* * *
I awoke with a start.
Shit. How did I fall ASLEEP?!
Panicking, I couldn’t get out of the armchair. I must have smacked it or something in my sleep, and it had reclined into the most comfortable position…but I couldn’t claw myself free from it. I glanced over at Cole’s chair, but it was empty.
Finally, my arm clasped onto a soft rod near the side, but I couldn’t figure out how to disengage it. Still, this gave me the leverage to pull myself up…damn these rich people and their stupid furniture. This isn’t like any recliner I’ve ever seen!
Just as I was climbing out, the rod slid, and the mechanisms of the chair swung back into place. I slid to the tile painfully, but quickly grasped onto the chair and lifted myself up to a flustered standing position.
“Cole!” I called out, seeing him step into a hallway.
He had changed into baggy, comfortable clothing, and his face was freshly wet. Wiping with a rag, he walked over towards me and grabbed me by the shoulder.
“I heard you calling, and then a commotion – are you okay? Are you hurt?”
“No, I’m…I’m fine,” I muttered, glancing out to see that the night had fallen across New York City. “I was just so scared that something had…you weren’t…”
“I’m okay,” Cole smiled. “I just needed to get out of those constraining clothes, splash some water in my face. You took care of me. Thank you,” he whispered, pressing a kiss to my cheek.
“So it wasn’t a dream, then…I really found you on the floor in a mess.”
His smile faltered. “Yes.”
“And you said…you were dying.”
“I am,” he confirmed glumly.
“Cole, I don’t understand…”
“Here,” he said, guiding me towards the outer counter of the kitchen, where some bar stools were seated. He pulled one out and plunked me down, pouring us a pair of waters. I accepted the glass and stared at him with a confused expression.
“It’s time that I came clean,” the billionaire told me. “It’s time that you learned everything.”
“From the top,” I nodded.
“From the top.” He spread his palms across the lower counter, leaning towards me. He lifted his face, staring me in the eyes as he steeled himself. “Are you ready?”
I nodded. “I think so.”
“Gifted is the word that they used,” I began. “The schools, I mean. Elementary school. My teachers noticed that I had a particular skill for high grades and test scores, and after a year or two of observation, I was placed on an accelerated learning curriculum, alongside a few other students. There were perhaps a dozen students in the entire school – several grades included – who were in this program.
“My parents were understandably very proud of me,” I reminisced. “They didn’t really get it, but all they knew was that I was a bright kid, and that meant that I was getting into a good school. It was good enough for them. They weren’t terribly smart themselves, either of them, but my continuing education justified their long work hours. My father was a woodworker, a carpenter; my mother worked in a bakery. Neither of them were going anywhere in life, but they wanted the best for me, and they always joked that they didn’t know where my brains came from.
“When I was still younger, my mother sat me down and told me a single, life-changing truth: I would have had an older sibling. Five or six years before I was born, she had become pregnant, during their senior year of high school. Unfortunately, the child was a miscarriage. Naturally, it was perhaps for the best, given where they were in life…but my mother would sometimes stare into space, and I wondered how often she thought of the child that would have been my older brother or sister.”
I shifted the topic back towards myself. “As a gifted child, I had a lot of pressure to perform well, although both my parents remained highly supportive of my academic endeavors. They were so pleased to see me happy, healthy, and rising to the challenge. But when it came time to transition to middle school, there was a restructuring of the divisions. You see, there were four middle schools in my town, and my home fell on the division between the best middle school in twenty miles, and what was arguably the worst.