"What did you just say?" he asks.
"I think we all need to calm down here," Ella says, standing at the far end of the table. "Ben, Caulter is not your child, he's mine, and I'll thank you kindly to not - "
"Oh please, Ella." I hold my palm up.
"I don't want to hear you refer to your mother by her first name like she's one of your friends," the Senator booms.
"It's a good thing you don't get a say in the matter then, is it?" I ask. "Since I'm not one of your employees you can order around."
"Ben!" Ella says. "I said, this is my child. Caulter and I are informal. And it's not your call to step in and change that."
"Your child is an adult," the Senator says, his voice louder now. "Not a kid. And it's time to start treating him like an adult. Both of you are adults and - "
Katherine yells again, her hands over her ears. "Jesus fucking Christ," she screams.
"Katherine Eva Harrison," the Senator said. "You will not take the Lord's name in vain in this house."
"I can't listen to another second of arguing!" she yells. "Yes, Caulter and I flipped each other off. Yes, it's in the paper. Yes, it's a PR problem. I'm sorry your engagement was announced this way. But if you want to talk about being selfish, we can talk about being selfish. You left like a bat out of hell after graduation to get back to work -- and by work, I'm assuming you meant Ella. You didn't think that maybe you should, oh, I don't know, give me any kind of heads up that you were getting re-married?" Katherine asks, her voice growing more high-pitched.
I step back, crossing my arms over my chest, not even bothering to hide the smile I can feel tugging at the corners of my mouth. I didn't think daddy's little girl had it in her. I can't believe I'm listening to her tell off her father.
"I thought you would prefer to hear something like that at home - " he starts, suddenly on the defensive.
"Yeah, dad," she says. "I totally want to walk in the door to the house to see the three of you standing there. I'm sure that's how they tell you to do it in all the parenting books. Make sure you choose a setting for maximum impact, right?"
"I made a decision that I thought was most appropriate for - "
"You've been keeping this entire relationship a secret!" Katherine yells. "Do you understand how big of an asshole you're being? You're about to punch Caulter in the fucking kitchen! You don't see the irony here? Mom would hate the person you are - and you know it."
At the mention of her mother, it's like all of the air is sucked out of the room. The color drains from the Senator's face.
Katherine keeps going. "You're bringing them - " She doesn't look at me, just points the direction of me and Ella. "To the summer house, to our house. To her house."
"She's dead!" The Senator yells. "Your mother has been dead for four goddamn years!"
"I can't talk about this," she says, shaking her head. She looks at the Senator with disappointment etched on her face, and brushes past me without a glance. I stand there for a minute, the silence in the room lingering. The Senator leans over the table, both palms flat, his head hanging. I'm irritated with him, but I feel badly for Katherine.
Ella looks up at me, her expression pained. "Caulter - " she starts.
I cut her off before she can say whatever the hell it is she has to say. "Fuck this shit," I say. "I'm out."
I take the stairs two at a time to the bedroom where my wallet is, but I'm honestly wondering if Katherine has left yet. I hit my room first and grab my wallet and my smokes, pausing when I reach her room. Her door is open about an inch, and I stand there for a few seconds, deciding whether or not I want to say anything. Then the door is yanked open, and she looks at me with surprise.
For second, I think she might be pleased to see me, but she sighs audibly and shakes her head. "Seriously, Caulter, I don't need your bullshit right now. I'm not in the mood. I'm on my way out."
"Want some company?"
Her eyebrow goes up. "Are you fucking kidding?"
"I'm not being a prick. Really." I feel defensive. I'm not a dick all the time, I want to say. There's something about her that just seems to bring it out of me.
"That's a first," she says. "What, you want to have some brother - sister bonding time?"
"I want to get out of here," I say, my tone noncommittal.