Chapter 11 : You Better Believe It, Mister
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“I was kidding about calling your father General Tightwad!” Rhian insisted, almost in disbelief that Will had taken her seriously.
Will was not in the mood. He wanted to maintain a cool and collected façade, but he couldn’t help but feel his hands shaking on the steering wheel. “My dad lacks the capacity to recognize humor, Rhian. He’s like a brick wall of arrogance and cruelty.”
“Fine, then. No jokes, sarcasm, puns, or obscure pop culture references. I won’t even smile if you don’t want me to.”
“You can smile. You look so pretty when you do,” Will admitted.
Rhian knew that Christmas with Will’s family wasn’t going to be half as bad as he made it out to be. After all, Christmas Eve with the Evanses had been a complete disaster. Christmas Day had to be good, to make everything right with the universe.
“Well, here we are,” Will said reluctantly, pulling the car in front of a gorgeous old townhouse in a very affluent neighborhood of London. “The house of a dozen horrors.”
“Aw, we’re being a bit overdramatic now, aren’t we?” Rhian nudged him as they walked to the front door.
“I recommend drinking as much liquor as you can before vomiting. It makes taking their criticism so much easier.”
“You know, I never saw you as the drama queen type. I’d say that it does not become you, but it’s Christmas and that wouldn’t be in the Christmas spirit,” said Rhian matter-of-factly. She rang the expensive-looking doorbell, and promptly an elderly maid answered it.
“Thank you, Iris,” said Will, giving her his coat and motioning for Rhian to do the same.
“Good to see you, Master William. Is this your special friend?” Iris asked meekly, as if hoping not to be overheard.
“Yes, this is Rhian,” Will replied.
“Happy Christmas,” said Rhian warmly.
“I hope you remembered to send them into the parlor, Iris!” a deep voice bellowed from within the house.
“Oh, you’d best be getting to the parlor!” Iris quickly scurried out of sight.
Will took Rhian’s hand and hurried down the long corridor. Rhian looked around but only got a brief glimpse at the house Will grew up in. The walls were covered in beautiful, tasteful wallpaper and dotted with many portraits of stern-looking ancestors (these portraits were stationary, of course).
Will came to a halt outside of a thick wooden door and entered the room cautiously. Rhian saw that a good deal of bright sunlight permeated in through long windows, resting on authentic Victorian furniture and adding golden warmth to a pale pink room. An aging couple sat on a couch staring at Will and Rhian in the doorway.
“Glad you could make it,” the old man said coldly. Mr. Carlyle had the same stern look as his ancestors, and Rhian couldn’t help but wonder if choosing to carry the weight of the world caused him to look so pained. Will made his way to the couch opposite his parents, and she followed his lead.
“Thank you for having us,” Will replied as nobly as he could. “Happy Christmas, Mum.” He kissed his mother’s cheek.
“Your home is so lovely,” said Rhian, wishing for nothing more than to impress these imposing people. “Here, I brought you a gift, to say thank you—”
“Oh look, Magnus, how thoughtful,” Mrs. Carlyle mused, nearly dropping her almost empty wine glass and taking the package from Rhian.
“What’s your name?” Mr. Carlyle asked gruffly, unaffected by Rhian’s gesture.
“Rhian Clark,” she answered, caught off guard.
“Ryan? Were your parents unaware that is the name of most Irish street urchins?” said Mr. Carlyle.
“It’s Rhian, R-H-I-A-N,” Rhian said defensively. She would not let this schmuck even insinuate an insult about her parents. “It’s short for Rhiannon.”
“Drinks!” Mrs. Carlyle interjected. “Who would like some drinks? Rhiannon, come with me to the bar over in the corner and help me pick out a nice Christmas wine.”
“Dad!” Rhian heard Will whisper from across the room as she followed Mrs. Carlyle. “Her parents recently passed away, so I’d appreciate it if you didn’t take anymore swings at them.”
“It isn’t my fault that her parents gave her the name of a peasant boy,” Mr. Carlyle insisted.
“Lovely!” Mrs. Carlyle returned, carrying four glasses of red wine and Rhian in tow. “Oh, this is so wonderful. I suspect Jack will arrive soon!”
“Where do you go to university, Rhiannon?” Mr. Carlyle asked.
“Oh, actually,” Rhian almost choked on her wine, “I’m not at university.”
“Rhian,” Will emphasized her preferred name, “is training with MI6.”
“MI6. Prestigious,” Mr. Carlyle was obviously skeptical. “I deal quite a lot with them in my job.”
“I’m still only in training, though,” Rhian admitted. “It’s very exciting, I really enjoy it.”
“Quite hands on work, I expect. You are interested in having a career?”
“Yes, sir,” Rhian replied.
“Interesting. More and more women entering the workforce, giving up families for careers,” said Mr. Carlyle.
“I must contradict you, sir, but the two needn’t be mutually exclusive,” said Rhian strongly.
“Well, Rhiannon, the statistics and evidence of the rising number of divorces and broken homes clearly contradict your assumption,” Mr. Carlyle narrowed his eyebrows.
“Dad, if Rhian thinks she can handle a family and a career, then I have complete faith that she can,” said Will harshly, putting his arm around Rhian.
“Oh, settle down, settle down!” Mrs. Carlyle interjected, waving her hands and speaking unevenly. “It’s Christmas, let’s remember what this holiday is supposed to be about. Right, I think it’s the birth of Jesus, or is it the death? No matter, it’s about his family and the big fir tree in the manger…”
“Just stop, Melinda, you’ll hurt yourself,” said Mr. Carlyle dryly.
“Dad, lay off Mum, it’s Christmas,” said Will defensively.
“Stop treating me as the ringleader of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, William! Ever since you went off to secondary school, you’ve villainized me!” Mr. Carlyle spat.
“No, Dad! Ever since I escaped this wretched house, I’ve had the guts to call you out on the bully you’ve always been!” Will shouted with an intensity and loathing in him that Rhian had never seen.
Without realizing it, both Rhian and Mrs. Carlyle drank from their wine glasses at the same time. Will and Mr. Carlyle’s shouting match continued for about another minute, until the door to the parlor opened.
Through it sauntered what was presumably Jack, Will’s infamous older brother. He was tall and skinnier than a rail, almost sickly. His face had the same bone structure of Will and his father’s, but it seemed hollow and lifeless. Rhian got the impression that Jack had been very attractive in his prime, but the young twenty-something’s prime had ended quickly. However, he still maintained that air of confidence and popularity. A skinny, bug-eyed girl followed close behind Jack, also obviously the victim of a drug addiction.
“Jack!” Mr. Carlyle cried out in happiness, jumping up from his seat and hurrying over to welcome his favorite son home. Rhian noted the man’s selective use of nicknames.
“Good to see you too, Dad,” said Jack, his voice hoarse and deep. “Dad, Mum, this is Scarlett.”
“Absolute pleasure to meet you,” said Mr. Carlyle sincerely. “Here, sit, sit,” he motioned to the loveseat next to the couch he and his wife were sitting on.
“Hey, baby brother,” said Jack, punching Will in the shoulder.
“Happy Christmas,” Will replied with a hint of anger at being patronized.
“Look, you got yourself a girlfriend, Willy,” Jack pointed at Rhian.
“This is Rhiannon,” said Mrs. Carlyle breathlessly.
“Rhian,” Rhian corrected as politely as she could. “Nice to meet you.” Even though you smell like cocaine, she thought to herself.
“Well, I say it’s high time we move on to the dining room. Then, perhaps, Iris will get the message that we intend to have our Christmas dinner ON the twenty-fifth,” said Mr. Carlyle loudly, clearly intending for the poor old housekeeper to hear every word.
“I am so sorry,” Will whispered to Rhian as the group walked to the dining room. “Just dinner, I can get us out of dessert.”
“You think I’m not handling them well?” Rhian asked, a tad defensive.
“No! You’re so good, you don’t let my father push you around. It’s just, I don’t want to make you put up with them, with their crap.”
“I can do it,” Rhian insisted. “We can have a little bit of fun with them.”
Will was a bit nervous at the grin on Rhian’s face.
“So, Mr. Carlyle, what line of work are you in?” Rhian asked, cutting her turkey. Unfortunately, it was delicious.
“I work for the AirLight Corporation,” he grumbled, having expected Rhian to already know that he held a very important job.
“Oh, so you make airport runway lights?” Rhian tried to sound naïve.
"I don't make them," Will's father grumbled. "I manage the largest distributor of airport runway lights on the planet."
"Interesting," Rhian said, openly yawning.
Mr. Carlyle’s face turned bright red, while Will almost choked because he was laughing so hard. Mrs. Carlyle, Jack, and Scarlett were completely oblivious of the mounting tension.
“So Jack,” said Will, after having collected himself, “where did you and Scarlett meet?”
“Er, well,” said Jack, “Scarlett’s…a dancer.”
Rhian translated silently to herself: Scarlett’s a stripper.
“I saw her at a club one night, and, I’d say it was love at first sight.”
They met at a strip club.
“She’s great, so different from any girl I’ve ever met.”
She’s exactly like every other crackwhore he dates.
“Aw, Jack, you’re so sweet,” said Scarlett.
“Did you attend the University of London as well, Jack?” Rhian asked.
“Sure did,” he replied.
“Took a few years off before graduating,” Mr. Carlyle clarified. “But he’s taking some night courses now, right, m’boy?”
“Sure, Dad,” Jack nodded his head, then slyly winked at Scarlett, who giggled.
“Dad,” said Will, “I talked to my coach the other day, and he said I had a good chance of making the first boat in the spring.”
“Hmph,” muttered Mr. Carlyle. “Well, don’t expect to be put anywhere but bow pair. You’re too small to be anywhere else.”
“Wow, that’s so great!” said Rhian, ignoring Mr. Carlyle. “That’s a really big deal, right? I mean, it’s only your first year—”
“Will you quit your pathetic charade?” Mr. Carlyle roared. “Stop putting on that front! I know that you’re nothing more than a gold digger and a con artist!”
“Dad!” Will protested. Rhian was too shocked at this outburst to react.
“Oh dear,” said Mrs. Carlyle faintly. “Magnus, calm down—”
“You thought you were so good, you didn’t even flinch when I mentioned I had connections in government intelligence,” Mr. Carlyle sneered. “Ran a background check on you last week, I did! It seems the only Rhiannon Lyra Clark from Cardiff, Wales died last year!”
“You ran a background check on my girlfriend?” asked Will incredulously.
“You should be thanking me, boy!” bellowed Mr. Carlyle.
“You’re completely off your rocker! What about her, then?” Will pointed to Scarlett. “Something tells me her line of work isn’t quite legal!”
“What did you say?” Jack jumped up. “You think your girlfriend’s such a saint? Get up and fight me, you weasel!”
“Alright, out in the backyard! Be back in a minute,” Will gritted his teeth and glared at Jack, while they headed toward the door.
“Jack! William!” Mrs. Carlyle pleaded. “Please, boys.”
“STOP!” declared Mr. Carlyle. Will and Jack halted in the tracks. Rhian slouched in her seat, hoping to disappear. Scarlett looked almost sad that Jack wouldn’t defend her honor.
“Whoever the hell you are,” Mr. Carlyle growled at Rhian, “get out of my house.”
“She’s my guest, Dad,” Will stood firm.
“You’re so willing to choose her over your own family?” asked Mr. Carlyle. Will glared at him. “Fine. The both of you, get out of my house. Neither of your will ever be welcomed back.”
Will moved quickly, almost grabbing Rhian and dragging her out of the dining room. Iris returned their coats most apologetically, and the two didn’t speak a word until Will had driven almost halfway to Rhian’s flat.
“I’m—I’m sorry I got your dad so mad,” said Rhian quietly.
Will didn’t respond for another minute. “Don’t apologize. He’s a bastard, and has always been that way.”
“I mean, I was rude, and I totally didn’t need to be.”
“Please don’t apologize,” Will affirmed. “You didn’t do anything. Running a background check on you…God, he’s surpasses his own level of insanity.”
Rhian was glad that Will didn’t believe his dad saying that she was legally dead. That would have been impossible to explain without—without explaining everything.
“Will,” she said earnestly.
“I’m going to take care of you.”
“You don’t need them. You’ve got a family: your friends from secondary school, from university, and you better believe that my friends will always be there if you need them.”
“But do I have you?” he grinned.
“You better believe it, mister."
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