My thoughts upon becoming ful y conscious: first, shit, I’m in the hospital again, and second, how bad is the damage to my one-week-old Porsche?
“I see you’re awake.” That would be Dad, stating the obvious—a skil at which he excels.
“Oh, honey, I’m so glad you’re okay.” A warm hand grasps mine, and I turn towards Mom’s voice out of a natural inclination to ignore my father. Especial y to his face.
My satisfaction lurches to a stop when I see Mom’s eyes, swol en and red-rimmed, and her mouth, clamped tight in a failed attempt to restrict the trembling of her lower lip. Unfortunately, this isn’t an absurd maternal response. If memory serves, I had a little too much to drink and then crashed my car into a house. Not one of my more reassuring exploits.
In a futile effort to divert attention from the bodily-harm part of my vehicular mishap, I ask, “Um, how’s the car?”
“How’s the car? How’s the car?” Dad’s eyebrows almost meet his receding hairline. “That’s what you choose to inquire about first, after this debacle? Do you have any notion of the destruction of property you’ve caused, not to mention what you may have done to your career?” Would it have been that hard to just tel me the damned thing was totaled?
“Mark,” Mom’s lower lip quivers, “he’s alive. Everything else can be fixed.”
I wonder if she means fixed, like the emergency appendectomy that landed me in the hospital last fal right in the middle of filming my last blockbuster, or fixed, like when I got busted a year ago at a party where everyone was smoking weed, but I got off for lack of evidence.
“Can it?” Dad shoots back, grabbing his jacket from the chair and heading for the door. “God dammit, Reid, I’m not sure if anything about you can be repaired. You’ve had a low regard for the needs of everyone else for some time—
and now you’ve extended that carelessness to your own life. I can’t imagine what you were thinking.” I don’t answer. I figure he doesn’t want to hear that not thinking was sort of the point.
*** *** ***
I try to keep my voice encouraging, even though I’m yel ing at the top of my lungs. “Okay, guys, let’s take it from the top!”
That thing they say about herding cats? Try herding eighteen five-year-olds into practicing a vocal finale for Vacation Bible School Parent Night when they’re intent on the swimming pool time they’ve been promised for good behavior.
“Miss Dori?” I feel a tug on the side of my denim capris.
It’s Rosalinda, from whom I hear Miss Doooooriiiii? at least a dozen times a day.
“Yes, Rosa?” I say, and before the words leave my mouth, seventeen five-year-olds are springing out of their seats and shouldering each other aside at the window to stare longingly at the pool shimmering just outside under a bril iant, haze-free June sky.
“I need to go.” Again? This kid has a bladder the size of a quarter.
“Can you hold it another minute, sweetie? We’re almost done—” A squeal sounds from across the room. Jonathan has scissors in one hand and Keisha’s braid in the other.
“Jonathan, drop it.” I bite my lip at the startled look on his face. Must not laugh. It’s not funny. Not funny.
He blinks, eyes shifting from scissors to braid. “Which one?”
I narrow my eyes. “Let’s start with Keisha’s hair.” He releases the braid and she runs to her friends, who gather around her while glaring at him. I’ve never had a group of girlfriends like that—a protective clique, a guardian posse.
“Miss Dori,” Rosa whines, tugging harder. I take her hand to keep her from pul ing my pants down. I’d never restore order if that were to happen.
“Just a minute, Rosa.” I squeeze her hand gently.
“Jonathan,” I say more sternly. “Bring me those scissors.” Eyes on his untied sneakers, he shuffles over as slowly as is humanly possible. “Where’d you get them?” He holds the scissors out with both hands as though presenting a gift to royalty. Not fal ing for his fake contrition, I arch an eyebrow.
He chances a peek at my face. “Mrs. K’s desk,” he mumbles, scowling at his feet again.
Our church secretary, Filomena Kowalczyk, speaks with a heavy Polish accent despite having immigrated to the US
about a hundred years ago. She keeps a huge jar of candy on her desk and wears creaky orthopedic shoes which have the same effect as a bel on a cat’s col ar. The kids hear her coming down the hal five minutes before she arrives. Judging by the smear of chocolate on Jonathan’s mouth, I’d say he sampled a Hershey Kiss or two before making off with her scissors.
“Do we take Mrs. K’s things without permission?” I fix a disappointed look on him.
He shakes his head.
“Is taking things that don’t belong to you what Pastor Doug means by good behavior?”
His wide, dark eyes snap up to mine. Bingo, kid. Pool time is in jeopardy.
“But Miss Dori!” he says. “I didn’t cut it!”
“We aren’t talking about Keisha’s braid yet. We’re discussing you taking Mrs. K’s scissors—”
“I’l put them back!” Tears fil his eyes. “I’m s-s-sorry!”
“You’re sorry because you got caught,” I say, and he bursts into tears. Oh, dear Lord.
“Miss Dori!” Rosa wails, cupping herself, one leg raised and pressing against the other.
I sigh in defeat, giving up on the program rehearsal for today. “Al right, everyone line up for the bathroom!”
“Me first! Me first! ” Rosa says, keeping her death grip on my hand. As I walk to the head of the line, she hops lightly behind me on one foot.
“Jonathan, come stand by me.” Rubbing tears away with his fist, he takes my other hand, and I leave the classroom with eighteen ducklings trailing behind.
In a few weeks, I’l be on a mission trip to Ecuador. As exotic as that sounds, I’l be doing much the same thing I’m doing now—I’l just be doing it in Spanish.
I loosen the tie the second I turn to head out of the courtroom. The next thing to go wil be this crap in my hair that makes me look like one of my father’s fuckwit subordinates.
“Put that back on,” Dad barks, his shoulders rigid. He’s judged me guilty as charged even though the prosecution accepted our plea bargain—sort of.
I contemplate ignoring him for half a second, until my manager’s less dictatorial voice urges discretion. “Reid, there wil be press. School Pride is out in theaters. This is no time to look like a rebel. We’ve already lost a couple of endorsements—your image is suffering enough without you giving the impression that you’re ungrateful to have gotten off easy for something that would land 99.9% of regular people in jail.”
“You cal that easy?” I never snap at George, but I can’t agree with his assessment. The judge’s mandates for my plea bargain are beyond ridiculous.
“Yes—as would anyone with half a brain,” Dad butts in.
Subtlety has never been in my father’s nature. “Put the goddamned tie back on, Reid.”
My jaw works overtime as I refasten the top buttons of the white Armani dress shirt and loop the perfect half-Windsor knot back into the understated Hermes tie. By the time I’m thirty, I’l have worn my teeth down to nubs.
Friends ask why I don’t just ditch my dad. I’m nineteen, an adult in every legal sense of the word (except the ability to drink legal y, which is annoying as shit). I’m a legitimate Hol ywood star, with a manager, an agent, a PR guy, or woman, as the case may be—Dad may have fired Larry when he didn’t move fast enough to save those endorsements last week.
That’s the thing. My father takes care of everything. He’s the CEO of my life, and I’m the product. He manages my career, my money, my legal issues… I don’t have to do jack shit but show up for auditions, movie tapings, premieres and occasional commercial endorsements. I can’t stand him any more than he can stand me, but I know he won’t screw me over.
My manager was right. The media is camped out on the courthouse steps, ready to take my statement. I had nothing to do with writing it. George handed it to me last night when Dad and my attorney—whose name I can’t recal because I couldn’t care less which junior kiss-ass partner wannabe Dad selected from his firm to represent me—were reviewing the bargaining strategy for this morning. Time for my Oscar-worthy performance of contrition.
Dad fades behind me as planned while I’m flanked by George and junior kiss-ass. I fix an appropriately repentant expression on my face. “I just want to apologize to my fans.
I’m so sorry to have let al of you down. I assure you that this incident was a momentary lapse in judgment, and it won’t be repeated.”
Someone shoves a mike in my face. “Wil you go into rehab?”
Cue the look of shame layered over remorse. “The judge didn’t believe that would be necessary at this time. But I intend to fol ow the terms of the court’s orders to the letter, and this occurrence wil not be repeated.” A guy from one of the local Hispanic stations looks like his bul shit detector is set on high. “What about the home you destroyed, and the family you displaced?” Come on, asshat. It was one room of a house, and no one was in it, so no one was hurt. “The home owners are being compensated,” I say. “The details are private, but the reparation has been agreed upon by al parties.”
“Your father’s paying them off, you mean.” The hel ? This guy is persistent. Maybe he’s related to them or something.
“No, sir.” I look him in the eye, al mano a mano. “I was responsible for the accident. I’m the one paying.”
“And you feel comfortable cal ing it an accident when you, an underage boy, chose to drink yourself to more than double the limit for a legal adult, and then drive a two-thousand pound vehicle through a residential area?”
“Wel , I—”
“The owner of the property is a real estate company.
What about the family living there, renting the home?
They’re hardworking people, but uninsured, and now they’ve lost belongings they can’t afford to replace, in addition to the fact that they’re currently homeless. What about them?”
You’ve got to be kidding me. I want to kick this guy’s ass so bad my fist is already knotted.
Junior kiss-ass decides this is the time to step in and earn that partnership. “Thank you, ladies and gentlemen—
as Mr. Alexander’s legal counsel, I assure you that he takes ful responsibility for his actions and intends to repair all of the damage done, and then some.”
Isn’t that what I just said?
And what the hel does he mean by and then some?
*** *** ***
While Dad says grace, my mind wanders. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, and I always keep my eyes shut, but sometimes I have so much to keep track of that my brain is making lists and checking off details any time it perceives a calm moment to do so.