The last thing I feel like doing is driving out to Bellevue after leaving Elena at the hospital, but I told my mom I would. And, it’s time to face dad. We haven’t spoken since I told them I was dropping out of Harvard.
Mia meets me at the door and hurls herself at me.
“I’m so mad at you, Christian!” she says forcefully. “Mom and dad have been so upset. And why haven’t you returned my texts? I didn’t do anything – why are you being so mean?”
I don’t know what to say to that.
“Can I come in or are you just going to yell at me?” I say, half smiling at her.
She pouts and folds her arms. “I haven’t decided yet.”
But she lets me past her and pulls me by the hand into the living room.
Mom is standing up, looking tense.
“You look so tired, darling. I’m sure you must have been working too hard – whatever you’re doing.”
“I’m ok, mom. Don’t worry about me.”
She frowns. “I’m your mother, Christian. It’s in my job description to worry about you. And Mia and Elliot.”
“But Christian is way more trouble than me, isn’t he, mom?” insists Mia, making mom laugh.
I’m just beginning to relax when dad walks in. The temperature in the room falls several degrees.
“How are you?”
“I’d like to talk to you, in my study.”
“Not now, Cary,” says mom, a note of urgency in her voice. Dad ignores her and I think he’s right: we need to do this.
“It’s ok, mom,” I say and stand up to follow him into his study.
He waves me to a seat and he leans back in his chair, trying to look casual, but he can’t hide the tension in his jaw.
“I’ve had a letter from your personal tutor at Harvard.”
Professor Mathers? I frown. Why’s she writing to dad? Oh, because I dropped out, I guess.
“It… disturbed me.”
That seems like an odd choice of words. I stare at him impassively, watching him flounder, trying to get to the point.
“She was worried about you: your sudden decision to… leave, but… more than that…”
He pauses and takes a deep breath.
“Her concern alludes to certain ‘risk-taking behaviour’. I would very much like to know what she means by that.”
Fuck! “Perhaps you’d better ask Professor Mathers.”
“I’m asking you, Christian. Are you… all right?”
“I’m fine, dad. More than fine. I’ve bought a company – telecoms – and, it’s going well. You don’t need to worry about me.”
“Christian! I’m your father; of course I worry about you. That won’t change, no matter how old you are. I… I haven’t shown this letter to your mother. I didn’t want her to worry. If you could just… reassure me that you’re really ok… I don’t understand why you dropped out of Harvard, and then, this letter… I thought it was… like before… all the fighting…”
He passes his hand over his face as if he’s trying to wave away the memory. I feel like such a shit doing this to him. Again.
“Dad, I don’t know what to tell you. Harvard wasn’t for me. I’m fine – better than fine – I’m doing what I want… what I need to be doing. I’m good at this, dad.”
“Really? You’re not just telling me what you think I need to hear?”
“No.” I frown. I don’t like repeating myself.
“And this ‘risk-taking behaviour’?”
“Professor Mathers is mistaken.”
He looks relieved but I can tell he’s not completely convinced.
“Is that it?” I want this over now.
He looks uncomfortable.
“Well, there is one other thing…”
I can feel the hold on my temper, tenuous at the best of times, begin to fray.
“I… I wanted to apologise for what I said to you last time you were here. Your mom has hauled me over the coals,” he smiles fondly, “and that’s not a comfortable place to be, trust me. But she was right: the things I said…” his expression darkens. “They were cruel. And they were untrue. We’ll always be here for you, Christian. I hope you know that.”
The emotion in the room is more than I can take. I stand suddenly. “We’re fine, dad. Tell mom.”
He nods. He understands I don’t do emotion. Can’t. I leave.
I’m not surprised to see Mia waiting outside looking anxious.
“Did you and dad make it up? Did you, Christian? Please!”
She wraps her arms around my waist and leans her head against my chest. “I’ve missed you, Christian. I’m so mad at you. Mom, too.”
“Is there anyone who isn’t mad at me?”
She giggles. “I don’t think so. But I’m glad you’re here. Will you play for me later?”
“I don’t know, Mia. I don’t think I’ll be staying that long.”
She pouts. “You’re so mean, Christian. How can you be so heartless?”
And her words pierce me because deep down I know she’s right: I don’t have a heart. So why does it ache so badly when she says these things to me?
We manage to have a pleasant family dinner. Mom steers the conversation to neutral territory. There’s just one awkward moment when Mia mentions Elena.
“Everyone’s saying that Linc caught her with another man!” says Mia, in a hushed but excited tone.
“Mia, really!” says Mom.
“Lily heard it from her mom, so it must be true! She and Elena, Mrs Lincoln, are totally BFFs. Do you think it’s anyone we know, someone from Bellevue?”
I nearly choke and quickly grab a glass of water.
“I’m sure it’s all nonsense, darling,” says mom, coolly. “We don’t perpetuate gossip in this house. And it’s certainly not suitable conversation for the dinner table.”
Thank fuck for that.
Elliot turns up just as we’re drinking coffee. His news takes over: he’s quit his job and started his own company – Grey Construction. Mia hurls herself at him and dad smiles his first genuine smile of the evening and offers him a toast. I’m glad the focus of attention has moved away from me.
Before I leave mom manages to talk me into coming to the annual fundraiser on Saturday. It’s kind of a tradition. In the interest of keeping up the entente with my dad, I agree and Mia beams. I’ve always been her date for these events and she’s not ready to give me up yet.
But I’ve had enough family time now so I leave quickly. After all the shit this evening, the turmoil of an emotional fucking rollercoaster, I really need to let off some steam and there’s only one way I know how to do that.
Back at my apartment, I change into jeans and a T-shirt and head out to the club.
The maitre d’ recognises me.
“Hey there, Bronze,” she says, her eyes lighting up as if I’ve just waved a handful of dollar bills in front of her. “I was beginning to think we wouldn’t see you again. But here you are. So what can we do for you tonight? Young, old, blonde, brunette? We even have a redhead tonight, like you, handsome. And there’s a couple of guys who’d be lining up for a man of your… talents. What’s your poison, Bronze?”
“Really? They could pay well. Very well.”
I shake my head, irritated.
“Ok, just women then.”
“Just brunettes. I like brunettes.”
“You got it, Bronze, although there’ll be some disappointed mommas in the house. Follow me.”
She leads me through the pulsing crowds of dancers and drinkers to the private rooms, reserved for clients with my own specialist tastes.
The first room she takes me to a woman with short brown hair is lying across a chaise longue. Her eyes look glassy and unfocussed.
“What’s she taken?”
“Just a little chill pill, Bronze. Nothing for you to worry about. She’s just kinda new to the scene, needed a little something to take her through, you dig?”
I shake my head.
“What’s the matter, Bronze?”
“No beginners. No fucking amateurs who are going to safeword on me after two fucking minutes.”
A reluctant smile crosses her hard face.
“You want dark, Bronze? We cater for all tastes here.”
She carries on down the corridor, passing a fire door that’s been chained shut. A small part of my brain registers annoyance that such a basic safety precaution and fire regulation has been flouted but a much greater part of me is on fire with need and my cock is straining against my jeans just being in the club.
At the end of the gloomy corridor she points me towards a cell-like room.
“Fifty-seven varieties, Bronze,” she says, a cold smile underlining the hard planes of her face.
The woman inside is in her fifties. I don’t realise that she’s naked at first, because her body is covered in tattoos. Her brown hair hangs in a long braid over one shoulder.
“Missy, this is Bronze,” says the maitre d’ introducing us. “He says he likes it dark: you interested.”
Missy stares at me and I feel my ever-present anger flaring up at her insolent gaze as her eyes rake across my body.
“I don’t know, Sarah, he looks kinda young. How long you been in the scene, Bronze?”
“None of your fucking business,” I snarl at her.
And then she smiles. She fucking smiles at me. And my fury boils over; I know my eyes are blazing at her. Her smile fades.
“Yes,” she whispers.
The maitre d’ closes the door quietly and I pace towards the woman, bringing her to her knees with the look on my face.
Two hours later and bathed in sweat, I dress slowly. Some of the tension of the past 24 hours has been eased. I’ve replaced the two canes, flogger and baton in the rack and I’ve knotted the used condoms and put them in my pocket. I’m careful: always careful. Elena taught me this; some women will take the man’s sperm to use later if they liked the guy. I’m not having any of my little bastards running around, taking my fucked up DNA with them. So I’m careful.
Missy is still sprawled breathless over the whipping bench. I don’t like her tattoos; I want to see the changes I’ve painted on her skin with the cane, not that gothic shit she’s covered in.
I retrieve my CD of Philip Glass and leave the room without looking back. This time I’m not surprised to see the maitre d’ waiting for me. She peers into the room.
“Another satisfied customer, Bronze. You know, you could earn a lot more with an exclusive contract to this club. I could have clients lining up around the block for you.”
I’m amused. Who knew there were so many people as fucked up as me in a city the size of Seattle?
“You interested, handsome?”
She looks annoyed.
“Look, I don’t like to be played, Bronze. Which stable are you from? I know you’re trying to steal my clients. Is it Carter? O’Brien?”
Before I can reply, two heavies block the entrance to the corridor and I remember the pad-locked fire exit. If I want to leave, I’m going to have to go through them. Suddenly my dad’s words about ‘risk-taking behaviour’ are ringing in my ears. The thought almost makes me smile.
“I’m freelance. I don’t fuck for anyone.”
“Then I strongly suggest you consider your position,” she says, a dangerous edge in her voice. “I can offer you good terms, Bronze. You won’t find a better offer, I can promise you that.” Her tone softens slightly. “Why don’t you come to my office to discuss it?”
My brain is working at top speed, adrenaline spiking through me. The corridor is just too narrow: if I try to get past the minders, I’m going to be seriously fucked. I decide to play along.
“Ok. Your office.”
She smiles in triumph and I follow her back along the corridor and past the heavies. She leads me alongside the dance floor with the innocent bondage fashionistas strutting their stuff. I see my chance and take it. Before she realises what’s happening, I’m across the floor and out the door, fucking fast. No way her people will be able to catch me now.
When I’m four blocks away I slow to a jog. I know I can’t go back there and from what she’s told me, the club scene for someone of my specialist needs is sewn up between three providers. No, I can’t risk that. I’ll have to come up with another solution. There must be others like me out there; others who don’t do the clubs. If I could find myself a sub on my own terms. Like Elena did. No. Not like Elena did; never like that.
Well, I am a fucking genius: I should be able to work something out.
I stare with vague distaste at my reflection in the small mirror in my apartment. I decide to leave the black bowtie loose until I get to Bellevue.
Mia has been phoning me hourly all day to make sure that I come. It’s fucking irritating: I said I’d be there. She’s even managed to arrange for me to drive Elliot and his latest girlfriend so that I have to turn up – her words. But it also means that I’ll have to stay late until Elliot is ready to leave – whenever the fuck that will be.
A grudging smile of admiration crosses my face. Mia! She’ll be a helluva businesswoman one day. She’s the only person I know who can make me do something I don’t want to do. Especially now Elena…
Elena is out of hospital. Mom told me that she’s staying at her home while Linc is using a hotel in the city until the divorce is settled, which won’t be long. Apparently it’s all been sorted ‘amicably’; which, reading between the lines, means that Elena won’t hand Linc to the cops for fucking her over and she’ll get the house and whatever settlement she can screw out of him. In return, he lets her go quietly.
Having thoroughly soured my mood with angry thoughts, I’m in a vile temper when I pull up outside Elliot’s apartment. I press the intercom.
“Hey, little bro, come on up!”
“Elliot! Just get your ass down here; we have to go now or we’ll be late.”
Instead he buzzes me in and I sigh. Elliot is chronically unable to be on time. And he knows it makes me pissed. Or, in the case of this evening, more pissed.
His date opens the door and I watch dispassionately as her pupils dilate and her cheeks flush. Get a grip, for fuck’s sake; it’s just a face. I wonder if Elliot will ever go for a woman whose IQ is greater than her shoe size.
“Hello, I’m Christian Grey, Elliot’s brother.”
I hold out my hand for her to shake and she takes it limply, an irritating simpering giggle escaping from her over-lipsticked mouth.
“I’m Connie. Elliot’s told me all about you.”
I seriously doubt that.
It turns out that she’s an intern at one of the companies Elliot is hoping to do business with. I shake my head: I thought Elliot would have known better than to mix business and pleasure. But that’s Elliot for you: fuck first, think later.
For a quarter of an hour I have to listen to her drivel about what a ‘fun’ city Seattle is; although not apparently as ‘fun’ as Santa Barbara or her home town of San Luis Obispo which is ‘totally fun’. Christ! If I have any more ‘fun’ this evening, I’ll have to slit my wrists.
By the time Elliot hauls his ass out of the bathroom, dressed and shaved at last, my feelings are becoming homicidal. How can he listen to this female? Sure, she’s attractive – in a bovine sort of way – but, dear god, she’s dull.
“Hey, little bro! You’ve met my gal?”
“Oh, Elliot, he’s so sweet!” she gushes. “You know, my roommate, Monica? She’d just adore him. We could double date!”
I turn my gaze to Elliot and, to his credit, he looks uncomfortable.
“Er, Christian doesn’t date,” he says shortly.
“Why not?” she says, refusing to take the hint.
“Ok, time to go or we’ll be late,” says Elliot, changing the subject with the subtlety of a truck.
As we walk out I hear Connie asking Elliot if I’m gay whilst he tries to hush her up. It’s almost funny.
When we get to my car Elliot helps Connie into the back seat and slides in next to her. Like a real chauffeur I turn up the music and try to avoid looking in the rear view mirror for the 25 minutes it takes to drive to Bellevue.
By the time we get there Connie is pink and breathless and her carefully applied lipstick is smudged. Elliot grins at me and I stare back sourly.
“You need to fix your tie, little bro,” he smirks.
I raise an eyebrow and he wanders off into the crowds of the well heeled, Connie fluttering beside him.
Everywhere I see strangers roaming the grounds of my family home: the men are dressed in severe black whilst the women sparkle jewel-like in the gathering dusk. I feel more alone than usual but the sensation is not uncomfortable. I watch.
Mia’s foghorn voice cuts through my reveries.
I roll my eyes at her. “I said I would. Besides, you worked it so I had to bring Elliot… and his date.”
“Oh, what’s she like? Is she pretty? I bet she’s pretty – and blonde! He always likes blondes. Dance with me, Christian, please! Dad says he’s too busy and Elliot never dances with me.”
“So I’m third choice?”
She punches me lightly on the chest.
I bow slightly. “Would you do me the honor of dancing with me, Miss Grey?”
I offer her my arm.
“I’d be delighted, gallant sir,” she says laughing.
And we head off to the dance floor that’s been erected under a large gazebo. Before we get there we’re accosted by Lily.
“Hi Christian!” she says boldly.
Mia sighs theatrically. “Talk later, Lily.”
I lead Mia towards the other dancers who are moving to the big band sounds of ‘Fly me to the moon’.
“You’ve hurt her feelings,” says Mia.
“You know who! Lily!”
“I didn’t say anything to her!”
“That’s why.” Mia sighs again. “She’s not that bad, Christian, and she’s my friend.”
“That’s why I said ‘hello’ to her,” I reply calmly.
“Well, the least you could do is ask her to dance.”
I feel the ever present anger start to burn. “No.”
“You know why, Mia.”
She pouts but doesn’t press the point.
We dance in silence, each lost in our thoughts. I’ll dance with my mother and with Mia. Nobody else. Except Elena. God, we used to dance. The memory makes me smile and I feel Mia relax in my arms.
“See! I told you you’d have fun if you came tonight. I’m so glad you did, Christian. I miss you.”
Then one of our father’s partners from the law firm interrupts and Mia dances away in his arms. I’m alone again.