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THE CRASH WITHOUT THE BURN
My father is going to kill me.
Actually, on second thought, he probably doesn't have time to kill me. But he is going to send someone to do it for him. He's really good at that. Sending people. He's done it for every major event in my life. First day of school, first date, sweet sixteen party, birthdays, dance recitals, even my high school graduation last week. All of them faithfully attended and video documented by one of my father's minions. He's got loads of them. So many I can hardly remember any of their names anymore. But without fail, anytime something significant happens, one of them always manages to show up in my father's place to perform the requisite parental duty. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he sent someone to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day. Although I'm sure his publicity team would never allow him to miss out on such a great opportunity for positive media exposure.
This, on the other hand, falls into that other category of media exposure. The kind that makes my father, his company, and everyone associated with our family look bad. The kind that is quickly hushed up and excused by cleverly concocted scapegoats and promises of rehab. Not that I'll ever go. Not that I've ever gone. But it's the thought that makes people feel better—or more important—that makes the tabloids shift their focus. Because once you're shipped off to rehab the story is over. In the media's eyes, you're as good as cured.
Well, until you screw up again.
Until you do something like this.
I'm convinced my father has spies working all over the world. They've infiltrated national and foreign governments, they've weaseled their way into law enforcement offices, they've set up shop in the streets. They're like elves. Santa's helpers. Magically stealing through the night, doing his bidding, protecting the company name. The family name. Because really, there's no other explanation for how fast things happen. How quickly they're able to get to the site of the "disturbance." Like tonight, for instance. My father has "people" on the scene even before all the emergency vehicles have arrived. Dressed smartly in their dark suits and designer shoes, even though it's three o'clock in the morning. As if they simply go to bed that way.
Magic elves, I tell you.
Although following that analogy would mean my father would have to be Santa Claus. And trust me, besides the part about being elusive, never seen, and only staying in your living room for a total of two minutes before disappearing into the night, he's definitely no Santa Claus.
The first thing they do when they arrive is tell me not to speak. Then I'm ushered away from the limelight and flashes of paparazzi bulbs and hastily stowed inside a black limousine with windows tinted so darkly I can barely see out. There's a woman seated across from me. She speaks with a diluted French accent, expertly fielding a flutter of phone calls and e-mails with a cell phone in each hand. She pauses her current conversation long enough to assure me that everything is being taken care of.
But I don't need to be assured. Everything is always taken care of. When my father's name is involved, charges are mysteriously dropped, lawsuits are inexplicably settled out of court, and angry business owners threatening revenge are suddenly sending Christmas cards with photos of their family on a two-week cruise in the Greek Isles.
I'm never quite sure how it's done but you can be sure money changes hands. Lots and lots of money. Probably in the form of large, unmarked bills. Contracts are most likely signed, threats are almost certainly made, and secrets are most definitely leveraged.
It's the mafia without the strip clubs and the cheap New York accents. And instead of guns and cement shoes, all the members have BlackBerrys and Harvard MBAs.
It's no wonder that my father has entire law offices working exclusively for him.
Through the tinted glass I can just make out the arrival of two more news vans. The woman sitting across from me notices them too and hurriedly presses a single button on one of her phones before bringing it to her ear.
"Are we clear?" There's a moment of silence as she waits for a response. "Tell them she has no comment." And then into the other phone, "Good, we're leaving."
With a chilling sharpness, she clicks off both phones, taps on the glass behind her with the back side of her knuckles, and, like a fluid, well-oiled machine that has performed the same routine thousands of times, for hundreds of years, the message is communicated and the car is off.
The woman is already on another call before we've even pulled away from the curb. "What's the situation at the Nest?"
I can make out a hint of a grimace on her tightly pulled face, and without saying another word, she turns on the flat screen and flips to CNN. My vision is cloudy and my memory is still a bit fuzzy from the accident but I eventually recognize the street corner that the breaking news reporter is standing on. It's the same one we just left. And the demolished convenience store behind her still has my car parked smack-dab in the center aisle, next to the aspirin.
Should have grabbed one of those before I left, I think to myself. My head feels like it's being pounded by a jackhammer.
I collapse back against the seat with my hand covering my eyes.
"Change of plans," I hear the French woman tell the driver after lowering the glass half an inch. "We're going to the Landing Pad."
The driver nods and I feel the long black car yank into an abrupt U-turn that almost makes me lose the contents of my stomach. Not that there's much in there to lose. Except vodka. Lots and lots of vodka. With maybe a few drops of water from the ice.
"No!" I protest, struggling to sit upright. "Why are we going there? None of my stuff is there. I want to go home!"
But then I catch sight of the TV again and the answer is suddenly very clear to me. The breaking news story has moved locations and now a second reporter is standing outside of my house along with every other news outlet on earth.
"Don't worry," the woman says to me, getting back on the phone again. "We have people on their way to your house to pick up some of your belongings."
"Fine." I surrender with an exaggerated sigh, falling over onto my side and curling into a ball on the bench seat. "But make sure they get Holly. She can't sleep by herself."
The woman nods and switches to the second phone. "Bring the dog."
Although the volume is turned down low, I can still hear the reporter's pretentious voice emanating from the TV, spelling out my tragic life story as if she were reciting her fifth-grade book report.
"For those of you just tuning in, we're live in Bel Air, California, at the famed estate of Larrabee Media CEO, Richard Larrabee, only minutes after his seventeen-year-old daughter, Lexington Larrabee, crashed her Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren convertible, valued at over $500,000, into a convenience store on Sunset Boulevard. The well-known socialite was returning from an exclusive Hollywood nightclub where several eyewitnesses claim they saw her drinking heavily with friends before getting behind the wheel. Although spokespeople for the Larrabee family have denied early allegations that Lexington was under the influence of alcohol, the police are still investigating the matter closely. This devastation to the Larrabee family comes only a few days after reports started circulating that Lexington's rocky two-year relationship with wealthy European heir Mendi Milos was once again on the verge of a split.
"The famous on-again-off-again couple broke up at the end of last year after which Lexington spent two weeks at a mental health facility in Palm Springs where she was admitted for ‘depression and anxiety.' The decision to send his daughter for help was made by Richard Larrabee himself after Lexington was found passed out in a Beverly Hills gas station bathroom and was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center where she was treated for minor alcohol poisoning. Richard Larrabee expressed his genuine concern for his only daughter—"
"Oh, God, shut it off!" I growl, groaning and pulling my hair over my face.
Silence fills the limo in a matter of seconds and I close my eyes.
Freaking Mendi. This is all his fault. If he had just gone back to Europe like he promised, none of this would have happened. We could have continued with our plan to take a short break away from each other, reunited in Europe in a couple of weeks, and everything would have been fine. But nooo. He had to show up at the club and start dancing with some floozy wannabe tramp right in front of me. Now it's definitely over. After the things we said to each other tonight, there's no way we can get back together.
God, my head hurts.
I can make out flashes of light on the backs of my eyelids and I pry them open to see that the TV is still on but the volume has been muted. CNN is back at the intersection as a tow truck pulls my car from the wreckage. It looks like crap. The whole front end is smashed in and there's nothing but a few shards of glass where the windshield used to be.
Damn. I really liked that car.
I just got it too. And it was custom made at the plant in Germany. Now I'll have to wait for them to make a brand-new one to replace it. And who knows how long that will take.
The whole thing is really starting to bum me out and I don't want to watch it anymore. "I said. Shut. It. Off," I repeat. "I don't need to see it. I freaking lived it, all right?"
The woman is already on another call. This one, apparently, in French. "Oui, oui, je comprends," she says, pointing the remote at the television and zapping the screen to black. Her eyes dart toward me for a second and then she mumbles into the phone, "Je te le dis, elle est un enfant gâtée."
I can feel my face grow hot with rage. Did she really call me a spoiled brat?
"Excuse me," I demand.
"Un moment," she says to the caller, then takes a deep breath, pulls the phone away from her mouth, and plasters on an artificial smile. "Yes?"
"What exactly do you do for my father?"
She is clearly annoyed by my interruption but fights to hide it. "I am his new head publicist."
"Well," I begin, before smoothly transitioning into flawless French to say, "Maybe if you had done all your research, you would have known that this ‘spoiled brat' spent half of her childhood in France."
Then I shut my eyes to her stunned expression, pull my hair back over my face, and grumble, "Just wake me up when we get there, okay?"
Copyright © 2012 by Jessica Brody