.: The Billionaire's Concierge :.

Caramel loved family dinners. To her, family dinners were a tradition she held dear, pockets of memories she would cherish, thoughts that would warm her up during those inevitably cold and lonely moments when she stumbled on the long road of life. To Caramel, family dinners had been something to look forward to.

Two years ago, a family dinner meant that they would huddle around a rounded wooden table, scratched and creaky with the weight of time. Everyone would eat the same thing from the same bowl in the middle, fighting over the best pieces with the same cheap wooden chopsticks while talking about the week's most curious and shock-inducing events. Caramel remembered always having to argue with her older brother Arven about who would get the only chicken drumstick because the other had taken it last week. When she thought back to those times, she would remember Arven always winning, but she never minded since she would steal his drink in retaliation.

Now, even if she wanted to fight with Arven over a drumstick, she would not get the chance to. Slumping in the high-backed armchair she had been assisted into by one of four maids, Caramel picked up the monogrammed silver soup spoon and dipped it into the soup in front of her. She pushed the spoon away and lifted it carefully to her mouth, as was the proper way of drinking soup. She would have picked the entire saucer up and just gulped it down if she was alone, but being in the million dollar dining room of the Villagold mansion inspired one to take caution and use manners.

Carefully, quietly, she allowed the soup to slide into her mouth, because it would have echoed if she had sipped it then. She paused, and then decided she was willing to look forward to these dinners, if it meant she could eat this well all the time.

"How do you like the lobster bisque, Caramel?"

Caramel looked up, startled by the question. Richard, her soon-to-be stepfather, was looking at her with mild concern, his pale blue eyes piercingly clear and sharp for someone in his mid-forties. Richard, despite being at home and having dinner with his family, was still dressed impeccably in a custom-tailored dress shirt and pants, along with authentic gold cufflinks.

"It's fine." Caramel finally replied in a passably lukewarm tone when her mother glared at her to reply.

"Good." Richard commented, the eagle-like gleam in his eyes softening to a dull glow. "What about you, Arven?"

"It's good." Arven said after a moment. Caramel turned to glance at her older brother. He was nearly done with almost all of his soup.

"I'm glad it's to your taste. I was worried the both of you wouldn't like western foods." Richard said, looking quite pleased. "Jonathan, do tell Jean that they like it. I'm sure he'll be happy to hear it." The head butler standing at Richard's shoulder, apparently named Jonathan, bowed very slightly in acknowledgement. Not a single strand of hair fell from his gleaming head of hair, which had all been gelled into a smooth oval that resembled the surface of a hard-boiled egg.

Caramel wondered why her soon-to-be stepfather always spoke that way—as if he was speaking in a classy and expensive restaurant of some sort. She could envision the same thing happening in a five-star restaurant, with Richard signaling to the waiter to tell the chef that he had done an excellent job, and that he would recommend the place to all his friends.

She wasn't sure she liked living like that. This entire place made her spine ache with the effort of staying straight and maintaining proper pose and posture. In silent defiance, Caramel toed off her flats and wriggled her bare toes, exposing them to the cool air. Then she returned to drinking her soup, a bit faster than one slurp per minute this time.

"So, Arven," Tristan spoke up. He was the oldest of three sons from Richard's previous spectacle of a marriage, with dark hair and blue eyes just like his father. "How do you like it here so far? Is America very different from Singapore?"

Arven looked up, and put down his spoon to consider the question. To be honest, Arven wasn't sure he liked America. On the way to the mansion, they had passed by at least four stores with firearms for sale. There had been homeless people littering the streets they had drove through before entering into Beverly Hills, and one out of every ten people he saw were obese.

When Arven spoke, it was with cautioun. The teen allowed the dramatic pause to expand to breaking point before speaking in his driest, most drawling tone.

"It's left quite an impression, I have to admit."

"That's good to hear." Tristan said, deliberately interpreting the statement as positive. "Don't worry, you'll get used to it. It grows on you."

Arven shrugged and did not deign the statement with a reply. Caramel privately wondered if Tristan was joking. Did he mean it grew on them like mould, or…..?

It was hard to tell with such a poker-faced family. She felt someone staring at her, and looked up to see Isaac, the youngest brother of three, observing her. Isaac was the perfect image of a golden boy, with curly blond and honey hair matched with a rounded face and bright green eyes. She had also yet to hear him say a single word to anyone. After a moment, Caramel smiled at him.

Isaac's eyes grew very wide—not in a pleased or shocked manner, but rather as if he was feeling the beginnings of a heart attack. Caramel stared when he abruptly returned to focusing on his soup, as if he had not been staring.

Caramel sighed, and then turned to look at the second son. Lucas Villagold was a true vision—he looked as if he had stepped out of a magazine with his silky golden hair and bright green eyes, dressed in a form fitting dress shirt in bright pink that emphasized his masculinity rather than belittling it. Apparently, he worked part-time as a model. Or maybe it was because he was already on his third glass of wine. They had barely finished the soup course.

"Caramel darling," Agnes suddenly spoke. Caramel looked up to raise her eyebrows at her mother. She had never heard anything quite so endearing from the woman since….

Since when? Well, no point dwelling on questions like that now.

"Yes?" Caramel asked. It appeared the soup was not for her to finish, but to sip at, judging by all the questions being flung her way.

"I was wondering if you would like to help me decide on the wedding dinner menu. You do love eating so." Agnes paused, then made an expression somewhere between a pout and a frown. "I do wish you weren't quite so plump though. You could do with a bit of slimming down, don't you think?"

Caramel sighed. As usual, her mother had to something to say about her that wasn't positive. And as usual, her figure was the object and topic of contention.

"Mom, I don't care about slimming down. I'm happy the way I am."

Agnes frowned at that, and opened her mouth to reply, but was cut off by a laugh from Lucas, who had finally looked up. Caramel turned to raise a brow at him.

"What's so funny?" She asked in a cool, polite tone. She didn't like that laugh.

"You know, Caramel," Lucas allowed the name to roll off his tongue drolly. He took a sip of his wine, and then gulped it down before putting the glass down, signaling for more with a curl of his finger as he continued to speak. "Now that you're going to be part of this particular family, you're going to have to care about how you look."

"You know, Lucas," Caramel mimicked. "Although I am going to be part of this particular family, I won't change my principles for the sake of people who don't even know me."

Lucas looked up from where he had been glancing at the wine being poured into his glass by one of four maids stationed between the family members at the table. He glanced at her, and then snorted.

"Never mind." The teen model said, and motioned for the maid to continue pouring. Caramel frowned and picked up her fish knife as the fish course was served.

"And what do you mean by that exactly?" Caramel asked cuttingly. Lucas frowned at her tone and sat up to retort, but Tristan cleared his throat and interrupted.

"Do try the fish before it grows cold." The eldest son said in somber, severe tone, heavy with the weight of his slight seniority. He glared at Lucas, who wilted beneath the force of the silent reprimand.

"No, Lucas is right." Agnes said, smiling at the model, who was well on his way to becoming quite wasted. Caramel internally rolled her eyes. "Caramel, you need to start putting more thought into how you look."

"Mom, I wear jeans and t-shirts. Girls my age wear stuff like that now." Caramel said, exasperated.

"But I've never seen you wear a skirt outside of school." Agnes said. "And you would look so much better only if you slimmed down." Caramel's patronizing smile began to slide off her face. "And you're always wearing those baggy clothing. They just make you look even fatter, you know. Try putting on something more form-fitting, and then maybe you'll finally catch someone's eye."

Arven looked up at that, quickly catching a glimpse of everyone's expression. He placed his fish knife down when he noted Caramel's thunderous visage. He wouldn't want to choke on anything when the explosion came, after all.

Agnes was still talking.

"Why don't you try liposuction? We can afford it now." Agnes said, and then laughed as if she found the idea hilarious and pleasing all at the same time. Caramel stood so abruptly her chair fell backwards with a heavy banging sound. The maids winced, but everyone else at the table remained motionless. They stared in shocked silence, not quite sure if they should make a move, say something, or just duck under the table.

"Thank you for the meal." Caramel said coolly instead, gently setting down the knife she had been holding in a death grip. Arven knew Caramel was angry—she had hardly finished her soup, and had not even touched her fish. And Caramel loved eating. It was one of the few joys she enjoyed uninhibited—well, mostly uninhibited.

"Sit down." Agnes hissed the first word and barked the second. Isaac jumped a little in his chair.

"If," Caramel sucked in a deep breath and stretched herself to her full height of five feet no inches. "If you think I am just going to sit here and let myself be insulted, then you haven't been raising me right."

Agnes' mouth dropped open. Caramel threw down her napkin and stormed out. No one tried to stop her. An awkward silence descended upon the dining room, so thick and stifling the maids looked like they would rather run out into the thunderstorm raging outside than remain any longer inside the room.

"Courage," Everyone looked up when Isaac spoke—he swallowed, as if nervous, and refused to meet anyone's eyes. Richard seemed to be smiling. "Courage," Isaac repeated slowly, putting down his knife as well. "Is fire, and bullying is smoke."

Everyone stared, unsure how to respond again. Richard was the only one to return to his meal, apparently undisturbed.

"Thank you for the meal, Jonathan." Isaac stood and gently pushed his chair backwards before setting his napkin down. No one protested when he left, his slow and leisurely stride somehow matching to the beat of a funeral march.

Tristan and Arven turned to stare at Agnes. The woman was very red in the face, but remained silent. She did not touch her food until Richard brushed her knuckles with his fingers, smiling reassuringly at her. Agnes relaxed then, and finally began to eat. Tristan turned back to his food with a quiet disappointment, and Arven picked up his knife again with a quiet sigh.

Lucas snorted once, and then downed the rest of the wine in his glass in a single gulp.

"I wonder where Caramel's shoes went? Well, thanks for the…" Lucas paused and downed the last of his wine. "…wine." The model paused awkwardly, then added : "That sure went well, didn't it?"

No one replied to that. What could they say?

Lucas snorted again, stood, and left, already running a hand through his hair with the other stuck in his pocket, eager to be gone.

The door slammed closed behind him, and it was awkward silence all over again.

And thus, the first family dinner together ended—in complete and utter silence.

.: The Billionaire's Concierge :.