“I don’t know what you’d call us at this point,” I answered. Aaron made a long aaaaaahhh sound of pure delight. He kicked under the table and the silverware bounced. “He’s cute, this baby. You made him?”
“Me and that creep. Can’t deny he’s a good-looking creep.”
“Is he still stalking you?”
“Cops had to come last week. He put a camera at my bedroom window to watch me sleeping. Isn’t that sweet? Oh, and he got my bank account information ‘to put Aaron’s child support right in there’ to save me the trouble of going to the bank. I said, man, I hope narcissistic personality disorder isn’t genetic.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“I called you so you could help me with a little escapism, and so far you’re a big fail.”
I knew she’d ask, and I had prepared boundaries, but she immediately broke them down by revealing the freak rumor. The thing was, I wanted to tell her. I had no one to talk to. Darren didn’t want to hear it. Gabby was dead. Debbie and Jonathan were friends. I knew some of my girlfriends better than Yvonne, but none of them had asked about the handsome man at my side at Gabby’s wake. They’d raised eyebrows and introduced themselves. I got phone calls, roundabout questions, and invites to parties and gatherings. I refused everyone but Yvonne, probably because she was very up front about demanding information.
“We’re having sex,” I said. “Tomorrow night, we have a date, which we haven’t done yet.”
She put a board book in front of Aaron and leaned toward me, folding her long, skinny arms. “You’re having sex? Who are you, grandma? Come on. I hear he’s into whips and chains.”
I pressed my lips between my teeth. I would have to deal with the rumors at some point. “I’ve never seen him hold or use a whip or a chain. Nor have I observed either one of those things in his house or his bedroom. However…” I let my voice trail off and sipped my tea, leading Yvonne along. “I won’t deny there may be some truth to those rumors.”
“Girl,” she said with no little excitement.
I shrugged, wanting to play it off, but Yvonne had come to dish. She wasn’t leaving with generalizations and vague admissions. “How is it?” she asked.
“Tell me.” Her whisper was hoarse with anticipation.
“I can’t,” I whispered back. “It’s not cinematic. It’s not exciting unless you’re in it. He speaks to me. He tells me what I want before I know it and before I can deny myself. I’m free with him, but not in the way you think.” I turned my teacup around in the saucer.
I stopped. I could have said more. I could have told her he dominated me, and I submitted by letting go of everything I expected of myself. I ceded all control, all emotion, all physical boundaries, and in doing so, I found sexual honesty. I felt closer to him than I felt to anyone else because he saw parts of me I didn’t. The quivering, weak, fearful parts that I denied existed, he brought out and caressed. Thinking about his demands made me want him again. I crossed my legs, convinced Yvonne wouldn’t understand.
Her expression told me I was right. Her face was still, disentangled from the drama surrounding my adventures with a rich man. She wasn’t exactly concerned as much as apprehensive. “So where’s it going? Serious? Steady thing? Just sex?”
“I don’t know.”
“How do you feel about it?”
She was definitely not getting an honest answer to that. “Taking it slow. I like being around him. I’m trying to not get too attached, but I don’t know if staying detached is working.”
Aaron fussed, and Yvonne pulled him out of his chair. He rested his head on her shoulder. “You buy yourself the shoes and underpants?” she asked.
“Of course not. The shoes alone…” I pursed my lips. I didn’t like where she was going, and I didn’t have the heart to slap her the way I’d slapped Darren.
“I’m gonna ask you something because I like you. You can get your panties in a twist if you want, but you shouldn’t.”
“I may not answer.”
“He abusing you?”
“No!” I cried. “God, Yvonne, what part of what I said makes you think abuse?”
My reaction was offense, not for myself, but for Jonathan. She didn’t know him. She didn’t know us together.
But I couldn’t hold her to my level of loyalty. The twisting web of rage in my chest surprised me, though. Was the rage caused by her implication that Jonathan was an abuser? Or because I’d just found out he had a reputation?
Yvonne, who couldn’t see my neurons pulsing like machine gun fire, continued, “Kink is often a disguise for abuse and exploitation. I know it’s not that way yet. But if you get uncomfortable, will you call me?”
“No.” Not only was I not calling her, I wasn’t calling anyone. What Jonathan and I did, and how we did it, was private. Having even one person know was making me very uncomfortable.
“Sure, you will. Look, I know how a nice guy can turn into an ass**le on the turn of a dime, so all I’m saying is…” Her expression changed, as if what she wanted to say fell dead on her lips. She smiled instead. “I’m totally jealous. If he’s not abusing you, I might have faith in men again. That’s all.”
I exhaled a long, lung-emptying breath, as if I’d been holding it. I’d been unfair and insensitive. Yvonne’s history included a brother who fondled her and a boyfriend who locked her and their son in the house when he went to work. Of course she was attuned to possible abuse when I came along with bags of expensive clothing and a man who tied me up and spanked me for our pleasure. I pushed my cake toward her. “Eat, please. I have to stay skinny if I want to look good in this shit.”
Long Beach was the absolute last place I wanted to be. The sky was the color of a handful of quarters. Without the sun to warm the air, the wind off the ocean hit cold and hard.
I had to be quick. I had a meeting with the deputy mayor in Century City in two hours, and then I had a date. A real date, where I’d wear a suit and behave myself.
At the Port of Long Beach, the Faulkner Coalmine was set to be cataloged, packed up, and sent to a warehouse in Europe, never to be seen again. I’d bought it the night of the Eclipse show. Eclipse shows only ran a week, so the minute the show closed down, my dealer, Hank, had a team in to collect it. Wainwright was surprised, but the check cleared nicely. He showed up at the closing to chat up my dealer, trying to sell more work. Fucking hustler. Obvious how he got her into bed.