The light is hazy, soft but bright. I feel weightless up here, as if I’ve left the fucked up part of myself 2000 feet below.
The air rushes over the wings and with a slight correction I bring the nose up so the horizon falls away again. Control, the illusion of power, as the glider rides the thermals, looking down to a place where people are the size of ants and cars like cockroaches trail up the I-5.
“You can start your descent now, Mr Grey.”
The voice breaks into my consciousness, reminding me that I’m not alone up here.
I contact the tower to inform them I’ll be landing on runway five.
Gently, I nudge the joystick to the left and begin a slow spiral back to the ground. The glider bounces lightly across the grass: it’s a textbook landing.
The wing dips and we come to a complete halt. I unlatch the canopy and jump out, disappointed to be back on earth already. My companion takes his time, moving stiffly.
The old bastard is making me wait as he pretends to check his notes. Finally he looks up and cracks a grin across his leathery face.
“Well, Mr Grey. Under the authority of Parts 61 and 141 of Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations, I’m pleased to say that you now have your license to pilot a glider. I’ll contact the FAA about the certification. Congratulations.”
We shake hands and for a moment I feel… good. I think that’s the appropriate word. It seems to fit.
“What’s next for you?”
“Rotorcraft,” I reply without having to think.
He raises an eyebrow. “Well, I’m sure you’re up to the challenge although Christ alone knows why you’d want to get into one of those noisy machines. They just ought not to work: all those tons of metal dangling from one lynch pin that keeps the rotor-blades on.”
He shakes his head and I can’t help grinning at him: Jeff Andrews is a purist.
He ambles back to the office while I head for the parking lot and my mood darkens. Mom is putting on one of her Sunday lunches where we do all that traditional shit like we’re a normal family. Well, they probably are a normal family until I turn up. I know Elliot is taking his girlfriend Jessica and I’m not looking forward to seeing her again. She was pretty nice, much better than Elliot’s usual choice of all boobs and no brains, but last time I saw her I freaked her out when she tried to hug me. Yeah, I’m really looking forward to this cozy family lunch. But I’ve been promising to spend some time with Mia so I can’t say no. Can I?
As I drive out to Bellevue the familiar anxiety begins: what will I do today to fuck it up for everyone else? Just watching them try to ignore the elephant in the room that is me and all my fucked up-ness is painful to watch. They tiptoe around me, hoping that whatever they say next isn’t going to be the thing that makes me lose it.
I really hope I can spend some quality time fucking Kirsten soon because without that, my tentative hold on reality begins to fly away. Elena knew how to calm me down and I really need that sense of order in my life. She’s offered again to ‘help’ but I don’t want to be under her control: just my own, as if that’s even fucking possible.
I pull up in the driveway and take a moment to prepare for my family, trying to pull together the pieces, so they won’t see the edges fraying.
I look up and mom is waiting at the door like I knew she would be, but it’s Mia who comes barreling out.
“Christian! You’ve got a new car! Oh, it’s so cool, you have to take me for a ride in it with the top down. Please, please, please! Say you will! You promised to take me to Olympia, don’t forget. Can we do that next weekend, can we?”
For a moment I’m taken aback. I see people at the office, of course, but generally I spend a lot of time alone. This cascade of words and affection is momentarily overwhelming.
I get out of the car and Mia throws herself at me. Even though I’m mentally prepared I still have to stop myself from flinching. She wraps her arms around my waist and hugs me tightly. I tentatively hug her back and am grateful when mom peels her off.
“Let him get into the house, Mia,” she says with a smile. “Hello, darling,” and she kisses me on the cheek.
I try to smile back and take a deep breath before I head into the house.
“Elliot’s brought his new girlfriend,” says Mia. “She’s really nice, not like… well, you know. She plays the violin: did Elliot tell you? She says you’re going to play piano for her later. Are you really, Christian, because you never play for anyone, so it would be way cool if you played today – I haven’t heard you play for ages. Promise you’ll play.”
“I don’t think so, Mia. Jessica probably misunderstood.”
Mia frowns. “No, I don’t think so: she said she met you the other night at Elliot’s.”
I feel my face cracking under the strain of not being seriously fucking pissed off. Mom notices my expression and tries to divert the torrent of Mia’s words.
“Can you ask Rosemary how long until lunch, please, Mia?”
“Oh, ok! But don’t talk about anything important until I get back: I hate being the last to know everything. Promise! Promise!”
She runs off and I feel like doing the same.
Mom gazes at me sympathetically and starts to stroke a hand through my hair. I don’t mean to, but I can’t help ducking away from her. She tries not to look upset but I can tell she is. Fuck! I’ve hurt her already and I’ve been in the house less than a minute.
Dad comes out to shake hands and frowns when he sees mom’s face. Great, now he’s pissed, too. A nice, easy Sunday lunch. For fuck’s sake.
“Hey, little bro. Get your ass in here!”
I hear Elliot’s vulgar shout from the main room. Jessica is sitting next to him looking almost as nervous as I feel. I have some sympathy with her: my family can be overwhelming.
“Hear you’ve bought yourself a new apartment, bro,” says Elliot. “Working on being Master of the Universe, hey? How’s that goin’ for ya?”
“Fuck off, Elliot,” I say mildly.
Jessica looks shocked but Elliot just laughs.
“Christian, really! Please don’t use language like that: we have guests. And I don’t like Mia hearing you talk like that either.”
“Sorry, mom. I can’t help it around Elliot.”
I can see she’s trying not to laugh and I’m glad I’ve said something that doesn’t make her look like she wants to cry.
“Hello, Jessica. It’s nice to see you again.”
Elliot rolls his eyes at me. “Her name’s Jess, Christian.”
“Jess: nice to see you.”
“Hello, Christian,” she says nervously. “I’m really looking forward to hearing you play. Everyone says you’re marvellous.”
I scowl at Elliot.
“I’m sorry, Jessica, Jess: but I don’t think so.”
“Don’t be such a tight-ass,” says Elliot.
“Leave him alone, Elliot,” Mom says in a don’t-mess-with-me tone.
Elliot grins and runs a hand down Jessica’s thigh which makes her blush. I don’t expect she’ll have time to hear me play anyway: I suspect Elliot is planning on having her for dessert in the boathouse.
“Tell us about the new apartment, darling,” says mom.
I shrug. “It’s an apartment. It has… views.”
She waits, expecting more, then sighs. “That’s lovely, dear, but does it have any rooms to go with these views?”
“It has 4,000 square feet of living space, two en-suite guest bedrooms, an underground garage and master bedroom.” Shit! I must sound like a fucking realtor brochure.
Elliot’s jaw drops. “Four thousand feet? Shit, bro! That’s big!”
I should have stuck with ‘it has views’.
Jessica looks bewildered.
“My little bro is a financial genius,” says Elliot proudly. “Crazy as shit, but a goddam genius.”
“Elliot!” says mom with that warning voice again.
I really want to get the fuck out of there and am standing up to go when Mia comes bouncing back in.
“Elliot, you’re being an ass!” she yells. “Look, he’s getting ready to run away already.”
“Language, Mia,” says mom, rubbing her forehead tiredly.
If she really wants to improve the language of this family she may as well give the fuck up now.
“I’m not running,” I lie. “I’m just going to see what’s keeping dad.”
“No need,” says my dad, striding into the room.
He claps me on the shoulder again.
I can see Jessica’s eyes scrolling between us. She’s probably wishing she could get the fuck out, too.
“Christian was just telling us about his new apartment,” says mom desperately.
Oh, fuck, no. Not that again.
“Oh, tell us! Tell us!” sings Mia. “When are you moving in? Can I come and stay? Did you get a piano yet? Can I have a room to decorate? Mom, when can we go see it?”
“I haven’t moved in yet. I only agreed it with the realtor last week. It’ll be at least two weeks, maybe three.”
“Well done, son,” says dad proudly. “It’s always good to put your money into something solid like property. Now, about the mortgage: my colleague Fred Salmond knows a broker who…”
“That’s ok, dad, it’s all figured out.”
“Figured how? You’ve never had a mortgage – you don’t know which type…”
“I paid cash,” I mutter, wishing the conversation would go somewhere else – preferably Mars.
I look up at his surprised face.
“I paid cash, dad. I didn’t want a mortgage.”
I wanted something that was mine: something nobody could take away from me, ever.
“But… but… how? How much did you pay for it?”
“Cary!” says mom, quietly. “This is hardly the time or place.”
“No, no, of course not,” he says. “We can talk about it later in my study after lunch, right, Christian?”
I neither agree or disagree but that conversation won’t be happening.
“Well,” says mom with increasing desperation, “when did Rosemary say lunch will be ready, Mia?”
“Oh, I knew there was something I was supposed to do,” said Mia. “Sorry, mom.”
Luckily at that moment Mrs Smithson appears to tell us we can take our places in the dining room.
Mia insists that I sit by Jessica on the grounds that we’ll have ‘lots to talk about’ as we’re ‘both musical’. I seriously fucking doubt that and Jessica is looking like she’d rather eat raw catfish than sit next to a psycho like me. Can’t say I blame her.
But with food in front of us, the conversation morphs into something like normal. We’ve seen a lot of the same visiting artistes and I realise that I’ve even seen one of her performances.
“Stop trying to hit on my girl,” says Elliot almost seriously, sliding his hand along the top of Jessica’s chair.
I know he’s goading me because for all he knows I live the life of a Trappist monk, but Jessica blushes until her face is the same color as her hair – or nearly the color of mine.
“Mom, Elliot’s being an ass again,” says Mia.
Dad throws her a look and mom sighs with frustration.
“You want to take the boat out this afternoon, Mia?” says Elliot.
“Sure thing! Will you come, too, Christian, will you, will you?”
“No, I don’t think so. I have to get back and work.”
“But it’s Sunday,” she whines. “Please! Just for half an hour?”
I shake my head. “Not today.”
“You always say, ‘not today’ or ‘some other time’. It’s not fair!”
“I really think you could make some time for your family, Christian,” says dad.
Here comes the fucking guilt trip.
“Your brother has brought this delightful young lady to meet us and your sister has been looking forward to seeing you after you promised to spend more time with her. I believe you were going to take her to Olympia, too?”
Mia grins in triumph and I can feel my temper beginning to build.
Mom smiles at me sympathetically and manages to change the subject away from the interesting topic of making me feel like shit.
* * * *
After lunch, I walk down to the boathouse with Elliot and Jessica, Mia bouncing along in front like an over-excited spaniel, all long, dark hair and hopeful brown eyes.
I help Elliot unfurl the sails of the little boat whilst Jessica watches apprehensively.
“I’ve never been on a sailboat before,” she says nervously.
“Don’t worry, babe,” says Elliot casually. “You’ll love it when you’re out there.”
“I’m not good on water,” she admits softly.
I see Mia roll her eyes and Elliot look slightly annoyed. I can tell that Jessica’s days are numbered – probably in hours, from the look on Elliot’s face.
Tentatively she steps into the boat, her face pale. I clear the mooring lines and jump in, getting ready to start the small outboard that will take us onto the Sound.
Jessica looks more than nervous now – she looks sick.
My cell rings, distracting me from my thoughts.
“What is it, Ros?”
“You haven’t heard? About Baxters?”
“What about them?”
“They’re trying to raise equity… from Daniel Roberts.”
“What the fuck? How did that little fucker manage to raise capital?”
“I don’t know. I’m tracking down the money trail now.”
“Ok, good. I’ll come and meet you and…”
“Christian, take the fucking day off. I know you’re with your family and there’s nothing you can do right now. I’m on the case and you won’t be able to talk to the bank until tomorrow. I just thought you ought to know. Anyway, I can’t meet you: I have plans later.”
I sigh and run a hand through my hair.
“Fine, but I’m going home now so email me everything you have before you finish for the day.”
“Don’t blame me if you have a heart attack before you’re forty, Grey.”
I ignore her jibe. I can hear Gwen’s voice clearly in the background. Someone else who doesn’t think you should work on a Sunday.
“Whatever, Ros. Have fun with Gwen.”
She ends the call.
I look up: Elliot is pulling a face and Mia is pouting.
“I’ve got to go,” I mumble.
“Christian, you promised!” whines Mia.
“Let it go, sis,” Elliot says quietly. “Christian has to work.”
His voice is cool, but disappointed.
Nothing new there.
I climb out of the boat and am surprised when Jessica follows me.
“Elliot, do you mind if I go back to the house? I’m really not good with boats – I feel seasick already.”
He frowns and looks really pissed off.
“Christian, will you walk Jessica back to the house for me?”
I really don’t want to but I can’t say no.
Jessica is almost green on the short walk back and her face is covered in a clammy sweat.
“Do you need the bathroom?” I ask, hoping she’s not going to vomit on mom’s lawn.
“Yes, please,” she answers weakly, holding one hand over her mouth.
I point her in the direction of the downstairs bathroom and then head off to find mom and dad.
Dad, of course, is in his study. He works on a Sunday.
“Christian? I thought you were sailing with Elliot and Mia. And Jessica.”
“I had a work call: I’ve got to go.”
“On a Sunday? Is it really that urgent?”
“I need to check some facts quickly.”
“Well, you can use my computer, if it’s just a few quick facts,” he offers.
Fuck! I should have lied.
“Your mother is really hoping that you’ll stay for a bit longer: she misses you.”
The guy is an expert at emotional fucking blackmail. No wonder he makes such a good lawyer.
“Ok,” I sigh.
The truth is Ros has it under control so there’s not much for me to do until Monday: then they’ll see what a seriously pissed ‘financial genius’ can do. I’d really like to know where that asshole Daniels has got the money from.
But the usual searches bring me nothing. I’ll have to wait until tomorrow when I can talk to the bank. I fucking hate waiting. I stand up and stretch.
“Where are you going?”
I look around. I’d forgotten dad was still there.
“To play the piano.”
Yeah, I can improvise.
“I want to talk to you about your new apartment first.”
He points to a chair.
I fucking hate this: it reminds me of all those times I was brought in here to have the riot act read to me when I was a teenager. The drinking, the fighting, talking back to teachers at school. All the worry gave my parents a lot of grey hairs. I wish they’d stop worrying about me now – I can take care of myself. Haven’t I proved that to them? I mean, fuck! I just paid $1.55 million cash for a new apartment. That’s more than Elliot can do; that’s more than my dad can do.
“What do you want to know?” I say in a surly tone.
He raises an eyebrow. “Well, how you’re financing it, for a start.”
“I paid cash.”
He gapes. I’ve never seen my dad gape before: he reminds me of a big old bass I caught once. Weird.
“How much did you pay, Christian?”
I sigh. It’s really none of his business.
“One point five five million dollars.”
“Where… how… where did you get that sort of money?”
Does he think I robbed a fucking bank?
“Grey Cells has done well. I paid cash.”
“Well… that’s… that’s really quite remarkable. Well done, Christian.”
I wait for the ‘but’; there’s always a ‘but’.
“Your mother will be very proud of you.”
Is that it?
“Ok.” We stare at each other. “Thanks.”
He nods. I nod. Talk over.
I head into the main room and lift the lid of the piano. It’s a nice instrument, an upright. But I’d really like to have a Steinway Grand, like my piano teacher, Miss Cathy used to have. That would sound great in the new apartment.
I add it on to my mental to-do list.
I haven’t played for over a month and I feel rusty but then my hands start to warm up and the music, beautiful and discordant, begins to flow: Ravel’s Scarbo.
I’m in a safe place when I play: control, focus, a flare of anger. That’s what this music needs and right now it’s what I need.
Suddenly I hear a sharp intake of breath behind me and my fingers fly off the keys at the sound of her voice.
“Oh, please! I didn’t mean to disturb you. Don’t stop, that was beautiful. You’re very talented.”
But I’m already closing the piano lid.
“I don’t play for strangers,” I say coolly, even though inside I’m struggling to keep my temper in check.
Jessica pales and looks shocked, although whether that’s from my expression or my words, I can’t tell.
Elliot comes striding in with Mia trailing behind looking upset.
“You know you can be a real asshole sometimes, Christian,” says Elliot with angry eyes. “Jess was just being nice.”
“I don’t play for strangers,” I repeat, like the fucking idiot that I am.
“It’s not always about you,” says Elliot quietly. “If you just took your head out of your ass, you might realise that other people’s feelings deserve some consideration, too.”
He pulls Jessica into a hug and leads her back outside and, after shaking her head at me, Mia follows.
Yeah, the Christian Grey effect, ladies and gentleman. How to clear a room in fewer than ten words.
I shouldn’t have come.