Renton poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down at the table. He spread the newspaper out in front of him. He pretended to read as he watched Maya out of the corner of his eye. Her messy hair was gathered into a bun at the nape of her neck. She took Jeremy’s bowl over to the sink. The tight black tank top was an ideal contrast to her pale skin and her skinny legs tapered out of the ill-fitting boxers. She was braless as always; her breasts were no larger than oranges and were impossibly high. She was different now. She was acting, in a way. She knew for a concrete fact that she was being watched, that she had an audience, and although she tried hard to ignore it, she was insecure and terribly aware of herself.
“So what’s on the agenda, boys?” she asked as she dried the bowl.
Renton remained silent.
“I don’t know,” replied Jeremy. “I think we gotta go to White Cloud for a minute, but I’m not sure. Rent, do you think he’ll let someone taker her grocery shopping today? We’re gonna starve at this rate.”
“Ask him yourself.”
At that moment, perfect timing as always, Henry came through the front door. Maya automatically filled a cup and held it until he took it from her.
“Are we going to White Cloud today?” asked Jeremy eagerly.
Henry nodded and took a portion of the paper from Renton.
“Do you think… I mean, we’re kind of out of food.”
Henry sipped from the cup and turned a page. Jeremy was struck, not for the first time, with how much Henry reminded him of his father. That same indifference. He sat carelessly contained, always a contradiction, reserved and potentially fatal. An unexploded bomb. Dull black eyes, shark’s eyes, until you said the wrong thing and they turned on you, blazing. Walk on eggshells when he’s in the room, and think twice about what you say when he’s not, because just when you think it’s safe to let your guard down, he emerges from the mirrored deep.
When Jeremy was little, he used to come home from school and make Pop-Tarts in the microwave the toaster took too long. He’d carried the plate and a large glass of milk into the basement to watch TV. He’d almost forget. The Green Ranger was now the White Ranger, and the Pink one’s tits were just as big as ever, and her mouth was perfect, too. He always wanted to grab her face in one of his hands, see those lips purse, even when he was ten years old, he felt like it was his right. She’d probably like it, too. Well, at first she might try to resist, but eventually she’d come to her senses. He’d grab her by the hair and bend her over his kitchen table, hiking up her denim skirt to reveal something frilly and pink – after all, he only had a very vague understanding of women’s underwear at the time – and then he’d grab a handful of the fabric and yank. Her bare ass would be exposed, and he’d smack it with an open hand, increasing the force and frequency with every blow. Her darkly tanned flesh would turn bright red and hot to the touch. She’d scream objections, but squeal with delight, pretending to hate it but desperately wanting him to continue. Then he’d drop his pants, jam himself inside of her, and grab her hair with both hands. He’d bend her backwards almost to her breaking point—
And then the front door would burst open and his father’s feet would stomp across the hallway, right above the basement, right above the very spot where he sat frozen to the couch. He’d mute the TV. His body tensed, every muscle arrested, holding his breath. He’d wait for the basement door to swing open. His dad would have found something wrong, some crumb Jeremy had missed or some mud he had tracked in or fuck he’d forgotten to bring in the mail. And then it was all over. He could kiss his ass good-bye because he wouldn’t be able to sit comfortably for a week. Very rarely, on the miracle days, his dad was too drunk to notice anything, probably even too drunk to remember he had a son, and so Jeremy would be off the hook. But that was very, very rare.
Henry leaned back in his chair and looked at her. Her eyes fell. “I’m sure something could be arranged. After we come back.”
Jeremy was satisfied.
Henry gulped the last of his coffee and lit a cigarette. Maya took the mug and refilled it. She sat down next to him. The kitchen was silent, waiting for a cue from Henry as to how to proceed. They didn’t have to wait long. He folded the paper and snuffed out his cigarette. “We should get going.” Renton and Jeremy stood and went to the front door to put on their shoes. She kept her eyes on Henry. He suddenly glanced over at her and asked, “What’s your plan for today?”
Her mouth involuntarily parted in surprise. Everything stopped. “I…” She was speechless. He had never asked her any form of that question before in all the time that she had known him. It was made quite clear from the beginning that his was the role of leader; he would delegate responsibilities to all of them each morning. “Well…” She glanced up at Jeremy, who shrugged with wide eyes, and Renton, who simply looked away. They weren’t any help. “I hadn’t thought about it,” she finally replied.
He suppressed a laugh. “I see your year of independence hasn’t done much for your decision-making skills.”
“Well, I don’t—”
“It’s all right,” he said. “It proves what I’ve been saying all along. You like to be dominated; you like to be told what to do. You pretend to thrive with sovereignty, but how long were you on your own before you were able to get a job? And you didn’t even find it for yourself, did you? You once again had to rely on someone else. Your instinct doesn’t even allow you to have one thing in mind that you want to do once you’re back in this environment. You could have had ideas, and know that you might not be able to realize any of them, but you’d at least have one. If you were truly independent, that is. Even now, when confronted, you look to Rent and Jeremy for a sign. But they’re the same as you.”
There were tears in her eyes. Renton wanted to say something, something to protect her, something in his own defense, but he didn’t dare.
She reached for a cigarette but Henry grabbed the pack and pulled it toward him. She looked up at him with a mixture of anxiety and contempt. “Well, what did you have in mind for me?” she asked. “Since I apparently am unable to think for myself.”
Renton’s head snapped towards her. What the hell did she think she was doing?
“Why don’t you just program me with different sequences of your orders, so that all you have to do every morning is punch in a few numbers. You won’t have to waste your breath explaining anything to me ever again, and you won’t have to worry whether or not my feeble mind is able to wrap itself around such complex concepts, like cleaning the bathroom or doing your laundry.”
There was a thick silence between them that had built by her words. Renton had an image of Henry lunging at her and grabbing her by the throat. He’d like to think he would try to stop him if he was really hurting her, but in reality he would probably do what he always did when Maya was getting her ass beat—remove himself far enough away so that he wouldn’t hear her crying. Jeremy did the same thing; and even now, as Maya and Henry stared at one another, he was subconsciously backing up.
And then, Henry laughed. He stood and kissed the top of her head. “You’re so adorable. I do love your fire; I really do, as long as you can remember who controls the water. And you respect anyone who can truly contain it. If there are no limitations for you, you burn at both ends; you consume everything and everyone, including yourself.” He pushed the pack of cigarettes towards her. “The bathroom and the laundry sound like good places to start. We should be back by one.” The boys started to walk towards the door, then he turned. “And all the old rules apply. You’ve made me lose trust in you because of your actions, so any freedom that you had previously gained in this relationship is suspended. Tony should be stopping by at some point to check on you.”
She raised her eyebrows and her mind went to the last time she saw Tony Slate. He must have timed it perfectly – Henry and Jeremy were gone for the weekend and Renton was staying with her. Rent had gone to the store to get smokes and more beer. They had been drinking all day. Not one second after he had pulled out of the driveway, Tony knocked at the door. Maya stumbled over to answer it. He burst in and didn’t waste any time. She was wearing nothing but a mid-length cotton dress, and in an instant he had unzipped his jeans and pushed his cock into her. He groaned loudly – he had been dreaming of her pussy since the moment Henry introduced them. He watched and waited for months, trying to find an opportunity to have his way with her, but she was always so surrounded, so protected. But now he finally had a brief moment to fulfill his fantasy. He thrust his entire length into her, feeling his balls smack against her flesh, and was surprised how tight she was. Her sex felt unbelievably amazing, warm and inviting; he could almost hear it begging him to punish it. This would teach her to spurn his advances. Her mouth opened and a soft moan escaped. She was trying desperately to form words, but the liquor was clouding her mind and had weakened her resistance. He drove into her over and over, grabbing indiscriminately at her breasts and finally collapsing onto her. She felt him slowly go soft inside her; she was so disgusted and placed her delicate hands against his chest, trying to push him off of her. He put his wet lips against her ear and whispered, “Don’t worry, soon we’ll have all the time in the world.” And then he was gone. No one had believed her, and eventually she even doubted herself. She had a notion that Rent might have thought it was true, but since Henry dismissed her, Rent couldn’t retaliate.
“Does it have to be Tony?” she asked, trying not to sound like she was whining. “Isn’t there anyone else? You know how I feel about him.”
“And you know how you exaggerate.”
Renton was suddenly speaking, and no one was more surprised than him. “I could just stay here, if it would be easier.” He wanted to stab himself. “Or Jeremy could, or whatever. If it’s not a big deal, I mean. You know.”
They were all staring at him. Maya started to say that it was all right, she does exaggerate sometimes and she would be so busy that she probably wouldn’t notice Tony anyway, but she wasn’t sure whether it would help the situation or make it worse. She didn’t want Henry to be suspicious, or Renton to feel emasculated. So she kept her mouth shut.
“What an interesting, eloquent suggestion,” Henry replied, his voice misted with sarcasm. Renton clenched his jaw and looked away. “Well, now I have a decision to make. Do I go with my original plan, which would save time and energy on my part, and which I must have had some reason for making. Or do I change the plan, and allow one of you to stay—Renton would probably be happiest to be chosen—and waste some more time trying to get a hold of Tony to let him know about the change of plans. The latter course of action would not only reward Maya for complaining, but would reward Renton for siding with her against me. And I have begun to suspect Renton’s intentions. He says that he wants to make things easier, but as we can all plainly see, there are many extra complications that go along with his suggestion. So.” He smiled. “In a surprising twist, and because of my curiosity in Rent’s aforementioned motivations, Jeremy—you stay here with Maya and work on contacting Tony. Renton—come with me.”
Renton was visibly shaking, albeit only slightly, as he followed Henry out the door.
Maya rushed up to Jeremy. “What the hell was that about? What was Rent thinking?”
He shook his head slowly and walked into the living room. Maya followed him. He sank into the loveseat, still somewhat in shock. “It’s never been like this. It all started a few months ago. He’s been talking shit about Henry, not to his face or anything, but he’s been questioning his decisions. He thinks… that he’ll be able to convince Henry to give him more power and control. You know how it is, Henry makes the decisions and we do it.” He looked up at her. “But even you were challenging him today. What the hell is going on?”
She knelt beside him and put her hands in his knee. “It’s different for me, Jeremy. I don’t have a choice to be here. Look—I tried to leave, and I get fucking kidnapped.”
“Renton doesn’t have a choice anymore, and neither do I. And fuck you if you really think we do. We’ve all reached a point where we’re in too deep. But we knew what we were getting into. You did, I did, and fucking Renton did, too. So we can’t complain about it now.”
“But Henry isn’t God.”
“He is for us.”
There was a loud knock at the door.
“Fuck,” muttered Jeremy. “I forgot about Tony.” He stood and walked over to the door as Maya stood, bracing herself. Tony Slate burst in, tall and dynamic. His white t-shirt looked painted-on and his jeans hung low on his hips.
“Hey motherfucker,” he shouted and he and Jeremy slapped hands. He turned toward her and grinned. His smile was feral and toothy. “Hey, sexy,” he purred and advanced on her. He wrapped his arms around her. She stiffened against him and he laughed. “I’m not gonna let you go till you give me some sugar.” She put one of her arms around his waist. “Don’t half-ass it or we’re gonna have to go through life like this.” She embraced him with her other arm and he ground his hips against hers. “Oh hell yeah. I’ve missed this shit.”
He let her go and she took a few steps back.
“So, Jeremy, what are you doing here? I thought you were going with my brother to White Cloud.”
He shrugged. “Change of plans. Sorry I didn’t get a hold of you sooner so you didn’t have to drive all the way out here.”
“Naw, it’s cool. I just wanted some quality time with Maya.” He winked at her. “Jeremy, don’t you have somewhere you need to be?”
“No, he doesn’t,” she replied coldly and turned towards the bedroom.
“Aw, don’t be like that, Maya,” he shouted after her. He grinned at Jeremy. “She cracks me up. Seriously, though, it’s cool if you want to take off for awhile.”
Jeremy felt caught. “Well, Henry told me to stay here.”
“He told me the same thing. And I’m sure you’d like a break.” He was staring at the closed bedroom door. He imagined her undressing and licked his lips. “Go on. Go to a bar or something.”
“It’s ten in the morning,” Jeremy laughed.
“Well, then, go to a fucking zoo or something, I don’t know. Jesus, man, can’t you take a hint?”
Jeremy shook his head. “Come on, dude, I’m just gonna pretend you didn’t say that.”
“You’re a good friend, but a terrible wingman. Go make me a drink, will you?” Tony stretched out on the couch, wondering how he was going to get Maya alone.