A restoration, absolution dinner invitation was made and accepted. A simple yes thrown out because Ben was home and the devil was anxious to look over his pawns, inspect them for wear or damage and re-roast them in flames of regret before sending them off to endure a little more of the world outside of hell.
When we arrived we were let in by one of the staff, ostensibly helping out with final preparations or perhaps working on a Friday night because people do that nowadays, especially when their employers have just flown in and decided to have a late engagement and needed some things done on a timely basis. She told us Mr. C was still preparing and would we like a drink? Ben said he would look after it and after enquiring as to my well-being she asked if we needed anything else and I told her to go home, to have a lovely weekend. I'm not sure if she wondered if I could actually do that in Caleb's absence but she looked somewhat relieved and happy to escape a bit early. We can carry our own plates in from the kitchen. I do it three times a day at home.
I walked down into the living room and straight out to the balcony where a table was set for three. Black roses in the centre made me stop and catch my breath. Black. It's so rare to see them in real life, I always stop and admire them when I do. It doesn't matter if they are real or manufactured, they're just beautiful. All rose colors are beautiful but black ones just resonate that much louder to me.
I exclaimed rather sweetly, excited to see them and bent forward to stick my face into the closest bloom.
This is how you say hello?
Caleb was standing in the doorway. He shot a cuff and checked his watch. The new Breitling that someday I will pry off his wrist and wear forever even though it's very large and will provide me with all the gravity I will ever need. If I'm not mistaken I'll guess my initials are already carved into the back with the rest of his family as his good luck charm. BRC. Because he still refuses to indulge in any subsequent last names I take on.
By moments, only. Traffic was light for a Friday night.
Punctuality is one of your charms, princess. Where is your pet?
He's getting us a drink from your kitchen. You would have passed him to get here.
The roses are beautiful.
I'd like you to take them with you when you leave in the morning.
Ben appeared just then, holding two tumblers of ice and cranberry juice. Caleb thanked him for accepting the invitation on such short notice and asked about work and Ben talked a little of some reorganization they had gone through lately and some pre-predictions for numbers based on a Christmas release (an industry kiss of death, no less) and one Benjamin doesn't really care about at this point. He told Caleb that he has concrete plans to switch gears in the near future and things will be vastly different a year from now. I listened and worked to keep my expression neutral while Caleb watched me fail. I didn't know any of this. We had talked about things before, at length and I had asked Ben not to give up a damned thing. That he needs it.
I think they both sensed that I was become vaguely agitated by all the business- and future-talk and quickly brought the subject back to me. Where it belongs. Compliments on my hair, my skin tone of all things, still the alabaster pearl-white after an attempt to turn myself pink at the beach resulted in the massive loss of the color from my flesh within a week. They both seem to like me pale. I was annoyed so I asked Caleb if he had spoken to PJ and he said that he would leave PJ alone because here I was and it was the verbal confirmation I was seeking that no matter what happened this evening, he wasn't going to fuck with PJ's heart even though he succeeded in proving that he can fuck with anyone at any time, if he so chooses.
If I do not cooperate.
Oh, but I am. I'm sitting here on this beautiful balcony, framed in black roses and cool and lovely in the little black slip dress with the embroidery he requested and the shoes that have tiny highest heels that catch in the pattern on the iron balcony floor and so I walk on my toes a little. I twisted my hair into a low knot but let a wealth of tendrils down because that's how he likes it and I'm hoping against hope that tonight he doesn't poison my food because that's not in the rules.
Do you think I give him a hard time? Have you met Satan?
Oh, but Satan has made a history out of underestimating Ben and I together and that is what saves this to grace from certain unrecoverable debt. And that is what leaves me squarely in the crosshairs between Satan and my boys. PJ can protect himself. He shouldn't have to.
I don't put anything past Caleb, and yet I struggle with doubt when he tries to please me. I wore my best charm and I thanked him for his thoughtfulness and then as if on freaking cue, the servers I didn't see arrive advanced with our first course.
The pattern goes like this, without deviation: I eat, and listen well, because I hear so poorly, and take very small bites and even smaller sips and express appropriate interest for the topics at hand. The men talk. They eat with their hands. They ask me for my thoughts. And they watch me. I'm not sure if it's still the fascination in kind or merely because inevitably one's eyes will be drawn to the brightest subject nearby but they seem to take turns losing their focus in gazing at me. I feel like a human buffet or a delicate and rare artifact to be admired and touched (if you dare). I feel like meat sometimes and sometimes I feel like I must be the most special person alive.
I don't remember what we had for dinner. I do remember everything afterward, including leaving the half-begun raspberry truffle cake for a move to the balcony railing where Caleb pointed out the latest construction on the museum and several constellations I couldn't recognize if I tried. He and Ben remarked on the first geese migrations we saw earlier in the day. Pleasance to a fault. Charm to a bitter, inevitable end.
Caleb murmured to one of the servers that it would be fine if they would clear the table and take their leave and we retired to the living room with coffee and some pastries that remained untouched. As usual it would have been too much.
With Caleb everything is too much.
We talked about the children and their upcoming schedules for school, swimming and friends. We talked about Cole, for a time, and about my plans for writing over the fall. We didn't speak again of Ben's decisions for his night job nor did we touch on the expectations Caleb held for his return on leaving my boys alone. We never do. We don't have to say the words, they are simply there. He exploits me and I don't like it. I may like him but I hold a monstrously fearful disdain for the appetites he brings to our encounters. He thinks he is spending Cole's legacy but I still believe Cole would have been horrified.
Ben is never horrified, Ben has seen it all. Ben does it all. And if I can put some beauty on the horror that is Ben's life and extract some of his own worst cravings in the process to give him some peace of mind then I'll do what I can and live long enough to be able to block out the rest before I fall asleep at night. In a way it's a succinct and total distraction from missing Cole and needing Jake. In a way it's a fitting end to a game I have played too long, winning round after round knowing that soon the piper would come over the hill or around the bend and I would be the one paying him. In a way it's a need that I would never speak of out loud that I found a way to fill, with just a little thrill and sickness mixed in to make it something that doesn't occur very often.
In a way, my life is bespoke, designed and tailored to fit me and only me and those who can't stand to be apart from me. I don't deign to discuss it with those who wouldn't understand. Those who won't expand their minds to understand that everything is not as it appears and it won't conform to your ideals nor fail to insult your own good graces.
I brought my roses home. I earned them with good behavior. It was still dark outside and not even far into the next day as Satan predicted it would be. Because sleeping in his presence? That's something even I won't do.
And I will do almost anything.
Fine, assume away. I don't care.