked.
“Yeah,” Will said. “I dropped him off at the airport, and haven’t talked to him since.”
“It’s only a couple of days,” I said, trying to soothe his anxiety.
“It’s just not like him,” Will said, looking at his watch.
“You mean he usually calls you?” JP asked.
“The only time we didn’t talk at least once every day was when he broke up with me,” Will said.
“I’m sure that’s not why he hasn’t called you,” I said, picking up on why he was so nervous. He looked at me, damning my assertion as being baseless.
“Have you tried calling him?” JP asked logically.
“About ten times,” Will said, annoyed. “I’m just worried about him. I mean, he went through so much shit, and going back early, there’s no telling what happened to him.”
“Maybe you should try and contact Brent to see if he’s heard from Zach,” JP suggested. Brent was living in LA, and working with Chip Foose at his garage.
Will nodded. “I’ll give him until this evening, and if I don’t hear from him, I’ll call Brent.”
“Sounds like a plan,” I agreed, and then we all refocused on our own laptops.
August 8, 2003
New York, NY
The Maybach limo pulled up to the headquarters of Mode magazine. As I always did, I waited for the driver to open the door for me. I reasoned that it made me seem classier, in an unhurried kind of way. “Thank you,” I said to the driver politely, and then strode confidently into the building. It was a typical, large New York office building, but inside it was much more elegant than the normal building. The towering ceilings of the lobby, coupled with the glass walls, made it seem as if I were still outside, yet in an interesting contrast, the modern sculptures and artwork contrasted with that feeling, reminding me that I was indoors.
I was about to head to the reception desk but I was intercepted before I got there. “Welcome to Mode, Mr. Schluter,” a really pretty young woman said. “I’m Alexis Cox, one of Bellona Carter’s assistants.” She was probably in her early 20s, and had dark brown hair. Most of the women here seemed like amazons, they were so tall, but she was about my height, even with her heels on. Of course she was dressed perfectly.
“It’s nice to meet you,” I said, shaking her hand even as I hit her with my full-force smile. She seemed to appreciate it, and smiled back.
“Bellona suggested that I show you around, as she’s running just a bit behind schedule,” she said.
“That would be wonderful,” I said agreeably. And so she showed me around the company, this font of fashion, introducing me to layout designers and editors, and to fashion consultants and make-up artists. It took about an hour, and that was too scripted for it to be merely a ‘behind schedule’ plan, but I just went with the flow. I really had a good time when we went through The Closet, which was where they kept the most recent fashions that designers had sent over for Bellona’s input.
Alexis’ phone chirped, and she looked at it anxiously. “Bellona is ready for you.”
“Excellent,” I said. The elevator whisked us up to the top floor and we exited into the executive suite. In the rest of the company, people had been busy, sometimes frantically so, but up here, the atmosphere was different. Here people seemed tense and on-edge. Bellona had a reputation for being a total dragon-bitch at work, so that must be part of it. Alexis, especially, became much more uptight. She led me past two neat desks and indicated that one was hers, and then led me into a big corner office with fabulous views of the city. It was decorated in a very simple, elegant, and modern way, just as one would expect.
“Jeremy, how wonderful to see you,” Bellona said, giving me faux kisses as she did. “I am so sorry to have delayed you.”
“No apologies are necessary,” I told her. “I thoroughly enjoyed seeing your operation.”
“I’m glad you did. With your innate sense of taste and color, I may have to hire you,” she said in a jocular way.
“Why would I want a job?” I asked, with arrogance that was only partly faked. The last thing I wanted to do was work for someone like her, who was uptight and driven. I was busy enough with school, and rich enough that I didn’t have to worry about money. If I worked for Bellona, I’d be her bitch, and that wasn’t happening. There were two men in the room, in addition to Bellona, Alexis and me, and they both all but gasped in surprise.
Bellona eyed me in an appraising way, as if trying to figure me out. She must have gotten that I enjoyed her company but didn’t want to be one of her minions. “Indeed.”
“I think it would be much more fun just to hang out with you,” I said, smiling.
“I think you may be right,” she agreed. “We should be going. Jarvis, we’ll see you there.” That was directed at one of the men in the room. He didn’t bother to respond. She assumed he’d do as she said, and his demeanor suggested that he would do just that. The same Maybach was waiting for us, and it whisked us to SoHo, where tonight’s event was.
“Stef said to send you his regards,” I said.
“Please return them for me,” she said. “I have a phone call with him scheduled for Monday.”
“That should be fun,” I said.
She smiled. “I’m not sure fun is how I would describe it, but it could be exciting. The company that owns Mode is interested in selling it.”
“And you want Stef to buy it?”
“I am trying to put together a group to do just that, and of course he was the first person I thought of,” she said.
“I’m sure he’ll be interested,” I said. “If you don’t mind, I’ll mention it to him.”
“Of course this is all terribly secret, but I don’t mind taking you and Stef into my confidence,” she said. She could be incredibly pleasant and charming when she wanted to be. I wondered how horrible the dragon-bitch was behind that façade.
“I appreciate that,” I said. “We’ll keep it between the three of us.”
“Excellent,” she said. We arrived at the sleek venue Marc Jacobs had picked. It was not too dissimilar to the place where Zac had done his show, only it was bigger, and there were more people here. We were both mobbed as soon as we walked in, but she didn’t let herself get distracted. Instead, she headed smoothly but assuredly to Marc Jacobs.
“Bellona!” Marc Jacobs said enthusiastically, as he greeted her. “Thank you so much for coming.”
“I wouldn’t miss it,” she said. “Have you met Jeremy Schluter?”
He turned his attention to me, and shook my hand warmly. “I have. We met in Paris a few years ago. You were spectacular at the Nationals.”
“Thank you,” I said, shooting him my best smile. “I’m excited to see what you’ve come up with.”
“You won’t have to wait much longer,” he said, and excused himself to go get his show in gear. Nothing would start until Bellona got here, but now that she had arrived, things moved along quickly. I followed her to seats in front and sat on her left, while Jarvis sat on her right. I was enjoying the parade of models Marc Jacobs sent out, but I was unimpressed.
“What do you think?” she asked.
“I think he did a nice job, but there’s really nothing exciting,” I said. “I was hoping for at least a new, bold color choice.”
“There was that brown color, one could almost call ecru,” Jarvis said.
“That did not work,” I said emphatically. Browns were so out now.
“It is a bit underwhelming,” she agreed.
“I think the best part of the show were the bags,” I added, looking for the positives.
“He has focused on that aspect of his line lately, and it shows,” Jarvis said. “I’ll talk to him about not neglecting the rest of it.”
“I think that would be wise advice,” Bellona said, with an acidity that was a little daunting. She clearly did not like being set up for an event that was less than exciting.
After the parade of models ended, Bellona sequestered herself with Marc Jacobs, who did not look happy at all. Jarvis got us both a glass of wine and rejoined me. “Is she tearing him up?” I asked.
“In her own way,” he said. “All of these people dread her verdict, but they know that she’s the one voice they have to hear.”
“A cutthroat business,” I said conversationally.
“You have no idea,” he said with a chuckle. “We’re working on some layouts for next month. If you’ve got spare time on Monday, you should stop by and I’ll show them to you.”
That was nice of him, but also smart. He’d picked up on the fact that I was Bellona’s new favorite, and he was going to tap into that and try to get on my good side. I took it all at face value, and agreed to meet up with him at 2:30. We’d just finished that conversation when a familiar figure appeared in front of me.
“Hello JJ,” Ella said. She looked terrific, but then again, she always did. She was even thinner than she’d been, adopting the anorexic look that seemed to be required of models, but in her case, it made her seem even prettier. She wore a simple black dress, but added some pretty chic Jimmy Choo boots to make it more interesting. It worked. But even though she was pretty and pleasant, I had a hard time being nice to her. She’d totally shit on Darius, and that’s something I would have a hard time getting over.
“Good evening, Luella,” I said coldly, using her full name. I figured that if she could call me JJ instead of Jeremy, I could call her Luella instead of Ella. “What brings you here?”
Annoyance flashed across her face at my use of her full name, but she gamely pushed it aside. “I’m here with Patrick.” She had dumped Darius for Patrick Christian, who was standing about twenty feet away talking to a small group of people. He was really handsome, and dressed very well, as one would expect. I’d seen his stuff, and I was underwhelmed. He tended to be either boring or way too avant garde. It was like he didn’t know which risks to take.
“How wonderful,” I said, in a fake pleasant way that basically meant I could give a shit less. Jarvis watched our interchange with interest, but we were interrupted when Bellona returned to join us.
“Good evening Ella,” Bellona said, exchanging faux kisses with her. “I assume that Patrick is with you?”
“Yes he is,” she said. “He has been busy working on his show for next month. He’s really excited.” She was such the dutiful ‘wife’ it made me want to puke.
“You should make sure to join me for that one, Jeremy,” Bellona said to me.
“My schedule is pretty busy,” I said, in a cold, condescending way, to let all of them know I had no intention of supporting Patrick.
Bellona raised an eyebrow. “Well we will give you the info on it, and hope you can squeeze it in.”
“We’ll see,” I said, in the same cool manner. Ella gave me a truly evil look, one that made me beam internally, and then excused herself to go talk to Patrick.
“You do not appear to be the best of friends,” Bellona said, prying.
“Sometimes, appearances are not deceiving,” I said with a smile, making her and Jarvis chuckle.
“I am going to an event at the Bellagio in Las Vegas next weekend. You are welcome to join me, if that works with your schedule,” she said.
“I think that would work quite well,” I said, then remembered the dinner Grand was hosting. I was so tempted to just blow that off, but Will would be a royal pain in the ass if I did that. “I have to be in Palo Alto on Sunday, so I can just go on from there.”
“Well then you can fly out with us, and find you own way back home,” she said.
“I can do that,” I said. I enjoyed the party, and I really enjoyed the nasty looks I got from Ella and her boyfriend. She should have known better than to pick a fight with my family.
August 8, 2003
We’d been out in the surf for three hours now, which wasn’t all that long, but it had been intense. I’d made a bad decision on the last wave, one that turned out to be kind of lame, so I was frantically paddling back out when I saw a monster forming. That’s the one I should have waited for. My father had been smarter, or luckier, and I watched him position himself in front of it to catch it. The wave reached him and he hopped up on his board, maneuvering down the face of it as it began to crest, a determined look plastered on his face. We’d had a total blast out here, and I’d seen some of the man I’d grown up with come back to life. When he’d given up surfing completely, that should have been a clue to all of us that his life was heading in the wrong direction.
The wave began to curl over onto itself, forming a tube, my father’s favorite thing in the world. I watched him shoot down the cavern it formed, smiling as I thought about how jubilant he’d be. But the wave was collapsing faster than he’d anticipated, so I watched with mild concern as it crashed on top of him, knocking him off his board, and pulling him under. I paddled more furiously toward the spot where he’d gone under water, working my way through the remnants of that powerful wall of water. I got out there in time to see him surface, coughing and spitting out water even as he gasped for breath. “Dude, grab my hand!” I shouted.
He did, and then transferred himself to my board for buoyance. I left him there and swam to retrieve his board. He’d wiped out bad enough that his lanyard had gotten ripped off. That seemed to be our cue to go in, so we worked our way through the reefs and back to the shore.
“That was the bomb!” he said enthusiastically. When he did that, when he let himself surf and enjoy it, he seemed at least ten years younger.
“That wave kicked your ass,” I said, with a wry grin.
“It was worth it,” he said. He’d taught me that, taught me that the ocean would give me the joy of a great wave, and the trauma of beating the shit out of me for enjoying it too much. We got out of the water and I glanced up at my house, or more specifically, at the gazebo that jutted out on the point. I saw a familiar figure, and took off running. “Wait!” he shouted.
“Come on!” I yelled, and didn’t wait for him. He tried to keep up with me, but he was still winded from his wave, and I was in better shape than him anyway. I reached the top of the cliff before he was even halfway up, and as soon as I got there, I saw Darius standing there, grinning at me. I tossed my board down and ran up to him, gripping him in a massive hug. And then Darius shocked the shit out of me by hugging me back just as strongly. He wasn’t all that into physical affection, unless he was fucking some chick, so this was pretty unusual.
“Dude, I missed you,” he said.
“I missed you too,” I said. I made to let go, but he didn’t respond, so I hugged him for a really long time. It was incredibly meaningful.
“That wave kicked Dad’s ass,” he said.
“He’d still make it up here more slowly than me,” I said. We turned toward the steps just in time to see him reach the top of the cliff, totally winded. Darius winked at me and rushed over to give Dad a hug. He blew Dad’s mind with that, and also damn near knocked him down.
“No wonder you ran up the hill,” Dad said to me, then gripped Darius even tighter. “It is good to see you.”
“Good to see you too,” Darius said, then got his mischievous look. “Heard you got your balls back.”
Dad frowned, while I laughed. “For the time being, anyway,” Dad grumbled.
Some movement by the house distracted me, and when I looked over there, I saw an amazingly handsome guy walking toward us. He had dark hair and coloring; it was a good bet he was Hispanic. He seemed nervous, probably because he didn’t want to interrupt our big family reunion. He looked familiar, but I couldn’t figure out where I’d met him before. Shit, this dude was so hot, I would have definitely remembered it, so we must not have been introduced. “Hey,” Darius said loudly, to encourage him to come over and join us.
The Hispanic god walked over to us, smiling shyly. “Hi,” I said pleasantly, and held out my hand. “Will Schluter. I’m Darius’ brother.”
“Nice to meet you, Will,” he said, shooting me a major grin. That took him to drop-dead gorgeous. “I heard a lot about you. I’m Paul Fernandez.” He shook my hand, his firm grip damn near sending tingles up and down my spine.
That name tumbled around in my brain, because I’d heard it before, but I couldn’t remember where. Darius introduced him to my father while I kept scanning my mind, trying to place him. “Do you know Paul from school?” Dad asked.
“No,” Darius said. “Paul’s going to Annapolis.”
“Impressive,” Dad said, but then the wheels in my brain finally clicked together. Our family had pulled a bunch of strings to get Darius into Annapolis, but he’d turned it down. He’d driven up to Bakersfield with JJ and me to explain why, and he’d told us about this guy who was an amazing student from a pretty crappy family, and how if he went to Annapolis, he’d take that dude’s place. We’d watched the dude play basketball; even as Darius had done one of the most noble things he’d ever done in his life. The dude he’d given up his place at Annapolis for was Paul Fernandez.