He chortles again. “We all have to walk the plank someday. I’ll bet you a bottle of Royal Salute 50 she has you engaged by the end of the year.”
“You’re on.” I hold out my hand again and we shake on it. Louis may be a twat, but I’m not above taking a ten-thousand-dollar bottle of scotch off his hands.
I spot my father a few yards across the lawn and head in his direction. Looks-wise I take after him—tall, thick dark hair, blue eyes, and a face that appears fifteen years younger than his actual sixty-five.
We shake hands and he pats my shoulder affectionately. “Son.”
He sips his brandy. “How are the criminals these days?”
And here we go.
My father was never a fan of coasting by on the clout of one’s last name. During my teen years, family dinners were like the Spanish Inquisition: What have you contributed today? How have you distinguished yourself? What will you be remembered for? When I started law school, he got it in his head that I should go into politics—become Prosecutor Brent Mason, then Attorney General Brent Mason, eventually Senator Brent Mason—after that it’d be to infinity and beyond.
Instead, I became a criminal defense attorney. And I don’t think the old man’s ever gotten over it.
“They’re defendants, Dad. Not criminals.”
“Is there a difference?”
“I’m sure it makes a difference to the innocent ones.”
Okay, almost none of them are innocent. But people rarely do illegal things just for the sake of doing them—there’s always extenuating circumstances. Evening out the playing field for those who weren’t born with a silver spoon up their ass is what gets me out of bed in the morning.
“I play racquetball with a higher-up in the DOJ,” he says.
My father plays racquetball with everybody. But he’s not a name dropper. Because to him, money and connections are like Fight Club—the first rule of having them is you don’t talk about them.
“They’re always looking for good men—keep it in mind, Brent.”
I tap my temple. “It’s in the filing cabinet.”
“Brent, sweetie, you’re here,” my mother says in that soft, breathy voice as she walks up beside me.
Everything about my mother is hushed, gentle, delicate. Like a rose whose petals will fall off if you blow on it. She’s never cursed, doesn’t raise her voice—not even when I was seven and they had to take me to the emergency room because I jammed popcorn kernels up my nose just to see how many would fit. (Twenty-three, in case you were curious.)
“Hi, Mom.” I lean down and kiss her cheek.
She runs her hand over the fabric of my light blue polo shirt. “This is a very nice color on you, dear.”
Her gaze drifts over me adoringly. “Walk with me, Brent.”
My mother saying walk with me is akin to a woman you’re dating saying, “we need to talk”—it never ends well.
She loops her arm through mine and we stroll across the grass, away from the crowd.
“I’ve been reading a lot recently,” she begins. “And thinking. You’re thirty-two years old, darling—you’re handsome, you’re a fine dresser, you dance well—you’ve always been very clean.”
The last comment has me looking at her funny, but I let her go on.
“Talula Fitzgibbons’s son is about your age, and he recently told her that he’s become a homosexual.”
“Not only that, he’s also hired a lovely surrogate and she’s expecting triplets. Isn’t that amazing, Brent? Triplets!”
But that train has left the station.
“So I wanted you to know, if you are a homosexual, your father and I will love you every bit as much as we do right now.” She pats my arm and amends, “As long as you have children.”
“I’m not gay, Mom.”
She looks disappointed. “Are you sure?”
“Mom, I’m as not gay as a man can possibly be.”
Her dainty finger taps her lips as she thinks it over. “Well, all right. Then I’d like you to chat with Celia Hampshire’s granddaughter. She’s here and she’s a lovely young lady.”
“Celia Hampshire’s granddaughter is in high school.”
“No—she graduated last month.”
I pinch the bridge of my nose. “Okay . . . I’m gonna go to the bar. Now. Can we talk about this later?”
“Of course, sweetie. I’m so happy you’re here.”
And because I love her and I’m a good son, I lie, “Me too.”
My mother glides back toward my father and I head to the bar. It really should’ve been my first stop.
I make it three steps and then an arm coils around mine and my hip gets bumped hard. “But are you sure you’re not a homosexual? You realize you’re keeping Aunt Kit out of the in-crowd?”
I pull my cousin Katherine into a tight hug. “Thank Christ you’re here.”
Her dark eyes sparkle as she laughs. “Why, because I’m your only normal relative?”
“Yes, that’s exactly why.”
Katherine’s also my favorite cousin. Boisterous and loud—with the kind of smile you can’t help but return. When we were young and my other cousins said I was too little—too annoying—to play some stupid game, Katherine made sure I was included. When I turned twenty-one, she showed up at my college and took me out for my very first legal beer. You don’t get to choose family, but if you did—Katherine would be my first round draft pick.