The Stepfather Chronicles Ch. 03
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Chapter 3: Mirrors
The sound of Dad’s fork and knife clanging against his dish were the only sounds in the room. His new wife—who could have only been a few years older than me—sipped her white wine and stared blindly at the table’s centerpiece.
Dad hadn’t spoken much to me since he picked me up from Mother’s. I sobbed silently for most of the two hour drive; he ignored it and fiddled with different radio stations. He offered no words of comfort. He’d hardly said hello.
Then we were in his grand home and he had a fucking butler announcing dinner. “Is Ella home?”
The butler, named Thomas, nodded. Dad let out a great breath. I couldn’t tell if he was relieved or irritated. I never could tell with him.
“Will you help my daughter with her bags?” my father asked Thomas. Then Dad half-turned to me. “Dinner will be ready in ten. Thomas will show you to the dining room.”
Then he opened a door to a room, a study perhaps, and vanished.
I felt as though I were in some dreadful gothic novel.
Dinner didn’t affect his mood. Was I such a fucking albatross that he couldn’t deal with me living here for a while? I spent time here during the summers growing up. He had a delightful lake at the back of the property. I almost smiled thinking of all the fun I’d had then, but then I caught a glimpse of my father’s expression.
He was watching me carefully. Studying me, really. I shifted uncomfortably and looked over at Ella, hoping she’d come up with something brilliant to say. That was a stupid hope, for Ella was never known for uttering anything brilliant. She was a sweet enough girl, but her brains were not her best attribute.
I cut my steak up and delicately placed a piece of it on my tongue. I could feel Dad’s eyes burning through my flesh and bone and I couldn’t take it anymore.
“What is it?”
Dad didn’t pretend to not understand. “I just can’t believe how much you’ve turned into your mother.”
“Well, you left me alone with her.” I sipped the wine that had been poured for me, in spite of the fact I was only 19.
Dad didn’t fire back with anything. I glanced over at him and thought I saw a tinge of regret cross his face. “I only meant that you look like her. You’re smarter than her.”
“No. No, I’m not. Look at the situation I’m in, Dad.”
“What situation?” Ella cut in, finally deciding to pay attention.
Dad ignored her. “It was bound to happen, you striking out against her. She was always a viper.”
“You don’t blame me?”
“Of course I blame you.” Dad rolled his eyes. “I don’t understand why or how you could have done what you did, but from what I understand Alexander is no novice when it comes to seducing girls.” He shook his head. “I’ve heard he’s done quite the number on your mother.”
“Mom hasn’t been manipulated, she’s just been—”
“Of course she hasn’t been manipulated,” Dad cut in. “I just mean she’s a fool. She’s in love with a man who’ll never love anybody but himself.” Dad’s eyes looked me over. “I think you might be more like her than you might like to think.”
I ignored his implications, his talk of Alex, even Alex’s name, because all of it was ripping through my heart.
“So you’ll let me stay here for a while?”
For the first time since he picked me up, he smiled a little. “Yes. Of course. We’ll work something out. You’re my daughter.”
Ella took my hand. “I’m so happy you’re here. It’s been forever since we saw each other last, and it’s so boring here during the winter.”
I laughed, and surreptitiously wiped away the tears. This was undoubtedly a dysfunctional home, too, but no one would hurt me here. I was safe.
It was the perfect place to heal.
But I’d never forget Alex. How I loathed him. How the images of the last night I saw him, half-illuminated in the floodlight, touching my mother, played over and over in my head. Every tender word he said, or caring look he gave, was a lie. And most of it was my own fault, because I convinced myself Alex loved me, too.
Two months passed. I heard nothing from my mother, which was unsurprising, and nothing from Alex. I read in the celebrities column he was opening a new set of restaurants on a few cruise lines.
Spring was blooming. The lake was still too freezing to swim in, but Ella and I would go out there and lay and talk about nothing. Jackie called me a few times; I let it go to voicemail. As much as I missed her as a friend, conversation of my total decline wasn’t something I wanted to go into.
I spent most of my days walking, and nights reading. I didn’t let myself think, or dwell. It would do me no good. I was convinced of that. Nevermind my horrible dreams, or the night terrors that ripped me from sleep, sweating and weeping.
Then one day I accidentally opened the newspaper and there was a picture of my mother and Alex, coming out of some restaurant together. He was smiling gaily for the papers. That fucking smile I loved so much. I wanted to get a red marker and block out his face with bahis firmaları it.
Mom’s smile was muted a bit. It could have been a host of different things. Perhaps she hadn’t been ready for the photograph, or her mind was elsewhere. But something finally clicked for me. I still felt guilt. Immense guilt. I was haunted by it. It was everywhere I went, present in every nightmare I had.
She was a bad mother, and an even more terrible person, but she’d given birth to me. She’d raised me. She put a roof over my head and bought me things. And I betrayed her. I didn’t just tell her to fuck off, or max out one of the credit cards she sent me, or go off to France with some heathen just to spite her. I stole her man, or at least borrowed him, right under her nose.
I thought of calling her but she’d only hang up. A letter would be no use, either.
I went into my father’s office one Saturday afternoon.
“Dad, can I borrow your car?”
He sighed and looked up from his papers. How different we looked; he had black hair and a sharp nose, while I looked far more like my mother. We had soft, cutely up-turned noses with big eyes and delicate chins. But I had inherited his dark blue eyes—Mom had hazel.
“I was worried one day you’d ask me this… I’m not sure it’s a good idea just yet, sweetie.”
“I want to visit Mom.”
Dad’s eyes popped open and he shook his head. “Sit down.”
I sat on his comfy leather couch.
Then he gave me an almost pitying smile and walked over to his bar. He poured two glasses of scotch and handed me one.
I downed it, coughing and sputtering, and watched him sit across from me in his big winged chair.
“Your mother doesn’t want you to visit her.”
“I just want to apologize and—”
Dad held his hand up. “Ellen doesn’t care if you’re sorry. Ellen doesn’t care if you’re alive or dead.”
“No way, that’s not entirely true,” I scoffed. “Besides, you left me to grow up with her! I came here a few summers, and then nothing! A phone call here and there. She took care of me, not you.”
“I’m sorry. I really am. I just was not in a position to raise a kid, and Ellen wanted you as leverage. I didn’t want to…” He looked away from me, down at his beautiful Persian rug. “I’m sorry I left you there. Even if I’d brought you here and I was never home, you would have been better off than with that viper.” His blue eyes lifted to mine. “I don’t blame you for what you did. With her husband. Shocking, I know.”
“Dad, I shouldn’t have—”
“No. You should’t have. But he manipulated you. He was probably the first person you’ve encountered you gave you unadulterated attention and affection.” He downed the rest of his scotch. “I’m sorry.”
I looked down at my empty glass, unable to meet his eyes. Mine were a little teary. “Thank you, Dad.”
“You will get nothing by visiting Ellen but more misery.”
“I just feel like I have to. It’ll make me feel better.”
Dad got up and poured himself another glass. “Borrow the car, if it makes you feel better, then. Do what you think is best. But don’t expect a miracle.”
As I got closer to my mother’s house, a horrible thought occurred to me that should have crossed my mind many more hours before: what if Alex was there?
I couldn’t face him. Couldn’t face the two of them together. I’d have to turn back if his shiny car was in the driveway.
I pressed on, speeding probably far too fast but uncaring if I got pulled over. I was anxious and sick to the my stomach. My nerves were entirely shot, and all jumbled together. I wanted to see her. I wanted to say the several didn’t speeches rehearsed in my mind.
Finally I turned on my old street and there was my mother’s splendid house. Alex’s car was not in the driveway, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t home. I tried not to think of him as I got out and reached the front door. It didn’t feel right just waltzing in, so I rang the doorbell.
After what seemed the hours, the door opened a crack. I could hardly see inside, but the person—my mother—could clearly see me.
“What are you doing here?”
She spoke as though she were underwater; her words were slow, tired and heavy. She was drunk. I could smell it. Recognize the tone of her voice.
“Mom, I wanted to—”
“Don’t call me ‘Mom’.”
“I’m sorry. For everything.”
She swung the door open more. All the curtains were closed and there no lamps lit. The house was mostly dark and it smelled of damp and smoke. And vodka. She wore a lace nightie with big pink fluffy slippers. Her breasts were practically out, and I tried to avert my eyes. Her dye-job had faded into a dull dirty-blonde. I couldn’t recall ever seeing her look so dark. And the shadows under her eyes only made her look worse. She was sallow and gaunt.
“You’re sorry. Is that what you said?”
She picked up a nearby vase and threw it to the side. I didn’t see it smash, but I heard all the pieces hit the floor. “Don’t call me that!”
I was quiet for a minute. kaçak iddaa She hadn’t slammed the door, which I took as a pitifully good sign.
“Are you all right?”
Mom looked confused and let out a breath of laughter. “Do I look all right?”
She was terrifying me. I’d never seen her like this, not even after Dad had left. I wanted to come inside, to get a good look at her, but I had no idea what she’d do.
Her expression calmed and she looked me over. “Daddy has been taking good care of you, has he? Nice dress. Nice highlights. Nice everything.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond. I knew she was being sarcastic, cruel. I told myself to remain calm. “Do you want me to come in and make you some lunch? Or something? Anything?”
She laughed that brilliant laugh of hers, only there was a note off. Instead of sounding charming, it came off alarming.
“Lunch?” She sighed and shook her head, a joyless smile twisted across her face. “Melanie, what do you want?”
“To apologize. To set things right.”
Mom reached for a cigarette and lit it, blowing the smoke in my face. “Should have kept you here.”
I relaxed a little. Was she making her own apology? She didn’t really need to, under the circumstances.
She nodded and looked up at the sky. It was due to rain any minute. “Yes, really.”
Mom looked back at me. “So that he’d stay. So that when he was bored, he could go to you. He left me a little while after I sent you away. He was furious with me, actually. Does that make you happy? That he was mad I took his toy away? That he was so mad at me he broke all of your grandmother’s plates? Almost tore off my head.”
My mouth had opened at her revelation and everything froze, but I shook my head after a minute. “Of course that doesn’t make me happy. But Mom, I saw the two of you at some restaurant together. Some—”
“It was taken a month ago. A little before he left.” She flicked the ash off her cigarette. “So he’s not here. You better be on your way.”
“Mom.” I grasped her wrist. She looked up at me, eyes on fire, and ripped herself from my hold. Then she slapped me. Hard.
“Don’t you ever touch me!”
I put my cool hand against my heated cheek and gave her a pleading look. “Please. I’m sorry. I know I owe you a lot more than an apology, but—”
“I never want to see your face again.” Mom took a deep breath and released it slowly. “If we happen to pass one another on the street, I want neither of us to acknowledge the other. I want to pretend I never had a child, or that if I had, she’s dead. I never want to think of you again. Now get the fuck off my property.”
Mom picked herself up after that, or that’s what the society pages said. She began dating a wealthy hotelier. She looked tons better than she did the day I visited, but there was still a haunted expression on her face in some of the photos.
When I showed Dad at the breakfast table, he muttered a, “good for her,” and went about buttering his toast.
I thought about what she said to me all the time. It was unfathomable to me she could hate me so much, but I knew it was true. It wasn’t just Alex, either. She’d always hated me. Alex was merely the icing on top.
Ella poked me in the ribs. “Time to get dressed for the galaaaaaaa.”
Both my father and I groaned.
Ella rolled her eyes. “C’mon, it’s going to be such fun. And our dresses are gorgeous. Besides,” she added, standing and coming around to my father and plopping right on his lap, “it’ll be nice to see you dapper for a change.”
“I’m always dapper.”
It was weird for me to see my father act flirtatious, so I always watched with fascination when they were like this.
Ella kissed him lightly on the lips and then came over to me and grabbed my arm. “Let’s get ready!”
“But it’s only 10:30 in the morning! And it doesn’t start until 8!”
“Um, hello, we have spa and hair appointments. Not to mention, you are in definite need of a mani.”
I looked back at my father and he was grinning. “You are definitely in need of a mani, Mel.”
“See, even your dad gets it!” Ella insisted, not getting he was making fun of her a little.
And so I followed her, allowing myself to have a little fun.
Ella wore a silky blue dress that clung to her curves. My father couldn’t hide the desire in his eyes, or the way he tightly gripped her arms; he looked like he wanted to drag her away from the gala by his teeth on the back of her neck. It amused me.
I wore a red cocktail dress that had a bit of bounce to it in the skirt. It flattered my long legs, and it was playful and youthful. I loved it. My blonde hair had been wrapped up in some elaborate twist, and I wore just enough makeup. I felt pretty and happy for the first time in a long time.
I snagged a flute of champagne. Dad gave me a jokingly disapproving look. Then he spun Ella out onto the dance floor and the two danced and danced.
I remember being a little grossed out when they kaçak bahis married. Their age difference was something like 30, 31 years apart. I recall thinking, “What the fuck can they have in common?”
But watching them twist and turn, and spin and sway tonight made me realize it worked for them. Ella admired and respected my dad. And he adored her. It was really none of my business, either, was it?
I was smiling, enjoying another glass of champagne, when a warm hand touched the naked skin of my shoulder. I turned, smile dimming and brain conjuring up some kind of polite version of “fuck off”, and there he was.
Alex looked exactly the same. Maybe a little more tanned, and he had grown some scruff. It brought out the blue of his eyes, and the blonde of his hair. I didn’t react at first. I watched the lips that had kissed me, that had brought me such unbelievable pleasure, smile. It was a smile I knew well.
The champagne buzzed unpleasantly in my chest and stomach. I looked around for an exit, blinking away tears. God forbid I fuck up the unbelievable makeup job Ella’s stylist did.
“Please go away.”
“Melanie, it wasn’t my fault.”
I took five large steps away, hoping to catch my father’s eye. Alex grabbed my wrist.
“Please, give me five minutes,” he hissed, keeping a smile on his face for those who’d begun to turn their eyes to us.
I laughed bitterly. “Absolutely not.”
“A minute, then.”
“Alex,” I said, and then swallowed back the lump of emotion his name gave me. “Alex, please just leave me alone. I don’t want anything to do with you, okay?”
“Why not? What did your mother tell you?”
“God!” A tear dropped down my cheek and I met his eyes straight-on for the first time. “You broke my heart! And this is inappropriate, and you know it! So just stay away from—”
“I didn’t send you away,” he said, eyes sparking. He was breathing heavily. “It wasn’t me.”
I looked anywhere but him. “You fucked her that night.”
He laughed and my eyes shot up to his in disbelief. He thought it was funny?
“We were married, Melanie, it’s like I could be like ‘no, gotta be faithful to your daughter’. I had to. I didn’t want her to suspect.”
“You were never going to leave her. You didn’t love me.” God, how I wished I could suck those last words back inside my mouth. What a stupid fucking thing to say.
And now he was looking at me tenderly, remorsefully. He pitied me.
“Please leave me alone, Alex, okay?”
“Not until you give me my minute to explain.”
People had begun to pay attention to us. I forced a smile but I was sure I looked more like I might vomit.
“Fine,” I gritted out.
He took me outside on the back patio. Some people were gathered together, smoking cigars. Couples were sharing drinks and laughing quietly. He took me as far away as he could get behind a large bush.
“I didn’t know what I planned on doing with you, but I knew I wasn’t going to stay married to Ellen. I didn’t want to jeopardize my career, so no. We wouldn’t have been moving in together or anything like that. But I intended on seeing you.”
I opened my mouth to say something but he put his hand over it.
“I needed time. Sort things out. People will forgive anyone who has enough money and clout, who they owe shit to, who they’re forced to put up with. I was making sure I was that kind of person. And then, Melanie, I was going to come and drag you away with me. Maybe on one of the cruises that feature my restaurants. At a launch, maybe. And I was going to kiss you in front of the cameras, and deal with the fallout that may or may not follow, and then later I’d take you to my room and fuck you and forget all the politics. I’d fuck you so, so good.”
His words were liquid gold, and my body was a quivering system of skin and nerves and piping hot blood.
“I’ve wanted you so long. It’s been torture.” He took a piece of my hair down from the twist and sniffed it. “I didn’t know exactly how I’d see you. I knew it was only a matter of time your father brought you somewhere…” He met my eyes. “I didn’t want to have sex with her that night, but I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t think that quick. And she was suspicious, as you found out the next day.”
“Let’s not… Let’s not talk about that anymore.”
“That’s the main reason you’re mad, right?” He got closer, breathing against my face.
“I think it is.”
“It’s been 4 months and I haven’t heard anything from you. And I don’t trust you.”
His fingers danced up my arms. I wanted to push him away, call for help. Tell him to go fuck himself. But my mouth wouldn’t work, and my body was a lot more powerful.
“Yes. Nearly 4 months and it’s been agony. There’s been no one else.”
“Oh, please. Don’t give me any bullshit. This isn’t a romance novel. You, Alexander Bennett, have been celibate since leaving my mother.”
Alex laughed and looked around to make sure no one was close. “It’s true. I’ve been in a monogamous relationship with my right hand.”
I wanted to believe him. He looked sincere. He sounded as believable as ever. I wanted to kiss him. But my father’s words echoed in my mind. He manipulated me. God, he knew how I’d respond to him.
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