“I understand. I’ll be in the waiting room. Take as long as you want.”
“You don’t have to wait, I don’t need you,” I say without much conviction.
“Says you.” Mark walks away leaving me alone with Dad.
I feel Dad’s hand squeezing mine and look down to see him smiling again.
“Julia,” he whispers. I lean to hear him. “I’m so glad.”
“I’m glad you finally found a man worthy of you.”
“I love you, Daddy.”
“I love you,” my father says.
His head leans back and eyes close once more. I wait for a while but he doesn’t stir again.
Mark’s in the waiting room fussing with his cell phone when I walk out. I want him to hold me and tell me that everything is going to be okay. My vision blurs at the thought of sharing my pain with him, but I turn away and wipe my eyes.
I quickly dart across the hall and take the side elevator out. Hopefully by the time he realizes I’ve left, I’ll be home in bed and he will get the hint that this part of my life, my pain, is off limits.
Walking down the hall to my apartment door, I feel the weight of the past few days fold around me like a straight-jacket. Not just the relationship, the magazine, the arrest or my dad–but a combination of everything drains me. I look up to see a person standing by my door. I don’t bother calling the police or security. I know that shape, in darkness or light. It’s Mark.
“How dare you follow me here,” I seethe, expecting him to withdraw or wither or apologize.
He just smiles. “Follow you? I didn’t follow you. I beat you here! I need to get you a better map of the city.”
“You need to leave me the hell alone,” I strike back. “I gave you my body and my compliance, not the title to my life like some cheap ass car you bought on a second hand lot.”
“Julia, that’s not fair,” he says sternly. “There is not one thing about you or your life that is ‘cheap ass’ or ‘second hand’.”
“Well I sure feel wrecked.”
“Let’s go inside and talk this out.” Ever rational, Mark has no idea he’s just stepped onto the rollercoaster ride from hell.
“I’m not letting you inside–my life, my body or my apartment. Take your map and your money and your shining armor and get the f**k away from my door before I call the cops.” I reach out and push his shoulder, tempting him. I don’t know if I want him to fight me, hug me, or push me back. I just want something to happen.
“The way you’re acting, it’s you the cops will be taking into custody. Want that to happen again? Are you starting to like the feeling of zip ties, because I can bring some over if you like them.” His sarcasm cuts through me. Whatever I’m trying to manipulate him into being or doing, it’s not going to happen.
I glance at his face, his jaw firmly set, clearly ready for the argument he expects from me. But I don’t have the energy to fight anymore, not him, not now.
“Just go, please.” I say half-heartedly.
He sighs. “Let’s both just go. Inside. Because I have some things to tell you and I’m not really sure you want your neighbors to hear any more than they already have.”
I nod and let him in. He looks around my place and I realize I haven’t been home or cleaned very much. My table is covered with Paul Fries legal documents and notes. Two blouses and a bra hang over the back of my couch and an empty bottle of wine sits on the coffee table. If I had any sense at all I’d be mortified. But right now I’m so tired I barely care at all.
“Well, have a seat.” I point to the couch. He walks over, picks up my bra, folds it and places it neatly on the coffee table. He does the same with my blouses and then pats the cushion beside him.
“You too,” he says casually, as if he just met me at a café and is inviting me to join him for tea.
“Mark, I’m exhausted. Mentally, physically, emotionally exhausted.”
“Sit down.” His voice is stern. I obey in an instant, plopping down beside him.
“You could have stopped our deal at any time. I’ve given you chance after chance to say you don’t want to submit to me. But every time you continue to give yourself to my instructions, my desires and directions. Every time you keep the deal. Do you know why I even offered you our deal?” He looks directly at me, his beautiful eyes trying to make contact with my soul. For a moment, I feel myself opening to him and then before I can speak, the hard protective shell covers my heart and mouth.
“Oh, I don’t know. Free sex for a change?”
“I’ve paid for a lot of things in this world, but I’ve never had to pay for sex,” he counters, batting away my bitter retort like a horse swats a fly. Even when I don’t want him to be, he’s perfect.
“Because I’m so hot?” I ask disagreeably.
“Because you’re so sad,” he says, all humor falling from the sky. “So lonely, so… lost.”
“That’s not your business.”
“I think it is. I’ve watched you bully employees, push your weight around, shut out honest offers of friendship and stoke the fires of rage and regret. Lynx isn’t a job; it’s a battleground where you pit your passion and talent against anything you can find. You win. You always win because you give it everything you have, and you have so much. So when I saw you in my office that day, ready to tear the building apart with your bare hands, I knew you needed help.”
“Of course I needed help. I was robbed.”
“Not help with Lynx. Help with life. Help with love. I knew you needed at least one person in your life who was willing to tell you ‘no.’ You need someone gentle enough to listen and strong enough to give you direction. You didn’t just need another man to push against. You needed a man who wouldn’t be pushed and who would give you the freedom to accept what’s given to you, not just the ability to get what you want. You need submission, Julia. It’s not just a game, it’s a gift. For both of us.”
The hot stinging tears forming in the corner of my eyes threaten to fall. I stare at the ceiling, willing them back but it’s too late. I drop my head and try to look away but he puts his hand under my chin and catches my tears in his palm.
“Don’t hide these,” he says, showing me small wet dots on his hand. “Tears are honest. Real. And they are part of you too. Don’t fight them. Let them fall.”