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Home > Mistress of the Game(12)

Mistress of the Game(12)
Author: Sidney Sheldon

The elevator doors closed behind him. Karis Brown hoped Robbie’s dad wouldn’t be too rough on him.

“You did whaaaaat?”

Peter Templeton was having a bad day. He’d woken up with the daddy of all hangovers. He knew he was drinking too much lately, but the guilt only served to make his pounding headache worse. People told him his grief would lessen in time, but it was four years now since he’d lost Alex and the loneliness was as bad as ever. Evenings were the worst. During the daytime, he’d learned to busy himself with work, or with Lexi.

At four years old, Lexi was a Pandora’s box of delights and surprises. Every day she came out with something new and funny that melted her father’s heart. But by eight o’clock at night, the little girl was out like a light, however hard Peter tried to keep her awake. When Lexi went to bed, it was like someone switching off his life-support machine. By eight-thirty, he’d usually found the whiskey. By ten, as often as not, he was out cold.

This morning, hungover again, he’d arrived at the office to find his desk piled high with work. It was bonus time at Kruger-Brent, one of the most stressful times of the year. Other board members made most of the big decisions, but since Brad Rogers’s retirement, Peter Templeton was the nominal chairman. This meant it was his job to manage the expectations of Kruger-Brent’s star performers-an impossible task; good people never believed they were getting paid enough-as well as to reprimand the underachievers.

What right do I have to reprimand anyone? They all know I’m the biggest piece of deadwood in the entire company. I’m a psychiatrist, not a businessman. If only I’d been stronger with Kate Blackwell all those years ago. I don’t belong at Kruger-Brent. No one knows that better than I do.

The fog in his brain had finally begun to clear. Then Robert showed up like a bad penny, announcing that they were kicking him out of St. Bede’s.

“I told you what I did, Dad. I smoked a joint. Jeez. One joint. It’s no big deal.”

The throbbing between Peter’s temples had returned with a vengeance.

“Robert. You smoked a joint in math class. What did you think was going to happen? Did you think your teacher was going to let that slide?”

Robbie stared out of the window. Normally you could see a panoramic Manhattan skyscape from his father’s office, but today was so cloudy it had disappeared, smothered by an eerie rainbow of grays.

“Goddammit, Robert, I’m at my wit’s end. I can’t help you if you insist on sabotaging your own life like this. Don’t you care about your future?”

My future? How am I supposed to care about my future when I can’t figure out my present? I don’t even know who I am.

“If you think you’re going to spend the rest of the year lounging around at home sitting on your keister, you can forget it, buster.”

Sitting on my keister? Buster? He talks like a character from a 1950s comic book. No wonder he doesn’t get it.

“You’re grounded. As of right now.”

“I thought you said I wouldn’t be lounging around at home.”

“Don’t talk back to me! Don’t you dare!” Peter’s voice was so loud the secretaries at the other end of the corridor could hear him. “You will see no one. You will talk to no one. You want to waste your life, Robert? You want to wind up in prison? Well, maybe it’s time you had a taste of what prison feels like.”

Robbie laughed. He knew it was the worst possible thing to do at that moment, but he couldn’t help himself.

You want to give me a taste of what prison feels like? Jesus, Dad. My whole life is a prison. With no parole! Can’t you see that? I’m trapped.

“You think this is funny?” Peter was shaking with rage.

Robbie turned to face him. “No. No, I don’t. I-”

Wham!

The slap came out of nowhere. Peter brought his hand down across Robbie’s face with such force it sent him flying backward. Losing his footing, Robbie cracked the back of his head against the glass of the window, then fell to the floor, stunned.

For a few seconds, father and son stood frozen in shocked silence. Then Peter spoke.

“I’m sorry, Robert. I shouldn’t have done that.”

Robbie’s eyes narrowed. His cheek glowed livid red from the blow.

“No. You shouldn’t have.”

Scrambling to his feet, Robbie pushed past his father, head down, and stumbled toward the elevator.

“Robert! Where are you going?”

Seconds later, Robbie was back in the lobby. He pushed through the revolving doors and out into the cool, fresh air of the street. Tears streamed down his face.

God?

Mom?

Anyone?

Help me. Please, please help me!

Running blindly down Park Avenue, Robbie Templeton began to sob.

The depression had started in earnest at the age of twelve, with the onset of puberty.

Before that, Robbie remembered periods of great sadness. Times when he missed his mother so badly it registered as a physical pain, like acute, grief-induced angina. But these were only temporary interludes. By playing the piano, going for a walk, or goofing around with Lexi, he could usually shake them off.

Once he turned twelve, however, something seismic seemed to shift within him. An inner blackness took hold, and this time its presence was constant. Robbie felt as if he’d descended into a tunnel without end, and then someone had blocked off the entrance. There was nothing to do but put one foot in front of the other, hopelessly, for eternity. Voices, sweet voices tempting him to suicide, followed him everywhere. If it weren’t for Lexi, he would have heeded their call years ago. As it was, he struggled for his little sister’s sake to go on. On and on and on, deeper and deeper into the never-ending darkness.

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