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Authors: Sabrina Lacey

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BOOK: Stand Close 1
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Chapter Seven
Rue

I
stare
at the precious letters in my hands. I’ve already figured out that
she
never accepted his money. I’m guessing since he left me this inheritance, he wanted to support her at one time, too, and she must have turned him down. Now I understand why she went to work looking so plain, when in reality, she was beautiful. At least to me she was. But when she’d go to work as a nanny, she always tied her hair in an unattractive way with too many barrettes, and wore loose fitting clothes whose colors washed her out. I used to say,
Why don’t you put on some lipstick or something, Mom?
And she’d always reply,
I feel better this way, Rue. Trust me. I look fine.
She must have done that so she never attracted an unfaithful husband again. But I’ve always wondered if hiding herself the way she did, didn’t give her the cancer. But now I have to wonder, maybe it was sadness at loving Maxwell Stone that took her away from me when she was so young. I’ll never know…

“I want to go home and read these letters. That’s all I want to do,” I say, under my breath. Looking up into Mr. Henderson gravely curious eyes, I tell him, “It’s obvious my mother never took his money. Why should I?”

He purses his lips and considers this. “That’s a good question. One I didn’t expect to ever hear in my lifetime, but a good question, nonetheless. The thing is, Ms. Calliwell, you’re right about your mother turning it down. Max told me he’d tried very hard to give it to her. She threatened to never speak to him again if he did, and that’s what staid his hand.”

I blink at this. “You mean they spoke after I was born?” A lump of pain is in my throat, so sharp it has edges. My stomach turns over and I moan, “Did they continue the affair? Please tell me.”

The old man tilts his head with compassionate patience. “She sometimes took his calls, but they never saw each other in person again. He would search her out, and watch her from afar, but he was sure she never knew. If she did, is unclear.”

“He stalked her?” I’m picturing handsome Maxwell Stone in his car watching my mom go into the bank, the post office, or taking me to the park. I can’t get my mind around it! It’s just too bizarre and awful. “He must have loved her.”

Mr. Henderson pauses before he nods. “I’m glad the boys are gone. Can I trust you to keep what I say next, between us?”

“Of course!”

He regards me for a couple seconds, and then says on a long sigh, “I’ve known this family my whole life. My father used to be their grandfather’s lawyer. I took over and… oh, well, you don’t care about an old man’s ravings. What you care about is the truth. I can see that. So if you’ll allow me, I’ll tell you on the one condition you don’t tell Jack or Sean. Do I have your word?”

I nod, clutching the letters tightly. “Yes. Yes! I promise.”

He licks his lips, the raisin-like skin shifting around them as he considers how to say what he’s about to. He glances to his desk and moves two pens into a container, one at a time. “I’m telling you this because I don’t want you to ever think your mother was any of the things the press will surely call her. Maxwell pursued
her
. He told me about it all when I tried to convince him that his will would cause a lot of pain, and not just for you. The whole family. But he looked into my eyes–and mind you, Max Stone was not a gentle soul. He was shrewd. Romantic is something I never would have called him. But he looked into my eyes and said,
I’ve only ever loved one woman. And she had my child. I’m not allowed to see that child, nor the woman who has my heart, Tom. Do you understand I must do something for the girl?”
Mr. Henderson stares at me as I take this in, a tear falling down my cheek again. “I asked him why didn’t he divorce his wife if he loved Olivia so much. He shook his head and said that he hadn’t been brave enough. He knew the press would tear them all apart. He said–and it broke my aging heart to hear it–
I was a coward. And I’ve paid for that mistake with my soul.”

I wipe my cheek, looking again at the letters. What kind of answers do these thin, worn envelopes conceal? “He wanted to see me?”

“He did.”

I nod, gulping down the ache. “And the brothers. Why don’t you want to tell them the truth?”

“They think their father loved their mother.”

“Oh. Of course.” I stare off into the city behind him. “Well, thank you for telling me. It doesn’t change the fact that I can’t take the money. But...”

He makes a noise. “Ms. Calliwell, I have bad news. Although most people wouldn’t understand why I’m calling it that, but still,” he mumbles.

“More bad news?”

“I’m afraid you can’t turn down the money. Max expected you would turn it down, to be like her. He said dignity was your mother’s greatest asset. So, in preparation, he stipulated that if you turned the money down, it would go to the K.K.K.”

My mouth drops open. “What??!!”

Mr. Henderson smiles, his hands clasping on his stomach again. “Yes. The K.K.K. will benefit from your refusal. And I assure you, it’s very legal. So, if you’re a fan of their organization, by all means, let them have fifty million to fund their future endeavors.”

Horrified, I lean back in the huge chair. “Are you serious?”

“Very serious.”

“What am I going to do with fifty million dollars?”

He leans over and retrieves one of the pens. “You’ll find something. And between you and me, I can’t wait to find out what.” On a glance, he hands me the papers to sign, and says, “Maybe you’ll pay to have Jack taught some manners.” He reaches over to his phone and hits a button. “Can you please send Sean in? Just Sean.”

“Certainly,” comes the scratchy speaker voice.

The door opens and Sean returns, a quizzical look in his eyes. “How’re things going?”

Mr. Henderson motions to me. “Ms. Calliwell is going to need help acclimating to her new world. Can I rely upon you to help her? She’ll need someone she can trust.”

With the pen like a key to a magical door in my hand, I’m frozen and watching the famous Sean Stone slows his approach as he realizes what this means. “I can manage that.” He’s so much more handsome than in a photograph, and when he smiles at me, I’m flabbergasted to know that I’m actually related to these people. “So, you came around?”

Insecurity is dripping all over me and I answer in rapid fire, “I didn’t cave! Your dad was going to give the money to the K.K.K. if I didn’t.”

Sean’s head goes back like he just got punched. Then he says on a laugh, “Oh my God. Dad!” He rolls his eyes up to the ceiling like his dad is in the room with us, listening. “You always were a shrewd old bastard.” I look up, too, glancing around to see if I can see his ghost. I might be losing my mind a little. It’s a definite possibility.

“This is a lot of paperwork. I guess I should read it, but after what you just told me, I’m going to trust you.” Page after page, I sign myself into a whole new chapter of life. As I’m signing the final highlighted ‘X,’ I mutter under my breath, “If a flock of unicorns burst in through those bookshelves, I wouldn’t be surprised.”

“What?” Sean asks from behind me.

“Nothing.” I hand Mr. Henderson his pen back, and turn to my half-brother who up until today was an abstract idea rather than an actual human being. A strange figment of fantasy talked about with co-workers, friends, and even complete strangers. To be famous purely for being rich and gorgeous–how weird is that? But here he is, in the flesh, looking at me with a kindness not shown by his brother… who I guess is my brother, too. Brain scrambling. “So now what?”

Sean glances to the door, then back to me. Quietly he asks, “Have you thought of going red?”

“Red? Like red hair?” Sean shrugs like he’s about to recant it, so I quickly assure him, afraid to lose an ally, “No, I like it. Could work. I don’t know why we’re talking about my hair color, but right now nothing can surprise me. What do you think of red, Mr. Henderson?”

The old man smiles serenely and surprises us both. “Why not blue?”

The first smile I’ve felt all day spreads on my lips. “I like you.”

His wrinkles crinkle extra deep around his eyes. “I like you too, Ms. Calliwell.”

Chapter Eight
Jack

L
ooking for conversation
, any reason to say something, Mary asks, “Why did he go in without you?” She’s doing that thing where people act like they’re on my side so we have something to talk about. I’d respect her more if she just said,
how are you? How have you been? What’s going on in your life?
Show some real interest, not an act as transparent as a spotless window.

“I told him to,” I mumble, eyeballing the oak door and pacing. Mary gets the message and looks back to her computer after an awkward moment.

Rue Calliwell.

I’m not buying this chick. With all the people giving our pockets a dig, you’d think we were a destination point on an archaeological map. I’ve seen it all. If Sean believes what he just said to me, that she’s a good person, he’s a bigger fool than I thought. Well, I’m going to protect us if he won’t.
And
mom. This is a new feeling, wanting to protect her. It reminds me of the first time I overheard someone slamming America when I was in Europe–all of a sudden I was the most patriotic motherfucker on the planet. This is a blow I can’t blame her popping pills for. Dad really fucked up with this one. Didn’t he think of us when he put this scheme together? I want to ask Tom about it, now that it’s occurred to me. Everything happened too fast, I haven’t asked all the questions that need asking. He’s not just our lawyer; he’s like part of the family. He’ll have to tell me everything.

With Sean holding the door for our newest family member, like she’s a delicate flower, they appear. Her eyelashes slide up from the floor and as I take in the sight of her, a knife pushes deeper into my gut. She has our nose. Fuck. “Well?”

Sean answers, “It’s done. Dad included a no backing-out clause. If she didn’t accept, the money would go to the K.K.K.”

I stare at him, pissed. “You’re fucking kidding me.”

He smirks. “Yeah, he did that.”

“Shit.” We all walk to the elevator and I’m too irritated to say anything. As we wait for the elevator to come, I cut my eyes to her nervously standing beside me. She looks tired, but I know it’s an act. She’s probably jumping for joy in there, and can’t wait to get home so she can keep hitting ‘refresh’ until the millions appear in her online bank account. Call all her friends and have a party. Go shopping on Rodeo Drive, the cheesiest place on Earth. The works.

The doors slide quietly open and we step on, as Sean asks, “Would you like to meet us for dinner later?”

“I don’t know…” she hesitates.

I push the button, wheels churning in me. She’s smiling up at him, her knight on a fucking white horse. “I’ve got plans,” I mumble.

Her eyes flicker to me. “Oh really?” She turns to my brother. “I’d love to. Thank you.”

“I’ll cancel them.”

They both look at me. Sean’s eyebrows go up. Rue glances to the numbers lighting up above us. “Great,” he says. “We’ll go to Boa.” Rue shakes her head, her mouth opening just slightly, to speak, but then she stops herself and closes her eyes for a heartbeat. Sean glances my way, wondering if he said something wrong. “That okay? The food’s great.”

The doors slide open and I walk off first, cutting my eyes to him. “She was going to say it’s too expensive, but then she remembered she could buy that place if she wanted to.”

“I did not think that!” Rue objects, following me with Sean pulling up the rear. “I
was
going to say I wouldn’t be able to afford it, but I
never
thought something as pretentious as I could buy the place!”

“Alright, down Turbo,” I laugh, throwing her the smile I always use for the press. Years of practice have it down pat and for a second, she falls for it, but then her eyes steel against me as she realizes I’m trying to charm her into submission. She lets out an exasperated sound and takes off for her car.

Sean and I stand side by side, watching her, and Sean calls after her, “We’ll see you at 10:00 p.m.!”

She spins around in surprise and walks backward, her light brown hair lit up by the midday sun. “That late? Oh, right. In your world, there is no sense of normal-people time.” She shakes her head and flips back around very gracefully to continue storming off.

“Well, it’s obvious she really is a dancer. Did you see that pirouette,” I mutter out of the corner of my mouth.

Sean exhales dramatically. “You’re not going to make this an easy transition, are you?”

Sucking in air between my teeth, I sigh fake-dramatically. “Nah.”

“You’re going to feel like an asshole at some point. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” He starts for the car.

Watching her get into her beater and putt-putt off to her shack, I tell him, “I’m going to show you who she really is. Don’t say I didn’t warn
you
.”

Chapter Nine
Rue

J
enna’s across
from me on my dusty, blue Ikea couch. It’s got more than one party-stain on it. For the first time these flaws are standing out to me, and I’m covering one of the stains with my foot. Jenna’s knees are drawn up, her fuzzy-socked feet wiggling as she grips a glass of cranberry juice I’ve watered down to make less bitter. The good stuff is hard-core.

“Go on!”

I take a deep breath and continue, “
My dearest Max, the way you brushed past me in the hallway wasn’t fair. We have to stop. You promised. It’s too hard to be this close to you and not be able to touch you.”

Jenna moans a long sigh. She pulls at her long brown hair with both hands, closing her eyes. “It’s so sad!”

“It’s tragic is what it is.” My fingers trace my mother’s cursive handwriting as though I can touch her through the paper. “He must have been something else. The mother I know would never have fallen for a married man. Look at this one.
Olivia, my heart. Why do you keep sending back my letters? Jonas said you wouldn’t even open the last one. I am looking for a way to leave her but it’s complicated with the boys and our financial entanglements. I need a little more time. Let me see you. Even as I write this, I know you won’t read it and the pain is so great I want to die.

Jenna slaps her hand over her heart and almost bursts. “He has his letters because she wouldn’t keep them!”

“Or even read them. I guess so. The ones from him are all after she’s quit the job, looks like. And this Jonas person hand-delivered them so that she couldn’t send them back in the mail and chance him getting found out. My poor mom. I bet she never told anyone. To have to carry that secret to your grave.” I hold them tight on my lap, shaking my head as I reach for my lemon-water.

“And to not tell you!”

“I know! She thought she was protecting me… from what, I don’t know.”

“What if Jonas flew them to her by helicopter?” Jenna acts out propeller sounds, ducking down to avoid being decapitated. “Ms. Calliwell, Max Stone has a letter for you. Excuse the mess the wind kicked up in your yard.”

I’m smiling at her portrayal, but roll my eyes at that last part. “As if we ever had a yard.”

Jenna makes a face, because she understands. We were both in the same boat growing up. I’ve known her since Junior High. We lived in side-by-side apartment complexes, so we’d walk to school together even through high school. And we both wanted to be dancers, Hip Hop and Contemporary. As other school friendships slid behind us to rest in the cemetery of our personal history, Jenna and I grew closer. I know that when I’m in an old folk’s home, she’ll be there with me be-bopping, trying to make our wheelchairs do wheelies.

“Read another one!” She kicks my legs. “And I fucking love your hair.”

“Thanks! Me too.” I rake my hands through it and hold up the length so I can see the bright red; the kind of red that doesn’t happen naturally; where it’s almost pink but not quite.

Sean’s assistant came and got me right after I walked in the door returning from Mr. Henderson’s office. I’d barely had a chance to read any of the letters before I was whisked off to Juan Juan, a salon in Beverly Hills. It was a classic movie-moment where everyone was fabulous and I was awed into silence as they took over and transformed my personal style.

I have to admit though... there was a moment when they were slapping the chemicals onto my head, that I felt angry at the change. Why was my natural hair color not enough? I can’t help but think Sean did this for me because he doesn’t think I’m good enough as I was to be seen with them. It hurt a little.

Brushing away that thought yet again, I take a deep breath, finding the strength to read my father’s letter to my best friend. “Okay, get this.
When I go to sleep every night, there is a hole in my heart that aches for you. Ever since you left, I haven’t been able to breathe. You must let me see you. I can come tomorrow night. If you are reading this, it means you still love me. I love you beyond words, Olivia. Beyond any form of speech. I know the child is mine. I had you followed and you can’t convince me it belongs to anyone else. I know you too well.
And then her reply. I haven’t read this one yet. I saw the date and folded it back up, overwhelmed. I needed to wait for you to get here.” Jenna nods, excited and nervous with me. “Thank you for being here with me. I’m glad I don’t have to face it alone.”

“Of course!” She puts down her juice and leans over to give me a hug. “Your mom was a mom to me, too.”

Pain tugging at my chest, I nod and watch her pick up her juice again, using it as an anchor as she tucks her feet underneath her and motions that she’s ready. I take a deep breath and start reading. “
My dearest Max. I read your letter and sent it back, as you can see. The child is yours, but if you ever–and I mean this, Max, you know I do–contact her or me again, I will come out publicly and tell the world you slept with the help. I will make it vile and embarrassing for you.”
Looking up at Jenna, we’re both shocked. Quickly, I continue,
“I tell you this because I know you will not chance such shame for your sweet boys. Just as I will not chance shame for our daughter. She will never know you. I will not have her be ‘the bastard baby of the billionaire.’ If you ever loved me, truly loved me, you will grant me this. If you do not, I will not be surprised, because I have doubted your love ever since you didn’t keep your word. Time will tell what kind of man you will be, Max. The decision is up to you.

I come up for air and Jenna is listening, rapt. She whistles long and low. “Whoa. You mother was such a badass.”

I fold up the letter, choked up and stricken by the discovery. “That’s why she never told me,” I whisper. “Oh, Mom. Well, I found out.”

“How do you feel?”

“I have no idea how I feel. It keeps changing! I found a father and lost a father today. And one of my brothers hates me.”

“You don’t think he’ll come around?”

I tuck my toes under me and look at the stain. “You didn’t see his face. He sees me as beneath him. A piece of garbage created from a lie. I don’t blame him, but I wish he’d give me a chance to show him who I am.”

“I’ve seen all his facial expressions a million times, I’ve got them all memorized. I can only imagine which one he gave you.” She’s got all the attitude of a protective best friend and it makes me smile.

“Yeah, but in person, it’s much more intense. These Stone brothers, they aren’t what I thought they’d be.”

“Well, what you
thought
about them, you can’t think now, because you’re
related
, you sicko.”

I laugh and kick her with my feet. She squeals, cracking up. “Am I wrong?!! But I can still think it! They’re fair game for me! Wait. Do you hear that? What
is
that?”

I turn around and look to the window. I heard it, too. It sounds like a mob of people are outside. Jenna and I rise slowly off the couch, exchanging curious glances as we walk to the door. “I wish I had a peep hole.”

“I’ll look through the window!” She runs over and I watch her face as I begin to unlock the door. I open it before she has the chance to shout, “Oh no! Rue! Look out!”

A flash explodes in my face and then another one. And another. And twenty more! I cover my face in surprise and peek out to see a fuckload of reporters screaming my name. “Ms. Calliwell!” “Ms. Calliwell! What’s it like to be a millionaire overnight!” “Ms. Calliwell, did you know your father was Maxwell Stone?” “Ms. Calliwell! Ms. Calliwell!” “Ms. Calliwell, what’re you going to do with your millions!” “Ms. Calliwell! Who was that in the window? Is that your female lover?!” “Ms. Calliwell, are you gay?!”

Speechless, I stare at the flashing cameras, at the desperate or aggressive faces behind them. Jenna swings the door wide open with a purposefully grand entrance, coming to my rescue, “Excuse me! Everyone!” They all go quiet, hoping for a profession of our lesbian love. “Ms. Calliwell will take appointments for interviews if and only if you are from a reputable news source. Please form a line if you are with ABC, CNN, NBC, CBS, and of course, The Daily Show. Oh and if anyone’s here from Oprah’s network, come to the front.” A slow grin spreads on my face. Jenna announces, “And for the record, we are
not
lovers. These are for men’s lips only!” She grabs her boobs.

“Jenna!!” I shut the door. Cameras blasted the second she did that, catching it all. Jenna and I put our backs to the door and look at each other. We bust up laughing, but my smile fades quickly. How did they know where I live? Who told them that? And worse, what do they really want? To paint a good picture of me, or to smear my name? Jenna’s smile is gone now, too. She and I are staring at each other, listening to the people quieting outside into normal conversation voices.

“How am I going to do this, Jenna-bean?”

She bites the inside of her cheek, thinking about it. Lost for an answer, she shrugs one of her shoulders up high. “I don’t know Ruefus baby, but you’re going to have to find a way. And maybe move so they can’t find you again. At night. With stealth-ninjas carting your boxes through the shadows into a truck that no one can see. My best advice.”

“I like my home,” I whisper. “I know it’s small… but this was my first place all my own. You were there when I bought most of this stuff. It is a bit ratty...”

“You can buy all new stuff now. Think of that!” She nudges me with her arm and smiles reassuringly. “You’re a modest chick, Rue, but maybe that’s why this is happening to you. To get you to widen the net a bit.”

I roll my eyes. “Don’t get all new age-y on me. This is happening because my mother fell for the oldest trick in the book.” We both say, at the same time: “A married man who said he’d leave his wife.” I sigh. “I have to get ready for dinner. You wanna help me?”

She lays her head on my shoulder. “Like I have something better to do.”

I rest my cheek on the top of her head. “I hope this doesn’t change me too much.”

“It’s already changed your hair,” she mutters.

I snort. “Right?!”

“Right.” Pushing off from the door, she spins around and lifts one leg elegantly high in the air, then lands with both arms up like there are Olympic judges watching. “You’re too level-headed to ever really change, Ruefus. I promise!”

BOOK: Stand Close 1
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