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People Don't Change

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***

 

Chrissie

 

I remember thinking that he looked like an overgrown and overeager puppy dog the first time I saw him. It was years before the hair and the outfits and the rock guitar poses and he had yet to fill out his limbs and height. That gangly awkwardness was somehow awfully endearing.

 

Most of all, I remember thinking that his eyes looked kind. I fell into that trap years before I even knew it was a trap at all.

 

***

 

Freddie

 

The first time I met him, I remember thinking that those hands and those eyes could be dangerous. His voice was warm as he greeted me and provoked something hot and liquid inside of me.

 

I lingered over our handshake and cocked my hips just so, moving just a tad too close to him. I saw the recognition in his face and he nodded, so slightly that an unobservant bystander would think little of it. I smiled back, young and cocksure, completely unaware what I had just consigned myself to.

 

***

 

Chrissie

 

Brian wouldn’t hurt a fly. Brian cherishes the life of every helpless creature. Brian is an educated…a civilized…rock star.

 

Sometimes I hear people say these things and I want to laugh.

 

***

 

Freddie

 

He moves the shard of ice over my skin exhibiting a precise patience that makes my body ache with the need for more, the need for completion. I can feel the cold of the ice merging with the heat of my body and subsiding into icy trickles of water that pool in the hollow of my back and between my shoulder blades. He follows with his tongue, removing the liquid that he has created, and the shock of the contrast between his hot mouth and my chilled skin drives a gasp from my lungs.

 

The deep purple silk scarf around my wrists bites into my skin and leaves the tips of my fingers tinged with blue. The small pain of that constriction shoots through me, driving back the numbness that will relentlessly and inexorably come creeping back once he is done with me. And so I will go creeping back to him again, sniveling and broken. I wonder what is wrong with me. I need this so badly to feel normal that it must be a sign that I am not normal at all.

 

I tremble as he moves lower, past the small of my back. “I told you to hold still and keep quiet,” he growls. My joints ache with the strain of keeping motionless as he does his best to drive some reaction or sound from me. Finally, the ice cube has melted away and his more creative tortures likewise melt into the most base and simple of all the intimate actions that take place between two people. He fucks me and it is all I can do not to sob from the perfection of it all.

 

“Now, tell me,” he whispers, a tenderness that I can’t help but believe edging through in his sex-husked voice.

 

I know the things he wants to hear. The fuck me nows, the give it to me harders. I need your cock, Brian, you feel so good inside me, I can’t live without this. And the truth is, I want to say all those things. Every one.

 

He sinks his teeth into my shoulder right before his release. The pain blossoms across my back, feed into my spine and seems to funnel straight down to the roots of my cock until the pain and my arousal are no longer distinguishable. It is the final push that I desired. I wonder if I can even come without it anymore.

 

***

 

Chrissie

 

I reach for the sugar and the billowy sleeve of my peasant shirt slides down just far enough. I knew wearing the blouse was a mistake, but it makes me feel pretty and I wanted to feel pretty for a change. I glance up to see where Veronica’s eyes go and, sure enough, they linger on the neat row of bruises arrayed up and down on my pale forearm. I pull back and adjust my sleeve.

 

“You need to leave him,” Veronica says, her voice crackling with anger underwritten with exhaustion. We are both tired of having this conversation. Then she says the words that I know are true, deep in my soul like gravity or the steady march of time, but still cannot bear to hear. “He is never going to stop.”

 

“You know I can’t do that. The children…”

 

“Money makes single parenthood a whole lot easier.” Her eyes are a lot harder than the eyes of a quiet bass player’s dutiful babymaker wife have any right to be. But Veronica is more than she seems. Before I can stop myself, the thought slips into my head. Ronnie wouldn’t let any of this happen to her.

 

“I am not as strong as you,” I whisper, glad that John is upstairs with the flu and our kids are outside in the garden.

 

Veronica presses her lips together. “You are far stronger than you know. You need to learn that for yourself. Before he teaches you.”

 

***

 

Freddie

 

“Cheers, mate.” Roger’s voice is grimly joyless. Our glasses slosh against one another and then he sets about putting as much whiskey away as quickly as possible.

 

“What are we drinking for?” My heartbeat is pounding loudly and echoing around the inside of my skull from the cocaine we had done earlier. I am not quite used to the drug and in combination with the alcohol, I am finding it difficult to follow the conversation. Scenes come to me in stuttering gasps. The smoke meandering away from my cigarette. The smile twisting Roger’s angelic face. A chip in the lacquer on my left ring finger.

 

“Who the fuck cares?”

 

We drink in silence for a while.

 

“I can’t fucking handle these women,” Roger bursts out abruptly. He looks at me sidelong. “Not that you would understand.”

 

I don’t say anything.

 

Roger knocks back a healthy thumb’s width of liquor. He sets down the tumbler with more force than necessary. “So who decked you?”

 

I reflexively press the tips of my fingers to the nasty bruise spreading across my cheekbone. I hesitate and wonder if I should lie. I can’t bring myself to care. “Brian.”

 

“Well, that’s one way to handle them,” Roger mutters cynically, under his breath. I shoot him a poisonous glare and remember.

 

Twenty-four hours ago, I was in the little back room of my favorite pub, a room where not quite legal activities could take place in relative privacy. The young man who had been buying me drinks all evening and had adjourned with me here looked nothing like Brian. He was also getting funnier and more suave by the minute as the night’s libations caught up with both of us. It was one of the best nights I had had in a while. The thought makes my hand tremble and then tighten on the man’s thigh.

 

Brian doesn’t burst into the room with dramatic noise and fury. The small click of the door’s latch closing behind him is loud enough in the quiet room to make both of us jump in surprise. He looks remarkably calm. I feel a surge of guilt and that makes me angry. I have done nothing wrong.

 

“How did you find me?” I say, my voice is tight and clipped.

 

Brian shrugs and now I can see a muscle begin to spasm in his clenched jaw. “You don’t tip well.”

 

“Fucking Jim…Tim, Tod, whatever the bartender’s fucking name is,” I swear under my breath. Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpse my would-be lover edging towards the door. I let him go without a second glance.

 

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” I can practically hear Brian’s temper breaking over the words. “He is trash, Freddie. God, if scummy faggot barflies are what you want, why do I even bother…”

 

“What gives you the right to tell me what I can and can’t do?” I shout back at him, standing up too quickly. My chair crashes to the ground behind me. He looks surprised. “Like you were my pimp. Like I was your fucking whore,” I spit.

 

His hand lashes out and I see it coming for me in slow motion. I had been involved in schoolyard scuffles as a boy, but this was different. This was a full grown man, a skinny, underweight man, yes, but surprisingly deft with his fist. When the blow lands, it hurts.

 

I want revenge. I want to punch him right back. The pain spreading across my face makes tears spring to my eyes but all I can feel is an indignant rage. I half-lunge towards him, but the look on his face stops me. He looks far more shocked than I am, his delicate lips parting slightly in a gasp. More than that, he looks sorry.

 

“Fuck, darling!” I exclaim, words failing me.

 

“God, Freddie,” he replies. His voice is best described as a whimper. I have never heard him sound like that before. “I don’t know what came over me. I just love you so much, you know.”

 

“You’ve never hit me…not like that…”

 

“Hell, Freddie, I know.” He draws a ragged breath. “I am so sorry.”

 

I take a few moments to catch my breath and gather my shattered thoughts. What he says makes sense. He does love me and God knows I’ve done some crazy things in the heat of the moment. “It was just a lapse in reason.” I am not sure who I am reassuring. “We both were angry. It won’t happen again, right?”

 

“I swear to you.” He looks so sincere, his pretty eyes glisten so convincingly that I fall for it completely. It is only now, drinking with Roger and barely able to piece together my bleary thoughts that I think to doubt him.

 

***

 

Chrissie

 

It is easy to lay out rules for a relationship before you are in a relationship. To write neat little checklists in your pink diary when you are fifteen and the only romance you’ve had went no further than a couple of dances and a movie spent internally debating whether you dare to hold hands. To require a man who is tall, dark and handsome, who has a great sense of humor and who is always loyal. To tell yourself that you will walk right out that door the minute that he raises his hand to you or you find evidence of the little slut he’s screwing on the side.

 

It is another matter altogether when you find a bottle of lube and a pack of condoms in the nightstand on the side of the bed where you do not sleep. Right in your bedroom in the mansion that you were so arrogant to call yours. That is when you are in deep, when you find yourself bargaining with the devil. Will I trade a slap for a designer dress? Is a father for my children worth the nights that he never comes home, the look in their eyes when they overhear the yelling? Does another empty promise to never do that again cost what I have paid out for it in empty hope?

 

I sit down heavily on the bed, staring at the proof in my hand, my hand that is still crisscrossed with scabs from where he broke a bottle over it. The bottle had been punishment. I had committed the crime of asking him when he was coming home. I think about the huge bouquet of apology roses on the foyer table downstairs and the eloquent and heartfelt letter that had come with them. I can hear the sounds of the kids fighting down the hall. The roses had been pristine when they had arrived, their snowy petals unmarred by brown bruises. Now they were beginning to fade, drooping one by one and scattering petals across the floor. Their heady fragrance hung over the house, choking me in sickly sweetness.

 

I remember something someone once told me. In some cultures, white is the color of death.

 

***

 

Freddie

 

I find myself doing ridiculously horrible things. I count the bruises on her thin arms with sadistic pleasure because each one means he loves me more, means that I please him more. I forget her children’s birthdays or give them gifts I know are the wrong size or in a color they hate. I make ultimatums to myself that I know I won’t keep. He needs to leave her by February or I won’t sleep with him anymore. If we can’t stop fighting by March, I will hold out on recording the album.

 

But it always ends the same. Her bruises don’t make mine ache any less. The disappointed looks on the children’s faces don’t make me prouder of myself. And the lonely chill of winter fades away into the sweltering heat of the summer and nothing has changed. Not a goddamn thing.

 

***

 

Chrissie

 

“You look like a princess tonight,” he whispers as the cameras flash. I want to slap him, not because he said the exact opposite to me this morning when he threw me against the wall hard enough to crack the plaster but because I know that he means every word of it now. But I don’t move and I don’t let my smile slip a fraction of an inch.

 

The journalist ask the same route questions about the music and Brian answers mechanically. I look across the room at the other members of the band. John looks worried, Roger looks plastered and Freddie doesn’t look at us at all. Business as unusual, then. I take some small comfort in that.

 

“You look like a prince. My prince. Happy Valentine’s Day, love.”

 

***

 

Freddie

 

“Tell me what you want.” I am right on the edge of coming and Brian has stopped, mid-thrust, the bastard.

 

I try to gather together my shattered thoughts, to generate something more coherent than a strangled grunt to get on with it. “You!” I gasp.

 

“You need this from me, don’t you?” He resumes, his pace ragged now and more desperate. His thrusts rub torn edges raw. “You deserve this.”

 

If he reaches around and touches me right now, I swear that I am finished. In that space of inevitableness, I realize that all those things are true. I want this. I need this. I deserve it. Everything I have done in my live has been just poor attempts to get more of it.

 

“Oh, fuck, yes!”

 

We come together, a degree of synchronicity that has been rare of late. I am too lost in the moment to wonder what that bodes of.

 

“I am divorcing her,” he says quietly, his breath slowly returning to normal in the period of refractory calm.

 

“What?” I try to keep the joy, the triumph, from my voice.

 

“I called my lawyers before coming over here. She is probably going to take me to the fucking cleaners.”

 

I prop myself up on one elbow and study his face. “Why now, Brian?”

 

“No reason in particular,” he says and it isn’t until later that I remember how his eyes slide to the side and won’t meet my gaze. I think I am distracted by the flecks of gold in his hazel irises and how they catch the lamplight and make it dance. But then I have always been distracted from his actions by his beauty. I am like a magpie that way. Like a fucking bird-brained fool, my head turned by a pretty scrap of garbage.

 

***

 

Chrissie

 

I barely hear what the serious, suited men say to one another as they argue passionlessly across the table at each other. Phrases that I catch here and there, “infidelities,” “photo evidence,” “should be pressing charges,” tell me that I do not want to listen more carefully, that our private sins are being used as pieces on a chess board, manipulated by men who are not opponents but team members in the game of racking up legal fees.

 

My lawyers have assured me that I will never have to worry about money again but it is not their assurances that I want. My eyes are fixed on the thin man in the badly fitting suit sitting the width of a conference table and nearly half a world’s distance away from me. I am too proud to beg for some sign that he is sorry but it is the one thing that is not mentioned in the tangled web of clauses and subclauses that the lawyers weave. It is the one thing that I want more than all the riches and finery that a handful of inspired albums can buy.

 

I stare at him until the lawyers pack up with a flurry of paper and expensive pens. I stare at him until he gets up and walks out the dark doorway with grim finality. Never once does he look back at me.

 

***

 

Freddie

 

“I saw you with her…in the tabloids,” I say quietly, trying to focus my attention on tying my trainers. The laces slip through my fingers and they mesmerize like snakes. The dressing room is insulated from the noise in the corridor and everyone knows not to disturb us before the show. Brian is examining himself in the mirror, a soiled towel in one hand and his clothes scattered across the floor. I sneak glances at the long, elegant line of his naked backside out of the corner of my eye.

 

“What the fuck are you doing reading those rags, Freddie?” I wonder when his voice got so cold. I wonder why I didn’t notice until now. “It was a charity benefit. Are you going to start cross examining everyone I am seen in public with?” He turns to face me. “Jesus Christ, you sound like Chrissie.”

 

I stand unsteadily, glad that I am clothed and he is not. It gives me a false sense of power. “She didn’t look like some casual acquaintance, Brian. She looked like the cat who got the fucking cream. She looked like you had just finished screwing her in the bloody coat check.”

 

He backhands me viciously. The sound is loud and echoes in the cinderblock room. I touch my hand to my face and feel the warm viscosity of blood where his ring caught me. I know how thoroughly he has conditioned me by what my first thought is. I wonder if I will be able to hide the wound before we go onstage.

 

“Don’t speak about her like that,” he snarls and I realize, looking into his eyes, how wrong I have been. He isn’t leaving Chrissie for me. He never was.

 

***

 

Anita

 

Brian’s eye are soft and loving as he pushes the sheaf of papers towards me across the small café table. It still gives me an illicit thrill to be exposed like this in public with him after we have been hiding for so long.

 

“It’s done.”

 

I stare at the papers and the text blurs as my eyes brim with unshed tears. “Really?” I whisper. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I had fantasized about this moment. I think of the nasty letter that she had sent and the horrible things she had written. I bask in the glow of Brian’s love and I know that the relationship we have made, even incubated as it was in vow-breaking and deceit, will be something beautiful and different. Surely whatever happened with Chrissie was partially her fault anyway. I am not Chrissie. This time Brian will be different.

 

“You are my only love, in my heart and on paper,” he swears and places his hand on my wrist. As I smile at him with joy, his hand clenches possessively, tight enough to make me gasp.

 

***

 

Freddie

 

Somebody once said that insanity was doing the same thing twice and expecting different results. I believe that. I really do. I also believe with all my heart that people are fucking crazy.

 

***