I can’t procrastinate anymore.
I’ve eaten, surfed, showered, eaten again, cleaned up the kitchen. There’s nothing left to do. I should get to work. But yesterday was slow, and the day before. If something doesn’t happen I’ll spend another day waiting. That’s what my life consists of: waiting.
Not that I could handle her all the time, but I feel more alive when Kit’s here. Like I’ve got a purpose. Not like I’m standing around waiting for something to happen. Because with her, something’s always happening.
Either I’m feeding her, fucking her, binding her or—if I’m feeling particularly brave and/or stupid—trying to pry information out of her. The more I get of her, the more I want. Stop thinking about that woman. You’ll get your greedy hands on her again on Friday.
She’s coming, and for the first time without her escort. It doesn’t make any sense—she puts herself in my hands for days at a time and spending four hours in the car shouldn’t feel like a privilege—but being allowed to pick her up at the airport and knowing she trusts me enough to leave the cavalry on the mainland? Makes me feel like I won a blue ribbon.
If I want to enjoy her without guilt because I ought to be getting something to Beth or Andy or Ingrid, I’d best get to it. I send a silent prayer to the comic gods: Please, let there be something worth spearing with pen and paper today.
Glass of water in hand, I make my way to my desk. Empty. That’s how I like it. A new day, a new chance. Anything could happen. So I flick on the television monitors: Fox News, MSNBC, Al Jazeera America, CNN. In the first few minutes, it’s the same boring shit that’s been dragging on for days. So I boot up the desktop and check the major papers’ headlines. Crap. Crap. Crap.
Fuck this. I’m not going to sit here, banging my head against the desk all day. Sometimes it helps if I look at hard copies. It would at least give me something to do. And the local stories are sometimes fascinating in a way only petty local politics can be.
An hour later, I’m back from the closest convenience store. They know me, start stacking up papers when I walk in. New York Times, West Hawaii Today, Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times. I almost put the LA Times back—I’m not desperate. Am I? Who do you think you’re kidding, Ardmore? On the pile it went.
So here I am, flipping through the pages, frustration building. Nothing. I’ve got fucking nothing. It’d be nice to hand in some work.
I flip open the LA Times. The front section is the same as the rest, not an original thought anywhere. But sometimes their local news is entertaining, so I shake out that section. I’ve been published with them a few times, but not recently. Is Darren White still their editor? City budget, school board, crime, blah, blah, blah. I flick through the pages, skimming, but then something catches my attention. No freaking way.
I study the grainy black and white photo of a woman behind a podium giving a presser. Is that really her? It looks like her. Not that I’ve ever seen her in anything but casual clothes or naked, and the professional veneer of a smart skirt suit throws me, but I can’t shake the nagging certainty. That’s her.
India Burke, aka Kit Bailey-Isles.
I’ve known from the start her name wasn’t Kit, but to see confirmation, in print… I read the article from start to finish. If that’s really her, she works at a consulting firm in San Diego that’s handling the receivership of the Los Angeles Housing Authority. It fits. Law degree but not a lawyer, smart as hell, and that brash attitude when she hasn’t given in to me yet. Yeah. That could be her. And I bet she is bad-fucking-ass.
The itch I’ve had for weeks to pick up the phone and call Rey if only to be a step closer to her intensifies. But I don’t want to talk to Rey. I want to talk to Kit. India. I want to talk to her, hear her voice.
She works for Jack Valentine Associates, and the company website is the first result that comes up from my search. Clicking over to their staff page, she’s the second one listed, right under Jack Valentine himself. India Burke. Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Princeton. Law degree from Columbia. I knew she was smart, but god damn. There’s a long list of projects she’s worked on, her areas of specialization. I’m familiar enough with how public entities operate to understand how intricate and archaic some of the regulations are. I’ve always been impressed by her—who wouldn’t be?—but now I’m blown away. And there’s her email. Her phone number.
I flick on my phone and start to dial, but a little voice that sounds suspiciously like Rey Walter pokes at me. Are you sure this is a good idea?
I shake my head. She trusts me enough to come here alone. Surely calling her from half an ocean away is less threatening than that. So I press the final digits and wait. The connection is slow to pick up, but then it rings, rings again.
Then there’s a voice I recognize, one that’s at once familiar but not. It’s dulled by the many miles it has to travel but it’s still the sharper, more definitive tones of how she talks when she first gets here; before we’ve signed the contracts, before she turns into Kit.
India. Yes. That’s who she is when she first shows up at my door, when she scowls and teases me as we talk over lunch. When her name comes out of my mouth, something surges through me, something powerful. Names have meaning and now I have hers.
“India?” I recognize her, but it’s strange, so it comes out as a question. Is this really you?
“Yes, this is India. Who is this?”
I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but silence isn’t it. And that’s what I get. Long seconds of silence.
“How did you get this number?” The tone of her voice—terrified and angry.
“Stop! Stop saying my name. How do you know who I am? How did you get this number?”
Fuck. I can see her as if she’s here with me, the way her eyes go wide and her muscles tense because she’s getting ready to run. I wish she were here. I could calm her down if she were here. Fuck. Fuck.
“Settle down, Kit. I didn’t mean to upset you.” I pitch my voice to soothe her and call her the name I’m allowed. She likes being Kit with me, lets herself relax. I remember the first time she was here, the first time I bathed her. How she’d gone stiff as a board when I’d asked a rhetorical question: You need this so badly, don’t you? When she’d said yes, sir, I could feel the tension radiating off of her, the fear. I wanted to make it go away. I still want that.
“Answer me, Cris.” Her hostility is overwhelming and though I’d rather take her in my arms, pet her and stroke her, murmur reassurances in her ear until she gave in, I can’t. I’ve only got one thing to give her. The truth.
“I saw your picture in the Times.”
“Why were you reading the Times?”
“It’s part of my job.”
So many times have I wondered what Kit does for a living. I’d guessed that whatever it is, it’s lucrative. It’s not cheap to fly out here, especially on short notice like she does. But when I’d asked Rey about it, if I couldn’t help defray the cost, he’d told me in no uncertain terms not to worry about it. Trust me, he’d said, She prefers it this way.
I’d wanted to ask her, but by the way she very carefully avoided asking me about my job, I didn’t think she’d want to talk about it. Now I know. But at what cost?
“You’re in violation of our contract.” I’d thought her momentary pause was a good sign. That her next question would be softer, but she’s all defensive rage.
“I didn’t think—”
“Fucking right you didn’t think. I’m hanging up. Don’t call me again.”
How the hell have we gotten here so quickly? I scramble for something, anything, because if she hangs up on me, I’ll never get to talk to her again. She’ll be gone and my life will go back to the way it was. Pleasant, easy, yes, but dull. Blues and browns and greens, no bright red. The thought slays me. “Jesus, Kit, please!”
I cringe at the desperation in my voice. Wanting something, someone, so badly is a foreign sensation. It makes me feel out of control, and I don’t like that at all. I hold my breath, knowing it might be the last one with any whiff of her in it. Don’t hang up, please.
“You have one minute to explain yourself. The clock starts now.”
A strangled noise makes its way out of my throat. A brief reprieve.
“I’m a political cartoonist. My work’s been in The New Yorker, The Economist, Time. You can look it up.”
“No. I would’ve recognized your name.”
I smile. I can’t help it. She’s pissed as hell, but that challenging indignant tone… She’s such a fucking know-it-all and I love it. Besides, this question I’ve got an answer to. “I publish under a different name. You aren’t the only one who values their privacy. Does the name Malcolm Bennett mean anything to you?”
It’s an open secret. It’s more to keep the crazies who take comics too seriously hounding the offices of the publications I contribute to instead of showing up here. Not that most of them would, but still. Better safe.
She laughs, and the knot in my stomach loosens. It’s an uncouth noise, more of a snort than anything else. Involuntary. I latch onto it, and when she says, “Yeah, it does,” pride lights me up from the inside.
“That’s me.” We’re not out of the woods, so I try not to sound too eager—I still owe her an explanation—but she knows me, knows my work. She thinks I’m clever, even if she didn’t know it was me. Even better. It’s India, not Kit, who respects Malcolm, and not because he tops her. “That’s me. Malcolm’s my dad’s name, Bennett’s my mom’s maiden name. I watch the news networks. I read the major papers. I don’t usually look at the local stuff, but it was a slow news day and there you were. I knew Kit wasn’t your real name, but…”
But what? What excuse can I give for this? I have none. If I’d taken even a few minutes to play the scenario out in my head, I wouldn’t have done it. It’s tempting to forget that Kit plays by an entirely different set of rules than the rest of humanity. I let myself, and I shouldn’t have.
“Why’d you call me?”
“I couldn’t…not. I saw you. I wanted to hear your voice. I wanted to talk to you. I thought… I thought you’d think it was funny.”
I mean, come on. What the hell kind of coincidence is that? It makes me wonder how many other times she’s been in the paper and I’ve missed it. How many times have I skimmed past an article about one of her clients, floated over her name on a page or on a screen and thought absolutely nothing of it? This could’ve never happened. Odds are, it never should have. She’s got a sense of humor, quicker than mine. Surely she can see the entertainment value here?
“What exactly about violating my privacy is funny to you?”
Or not. She is—pissed is not the word for it. She sounds like she wants to douse me in gasoline and set me on fire. But behind how angry she is, I hear it. The vulnerability. She’s terrified. And I wonder, not for the first time, what the hell has happened to her to make her so afraid. I don’t want to let her go while she’s feeling like that.
“Absolutely nothing. Nothing about that is funny to me, and if I’d thought it through, I never would’ve done it. I apologize. I can’t tell you how sorry I am.”
There’s a pause. Before she can make her call, tell me this is over, I press. “Please, Kit. It was stupid and impulsive. I can’t stand the idea we might end this way. Please. Come this weekend like you were planning to. We’ll talk—same rules as always. If you don’t want to stay after that, we won’t sign the contract. You’ll go home. I won’t bother you again.”
I know she needs to hear it and I’d do it too, but god it makes me sick to say so. “But you can’t tell me you weren’t looking forward to it. You were going to let me pick you up. I’ll fly Matty out myself if you don’t want to do that anymore, but don’t toss this whole thing because I couldn’t resist picking up the phone. Haven’t I earned that? Another chance? I’m cashing in my royal fuck-up card. I don’t expect another one. Please.”
I don’t have anything else to placate her with. Besides, Kit’s not the type of girl who wants declarations. She wants her kink, she wants her sex, that’s it. Except it’s not. She can pretend all she likes, but there’s a part of her that wants more. But telling that to her face? I’d be left in a cloud of dust, if not reduced to a pile of rubble. So I’ll ask for something she might be able to let herself give. That’s the way to do this. Baby steps. Tiny, agonizing, inching forward.
I close my eyes and put my elbows on the desk, wrench a hand into my hair and wait. What is she even thinking? I wish to hell I knew. She’s like a never ending Rubik’s Cube. Just when I think I’ve got her figured out, I turn to another side and it’s a fucking patchwork. I would do pretty much anything to keep turning her over and over in my hands until I click the last square into place. Come on, India. Please.
I refrain from pumping my fist in the air—barely—and hold my voice steady. “Do you want Matty to come?”
Relief laps at me. She still trusts me enough to come alone. But she’s never seemed all that careful of her body—downright reckless, actually. I know she’s got the references and enough information to destroy a person, but still. It’s outrageous.
I could say I want her to come here so she’s not going someplace else, handing herself over to some other Dominant. At least I know she’s safe here. But the truth is, I want so much more than that. If she knew how much…then she really wouldn’t come back. So I’ll play it cool. “Okay. I’ll see you Friday, eleven, at the airport.”
“I really am sorry, Kit. Thank you for giving me another shot. I’ll make it up to you.”
“Don’t make up for it. Just…just don’t fuck up again.”
“I won’t, pet.”
I barely catch the utterance, and then she’s hung up. I click my phone off and take a deep breath, letting it out in a hard exhale. That’s not how I thought I was going to spend my morning. I turn my attention to the paper still spread out in front of me, the picture that started all of this. I trace her hair, remembering the feel of it between my fingers.
Now I have some work to do. She said not to try to make it up to her, and I won’t. Not with things anyway. There are very few objects I could give her that she can’t get for herself. But I could give her something else. If only I can figure out how to offer it to her without scaring her away.