Loneliness plagues even those who seem most beloved. An escape.
Xander had mastered the art of looking comfortable even when she was disgusted, hurt, or angry. This was something she had to master to live the life she was living. She never liked to look too closely at it and spent much of her time assessing the secret pains of others. She had come early, as always, so that she could get two or three drinks in before her “chaperone” arrived.
She was still on her first, when she saw a young family walk in. The young husband, young wife, and their two young children. She watched the silent love that passed between them; her husband stroking her shoulder absently, their daughter kissing her little brothers’ face- touching her mother’s dress and holding her father’s leg. Xander realized how long it had been since she had been touched lovingly. Meaningfully. The little girl had her eyes locked on Xander and Xander had to wave and smile at the delicate delightful plump face that engaged her. The girl tugged on her mother’s dress and whispered something in her ear. The mother turned her eyes up to Xander, then whispered excitedly to her husband. Xander wondered if she had done something wrong? She stared at the ice in her drink before she downed it all and when she looked up, the young family was in front of her. They were smiling.
Xander delicately wiped her lip.
“You’re X2 right?” Said the woman. Xander panged at her known nickname. Since she had become known, she had her name changed to her fathers. She was officially Xander Crow II. Her father thought that would help for more people to engage her. She was simply an extension of him. However, to be accessible to children and families, X2 had taken on a life of her own. However, Xander put on her X2 smile and said,
“Of Course, it’s so nice to meet you guys.” She leaned into the young girl who was a bit shy but still looking at her. “What is your name sweetie?”
“Tell her honey, it’s X2, you love her.”
“UM…” her little hands twisted together “I love you,” she whispered. Xander inhaled deeply and smiled. Her parents laughed but Xander didn't’. Someone just said she loved her.
“I’m sorry, can we have your autograph? She really does love your movies and your interviews and your art.”
“Sure! Of course! What’s her name?”
“ I’m Kaley.”
“Wow Kaley, that’s such a pretty name!” As she signed, she looked at the little girl and said, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”
“I want to be like you,” Xander’s heart sped up at the thought that this little child would ever live the life she lived.
“You’re important. You are going to do even better, I know it,” And she really did believe it. The love that passed between that family was alive and buzzing. She was loved and so she would never know the loneliness. The mother took the napkin and read it out loud to the child.
“Kaley, You are loved and special. You’ll do amazing things. Love always, XC”
“Thank you so much!” The mother shook her hand and even did that mom thing where she sensed sadness and made a small shoulder embrace.
“It was so nice to meet you.” She shook the father’s hand, who seemed to be rather shy and dumbstruck. Xander got on her knees and embraced the children as the child whispered in her ear. “I love you.”
And the young family walked away. Something happened. No one had said they loved her intimately for a long time. There were falsehoods and shades, but nothing to hold onto. Like she hadn’t been touched as a human for years before that mother did. She downed her second and third drink and was on her fourth when her “date” arrived.
Jeremy Eclein looked to some as though he were just a reclusive man emassed in wealth. No one knew how. Except that everyone knew how. Eclein was a large funder for much of her father’s dealings, and so, she was used to keeping things between them happy. She was just a tool to be used and she played her part perfectly, so her father saw no reason why this arrangement shouldn’t work. The trouble is that this has been going on for nearly 4 years. She was not yet 18 when she first was forced to meet him. And then had to get to know him.
He kissed her on one of her cheeks and sat across from her and there was a martini that appeared immediately before him before the waiter made himself scarce.
They made the general pleasantries for a moment. Him telling her she looked beautiful, her reminding him that this wasn’t cheap.
“So your father and I have been talking,” she looked directly in his face. She tried hard not to because she hated everything about it. Hated the silver in his hair, hated each crease that showed the life he’d lived, hated his blue blue eyes. She hated him. But she looked.
“About what?” She sipped tenderly on her drink. Her stomach contracted violently.
“About what makes sense.” She gulped her drink. And felt very confused. “About the future,” He put on that empty smile. There was nothing underneath it. No joy. There was no softness or awareness in his touch.
“What about the future?” She couldn’t tell if her character was breaking and she didn’t care. She had broken before in front of him. It was bound to happen, he didn’t care other than it was a minor inconvenience but he usually just left until she regained control. No harm, no foul. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a box.
“What about the future?” She repeated like a robot. Refusing to see the scene laid out in front of her. He opened the box and inside of it was a rather impressive ring. It was ridiculous, grotesque in its offensiveness. She hated it of course. “This makes sense?..” She was trying to get in control of the situation, however, this was not something she ever saw coming.
“Look, I support most of your lifestyle, and your father’s as it is.”
“Well that is unnecessary, I have a job. You just asked that I stay in that apartment that is yours, sometimes. I will move back home.” He sat silent for a moment.
“That’s not really the only thing, of course.”
“Okay. I think I’ll be able to follow your reasons.”
“Not doing well so far.” His face grew into that dark expression, the dangerous expression.
“We’ll see.” She was not going to speak until he explained how this atrocious act made sense, How it would make life better for anyone…. but of course, her father would be family…. And that was it. That was why this horrible thing was happening. Direct access to the funds. Off the books. But she was going to make him say it anyway.
“It just makes sense that this would happen. As involved as I am in your father’s dealings , and as involved as you are in them… I mean, it just makes sense.”
“Well, is there any reason to think that’ll be forever? I mean, isn’t business more of an opportunistic thing?” He sat quietly, frowning. Occasionally, he had removed his mask and she could see only shadows within him. His constant state of frustration at being questioned by anybody. She might be pushing him, but they were in public and he couldn’t afford any bad press.
“Well, if we are family, then it would become a family business,” She hated the way he used this word. She thought about the happy, young family and knew that they would never be family. It would all be fake.
“I don’t exactly believe that is the way to have a real family. Business is business and family should only be family, I’m sorry Jeremy.” She hated having to apologize to him, but tried to ease through the moment.
“ So I’m not family? Even after everything I’ve done for your father?- and you?” She was always the afterthought. She chuckled to herself.
“Oh Jeremy, my father really appreciates it, and I’m just happy to be alive. Literally. But this has always been business. Opportunistic and nothing more.” He considered this for a moment. The panic she felt inside was not coming through- yet. It was bubbling up to the surfaces with each passing moment of this conversation and the ring that blinked up at her so aggressively.
“Look, your father and I have been mulling this over for quite some time now, you see.”
“This is my first time hearing about it though, so can I be given the same amount of time to mull it over?” He stared at her and drank his drink. She was happy for the silence and did the same. He left a certain number of bills on the table, presumably enough for her to buy an extravagant dinner and deserts.. Then he got very close to her and grabbed her jaw tightly.
“So many people would be happy to be in your shoes, you ungrateful bitch.” And he squeezed so tight she felt like her teeth were gonna break and then he let go, and she inhaled that breath of life that happens after your fate is taken from you for a moment.” He left swiftly. She just sat for a while. And drank, Counted the money, ordered some soup, pocketed the rest, and decided to go to her own apartment.
When she got home, she was entirely disheveled, her furry scarf was wet and lopsided, her dress was soaked from the rain at the bottom and was ruined where she had been stepping on it, she kicked off her uncomfortable heels but didn’t even take off her dress. She ran to her closet.
There were certain benefits to being involved with her father. And she had a secret SIM card for her telephone that worked to blackout the signal and ring the call from random towers. They were called ghost SIMs or ghost boxes. So nobody would ever know she called this number unless they got this particular SIM, so she needed to keep it safe from now on. The number flew from her fingers onto the screen.
“Hello?” She heard the rough voice of Target on the other side. Target had even experimented in his youth and then offered amnesty and a job working for the government. However, he and Xander had spent much time together as her father trusted him and they bonded over how much they were disgusted by this oppressive system. He understood her loneliness in a way the rest of the world couldn’t because he knew what she was tasked with.
“Target! Target! Hi. Um-“ she didn’t even know how to say what she wanted to say. Tears welled in her throat, choking her.
“What’s up? Come on?”
“We have to leave. I have to leave. I have to leave. Soon. Now.” There was a deep silence and stillness. A crystal clear connection but neither of them was moving. “So it happened?”
“Only about an hour ago. Don’t think it was a secret, but I don’t think he cares enough to really say. Just a comment from one of the guys and I knew…”
“Target, I can’t, okay? Look, there was this- this- this family, right? And they were young there were two kids, you know? And I can’t do this because this family- you could see-“
“Just calm down. Okay?” She was glad he said this because she didn't even know how to explain the active love that she was craving more now more than anything. She’d lauded to it, but she’d never admit it. He exhaled, “You’re sure? This is gonna be a time where it’s more likely we fail than we succeed. Are you okay with that?” It was as though he knew this moment was coming. Target had been waiting for this call.
“This is not success. I can’t do it. I want you out if you want to be out. But please, don’t tell anyone.”
“I’m your guy. Let’s do it.”