The sun is filling up the room, and I can hear you dreaming.
Do you feel the way I do? Right now.
I wish we would just give up, ’cause the best part is falling.
Call it anything but love.
And I will make sure to keep my distance.
Say I love you when you’re not listening.
And how long can we keep this up, up, up?
Please don’t stand so close to me; I’m having trouble breathing.
I’m afraid of what you’ll see right now.
I give you everything I am, all my broken heartbeats, until I know you’ll understand.
And I will make sure to keep my distance.
Say I love you when you’re not listening.
And how long can we keep this up, up, up?
And I keep waiting for you to take me.
You keep waiting to save what we have.
So I’ll make sure to keep my distance.
Say I love you when you’re not listening.
And how long can we keep this up, up, up?
Make sure to keep my distance.!
Say I love you when you’re not listening.
How long ’till we call this love, love, love?
Distance – Christina Perri
In my dreams I wake up in his arms, his body still wrapped around me and his loving whispers hanging in the air. In reality I wake up alone, no Ethan, no note, just a big old silent slap in the face. I know, I just know what is going through his head.
By the time I catch up with him I am torn between kissing him and hitting him. I don’t need this. I don’t need him to get an attack of conscience when there is nothing about last night that I wouldn’t do a thousand times over again. Men can be so stupid. This one in particular. And stubborn. His desire to go all noble on my ass is just a little misplaced, especially when that is not what my ass is screaming out for. And when I am standing in front of him, seeing all of the doubt in his face, I have to stop my heart from breaking, because if this is not who he is, then where does that leave me?
By the time I get back to the house Mom is in full swing with arrangements for Christian’s birthday and my opportunity to have a big old heart to heart with Dad goes flying out the window. The more time I spend with the men in my life, the more I see that their decisions are based on some ridiculous notion of protecting their women for their own good. And while this is a big shift in thinking for me I still can’t reach that elusive justification. All I can think right now is God save me from anally retentive, over protective men. When will they all learn to protect when it is necessary but otherwise stay the fuck out of my way. Dad offers a few furtive looks as I travel at hurricane speed through the house, doing all the little chores that Mom has set out for me. After a while he gives up and hides himself back in his study. Perhaps this is as it should be. For now.
As afternoon approaches a truckload of flowers arrive with the instruction to place them in the boat house. The same boat house that looks like someone set off an orgy-bomb in it. The one that, with all the other things that have had to happen today, I haven’t had a chance to clean up. When I phone Christian to check the arrangements in the vain hope that the boat house option was about storage and not a full on romantic tryst he balls me out about being obstructive. As the line goes dead I place my phone on the lawn in front of me and begin to manically jump and dance around it giving it the finger while I quietly and intensively use the in-out word translated into every language I speak – and a few that I don’t. Gretchen is sweeping up the back patio and watching me with her head tilted to one side. Oh, who the hell cares what the hired help thinks.
After helping the florist to set up his miniature botanical garden in the boathouse, I make my way back to the main house where my mother commandeers my skills for more freaking flower arranging. Fighting every urge I have to euthanize the chrysanthemums I finally get a little down time an hour later to check my phone again. There is no word from Ethan which is unusual and quite frankly a little irritating. I feel like I have no choice but to give him space to process his feelings but the more time goes by the less hopeful I am.
At 5pm my mother makes me down tools and accompany her to Esclava for the requisite makeover during which some little barbie doll berates me for the state of my nails. She almost gets my raggedy finger inserted where the sun don’t shine and I take great delight in escalating my level of sarcasm at her expense knowing damn well that she is too thick to realize I am taking the piss out of her. Elena, on the other hand does and she finally walks over and places a hand on my shoulder pinching the muscle as she smiles benignly, sending a very strong message to back off. I resist the urge to pick up a cuticle stick and impale her thigh with it.
When we return to the house there is just enough time to throw on a dress before descending to greet the first of the guests. Luckily Mom kept the whole evening down to a dull roar, not that we are well acquainted with many of Christian’s friends anyway. Elliot has always been friendly and open with lots of great mates. By contrast Christian keeps his distance from everyone. I thank God for Mac and John Flynn, who have everyone relaxed and laughing in no time with their British humor. I watch my father carefully doing his lord of all he surveys routine and wonder if I have lost the best and only opportunity to find out why he kept me at arms length for all these years. When our eyes meet I see a little sadness and just a touch of fear. My mother remains oblivious to the undercurrent which means that he hasn’t told her that their dirty little secret is about to rear its ugly head again. That is probably a good thing given how relieved we all are that yesterday didn’t turn out any worse than it did. My personal history doesn’t matter tonight. Tonight it is all about my brother and the joy of having him home safe and well.
Ethan arrives in a quiet and unassuming fashion at the same time as Kate and Elliot and I wonder if they have come together or is it just good timing on his part? Safety in numbers, perhaps? I wonder if he would be quite so hesitant if we could have had a normal dating history. The resentment sets in when I look at him not looking at me. Pretending that we don’t know each other well enough to… Bugger that! I simply don’t know how anyone, Mom and Dad included, would not have realized that he and I are together as of last night but just in case…
“Mom, you remember Kate’s brother Ethan from last night.” In all the furore of last night I am not sure that Ethan ever got introduced formally to my parents but that is not going to be an excuse now. “Ethan this my mom, Grace and my father, Carrick.” Mom is effusive as ever but Dad bristles and Ethan looks painfully uncomfortable. I would love to believe that Dad’s reaction is about no one being good enough for his little girl.
“Dr Trevelyan, Mr Grey, it is nice to meet you both under better circumstances tonight. Thank you for having me in your home.” Could you sound any more like you have a broom handle inserted in your butt?
“Oh, Ethan, please, Grace and Carrick will do just fine and we are delighted to have a member of Kate’s family here tonight.” Shit! What? No, I’m not introducing him as Kate’s, he’s mine! MINE! “Gosh if I had thought about it earlier I would have invited Julie and Sam but this grew from an intimate family dinner to a full on celebration overnight so I must apologize for not including them.”
“I wasn’t aware that you knew my parents quite so well.” Lies, all lies. And damn! I could have met Ethan’s parents properly.
“Oh yes, Julie has a special place in my wardrobe and has for many years.” Ethan chokes on his champagne at Mom’s words. My mother is many things, elegant, social, graceful and refined. But get a couple of drinks in her and she develops verbal diarrhea. She giggles. “Gosh, I didn’t mean…I just love getting into her clothes…I mean wearing her designs. Oh dear.”
“Yes, we really must have a Grey and Kavanagh dinner soon.” I join in hoping to seriously plant that little seed in my mother’s head when I feel Ethan tense up. He smiles at my mother but when our eyes meet I see the daggers. What? At some point we are going to have to tell all of our nearest and dearest that they can stop trying to set us up on blind dates with their old college buddy’s ‘ -success-story’ kids.
Mom barrels on oblivious to the tension, “Ethan, thank you for your support last night. I apologize for not speaking to you properly then but…”
“Please, don’t give it another thought. Everyone was under a great deal of stress last night. If I hadn’t been so worried about Mia’s state of mind when you called with the news I would never have come to Christian’s apartment.” He was worried?
“Are you two dating?” This stops the conversation rather abruptly in it’s tracks. I mentally hear the metaphorical click-click of a loaded shotgun as he eyeballs Ethan. Dad has never worried too much about who I was seeing before. Of course, whenever I was home in Seattle I was ‘dating’ Sean who my mother adored and my father tolerated.
“Um, no sir. We have only just met although I did take Mia to lunch yesterday as a favor to Ana.” You prick! You solid-gold asshole!
“Yes, Ethan’s idea of lunch was consuming a sandwich while standing in the window of a deli.” I smile and this time the urge to smack my ass is clearly written in his baby blues. Game on on buddy. “Oh, I didn’t mean to be ungrateful. I appreciated the whole $6.50 including coffee that you spent. And it was fun, like being back in college…on a budget.”
“I promise you that the next time I take you out you will know it is a real date.” He touches my arm trailing down to take my hand with a smile. The type of smile that has my mother making gushing noises and my father coughing into his hand. The type of smile that gets me moist and wanting.
“What makes you think there will be a next time?” The smile is so painted on that it is cracking.
“Because I think you are the type of person who will give a guy a second chance. And now that I know you a little better I think you deserve my A game.” His A game. Huh! Those hypnotic blue eyes pull me in as he lifts my hand and kisses it. I don’t know how he does it but he just managed to deliver cheesy with side of genuine.
My parents look almost… approving. Just in the nick of time, Ana and Christian arrive causing enough of a distraction for Ethan to extricate himself. I go back to hostess duties while the guest of honor gets hustled off by Kate for reasons unknown. When I glance around Ethan has also disappeared which means he is doing the one thing I can’t. Abandoning the guests and eavesdropping on my brother.
Finally Kate, Christian and Ana join the rest of us for once in his god forsaken, over-resourced, over-privileged, I-am-the-master-of-my-universe control-freakish life my brother is flabbergasted. The look on his face is classic but sad really. It’s like he doesn’t expect people to give a shit about him. I can’t resist throwing my arms around him even though I know how much he hates physical contact. Suck it up, princess.
Then he does the one thing that no one would have expected in a million years. He announces his engagement to Miss Anastasia Rose Steele. Of course, not in the way that a normal person would. No, ‘guess what, we are getting hitched’ or ‘we thought we would get married’ or ‘I asked and bugger me if she didn’t say yes’. No, with 19th century Christian Grey we get the highly formal, olive pit in mouth experience of ‘Anastasia has consented to be my wife’.
You could just about hear a pin drop. First of all there are the immediate family who are just stunned but delighted. How could we not be happy? Ana is perfect for him, we just didn’t think that he would see it quite so quickly. Next are the slightly bemused but thrilled friends who think they all know him well but apart from John Flynn, who ever really knows Christian at all? The best though are the almost-rans. The ones who thought they might have had some chance with the great Christian Grey if they just stuck around long enough. My best friend Lily and Gretchen the housekeeper are exclusive members of this club although at any other gathering there are usually a cast of thousands that fit the category. Finally there is Elena. In a class of her own, looking like she has just swallowed a lemon…whole…and is about to bring it back up again while simultaneously corroding steel with her acid. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so evident that World War 3 is about to start and we had all best run for cover.
After a little conversation and food Ethan makes his way over to where I am pretending to console Lily.
“Oh, Lily, you remember Ethan Kavanagh, don’t you?” As I remember it, Lily lusted after Ethan as much as any of us when he turned up at that summer pool party. She never knew that he found me in the garden that day. I don’t know why I didn’t tell her straight away but I was glad that I didn’t.
“Hi Lily. How are you?” I know first hand that Ethan would rather chew his own shoe than engage in conversation with Lily, the man-eater. This type of selfless behavior, the fact that he would approach me while I am talking with her, tells me how much he loves me. However, it’s Lily’s response that convinces me definitively that she and I will never be close again.
Her hand goes to his shoulder and she presses up against his side with a come-hither smile. “Ethan, darling. When did you get back into town? You promised to call me, we have a lot of catching up to do.” I will kill her. Bare hands, no marks, lots of blood.
“Yeah, I’ve been meaning to catch up with Joel. Is he around at the moment?” Ethan tries to disengage by stepping closer to me but Lily just follows. Stupid bitch.
“Sweetie, Joel is firmly entrenched in the London office. But listen you and I have some lost time to make up. Why don’t you come out on the boat next weekend? My parents would love to see you.” Was that a finger under his chin? Seriously? Ethan grabs her hand and pushes her away then steps into my body, mirroring her actions while looking at my face.
“Sounds great. I’ll ask my girlfriend if she wants to go.” Boat – $700,000, outfit for boat – $750, look on Lily-bitch’s face right now – priceless.
“Oh, darling. I didn’t realize that you were seeing someone. Who is she? Do I know her?” I can see the hamster running around in the wheel of Lily’s brain as she tries to work out a way to uninvite Ethan’s fictional girlfriend. This is so much fun. And yes, she really is this stupid.
“You might.” Ethan gives me a very pointed smile and Lily’s jaw drops down to her knee caps as she finally registers his meaning.
“Oh. My. God.” At that point it seems that Lily is going to scream her disapproval across the not-quite-crowded-enough-for-that-sort-of-shit room. I quickly clamp my hand over her mouth and drag her physically into a corner out of sight. Ethan follows-shit stirrer.
“Don’t say a word, Lily. We’ve only just started seeing each other and none of our family really know so we would appreciate it if keep your trap shut long enough for us to work out what this is.” She nods and I un-clamp my hand from her mouth. Lily has the good sense to wear lipstick that doesn’t smudge or wear. Probably so that she doesn’t leave evidence of blow jobs on married men’s cocks, however, it is the little things that make me grateful right now.
“Wow, so you and Ethan? Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled.” Bullshit! “I just never thought you two would have anything in common. I mean, Ethan is so studious and serious and you, well you’re…” I am waiting for dumb, flighty, a couple of shoulder pads short of a blonde. Lily doesn’t have the lady-balls to say that to my face. As far as she knows, I got kicked out of our very exclusive high school and had to attend the local public school where I did useful subjects for the happy homemaker like home ec and family math. She never knew about WSU or my scholarship and I was happy to keep it that way since she has a mouth like a leaky sieve. God knows why or how we managed to stay friends until now. There are things about Lily that I do love but the competition, real or imagined, around school and boys are not two of them.
Ethan wraps an arm around my waist and steps in closer. “Mia has hidden depths, Lily. I’m discovering new and exciting things about her every day. I’m looking forward to spending more time really getting to know her.” He nuzzles his nose into my neck and inhales, sending a tingle down my spine. Then he turns his head and looks at her with a big I’ve-won-the-lottery grin telegraphing that I’m a sure thing. The fact that I am just serves to piss me off further and I hold back from grinding my heel into his foot to let him know to back off a bit. “Now would you ladies like your drinks refreshed?”
Lily giggles and hands her glass to him. “You know Ethan, Mia has a reputation of being a little fast. Are you sure you can handle her?” I throw back the half glass of champagne I have been diligently nursing and wonder if tonight isn’t the night where I get completely hammered for the first time in my life. Ethan doesn’t know it yet but he has just thrown down the gauntlet to her. Lily will now concentrate every bit of her finely honed boyfriend/husband-stealing skill into trying to prise Ethan away from me.
“Oh, Lily. I’m pretty sure I could handle anything she wants to throw my way. Now I’ll give you girls a moment to talk about me.” Prick! Ethan has all but just flirted with her! He takes our glasses and wanders away which is a good thing. He should move faster before I plant the heel of my Manolo’s in his butt. My inner bitch steps back, hands raised and says, ‘hey, you’re on your own buddy!’ but I know I can’t do that to him.
“God, he’s so cute, Mia. I had forgotten just how cute he is. When he dumps you, you don’t mind if I take a shot at him do you? For old times’ sake?” Oh, I am so gonna hit you bitch! Time to turn the tables on her and teach my errant husband a lesson.
“Come on, Lily. You know that I attract them.” I put my hand across my mouth and whisper conspiratorially. “Just between you and me and the garden fence, Ethan is another Sean.” She looks at me a little confused for a second and then her eyes widen with shocked understanding.
“You mean he…?”
I simply nod my head and mouth the word ‘gay’ as Ethan wanders back over with our drinks. His eyes widen as I shrug my shoulders. You’re on your own now buddy. Lily, who would never let a little thing like sexual preference stop her, is making it very clear that she still wants Ethan. She probably thinks if she puts some serious effort in she can get most good-looking gay men to turn. Much to his horror I leave them to it. I don’t believe for a moment that Ethan would cheat on me but I am going to sit back and enjoy watching him squirm now.
Heading to the bar I decide it might be time for one of Dad’s patented lemon martini’s. If I’m going to make myself puke with excess alcohol tonight then I might as well choose something that tastes remarkably similar coming back up as it does going down. Remembering that I still have a job to do I focus my attention on Ana approaching her with a glass of the concoction voted ‘guaranteed to have you dancing on tables and drunk dialing ex-boyfriends’ and drill her about Ethan. She fobs me off to Kate which is the sensible best friend thing to do but doesn’t help me to get to know her any better. Kate, quite frankly, scares the crap out of me and I don’t think I have it in me to have that particular heart to heart. I might need another couple of the lemony truth-extractors before I tackle any ‘tell me about your brother’ conversations. Then I hear it.
Ana and Elena are going for it in the formal dining room. Shit! I get as close as I can to the action without catching anyone’s attention until Christian pushes past me to go and rescue his girl. Ana has already thrown her drink over Elena and now my darling brother has just helped to toss a large portion of my drink over me, in his desperation to stop his ex-mistress from obliterating his new fiancée. Jesus, save me from over-protective heroes on a mission. As I try to brush myself off Ethan wanders over with a wet cloth and quietly hands it to me.
“Gay? You told Lily you thought I was gay?” I pause my scrubbing for a moment trying not to look smug.
“Well, we don’t want her gunning for you now, do we? Seemed like the best way to keep her claws off you.” I have just about sponged the worst of the mess off the bodice of my dress but I have a feeling that the residual water mark will never go away. “Damn, I liked this dress.”
“And did you really think that was going to stop heat-seeker Lily from launching a full on attack. Why couldn’t you just say we were happy, falling in love, getting serious about each other?” Oh, why do you think Ethan? You consistently tell me that we have to play it cool and tonight you decide,first with my parents and then with Lily, that we are the next big item? You’re giving me whiplash!
“You think that would stop her either? Lily has had more married men than I’ve had hot dinners. You would have been a challenge in a whole different way. Look, she’s the least of our worries right now…” Just at that moment we hear Christian’s voice raising as he accuses Elena of having never loved him and the next thing I know my mother is bursting in on the happy little scene. Holy cluster-fuck, Batman!
Since the ‘get the hell away from my son’ is rather loud, it likely that anyone within listening range of the door right now can get the general gist that the bitch-troll slept with my brother at some point and my mother is now discovering what a bitch Elena is. I sneak a peek at Lily, who thank goodness is out of hearing range, as all of this goes down. Seems my mom and I share a terrible taste in best-friends.
“Listen, this is gonna get worse before it gets better. How about you and I go about making sure that none of the other guests get a look in on this conversation?” I look at Ethan, once more grateful for his unwavering support and his common sense in a crisis. We turn and head to the back of the house, picking up full champagne bottles as we go so we can circulate and keep everyone else drinking. I keep taking anxious looks at the door and notice when other family members start to filter back into the room.
My mother looks a combination of shell-shocked and a whole load of seriously pissed. I can’t blame her. Recognizing her need for the drink-of-denial-and-lost-memory, I make up a fresh batch or martinis with the intention of plying her with them but she takes herself out to the kitchen and opens a bottle of wine. Ethan stays close to her so that he can keep her distracted and after a round or two of ‘so what are going to do with the rest of your life?’ questions I move off to check the rest of the party.
Now seems to be a good time to approach Kate with two fresh glasses of lemony poison. I don’t know why ‘now’ but if the buzz in my head is anything to go by, then I am sure it is martini madness! To my surprise she is really welcoming and I hand her a glass which Elliot swipes and downs in one gulp. WTF, dude? You don’t even like this shit!
“So tell me about your brother. Is he seeing anyone?” Somehow, I think I may have just skipped small talk. I just can’t quite focus enough to remember right now.
“God, Ethan hasn’t let me into the inner workings of his love life for years. He never seems to be short on company but I don’t think there is anyone serious.” Oh, that’s disappointing. No! Wait! That’s good right? Maybe she can help me out with his mood swings.
“Oh. Do you have any advice on how to get his attention? I thought he really liked me but he’s giving me mixed messages.” I’m all but batting my eyelids and pouting. Or at least I think I am. Maybe I’m about to be sick. I pour all my effort into concentrating on her answer while taking deep breaths. Very deep breaths. She smiles at me as if she recognizes something in me. What? What can she see?
“You know, you could try being yourself. He’s a smart guy, I am sure that he is most likely to be interested in your mind.” Shit, she’s smarter than I thought. At this point Elliot stands up and goes off to the kitchen. I watch him go before I lean over and touch her arm.
“Kate, I haven’t been myself in eight years.” Oh, I’m pretty sure the room is moving now. Once I get it back under control I put on a sad pout. “I think he’s interested in my friend Lily.” Kate looks over at Lily who is desperately trying to latch on to Claude Bastille with a simpering giggle. Kate hurrumphs. Yep, it was definitely a hurrumph.
“First of all, with all due respect to your friend Lily, Ethan will never be interested in someone like her. He wouldn’t have the patience.” Ohh, good save, Kate. “Second, I’m not sure that someone didn’t break his heart a long time ago. I don’t think he has ever really gotten over it.” Holy mother of secret romances! How close to the truth could she possibly get? I need to change the subject. For the next twenty minutes we discuss clothes and parties and mutual acquaintances. The thing is that Kate is not vacuous so she doesn’t hold back about people she has no time for and I am so far gone that I’ve become an open book. With no barriers or bullshit we connect in a way that I could never have predicted. In fact, the more she talks the more I see the intelligence and intensity that Elliot has fallen in love with. She is perfect for him and I fall a little in love with her myself. In spite of my inebriated state, I think my new sister-in-law is going to become my new bff. Just as long as I can hold back from slurring out an ‘I love you’.
Mom, in the spirit of the ultimate party hostess cries out ‘Karaoke!’ Trying not to reflect the oh-shit in my eyes I stumble to my feet and hustle her into the family room where we turn on the big screen. A few other people join us, including Rhian Flynn and Mac who do a belting version of ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ that has us all clapping and dancing. Meanwhile Lily has both Ethan and Claude bailed up in a corner as she simultaneously strokes whatever body part she can get hold of along with their egos. The bitterness I feel while I put on my happy dance makes me feel small and petty. By this stage I have lost any desire to keep control and when Dad fronts up with another pitcher of death by martini I am the first to hold out my glass.
So it is, that with unreasonable amounts of alcohol flowing through my body, that I barely register Christian and Ana going to the boat house for the big proposal scene after most of the guests have gone. If I had been a little more sober, if Ethan had not felt compelled to stay with me while I sank into oblivion, then we might have been around when Jack Hyde attacked his sister in the garden of one of the nicest Bellevue mansions in Seattle. I might have been able to help my brother get her to the hospital faster. I just might have been able to put all my years of training to some good fucking use instead of having my head down a toilet all night hurling up my own self indulgence. At the very least Ethan might not have been so distracted by watching his secret wife on a trajectory called self-destruct as she drove the porcelain bus and he might have been more focused on the job that we were actually employed to do. Keep our family safe from the threat posed by Linc Lincoln and his minions.
As it is Ethan doesn’t hear about Kate’s miscarriage until the following day when Elliot’s friend TJ brings her back to the apartment. He calls me in shock after she tells him that she and Elliot have broken up. Two days later Elliot goes into meltdown and begs Kate’s parents for help. All the while I sit and watch through surveillance cameras as my oldest brother quietly falls apart, unable to do a sodding thing to help him without blowing my cover. Thankfully, one of the people he can confide in is my husband. I don’t think I have ever felt so completely redundant. It breaks my heart to think of all the times that Elliot has been the one to rescue me, to be there for me and yet he continues to think that I love Christian more than him. Right now, I would give anything to be the one to hold him while he grieves over his lost child.