Eighteen hours, that’s how long Sonya let me be home after almost falling from a cliff to my grizzly death, before she demanded my presence. At least I’ve managed to keep it to a phone call.
“Yes Sonya? How are things?”
I don’t know what’s going on around her but I can definitely hear sobbing in the background. I’m sure if I was there in person I’d be hearing ‘I’m gonna sue that bitch’ a few times too.
“How are things going? Bloody marvellous! The caterer won’t return my calls, the flowers are a disaster and that incompetent slut I call a receptionist doesn’t know the difference between a skinny latte and a fucking chai tea!” Oh god. “What time can I expect you in the morning?”
She has got to be kidding me. “Sonya the doctor said I can’t go back to work for another week so-”
“ANOTHER WEEK!” No human should be able to reach that octave, I think my ears are bleeding. “Brianna the party is in two days! You have to work it, I’m sorry but I’m not paying your commission if you’re not actually there to do the job!”
Is she serious? “I’m serious Brianna, if I have to have one of the other girls come in for the event then I’m giving them your cut. It’s only fair.”
Fuck. “Right okay, I’ll be fine for the event but you’ll have to give me tomorrow off to get these painkillers out if my system.”
I can hear her laughing in the background. “You must be the only events co-ordinator I know who doesn’t want to be on drugs for an event held by the Vanderbilt’s! Fine, whatever. Just be at the hotel early. We’ll change there after everything’s set up. Do you have a gown?”
There’s no chance for me to answer before she speaks again. “Wait. How awful do you look? Can we cover you up with make up? Because nobody wants to be looking at a disfigured troll during the speeches.”
This woman is something else. I was planning on wearing the same dress I wore to Tara and Coles engagement party, it’s the only designer gown I own, but with my shoulder still black and blue I’m not sure how it’ll look. “My face is okay, it’s my shoulder that looks the worse but I can maybe borrow a cardigan or something off a friend to cover those bits.”
There’s an uncomfortable amount of silence before she speaks again. “A cardigan? A CARDIGAN! WHO ARE YOU GOING TO BORROW IT FROM, YOUR FUCKING GRANDMOTHER?!” Jesus Christ, calm down woman it’s not like I said I was going to wear crocs. “Brianna get something new, something that covers all the bad parts. I know coverage isn’t your best skill but needs must. We have to look impeccable if we are to be seen as flawless. Charge it to the company card if you must, I’ll get my accountant to write it off as an expense come tax season.”
Shopping for gowns? With someone else’s money? Damn fucking right I’ll be at this party! “Okay Sonya, I’ll see you Saturday.” I hadn’t realised she’d already hung up before I spoke. Bitch.
Aleah stirred slightly from her position of sleeping on the spare bed, cuddling her family size bag of marshmallows like a teddy bear before finally letting it go as she wiped the drool from her face.
I smile at her and she already knows she’s in trouble. “Ready to go shopping?”
Do you know how hard it is to find a dress that practically shows no skin but doesn’t make me want to kill myself the second I put it on? Very fucking hard!
In the end I found a good base but I plan to spend the rest of the night making it perfect, starting with the spikes. Yes, spikes. If I’m really going to walk away from these guys and get some distance from men then I’m going to need some kind of protective defence.
Pulling the dress out of the bag I lay the abundance of material over the bed. Wow, this thing really is gorgeous. Of course it’s black, come on it’s me – I only wear the colour of my soul or the blood of my enemies.
I needed to cover my shoulder and my poor legs so that only left me with one option – get the boobs out. Damn this might be to much for me to lift, this skirt is practically all feathers so why is it so fucking heavy? I guess I’m not used to wearing this amount of material, the dress I wore to my last high school dance was light as... well, a feather.
Admiring the deep sheer netted V neck, so low it will show off my belly button not just my twins, I pour the black studded spikes onto the bed and get my hot glue gun heating up. I’m about to Project Runway this bitch.
This really is beautiful. I mean it’s definitely more a gown than a dress with the thick, full, floor length skirt and long netted sleeves, but it’s got that edge with all the cut outs that show all the best parts of me... Well not all the best parts, but Clarisse’s fiancé has seen them all already.
May kindly keeps me topped up with glasses of ice tea as I work, trying not to over work my shoulder and failing, before she takes over to stud the arms for me. We haven’t spent a lot of time together lately so I put Moana on the TV and we make a bit of a night of it.
My phone hasn’t shut up, mostly from Al checking I’m okay or Sonya sending me ten minute reminders of all the crap I’ll have to do at the damn party. However as I check it again I see a name I wasn’t quite sure I’d be seeing again so soon.
‘Green eyes – How are you feeling?’
No kisses but it’s better than nothing. I honestly don’t know where I stand with Connor right now, he made pretty clear in the hospital he’s still not okay with the Meg situation but then he made that big scene with Antonio. I bet he’s sitting there just as confused as I am right now.
‘I’m good, well better at least. Just emailed you that paper. I have to go back to work Saturday but I’ll get the next one to you Sunday night... Monday morning at the latest I swear.’
Just as I marvel at the banging job May has done my phone starts to ring, her using it as an opportunity to scurry from the room and get more brownies.
Okay it’s only Connor, just answer it. He can’t be that mad you’re late with the paper, you almost went off a cliff!
“Hey, look sorry I’m late with the-”
“What do you mean you’re going back to work? You just got out of the hospital!”
Okay, be a dad much? “Don’t have any choice beaut, Sonya said she’ll cut my commission if I don’t turn up so I’ve got to go. Besides, I organised the damn thing, like fuck am I letting bootleg Brittany take the credit for my work.”
I can hear him pacing as his breathing increases, why is he so upset? I mean, yeah I’d rather be sitting on my ass eating chips with Al for another week but it is what it is. “Is that really the reason you’re going back to that job?”
What else would it- oh... “Yes Connor. My job means a lot to me, I worked really fucking hard to get to where I am and I’m not going to fuck it up right before the biggest payday of my life... Why are you so... Connor are you upset? About Antonio? Because I told you nothing is happening right now between us. I don’t even know why he showed up at the hospital, the last time we saw each other it didn’t end on great terms.”
He lets out a deep breath. “He still turned up Brie, it was clear he cares about you... It was hard to see that.”
I’ve always been honest with Connor, I’m not about to start lying now. “Maybe he does, although I think his interest in me was always more sexual than it was compassionate. Either way he’s not a great person, his life is... complicated and dangerous. I don’t want to be a part of it. Saturday will be the last time I’ll ever have to see him and I’m grateful for that. Us being around each other has never been healthy, the night it started with him turned out to be one of the worst of my life.” Or one of the best depending on how you look at it.
There’s a pause. “What do you mean? Did he hurt you?”
Definitely but not in the way you think. “Antonio is violent but never with me. I don’t think he’s capable of hurting me that way.”
“Brie if this guy is dangerous I don’t want you around him, the money isn’t worth putting yourself in that position.” Bless his heart, you can always tell when someone grew up comfortable because they say stupid shit like that. “Wait, I remember you telling me about starting that job the night we met, when we were talking on the bench. How did he cause the worst night of your life that recently and I didn’t know?”
Oh crap, oh crap. “Umm.. we actually met a few years ago, before he was with Clarisse. I didn’t realise he was the groom when we took the job.”
Please don’t ask, please please don’t ask. “How did you guys meet?” For fucks sake.
Okay, choice one – lie. Tell him we met at church and did nothing unspeakable, that we took a chaperoned stroll around the lake before bidding each other goodbye. Choice two – tell him the truth. Which will probably have him hate me for eternity and never let me near Hope ever again.
Fuck. If I lie, where would that leave us? If we decide to give this the go ahead he finds out from someone else then that would be a fuck ton worse. “Connor, if I tell you then you’ll never look at me the same way again. I don’t mean that to sound like some dramatic crap, it just is what it is. If you really want to know then I will tell you but you need to understand that it was at a very different time in my life, it’s not who I am anymore and I don’t want it getting out so I’d be putting my faith in you to keep it confidential.”
Trust. It’s never been something that comes easily to me. Laying down on my bed I glance quickly at the door to make sure it’s closed properly, I don’t want May hearing.
“I promise I won’t judge you Brie.” You say that now. “Tell me.”
Where the fuck do I start with this? The beginning I guess. Please don’t hate me. “I’ve been financially responsible for my family since I was fifteen. Granny worked as much as she could until then but her health was getting worse and she had to stop, it didn’t stop me or May needing to be fed or clothed though so I stepped up. I was doing good, I taught classes four times a week, worked at this ice cream place for a while until the pervy owner started trying to feel me up whenever I lent into the freezers and I stabbed him through the hand with one of those little plastic spoons.”
I can hear Connor chuckling but I continue. “I did loads of other jobs too. Most of the time I could make end meet but when I was seventeen it all got too much. The bug crapped out on me then Granny got rushed back into hospital, all the bills were piling up and I just couldn’t find a way out of it. Then a friend of mine told me about the way she paid to get herself through college so I followed her lead and... I started stripping.”
There’s silence on the end of the line and I’m not even sure he’s still there until I hear him breathing again quietly. “It was a lot of money I could make quickly without having to leave May or Granny for too long. It was before we found out May was Jayce’s sister so there wasn’t any help with her back then. It was supposed to be a temporary thing, just until I got on top of everything again. Most of the time it was okay, fun even. There were your usual dickheads but Steve kept us all safe.”
“Wait, Steve? As in Josh’s brother Steve who was in the car with you?”
I nod before I realise he can’t see me. “Yeah, he was one of the bouncers there back in the day. He kept all the proper creeps away from me and let me just get on with the job so I could get out of there. He actually tried to talk me out of working there loads of times..” For gods sake Brie stop stalling. “Anyway, I had one particular client that would come in regularly, dropping a lot of cash each time – Antonio.”
I don’t miss the large exhale of breath Connor makes at the sound of his name but I guessing that breathing might stop when I get to the next part. “So one night he comes in like regular except he wasn’t interested in my regular offerings so he gives me the option of an alternative. I was fucking desperate at the time, everything was falling apart and it was so much money I just couldn’t turn it down.”
“Brie, what did he offer you?”
Fuck. “He offered me five thousand dollars to spend the night with me. The whole night. I took it. For one single night I was a full fledged whore.”
There is an uncomfortable amount of silence. I don’t want to break it, I want him to have the time to process it before I dump the rest of it on him and blow his gorgeous green eyes straight out of his head.
“Brie, I don’t... So that’s how he ruined your life? People found out or something?”
In a way. “Actually, it turned out I’d been fucked more than one way that night.” Oh god Brie, think about the words you say before they leave your fucking mouth! “It came out that I wasn’t the only whore there that night. He was too. My mother and Jayce’s father had hired him to pay me for sex, along with a private investigator to make sure she got a nice scrap book of the event, which she then tried to use to regain custody of May. It had all been a set up but it didn’t change what I did. They were arrested and are still doing time for what they did to me, my name was kept out of the papers because I wasn’t eighteen yet but I’m sure enough people put the pieces together that the information is out there somewhere.”
There it is Connor, my whole dirty life set out for you on a silver platter.
Go on say it, it won’t be anything I haven’t heard before. Call me a slut, slag, hussy, tramp or even a fucking wench, I’m immune to that shit. I know who I am. Come on, let’s hear it.
“Brie I think you’re the bravest and strongest person I’ve ever met.”
Words. They were just words but my heart almost pounded out of my chest as he spoke them. I can’t respond, my breath caught completely in my throat as all the fear I didn’t know I had telling him my story leaves me, along with a sob from my lips. He doesn’t hate me?
“Brie you were put in a position most people would’ve crumbled if they found themselves in, you were a kid yourself yet you carried the weight of all that and I bet you did it with a smile. You made choices that protected your family and you shouldn’t feel afraid to tell people about that part of your life. You’re a survivor, I’ve never been more proud of you than I am in this moment.”
That’s all it took. A pure blinding light of acceptance and all my barriers came crashing down. The tears fall freely from my eyes and wash a weight I didn’t know I was carrying away with them.
I try to pull it back as my fingers quiver more than my voice but I manage to push out the words. “T-Thank y-you.”
We talk late into the night, about everything and nothing all at the same time. It was just like the night we met, except for all the great sex at the end. We laugh and joke more than me and Al do, almost finishing each others sentences by the end.
Eventually night comes and I’m not sure which one of us fell asleep first, my phone still in my hand as I hear his gentle snores through the speaker leading me further into my dream filled sleep.
We didn’t discuss us or what we were, neither of us was ready for that conversation. I slept peacefully in the knowledge that no matter what happens, even if I never kiss that boy again, I know that those green eyes if his will be a part of my life for a very long time one way or another.