Page 9 of The One

“Hi.” She doesn’t get up as the three step to the table.

“Hi, Mrs. Richards.” The brunette smiles and raises her eyebrows. “Nice to see you.”

Issi’s mom leans into my father and smiles. “Hi girls. Issi’s just moved back.”

“Oh?” The second blonde looks down at Issi. “We should all get together.”

Issi nods, holding her lips tight. “Sure.”

“I like your shoes.” The brunette looks down, and the other two’s eyes follow. “Jimmy Choo, three years ago I had the very same ones.”

“Hamilton.” Pride shines in Gayl’s eyes as she takes my dad’s hand. “These are three of Issi’s friends from Cranbrook. Ruby, Chelsea, and Amy…” She looks up at my dad. “This is my fiancé, Hamilton, we are getting married tomorrow. And this…” She nods toward me, and I do my best to keep my eyes on Issi to let her know these three aren’t pulling anything over on me, and I’m Team Issi all the way. “…is Van Welch, Issi’s soon to be stepbrother.” Gayl giggles and my stomach turns.

I see recognition in the brunette’s eyes and do my best to pretend I don’t know her. After all, it was one brief encounter, she was maybe seventeen or eighteen, and it’s likely I wouldn’t remember. So I play it off that way, hoping she lets the past stay in the past as well.

Thank God my phone rings before it gets awkward, giving me an excuse to look down. I intend to just shut it off and help get Issi out of there, but when I pull it out, I see it’s Jack, and my relief turns to trepidation. He knows what I’m doing tonight, and I told everyone I work with not to call unless it was an emergency. I don’t want to leave, because I can tell the presence of the three isn’t making things pleasant for Issi, but I have to deal with this.

Emergencies on oil rigs mean lives can be lost, and I’m responsible for lives and livelihoods. I take that shit seriously. But it’s killing me to walk away right now.

“I’m sorry. I have to take this…” I bring the phone to my ear and excuse myself by walking over to the corner of the bar. “What the fuck is it, Jack?”

“Hey, you know me, I wouldn’t call unless it was unavoidable. We’ve got H2S coming out of the Covington well. Had to evacuate a square mile. We got it capped, but the EPA will want a full report per protocol, and we’ll have to cement this one.”

“Fuck.” I grip the back of my neck. “Seriously?”

I watch the table as the three posture, and one shows Issi the massive ring on her finger. When I hear the grunt and cursing on the other end of the phone, I turn away and know I’ve got some shit to deal with.

“Sorry, boss. Mother Nature doesn’t care about your father’s wedding.”

“Deal with it, Jack. I’ll try to be back early, day after tomorrow, but until then only call me if necessary. I’ll call you as I can.”

With that, we exchange some curse words and click off. Hydrogen Sulfide is more than dangerous; it can cause immediate death if inhaled. But in my business, it happens. You hit a pocket and don’t catch it in the first few seconds; it releases into the air. Luckily, we have sensors around the rig, and everyone knows to get their masks on if they go off.

Best we can do is cap it, stop the spread as quickly as possible and remediate any damage. Then, fill out a shit ton of paperwork, pay a fine, and hopefully, that closes the situation.

Jesus, I need to get back to the table. As I turn, I find the three girls sitting at the bar, and can’t help but overhear as I walk by.

“God, she just tries so hard.”

“Those shoes! Who is still wearing ankle straps?”

They giggle in unison, and it’s clear that Ruby Thorn Ashby, daughter of Congressman Ashby, is the leader of their pack. I met the congressman years ago, when he was looking for somewhere to put his money that would bring a better than average return, and he’s still one of my investors. It was at those early meetings, however, that I also met his daughter, who very awkwardly made a pass at me. Even if she hadn’t been so young, I wasn’t the least interested, but I remember she was embarrassed and gave me the dead eye after that.

I’m willing to cut her some slack over it, but not when it comes to Issi, and it’s clear there’s no love lost there.

When she sees me, she looks me up and down before slurring out for my benefit, “She never fit in. Scholarship kid, my parents made me pretend to be friends with her. Said it made me look accepting. And her mom. Do you remember when she was dating Mr. Lemboch, the algebra teacher?”