This piece was inspired by Inktober 2020 Word #7 ‘Fancy’.
“So, what’d you fancy?”
The bartender smiled at me. I felt myself getting lost in his eyes. They were dreamy … green with flecks of gold. And his smile … He had a nice smile, one that made the skin around his lips and eyes crinkle.
He wasn’t even rushing me. I hate it when people rush me. Any American would have demanded an answer by now. But he was just grinning at me, caressing my wrist in a way that felt ticklish and was making me light-headed.
I had on a real nice dress. ‘A fancy frock,’ he called it …
Ian came in, took one look at us, strode over and placed a protective arm around me. The bartender quickly withdrew his hand, coughed and wiped out a glass with all his might and maim.
“I see you’ve met my sister,” Ian stated.
The bartender nodded.
“Stay away from her.”
The bartender nodded again. He wouldn’t even make eye contact with me.
Ian, powerful and assertive as ever, ushered me out. He didn’t have to use words or force. He’s never had to. He’s always been more father than brother to me. He indicates what he wants me to do and I obey. I’ve always obeyed him. It’s not that I’m scared of him or anything. I’m not. I just think it would be better to obey him than disobey him. I suspect most of the world thinks that too.
But I don’t want to give you the wrong idea. He’s never hurt me. Sometimes he’s been angry over bad reports or chores I forgot to do or when I got into trouble at school. It wasn’t anything serious, like maybe whispering to a friend when we weren’t supposed to be talking or daydreaming in class and not knowing the question, let alone the answer.
But Ian’s always been really strict about school. I used to feel downright nauseated when it came time to go home and I had a note from the teacher. Or worse, a detention. The other girls thought I was lucky because I didn’t have any parents, just Ian. They thought he was dreamy and handsome. They didn’t know how scary he could be. Especially when he was angry. Disappointed was one thing. “I am so disappointed in you, Allison,” he would say sadly, shaking his head. “How could you have done something like this? I can’t even look at you right now. I’m so ashamed, of you and of myself. I feel like I’ve failed. Not just you, myself. Mom. Dad. The family line. Allison, I swear to you, I try so hard but I’m not a parent. How can I replace two of them? What more can I do? I wish you’d understand. Maybe someday, when you’re a parent, you will.”
He’d press his fist against the wall, his forehead pressed against it. As if he were willing himself, summoning up allt he years of self-restraint that had been his legacy from our father, not to cry with frustration at the pain I was causing him. I had no such problems. I cried far too easily. And frequently. When I was little, I saw that it was how I could get my way with Ian. I employed this tool far too mercilessly. He wised up pretty quickly, perhaps with some help from our maid. After that, whenver I cried, unless it was from a physical wound, I was sent to my room. It got pretty lonely in there so I eventually stopped and Ian was satisfied. Rich houses are empty houses. You longe for companionship and don’t relinquish it once you’ve secured it.
Ian’s disappointment was hard to bear but his anger was harder. He was angry now.
“What were you doing?”
We were outside the bar. It was cold but he didn’t offer me his coat. That’ was an indication of how angry he was. Ian is a perfect gentleman. Breeding tells. My girlfriends tell me that when the men in their life are upset, they swear.
Ian wouldn’t even say, “What the hell were you doing?”
I mumbled something.
“What was that?”
I looked up. His eyes were as cold as his words. They looked like frozen spheres of black ice.
I was a little frightened.
“Allison?” He raised an eyebrow.
From an instinct born out of the need for self-preservation, I spoke. That raised eyebrow has always been a strong indication that he wasn’t prepared to tolerate silence much longer.
“I wanted to see what it was like,” I mumbled into my neck.
“What what was like? His index finger reached out and lifted up my chin so that I had to look at him. I was prepared for what I would see there but I still didn’t relish confronting it. Disappointment … combined with a black rage. This was one of the very worst things I could have done.
You see, Ian … is a recovering alcoholic. He says the day he sobered up was the day he became my legal guardian.
“I looked at you, this tiny little pink baby girl bundle in my … hands, not even my arms. You were so little I could fit you in both my hands.” I had been a premature baby, born at six months. I was seven years old when he told me this story.
“And I knew I had to get my shit together.” It was the only time I’ve ever heard him swear. I mean, it, seriously. In twenty years, that’s the only time I’ve ever heard him swear. And we’ve spent a lot of time together.
“You saved me, Allison.” He looked at me, eyes big and black and beautiful and trusting, so full of love back then, as they were hard and black and icy now. It had been my seventh birthday.
“Allie.” His voice was hard.
“How could you?” It cracked slightly, under the pain of my betrayal. A supreme effort and he was master of himself again.
I’ve never seen a bottle in the house. My friends would ask where the liquor cabinet was when they came over, even before they would ask for the WiFi password. There was no liquor cabinet. In a rich man’s house, there was no liquor cabinet. People found that hard to believe. Sometimes, there was no WiFi password either. When I brought home a bad report from school, it was one of the first privileges Ian revoked. I would sulk – it was really boring at home without WiFi – but he remained immovable. One time, I tried to get it out of our maid … and found out the hard way that she was loyal to Ian and not me.
Ian did himself well in terms of landscaping, yachts, tennis courts. He’d wanted me to have every advantage, every privilege. And here I was, throwing it all away for a drink.
“Did you … taste anything?”
“I promise, no.”
“I know what your promises are worth.” He turned away.
I felt as if I’d been slapped.
“Ian, wait …” I reached out for his arm. He shook me off as thought my touch were that of a snake.
“Don’t talk to me.” I withdrew.
He snapped his fingers. Gerry, our chauffer, materialized out of th efog.
“Gerry, take Miss Callahan home.”
I started to cry. Not loudly, silently. Ian didn’t react. I was still crying, even as Gerry helped me into the car.
Miss Callahan! Like I was a total stranger instead of the baby sister he’d nurtured from the maternity ward!
I wept all the way home. Gerry was kind and didn’t say anything.