There aren’t a whole lot of things more awkward than waking up after a night of hard partying to find your dad staring down at you. Especially if you’re on the floor of a thoroughly trashed living room, wearing nothing but a tablecloth, covered in bite marks and dried fluids, surrounded by five other guys in a similar state to yours and about twice that amount of empty Dom Perignon bottles.
Bonus points for the leftover lines of coke still sitting out on the coffee table.
“Fuck,” was the first thing I managed to force out of my dry throat. “Too early for this.”
My dad’s steely blue eyes bored into me.
“Lysander, we need to talk,” was all he said before stepping out of my field of vision.
I’ll freely admit that it wasn’t my best moment. As I tried to sit up very slowly, it occurred to me that I might have actually, for once, managed to get myself into trouble. That was impressive.
What was even more impressive was just how desperately shitty I was feeling. My teeth were fuzzy, and my mouth tasted absolutely disgusting. Every part of my body was sore. My ass was one massive bruise. The night had been wild, and I’d lost track of how much sex I’d had, but the count had to be well into the double digits.
The pounding in my head increased tenfold once I was in a sitting position. I realized too late that it was getting way too intense for my stomach to handle.
The carpet was ruined anyway.
* * * *
By the time I made my way downstairs, showered and dressed and trying to keep down a double dose of Tylenol, I had my strategy all planned out. There was no question I’d fucked up, but I figured there was a good reason people said the best defense was a good offense.
“You weren’t supposed to be back until Tuesday,” I therefore informed my father like it was all his fault and stepped toward the chair he was lounging in, reading US Weekly.
He lowered the magazine and frowned. It looked theatrical. Everything my father does looks fucking theatrical because he’s a big screen actor, and he seems to think life is one big feel-good movie. Cast in the role of disappointed father: Joel Shepherd. Everything he does is fake. He doesn’t actually have a clue how to be a father; he just acts the part.
“Sit,” he said.
“No,” I replied crankily. The sunlight shining through the panorama window was bright enough to sear my retinas, and the resulting feeling was about as pleasant as having my eyes gouged out with a rusty spoon.
My father sighed. It was very cinematic. His perfectly shaped eyebrows drew together, and his face, which had just enough faint lines to indicate “character,” shadowed. He had a new haircut, I noticed, the blond strands styled into something that screamed mature glamour.
“Lysander, we have a problem,” he informed me instead of pressing the point.
“It’s probably more than one.”
“You think this is all one big joke, I suppose?” There was the glare I had expected from the start. I’d almost missed it.
“No, I don’t,” I muttered. My temples were throbbing, and goddamn, I felt miserable. If I threw up on him, I wasn’t going to be sorry. “Look, just say what you gotta say so I can go sleep some more.”
“That’s going to take a while. So sit.” He nodded pointedly at the couch.
“I don’t want to.”
“Why not?” he demanded to know.
“My ass hurts, okay?”
“Jesus help me.” He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, his face slowly coloring. He looked almost as ill as I felt. “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t. You are completely off the rails, Lysander. You cannot keep going like this.”
I’d heard that plenty of times before, but usually from our housekeeper. The whole thing bored me to death. I’d get grounded and would promptly ignore that fact once my father left for his next project. I wasn’t sure why he bothered with the pretense.
“So send me to rehab,” I proposed carelessly.
“Is that what you want?” He studied me. “I’m already getting a funny feeling a stay at a pampering rehab facility isn’t going to help. Not with this.”
“Do you have a point?” I asked.
“Yes, I do. But I see now isn’t the time to make it.” He sighed again and waved me off. “Go sleep. We’ll talk about this later when I’ve had time to think.”
He didn’t need to say it twice before I was out the door and taking the stairs two at a time.
* * * *
I slept until five thirty, after which I mercifully felt almost human again. While I was used to hangovers, I had to admit this one had turned out especially grueling. No regrets, though—it had been a damn good night. I took another leisurely shower and texted my friends to make sure they had survived the fun as well. No doubt my father had instructed our housekeeper to rouse them and kick them out as soon as my head had hit the pillow. It had probably been awkward as hell.
I told Sawyer, Logan, and Grayson to check in and then struggled to remember the names of the other two guys we’d partied with. One had been Grayson’s friend, the other…Sawyer’s cousin? Sawyer’s cousin’s boyfriend? Sawyer’s cousin’s boyfriend’s personal assistant? I squinted at my phone’s lit-up screen, pondering. This certainly wasn’t the first time I’d forgotten the name of a guy I’d slept with, but it made it a little tricky to ask for a repeat.
Tell what’s-his-face he can hang with us again
, I finally texted Sawyer. Then, satisfied, I put my phone aside and went swimming.
* * * *
Despite his ominous announcement about “talking later,” my father spent the next three days doing everything but talking to me, which was typical. I hated being home when he was. His presence made my skin crawl after a couple of days, and I always breathed a sigh of relief when he left again. It didn’t exactly help that he had grounded me and taken the goddamn car keys.
Over the years I had perfected the technique of waiting it out and avoiding him. While he spent hours in the study, shouting on the phone—probably at his agent, who was a jackass—I caught up on movies I’d meant to watch ages ago, enjoyed myself in the pool, beat off, slept too much, got high on the roof above the study, and just generally fucked around without any purpose whatsoever.
In other words, it was business as usual in the Shepherd household.
On the morning of the fourth day, it was Sheri, our indomitable Puerto Rican housekeeper, who knocked on my door and woke me from some fucked-up dream about being trapped in a hospital. I was still sitting in bed trying to get it together by the time she flung clothes at me. Her dark eyes were twinkling with good humor, which made me even crankier. She was dressed in her customary uniform, her short black curls held back with a colorful bandanna. She accented her dark complexion with golden hoop earrings and different shades of metallic eye shadow. I usually got her a new color for her birthday, but right now I was considering how she might like a bucket of ice water instead.
“Mr. Shepherd says to get dressed,” she informed me jovially, the slightest hint of an accent shining through like it always did when she was upset or excited. “Quickly!”
“Mr. Shepherd can go fuck himself,” I groaned.
“What about it? It’s English,” I informed her and inspected the shirt she’d thrown my way. “Oh hell no, I’m not wearing that. I don’t even know why I own that; it’s way too butch. Hand me a Henley or something.”
She did, disapproval written plainly on her face. We got along well enough when it was just her and me and occasionally the gardener and the pool boy, but when my father was home, she supported his infrequent attempts to parent me, and that pissed me off every single time. I mean, I was goddamn nineteen. That ship had sailed a long time ago.
I rolled out of bed, slipped on the Henley and a random pair of jeans, allowed Sheri to tousle my towheaded mop of hair—she was the only person in the world who got away with doing that—and followed her downstairs. The house smelled of buttermilk lemon pancakes, and that made me love her again. It was one of my favorite indulgences.
She plopped me into a chair in the sunroom and served me a delicious stack of pancakes. By the time I was halfway through my portion, my mood had lifted considerably. I still didn’t understand why the hell I had to get up so early, but I was willing to overlook it in favor of lemony gooey goodness melting in my mouth. Closing my eyes, I hummed happily as I chewed.
Loud footsteps shattered the moment. I dropped my fork and glared at my father. “What?”
“Finish your breakfast.” He pulled out a chair and sat down opposite me. “You’re going on a trip.”
My eyebrows rose. “Excuse me?”
“A trip, Lysander. I’m sending you away for a few weeks. Your behavior has escalated to an unacceptable level, and Dr. Marquette and I have come to the conclusion that this environment is not conducive to fixing that.”
“What the fuck? Why are you talking to your shrink about me?”
“Because it’s necessary, and you’ve refused to go and talk to him.”
“’Cause he’s a douche.”
“He’s still right.” My father leaned forward, meeting my eyes. “It stops here, Lysander. No more.”
“No more what?”
“No more drugs, no more irresponsible parties, no more self-destructive behavior. No more apathy, for God’s sake. You have been given all you could possibly want to be happy, and yet you insist on wasting and destroying your entire life.”
“Great speech, Dad.” I stabbed my fork into the pancakes with a little more force than strictly necessary. “So what?”
“So you’re going to go to therapy.”
I snorted with a mixture of amusement and disbelief. “What the fuck?”
“It’s a retreat for troubled teenagers Janice recommended. They won’t treat you with kid gloves there. I think it might help. And you need
Sage C. Holloway