The entire house was in convulsions, or so it seemed, as everyone prepared for their departure. I felt sorry for the staff, since they’d been dealing with this for the past two days. It felt strange to be the only person who was sticking around, but I’d sucked that up and determined that I’d give them all a nice sendoff. Well, most of them. I’d just started eating breakfast when Matt and Wade walked in. “Hey there!” I said, and gave Matt a warm hug. I gave Wade a less-warm hug, but only because Wade wasn’t all that in to affectionate greetings. “You guys all ready for your big safari?”
“We’re ready,” Matt said. “The kids aren’t as happy about it.”
“I thought they were stoked to go?” I’d watched Lion King with them about fifty times and they’d talked about how they were going to meet Simba.
“They weren’t all that excited after they had to get shots,” Wade said with a wry grin. “Lots of vaccinations for that part of the world.”
“The worst part is over,” I said philosophically. “So; England, then Africa?”
“A quick stop in Boston first, but then that’s the plan,” Wade said. They ate pretty quickly, and then vanished. JJ came in shortly after that, looking bitchier than normal.
“What’s up?” I asked him.
“I have to fly on a fucking plane with those kids again,” he groused. “They cry when we take off, they cry when we land, and in between, they run around the cabin like crazed idiots.” Darius was good with toddlers, but was scared shitless of babies. JJ really had no use for anyone who wasn’t at least a teenager, and even then…
“But you’re going back to see Alex,” I said, trying to prop him up. It just annoyed him more. He wanted to be crabby.
“And Mary Ellen,” he said. “She told me that if I come back to England, she’ll ruin my life.”
“Then why are you going?” She was pretty scary, not the kind of person you crossed swords with on purpose.
“Because I love Alex,” he said to me, like I was an idiot.
I shrugged. “I can see why you’d risk it.” He just rolled his eyes at me and nibbled at some fruit. “Everyone else is going to the ends of the fucking earth. If you need something, call me.”
“I’ll be fine,” he said dismissively.
I reached over and grabbed his hand and made him look at me with his gorgeous blue eyes. “JJ, I’m serious. If you need me, I’ll be there for you.”
He glanced at my hand holding his in annoyance, and then gave me a slight smile. “Thanks, but I already knew that.”
Tiffany and the kids came in next. Maddy ran over and sat on my lap. “You go with me,” she told me, only when she talked, she used her eyes in almost a flirtatious way. She could melt the hardest of hearts, well, except maybe JJ’s.
“Not this time,” I said. She got sad, and was about to cry. “Maybe when you get back from meeting Simba, we can go to the beach.”
“I wanna surf,” Riley said in a declarative way. He was adorable, in that he usually knew exactly what he wanted.
“Then I’ll teach you,” I said, even though that would be tough, and even though I was a shitty teacher.
“I wanna surf!” Maddy argued.
“You can surf too,” I promised, to avoid a fight.
“Let’s go,” Tiffany snapped, since she was mildly frazzled. I walked them all out to the big Escalade limo, which was already loaded up with their bags, and waved as they left. I wandered back to the kitchen to finish my breakfast.
“Morning,” Darius said in his clipped way.
“Hey. You leaving already?” I was hoping he’d stick around.
“Flying out in a few hours,” he said, even as he started to wolf down some food. “You coming down to LA?”
“Probably in the next week,” I said. I planned to spend most of my summer in Malibu, where I could surf and spend time with Zach, but I didn’t want to pressure him. I figured if I was there, he could come see me if he wanted to, and if not, I had things that would keep me busy.
“I leave day after tomorrow,” he said. “Probably won’t see you till I get back.”
“You’ll have a blast,” I said with gusto, since he was really stoked about this cruise. He’d be spending about a month at sea as part of his ROTC program.
“I’m really psyched,” he said with a spark of life, then calmed down. “You cool with me doing this?” I’d just about had a brain hemorrhage when he told me he was joining the Navy, so it was a reasonable question.
“Dude, if this is what you want to do, I’m with you,” I said. “Besides, I haven’t seen you this motivated about anything.”
“I really like it,” he said earnestly. I just nodded, then gave him a long hug, longer than normal, and walked him out to the front where a limo whisked him off to the airport.
I was about to leave and go back inside when another limo pulled up, and I heard the door open behind me as my father and Marc walked out. “Off to China!” I said, mostly to Marc, trying to be upbeat even with them.
“My first international art show,” Marc said with a hint of nervousness.
“You’ll do great. Your stuff is really good,” I said reassuringly.
“Thanks,” he said, and then got into the car.
“We’ll see you when we get back,” Dad said gruffly.
“Right,” I said sarcastically. I hadn’t seen him before this trip, so why would I see him after it.
“What are your plans for the summer?” He hadn’t asked the question in a nice way, so he didn’t get a good response.
“I told you I’m going on a spending spree.”
“Don’t spend more than you have,” he said in his smarmy way. “I’m not bailing you out.”
“I’ve learned not to rely on you at all,” I said, raising my eyebrow at him. “Have a good trip.” Then with that, I turned my back on him and went back inside.
I tried to prop myself up, tried not to let myself get lonely, but it was tough. Not because my father was leaving; I didn’t really give a shit about that. But it was just the emptiness that was already descending on this house. The staff was probably thrilled, as it would give them a breather after the huge production that was Grandmaman’s wedding. Zach and his family had left on Monday, and so had Grandmaman and Frank. They were going off to a private villa in the south of France for their honeymoon. The only people still here were Stef and Grand, but they were due to fly out shortly as well.
I walked into the Great Hall, which had been restored to its normal mode after the wedding, and looked at the suit of armor Ryan had knocked down when we’d come home drunk one night. That made me smile, and I was about to go back down to my room to call him when Grand strolled in. “There you are.”
“Here I am,” I replied in a chipper way.
“I am wondering if you would join me in my study,” Grand said to me.
“Sure,” I said, and followed him back to that room. “What’s up?”
“As you are aware, as a family we are largely scattering in multiple directions, and for an extended duration,” he said in his officious tone.
“Everyone’s leaving town for a long time,” I said, annoying him by converting his long-winded sentence into a simple one.
“Yes,” he said, and gave me a fake frown. “I’m not sure what your plans are.”
“Neither am I, but I’ll probably be around, or at least I won’t be gone for that long,” I said. “Did you need me to do something?”
He handed me a small piece of paper with some numbers on it. “That is the combination to my safe. If anything should happen, you will find papers related to our various trusts and agreements in there.”
“I’m sure that won’t be necessary,” I said quickly. I so didn’t want to think about losing any more relatives. 9-11 had been more than enough for our family.
“I suspect you are right, but it pays to be prepared,” he said. “There are also some papers about our family that are very confidential. I will trust it to you to decide how to handle them.”
I just stared at him, amazed at the trust he was putting in me. “Thanks for trusting me with this.”
“I am very proud of you, and the man you are becoming,” he said. “You are learning to control your emotions and rely on your intellect to guide your decisions. Relying on you does not cause me any anxiety.”
“Thanks,” I said again, even as I wiped a tear out of my eye. “That’s the biggest compliment I’ve ever gotten.”
He smiled at me. “The one possible exception to that would be in your interactions with your father.”
That got him a genuine frown, but I turned the tables on him. “And you’re always level-headed and calm when you deal with him?”
“Perhaps it is a weakness we share,” he said, making me laugh.
“When he blows all of us off, I think he needs someone to call him on it,” I said firmly.
“And you must be that person?”
“Who else is doing it?” I challenged.
He chuckled. “Stef is, in his own way, but no one else seems to enjoy it as much as you do.”
“I don’t enjoy it at all,” I said seriously. “But it’s just something I have to do.”
“Indeed,” he said.
“Stef was OK with this?” I asked, referring to the paper with the combination on it.
“It is my decision,” he snapped, getting a raised eyebrow from me for his abrupt manner, which frustrated him. “We reached the decision jointly.”
“I thought he was mad at me,” I said.
“You test his patience, but he is wise enough to see your qualities and strengths,” he replied.
“That’s a relief,” I told him. “Maybe I’ll go shopping with him when you guys get back, just to make sure.”
“That is always a good approach,” he said. He handed me another paper, this one with several phone numbers. “This is contact information, so you can try to reach us, or failing that, information on how to get in touch with professionals we use to handle our affairs.” I recognized Sean’s name; he was one of our lawyers, and those were the kinds of other people on the list.
“Got it,” I said.
He handed me two final pieces of paper. “This is a limited power of attorney, one for me, and one for Stef. It will give you the authority to act in our names if you need to.”
“Hopefully I won’t need to,” I said. He gave me a big, meaningful hug, one that was rare for him.
Stef came breezing into the study, looking remarkably calm. When he travelled, it normally required a lot of preparation and a lot of baggage, and the stress usually boiled over onto him, but today he seemed like his normal self. It was even better than that: he seemed like his normal self before he’d become super-bitchy. “And are you ready to leave?” he asked Grand.
“I was just finishing up some last minute details,” he said, patting me on the back.
“And what are your plans for the summer?” Stef asked me.
“I told my father I was going on a spending spree, just to piss him off,” I said. I had an ulterior motive, because I’d need Stef to back me up if my father got too pissed off at me.
“I will trust you to not squander money in a meaningless fashion,” he said airily. “At least not too much.”
“Just enough to annoy Dad,” I joked, making him laugh.
“I have a few things to get together,” Grand said, and he left Stef and me in the study, alone.
“You seem much happier than you were,” I said. “Did Grand fix his problem?”
“He did not,” Stef said.
“Then why are you so happy? A night with Cody is that restorative?” I teased.
“It is, but that is not the reason,” he said. He paused, and seemed uncomfortable, and that made me feel bad for butting into his very personal business.
“I didn’t mean to pry,” I said hastily.
“I was just collecting my thoughts,” he said. “When I was with Greg, he had a similar problem. He blamed me, and told me that it was because he did not find me attractive.”
“You didn’t believe that!” I said emphatically, getting a weak smile from him.
“Well, while he was unable to consummate our union, he was also having affairs with other men, all of whom were significantly younger and more attractive than I was,” he said. I could feel the anger and outrage in his voice, even after all these years.
“Maybe younger,” I said to him with a wink, “but not more attractive.”
He chuckled. “You are kind to say that. So when this happened with JP, I feared that it was the same thing. I worried that he was no longer attracted to me, and that he no longer loved me.”
“That’s ridiculous,” I said, instinctively defending Grand. “I’ve never seen anyone so in love and devoted to someone as he is to you.”
“And you also know that feelings are often not logical,” he countered.
I pondered that for a minute. “I can see how that would have freaked you out, especially after what happened to you before.”
“When we had sex with Cody, JP was still unable to perform,” he said happily.
I thought about that, and smiled back at him. “And you figured that if a dude couldn’t get it up with Cody, a gay dude anyway, it had to be a physical problem.”
“That is an accurate assessment,” he said.
“I’m glad you worked that out. It was hard to see you so down and depressed,” I told him.
“I feel reborn, even though the problem is not solved,” he said, pretending to grumble.
“Grand has taken this whole burden of the war on his shoulders,” I said, thinking out loud. “It’s probably sucking the life out of him.”
“Well then perhaps I will have to blow it back into him,” Stef said, making me laugh. “In any event, this vacation and conference will be good for us.”
“I think so too,” I agreed. “We’ll try not to bother you.”
“Call us if you need us,” he said firmly.
“I will,” I pledged. He gave me a big hug, and then I walked him out to the big Escalade, which had returned from taking Matt, Wade, and their group and was now loading up again to make another trip to the airport with Grand and Stef. Grand joined us there. “Have a good trip.”
“Thanks,” Grand said. They got in the Escalade and rode off, and then I was alone.
July 16, 2003
The Concorde touched down gently, even as its massive engines reversed thrust, pushing me forward away from my seat. “I wish you a safe and pleasant onward journey, and thank you for choosing the British Airways Concorde,” the flight attendant said over the intercom. “Welcome to London.”
“Easy enough,” the man next to me said. He was a pleasant businessman who’d spent the entire flight absorbed in his computer. It was so nice to be in a plane and not be bothered by the other passengers.
“Yes it was,” I agreed with a smile. I’d flown with Matt, Wade, Tiffany and the brats first to Cleveland, where they’d dropped off Bobby and his nurse. They were going to leave him with Matt’s parents. Then we’d been off again to New York, where they’d dropped me off in time to catch this flight. Their original plan was to go on to Boston first, then send me to New York, but I’d suffered through enough crying and whining from those monsters they called kids, so I’d insisted, and not too nicely, that we go to New York first.
The small, sleek plane reached the gate, and in no time at all, I was strolling down the jet ramp, anxious to see Alex, and dreading my next encounter with Mary Ellen. I’d thought about just chartering a flight here, like I’d done in the past, but my father’s bitchy comments had made me opt for the Concorde instead. I wasn’t as rebellious as Will, and the last thing I needed was my father putting me on some budget in the middle of my crisis with my health, and with my career. The Concorde wasn’t tough duty anyway: it was very cool, very fast, and very exclusive.
I got through immigration and customs, and then had a porter carry my bags out to where a man was holding a sign with my name on it. “I’m Mr. Schluter,” I said to him formally.
“I’ve been sent to retrieve you and take you to Grosvenor Square, Mr. Schluter,” the young man said pleasantly. So Alex couldn’t be bothered to pick me up himself?
“That’s fine,” I said. “These are my bags.”
“We’ll load them up in short order,” he said, guiding me out to a posh Mercedes limo. I tipped the porter, got inside, and called Alex.
“Have you arrived?” he asked enthusiastically.
“I just got into the car,” I said, hiding my bitchiness about him not being here.
“I am sorry I did not come to the airport to get you,” he apologized. “I was dealing with some last minute things here.”
“Is everything alright?” I asked nervously.
“It is,” he affirmed. “I’ll explain it when you get here.”
“Sounds good,” I said, and hung up. I looked out the window disinterestedly as we drove into the English capital, wondering how things would be between us. He’d been a bit more distant on the phone, but that could just be as a result of him being busy. We drove through London and into Grosvenor Square, where townhouses like Alex’s family owned were pretty rare these days. It seemed like most of them were turned into apartments, or embassies, or something like that, but regardless, there weren’t many for sale. The car pulled up to his house and one of their servants came out to help the driver with my bags. “Thank you,” I said to the driver and tipped him, then strolled up the steps and into the foyer with its familiar blue wallpaper.
Alex was waiting there to greet me, looking as gorgeous as he always did. He was of medium height and medium build, with a very handsome face and blonde hair and blue eyes, coloring that almost matched mine. “Welcome to London,” he said enthusiastically.
“I missed you,” I said sincerely, and gave him a big hug, one that was romantic for us, but would just seem friendly to the other people there.
“Carter, will you take Mr. Schluter’s bags up to his room,” Alex said to the servant.
“Certainly, my lord,” he said, and hauled my bags up to the third floor, which was where the room I used was situated. Conveniently enough, it was adjacent to Alex’s room, linked by a common bathroom. I followed him up the stairs at a more deliberate pace, almost desperate to be alone with Alex. Just being in the same room with him had fired up my libido.
“Thank you, Carter,” I said, as he put my bags down. He gave me a polite reply, and then went to shut the door, and then, finally, we’d be alone. Only before he could do that, Mary Ellen pushed past him.
“JJ, how wonderful that you came back for Ricky’s christening,” she said with her fake, syrupy, Southern accent. “I thought you’d be flying over with Wade.”
“They wanted to spend a day in Boston getting organized, so I went ahead and came back early,” I said just as sweetly. “The christening is on Friday, right?”
“It is,” she said. “We were planning to go up to Bridgemont after that. Will you be joining us?”
“I think we’ll spend a few days in London, and then join you there on Monday or Tuesday,” Alex told her. I really didn’t know what was going on, but he didn’t seem very happy with her.
“Well that’s fantastic,” she said. “I’ll give you some time to get settled in.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“Alex, my mother just called, and told me she’ll be able to make it to the christening,” Mary Ellen told him.
“That’s splendid,” Alex said. She just smiled and left the room, leaving me with a sense of dread. Her mother was a horrible person, truly one of the biggest bitches on the planet.
“I didn’t think they’d even let her mother in this country,” I joked with Alex.
“I fear she’s a bit too well-connected for us to banish her,” he said with a wry grin. “I am trying to devise a way to link her to Al Qaeda. I think that is about the only way.”
“Good luck with that,” I joked. He pulled me into a hug, and his lips were on mine, and we merged so perfectly through our mouths I almost could have just stood there and kissed him forever. A knock at the door caused us to separate quickly.
“Enter,” Alex said.
Carter came in. “My lord, his Grace has asked if you could join him in the library for a few minutes.”
“Of course,” Alex said, and then turned to me. “I’ll be right back.”
No sooner had he left than Mary Ellen reappeared. “I see you decided to ignore my warning.”
“Like I told you before, it’s up to Alex and me whether I’m here or not. It’s not up to you,” I told her defiantly.
She shook her head slowly and looked at me with pity. “You have no idea who you’re dealing with, but you wouldn’t listen to me, so now you’ll have to pay the price.”
“The price?” I challenged.
“The price,” she confirmed, and left the room.
I sat on the bed, wondering what kind of crap would be headed my way, when Alex came back in, looking frazzled. “I am sorry about that.” He smiled at me and locked the door behind him. “Now where were we?”
I put my concerns about Mary Ellen aside and just gave myself to him, surrendering to him. We’d had sex so many times, I’d learned to let him take charge but still be animated enough and independent enough to make it different and exciting. It seemed like we’d just started making love and then it was over, and I was lying next to him panting, but when I looked at the clock, I noticed that 20 minutes had elapsed. “That was wonderful,” I said to him lovingly.
“Yes it was, but that is no surprise,” he said. We lay there, intertwined, while I told him all about Grandmaman’s wedding. After that, I finally got up my nerve to broach the subject that was bothering me.
“Did you talk to Mary Ellen?”
“About what?” he asked, being evasive.
“About me,” I responded, possibly a bit too bitchy. “She’s threatening to ruin my life if I’m here.”
“Jays, I really don’t see how she can do that,” he said soothingly. “I explained to her that you were coming back to stay with me this summer, and reminded her that our agreement was that we could be with other people, and that you were specifically included in our marriage arrangement.”
“And what did she say?”
“She said that she understood, but that she would have preferred for us to have some time as a family, just the three of us, now that Ricky has arrived.”
“She wants me to leave,” I said.
“But she does not get to make that decision, we do,” he said.
“Do you want me to be here?” I asked him honestly. He got a very annoyed look on his face, something that was unusual for him, so I put my hand on his chest to calm him. “Alex, if you want me to leave for a couple of weeks so you can have some family time, I can do that.” That’s the last thing I wanted to do, but I felt like I had to throw that out there, if for no other reason so I didn’t feel like he didn’t want me here.
“No,” he said emphatically. “I told Mary Ellen that I wanted you here, and I’m telling you that I want you here. She is going to have to adjust to you being in my life.”
“Then I’ll be here,” I said.
“After the christening, I thought we could spend the weekend here in London, and then go up to Bridgemont. When we’re there, I think we need to clear the air, you, me, and Mary Ellen, to make sure we’re all on the same page.”
“I’m fine with that,” I said, even though dealing with a scene like that was the last thing I wanted to endure. “You know I love you, and I’m letting you handle this situation.”
“I love you too,” he said. “And I will indeed handle it.”
“Good,” I said, and then we made love again.
July 17, 2003
My phone rang, and the caller-ID told me it was Zach. “Hey there!” I said.
“Hey!” he said, just as cheerfully. “What are you up to?”
“I’m just finishing up some shit around here, then I was thinking that I’d come down to Malibu. I figured I’d leave on Saturday.”
“That’s perfect,” he said. “The coach has been busting our balls in practice, but we get Sunday off. I’ll come over and spend it with you.”
“Awesome!” I said, and was genuinely excited. Just the thought of having a whole day with him was enough to cheer me up. “It’s been pretty lonely around here.”
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“It is what it is,” I said. “I just don’t remember the last time so many family members were gone at the same time.”
“Yeah, well with some of them, that’s probably a good thing.”
“Probably,” I agreed with a chuckle.
“So what are you doing today?”
“I’m going up to the City,” I told him. “I’ve got some shopping to do.”
“I told my dad I was going to spend some serious bucks while he was gone. That starts today,” I said.
“You going to buy me something?” he asked in his sexy voice.
“What do you want me to buy you?”
“Cool sex toys,” he joked, cracking me up.
“I’ll get you a huge black dildo,” I said. “What’s Julius going to say when you pull it out and shove it up your ass?”
“Maybe he’ll tell me he’s got a real one that works better,” he joked.
“Or maybe he’ll kick your ass.”
“That’s more likely,” he agreed. “I can’t wait to see you.”
“I can’t wait to see you,” I echoed. “I love you.”
“I love you too,” he affirmed, and then we ended our call. I finished getting ready; putting on my suit with my gold cufflinks and a conservative tie, then strolled out to the garage.
I’d learned a long time ago that the key to success was having a well laid out plan. It had worked for me in my various battles with my father before, and I was confident that it would work today. With my father, in order to get his attention and shock him back to reality, you had to hit him with a Mack truck. If my plan worked, he’d be able to get some balance back into his life. If it didn’t, I’d at least have the fun of totally pissing him off. So ever since they’d left, I’d started strategizing on how to burn through a significant amount of money without wasting it. Over the next two to three weeks, I’d hopefully be able to implement my plan, and then by the time my father got home, he’d have to deal with a fait accompli.
“Good morning, Mr. Will,” Alfredo said. He was one of the guys working in the garage, a nice older guy. He got an alarmed look on his face. “I was going to take your car in to be serviced today. I can wait and do it later.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said with a smile. “I’ll take Stef’s Porsche instead.” It was a beautiful car, a 911 Turbo convertible, but Stef hardly ever drove it. I laid my suit jacket on the passenger seat, fired up the car, and drove into Palo Alto. The top was down, and it was a gorgeous day: sunny and 80 degrees. I parked in front of Wells Fargo and went into the bank.
“Can I help you?” a friendly lady asked.
“I’m Will Schluter. I have an appointment with Joseph Menendez,” I said in my business tone.
“Please have a seat and I’ll let him know you’re here,” she said. I sat down, smoothing my pants as I did, and only waited a few minutes before a handsome Latino man walked up to me.
“Joe Menendez,” he said, and held out his hand. I stood up and shook it firmly.
“Will Schluter,” I replied.
“What can I do for you today, Mr. Schluter?” he asked as he led me back to his office.
“Call me Will,” I insisted, and flashed my best smile at him. “I need to set up a line of credit.”
“Certainly,” he said. “How much do you need?”
“Twenty million dollars,” I said. He knew how rich my family was, so that amount didn’t overly shock him.
“Will this be in your name only?” he asked.
“It will,” I said. I handed him a copy of my recent financial statements, delineating all of the assets that I had held in trust, and in my own name. “I plan to invest in some projects, and I don’t have enough liquid cash to do that. This will give me time to do that, and to figure out how I want to structure the investments.”
“Structure?” he asked.
“I plan to consult with my attorneys on how to title things,” I told him.
“Will you have a co-signer?” he asked.
“No,” I said firmly. We eyed each other, locking our eyes. “I have enough assets to guarantee this on my own, and both my father and grandfather are out of the country.”
“The bank would have been more comfortable with a co-signer,” he said.
“The bank will have to decide if it wants me to continue to be a customer,” I said to him. My tone told him I wasn’t going to let him dick me around on this. I left the bank an hour later, with my line of credit established.