Even in the dark, his face frightened me. I’d seen that expression before. On my father, just before he threw something or tore apart the living room drapes.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered.
“I’m glad you’re sorry. But what are you sorry for? Exactly? Are you sorry you had to tell me or sorry you were so selfish in the first place? Because it’s not about you. It’s about us, and we’re not a big secret. Unless we split tomorrow, that song is about me and it will follow me wherever I go. Fuck, Monica, I know you’re ambitious. I don’t expect any less. What I didn’t expect was that you’d do something so stupidly self-centered.”
Even though we were outside, I felt as if a box closed in around me. If he’d been wrong or if I had a leg to stand on, the box might not have felt as though it was filling with water and I was three seconds from drowning. But I had done wrong. I didn’t realize it when I first recorded the song, but I knew it when I played it in front of Jessica. I’d chosen my ambition over my respect for him, and there was no denying it.
His expression was impassive, walled off. The box filled further, and I felt not only trapped, but alone and scared. If he said another word, I would lose my shit.
“Okay, I get it,” I said before walking back into the house.
When the screen door slammed behind her, I kicked over the glass-topped coffee table. It shattered. I considered doing more violence to the furniture, but I wasn’t angry at the furniture. I was angry at myself. I had no business feeling what I felt for Monica. I had no business getting involved in a kinky, emotionally charged relationship with an unpracticed submissive. Stupid. This, I’d earned.
When I’d held Jessica’s hands down during sex, she told everyone I wanted to rape her. One slap on the ass, and I was an abuser. It hurt badly enough when she called me those things to my face. When she did it behind my back, it was worse. Later, I realized she’d had a rough time with men before me. I should have been more understanding, but it wasn’t like I didn’t have my own shit.
When Monica sang her song in the husky voice of a fallen angel, I knew her intentions were pure. I also knew the results would suck. Enough of our social circle hated me already. Who knew what or whom her performance would affect. My business? My family? The possible repercussions came in flaming scenes of scorn and derision. Lost deals. Uncomfortable dinners, come-ons from the wrong women, bruised ribs from jocular elbows of men thinking Monica was my whore, or worse, available to share.
Jessica had added humiliation to my confusion by confiding in our whole social circle and enough of my family to make Easter dinner a nightmare. I never dug out of it, and the song could just bury me further in a reputation I didn’t earn and didn’t want. I didn’t want an entire lifestyle of bondage. I didn’t want the clubs or the costumes. I wanted to be normal, except when I wasn’t. Yet again, I’d be branded.
I paced around the pool. Monica had to go. She and her song and her god damn artistic aspirations had to get cut out before I got infected. I had to do it quickly and move on. I had to ignore any and all pleas for forgiveness. I had to forget my feelings, how she wrapped herself around me, how she’d charmed me and disarmed me. I needed to shock her out of my system.
I stopped, and like a siren’s call, the pool invited me. I kicked off my shoes and dove in. The water was cold and heavy, and my clothes only made me sink lower. I swam to the surface, and the effort brought me back to my head. The panic and worry came back, but a lower grade. The usual stuff, not the all-consuming stuff.
I navigated to the edge of the pool. I was afraid to get out because I would freeze my ass off, but mostly, I was afraid to deal with the woman on the porch, if she was even still there. I leaned my cheek on my forearm and said, “Monica, Monica, you were perfect.”
I was sad to lose her, but I couldn’t be seen with her if she was singing that song, and she’d made clear I wasn’t to interrupt her work. I knew my little string of sadness would grow into a ball of yarn. I knew how much I wanted her, and why, and how. After knowing her only six weeks, I’d miss her.
My phone rang. It had been on the glass table I’d smashed and apparently survived. I pulled myself out of the pool and dripped my way over to it, my pant legs sticking.
It was Will Santon.
“We found five, with mikes, all over the house. They were on wireless, and they’ve been disconnected. Probably after she sprayed the car outside.”
“We’ll need you to work on finding out who did this.” I wasn’t supposed to care anymore, but I found myself talking as if I did.
“She’s working with an artist, Kevin Wainwright. They have a history.”
“We’re on it,” Santon said.
“Send my sister the bill.”
“You got it.”
I was about to hang up. “Santon?”
“Any in the kitchen?”
“Thanks,” I said softly and hung up. My relief dripped off me with the cold water. None in the kitchen. What did we do in the bedroom? I’d kissed her eyelids. Not optimum, certainly. Definitely a problem to be solved, because the fact they’d gotten inside at all was bad news, but nothing kinky got on video. At least if my private life was all the buzz, her dignity might be saved.
I don’t know how long I stood there holding my phone, but when my teeth chattered, I went inside.
No cameras in the kitchen. Monica’s imagination had saved me a shard of embarrassment. Meanwhile, she was having a huge crisis, and I threw a temper tantrum over something she apologized for. I had been ready to abandon her when she needed me to protect her because she wasn’t perfect. And why? Because I was worried about what people thought.
They didn’t know what I knew. They didn’t know what it was to be completely in control of a woman’s body, her pleasure, her thoughts, her emotions. They didn’t craft moments the way a sculptor molds clay, tapping her consciousness during the day to create anticipation for the night, pushing her, crafting our climaxes not just as a pleasurable endpoint, but as a carefully timed, deliberate act. The culmination of my intention was what was most gratifying, and I couldn’t give up control any more than Monica could give up music.
I had tried it with other women and failed or come up short. But not Monica. It wasn’t just what she allowed and how she obeyed; it was the ways she didn’t. Her moments of spontaneity came not in response to a weakness on my part, but the openings for surprise that I left her. Like the kitchen. The last place I expected to find her might have been the only safe place in the house.