The MillionaireBy: Victoria Purman
Ellie had seen it once when she’d caught a ferry to have lunch for a friend’s birthday at a restaurant in Watson’s Bay. As they chugged past on the boat, she wondered curiously what it would have been like to grow up with all those acres of rolling lawn and gleaming white yachts and tuxedoed butlers.
Because surely there would have been butlers. And maids and probably more than a few nannies. None of that impressed Ellie. What she was awed by, the reason she was such a fangirl, was that he’d mysteriously turned his back on it all and picked up a camera instead of a polo mallet.
“Ellie, pay attention. Find him and ask him about the princess. Now.”
“Okay, boss. Got it.” She jumped to her feet, grabbed her phone, and hoped like hell he was still in the street somewhere.
She pushed her way through the plastic strip curtain hanging from the cafe door. There was no sign of him. Then she remembered he’d had car keys in his hand. In the time she’d been lamenting his bad manners with Bron, he’d obviously gone.
She sighed. Her run in with the famous Chris Malone hadn’t left her feeling as excited as she thought it might. He wasn’t at all how she’d imagined him to be.
That photo on her screensaver? The one he’d taken? First thing tomorrow, she was replacing it with Grumpy Cat.
By the time Chris arrived back in Sydney, to his small house in the city’s inner-west, his phone had almost gone into meltdown.
He hadn’t taken it with him surfing that morning and seriously considered not answering any of the messages that nagged at him from the screen. For ten years, phones and cameras and laptop computers and chargers had ruled his life. One for each phone. One for his camera. Another for his laptop and then spares and then a universal charger. A photographer in the digital age without a charged camera was useless.
And now, back home for the first extended period of time in a long, long while, he didn’t want to be held hostage to them. He’d come back to Australia to get away from everything for a while, and that meant offers of work, icy conversations with his father, and demands from the slightly older of his younger twin brothers, Callum, that he attend whichever board meeting happened to be on that week. Callum liked to be in charge and Chris liked to remind his brother right back that no one was in charge of him. How was he supposed to clear his head and think if he was catapulted right back into that world? It was always a total headfuck, and getting worse every time, to go from poverty and disaster and revolution right back into the luxurious folds of his family. He couldn’t drive up to The Meadows anymore, without feeling embarrassed as hell about the mansion. Sometimes, he wanted to throw a hard right off the long driveway and carve up the manicured lawns with his car, just like the time he did before he was kicked out for good. His family home wasn’t home anymore, hadn’t been for a long while. Not since Nate.
Nate was Chris’s best friend from high school. They’d played cricket together and surfed. But after school, they’d gone their separate ways, but when Nate was in trouble, deep trouble, he reached out for Chris’s help. He was struggling with a crippling addiction, a drug debt, police charges for dealing, and a family who’d washed their hands of him. Chris had asked his father for some money to get Nate the help he needed, so he could go to rehab instead of jail. The answer had been a blunt no.
Somehow, the news got out and rumours linked the Malones to Sydney’s drug scene. Chris’s father had come down hard on his oldest son, who was doing nothing more than trying to save a mate. Chris left. By the time he found enough money to help Nate, his friend was dead of an overdose. Chris used the money to buy a camera and a plane ticket instead.
Chris was ashamed of all the riches his family were so proud of. What good was it all, if their money didn’t help anyone? He was mostly angry at himself. He’d never been able to persuade them to spend any of it on anything useful. None of his attempts in the past ten years had moved them an inch. Not one of his photos of the raggedy slums of Kolkata, natural disasters in Indonesia, or refugees in Africa had convinced them.
He looked at his phone and the habits of a lifetime caught up with him. He listened to his voice mail while he walked to the kitchen.
“You have fifty-two new messages,” the anonymous woman announced.
Chris opened the fridge and pulled out a cold beer. While he sipped it, he listened and deleted most of them, especially the ones from the media. It was the same bullshit from ten different reporters about his supposed engagement.
There were more offers of work. A stringer he knew in Paris was heading to Syria and wanted to know if Chris wanted to come along for the ride, to split some expenses and share the costs of a local fixer; and there was another offer from one of the big international photographic agencies to shoot protests in Ukraine. A part of him, the old Chris Malone that would have jumped on a plane in a hot second, at the thought of being in the middle of those stories, pricked up his ears. But weariness won and he deleted them. He wasn’t ready to go back to that yet.