It’s not like I made myself a list
Of new and different ways to murder your heart
I’m just a painting that’s still wet, if you touch me I’ll be smeared
You’ll be stained, stained for the rest of your life
So turn around, walk away
Before you confuse the way we abuse each other
If you’re not afraid of getting hurt
Then I’m not afraid of how much I hurt you
I’m well aware I’m a danger to myself
Are you aware I’m a danger to others?
There’s a crack in my soul, you thought was a smile
Whatever doesn’t kill you is gonna leave a scar
Whatever doesn’t kill you is gonna leave a scar
I don’t think I have ever seen pain like it. Elliot and his family are one thing but Ana … oh my poor Ana. She just sits and looks into the fire, unable to speak, barely crying. Every now and then she looks around the room as if she has no idea who any of these people are or what they are doing here. We take it in turns to sit with her but she is a shell, an empty husk housing a broken and battered heart.
Grace is devastated. Her son, her baby is missing and I find myself holding my stomach as if I can feel her loss. I know that she didn’t give birth to him but I can see the physicality of her pain etched in her tired eyes. There is no difference between her baby and mine in terms of a mother’s love and my heart is breaking for her. At least she has her other children here with her and she has Carrick, lending his quiet strength. I look at Ana and can see how she is cut adrift from the Greys, an interloper on the outskirts of Christian’s life. Yet they don’t know her and they don’t understand what he means to her or she to him. Elliot always knew, he always saw the potential of what they could be to each other. I don’t think that they see her presence as strange or foreign here and even if she does, they won’t let her go easily. Grace will always need Ana’s confirmation that in these last days, her son was happy.
Elliot’s pain travels to me in waves across the cavernous space of the great room. He is constantly on the move, talking with his parents, his sister, with Jason and Gail. Restlessly seeking to keep the feelings of helplessness at bay. For him this is baby Christopher and his mother all over again. History repeated and I wonder what I can possibly do to help him survive any of this unscathed if Christian isn’t found soon. Quite frankly, logic and precedence tells me that this will not end well and then all of these people, who I now love dearly, will almost certainly carry this pain forever.
Gail comes over and whispers to me quietly asking if I need anything. She has been thrown by this too and her reaction is more than just about her employer. This is about a friend. Someone she respects and I realize that somehow, if Christian ever comes out of this alive, that he and I have fences to mend. I don’t know if he will ever forgive me for the way I treated him but I would give anything right now to have the chance to apologize.
In the end I go to my own fall back position. Between bouts of quiet conversation and holding Ana’s hand, I watch the news, hour after hour of media coverage speculating about Christian, showing photos of him at various events including that one photo of he and Ana that has been circulating since graduation. I always thought that she deferred to him, that she was a good submissive. Now every time it flashes I can see how much she loved him even then. And he loved her. I didn’t know, I didn’t understand. It seemed so unrealistic that she should fall in love so fast and fall in love with someone like him. Now I get it. Shit, this is so unfair.
My hand fingers the collar like some sort of talisman. It soothes me. I make up my mind definitively, as if I hadn’t already, that I will marry Elliot if he asks me again. I would give up everything to build my life with him. He is that important to me and there is safety in knowing that he would never ask me to. I want this baby, I want a family of little Elliots to love and cherish. I want to make music, to make love, to dance with him for the rest of my life. I never want to know this kind of empty, helpless loss that I see around me now. My eyes seek his knowing that behind his pain is love. An endless capacity to love. I know this from all of those wonderful people who are staying out at the treehouse tonight. I know from the way he pulls his family and friends together in this crisis, from the way he mobilizes his resources to look after his brother, from the way he protects his friends and their privacy, from the way he has become an intrinsic part of my family.
Text messages of support come through to us. And I mean to us not just Elliot. My phone is full with words of comfort from my parents, James, Will, TJ, Stella, Max, the girls at the club, Jen, Karen even little Jake. Ethan squeezes my hand whenever I pass him. He is holding Mia. I never knew. He never said anything. I wonder, how would I feel if I lost my big brother. Ethan has always been my friend as well as my brother. I don’t ever want to find out. A lump forms in my throat as it hits me. Christian is, with the exception of ceremony and a piece of paper, my brother. I may very well have lost him. Christian, where are you? I want you to be my big brother too. I want you in my life. My eyes fix on Ana, I want you to come back and love my best friend in the whole world, because she needs you, they need you, I need you.
Suddenly a figure appears in the doorway. It’s him, looking too much like crap to be a ghost, shoes in his hand, tired as all hell but it is him. I want to run to him and throw my arms around him but it isn’t my place. I watch as Grace does what none of us can do. I see the surprise in his face, he has no idea, no idea how much love has been waiting in this room, willing him home. We have to do something to fix that. We all have to make him understand. I walk over to Ana who looks for all the world like she is seeing a ghost. I worry if she isn’t going into shock and I put an arm around her. Her body is shaking but I think she is going to be alright.
“He’s here, Ana.” I whisper to her. She blinks a little, not quite believing and then the tears that wouldn’t come are coursing down her cheeks. Oh, baby girl. I know. I look for Elliot again who is holding back his own tears. My own hand touches my face and feels the dampness there. There, Christian, you big dumbass, not a dry fucking eye in the house. Don’t you dare stand there and act surprised. My stomach cramps as if my darling is agreeing with me and I gently grip myself again. Its okay my baby, you’re uncle is here. He’s home.
Once he is settled and everyone has satisfied themselves that he is safe we begin to make arrangements to leave. Mia wants to be with Ethan but for some reason Ethan refuses her. I don’t think it is because he doesn’t want her but perhaps he feels that her mother may need her more tonight. I see her reaction and wonder if Mia has some growing up to do. That was me only a few weeks ago. Now, with Elliot, with the baby, I have grown up so much. Mia will too. Ethan just needs to be patient.
Gail pulls me aside before we leave.
“Kate, I have something I need to discuss with you. Can I meet you for coffee tomorrow?” I am curious but then nothing about this new life of mine surprises me any more. Gail and I will be good friends, I know because I can see how she takes care of the people I love.
“Yes, of course. Jason has my number. Call me in the morning.” Elliot, Ethan and I leave together. It is late and none of us want to make the drive up to the treehouse so we head back to my apartment. As I walk into it I wonder how much longer I will live here. Perhaps Ethan will stay. Certainly I can’t see Ana coming back here. Maybe we will keep a city apartment and the treehouse. Who knows. It doesn’t feel like home except when Elliot is here.
We hold each other close during the night after gently making love in quiet desperation. My love is tightly wound around his heart and there is really no other place for me to be. It should be the sleep of the dead but instead it is a restlessness that seeks to touch and be touched all night long. That is until I wake in the morning, tense, anxious, ready to throw up. Elliot is with me, holding my hair back, helping me brush my teeth, holding me close. I love him so much.
Gail calls around 11am and I wander down to the market to meet her. I drink peppermint tea rather than coffee. She doesn’t
comment. I can see the tension and anxiety around her eyes. This must be important.
“Kate, I wanted to talk about this with you for the last couple of days but I know that you have been busy. Then last night it almost seemed like it would be pointless but then when Mr Grey, Christian, came back, I knew that I needed to have this conversation with you. For my own peace of mind.” As an opening this is a doozy and I am instantly on edge.
“I am worried about Jason. He is feeling conflicted but I think he won’t say anything to Elliot out of loyalty.” She looks ill.
“Gail, it’s okay. Tell me, I would like to think that we are friends.” I give a weak smile that she returns. The love for her man is in her eyes and she dashes away a tear. What is it about these men that have us all turning to mush?
“Jason has revealed so much to Elliot about Christian’s life. I know that this is why Elliot wanted us at Escala, to help Christian, to look after him. But we both signed NDA’s and it seems that since Ana came into his life we are breaking those agreements constantly.” Oh. This is not what I was expecting. I don’t know what I thought she wanted to say to me but this is so far from it.
“You don’t want Ana in his life?”
“No, no. Oh God no. Please, nothing could be farther from the truth. We both love Ana and would do anything for her. She has made Christian so happy. He is a totally different man with her in his life.” I don’t get it. “It’s just… as much as we have a loyalty to Elliot, we are employed by Christian and a lot of that is about discretion. Now that they are more – settled in their relationship – well, it’s just…”
“Oh, I see.” Now I totally get it. If they continue to tell us what is going on at Escala then they are betraying not only Christian but Ana too. I knew I would love this woman.
“Gail, I understand. Really I do. Please, unless it is a life or death situation, we don’t need to know. There is still this threat to the family and we are trying to deal with that. Unless it comes knocking at the doors of Escala then please, don’t give this another thought.”
“But I worry. Ana needs someone to confide in. The hard part is she knows that I know but I am an employee. There is a line we can’t cross. But you, Elliot says that you have been her best friend for a long time. I watched you with her last night. You felt her pain in a way that I would if it had been my sister sitting there. She needs you but somehow she has to be able to talk without the NDA getting in the way. I just wish there was a way that you could, I don’t know, catch them out. Something so that she doesn’t have to keep secrets. So she can have you back in her life properly.”
“Yeah, me too.” Then it occurs to me that I have the very thing in my possession that could tip the balance and if I play it right then perhaps Christian might be on board too. “Gail, can I share something with you and you can tell me if you think this will work. I need to know how you think Christian might react.”
For the next half hour we discuss my plan. Gail is not confident about Christian. Last night all I wanted to do was make things right between us and this could make things worse. I feel sick at the thought that I might create more distance but I am hoping that if I pitch this right it will be enough to create a crack for Ana to step through. This is unknown territory and while I don’t know Christian, I do know Ana. I just might get my friend back, tonight.
After lunch Elliot and I drive out to the treehouse to meet up with James and the boys. Everyone is relaxed and sitting around on the deck drinking beer trading tall tales when we come in, Zeus bouncing exuberantly beside us. Elliot seems happy to have them all there. It has been a big few days for him and he needs his boys around him. Stella is sitting on Will’s lap, her arms wrapped around his neck. He nuzzles her and they kiss constantly.
“Will you two get a room? You’re worse than Elliot and Kate.” TJ flicks a bottle cap at them and Stella giggles for the first time in two days. I am so happy that Will is back for her. The big surprise is that Liana has come back as well. She is so beautiful next to James that it is breathtaking to watch them together. Eventually we move inside the house for coffee.
“I guess, Kate, we owe you an explanation.” James says this as a way of starting and I feel very awkward. I want to know, have wanted to know for days but this idea that I have a right to know anything doesn’t sit well. For the first time in my life, privacy has become important. For the first time I am starting to appreciate the subtleties of privacy versus secrecy. Elliot is responsible of giving me these lessons in ethics and I wonder how I will reconcile this when I start my job on Monday.
“James, you don’t owe me anything but if you will allow me to understand I would appreciate your candor.” He smiles.
“The way I heard it Kate, we owe you a lot for the way you stepped in on Thursday night. Stella and TJ have done nothing but sing your praises since we arrived here today.” I am sure now that I am blushing. Stella unwinds herself from Will and sits down next to me. She holds my hand with one of hers, the other is holding Will’s hand. Elliot moves so that can see my face.
“Kate, I am sorry that I haven’t been able to talk about this with you until now. As I said, there are parts of it I don’t even remember and parts that I don’t want to hear others speak about. I appreciate your patience more than I can tell you.” Her eyes are clear and focused but there is a tremor in her voice.
“Stella if this is too hard ….”
“No, I want to, I need to tell you. A few years ago Linc Lincoln was my dom.” Fuck! “I was relatively new to the club and I was gullible. I thought that was the life I wanted and he said he would look after me, and he did. His marriage to Elena had broken down by then but they had both had other relationships throughout their marriage anyway. After a while I realized it was not me to be anyone’s sub. I was unhappy with the lifestyle and I fell in love with Will. Will wouldn’t date me, you understand. He knew that Linc would not be happy if I started to date so he kept his distance. But Linc knew I was slipping away from him. He seemed to know that I was interested in someone else and he made it his mission to find out. Around the same time Elliot and I came up with the concept of the aerial ring routine. Of course, we were both new to the art form so we spent hours a day in training for months on end. At first Linc didn’t think much of it, I was just working and there was nothing to it. Then we started to perform it in the club and got a lot of attention. Eventually Linc came to the club one night to watch us and he got really angry. He knew I was in love with someone else but he automatically suspected it was Elliot.” She pauses for a moment looking at me. “I want you to know that there never was anything between me and Elliot except our love of performance. That’s all. I was in love with Will. I always have been.”
Will gives her hand a squeeze and then kisses it. I know that she is telling the truth.
“So this one night Linc came to the club and he was drunk and angry. He started into his dominant routine but he got out of hand. That was when he threatened to kill me if I ever performed the routine again. I never told Elliot or Will what had happened. I was so ashamed of the way I was living that I couldn’t tell them about Linc’s behavior as my dom. I hoped that it was just the drink talking. Elliot and I performed again the following night and when I got back to the dressing room Linc was waiting for me. This time he wasn’t drunk. I told him I was leaving him and that is the last thing I remember.”
She pauses, tears flowing quietly down her face. Will pulls her into his body and holds her while she cries. James takes over.
“We don’t know the finer details of what he did to her. I gather Stella has blacked out most of the memory of that night. I would love to think that he knocked her out completely before he did what he did but the reality is that she was probably conscious all the way through but has simply blocked out the events to protect herself.” Oh my God. “When I found her Stella was almost unrecognizable.”
Will and Stella stand up and walk outside. TJ gives me a tight smile. “She prefers not to hear this. We told her once and that was enough.” James continues.
“She had been beaten with a wooden cane. There are scars of the welts he dealt to her all over her body. Her face was severely beaten and she had a broken nose and cheek bone. Part of her hair had been pulled out of her head and he had used a razor to leave a thin cut under chin traveling from one ear to the other. She had two broken ribs and a broken arm. She was severely bruised and from the kicks she had sustained to her body and she had some internal bleeding that resulted in having part of her spleen removed. There were cigarette burns on her back. He had raped her both vaginally and anally and left a dildo inside her. There was no DNA evidence but there were tears. She was naked and cuffed, spread eagle on her stomach across a table in the dressing room. It took her four months to recover physically and she has never really recovered emotionally.” I feel ill.
“Did he ever get charged?”
“Like I say, he left no evidence on her. She couldn’t or wouldn’t remember anything and so the cops couldn’t lay charges. It was our word against his and he was, still is, a very powerful man in Seattle. No one was going to believe a bunch of strippers.”
Elliot is looking at me, carefully gaging my reaction. I am horrified, disgusted but this is all aimed at Linc not Stella and not the boys. Surely he must know this. Then he speaks.
“The only other time I have ever seen damage like that was the night that Christian and I took Elena into the emergency department.” Oh shit. I forgot about that. Jesus, no wonder Elena is such a fucked up bitch. I still hate her for screwing with little boys but no woman deserves to be treated like that. “We tried to think of any way that we could stop him from doing this to another woman but there was no one in authority that was going to listen to us. So we took the law into our own hands.”
“What?” My eyes fix on Elliot’s. What the hell are you talking about?
“We waited for him outside the club one night. Made sure that he was delayed enough that he would be the last one out of the club. We worked him over good, gave him a taste of his own medicine. Including our own version of a gang rape using an assortment of dildos. There was no one around to hear him scream. Only thing is our consciences got the better of us and rather than leave him in the car park to be found we dropped him at the nearest hospital. Unfortunately for us the CCTV footage very clearly caught James and I on video. For his own reasons Linc never pressed charges but we know he has that footage and he could take us down at any time. So for the last few years we have been in this stand off. We know what he did to Elena, who won’t press charges and Stella, who can’t press charges. He knows we did that to him.”
Holy shit. I’m appalled that they would go vigilante. Terrified at the scope of the evidence against them and proud that they wouldn’t let the crimes go unpunished. I don’t think I have felt so conflicted in my life.
“So you see, Linc is a dangerous prick with a real sadistic streak and if he ever works out that it was you at the club then he will make the connection and I don’t think there is anything on earth that will stop him from coming after us, even if it is only to get back at me. I’m so sorry babe. I never meant to put you in this kind of danger.” Elliot is kneeling before me, holding my hands with tears on his face. James has a hand clasped on his shoulder and TJ is looking at me carefully. I’m shocked, of course, but nothing changes in me.
“Babe, it’s okay. We will find a way to deal with this. Somehow. But for you and me, this is nothing. I trust you, all of you, with my life. Thank you for being honest with me. This goes to the grave.” And I mean it with all my heart, wondering where the hell the tenacious journalist is hiding that would have wanted to sink her teeth into a story like this. She isn’t hiding. She is loving and loyal to her man, to his friends, to her family. Oh, my, how you have changed, Miss K.
Evening falls and Elliot and I have arrived at Bellevue early to help out a little before the guest of honor arrives. Today has been a day of revelations that have rocked my world and changed my perspective and tonight is Christian’s birthday party, a celebration that Mia has been planning for the past week. My nerves are on edge for a whole other reason as I finger the piece of paper I have tucked into my bra strap. I anxiously await Ana and Christian’s arrival hoping that this doesn’t backfire and I lose my best friend forever.
I hear Carrick greeting them at the door, this is it, I take a deep breath and make my run. Putting on the best display of sound and fury I can muster given this is just one big hoax, I grab them both in the hallway and usher them into the dining room. Of course, Carrick is aware that this is coming. Without giving him the gory details, after all, who wants to know this about their own son, I ensure that he allows me this time with them. If this doesn’t work then I will slink out of there and pretend I don’t exist. It won’t just be Christian who hates me, it will be Ana and Elliot. I think I am going to throw up. Please, God let this work!
“You, two! I want to talk to you.” I give Christian a don’t-fuck-with-me look and hope that he won’t throw a hissy fit and storm out. He looks … bemused …that’s a good sign, isn’t it? I take the paper out of my bra strap and wave it at them. “What the fuck is this?”