The leaves had only started to turn when James insisted that he and Tristan go to Montana alone, so James could teach the boy how to hunt. There, James had brutally beaten him for the first time, and hunting was just one of the many lessons Tristan learned.
James was six-foot-three, with broad shoulders and a massive head. He was considered a large man by most, but for eleven-year-old Tristan, he was a giant.
Lying on his stomach against the dead leaves of the forest, the thick, leather belt came down for a third time against Tristan’s tenderized back. Lightning flashed against the boy’s eyelids, squeezed shut from the crackling pain running down his spine. Somewhere beyond that pain, Tristan could discern a very angry James yelling at him for having refused to shoot a young deer.
“Do you think I want a sissy as a son? A weak idiot who prefers acting out plays with Mommy?! Pain molds a man, Tristan. And my belt will mold you!”
Another excruciating smack. And another. Across Tristan’s buttocks, on his thighs.
Tristan covered his mouth to stop himself from screaming. But the humiliation and the sensation of impotence were worse than the pain. His jeans protected his skin, but nothing protected his heart, and the tears ran freely down his cheeks.
After two more blows, Tristan cried out. “Stop, Dad. Please! I’ll do whatever you want!”
James stepped back, still a little unsteady from the adrenaline rush. “Of course you will. You belong to me.”
Tristan would also later recall that on that same weekend, he had surprised James and his friends while they were fooling around with a fifteen-year-old boy. He’d stumbled onto the scene quite by chance. A nightmare had woken him in the middle of the night and when he’d gotten up to go to the bathroom, he noticed someone skulking past his window outside. Tristan observed the stranger as he entered the bungalow behind the main house. Having failed as a hunter in the past few days, he thought James would commend him for his bravery if he caught the intruder. Eager to please, he tiptoed into the bungalow, saw the men and the naked boy and realized he’d made a catastrophic mistake.
“What are you doing here, you brat?!” James barked when Tristan entered the room.
“Sorry, Father. I thought that—”
As James took a step towards him, Tristan recoiled in fear.
“I won’t beat you. Not now. But you will pay for this.”
Tristan would be marked forever by the humiliation James put him through that night. First, James ordered him to kneel down like a slave, then had him lick his boots. Then James urinated on the boy’s upturned face.
There must have been laughter in the room, but it seemed deep inside Tristan’s mind and so loud he could not silence it. Feeling his nerves break down, he sat on the floor with tears pouring down his cheeks until James finally released him.
“Go away, you pussy. We’ll play more tomorrow.”
All Tristan’s senses were magnified as he ran back to the main house. He felt the earth under his feet, the cold air on his face, and the sound of his heart pounding in his throat. He wanted the reassurance of his mother’s presence, but she was not there and he was so scared.
He knew he could not bear one more day alone with James.
Tristan entered the house through the kitchen door and rushed toward the cabinet beside the sink. He picked out the sharpest knife he could find, and cut his wrists.
James’s bodyguard found Tristan moments later, curled on the floor in a puddle of dark red ink. Finding Tristan semiconscious, the bodyguard rushed back to the bungalow to get help from one of James’s friends who was a doctor.
Behind the dark curtain that threatened to close his eyes forever, Tristan heard hushed voices.
Will he be okay, Greg?
I managed to stop the bleeding. He should be stable until he gets to the hospital.
Damn it! This is deep shit!
The helicopter is here, sir.
A gentle whisper, in French, then silence.
Tristan remembered waking up at the hospital to a redheaded angel watching over him. Then, as his mind drifted in and out of consciousness, he was vaguely aware of his parents arguing in the room. But he was too weak to make sense of what they were saying.
“James, you know very well why I have been putting up with your abuse for all these years, but you crossed the line. I won’t let you hurt my son!”
James scoffed. “Your son? Tristan is only your son now?”
“Yes! And I don’t want your money! Tristan and I are moving out as soon as he recovers. I want a divorce.”
“Very brave, Nora! I haven’t seen the real you since I unmasked you a few years ago.” James smiled and touched Nora’s cheek, which was now red with anger. “You can really turn me on when you are mad.”
“Stay the hell away from me!”
“I don’t think you have that option. You still owe me for your betrayal and I won’t let you get away with it that easily.” James looked at Tristan. “And regarding your bastard son, yes, I abused him a little, but so what? I’m the one who provides for him; he’s enrolled in the best school in the city, and lives better than most snot-nosed kids his age. And as long as I’m the one taking care of him, he belongs to me, just like you.”
“You monster! I will go to the police if I have to!”
“Don’t be dramatic, Nora. Tristan just needs to man up a little, so he’s worth carrying my family’s name. He can’t be a weak shit like his little actor father.”
“And that’s your problem! Tristan is growing up, and not only looking more and more like Kevin, but becoming a great actor just like him!”
“You sound like you are still in love, my dear, but it’s too late for regrets. You wanted me to be your son’s father and that’s exactly what you got.”
“I don’t give a shit what you want! I’ve grown fond of the idea of Tristan replacing me in the firm, especially now that I know how much he hates the idea. I won’t give up on him, Nora. If you insist on the divorce, or go to the police, I will make sure that all the reports your shrink has been hiding about your schizophrenia will see the light of day. I will lock you up in an asylum, and you will never see Tristan again.”
A full twenty seconds passed before Nora managed to ask, “How did you find out I was seeing a psychiatrist?”
“Oh, honey, after I discovered you betrayed me, I ran a full investigation into your past. I’ve been keeping an eye on you ever since. I know everything—the hallucinations you’ve had, the treatments, and how your symptoms are coming back.” James stepped forward, his giant frame looming over Nora. “Don’t fuck with me. If you try to drag me into hell, I’ll make sure that you and Tristan come with me.”
“You can’t blackmail me, James! Don’t forget, if I tell your father that Tristan is not yours, your brother can claim his right to run the company. He has two boys, doesn’t he?”
James looked again at Tristan’s huddled body, lost in sedated sleep. “Well, if you do so, then Tristan becomes useless to me. And in that case, he may suffer a little accident, just like your dear Kevin.”
Nora suddenly found it difficult to breathe. Three months after James discovered the truth about Tristan’s paternity, Nora found a note in the papers about Kevin’s death in a fatal car crash. There was no evidence of foul play, and she assumed it had just been a terrible coincidence.
“You wouldn’t do something like that,” she whispered.
“There’s just one way to find out, isn’t there?”
Seeing the hatred in James’s face, Nora realized he would do whatever it took to have things his way. She had always respected the power he commanded, but for the first time she truly felt afraid of him. The fear ran deep into her spine like a cold wind, and traveled throughout her body until every muscle tingled. Her eyes filled with tears, and she murmured, “Alright.”
“Good,” replied James. “And see to it that your son keeps his mouth shut, too, no matter what I do.”