Someone to love, p.5

Someone to Love, page 5

 

Someone to Love


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  “Andrew? We’re in the sitting room.” She ushers us in haste toward a palatial room that houses a giant oil painting of Jackie and her husband as they hover over a younger version of Pennington—and speak of the devil. He strides in the room looking perfectly preppy—a wolf donning designer sheep clothing.

  My anger toward him actually managed to decrease significantly in the past twenty-four hours—especially since Cruise had the good sense not to dismember me. I’m thinking this whole thing with the housing department was the best botch-up ever and I should be thanking Pen, so I’ve temporarily taken his name off the list of choice expletives. And even though I’m feeling charitable, I’ll be quick to revert the action should Cruise turn into an ass by midnight.

  “Dude.” Pen high fives Cruise before smacking me in the shoulder in a show of platonic affection just this side of battery. His eyes are glossed over, and he smells rank in an illegal sort of way, but I’ll be the last to point out that tidbit of incriminating information now that I’ve once again relegated him to my good side.

  “Hon, your son is here.” Jackie screeches at the top of her lungs until a middle-aged man with a spare tire appears in the arched entry.

  Did she just say son? Is she talking about Pen or me? God—maybe they’re all wasted. Maybe hitting the reefer is a long-standing Christmas tradition at the Alexander household.

  “Dad.” Cruise heads over and gives a hug to the man he just referred to as his father.

  “My half-brother,” Pennington whispers, and holy shit his breath stinks like the exact illegal foliage I had mentally accused him of smoking.

  And what’s this “half-brother” business?

  “And here’s my future daughter-in-law.” Aunt Jackie’s voice hits its soprano register. “This one’s all Pen’s.” She squeezes my shoulders tight. “I bet your mother we’d hear wedding bells long before graduation.” She rattles me aggressively as if shaking the idea into my head. “And I never lose a bet.” Her eyes get all wide and swirly like they do in cartoons and she manages to scare the shit out of me in the process. For a minute, I’m tempted to assure her she won’t lose, even though I’m positive she will.

  Andrew clears his throat. “She never loses.” The friendly-faced genetic donation station comes over and offers me a hug. He’s far less caustic than his questionably better half, although, apparently, he’s friendly as hell when it comes to women and generous with his sperm to boot. “How’s your mother? I haven’t seen her in years.” His face lights up as if he wouldn’t mind launching a few genetic missiles in her direction, as well.

  “She’s good—just coming off a divorce.” I say it a little too loud like it’s an academic achievement or a laudatory honor that we might be moved to toast later. Nothing like making my own mother look like a loser in front of old friends on Christmas to start the night off right.

  “Sit! Sit!” Jackie squawks. “Tell me everything. How’s the dorm? And don’t tell me the boys are cute because you’ve only got eyes for my Penny boy.” She belts out a laugh while falling over the sofa.

  Cruise lands on the ottoman across from me and indulges in an all-encompassing grin because he so conveniently forgot to tell me he was giving me a ride to his father’s house. That seems like it would have been a relevant nugget to share—yet he held onto it presumably for the shock factor. And judging by those soulful kisses he doled out, he rather enjoys getting a rise out of me.

  “Um,” I start, briefly losing myself in her shiny gold ball gown, “the dorm actually—”

  Pennington crashes next to me and wraps an arm around my shoulder. “She’s just getting settled at Russell Hall.”

  “Oh, hon.” Aunt Jackie touches her Cheeto stained hand to her chest. Everything about her has an out-of-this-world appeal to it, from the foil-colored suit from the future, right down to the I flew too close to the sun radiation burn she’s sporting. “You gotta get yourself in Delta, Delta, Delta. Your mom and I were both chapter leaders. We threw the best parties.” Her eyelids elongate like frosted Easter eggs as she relives the memories.

  “I will. I plan to.” At least I did. I totally had my sights on Tri Delta until my housing options dwindled down to survival mode. “I’ll have to wait until rush.”

  “Rush, smush.” She fans her fingers in the air. “I’ll make a few calls. Russell Hall is for losers. I’ll have you home with family in less than a week.” She punctuates it with a slap to her thigh. “Presents!” She jumps up and claps her way around the room, slipping now again to annunciate the fact she’s dipped into the brandy-laced eggnog or broke into the special brownies a wee bit early, both perhaps.

  Pen leans in. “Someone hit the rum balls a little too hard.” His breath rakes over me, putrid and illegal. “Speaking of hard.” He glances down at the rather nonexistent bulge in his khakis. “Dude, you are fucking hot tonight.”

  I straighten and shoot a look across the room to Cruise. Andrew sits on a chair next to him, talking about purchasing gold bars and moving to the Caymans. I hope to God he plans on taking Pen with him.

  Cruise steals a glance my way, and our eyes lock. My stomach melts as he secures his gaze over mine.

  “Okay!” Jackie gives an impromptu tap-dance that ups the discomfort in the room several notches. For her sake, I hope Santa leaves an industrial-sized bottle of Ritalin in her stocking or at least a trial pack of Xanax. “I usually don’t do gifts before dinner, but since we’re all here…” She fans the room with her wine glass and a trail of merlot splatters over the floor. “What the hell, right?” She breaks out into a cackle while mopping up the errant vino with the bottom of her skirt.

  “Cruisy.” She tosses a small bag at him that looks rather plain compared to the glitzy-packaged boxes adorning the potbellied tree.

  Cruise dips in and pulls out a brown leather wallet. He cracks it opens and plucks out a bill.

  “Ten.” He flashes a smile and is quick to thank Jackie and his father for his early inheritance. I get the feeling, if Aunt Jackie gets her way, Cruise might be staring at the sum total of his payout.

  “We really weren’t expecting you.” Jackie places us all in that awkward situation where she makes Cruise feel like an unwanted guest. “Pen, why don’t you see what Santa brought?”

  Pennington unwraps a rather ornate box embossed with silver snowmen. I’m kind of hoping Santa decided to be honest and deliver Pen what he most likely asked for, a roach clip. Instead, he pulls out a large leather bag with a strap and… is that a purse?

  “You could put all your stuff in there.” Aunt Jackie is quick to defend her androgynous purchase. “You know, your wallet, your phone… your shit. It holds a ton.”

  God, Pen is so wasted he might actually take his mother’s advice and defecate in the butter-soft pouch. And I’m pretty sure “it holds a ton” is code for “gram.” It’s going to house his stash. Basically it’s a stashelle.

  “Thanks Mom.” He rises and gives her a quick kiss on the cheek.

  I guess “Cruisy” got off easy with a rather masculine-looking billfold and some spending cash at the ready.

  Jackie lands a bright pink box on my lap with a fuzzy green bow. It’s so pretty and festive I sort of want to save it for the tree Cruise and I put up today and place it beneath it.

  “Let’s go!” She claps up a storm prompting me to wrestle with foil that refuses to tear. Jackie is more than anxious to show off her ode to Christmas commerce. I wrangle the box open only to reveal a duplicate of the purse Pennington just unwrapped.

  “I…love it.” Truthfully, I find it odd. Maybe Jackie was simply being frugal and this was a buy-one-get-one offer she couldn’t pass up.

  “Couple gifts, so soon?” Cruise glides into a half-smile. He looks sexy as hell seated over there all by his lonesome, and suddenly, I want to head straight back to our soon-to-be love shack and round out the bases in record time.

  “You can never start too soon.” Jackie ticks the air with her finger. “Time to break s
ome bread.” She motions for the lot of us to follow her.

  Cruise waits for me and slings an arm low around my waist.

  “You didn’t tell me this was your family,” I whisper. And after witnessing the fragile state of their sanity I can see why the aforementioned bit of biology was omitted.

  “You didn’t ask.” His dimples depress. “And they’re sort of not.”

  “I thought you said your last name was Elton?”

  “It is, per my mother’s brilliant discretion. I think she made a good move. Don’t you?”

  Aunt Jackie slips back in the room and spies Cruise’s strategic limb placement.

  She narrows her beady little eyes over me and clears her throat. “Your future husband awaits.” It comes out cold, steely.

  I wink over at Cruise. “I believe he does.”

  Dinner at the Alexander estate is an asylum-worthy event. First off, a dining room painted a caustic shade of red and filled with bulky black furniture looks nothing short of satanic. Whoever thought pairing gargoyles in the four corners of the ceiling with angry-looking walls was a good idea might have been a little more than batshit. I’m betting the loon in charge of this sanitarium is my very own faux Aunt Jackie.

  “Please tell your mother she’s welcome anytime.” Andrew, the saner and slightly more promiscuous of the two parental units, gives an assertive nod. “There’s always a room waiting for her at our home.”

  Aunt Jackie clears her throat and cuts him with a death stare, like maybe there’s no room at the exorbitantly large inn after all. Something tells me if Mom were to visit, she’d be lucky to find a manger with her name on it.

  “Cruise, who’s the latest squeeze?” She changes the subject on a dime and reverts our attention to Cruise’s most recent penile endeavors.

  “Just running through the rolodex.” He leans his elbows on the table and gives a sly glance in my direction. “Currently on J.”

  J is for Jordan. I give a private smile.

  “You oughta get yourself deloused every now and again.” Jackie dispenses her medicinal counsel without propagation. “Crabs aren’t just for cookin’, you know.” She passes the sentiment through her teeth like a ventriloquist. “And watch out for that killer clap that’s going around,” she whispers. “I hear they’ve got a mutated strain that can make your balls fall off in the middle of the night. I got this spray upstairs in the bathroom—”

  “And on that note…” Andrew rattles a little golden bell before Jackie has a chance to espouse the finer points of household disinfectants and their myriad of curative properties.

  An entire army of scantily clad girls, march into the room at the flick of his wrist in what appear to be provocative French maid costumes. They break out in an odd variation of pornographic dinner theater that brings a whole new meaning to Ho, Ho, Ho. Who knew a burlesque show was in the works this evening?

  Two of the younger girls openly drool over Cruise, and one slightly less-informed girl with her hair in a never-ending braid flirts with Penn by way of inserting her blossoming cleavage into his face every chance she gets. Lovely.

  Once the wine has a chance to flow freely from our gilded goblets that, swear-to-God look as though they’ve been swiped straight from the Vatican, Jackie springs to her feet with a toast.

  “To love!” She christens the room with her enthusiastic boom to the fickle emotion. “May we all find that special someone. And, dear God, I hope it’s soon because I’ve got some lions that need to be girded.” She titters into her more than slightly misguided analogy.

  Odd toast, but since she herself is toasted, I’m willing to overlook the verbal foray into adultery.

  Cruise lifts his chalice in my direction. “To finding someone to love.”

  God—what I wouldn’t do for that to be him.

  In a perfect world, he wouldn’t be a player, and I wouldn’t pretend to be a hussy-in-training—because I sort of just want Cruise.

  I blink into my admission.

  In a perfect world we’d both believe in love and fall into that beautiful pool of warm water together, headfirst.

  “To finding someone to love,” I say without losing his gaze. “At least for one night,” I whisper just to play it safe.

  Too bad one night couldn’t turn into forever.

  Cruise

  The next morning, the sky breaks through just enough to add a blue luster to the blanket of snow that fell overnight. I wake up early right along with Santa and the elves to try and gut the heater to figure out what the hell is wrong with it. But mostly, it’s to ransack the house for possible gifts for Kenny. It’s been a good long while since I’ve been moved to gift someone with something other than my body. I’d give her the expensive-as-hell perfume I bought Molly, but I had Mom wrap it and put it under the tree at the house. Molly most likely ripped into it anyway.

  I glance out the window at the Beamer nestled next to my truck. Jackie made a point to gift Kenny with a car she could borrow until she got on her feet. Typical Jackie, buying people off with my father’s money—with the exception of me, of course.

  “Morning.” Kenny comes up unexpected and gravels it out in my ear with a moan. She’s wearing the same T-shirt as the night before. Her legs spear out, long and lean, as if they were carved from butter. An image of her sitting on top of me filters through my mind—I can see her eyes partially closed, her neck arched with pleasure.

  “Merry Christmas.” I follow her out to the living room and hand her a bag of ornaments from Mom’s bucket-o-holiday crap.

  “Merry Christmas.” She gives a shy smile.

  I watch as she lands the bulbs on the tree and try to forget about the passing pornography that just swept through my mind. Can’t help it though. She’s a fantasy come to life, and she just so happens to be walking in my living room with her hair dripping wet, her face scrubbed clean, without a stitch of makeup and still manages to look like a supermodel.

  My phone vibrates in my jeans, and I pluck it out to find Blair’s face smirking back at me.

  Shit.

  I’m quick to silence it and bury it in my pocket.

  My blood runs cold from the visual. I haven’t heard from her in so long—not that I care. I could go forever without seeing or hearing from her ever again.

  “You going to get that?” She tilts into me. “I can leave the room if you want.”

  “Nope. Not important.” Not important? There’s a first.

  “So tell me all about your family.” Her pale eyes light up as she dips into the bin and picks up the star. “I feel like we’re related now. Is that weird?”

  “We’re definitely not related.” The last thing I want to be is her brother. I’m gunning for something a little more… what the hell am I gunning for? I pause to take her in and wonder what I might be getting myself into. I haven’t had a real feeling in months. Not quite sure how to categorize Kenny, yet. “You and Penn though”—I give a slight nod—“that’s practically bordering on incest.”

  “Can you believe Jackie had the balls to get us matching purses?” She gives a soft laugh, and her boobs bounce in rhythm.

  “Yup. That’s Jackie in a nutshell. The woman’s got balls, that’s for sure.”

  “So what happened? She break things up between your mom and dad?”

  “Nah, they were over before Jackie ever came into the picture. He did say he had one great love, and he let her get away—he said he always regretted that one. But Jackie, she’s like crap on the bottom of your shoe. Once she shows up it’s pretty hard to get rid of her. Pen is all right though. For the most part, I hardly see them.”

  “Was that awkward for you last night?” She pulls her lips down and looks adorable as hell in the process.

  She smells good, clean like watermelon and cucumbers. Her lips are full and slightly glossed. They’re calling me over to them, but I resist.

  “Nope, not awkward. I had planned on stopping by anyway. Jackie’s nice enough, so long as I stay out of their way
the rest of the year.”

  “Oh.” She fondles the star in her hand and her features dim, so I plug it in and it glows through her fingers like magic. “Pretty.” She holds it up a moment. “Was he around for you much? You know—was he still a good dad?”

  For some reason my childhood has clouded her mood, and I’m sorry Andrew’s crappy parenting has the power to dampen her Christmas spirit.

  “He came to a few football games when I played. Saw him at graduation. He’s been hitting all the right highlights. Pen’s the one that reeled him in though. He got the tossing-the-ball-in-the-backyard version. The one who took the family to Hawaii every year for summer vacation.” I don’t mention the fact I could count on one hand the amount of times we’ve spent together, or the fact “Jackie the Jack Ass” made sure to make me feel excluded the few times I was around. “How about you? What’s your story?” She hands me a bag of giant red bulbs. I remember these. I used to think we were leaving fake apples for Santa and that’s why he outright avoided us some years.

  “Well,” she begins, “my mom is vying for ‘serial bride’ of the century. My brother and I moved a lot—seven different schools. It was hard to always be the new girl. My dad is a lawyer in Oregon where he lives with his new and improved family. I haven’t seen him since I was four—he split from my mom long before that. Rumor has it I have six siblings. They live on a farm, and his new wife makes candles. My brother is at school up there, and I guess they’re speaking again. So it’s just me out in the cold.” She purses her lips while untangling the wire from the frosted star in her hands. “I don’t care though.”

 

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