423. - Lucien
Despite Emma insisting numerous times that she doesn't mind bringing the drinks, I end up being the one carrying the tray outside. My father's lip twitches when I hand then men their glasses, but I ignore it. When Jacques first called me into the meeting there had been a spark of accomplishment, because there's still a part of me that craves his approval. Once I got in there, I quickly found out that it was the other men who had requested my contribution to the conversation, and not Jacques. Accomplishment turned into pettiness and showing off; between them there was a lot of confusion about online law and privacy and I was more than happy to clear that up. All the other men seemed to eat it up. Only the man I call father seemed reluctant in his praise, which was praise enough in itself.
Now, as we sit outside with our respective whiskey's, the conversation has mostly moved from business and I keep quiet. Do they have any idea of the ticking time bomb that is me and my father? Do they realise what kind of trouble they caused today by simply asking for my input? The entire family is well-trained in putting up a play, but I'm left to wonder how well we can keep it up in our home. Maybe they all just pretend not to see it.
"Now Lucien, I couldn't help but notice your pretty lady cooking dinner." One of the men says, drawing my attention. "Any chance she'd cook extra for me?"
Under the watchful, warning eye of my father I force a chuckle,shaking my head. "We counted on only four, sorry Henry."
"I'm sure I can replace Jacques! After all, he's been married before so he can't appreciate her beauty like I can!" All the men let out hearty laughs, but I can only stare disgust. And the fact that Jacques is laughing with them... "Ah, but in all seriousness though, boy, congratulations on finding yourself such a fine young woman. She seems very... devoted to you. That's rare these days - all the ladies are getting ideas and such. Impossible to deal with!"
"Gone are the days you could just tell them to keep quiet!" Arden, to my left, agrees with a grin. "But Emmeline seems very compliant. You hold on to that, Lucien,you have no idea how lucky you've gotten!"
I'm too shocked to speak up, watching as all these men keep laughing over this. I should speak up, should put an immediate end to this, but my tongue seems lost on me.
"Your daughter, too, Jacques!" Henry continues. "Soon enough she's going to run into a good man and will forget all about that architecture nonsense."
Jacques' chuckle sets every single nerve-ending in my body on edge. "We'll see what the future holds." And that's it. That's the extend he goes to defending his own daughter.
"Or, God forbid," I say as I lock eyes with Jacques. "she finishes school and becomes a succesful architect, with or without a man deciding her future for her. You know. Like mother."
In the silence that follows, you could hear a speck of dust fall to the ground. Jacques says nothing, but judging by the twitching of his bottom lip there's plenty of words on his tongue. After a while, Arden loudly clears his throat, which seems to shatter the tension. To them, anyway, because Jacques goes right back into pretending that everything is fine.
After that, the whole thing is over within ten minutes. Jacques and I walk them to the door, saying our polite goodbyes, but the moment the door clicks close he turns to me with a furious expression. "What were you thinking, embarrassing me like that?!" He hisses.
"What was I thinking?" I spit back. "I can't believe you'd let them talk about your own daughter like that!"
"They were jesting! This is just the way it goes in these circles, Lucien!"
"That doesn't make it any better! Eschieve got into the most prestigious university in the bloody country and you still dismiss her like that! Had it been me, you wouldn't have stopped boasting!"
"You have no idea what you're talking about." I can't remember a time this man looked at me with so much hatred in his eyes, but it does little to hurt me. "You are a child, with no experience in this world."
"I have plenty of experience in this world, and what I just experienced was blatant sexism. Regarding both Eschieve and Emma! You know perfectly well how capable they both are - word for word you said it was a shame to lose Emma from the company, and then you pull a stunt like this?" I'm yelling now, my voice no doubt carrying all the way to the kitchen, if the two haven't come to spectate here in the hallway. "Because that's just how it goes?! Mother would have had your fucking head if you had ever dared disrepecting her like that!"
My father has never laid a hand on me. He's done a lot of things, but not that. There have been plenty of moment I expected him to, though, which usually prompted me to profusely apologise. But right now, with that same expression on his face, I dare him to carry through.
Instead he does what he does best, and what is the main lesson he taught me: he locks his emotions away and straightens up, pulling the sleeves of his jacket. When his eyes dart behind me, I realise why; the girls have indeed come to check out what's going down. "The last hasn't been spoken about this, son." He says in an eerily calm voice. "I won't be joining dinner tonight."
"What a fucking shame." I bite. There's a part of me that wonders where he goes when the door closes and we hear his footsteps on the gravel, that's curious what he does at times like this. I would smoke, drink, maybe work-out, but mostly I would find the people who care about me. But who cares for Jacques du Castellon?
I decide not to dwell on it though, because he wouldn't do that for me either. I shake out my hands to get rid of some of the tension, and when I turn around to head back to the kitchen I'm met with two pairs of concerned eyes. Then Eschieve bolts through the hallway and locks her arms around my waist, burrying her face in my shirt. Emma follows suit, and with one arm still around my sister I kiss her forehead.
"Are you okay?" She asks, and I shake my head.
"Not really. But... I don't really want to talk about it. Not right now, anyway. Is that alright?"
Emma's eyes flicker over my face, but then she smiles and nods; with her hand against my cheek, she places a peck on my lips.
"You have a dessert to finish. That bavarois won't make itself."
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