The Heir of Nothing in Particular
by Leslie Chivers
I stand on the tarmac, the sky darkening around me, and turn my phone on. The cold creeps up from the gray concrete, through my shoes and into my feet. I should’ve worn something heavier, but I was optimistic that it might be warmer when I arrived. The air hurts my nostrils when I breathe in. I exhale puffs of steam. I wish I were back in New York.
When my phone finishes powering on, there's a text message from Chantal. It’s supposed to get cold this weekend, it says. No shit, I think. It’s also the first thing she says to me when I get into her car, an Audi TT that has the distinct fresh leather scent that fills all new cars.
“New car?” I ask.
“My father just bought it for me,” she says.
I find the button to turn on my heated seat.
She looks over at me and furrows her brow. “You’re one to talk.” She’s right, I shouldn't say anything. My father started his fabrication company with just one truck over fifteen years ago when times were bad. He did it as a side job to help bring in extra money. Then oil prices went up and he added another truck and his first employee. It only grew from there. Last I knew, my father’s company was worth over thirty million dollars and worked with some of the largest oil companies in the world. Because of him, I got to spend my high-school years at Progressive Academy, a private prep school for the area’s wealthiest kids. I also have a new BMW 3 series sitting at my mother’s waiting for me.
I look back down at my phone hoping to see more texts, but there aren't any and I feel lonely. I look over and watch Chantal’s hair wisps move in the breeze from the heater. Her face is soft and smooth. She has a subtle line of eyeliner that amplifies the blue in her eyes. She looks over and smiles at me. She’s beautiful. I want to tell her that, but I've never told her that.
“I hope you packed some warm clothes,” she says.
She flicks on the signal, and we exit down the ramp and onto the four-lane highway toward the city. The traffic is dense because of rush hour, but she handles it with ease, moving smoothly between the other vehicles.
“Did you hear me?” she asks.
“Yeah,” I say. “Warm clothes.”
The fact that she's talking about appropriate clothing doesn’t bother me, but I start to get uncomfortable at being home and feel that, other than getting back on a plane, nothing else matters. I reach into my carry-on bag and pull out my glass vial of coke and do a hit. I tilt it in her direction.
“Do you want some?”
She shakes her head.
“Not while I’m driving.”
I put the coke in my pocket and push into the chair, letting the heat sink into my body. The lights along the edge of the highway swipe across her dashboard in a regular rhythm and I start counting them. A wave comes over me, and slides highlighting my day flash through my head like a presentation. I’m twenty-one and it's May and my flight from New York was delayed and the couple from Fort McMurray, who were sitting with me in first class, got drunk to the point where the man threw up and the lady laughed until her red wine dribbled out of her nose. The spring thaw splattered my new Hugo Boss shoes, which felt like a perfect fit when I put them on this morning. I don’t care that I wear a sweaty scent, grown from a solid day of travel with one layover; that throat is dry from the recycled airplane air and it's now even drier because of the crisp prairie air. I look crumpled compared to Chantal’s carefully put together navy jacket and silk Burberry scarf and her lush Givenchy perfume. But it's irrelevant next to the fact that I’m coming home to something cold and that I need to dress warmer. The weather is easier to talk about—the weather is always easier to talk about—and I’m sure Chantal would rather talk about that than school, than her parents’ divorce, or the song on the radio from some pop queen singing, bragging about how she's good at being bad, or that Chantal and I haven’t spoken in four months, since Christmas break. For Chantal, I’m now finished with university, back home for good, ready to start our life together as a couple. But really, she wants me to be warmer.
Chantal jerks the wheel to the left and heads west off the highway, onto the freeway that circles around the city. The asphalt turns to concrete, and the ride gets quieter.
“They finished construction,” she says. “It takes no time to get around the city with this road.”
“Do you have any water?”
She turns and looks at me, then shakes her head. I still feel lonely. We sit silent for the rest of the drive.
Chantal eventually leaves the freeway at an exit I don’t recognize and drives up the street, where she stops at a red light. Small mounds of snow still dirty from the salt and gravel lie in piles where snowplows would’ve piled the snow removed from the streets. It’ll be gone soon, maybe in a week or two, as the days get longer and the sun gets warmer.
She continues though the streets until she gets to one I finally recognize. It curves up a hill and to the right. Tall elms that have yet to develop any leaves line the street on both sides. She takes her time, as though she wants me to take it all in. When she finally gets to my mother’s driveway, she turns and drives up toward the house and through the gate in a way that will allow her to circle back around. She looks over at me again. I’m not sure if she wants me to kiss her. I don’t think she does, but I do anyway since we're supposed to be a couple. Her lips are soft and meet mine, and it's awkward for both of us, but I still like it.
“I’d spend time with you, but I have a committee meeting tonight.”
“A committee meeting?” I ask.
“Yeah,” she says. “I’m helping with the speeches for a fundraiser we have coming up. And the silent auction.”
“It’s that important?” I ask.
“Of course it is,” she says. “It’s a major political fundraiser, five-hundred a plate. You know I need to make connections to get a job, and I need to find one right away, now that I’m out of school. Politics moves fast. If I don’t get in, then I won’t get in.”
“I’ll see you later, then.”
“I’ll text you,” she says. “There’s a party later. Bobby’s.”
It’ll be good to see Bobby again, to see people who are part of the same fraternity as I am, even if he’s from a different chapter.
I get out of the car, and it’s colder than when she picked me up at the airport. I stretch my legs and can feel the tightness in my hamstrings I get from sitting for long periods of time. She pops the trunk, and I unload my treated-canvas Coach luggage set she bought me when I left for New York.
“I’m glad you’re home,” she says.
“Are you okay?” she asks.
“Yeah,” I say.
“It’s just, you seem off,” she says.
I look at her with a blank face and don’t say anything. I’m not sure what to say. She kisses me this time, but its quick, no tongue.
“I’ll see you later,” she says. “After all, this is what we were waiting for. I have my degree in political science; you have your commerce degree. In a few years, we’ll be the couple everyone wants to be.”
She smiles and I feign one.
“I posted that. I got over seventy likes.”
“That’s good,” I say, wondering why people liking her posts are important.
“I know, it’s exciting.”
She kisses me again, some tongue this time, then gets into her car and drives away. There are no other vehicles around, which means my mother isn’t home. This is standard for my mother. She was never home when I lived here and probably forgot or didn’t even know today was the day I was coming home. I never held it against her, though. She became a career volunteer once my dad’s income allowed her to quit her job and has done a lot of good for others. She started volunteering at the local food bank, separating items, and over the years worked her way into a board position for the children's clinic at the university hospital. It was probably one of the most prestigious volunteer positions in the city, which she loved, because it allowed her to keep her status since she and my father got divorced.
I get inside, and turn the heat up. My mother left a note on the table to let me know she had gone out to pick up some groceries for a late dinner, which doesn’t matter, because I’m not hungry. I'll probably try to eat something, though, because the note also says she wants to celebrate my return from Columbia University, and I don’t want to come off as too much of an asshole. I turn up the heat a few more degrees and head upstairs to my room.
The trees outside my floor-to-ceiling windows are starting to develop small leaves. Soon, they'll fill in and create the feeling of sleeping in a forest while living in the middle of a city that I missed while living in my fraternity house.
My room is unchanged. The dirty socks I left on the floor are in the same spots where I left them when leaving right after Christmas. On my wall, the television still hung surrounded by posters: Arcade Fire, Eddie Vedder, Damien Rice, Leonard Cohen, Daniel Johnston, Tori Black, and a postcard of the Golden Gate Bridge, the words San Francisco written in pink neon script across the bottom right corner. It’s edges frayed from years of me flipping it over to read the back. Everything is just where it was when I finished high school four years ago. There’s a stack of Blu-rays at the foot of my bed with a note in my mother’s handwriting that reads, I want to donate these to the church for their garage sale. Let me know. There is also a note saying River stopped by to see if I was at home yet.
I reach into my pants pocket and pull out my phone. I text River and he texts back right away, wanting to know if I’m going to Bobby’s party tonight. I tell him I am, then place the phone down on the shelf. It vibrates, and I know it's River texting back. I don’t look to see what he’s written. Instead, I look up at Tori hanging on my wall. She is lying face down on a bed with her head resting against her right hand, staring at the camera. Her ass is propped up in the air, and the small white lace panties are pulled halfway down so you can barely see them. Her legs are spread, and I imagine the view from behind her is inviting. Her makeup gives her face a smooth, shimmering tone while the smoky makeup around her eyes gives them a fuck-me look. Her signature is scrawled in the corner, not real, just printed on as part of the poster.
I pick up my phone and look at the text. It's from River, saying he can’t wait. I look back up at the poster of Tori. She looks deep into my eyes and I have an urge to masturbate. I wish, as I do every time I look at the poster, that I could be in the poster behind her. I light a candle and lie down on my bed, wondering what clothes I have for the frat party. After all, I'll need to be warm.