The signs of aging seemed to get more and more prominent every day. The valleys between his mouth and cheeks got deeper and deeper as did the craters under his eyes. And, were those the beginnings of crow’s feet? They looked like little streams running away from his eyes trying to connect to a bigger body of water. He was still handsome though. No line or mark would ever take that from him. Not even the gray hairs that doubled in number every day. He liked his hair, but it didn’t match the jacket. It made the outfit look more like party time than serious time. It had been so long since he needed to wear a jacket. Julio called a few days ago to arrange a meeting. He didn’t say what it was about, but Jonathan knew. What else would Julio want to talk to him about? Honestly, he was quite shocked this would happen so soon, but in the grand scheme of things, maybe it wasn’t. Aubrey and Julio had known each other all their lives. They hadn’t dated long, but why wouldn’t they want to get married now? Prolonging the inevitable was silly although he wouldn’t have minded if they waited…mostly to prepare himself to be related to the Corleonesi family officially. Unofficially, they were extremely distant cousins. Both family trees sprouted from the same root, but that was hundreds of years ago. The family relation was so distant, it would take a professional historian to trace their roots. But, none of that would be needed now. Julio wanted to ask for her hand, and now he would be his son-in-law.
Jonathan hated combing his hair back like that. He liked how the slicked-back look gave his outfit a polished finish, but it also exposed everything he wanted to hide. Each day, he combed his hair back to style it the way he wanted. Then, he tussled it around a little to sort of “sift” the grays away from the surface and hide them under the remaining black locks. But, there was no sifting for his polished look. The grays laid proudly on top for the world to see how great in number they were. The hair gel didn’t help and made them glisten even brighter.
Julio wanted to meet at a place called Golden Palm Club. He never heard of it but knew what kind of place it was just by the name: the kind of place he needed to wear a jacket and comb his hair. It was in San Myshuno. Jonathan had never been to the city before. It wasn’t his style as he much preferred the slower-paced country life. Though, upon arrival, he found an attractive energy hovering around the city. The tall buildings, traffic, and people rushing to and fro were amazing to watch. He felt like a tourist and tried to blend in and resist the urge to stop and look around and take pictures. People probably knew him there too.
Golden Palm Club was located at the peak of the tallest building in the fashion district. He could see it shining in the distance blocks before he even arrived at the parking deck. At first, he was amazed by its beauty and thought it was one of the most beautiful edifices he had ever seen. Then the anger set in. Julio owned the club. The thought of him still spending the Pruett’s money even after discovering the truth about his father put a bad taste in Jonathan’s mouth. How dare he invite him to such a place! He didn’t think Julio would be the type to rub something in someone’s face.
The lobby was bigger than the downstairs of his house. He had to take a few deep breaths to calm down. “Excuse me…I’m looking for Julio Corleonesi, please.”
The woman behind the desk smiled. “Hello, Mr. Pruett. Mr. Corleonesi is waiting for you on the veranda.”
He resisted the urge to snort at her word choice. That §100 word only added fuel to fire burning inside him.
She beckoned for a tall man dressed in a black tux. “Will you take this gentleman to Mr. Corleonesi, please?”
It had been a while since he was “this gentleman.”
The man nodded at her and gestured for Jonathan to follow him. “Welcome to Golden Palm Club, Mr. Pruett.”
Jonathan wondered if he were being taken on an unofficial tour of the place because the path they took seemed to be superfluous. They went up a few flights of stairs and in and out of rooms. Angry or not, the place was beautiful! It was just the type of place he would have wanted to take Skyla back in the day–and even now, sometimes. Heck, he probably would have had an even more epic bachelor party if this place was around back then.
Oh yes. Epic parties probably happened there nightly. Even some of the doors they walked past were guarded by muscular dudes he didn’t want to mess with. What happened in those rooms?
Finally, his escort brought him to the veranda but probably from the opposite side of where he needed to be. They walked around the entire building!
Jonathan could feel the taste of money creeping back into his mouth; it was bitter. Fancy clothes, food, and venues…all of it used to be his life. He lived for moments when he could come to places like this. And for what? Just to say he did? To show the world he had money? What a profound waste of time and energy. Part of him, however, still had those fancy tastes. That part of him enjoyed the unofficial tour and longed to return someday. That part of him would probably never die.
At last, the tour was over. His escort showed him where Julio was and left them to their business. The boy waited for him at an empty table beside a beautiful piano overlooking the most spectacular view of the city. As beautiful as the view was, Jonathan was more concerned at the empty table. No lunch? No expensive nectar imported from the far reaches of the globe? Shouldn’t a man who wants to marry a woman attempt to wine and dine her father? Not insult him by flaunting his mistakes in his face. Julio, however, was still very young as was Aubrey. Perhaps he didn’t recognize the faux pas he made. Maybe this place was the wining and dining. It was still a mistake, but he tried.
“Thanks for meeting me, Mr. Pruett.”
At least he had the decency to wear a tie. The kid cleaned up well. He had such a baby face and looked more like he was playing dress up in his father’s clothes. It was a good look. More manly.
“Of course. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been trying to figure out what this is all about.”
Of course, he was lying. He didn’t think it would be right to steal the boy’s thunder despite not going through enough trouble.
The kid had a surprisingly firm handshake; his father must have taught him that.
“Have a seat, please.”
Julio took the seat with his back toward the city, leaving Jonathan with an excellent view of the skyline. Maybe he did have some sense after all. Before they got down to business, Jonathan wanted to get a few things straight. Without saying, he needed to let the boy know he did not approve of the venue. He felt a little bit sorry for him, growing up without a father and all. Perhaps he could teach him a few things now that he would be a father figure in his life.
“This is a magnificent place you have…”
The smile washed away from the boy’s face, and he swallowed hard; he was so guilty. “Look, Mr. Pruett…I know what it looks like, but I wouldn’t…” He took a deep breath and attempted to start over. “This used to be my dad’s place. It’s the only business of his I feel comfortable running. I’m sure you know why.”
At least the kid had a conscience. Jonathan still felt insulted. “I do. But, why here?”
Julio got a bit flustered. It was adorable how nervous he was. “Because…the matter is so delicate. I didn’t feel it was appropriate to discuss anywhere else.”
Jonathan nodded. The boy’s reaction was a bit much, but at least he knew how serious this step was he wanted to take. The Pruetts may not have been in the public eye in a while, but they were still fodder for the news and gossip columns thanks to Maya. Once those parasites got wind of this, it would be all anyone would talk about, and he appreciated the privacy.
“I assumed you wouldn’t be comfortable coming to my home, and discussing it at your house…well, it didn’t seem appropriate and I wouldn’t be comfortable, honestly.”
Not comfortable at the house? Suck it up and grow a pair! How did this kid expect to be the leader of his house–a man–while he’s afraid to come to his future father-in-law’s house to ask him for his daughter’s hand? What exactly did Aubrey see in this wimp?
“I figured this would be the most private place for us to talk.”
Jonathan was on the verge of losing his patience. “Very well. Let’s get on with it then.”
Julio took a moment to gather his thoughts. He looked like he was weighing his words very carefully. “I got a letter. It said… Something needs to be done about the Pruett Estate soon or…”
The Pruett Estate? This wasn’t about Aubrey? In the midst of his confusion, Jonathan’s defenses went up. “What about the Pruett Estate?”
He could have sworn he saw the boy jump. He was breathing hard and everything. “Well…it’s been empty, and…i-it’s been the same all these years. They said…they want me to–”
“You want to tear down my house?”
“N-n-no! No, I don’t! I swear! I-I was hoping we could come up with another solution!”
Jonathan hadn’t thought of the Pruett Estate as his own house in a very long time, but as soon as it became threatened, Jonathan the Heir arose from the dead and stood on the precipice of the Pruett legacy brandishing a sword. But, Julio wasn’t the enemy; he was an ally. He knew something needed to be done about the Estate and often wondered why the Corleonesi family never did anything about it sooner. Perhaps Tony and now Julio had too much respect to destroy it. Stealing the money and even the family heirloom was one thing, but to destroy the iconic Pruett Estate? It would obliterate the legacy from everyone’s memory. Perhaps the part of Tony that recognized himself as a Pruett couldn’t go through with it, but now his son was left holding the bag.
“I’m sorry, Julio. I’m sorry.” He shifted in his chair. “Every time I think I’m past this… Every time I think I’m free of it…somebody, something comes along and throws it right back in my face!” He shook his head in disdain.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Pruett.”
Jonathan sighed. “It’s not your fault. Something should have been done long before now. What did you have in mind?”
He tensed up again. “I-I didn’t. I was hoping we could come up with something…together.”
Jonathan nodded and appreciated the respect. Julio didn’t have to say anything, but he did. “Thanks for thinking of me.”
He lowered his head. “I have to be honest, Mr. Pruett…”
Oh geez. What now? They were about to have a nice moment.
“I didn’t know what to do. I was actually scared to talk to you about it. I went to Aubrey, and she convinced me it was the right thing to do.”
Jonathan grinned. “Julio…I’m gonna tell you a secret. All men…we’re all clueless and scared. That’s why we need smart women in our lives.”
They sat in silence for a moment, thinking of a solution. The Estate needed to come down, but it was difficult for Jonathan to imagine the property for any other purpose. And what of the family cemetery? Would it have to go too? No. He would fight tooth and nail for it to remain. Pruetts of the past had all gone on to the next life, but his parents, Aunt Callie, Uncle Emerson, and Juliette were all still around. Even Eugene, his father-in-law. The cemetery had to stay.
“What if you build one of your restaurants there?”
It was a noble idea and showed the kid was thinking seriously about it, but it wasn’t a winner. “Somehow I don’t think my customers would enjoy having a salad next to a graveyard. Maybe we turn it into a nightclub so people can party with the ghosts.”
The boy was so serious. He appreciated it, but Jonathan was trying to loosen him up a bit.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Pruett. I didn’t think about that. I wasn’t trying to be insensitive.”
“Relax, Julio. You know how I am. Goofball to the core.”
The silence enveloped them again. Part of him wanted to see Julio recover from his epic fail and come up with a good idea. Another part of him wanted to save the Pruett Estate himself. Perhaps as the last act of his failed heirship.
After a long silence, Julio spoke. “What about a park?”
Jonathan gasped. “A memorial park!”
The boy was so happy they finally agreed on something.
Of course, now that a solid plan was on the table, all kinds of neat ideas for what the park could be like flooded Jonathan’s mind. They could put up markers throughout the property which stated facts about the family. It could be an educational experience as well as a tribute to the Pruett family. It was a perfect idea, and no graves had to be moved to do it.
“We did it! That’s an awesome idea.”
“You did it. Thank you.”
They still had plenty of time to iron out the details, hire contractors, and whatnot before the city came knocking at Julio’s door, so it wasn’t necessary for them to bang out everything that afternoon. Jonathan was ready to move onto another topic briefly before he went home.
“You know, Julio, I thought you invited me here because you wanted to ask Aubrey to marry you.”
The smile briefly melted away. “You did?”
“Is that something you plan to do?”
He stared at the table and looked like he was weighing his words again. “Aubrey and I have things to discuss and decisions to make before that can happen.”
Jonathan nodded. “That’s a very mature answer.”
He was impressed. Very impressed. Perhaps there was a man behind that baby face after all.