“That was awesome. I’m really proud of you.”

“Thanks.” My facial muscles somehow lifted into a smile. It was almost like I forgot how to do it.

“Now what?” she prompted me.

The car roared to life as I turned the ignition. The possibilities seemed endless—I had outsmarted the criminal defense lawyer who I used to look up to with a mixture of devotion and awe. He was the man who my parents loved, who had somehow gained their approval.

What did they know? He was just an idiot.

“Let’s get a drink.”

“Yeah, sounds good!”

Chapter 11

The next morning, I woke up with a pounding headache and no memory of how I got into bed. Moaning, I sat up and blinked blearily at the sunlight pouring through the blinds. My mouth felt as dry as sandpaper and my eyeballs felt as though they had been dipped in acid.

Ugh. Hangover.

I peeked Jessica’s bedroom, but she was not there. I wandered from room to room, searching for her, but it was clear that she had taken her things and left the apartment, probably to stay at Luke’s house for the weekend.

Feeling lonely, I sat in a rickety chair at my kitchen table, listening to the ticking clock hanging on the wall, and slowly drank a tall glass of water as I watched my phone.

I’ve never felt so pathetic and alone in my life. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and DO something.

Do what? What could I do to help Will that I hadn’t tried already? I dragged my laptop to the kitchen and scrolled through the comments section on an article at CNN about the DUI fiasco:

Rehab for a DUI? What an insult to the victims’ families.

Rich kid heads to rehab, three people head to graveyards.

Not sure why people are blaming him when the article states that he was a passenger in the car…

Then I opened a gossip website: Lawyer drops all charges against William Pardini. The comments section consisted of people wondering how much Will gave Ben to pay him off. Disgusted, I closed the window and opened Photoshop. My first day of work was coming up soon, so there was still nothing to do. The blank, empty canvas stared at me and I glanced at my sketchpad, remembering what I was working on the night I got back from Europe.

I got the idea to make a mock-up of a nonprofit organization against drunk driving. I never had the opportunity to design a whole website, let alone a non-profit, and I wanted to do something for Will to thank him for everything he had done for me. Between Ben’s antics with the photos and Will’s arrest, I didn’t have the time to focus on it.

Quickly, I started work. The pain in my head receded from a dull throb to a slight twinge in my head. I chose a neutral color scheme: soft blues, beige, and white. At the top of the website I made a banner: The William Pardini Foundation. Underneath the banner, I wrote a brief mission statement and cropped a photo of him to place over the text. I was so engrossed in the project that I didn’t even notice my phone buzzing until it fell with a loud thump to the floor.

“Shit.”

I dove down and answered it.

“Hello, this is Natalie.”

“Good morning, Ms. Porter.”

A ripened, male voice spoke through the cell phone. I knew that I recognized his voice, but I wasn’t sure who he was. Was he perhaps an old client?

“Um—good morning.” I still have no idea who this is.

“I wanted to thank you for what you did with Mr. Osland. William and I are very grateful.”

A sudden shock went through me and the phone almost slipped from my face. It’s Will’s Dad. “Oh! Yes, well, I was just trying to help.”

“Well, I hope you’re still willing to help because William desperately needs it. He’s going to meet the victims’ families tomorrow.”

“That’s great!”

“Actually, Ms. Porter, it isn’t.”

The smile vanished from my face when I heard his icy tone.

“He’s in no shape to visit them. What I want you to do is to accompany him. There will be media there and we need to present William as a stable, well-adjusted adult in a healthy relationship. I want you to support him, but above all, I want you to prevent him from doing anything stupid.”

I could hear the panic rumbling in his voice. He was frightened that Will would say something that would damage the company’s reputation.

“Why didn’t he just ask me himself?”

“He does not know that I am calling you. I am worried about my son, Ms. Porter, and I know what you said to my wife about him. I am allowing this to happen only because every other attempt to help him has failed. You will be well compensated for your trouble.”

“I don’t want your money,” I said quickly.

He sighed impatiently. “I need some kind of assurance that you’ll do this.”

I listened to the static on the other end. I knew that I wouldn’t take his money, but perhaps there was something else he could do. “Settle the lawsuit with Luke and I’ll do it.”

There was silence on the other end for almost thirty seconds.

“That’s none of your business.”

I cringed from the bite in his words. “Those are my terms.”

“Why does it even matter to you?”

“Luke is my friend. He helped Will, too, you know. He bailed him out of jail when he could have let him rot there.”

“Sitting in a jail cell for a few days is exactly what my son needs. Goodbye, Ms. Porter.”

“Wait!” I yelled before he could hang up, my heart pounding rather fast. “I’ll do it, but I don’t want your money, I just want to help Will. He deserves it.”

“I think so, especially when this entire mess could have been avoided if he never met you. The car will be at your apartment at eight tomorrow. Do not be late.”

The smile in his voice made me feel like I had been duped. “Okay,” I said in a small voice.

“Oh, and Ms. Porter?”

My heart quickened. “Yes?”

“You’re a terrible negotiator. Goodbye.”

Mr. Pardini hung up before I could squeak out another word.

* * *

My pale, anxious face stared at me through the mirror. I picked up the brush and buffed my cheeks with blush.

Should I put my hair up or down?

I twisted my hair into a knot that I piled on top of my head and studied myself. Too severe. I should look friendly. I let my hair fall down and winced at my reflection.

It was like getting ready for piano recitals when I was a kid. I knew I hadn’t practiced and that it would be an utter disaster, but I went anyways because my parents expected it of me. I felt the same way about today.


Tags: Vanessa Waltz Billionaire Young Adult
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