Hey, gang, here’s a short story for all of you! Inspired by the sporkings of Fifty Shades of Grey over at Das Sporking, I posted a little (well, large) spitefic. So I hope you enjoy it.
ETA: WordPress hates formatting. I spent about thirty minutes formatting this earlier, and it’s now in one huge ugly block. I’ll try and edit it into something more fucking readable when staring at a screen stops making my eyes fuzzy.
“Pebbles? Hey, Pebbles! Gary sent me to come get you!” Lynda banged on the glass door in a fit of exuberance, sending the dogs outside into a frenzy of barking and howling. I shut off the hose and turned around to face her. It was my week to clean out the puppy pen, and I was in the shit in an unfortunately literal sense. As much as I love dogs and the idea of dogs, I really wish they could be trained to use a litter tray as nicely and neatly as a cat. This job normally took me a good hour, hour and a half, and I was not suitable to deal with other human beings for another half an hour on top of that. Why would Gary want me now?
I squidged over, praying desperately to any listening deity that I would not slip over again, and opened up the door. Lynda took a step back, fanning her nose theatrically. Lynda’s a little older than me, Hispanic, and always playing the clown. It’s how she deals with the animals here. Everyone’s got a system, otherwise you’d never voluntarily walk through the door.
“We had a new arrival last night. The puppy was pretty stressed,” I offer as an explanation sheepishly. My own nose had given up on me ages ago and I could only guess how much I stank. “I got time for a shower?”
Lynda shook her head, pinching her nose shut. “Nah, Gary said you’ve got to go out the front right away. There’s someone asking to see you.”
The hairs on the back of my neck rose to attention instantly, an uncomfortable prickling sensation spreading across my body. My heart started to beat faster, pounding away in my chest, and I could almost pinpoint the moment adrenaline started to be released into my bloodstream. I can never stop this response to sudden surprises. I start preparing to fight or flight without any conscious say-so from my brain and it’s a real fucking nuisance. I took a deep breath, desperately trying to calm myself down. It won’t be him, I say to myself, it can’t be. It’s not my birthday, there’s no reason for him to be here. This’ll be something else. Admittedly, I have no idea who might be coming to the shelter to see me, but what do I know? It might be someone from that prize draw I don’t remember entering, bearing a novelty giant check. Or the UPS guy bringing me some present from an elderly relative I never heard of making up for ignoring me my whole life. That would be nice. And impossible.
“Are you okay? You’ve gone all pale and clammy. You look really ill,” Lynda’s worried voice stops the rabbits from running madly inside my head. I focus on her face, despite my vision starting to swim and a line of sweat trickling down towards my top lip, and smile. I have been reliably informed that I have a nice smile, although Lynda’s reaction suggests that it’s more of a rictus.
“Sorry – uh, bad cramp day,” I roll my eyes, making a joke out of it. Aw, shucks, damn my uterus, and all that. She doesn’t look convinced – I’ve never been a particularly good liar. “Do you know who it is?”
“Nope,” she says, still looking concerned. “Just some guy in a suit came up to the front desk and asked for you. You need some pain killers or something?”
“Guy in a suit,” I repeat. My heartbeat is a pounding drum inside my head. “Coming out of some fancy European sports car?”
“I didn’t see. You know who it is?” She asks. “Who do you know that goes around driving in big fancy European cars?”
“I have suspicions,” I say weakly, wiping my top lip, trying to steel myself. A sharp pang of nausea begins to spike in my stomach, turning my insides over and around. I would give anything for it not to be him. I would clean out the puppy pens every day for the rest of eternity for it not to be him. I would – no, I can’t think of anything else. My panic has shut down the rest of my imagination. My mind is replaying a vivid collection of his greatest hits and it’s all I can do to stop myself from hurling all over my sneakers. “Don’t worry, I’ll be back in a few. Keep an eye on that puppy with the runs outside, okay? It’s probably nerves, but if it carries on, he’ll need something to settle his stomach.” I mime patting Lynda on the shoulder – she won’t want to be carrying the stench of doggie diarrhoea when it’s not her turn – and head out to the front of the shelter.
I’ve been working at the animal shelter in Savannah, Georgia, for about two years. It’s a no-kill shelter, which makes me very happy, and it’s not too far from my Grandma’s house. There’s a small staff of regulars – me, Lynda, and Gary, who runs the place – and a rotating team of part timers and local volunteers. The place was founded by a pretty cool woman called Margaret, one of the last true flower children. She’s sponsored no-kill animal shelters across Georgia and personally handles the management for all of them. I’ve met her a few times; she doesn’t visit very often, as she’s always dashing off to some protest here or a sit-in there. I have nothing but immense respect for Margaret, and hope I can be as energised and (for lack of a better word) protest-y as she is when I hit my golden years.
I walk through the cat rooms and head out to the main reception desk. Gary is sat in there, talking to a young couple who are probably out looking for their first family pet. Gary is middle-aged and has helped build this place up over the last fifteen years. He always looks a little harassed, as if beset by hundreds of nagging enemies at every moment of every day, but he’s one of the most genuinely nice people I’ve ever met. He knows a little of my history, what I’ve felt comfortable to share, and he’s been nothing but supportive.
His eyes widen as I come out the ‘staff only’ entrance, and it’s not just how I smell. Gary knows, and he’s worried. That can only mean one thing.
“This is Sally Adams, one of our full-time employees at the shelter,” Gary says as an introduction/excuse for my smell. The couple nod at me, trying to be as polite as possible without gagging.
“Sorry, just hosing down the puppies,” I say, hoping I sound relaxed and normal. “They get a bit excited at night, they can’t help it. They’re just babies, and you know what babies are like.”
The couple nod and smile in a knowing way at this. They’ve probably got a toddler at home who’s desperate for a first pet. I hope they’ve prepared for having a dog, but Gary will soon sort them out if they’re here on a whim. Generally, he’s able to talk those with a whim to get a dog into volunteering, which helps everyone. Volunteer gets access to cute dogs, and we get a little less work to do.
I step outside into the Savannah sun and blink a little as my eyes adjust to the glare. There it is, and I can feel my legs start to tremble. Some sleek and outrageously expensive European sports car is waiting for me, an eyesore amongst the battered bicycles and Gary’s fourth hand Pontiac with the ‘Free Tibet’ sticker on the back. The driver has positioned the car right across the parking lot, preventing anyone from leaving or driving in. Typical. I don’t blame the driver, I blame the passenger. I know he’ll have ordered this with his typical lack of concern for anyone else’s needs.
As slowly as I dare, I cross over the gravel and dirt towards the back of the car. The windows are tinted, so I can’t see in, but I know he can see out. He’ll be assessing me minutely; what clothes I’m wearing, how healthy I look, trying to determine how I’ve spent the last three years without him. That was the last time he opted to surprise me. I spent a week inside my bedroom after he’d gone, trying to convince myself that he had actually left.
I take a deep breath and knock on the window. It comes down as slowly as I crossed over the parking lot. Great, he’s already angry with me. My feelings of panic, already running rampant, start screaming inside my head. I could run inside the shelter and lock myself in one of the cages, throw my arms around Buster the elderly flatulent Labrador I absolutely adore, but he won’t go away. I have to face him. I have to grit my teeth and deal with it.
He must be nearly fifty now (I haven’t been keeping up with his birthdays), and he’s aging well. His hair has faded, and is thoroughly streaked with grey now. I note with glee that it’s starting to recede around his temples and along the top of his hair line, making his forehead look abnormally large and round. Few wrinkles though, just a fine papering of lines under his eyes and around his mouth. Some people have all the luck – I already have deeply etched lines under my own eyes, which I refuse to admit that I’m self-conscious about. He’s looked relaxed and healthy, wearing his customary suit but – as a concession to the heat – no tie. I feel disgusting and filthy in comparison in my ragged t-shirt and cut-off jeans that used to have a giant hole in the fanny. I put these clothes on to clean up dog shit, not to deal with nightmares from my past.
His nostrils flare. Ah. The smell has hit him.
“Phoebe,” he says cooly. “How nice to see you at last.”
I can’t even stomach looking him in the eyes. I resort to looking at the toes of my sneakers. “Hi, Dad,” I reply, fear cutting into my voice and making me choke out whispers. Oh, Christian Grey, beloved father of mine. I thought I could hide from you for just a little bit longer.
There’s a pause between our bland greetings. I don’t have anything to say to him and I don’t want to give him any ammunition. Ideally, I want him to confirm to himself that, yes, I am still alive, and then he can be on his merry way. I’m not that lucky though. He’ll be here with a purpose, and I’ll have to try and figure it out, and how to deflect it, before I find myself manipulated back across the country. My free will and independence, so hard won, are so easily buckled by a casual word or gesture from my father.
“You look well enough,” Dad says, still assessing my appearance, “but why have you got that ridiculous haircut?”
Without thinking, I raise a hand up to my spiky ponytail, trying to protect my hair from his scrutiny. My hair is long on top, but it’s shaved underneath and dyed bright orange. I wear it in a ponytail on the crown of my skull – hence why I’ve been christened ‘Pebbles’ by everyone at the shelter. I can feel my cheeks start to burn. I’m used to people shouting and staring at my hair. It’s Dad’s reaction I know I can’t cope with.
Dad’s nostrils flare and his eyes narrow. “That colour is appalling, it doesn’t suit you at all. Does your employer approve of your looks?”
I snort. I actually snort. I’ve felt safe for so long that I’ve forgotten how to properly talk to my Dad. “What, Gary? Gary forgets to come into work sometimes. He even comes into work into his pyjamas and slippers if he’s had a particularly distracting morning. He doesn’t give a shit about what I look like, long as I do a good job.”
“It must be nice to have a job where you don’t have to worry about responsibility or efficacy,” Dad says, straightening his suit jacket minutely.
“You’d be amazed how much a haircut doesn’t affect how I put animal food into a dish, Dad,” I scoff, feeling almost emboldened. I’ve got people who support me here. This is my own turf and if he tries anything… well, I’m not going to cross the bodyguard, but I’ll have strong words before calling the police to move his ass off of the property. “Look, I’m in the middle of something, can you just tell me what you want and go?”
Dad looks at me and starts to smile. I want to claw it off his face. I would love the feeling of his flesh beneath my nails. “Oh, there’s no need to worry about that. I’ve already spoken to your supervisor. He’s agreed that you should spend the day with me.”
That makes me flinch. It’s easy to forget how much Dad does that when you’re away from the direct sphere of his influence. He’s probably influenced a million and one things in my life during the last few years but he’s been so deft that it’s impossible to sense his imprint. With me, Dad likes to do things and then wait until the most opportune moment to cash in my gratitude. “Did you make Gary an offer he couldn’t refuse?” I ask, my mouth twisting into an unpleasant smile.
Dad sighs. “I really thought you might have grown out of such flippancy, Phoebe. You know that I dislike it when you use that tone with me.”
Oh, believe me, I do. I don’t forget what you don’t like, Dad. It was a code of behaviour and manners that I was endlessly drilled into me throughout my childhood and as I feel him trying to shape me, I can feel bile rising inside me. I should remember that I’m a well-respected public official who has her own apartment and pays her bills and everything. All I want to do is revert back to my childhood. I had a predilection for tantrums when I was small and I would get a lot of satisfaction from just throwing myself on the ground to start screaming my lungs out. It would probably be a really bad idea. No doubt the couple inside the shelter would be rather shocked to find the young woman they’d spoken to earlier rolling around in the midst of hysterics.
I grit my teeth. “I’m sorry Dad, I was just making a joke.”
“Your sense of humour has always perplexed me,” he says dismissively. “Aren’t you going to get into the car, then? I’ve made a reservation at a local restaurant, and I don’t want to be late. Tell the driver your address, and you can clean up.”
Hell no. There is no way on this Earth I am letting my Dad have my address. I may not be overburdened with intelligence, as my brother is always eager to remind me, but I’m not stupid. He’ll never leave me alone if I let him within a half-mile of my home. I scrunch up my face. “Oh, but I don’t have an address. I’m staying with Lynda at the moment, and she’s got the keys. Sorry.” I shrug helplessly to convince him of my little white lie, made in the name of common good.
“You’re almost twenty two now. I would have thought you might have attempted to behave with some semblance of maturity. Get in the car, Phoebe. We can discuss this later.”
At least he’s bought it. He might suspect me of lying but he can’t prove it. I stomp around the car to the other side. As a matter of fact, I do live with someone else. I live with my friend Tom and it’s his name on the lease. He’s never understood why I demanded that I not be on any legal documents – after all, that saddles him with all the debt if I decide to run off and leave suddenly overnight. But I know if I had my name equally on the lease, Dad would have found me a lot earlier. I slide into the air-conditioned dark of the back, and I feel assaulted by the sickly-sweet smell of Dad’s cologne.
Sometimes I dream that I am back in my parent’s house, surrounded by that smell. I always wake up in a sodden mess of sweat and it takes me a long time to feel safe again.
Dad turns away, equally disgusted by my own distinctive smell. I sit down and I can hear something soft detach itself from my clothes and cling to the carefully tailored leather seats. Dad’s lips form into a moue of distaste and, as I turn away to sullenly glare out of the tinted window, I can’t help but smile.
Dad’s booked us into Elizabeth on 37th, rather predictably if you ask me. If he’d given a thought to asking my opinion (the very idea makes me want to laugh until I cry), I’d have recommended Alligator Soul. It’s mine and Grandma’s absolute favourite restaurant in the entire world and I’d walk barefoot over hot coals for just a spoonful of their bouillabaisse. I’ve been a dedicated pescetarian since I was sixteen. When I first ‘relocated’ to live with Carla Adams, my maternal grandmother, I had serious issues with food. Thankfully, I have significantly fewer issues around food and eating now, but I still refuse to consider eating meat.
Elizabeth on 37th is a perfectly nice place, but I’ve always found it a bit stuffy for my tastes. It was typically Dad though, as he swanned on through, giving curt nods to the service staff. I trailed along behind him, head hanging. Perhaps coming here fresh from the shelter had not been a good idea. It had seemed like such a great way to rub his face in it back there. Now I felt like an embarrassment, spreading my stink throughout the room. It was late in the morning, but before the lunchtime crowd, so at least I wasn’t bothering anyone. Well, aside from the staff, and that made me feel like an asshole.
“Sit,” Dad motions. He’s chosen a table at the far end of the dining room. Nice and isolated. Joy of joys. I sink into the chair, head low, hands between my knees. I could be all of eight years old. He motions over a waitress. She’s seems to be a nice young woman and she’s probably memorised my face. It’ll be a long while before I can show my face here and my face starts to burn. I have inherited a noticeable blush that pops up without my control. With my hair colour, I look like a diseased radish.
“Good morning sir – “ She starts, her face smiling as she begins her helpful patter but Dad lifts a hand to silence her. She stops, her face falling. Yes, it’s going to be a long, long time before I can come in here again. I’d better not get engaged or celebrate any major events any time soon. I shall remain joyless and celibate for, oh, about ten years or so.
“I don’t want us to be disturbed unduly this morning, my daughter and I have important matters to discuss. We’ll start with the presentation of spatking local oysters, and include Georgia caviar with those, then have the Harris ranch pepper crusted beef tenderloin, although switch the Madeira sauce for béarnaise, and we’ll have the chocolate pecan tort to finish. I’d like two glasses of your recommended wines with each course and, if possible, coffee for after,” Dad orders, barely glancing at me. The waitress is struggling to maintain her professional façade. I worked a few years in waitressing when I moved out here – I wanted to pay into the family pot and help pay for my upkeep – and I have a sneaking suspicion that there is going to be some distinctly unpleasant liquids mixed into the damn béarnaise sauce. She flicks her eyes to me, and I take my chance.
“Sorry Dad, but I can’t eat that menu. I’m a vegetarian now, and I don’t drink.” Another white lie, and this one bugs me. I adore fresh oysters, although I’m not a fan of caviar. It’s not a lie that I don’t drink as a rule. Alcohol was a mainstay in our home. I can remember my mother with a wineglass in her hand before I can remember being able to walk.
“Don’t be childish,” Dad scoffs. “My daughter will have the same as me. She never could accept her father doing something nice for her.”
The waitress throws me a lifeline, even though it’d be far easier for her to turn, walk away, and abandon me. She smiles at me, a bit too warmly, and she purposefully turns her back on Dad. “And what would you like?” She knows this will have cost her the tip. I make a note to make it up for her somehow. Maybe I could leave a mysterious envelope of cash in the bathroom.
I quickly scan the menu. “I’d like… the fresh mozzarella. Unless your soup of the day has mushrooms in?” I smile back at her. “I can’t get enough mushrooms, I just love ‘em.”
“You’re lucky. It’s a wild mushroom and garlic soup, with hand-baked artisan bread.”
“That sounds really good, I’ll have that for my starter. And I’d really like the sage grits and roasted vegetable hash for the main, and – oh, and the triple chocolate cake, that sounds to die for.” I hand her the menu back, feeling slightly more in control of the situation. “Thank you very much.” I always remember my manners. I always make sure that I remember my manners.
“Would you like some water for the table?” She asks.
“That would be wonderful, thank you.” I manage to just avoid simpering, mainly because I have a little dignity left and because I know Dad is fuming away opposite me. As the waitress leaves, I sneak a glance at him. He’s got that whole ‘smouldering’ thing going on, that look which signals nothing but danger to me. My mouth goes dry. It reminds me of when I ‘relocated’ – read, ‘ran away’. I don’t think he’ll slap me in a public place, but he’s always taken a hands on approach to child rearing. With me, at least. Dad has never punished Teddy, my older brother. Teddy, as far as the world is concerned, is the second coming of Jesus Christ combined. I’m the moody black sheep that’s withered away on the family tree.
“When you work with animals all day, it’s hard to stay being a meat eater,” I offer as an explanation. I purposefully rest my elbows on the table and his nostrils flare. At home, he would slap my arms with the dinner knife if I didn’t display exceedingly perfect dining etiquette. “I look at a cow, and I just can’t stomach the idea of eating it.” I can with fish though. You can call me a hypocrite, but I see a fish and my stomach just starts growling.
“Your mother is dead,” he says curtly. It’s as sudden and as painful as a slap in the face.
When my soup arrives, I can barely taste it. I spoon it into my mouth without tasting it. I swallow it, but my throat feels like it’s made of cardboard, rigid, unyielding, brittle. My vision is swimming – everything’s just a vague, coloured blur before my eyes – and my cheeks are stiff and cold. I hate how tears dry on your face. They dry into a second skin, a sticky mask that doesn’t let your muscles move properly. Dad doesn’t say anything. He lets me sit and stew and snivel. No doubt he’s thoroughly enjoying me like this. He’s always told me I have too much pride and should be taken down a peg or two.
I last saw Mom three years ago. I was eighteen, all ready and raring to go off to university. I wanted to become a vet. I’ve always loved animals. They love you and accept you no matter what. It was a struggle me getting the grades to even be considered to be accepted for any degree, let alone biochemistry and molecular biology, the two fields I felt most confident about. I’d moved to Georgia to live with my grandmother when I was sixteen, after the Most Terrible Night Ever, and it had been hard for me to settle down. There had been my problems around eating, around sleeping, about just feeling comfortable talking and interacting with other human beings, all of which had ruinous effects on my studies. Added to that was my own dogged determination to work and contribute to the household – my Grandma and Bob don’t have vast amounts of money to lie around on, unlike some, and my innate sense of guilt latched onto finances as something for me to panic about. I busted my ass, rubbed my nose against the grindstone, and generally threw my health into the toilet, flushing merrily away, until I got the grades I needed for a decent enough university in New York State.
I remember breaking down and crying on the front porch when I got that acceptance letter. It was everything to me. It was my ticket out of here, away to the other side of the country where I could hide in utter anonymity.
A week later, I remember having another break down – a mental one, this time. A few days after I got my acceptance letter, I got others – others from universities I’d never applied to. They were universities I wouldn’t apply to unless you got out a soldering torch and started applying it to sensitive parts of my body. All universities around Washington, Seattle, Portland, the stomping ground of my family. I presumed that they must have gotten my records mixed up with another Sally Adams; after all, it’s made of two very generic names that are probably very common, exactly the reason why I chose it. And then I got the phone call.
There I was, sat in the middle of piles of clothing, dutifully sorting them into ‘keep’, ‘maybe’, and ‘donate’ piles, and trying to come up with a decent solution to my book collection. At that point, they had colonised four shelves and were rapidly making ground across my floorspace. I was holding up my tattered copy of Monstrous Regiment and internally debating it in comparison to Anno Dracula, when Grandma came in with the phone.
Oh, that phone call. It was a secretary at the university I’d been dreaming of, I’d been slaving away to attend, one who’d helped me through the application process and deftly handed my thick slab of neuroses and issues. She’d phoned to say how sad she was that I wasn’t coming, but that she earnestly wished me all the luck for the future. I refused to allow myself to understand what had happened until Dad had shown up at the house. He’d wanted to talk me into attending one of the degrees at an institution he’d deemed acceptable, and hoped that I would find it in my heart to come and live with him and Mom again. He only wanted the very best for me.
He’s always wanted the best for me.
My response was to lock myself in my room for four days. I think it was four days, anyway. I don’t really remember very much. I was just – I guess I – I was just so scared. I was scared that if I went outside the door, Dad would be there, ready and waiting to pounce. He’d just bundle me up in the trunk of his car and take me back home before I could protest or say anything. I huddled up against the door, trying to convince myself that I was safe.
“Phoebe? Phoebe, it’s Mom. Your father was worried about you, and Grandma called me. Please open the door. I need you to open the door.” I was in a half-doze when my Mom’s voice jerked me out of it. I was hungry and thirsty. I needed a shower and I needed fresh clothes. I ached all over from my huddled position, but I slowly started to move. I peeked under the door: two pairs of shoes, one shiny pair of patent black heels, and my Grandma’s familiar house slippers.
“Is Dad with you?” I shouted through the door. My voice was croaky, and the skin on my bottom lip took that moment to split painfully. “I’ll know if you’re lying! Don’t you dare lie to me!” My voice was shaky with panic.
“No, I’m on my own. Teddy wanted to come visit – “
“Don’t you fucking let that psycho near me, Mom! If you’ve got him with you, I’ll throw myself out the fucking window!” Teddy is the beloved child, you see. Dad’s brought him up well. I once suggested to Teddy that we go to a fancy dress party dressed as Margot and Mason, but he didn’t get the reference.
“I’m on my own, Phoebe. Please open the door.” Mom’s voice was pleading and desperate. “Your Dad’s not here, I swear, and Teddy’s away at Harvard, you know that.”
I licked my split lip. Could I trust her? It didn’t matter – I was starving and needed a drink. Slowly, with thick, uncooperative fingers, I unlocked my door.
“Oh, Phoebe, what have you done to yourself?” Mom whispered, before throwing her arms around me. I stiffened. Mom is – was – the one sent in to deal with me when I’ve made a spectacle of myself. She’s sent in to make me feel guilty for my ingratitude, while she remains cool and blank to whatever happens. “Why must you always make him so angry?”
As the waitress collects our plates, an image of Mom’s face from that day comes before my eyes. She was so – well, perhaps it’s a poor word to use, but she always looked lifeless, almost like a dog. Limp brown hair, limp blue eyes, a slightly puffy face, and an overly shiny forehead that never moved, whatever emotion she was supposedly feeling. I’ve seen pictures of Mom before she met Dad, and she looked nice, real pretty. People have said that we look quite similar, but there’s an edge in her eyes that I see every day in the shelter. No matter how much you hurt a dog, it always loves its master. Once you’ve broken an animal, it’s hard to put them back together. There aren’t enough pieces to fill the whole.
“Why do you always have to fight him?” Mom had asked me, while I was busy drinking a big glass of water under supervision from Grandma. She’d made me pancakes and grits, filling but otherwise inoffensive food. Mom hadn’t brought me anything other than more reprimands. “Why can’t you just accept that your father loves you? He – we – we want what’s best for you. Why do you have to be so ungrateful?” They weren’t really her words. I could see Dad inside her, living just under her skin like a parasite. I shuddered and rejected her. She had said that on the Most Terrible Night Ever when she’d driven me to the emergency room. No matter how sorry she was, she could never understand why I couldn’t run back to Dad with shiny fur and a wagging tail. I buried myself in Grandma’s arms, weeping, begging Mom to go away. I screamed blue murder at her, a stream of obscene insults that would have made the most grizzled of sailors blush. I was never able to apologise for that. I will never be able to apologise for that. You can’t blame someone else for being broken. No matter what she stood by and watched, she was still my Mom.
“Why didn’t anyone tell me that Mom was sick?” These are the first words I’ve been able to speak since Dad so generously told me the news. I presume that she’s been ill, although it might have been anything. She might have crashed her car. She might have fallen down the stairs after her usual evening bottle of wine. She might have jumped from the top of Dad’s penthouse to embrace the concrete below.
Dad shrugs and I flinch. “It’s been so impossible to get into contact with you, Phoebe. How can any of us anticipate where you might be? You’re such a flighty girl, and you’ve always been… resentful.”
My lips are numb. “And Grandma? Did you tell Grandma? Didn’t you think that she might be interested in knowing that her daughter was ill?”
“Carla has been distant with your mother for the past few years,” Dad says, taking a sip of wine. “It was a great source of distress for your mother – it made her last few days very painful indeed. Your grandmother seemed to be more interested in dealing with your mess than with maintaining contact with her only daughter and her grandson.” The implicit accusation of ‘if you’d been a better daughter…’ hangs in the air between us. I cringe away. It’s my fault that Grandma has been denied the last few years with Mom. No, no, a small part of myself says. This is not your fault.
“If you had been a better son-in-law, maybe Grandma would have wanted to stay in contact. And now you’ve denied her time with her daughter. Holy hell, Dad, that’s an awful thing to do.” The words are out like wildfire, and I can’t take them back. I’m shaking from head to toe, but I can’t let him do this to me. I will not take this anymore. “What the fuck is wrong with you? What was stopping you from picking up the damn phone and calling Grandma?”
Dad’s face goes bone white with fury. He slams his hand on the table, palm down, and it’s all I can do to not just about piss myself. “That is enough, young lady,” he hisses through gritted teeth. “I had hoped that you might have decided to grow up and leave these adolescent hysterics behind, but it would appear that I am mistaken. This is exactly why your mother did not want you to be told. She knew that you would turn this situation into being about you, and I am ashamed that she was right.” He pulls himself back, straightening his jacket, glancing around the dining room. There’s no one watching, but we can hear the beginnings of the lunch crowd starting to come through the door. He adopts a smooth mask on his face, the handsome and charming face he uses around everyone who doesn’t know him. “Phoebe, I know you must be distressed right now. This has been a huge shock to us all. I’ve lost my wife, not long after losing you, my only daughter.” He’s all big eyes and oily tone now. His hand slithers across the table and lands on top of mine. My skin gets tickly all over, as if a colony of ants is marching up and down my spine. “I want you to come home. I want you to come home, so we can be a family again. I want my little princess back.”
“My life is here, Dad,” I say, carefully enunciating each word. My mouth feels like it’s been stuffed full of pebbles, and I’m having to fight to stop them from slipping down my throat. Dad’s stroking and petting my hand, like I’m a distressed animal that is slowly being calmed down. I wish I had the nerve to attack. I wish I knew how. “I’ve got friends, and a job. I’m very happy here.” I smile. It doesn’t feel right.
Dad sighs. It’s a world weary sigh – his life is so very difficult, you see. Still holding me down on the table, he reaches his other hand up to my cheek. He gently brushes away a few strands of hair that have gotten stuck in my dried tears. “You’re so far away. It’s time for you to grow up, try to take a mature attitude to things. With the passing of your mother, it’s made me realise how important my family really is. I want you to be close, all the time. You should come into the company, now you’ve got some life experience.”
“Are you asking Teddy to come home?” I ask. I cannot bring myself to look into his eyes. I want to get out. I need to get out. I cannot stay in this restaurant. It’s far too hot. I’m stifling. I need to get away.
“He needs to complete his studies,” Dad dismisses. “It’ll be a few years before he can come back to the company. He needs time to grow up, sow oats, that sort of thing.”
“Of course, he’ll be inheriting the company.” I sound surprisingly bitter, ignoring my own shudder at the thought of Teddy sowing oats. Working for Dad has never been anything I’ve wanted or aspired to. He’s always made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t think I’m suited to business. It’s true that I don’t have any head for business, never have, but I’d like that to just be a part of my personality rather than being held as a major flaw.
Dad has the nerve to look shocked. “When did I ever say that Teddy would be handed the reins of power? There’s time for you to prove yourself. Say the word, and you can get started as an intern tomorrow morning.”
“I don’t want to be an intern, Dad.” I grit my teeth. He doesn’t really want me working for him. He’s just lost an asset, and wants a new one to play with. “I like working at the shelter.”
“You like working for a pittance and cleaning up dog shit all day?” He’s never liked the idea of physical labour. I like it. It lets my brain wander off and do its own thing while my body’s working.
“I like helping animals. I like helping people. I like doing good,” I say stubbornly. “I’m sorry, but I’d really be no good at the company. I’ve never been any good at maths, you know that.”
“But you’re good with people,” Dad counters. “And Grey Holdings is based on that principle. I know how to get the best from people, and that’s a trait you could pick up easily if you set your mind to it. You’ve always been able to talk people into taking your side – just take the waitress at this restaurant. Teddy – Teddy doesn’t quite have that particular talent. He’s better at the business side of things.”
Well, that’s true. Teddy isn’t quite a real boy so he doesn’t work well with others. He works best with, oh, sea slugs and poisonous algae. I wonder what he’s been up to in my absence. Surely, he would have learnt at university – or at least forced – to develop social skills. I know how bad he is, but there have always been… whispers about other things, and Dad’s the only one who can really control him. On the other side of the country, how far can Dad’s influence rein in Teddy’s behaviour?
“I enjoy working at the shelter, Dad. Thank you so much for this opportunity, but you don’t need to give me a job.” I take his hand from my face and give it an encouraging squeeze. Perhaps I should have taken up acting. I’d be great on a daytime soap opera. I’d throw drinks in people’s faces for free if that wasn’t a horrible thing to spring on strangers. “I’m following your example, and becoming a self-made woman.”
I study his face as closely as I dare. Has he bought it? It’s so hard to tell, and I’ve tried to get so many lies past him today. Obviously, it’s not a lie that I want to stay here at the shelter, but since I quite conspicuously have never wanted to be like him in any way, it’s going to be quite a stretch for him to believe that.
Dad strokes his chin thoughtfully. “Then perhaps the company is not for you. What about Grey Publishing – “
I raise a hand. “No, Dad. That was always Mom’s baby. I couldn’t step into her shoes like that, not so soon after her death.”
“You’ve always loved books,” he continues. Lord, he must be desperate for someone to toy with. He really wants me back home. He hasn’t been this pleasant with me since before I hit puberty, back when I was controllable, adorable, and had a sweet little lisp. Dad used to have me dressed up in little fifties style dresses, ribbons in my hair, ringlets – I was a doll, not a child, and it took me a long time to realise why he did it. It wasn’t love, it wasn’t care, it was image control. Perfect wife, perfect home, perfect family – the dream of Middle America, the customer base that’s made the Grey family fortune. I’ve been trotted out on company Christmas cards ever since I was a wee young foetus. “You could carry on her legacy.”
“I want a legacy of my own,” I say, not that this will be the end of it.
“I’ve spoken to the woman who runs your shelter before – Margaret, isn’t it? – and while she’s always been reticent about accepting my assistance, perhaps she’d like to open a branch over in Seattle.” Dad pauses to sip his wine, mulling over some idea in his head. Personally, I’m thinking of all the ways Margaret will have told him to go fuck himself. She once spat on Ronald Reagan, so I doubt she took Dad’s attempts to butt in with dignity and grace. “Maybe we could open our own animal charity. Use whatever funds you need, I’m sure it’s a worthy cause, and I can always find investors. The ‘Phoebe Grey Animal Foundation’.” He smiles wolfishly. “It can be your home-coming present. I’ve forgiven you for that night. We can make a new start together, father and daughter working as one.”
Bile rushes up from my stomach, burns my throat, and bursts on my tongue in a sharp, bitter burst. I throw myself backwards from the table, breaking from his grip, hands curling up so the nails bite into the flesh of my palms. “I’m sorry, I’ve got to get to the restroom real quick,” I blurt out through gritted teeth and make a clean break across the dining room, not bothering to look back. I make straight for the toilets, glad beyond belief that it’s empty, and lock myself in a stall. I slide against the back of the door and I just start bawling like a baby and I can’t stop the tears and I can’t stop the bile, the raw emotion making me sick, the food swirling, the body-shaking power of my weeping, and my own smell. I lurch forward and hug the bowl, those mushrooms making an unwanted reappearance.
Dad had to mention it. He couldn’t leave it be. He had to bring up the Most Terrible Night Ever. My cheek resting on the cool toilet seat, I reach up to my head to find the small, fine scar that laces across the right side of my head.
In my nightmares, I am taken back to that night. I see Dad’s face, the sheer disgust and fury twisting him into a monster. I see Mom, her face blank and emotionless. I see Teddy, and his pleasure in my pain.
The Most Terrible Night Ever takes a bit of explanation to explain, and it’s not a story that I really want to tell anyone. If someone notices the scar, I say I fell off a swing as a child. I do not want to tell them my father did it. I do not want people to know. Knowledge, once gained, cannot be given back.
I ran away from home because of my sixteenth birthday party. Actually, my second sixteenth birthday party. Not much happened at my first. Mom organised it, so there was genteel, organised fun that bored all my friends and me to tears.
Way back when, when I was younger, stupider, and had a full head of hair, I had a good life. I was still Phoebe Grey, and that gave me a certain quality of life. I always had disposable cash, I had my own flashy car the day I turned fifteen, and I pretty much always got what I wanted, providing the approval of my father. I was a lot of a brat, even if I didn’t really understand where my behavioural tics came from. As far as I knew, I had a Mom and Dad who loved me very much, so much so that they made sure to vet my life and make sure that I was happy.
My high school had been very carefully selected, my group of friends checked and chosen from the most select of Seattle’s population. My time was scheduled, social events planned in advance. There were reasons – unknown people were a security risk, I wasn’t supposed to mix with bad people, I had to make the right connections – but as those reasons had been in place pretty much my entire life, I never really questioned them. I was a special person from a special family. I had to be protected. I had to be looked after.
Of course, that didn’t stop me from breaking the rules. I am naturally disposed to fighting against restrictions, or so I’ve been told, and I didn’t see any reason why Dad would be angry with me. Yeah, he was strict, but he loved me. He had to love me. Anything else wouldn’t make sense.
Monique was transferred into my grade just after I was fifteen. She fit right in with the social circle I was permitted – her father owned a very prosperous construction company that had offices across the country. We hit it off instantly, but Dad was always a bit… iffy about her. He never gave me a reason why, but I was gradually encouraged to not associate her at all, not during school or after it. I didn’t understand why Dad would scowl when I talked about her, or never permitted her into the house. He would just say how she wasn’t really ‘our’ people, she wasn’t ‘our’ kind, and I was supposed to take that pitiful excuse happily. I didn’t question it, just listened to Dad and did the exact opposite once I left the house.
Monique’s father, however, did care enough about his daughter to catch my parents at a social event, some charity drive, and ask them about what the hell was going on. He could read between the lines of my Dad’s distaste with Monique’s family. Dad didn’t exactly take too well to someone interfering in his parenting techniques, and a ban was set in place. Monique was not permitted to be my friend. I was not permitted to even pass her in the corridor and wish her a good morning. Dad even talked the school into changing our timetables, helped by a generous cash donation that added a multitude of unnecessary improvements to my practically perfect school.
Not that I really listened. We would hang out in the houses of our friends, or we’d meet up at Krispy Kreme for a calorie filled breakfast before school, or I’d claim I was out at art club, or math club, or volleyball club, so we’d get a few hours to gossip at a shopping mall away from prying eyes.
I thought I was so clever. I thought we’d never get found out. When you’re young and dumb (I’m not especially into the third), you think you’re absolutely invincible.
Naturally, Monique had been banned from my sixteenth birthday party, so she got together with a few other friends to throw me a secret party. I’d be covered with the excuse of going to another friend’s house for a ‘homework sleepover’, confident that my parents wouldn’t criticise my dutiful scholarship, before being snuck over to Monique’s home. I was lucky to have such great friends. I miss them a lot. I had to leave them behind when I came to Georgia.
I got drunk for the first – and last – time at that party. Monique had mixed up something bright and blue from her parent’s liquor cabinet, and someone else had gotten an older brother to get beers for us; nothing too drastic, just silly and, you know, teenage. We thought we were being so grown up, sneaking around, breaking the law, defying all the rules. The older brother had decided to attend, which is super disgusting when I think back on it, but the idea of him partying with us made us feel like actual, real adults. He’d also brought a bag of weed with him and for the first time – but definitely not the last – I decided to try some. I was sixteen, drunk, and feeling daring. I was with friends, I was defying my father, I was having fun. What was the harm in it?
Someone took a picture of me. Harmless, right? A memory of us having fun, and posted onto Facebook for other friends to enjoy.
I started to freak. Once it was on the internet, I knew Dad would find it. I knew he would, and I screamed and deleted the evidence right there. Would I be safe? Could I be safe?
It wasn’t Dad who found the pictures. It was Teddy.
I came home, hungover and feeling like shit, but feeling relatively safe. Dad and Mom were away for the weekend, out on Dad’s stupid boat, leaving Teddy and me to our own devices with the servants. It was one of the reasons Monique had planned my party for this weekend – we could be sure that we wouldn’t be accidentally rumbled. I crept into the kitchen for a glass of water, deciding that I would never, ever, ever trust my friends to mix cocktails for me and to spend my day with the covers over my head.
“Did you have fun last night, Pheebs?”
I froze. Teddy appeared in the doorway, his eyes alight with mischievous glee. My brother is really quite handsome, if I think about it objectively and without shuddering. I knew a lot of girls at our school had crushes on him, until they interacted with him. He’s always hated me. I have no idea why. When I was a toddler, he would pinch me when our parents weren’t looking, the pinches growing harder and harder until he would draw blood with his nails. Then, he started getting me to rough house with him. I would complain to Mom, but Dad just said that it was normal, that siblings fight all the time. Teddy finally gave up when I was about eight. He decided to ‘surprise’ me, but I freaked out and kicked him in the mouth, knocking out two of his teeth. After that, he turned to less obvious ways of showing how much he hated me.
When I was ten, my rabbit mysteriously died. Somehow, it escaped the locked hutch and found its way behind the bodyguard’s car.
When I was twelve, the oxygen filter on my fish tank broke spontaneously. My collection of tropical fish died when I was on a school trip to Klondike Gold Rush NHP.
I gave up on pets after these failed attempts. Things of mine would frequently go missing – jewellery, books, underwear – but never enough or in huge amounts that I could draw attention to. A thousand little insignificant things that meant I desperately tried to edge away from my brother before he got to me. Teddy’s pretty quick. He came over to my left, darting before I could get away.
“You didn’t answer my question. Did you have fun? You look pretty tired. You been studying hard?” Teddy said, tapping his fingers on the counter. A shiver of fear ran along my skin, making my arm hair stand up on end. He knows, I realised. He knows something is up.
“Frannie and me were working on our speeches for, uh, history. We decided to talk about – to present on Martha Jefferson.” Each step I took backwards, Teddy moved closer.
“Up that late, huh? I never knew there was anything that interesting about Mrs Jefferson. Guess you could teach me a thing or two, with your little friends. Now, why don’t you come here and give your big brother a hug?” Before I could do anything, he lunged forward, enveloping me in a bear hug. He crushed me tight against him, his arms like a vice around me. His mouth was tickly-close to my ear. “Dad knows. I found your pretty little pictures and sent them to him. I hope you don’t mind.” Teddy pushed me away, not quite laughing, not yet. “They’re on their way back. I hope that’s okay.”
Then he started to laugh. He laughed and laughed as I ran upstairs, heart pounding in my ears, numb and dumb from shock and fear. What could I do? What could I do to say I was sorry? Should I even have to say sorry? Was what I had done really that bad? I had been a teenager, I had had fun with my friends, I hadn’t really hurt anyone, I hadn’t hurt anyone, please, Dad, I hadn’t hurt anyone, it was one night, one night that’s all please please
I curled up on the floor, waiting for Mom and Dad come home. I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t have that many options. I would just have to beg and plead and hope Dad would forgive me. Teddy always knew how to get forgiveness – I didn’t quite have the knack. He just had to look at Dad to get absolved. I never seemed to quite get in his good books enough. I was too loud, too questioning, too critical. I wasn’t good enough. I was just a disappointment.
“Phoebe?” Dad stood in the doorway, his face pinched and white.
I started to cry immediately. “Dad, Daddy, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry – “
“This is why I told you to not spend time with that girl,” he said, his voice low, his lips a thin line. “People like that are a bad influence. They encourage you to try this thing, to try that thing, and then do you know where you’ll end up? Do you know what’s going to happen to you?”
“No, Daddy, it was one mistake, I won’t do it again, I swear – “
“I ought to call the fucking cops on you!” He snarled, lunging for me. Dad grabbed my arm, his nails digging into my flesh, dragging me to my feet. He pulled me a centimetre away from his face, shaking me. “Where did you get the drugs? You tell me right now, or I swear to fucking god, I will not be responsible for my actions! Tell me, Phoebe!”
I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to fight. “A guy brought them to the party, I swear. It was just the one, I just did it that one time.”
“I don’t believe you,” Dad hissed. “You might have talked Teddy into covering your ass the whole time. Monique’s probably got you hooked on them. How have you been paying for them? Where did you get the money from? Are you a whore? Are you a whore? Should I call the cops and tell them my fucking daughter’s a fucking whore?”
I was a rich girl who had been petted and preened and waited on my entire life. I could even begin to fathom what Dad was going on about. As far as I knew, prostitutes were sad women on street corners in other cities, or lived in hidden brothels. I didn’t even know how someone would go about becoming a prostitute, let alone contemplate becoming one myself.
“Dad, please listen to me. I haven’t done anything wrong. I was just – “
“Let’s go show your mother what her daughter has become,” Dad said, his face bloodless. He pulled me along behind him, nails digging in so tightly they were close to breaking the skin, the soles of my feet skidding uselessly on the floor, toes catching against doorframe and stairs. He was pulling on my arm so hard I was sure he was going to yank it right out of my socket, the pain excruciating to bear, curling up my body like flames. I was sobbing uncontrollably, dribbling down my chin and onto my chest, unable to see or speak or do anything. I was bad. I was bad. My parents didn’t love me because I was bad.
A tiny flicker of resistance remained inside me. When Dad pulled me into the front room, when I saw Mom’s ashen face and Teddy’s obvious giddiness, I wanted to run. I wanted to run to Mom’s arms and have her tell me everything was going to be okay.
So I did.
I pulled my arm free, wrenching away a few layers of skin, and held out my arms for her. I opened my mouth to call for her when I felt Dad’s hand come to the side of my head. With a swiftness and a power that ripped my breath away, he slammed my head into the wall.
It was explained away to the ER as a simple accident. I’d gotten drunk and tripped. I spent a few days in hospital and not one family member visited me. You’d think a doctor or a nurse might be curious, might ask me why no one was sitting with me, why no one seemed to care, why my story of getting drunk didn’t cover the gouge marks on my arm, contact some sort of official agency to have a talk with the underage girl who’d been drinking and taking drugs.
Have I mentioned that my Grandmother Grey was on the board of the hospital? Sure, she was retired, but she’d put in so many years of valuable service to the hospital, and the wards were full of her plucky little protégés. Someone with that much influence can make a lot of wheels tick over, and make a lot of nasty, troublesome problems disappear for their beloved, wonderful son. She would never lift a manicured finger to help me. Those diamond rings are too fucking heavy.
My time alone in my hospital bed gave me time to think. I asked to recuperate in Georgia at Grandma’s, and Dad was more than willing to send me away from all those malign influences.
If I wanted to be flippant, and I frequently am, I guess I could make the terrible joke that I had sense knocked into me. Having my skull cracked open by my father was the final straw for me. I couldn’t take it anymore.
It’s good to know he’s been thinking about it just as much as I have. Just slightly reversed to how I see it.
“What are you doing?”
The lights come on in the kitchen, blindingly bright. I threw up my hands to shield my face, recoiling away, my eyes starting to water. I would have made a noise, but my mouth was stuffed. I made a sort of hissed grumble, the contents of my mouth spilling out down my chin and covering the vinyl table-top.
I met Tom, my roommate, back when I was in my eating disorder support group. He’s about my age, black, and enjoys those of the male persuasion. He came out as gay at fourteen, at which his family promptly started on a course of emotional abuse, praying for his soul, and trying to cure him by making him sleep in the back yard. Like me, he went through periods of starving himself and then binging out on junk food. While he doesn’t fully know all of what happened to me, we have a shared set of experiences and circumstances. We become good friends, and when I had college denied for me, I asked if I could live with him on the basis that I am a non-smoker, I clean dishes, and only have a few nightmares a week.
I swallow. “I appear to have been eating my way through a large block of cheese. Would you like some?”
“Okay…” He says, frowning, and sits opposite from me. “I don’t want to appear like I’m putting any undue pressure on you, but have you been sitting here in the dark eating cheese since you left work?”
“No… uh, since about half twelve,” I say, slightly sheepishly. “It felt like a good idea at the time.”
“What happened? You’re looking really sick. Were you sent home? Gary should have phoned me, I could have come home to look after you,” Tom said, his joy at coming home from a long, long day of dealing with customers quickly fading.
“I was just a little sick, don’t worry about me. It’s your date night with Jon, you should go out and have fun,” I say, trying to smile a little. I was planning to spend the night alone on Netflix trying to purge the entire day from my memory, probably by binge watching House for seventy four hours.
“You look really bad – have you got the stomach flu? I can cancel, I really don’t mind, it’s no fun being sick on your own. We can just watch something on TV, and I can tell Jon that we’ll skip tonight and just go to Bar Food on Thursday instead.” Tom smiled, bending down to undo his shoe laces. He always takes an hour to calm down after a shift, and most of it centres around his feet. I have no idea why, but he’s incredibly vain about them. To me, feet are feet. I don’t get the interest.
“You mean that you’d suggest that, then oh-so innocently suggest that he comes round here to join us,” I say, falling into the easy pattern of our friendship. We’ve lived with each other for three years, and we’ve established a nice, comfortable groove. There are no expectations and no failures. We are who we are. As much as I want Tom to be happy, a small part of me hopes he stays living with me forever. I don’t want to establish new patterns with new people. I don’t trust a lot of people.
“You haven’t met Jon yet. He’s a nice guy – don’t you look at me like that! – and I think you two would really get on. We could all go out somewhere together – what is that?” Tom pulls out the check from where I’d thrown it on the check. His eyes go so wide that his pupils are tiny. “Sally, I want you to tell me what this is about. Is this check real?”
I groan. I’d like nothing more than to smash my face into what’s left of the cheese. “It’s real.”
“This is a check for seventy five thousand dollars, Sal.” He turns it around so that my Dad’s signature can glare at me right in the face.
“I know that it is,” I say, trying to shrug it off, like I get dollars for exorbitant amounts of money every single day of my life. I can play this casual, this is nothing major. Okay, that’s a total lie, but I’m starting to get some serious cheese sweats here.
“This is a check for seventy five thousand dollars, Sally,” Tom repeats, waving it in my face. “How did you get this? Who wants to give you this amount of money?”
“It’s from my Dad. He came to see me today.” I stop, pause, consider my words. “My father is Christian Grey. My name isn’t Sally Adams. It’s Phoebe Grey. I ran away from home to come here, to live with my grandmother. He wants me to come home, so he gave me this check.”
Back at the restaurant, I didn’t bother to wash up. I wandered out, my t-shirt stained with stomach bile, dripping and stinking of sweat. Dad shot out of his chair the instant he saw me. There were other people in the room now, nice old ladies with frozen perms and well-maintained diamonds glittering in ears, on wrists, and around necks. I was an embarrassment in every sense of the word.
“What in the hell have you done – “ Dad hissed, that little vein popping on the side of his head.
“I think I’ve got a stomach bug,” I whimpered, still crying. “I’m so sorry, Dad, you’ve got to let me go home.”
He liked the sound of that. He could find out where I lived. “Of course. You always had problems with food, this was far too much for you to handle.” He idly threw down a selection of bills on the table, and started moving me from the room. “Do you need any help? Would you like me to stay and look after you?”
I got him off my tracks by directing his driver to another apartment building and hiding in the lobby until the car went away. Clutched in my fist was his going away present.
“Take this, and use it to come back home as soon as possible. I’ll phone your grandmother and arrange transport for the funeral. I’ll be seeing you soon, princess.” Dad kissed me perfunctorily on the cheek and was gone.
I walked home, getting through the crowds easily due to my horrendous stank, and despite how sick and tired I felt, I… well, I felt like I accomplished something. I had made it through the lunch relatively unscathed. My emotions crashed soon afterwards, hence why Tom found me in the dark eating cheese all by myself.
“This money – what are you going to do with this money? Are you going back home? Going to be Phoebe Grey again?” Tom asks, breaking into my train of thought.
I don’t need money. No, that’s a lie. I do need money, but not that much. What do I really need in life? I don’t need fancy clothes, or a car, or a fridge stuffed with foie gras. What was the point in letting all that money just sit in my bank account? There was more than enough to go round. I could pay for a new plumbing system at the shelter, I could provide for volunteers at the local Planned Parenthood, I could give so the local woman’s shelter had plenty of food. And I had the money to let Buster, my favourite old dog in the world, to come and live out his life with me. I needed none of it. My life was good enough already.
“I’m fine just here. Being plain old Sally Adams is good enough for me.”