Elliot is waiting for me at the airport.
“Hey, little bro! How you doing?”
We shake hands as he grins at me. He knows better than to hug me. I suppose our greeting looks overly formal, but Elliot has my back. Always.
He frowns when he sees I’ve got my large suitcase with me. Usually I just travel with a carry-on bag if I’m home for a few days.
“What’s with the case, bro?”
Typical Elliot: he cuts to the chase. He might look like laidback and chilled, but he’s no-one’s fool.
“I’m not going back to Harvard. I’ve quit.”
His reaction is predictably shocked.
“What the fuck? Are you kidding? What happened?”
I feel like sighing but I know this is just a milder version of what my parents’ reaction is going to be – although theirs will probably be without the cursing. I figure now might a good time to practise what I’m going to say.
“Nothing happened. I just didn’t see the point of it anymore. I know what I want to do – and it’s not another year of academic study.”
“You sure about this? Mom and dad are going to have a meltdown!”
“Yeah, I know.”
He shakes his head and slaps me on the shoulder. “It’s your funeral.”
It’s so easy being Elliot: he’s so straightforward – what you see is what you get. Not like me – with twisted, murky, depraved depths. Elliot knows I’m not normal but he’s never loved me any less for it; I don’t understand why.
The parking lot at Sea-Tac is quiet so we don’t have to hang around. During the drive out to Bellvue, Elliot talks about the construction company where he works as a project manager.
“I mean, I’m not doubting the quality of the work – the crew are great – but the management are just fucked. They tried to get second fix on site when first fix hadn’t been finished. It was a zoo: the guys tripping over each other to get work done. Some of the guys were getting pretty heated. I can see exactly what needs to be done but the asshole management won’t let me do my job.”
Oddly enough Elliot’s words mirror my own thoughts: I know what needs to be done to fix a broken company. I can see it – it’s like reading a book… no, it’s more like listening to an orchestra and someone plays a false note. I can pick it out from a hundred instruments – hear it, feel it – and I know how to fucking fix it.
“I’m thinking of starting my own company: Grey Construction,” continues Elliot. “I’ve got the contacts and I know a couple of good architects and landscape designers I can work with. Mom and dad said they’d help me get going… are you even listening to me?! What are smiling about, little bro?”
“Yes, I’m listening, Elliot. I’m smiling because that’s exactly what I intend to do: start my own business. And for pretty much all the reasons you’ve just given.”
He shoots me a surprised look.
“Really. Besides… can you imagine me working for anyone? How long before I told them they had shit for brains and got fired?”
He laughs out loud. “Good point, well made, little bro.” His tone changes. “Mom and dad are going to take some persuading.”
I can see he’s chewing over what he wants to say next.
“You want to stay at my place in the city for a few days? I’ve got a spare couch… mom and dad might need… some time to…”
He doesn’t need to finish the sentence. I know he’s right. We’ll need some distance from each other.
He pulls into the long driveway of our family home. My second family. Elliot’s and Mia’s, too.
“I’ll leave my case in the car,” I say.
Elliot rolls his eyes. “Good plan.”
Mom and dad are so happy to see me. Dad pumps my hand, this huge smile spread across his face. Mum grabs my other hand and kisses me about a hundred times. I feel such a shit. I’m going to hurt them so much.
A screech like a derailed freight train is Mia’s realisation that I’m home. She comes hurtling down the stairs and crashes into me. She’s the only one of my family who risks touching me.
She’s grown again. I think she’s going to be tall. Her hatchet-faced friend, Lily, is standing at the top of the stairs, fluttering her eyelashes at me. For fuck’s sake. I pretend not to see her.
“Christian!” admonishes Mia. “Say ‘hi’ to Lily or she’ll never forgive me.”
I roll my eyes at Mia and she giggles.
“Hi, Lily!” I say, giving her my surprised didn’t-see-you-there smile.
She simpers and blushes. Christ, she’s annoying.
“Hello, Christian,” she simpers.
She was a wretched child and now she’s a vile teenager. God knows what Mia sees in her. But they’ve been friends since they started grade school. Females – a complete mystery.
“Laters!” calls Mia, as she runs back up the stairs.
Mom ushers me into the small living room and starts fussing over me.
“You look tired, Christian. Was the flight ghastly? Do you want something to eat? Are you just taking a quick break before your end of year exams?”
I take a deep breath. This is it.
“Actually… I’m not going back. I’ve dropped out.”
Mom gasps and then there’s a deathly silence.
“You’ve done what?” says dad quietly, too quietly.
I run my hand through my hair. “I wasn’t learning anything new, dad. I want to start living my life. I know what I want to do.”
“And what, pray, is that?” he says, with his icily calm lawyer’s voice.
“I want to start my own business: telecoms manufacturing. I’ve got a business plan…”
“You’re going back to Harvard. End of story.”
“No, dad, I’m not.”
“But, Christian,” mom chips in. “This is just crazy – you’re just over a year from graduating. Why on earth would you drop out now, sweetheart? Look, whatever’s happened, your father can write to the dean, we can sort it out and…”
“No, mom. Nothing’s happened. That’s the point: I want to…”
“Want? You want to what?” says Dad. I can tell he’s getting really steamed up. “You’re a kid. How are you going to run a business? You’ve got no experience. The only work you’ve ever had was odd-jobbing at the Lincoln’s and last summer’s internship with my law partners.”
“I know what I want to do, dad.”
“Well, I forbid it.”
I feel my careful control starting to slip away. “You can’t stop me.”
“I’ll give it a fucking good try!” he roars at me.
His tone shocks me. He hasn’t yelled at me since I was 15 – and he’s never sworn at me before.
I take a deep breath. “I’m sorry mom, dad. I’ll be in touch.”
“Don’t you walk out of this fucking door!” dad yells at me. “If you do, that’s it! Your allowance – gone; the Trust money for your education – gone! You won’t get a penny.”
“Cary!” my mom’s voice is shocked as I walk out the door. “Christian! Please don’t go – not like this! Your father doesn’t mean it!”
She’s holding on to my arm, begging me. Elliot’s face is serious as waits by the front door.
“Sorry, mom,” I whisper.
I kiss her quickly and leave.
We walk to the car in silence.
“That went well,” says Elliot.
His irony makes me almost smile. I didn’t think anything could make me smile after that. I know I’ve hurt them.
“About what I expected,” I say, truthfully.
“Come on, bro. We’ll go back to my place and get drunk. How’s that sound?”
“Pretty fucking good.”
Elliot’s apartment is in a redbrick building that looks like it used to be a warehouse. I’m surprised how tidy it is: Elliot is not very domestic. He sees my look and guesses correctly what I’m thinking.
“I have a housekeeper,” he says. “She works for the whole apartment block: does the cleaning and washing and will do your groceries for an additional fee.” He shrugs. “Works for me. You can stay as long as you need – you know that, right, Christian?”
Yeah, I know that. He’s my brother. “Thanks, Elliot.”
I dump my case in the corner of the living room. I feel caged in already. Good thing I’m not planning on spending much time here.
“Come on,” he says, “there’s a bar down the end of the street that sells some good import beer. Some college chicks hang out there, too. And guys,” he adds, raising his eyebrows. Elliot still isn’t sure whether or not I’m gay, but this is the closest he ever gets to an outright question.
The bar is crowded and noisy. Oddly, this helps me to think. Elliot talks more about his plans for Grey Construction. I’m mildly surprised. He’s obviously put a lot of thought into this and he’s got a better business brain that I’d have given him credit for. He’s got his start up capital from mom and dad and he’s chasing a contract that could really set him up. He’s excited and hungry, I can tell. For the first time I can see that we have more in common than a love of hiking and sailing. I’m actually pretty fucking proud of him.
I’m on my second beer and Elliot is on his fifth when I realise a couple of co-eds are eyeing us up from across the bar. One is curvy and blonde and I know she’s just Elliot’s type. He’s kept the whole family entertained with a long stream of attractive blonde girlfriends. Her friend has too much make-up and harshly dyed hair. But it wouldn’t matter if she were Claudia Schiffer, I still wouldn’t be interested.
Why not though? I think to myself. I’ve decided I’m not going to sub for Elena any more. But the truth is this woman does nothing for me. Nothing about her interests me. And things aren’t finished between Elena and I – I still need to speak to her.
“Hello, boys!” says the blonde one, boldly walking up to stand next to our stools and leaning on the bar, showing an indecent amount of cleavage. She’s checking us both out, trying to decide which of us to hit on.
“Well, hello yourself,” says Elliot. “Can me and my lil brother buy you ladies a drink?”
Fuck you, Elliot! I give him a look that would shred concrete, but he just winks at me.
“Brothers? How cute is that? You don’t look anything alike!”
“I’m the good looking one,” says Elliot which makes them both giggle.
The one with the dyed hair strolls over until she’s right next to me. Her proximity makes me nervous. I stand up automatically and offer her my barstool. She takes it, staring up at me all breathless and doe-eyed.
Get a life!
“Elliot, can I borrow your car?”
“Can I borrow your car – just for a couple of hours?”
He frowns but hands me the keys.
“Are you ok, bro?”
“Sure. I just need to get out of here. See you later, Elliot. And be safe.”
He knows what I’m saying and smirks. “Sure, little bro. Don’t wait up.”
The dyed girl pouts at me but I couldn’t care less. Silly bitch. If she knew what I was really like she’d run a mile. I’m doing her a favor.
I walk back to Elliot’s apartment and climb into his car in the underground garage. I take a couple of deep breaths and pull out my cell.
I need to speak to Elena and she still hasn’t texted me back.
She answers on the second ring.
“Christian! Why the fuck are you calling me?”
“I need to see you. Now.”
“You heard, Elena. Are you at the house?”
“You’re in Seattle?”
“I’ll be there in 10 minutes.”
“What the fuck’s going on?”
I don’t bother to reply but hang up, smiling to myself. She’ll be really pissed now. Bring it on!