“Oh no.” The throat contracted with fingers pulling at the collar of a white dress shirt. He was just feet away from that accursed entrance. Feelings of nervousness mixed with anger made Bradley hesitant to press the call button. Rather, a fist hit the surrounding wall of the Uppercrust Estate.
I don’t want to be here.
He must have been under the influence to finally comply to Tank’s suggestion to “spend time with the old man” after so long. The right hand man was right in assuming that the leader was more or less losing ground in his sanity, him going so far as to threaten his own teammates for illegitimate reasons.
It had been months after that post X-Games lecture where the whole Gamma team was present at Alphonse’s command, via jet plane. The words from his mouth did nothing but ruin the dignity the corrupt team had left, and if that wasn’t enough he told the rest of the team to get out of his office to speak with his own son after a threatening phone call to the College Board. Even though he saved the Gammas from being kicked out of school, the way he handled the already fragmented relationship between him and Bradley was uncalled for.
It brought the young man to the brink of tears, only to become enraged when a particular word was spoken, “coward.”
I just wanted to tell him before that.. I wanted to talk to him, about…
“Master Bradley?” Startled at first, he looked away from the dirt on the ground into bright eyes. He then set off a playful glare, to which the other responded with a laugh, “Bradley.”
With a snap of his fingers, “Open the gate, Yoli.”
Once the brief formalities were out of the way, they embraced one another, “Look at how tall you’ve gotten, mi’jito!”
“And you’re still beautiful.” with the warmest and possibly most genuine of smiles. The unexpected dialogue sunk into the head servant’s blushing face before she laughed again, “Oh no, Bradley; I’m ancient!”
“No, no you’re not..” His trailing off signaled Yoli to lead him into the estate. “Where are the rest?”
“Don’t take me there;” She blinked. “I’m not ready. How about letting me say hi to your people first?”
Everyone stared at the casual stride, hands in pockets with the thumbs sticking out. Eyes shimmering however indifferent the gaze seemed. Murmurs replaced the chatter, “It’s the young prince.”
“Bradley Uppercrust the Third.”
Much too old to be having his cheeks pinched by elderly women, young ones swarmed to his sides, greeting him with “pleasures” and “lovely afternoon”. Parents and guardians alike kept close watch, but they had no clue just what this supposedly sheltered boy was capable of.
He never bothered to shake hands with anyone throughout his superficially warm welcome; their hands could have been smeared with spilled wine or bits of hors d'oeuvres for one. Second, he figured that if he wasn’t the son of a rich man, they probably would disregard his presence to begin with.
Just saving them the trouble.
The faces Bradley talked to now, after the kitchen crowd, were vague in their appearance. The bodily shapes and the varied colors they wore against the floral backdrop were his only focus. It was a distortion of current reality—an artist’s dream of chaos condensed in a civil crowd. In the abyss he finally saw a familiar countenance above him, and it was the one he could barely stand, “I’m glad you could make it.”
From a raised wooden deck overlooking the area, Alphonse Uppercrust reached out the hand not holding a wine glass with a whisper only Bradley could hear, “The Prodigal Son returns.”
Still intimidating, and hanging around with figures of the highest financial caliber of the times. The young man was pulled up on the platform and was greeted once again by the strongest of handshakes that he couldn’t avoid, “How are you, lad?” A gruff yet jovial tune matching another man of large stature with a matured beard.
“Ah—fine as ever!”
Not letting his wincing from the pain in his comparably thin hand distract from conversation with the rest of said figures, he grinned and nodded his head pretending to be invested in whatever they asked him about. Half honest answers were given to anything college related; but the grades he reported were all true—high marks. A made up explanation as to why he didn’t attend any of the nearby private schools over a state college hundreds of miles away was, overall, convincing.
Alphonse did not either concur with what he was saying, nor did he correct whatever falsities might have arisen. He spoke the least after his son’s arrival. With half-moon glasses glinting in the sun, a scrap of a smile would appear now and again that Bradley never took notice of.
The young Uppercrust was too preoccupied with wanting to abandon the socializing.
“It was a pleasure meeting you all. Father.” Absentmindedly bowing his head, he hopped off the deck suddenly in need of a long drink.
Only faintly buzzed, Bradley found himself walking and glancing at his surroundings of the interior of the estate, trying to make connections between then and now. His father’s tastes in decorating were just as dreary as ever.
The silence and darkness of the sprawling hallways was a welcome change. It was funny really; to stick Uppercrust in a crowd of college students was nothing of a challenge for him. But anxiety levels rose considerably with older people around, for no apparent reason that he could see or understand.
If he listened hard enough, faint echoes of years gone by would creep into his mind. It was best to keep on walking despite the chills running through his spine. Taking another deep sip of sangria, just about finished with the glass, Bradley held it up to his eye level. Gasping—He thought he saw a figure moving through it.
Despite better judgment he walked deeper into the shadows, glass in hand. The initial fright for a ghost of the past subsided once he saw a recognizable shape: the hour glass figure with a seductive voice. “Hello there.”
Count on Uppercrust to make the first move; he hated it the other way around, “What do we have here?”
“I was waiting for you to escape.” Granted, the young man knew very little of this woman peering up at him expectedly. On campus, this would have easily resulted in yet another anonymous affair—to want that in his hometown now was a different matter.
There was something about her that left his mood sour, realizing that he was being pulled closer by the tie, “Stop that.”
“You’re not fooling me, Bradley. I remember the rumors about you in King’s Academy—They even dubbed you ‘The King’ in some circles!” Eyes widened when repressed memories leaked through. “Why’re you holding out on me, I wonder?”
Preventing himself from growling in frustration, he took a firm hold of the girl’s wrist applying pressure by the second. He couldn’t even tell if this behavior was a catalyst for fear or a turning on with this girl; all he could do in his own home was whisper in an icy tone, “Out of my way, gold digger.”
Her moment’s hesitance was enough time to break the wine glass against the wall to see if she would finally use her common sense and leave him alone to wander.
When the third floor was reached, he spied on the party through a curtained window, rolling his eyes in a flamboyant way. He kept there, forehead pressed against the pane for a minute to feel a rush of adrenaline staring down at picked cleavage before boredom quickly set in.
With a sigh, he let go of the curtain and walked on. At the stretch of newly draped carpet leading to his old bedroom, Bradley felt himself tense up more than usual, pacing down the hall to reach its end, passing by the strange meeting room better known as Dad’s office. Right then a pang of nerve shot through the neck, but no one was around to have caused it.
It was self-imposed stress, and nothing more.
Expecting the room to be musty, the faint smell of Pine Sol initiated a mixed reaction. Part of it was a deep gratitude that his existence was acknowledged at all; the other was a deep-seated anxiety that, with the clean up, something intimate to him could have been discovered. He looked to the wall and shelf on the right and saw that the plastic over canvases was only lightly dusted. Only a few people in the household would know how attached he was to the paintings.
Finally being able to look at them after so long, he underwent the usual self-critique. There were elements that he left behind in his progress that were not missed, but others begged to be restored—such as softer colors and little outlining of the forms. He saw the raven, a stray tree, imaginings of fantasies and nightmares, and the woman of roses with the dove in her palm.
It was just as awe inspiring as he first completed it some five years ago. Nearly spotless of any imperfection since then. Since then…
Carefully, it was lifted up to eye level. The open gilded window let the afternoon sun pour through, creating a spotlight for her image. Out of habit in the sacred silence, when other thoughts did not dare disturb him, the young man fondly remembered the warmth that only she could give. No other woman, no matter how hard they tried, could compare to her naturally angelic disposition.
Yoli came up to his side, “She looks just like your mother.”
Bradley nearly dropped the wooden frame. He noticed a burning sensation on his cheeks, “Yeah. That’s my mother, Lillian.”
Hands on hips, “I know what her name is, silly!” A chuckle from him gurgled dead in the throat when a sudden seriousness replaced her usual joking self, “I had to clean up a mess in the downstairs hall just now. There’s no little relative or pet that I can put the blame on, so..?”
Lips pursed for a split second, “That’s mine; must have been drunk or something. Being clumsy me.” Shrugging his shoulders before putting on a concerned look, “You should have made me clean it up for you; I’m sorry.”
It seemed that another half-honest answer convinced his audience.
“Well, it’s fine now.. May I?” Referring to the canvas still in his hands. It was placed in her care, she looking it over with glazed eyes, “She was a good friend too.”
He was too young at the time to really catch that connection; he hoped that the word from her mouth wouldn’t have affected him deeply as it did right now, “Was she your best friend?”
In a questioning look, “I can’t say that; we were from two different worlds me and her. But being far away from my family and childhood friends, I considered her one. Tried to help her any way I could.”
A veil of sadness concealed the Puerto Rican’s face, looking inward at elements of the past that she could better comprehend than the white young man standing next to her, “I tried.”
She gently put the canvas back in its place against the wall, gave a little breath of air and then smiled at Bradley to ease her own pain. A strange jealousy mixed with curiosity of what she knew led to a number of questions raising themselves to the surface and up to his tongue.
But by the way his “nanny” carried herself now, it seemed best to leave it alone. “Are you making any friends at college, Bradley?” A childish impulse would have been to bolt out of the room to avoid this sort of interrogation—“Found that special someone yet?”
This was asked much too often. Just standing there in the setting sun, stiff and unable to move, believing that his feet were cemented to the floor. As discreetly as possible, he grated his teeth holding back an outburst. “Bradley?” A hand touched his.
“No. I haven’t. Too focused on my studies for that.” Orbs in his sockets gone steely. He did catch up on said studies as he could, but he could never confess of the guests involved with him in one of the most degrading ways imaginable. To put it lightly, he would be just as empty during the activity as before it started. Physical affection of that sort was no longer satisfying to him, beginning to feel revulsion towards it all.
But again, she never had to know, “I think coming across that ‘special someone’ would be detrimental to me, Yolanda.”
When her full name was spoken, the tone went severely unchecked. The woman drew her hand away, shrinking back, “I thought that only your father was capable of that.”
Scrunching his eyebrows in confusion as she began to leave the room, “Wait. What do you mean?”
“I didn’t want to see you getting bitter as he did, that’s all.”
What did I do?
Blocking her in the hallway, “Yoli.” Her eyes averted away from an attempt at mirrored sorrow. Cradling her chin, “Auntie?” The tight hug might not have been enough for its length; his father was coming up the stairs looking worried.
If not worried, then ticked, “Son.”
“See you later, honey.” Running fingers in Bradley’s hair before paying her respects to her owner and heading down to the next floor.
Talking to his father now was the last thing he wanted. Bradley gave Alphonse a disdainful glance before heading back to his room where he planned to stay for the rest of the afternoon and evening. As he swerved in the opposite direction, his father clamped down on his shoulder to which he held back a gasp, “Bradley.”
“What do you want?” He couldn’t help but feel nervous under his perceived apathy, never bothering to look back at Uppercrust Senior.
“I want to have a chat with you,” Alphonse motioning his head down the hall to that dreaded office, “Come along.”
They could barely make eye contact. An effort was made to break the ice during the lethargic pace, “You certainly took the time to clean up for the occasion. You look good.”
“I’m glad you’re doing well in your classes?”
It sounded as if Alphonse was still in disbelief that his son’s focus on academic pursuits had all but vanished. The son felt a faint tinge of contentedness that his father actually cared to listen to his ramblings on the deck, but it soon diffused away after catching sight of the checker patterned floor. All he could say was a faltering note, “yeah.”
Both fell silent for a minute upon entering. As if he had been mulling over what he had to say, Alphonse cleared his throat, “Aren’t you going to tell me what happened?”
“What are you talking about?” Bradley already had an idea.
The old man placed a hand on the office desk, leaning against it slightly, “I saw the daughter of Leopold outside, separated from the group at the party. Seemed that she was crying a little before then. Didn’t give me any names, but I figured you had something to do with it.”
Damned women ruining everything.
“Oh. Her.” A delicate smile for the odd hilarity suddenly building up inside him, “If you must know she was trying to put the moves on me—” pausing to see if his father understood the language, “trying to seduce me.” Then he lowered an eyebrow, “And I didn’t do a damn thing to her.”
Finding himself relishing in telling the truth more than he should have, Bradley twisted it to his advantage, “I bet if you were in my shoes you would have complied, seeing as you’ve brought women home before.”
Alphonse breathed heavily, “I have. But I’ve told you long ago: I stopped doing that.”
His son scoffed, and he was compelled to add on, “Just find a more respectful way—
“What the hell do you know about respect?” Now loading his verbal gun with snippets of childhood memories—the intensifying of green in his father’s hazel eyes gave the all-clear, “You treated Lillian like dirt—a secondhand doll before she died. Then you beat on me for God knows how long!”
He didn’t give time for the other to respond, his hand going out with a flair as he asked, “Did Yoli ever find out about that??”
A joyous laugh from down below, outside, disrupted the mood. Alphonse shook his head once, wondering if any part of the child he knew was still buried in this angry rebel, “No.”
Voice rising at every other second, “How does a good woman like her and Lillian end up under your roof? How could they respect someone like you??”
The man crossed his arms over a black suit, responding in a stern tone, “I’d prefer you call her ‘mother’. She was my wife, not yours.”
Completely ignoring the implication, the son boldly reduced the large distance between them in stride, until he got up at his father’s face, “Did you really love her, Alphonse?”
The question rocked the older man to the core, but there was still some patience left in him, “Of course I did,” Against a leer of suspicion, “and I still do.”
Lillian was much too painful of a subject; the interrogator was too close for comfort, “Let’s not—
Now standing straight up, needing to cut off to another subject for more reasons than one, “Tell me about college, Bradley. So you’re not doing all the things I thought you were last time, right?”
This territory went way out of bounds. Bradley looked at him dangerously, dead in the eye, “Of course not.”
And you never have to know.
Alphonse’s voice might have cracked halfway with a higher pitch than usual, during a desperate shot at humor mixed with mounting frustration, “Then perhaps I have raised you well!”
Alphonse removed his glasses and set them on the desk in a brisk manner, “Watch your tongue, boy.”
The fists glued to the young man’s sides threatened to commit yet another assault at his old man—this time the father was quick to notice, “Don’t you dare!”
Alphonse still had a strength that the other could never possess. He squeezed at the arms in the air, struggling in vain to make their blow. Mouth still working, Bradley shouted never caring about who was within hearing range, “You don’t give a fuck about me and her! What have we ever done to you?!”
Finally a growl escaped Alphonse’s lips. It would have been much easier to throw Bradley off and onto the ground and that would be the end of the inquiry. Or whirl him to the side of the desk. Every possible fighting move in his mental library had to be resisted at this crucial moment, “Let go of it, Bradley. What’s done is done.”
Eyes widened. Adding a tone of authority, “You have to stop living in the past.”
The room awash with deep orange skies, sun lowering into the horizon. Pressured arms began to go limp in the father’s grasp. Bradley took in a shaky intake of air, images of his father in an inferior, beaten position still reeling, the kind that begged for mercy. “I’m sorry.”
“No, you’re not!”
Prying himself away, he found his glare directed not at his current enemy but at the floor under his feet. Anger at his father overshadowed a sliver of years gone by. “You didn’t care.” Despite the poisonous accusation, he knew deep down that this was not the case…
“The one time I needed you, you weren’t there.”
Nightmares rushed to the surface of the conscious mind. A growing pity took on Alphonse’s impatience, having an undeniable fear of what his own son could do—not just to him but others as well. He realized that words were never going to convince his son no matter how hard he tried. But showing physical affection after its polar opposite was an even bigger challenge.
At this point, there was nothing else to do. Despite their cold relationship for the past fifteen years, the last few months were unbearable lying in his son’s absence.
What are you doing??
Bradley Uppercrust wanted to collapse; he needed to die in his father’s arms as he didn’t expect this sincere action from his own father ever again. Even as he tried to pull himself away from the embrace his old man just held on tighter.
A hand brushed through his sandy brown hair. The kid didn’t understand why his heart pounded so frantically or why he felt his cheeks go so red—not out of a misplaced perversion, but of a childlike longing to be truly loved as he was supposed to be all this time.
While an inner voice cried out for forgiveness, another with an extreme vengeance stamped itself onto the first until it choked.
I’m supposed to hate you! It’s all your fault!!
It was then and there that he wished time would reverse for just a split second.
The inner conflict left the boy shaking, and his father seemed more crestfallen than ever. There was nothing else to say. Alphonse obeyed the command and merely distanced himself as the room became darker. He then picked up the lenses on the desk, fitting them on before walking towards the exit with his shoulders slumped. Turning his head to face the product of his love for another one more time proved to be unbearable. A syllable failed to form, and he disappeared.
“… What have I done?”
For more time than he could perceive, the young man stood there unable to comprehend what had just happened. In less than an hour, he had driven off the last existing people that were intimately linked to his secret past.
In the oncoming evening, the voices of the guests from outside only got louder and happier. No doubt that the people working under them were also enjoying the life that he could never have.
He took a seat in father’s regal chair behind the desk, feeling it over with calloused hands. He stared with strained eyes at a growing obscurity in front of him. There was no point in breaking down now if he couldn’t have a shoulder to cry on.
Looking at the liquor cabinet against the wall on his side, which promised a distraction from the cruel world he believed he was a part of against his purest wishes.
He hoped that the flask he chose had enough to knock him out cold.
To you, mother.