Julie didn’t worry that she was running late. Lateness was a family value. She was surprised to find her father Clive Ullswater waiting for her at Harlow’s. He looked sleepy and she smelled gin on his breath when she lightly kissed his cheek.
“You’re looking well.” He smiled.
“Really Daddy?” Julie wondered how much sarcasm seeped through. As usual, it was lost on Clive.
“Because you were late, I went ahead and ordered for us. I got you some pasta the waiter recommended.”
“That sounds fine.” Julie eyed the bottle of wine on the table and forced herself to reach instead for the glass of ice water. She noticed her hand shook.
“Was there something you wanted to discuss?” Her father topped his off his wine glass and poured Julie’s a hearty measure. Julie sighed and pinched the fragile stem and sipped the wine then pushed it away.
“Nothing specific. We just haven’t spent any time alone together in awhile and I thought dinner would be nice.”
“Very nice. Harlow’s is one of my favorites.”
“I guess, you picked the spot. I think it’s too dark here.”
“I thought you picked it?” Clive engaged in the conversation for the first time.
“No, your secretary told me where to be.” Julie reached for her glass of water.
“Yes, she probably knows me better than anyone I guess.” Clive looked toward the kitchen, inhaled and without moving his eyes from looking over Julie’s shoulder he added, “I don’t think you should see that Jude Keenan guy anymore. He’s trouble and things are going to get sticky for him.”
“Daddy, Jude and I aren’t serious. He’s a good guy and he’s fun.”
“Listen to me Julie, I don’t ask you for much. Jude Keenan is an arrogant man who is asking for trouble.”
“Why are you all of a sudden interested in my love life?”
“I’m not. You just said that it isn’t serious, just stop taking his calls. That’s all. Is that so hard?
“Did he step on one of your friends’ toes Daddy? Did he win too many races? What’s the story? Are you going to do one of your famous ‘convince an owner to move their horses because someone pissed you off?”
“No, no my dear. The media and the animal rights folks need a bone thrown to them. They are all up in arms about that wreck on the track last week where the horses died.”
“And that wreck is Jude’s fault?”
“No, it was probably that cute little gallop girl he uses.”
“Ann? It’s her fault that she’s out doing her job and gets hit head-on and is laying in the hospital with God-only-knows how many injuries? Besides she’s his assistant trainer and just happens to be a really nice person.” Julie couldn’t believe that she was defending Ann Garrison at a table at Harlow’s to her father.
“Who cares whose fault it is? I’m just saying that Jude Keenan is in the line of fire. His big owner asked me about other trainers and I don’t want you in the middle if things get ugly.”
“Jude Keenan is his own man Daddy, he will come out of all of this smelling like a rose.”
“Julie, if you don’t listen to a subtle suggestion, let me just come right out and say it; get out of this guy’s life. ”
“You really do have something up your sleeve. What if I told you that I was in love with Jude Keenan? Would that make a difference?”
“Julie, you are acting like your mother. Be reasonable and listen to your father for a change. You have too much going for you to be caught up in this storm.”
“Too much going for me ‘eh Daddy? Like what? What do I have going for me? I’d love to know.”
Clive threw a haggard look at Julie. “Now you really sound like your mother. If you aren’t happy with your life, don’t blame me. I gave you girls everything you wanted.”
“If by ‘everything you wanted’ you mean vacations in Europe with a nanny, boarding school and a taste for expensive shoes, then yes, that’s exactly what we got.”
“Bravo my golden daughter. Yes, you are a victim of too much privilege and free time. Am I supposed to apologize?”
“ I would never expect an apology from the great Clive Ullswater.”
“Spare me the drama. Lets get this straight, you are to avoid Jude Keenan and his barn. Do you understand?”
Julie finished her wine, stood up from the table almost knocking over the waiter bringing their dinner. “Of course Daddy. Anything you say. I simply couldn’t live without your approval. Are there any more of my friends that you want me to throw over while I’m at it?”
“Julie honey, don’t be like this. Really.”Clive massaged his forehead covering his flushed face.
“Sorry Daddy, it just seems that I didn’t inherit your unique sense of loyalty.”
“Our dinner is here, just sit down and eat with me. We can do that can’t we?”
Julie sat down, looked at her hands in her lap and spoke between clenched teeth “This is the part where I cow down and laugh and we have a lovely dinner and some wine. You kiss me on the cheek and we go back to our cushy lives. Only this time Daddy, I’m not doing it. I’m an alcoholic Dad and worse. I’m a selfish, unhappy bitch with a hollow life. So I’m not going to pretend it’s all okay and for once in my life, I’m going to stand up to you. Maybe I’m doing this because I’m in love with Jude Keenan but maybe I’m doing it because there has to be something more to life than your schemes and my easy lifestyle. Don’t fuck with my friends Daddy or I’ll fuck with you.”
“Watch your words young lady. This world is bigger and more cruel than you know. You might think that you’re being a hero, but you are only getting yourself in over your head. If you need a cause to take up, make like your sister and volunteer at a food bank.”
“Of course, wash my soul in some volunteering. Maybe I could become a real Catholic and just confess my sins weekly and everything will be okay. Hey, maybe I could confess your sins while I’m at it and save you the trip?” Julie tried her best to manage her tone of voice. She hated being out of control and felt her anger taking over making her shrill.
“Julie, what do you want from me? I’m trying to save you some trouble and all I get is the mushy feel-sorry-for-myself crap. Pull yourself together. You’ve dated much better men than this horse-trainer.”
“This horse-trainer is a good guy, working hard, doing his thing. His staff adore him and he keeps his nose clean. You never hear of him with a shady deal or a dirty testing horse.”
“They’re all dirty Julie. Each one does what he has to to have an edge on the competition.”
“Why is it that you can’t believe that anyone is on the up and up? Is it because you can’t imagine anyone working for a living and doing their best? You can’t figure that anyone isn’t looking for the first chance to screw someone else over because that’s all that’s on your mind all the time?”
“Julie! Grow up. This whole business is about competition. Only the strong and the fastest survive. That’s all it is. Win. It’s not about how you play the game it’s how much and how often you win. Plain and simple. Jockeys, owners, trainers, breeders, gamblers – everyone. Every moment is about who crosses that finish line first. Nobody cares about the losers. And when the stakes are this high, when there are fortunes to be won and lost, it brings out the worst in people. I’ve been in this business too long to think that it’s about anything else.”
“You’re right. You always are. Guess I’d better figure out who’s winning and go and be with them while you ruin someone’s career. I wonder what you’re going to win from all this? Now that you’re too old to fuck the wives of jockeys anymore and I heard there’s a new boss coming in. When the new guy takes over – will you be a winner or a loser Daddy? And even if you win again, what will it get you? I’ve spent the last 24 hours looking at my life and making myself sick. Now I look at your life and it makes me even more sad. I don’t know what I’m going to do Daddy, but for the first time in my life I do know something, I sure as hell don’t want to be you.”
Julie stood, trembling and walked out of the restaurant. The valet dashed for her car when he saw her coming. “Don’t bother,” she told the valet handing him $20. “I’m going to walk.”