One day when I was thirteen, I’d been left alone in the house, which was a rarity. I’d decided to start rummaging through my father’s things to try to find something of my mother’s. I was desperately looking for pictures or any memento. I was fairly certain Lillian had either hidden all traces of Rose or had her things destroyed. To Lillian, my mother—a non-religious free spirit—was a sinner who deserved no respect.
Searching my father’s office, I’d come up empty-handed with the exception of one small box that was hidden inside a larger one. The outside box was the packaging of a Craftsman drill and was clearly meant to deter people from snooping.
Inside the smaller box was some jewelry and a nude sketch of a woman with a small waist, large hips and perfectly round breasts. Lillian would have blown a gasket if she knew my father had it. It took me a few seconds to confirm that the woman was my mother. The thing is, it should have grossed me out, but knowing that my father was keeping it in secret made me happy. I assumed he’d been the artist.
That night in my room, I started to draw my first female body. I wasn’t in any way trying to recreate the naked image of my mother. But I think I fell in love with the idea of creating something that was so forbidden, so intimate. I loved the idea of imagining what my father was feeling when he drew it, an intense love and appreciation. Sketching nudes became a pastime, an escape. Each one I’d create was different and more beautiful to me than the last. While some might have seen it as fucked up, over the years, I came to the conclusion that the process of drawing a naked woman was more fulfilling to me than being inside of an actual woman who was just using me.
“Sevin, what’s taking you so long?” I heard Lillian yell from the bottom of the stairs.
I slipped the drawing under my bed. “Coming,” I yelled.
Running a comb through my hair, a deep sigh escaped me. There was nothing I hated more than putting on a show for houseguests. My brothers were innately sweet and respectful. For me, it was always a fucking performance.
I threw on some khakis and a blue button-down shirt, rolling up the sleeves. I ran down the stairs and stopped short at the sight of a girl around my age. She had long medium brown hair and was wearing a flowy skirt down to her ankles. She was cute. Not exactly the houseguest I was expecting.
I coughed. “Hi.”
“Hi. I was just looking for a bathroom,” she said shyly.
“I’m Sevin. Who are you?”
Blushing, she said, “I’m Elle.”
I reached out my hand and just as she extended hers, a man appeared and pushed her arm down to stop us from touching.
“I see you’ve met my daughter, Elle.”
Turning to him, I replied, “Yes, sir. And you are?”
“I’m one of your father’s oldest friends, son. We’ve never met.” He offered me his hand. “Lance Sutton.”
I shook it. “Sevin.” Glancing over at the girl then back at him, I said, “Yeah…my father mentioned your name once or twice. Where are you living now?”
“We’ve come a long way, actually…from Kansas. Your father and I grew up together there. He and I were practically like brothers at one time. He moved away when he met your mother. Rose was a drifter and took your father with her. He lost his way for a bit back then. But we reconnected a couple of years ago, started keeping in touch again.”
“What brings you all this way?”
“Actually, I was hoping you and I could sit down and talk.”
Lillian was standing in the corner and gave me a slight nod of approval, which meant I probably should have been worried. Whatever this was, she was in on it.
Lillian placed her hands on the girl’s shoulders. “Elle, honey, why don’t you come help me prepare lunch for everyone?”
“Sure, Mrs. Montgomery.”
When Lillian and Elle were out of sight, Mr. Sutton nudged his head toward the sliding glass door leading out to our backyard. “Why don’t we go outside.”
“Alright,” I said, squinting my eyes suspiciously.
After a few seconds of silence, we stood facing each other on the deck as a breeze blew moss around in the air.
I was the first to speak. “What’s this all about, Mr. Sutton?”
“Please…call me Lance.”
“Alright. Lance. What’s going on?”
“Brent and I had been discussing some things before he passed away.”
“Yes. Your father was concerned about you, that you might be getting into some situations…certain temptations…that would not befit a good Christian life.”
“He told me you were saving up for college on your own, and I respect that. But I have a proposition for you.”
I crossed my arms. “A proposition…”
“Yes. See, your father really did want the best for you. He knew that I had been looking for someone who I could groom, mentor and train to take over my business.”
“What kind of business?”
“Meat packing. I own a beef plant back in Dodge City. Sutton Provisions.”
“You want me to take over your business when all I’ve been doing for the past year is shoveling horse shit?”
He chuckled. “It wouldn’t be overnight. I’d take you under my wing for several years until you were ready. The company would also pay for business school.”