He just can't get her out of his system...
It wasn’t the way she talked, or the way she carried herself in those six inch heels, and skin tight dresses. It wasn’t because of her strawberry scented hair, or her sun kissed skin that made me hate Lana so much. She was as beautiful as beautiful could get; a natural blonde, with thick long, wavy locks that she normally wore around her shoulders, tousled, and windblown. Her big aqua eyes were alluring, but hidden with agenda. Her sensuous lips were pouty, yet poisonous. This woman had a body most women nearly killed themselves to achieve, yet I always wondered how she was able to accomplish that perfection. She was sexy enough to make my father chase after her skirt for two months, before he finally put a big rock on that finger.
Maxwell Luther was one of the wealthiest men in Atlanta. He had moved from London, England in his 40s with his family, and procured his fortune through the automotive industry. This man…was my father.
I was sixteen when we finally immigrated to the United States, and officially became U.S. citizens three years later. It took a while to drop my accent, but even to this day I still have a hint of it when I speak. I picked up American lingo as fast as I could, to adapt myself with popular social crowds at school. Some things you just can’t get rid of. Oh well, my wife found it sexy, so I didn’t really mind.
I got married six years ago to a beautiful woman I met through a friend at a ski resort in Whistler. She was a doe eyed, gorgeous red head, with cute freckles sprinkled around her cheeks, and her best asset was her amazing arse. Sandy was an immigration lawyer working in Chicago, and she was five years older than me. I fell in love with her, and courted her for a year, before I popped the question.
We got married at my family’s summer house in Venice, with a large guest list of about two hundred people, (most of which were my relatives and father’s friends). It was a beautiful wedding, and our honey moon was later spent in Florence.
My wife got pregnant with Mina within the first year of our marriage, and I adored this little girl. She was my everything. I never thought I could embrace fatherhood so much, but my daughter was so special, and gifted. She started walking and talking at nine months, and her ability to digest new words and expand her vocabulary was just remarkable. By the time she turned one, she was already reading children’s books, and I realized that I had contributed to the creation of a child prodigy. I wanted to name her Mina, after Bram Stoker’s famous literary character, Mina Harker. I had this thing for romantic literature. Even though the book was part of the vampire cult genre, it was unique, and my daughter deserved an exclusive name. She didn’t have red hair, or brown eyes like her mum, but took after me. Dark wavy hair and ice blue eyes. Her tiny nose and lips resembled her mother’s. God, she was the light of my life, and was much attached to me because Sandy was diagnosed with Post-Partum depression after our daughter was born. It lasted for a long time, until she gave birth to our son Milo, four years later.
He didn’t have the same gifted learning ability that his sister had, but he was an absolute joy, and I could tell he was going to be very athletic and into football, just like his dad. Now, when I say football, I don’t mean the American kind. We Brits have it right. Never really understood why Americans call their most popular national sport football when they’re tossing the damn ball around with their hands through a majority of the game.
Anyway, at 32, I was more than happy with my life. I was lucky to have this amazing family, a doting wife, two beautiful children, and a wonderful home that I acquired all on my own, without my father’s help. It really bothered me when he would always try to buy everything for me. I had my own trust fund, but I wanted to make my own mark in this world. That’s why I got into commercial real estate, and was able to really hone my skills. I was one of the most successful selling agents in the country, investing my money in solar energy, and technology. Sandy and I would never have to worry, and neither would our children. That was one thing I was proud of, and happy to have learned from my father; to be able to provide for my loved ones.
My wife still wanted to establish her law career, and I didn’t want to take that away from her. So her work hours were never a problem with me, until recently.
Life was good, until it threw a curve ball at me. My beloved mother passed away a year and a half ago. She had breast cancer, and was sick for a while, but didn’t want me to know. My father knew, and he kept it from me as well. Within a month of learning the bad news, I lost her. She passed away at 51, and I loved her dearly. I was always closer to my mum than my old man.
Sandy couldn’t help me through the grief, because she was depressed herself, and was getting therapy for it. I probably would have recovered like any normal person, if my selfish father hadn’t announced his spontaneous marriage two months after mother’s death.
I felt betrayed, infuriated, and hurt. My parents had been married for over 30 years, and this was how my old man was showing his respects, and grieving over her?…marrying some gold digger who was young enough to be his daughter. I couldn’t accept it. At first I thought he was joking, pulling my leg or something. But nope, the old bastard introduced her to us with a sparkling wedding ring on her finger. They had eloped in Hawaii, and I officially had a stepmom.
She was a freelance writer, and my father claimed to have met her on an airplane during one of his random travels around the world. He was heading to Thailand two summers ago, and the woman sitting next to him just so happened to be, Lana McKenzie.
He asked her out on a date, and I’m sure once she discovered how wealthy he was, she was more than happy to sign up for a sugar daddy. My father looked great for his age, but his GQ model days were over. Mum used to always say that I looked just like my dad, a younger, more handsome version of him.
Anyway, he married Lana a year and a half ago, and she had been living in the family mansion in Georgia ever since. My relationship with my new stepmom was…well… what relationship? We had none. She was legally my stepmother, which was so incredibly absurd in my opinion, because I was seven years older than her. I could have schooled her on a thing or two in life. Christ, I couldn’t stand her. Every time I was around this woman, I just wanted to yell and go off on her, because everything she did infuriated me.
Anyone who met Lana instantly fell in love with her, because she came off as this “sweet, caring, and genuine person.” But I refused to fall for that façade. She was using my father, just to inherit a fraction of his fortune.
Why else would she have married the man? It was a load of bullocks if you asked me.
Sandy got along with her, but even she had her doubts about the relationship. My children adored her. Mina got in the habit of calling her ‘Aunt Lana.’ What was I supposed to tell my kid, stop being nice to her? Throw a stone at the evil stepmother? No, I wasn’t going to confuse her like that, but Lana knew I wasn’t her biggest fan. In fact, she knew from day one that I extremely disliked her.
Regardless, we remained cordial around others, but when it was just me, her and my old man, we constantly butted heads. She was this sickness, this disease that was like a flesh eating virus. She had to go, and I had to make my father realize that he had made a mistake, before he’d keel over and die, leaving that bitch with complete access to all his assets and bank accounts.
No young woman in their right mind would marry a man that old and wrinkly, and genuinely say they’re in love. I refused to believe it. Lana McKenzie was a con artist, and I swore to reveal her true colors. If it was the last thing I’d do.
Push Me, Shove Me, Hate Me, Love Me
It was a hot summer day in July, and my kids and I were driving all the way to Ocean City, Maryland, from our hometown in Georgia. My father had purchased an expensive country home twenty years ago on a beautiful estate, close to the beach. Unfortunately, he had newly renovated the house after mum’s passing. Needless to say, this extremely pissed me off, and I was convinced that Lana had everything to do with it.
Mina loved going up there in the summers, so I decided to take them on our annual road trip, pack up, and drive to the house. Sandy was going to join us next week, because she wasn’t able to take time off from work.
The kiddos were super excited all through the trip. My daughter was six years old, and my son was two.
It was almost 5:30 in the evening, when I pulled up to a three story Craftsman, Shingle-Victorian house, getting hit with nostalgia upon arrival. This place held many great memories for me, and my mother loved it here. The house featured geothermal heating, including a heated driveway. It had plenty of attic space with a set of French doors that led out to the balcony in some of the bedrooms.
After the renovation, my father expanded the house, and it was approximately 6,582 square feet, with big bay windows, five bedrooms, four baths, and two half baths. The house used to have a very cozy feel to it, but after the renovation, that was completely destroyed, and replaced with luxury furnishings. We had a den/study, a formal dining room, formal living room, a great gathering room, and recreation room downstairs. It was an open floor plan, with skylights and vaulted ceilings.
I could smell my father’s famous barbeque when I got out of my black SUV. His red ’67 Corvette was parked next to us, and my old man loved that car. He treated all his sports cars like his baby.
I heard her voice and turned around.
My daughter opened the passenger door, and ran into the arms of the lovely stepmom.
Bloody fucking great.
“I missed you!”
“I miss you more, angel!”
I couldn’t help but roll my eyes, as I got Milo out of the car seat. The woman was adorning my daughter with affection, and it was beyond annoying.
“How was the drive?” she asked me, while holding Mina.
“Fine—” I smiled curtly, and walked past her. I really didn’t want to waste my time on idle chit chat with that broad.
“Your father’s getting dinner ready. I hope you’ve worked up an appetite.”
Working out five days a week meant I always had an appetite, especially for steak.
After I settled into my bedroom, I got comfortable, and changed into a pair of white khaki shorts, a black V neck T shirt, and some Adidas slippers. Then I walked out the sliding door that led to the backyard, with Milo in my arms.
It was full of flowers, professionally landscaped into virtually a dream garden, with a pool, full deck, solarium, and Jacuzzi. My mother’s vegetable garden had vanished. I guess that was just another part of father’s “renovations.”
“Ah, you made it. I was wondering when you’d arrive—was starting to worry. Come give us a hug.”
He was wearing a pink Hawaiian shirt, with black swimming trunks, and sandals. I could tell he had put on some weight, but not too much. His eyes were blue like mine, and he had a head full of hair, except it was grey and longer than mine. Clearly my old man had spent way too much time out in the sun, because his skin was sunburnt. I placed Milo down in his play pen, and embraced my father, before opening the cooler full of beer.
“It was a two day trip. Plus, there was a bit of traffic along the way.”
“Where’s the Missus?”
“Couldn’t make it due to work. But she’ll be here in a week.”
The old boy still had a prominent English accent. He was born in Wales, and raised in London.
“How are you and Sandy doing?”
“We’re good,” I opened a Heineken, and took a few sips, while I watched my son play with some building blocks.
“Gorgeous day isn’t it?”
I looked out on the ocean, and it was quite the scene alright. There were gentle waves in the water, with a boat harbour filled with yachts in the distance. The lush greenery all around us was very serene, and there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky. In a few hours, the cicadas would start to sing, and Mina would go running around the garden trying to catch a firefly, like she always did in the evenings up here. She had such a wild, and spirited nature—took after me in that sense.
“Work is…work. Sold a huge property last week,” I sat down on a patio chair, and stretched my legs.
“You could retire early, you know that, son.”
“I know, but I don’t want to retire just yet, dad. I’m happy with my career, and I’m making more money than Sandy is. I wish she would listen to me, and stay at home, or work part time from home, so she could be with the kids more.”
“I thought you said you two were good?”
“We are,” I sighed in frustration. “It’s just something I’ve been discussing with her.”
“I don’t want you to spend your years slaving away like a workaholic the way I did. I missed out on so much of your childhood because I was too busy with—”
“I know,” I cut him off before he could finish. “Look, there’s no need to go down memory lane. I remember my childhood—sadly.”
“Oh, come now, Vincent. Must we go there again?”
I heard a sizzling sound, and looked at my dad, while he closed the lid of the barbeque.
Evidently I had some underlying anger issues, and resentment towards him, but I just wasn’t in the mood to let all that resurface at the moment.
“Dadda! Dadda!” Milo started to giggle, and jump around in his play pen. Somebody wanted some attention.
“Are you going to teach that boy any other words other than the obvious?”
I stood up, and walked over to my son.
“He’s not like Mina, father. Stop comparing them.”
Milo’s laughter was so adorable, as I made funny faces at him. He had curly strawberry blonde hair, and brown eyes. Sandy would constantly say that he reminded her of this porcelain doll she used to have.
“When he’s ready to pick up more words, he will. Isn’t that right, son?” I reached into the pen, and tickled him, while he laughed and grabbed my finger, giving it a little bite.
Two little arms suddenly wrapped around my legs, leaving me virtually immobile.
“Lana and I made some strawberry and banana smoothies!”
“Did you, now?”
Mina released me, as I turned around, and watched the evil step mom walk out with a tray full of “poisoned beverages.”
“Yes! Try it! It’s so yummy!”
How could I say no when my little girl was looking at me with expectation.
Lana walked over, and held out the tray. She was wearing a short white, halter dress, that almost reminded me of the one Marylyn Monroe wore in that famous photo, except the hem of this dress was much shorter. It was typical Lana McKenzie fashion—always showing off those tanned, slender legs. God forbid she covered up.
“The fruit is organic,” she added, with a smile.
“I don’t much care for organic fruits and vegetables,” I glowered at her, and grabbed a smoothie.
“You should. It’s way healthier,” she smiled again, never taking those turquoise eyes off me.
“Thank you, stepmother, for the unnecessary lesson on nutrition.”
God, she was getting on my nerves.
“Come now, don’t you two start again. Not around these little rascals,” said my old man.
I rolled my eyes, and placed the organic drink down on the table to go help my dad.
Lana sat down in a patio chair, shaded from the sun, underneath an umbrella. She was wearing a pair of glossy red pumps, showing off a diamond studded bracelet around her left ankle. Her collection of accessories was constantly changing, but the one thing that remained the same was the silver crucifix that she wore around her neck, on a thin, silver chain. Oh the irony. There was nothing remotely virtuous about this woman.
I took a sip from the smoothie, and it wasn’t half bad. My mother’s fruit shakes were better though.
Mina sat on Lana’s lap, and the two girls immediately started bonding. I had no idea why my daughter loved her so much. Whatever she saw in her, I didn’t see. Children were innocent, and were supposed to have the ability to sense the good people from the bad. How come my brilliant daughter was blind to the corruption in this woman? It really did my head in.
“Can you braid my hair like yours, Aunt Lana?”
Bloody hell, the next thing I knew she was going to be influencing her how to dress. The last thing I needed was my daughter leaving the house looking like some harlot. Not that she was old enough to have boys lining up, but I dreaded the day it would come.
“You’re so pretty. I wish my hair was like yours.”
“Sweetie, don’t say that. Your hair is gorgeous. It’s soft, and dark like chocolate. It makes your beautiful blue eyes stand out. I wish I had your hair color.”
“You can change it. My mommy dyes her hair because she gets grey hairs sometimes.”
“I never dye my hair, sweetheart. Too many chemicals in that stuff that’s not very healthy for your hair. Do you know what ‘chemicals’ are?”
“Yes, daddy told me when we went to the science center.”
Christ, what was this, an anti L’Oréal commercial? I walked over to my daughter, and picked her up out of Lana’s lap.
“Come here, princess. Daddy’s lonely.”
She hugged my neck, as I sat down on a lounger, and held her in my arms.
“Why don’t you impress grandpa, and tell him all the 50 states.”
She named each one flawlessly, while I sat there looking like a proud father.
“Well done! I think that deserves a reward. Don’t you think, darling?”
“I agree,” Lana grinned.
“Okay, what’ll it be—a pony, a black stallion?”
“Dad, you spoil her enough.”
Mina hugged me tight, and kissed my cheek. Oh god, she was up to her usual tricks again, melting me until I said yes.
“Can’t I just buy her a car already, and store it in the garage until she gets her license?”
“Chances are she’ll refuse to drive it once she turns 16, since it will be out dated,” I chuckled.
“You’re the bestest daddy in the world! ”
“Bestest isn’t a word, Mina. You know that.”
“Yeah, but Lea and Ashley say it all the time.”
“Vincent, just let her be a kid. You can’t expect her to always act like a 30 year old grown up.”
“Don’t tell me how to raise my child,” I shot the stepmom a scornful stare, and she reacted by raising her hands apologetically, backing off.
“She’s right you know. Just let her act her age sometimes, son.”
My daughter put on her eternal pouty face.
“Do you think daddy’s mean?”
She shook her head.
“Do you think daddy’s too hard on you, sometimes?”
I sensed hesitation, but she slowly nodded.
“Oh, Mina,” I kissed her head, and squeezed her tight. “You know I love you, right?”
“You know you’re the light of my life?”
“Yes,” she slowly began to smile.
“The sun to my sky?”
“And the moon to your stars.”
“You’ve got her learning poetry already?” dad turned off the barbeque, removing the steaks and skewered veggies off the grill.
“She took an interest all on her own.”
“Mina, you’re such a bright young girl. Maybe you’ll be a famous writer one day,” Lana crouched down to her level and gently pinched her cheek.
She was leaning down so low that I was able to see her cleavage. I didn’t mean to look. It was just there in my face. A pair of C cup breasts, pushed up together. I wondered if they were natural. Probably fake. Lana caught me staring when I met her gaze. That’s when our eyes locked, and I wasn’t sure why I couldn’t look away, but I felt this invisible energy emanating from her stare, inflaming me with a false sense of attraction. That was all part of her wicked abilities, to beguile a man with her beauty. Well, I refused to fall in that category.
“Dinner’s ready,” she spoke in a soft, modulated voice.
“Come on, love. Let’s eat,” I pecked my daughter’s cheek, and lifted her off my lap.
Those steaks were delicious. My father really knew how to barbeque. We had some frozen peach yogurt for dessert, and then I put Milo to bed, while dad and Lana tidied the dinner plates.
It was almost seven thirty in the evening, and Mina started whining because she wanted to go to her favourite ice cream shop, which was a fifteen minute walk from the house.
“We can go tomorrow, sweetheart. You just ate dessert.”
“But I want to go now! Please, daddy? Please?”
“All that sugar isn’t good for you, princess.”
“But you promised!”
“What’s going on?” Lana walked into the living room. “Uh oh, do I sense a temper tantrum?”
“Aunt Lana, daddy promised he would take me to the ice-cream shop, and now he won’t,” she pouted, and folded her arms in her chest.
“Aw, well that’s not very nice, is it? Daddy shouldn’t make promises he can’t keep,” she glared at me, and mimicked Mina.
Bloody hell, why encourage the child?
“Daddy wasn’t expecting frozen yogurt for dessert,” I answered, with dramatic emphasis.
Mina looked like she was about to cry, and I quickly began to feel like an arse. God, she always guilt tripped me. I sighed, crouching down, and holding my knees.
“One scoop of ice cream, okay?”
“Yay!” she flung her arms around my neck, and practically choked me. “Please, can Aunt Lana come with us too?”
“I’d love to,” she smiled in a patronizing way, thinking she had bested me.
“I’m sure my father would rather have your company instead.”
“On the contrary,” he suddenly appeared, and joined us in the living room. “I get enough of her in the bedroom, if you know that I mean, son,” he leaned into my ear, nudging my arm.
I wanted to gouge my eyes out, and puke.
“Besides, someone’s got to hang back and watch over Milo. Why don’t the three of you walk to the shop? It’s a lovely evening for a stroll.”
“Let’s go!” Mina grabbed Lana’s hand, before slipping her tiny fingers into mine, and pulling us out the door.
Bless her. I couldn’t be mad at my own daughter for placing me in an undesirable situation. She was innocent, and as mature as she was for her age, she was still naïve to the two faced nature of people…cough-cough…Lana.
The sun was setting, but its last few rays of sunshine were glimmering on the water like sparkling diamonds. The sky was a lovely orange and coral colour, and I was walking down a gravel path, holding Mina’s hand. Lana was on the other side next to her, and she had changed into some white flip flops, which took away from the height she had gained wearing those heels earlier.
I could see the beach strip next to us, and there were a couple boats and yachts going by in the distance. We passed several other houses along the way, not saying a word to each other. I tried to just focus on the peaceful tranquility around me.
“I love Ocean City,” Lana broke the silence.
Normally, I’d ignore her, but I figured making polite conversation was the decent thing to do since my daughter was with us.
“Yeah, it’s beautiful. I used to come here all the time when I was little.”
“My parents never had a summer house. We never went on vacations—too poor.”
And so conveniently rich now, I answered her in my head.
“What’s your favourite memory from this place?”
I continued walking at a leisurely pace, while an elderly couple passed us.
“When my old man and I would go jet skiing, mum would always have lunch prepared for us when we got back. She was a serious sandwich artist. I always thought she could run her own catering business.”
“Your father doesn’t really like discussing Jane.”
Because he’s a bastard like that, I wanted to say.
“Maybe he just doesn’t want to upset you.”
“I always encourage him to talk about her,” Lana stated.
Right—and I was a monkey’s uncle.
Mina started humming a tune that I couldn’t quite figure out, while she gently swung our hands back and forth. She had this random habit of making up songs out of the blue. It was cute.
“Why did you get my father to renovate the house?” It was my one burning question.
“I never made him do such a thing,” she sounded surprised.
“He never would have done it, unless you asked. He built this summer home for my mum.”
“Vincent, I never forced him to renovate. He told me he wanted to spruce the place up, and give it a new identity. I actually had a discussion with him, saying that it would upset you, because I was under the impression that this place meant a lot to you.”
How did she know that? I never sat down and had a one on one conversation with her about it. I didn’t believe her, but there was no use arguing. I hated exposing Mina to negative energy and confrontation. I had enough of it in my childhood, and I promised myself that if I ever became a father, I would shield my children from all of that. This beautiful little girl was my investment, my pride and joy. She was the only one who would always love me for the rest of my life.
“Daddy, I want to fish! Can we go out on the boat tomorrow?”
I suddenly noticed two of our neighbours, walking towards us. They had a friendly little poodle named Misty. Mina loved that dog.
“Misty!” She let go of my hand, and sprinted towards her canine companion.
I waved at Mr. and Mrs. Kent, and kept an eye on my daughter, while we slowly approached them.
“Do you know those people?” Lana asked.
“Obviously—stop being so blonde.”
“I’m a natural blonde, and my hair colour has nothing to do with my common sense.”
“You mean your lack of it,” I teased her with malicious intent.
“You’re so cruel, Vincent.”
“Get used to it,” I looked at her, and watched her twist her ankle, causing her to lose her balance.
“Crap!” she took a sharp breath that sounded painful.
“Whoa, careful,” instinctively, I caught her arm in time, and held her up. But something happened when I touched her. An image flashed in my mind, but it happened so quickly, I could hardly make out what it was. The feeling was predominantly the only thing that remained. I felt confused.
“Oh my god—stupid pebble!” she clutched my arm, steadying herself, and shook her left foot until the tiny rock fell out. “Sorry, I almost twisted my ankle there.”
“Yeah, I noticed—klutz much?”
“I am. I just saved you from falling on your arse.”
She stopped walking, and looked at me, like she had seen a ghost or something. I thrust my hands in my pockets, and quirked an eyebrow at her.
“What? Do you expect a piggy back ride now?”
Lana seemed distraught, yet she said nothing, and caught up beside me.
“Thank you, for saving me.”
Odd, I hardly considered that saving her.
We stopped for a bit, while I had a polite little chat with our neighbours, and then we were on our way again. Mina went ahead of us, jumping with the skipping rope she had brought along with her.
“You’re so lucky to have children.”
“I am,” I smiled, watching my daughter.
“I often wonder what kind of mother I’ll be one day.”
Christ, the world was full of people who did not deserve to be parents. Lana was one of them. It was a good thing my father had a vasectomy. At least I didn’t have to worry about a little hell spawn growing inside her. Just the idea of that happening made me sick.
“I wish I had some brothers and sisters. Life would have been less lonely growing up,” she ran her fingers through her hair, and pulled out a bottle of water from her big, white hand bag. I glanced at her, and watched tiny droplets trickle down the corner of her mouth, falling in between her breasts.
She let out a contented sigh, and wiped her lips, after quenching her thirst.
“Mina, are you thirsty?” Lana called out.
“No, thank you!”
“Vincent, are you—”
I shook my head. “I’m good.”
My daughter kept skipping ahead, and I advised her not to go too far. So she kept skipping back and forth, until we caught up to her.
“Why do you love my old man? And keep it G rated, please.”
“All my reasons are G rated.”
I could feel her eyes on me.
“He treats me with dignity, and respect. He’s this rich, powerful man, and yet…he sees me as his equal.”
How he was able to see her on the same level was beyond me, but I kept my mouth shut and listened.
“Are you in love with him?”
She seemed to waver with a response.
Bullocks. That was an obvious lie.
“Why haven’t you published any of your works? It’s been well over a year now, and dad said you finished writing a novel. He wouldn’t stop talking about it.”
“Yes, It’s complete. I don’t know, I guess I just…I feel so exposed when I write. And when it comes to sharing that with the world, it scares me to death.”
“Because I’m terrified that people will figure me out, like they’ll know me—the real me.”
I was right. She was a masterful actress.
“I’m not saying that I’m being dishonest about who I am, I just meant the really dark, personal stuff that most people keep locked away. A writer’s vulnerabilities, sensitivities, and weaknesses tend to come out in their writing, either intentionally, or unintentionally.”
“And you’re worried that, what? Some psychopath is going to start stalking you because he’ll be able to see you through the characters in your book?”
“No, silly. I’m worried the world will lift me up, only to crush me down. I’ve been through enough of that in life. I’m not exactly the luckiest person.”
I wanted to scoff at her. She became a millionaire overnight by marrying my father, and luck had everything to do with it. “So you’re playing it safe?”
“I’m following my instincts,” Lana replied.
I doubt her instincts told her to marry my dad. It was more those dollar signs that were the true motivation.
“Do you read at all?”
“Not much, no,” I answered. Reading was a leisurely thing I used to do, but it had been such a long time since I picked up a good book. I got too busy with work. “What’s your story about?”
I sensed some hesitation at first.
“It’s about this man and this woman, living in the renaissance era, and their love for each other is overshadowed by hate. They have the most complex relationship.”
“Why do they hate each other?” I asked.
“Because she didn’t wait for him, and married another man. He ended up marrying another woman he did not love, and since they were both part of high society, they ran into each other a lot.”
That seemed like a legitimate reason to hate somebody. “How come she didn’t wait for him?”
“She met him after she married her husband.”
“That a ridiculous reason to hate somebody, considering the fact that they never met each other before marrying other people.”
“Sometimes, when you’re not patient enough to wait for your soul mate, they’ll pass you right by, and you wouldn’t even know it. I believe the worst pain in life is when you find your soul mate, and you can never be together. Circumstances keep you forever apart.”
Hm, how profound. I wasn’t expecting that from her.
We finally made it to the ice cream shop, and I bought my daughter a small cone with a scoop of chocolate ice cream, which she thoroughly enjoyed.
By the time we returned back to the house, Mina looked at me, and said, “Can Lana be my new mommy?”
“Sweetheart, what are you talking about? You have a mummy already,” I said to her, looking somewhat baffled.
“But she never hugs me! And she never says I love you! And she’s a mean mommy! I hate her!” she wrapped her arms around Lana’s waist, and hid her face in her stomach.
“Is everything okay with you and Sandy?” Lana asked, while hugging my daughter.
“Yeah, everything’s fine.”
No, clearly things were not okay with me and my wife. She was emotionally crippled, though I couldn’t understand why for the life of me. It was affecting our daughter, and I wasn’t happy. Sandy didn’t believe in I love you’s. She believed that actions spoke louder than words. But it hurt Mina when she would tell her mother she loved her, and she wouldn’t say it back. I fought with her numerous times regarding this issue.
“Mina, that’s not a very nice thing to say about your mum.”
“I don’t care! I wish mommy would just die!” she let go of Lana and disappeared into the house.
I sighed, feeling helpless.
Lana regarded me carefully. I was upset that my child had put on such a juvenile display in front of the evil stepmother, making me feel exposed about my marriage life. It’s like she was betraying all our family problems to someone I didn’t trust.
“Why didn’t you make an effort to defend Sandy?” I nearly shouted in a fit of frustration.
“What did you expect me to say? She completely caught me off guard.”
“Yeah, well she didn’t mean it,” I muttered.
“You think I don’t know that?”
“There is no way my daughter would ever want you for a mother if she knew who you really are,” I was about to step onto the porch, when Lana blocked my way.
“Why do you have such a hard on for hating me!?”
“Please,” I chuckled. “You wish I’d have a hard on for you.”
“Stop being a pervert.”
“You’re the one who mentioned me having a bloody hard on, not me!”
The sky was darkening, as we stood there in front of the house, staring each other down. It was the calm before the storm, and there was a vibration flowing through me, like I was standing close to a live wire or something. I feared that if I touched her, I’d get zapped.
“I’m not the person that you’re determined to believe I am, Vincent,” she looked at me for the first time with hurt in her eyes. Almost as if a barrier had come down. That perfect happy mask that she constantly wore on her face was no longer there.
Something shifted inside of me; a plate tectonic movement of anger, resentment, and something else that I couldn’t identify.
She left me standing there alone, leaving only the traces of her sweet perfume behind. I shut my eyes, and drew in a deep breath. This was going to be a long three weeks.
After reading Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” about a hundred times to Mina, she finally nodded off, and was sound asleep. I loved reading to her. Usually she would be the one reading the pages to me over and over, until I’d surrender to sleep. Then she’d shake me awake because I’d start snoring. God, she was adorable. My daughter was destined for great things, this much I knew.
It was a little after ten, when I went downstairs, and heard piano music coming from the great gathering room. At first I thought my father had the stereo on, but I was surprised to find Lana sitting by a white grand piano in the corner of the room.
My mother made me take lessons ever since I was five years old, and I knew how to play the piano really well.
I leaned my weight against the doorframe, watching, listening. It sounded like an original composition, nothing that I was familiar with. The room was painted in different shades of white, creams, and vanilla colors, with a high ceiling and three large ceiling fans above. The main attraction in the space was the fireplace that had a big black and white photograph of a forest hanging above the mantle. This was one of my favourite rooms in the house, because there were so many windows along the walls, and you could see the ocean in the distance.
My father was sitting in a comfortable leather armchair, listening to Lana play, entranced by the music.
It was beautiful, I’ll give her that much. Involuntarily, my eyes began to cascade from her face, to her long and slender neck. She was wearing diamond studded earrings, and had the most defined collar bones. Everything about her was so feminine. I had never seen her in sweats, or even a ripped T shirt. Clearly she was very high maintenance. It seemed ridiculous to even refer to her as my stepmother. I was seven years older than the woman. She was like a child in my eyes. Maybe that’s why I had difficult respecting her…the age difference. I couldn’t see her as some figure of authority.
A beautiful harmonized melody reverberated around the room, as she stayed focus, concentrating on the keys. I didn’t need such concentration whenever I played. My hands were dexterous, and I knew many classical compositions off by heart without the aid of sheet music.
Folding my arms in my chest, I stayed stationary by the door, and just studied her. At one point she closed her eyes, and let her fingers caress the keys. Her artistic talent had taken me by revelation.
Lana suddenly looked up, and caught me staring. She held my gaze for five seconds, and then looked away, finishing the piece.
“Bravo! Bravo!” my father began to applaud.
“Thank you, Maxwell,” she smiled demurely, and stood up.
“Encore! You play so splendidly, my dear. It has been forever since Vincent has filled this house with music.”
“Maybe you should ask him, because he’s standing right there,” she pointed at me.
My father turned his head around. “Well, what are you doing standing over there? Come in.”
“Sorry, didn’t mean to intrude,” I rolled on my heel, and stepped inside.
“Nonsense, sit down with Lana. Play a duet composition. I so enjoy those.”
“I’m sure Vincent would like to play a separate piece,” she answered.
“What’s wrong, afraid of a challenge?”
She laughed nervously, and folded her arms in her chest when I moved in next to her.
Lana listened, and sat next to me on the piano seat. “Are you familiar with any classical compositions?”
“No, I’m really not that good. I never had any lessons. I’m just…self-taught,” she shrugged.
“Can you read sheet music?”
“Not that well.”
“What are some songs you know?”
“Umm…” she pondered in thought for a moment. “Apologize, by One Republic. That’s a great duet song. Do you know it?”
“Yes, I’m familiar with it.”
“Do you know how to play the duet version?” she asked.
“No, but I can improvise it along with you.”
“On with the show! I want to hear harmonized music notes!” my father grumbled impatiently.
“Okay, you ready?” I asked her.
“You lead, I’ll follow.”
She took a deep breath, and lightly positioned her fingers over the keys. I noticed that her hands were slightly trembling. Was she nervous? I wondered.
As she began to play, I soon realized that she was playing the melody. So I joined in by playing the harmony in a slower rhythm on the lower keys, while she played the higher octaves.
We actually sounded pretty descent, much to my surprise. She didn’t mess up once. Her confidence only increased by the second. I had to cross my arm over hers every so often to reach the other keys, and our fingers accidentally brushed against each other every now and then. It was like liquid movement.
We reached the chorus in the song, and that’s when Lana began to sing.
I had the most unexpected reaction that I hadn’t felt in a very long time. Her voice literally made my entire body shiver. This woman had the most beautiful singing voice, and I didn’t know whether to envy her, or commend her hidden talent.
“I loved you with a fire red…”
We were sitting so close to each other, and throughout the song I realized one thing; I was actually enjoying myself. Was I possessed? Had she bewitched me? Her voice seemed to have a spellbinding effect on me.
I stole a glance at her face, and her expression seemed to betray a pain I didn’t recognize. I guess the song was making her emotional. Everything seemed to fade out for me. Everything…but Lana.
We finally finished the song in unison, like we had practiced it forever.
“Flawless! Beautiful!” my dad clapped his hands. “You both played so masterfully,” he commented, taking a sip of his tea.
Lana met my eyes, and I wasn’t sure what kind of silent signal we were exchanging between each other. Maybe it was just a respectful interchange of a compliment from one musician to another.
“You play really well for someone who’s self-taught.”
“Thank you,” she tucked back a lock of her hair behind her ear, and then averted her eyes.
Dad’s phone suddenly vibrated, and he stood up, regarding us for a second. “Be right back—need to take this,” he left the room, leaving us alone together. I felt uneasy, like I was unsure of myself for some reason.
“Look, Vincent, I just…I want you to know that despite our differences in a lot of things, I really do care about you. I know you think I’m some gold digger, but I’m not. I love your father, and I consider you all my family. The only family I have,” her eyes began to tear up, and I wasn’t sure how to react, or what to say.
Seeing her let her guards down like this was something new to me. After all this time, why now? It had to be an act. There must’ve been an ulterior motive. I never bought Lana’s story when she said she loved my dad from the beginning. What made her think I was going to change my mind now?
“I don’t trust you. I don’t think I ever will.”
“Why can’t you just try? It’s been almost two years now, and we never seem to get along. I feel like every time I try to do something good, or nice, it only makes you hate me more.”
My blood pressure was rising, and I had to resist the urge to blow up on her. I was a ticking time bomb.
“Let’s avoid this conversation.”
“Don’t you want to resolve this with me?” she frowned.
“No, I don’t.
“There are tons of horrible people in the world, Vincent. I’m not one of them.”
“You are!” I suddenly shouted. “Because if you weren’t, you never would have agreed to marry my idiot father, who was clearly not in his right mind after my mother’s death. I mean, for fucks sake, Lana. Where the hell was your compassion and understanding? You couldn’t just let my family grieve, could you? You just had to get married two fucking months after she passed away!” I was losing control over my emotions. This wasn’t good. “You want me to respect you, and get along with you? I can’t! You did a great job at destroying that all by yourself! If you had any sense in your head, you would’ve backed off. All you did was take advantage of a grieving man, who probably felt lonely as fuck, and thought the best way to medicate his broken heart was to find a substitute wife. But you’re just a cheap version. You can never fill my mother’s shoes. Do you hear me? Never!”
Her lips trembled, as she wiped away a tear, and left me sitting on that piano seat all my by myself…again
I felt like I was stuck in some sort of emotional limbo, with feelings hitting me from every which direction, leaving me with little recovery time. I seemed to have this amazing talent for making her run away from me, and she never fought back.
My father appeared by the doorway.
“How the bloody hell should I know?” I muttered disparagingly, and left the room.
The house was eerily quiet when I stepped into the kitchen in the darkness. I was wearing a pair of white lace panties, and a silk ivory coloured camisole, with a see through mesh at the back. No bra. It was unbearably hot, because the air conditioning had stopped working during the night.
Maxwell was fast asleep, but I couldn’t fall asleep because of the humidity, and also because I had so much going through my mind.
I cracked open a couple windows, and looked out onto the ocean. A full moon was reflecting down in the dark, velvety waters. It was beautiful.
Tiptoeing towards the fridge, I opened the freezer, and reached for a bucket of chocolate mint ice cream.
Once I got a spoon, I sat down cross legged on the floor, resting my back against the freezer. I kept the fridge open, so that’d I’d have some light, and also to cool off a bit.
My chest felt so heavy, as I ate a big spoonful of ice cream, and sobbed in silence. Vincent’s words really hurt me. I never wanted him to hate me like this. I never wanted to feel so despised by so many people. I honestly wanted to pack up my things, leave my wedding ring on the kitchen counter, and drive without any destination. It seriously saddened me because I genuinely loved everybody, especially Mina. She was like the daughter I always dreamed of having, but never had. I saw so much of her father in her. Vincent was often mean, and cruel to me, but in the moments that I would catch him showing kindness, and love, it made it impossible for me to believe that he was eternally evil.
I entered Maxwell’s life during the most difficult time for his family. I thought I was lucky to not have any stepdaughters. Little did I know that having a stepson could be just as bad, if not worse.
Refusing to stop my binge eating, I scooped up some of that icy goodness, and ate it in one bite. I couldn’t stop crying, and I felt so stupid for sitting on the kitchen floor, all alone, breaking down like some hormonal pregnant woman. What was wrong with me?
There were footsteps coming down the stairs, and that’s when I froze.
I could see a dark silhouette of a man approaching, but couldn’t make out who it was, until he stood just a foot away from me.
“What are you doing eating on the floor? Are you some animal? Did your parents not teach you civilized eating habits?”
I placed the spoon inside the frozen bucket, and then set it down beside me, before meeting Vincent’s glacial stare. His black boxers hung really low around his waist, and he didn’t have a shirt on.
“If you’re trying to make me feel any lower than I already feel, I don’t think you’ll succeed. This is as low as it gets for me,” my tears began to flow, as I buried my face in my hands, and cried.
I heard him whisper, but I couldn’t stop myself from weeping, and feeling sorry for myself. His muscular body slid down beside me, and then a hesitant hand reached out to touch my shoulder. He seemed quite uncertain at first with his affection, but Vincent slowly rubbed my back, and comforted me.
“Don’t cry…I’m sorry. I was being an arse.”
With sheer force of will, I tried to calm down, and get it together. I didn’t want to wake the children, or my husband.
“You don’t have to comfort me, Vincent. I know you find me repulsive,” I hugged my knees to much chest, and avoided his Arctic eyes.
“You hate me. No matter what I do, you hate me.”
“I don’t hate you, Lana. Hating someone is like wishing them dead. I don’t wish you dead. I just…”
I finally looked over at him, and felt my heart stop beating for a couple seconds, as I stared into his handsome face. He was so young compared to Maxwell; short brown hair, ice blue eyes, narrow jawline, with stubble under his chin.
“You were right about what you said this evening. I should have thought things through before marrying your father.”
“It doesn’t really matter. He would’ve gotten his way regardless. He always does.”
“Vincent, I didn’t marry Maxwell for money,” I carefully observed his expression, curious to know what he was thinking. “I know you don’t understand your father’s relationship with me, not many people do. But I feel that no one has the right to judge me, because my reasons for marrying him were never motivated by money.”
“Then why? Please, help me understand.”
“I was in an abusive relationship for a long time. This man used to beat me, emotionally, and verbally abuse me—when I finally left him, I had nothing. I felt like I was robbed of my identity, completely stripped of who I was. I wasn’t sure how I was going to survive, but somehow I managed. Meeting you father…he was the first man in my life to show me genuine love. He wanted to do everything for me, to help me pursue my dreams, asking for nothing in return, only my friendship. But I fell in love with who he was. Not everyone is shallow, and superficial. Maybe that’s how you judge my personality, but that’s not who I am,” fresh tears were misting my vision again, and I tried to push them back. I wanted to tell him so much more. But what difference would it have made? I had tried to get through to him before in subtle ways, and there was always no change.
Vincent stared right through me, as if he was trying to find the lie in my truth, but he would find none.
“Let’s get you off the floor,” he stood up, and held out his hand, pulling me up with him. Maybe this was the beginning of a newfound friendship.
He smelled of body wash and after shave. It was difficult to look at him, because my eyes would naturally wander down to his abs. Maxwell was a sweetheart, but no longer blessed with youth, and an athletic body that came with it.
I sat down on the counter, and ate some more ice cream.
“Did you wake up because of this heat too?”
“Yeah, one of the hottest nights of the year,” he replied, grabbing a bottle of water from the fridge.
I watched the way his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down with every gulp.
“You should try this, it’s Ben & Jerry’s, and it’ll cool you down.”
“Come on, just one bite,” I reached down, and pulled out the drawer, retrieving a silver spoon. “It’s the best mint chocolate I’ve ever had,” I scooped a big spoonful, and then raised it to his lips.
Vincent looked reluctant, giving me a quizzical look, but then the top of the spoon disappeared in his mouth.
I smiled when he smiled, nodding his head in satisfaction.
“Oh, here—let me—” there was some ice cream on the corner of his mouth, and I reached out to wipe it away with my thumb. I was about to lick it off, when he stopped me, and held onto my wrist.
Time seemed to stand still, as he locked his heated stare on me. I felt victim to the powerful seduction that his body possessed over mine, and I couldn’t look away, as he kept bringing his face closer and closer to mine. He parted my legs, while he moved in between them. Vincent’s hands slid up the sides of my neck, until he was cupping my face.
My breath was quivering, and my body nearly shuddered when the man who had seen me as his enemy for so long, finally waved a white flag, and pressed his lips against mine. We were challenging the karmic balance of the universe, daring it to strike us down if this feeling felt wrong. My heart was slowly opening like a flower when he kissed my lips with a measured, sweltering passion that rippled through my body from head to toe. With every caress of his lips against mine, I felt him gain more confidence and control, as he dominated the intensity of our unexpected intimacy.
I was too nervous to wrap my arms around his sculpted shoulders. Everything about his man intimidated me. I felt like a mortal woman that had fallen in love with Ares, the Greek god of war.
I reached for his wrists, and moaned slightly, inviting his gentle tongue to explore my mouth. But as soon as he grabbed my hips, I pulled back, because his hard on was pressing right against my thin panties. We rested our foreheads against each other, and breathed heavily. It was like we were knocked out by something that was more powerful than our bodies could ever endure.
“Vincent, we can’t—”
“I can’t think around you,” he interrupted. “I seriously cannot think around you, Lana, and it’s making me crazy.”
He kissed me again, this time with more hunger and desire, and I tried to push him away, but he overpowered me.
“No, Vincent, stop—” I struggled to speak, in between his lustful kisses.
“I can’t, and you don’t want me to,” he glided his hand along my inner thigh, and pushed my panty to the side, before sliding his fingers into my dripping sex.
A small breathy gasp escaped my lips, as I held onto his arm, and tried to get him to move his fingers out, but it was no use. My body was surrendering to the amplifying pleasure he was giving me, as we stared at one another, and tried not to moan.
I pulled out his steel, throbbing shaft, and stroked it while he fingered me with deep penetration.
This was by far the most erotic experience I had on a kitchen counter, while I sat there with my legs open, refusing to slow down with my strokes until I helped him achieve what he was determined to make me feel. We both worked towards the same goal, kissing, touching, and biting, until…
“Fuck, Lana, I’m—”
He completely caught me off guard when he grabbed his cock, and shoved it inside of my vulnerable opening. I felt his violent thrust, as his length ripped into me, filling me to the hilt, shooting wave after wave inside. He silenced my pleasurable moans with a kiss.
I wrapped my arms around his neck, and submitted myself to him, feeling him throb inside me. My breathing was laboured, and his was more so.
Once we slowly calmed down, panic filled my heart. Now that the fog had cleared, and we were no longer under control of our animal instincts, what was Vincent going to do? Expose me to Maxwell? Call me out on being a slut? I wanted to cry. I was never anticipating this, nor was I seeking it out.
“This can’t happen again,” he whispered.
“Look at me,” he demanded.
He hadn’t pulled out yet, which meant our bodies were still conjoined. I looked into his eyes, and wanted to sink into him.
“I want you to kiss me.”
Vincent didn’t need to say it. It’s what I already wanted. I was about to lean into his lips, when he stopped me.
“Only if your feelings for me are more than just hot sex on the counter.”
I stared at him, and held his face, before I leaned in, and kissed him with everything I had.
“Now, repeat it back to me,” he pulled back for breath.
“I’m afraid to.”
“Because I’m afraid of the answer.”
His penetrating gaze never left my face, as he edged closer, and softly kissed my lips.
When he finally broke the contact, I looked up at him, with tears in my eyes. “Vincent, please tell me you remember that night. Don’t you remember?”
He smiled so soft and lovingly at me, and then whispered in my ear,
“Do you honestly believe I could ever have feelings for a whore like you?” his laugh was dark and sinister…and that’s when I woke up.
I was drenched in sweat, heart pounding, and my hands were nearly trembling from trauma. I was dreaming. No, I was having a nightmare…a beautiful nightmare.
Maxwell was fast asleep, snoring beside me. I got out of bed, and headed into the bathroom.
Turning on the tap, I rinsed my face with some cool water. Some dreams can really shake you to the core, and this was one of them. It felt so real. I tried not to cry, dried my face, and went back to bed. Tomorrow would be another day of torture, another day to love a man who was blinded by hate.