If you haven't read part 10, do so here. Or you can start from the beginning.On Monday Mr. Hale gives me three dollars for the coffee shop and tells me to put the change in Brandon's tip jar. I'm angry, and ashamed of myself, but haven't the courage to throw the money in his face and walk away. The book in my plastic sack is heavy; I think it might be Dickens, finally, as payment for the scene I provided yesterday. I'm guiltily looking forward to my reading. I think, I am a whore.
The hand I raise to push the door open is shaking. I'm praying that Brandon is on his break in the back, and that he won't notice how stiffly I'm walking, or mention the events yesterday that sent him running from the house. His tousled head, however, is in its usual spot behind the counter. I debate bolting from the store and shivering in the park for the next hour, but I see him remove his apron and go in the back.
In a flash of angry rebellion I order a large cup of Chai tea and keep the twenty-three cents that the cashier hands back to me. The belated beginnings of my college fund, I think wryly. Now you're really sticking it to 'em. There's hope that Brandon has as little gumption as I, and will leave me be. I realize that I'm going to have to quit floor hockey.
I choose a table in a corner and pull the book from the sack. It is Dickens, just as was expected. I silently curse Mr. Hale for making me feel so cheap, and myself for allowing him to manipulate me. It hurts to sit down.
When somebody flops down across from me I jump, suddenly aware that I've been staring forlornly at my book with my elbows propped on the table and my hands fisted in my hair.
"I've decided that we're going to talk about this, because I get the feeling that I'm not the only one who was completely humiliated yesterday," Brandon informs me sternly. I stare at the table. "I want to know why you never told me that you were involved."
"It's not something of which I'm terribly proud," I mumble. Tell him that you're sorry, Bunny.
"What, that you're sleeping with an older man or that you led me on?" Brandon snaps, and I glance up at him, stung. His normally cheerful countenance is tight and closed off.
I am ashamed by the private thrill of knowing he was interested in me. "Both, to be honest."
"How long have you been fucking him?"
I flinch. It sounds as though Brandon understood the basics of my relationship with Mr. Hale a lot more quickly than I ever did.
"Ever since I've been legal."
Brandon's frown deepens, and there's an angry crease between his brows that I want to smooth away with my thumb. "So all that was a lie, about his being your guardian and all?"
"No, that's still true."
"Are you fucking kidding me? You've been having sex with your legal guardian?" Brandon's voice drips with disgust, though I'm grateful he's keeping it low.
I want to explain, to tell him that I had no idea what I was getting into. I want him to know that I was younger and even more stupid, and had only recently had the awful epiphany that I was nothing more than a well-kept pet. Instead I hang my head and nod miserably.
"Tucker, that's sick and wrong."
Hearing truth I already know, for some reason, makes me defensive. "You think I don't know that?" I hiss over the table, mindful of the sideways glances of patrons and employees. "Why do you think I haven't told anyone? That business about being a sex slave, it's all true, and I still haven't figured out how to get out of it."
I thrust a finger at him. "Don't judge me because I'm still trying to deprogram myself from over ten years of being brainwashed by a very intelligent, very attractive, very twisted man. Yes, I've been sleeping with him. You would, too if your other option was to sleep on the streets." I wave my book in front of his nose. "At least this whore gets paid in limo rides and classic literature. It's even leather-bound."
Brandon yanks the book from my grasp and angrily shoves it back on the table. "Don't, Tucker."
"Don't what?" I ask, my tone acerbic. "Call it how I see it?"
"Don't make matters worse by, I don't know, cheapening yourself."
I shrug, but my heart hurts. "It's what you've been thinking, right? Would you rather me lie and tell you that I've gotten nothing from the relationship? Do you want to know what I had to do in order to go to that victory party, especially after Mr. Hale saw you touch me? Twice?" If you're going to be mad at me, don't be nice.
"No," Brandon responds shortly, "I don't. Are you blaming me for making your, what should I call it, your work more difficult?"
"Not at all," I bite back. "I should have come right out and told you, 'Hey, before you start giving me more than a courteous hello, you need to know that the bastard who fucks me is rich and jealous. So, you shouldn't talk to me or touch me because otherwise I'll have to double the number of goddam blowjobs I give in the fucking car to make up for it. Since it's you, I consider it worth my while.'"
I've never used so much foul language in my entire life or so much sarcasm. Brandon is reeling, I can see, and for some egregious reason I take a perverse pleasure in his shock.
"Tucker—" The expressions flitting across his face are painful to watch. Why is it so much harder to see sad longing than disgust and horror?
"You know, Brandon?" I say, standing and grabbing my book, "I don't want your pity. If we're just going to sit here and talk about what a terrible friend and poor excuse for a human being that I am, I'll just go back home."
Brandon stands as well, hurt and anger written in the set of his jaw and his clenched fists. "Tucker, come on. Wait."
I put my coat on and tug my hat over my head. "It was a pleasure and an honor. I'm sorry that Sunday was such an unpleasant surprise for the both of us." I jerk my thumb at the clock as I gather up my book and cup. "Your break's over."
Had it been any other situation or any other person from whom I walked away, I would have been excessively proud of my derring-do. As the cheery bells sound my exit, I wonder why I am so determined to leave behind the only person I cared about.
My thoughts are scattered and turbulent on the cold way to the house. Though I know the way to the coffee shop by heart I had never walked home before, always relying on Mr. Hale to come pick me up. I don't want to rely on him any longer, which meant that I need a job. I'll have to find a place that hires people who haven't yet graduated high school. If I asked Brandon he could probably help me find a job, but I lost him.I lost Brandon. The reality hadn't hit me until now, that our relationship could never go back to the way it was—tea and tackling and fifteen-minute conversations. I want to be angry with Mr. Hale for putting me in this position. I want to be angry with Brandon for not coming after me and telling me that he was sorry, that he understood. All in all, I had no one at whom to rage but myself.
How selfish I had been, to think that I would have suffered the most from that terrible encounter. How had I ever let things go this far? Why had I waited until the last vestiges of pride and contentment had been crushed and scattered to the winds, to realize my own sad role in my undoing? Perhaps Mr. Hale is right; I cannot care for myself.
I can feel tears running down my face; I haven't shed any since the vacation incident three years ago. Weeping is supposed to be a cathartic release, but I feel as though my body will collapse on itself and shrivel up in misery. I have nothing, I have no one, repeats in my brain, a mantra of self-loathing. I decide that perhaps it is best that I distance myself from Brandon if the result is metamorphosis into a puddle of tears and pain. He turned me into a pubescent girl, and I resent him for it.
As I near the house I become concerned about frostbite; my fancy Italian leather shoes, a gift from Mr. Hale for fellatio well done, are soaked through. There is no one at the house during this time; the chauffeur would be on his way to retrieve Mr. Hale and the kitchen staff is around only during mealtimes. The housekeeper avoids me, likely on Mr. Hale's orders. Thus there is no one who frowns at me when I leave my ruined shoes on the floor, my coat on the stairs, and climb into bed with the rest of my clothes on. My scarf is wrapped too tightly around my throat and my hat is halfway off my head. I leave it. To sleep, perchance to dream; was that not said about death?
"I want to die," I mutter into the empty room, knowing it's not entirely true. Then again, what have I for which to live? I close my eyes, and attempt to let sleep take the pain away.