One of the men, a bit shorter and a lot bulkier, nodded to me, and then—realizing I was half naked—stared at the floor. “You ready or what?”
“I’m ready, Zeke,” Tyler said, grinning at me.
Zeke pointed behind him with his thumb. “They’re tearing up the place. Want us to help you get them out of here?”
“I don’t think they can clean your couch. There’s down feathers all over the floor.”
Tyler winked at me. “Thanks for the, um … pleasant surprise.”
“I’d say anytime, but neither of us call.”
Tyler breathed out a laugh, looking down, and then back up at me from under his thick lashes. “I guess. See you around, Ellison.”
He didn’t seem fazed. “Good night.” He took a step back and closed the door.
I sat on the mess of sheets, blankets, and throw pillows that was my parents’ bed. Tyler’s condom was hanging halfway off the rim of my mother’s wastebasket next to her vanity by the door. Tyler was a terrible shot.
I curled into the fetal position, shedding tears no one would see. Crying, not because I was ashamed, but because I knew no matter how trashed the house would be, or how horribly I’d disrespected my parents’ room, they wouldn’t be angry. They would forgive me, and pity me. I would forever be their perfect little girl. The louder I screamed, the tighter they’d mash their hands over their ears.
Someone knocked on the door, and I called for them to come in. Standing in the threshold was Paige, looking lonely and desperate.
“Room for one more?” she squeaked.
I pulled back the blanket and sheets. She smiled and then hurried to lie beside me. I wrapped my arms around her and relaxed as she kissed the inside of my wrist.
“You’re beautiful,” she whispered. “What is it like? To live in a house like this? To live this life?”
I didn’t know how to respond, so I said the first thing that came to mind. “Close your eyes.”
Paige reached back, wedging her hand between my wet thighs.
“I saw him come downstairs,” she said.
“So you decided to come up?”
“I do,” she said, “need people to stay. You can pretend I’m him … if you want.”
Paige relaxed in my arms, settling in while the bass throbbed through the floor. After a few minutes, the music abruptly turned off, and I knew Tyler and his friends were ending the party and kicking everyone out.
Not long after, Paige’s breathing evened. I closed my eyes, pulled her closer to me, and sunk into oblivion.
I was just making my way to my father’s pristine black Audi when the first van arrived. Men and women filed out, their boots crunching against the snow as they carried buckets, vacuums, and boxes of cleaning supplies into the house. Felix, my father’s assistant, had already expedited the new sofa.
My parents wouldn’t be in Estes Park from Rome for another week, providing plenty of time to get the house back in order. It wasn’t the first time Felix had had to hire crews to clean up after a party, and he was very good at making sure nothing was out of place. Since I was seven, Felix had been the peacekeeper and protector of the family, and doubled as my father’s bodyguard when necessary. Sometimes Felix had to protect Daddy from me.
“Miss Edson,” Felix said, nodding as I approached the drive.
He towered over the Audi, his suit jacket tight around his thick arms. His metal-rimmed glasses were tinted, protecting his eyes from the same sun that reflected off his smooth head. He held a cellphone in his right hand and a clipboard against his chest with his left. No doubt there was a list several pages long of items to be checked off, repairs and orders to be made, all in an effort to provide Daddy with the life he paid Felix to create.
Once I passed, he swept the driver side door open, allowing me to slide inside. The car was warm, already running, making my fur vest and tall boots feel more like overkill than appropriate winter attire.
“All set, miss?” Felix asked. I nodded, and he shut the door.
I gripped the steering wheel and sighed. I hadn’t started a car in seven years—since my driving test. I was sitting inside a vehicle I didn’t own, in front of a house I didn’t own, on land I didn’t own … wearing clothes my parents had bought. They owned me, and I let them because it was convenient. Not that I hadn’t tried to buck the system in high school, but arguing meant I wasn’t appreciative, whether or not I’d asked for the things I had.
I grit my teeth and put the car into drive. My bitter inner monologue was constant because I couldn’t say aloud what I was really thinking or feeling. Complaining was offensive to my father and everyone else. I had nothing to complain about. I was the girl with everything. The more money and material things my parents threw at me, the bigger the void became. But I couldn’t tell them that; I couldn’t tell anyone. To have everything and feel nothing was the worst kind of selfishness.
I pulled into the driveway, motoring slowly for a full mile until I reached the entrance of my parents’ chateau. At the press of a button, the copper gate obeyed, swinging toward me, slow and steady. My cell phone buzzed, and a picture of Finley appeared on my screen, her lips pursed in full duck face. She was looking up to fully display her turquoise eyes and thick, authentic mink lash extensions.
I pressed the phone button on the steering wheel, pulling forward through the open gate. “Hey, Fin.”
“Good. I hope you feel like shit, you spoiled bitch. Why didn’t you tell me you were having a party last night?”
“I didn’t figure you’d want to waste your Brazilian wax on a random keg party in the mountains with the locals.”
“Our hot tub has determined that is a lie. Did you get laid?” She had already forgotten about the mild offense and settled into sister mode.
Finley Edson was the eldest daughter of Edson Tech, and on a direct path to rule with an iron fist that happened to have perfectly manicured nails. We were heiresses, but unlike me, Finley embraced it. Finley was two years older, but she was my best friend, the only one left from our childhood who I could still stomach. The rest had become vapid clones of their mothers.
“I don’t kiss and tell,” I said, turning toward downtown.
“Yes, you do. Was it the local you were telling me about?”
“Paige? No. She’s sweet. Too fucked up for me to use.”
“I’m not sure I believe that person exists.”
“She does, and her name is Paige.”
“You’re getting soft in your old age, Ellie. If we were still at Berkeley, you’d have been all over that just to break her heart. So who was it?”