part seven: just a few close friends
At least I could be pretty sure that I was dressed appropriately — so I’d thought.
I wasn’t quite ready — and perhaps I never would be — to “Go Full Godiva,” although there was something about the idea that simply made me shiver.
I’d gone the “two items only” route, wearing the dress with no undergarments, the sandals with no hose, carrying nothing: it made me feel both carefree and vulnerable.
When the limo pulled up in front of the mansion, Jason was waiting outside, accompanied by two slightly older couples.
I didn’t really need a bra, and the dress wasn’t sloppy-loose in a way that made me worry about “wardrobe malfunctions,” and it had a lining that had reassured me in the area of potential seepage.
But I hadn’t even considered the possibility of other people being there — and now I couldn’t help but begin wondering what their presence implied, made likely, or guaranteed.
Not quite an Intake Interview? But, the previous weekend, Jason and I had discussed, at some length and down to subtle details “where the lines were,” what was black, what white, how we would negotiate gray.
And now . . .
Would this be sharing or swapping or watching?
Did it mean exhibition?
Could it mean video?
Which, I had been clear —
Who was what?
Straight or gay or bi?
How did limits work in a . . . Three-Couple-Circus?
Jason kissed my palm and helped me to my feet as I stepped out of the limo; then, as if guiding me across delicate terrain, put his hand first on the back of my neck and slowly slid it down to just below the small of my back, the tip of his pinky, only briefly, slotting into the cleft of my unpantied ass.
No bra strap on the way down the spine; no panties at the destination; assessment done!
Jason ducked his head down toward me as we walked, a mischievous little boy sharing a naughty secret.
“Good girl!” he said brightly, kissing me gently on the cheek. “Good choice!”
“Was it?” I replied, my voice creaky with rising anxiety.
Perhaps Devya had been right; maybe I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into.
But what I had experienced with Jason Flood —
In such a short period of time!
I had never before —
Yes, yes, yes! Devya’s voice scolded me in my head, None of which makes any of this safe or sensible.
“I’d like to introduce you to a few of my closest friends,” Jason said as we approached the group at the door. “Mal and Betsy,” he pointed with his chin and we nodded and smiled at each other. “David and Caterina.”
More nodding and smiling.
David looked to be a good fifteen years older than Caterina — a handsome man, but fading, he projected a somewhat tentative quality; she was all cheekbones and flashing blue eyes and attitude that she took no great effort to conceal or even tone down. That seemed foolish to me in this context; but . . . what did I really know about this context anyway?
Mal and Betsy struck me as more lowkey affable; generic rich people, they knew the lines to the play they were in — having endlessly rehearsed them from birth. But clearly there was — something — something there that they routinely concealed.
They set off an alarm bell for me: people I would counsel against taking on as clients.
Perhaps both — but born of long experience.
You would go through interviews and research, with those sorts of clients, and interrogatories and discovery; things would be moving along swimmingly. Then some sort of bombshell information would be dropped that fundamentally upended how we had to approach the case.
And they’d either look at you in wide-eyed perplexity — Oh dear, was that important? — or simply wave you off: Fine! We’ve detonated a shit-bomb. What are you all waiting for? Go find some sponges!
“I’d like you all to meet Maura Diamond,” Jason said to the assembled group. “I believe we are all going to become very good friends!”
The men nodded at that perfunctorily; Betsy gave a brittle little smile; Catarina’s response was just barely short of a scowl and the rolling of her eyes.
“Now Catty,” Betsy said in mock admonishment, “we all know you get a little peckish at this time in the afternoon. A caviar and vodka deficiency, was it, dear? I’m sure Jason can bring you around in no time at all — Oh! With the help of that — ” she flailed her hands around a little, as if encouraging another game show contestant to jump right in, “ — Jennifer!” she cried, snapping her fingers in triumphant recognition.
As though thus summoned, Genevieve — rather more conventionally dressed this weekend, compared to last — appeared in the doorway to the house, to announce that lunch was to be served momentarily.
No one corrected the mangling of Genevieve’s name.
And lunch began with caviar and vodka.
Come See the Show!
“Of course, they know! It’s why they’re here!”
“And this room?”
“Every — ”
“Every. Room. Yes.”
“So . . . have I been — ?”
I didn’t want to finish the question; I felt physically ill; I felt like, when I got back to the city, I should draw up papers and have Devya appointed my legal guardian.
Clearly, I was incapable of managing my own . . . affairs, I thought bitterly.
Jason Flood closed the curtain he had just pulled back and, looking crestfallen and a little shell-shocked, sat down heavily again on the yellow silk monstrosity of a couch that was part of the décor of his bedroom, his back flush up against one of the arms.
I had flipped out; I think that’s a fair description — and I’ll get to “why” in a minute.
He’d lost his patience, become angry, and raised his voice.
That’s it: no violence, no screaming, no threats of ritual discipline.
Through the haze of my own anger, I understood why he was reacting the way he was.
He had disappointed himself: he’d lost control of himself; and — clearly — he was upset that he’d hurt me.
“Please?” he said softly, gesturing for me to sit.
No note of command or menace in his voice, his expression and tone just so painfully sad.
And why should I be feeling sorry for him?
This was — what he’d done — this was unforgivable.
It just —
It just was.
Now, of course, there was the question of how I was going to get back to the city: the light summer dress and the sandals — all that I’d brought with me — not the best hiking clothes for someone intent on walking the length of the Long Island Expressway at midnight.
I had trusted, just a few hours earlier, that I needed no other possessions or support, that he’d take care of me.
Was I insane?
I’d first encountered him, after all, because my firm had taken on Caroline Heatherington as a client: the plaintiff in what The Post had dubbed The Long Island Dungeon Case; Jason Flood, of course, being the defendant.
And though the case had settled before much of anything had happened — call it what it is — both hearing about his relationship with Caroline and meeting him in person had led me to . . .
I sat, my back against the opposite arm rest, sullen, sad, and angry, my arms folded across my chest.
“Maura — ”
I wouldn’t look at him; I wouldn’t look at his face, wouldn’t look into his eyes.
I was being childish?
I was being childish.
I looked up at him.
I kept giving in!
Why did I keep giving in?
He leaned toward me a little — across the space for three that separated us on the couch — I stiffened as well, my back coming off the armrest on my end. He raised his hands as if in surrender, leaned back again.
The question wasn’t accusatory; he wasn’t angry; but he was clearly devastatingly hurt.
“Do you really think I would do that to you? Really? Do you really think that’s who I am? That’s who I want us to be?”
On the word “us,” he took the slightest pause, and I was shocked to see that it looked like he had to make a momentary effort not to cry.
He’d hit a button, pulling back a curtain that covered one of the walls of his bedroom, revealing a video screen.
On the screen, there was Catarina — dressed perhaps like a 19th Century Russian Circus Dominatrice — riding, well . . . sodomizing David, with brutal enthusiasm and regular recourse to her crop.
His howls — before the scene was muted — made it clear that he was finding at least as much pleasure as pain in the scene.
I could . . . understand that.
But — no! That wasn’t the point!
The whole fucking house was wired up?
Everything was under surveillance?
Everything was being recorded?
And he hadn’t answered my question: had I been recorded?
One of my first thoughts, after all, when I saw that little posse of potential swingers, a scant twelve hours earlier, as the limo pulled up to the house: were they into video?
And the idea had been chilling to me: I’d stepped on it hard.
Because there is no such thing as private; there is no such thing as secure; two people can keep a secret only if one kills the other — if then.
Attorneys are always vulnerable to “reputational attacks.”
For a female attorney?
Those attacks can be professionally fatal — the accusations and rumors are often enough!
Was there video?
Jason Flood took a breath, put his hands on his knees, looked me full in the face.
“I had very much hoped that you knew how much I — ” I put up my hands, and then began waving them, as if to stop an avalanche.
He was going to talk about love now?
That was crazy!
We hadn’t —
I’d had no chance to —
“ — admire and respect you,” he plowed on through, ignoring my attempts to direct traffic. “I very much enjoyed the physical and even emotional — ” he cleared his throat and changed course. “I was impressed by your clarity and your commitment, by your desire to understand your own desires, and to find ways to satisfy them that keep you . . . safe.”
He seemed to run out of steam.
“So are there — ”
He became a little formal and technical, snapped into Corporate Podium Mode, as if reading from a press release script — or an instruction manual — written by a lawyer.
“Top Line,” he said, getting more crisp as he went on, “no one here is recorded in any context or during any activity the exposure of which would cause them discomfort of whatever kind, unless they give express consent. Second line: the disposition, distribution — or destruction — of any video recorded here is wholly under the control of the people in the video.”
He gestured toward the curtain, now closed.
“They are doing what they want to do,” he said simply. “Part of what they get off on is sharing this with other people — some other people. Those are all their decisions. They are in control. As — if you chose to . . . participate, in whatever manner — you would always be in control.”
He stood, now looking tired and glum.
“I can have some of my tech people explain to you about incidental coverage and surveillance and insurance concerns and legal necessities and encrypted servers and network security and . . .”
He trailed off.
His voice was duller when he started up again: the corporate titan wading through the details of a deal that had melted down.
“I’ll have Rafa drive you back to the city, if that’s what you’d like now. The helicopter — well, I think the car would be better. You are, of course, welcome to spend the night here, go back in the morning. Genevieve could show you the options — make clear that the locks all work, leave you with a can of mace or a pair of brass knuckles, if you would find that reassuring.”
He gave me a wan smile at his own self-deprecating humor.
“I’m sure that — ” But I didn’t know what to say.
“I’m going to go down and swim some laps,” he murmured softly, turning away.
When he stopped at the door, I still had found no words.
Turning to face me again, he said, “Two important things I need to say. First: I’m sorry. I don’t — I usually — I’m, I’m just sorry. And second — ”
He paused for an eternity.
He looked like the little kid who’s spent twenty minutes on line for the high diving board and, having reached the top and walked gingerly out to the bouncy lip and looked over is now equally conflicted about jumping or turning back.
“Second,” he said again, “what I would most like — to be clear: what I very much want — is for you to stay here tonight; here,” he repeated, looking around his bedroom, “with me. You have to decide what you want, Maura,” he said, opening the door and stepping out into the hall.
“You have to decide,” he repeated, as he softly closed the door.
Excerpted from Zoë Zelig’s:
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