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Rearview Mirror Saints

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Elle ended up getting a taxi back to Lassiters, having added a skirt from Harlow to the outfit of Dad’s shirt. As cute as the shirt dress might look on a model, she was pretty sure that Terese would not take too kindly to her showing up half-naked in her husband’s shirt. Slinking up the elevator to her room, she took everything off and helped herself to another hot shower. She wasn’t paying for the water bill, after all. Lassiters rooms were much like they’d always been and much like the many other hundreds of hotel rooms she’d stayed in over the years, but don’t tell Dad that. The only difference between this one and the ones she usually stayed in was that Riley was not here, and she’d like him to be. But one thing Lassiters has always had going for it was great water pressure and a shower head with more features than Elle’s computer. A traditional shower feature to wash the last of the sand out of her hair, a massage function for the crick in her neck from sleeping on the lounge, and a mist option for steaming herself while she applied a thick layer of her preferred pink face mask to get rid of even the traces of salt on her skin.  

Stalking around naked, she rifled through her suitcase for something appropriate to wear to a meeting with her father’s much younger wife. Maybe he’s got a thing for younger women? Since Mum, all the women Dad had been interested in were much younger than him with Naomi being the worst offender. She was quite literally only a couple of years older than Elle was. Rebecca had been six or seven years younger and Izzy too had been closer to Elle than to Dad. But Terese, at least from what Elle had observed, was far closer to him in personality than any of the others. Maybe that was good? It’s hard to figure it all out on only one cup of coffee. 

Finally, she came across the outfit she figured would do the job of seeming harmless and also like an adult. A high-waisted black skirt she usually wore for interviews, and a sleeveless white shirt with tiny little red hearts embroidered all over. Business, but still casual enough not to make her seem overdressed. Terese seemed fond of colours and patterns and upstaging her would just be tacky. She topped the look off with a pair of black close-toed heels, her favourite silver heart earrings and Cam’s phone. Examining herself in the mirror, she decided to tie her hair back into a bun. Pays to seem neat and well put together. New look completed, she opened the mini-fridge and grabbed one of the energy drinks stashed inside. At what point she’d graduated from coffee to energy drinks she couldn’t say but hey - They went down real easy because of the sugar and they were perfect for keeping you awake. 

Last time they spoke before he went to the airport Riley asked her to cut back and threatened to tell Dad or Lucy about her habit if she didn’t but Elle’s quite sure he won’t go through with it. For one, that’d include reaching out to a family member, something he’s quite allergic to. About as allergic as Elle is to talking about her feelings. Doesn’t matter whose family member it is, Riley just...Isn’t that man. Which is amusing to Elle, seeing as she’s quite the opposite. In the weeks leading up to her surprise visit - slash - homecoming, she and Dad had been messaging daily, usually, multiple times a day as their time zones collided. Something she’d never have expected would happen only a couple of years ago. She sat on the bed and slid her metal straw into the can. Sure, her wedding scheme had ended up being foiled. That sucked, it always sucks when a plan folds. She’d fully expected Dad to cut back even more on their already sporadic contact but instead, he’d started asking her about times they could meet and chat. Have coffee online or something. It only took one or two meetings for Elle to realize just how much she missed him. And how much he missed her. They would always have a special connection, the two of them. People who share the worst days of their lives with one another often do. Messages planning calls had migrated into messages chatting about their day as it happened. As her relationship with Mum deteriorated further - her trip to New York could easily be classed as a disaster - her relationship with Dad only got better. 

So, things with Mum were bad right now. She just managed to get under Elle’s skin, asking about her relationship - unlike Dad who’d gotten a play by play of her and Riley over the years, she knew Mum didn’t exactly approve of its format, asking her about kids - Not on the agenda, complaining that she worked too much, complaining about how in all the pictures Elle has up including Rob, his face is covered. Then, to top it all off she made some random disparaging comment about Dad, and if Elle hadn’t been in the room with Amy, whose approval she very badly wanted, she might have lost it entirely. She knew she was lucky. She had two parents, both of whom loved and adored her, both of whom wanted a relationship with her and both of whom she loved back. But it was all a bit too much, and Elle had ended up saying some rather hurtful things about Dad being there for her while Mum was too busy with her Golden Child. If Elle were an agenda keeping person, she’d put ‘Call Mum and apologize’ on it. 

Knocking back the last of her energy drink, of which her preferred brand is Electric Energy, she tossed the can into the bin with the others. She wiped off the pink face mask in the bathroom with a soft, Lassiters branded face washer. She’d never been one for make-up if she wasn’t doing an interview but a touch of bb cream, and lip gloss made her look a lot more complete. With nothing else she could do to distract herself from the situation at hand, she brushed the sand off the mustard handbag and tucked it under one arm. Time to go. 

One of the perks of being the niece of the head of Lassiters Worldwide is having access to just about any Lassiters in the world - and as many penthouse suites as she could ever want. All of which was displayed on a little piece of plastic in the back of her wallet. The same little piece of plastic that allowed her to slip into the staff elevator and access the office without having to introduce herself. Most of the staff remembered her from when she was running the joint (Thankfully, the Barnes’s had their nose in their own failing businesses these days and were leaving her father to thrive. Last she heard, Ollie was taking his hotel out of the Barnes International Company. And that was years ago. Riley had laughed gleefully when she told him, and he’d looked so handsome that she’d laughed too) so they let her through with no question. They probably assumed she was here to find her father. Instead, she exited into the wide windowed office, inadvertently holding the mustard handbag in front of her like a shield. 

Terese Willis, the sixth Mrs Robinson, is a woman of impeccable taste. The inside of her home was a page out of an Ikea catalogue. Her outfits were fitted and classily modern with just enough personal flair to be seen as a style rather than a style guide. Her coloured hair has both highlights and low lights and clearly professionally done, shining under a sheen of heat protection. Even her makeup is just natural enough to not be flashy, but obvious enough to display a level of care in her appearance and avoid the dreaded accusation women of a certain age are often levelled with - having ‘let themselves go.’ In short? She was exactly who Paul Robinson would go for. All the mumsy-ness of the women he married, and all the excitement and challenge of the women he cheated on them with. 

“Elle,” Terese says, a little surprised. “Um, your father is in a meeting.”

“I know. I was hoping to talk to you.” She said, standing a few feet away from the chairs that faced the desk. The large screen of Terese’s desktop computer casts a blue light on her face, it highlights her cheekbones and cupid’s bow. It’s an undeniable fact - She was beautiful. Elle could see how so many men would find themselves drawn to her magnetic field like moons orbiting a distant sun, pleading for its warmth. Not entirely unlike Izzy, the woman Elle had always believed was her father’s soulmate. Not because Elle liked her, because she didn’t. Even all these years later when even her opinion of Robert has softened with time and distance she is still annoyed that Izzy would sleep with Ned. But because Izzy did something most of his other wives were incapable of doing: Giving as good as she got. From what she’d witnessed, Terese could do the same when her father got into one of his paranoid moods. 

“I’m actually about to go into a meeting so -” 

“No, you aren’t.” 

“Pardon me?” 

“I saw your planner, you left it open on the island this morning. You’ve scheduled the next hour to do something with Dad, and since he’s otherwise engaged…” With what seemed to be great effort, Terese sat and placed both of her arms on the table, flat hands resting atop one another. She fixed Elle with a look, one of her neat, possibly microbladed eyebrows arched. Elle has no problem meeting her gaze, keeping her face neutral, before giving her what she hopes is a sweet and hopeful smile. “Please?” 

“Fine. Have a seat.”  Elle moved around and lowered herself slowly. She kept her handbag in her lap, wrapping both arms around it. She swept a pesky strand of hair that has fallen into her face behind her ear.  “What did you want to talk about?” 

“Well, I guess a good a place to start as any is to apologize for making a scene and saying some hurtful things in your house. I’ve spoken to Harlow already and apologized to her too. When people talk about Cameron without knowing him, it puts me on edge. I get a bit trigger happy when I feel like someone is threatening his memory. But, I should have been able to keep a calmer head and spoken to Harlow and Dad like a normal person. I’m sorry that I didn’t listen when you told me to calm down.” 

“You’re right, that is a good place to start.” Terese agreed, looking at Elle over the rim of her glasses, before looking back to her computer, “Is that all?” Geez. Frosty much? That strange prickling sensation ran up and down her arms again and she released the handbag shield with one to rub at her upper right arm. It does nothing to calm her nerves. Terese is pretending to go back to work, but the keys she’s tapping are nonsense and the screen she’s looking at is reflected in the window behind her. The message is quite clear: Elle has been dismissed. Not exactly the reaction she’d been hoping for, in fact, she’d interviewed brick walls that give more away than this. But she’s not a lauded journalist for giving up. So she says - 

“You know that it had nothing to do with you, right?” 

“What has nothing to do with me?” She doesn’t even look up or acknowledge Elle. 

“Getting Dad’s exes together. I would have done it if he was marrying...I don’t know. Beth from HR.” Terese finally looks up, and at her. She narrows her eyebrows this time as if Elle is a frog stapled to cardboard about to be dissected by preteens.  It’s unnerving but she also knows better than to break the gaze. 

“Why did you do it?” She asks, finally. “I don’t understand why for someone who claims to love Paul, you were so hell-bent on ruining his happiness.” 

“I wasn’t trying to destroy his happiness. I never told anyone to tell you not to marry him. They did that all on their own. I was just...Making sure that he remembered his past. What he did on account of that remembering is not my problem.”  

“Of course it’s your problem, you made him like that. What did you think would happen?” 

“That he’d see them and realize that he needs to shape up. That he can’t keep finding good women and gutting them like fish.” 

“Is that what you think he does?”

“Yes. I was there, you know. When he married Lyn, Rebecca and I’ve known my mother all my life.” 

“I’m sorry his other relationships didn’t work out but you don’t have free range to do whatever you want.” 

“I know that what I did was wrong - I don’t need convincing of that. Anyways, if you had a problem with people meddling in others relationships then you wouldn’t have married him. The king of sticking his fingers in unwelcome pies.” 

That’s your father you’re talking about.” 

“And I love him. But I understand what he is.” 

“And what is your father?” 

“Someone who has to fight against his nature to survive. And when he wins, he’s the most adoring, generous father I could ask for. The one who brought specially made food for Cam from Lassiters when he was dying. The one who brought a newspaper purely because he didn’t like the way the editor was speaking to me. The one that I nursed back to health, the one who gave Rebecca her first safe place in years, who taught me the ropes of Lassiters, who...Who loves me. Who loves Cameron. Who loves Andrew. And then sometimes he loses, and he’s your worst enemy. The person who teams up with companies that leach carcinogenic chemicals into local lakes. The person who frames his brother in law for fraud. The father who missed out on my every milestone until I chased him down, who Robert wanted dead and who cheated on a woman who would have died for him.” 

“He’s a complex man. It’s why I love him.” She conceded. 

“Is that enough reason?” 

“What does that mean?” 

“Is being complex enough? Because there are a lot of complex men in the world, but being complex doesn’t mean good. It just means complex. I’m sure Rob is ‘complex’ but women aren’t exactly throwing their panties at him.” 

“Don’t bring your brother into this.” 

“You did first, when you decided to sleep with Leo. I mean, there’s low and then there’s sleeping with your ex-boyfriend’s son low. ” 

“I wasn’t sleeping with Leo. We had a real relationship.” 

“Right. Which was why you toyed with the both of them, like how normal people do. My father was in love with you for years and it took trampling on my brother's heart to decide to love him back? My mother was right when she said that the hotel business poisons nice people.” 

“Elle -” 

“What about when you sent him to jail for something he didn’t do? You were meant to love him. You were meant to be on his side!” 

“You don’t know anything about me!” Terese exclaimed, loudly. “You don’t know my relationship with Leo, or your father. I love your father. I love him! I chose him, I will keep choosing him. You are a spoilt little girl who doesn’t like to share her daddy, and whether you approve or not I am Paul’s wife and you will treat me with respect!” 

Elle could have maintained a poker face if she wanted. But what’s the point of baiting someone if you’re not going to let them know you baited them? She let herself smile a little, one side of her mouth riding up. Terese, seeing that Elle is unrattled by her outburst sat back in her seat, levelling her with a gaze that could have frozen oceans. Hey, she married into the Robinsons, and Elle, like her father, is not immune to a little powerplay and manipulation when the situation calls for it.

“I didn’t doubt you love him. I just wanted to hear you say it. I worry about him, one of these days he’s going to burn all his bridges and he’s going to need someone on his side.” 

“Then why try and ruin it?” The question is posed in her best soft voice, she drops what Riley has dubbed her ‘journalist’ voice and instead speaks in her ‘Elle’ voice. Softer, less pronounced and less American. Maybe Dad was right, about her proclivity for manipulation and mind games. 

“Would you have married my father, if your daughters had never met him?” 

“No.” She answers, her face is calm again, her eyes dart to the picture on the desk, revealing its contents to Elle. A picture of at least one, perhaps both of her daughters.  “I wouldn’t have.” 

“How do you think I felt? Finding out my father was engaged over Facebook?”  Her face crinkles, “I was his best man when he married Rebecca. Now, who my father loves is none of my business. Now I’m not even worth a phone call until after he’s gone ahead and told everyone else.” 

“Elle -” 

“Neither of you were interested in what I had to say. So I found people that he would listen to.” Terese stares at her, lips pursed and fingers now linked. Elle feels like a very small child, walking next to her mother at the nursery with a hand full of daisies. 

“Maybe...Maybe we both haven’t handled this blended family thing as well as we could have. You shouldn’t have tried to sabotage the wedding - even if that wasn’t your intent - And I should have made an effort with your father's other kids.” 

“Yeah, well. I could have made an effort to reach out to you, instead of going for the nuclear option.” She shrugged, “Robinson’s gonna Robinson.”  

“Do you think marrying your father is something I will live to regret?” She asked, her eyes are candy brown, but thoughtful. Like she is picking Elle apart, one strand of hair at a time. Not entirely unlike Dad. 

“I don’t know. I think you’ll outlast the others because you’re exactly the type of woman he’d marry. Beautiful, motherly, hard worker. You’re also the passionate, career-driven excitement he’d chase in an affair. “

“Is that a compliment?” 

“For the record, he looks at you the same way he looked at Mum when he woke up with no memory of anything that happened in the previous twenty years. I’d never seen him look at anyone like that, and I’ve never seen it since. She was, as far as I know, the only woman he’s ever been truly faithful to. When she left, I’m pretty sure she pushed him into forming relationships with women who would never truly be his equal, so he never truly had anything to lose. He always had the power, with Rebecca, with Lyn, Izzy and even Naomi. You have the power in this relationship. You always have. You don’t anything from him other than love and fidelity.” 

“Is this your blessing?” She turns so Elle can see her in profile. 

“You don’t need my blessing.” 

“But I’d like it. If you’re going to be my daughter too.”

“Why does he want to be different for you? What are you, Amy and David giving him that Rebecca, Andrew and I couldn’t?” It sounds small coming out of her mouth like she is that little girl with a handful of daisies. Terese’s shoulders slump and she turns fully. 

“You love your father unconditionally. You’ve proven that time and time again. He’ll never lose you, so why do better? Amy’s love is almost always conditional, was from the start, David even more so. If he doesn’t keep his nose clean he’ll lose them because they’re not like him, and more importantly, they’re not like you. They’re a Williams and a Tanaka. You are a Robinson.” 

“Mum always wanted a little girl that was just like her. One that could stand up for herself, but who was sweet, sensitive and good-natured. She wanted a Lewis...Or Chadwick, I suppose. I was always Daddy’s little Robinson. When she remarried, I was the one who organized my brothers to ruin it for her, and most of her subsequent relationships because I thought she ought to be free for when Dad came home. I tried so hard to break up his relationship with Izzy - I damn near killed both of us. I was so two-faced with Cam. He’d never had trouble getting a girl, but he did have trouble keeping them. I would dress him up, and give him tips on girls and do his hair before his dates, and then I’d go out of my way to break them up behind his back.” Elle always does this, she realized. Spills her guts to the first mother figure who came into her life that wasn’t going to go ahead and share this with Robert. 

“Why?” 

“Because you’re right. I don’t like to share. I hate to lose, and being the second place is just first loser. I love my mother, I always hoped that they would get back together...They still love each other. I know they do. But, they won’t. I guess I can’t complain. I had my best day ever, a picnic in the country with my Mum and Dad. No brothers in the way to take the attention off me. Then she left. Like she always does. I adored Rebecca. I adored her so much that I covered up Dad’s affair with Kirsten, but that’s not love. Not the kind of love anyone wants, anyway. For a long time, it was just me and him up against the world. Running the paper, or Lassiters, or just...Being together. God, we went through the worst days of our lives together. I just assumed we’d always be that close. That he’d always be my best friend. But now that’s you, and I’m just begging to be included in the footnotes of his life. You don’t need my blessing. You’ve had it ever since you decided to marry him anyway. Maybe he doesn’t need me anymore, but I still need him. Please, take care of him but don’t take him away.” 

“I won’t,” Terese said solemnly. “You’re always going to be his baby girl. I don’t know you, but I know him. I’ve seen the way he collects your articles and the way he smiles at pictures of you. He’s always secretly dreamed of you coming back to him because he loves you. Adores you. Out of all of his children, I think you’re the one he wanted home. I couldn’t take him away from you even if I wanted to. We’re both going to be in your Dad’s life. We should get to know one another.” 

“You can start with this.” Elle fished a card out of the bag in her lap and put it on Terese’s table, “This is Andrew’s number. He’d really appreciate if you called.” Terese reaches out, but instead of taking the paper, she takes Elle’s hands in her own. They’re warm, and well moisturized, they are very different to Mum’s, which are well calloused from thirty years of struggle. From Dad’s wide fingers curled around her wrist as he led her away from court after Robert’s trial. From Cameron’s long, cold fingers treading their way between hers, the bumps and grooves of his knuckles fitting so perfectly against hers. From Lucas and his grease stains. From Riley, and the deep scar that disrupted his left thumbprint after he got caught by a piece of shrapnel. She looks down at her own long, pale fingers, the short nails, and how Terese seems very tan compared to her since she just came from a New York winter into an Australian summer. Then, she looks up. 

“I know your father told you to make peace with me, and you want to move in.” 

“I wouldn’t if you didn’t want me there.” 

“I’d never keep one of Paul’s kids from him. I think you should move in. Harlow should have a good relationship with her aunt, and you know her father better than anyone. I think she needs a stronger female influence from someone who isn't her friend.” 

“Well, there’s one thing you have over most of Dad’s other wives. They never met RobSquared.” 

“That’s one honour I could have done without.” She sighed, and kept her eyes on Elle’s face, probably looking for the parts she got from her father. “You’re one of my girls now. You know that right?” In response, Elle closes her limp hands around Terese’s. 

“Hope I do you proud.” 

“Do you have anything planned for the afternoon?” 

“Only some editing, for my last New York piece.” 

“Why don’t you do it in here? We can work together for a while.” Well...Why not? It’s not like Elle has anywhere else to be.