Xenakis's Convenient Bride

By: Dani Collins



Squinting one eye at the logo, Stavros had read the Greek letters as easily as he read English, and was offended in both languages. Zante Pool Care. Sebastien had told him to book vacation time, ensure his responsibilities were covered, then had sent him to work as a pool boy.

His phone was loaded with exactly three contacts: Sebastien, Antonio and Alejandro. He had texted Antonio a photo of his supplies along with the message, Is this for real?

If it turns out anything like mine, you’re in for more surprises than that.

Antonio had discovered a son. How much more astonishing could it get?

If Stavros had a child living here, it would be a miracle. He’d left when he was twelve and had only kissed a girl at that point. Once he moved to America, high-risk behavior had become his norm. His virginity had been lost at fourteen to a senior at the private school he’d attended. She had favored black eyeliner and dark red lipstick—and young men with a keen interest in learning how to please a woman. Scrappers were her favorite and he’d been one of those, too.

A year later, he’d been making conquests of his grandfather’s secretary and the nanny looking after his youngest sister. He wasn’t proud of that, but he wasn’t as regretful as he probably should be. Sex had been one of the few things to make him happy in those days.

Sex with that woman right there would certainly take the sting out of today’s situation. The next fourteen days, in fact.

Another rush of misgiving went through him. This challenge was not a simple two weeks of pretending to be an everyman. Sebastien had left him a note.

You may remember our conversation last year, when you came to visit me as I was recovering from the avalanche. You opened that excellent bottle of fifty-year-old Scotch whiskey in my honor. I thank you again for that.

At the time you told me how losing your father had given you the strength to dig through the snow to save my life. Do you remember also telling me how much you resented your grandfather for taking you to New York and forcing you to answer to your American name? I suspect you were really saying that you didn’t feel you deserved to be his heir.

Sebastien had chided Stavros for not appreciating his family and heritage, since Sebastien hadn’t had those advantages. In his note, he continued:

I grant you your wish. For the next two weeks Steve Michaels, with all his riches and influence, does not exist. You are Stavros Xenakis and work for Zante Pool Care. Report at 6:00 a.m. tomorrow, three blocks down the road.

Antonio lasted two weeks without blowing his cover, so I have committed the first third of my five billion to the search-and-rescue foundation. Do the same, Stavros. It could save a life. And use this time to make peace with your past.

—Sebastien

Stavros had stayed up later than he should have, some of it jet lag, but mostly conjuring ways to get out of this challenge. Besides, he couldn’t sleep in that hot room, tossing and turning on the hard single bed. Old-fashioned honor had him accepting his lot and falling asleep.

Then, even earlier than he needed to rise, the sun had struck directly into his eyes. Large trucks with squeaky brakes had pulled in beneath the open window.

Disgusted, Stavros had eaten a bowl of dry cereal with the canned milk he’d been provided. He’d bought a coffee from a shop as he walked to “work.”

His boss, Ionnes, had given him a clipboard that held a map, a handful of drawings and a work order. He had dangled a set of keys and pointed at a truck full of supplies and equipment, telling him to be sure to unload it since he wouldn’t have the vehicle tomorrow.

Stavros might have booked a flight home at that point, but he had left his credit cards in New York, as instructed. He’d been completing Sebastien’s challenges since his first year of university. None had killed him yet.

Nevertheless, as he’d followed the map, he had recognized the dip and roll of the road through the hills, eighteen years of changes notwithstanding. His heart had grown heavier with each mile, his lungs tighter.

Perhaps he wasn’t defying his own death with this challenge, but the loss of his father was even more difficult to confront.

He had sat in the driveway a full five minutes, pushing back dark memories by focusing on the changes in the home they’d occupied until their lives had overturned with the flip of a boat on the sea.

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