This story is by Laura Fineberg Cooper and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
From the moment the III was affixed to James Jay Jameson’s name, his life had been scripted in excruciating detail: attend Harvard, undergraduate and business school, then commit every waking hour to the corporation his father founded. James III followed the script with relentless focus, eschewing nubile coeds, free-flowing alcohol, and partying ’til you puke. Though he dedicated mind, body, and soul, his achievements continually fell short of his father’s exacting standards.
When James III scored a 1760 on his SATs, his father bellowed, “I expected more.” His mother cowered in the background, her only solace a not-so-hidden flask of whisky.
When he graduated salutatorian, in high school, college, and graduate school, his father bellowed, “I expected more.” His mother cowered in the background, one hand fingering a whisky flask, the other a bottle of pills.
The only warmth he had ever known came from Miss Nancy, his long-term nanny. She bandaged his cuts and ego on too many occasions to count, demanding nothing but hugs in return. At the obligatory family dinner following his latest graduation, he asked his parents if they’d heard from her lately.
“Oh, she died about six months ago. From cancer, I think,” his mother responded in her whispery voice.
James III grabbed her drink and took a deep swig. Slamming the glass on the table so hard the ice cubes jumped, he cried, “Why didn’t you tell me Miss Nancy was sick? I would’ve done anything to comfort her.”
His father pounded him on the back. “You didn’t need any more distractions. Buck up: your start date at Jameson Products is June 11th, a week from Monday.”
Upon returning to the Wellesley manse, James III locked himself in his suite. He subsisted on the contents of his Aga mini fridge, denying entrance to everyone. When he thought about working for his father, his stomach churned. When he thought about Miss Nancy, his heart ached. So he fell into a stupor and didn’t think at all.
James III was roused by a high decibel, metallic whine. Moments later, the door to his suite came crashing down, causing him and his 1,200 thread count sheets to collapse onto the floor in a tangled heap.
“You’re excused. And take that damned door with you,” James II bellowed to the head groundskeeper. Then he turned his vulturous gaze to his sole offspring. “You’re a disgrace. If you fail to show up on June 11th, you will pay me back every dime of your Harvard education. Is that clear?”
James III blinked his bleary blue eyes. “Crystal,” he croaked. He remained on the floor, cocooned in his sheets long after the echo from his father’s footsteps had died away. He considered himself discerning, intelligent, and reasonably good-looking, though he smelled pretty rank after three days without a shower. But he lacked the fortitude to deviate from the script.
James III attempted to rise, but stumbled into the nightstand and landed back on his ass. Then the clock flew off its perch and whacked him in the head. JUNE 6th: 5:05 AM seared into his brain. When the image finally dispersed, outrageous ideas bubbled into its place. Monday was SIX days away. This left FIVE full days for fun and freedom. Let the countdown begin!
FIVE: James III pressed the intercom. “Pierre, make me Eggs Benedict and a fruit compote. Pronto!” Energized after a shower, shave, and breakfast, he rowed the Charles, jogged Wellesley’s Crosstown Trail, and played two sets of tennis with his athletic trainer.
FOUR: Standing in his walk-in closet, James III tossed racks upon racks of chinos, button-downs, belts, and ties into trash bags. After donating them to a homeless shelter, he scored himself some hot new threads.
THREE: Feeling particularly reckless, James III traded his Beamer for a badass motorcycle: the MV Agusta F4CC.
TWO: James III spent the day with his long-suffering mother, reviewing accounts and reconciling their relationship. Then he gifted her with a helmet and a free ride to a detox center.
ONE: James III pub-crawled across Boston, making up for lost opportunities. This was his favorite day of the countdown by far (minus the puking part.) Alas, it was also his final taste of freedom.
At 5:05AM on Monday, June 11th, James III woke to his father’s unmistakable voice. “Clean yourself up, for God’s sake. I expect you in my office at 7:30AM, and I won’t tolerate tardiness.”
“Yes, Sir,” James III replied, his throat stuffed with cotton, or so it felt. As he showered and shaved, his bravado slipped down the drain. He must have gotten a concussion from that damned clock. What had possessed him to give away all his boring yet appropriate clothes? If he continued to follow the script, he might run Jameson Products some day. The universe agreed; he found a suit hidden in the depths of his walk-in closet.
James III donned his Ray-Bans and revved up the MV Agusta F4CC, one subversive decision he didn’t regret. He rode it straight from the Wellesley Manse to Jameson Products HQ in Boston’s Financial District. After securing his motorcycle, he stepped onto the gleaming elevator. While at first it was crowded, James III exited onto the 19th floor alone.
Loafers sinking into the plush Persian carpet, he took in the magnificent surroundings. A built-in waterfall cascaded down the left wall, and the right featured a Monet original in a museum-quality frame. This was the end game, a worthy goal indeed. He vowed to live up to his father’s expectations in every conceivable way.
“JJ, I mean, young Mr. Jameson, is that you?” said longtime secretary and gatekeeper Ms. Babcock. “Your father called an important meeting in the boardroom. Why don’t you head down to personnel on the 8th floor? They’ll get you situated.”
James III’s fingers ran through his dark wavy hair. “My father insisted I meet him here at 7:30. I don’t want to disappoint him.”
Ms. Babcock adjusted her glasses and stood. “Well, that gives you ten minutes. Why don’t I get you some pastries and a latte?” The elevator dinged before James III could answer yes or no. “I’ll be back in a jiffy.”
James III paced around the sitting area, his heart beating faster with every second that ticked by. Should he wait until 7:30 on the dot? Would his father be impressed if he announced his presence earlier? He removed his jacket and fanned his underarms. It was 7:24 and his pits were already damp.
By 7:27, James III had worn a path in the rug. What if this meeting was…unexpected? What if his father didn’t want him to interrupt? There was only one way to gauge the meeting’s tone, and he had to do it before Ms. Babcock returned. He took a deep breath and pressed his ear against the boardroom door. It swung inward and he went splat.
“What is the meaning of this!” a white-haired executive exclaimed. A dozen other executives glared daggers in his direction.
James III picked himself off the floor, his face Harvard crimson. His father, uncharacteristically silent, rose from the chair at the immense table’s head. Was it possible his father would come to his defense?
Instead, Chairman James Jay Jameson II bellowed, “How dare you interrupt a private meeting. I thought you possessed more sense than that.”
James III gasped. His father was the Devil, and working with him every day would be Hell on Earth. He would not, could not subject himself to this abuse for one second more, no matter the financial consequences.
Chairman James II, alias Satan, pounded the boardroom table. “Why are you still here?”
James III squared his shoulders and cleared his throat. “I possessed enough sense to evaluate our finances and help Mother protect what is rightfully hers. Shouldn’t you possess enough sense not to use corporate funds for personal gain?”
Voices escalated and fingers pointed. With one hand on the doorknob, James III murmured, “May you receive all the warmth you’ve shown me and Mother in the next chapter of your scripted life.”
He kissed a stunned Ms. Babcock on the cheek before stepping onto the elevator. He whistled down to the parking garage and all the way to the Seaport. Though his future was uncertain, he’d never felt freer. When he forked over the last of his savings to secure passage for himself and his motorcycle on the next southbound cruise, he couldn’t stop grinning.
Jimmy Jay (previously James Jay Jameson III) poured guava juice into a paper cup. “Here’s to you, Miss Nancy,” he toasted, and the breeze wrapped him a warm hug.