You’re talking about me, cos I’m front page news
Flicking the pages baby and feeling for clues
You’re talking about me, and it’s all over the web
The stories you’re spinning baby, ‘ve gone to my head
I’m hot gossip I’m on your lips
You’re talking about me, yeah and my heart beat speeds
Keep dishing the dirt now baby I never was real clean
You’re talking about me, and your pants are on fire
Your sources are nasty baby and you’re a liar liar!
I’m hot gossip I’m on your lips
You’re talking about me – ain’t that the truth!
Spreading your rumours baby cos you want to seduce
You’re talking about me, and it’s not all nice
You don’t even know me baby oh but that’s alright cos
I’m hot gossip I’m on your lips
Hot Gossip – Robots in Disguise
The Previous Saturday
Camera flashes go off all around us as we pose on the red carpet. Ana and Christian are in the line ahead of us and it is almost impossible to hear anything beyond the catcalls of the paparazzi as they clamor for the best shot. There is an extraordinary amount of interest in Elliot as Christian’s older brother and he obliges with his usual charm. Inside the club is full of people, drinks are flowing and the whirl and pulse of colored strobes is synchronized with the heavy beats of the dance track. There are two dj’s dancing behind the desks on a high podium against the far wall, their headphones clasped to one ear. They are a formidable team as the music seamlessly transitions from one track to the next with seemingly impossible overlays of sound.
There is a large central bar where the staff are moving at double speed, creating wild and colorful concoctions while keeping the supply of free champagne and beer flowing. Neon tubes illuminate their faces giving them a spectral quality. The wait staff move in and out of the mass of bodies with ease their dance appearing smoothly choreographed to the smallest step. In the four corners are two layers of cages with beautiful model thin girls and shirtless muscular boys gyrating, their faces impassive in the pink and purple haze of smoke and laser lights.
All of Seattle’s hip crowd are here, hence the requirement by the GEH public relations team that Ana and Christian attend. They make small talk with the club’s owners, have the obligatory photos taken and then signal to us that they are going to leave. I desperately want to go with them but my job is to stay for at least a couple of hours and circulate. For reasons I don’t quite understand Elliot has insisted that he will stay by my side. As the time wears on I regret that decision as I notice him downing drink after drink.
Lisa is working her particular brand of magic having bribed one of the doormen to give her the approved guest list. She and Matt are making sure that they have photos of everyone who is anyone in all sorts of combinations. She will have committed the list to memory and have the photos captioned and ready for press before bedtime. My job is to pick up any information I can about who is here and with whom. I hate this, I hate spying on these people, some of whom I would have at one time called my friends. I hate that Lisa will take my innocent remarks and craft them into something laden with innuendo and bordering on defamatory. I hope against hope that if I can make a few offerings about tonight that I will get shifted off this internship position and placed with another team. I like Lisa and Matt but I hate the social pages.
Elliot is getting more and more out of control and in an effort to curb his drinking I decide to join him. Talking to him or reprimanding him isn’t going to work so I hope that he won’t want to see me drunk. He hasn’t seen that since the night in Portland when he abducted me from the bar. We talk to people, we dance, we put on our happy faces and keep it light. The more we drink the more sober I feel as I watch him losing focus.
Mia and Ethan are here somewhere although I haven’t seen them since the red carpet. Hopefully they are having more fun than I am. Glancing about I notice a man sitting by himself staring at me. My ability to focus is not as good as I hoped and it takes a moment for his identity to sink in. Feeling a moment of panic I try to keep scanning the room trying to give the impression that I don’t recognize him. Suddenly feeling uncertain I abruptly stand up and leave Elliot talking to one of his suppliers. Right now I don’t want my presence to draw attention to him so I head towards the ladies restroom and almost make it.
“Miss Kavanagh.” The tone is dripping with accusation and I feel the hairs raise on the back of my neck. I turn and look at him.
“Yes, can I help you?” My smile is as wide as I can make it and I hope that I am not overdoing it in my drunken haze. “Do I know you?”
“Oh, I think so, Miss St James.” His eyes travel down to my neck and I am glad that I haven’t worn the necklace tonight but I can’t help touching my throat where his eyes have come to rest. Best form of offence, Kavanagh…
“Hey, buster, eyes up here.” There is a flash of shock at my denial and then a smirk. He knows that I am faking it. “Look, I don’t know what you’re playing at but I don’t know you. Now I suggest that you back off or my boyfriend will…”
“Your boyfriend will do nothing. Not if he knows what’s good for him.” Shit. With a quick movement he has me trapped against the wall as he breaths the pungent odor of stale cigar and whiskey into my face. He has my chin in a vice-like grip and he turns my head to look at Elliot, his fat fingers pinching my skin. “It would be a shame to see his pretty face smashed up now, wouldn’t it?”
I can hardly breath, my face is aching and tears are leaking down my cheeks. Please, please don’t hurt him. “Wouldn’t it?” I nod my head as best I can, my eyes focused on where Elliot is still standing at the bar. When it seems I have satisfied Linc he releases my face. I squeeze my eyes tight for a moment trying to regain my equilibrium.
“What do you want from me?” My voice sounds harsh to my ears.
“You don’t need to worry your pretty little head about that right now.” I turn my head to look at him. What the hell does he mean by that? Why go to all the trouble of tracking me down and making threats that you don’t intend to carry out? “Ah, no, I can see what you’re thinking and it won’t be that easy.” My heart is pounding in my chest.
“First of all … Kate… you are going to use your connection to the Greys and your journalistic skills, I presume you have some, to get me information. I want to know everything you can find out about GEH and their plans to purchase shipyards in Asia.”
“What? I don’t have access to that kind of information. Christian doesn’t even like me, why would he tell me anything?” Linc presses his forearm across my neck again and I feel myself losing oxygen.
“You’ll find out because pretty boy’s future depends on it. If you don’t then I have evidence that will see him and his partner put in jail.”
“You mean the videos?” I see his eyes widen. He didn’t expect me to know about that and it shakes his resolve but only for a moment before his face hardens again.
“Yes, I mean the videos. Now, are you going to do the smart thing or do I have to rattle the cage a little more.” He presses his groin into my pelvic bone and I cringe. I don’t want to black out and I don’t want to panic but right now I am dangerously close to both.
“Yes.” I whisper through the tears. He pushes his arm into my throat again cutting off the air. “Yes!” I choke out as loudly as I can. Suddenly he releases me.
“Good girl. Expect my call. Oh, and I don’t need to tell you not to say anything about this to lover boy, do I?” I shake my head. He turns abruptly and leaves me gasping for air, my hands touching the tender skin around my neck where he has been pressing his advantage. I look up to see Elliot throwing back another beer, even drunk and misbehaving he is the most beautiful man I have ever seen and my heart feels the crush of pain. Fuck, what am I going to do? We have to get out of here. Slowly pulling myself together I forgo the trip to the bathroom. I can’t bare to let Elliot out of my sight at this moment. Trying for a calm that I don’t think I can possibly pull off, I approach him.
“Babe, I think we can leave now.” I have to shout to be heard over the music but my throat is so raw and sore that my voice rasps painfully. My head is spinning which could be the overwhelming combination of light, sound and alcohol. Or it could be that I still want to be sick and pass out after my encounter with Linc.
He smiles, a beautiful sexy Elliot smile, his eyes unfocused. “You’re so fucking pretty, angel. Did you know that? Did you know how pretty you are?” Oh man, he is gone. I have to get him out of here. Catching Matt’s attention I mouth that we are leaving. He nods and gives a phone hand signal. Yes, tomorrow may be Sunday but there will be staff meeting at work about this assignment first thing in the morning. I don’t know how I am going to do this. How to keep Elliot safe, how to keep him from knowing, how to deal with work, how to find the information Linc wants. Oh God, I am going to be ill.
“Come on, big boy. Time to get you home.” I manhandle Elliot out of the club which is no mean feat. He leans on me and I stagger in my high heel boots, wishing to hell I wasn’t wearing a skimpy mini skirt that insists on riding up. “Thatta boy, let’s get us a cab.”
Out the front there is an efficient valet service that hails a cab quickly. Tomorrow we will be nursing the mother of all hangovers but right now if I can just get him up to the apartment I will be happy. He has other plans.
“Driver, take me to Richmond.” Fuck, no, we have to stay together.
“Honey, just come back to the apartment. You don’t have to go to the treehouse tonight.”
“Yes, I do Katie. It’s my fucking home. We agreed weekdays in the city and weekends at the treehouse. Driver, to Richmond.” His voice is insistent, belligerent and he is just being plain difficult. I don’t want him to go. I don’t want to be alone but I have to get to this meeting by 7 in the morning and it is already 2 am.
“Elliot, please. I’m tired. I just want to climb into my own bed and sleep. The apartment is ten minutes away.” The driver is getting frustrated at our indecision.
“What’s it going to be lady?” Dominate, he is too drunk to argue.
“Pike’s Market.” “Richmond” We both call out together. So much for dominate. “Pike’s Market please.” I cut again in a quiet but firm voice. Elliot slumps back into the far corner and stares out the window his elbow leaning on the window. He’s both pissed and pissed off but at least he isn’t looking at me too closely. I am afraid that Linc may have left marks on me. We ride in silence until I instruct the driver where to stop. Hopping out of the car I expect Elliot to follow but he doesn’t.
“Lady, he says he wants to go to Richmond. I’m happy to drive him there but you’re going to have to pay up front. He doesn’t look in any condition to cooperate once we get there.” I peer into the car and Elliot is asleep on the seat. Shit. Think Kavanagh. TJ is still staying at the treehouse. I can call him and get him to make sure that Elliot stays Ethan will be at the apartment tonight. Surely Linc won’t make a move so soon.
“Oh fine. Here, take this and keep the change. I pull a hundred dollar bill out of my purse. Then I take out one of my business cards and scribble the address to the treehouse on the back. Once the car pulls away from the curb I call TJ, waking him up. I don’t care. I have to know that Elliot is safe. TJ promises to text when he arrives.
The next morning I am in the office at 7am, feeling like crap and hoping that my head will stop pounding long enough for me to focus on what our beloved leader Jeannie has to say. My throat is still sore and there are the beginnings of bruises that I have tried to cover up with make up and a scarf. Lisa and Matt breeze in with much needed coffees for everyone. Matt looks how I feel but Lisa is chirpy and energetic.
“Miss Kavanagh. You are going to have to keep your wits about you if you want to keep this position.” I look up at Jeannie who is standing at the head of the boardroom table. She is a barrel of a woman, with bright red hair and a voice that could cut glass. “You are part of the About Town team now and you have a responsibility that goes with this position.”
Team, huh, we couldn’t be less of a team if we tried. There are a couple of older hacks who look like they haven’t been to a social event in thirty years. Great writers by all accounts but lousy diplomats and they treat the rest of us with a healthy disdain. Their role is to take the information and craft it. They have full editorial control over everything we produce. Lisa and Matt have until now, been the information and image gatherers. They front up to all the events and gather what they can on the ground. I have learned that Lisa is a formidable researcher and a really good writer although I think Jeannie gets one of the hacks to redraft all of her work just for the sheer hell of putting her in her place. Then there is a coterie of anonymous feeders, people who supply the grist for the mill as it were. I am considered to be somewhere in between the research team and the casual informants which makes me the least liked, trusted or valued team member. Making coffee and filing would be considered more use than I am. I understand that everyone has got to start somewhere but I just thought I would have more opportunity to use my very expensive college education and not just be a pawn in a very meaningless and frivolous game. At least you have a job, Kavanagh.
“I can’t believe that you let Christian Grey leave without getting an interview. Do you know who is making the dress yet?” Of course, I know. I will probably even give the information to the hacks seeing as it will help my mother’s business but I haven’t exactly run the idea past Ana yet. Until I do, the designer is a no go area as far as I am concerned.
“Jeannie, they only stayed for a few minutes. There was no story there.” All eyes turn to me. “Sorry, it was loud last night, I am losing my voice.” I almost mime the last bit.
“Your role is to make use of your networks to give us stories we can run with. It’s not rocket surgery. Surely you have something from last night that would give us the edge on the Grey wedding. Are you sure that he isn’t gay? She wouldn’t be the first beard to marry just to keep up appearances.” I drop the pen I have been doodling with on the paper and look up at her hoping that she will see the disgust in my eyes. She’s not even looking. How fucking dare she call my best friend a beard? I visualize bitch-slapping her.
“What about the other Grey? Lisa said you had to drag him out of the club early. What’s his story?”
“Elliot is not a story. He was tired. He works in construction and it is a physically demanding job, plus he starts at 5am most mornings. It’s been a long week.” I speak through gritted teeth trying not to let my temper get the better of me.
“Jesus. You were given this role because of your contacts, Kavanagh. If you’re not going to use them you might as well go and work for a community rag. We don’t carry dead weight, even if you are the boss’s daughter.” At this I stand but Lisa grabs my arm and tugs me back down with a shake of her head. Jeannie shouts her way through the rest of the meeting and then dismisses us. I make my way out of the building to the car before anyone tries to talk to me. The tears that were threatening inside fall easily as I drive out to Bellevue to Elliot’s parents house. When did my life become such a fucking mess?
Brunch is a nightmare. Elliot’s behavior and attitude is just off and I can’t put my finger on it. He keeps looking at everyone like he is seeing them for the first time and not liking what he sees. Everyone else is just a little too bright and chipper for my head to stand and I feel awful knowing that my work and my personal life seem to be on a collision course. Then Mia reads the latest About Town from Felicity Ferret and I want the ground to open up and swallow me whole. I know that I had a conversation with Lisa about Elliot and me over a couple of drinks where I said I hoped that he would get around to proposing soon. Now I see it all but shouted from the pages of the paper I work for under the authorship of the About Town Team of which I am now a part. Believe me the irony is not lost. If I didn’t already feel ill from last night I would definitely want to throw up now.
The discussion starts a speculation on who Felicity Ferret is and I want to tell them. She is not a person, she is a a number of people who are paid to make up malicious gossip and it may be my fault that these snide little stories are appearing. Only I don’t because I want this job. I just wish I didn’t feel so dirty. I could talk to Dad, ask him to pull rank and get me a new assignment but my pride won’t let me. I try to justify it in my head that if I can stay on the team that perhaps I can stop some of the worst stuff from going to print.
Oh God, I know I should tell Elliot about the Ferret and about Linc but we are not in a good place right now. Surely his safety is more important than his need to know. I can’t condone this drinking but I understand that he is not himself and me telling him any of this might make it worse. I couldn’t live with him second guessing my motives 24/7 and I certainly couldn’t live without him in my life. No, it is best that he doesn’t know. Isn’t it? He needs to heal without the added pressure. Doesn’t he? Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh….
Then the discussion goes to the prenup and all hell starts to break loose. I look at Elliot and can tell that he just wants to beat a hasty retreat. With Grace’s blessing we leave as soon as we can. Outside the house we fight once more about going to the treehouse. He wants me there and I want to be with him but I didn’t plan on going so I don’t have everything I need to stay the night there. Besides, I had already explained that this weekend would be difficult because of work. I really don’t think he is listening to me anymore. He drives off in a huff leaving me to make my way back to the city. Once more I text TJ to stay close to him and once more I go home alone and sit and wait for Linc to make his move.
Two days pass and nothing happens. Elliot comes to the apartment for dinner each evening but he doesn’t stay. I miss him. On Wednesday, Mia has rounded everyone up for dress discussions. We start at 5pm intending to finish by dinner time so the boys arrange to meet up for drinks. I hope that Elliot has fun. I want him to relax with our brothers. I hate seeing that haunted look on his face. Maybe they can help and at least I can trust Christian to have Jason there to help keep them all safe.
As maid of honor I feel obliged to make myself available to Ana as much as possible until the wedding. Thank God, Jeannie doesn’t know the extent of my involvement just yet, although I think she suspects. The afternoon is going well but as evening rolls around I start to get anxious about Elliot. Finally Ethan walks in, he greets everyone and then signals to me that we need to talk alone. I excuse myself and wander down the hallway to his bedroom. Taking in his appearance the smell of alcohol has me on edge. At least he doesn’t look too drunk.
“Listen, Elliot is outside. He’s not in a good way.” Jesus, not again. “Sis, I need to know what you want me to do. There was almost a fight at the bar. He’s had a few too many and he wants me to drive him out to the treehouse. I’m not prepared to do that.”
Shit and I don’t want to spend another night without him. This is ridiculous. “Ok, go back down to him and give me a minute, will you.” He turns around and walks out of the room. I move into the main room and attract Ana’s attention.
“Kate, is everything alright?” I glance around at the others making sure that they are not listening to our conversation.
“Ana, Elliot is outside. He’s a little drunk and Ethan smells like a brewery. They are threatening to drive out to the treehouse.” I wait for a moment and see her take my meaning. She nods then turns to the others.
“Let’s call it a night ladies. Christian has just texted and reminded me that we are meant to be meeting for dinner. Julie, I will drop around to the shop tomorrow so you can get some accurate measurements.” Everyone quickly packs up and I promise my mother that I will get Ethan to drop the dresses to her in the morning. Once they are gone it takes less than a minute for me to get down on the street where Mia and Ethan are talking. Elliot is a little way away from them standing with Zeus. Actually standing is claiming too much. More swaying with the breeze. This is the second time in less than a week and it is not like Elliot. Something is very wrong here.
“Hey Zeussy. How are you going big boy? Did Daddy give you some dinner? Did he feed you my beautiful man?” Zeus is enthusiastically licking my face as I hug him around the neck, almost knocking me off my feet. At least someone is happy to see me.
“Fucking great, she hugs the dog but she won’t give me a look in.” Oh shit, a full on Elliot pout. Mia and Ethan glance at us anxiously and I try to give a reassuring smile. He isn’t an aggressive drunk. More the type that if you left him to his own devices he would promptly fall asleep in someone’s flower garden.
“You jealous, babe?” I stand up and give him a sultry look. I see the spark in his eye. Hey, monkey man, you’re back.
“Me!” He smacks his chest and then throws his arms wide open. It looks comical and I bite my lip trying not to laugh at him. “Why would I be jealous?” He looks from Ethan to me with a stupid grin.
“Ethan, can you take Zeus inside and feed him. The food is in the fridge. Just half the container. Better feed him in the bathroom so he doesn’t go near the dresses.” Ethan grabs Zeus by the collar, kisses Mia goodbye and takes him inside. Grace pulls up in front of the apartment block on cue and Mia calls goodbye before stepping into the car. I turn back to Elliot.
“Now, are you going to tell me what’s going on?” I fold my arms and hold my ground staring at him. He shrugs.
“Nope.” Not the answer I was hoping for.
“You know you’re being difficult right?” I try to keep my voice light. No point in getting him angry. He knows not what he does and I am anxious to get him off the street.
“I’m difficult. I’m difficult. You’re fucking impossible Kate.” His voice raises a little but nothing to get worried about.
“Sweetie. Why do you think that?” I take his hands and peer into his face. His bottom lip goes out and he sways, stumbling a little bit.
“You don’t love me any more.” He shrugs but overdoes it, stumbling backwards a step before I can pull him back on balance.
“Do you really believe that? That I don’t love you.” I keep my voice quiet and calm. His forehead comes in to touch mine which would be a lovely gesture if he wasn’t leaning on me to stop himself from falling over.
“Yes? No? Oh hell, I don’t know Kate. Everything is just so fucked up.” His voice is a quiet little boy whisper that breaks my heart. If only he would remember this conversation in the morning.
“Baby, I love you more tonight than ever before. You mean the world to me.” Out of the corner of my eye I see Sawyer approaching us. Ana must be waiting in the car somewhere. He looks at me as if asking do I need assistance. I shake my head and he backs off again. As long as Elliot can walk I will be alright. “Now, will you please come upstairs and let me take care of you?”
“Ah, Katie, I want to go home. I miss the treehouse. I miss you in the treehouse.” Oh God. Of course he does. He loves that place.
“Would you like me to drive you out there tonight?” Right now I will do anything to make him happy. He pouts and shakes his head and then staggers back. “Woh, big boy. How about we go upstairs and talk about it?” He nods slowly and I tuck myself under his arm, wrapping my arm around his waist. It is a slow ascent but we finally make it inside. Ethan looks at us with concern and I smile reassuringly before Elliot and I take another minor stumble.
“I’m okay, I’m okay.” Elliot calls out to no one in particular. He is so cute but if he fell on me right now he would crush me so I have to keep him moving. After a few tumbles into the walls we finally negotiate the hallway and make it into our bedroom. Elliot has wrapped his arm around me and he is studying my face again. “So fucking pretty, angel. And you smell so good.”
“Yeah, well you don’t smell so good champ. Do you need a bucket?” He giggles and shakes his head then his hand goes to my neck. He studies me for a while.
“What happened to your neck, Katie?” I had forgotten about the bruises and somewhere in the trip from the road to here I have lost my scarf. Hopefully he won’t remember anything in the morning.
“Nothing baby. There’s nothing wrong with my neck.”
“Yesh, there is. Ish all purple.” Fuck. Not now.
“Honey, you’re seeing things. It’s just the shadows.” He nods and then falls backwards on the bed almost taking me with him. I manage to get his shoes and his jeans off but he is pretty much out to it. Once I have him settled I go out to look for Ethan who has managed to pack up all of the dresses into the cases and fed Zeus.
“Hey. What happened?” I ask quietly.
“Dunno. He just seemed determined to go on a bender. Then we spilled our drinks, or he spilled them all over me and we all but got kicked out of the bar.”
“Wow, how did Christian take it?”
“I bet. I wish I could have been there.”
“Elliot may be on the edge of a breakdown, Kate.”
“Please don’t over analyze this Ethan. He just has a lot on his plate.”
“You can’t ignore this. He needs you. And you both need help.”
“Jesus, Ethan, I am doing the best I can.” I am so close to tears and I don’t need my big brother to tell me that I am fucking things up.
“Just talk to him Kate. I think it would help.” I stop clearing away the debris from the dress party and stand still in the middle of the living room, unsure what to do. For a moment I think I could tell Ethan everything but I know him. He will put himself in the firing line with Linc and I could never forgive myself if anything happened to him.
“Did you eat?” I need a diversion. He shakes his head. “Pizza?” He nods and I thank God that they are both safe and here with me tonight. I am not sure I could stand another night on my own.