Christmas In Suite 37A
Part Two: Silver Bells
On Christmas Eve morning Griffin packed his bags and kissed Nora by the front door of her house. He’d already kissed Kingsley, Juliette, and Cèleste goodbye the night before. Cèleste he’d had to kiss twice. She wouldn’t let him go until he did.
Søren, in his day off uniform of jeans and a black T-shirt—offered him a handshake—“No kiss?”—and Griffin hugged him just to see the look on his face.
“I believe I liked you better when I didn’t like you, Griffin,” Søren said. Griffin rested his head on Søren’s chest. He felt and heard Søren’s sigh.
“Cuddle me, Big Guy,” Griffin said. “Sing me a lullaby with your pretty priest voice.”
“I’m discovering a new hard limit,” Søren said. “At this very moment, in fact.”
Griffin didn’t let go of Søren, but he did look up at him.
“Has anyone ever told you that you have resting bitch face?” Griffin asked, tightening his hold on Søren.
“This isn’t resting. This is quite active.”
“Remember when I’d piss you off at the club, and you’d choke me like Darth Vader-style?” Griffin asked.
“I believe that’s what’s referred to as ‘the good old days.’” Søren patted Griffin on top of the head. “Don’t miss your flight.”
“I’m going.” Griffin released Søren, kissed Nora goodbye one more time, and headed to his cab waiting on the curb.
“Griff?” Nora ran from the house to catch him just before he got in the cab. She wrapped her arms around him.
“I’ll be fine,” he whispered.
“If things…” She paused and smiled up at him, a fretful sort of smile. “I’m sure things with you and Mick will turn out right. But just in case…if things don’t go the way you want, or you need more time, you can come back here. I’m leaving again on New Year’s, but you can stay with King and Juliette. They’d love to have you. They told me to tell you that.”
“I’m not going to fall off the wagon, I swear,” he said. “If things don’t work out…life goes on, right?”
She put her hand on his chest. “You’ll let me know?”
“I’ll text you. Thanks for taking me in.”
“Anytime. I mean that.”
The cab driver knocked on the window.
“I gotta go,” Griffin said.
“Safe travels,” she said. “Merry Christmas. Love you.”
She opened the door for him, and Griffin threw his big black duffle bag onto the backseat.
“Gone again on New Year’s, huh? You ever going to tell me where you keep disappearing to?” he asked, looking back at her.
“France,” she said.
“France? What’s in France?”
“The Eiffel Tower,” she said with a wink and shut the door on him. As the cab pulled Griffin turned around. Nora was still on the curb watching him go, a look of concern on her face.
He’d gotten a non-stop flight, first class, and five hours after leaving New Orleans, he landed at JFK. A blast of freezing air hit him in the face as he ran from the airport to the car waiting for him. A pedestrian dragging a roller bag walked in front of the car too slowly to suit his driver and was rewarded with a honk and a middle finger.
Ah, New York. Home sweet home.
Luckily Emil the doorman was occupied talking to someone else when Griffin walked in the front door of his Chelsea apartment building. Emil gave him a wave but was too busy with the other tenant to interrogate Griffin about where he’d been. Griffin rode the elevator alone up to his floor and hesitated only a few seconds before pushing his key into the lock and opening his door.
The apartment smelled clean and empty, like wood polish and loneliness. It was a Tuesday and the housekeeper always came on Mondays. No one was home to mess the place up, but Griffin kept her on to bring in the mail and keep the dust from piling up.
He dropped his keys in the pewter bowl on the little table by the door where he always dropped his keys when he came home. They made a terrible metallic clatter, loud enough to wake the dead. If Mick were here he’d call out from the living room or the bedroom “I hate that bowl!” Mick had once switched it with a plastic Tupperware container stuffed with cotton balls just to punk Griffin.
But, alas, no overly sensitive art students yelled at him about the noise. Griffin was alone.
He walked down the hallway past the living room. He didn’t even glance at the leather couch he and Mick had fucked on so many times they’d already gone through two bottles of leather cleaner.
The apartment was something special. Of course, Griffin could have afforded a two bedroom or a three bedroom or a ten bedroom if he was feeling extravagant. But when it came time to find a new place to live, he’d asked to see only one-bedroom apartments. And when Griffin saw the bedroom in this apartment, he’d said “I’ll take it” and started moving in the next day.
He opened the door to the bedroom and stepped inside. Since they’d finished moving in, only three people had crossed this threshold—Griffin, Mick, and the housekeeper when she cleaned. That was it. Their bedroom was off-limits. Not even Nora was allowed inside the room. Any threesomes that transpired (and they did) all took place at The 8th Circle or at someone else’s place. The bedroom was for Griffin and Mick alone.
This room…God, the memories. So many nights here, so many mornings, so many conversations. So much sex, so much kink. And the last month before the break-up…so many fights.
Griffin shoved the memories out of his mind with sheer force of will. If he could have pried them out with a crowbar…No, he wouldn't have done that. Better bad memories than none at all.
The bed was a king-size, but the room still dwarfed it. A series of full-length windows lined the wall to his right. Opposite the windows sat the bed. At the furthest end of the room was the fireplace, red brick with one of Mick’s abstract paintings hanging over it. A low sofa sat in front of the fireplace. Two chairs on either side of the sofa. The floors were the original hardwood that had been there since before World War II. Griffin wondered how many feet had walked on these dark distressed floors before he and Mick had. The bed he’d bought for them was a big wooden four-poster, the best sort of bed for bondage. He’d also had the softest thickest rug put in the room under the bed. He didn’t want Mick’s feet getting cold or tired when he was tied to the bedpost for a flogging.
“You want me to be comfortable when you’re beating me?” Mick had asked.
“You’re weird, Sir.”
“You know you love me,” Griffin had said and kissed Mick until neither of them could breathe.
“I know,” Mick had said when Griffin finally let him up for air. “I’ll always know…”
Griffin ran his hand over the suede slate comforter on the bed. Mick had picked it out because the color of it fell between blue and gray on the spectrum, his two favorite hues. The bed itself was the most comfortable Griffin had ever slept in. When he sat on it and sank down into the sheets it was like he was falling into warm water. He and Mick had fallen into it together time and time again and sunk down to the sea floor, never drowning because when they were together they could both breathe underwater. They were each other’s air.
The temptation to lie on the bed and remember every good memory was strong, but the brass clock on the bedside table told him he needed to get his ass in gear.
Griffin exhaled heavily and walked to the closet. He needed to change clothes and get over to the Waldorf. What to wear…what to wear…He didn’t want to look good. He wanted to look amazing. He wanted to Mick to see him and not be able to look away ever again.
Leather pants? No. Not on Christmas Eve. He only ever wore those at the club or alone with Mick in this bedroom.
Hole-y jeans? Mick loved them but the Waldorf wouldn’t.
Tuxedo? Too formal for dinner for two.
Three-piece suit? Griffin could rock that look, but it was a bit too staid for a seduction scene.
Black jeans and a leather jacket? Maybe…
Desperate times called for desperate outfits.
Griffin pulled a garment bag from the back of his closet, hung it on the door, and unzipped it.
If this didn’t do it, nothing would.
Fifteen minutes later Griffin stood in front of the closet mirror. He wore knee-high English white socks, black shoes that laced up his calves, a black tuxedo coat, white shirt, black tie, and a red, green, and white kilt with gold kilt pins. And a leather sporran, of course.
Griffin had every right to wear the tartan. His mother’s grandparents were Scottish, and this plaid was the pattern of the clan they were descended from. He only ever wore this particular kilt to family weddings and funerals. Mick had never seen him in it, only the black kilt he wore to the club sometimes. And if Griffin said so himself, he looked phenomenally fuck-able in it. And so he did.
Right before leaving the apartment, Griffin retrieved an envelope from a box in his closet. Couldn’t see Mick without giving him a Christmas gift after all. He debated with himself for five whole seconds before throwing a flogger in his overnight bag and a few other kink toys. With a Tower Suite at the Waldorf Astoria waiting for him, it was only smart to be prepared. Just in case…
He made it to the Waldorf by 6:45 and had a quick talk with the concierge. Everything was as Griffin had requested. Room ready. Reservations locked in. Sometimes Griffin hated being the son of the man who ran the New York Stock Exchange. Other days having Fiske has his last name had its benefits.
After slipping the concierge another hundred, Griffin turned, intending to go to the restaurant and check on their table. But as he walked from the lobby toward the Bull and Bear, he stopped.
Standing in the lobby under the chandelier was his Mick.
Mick hadn’t seen him yet so Griffin stayed near a pillar and just stared at him.
He looked older. Three months only had passed but the Mick in the lobby looked a year older than the Mick who’d left him in September. Griffin counted that a good thing. Mick wasn’t even twenty yet, and Griffin would turn thirty-two in a couple weeks. Mick wore part of a suit—navy pants, navy pin-striped vest, white button-front shirt with the sleeves rolled up a few turns. Their first Christmas together Nora had gotten Mick’s hair cut short to make him look older. Since then he’d let it grow out a few inches, long enough he could tuck it behind his ears but not long enough to touch his collar. A perfect length in Griffin’s estimation. Short enough he didn’t look like a teenaged skater anymore. Long enough Griffin could dig his fingers in it and pull Mick’s head back for a kiss or a threat or the threat of a kiss.
Right now, in that moment, with Mick standing underneath a crystal chandelier in the lobby of the Waldorf-Astoria, Griffin had never wanted him or anything so much in his life. It wasn’t even a sexual urge—although that was there too. Griffin simply wanted Mick. Wanted to have him and own him and be near him and hold him and that was it. Pure want.
Griffin took a deep breath and walked down the steps into the lobby past a string quartet playing “Silver Bells.” His own heart rang like a bell inside him. He could almost hear it, a sweet and shattering sound.
Mick saw him then and smiled, a big smile.
The smile turned into a laugh, a big laugh.
Griffin put one foot over the other and made a slow twirl.
“You like?” Griffin asked. Mick raised his hands and gave him a golf clap.
Griffin took one step toward Mick and stopped. Mick walked the rest of the way to him.
“Fancy,” Mick said. “When did you get that?”
“Before your time. I only bust it out for the family weddings, and the Raeburns don’t get married very often.” His cousin Claudia had gotten married last year, but he and Mick had skipped it. Mick had his first art show at Yorke that week, and Griffin wouldn’t have missed that for all the weddings in the world.
“Red and green,” Mick said, eyeing the kilt. “Good call.”
“My ancestors were very festive. You look good.” Griffin fought the very real urge to grab Mick and drag him into his arms.
“Not as good as you,” Mick said.
They stopped talking and Griffin, being Griffin, couldn’t bear the silence.
“Are we going to do the awkward thing with each other? Or just pretend everything’s normal? Or just figure it out as we go?” he asked Mick.
“I’m always awkward so I guess we’ll figure it out? I hope?” Mick said.
“Works for me. You ready for dinner?”
“Ready when you are.”
Side by side they walked to the Bull and Bear. The maître d’ showed them to their table after giving Griffin only the barest little bit of side eye over the kilt. He was probably just jealous. That’s what Griffin assumed anyway. It was a killer kilt.
As Griffin had requested, they were given a table by the window. Griffin ordered water and coffee, Mick water and tea. Their menus sat in front of them, untouched.
“So…” Griffin began. “Tell me about Rome.”
Mick nodded. “Pretty amazing city. I filled up ten sketchbooks.”
“Ten? Did your hand fall off?”
“I thought it was going to. Still here.” He held up his hand and wiggled his fingers. Griffin had something very inappropriate to say. He kept it to himself.
“I’d love to see some of your sketches.”
“I’ll show you after dinner,” Mick said. “I have some in my bag.”
Mick had brought his backpack with him, but Griffin knew better than to get his hopes up over that. The backpack might contain a change of clothes because Mick planned to spend the night. Or it could just be his sketchbooks and laptop. Mick never went anywhere without his backpack.
“Can’t wait. I guess we should order then,” he said when he noted their waiter circling round their way again. “You know what you want?”
“You decide,” Mick said, his menu still closed in front of him. “You know this place better than I do.”
Griffin raised his eyebrow at Mick, but Mick was looking out the window at the wintery New York City streets. Ordering food for someone was a possessive act. It spoke of dominance and intimacy. It said “I know what you want better than you do. I decide what happens to your body.” Or maybe Mick wasn’t submitting to Griffin right now? Maybe he sincerely didn’t know what to order here? Griffin was over thinking everything, looking for signs, for clues. He wished Mick was just say “Wanna go fuck?” That would make things so much simpler.
When the waiter arrived, Griffin ordered for both of them. Pointless gesture probably, ordering food. He could barely swallow his water.
“So what have you been up to?” Mick asked, meeting his eyes again finally.
“I was down in New Orleans with Nora for awhile,” he said. “Got cold here so I headed south in October.”
“The Big Easy?” Mick raised his eyebrow. Griffin knew that look.
“It’s okay. Apart from smoking a few cigars with King, I was on my best behavior. Didn’t step one foot on Bourbon Street.”
“What’s her new place like?”
“It’s nice. The Garden District is crazy. Every house is huge, old, and beautiful. And she only lives a couple blocks away from King’s.”
“Better than I’ve ever seen him. And Céleste is getting so big. She might have a crush on me. Don’t be jealous.”
Mick grinned. “I miss them all. How’s Father S?”
“Søren is Søren. Loves teaching at Loyola. He says it’s so much less work than being the only priest running a parish he feels like he’s in semi-retirement. It’s good for him though. He gets to spend more time with Nora.”
“So Nora’s good?” Mick asked.
“Nora’s great. They all are. It’s just…”
“What?” Mick asked.
Griffin looked left. He looked right. Then he leaned in and whispered. “Strange things are afoot at the Circle Eight.”
Mick leaned in and whispered back. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about Nora, Søren, and King. All three of them are acting weird, and they won’t tell me why.”
Mick furrowed his brow. “Good weird? Bad weird?”
“Good weird. Like Nora and Søren? They're in second honeymoon mode. They can’t keep their hands off each other. I mean, they still fight like always, but it’s different. When they fight it comes off like foreplay. I spent two months in the bedroom underneath Nora’s. Thank God for earplugs.”
“Second honeymoon is good, right?”
“It is. But it’s more than that. They’re keeping a secret, and King’s in on it too.”
“Why do you say that?”
“I keep catching him and Nora together.”
“Having sex?” Mick whispered.
“That wouldn’t be weird. No, I catch them hugging all the time. Like these long serious hugs like someone just died.”
“She’s not dying is she?”
“No, I asked. I think she’d tell me if she was.”
“Well, her mom died earlier this year. Maybe that’s why she’s crying so much?”
“Maybe. But that doesn’t seem to be it.”
“What do you think is going on?” Mick asked.
“I have one theory, but I don’t know if you want to hear this.”
“Gossip about the Nora and Father S? Of course I do,” Mick said. “Spill it.”
“I think Søren and King are boning again. Maybe.”
Mick’s eyes went huge. It was like looking at two quarters, bright and shining.
“Way,” Griffin said. “King told me a while ago than he and the pope used to fuck in high school.”
“Yeah, Nora told me that. But—”
“But I think they picked things up where they left off.”
“Are you sure?”
“Not sure but…” Griffin said. He knew Søren and Kingsley had spent one night together while Nora was in Kentucky with her intern Wesley two years ago, but Griffin had chalked that up to Søren needing someone to wail on while Nora was gone. “We had a tree trimming party at King’s, and afterwards me and Nora and Juliette all went upstairs to put Céleste to bed. I went back downstairs first, and when I got to the top of the steps I could see into the living room. Søren and King were kissing by the tree.”
“Like kissing how?” Mick asked. “Just a ‘Oops, there’s mistletoe and we’re contractually obligated to kiss’ kiss? Or like a real kiss?”
“They were kissing the way I kiss you,” Griffin said. He immediately wished he hadn’t put it quite that way. Now all he could think about was digging his hands into Mick’s hair, tilting his head back and holding him in place—hard—while he kissed him—deep. Mick looked at him with an inscrutable expression. Griffin could only hope Mick might be thinking the same thing…
“Anyway,” Griffin continued quickly. “If they’re sleeping together again—that might explain why Nora and King are acting so weird with each other. Sometimes they just look at each other and start laughing like they’re in on some kind of joke that no one else is in on. But then Nora stops laughing and she starts crying, and that’s when King hugs her tells her it’s okay. I think. My French is total merde these days, but I’m pretty sure he’s telling her tout va bien, nous sommes bien, nous sommes d’accord which means something like ‘everything’s fine, we’re fine, it’s all okay.’”
“What? What’s okay?” Mick leaned in so far his elbows were on the table. Love, math, and gossip were the three universal languages. “Why wouldn’t they be okay?”
Griffin sat back in his chair. “I don’t know. I asked Nora about her and King and Søren and how odd they’re acting, and she gave me a totally cryptic answer. She said I shouldn’t worry my pretty little head about it. She said she and King had worked a deal out, they had an understanding, and although it was taking some getting used to for the both of them, everything was fine and dandy because all the cosmic tumblers had clicked into the place and the universe was showing her its secrets. Or something like that.”
“That is cryptic as fuck,” Mick said. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“No idea, but I think she stole that last part from Field of Dreams. But it gets even weirder. Søren hugged me.”
Mick pointed at him. “Bullshit.”
“Okay, he didn’t hug me. But he let me hug him, and he didn’t even try to choke me to death for doing it.”
“You’re right. They have gone weird. Whew.” Mick sat back too. They both laughed. “I’ve been away too long. I missed all the good stuff.”
Griffin almost agreed with him, almost teased him for being out of the country when all the interesting stuff was happening. He came within an inch of telling Mick it was his own fault for abandoning him. Teasing, of course. But not really. And since Griffin couldn’t quite trust his motivations, he simply bit his tongue. Figuratively, of course. Mick was the masochist, not him.
“Well, you were in Rome doing cool, important stuff for school. But it’s…it’s good to talk to you again,” Griffin said. “I was going a little nuts without you. I had all this gossip, and no one to tell it to.”
“I’ve missed Nora gossip,” Mick said. “She sent me some care packages while I was over there, but they didn’t have any good gossip in them. Although one of them was postmarked from France. What’s up with that?”
“Yet another Nora mystery. Driving me fucking nuts. She used to tell me everything.”
“I know. And then you’d tell me everything she told you,” Mick said. He laughed but then…he wasn’t laughing anymore. “You know, I thought I’d hear from you.”
“You said you wanted some time off,” Griffin reminded him. “You said no calls, no texts, right? A real break?”
“Yeah, I did, didn’t I?” Mick asked. “I thought you were mad at me.”
“I wasn’t happy with the situation, but I wasn’t mad at you. And you can always talk to me.”
Mick smiled at him and it seemed like he had something else to say. But the waiter decided just then to show up with their food.
They ate, both of them. A small miracle there. Mick had never been a big eater, but he clearly had an appetite. So did Griffin now that the butterflies had vacated his stomach. Mick had his phone out and had shown Griffin pictures he’d taken in Rome. The Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon. All landmarks. No selfies. Mick wasn’t the sort of person who’d go around inserting himself into every photo he took. He had an artist’s eye for the world. He wanted to see, not be seen. One of his more attractive qualities. One of millions.
“Did you go to Vatican City?” Griffin asked.
“I’m Catholic. Of course I did,” Mick said, flipping through a few more pictures.
“Did you see Pope Francis there?”
“I did. From a distance.”
“Did you tell him you know a priest in New Orleans who wants to marry him?”
“I didn’t although I did send Father S a Pope Francis keychain.”
“Did you get to talk to him? Get blessed by him or whatever?”
“Nope. He smiled and waved at a bunch of us, but he was surrounded by like twenty priests though. One of them was disturbingly attractive. Made me feel weird. I might have had a naughty altar boy fantasy about him,” Mick said. Griffin made a mental note for future role-play reference.
“Speaking of disturbingly attractive priests...” Griffin pulled his phone out of his pocket. “You missed the most amazing Halloween party down in Nola.”
He held out his phone and Mick took it.
“Holy shit,” Mick said before bursting into laughter. “King dressed like a priest for Halloween?”
Griffin tapped the screen to slide to the next picture.
“And your priest dressed like Kingsley.”
“Oh…my…God…” Mick breathed. “King and Father S traded outfits.”
“See? This is part of the reason I think they’re banging again. Or maybe it was just that one kiss. I swear I’d give my left arm to know.”
“They look good. King makes a hot priest.”
“And your pope looks like a fucking English duke when you put in him in a Regency suit and boots. He put on his British accent too for the entire night. I didn’t even know he could do an English accent.”
“His father was English, and he went to school over there.”
“Mick, you should have seen it. Women were all over him. Nora and Juliette had to beat them off with a stick. I’m not kidding. Juliette picked up a stick and hit a girl with it, but the chick was a bisexual pain slut so it only made things worse. Juliette, by the way, was dressed like Nora. Leather corset, thigh boots, whip in her hand. Dominatrix goddess. It was glorious.”
“Who’s Nora dressed as? The Mad Hatter?”
The picture Mick had pulled up was of Nora wearing a large black top hat shoved down on her wild black curly hair.
“Not quite…” Griffin said. “Sheridan flew down for the party. And that skinny little blonde girl dressed as Axl Rose. And since she was Axl Rose, Nora was Slash. See?”
He flipped over to a pic of the two of them—Sheridan in her tight snakeskin pants, torn T-shirt, and feathered blonde hair, and Nora in black leather pants, a black pirate shirt open to the center of her chest, and a black top hat perched on her black wavy hair.
“That is the hottest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Mick said.
“It gets better. This vid went viral when I posted it.” He opened up YouTube and hit Play. There was Little Miss Sheridan Stratford, star of stage and screen, doing Axl Rose’s famous snake-hips shimmy on top of a table at Kingsley’s house as “Welcome to the Jungle” blared in the background. “One million hits and counting.”
“That is awesome,” Mick breathed, watching the fifteen second vid again.
“I’m so glad Sheridan didn’t get married to that vanilla dude,” Griffin said.
“You and me both,” Mick said, watching the video for the final time. Maybe. Sheridan and Mick had met one night at The 8th Circle and bonded over their shared loved of sexual submission. When Sheridan came pouting for a threesome with the two of them, Mick had said “Yes, please and thank you” before Griffin could even open his mouth. “So who were you for Halloween?”
Mick passed the phone back to Griffin.
“You really want to see?” Griffin asked.
“I don’t know. Do I?”
Griffin flipped through is pictures until he found one Nora had taken of him. He turned the camera around and showed it to Mick.
Mick dropped his head down to the table for a few seconds before looking back up again.
“You went as Bjork,” Mick said. “Bjork. You. Went. As. Bjork.”
“You have no idea how hard it was to find that damn swan dress in my size.”
“You look fucking ridiculous in that.”
“I’ll have you know in that dress I never felt more free or more beautiful in my life. I became that Icelandic fairy elf princess.” Griffin pretend tossed his pretend locks over his real shoulder. “I’m going to dress like Bjork every day from now on until I die. In public.”
“It’s a good look for you. I approve.”
“I’ll need to borrow your eyeliner to complete the transformation.”
“I brought it with me.”
“You did?” Griffin asked, the laughter leaving him. The restaurant, which had been buzzing with the usual sounds of chatter and silverware, suddenly seemed to go silent.
“Well…yeah,” Mick said as if confessing to a crime.
“Why? You just carry your eyeliner with you all the time now?”
“Not usually,” Mick said.
“So…did you bring just to wear it for me?”
Mick blushed and crossed his arms over his stomach. He looked very young then, as young as he did when they first got together over two years ago. Eyeliner was their thing. If Mick was in the mood for kink and sex and lots of it, he didn’t even have to ask for it. All he had to do was put on his eyeliner and wait for Griffin to get the hint.
“I don’t know.” Mick shrugged. “I thought…”
“What did you think?”
“I really thought you’d call me or text me or something while I was gone.”
“Phone lines work both ways, Mick. And you’re the one who wanted the break. I was trying to honor that.”
“I know,” Mick said. “I know you were.”
They both fell silent. The waiter came and cleared away their plates. Griffin loved talking and hated silence. He fought his natural instincts to fill the void with chatter. He wanted to wait and let Mick find his words.
Finally Mick found them.
“Did you have sex with anyone while I was gone?” Mick asked. It wasn’t the question Griffin expected, but he was ready to answer it.
“Yes,” Griffin said.
“Nora?” Mick asked.
“Actually no,” Griffin said. “But she was there. You know she’s working as a pro-Domme down in Nola. She had a client—two clients, a couple. The husband is into cuckolding. He wanted Nora to tie him up and ‘force’ him to watch another man fuck his wife.” Griffin raised his hands and put “forced” into finger quotes. Mick knew a lot about being “forced” to do “terrible” things he “didn’t want” to do in bed.
“So you got paid to have sex?” Mick asked, sounding more impressed than shocked. “Like a male prostitute?”
“No, of course not. Nora took my money and donated it to Catholic Relief Services.”
“Nora’s a pimp.”
“Hey, it’s good work if you can get it. They were both very satisfied customers. Came back four more times. He’s a Saint, by the way.”
“A saint of what?”
“A New Orleans Saint. He’s a linebacker on the football team,” Griffin explained. Mick knew about as much about linebackers as Griffin knew about line dancing. “So…what about you? Did you see anybody?” Griffin asked.
“Yeah. Kind of.”
Griffin felt the “yes” more than heard it. Felt it like a punch in the gut.
“Girl,” Mick said. Griffin was embarrassingly relieved about that although it shamed him it did. Sex was sex. It shouldn’t matter if Mick had it with a man or a woman. And yet the idea of anyone else inside his Mick…
“She’s from Yorke,” Mick said. “We’ve had some classes together.”
“I see,” Griffin said. “Are you two still…”
“No,” Mick said. “It lasted about two weeks.”
“Was it weird? Dating a girl?” Griffin asked.
“A little. It was nice at first. She’s…she’s beautiful. And normal for a change. That’s not what I meant.” Mick shook his head. “I really didn’t mean it like that.”
“You aren’t the first person who’s said I wasn’t quite normal,” Griffin said.
“She’s not normal. I only mean she’s…you know.”
“She’s not rich,” Griffin said.
“She’s your age.”
“She doesn’t drag you to parties you don’t want to go to.”
“No. She never did that.”
“Well, she sounds like a huge improvement over me,” Griffin said. “No wonder you asked for the break.”
Mick rolled his eyes.
“I didn’t ask for the break because I wanted to date her. I didn’t ask for the break because you made me go to a party. That wasn’t it,” Mick said. “I was supposed to study abroad last fall, and you talked me out of going. Then I was supposed to go last spring, and you talked me out of going. Then I told you I was going this fall and instead of letting me go, you asked me to put it off one more year because you already made plans for us to go somewhere over fall break. And you asked me to transfer to Cooper Union so I could stay in the city all week instead of going back to Yorke. When I told you I didn’t want to, you said I was being selfish. Selfish because I wanted to keep going to the school I’d been going to for two years and where I had professors I loved and had real friends for the first time in my life. And I didn’t think that was selfish. I thought you asking me to leave my school so I could spend more at home was selfish. Especially since you were never home anymore.”
Griffin didn’t say anything to that. There was nothing he could say to that. Mick was right. Completely and utterly right. He couldn’t argue so he didn’t argue.
“Do you think I actually wanted a break?” Mick asked. “If you think that, you should know I didn’t. I didn’t want it. I needed. Because it was the only way.”
“Only way for what?”
“Nora…” Mick began and met Griffin’s eyes. “She told me a long time ago that the reason she left Father S was because there was someone she needed to be, and she couldn’t be that person and be with Father S at the same time. And that’s why I asked for the break from you. Because there was someone I had to be, and you weren’t letting me be him.”
“Good reason to leave someone,” Griffin said entirely without sarcasm. Now that he’d heard Mick say he didn’t want a break at all, he could be magnanimous. “Were you…did you get to be you with this girl?”
“Pearl,” Mick said.
“Pearl? Is she someone’s grandmother.”
“Her parents are Brooklyn hipsters.”
“They should be arrested for child abuse giving her that name.”
Mick laughed. “Your name’s Griffin. You can’t talk.”
“Hey, Griffin’s a WASP name, not a hipster name. Totally different thing,” Griffin said. He’d been legally required to play lacrosse in high school with a name like Griffin, but at least it wasn’t a hipster grandma name. “So what’s Miss Pearl like?”
“She was nice. I really liked her. But I was kind of terrified of being with her.”
“Why? Because hipster is contagious?”
“Because she wasn’t you.” Mick gave him a nervous glance, but spoke again before Griffin could say anything. “So a month after we got to Rome, we went to Trivoli and we were there overnight and…”
“Right. It’s okay. We were on a break. Even if we weren’t, you know I’m okay with you being with girls.”
“After a few days we were out walking and she said something. She said, ‘I thought you were a die-hard bug. Glad to know I was wrong about that.’ I had no idea what she meant.”
“B.U.G. Bisexual Until Graduation,” Griffin replied. “I got called that in college too. Maybe I’m still bi because I never graduated.”
Mick laughed a little.
“I told her I wasn’t a bug. I was bisexual before college, and I was going to be bisexual after college. She said being bisexual is mostly a phase. Most people are all gay, straight, or lying.”
“She’s been reading too much Savage Love. What did you say to that?” Griffin asked.
“I said, ‘I’m gay then.’”
Griffin smiled. “I guess that wasn’t the answer she wanted.”
“No, it wasn’t. She tried to talk me out of it. She said the only reason I was hung up on you was because of your money and your family. I reminded her I’d asked you for a break, and that wasn’t the sort of thing a gold digger usually did.”
“She doesn’t know you very well if she thinks you want me for my money. You obviously want me for my cock.”
“Obviously,” Mick said, smiling. The smile disappeared and he took a long deep breath. “I thought she was cool. We could talk art and stuff all day and all night long. And she was like me. Her dad’s a teacher. Her mom’s a nurse like my mom. We had a lot in common. It was…easy, being with her. Being with you isn’t easy sometimes.”
“I know it isn’t. There’s a little bit of pressure when you’re with me, I guess.”
“A little,” Mick agreed. An understatement. Griffin’s father was Chairman of the New York Stock Exchange. His mother was a famed Manhattan socialite. Griffin had a part to play in his family and anybody with Griffin was expected to play that part as well. Griffin’s mother had taken on the role of marriage-equality crusader. Not a week passed without her wanting Griffin and Mick to attend some function together. Look, World. Look at my son and his boyfriend. Who could tell these beautiful young men they can’t get married? On top of that, Griffin had inherited The 8th Circle from Kingsley. The club was his responsibility and it took more of his time than Griffin ever dreamed it would. Wrangling wayward submissives and putting pro-Doms into place and planning private parties and wooing new clients…Griffin had a new respect for Kingsley after all that. It was fun, empowering. And Griffin loved it. But what he hadn’t loved was the time it took away from him and Mick. Mick hadn’t asked to be the arm candy of the new King of Kink in New York. That wasn’t what he’d signed up for over two years ago. Mick’s resentment had built up quietly like junk hidden in an attic until the ceiling broke under the weight, and it all came crashing down.
“I’m sorry,” Griffin said. “I asked too much of you. I should have taken better care of you and us. I love showing you off to the world.”
“I’m not a watch. I’m not a new car. I’m just a nobody with social anxiety disorder.”
“You’re not a nobody. You’re everybody, Mick.” Griffin looked at him. “When I got the apartment I wanted a one-bedroom because I didn’t even want friends staying the night at our place. Just you and me. That’s all I wanted. Our own little private kingdom. Somewhere along the way I forgot about that…I let people in our private world until there were so many people around I didn’t even notice when you slipped out the side door. I asked you to transfer schools so we could spend more time together and completely forgot it was me who wasn’t making time for you.”
“It’s not all your fault,” Mick said. “I should have said something. I have a safe word. I could have used to get your attention. Telling anyone what I’m feeling has never been my strong suit.”
“You have my attention now. If you need to say anything to me…anything at all…”
“I do,” Mick said. “I have something to say.”
Mick tucked a stray lock of hair behind his ear and without thinking Griffin reached out and touched Mick’s ear.
“That’s new,” Griffin said. Mick had gotten his ear pierced while they were apart—an industrial-style piercing with a silver bar through the cartilage. Had Mick ever mentioned wanting to get a piecing before? Not that he recalled and Griffin would have recalled.
“I got it a couple months ago,” Mick said. “I…” Griffin still had his fingers on Mick’s ear. He caressed the lobe lightly with his finger. Mick seemed to be struggling for words. Good.
“I like it,” Griffin said.
“Thank you.” Mick whispered the words.
“You needed pain, didn’t you?” Griffin asked.
Mick closed his eyes. “Yes.”
“You were going to say something to me?” Griffin asked, his voice low.
“What I want to say to you…” Mick began. He seemed to have forgotten whatever it was he wanted to say. Talking was overrated anyway. Not when Mick was right here, a foot away from him. Under the table their knees touched. Griffin took Mick’s hand and put it on his thigh under the kilt. Mick kept his hand there. While they’d been apart, Griffin had fucked only the one person and even then it had been solely to distract himself from his loneliness. What he wanted…no, what he needed was Mick back in his bed, in his collar, in his life.
“I wanted to say…” Mick continued.
“Say anything you want to me.”
“Griffin?” came a voice from over Griffin’s shoulder. “Griffin Fiske?”
Mick pulled away and Griffin nearly screamed. When he looked back over his shoulder he saw a woman approaching the table. It took five full seconds for him to put a name with the face.
“Hello, Bitzi,” Griffin said, trying not to wince visibly. He forced a smile. “Long time no see.”
“Too long. Too too long,” she said, bending over to hug him and kiss his cheek. A beautiful buxom blonde, she reeked of alcohol and held a teetering glass of red wine in her hand. “How are you, darling?”
“Great. Just…great.” She stood up and planted a hand on his shoulder to steady herself. Mick was giving him a look—that look. The Who-The-Fuck-Is-This look. “Bitzi, this is Michael. Michael, this is Bitzi. Bitz and I used to hang out at some of the same clubs.” He felt himself flinching every time he said her name. She was actually a Brandi, but her entire life she’d been insisting everyone call her “Bitzi” for some reason probably related to a long history of alcoholism.
“Oh, that’s not all and you know it,” she said, pinching his shoulder.
“Ex-girlfriend?” he continued. “Sort of?”
He’d fucked her half a dozen times, more or less, if he remembered correctly. It all happened in the span of one week so maybe she considered that a relationship? As opposed to what he considered it—further proof he’d hit rock bottom.
“Oh, I was more than ‘sort of’ your girlfriend.” She slapped his back a little harder than necessary. “Nice to meet you…I’m sorry. I didn’t get your name.”
“Harry,” Mick said. “Harry Styles.”
“You’re cute,” Bitzi said. “Are you Griffin’s twink?”
“Jesus, Bitz,” Griffin said. “How much have you had to drink?”
“Lighten up, Griff. It’s Christmas Eve.” She waved her hand in a dismissal. “You were so much more fun before you got clean.”
“I ODed twice,” Griffin reminded her.
“Well, when you were conscious you were more fun.” She turned her attention to Mick again. Griffin tensed, ready to intervene if drunken Bitzi said anything else awful to him. “Do you party?” she asked Mick.
“Hugs not drugs,” Mick said.
“You’re precious,” Bitzi said, the red wine in her glass sloshing dangerously like a red wave on the ocean. “What are you? Fourteen? Fifteen?”
“Yes,” Mick said. “Both.”
“Bitz—” Griffin began but Bitzi waved her hand in dismissal.
“Oh, you know I’m just playing around,” she said to Griffin. To Mick she said, “Your Griffin and I go way way back. Ten years or more?”
“You two were together ten years ago?” Mick asked.
“We were,” she said with a broad grin.”
“Back when Griffin was on drugs?” Mick nodded. “Now it all makes sense.”
Griffin snort-laughed. He couldn’t help it. It just came out.
“Your twink’s kind of a bitch,” Bitzi said, the smile gone from her face.
“Sorry about that,” Mick said. “But I paid a lot of money for this session, and he charges by the minute.”
“Session?” Bitzi said, confusion clouding her already confused face.
“He’s a power bottom, and I’m working the rough trade beat now,” Griffin explained. “You know, bad economy and all that.”
“You want to go fuck?” Mick asked, raising his hand and tapping his imaginary watch on his wrist. “You’re on the clock, Mister.”
Griffin dropped his napkin on the table and lifted one finger in the direction of their waiter.