A Very Dirty Wedding(6)

By: Sabrina Paige

Maybe I’ll faint, I think, matter-of-fact. The casualness with which I consider it almost makes me laugh. Except that the situation is essentially a tragedy, not a comedy.

I’ve only fainted once before. It was during one of my mother’s appointments. The word makes it sound like we were going to the hair salon or the spa, but it was her chemotherapy. I’d insisted on going, despite her protests that I needed to be in school, that I was in eighth grade and I’d soon have to compete for a spot at one of the prestigious private high schools in the DC area. It was obviously an excuse, her way of trying to shelter me. But even then, despite my parents’ attempts to hide the severity of my mother’s disease from me, and maybe from themselves, some part of me knew she was dying.

Do not pass out, I tell myself now. Not over this.

“It’s obviously a lot to take in,” my father says.

“Obviously,” I parrot, my voice sounding robotic.

My father clears his throat. “Caulter was just saying that he knows you well from school.”

I narrow my eyes at Caulter, hoping my murderous glare is enough to silence whatever the hell the unpredictable jackass is considering saying. Caulter's eyes crinkle at the edges, and the smirk makes me think he considers this entire situation a joke.

Oh shit. What if he knew about our parents before...what happened between us that night? The thought triggers a fresh wave of nausea.

“Brighton’s not exactly a big place,” Caulter says. “Everyone knows everything about everyone. It’s practically incestuous.”

Ella Sterling’s face blanches at the word, and my father clears his throat. If I weren’t so completely and entirely enraged with Caulter, I’d almost be amused by my father’s obvious discomfort. Senator Jed Harrison is not the kind of man around whom you casually toss words like incestuous.

“Caulter,” Ella says, her tone sharp. “Perhaps we should give Katherine and her father a moment.”

The last thing I want right now is a moment alone with my father. I don’t want to hear his explanation for why -- or how on earth -- he was able to keep a relationship with Ella Sterling completely under wraps from everyone, including his own daughter, for the past who-knows-how long. I definitely don’t want a reminder about the significance of his upcoming Senatorial re-election campaign. Or about the importance of decorum and public perception.

Oh my God, public perception. If anyone finds out what happened with Caulter… Before this announcement of my father's, it was just an ill-advised one night stand. A temporary lapse in judgment. My complete loss of sanity. Now, it’s suddenly….incestuous.

My chest feels tight, and I’m having trouble breathing. “I need a minute,” I say as I start to walk away, my body moving of its own accord. “Please.”

I don’t hear what they’re saying. I walk straight out of the room, past the tasteful colonial style furniture placed for show, not use, that matches the decor of the rest of this perfectly polished house. This is not the place where I grew up, the farmhouse in New Hampshire where I spent my childhood. This is the house where my father moved permanently after my mother died, the DC residence; I was shipped off to Brighton, an inconvenience that simply needed reassigned.

I open the first door I come to at the end of the hallway. It's my father's office, not the bathroom like I'm expecting, but I realize I can't remember where the bathroom is on the first floor. How stupid to not be able to remember where the bathroom is in your own house, I think. But, then, this isn't really my house.

I close the door behind me, sinking against it and shutting out the world, allowing the comfort of the silence to envelop me. The walls are lined with photo after photo of my father with politicians and important people, smiling for the camera and glad-handing, making deals and promises. And on the side of his L-shaped desk, prominently displayed like some kind of trophy, is a silver-framed photo of them. My father and Ella Sterling, their cheeks pressed together like two teenagers, grinning stupidly for the camera they're holding out in front of their faces.

I have the impulse to go over to the desk, to pick up the picture and smash it, to throw it to the ground and watch the glass shatter into a million pieces. But I don't. Katherine Harrison would never do something like that.

Of course, Katherine Harrison wouldn't have slept with someone like Caulter Sterling, either, with his tattoos and piercings and I don't give a fuck attitude. He blew into Brighton Academy like a damned tornado. His reputation preceded him, but Caulter was a force all on his own. Like some kind of unnatural phenomenon.

I was predisposed to hate him, but even if I hadn't known anything about him, I'd have despised him on sight, with his meticulously torn jeans and t-shirt with the design faded into oblivion in spots, smudged so it appeared vintage but was really some piece of designer schlock paid for by his mother who made all the money in the world. He reeked of angst and disdain for authority, and immediately offered my best friend Sara a private tour of his new dorm room. She declined and he'd laughed, then winked and made sure to extend the offer to me. If I could have rolled my eyes any harder, I would have sprained them.

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