3 Chapter 3

The cool night air swept past my tired body as I leaned against the sturdy wooden railings on our white-painted porch. The sun was a long forgotten thought as I stared up the ominous dark sky while nursing a glass of red wine that I’d stolen from the table after a rather interesting dinner. It left me with a lot more questions than answers but I was glad that it was finished. I found out that the Andrews family would be staying the night which I didn’t mind. There were 8 bodies in the house now and only 4 rooms so I guess each room would have to house 2 people. My parents would probably stay in their room while Mr and Mrs Andrews sleep in one of the guest rooms. Naomi and Michaela would most likely share a room which meant that their brother and I would be sharing my room. I didn’t care who slept in my room anyway because I wasn’t planning on sleeping here tonight.

“Your mother doesn’t like it when you drink.” I was so lost in my own thoughts that I hadn’t even heard my father exit the house and make his way over to me. I looked to the side without turning my head then saw that he too held a glass of red wine in his hand. That was more than likely his 10th for the evening while the glass in my hand only happened to be my 1st.

“And I don’t like it when you guys keep things from me so I guess we’re even.” I mockingly raised a toast to that before sipping the sweet liquid into my mouth. It splashed its way down my throat and left a mouth-watering aftertaste so I understood why our parents had as much as they did.

“We were going to call a meeting on Monday morning to inform everyone about it. Your mother and I decided that it was best to wait until we could close the deal before making any announcements.” That made sense I guess. The feeling of betrayal still lingered a while before I gave up and just accepted his excuse. It’s not like they did it to hurt me.

“What exactly is this deal anyway?” I slowly positioned my body so that I could look at my father as we spoke. I didn’t have that deep of a relationship with my father but I respected him and loved him no matter what. He taught me some invaluable things about being a man and caring for your family first that I could never forget and I really appreciated it. He helped me where he could but most of the time he was at work which I never resented him for. The only issued I had with my father, and my mother I suppose, was that they were forcing me to take over the family business.

“I bought the old shoemaker’s building near the pier and I’m hiring Mr Andrews to tear it down then build a bigger and better facility for us to use as our main headquarters in town. Even you have to agree that our current building is becoming a little cramped.” I couldn’t deny that. In a business sense, this was a brilliant decision so I couldn’t fault him there. Hell, I would’ve done exactly what my father was doing if I was in his position.

“It’s a prime piece of real estate that you bought. How much is the construction going to cost?”

“Mr Andrew’s couldn’t give me an exact amount but he estimated between 10-20 million.” Damn, that was a hell of a lot of money. We’d probably only see the return on that investment in a couple of years so it was worth it in the long run but it was still a huge amount of money.

“How about you offer Mr Andrew’s a trade of services?” I suggested. My father immediately raised his eyebrow at that as he looked at me. I could see that he was waiting for me to explain what I meant so I set my glass down on the wooden railing and straightened myself. If I was going to pitch this suggestion to my father then I was going to do it properly and to the best of my ability.

Suddenly the door opened as I was about to start talking so I waited for the presence to reveal itself. Mr Andrews came onto the porch and looked around before his eyes settled on us.

“Andrews, perfect timing.” My father told him once they stood next to each other.

“What’s going on?” Mr Andrews looked at me then looked at my father as he tried to figure it out himself.

“My son was just about to pitch an idea about our deal.” My father explained. Suddenly both their attention fixed on me. I felt nerves trying to overcome my confidence but this wasn’t a formal meeting so I didn’t really have any pressure. I took a breath then organized my thoughts again before I began speaking.

“As I suggested to my father, why don’t your two companies merely do a trade of services? For example, Mr Andrews, your company will build my father’s company’s new headquarter and in exchange my father will handle your advertising for a period of 5-10 years. Obviously the value of Mr Andrews service exceeds the advertising however, the length and value of the advertising could compensate for that and the measure of goodwill for Andrews Construction will increase as well. This way both companies benefit from the partnership while also reaping rewards from new customers. Obviously there has to be a clause somewhere that states that if Mr Andrews does not want to continue our service then we’ll have to pay him the outstanding amount of advertising or if we want to end the advertising for Andrews Construction then we’ll have to pay as well but I don’t see that being a problem, at least from my father’s side. What do you guys think?” I immediately released a sigh of relief once I finished. That really took more energy that I thought it would. I studied both men’s faces but they turned to each other and smiled for some reason.

“I told you, didn’t I?” My father smirked as Mr Andrews put his hand on my father’s shoulder.

“You sure did.” What the hell were they talking about now? Did I do something they expected? Did they plan all this? They couldn’t have known what I was going to say so just what the hell were they smiling at?

“Well Lodge, come see me before you go sleep and we can discuss a way forward.” At least they were working together now so I guess I should be happy about that.

“I will.” My father held out his hand and Mr Andrews firmly shook it in response.

“Well done Hunter.” Mr Andrews surprisingly told me then turned around and made his way back into the house. I was left dumbstruck and unmoving. What the hell was happening?

“Dad, what just happened?” I gulped as I leaned against the railing for support again. I don’t know why I felt so nervous right now. I pitched my idea and everything went great surprisingly so why did I feel like I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me?

“Relax son, you did excellently.” My father raised his glass to that before taking a sip. I immediately grabbed my glass and drained it of the red liquid before I turned my attention back to my father.

“What were you and Mr Andrews smiling about?”

“We finally agreed to work together so thank you for that. I liked your idea and I guess Mr Andrews did too. Like he said, well done.” This certainly didn’t go the way I was expecting it to. I guess I should be happy though, everything seemed to be working out.

“If I had known that all I needed to do to get Mr Andrews to work with me was to let you present an idea then I would’ve done it long ago.” My father released a laugh at that which seemed to calm my racing heart.

“I deserve a promotion then.” I jokingly challenged my father as I released a few nervous chuckles.

“You’re already inheriting the entire company so I think that’s reward enough.” That’s true I guess.

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“Well I am going to be taking a long break after we move to our new headquarters and have everything set up there.”

“That’s okay I guess.” It was clear that my father was in a good mood right now. Maybe I should try to get him to agree to something else.

“What do you think of Michaela?” That was certainly something I didn’t expect him to ask right now. He caught me clear off guard right now.

“She’s cool I guess. Despite the start we had, I actually enjoyed her company at dinner.” That was the truth no matter how you looked at it. She is a strong-willed woman but she’s actually very accepting it seems. Despite her proud and slightly arrogant texture, she really took in and understood everyone’s viewpoint and didn’t try to impose it on anyone else. Other than that, she was extremely smart and witty and I enjoyed her slightly dark sense of humor.

“I’m glad you guys are getting along after what happened at the beginning of dinner.” I could see why my father would be relieved at that. If Michaela and I continued our disagreement then it could tank the deal between our fathers. I guess it was best for everyone that we could get along then.

“It was just a bit of a disagreement.”

“You destroyed her. If that’s just a disagreement then I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of your wrath.”

“I’ve seen you destroy your competitors as well so I wouldn’t want to go up against you too.” This was one of those rare moments between my father and I where we could speak honestly with each other without the fear of judgement. It was the perfect time for me to bring up my relationship with Stella.

“Dad, can you be honest with me for a moment?” He turned to me with an intrigued look on his face. I would’ve love to know what he thought this was about.

“You and mom both love Stella so why don’t you want me dating her? She is clearly good enough for me and she knows me like the back of her hand and the same goes for me.” I’ve never been this direct when it came to questioning any of my parents about Stella so I didn’t know what to expect his answer to be. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t afraid right now.

“Stella is a great person. She’s pure of heart and always tries to do what’s best for other people. You’re right, your mother and I both love her but it’s because of her purity that you guys won’t work out. If you inherit the company and you guys decide to be together then things are going to end badly between the two of you. In business, you have to be a shark. You have to be devoid of emotion and have to make decisions based on the information you have at hand and neglect your emotional attachment. That’s going to cause a rift between you guys and will ultimately end up destroying your relationship.” I understood what my father was saying but I didn’t want to accept it. Stella’s purity was one of the things I loved about her. Her untainted smile and angelic laugh always lifted any dark clouds that hovered around me. Her purity was the one thing that would save me from becoming a heartless tycoon.

“If you’re saying that I need to choose between Stella and the company then that’s an easy choice for me dad.”

“I’m saying that if you want to keep Stella happy then don’t get intimate with her.” Too late for that but I wasn’t going to change my relationship status with Stella despite that. I believed in her and I believed in our relationship. No matter what challenges we might face, Stella and I would do it together just like we planned. No one was going to stand in our way.

“You might not see it now son but you’ll realize that I’m right about this.” My father hadn’t lied to me once and I appreciated that. He might’ve kept information from me at times, just like he did tonight, but he was always truthful when we spoke. I admired that about him but I just couldn’t accept it this time. There had to be a way that Stella and I could be together that wouldn’t end up in heartbreaking failure like my father predicted.

“No one knows what the future may hold. I might be homeless in the future.” A stupid suggestion but I wanted to change the subject. I didn’t want to be talking about everything that might drive Stella and I apart one day.

“Or you might be the leader our family needs.” I knew that was just a suggestion as well but I could hear the seriousness in my father’s tone as he said it. It actually scared me. Lodge Industries was way more than just my father’s advertising sector. It was an international company right now that was solely controlled by my father, his brothers and their parents. Obviously my father or one of his brothers would ultimately take over their parent’s place if something should happen to them or if they step down. After my father or one of his brothers’ step down then it would be up to me or one of my cousins to take over. The thought of running a multimillion dollar company scared me. It was way bigger than just running an advertising company, that’s for sure.

“First you hand me the keys to your company and now you want me to take over the entire family empire? Dad, just how much have you had to drink tonight?” That evoked a smile out of him as he looked at his glass then took another sip.

“You’re capable of doing it though, don’t sell yourself short.” Suddenly the door opened once again. My mother appeared and immediately headed straight towards us.

“Guys, we have guests so whatever is happening out here will have to wait until tomorrow.” My mother instructed us as she hooked her right arm around her husband’s left one.

“We were just talking.” I tried defending us but I knew that it wouldn’t amount to anything. My mother’s word was final so it was futile to even think about challenging her.

“And drinking it seems. Get inside and go make friends before I ground you.” Like I said, my mother’s word was final.

“Yes ma’am.” My mother hated it when I called her ‘ma’am’ which is why I loved doing it. I couldn’t get one up on my mother but that didn’t mean I couldn’t enjoy teasing her a bit. They controlled almost every part of my life so it was my small way of rebelling I suppose. I made my way past my parents but handed my glass to my mother to hopefully show her that I wasn’t planning on drinking anymore tonight. I entered the house then immediately made my way up the stairs to my room. I didn’t know where Mr and Mrs Andrews children were but if any one of them were in my room then I’d have to entertain them I suppose. If not, that just gave me more free time to myself.

I reached my room and thankfully found it empty. The familiarly dull room was one of my few sanctuaries and I was glad that it was unoccupied right now. I emptied my pockets onto my chaotically ordered desk then made my way into my adjoining bathroom. All the rooms in the house were en suites except the one downstairs. That bathroom was next to the bedroom so that everyone could use it when they were downstairs. I closed the door behind me then switched on the shower so that I could wash me quickly before I did anything else. I undressed me down to my underwear and neatly put my clothes in the laundry basket in the corner of the room but stopped in front of the unnecessarily large mirror as I stared at one of my scars on my chest that I got courtesy of Stella. I found myself stupidly smiling at the painful memory but at least Stella and I shared equal blame for that scar.

“I’m so sorry, I didn’t know you were in here.” Michaela suddenly announced. I was so lost in my memories that I didn’t even hear her open the door. The splattering of the steamy water from the shower didn’t help either. I turned my attention to Michaela in the mirror and saw that she had my slim towel wrapped around her probably nude form. The towel just barely covered the intimate parts of her body. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t slightly aroused by it.

“It’s okay.” I replied as I pushed myself away from the mirror and made my way to the small wooden cupboard next to the laundry basket. “If you continue standing there instead of dealing with your damp hair then you might get sick.” I saw that she stood unmoving by the door. She was so dumbstruck that she didn’t know if she should leave or continue with what she planned. I didn’t have time for her indecision though so I grabbed 2 towels out of the cupboard and made the decision for her.

“Here’s a towel for your hair. I’m going to take a shower so you can do your hair in front of the mirror.” I saw that she had a couple of bottles in her right hand and a comb in her left hand. I stepped into the steamed shower and threw my underwear out before I continued. The glass panels of the shower had an opaque section in the middle so she could only see my legs and chest if she had the urge to look at me while I showered me. I noticed that she had moved towards the mirror now and placed the bottles and comb on the smooth marble countertop beneath the mirror while she fetched the stool for her to sit on.

“What are you doing in my room by the way?” I decided to ask Michaela so that this didn’t turn into an uncomfortably awkward situation.

“My parents thought that it would be best if I slept in your room with you since we kind of got along at dinner rather than having an awkward situation with Naomi or Zendé.” That kind of made sense but weren’t her parents afraid that Michaela and I might get intimate with each other during the night? Hell, the situation we were in right now was one that I would try my best to make sure my child wasn’t apart of if I was a parent.

“Did we really get along though?”

“An enemy of my enemy is my friend.” I couldn’t help but smile at that reference. She really kept me on my toes with these quick quips but I enjoyed the mental challenge.

“Is our enemy your brother or our parents?” I shot back.

“Right now they’re dead even.” I turned my head and saw her smiling in the mirror as well. She was enjoying this as much as I was it seems.

“How could they be even? One side is an annoying prick and the other side is your brother.” I heard her involuntary chuckles at that and I had to stop myself from laughing aloud at that too.

“If it were up to those ‘annoying pricks’ then we’d be getting married right now.” I honestly wouldn’t put it past my father to suggest that. It would be one way to close the deal and solidify our partnership with the Andrews family. I don’t know about Michaela’s parents but my parents were certainly planning on picking someone for me to marry and I probably wouldn’t be able to have a say in the matter.

“I’m pretty sure that if our parents walked in right now then they’d be really confused about what was happening right now.”

“What’s so confusing about me doing my hair while you’re showering?” She had a point there. If you look at each of our actions individually then they shouldn’t have a problem with it.

“The confusing part would be two basically naked young adults who didn’t even know each other an hour ago in a bathroom together.”

“Okay, I see your point I guess.” At least we were agreeing with each other now. “Like you said, we’re basically naked so there’s no hiding from each other so let’s get to know each other then.”

“True. Our parents are going to be working together so it would be best if we got along with each other as well. What do you want to know?”

“What do you want to tell me?” Why did she constantly have to be this challenging? Couldn’t she just be direct and tell me what she wanted to know? It’s not that difficult. I know that I haven’t exactly been forthcoming so I could see why she didn’t think I would answer her properly but I thought my behavior was appropriate when it came to having a conversation with her.

“I was homeschooled all my life so I didn’t make a lot of friends growing up which basically means that I didn’t have an exciting childhood really. I don’t have any pets or siblings either. My hobbies are writing and basically just being lazy. I can’t cook to save my life but I can clean rather well even if I must say so myself.” That was a comprehensive answer right? If she wanted to know something else then she was going to have to ask.

“Your turn.”

“I went to a private school called Academy of Excellence. I wasn’t really popular but I had a few friends. Didn’t really go to parties but my friends and I hung out at the malls a lot. I don’t have any pets either and you met my siblings. I like doing wordy puzzles, reading and swimming. I can cook and clean as well but I prefer cooking. That way I can make as much of a mess as I want to and someone else would have to clean it up.” Pretty much what I expected from her if I was being honest although the swimming was a bit of a surprise. Her body looked fit and definitely in shape so I guess she wasn’t lying. She followed my lead and didn’t give any detailed information but there was still a whole lot of questions that I could ask her right now.

“I have a feeling that your brother ends up being the one to have to clean up your mess in the kitchen.”

“It’s his fault that he doesn’t want to learn how to cook so he’ll just have to do the cleaning.” That was one of the reasons I was glad that I didn’t have siblings and that Mrs Davenport was around. It just made life so much more simpler and everything flowed smoothly.

“I know this is asking a lot but is there any way you might have some hair grips?”

“First or second draw on your left.” Her face definitely showed a whole array of emotions and I didn’t even want to know what questions were circulating in her head right now.

“Do I even want to know why you have hair grips in your bathroom?” She asked me as I heard her opening the drawers.

“One of my only friends leaves some of her hair grips here.” It was Stella’s obviously. She basically lived here. She had her own draw in my room and some of her dresses and other articles of clothing were hanging in my cupboards right now as well. I had some of my clothes by her house as well, mostly hoodies and t-shirts that she ‘borrowed’.

“She’s clearly not just a friend if she leaves this many items here. I honestly didn’t expect you to have a girlfriend.” She closed the first draw so the items she was looking for were probably in the second one.

“Do I want to know why you thought so?” I was actually interested to know her answer to that. Did she not think that I was capable of having a relationship or that no one would be interested in me?

“You’re just… different. You were homeschooled and you said you didn’t have a lot of friends so I just assumed that you wouldn’t have a girlfriend as well.” The ‘different’ part kind of offended me a little but I couldn’t argue with the rest of her statement. She had a point.

“Like I said, she’s one of the only friends I have.” I finished washing me and relaxing under the massaging pressure of the showerhead so I switched it off and grabbed my towel.

“I assume by the ring box I saw in the top drawer that things are serious between you guys.” I forgot about that actually. That ring was a family heirloom that my grandmother passed down to my father who proposed to my mother with it. My parents then passed it down to me on my 18th birthday and I basically forgot about it but I was planning on moving in with Stella pretty soon and I would love to propose to her with that ring.

“Your assumptions seem to be a little off tonight. The ring is a family heirloom. My grandmother gave it to my father and he gave it to me on my 18th birthday.” I quickly explained while I wrapped my towel around my waist to cover the lower part of my body before exiting the shower.

“I assume you have a boyfriend as well.” I studied her face in the mirror to see if she was going to reply truthfully or not.

“Yes.” There was a little hesitation in her voice and a small twitch by her right cheek but that wasn’t enough to prove that she was lying so for the most part I believed her. Maybe she was in a relationship but unable to define it at the moment.

“I don’t think our partners would like the fact that we’d be sharing a bed tonight then.” That gave me more reason not to stay at home tonight.

“I’m sure they would understand.”

“I’d rather not put them in that position.”

“What are you going to do then? All the beds in the house are taken and I am not going to allow you to sleep on the floor when your bed is big enough for 3 people.” At least she was somewhat concerned about me. I really appreciated it.

“I’m going to go sneak out and spend the night by a friend.”

“How are you going to sneak out without our parents hearing?”

“I’ve been doing it for years, it’s no problem for me actually. If they do ask you where I went to then just tell them that I went to Stella’s. My parents will understand.”

“Okay. If they end up punishing you then don’t blame me.”

“I think I can handle it. Don’t mess up my room tonight.”

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