O N E
Here's something nobody tells rich people: They die, too.
There's this sense, you know, this misconception that wealthy people are invincible. Like when Fortune 500 execs get cancer or something equally awful, they think they can coerce a massive, aggressive, bumpy tumor straight out of their body by throwing bundles of cash at it. As if you can swipe a black American Express card through your armpit, and-ch-ching!-you've just paid off the Grim Reaper, you've gloriously extended your life of leisure...and you've been given a bump in your Air Miles account to boot.
Yet strangely common thinking among the wealthy.
In lovely, Manhattan, New York-the most expensive and commercial place in America and my home up until, oh, three years ago-this notion that rich people are invincible is so prevalent, people go into a state of absolute shock when someone in fancy 14879 zip code gets sick. Or crashes their Bentley. Or accidentally inhales Beluga caviar (which happens way more often than you'd think). I see it every day.
Scratch that. I saw it every day.
I saw it before my dad decided to end his own life just because he could no longer lead the luxurious life he was born into, leaving my mother and I to move to Greenwich village. Go bankrupt and nothing is worth living anymore. In that case, I should have killed myself too.
I saw those delusional richies on a regular basis, back when I would sit at the top of the stairs with my ginger latte in one hand, phone in the other, with the rest of my friends and gave shit to others who can only dream of becoming my friend but never could as they passed through the halls of Mayfield High- one of the most prestigious high schools in all of Manhattan. Yes, I was that girl. That bitch of the school. Every girl wanted to be me and every guy wanted to be with me. I was one of those delusional richies. I used to think money was everything. I still kind of do.
I'm so angry. Angry at everything and everyone. Angry at this world. There is no scale invented to measure my level of anger.
My parents were those close minded people. Those if this was not in the guide book or taught to us at school, then this does not exist people. My mother was a small town girl from the wilds of Idaho. Her dream was to become a super model. As soon as she graduated from high school, she ran away from home with the money her parents had saved for her college tuition. She hitchhiked all the way to New York, the Big Apple, to make her dreams come true even though they disapproved of her career choice. That's a very ballsy move for a small town girl if you ask me.
To think, my mother was only my age when she met my father at one of those fashion shows. It was love at first sight, she said. Three years later, they got married and had me. Some love story. My father spent the rest of their married life cheating on her with anyone he could get his hands on. My mother, being the ignorant woman that she is, never knew about this and I didn't have the heart to tell her even after my father's death. My mother is naïve and old fashioned. I don't know what will come of it if I do tell her. According to her, Joseph Doyle was the love of her life and they had a blissful nineteen lovely years together.
Joseph Doyle- I don't know where to begin with him. My father was born rich. He was one of those people born suckling on a platinum spoon. He was a good father, if not a good husband or a good man. His idea of raising a daughter was to give her money to shut her up. Was it her birthday? Buy her that new phone she has been asking for. Did she fail in classes? Pay the school to pass her. Did she catch you in bed with your secretary? Give her money and send her on a summer vacation to Paris with her best friend without a chaperone. I was fourteen when that happened. Rich people are not nice. I know that.
I'm not going to tell you that I was a saint. No way. I was a selfish bitch. I thought I was entitled to have things just because all my friends had them, without actually giving any thought to the fact that I probably didn't deserve it. If I didn't get what I wanted I would scream at everyone and throw a tantrum. And I'm always swift with comebacks while talking back to my parents. I was a nightmare of a daughter.
Maybe it was Karma. Maybe my father killing himself after going bankrupt was meant to be a slap on my face. Maybe my father dying on my birthday was supposed to be a repercussion for all those other birthdays I spent without giving a rat's ass about anybody else.
I wish I can tell you that I'm different now. But I'm still that selfish person who is angry at everything. Only more bitter and cynical. A thousand times worse than before. I don't think I deserve what I went through. I'm sorry if you thought this is going to be some story about a damsel in distress who needs to be saved. That's just not how I see myself. I'm more like the evil witch ready to plunge in to get her revenge.
Everyone will pay. Everyone who pretended to pity us, but didn't step forward to give us a hand and instead enjoyed watching us drown in our own misery. After all, Joseph Doyle, even though he was one of their friends, was definitely a business rival. A threat.
I will get my revenge, my reprisal. And I will start with the Minskys.
I feel cheap in this expensive, twenty grand worth white bridal Vera Wang gown that Eric's mother picked out for me. I turn around once more, the Lacey frills swishing around my ankle, giving my back to the mirror. I raise a questioning eyebrow at one of the flower girls.
"You look beautiful," the one with two missing front tooth coos.
"Like a princess," says another.
Right. How old are they? Six? Seven? But surely girls that age must know more about bridal preparations than anyone my age will. I have attended only one wedding in all eighteen years of my life. I was seven when my father's cousin, Gwen got married. She was twenty seven and the man she was marrying was fifty. It was love, she said. They ended up getting a divorce seven months later, and Gwen got half his assets.
That's the only reason I have agreed to marry Eric in the first place. For his money. I need money and Eric needs a bride. It's a win-win situation. We both get what we want. Of course, getting married at eighteen is the last thing on both our priority lists but we both get out of this faux marriage in six months time- the least time period for a couple to stay married before applying for a divorce.
I didn't immediately agree to marry Eric after he proposed. It took a lot of coaxing and promises on his part. He needed to get married. His grandfather, Gerard Minsky, a very wise old man, left his entire will to Eric instead of his father, Jack who should have been the direct heir to the Minsky corporation. Gerard Minsky not only left his fortune to Eric but also made a statement that Eric cannot inherit a single penny until he is married. This wouldn't have been a problem if Minsky Corporation wasn't already running in a loss. They needed Eric's inheritance to fix the big dent in their company's finance slate. And Eric needed a bride to fix this.
This is where I come into the picture. I need money. I need money for college next year, money to take care of my mother's hospital bill that our health insurance failed to cover, money to get out of that shit-hole of an apartment. I saw a way to get out of being poor and I will be stupid if I wasn't going to take it.
Eric is good looking. He wouldn't have had a problem getting a bride but he says there isn't anyone who will understand the situation as much as I will. He says he doesn't want to stay married forever, only for the little time to dupe the council in charge of Eric's grandfather's will into thinking he has married a girl out of love, rather than marrying her for the business purpose. And Eric getting married at such a young age will make more sense if he married one of his childhood friends (or someone he knew as a kid in this case). And I'm the perfect fit. Or so he says.
I will not try to trick him into staying married with me for the rest of his life like the other girls he was planning on proposing, since I have never been on Team Eric to begin with. Eric is conceited. He probably thinks that the whole world revolves around him. That's also probably why he thinks every girl he sees is going to worship him. I'm pretty sure that's not the case. I mean he isn't even that good looking. Sure he is attractive, but not attractive enough to be this paranoid about girls trying to trap him in a committed relationship. And if there is anything that one must know about Eric, it is that he doesn't do relationships. Open page 6 on the New Yorker and you'll find out for yourself.
He is the guy who looks to have fun, doesn't take anything seriously.
So when Eric came to me with this marriage proposal along with the money to get my mother out of her critical condition by paying for her surgery and helping her settle in a better sanitised neighbourhood, and enough money to pay for my college tuition fees next year, I couldn't reject the offer. It was too good to let go. So what if I was selling myself? Just shut the fuck up and stop judging me. It's not like I'm taking my clothes off for money. I'm just going to pretend to be someone's wife and live with him in a penthouse only in one of the poshest neighbourhood in all of Manhattan. In my eyes that looks like a ticket out of the nightmare I have been living for the past three years. I saw a way out and I have taken it.
I can put up living with Eric and pretend to be in love with him for six months if I'm getting paid for it. Plus this is my opportunity to find my way into Yale. Yale has been my dream ever since I was a little girl and my father used to let me sleep in his Yale jerseys from his time in college. Jack Minsky said he will get me in Mayfield High School, that's about to reopen in a week from summer break. Doing my senior year in Mayfield High School gets me a step closer to getting into Yale. After walking around the halls of Mayfield High's corridors in my freshman year, getting back to the same school sounds like fun. Revenge is going to be sweet.
I have nothing to loose by agreeing to this marriage. That's precisely how I view this prospect.
Not for the first time since the ceremony started do I wish that Eric and I had eloped and exchanged rings instead of standing at the altar and exchanging sacred vows in the presence of a priest and hundreds of guests. This sounds a lot intimidating, a lot guilt inducing. Something about this makes me nervous. On the plus side my mother isn't here to watch this debauchery. She is still at the hospital.
Also, she is totally against this marriage. She doesn't like any of dad's friends or relatives. Not since none of them stepped in to help us when we needed someone. Neither does she like the idea of her only daughter getting married under such a circumstance. My mother is so old fashioned that she thinks that marriage should be based on love. I call it idiocy. Marriage is a scam in one way or another. My mother doesn't think so, and stood firmly against my marrying Eric. But I turned eighteen two weeks ago and completely have the liberty to make my own decisions as the citizen of US of A.
To think that it was only two nights ago when Eric proposed. The Minskys sure do work fast.
Hours later, I stand with my father's second cousin, John Doyle -doing the honor of giving my hand in marriage to Eric Minsky. How kind of him- outside the basilica, steeling myself for my bridal walk. The arching doors tower above me; the carved pillars sunburst at their centre winks balefully. Beyond the doors, the audience hall buzzes. I am surprised so many could attend on such a short notice.
Perhaps, though, it is the hurriedness of the whole affair that makes it irresistible. It speaks of secrets and desperation, of pregnant poor low life girl or clandestine treaties. I don't care about any of this, just that thought of becoming rich again.
Uncle Big John and I wait a signal from the herald. I don't why he is called Big John when he is stout and short, just that that's how I have referred to him all my life. I'm shocked when his eyes suddenly shimmer with tears. Maybe he's sad to see me get married at such a young age. Or maybe he feels guilty. Yeah, that's more likely it.
I gasp with surprise when he pulls me to his chest and grips fiercely. It's suffocating but I return this rare embrace eagerly.
Trumpets blare, muffled by the doors. Big John pulls the linen veil over my head. I welcome it; I don't want anyone to see my terror or the sweat collecting on my upper lip. The doors open outward, revealing the massive chamber with its curved ceiling and painted adobe. It smells of roses and incense. Hindered of shapes rise from their benches, dressed in bright wedding Colors.
Through my veil they look like some flower garden- orange clumps of bougainvillea dotted with yellow allamanda and pink hibiscus.
We pass stone columns and oak benches. Out of the corner of my eyes, I notice a lady, a splotch of blue fabric, really. I notice her because she bends and whispers something as I pass. Her companion twitters. Their conversation probably goes something like this:
"That Minsky boy, Eric, is marrying a Doyle?"
"Really? I thought he would have had better taste?"
"Why not? The girl is very beautiful."
"Yes, but after what happened...?"
As we get closer to the altar I can make out faces that were once very familiar. Eric's best friend, Nathaniel Havilland, to his right. In the front row stands Danielle Prescott, my once best friend poising as my unwanted maid of honor. Tracy Hart, Nate's girlfriend since as long as I can remember. Everything about this wedding screams fake.
Big John gives my slick hand to the man in black. Eric. His hand is large, and it grips me with indifferent confidence, as if mine does not feel like a wet, dead fish in his. I want to wretch my fingers back to myself, wipe them on my dress maybe.
There are things that I have refused to consider in the days since the proposal. Things I have pushed deep inside with mother's critical health condition and my future. And suddenly standing here in my wedding dress that does not even match my taste in fashion, my hand in the iron grasp of the boy that has plagued my childhood, I think about them, and my heart pounds.
I am about to be someone's wife. I know nothing of these grown-up wife like things. I don't know how to pretend to be in love with Eric, to be a part of this faux wedding and put on a show for the public so the council can stay convinced. And tonight... I still cannot think about tonight.
I wish my mother was here.
"Do you, Alison Doyle, take this man, to be your lawfully wedded husband?"
No. More like my awfully wedded husband. I would rather not be married at eighteen, thank you. Especially not to him.
"To love and cherish in sickness and in health?"
If he gives me the money. If the prenup holds good.
"Till death do you part?"
Or the divorce. Preferably in the next six months.
I hear my mouth automatically say "I do."
"You may now kiss the bride."
I turn towards my new husband. He releases my hand, the one that now has a ring wrapped around the finger that apparently connects with the vein to my heart. I clench it into a fist to keep from wiping it on my dress. I see his fingers on the hem of my veil and resist the urge to swat it away.
He lifts the veil, and I blink as cooler air floods my cheeks. I peer up at the face of my husband, at black hair that sweeps back and curls at the nape of his neck, at piercing blue eyes, at a mouth as strong as his fingers.
Something flits across his features-
Nervousness? Disappointment? But then he smiles at me- not a pitying smile, not a hungry smile, but cocky- and I gasp just a little, my heart a puddle of helpless warmth.
Eric Minsky is the most beautiful person I've ever seen, and I'm not even going to deny that.
I ought to smile back for the sake of courtesy, but my cheeks won't obey. He leans forward, and his lips brush mine- a chaste and gentle kiss. With the side of his thumb, he grazes my cheek and whispers, so that only I can hear, "I own your ass now."
Platters of food cover the long table. We sit side by side on the bench, and at last I have something to do beside avoid his eyes. Our shoulders touch as I grab the battered squid and glass of wine. I chew quickly, already considering: Green chillies stuffed with cheese, or shredded pork in walnut sauce? Who the hell picked out the wedding cuisine?
I feel Eric's eyes on me. He has just watched me stuff a crisp-fried anchovy into my mouth. I am embarrassed, but I can't resist turning to meet his gaze.
"Have you forgotten how to eat like a lady?" He asks and I am this close from stabbing him in the eye with my fork. Instead I ignore him and continue eating.
A hush settles over the milling nobility. I follow their collective gaze toward the small wooden stage. The musicians have departed- I don't remember hearing the instruments cease- and in their place stands Eric's father and Nate Havilland who looks just as well groomed in his dark suit and his curly blonde hair neatly gelled, as Eric does.
Damn, these men really know how to dress well.
Nate raises his drink, and says in a loud, clear voice, "Today we are witness to the new union between Eric and Alison. May god bless this union with peace and understanding, with prosperity and beauty," -he grins hugely- "and with many, many children!" And the banquet hall fills with laughter, like it's the cleverest blessing in the world. My face burns and I hate Nate in this moment than ever in my life.
"Now, it's time to bid the happy couple good-night," he continues. I jump when I feel Eric's hand grab my shoulder. We rise, newly wedded Husband and wife, though I'm not sure how, since my legs buzz with threatening numbness.
My armpits feel sticky, my heart pounds. Oh, God, I don't know what to do. I blink rapidly, determined not to cry.
Thirty minutes later, I find myself standing in the living room of Eric's new penthouse. No, wait, it's not just his, it's mine too. We both own it. A part of me wonders who gets this after our divorce. I hope I do. It's beautiful.
Jack's agent gives us a grand tour around the house. He takes us through each bedroom, most of them still unfinished. Actually only one of the room is finished- the master bedroom. The rest of them are still being decorated. The agent explains the mechanics of fire alarm and everything else necessary as we walk through.
After the tour I go to the master bedroom to change into my night wear while Eric and his agent sit in the living room to discuss over matters, whatever that is.
I open the big closet and see lines and lines of designer clothes stacked in neat racks. On the left is Eric's attire and the right is mine. My side of the closet contains the most expensive designer wears ranging for Oscar de la renta to Gucci. I wonder who shopped for me.
I make sure to lock the room and change into a pair of boxer shorts and a loose fitted Armani Night shirt. I unlock the room and crawl into the big comfy looking king sized bed.
I try to stay awake and listen to what is happening between Eric and his agent but it is hard because I am tired. Anyway, whatever is happening takes a really long time and I'm a girl who likes her sleep.
When I do wake up, it is still dark and my back is pressed up to something hard and warm and something heavy and warm is wrapped around my waist.
Eric Minsky is in bed with me.
Holy fucking shit.
You see, there are girls in New York who will pay a lot of money to be in this situation. Hell, there are likely women across the country who will do it.
There was a time when we were kids that Eric, Danielle, Nate and I slept together all the time. Our parents would have dinner parties and we'd be tucked in my parents's big bed, all four in a row, according to age. This put me in between Eric and Danielle. Eric was two months older to me and Danielle was three weeks younger. Of course, once we got older, we were separated.
Also there were times when we were in the tent when we all used to go camping in the mountains. By this time Danielle was developing a huge crush on Eric so she forced me to get next to Nate, so that she got to sleep with Eric in the sleeping bag.
So it wasn't as if I hadn't already slept with Eric. But not alone, not just the two of us, not since we hit puberty.
I move forward, thinking the floor sounds quite comfy. The heavy warm thing around my waist tightens.
"Don't move," Eric mumbles, his voice kind of husky.
My stomach flutters and as Eric's hand is splayed and pressed against it, I'm pretty certain he can feel it.
"What are you doing?" I ask.
"I was sleeping." His voice is still husky.
"I mean in this bed," I clarify, what I think is unnecessarily.
"It's my bed. Our bed."
True enough. I don't know what I was thinking. That he will be a gentleman enough to take the floor and not touch me? Puh-lease he is still an ass that tried to score me when we were fifteen.
Time for a different tact.
"I'm gonna sleep on the floor," I say.
"No you're not."
I hesitate for a moment, confused, and then try plan C.
"Then I'm going to sleep on the other side of the bed."
"No you're not."
What in the hell?
I don't get it.
"Because you were sleeping there and then you hit me in the chest twice and kicked me in the shin three times."
"I'm kind of an active sleeper."
I think about my options. There is the floor, which apparently is not an option for me. My cobwebby mind chugs along for a minute, registering somewhere deep down how warm and cozy I currently am.
"I'll go sleep on the couch in the living room."
The reply is instantaneous.
"The hell you will."
Hmm, all sleep-husky gone from his voice. Eric is now all business and using that "brook no argument" tone.
I am stuck.
"Alison, just shut the hell up and go to sleep. I'm too tired and I bet you are too. We will talk about everything in the morning."
"Okay," I say and try to get comfortable, away from him but he creeps up closer and presses my back against him. Ugh. What the hell? "I'll let it go now but just so you know I'm getting the bed and you are going to sleep on the floor from tomorrow."
"Honey, It's good you are gorgeous or you'd be a pain in the ass," he mumbles in my ear.
I pretend as if I don't hear that because I don't have the energy to fight with him right now.
Actually, bottom line I'm just too comfortable even to contemplate moving. So, I go back to sleep. It isn't hard as I thought it was going to be.
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