READ PART ONE FIRST
I gaped at my housekeeper. “Community service?” I shook my head. “No way, it’s not worth it.”
It was Noelle’s turn to goggle at me. “Are you serious, Mr. Beckett? You refuse to even pretend to be a nice person? Even when there are three billion dollars on the line. THREE BILLION, MR. BECKETT!”
Her eyes knifed into mine, and the disappointment in her expression made me uncomfortable. I tried to shake it off but Noelle looked at me curiously.
“Was that… an emotion? Like, an actual emotion?” She smirked. “Maybe you’re human after all.”
It made me angry that she caught me at a moment of weakness. For the second time that day, I stuck my emotions into a bottle and jammed the cork on tight.
“I’m not an emotional sap, like some people I know,” I said tightly. “And my father always said-”
“Your father? Your father was a sociopath, and you know it,” Noelle snapped, a furious look in her blue eyes. “Stop treating him like your idol.”
Even after Noelle stormed away, I stood staring at the spot where she had been. The contents of the wine glasses had sloshed onto the floor in all the excitement. With shaking hands, I placed them on a nearby table. I could barely breathe.
A memory flashed before my eyes, a memory I had tried to ignore since my father’s death. I had tried to erase all the bad memories of my father, but this one came back to me in a dizzying rush.
My dog Benjaman had been acting strange around my father. He would stick his tail between his legs and bare his teeth at him, and it terrified me. I worried that Ben might attack my father.
When I came home from school one day, I was greeted by a terrible scene.
Benjamin and my father were standing on the front lawn. Ben’s hackles were raised and his eyes had the appearance of a wild animal’s, harsh and unpredictable. My father’s teeth were bared, and I halted in my tracks, halfways up our long driveway. To my horror, Ben launched himself at my father. Thankfully, Ben was not an extremely large dog. Even so, he ripped a large gash in my father’s arm. I almost ran to my dad, but stopped when I saw him pull a knife out of his pocket. I covered my eyes so I didn’t have to see what happened next.
I heard a growl. Then a grunt. Then a piercing whine. And then… silence.
“Ace, that dog would have killed me,” said my father, hunched over and panting. Although he was covered in blood, satisfaction was etched all over his face. “You trusted him, but he would’ve killed me. Never trust anyone.”
I had never wondered why Ben attacked him that day. I always assumed that he must’ve been old and senile. But now, as I stood against the wall during a party, I wondered if there was more to the story. I always worried that Ben would strike my father. I never considered that it would be the other way around.
I noticed how hot I was. My head felt like it was floating in the clouds and dark spots danced before my eyes. I reached for the edge of a table, but I must’ve missed because the next thing I saw was the feet of people crowded around me.
When I opened my eyes, I was in my warm bed, propped up on a mound of pillows. My suit coat was laying in a crumpled mess at the foot of the bed. Groaning, I sat up and immediately felt dizzy.
Someone knocked on the door. I guessed that it was Noelle.
“Come in,” I croaked.
The door opened, and sure enough, it was Noelle. She appeared slightly calmer than she had at the party.
Speaking of which, how long had I been out?
As if she could hear my thoughts, Noelle said, “You’ve been asleep for about eight hours. It’s about ten o’clock in the morning.”
She placed a glass of water on my bedside table. “I think you were dehydrated. That or drunk.” She smirked and picked up the suit coat.
I noticed that Noelle was back to looking like her old self. Her hair was hanging around her face and her makeup was smeared. But for some reason, I just kept seeing her how she was at the party. And I felt amazed that she was still here. Noelle hadn’t left me even when I was at my worst. Maybe she wasn’t using me to get a raise… maybe she really cared about me.
It was time to find out if my father was right about the world.
“Noelle,” I started, attempting to stand up. She came rushing over and practically shoved me back down.
“You can’t get up, you’ll just kill yourself,” she protested, sitting down beside me and handing me the glass of water. I took it and was about to guzzle it down, but then I remembered that the polite thing to do was say thank you first. Might as well start my self-improvement now.
“Thanks,” I said. Then I took a sip. Noelle looked at me strangely, a completely bewildered look on her face.
“Thank you? No snarky comment or anything?” she asked in disbelief. I sighed and lowered my glass.
“I want your help,” I said quietly, locking eyes with her. I decided that the best way to go about this was to get it over as quickly as possible.
“Oh, good,” she said, with an air of relief. “I knew there was a reason you were being nice to me. I was getting freaked out.”
I frowned and tried not to let my temper get the best of me. “You were right,” I said simply. “My father was… crazy. He led me to believe that the world was against me.”
Noelle gave me a curious look. “So… what are you saying?”
I gulped. Talking about your feelings was harder than it looked. “What I’m saying is… I want to be a better person. And I’m also saying sorry. I guess. For… you know…”
Noelle looked completely bewildered now. “Ace, really? This isn’t just another one of your tricks?”
“No. I really don’t want to… to end up like my dad,” I confessed, staring straight ahead, feeling the pricks behind my eyes.
I had never really let myself grieve about my dad’s death. I had too much going on, creating my company, building myself up from nothing. But now that I was talking about my feelings, they seemed to drown me. Once I popped the cork off that bottle, I realized that I had a lot of emotions stored inside.
Nevertheless, I refused to let Noelle see me cry. I stabbed my fingernails into my palm to bring myself back to the present.
“Anyways, Noelle,” I took a deep breath, trying to focus. “I want you to help me be a better person.”
Noelle studied me carefully. She seemed at a loss for words. “I don’t know, Ace,” she said, genuine sadness in her voice. “I honestly don’t know if a person can change that much.”
I was so desperate, I turned to face my housekeeper and gripped her hands. “Please, Noelle,” I said, almost choking on the lump in my throat. “Please, give me a chance. I don’t want to die alone.”
Noelle patted my hands uncomfortably. “Alright, Ace. Alright. I’ll give you a chance.”
She rose from the bed and stepped towards the exit. She paused at the door. “I don’t know what happened since I last saw you, but you do seem different.” Noelle tilted her head and gave me a tentative smile. “I don’t know. Maybe this will work.”
She looked so beautiful when she smiled.
Snap out of it, I told myself. She’s the housekeeper.
“Wait, so what’s the first plan?” I asked Noelle as the door was closing. Her head peeked out from behind the door and she looked at me with a mischievous grin.
“You’re gonna do the community service and then donate the money to charity.”
I stared at the closed door. Why did Noelle have to look so hot when she had an idea?
I shook my head, trying to clear my thoughts. What had gotten into me?