“Casual,” my father says. “Casual but...appropriate.” He’s been droning on for the last twenty minutes, giving us a big lecture about tomorrow morning’s breakfast, the summer kick-off to his re-election campaign. I look down at my food again, picking at my salmon even though it’s my favorite. I'm trying to distract myself from the hell on earth I've found myself in, sitting here at the table with my father and Ella and Caulter. Ella nods enthusiastically and beams, while Caulter sits in the chair perpendicular to me, suspiciously quiet. He's not made a single sarcastic comment during the entire meal, and his weirdly pleasant demeanor makes me think my salmon might very well be poisoned.
Caulter nods at something my father says, as if he's had some kind of personality transplant. Maybe he hit his head when I pushed him into the lake. That wasn't one of my finer moments, but Caulter damn sure doesn't bring out the mature side of me.
I'm wondering what the hell he has up his sleeve, when I feel something on my calf and nearly jump out of my skin. I catch Caulter's eye and he winks.
It's his foot.
I jerk my leg over, glaring at him. Footsies at the table. That's real fucking mature.
“You know, sir,” Caulter says. In two years at school, I've never once heard Caulter use the word sir. "I was thinking about the re-election campaign, re-evaluating my priorities for the summer.”
“Caulter…” Ella hisses. Ella isn't stupid enough to be falling for this, I think. She's smart enough to know her son.
“Ella,” my father says, silencing her by covering her palm with his. “Let him speak. Maybe he’s realized that this is exactly what he needs for the summer. Responsibility."
Ella’s face is pale, and she sips from her wine glass. She looks meaningfully at Caulter. “Yes. Maybe he’s realized that there are significant things at stake.”
I'm sure Ella is trying to subtly threaten Caulter with his trust fund, and I hope he's not stupid enough to be playing some kind of game with my father's campaign.
“I’m impressed by the importance of family, mom,” he says.
“And by the idea of contributing to a political campaign," he continues. "I think I'd like to try having a little structure, some boundaries." Caulter slides his foot up the side of my leg again, and I move my leg away.
“You should be involved." My father is stupid enough to fall for Caulter's brand of bullshit? “Structure and boundaries. It's what you need. You see, Ella, I've said this a hundred times. Structure and boundaries are the two most important things when raising children. Look at Katherine. She's a product of that."
"Katherine is a fine example of that, sir," Caulter says, sliding his foot up my leg. This time, I kick him, hard on the shin, and he flinches.
“You know, I'm just really tired,” I say. “The sunshine has taken it out of me.”
“Oh?” my father asks. “Did you go swimming?”
“No, the water is still too cold for me. But Caulter went for a dip out in the lake, didn't you, Caulter? The lakes here can be so refreshing."
My father looks at Caulter. "You just got here this afternoon," he says. "Already taking advantage of the lake?"
Caulter smiles and shrugs. "I just couldn't resist the water."
"I didn't think you liked the beach, Caulter," Ella says.
“Oh, well, it’s the lake, Ella,” my father says. “It's different from the beach.”
“You know, sir,” Caulter says. “A swim in the lake was exactly what I needed to cool off. And I just want to say that Katherine has gone out of her way to make me feel welcome here. It's like we're already family. Bosom buddies."
I choke on my water, prompting a quizzical look from my father. “Wrong pipe,” I gasp. “Could I excuse myself?”
“Go, go,” my father shoos me away. “Caulter, I’m pleased to hear that you’re…” His voice trails off as I walk out of the room and upstairs.
Flopping down on the bed, I think about how in the world I'm going to get through this summer. I can already tell that I’m going to be in a perpetual state of annoyance.
Annoyance and sexual frustration.
I could tell that Jo didn't quite believe it when I said he annoyed me earlier, as I walked away from the dock with her, after pushing Caulter in the lake.
"I don't know," she says. "He's pretty hot." She turns to look at him, pulling himself out of the water and up onto the dock. He makes a show of stripping off his shirt and shaking out his hair, knowing we're looking at him, and I turn away. I'm surprised he hasn't stripped buck naked right there; the prospect of that isn't entirely unpleasant. “I’d do him," she says.