"Oh." Ella looks positively heartbroken, as if she's failed at some new fiancé test. I just don't have the energy to reassure her right now.
"Do you want anything from the coffee shop?" I ask. "Like...a bagel or something?"
She wrinkles her nose. Ah, of course not. Carbs. I'm sure she doesn't eat them. "Uh...No thank you," she says.
I grab my wallet upstairs and slip out the door, relieved to get out of the house.
"Following me?" Caulter stands at the corner of the house, and casually blows smoke rings in my direction.
"Of course not," I say, annoyed. "There's no coffee in this place. I'm getting caffeine. I can't think."
"Oh yeah." He laughs. "Did she try to offer you that herbal shit?"
"You mean the green crap she's drinking? What is that stuff? It smells like fish."
Caulter snorts. "It's like algae and seaweed or something, I don't know. It's rancid, right? Like a milkshake made of fish tank. But no, I mean the coffee substitute."
"Yeah, some herbal thing?" I ask.
He laughs. "It'll make you shit something fierce. Don't do it." Then he looks up at me. "Of course, it might help with that stick up your ass."
"Seriously, I knew you couldn't go two minutes without being a dick." I step down, and Caulter calls my name. "What?" I ask, my voice clipped.
"That's what I'm talking about, Princess," he says. "You need to get a fucking sense of humor."
"Sure, Caulter." I turn to walk away, but he calls my name again. "What?"
"Here," he says. "You want one?" He holds up one of those canned espresso drinks, and then tosses it to me.
I pop the top and gulp down the life-saving liquid as I walk toward where he's standing. He turns his head and blows a trail of smoke to the side. "That's a disgusting habit," I say. "You're going to get cancer."
"I give you coffee, and you come over here to lecture me about my hobbies," he says. "Those are some bad fucking manners."
"Thanks for the coffee." I take another sip, and look at the empty can by his feet. "So you're out here mainlining caffeine and nicotine, or what?"
"Gotta have my fix," he says, looking at me, his gaze steady. "I mean, I prefer a good morning fuck to wake me up."
"Well, it's a good thing you've got the coffee and the cigarettes, then."
Caulter shrugs. "Let me know if you change your mind, Princess. I can be ready in five seconds."
"Don't hold your breath."
Caulter finishes his cigarette, and holds up his middle finger. I follow his gaze out the small front yard to the sidewalk, toward the guy standing on the other side of the wall, his head visible above the brick.
"How long has that photographer been there?" I ask, turning my back and facing Caulter.
"A while," Caulter says, shrugging. "He was there yesterday. It's just one."
"Just one?" I reach for Caulter's arm and pull it down. "Are you crazy? What the hell do you think you're doing, flipping him off?"
"Relax," he says. "They're assholes. We've developed a routine, this guy and I. It's like symbiotic and shit. He takes pictures of me; I smoke and give him the finger. He's taken enough of me flipping him off, so he's bored with it now."
"Yeah, well, he hasn't taken pictures of me," I say. "And my father is about to start his re-election campaign. That's just what he needs, photos of you flipping off photographers."
"Chill the fuck out, Princess," he says. "He'll snap a few photos of us out here and be done with it. We're not the real story. He wants our parents."
I'm used to my father being in the spotlight. He's a Senator, after all. But Senators aren't really in the spotlight like this, not with paparazzi in front of the house. I mean, unless there's some kind of scandal, no one give that much of a crap about anyone except the President. Being my father's child means carefully staged interviews and photo sessions, not candid shots outside the house. The fact that Caulter and I are standing out here being photographed at all makes me feel anxious. And pissed off at Caulter for being so blasé about the media.
"Of course they're interested in us as a story -- you as a story, you moron," I say, standing in front of him, my hands on my hips. I feel like a schoolteacher, lecturing him, yet I can't seem to help myself. "You're the tattooed, chain-smoking, beer-guzzling, train wreck son of the movie star who's marrying my family-values, ex-Marine Senator father. You're a tabloid headline, standing right here in front of me!"