AUTHOR'S NOTE: Yes, I know I was supposed to get another chapter of "Moving On" up today. But this one wouldn't let me write. It's a one-shot, and I'm not at all happy with most of it, but here it is anyway. Let the reviews rip and don't be afraid to point out weaknesses. I'm not used to writing in the first person, so I'm sure there are many problems with it.
It always started out as a normal night. Nothing seemed out of place. Everything perfect. Just the way he liked it. I was always careful to be sure the time we spent alone together at night was as pleasant as possible. He was always so tense, made that way during the day. His job was very hard and I had to help him relax. Unwind.
Oh, sure I got to live with him, up high in the penthouse above the city. The views were beautiful, I suppose. But I rarely got to leave it, so I guess I didn't appreciate it as much as I should have. I should have, you know. He made sure I wanted for nothing … material, that is. I ate gourmet foods and drank vintage wines. I had fine clothes and expensive perfumes. I had all the supplies I needed for drawing and painting. I had a state-of-the-art computer system on which I wrote my stories, kept my journal, stayed in touch with the one or two cousins who hadn't disowned me yet.
And yet … I sighed. I never asked for such riches. I asked for nothing at all, really. Just his affection. Such a simple word, really, affection. I didn't even demand his love, though it would do no good, as he'd never give it. I was his dirty little secret. The one he kept away from the public eye. He told me it was for my own good. What would I do to escape the media if he didn't take care of me?
Again I sighed as the clock ticked forward. I bit my nails as I examined my life. What was I anyway? What did I used to be? I was an aspiring artist, I suppose. I used to draw sketches and paint portraits for people walking through the park. Who wanted to waste their lives on meaningless office jobs? No, that wasn't for me. I had graduated college and told my parents that I wanted to paint for a living. Paint!? They were properly scandalized. My father accused me of being gay, and I didn't deny it. Thus began my forage into the "real world".
I met Max while I was painting in the park one day. I was saving up my money to put down a deposit on a small studio apartment I'd seen in town. Luckily it was still available, though the neighborhood most likely had something to do with that. I asked this very handsome looking gentleman, who was probably just a few years older than I was, if he'd like a portrait painted. He was very nicely built and had a thick head of raven hair, cut short, with piercing blue eyes. Long story short, he agreed. I painted the picture. He haggled on the price when I was done, and somehow I became part of the bargain.
That night when he took me home, I had no idea what was going on. I thought I would be staying for a night or two, until I could secure the apartment. I was wrong. Max was my very first lover, though I hadn't told him that until much later. He'd taken me gently at first, then firmer the second time. And the third. And the fourth. Only later on did I figure out he was "claiming" me. Stupid word, "claiming", particularly when you're talking about a person. But when he told me I should stay and that he'd like me to be his, I stupidly agreed.
Now here I sat, three years later. Claimed. Kept. Coddled. And miserable. He'd never seemed to notice though. That night would be the same. He would insist that we eat dinner together. He would politely ask about my day, and I would tell him what I always did, that I spent it reading, drawing and writing. Then I would ask him about his day, and he would launch into an intricate and fascinating story about people I'd never be permitted to meet and places I would never be taken to visit.
The door opened softly and Max appeared, shutting and bolting it behind him. Not that he thought that I would leave, but at times it felt as though he was challenging me to. He walked over to where I was sitting on the couch, plunked down beside me and began to kiss me without a word. I allowed the contact, but I'd long ceased returning the kiss. It didn't feel real to me. I couldn't pretend as well as he could.
"I missed you," he purred, yet the longing in his voice never reached his eyes.
He nuzzled my neck again and I sighed as I allowed him to lay me back.
"Aren't you hungry?" I ask.
"Not for food."
Sometimes he got like this. Horny and unstoppable. I used to protest more, but once he struck me, so I learned to just ride it out. Really, what right did I have to refuse him? I was his kept whore.
He made quick work of both of our clothing and got right down to it, not even bothering with foreplay. Thankfully, I was very loose now, as I'd been well used. He took a minute to slick some lube on from the tiny tube he kept in the small vase on the table. He slid right in and moaned as he quickly worked himself up and then climaxed. What, you expected romance? I used to. I'd learned.
"Clean yourself up," he said gruffly as he got up and stalked away to his room to change, leaving all of his clothes on the floor behind him. Why not? I, the lowly servant, was there to take care of it.
I picked up our things and walked slowly up the other set of stairs … the servant's set, atop which I crossed over to the residence bedrooms … to my own room just down the hall from his. He told me never to use the main staircase. He never said why. I deposited our clothes into the laundry chute and cleaned myself up, changing into a plain sweater and jeans. As I exited my bedroom to go back downstairs to wait for Max in the dining room, he opened his door slightly to peek out at me.
"I won't be eating in tonight, Travis. Don't wait up for me."
With that, he closed the door with a snap. I stared at it for a long while, again musing over my lost life. Why did I let him do this to me? He'd never love me. He never said he did. The closest he ever came was to tell me that he enjoyed my company. Enjoyed what? He never spent any time with me. What's to enjoy?
I decided I wasn't hungry and went back into my own room. This couldn't go on. I wouldn't live like this anymore. I turned on my computer and shot a message off to my cousins to let them know I won't be checking my email for a while. Then I waited until he left while I changed into what I was wearing the day I met him and he took me home. When I heard his footsteps fade down the stairs and the front door was opened and closed, I counted to 50 before I left my own room with my ratty old bag that contained only my old drawings and art supplies. I took nothing with me that didn't come with me.
I slipped out the back door and down the freight elevator, as I knew the doorman would question where I was going, and no doubt alert Max on his cell phone. The alley behind the building was blessedly empty and I trotted through it to the outside world. It hadn't changed much and I found myself looking around me wondrously as I walked, much like a tourist. Since I didn't have much money on me, only what I'd had the day I left the streets, I knew I couldn't afford a hotel room if I wanted to get that old apartment, or one similar. I went back to the park I'd left and found a small clearing in a patch of trees. It would conceal my presence from passersby until morning. I spread my old sweat jacket down and lay using my bag as a pillow.
Morning cam more quickly than I'd thought. Apparently my nerves had calmed enough to allow me to sleep. I woke refreshed and stood to brush myself off.
"Travis?" a familiar voice called, and I froze.
Did he see me? I ducked behind the tree trunk and peeked out the side. Max was looking around, though he hadn't yet spotted me. I straightened and kept hidden behind the tree.
"Travis, if you're here, please come out! I'm worried about you."
I held my breath and waited. Twenty minutes later he finally left and I emerged, relieved. I shouldered my bag and moved along to the far side of the park, which emptied into the lower end of the city. Glancing around, I saw a "Help Wanted" sign in front of an art gallery I once went to when I was still in college. I brushed my fingers through my hair and stuffed my ratty old sweat jacket into my bag before warily entering.
"Excuse me?" I asked a middle-aged woman in a red dress and sleek shiny hair pulled back into a bun.
"Um. I saw your sign …"
"Oh," she frowned as she took in my appearance.
My old clothes were worn, but they were in good condition, and clean, as I'd washed them soon after Max took me in. My hairstyle was slightly long, but fashionably cut, to Max's liking. I knew I didn't look perfect, but I at least looked presentable.
"Are you sure you're interested?" she asked. "You look like the starving artist type, and this is a full-time job."
"Oh, I'm interested," I nodded eagerly. "I can relegate my art to part time for now. I'm just looking to learn about the gallery business."
"Well," she hesitated. "Why don't I take you to the back for a formal interview and we'll see how it goes from there?"
She led the way to a small office in the back and there we talked. I thought this interview thing would be hard, especially with how she made it sound. But it really wasn't. She asked about my background and I talked about what I'd studied in school. I didn't go into great detail about my own art, sensing she wouldn't welcome the in depth discussion at this time. I wanted the job now. The art could wait. So, instead I asked about the duties of the position and the hours. I was pleased to hear that the job paid fairly well and that health benefits were included.
When the interview was over, I asked when I could get in touch with her, as I didn't have a cell phone at the moment. Just then, the phone lines lit up and a customer walked in. She just smiled at me and said I should leave my bag in the office while I helped her open the gallery. How easy was that? I happily complied and worked the whole morning answering phones and unpacking supplies.
This seemed too easy and I was hoping the proverbial other foot wouldn't come smashing down on my head. On my lunch break, I went back to that building I had been planning to live before I met Max. It was only two bus stops away from the gallery. Would you believe the super recognized me? I was stunned. He said the original unit had long been rented, but that another had opened up, though now the rent was $100 more. Unfazed, I put down the deposit, with the promise of more when I got my first paycheck. Luckily, since he remembered me, he didn't run another credit check. I had no credit in the past three years to speak of.
I went back to the gallery and toiled happily until closing time. Rebecca, the woman who hired me, thanked me profusely for my willingness to work a twelve-hour day. Really. What did I have to go home to? She gave me an advance on my paycheck so that I could buy some food for my new apartment and sent me on my way.
And my schedule solidified from there. I only worked twelve-hour days when getting the gallery ready for special showings and I learned quickly how to deal with the clientele. For months, I worked hard at my job and was happy to be earning my own way, not existing merely as someone's property.
I had settled nicely into my routine, even buying myself some reasonably priced yet fashionable suits. Rebecca had shown some of my paintings here and there, so I earned a small side living selling my work. I had enough, in fact, to move out of my small studio apartment if I wanted to, though I didn't see the need to do so. I was only one person. Why would I need so much space?
I was leaning over the desk one day working out a sketch of a showing plan when the chimes on the door rang signaling a customer, so I looked up expectantly … only to frown. Max stood in the doorway, his mouth opened in surprise.
Unfortunately, I knew I couldn't toss him out of the gallery, as he was one of the richest men in the city. So I straightened and pasted on my best nonchalant look.
"How can I help you today?"
"Travis," he hissed, his eyes narrowing. "What the devil are you doing here? Why did you leave me?"
I shook my head, somehow knowing this scene was fated to take place. Luckily for me Rebecca was traveling a few cities away on business today, and I was alone in the gallery.
"Max, it's been over a year. Do we really need to go through this?"
"Yes, damn it! You left me without warning! I deserve to know why!"
I shut my eyes tightly for a moment to control my nerves. He deserves to know why? Deserves? Hmph. Maybe he does.
"Without warning?" I finally spoke, opening my eyes again to glare at him hotly. "How could you not know I was miserable?"
His face remained impassive but the flash of fury in his blue eyes told me I'd struck a nerve."
"Miserable? I gave you everything you wanted!"
"No!" I countered. "You gave me everything EXCEPT what I wanted."
"What are you …"
"You never once told me you loved me or needed me … or even wanted me, really," I began spilling everything out at once.
He seemed to be shocked silent, scarlet patches stained his cheeks as he glanced around.
"There's no one else here," I spat out bitterly, tears forming in my eyes blurred my vision. "No one knows about your dirty little secret!"
"ME!" I shouted. "Your secret. The one you were ashamed to let outside for fear everyone would know."
"Travis, calm down."
"Calm down? Calm down? I'll calm down when you leave."
"But …" he stammered. "We should talk."
"We have nothing left to say to each other."
"But I've been searching for you," he murmured sadly as he slowly approached me as if I were an injured animal. "I miss you."
"No, you don't," I whispered, backing away. "You miss the idea of me."
"I don't follow." He stopped and stood rigidly still waiting for an explanation.
"You never saw me as a person," I said slowly. "Let alone as your lover."
"That's not true."
"It is," I replied. "You sated yourself when you wanted to and left me alone when you were done. You never held me at night unless you fell asleep in my bed after sex and I snuggled in!"
He opened his mouth as if to say something then seemed to think better of it and closed it again.
"You even made sure I thought of myself as your property," I went on. "You never let me leave the penthouse alone. I wasn't allowed to use the main stairs. I had to pick up your clothes after you … used me. I had to spend my entire day alone and inside. I had to ask your permission if I wanted to go anywhere, and I had to have the chauffeur with me when I did get out."
He was silent for a long moment, processing what I'd said.
"Travis, I had no idea."
"No idea?" I asked calmly. "For three years, you had no idea that I was lonely? That I felt like a whore?"
"Don't say that!"
"Why not? It's what I was!"
"I never thought of you as …"
"Don't even complete that thought," I said as I shook my head. "You're lying and we both know it."
"No, I …"
"Found a young, impressionable homeless boy in the park and took him home," I challenged. "Made love to him all night and called him yours until he agreed. Then spent the next three years using and ignoring him."
His cheeks grew redder still as he listened, now realizing that he had nothing really to say in his own defense. Nothing, except, "I provided everything for you."
"Money," I grimaced. "And don't worry. I made sure I didn't take any of it with me."
"I didn't think …"
"Yes, you did."
"Travis," he tried again softly. "Please come to dinner with me tonight. We can work this out."
"Max, the only thing you want to work out is how to get me back into that penthouse and resume the life you 'gave' me. I have no interest in being your property anymore."
"You don't have to stay inside if you don't want to," he pleaded. "I was trying to protect you. I just want to take care of you."
"Like the night you took care of me when I had the nerve to refuse you?" I asked.
He looked away in shame. While he was drunk that night, we both knew that he wasn't really sorry for hitting me. I was the pet that had misbehaved. He'd said so that night, and the next morning … when he was stone cold sober.
"I think that's ancient history."
"For you, maybe."
We stared at each other for a long moment while he assessed how best to handle me. He could say whatever he wanted. I wasn't going back with him. Ever.
"I only wanted to make a better life for you," he tried.
"That's what I used to think. But I'm all grown up now."
He sighed and ran a hand over his ebony hair.
"It's just dinner."
"It would never be just dinner," I replied.
His face pinched in frustration, finally realizing I couldn't be sweet-talked. "Fine things are easy to get used to and hard to give up," he sneered, raising his voice. "You'll come back to me one day. And then it'll be too late!"
I thought of my small apartment, as compared to the bigger one I could afford, and smiled to myself, then noticed someone standing in the doorway. Max hadn't heard the chime or saw the man, as his back was to him. But I did. And I recognized Rebecca's very favorite client as he entered and heard what Max had said.
Reginald Gleason was a fine, middle-aged man who had taken a liking to the few pieces of my work that Rebecca had shown. He'd bought two of them already and had commissioned me to do a third. He and I had spoken on several occasions on a great many topics and I knew that he respected my opinions and liked me. I also knew, from the times that Max spoke about business when I was with him, that he and Reginald were adversaries in a great many deals. I hadn't spoken much about my personal past with the man, but I'd hinted at a troubled and broken relationship. And now Max had let the secret out himself. Not that he'd get any pity from me.
"Max, my good man," Reginald started with a smirk on his round face. "What's going on here?"
Max's face instantly paled as he stared at me in horror. I shrugged and turned back to my gallery plan while he had no choice but to face his acquaintance.
"Uh, Reggie," he greeted in false cheer. "Imagine meeting you here!"
"I just stepped in here for a look and this impertinent young man refuses to help me."
"Is that what your yelling is about?" Reginald asked. I looked up and caught the gleam in his eyes. "It sounded rather personal, if you ask me."
"It's not your affair!"
"No. I don't suppose it is."
"I any event," Max grunted as he straightened his suit jacket and turned my way. "I look forward to speaking with your boss about this when he gets back."
I gripped my pencil tight but kept my expression neutral.
"Whatever for?" Reginald asked. "SHE won't be interested in what you have to say. I've known Rebecca for years, and she is a good judge of character. Travis has been an asset to her business, and many of her clients would agree. Particularly me."
Max turned a fulminating glare on Reginald and began to go red again. "Are you saying YOU have him now?"
"Have him?" Reginald choked. "He's a person, Max. Not an object. Besides, he and I are friends, and I dare say Evelyn would take exception to my 'having him' anyway."
I put a hand up to my mouth to stifle my laughter at Max's growing anger. He turned back to me and quelled any mirth I had with his icy gaze.
"We're not finished, Travis," he threatened dangerously. "You can't hide from me anymore."
"He doesn't have to," Reginald replied for me, in a tone even more lethal than Max's. "I'll see to it you're no longer a danger to him."
"He's not YOURS!" Max shot back.
"And neither is he yours."
Max and Reginald faced off silently, before the older man continued.
"You do realize anything you do to him would put you in an awkward position," Reginald said in a bored tone. "I'd hate to have to blackball you from the Henders deal, but I suppose it wouldn't be all too difficult to find a replacement."
"That's MY deal!" Max exploded. "I put it together! I set up the backing. You can't take it."
"I can," the older man shrugged. "And you know your backing is nonrefundable."
"But that would bankrupt me!"
"That it would."
Max barely kept his shaking fists at his side while I watched them. I knew, from what Max used to tell me, that the Henders deal wasn't the only one Reginald held sway over. I stood there in awe. No one had ever protected me like that before. Especially when there was nothing in it for them. I looked at Reginald curiously. He wasn't expecting anything from me … was he?
Max clenched and unclenched his fists. He knew he didn't have a choice. He'd have to let me go now. With one more glare at me, he stalked out the door without another word.
Reginald chuckled when the chime sounded then turned back to me.
"Before you ask, no. I want nothing in return for that," he laughed again. "Anyway, the look on his face was payment enough."
I grinned then and for the first time I felt absolutely free and happy. My life was mine again. All mine.