A/N: Hey, guys! :) I hope you all had a great Christmas and have a great new year. :D I’m terribly tired, but I hope this chapter will come out okay nonetheless. :)
Just a warning: There is nakedness and sexual situations ahead.
This chapter is a little different from usual, seeing as it’s mostly a flashback. I hope you enjoy it all the same. :D
P.S. Sorry for the text heavy beginning. :c
Yesterday evening, the evening I had asked Susie to live with me again, was one of the best moments of my life. It was on par with our wedding day. We spent the hours after we had returned home (to our home, I can barely believe it) exploring each other’s bodies, becoming one for the first time. I’d been terrified of doing something wrong, of hurting her or frightening her away, but it was, for lack of a better word, perfect.
And then we fell asleep.
I know, I know. That sounds terribly anti-climatic. Not really the start of an exciting story, right?
Well, it is.
It is perhaps not an exciting story, but an important one. I realised something last night, something that changes everything I believed about myself.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
It started when Susie awoke, gasping, from a dream.
“Gabe! Gabe, wake up!”
At the sound of her voice, I started awake and sat up. My head felt as though it was filled with cotton wool and I rubbed at my eyes in an attempt to feel more alive.
Behind me, Susie choked on a sob.
I froze and took my hand away from my face. The name, spoken out loud, had the same effect as a bucket of icy water. I was definitely awake now.
“I – I dreamt of him. His face.”
My heart rattled in my chest as though it was trying to escape. I could barely breathe.
“Did he say anything?”
“N-no.” Susie’s voice was quieter now, with an air of forced calm. “He just – he just smiled.”
The words should have soothed me, but, if anything, my chest felt tighter. For a moment, I recalled Arthur’s face and the strange interlude in limbo. Not for the first time, I wondered how much of it had been a dream and how much of it had been real.
“It’s silly, isn’t it?” Susie said, but her voice trembled. “It’s just a dream.”
I looked around at her. Her face was pale in the darkness. She seemed as shaken as I felt.
“Yes,” I agreed, through hope rather than knowledge. “Just a dream.”
When Susie said nothing else, I shuffled over to her side of the bed and awkwardly tugged her onto my lap. As I wrapped my arms around her, I wished I was one of those men who are all big and safe and muscular, but I was scrawny and weak and my stupid scar still tugged uncomfortably when I moved. I couldn’t sweep her off her feet and keep her safe; I can barely lift a full watering can. Maybe, when I’m fully recovered, I can work out or something. Would Susie like if I was more muscled?
She shifted to get comfortable, and I suddenly found myself worrying that she would accidentally crush something sensitive. Thankfully, she didn’t. See, in a romantic film, the male lead would have just pulled the girl onto his lap and that would have been that. Me, I worry about being scrawny and important parts of my anatomy getting crushed. Why is real life so much more awkward than films?
Sorry, I got distracted. Ignore that last part.
As I was saying, I moved onto Susie’s side of the bed and tugged her onto my lap. She shifted to get comfortable, her hands sliding up to tangle in my hair. Her breathing was soft and shaky, each rise and fall of her chest threatening tears.
“Tell me the full story,” she whispered suddenly, gently playing with a couple of strands of my hair. “About what happened with James Frank.”
“It’s a long story,” I whispered back. My chest had tightened violently again, like I was suffocating on my own panic.
“Please,” she said softly. “I dreamt of him for a reason, Gabe. You still have nightmares every night – Jamie told me. I just – I want to know what’s wrong with you.” The words spilled out of her now, as though she had been practicing for this moment. “You want us to be as we were, Gabe. But we can never be as we were, with the secrets and the lies. I don’t want that. I want to be here for you. I want you to let me in.” She paused and took a deep, steadying breath. “I’m your wife, Gabriel. Let me share your pain.”
I said nothing for a long moment, but turned my head, pressing my face against the soft skin of her neck. Breathing in her scent, the scent that reminded me of sunshine and safety, I thought back to the hours that had come before, when she had overcome her fears and we had lost ourselves in each other.
And I knew she was right.
I drew in a long, shaky breath.
“I haven’t been entirely honest, Susie. With myself, I mean.” My heart throbbed painfully, and I took another breath. “There’s things I’ve tried to deny all this time, even in my own private journal. Things I couldn’t bear to write down, or… to even think. But this… this is the truth. The whole truth.”
* * *
I was sixteen when I decided I’d had enough.
I left the children’s home and started walking. I didn’t know where I was going. I’d intended to go to one of my friends’ houses, to see if they could put me up for a few days or weeks until I could find my own feet, but I chickened out. None of them would take me in. They had parents, siblings. Lives of their own. Mike – that’s Kami’s ex – his dad had already kicked me out once before, saying he didn’t want any thieving ‘orphan scum’ in his home. And if Mike wouldn’t take me in, no one would. He was our leader. His word was law.
So I was alone.
That is, until James Frank strolled into my life.
We met on my very first night on the streets, when I was curled up freezing in a shop doorway. He offered me a hand, a place to stay.
Terrified, I bolted. He shouted after me, but I could barely hear him over the sound of my numb feet pounding the pavement. We had all been warned about strangers, about how you shouldn’t trust them even if they seemed nice. And, for someone like me, who wouldn’t be missed… well, I had to be extra careful.
Someone like me could disappear and no one would even notice.
Fearing he would come after me, I slept in a large industrial bin behind a restaurant, buried safely in the warmth of rotting food. After a while, you kind of got used to the smell.
Lying there, in the dark, surrounded by old bits of pizza, I regretted running from him. What was the worst thing that could have happened? What could possibly be so bad that cowering in a bin for the night was a better option? I didn’t think I’d get a chance like that again.
But James Frank caught up with me the very next day.
He was charming. Suave. When he talked to me, I found myself caring about what he was going to say next, if only to continue hearing the sound of his voice.
I don’t even remember what he said, just that he made me feel as though I mattered.
As though I was worth something.
It didn’t take me long to fall under his spell.
Completely and utterly.
I followed him back to his apartment. The building was in the really posh area of town, the area my friends and I had visited only to stare. I remember pressing close to James’s side as we passed the doorman, worried I’d be stopped from entering because of my scruffy appearance. James wrapped a protective – almost possessive – arm around my waist, and I felt safe.
I remember the look he gave me as we entered the lift. The thrill of heat that rushed up my spine.
I remember the way he touched me as the lift doors begun to slide close. The force of his gaze. The feel of the cold tiles against my knees. The sounds he made. The pain as his fingers tugged harder and more insistently on my hair. The taste of him on my tongue.
I don’t remember much else of the first few nights.
Nothing, except him. The feel of him. The warmth of him.
One of the best things about living with James Frank was the shower. It was like a mixture of a shower and a bath. Initially, I had a lot of reservations about using it. What if I broke it and flooded James’s expensive apartment? What if it exploded? What if I couldn’t figure out how to work it and the water suddenly got hot and boiled me alive? What then?
For once, I got over my anxieties pretty quickly.
Of course, I rarely showered alone.
During that time, my depression was at its worst.
I must have been a nightmare to live with sometimes, truly. A couple of times a month, James would come home from his work to find me sprawled on the floor, passed out from the raiding of his liquor cabinet.
Once, like my father, I swallowed a bottle of pills with the intention of killing myself. James came home earlier than expected and rushed me to the hospital to have my stomach pumped.
He never said a word.
He never chastised me, or shouted at me, or punished me in any way for stealing his expensive alcohol and vomiting over his expensive carpets. In his own way, he looked after me, cleaned up after me and, above all, that one time… he saved my life, though I didn’t want it to be saved.
* * *
Perhaps it was inevitable that I fell in love with James Frank.
And I did love him, as much as it is possible for anyone to love a man. I would have done anything for him.
I believed that he loved me in return.
But there was one thing that I wanted more than anything else in the world. I wanted him to have sex with me, to make me his once and for all. Yet, for all his warm touches and honeyed words, James seemed reluctant to take that step.
“Please, James,” I whispered to him one day. “I want you to take me. I want to be yours, and only yours.”
James sighed, and I felt my smile falter and fail.
“Lucas, we’ve talked about this.”
He cut me off with a gentle touch to the cheek. Heat pooled where his skin touched mine, and I felt my eyes flutter closed.
“Your virginity is your most precious commodity. You can’t just give it away.”
“But I want to. To you.”
“That’s not going to happen, I told you.”
His fingers trailed teasingly down my jugular vein; I felt it throb beneath his touch. My breath shuddered.
“There’s a party coming up. An important one. There, I will – we will – sell your first time to the highest bidder. And then -“
His hand, which had been making its steady way down my chest, suddenly slipped into the front of my underwear and I could barely stifle a moan.
“Then, I’ll fuck you all you want. I promise.”
His other arm encircled my waist and he pulled me close against his body. I could barely think, barely breathe with the way his hand was moving against me. Shamelessly, I rocked myself against his palm with soft whimpers and moans.
Then, after a long, torturous moment, James withdrew his hand.
“If you’re a good boy and stop arguing,” he murmured, as I tried to press myself into his touch, “I’ll let you suck my cock.”
“Whatever you say,” I whispered breathlessly.
James pulled me closer into a deep, devastating kiss, sliding his hand back into my underwear to resume his firm ministrations.
I could never say no to him.
And I still believed that he loved me.
* * *
But that belief couldn’t last forever.
One morning, a couple of days before the dreaded party, I came downstairs to find James with another man. He had him bent over the kitchen table, one arm twisted behind his back as he pounded hard and fast into him. They were so into it, so loud with their gasps and moans, that they didn’t notice me although I stood only a few feet behind them.
After a couple of long, painful seconds, I fled.
I ran upstairs, barely making it to the bathroom and the toilet before my stomach emptied itself with revulsion. I felt like someone had punched me hard in the chest. The after-image was still burnt onto the back of my eyelids.
The man I loved with someone else.
For a few moments, I stayed where I was, face pressed into the toilet bowl. Downstairs, I could still grunts of pleasure and the faint slap of flesh on flesh. My stomach turned over again, even as my face burned with shame.
How could I be so stupid?
I was shaking violently and there was vomit dripping down my front, but I managed to peel off my clothes and run a bath. The sound of running water managed to drown out the sounds from downstairs and slowly my hands stopped trembling.
I slid into the bath. The warm water washing over my skin reminded me of his caress, and it was all I could do not to throw up again.
I felt so stupid. Why would someone like him, world-famous and devastatingly good-looking, love someone like me?
* * *
“I don’t think he was devastatingly good-looking,” Susie said, breaking into the sound of my voice.
I had almost forgotten she was there, apart from her warm, comforting weight against my chest.
“I think it was the beard,” she added, tracing her fingers through my hair. “It was horrible.”
“I have a beard…”
“Yes, but yours is attractive.”
There was a long silence, whilst I tried to regain the thread of my narrative. Susie’s fingers tugged on one of my ears.
“I know how you felt,” she said quietly, slowly, as though nervous. “That’s… after you got put in hospital, every time I closed my eyes I could see you with her.”
Now, I felt sick in the present. I pressed my face into the skin of her neck again.
“I know, Susie. I’m so… sorry. Sorry doesn’t even begin -“
She put her fingers to my lips, stopping the words before I could speak them.
“I know.” Her fingers resumed their stroking of my hair. “The worst part was we all thought you were going to die. I felt guilty for being mad with you. There were so many tubes, Gabe. And you looked like… you looked so fragile.”
“I… you came to visit me?”
“Of course I did. Just not… when you would see me.”
“I… I understand.”
At that knowledge, I felt a little lighter. Susie gave me a weak smile and tugged on my fringe.
“I’m sorry, I interrupted you. Please continue.”
* * *
By the time I got out of the bath, James and his new friend had moved to the bedroom. I was trapped. I sank down beside the toilet, unable to bring myself to get dry or even to wrap myself in a towel. I could hear them and couldn’t block them out, their moans and the creaking of bedsprings. Hot tears tumbled down my already wet cheeks.
After what seemed like an age, the noises stopped. I shrank back more into my corner, hoping that the other boy wouldn’t come into the bathroom. I didn’t know what I would do – what I would say – if he did.
The door slowly swung open.
After a pause, James walked in, just wearing his underwear. I didn’t know if this was a better or worse turn of events. Unable to look at him, I tried to rub the tears away before he could see.
He stood in front of me, arms folded, a strange smile on his face.
“You seriously didn’t think you were the only one, did you, Lucas? Just because I don’t want to fuck you doesn’t mean I don’t want to fuck at all.”
“But – but you said-“
“You really think someone will pay a lot of money for a piece of you, even if it’s the first piece? You’re not going to be the prettiest little thing at the party tomorrow, let me tell you that.”
“James, I -“
“Shut up.” He paused, watching as I sniffled pathetically on the floor in front of him. “If you screw up and no one makes an offer, your life won’t be worth living. So clean up, smile, and act like you fucking want it. You got me?”
I slowly got to my feet, shaking my head.
“I c-can’t. I don’t want to go to a party. I just – I just want to be yours.”
James moved closer to me, murder in his eyes. I instinctively flung my hands up to protect myself.
“You are mine. That’s why you’re going to this party and that’s why you’re going to fucking enjoy it.”
“No! I’m not going. I won’t!”
Pain exploded under my eye as James’s hand collided with my face.
“You will do as you’re told,” James snarled as I brought a trembling hand up to cradle my cheek. “Or perhaps you’d like to try your luck back on the streets.”
For a moment, our eyes met and a surge of hot, reckless anger blazed through me.
“Maybe I’d prefer that to being with you!”
James was quick with his retort, jabbing my chest with his fingers.
“Go on, then. Leave! Get out of my apartment!”
I should have left then, but I didn’t. My anger was sapped away almost as quickly as it had reared up and, suddenly, all I wanted to do was cry and cling to him.
“I – I don’t want to leave. Not really.”
“Maybe I want you to leave.”
My chest tightened horribly.
“Please, James. I’m sorry. Don’t make me leave, I love you.”
After a long moment, James’s mouth twisted in a smile.
He stepped close to me, gripping my hips and pulling me close against his body. Of their own accord, my arms wound themselves around him.
Still smiling, James Frank kissed me deeply and I responded, as he knew I would.
He had totally ensnared me, a moth in a spider’s web.
And he knew it.
“Now, get this place cleaned up. I still have a guest.”
* * *
For the party, James hired me a suit and made me comb my hair until I was basically unrecognisable. I had never felt more uncomfortable in my own skin in my life.
Weirdly, the party was being held at my stepfather’s house. Matthew Hamming, it seemed, was a closet pervert. Not that he had any idea who I was or anything. I wondered briefly if my mother knew that her husband held these kinds of parties, but was soon distracted from my musing as we crossed the threshold into the main room.
There were several older men, dressed in their finest, surrounded by a small group of teenage boys clad only in their underwear. I suddenly felt rather grateful for the uncomfortable suit. There were other pairs milling in the hallway, and, from the sound of it, there were others in the kitchen.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a struggling boy get dragged into what looked like a broom closet. Another boy ran past me, giggling in a slurred sort of way, pursued by a black-clad, muscled man. There was a shriek of delight behind us and I knew the boy had been caught.
My stomach turned over and I swallowed hard.
I was only aware that I had come to a complete halt when James Frank placed his hand on my lower back and steered me firmly into the room.
Some of the boys looked more comfortable in this setting than others. I recognised the boy James had been with a couple of days previously, and he didn’t look at all happy.
It shames me to admit this, but I felt a kind of guilty, savage pleasure at his discomfort. In spite of this, I knew, deep down, he had as much choice about this situation as I did.
Others looked totally bewildered at what was happening around them. I wondered if they had been warned what kind of party this was. I wondered how many of them were being paid to be here.
I wondered how many of them had nowhere else to go.
Even Matthew Hamming had his own boy, though (to his relief, I’m sure) he had been allowed to keep his clothes.
For the first hour or so, I wasn’t required to do anything. I kept my head down and my eyes closed, trying to block out what was happening around me. James and Matthew Hamming talked business, seemingly oblivious to the half-naked boys prancing around the room. They didn’t even bat an eyelid when one of the men grabbed the boy beside him, pinned him down and fucked him right there on the sofa. Though the boy returned the affections readily enough, I couldn’t keep my eyes off them, transfixed by some sort of shocked horror.
Would that happen to me?
All too soon, James made me get to my feet and, suddenly, every eye in the place was on me.
I honestly don’t remember what he said. I was too busy trying not to break down and cry right in front of everyone. I tuned out the words, just trying to listen to the sound of his voice in an attempt to calm myself down.
It worked until the other men started yelling out prices, each vying to outbid the others.
I had to get out of there.
I pulled out of James Frank’s arms and turned to face him. Beside me, Matthew Hamming continued to conduct the auction. The figures being called out now made me feel dizzy.
“James,” I whispered. “I really need the loo. Let me go, please.”
It was a lie, but I didn’t know how I else I could slip out of there.
“Okay, go,” he said softly. “But you had better come straight back.”
I thanked him and quickly fled.
Away from the main party, I stopped on the stairs to catch my breath. My heart was racing as though I had just run a marathon.
I wasn’t sure how I would go back down to face everyone again.
I didn’t want to know who had won me.
In the bathroom, I stood in front of the mirror, trying to compose myself. No matter what I did, this was going to happen. The least I could do was face it with some semblance of dignity.
I was terrified.
But I had to do this.
Perhaps, after I had done this, James would love me.
I think the futile hope of James’s love was the only thing that kept me going right then. If I had believed anything else, I would have broken down.
Steeling myself, I left the bathroom.
My mother was standing in the hallway.
I recognised her from the photograph my father had kept always on his bedside table. She looked older now, more severe, and her blonde hair was streaked with grey. With one hand, she cradled a toddler close to her side.
I was so shocked I stopped dead.
“What are you doing up here?” she asked me. “The party is downstairs.”
“Oh… I was just using the toilet.”
“There’s a toilet downstairs for guests. Please remember that next time.”
She didn’t know who I was. Why should she?
It shouldn’t have hurt. I mean, I barely knew the woman, but…
Watching her, with her youngest son… my youngest half-brother (I knew from newspapers that I had at least three more half-siblings)…
My heart felt like it was breaking in two.
“What are you staring at? Get out of here before I call security.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’m sorry.”
And I turned and walked down the stairs.
* * *
I didn’t go back to the party, but headed outside to clear my head (again). I had been entirely unprepared for seeing my mother, although the possibility had existed in my mind since I had learnt we were at Matthew Hamming’s house.
I didn’t know what to feel.
All that I could think was that I shouldn’t be there. That trusting James had been a mistake.
I don’t know why seeing my mother had made me realise that, but it had.
As I was staring out over the bay, someone came up beside me.
“Mr Frank is starting to get really pissed off, you know.”
“I don’t care,” I said, before I could stop myself. “I can’t go back in there.”
“Things will just be worse for you if you don’t. Trust me.”
I turned to look at the boy beside me. Clad only in his underwear, he was shivering delicately in the cold night air.
“I’m sorry, I don’t even know who you are.”
“Dace. The name is Dace. Though… everyone around here calls me Ice.”
I made a face.
“Well, even if you’re called Ice you’ll freeze to death out here, you know.” I looked away from him. “I’m Lucas.”
“Mr Frank mentioned it. It’s, well, nice to meet you.”
I sighed and looked up at the sky, wrapping my arms around myself.
“Don’t you ever think about running away?” I asked. “I saw what they were making you do tonight.”
I looked around as Dace offered a faint smile.
“All the time. But I have nowhere else to go.”
I turned to face him, adrenaline flooding my veins.
“Run away with me,” I blurted without thinking. “Together, we could make it. Alone… I’m not so sure.”
“It’s not so simple as that, Lucas. I have a younger brother. He’s seven. This way… this way he get fed, and he’s kept warm and safe. He wouldn’t survive on the streets. And then, there’s all the others… Could you really leave them here?”
My reckless impulse, voiced in the heat of the moment, felt stupid already. I shook my head.
“I couldn’t leave anyway,” I admitted in a whisper. “I love him too much.”
“You’re walking a dangerous path,” he said softly.
The adrenaline rush had passed, and I felt cold, weak and shaky.
“I know,” I whispered. “But I can’t stop it.”
“Lucas, I told you to come straight back.”
I turned to see James Frank, striding towards me across the patio. He didn’t look pleased. The blood froze in my veins.
He turned his head to look at Dace, sneering as though he was something he’d found under his shoe.
“They want you back inside.”
Dace nodded and gave him a shallow bow.
“Of course, sir.”
When Dace had disappeared, James turned on me. I shrivelled under his gaze.
“Are you trying to show me up in front of all those people, Lucas?”
“No, I -“
“Well, you’re doing a bloody good job of it.”
“Please, James… I’m sorry.” I felt sick at how easily he had made me feel bad. “I’ll be better, I promise.”
“Just shut up and get inside. We’ll see if we can repair the damage you’ve done, if anyone still wants you.”
With that, he wrapped an arm around my waist and steered me irresistibly back into the party.
I did my best not to care.
* * *
The day after the party, I was still waiting to find out if anyone had bought my virginity. I was on edge, and James had barely said two words to me since we had arrived home the night before.
So, when he came out onto the balcony, looking rather pleased with himself, my heart sank.
“Did you… did you find a buyer?” I asked, twisting my hands together.
“Yes. Thankfully, a couple of people thought your antics last night were merely amusing.”
To my surprise, he stepped close to me then, and wrapped his arms around me in a hug. I pressed my face into his waistcoat, breathing in the scent of him.
“So… after that… that’s it, right?” I ventured, closing my eyes and imagining that he would hold me like this forever. “I don’t have to do this again?”
At that, he let go of me and looked at me like I was being extremely moronic.
“Are you an idiot, Lucas? This is only the beginning.”
“You – you mean, you’re going to sell me again?”
“But – you promised that we could be together.”
I had backed myself up against the guard rail now, curling into myself. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, though it should have hardly come as a surprise.
“Lucas, baby… after this, you’re free game.”
Without thinking, I pushed past him and ran inside, blood screaming in my ears. I felt as though I was going to be sick, as though I was going to pass out.
I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. I had realised the truth, and I was shocked and overwhelmed.
At that moment, I wished James Frank had let me die that night I tried to kill myself.
He followed me inside and, panicking, I ran up the stairs, trapping myself.
“Lucas, you’re being stupid now. You didn’t think I was going to let you live here for free, did you?”
“I didn’t think you were going to whore me out!” I shouted, taking a couple of steps back from the edge of the stairs.
Before I knew it, he was at the top of the stairs, shouting right in my face.
“You’re an ungrateful little brat, Lucas. After all I’ve done for you, this is how you repay me!”
“James, I -“
I tried to calm him down, but something within him had snapped.
“If you weren’t making me a load of money, I’d fucking kill you right now! No one would fucking miss you, would they? Would they?!”
It was with visible effort that James Frank said these next words calmly.
“Get in the shower. Right now, Lucas. He’ll be here soon.”
I took a deep breath, trying to tell myself to stop shaking. Trying to psyche myself up to carry out my only other option.
“You’re not going to sell me,” I said, my voice surprisingly firm.
And then, I took a step forward and shoved him down the stairs with all of my strength.
It wasn’t an accident.
I wanted to kill him. I loved James Frank with all my heart, with all my soul… and I murdered him.
* * *
After I had finished my story, there was a long, strained silence. Susie’s hand had frozen on my cheek. Her breath had stopped. Even her tears seemed frozen, suspended like diamonds on her pale cheeks.
After a moment, she let out a soft breath of air.
“I forgive you,” she whispered, wiping away a tear from my own cheek with her thumb. “You did what you thought you had to do to survive.”
“He wouldn’t have killed me,” I said softly, pressing my face into her shoulder. “I was going to make him money.”
She stroked my hair calmly; she was taking this a hell of a lot better than the first time I’d told her of James Frank’s death.
“Eventually, he would have killed you, when he found some younger, prettier thing. You survived, Gabriel.”
As I hugged Susannah closer to me, I whispered, “But at what cost?”
To that, she had no answer.
But, right then, I had her, and she knew the whole truth.
And I’d finally been able to face that truth.
That was all that mattered.