I had never been more confused in my life, or more frightened. I had obviously said no to Howland’s marriage proposal, I didn’t even get why he’d done it. We’d never had like, a real conversation. Not one. It had been 2 months since he asked me, and he’d been pestering me ever since. ‘Just come down to city hall’ he’d tell me, and I was like, ‘ew! no! I am not marrying you. This is so over!’. I don’t think I have to explain that he certainly wasn’t happy. He turned bitter, threatening to expose our affair, but I knew he wouldn’t, it would totally ruin his career. That’s what I didn’t get about the proposal, marrying a student? He’d totally get fired. Miss Brewster would have a fit, her pilgrim dress would be on fire. Then his real motives came out. I had fled the French town we were staying in, it was weird that he had found us there, and I didn’t feel safe in a crummy apartment, so I hopped on the first flight to Paris and holed myself up in a suite at the Ritz. I never slept a wink. I had all the curtains and blinds closed at all hours of the day, and I’d sleep on the sofa so I could jump up quickly, I just didn’t know what to do.
I never answered the phone, it was always him. He had somehow tracked me down once more, and was always there on the phone. Always leaving messages, always pestering me. I’d told the concierge to withhold all calls from him, but he had found a way around it, and was constantly calling. I’d jump every time the phone rang. The one person I missed the most was Leo, but I didn’t want to call him… he must hate me for disappearing, for lying to him, and he’d hate me even more if he knew what I was considering doing. My life had been like, completely turned upside down. I never thought there would be a day where I would be trapped in a hotel room, my only distraction being books! I just read. I had my French purchases from the depo delivered, and I just read all day long.
To be honest, I just really didn’t know what to do, and I was frightened. Who knew what lengths he would go to in order to get what he wanted? After all, 10 million simoleans could make people do really crazy things. I had read a lot of murder mystery novels lately, and it seemed like Howland was one of the characters straight from the page. It was obvious that he had only wanted to marry me so that he could swiftly divorce me and claim half of my assets in court, which would amount to roughly 10 mil. Half of my inheritance. I knew I had to get professional help, or someone to help me, anyone! But I couldn’t, what he was threatening… it would ruin her. I felt lost, I was just a 17 year old girl, holed up in a huge suite in Paris with no one to talk to, and a crazy man threatening to expose his secrets if I didn’t pay him. This was way out of my league.
Occasionaly, after a long, hot bath and a good book, I’d slip up and answer the phone. I could never sleep a wink on the nights that I answered. His voice would greet me from the other end, sounding much deeper, slower, and more sinister than I ever remembered it being with regards to pillow talk. ‘Arielle, have you considered my proposal?’ It was always the same question, always asked in the same way, with that sarcastic undertone, as if he was mocking me. I could never hang up instantly, I was always rooted to the spot with fear. Why was this happening to me?
I had this fear of Howland just appearing at the window one day. It was perfectly plausible that he was out there, spying on the windows of the hotel, looking for me. After all, why would he have stayed in the little French town, when I was here? He needed me, I was his plan, his life.
“Why do you need money anyway?! Your family donated the freaking school, you must be loaded!” I’d screamed at him one day when I was reaching the end of my tether.
“You’re even more foolish than I thought. My family sold the building to the school board. I only work there because of the family connection. My father blew through that money very quickly, and left me nothing. Now I need your money if I am to live the way I wish.” How could he be poor? Edward Howland, whose family donated the Howland School for Girls, was broke. Did I have a will? I definitely had to make one, what if he murdered me or something? Ew.
* * *
This must be it. He was here to kidnap me, and turn his plan around. No! I was not ready for anything to happen, I needed more time to think! I slowly picked up the intercom.
“W- who is it?”
“Arielle? It’s Leo!” Leo?! How on earth had he found me? And if he’d found me, that must mean that Howland could find me just as easily, maybe even break into my suite… Or maybe Leo and Howland were working together, after all 10 million could be split quite a few ways. I didn’t know what to do, risk it, and let Leo in, a man who I trusted, and who I think genuinely likes me, or lock him out, basically sealing our fate.
I unlocked the door. I trusted him. I know I didn’t actually know him that well, but I really did trust him, and I cared about him. I wasn’t willing to throw that away over the risk that he could be here doing Howland’s bidding, trying to get my money. Gosh he was even cuter that I remembered, okay that’s a lie, I remembered how cute he was perfectly.
He was either a brilliant actor, or genuinely worried about me.
“I wondered why you just disappeared, your friends told me you had left for Paris because of some guy? They said they didn’t know the whole story though.” I had told Poppy and Natasha that a boyfriend from Bridgeport was stalking me, I felt so bad lying to them, but how could I tell them I’d been having sex with a teacher?
“Yeah- Um- That’s true…” It was, right? It was a guy… “No- Actually, it’s not. Well it is, but it’s not just ‘a guy’. It’s a teacher from my school. A teacher who I…” Could I tell him this? Would he even be able to look at me? “A teacher who I had sex with.” I closed my eyes tight, I didn’t want to see his reaction.
“Arielle. Why are you closing your eyes? If this is about you and me, I’m sure you had your reasons, and it’s over now, right? That’s why you ran to Paris.” Was I hallucinating, or did he understand? I opened my eyes slowly, feeling like a deer in headlights.
“There’s more…” I should tell him. I had to tell someone, if I didn’t I would just explode. Maybe he could help, he was smart. “Leo – I never told you that I’m from well, a rather rich family.” His face remained expressionless, so this was what it was like to talk to a good listener. “My moms an actress and my dads a businessman, both like, really successful. Anyway, this teacher who I… had sex with… he asked me to marry him.” That one got an eyebrow raise. “And of course I said no, I mean, we weren’t real, it was just sexual. Anyway, after trying and trying, he realised I was not going to marry him, which he only wanted to do so he could get half of my inheritance when he swiftly divorced me.” Both eyebrows raised. “And then, well then he said he had these… these pictures, you know, of my mom.”
“Your mom? I thought you were going to say of you and him.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought at first, but then I realised it would totally tarnish his reputation, and besides I would never pay, it wouldn’t really hurt me, I’ve been quite the party girl in my life, and this would just be an old man taking advantage of a confused school girl. Anyway, he says he has these pictures of my mom, and in them she’s apparently kissing one of her oldest friends, you know Marlon Samuels?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard of him. I think my mom likes his movies.”
“Well apparently she’s been cheating on my dad with this guy. I’ve only met him a few times, but she told me she wanted to date him when she was his personal assistant way back before she got started as an actual actress, but he never came onto her.” Who knew why, she was totally hot for a mom, just like I would be if I ever had kids.
“So this teacher wants money for his information? Do you know if it’s real, have you actually seen these pictures?” I’d never even thought of it… gosh this is why I needed someone to bounce ideas off.
“No, actually! He could like, totally just be faking me out! This is great, I’ll just ask to see the pictures, then if they’re real… I guess I’ll have to pay.”
“Don’t get to excited Arielle, I don’t want to put a downer on it but it’s highly possible the pictures are real, empty threats don’t usually go far. I’m not saying your mother is prone to cheat, as I don’t know anything about her. But people do make mistakes, she may have had a slip up, which was unfortunately caught on camera.” He was totally right, how was he so clever? I wished that I could just kiss him right now, but I didn’t really think it was the time or place. I continued on my rant, basically throwing around all my theories, why I came to Paris, not home, why I kept the blinds shut, why I didn’t speak to anyone, as well as explaining a lot more about the school and my totally toxic relationship with Howland. Leo was such a good listener, always knowing where to add a little comment, where to take over talking, or when to just shut up.
The next morning, with Leo snoring on the couch, I grabbed my cell phone and wrote an email to Howland. I couldn’t face hearing his voice.
‘Send the pics of my mom to the Ritz in Paris. If they’re worth what you think they are, you have a deal.’
Now I just had to wait and see if he actually had grounds to bribe me, or if he was just throwing around empty threats. Thirteen hours and forty seven minutes later a manilla envelope slid under my door. Howland could be on the other side, stood waiting for the elevator, or staring at my door. If I opened it, he’d be right there. I waited for thirty five minutes before I moved and picked it up. S#!T. He definitely had evidence. At least a dozen pictures, all of the same scene.
Oh my God. I couldn’t even look at them, I had seen all I needed too, I threw them onto a pile of books and ran into the bedroom, where I hid under the covers. Maybe I should act older, I was 17 after all, but I was just so sick of pretending all the time. The old me wouldn’t have hid under the covers, though she would have wanted to. She would have put on a brave face and pretended like she wasn’t even bothered by this, but I was bothered by it. How could I not be? My mother was cheating on my father and I was being extorted to keep it quiet. Leo may finish in the bath any second, walk in, find me hidden under the covers, shivering uncontrollably, and dump me. But so what? This was me afraid, and if he couldn’t handle me, then it wasn’t meant to be.
‘I’ll pay. Meet me at room 4562 tomorrow at 9.’
I shot the phone on the floor, I couldn’t bear to look at it. I was about to condone extortion, but what else could I do?