by Rolando Velazquez
I get into the car, glad to be finally inside. The smell of leather and Maurice’s music calms me down. I’m finally safe. We are probably going to be trapped for another 10 minutes with all the paparazzis surrounding the car. Click click click click – that’s all I can hear now: the sound of the automatic camera taking 5 pictures of me per second. How did this happen? How is it possible that everybody is now watching my every move? “Jamie Sullivan, Sr. is dead, all money is inherited by his only son Jamie Sullivan, Jr.” read the news everywhere. Mind you, I didn’t know that was the guy I’ve been dating. I did feel a little betrayed the moment I realized it wasn’t James Rickard, but James Sullivan who I had shared my bed with.
“Sullivan … the Sullivans,” I kept repeating to myself after learning the truth. “You own everything in this country. You’re the reason people keep killing themselves,” I yelled at him. It wasn’t his fault actually. Why was I blaming him for that? Why was I blaming him for my father’s suicide? It wasn’t his fault my father was weak. My father gave up on us, with the rest of his life. It wasn’t James’ fault that he was born into the richest family in the country, and into the owners of every company ruining our lives. Yet I couldn’t differentiate him from his father; he was a Sullivan, and for me that name meant despair and hurt.
You must be thinking I’m exaggerating but it’s all true; my boyfriend’s family did in fact own everything. They owned all real state, gas, water, electricity, even our food. They didn’t own the air because that was too contaminated to take responsibility for. For him, for James, his world was a Utopia. Food was always on the table, private schools, fancy clothes, every week if he wanted, cars, trips, jewelry, anything he wanted just by asking for it. For us, the regular people outside this Utopia, reality were different. Our reality involved communal bathrooms with nasty weird water, cold food that barely filled you up – maybe a potato salad with a tiny piece of bread in a house shared with two or more families. To think that this was middle class – to step outside these confinements of our gated community was to experience humanity at its worst; that is the way we had been taught to think of them. Was it really their fault that we gave up on them? “Those nasty rats” my mom would refer to the people below our class. It used to make me red with embarrassment to hear my own mother talk about other human beings like that. I still remember when I asked James what he thought about the people in the slums, the incredulous me was expecting a better answer. “Is there a lower class than the people who live in the communities?” But of course! Of course he wouldn’t know that there were people living in the slums, in the putrefied waters of the city. He didn’t know my father had killed himself either. I never told him the exact reason I grew up without a father. What could I say? He was full of debts after losing his job because he couldn’t stop sleeping with every girl at work. That doesn’t sound pretty. He couldn’t afford to put any food on the table of his own home. How could I tell him that after finding out he got another girl pregnant, he decided to throw himself in front of a speeding train, a train that took the rich people to their homes from their beach houses. How could I admit that when I found out, I didn’t even cry, that instead I promised myself I would never be like him, and I would get out of this social class and be someone.
I feel the car bumping into something and it takes me out of my trance. I think we hit a parked motorcycle. We finally get out of the sea of photographers and we are on the way home. James would be there by now, I think. He’s completely changed his life around, now that he took the position of his father. He won’t admit it, but he’s slowly starting to look a lot like him. Even his personality is changing. At work he is his father. I told him that once he stepped inside our house he wasn’t going to be that guy. He wasn’t the owner of everything in our house. He didn’t own me and he wasn’t going to act like it.
I still remember the first time I met him. He was sitting in front of me, wearing a cap with the letter “J. ” Nothing about this 5’6” person yelled billionaire, except maybe his Rolex. “It was my grandfather’s watch,” he would say to me after I asked him. I still remember the dinner like it was yesterday. It was the after party of a Broadway play; I don’t even remember the name of the play. Anyways, I was there with a friend and the guy I was dating at the time. James was the date of one of the dancers. We never talked. He was just sitting in front of me, not really talking to many people. He answered some questions every now and then, but he always looked right into my eyes. A month had passed when my friend sent me an email telling me that some guy named James Rickard wanted my email. She said that he had gone to quite some trouble to get my email, and that I should just give it to him. I accepted, knowing I had nothing to lose. He was short, but he had a really handsome face, an elegant face. His hair was the color of honey and tousled in a fantastic way. He shot me an email, telling me that he had been thinking of me since that dinner, and that he wanted to invite me for another dinner, this time alone. I liked his honesty, so I accepted to have dinner with him. He chose Mrs. Brown, the newest and hottest restaurant in the city. I was quite surprised, to be honest, that he chose that place. I had heard it could take up to a month to get a table at that place; I didn’t want to wait hours to eat something, but that wasn’t the case. When we got there, we were quickly seated in what I thought was the most beautiful table. It was private, yet I was able to see the whole restaurant. We talked for a long time. He told me that the night we met, he couldn’t stop staring at me, but that he was trying not to be obvious because his date was there.
After that night – from his clothes to the way he ordered with an ease, never looking at the prices – I knew that he had some money. I was worried he would be just a bluff, and would ask to split the check. It would have equaled half of the rent for my apartment. I was working as the director of communications for a big company. I liked my job, and I made a good living, but I wasn’t making enough to be wasting money on duck confit.
After that dinner, I started seeing James on a regular basis. We grew closer and closer, until suddenly we couldn’t be apart. I never really knew what he did for a living. “Investments,” he would say when I dared ask. Then everything erupted one day. After his father’s death, I discovered the truth. He wasn’t just rich; he was the richest guy in the USA. He could buy and sell anything he wanted in the country, his country. Then it started; my name was being thrown around the news. Who was I? Was I the new gold digger chasing James’ money? Who was this stranger that shared the bed with the richest man alive? My Facebook had to be closed. People started stealing my information, sending me over 100 requests every hour. Suddenly, I had thousands of followers on Instagram. My personal pictures suddenly meant nothing. Strangers began commenting on my pictures. How I was too ugly to be with James, he was so dreamy, so handsome. I wasn’t worthy of him. I was just some disgusting troll. I stopped reading the comments, but kept posting pictures just to prove something to someone. But who? No one really cared who I was. I was just the image of someone who grew up in the poor communities, and was now dating someone rich. The dream life was how some teenagers viewed my life. I had the trips, the clothes, the house, the jewelry, and that’s all they saw. They didn’t realize that my life wasn’t the glamorous bullshit the news said. My boyfriend was drinking more heavily than before. He was unhappy with his new position. I was followed everywhere. I was allegedly fired from my job because I could never make it on time, but I knew it was because of what my image represented. I wasn’t invisible anymore; I was being watched by everyone. I even got my nude pictures in the news. The worst thing was that I wasn’t embarrassed; I was angry, angry at the sick people that wanted to see those pictures, angry at the news for talking about them like it was important, and especially angry at James. I took those damn pictures for him, and when they went into the light, he blamed me. I remember one day some lady slapped me out of nowhere. She said I should be embarrassed for what my boyfriend did, all the pain he and his company were causing. I did feel embarrassed, and I wanted to yell at her. I know what happened in the communities, because I grew up there. I know the prices for everything were so ludicrous that people couldn’t afford anything. People were starving, sick and dying. Yet, here I was, coming out of a store with ten dollar salami. I felt suddenly sick. I wanted to puke. I wanted to go to my room and cry. After that incident James hired two bodyguards to follow me everywhere, and Maurice to drive me around.
Now here I am in the back of my Mercedes, with Maurice driving me home. I hate the pretentiousness of my new life. I feel like a hypocrite, not helping my people in the communities. I feel a knot in my stomach. We finally park in front of the house. There are thirty or forty photographers waiting for me. I look in the mirror, and I look like a mess. I fix my hair. I fix my clothes, and wipe the oil off my face. I can’t stop them from taking my picture, so I should at least look decent in them. I open the door of the car, and step out. All I see are the flashes going off. I’m blinded by all of them going at once. It’s like a light at the end of the tunnel, a bright white light.
Great story. A new talent emerges.