Justin held onto his hardhat when he entered the shell of what was going to be the newest Hartwell resort, The Lilliana. In addition to the sound of power drills and electric saws, contractors shouted orders from every direction. Electricians weaved wires together, bringing light to each fixture. Masons laid the marble floors while carpenters sanded their carvings into the woodwork, shaping its personality. It seemed as though their vision was finally coming to life . . . Until one of the architects came storming past him, cursing in another language. He tore his own work to shreds.
“Here are the duplicate permits you said you needed. There’s a back-up on file just in case.” Justin added the documents to his brother’s messy desk. “Whatever you said sure pissed him off. . .” he commented.
“If he wants to quit then let him!” Quentin sent the papers flying and waited for them to settle.
Justin didn’t flinch. He knew not to take his outbursts personally. Whenever Quentin was under a lot of stress, he took it out on those around him. It didn’t matter who it was. If something wasn’t done the way Quentin wanted it done, everyone had to hear about it. Much like their father, he had no tolerance for a mistake.
Quentin wasn’t above belittling his employees with snide remarks or letting them go on the spot. And he would do so in front of everyone, just to make an example of them. In the months they spent working together on The Lilliana, Justin never once heard him say, “Good job.” or “Nice work.” There was no such thing as a day off.
“That’s like . . . the third one this month,” Justin counted.
“Our guests expect the ultimate five-star experience when they walk through those doors! It is our job to deliver!” Quentin unrolled the blueprint to compare them against their composite sketches. Justin followed his finger as he pointed out a series of red markings.
“He needs to tweak his design here, here, and here. I’m not asking for much! I mean, really!” Quentin flicked the paper before Justin took it off his hands.
“I see what you’re saying, but why can’t we stick with the original? You’re looking at another six to eight weeks worth of work if we go that route, which would set us behind,” he cautioned.
“Our name is on this!” Quentin fussed. “We have standards to live up to!”
“Look, all this extra stuff is nice, but it would put us way over budget, and I’m sure our investors wouldn’t be too happy about that. . .” Justin held his position.
“Then what do you suggest?” Quentin showed signs of irritation before he even heard his answer.
“I say we capitalize upon what we already have. You’re just going to have to make the best of it,” Justin took a deep breath. “If I were you, I would-”
“Save that thought,” Quentin interjected. “I need to speak with you . . . in private.” He motioned toward his mobile office, leaving Justin no choice but to follow him.
“I’m glad you’re here. I’ve been meaning to ask you about something. . .” Quentin hung his hardhat on his way to the kitchenette. From the outside, the trailer looked similar to those found on any construction site. But inside, it was designed to be as plush as the hotel they were building.
“Sure man, what’s up?” Justin perched himself on one of the bar stools.
“What’s been going on with you lately?” Quentin retrieved two water bottles from the fridge and handed one off.
“I’m not sure I know what you mean?” Justin shifted under his brother’s critical stare. Even with the luxury of air conditioning, he couldn’t stop sweating.
“Eden called me. She said you’ve been acting strange: staying out until wee hours of the morning, sometimes not coming home until the next day. . .” Quentin twisted the cap and took a sip.
“I told her it was probably just a case of the pre-wedding jitters.” He shrugged. “Although I must admit I have my own suspicions. . .” All of sudden, Quentin’s eye began to twitch. “You’re seeing Kyra again, aren’t you?”
His question fall flat. Kyra was the one subject neither one of them wanted to touch.
“Aw, shit. Here we go again. . .” Justin mumbled under his breath. He knew what Quentin was going to say before he even said it.
“Damn it, Justin! Now even I’m convinced that bitch got you whipped!” he erupted. “When are you going to leave that girl alone? Hate to say it but Dad was right,” he snickered.
“Look, we’re both grown. I think Kyra and I are old enough to make our own decisions,” Justin noted.
“Yeah, and I’m telling you you’re not making a very good one!” Quentin paused to let his words sink in. “Think about it, Justin. What does Kyra stand to lose in all of this?”
Justin continued to avoid his stare and his questions, forcing him to jump back in and take control of the conversation again.
“Exactly!” Quentin’s conclusion was matter-of-fact.
“Don’t worry about me. I got this. I know what I’m doing,” Justin spoke with such confidence, but there was no convincing Quentin.
“Justin, she will only continue to bring you down,” he argued. “Getting shot wasn’t indicative enough for you? If not, what will it take? I need to know!”
“You make it sound like Kyra tried to kill me herself!” Justin stood up in her defense. “We were in the wrong place at the wrong time! No one was supposed to get hurt!”
“How do you know it wasn’t a set up? Maybe it was really you who was supposed to get robbed that night?” Quentin surmised.
Justin shook his head. He wouldn’t even entertain the thought.
“That’s what you think but how do you know?” Quentin pressed.
“Because I was there,” Justin chipped in. “Plus, you don’t know Kyra like I do. She wouldn’t do me like that.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure. I don’t think any of us knew Kyra as well as we thought we did,” Quentin slipped in another bitter comment before the bottle touched his lips.
“Kyra’s not this mean-spirited person y’all try to make her out to be. We talked about happened, and she feels really bad about it, you know.”
“And she should!” Quentin’s eyes looked like they might pop out of his head. “She’s the one who got you into that mess in the first place!” he screamed.
“Fuck you, Quentin! Why are you always bringing up old shit?” Justin fumed. “That shit happened how many years ago? Things are different now. . .”
“Oh! I get it! That’s all it was! A big misunderstanding,” Quentin peppered his sentence with sarcasm. “You’ll believe anything she tells you, won’t you?” he scoffed.
“I don’t care what you say. You can’t keep me from seeing her,” Justin rebelled.
“I don’t even see why this is such an issue for you! You should be so angry with her you shouldn’t even want to see her!” Quentin yelled.
“Because I still love her, all right. . .” Justin met his brother eye-to-eye. Quentin was seething.
“Justin, I swear if you go back to her -”
“What are you going to do? Tell on me? Go ahead. Tell whoever you need to.” Justin put his chin up causing Quentin to clench his jaw. If Justin weren’t his brother, he would’ve punched him in his, but he knew his tongue would cause more damage than his fists ever could.
“I just don’t get it, Justin. Make me understand what it is you love about Kyra oh-so-much? It doesn’t bother you that she left to be with another man?” Quentin took another swing at his pride. The hurt on Justin’s face let him know his words connected.
“Whatever, I don’t have to explain myself to you or anybody!” he insisted. “I know what’s real and that’s all that matters!”
“So you still can’t explain how you almost died chasing her ass half-way across the globe after she done ran off at a moment’s notice with some rude boy; some lowlife drug dealer who ‘just so happened’ to be her ex?” Quentin’s eyes looked like slits.
“Justin! She led you right into that shit!” he flared. “And I hate to be the one to break it to you, but technically, you ran away. I don’t know where you get off with these outrageous claims about Mom and Dad cutting you off and putting you out? They have been nothing short of supportive! We all have!”
“I did not ‘runaway’! I was going to come back! Matter of fact, I tried to come home! But because of them, I was stranded! Dad held my money for three years, while Mom sat there and let him! That makes her almost as bad as him!”
“When are you going to stop trying to throw blame around here? You did this to yourself!” Quentin put an end to his whining when he invaded his personal space.
“You left when they were out of town! They come home and nobody’s seen you. No one knew where you were or what happened to you. You didn’t tell anyone where you were going. Not even me! The least you could’ve done was called and filled me in on what the fuck was going on!” he scolded.
“And you had the nerve to take Michael with you? You chose him to hold you down over your own brother?”
Justin threw his hands up in the air.
“I already told you Mike wasn’t supposed to come! Besides, if you came instead, that would’ve put you in the same predicament as me. True?”
“No, had I been there nothing would have happened!” Quentin argued.
“And what were you going to do, Quentin? Save the day?” Justin laughed. “You sound stupid.”
“Yeah, well . . . I would’ve never let it come to this.” Quentin’s passion ran dry.
“You think I went there knowing everything was going to turn out like this? Not really! So you can stop rubbing my mistake in my face any day now, okay? I’m sorry! Damn! How many times do I have to say it?” Justin huffed some more.
“Look, Justin, try to understand Mom and Dad don’t want to see you throw your future away over some girl. Neither do I . . . We’re just trying to protect you. . .”
“Thanks, but I don’t need you to protect me. I can take care of myself.” Justin straightened his shoulders. After almost being outcast from the only world he had ever known, and practically disowned by his parents, he had grown used to facing his problems alone.
“Imagine the sensationalism had someone gotten word of what really happened that night,” Quentin continued. “The media would’ve torn you – and Kyra – apart had they heard the real story. We would’ve had reporters from every news network swarming the island asking for an interview. . .
Is that what you would have wanted? Paparazzi waiting to question you the moment you step out the door? Hiding in the bushes just to get a picture of you and your floozy little girlfriend?” He grimaced.
“You’re right. Maybe it would’ve been better if I had just died in Chicago? Then you wouldn’t have to worry about me or my problems!”
Quentin looked stunned by his tantrum.
“You take that back!” he demanded.
“Why? You know it’s true!”
“Justin, you have to understand, when we almost lost you, everything changed. You changed!” Quentin’s hostility was slowly rising.
“You’re telling me? Dad barely even talks to me, and look at you. You’ve got it made!”
“Look, I know you might not see it this way, but Mom and Dad did you a favor sending you to rehab when they did,” Quentin’s tone went cold. “You needed more help than any of us could give.”
“A favor,” Justin laughed. “They sent me away so they didn’t have to deal with me,” he stated.
“The last thing you needed was to have complete strangers poking around in your personal affairs, following you wherever you go, dissecting your every move . . . every decision! Exposing every aspect of your life you had hoped to keep secret, all for the sake of a good story; for someone else’s entertainment! Your life would’ve been on display for the whole world to see – and judge.”
“Oh, come on!” Justin laughed off his exaggeration, but Quentin refused to let up.
“I’m serious, Justin! Do you have any idea how that headline would have read: ‘HARTWELL HEIR WOUNDED IN BOTCHED DRUG DEAL’? God only knows. You read the tabloids,” he grunted.
“Why are you always so worried about what other people have to say?” Justin cocked his head in curiosity. “Who cares what they think. This is my life! I have a right to do what makes me happy!”
“This isn’t about you, Justin! This is about all of us – as a family!”
“No! No, it’s not!” he sneered. “This isn’t about love or family! It’s about money! It’s always been about money! That’s all any of you care about!”
“If that’s what you think, then you have yet to understand what it means to be a Hartwell, dear brother. We were born into privilege and with that come certain responsibilities. There are certain things we simply cannot do . . .”
“You think I don’t know that?” Justin sighed. He heard the same speech one too many times from his parents. It was like the gift he never asked for.
Growing up, it seemed like no matter how hard he tried to break free he was ultimately bound by family name and fortune. Most people would assume it would be great to spend their childhood in a mansion, but as he got older the walls that fenced them in started to make it feel more like a prison.
Not much had changed since then. Even as a grown man, Justin still wasn’t allowed to make any decisions for himself. He wasn’t entitled to his opinions. He had no control over anything. It was as though his life had already been mapped out for him. He was simply going through the motions.
“Now you listen to me, Justin. This right here; is not a game. This is serious business,” Quentin whispered. “Our father built this company from the ground up. He’s relying on us to uphold the Hartwell legacy long after he’s gone. Therefore, I need to know I can trust you. I need to know you can be responsible,” he lectured.
“That’s if he doesn’t leave it all to you. It’s no secret you’ve always been his favorite,” Justin flashed his resentment.
“Whatever, bottom line is, we still have a business to run. Not to mention, you’re getting married in less than a week! Those are the things you need to be thinking about right now! Not some ghetto hoe like Kyra! If you continue to pursue her you could compromise everything!” Quentin gripped him by the shoulder, but his excitement failed to transfer.
“Look, I know you might not want to hear this, but you need to take a long look at your life, J. Seriously. I know this isn’t what you want. It can’t be.”
“I don’t think I know what I want. . .” Justin’s confession came in the form of a hopeless sigh. As much as he loved Kyra and Eden, the island of Prince Paul wasn’t big enough for the both of them. He simply could not have them both.
“You know what you have to do,” Quentin hinted at a solution. “Eden is a great catch. Only a fool would mess that up.”
“Look, even if I do break-up with Kyra now, it won’t make a difference. It’s not like that’s going to change what I’ve done or how I feel,” Justin stressed. He didn’t want to find out what it was like to grow old alone, but he knew that was what was bound to happen if he didn’t make a decision and soon.
“No, but it’s a start. . . I trust you’ll do the right thing.” Quentin added a pat on the back for encouragement – not that it worked. Each had his own interpretation of the “right” decision when it came to his relationship with Kyra, and they couldn’t be more different.
The problem was Justin couldn’t picture a future without his family or Kyra. It was easy for them to label her as the sole source of all his problems, when really she was the only one who could make him feel like he didn’t have any. And although, marrying Eden would make Justin more valuable in the eyes of his father, that also meant Kyra would be free to marry someone else, and he didn’t like that idea either.
Every glance at the calendar was painful for Justin. With the 16th rapidly approaching, his doubts were beginning to creep up on him, as was his guilt. He had made a serious commitment when he asked Eden to marry him, and being the man that he was, he felt obligated to keep it. It was too late to take it back.
“Answer me this. . .” The sound of his brother’s voice stopped Justin from walking out.
“Is she worth it?”
Justin refused to dignify his question with an answer. Much like his love for her, Kyra’s worth was one thing he never felt the need to question . . . Until now.