I placed the camera in front of her face and clicked the display button, showing her the picture of her hand. Everything from her arm out was blurry, but her blue hair couldn’t be confused with anyone else. I was prepared for her to ask me to delete it, but she reached back to caress my face.
“Yes. Is it over now?”
“It’s over,” I said. “I’ll have José drive you home.”
“Who’s José?” she asked. She sat up and stretched, not at all upset.
She smiled, her sleepy, content twin pools disappearing behind her lashes several times before she focused. “I’ll get dressed.”
She hopped out of bed, pulling on her skinny jeans and sweater, and then her boots.
“Breakfast is downstairs. Maricela will get you anything you need.”
Paige nodded, holding her purse to her chest. She really wasn’t going to ask me to join her. She wasn’t going to ask anything.
“Maybe I’ll see you around,” she said.
I propped my head with my hand. “I won’t get that lucky twice.”
She didn’t try to hide that she was flattered. Her cheeks pinked, and she carried her coat out the door, disappearing down the hall. Her footsteps were barely audible as she descended the stairs, but my father’s voice carried when he greeted her.
I settled against the headboard, waiting patiently and without fear of his inquisition. He would be angry about the cleaning bill, but more so about his wrecked Peter Max painting than the money. He didn’t love anything more than he loved me, and that was fortunate because my mood swings and acting out had cost him millions. The Ferrari, the fire in his partner’s Italian villa, and the legal bills—also known as bribes—to keep me out of jail.
He stopped abruptly in my doorway, as if he were a vampire who had to be invited to enter.
“Hi, Daddy. How was your trip?”
“Ellison,” he began, his voice thick with contrived disappointment. “We’ve come home early to chat with you. It’s not that we don’t love you, bunny…”
“I know you love me,” I said. I kept my face smooth, but I was wondering where he was headed with the conversation. He usually began with the We’re so disappointed in you, but we love you and expect you to do better speech, but this seemed different.
He sighed, already exhausted from parenting me. Two sets of heels clicked down the hall. I sat up taller when my mother entered the room, followed by her life coach, Sally.
“Philip,” Mother began, “I told you to wait.” She spoke under her breath, smiling at me as she always did, as if her unnatural smile made her words magically imperceptible.
“Mr. Edson,” Sally said. “It’s important we keep a united front, remember?”
Mother held the back of her hand against her husband’s chest and took a step forward, clasping her fingers together at her waist. “Ellison, when your father and I learned about the party and damage, we were already at our limit. We’ve warned you countless times. You’re an adult now. There really is no excuse.”
Mother continued, “We’re at the point where we’re concerned about your safety and the safety of others. How old was the young girl who just left?”
“Old enough,” I said, settling back against my pillow.
I stretched to hide how unsettled I felt. This kind of confrontation was a first for them. My parents usually had a heated argument, in my presence, about how to deal with me, and then my father would send me on a lavish vacation—like the one I was about to take with Finley.
Mother smoothed the lines of regret that cut across her forehead. “Your father and I have decided to…” She cleared her throat. Despite her exasperation, she was unsure.
“I’m … what?” I giggled the last word, in total disbelief. I’d never been grounded in my life, not even when I was young enough to actually be grounded.
Mother shook her head, and then retreated to my father. He held her as if they were identifying my body.
Sally took over. “Your trip to the South China Sea with Finley has been canceled, as have your credit cards and access to family homes and employees. You are allowed to stay here for ninety days. You must find employment, and once you reimburse your parents for the amount in damages you’ve cause to the residence, some of your privileges will be reinstated.”
“Ellison, really,” Mother said. “Maricela and José have been instructed to keep food in the pantry and the main quarters clean. Other than that, it’s up to you.”
“Let me get this straight. You’re going to leave me penniless, alone—since I know Fin is going on this trip without me—and without transportation, but you want me to get a job and work off tens of thousands of dollars while also paying for daily necessities and rent? Gas, taxis, toilet paper, food? How am I supposed to do both? Do you have any idea what rent is like in this town? What you’re proposing is asinine.”
“We’re not proposing,” Sally said. “This is your life now.”
I crossed my arms. “I’m sure my shenanigans have cut into your payments, Sally.”
Sally held up her hand. “We talked about this, Mr. Edson. Ellison, this isn’t about me. This is about you.”
“What’s in it for you? What do you get out of this?” I asked, seething.
“Nothing. Healing your family is my job.”
“Not for long,” I warned. “Don’t forget who signs the check, Sally. It isn’t my mother, and Daddy doesn’t subscribe to your bullshit.” I pointed to my father. “Daddy, you can’t let her do this.”
“This is best,” my father said without conviction.
“Best for who? You’ve raised me to be this person. Now you’re going to punish me for it? I didn’t used to be this way. I’ve tried being good to get your attention. Nothing works!”
“This is a tourist town! No available job here is going to pay enough to satisfy whatever it is I owe, and rent and bills! It will literally take me years!”
When my father didn’t show any signs of recanting, I pushed out my bottom lip, sitting crisscross to appear child-like. “I know I messed up. I’ll be better, Daddy, I swear.”
A tear fell down my cheek. “I will hate you after this. This is not going to bring us closer. I will never speak to you again.”
Sally cleared her throat. “Manipulation. Those tears are instruments, Philip.”
“Fuck you, you abhorrent cunt!” I clutched the sheets in my fists and bounced once on the mattress as I screamed.
My parents’ eyes grew wide. Sally looked relieved. “There. There is the real Ellison. You aren’t penniless. You still have use of the house. Maricela will make sure there are basic provisions. The rest, as Meredith has said, is up to you.”