It's not too long before I start to hear the screams.
It takes me a while to realize that the screams are my own, however, and that I'm back at home, enduring blows to my torso with my father's voice growling in my ear.
"I can't evenbelieveI ever had a daughter like you, Lila Grace Flowers," I hear my mother's voice cry out. And then my father's saying, "You want in on this, Caroline?" and I am being pulled up, my mother standing right in front of me now and slapping me hard across the face back and forth, back and forth.
This was what I was most afraid of. Being back here, with them, in this desolate home. The home with comfortable sofas and familiar photographs, but with the ever-present air of unease, the cold atmosphere that rendered me entirely unsettled. There's memories here, memories I can't let go of; like being bent over that piano, suffering several whacks to the neck and back with pots and pans. And crashing onto that coffee table after being yanked by the hair. The blood from my mouth seeping into the cream-colored carpet.
"Please, no, please," I whine as my mother's slaps turn into vicious punches.
"You're going to hell, Lila Grace," my father snarls into my ear as he grips my wrists from behind me.
"No... Please, stop, please..."
I try to shove my mother away, but the death grip on my arms keeps me from squirming.
"Please stop it, Mom, please, that really hurts..."
"Lila Grace, please, wake up!" a desperate voice calls.
My eyes snap open and I'm no longer in the awful house, but in this foreign one, a large figure hovering over me, the sunlight seeping in through the cracks in the wooden blinds.
"Lila Grace," the figure pants. "You scared me to death."
"Lila, I've never heard a more horrifying scream," he says, and his eyebrows are knitted together and only then do I realize I've just had a night terror. Except it's not night time, and I'm not waking up in my own bed. The recollection of the night before drifts back, and I sigh, slightly embarrassed to have panicked him.
The warmth of his hands on my shoulders hasn't released me yet, and I scold myself for reveling in it. Gabriel's eyes are piercing into mine, alarmed, probing. He's probably waiting for an explanation, but hell if I'm going to muster up the courage to give him one. I try to get up, but he only holds me down, asking, "Lila Grace, what in the world were you dreaming about?"
"Gabriel, please, it was just a bad dream." My throat feels so thick I can barely get the words out.
"Sweetheart, you've got tears in your eyes," he croons, wiping something away from my cheek. I am crying, I realize. I was crying throughout the dream, apparently. I almost wince at the sound of him calling me 'sweetheart'; it's not a nickname I'm particularly fond of. Over the years, I've come to associate it withhim, the only boyfriend I've ever had, who only used the term before forcing me to suck his comically small cock whenever and wherever he wanted.
He's almost as bad a memory as them.
"Tell me who did this to you," Gabriel whispers.
"No one, Gabriel," I insist. "Now please let me go, I get really bad morning breath."
He ignores me. "Tell me, Miss Flowers. Please. For the sake of my conscience."
"This isn't your fault."
"Of course it's not. But I couldn't live with myself if I didn't do everything I could to help you."
"I'm no damsel in distress, Mr. Avery."
"Lila Grace," Gabriel says, again with the tone that makes me feel just like a child. "No one screams like that in just some ordinary old bad dream. Something's wrong. I could tell from the first look into your eyes that I took—you've been hurt, badly, and there is a reason why you've run away from home."
"How do you know I ran away?"
He smirks. "I did, too. I assume you already know this from reading off the Wikipedia page."
"I'm not such a big fan," I tell him, suddenly feeling bashful. "I've only seen you in magazines and the like. I haven't really read up on you."
He smiles, delighted. "Good. But you're going to talk, Lila Grace."
"Goddamn it, Gabriel, no. I just met you. Okay? And I know it's nice that you've offered me a place to stay, but I only said yes because I don't plan to impose for too long; just until I can find a place of my own."
He looks a little angry with me now, and the tone he takes is quiet enough to make my head spin. "I'm not letting you go, Miss Flowers."
"Like hell you're not. You can't make me stay here against my will."
He huffs, agitated. "I'm notholding you captive, silly girl, I am trying to help you." He pauses, his eyes bare now and burning with some fire I can't put my finger on. "You won't let me."
"I appreciate what you're trying to do," I assure, "but it's time for me to grow up. I can't be coddled all my life, Gabriel. I knew what I signed up for once I left home."
"No, Lila, you really don't."
"I do," I say. "Believe me, I'd rather be living on the streets than spending another second back at home."
He sighs heavily, brushing a stray lock of my hair behind my ear. His electric touch is enough to make me shiver. He doesn't seem to notice. "You're going to tell me eventually," he says sternly.
I roll my eyes, and then he smirks at me, saying, "Naughty girl. Didn't your parents teach you any manners?"
"They taught me to hate gay people and fear for my life if God forbid I ever misbehaved," I reply bleakly. "That's the truth if you want it. All you're getting."
Gabriel leaves a short while later, off to the train station again for another day on set. I ask him how he manages to get around without getting recognized, and he replies that most of the people on the train are so detached from one another they barely even share a glance. The dark sunglasses help, too.
I only got about three hours of sleep; it's nine in the morning now, and I don't feel like returning to my dreams. I've got a beautiful view of downtown, and for a while, the sense of freedom I get from being up so high is enough to squash the memories of life back home, but all too soon I get the feeling that somehow, someday, they'll make their way back to haunt me.
Only half an hour after leaving, Gabriel's house phone rings; he promised to check up on me as soon as he arrived. The caller ID reads, "Cell."
"Miss Flowers," he says, and I can hear a smile in his voice.
"Have you had breakfast yet, Lila Grace?"
I pause. "I can do that?"
I hear him chuckle. "Yes, Lila. Of course. I apologize for not serving you any dinner last night, I'm afraid I'm my culinary skills are not up to par. Ms. Natalie, my housekeeper, is only in on weekends. She dropped by this morning to prepare us food for the week. I expect you'll find something to your liking in the refrigerator; Ms. Natalie is quite the cook."
I scramble to the fridge and yank it open, gasping when I catch sight of the large crème brûlée and massive rib-eye steak. There's also spaghetti, cute little burgers, soup, shrimp, chocolate mousse, finger sandwiches,cake.Cake. "Holy Jesus H. Christ," I say into the receiver.
Gabriel laughs. "I know."
"This is a lot of food."
"How did she prepare all this so quickly?"
"She usually has it all done before she drops by, actually."
"Will you thank her for me?"
"Anything for the lovely Miss Flowers," he replies, his assuring voice like honey in my ear.
"Does anyone ever call you Gabe?"
"And lived to tell the tale? No. Why do you ask?"
"Uh, sorry, I was just wondering. I have a cousin named Gabriel—we all call him Gabe, and he's a really big nerd-slash-perpetual-virgin-slash-Jesus-freak with like huge boils on his face and actually, I really sort of hate him because this one time in first grade he refused to share his Power Ranger action figures with me and always pretended to be the pink Power Ranger because he was convinced the pink Power Ranger was a man, who, obviously, is not, and so I told him that and all he did was cry and tell me I was ugly and smelled like celery and I'mtalkingtoomuchnowohChristI'msosorry."
Gabriel then begins to laugh so hard and for so long I begin to worry if he's getting enough air. I smile into the phone, reveling in the silvery, musical sound.
"Uh, Avery? Avery. What the hell's going on?" a panicked voice says in the background.
"I—am on—the phone," he says between laughs.
"I am glad my pathetic childhood amuses you," I reply.
"People are looking at me now," he says, and only then does his laughter begin to die.
"I'm sure they're always looking at you, Gabriel."
"It's just a pretty face, Miss Flowers. Nothing to write home about." Then the same voice in the background calls out urgently; Gabriel clears his throat. "Now, I'm afraid I have to go, Lila Grace. Please enjoy your meal. And do feel free to have as much as you want. I'll be home in the afternoon."
I'll be home.
It hits me that he's referring to our home, that yes, I am really here, living inside Gabriel Avery's massive penthouse, and he's treating it like it belongs to the both of us. I don't know how to respond.
"And Miss Flowers?"
My breath hitches. "Yes?"
"Please know that I really do want you to feel safe with me. I know asking you to live with me only minutes after having met you is... iffy, at best—but my intentions are true. I only want you safe. When I saw you on that street, I couldn't help but remember myself when I'd first finished high school and ran away from home. I was lost, starving—and worst of all, alone. I do not wish that for someone like you, Lila Grace."
"I understand, Gabriel." I can feel the tears welling up in my eyes, but I look up at the ceiling instead of letting them fall. When I don't want to cry—which is usually every time I ever feel like crying—I look up and the stinging tears fade away. A trick I picked up during all those horrific nights at home, when my father would get drunk and excessively vicious while my mother was off at work.
And then there is something inside me that is rejoicing that I am at last free of San Francisco, and that a man like Gabriel would ever take a chance on someone like me. God knows I wouldn't have.
"I'll be seeing you this afternoon, Lila," he says then, and so, really quiet, I say back, "I'll be seeing you, Gabriel," and then the line clicks and in the following moments I can't help but feel a little sad that the velvet voice in my ear is gone.
I remind myself that he's promised to be back in a few hours, which is long enough for me to distract myself with breakfast and a nice, warm bath in his tub. I remember, embarrassed, that I haven't had a decent wash since arriving in Los Angeles—a whole week. I figure diving straight for the dessert is a little selfish, so I just have the blueberry pancakes Ms. Natalie has left on the dinner table, and it tastes so damn good I find myself moaning out loud, thankful that no one is around to hear me. I strip off my clothes in his room after eating and let the water fill up the tub.
When I return to his room to fish out a change of clothes from my duffel bag, I come across this thin photo album on his dresser, the cover black leather with the word "Memories" crossed out and replaced with the words "Photos That Mom Thinks I Look Good In But Actually Just Look Incredibly Obnoxious" written with white Sharpie.
I laugh at the long title and flip to the first page. I shrink with shame when I see that the first picture is of a naked little Gabriel running around a sprinkler in a beautiful, grassy backyard. I really shouldn't be looking through this, but I can't help myself.
I turn to the next page, and there are several photos of Gabriel in his teens, some candid, some posed. Each one gorgeous. His pouty lips and strong jawline are the highlights of each photo, among others. He's got the same messy sandy hair and roughly the same height; the only difference is that he's developed more muscle and broader shoulders and his face is a lot scruffier. I turn the page: more teenage Gabriel. This time, he's grinning in each one. He's also with a girl in each one. My heart sinks, noting with chagrin that his companion is actually drop-dead gorgeous.
Her eyes an endless green, she's got a flawless, angular face and is curvier than I am, with really nice boobs and a tiny waist.Not fair, not fair, not fair.She is wearing a lovely floor-length gown that hugs her in all the right places and makes her chest look astoundingly classy and hot at the same time.
"Agggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh," I say to no one in particular, beating my head against the dresser.
They look like they're at prom. And having the damned time of their lives. Whereas my prom was a disaster. On top of my date standing me up only to later appear with another girl, my best friend's date puked in my hair after downing the spiked punch he brought with him. I walked home alone with sick in the hairdo I spent an hour on.
I reluctantly drop the photo album back on the dresser and force myself into the tub, which admittedly feels like heaven. Once I get through with washing my hair and skin, I allow myself to relax. The water is warm and lovely, and if I close my eyes and let myself sink, it's almost as if nothing is wrong. Eventually I spot the little boombox on the short drawer near the tub, and when I pop open the lid,A Love Supremeby John Coltrane is already in the tray. I play it, and when the familiar tune fills the air, I sigh and sink back contentedly into my bath.
I wish that somehow, in an alternate universe, Gabriel and I had gone to the same school, knew the same people—it would have been nice to have known the lanky boy with the brilliant smile and be able to call him mine. I know there's no chance of that now, but picturing him and me in impossible situations is easier to bear than trying to accept the fact that I wouldn't stand a chance against any other girl after him. Not really. I can't let myself believe that I can mean anything more to him than any other random fuck he might have had in the past; he only feels pity for me, so much that he's willing to share with me his home.
But he's so easy to talk to, to get along with. I wish desperately that I had spent my high school years hanging around someone like him, instead of the shitty circle of friends I had that weren't really friends at all. (For example, a good friend would not date a yahoo who gets shitfaced only for the sake of getting shitfaced and then without shame, continue to date him even when he pukes in her supposed best friend's hair.Without even apologizingbecause of his inability to even stand on his own.) But Gabriel seems so genuine. Even if he probably wouldn't have been romantically interested in me, I'm certain we would have been good friends. I've never had one of those.
And then I indulge myself in picturing him and me lying under the starless night, only just a mild breeze in the air, with me playing Cavatina as he points out constellations that aren't there.
Sighing, I switch off the boombox and step out of the tub, figuring it unhealthy to feed fantasies that will never have any chance of coming true.
I put on my blue jeans and my ratty old Velvet Underground t-shirt after drying up, and relax on one of the maroon couches, switching on the plasma television. I notice the huge stack of DVDs sitting under the coffee table, and a particular title,A Beautiful Disaster, catches my eye. But really only because Gabriel's face is on the cover. He's got several other of his movies under here, too, more than one copy of each actually, which sort of really amuses me. I popA Beautiful Disasterinto the DVD player and sink back into the couch, ignoring the pang I get when the opening sex scene rolls around, featuring none other than Gabriel Avery himself.
I do appreciate his abs and delicious arms in this scene, however. My nether regions tighten at the sight of him biting his lip as he plows into the unnamed blonde. I feel a strange sense of satisfaction when Gabriel's character cums magnificently and then literally just dumps the girl aside onto the bed, tossing on his clothes and leaving her apartment with nothing more than a "Great, thanks, I had so much fun, Jenna," over his shoulder. The girl exclaims, "It'sCathy!" but he slams the door shut before he can respond.
Basically, the movie ends up just being some goofy rom-com with the main character, Jesse Worthington (Gabriel), who is initially just another douchebag womanizer, finding his place in the world with the woman who is just brave enough to tame him. Gag. The plotline and supporting actors are laughable; the only thing I take seriously is Gabriel's acting, which is impeccable. I see his dominating personality in Jesse's contempt for the opposite sex, his tenderness when he falls for the aforementioned woman, who breaks his heart before he convinces her to take him back. The lady is sort of pretty, and likable, too, I guess, so it doesn't bother me as much when they make out or whatever.
I am glad when the end credits roll, however. In the end, Jesse and his newfound love, Sammie, get married on the beach and it all ends up okay and everybody's happy and having a damn ball and that's good for them, but it's just the kind of ending that makes me sick.
Nobody ever gets an ending like that. Ever.
I guess that's why people make movies. To show you what you're not going to get.
Shutting off the television, I glance at the clock—it's already one in the afternoon. I decide I want to practice my guitar a little before I remember that Gabriel's put it away in the room he intended for me to sleep in. I get up to go get it, but the door's locked.
In the corner of my eye, a shiny key hangs on a little hook in the wall. I grab it immediately and shove it into the lock, and then I open the door and flip on the light switch. The key falls unceremoniously to the ground when I see what's inside.
Canes. Whips. Riding crops. A line of dildos and vibrators sitting on top of a large wooden dresser. And Christ, the chains hanging from the ceiling. The large Victorian bed lacking blankets; just blood red bed sheets. The walls are eerily black and the room is horrifically vast and windowless and I feel like screaming but I just fucking can't find my voice.
It's a fucking torture chamber, and oh my god oh my god oh my god I have agreed to live with a fucking psycho.
God, what does he do in here?
I step inside, limbs trembling, and spot my guitar case propped up on the side of the wooden dresser. My little Sunburst, poor fucking thing. Stuck in a fucking demon room.
And then, belatedly, I find my voice and scream at the top of my lungs when I hear Gabriel's footsteps behind me, saying, in an honest-to-God amused voice, "Ah, Miss Flowers. See anything you like?"