You're No Good
I left London almost ten years ago with a big, rolling suitcase of only the clothes I brought from America when I was nineteen, along with five years of regret and misery. Oh and minus the hymen I was supposed to offer my husband on our wedding night as a gift. I returned five years later to serve as a bridesmaid at my best mate Karen's wedding and five years later, here I am again at her side to help her through a difficult birth.
I've never understood why Karen has chosen me out of all the people in the world to cling to. She is the warmest, kindest human I know, while on most days, I have to squeeze myself into my person suit and I'm not always successful.
When I was a little girl, people around me used to call me R2-D2 because I tended to just roam around and spit endless encyclopedic facts at my victims until they made excuses to ditch me. I would always say that was stupid because R2-D2 didn't talk and a more apt comparison would have been C3PO because he talked. At that point, they tended to just mess up my hair, call me precocious, and tell me to go play outside, which I tried to avoid as much as possible.
Outside is a big, gaping maw of unknown terror for me. Everything out there is too loud and too bright. Sometimes, when it gets too much, I can actually feel other people's voices like razor blades cutting across my skin. I used to hide in my walk-in closet with the camping light that my mother got for me for my ninth birthday and read my comic books and favorite books there all day. While my peers were struggling through "Harriet the Spy," I was already reading Camus, Proust, and Immanuel Kant.
As a child, I thought I was like Meursault in "The Stranger," who didn't cry even when his mother died or after he killed a man (spoiler alert!). The only time he really felt something was when he was about to be executed and it was an odd sense of joy. Recently, my friend Portia had to explain to me why our friend Beth got upset when I couldn't understand what was wrong about another mutual friend of ours dating Beth's ex-boyfriend. They were broken up. They weren't together anymore. It wasn't like Keiko stole Doug from Beth. Beth broke up with Doug three months before and immediately started seeing someone else. Doug was heartbroken. Portia said Keiko violated the friend code. Apparently, a person is not supposed to date a friend's ex-lover, no matter how much time has lapsed since they broke up. It just ain't cricket, as Karen would say.
Another thing that ain't cricket is hanging out in a hospital, watching your best mate huff and puff in misery, all because she wants a stupid baby that almost killed and could still kill her. Karen has spent the last few months in bed because her placenta is loose or something and she could lose the baby if she moved around too much. If the baby died, it would be her fifth miscarriage in five years. I tell her I would have given up after the first one, but she only gives me the stink eye and says she doubts I would have even tried once.
"Did you know that one out of three hundred people that get admitted into hospitals never walk out again?" I bark at her. "They never walk out again because they die."
Karen pauses in her huffing and puffing for two seconds so she can throw her sealed cup of green Jell-O at my head. "You are the worst. First, you go on and on about necrotizing fasciitis until you made my husband leave and now, you won't shut up about death. You know what? Get out of here. The doctor says I've got four more hours of this bullshit anyway."
I set down my battered copy of "The Stranger" on the cot I've been sleeping on since I got in from Los Angeles late afternoon yesterday and shrugged when Karen just gawked at me in disbelief as I walked out of her hospital suite.
"You worthless cow!" she screams after me.
Right outside by the door is her younger sister Vivi who is reading a magazine, which looks like Vogue, while her head is perched on her mother's shoulder. Mrs. K looks up as I come out of Karen's room and gives me a suspicious look. She has never really liked me. I'm a hit and miss with parents. Some parents want to automatically adopt me and take care of me, while some think I'm a weirdo and want me to stay away from their kids. I believe that is why Vivi likes me so much. She is twenty-two and still in a rebellious stage.
"Fancy grabbing a pint with me, Viv?" It's funny but the very moment I step on English soil, I automatically shed my American person skin and slip into the guise of a young, urban Londoner. Complete change of mannerisms, patterns of speech and syntax, and even accent. Karen always says no one would be able to tell I was born and raised in San Francisco, California.
Vivi sits up and puts her magazine down. "Oh yes, please. I am so bored."
Vivi and Karen are third generation British-Kenyan and both tall and slender. Vivi actually makes a living as a print and telly advert model. Her most famous commercial is the one where she is walking in the rain with a big umbrella and sees a hot white guy at a bus stop with no shelter. She smiles to herself, pops a breath mint into her mouth, and approaches the guy to share her umbrella and presumably, her breath mint.
Mrs K. looks at both of us with disapproval. "So you're just going to leave Karen by herself, are you? That's real nice, in'nit? She could have her baby any minute now."
I shake my head. "Impossible, Mrs. K. She's only seven centimeters dilated and has hours yet to go. Statistically speaking, first-time mothers give birth five hours later than veteran mothers."
The older woman stares at me skeptically. She is still very attractive, even though she is probably close to fifty in age. "Just where do you get these so-called facts, child?"
Vivi rolls her hazel eyes. "Mum, you've been asking this question for years. She's a librarian, has a photographic memory, and a much bigger hard drive than an average human."
I'm not actually a librarian, but for some reason, Vivi seems to believe I am.
"So you've been reading baby books in your past time, have ya?" Mrs K. demands, folding her arms underneath her breasts.
I frown, confused about what she's actually asking me. "Whenever Karen comes across an article on the paper or internet that upsets her, she sends it to me because she knows I may be able to provide her with more information that contradicts whatever she reads."
Vivi smirks. "She's her own Wikipedia, she is, Mum."
Mrs. K. looks at us with disappointment. "What a sister and best friend you two turned out to be. Go on, then. Off you go, you tarts."
I thought we were just going to head down to the pub that's five blocks away from the hospital--- that is usually where the nervous, expectant spouses hung out---so I should have known better when the younger K sister put her trainers in her cavernous purse and whipped out some strappy sandals with murderous-looking heels. Afterward, she called for a cab and applied her makeup while we waited.
"Vivi," I venture. "Where are we going?" I get especially anxious when I am not apprised of a future destination. I prefer to be at least consulted. I rather hate surprises.
"The Beaufort Bar at the Savoy," she says simply as a black and white cab pulls up in front of us.
I look down at my outfit. I'm definitely not dressed for the Beaufort Bar, which is one of the ritziest bars in London proper. I've got on five-year-old blue jeans that have been washed so many times that they're buttery soft and now grayish and a black Bel Biv Devoe T-shirt under a loose, pink cable-knit jumper that keeps slipping off my shoulders. Compared to Vivi, who always looks like she's just walked off of a runway, I'm basically a suburban mum who's stepped out of my house for a moment to go pick up some milk at the corner store.
Before I can squawk, Vivi drags me into the cab and tells the driver to floor it. The Beaufort Bar. The strappy black sandals. The burgundy velvet mini-dresses. Too much champagne. The biting, sipping kisses. Illicit fucking in private restrooms against a sink. I shake away these thoughts from my head.
What are the chances I'd see him again? Well, maybe about thirty percent, taking into account that he might be married now with children and has found a new place to hang out in, since he has settled down. Or maybe he doesn't hang out in lounges and bars with his cronies, any longer. I haven't heard of his father dying, so I'm not sure if he's ascended to this title. For all I know, he could still be the same playboy prick I left behind five years ago. And five years before that.
Seriously, what are the chances I'd see him again five years later? (I really should be better at statistics than this)
"Why this place of all places?" I demand from the younger K sister, who has taken off her plain blouse and pulled on a fancier top without even considering the driver. "Aren't there hipper, newer lounges that hot, happenin' models like you would want to visit?"
Vivi doesn't even look up from the screen of her mobile phone. Her fingers are flying across the keyboard on the screen. "I'm meeting up with my new bloke. He's a big-deal businessman. Irish, really good-looking. You'll like him, he's very suave. He's usually got a friend or two hanging about with him."
I frown. The U.K. is very small. If he's a European businessman, there's a slim chance that I might know him. I was, after all, the favored and solo arm candy of a very wealthy, very handsome man years and years ago. "What's his name?"
She momentarily glances at me, before returning her attention to her mobile screen. "You've been paying attention to the London society sections of the papers back in the States, have you? You wouldn't know him. It's not as though he's bloody Prince Harry. He's a restaurateur."
I have no reason to feel so nervous. London has millions of people living in it. It has been five years since I last saw my lover. While the Beaufort Bar was once his stomping grounds since his family had a grand stake in the hotel management company that owns the Savoy and he had a permanent suite at the top floor, it's idiotic to assume that he would still be hanging about the place. He is most likely married, since he is forty-one years old now. He just had a birthday. He couldn't possibly remain a playboy forever, not a man in his position.
"What's the matter with you?" demands the younger K sister. "Why are you shaking like a wet dog? I've never seen you nervous before. I've never seen you anything before."
Vivi is what you would call a "last-minute" baby. She is eleven years younger than me and Karen, so she would have been only twelve when I first left England, vowing never to return. When I came back for Karen's wedding, she would have only been eighteen. Karen had moved out from their parents' house in Kensington by then and was living in a three-bedroom flat in Kings Cross with David, her fiance at the time. Vivi never saw me the day before her sister's wedding when I had locked myself in Karen's walk-in closet with my knees hugged to my chest, rocking myself to comfort until Karen and David found me hours later. I had, I told them, just gotten back from the Savoy. David flipped out. He wanted to take a bat and go to the Savoy to break some aristocrat's legs.
I'm in the bottom of an empty well and it's very cold down here. I can hear Vivi, though she sounds muffled and far away. I feel disconnected from everything and no longer constrained by my skin and muscles. I am a puddle of useless goo, unable to form anything that could prove useful. I am the epitome of nothingness. I am less than zero.
Suddenly, I feel a sharp pinch on my side and I'm yanked back to the surface and inflated to shape. I am breathing hard like I just finished running a mile.
"Yo, chick, what the fuck..." Vivi demands, looking at me like she's already regretting that she's taken me out along with her. "You all right or what?"
I force a smile on my lips that I hope appears natural. I took classes when I was younger on social graces. I learned how to smile, talk to people, what to NOT say out loud, and when to say sorry. I also studied facial expressions and vocal intonation. It took me a while to fully understand irony and sarcasm. Sometimes, it still goes over my head. "I'm good, Viv. Jet lag or something. Didn't get any sleep last night. I don't know why your sister insists I stay on that stupid cot."
She raises her eyebrows at me. "You don't know? Because you're her best friend, idiot." The cab stops at the curb of the hotel and she flings open the door. "Come on, Lala. My guy don't like waiting."
The lounge has a separate entrance from the hotel and to the side of it is a queue about thirty people deep, all of them dressed to impress. I'm about to head to the end of it when Vivi grabs me by the arm and irritably drags me directly to the door, next to the bouncer, who is a tall, handsome black male in a beautiful, tailored suit. He is carrying a clipboard. He looks at Vivi, then at me. I do not miss the smirk that crosses his lips as he scans me from toe to head and back again.
"Viv!" he says exuberantly, bending down to give Karen's younger sister double air kisses. "You brought your babysitter with you, eh?"
Vivi chuckles and slaps the bouncer's arm. "You are wicked, Antoine. Be nice."
Antoine takes another look at me, narrowing his eyes. After a few seconds, his face brightens and he snaps his fingers. "Wait a minute, I know you, don't I?"
I check my database of faces for his, but there is no match. But then again, I erased a lot of info from my London trip five years ago. His data sector could have been a casualty. "No," I tell him truthfully, because I really don't remember him.
"Huh." The handsome bouncer gives me one last scrutinizing stare, then shrugs. "I'm really good with faces, luv. It'll come to me, don't worry." He unclips the thick velvet rope barring entrance to the front door and sweeps his arm gallantly to let us in.
The people in the queue boo and cuss at us as we go in, but Vivi just lifts her chin and confidently struts past the threshold. I copy her movements and mildly succeed. I've been told I'm a pretty good mimic. I deflate like a three-day-old party balloon once I reach the main lounge and find myself overwhelmed by the grandeur of the decor and sheer opulence of the Beaufort. Suddenly, I feel like running right out the door and dashing into incoming traffic to get crushed by cars. I can't get enough air. I need water. I'm dizzy and need to throw up. I'm inside a tiny box and all the walls are slowly closing in. I'm going to get squished and turned into luncheon meat.
Somebody grabs my arm and drags me about fifteen feet deeper into the lounge and I'm so discombobulated that I'm unable to resist. When I come to, Vivi is gawking at me and holding out a glass of water. Standing next to her is a tall, handsome blond man in his thirties wearing a dark suit and a reddish tie. I immediately recognize him as Peter Thurston Bamford and bile rises back up my throat, threatening to spill. I slap my hand over my mouth.
"Sorry, PT," says Vivi, obviously embarrassed of me. "She's my sister's mate from America and not used to all of this. I thought I was being nice by offering to take her out, but I didn't know she was going to have a spaz attack."
"Leave her alone, Vivian," says PT irritably. "Can't you see the poor dear is ill? Come, love, sit over here. My, your mitts are cold."
I can see that my hands are within PT's grip, but I cannot feel his touch. He draws me over to an overstuffed red velvet couch, slides his hands up to my shoulders, and gently pushes me down to the cushions. "Sit down, dearest." He takes the glass from a confused-looking Vivi. "Here, sip this slowly. You'll be all right in a zip, I promise."
My heart is throbbing within my throat and my knees are so weak, they seem to be made of rubber. I barely have the strength to lift the glass to my mouth. My hand shakes as I take it, but I put the cold glass to my lips and down mouthfuls of water even as it spills down the front of my jumper. When the glass is taken from me, I collapse against the cushions as though I no longer had a support system because I had just been deboned.
"It is you, isn't it?" says Peter Thurston Bamford, reaching down to sweep my hair out of my face. "Lolita herself. Dolores Salvador. God, it's been an age. Milord will surely shit his pants when he sees---" He cuts himself off and shakes his head.
"Will someone please tell me what's going on?" Vivi demands, plopping herself on the cushion next to me.
"History, dear child," answers PT, stroking her head fondly as if she were a good student in class. "Lots and lots of history. Oh, you're in for a treat."
Everything in my body is telling me to get up and run, but I have once again turned into a useless invertebrate and lost all sense of preservation. I'm about to get royally destroyed again for the third time in my life and can't do a thing about it. I'm an idiot with my head trapped in between railings, have no way of getting out, and the monster is just right behind me, ready to chomp me in half.
I can hear Vivi and PT talking, but don't recognize actual words. Their voices have been muted to an incessant buzzing in my ear and I find that I cannot cut through the white noise. I am a corpse on a barge floating aimlessly down a river. I am a leaf twirling in the wind. I don't know where I'm going. A sodding blanket of fear is threatening to go over my head and suffocate me.
"Well, what do we have here?" says that dusky, sonorous male voice that could only come from a Disney or a James Bond villain. "Is it really my long-lost princess?"
I could do nothing else but pass out.
When I open my eyes, my face is being wiped with a warm washcloth and I'm lying on a soft, giant bed. Above me is the beautiful face of my tormentor of fifteen years, stripping me to the bone with his burning green gaze. His hair, while still a dark mahogany brown, has gray streaks along the sides now, and he still keeps it short, so you can't see that it tends to curl when it's longer. He is sitting astride me, majestically like a conquering hero. His weight is not on me, but I can feel the strength of his thighs along my rib cage. Looking up at him, I wonder if I should feign fainting.
"Get off me, Christopher," I manage to push past my gritted teeth. It's a name I haven't said while conscious in five years.
He raises one dark eyebrow. "Do you mean, 'If it would please you, my lord, will you remove your person from my person'?"
His scent, voice, and nearness are making me light-headed. My arms are frozen to my sides and my legs weigh about a hundred stones each. I'm keeping myself calm by breathing deeply and evenly, while avoiding his penetrating stare. It is all I can do to keep myself from getting sucked into the vortex of desperation and agony due to my addiction to him.
He is and has always been my heroin. I've been clean for five years and intend to stay that way.
"Don't touch me." I whip my head to the side to avoid his hand. "Just let me go, all right? This is kidnapping."
He grins, the devil with perfect white teeth and two dimples bracketing his mouth. He is wearing a white shirt that looks like silk with the top three buttons undone and his black and silver tie hanging loosely from his neck. His black trousers are fine gabardine and showed off his lean, muscular thighs and the obvious erection tenting the material in the front. The matching jacket must have been haphazardly tossed somewhere. The tailored shirt showcased his wide shoulders and broad chest.
"Oh, my little dove," he says in his rich, chocolaty voice. "What is this new game you're playing? We both know that if I were to unmount you right now and tell you to leave, you'd stay right where you are. Why do you still lie to yourself after all these years? Haven't you realized yet what it is we have?"
His hand lightly closes around my throat and his thumb caresses my pulse. My skin is suddenly two sizes too tight and my body is burning from the inside out. This is what his touch does to me. "I don't know what you're talking about, Christopher. If you don't let me go right now, I'm going to scream."
He chuckles and swings his leg so that he is now lying alongside me on the mattress with his elbow propping him up on his side. "Don't you remember where you are, silly girl? The very top floor. And who are the only ones with access to it?"
I close my eyes and groan in defeat. "You and the hotel manager."
He presses his soft lips to my forehead. "That's my good girl." He kisses my closed eyelids and the tip of my nose before brushing my mouth lingeringly with his own. "Do you have any idea how much I've missed you, little darling? Now that I have you again, I'm tempted to drag you to my estate in Wales and lock you up in a tower there, so I'll always know where you are."
I open my eyes and stare at him in horror, realizing he means every word. "Chris, this is insanity. It's been ten years since we broke up. Why can't you just let me go?"
With feather-like lightness, he strokes my face with the side of one finger and traces the shape of my jaw. "Because you are mine, Lolita, just as I am yours. It has always been that way. It will always be that way."
While he's removing his necktie, I see a flash of the solid gold band on his ring finger and feel a dagger made of ice stab me in the heart. I'd always known he would marry someone else. Didn't he tell me so himself? That he couldn't marry me because he needed to be with a woman befitting of his station and not some dumb American girl who used to be his student?
I moved on myself, didn't I? Two failed romantic relationships, before I met Matthew. And I can't ask for anything more with Matthew. He's perfect. He's the man I've chosen to spend the rest of my life with.
It is only now that I've realized that Christopher has removed my pink jumper, probably while I was unconscious, and I'm now just laid out before him in a Bel Biv Devoe t-shirt and jeans I originally got for thirty euros. I, who used to spend hours doing my make-up and getting my hair taken care of every two to three days, and strutting around in 500 euro shoes and 3000 euro Armani dresses, am almost back to my former self. I worked hard for it. But now I feel self-conscious that I should appear so plainly in front of him.
He has lifted the hem of my shirt and currently has the flat of his hand pressed against my bare stomach. He's not really doing anything but that, and yet my nipples have hardened into nubs within my bra and my knickers are soaking wet with my need for him.
"My little bird." He finds no resistance when he pulls my t-shirt over my head, or when he unclasps my bra and pulls away the cups from my breasts. "Exquisite," he breathes, shaping the both of them with his hands.
I bite down on my lower lip until I can taste blood, but when his thumbs brush over my nipples, I gasp his name.
"My very good girl," he murmurs, lifting my arms and putting my hands over my head. "Are you going to behave for your Master?"
He strokes my chin with something soft and when I look down, I see that it's his silk necktie. I swallow nervously, but it is also the first time in a very long time that I've felt truly alive. I lick my dry lips. "Yes, my lord."
There is a dark twist to his smile as he tugs at the length of the tie between his hands, showing me how solid and well-made it is. "And now, my pet," he whispers, lowering his head to lick my nipple, before straightening back up to look down imperiously at me. "Shall we begin?"