Dirty Scoundrel

By: Jessica Clare

Clay’s not rich, but he’s the best. I know if my dad gets to meet him, he’ll love him as much as I do and see how happy he makes me.

But when I get downstairs, my father’s walking back into the house and putting his hat on its normal peg. I frown to myself. It’s almost like he’s just returned. I’ve been so distracted with Johanna I didn’t notice he’d gone. “Did you leave? And have you seen my phone? I can’t find it anywhere and I need to let Clay know we’re going to be late. Johanna—”

“I went and talked to your young man,” Dad says in a stern voice. “Come sit down, Natalie.”

“You did?” Why does that sound so ominous? But I follow my father into his grand study quietly, a thousand questions buzzing in my mind. I watch as he sits at his desk, one that Marlon Brando sat at in one of his big movies. I sit in a chair opposite him, one from a John Wayne film. My dad loves props and has spent a fortune on buying set pieces from the movie lots. Our entire home is filled with things from famous movies, and as a result, the atmosphere is a little . . . well, “eclectic” is probably far too kind a word. “Scattershot” is more like it. But my dad is old Hollywood, and we’re not exactly a normal family anyhow, so I don’t mind. I smooth my skirt and try not to show my nervousness. “You saw Clay?” I ask again. “Is he going to wait for us a bit longer? Johanna—”

Dad shakes his head. “I’m afraid our dinner is canceled.”

“Canceled?” I echo. “But why?”

He pulls an envelope off his desk and pushes it toward me. “You got accepted to Stanford, by the way.”

I ignore it. Dad’s been pushing Stanford on me for all my life, because he went to college there for a brief time before heading to Hollywood. I haven’t made any decisions about college . . . well, because I wanted to know where Clay and I were going. “What about Clay, Dad?”

“He’s breaking up with you.”

My father delivers the words so casually, and yet they hit me with the force of a sledgehammer. I grip the carved wooden arms of the chair. “Wh-what?”

Dad nods. “You’re planning on going to college, right? He said he didn’t want to wait around. Said that he had better things to do with his time. I suspect his family is the type that likes their women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.” My father shakes his head.

I stare, unable to believe what I’m hearing. My Clay said this? “I . . . know that he was going to take a job with his father this summer,” I say, though it’s hard to speak around the knot in my throat. “But I thought . . .”

“Oh, he said he’d marry you, but he made it quite clear that if you went to college, it would be over.”

What the hell? Does Clay really want me sitting around twiddling my thumbs, waiting to have his babies? I did want to go to college but wanted to discuss where with Clay first, hoping it could be someplace near where he’d be. How could Clay make me choose? Crap, it was even worse than that—he chose for me!

When my father nudges the envelope toward me again, I pick it up. I feel numb. I don’t even recall applying to Stanford, so one of his assistants must have done this. Not surprising, given that my dad has a crew to run everything in his life. He doesn’t like to be alone. I gaze down at the letter, the words blurring before my eyes.

Everything feels like it’s dying. All the things I’d hoped for, all the joyful dreams I’d made—they’d all involved Clay. Surely . . . surely I have more ambition than that? More than just being some guy’s wife?

Or is that all that I truly want? I’m so confused. I don’t know what to think anymore. “He’s never said . . .”

“My darling, why would he? I learned this the hard way in Hollywood—the more options you give someone, the less likely they are to take the one that you want them to take. The best way to get someone to do what you want is to give them as few options as possible. You never offer your leading man four scripts. You offer him the one you want him to take and go from there.”

“This isn’t Hollywood, Dad,” I say bitterly.

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