“Watch your language, Madison. I did raise you to be a lady.”
I avoid that conversational landmine, driving farther, until I see a house that is actually visible, behind yet another imposing iron gate. “I’m in front of a white house. Spanish style, with an orange tile roof.”
She huffs impatiently into the phone. “You know, the food is getting cold. And I don’t have every home in this neighborhood memorized. Our house faces west, and we are in the back of the neighborhood. I’ll send one of the help down to stand by the gate.”
The help. I bite back a response, schooling my brain as my mouth opens. “Thanks Mom. I’ll be there soon.” Movement catches my eye as I end the call, and a white SUV pulls up behind me, its roof flashing red and white. I let out a groan, watching the door open and a uniform emerge.
RANCHO SANTA FE, CA
I watch my mother carefully. Watch the slight tremor in her hand as she reaches for her drink. Watches the polite smiles she gives her husband—smiles one would give an acquaintance—not a loved one.
I don’t mind Maurice. In terms of a husband, she could have done worse. He is polite, respectful, puts her on a pedestal her beauty dictates but her behavior doesn’t deserve. He belongs to the proper clubs, has the acceptable nine-figure balance sheet, and gives her complete freedom, not that she uses it for anything other than drinking.
But he’s ancient. Oxygen-mask, Depends stuffed in his nurse’s apron, might-not-make-it-to-Christmas, ancient. And Mother, despite the tremor in her voice, and her inability to do anything other than mourn her past life, is beautiful. Half natural-beauty, half enhanced by the team of world-class plastic surgeons who she has employed her entire life. She looks thirty-five, with smooth skin, cosmetically perfect bone structure, and a body that most twenty-year-olds would kill to have, myself included. I don’t know why she fights so hard to keep up her appearance, since she never leaves this house, never visits the country clubs they belong to, or the restaurants they could buy ten times over. Her friends all abandoned her around the time that our money ran out. I think she thought, when marrying Maurice, that they would all come back. Welcome her into their perfect little fold. But she was tainted, their blue blood unable to forget her fall from grace, her drunken wander through the Spring Charity Gala, our home, with overgrown grass and no housekeeper. Her daughter’s exclusion from the debutante ball. They had seen her weakness, and wanted no part of her return, despite the new wardrobe and prestigious address that accompanied it.
“Have you given any thought to returning to school?” Mother’s voice interrupts my depressing walk down memory lane, her eyes cutting me across fourteen feet of fine dining.
“No.” Short and sweet is the best policy with her. It is likely she won’t remember this meal tomorrow.
“And why not?”
“I have a job, Mother. I am doing just fine.”
“Still single?” she asks, her perfectly waxed eyebrow raised.
My relationship status is her gauge of my personal success. A wealthy boyfriend, with husband potential, and she’ll cross me off her ‘things to worry about’ list, however short it may be. In her mind, a man is all I need. Someone to take care of me. Whether or not love is involved is a moot point.
“Yes, Mom. Still single.”
I’m not going to go into my dual relationship status with her. Not in front of Maurice, and not when I’m not going to talk to her for another six months. It’s easier to hear her lecture me about my singleness than hear the reaction that the truth would cause. And if I only told her about one, then she’d want to meet him, would probably surprise me in Venice, clad in Chanel, ready to play Dutiful Mother for an afternoon, before being driven back to her alcohol-infused life.
“Do you need money?”
Her eyes have noticed my car. The clean lines of my clothing, the Chanel J12 watch that decorates my wrist. She knows I don’t need money, but I think the offer makes her feel superior. It is proof that she has succeeded. Pulled her life together and risen from the ashes of my father’s crash. “I don’t need money, Mom. I’m good.”
Maurice interrupts our awkward exchange, asking about books, and our lunch takes a pleasant turn, discussing the latest bestsellers and our thoughts on them. Maurice is a reader, his library one that I would get on my knees and suck dick for. I’m talking fourteen-foot ceilings, worn paperbacks and hardbacks filling deep bookshelves that take up three walls and reach to the ceiling. I’ve spent hours curled into the deep leather chairs in front of the fireplace, a stack of books before me. It is where I escape during holidays, parties, and any other occasion that dictates my presence in this household.
After the table is cleared and Mother switches from mimosas to Arnold Palmers, I help Maurice to his feet, and we make the long and slow journey to the library. I’ve brought a stack of new hardcovers—knowing his taste in reading. We sit down before the fireplace, and I walk him through the selection, stacking them in the order that I think he’d prefer.
Then we read, in companionable silence, for two hours, until I notice the time and stand to leave. I walk over to Maurice, who has fallen asleep, his head tilted back at an awkward angle, and I gently place a small pillow under his head and lightly kiss his cheek. Love is a strong verb for my feelings for him, but appreciate is a more accurate term. I appreciate that my mother has someone to take care of her, even if I don’t understand the dynamics of their relationship, or what it is that he gets from her. I think, at a certain age, loneliness is the biggest battle to fight, and I hope my mother, in her inebriated state, at least provides companionship for him.
I find my mom in the front parlor, sitting back in a chair, also asleep. I set a book next to her, the last one in my bag, a romance I know she’ll enjoy. I head for the front door and smile at the uniformed girl who holds out my jacket. “Thank you. Please thank them for the brunch.”
She nods politely and opens the door for me. I take one last glance at my mother and then step out, the cool spring air reminding me of the jacket in my arms. I shrug into it and job down the steps down to my car, ready to get back home.
Life in luxury can be stifling.
VENICE BEACH, CA
I walk into our home, greeted by the delicious view of the backside of Paul, a wet suit unzipped and hanging from his hips, baring his upper body, hiding his bottom half in skintight vinyl. He turns, a bowl of what smells like Kraft Mac & Cheese in his hand, a spoon halfway to his mouth.