Home > Tracking the Tempest (Jane True #2)(14)

Tracking the Tempest (Jane True #2)(14)
Author: Nicole Peeler

“Where do I begin?”

“With the money,” he said cryptically, as he pressed my hair down on either side of my face and peered at the both of us in the mirror before backing away to grab his scissors.

“Then the sex,” he continued, making ominous chopping gestures in the empty air.

“Then the love,” he finished, as he dove toward my head and I nearly fainted.

Sheets, torrents, floods of hair began to circulate in the air around me as Grizzie began talking.

“The money is a good place to start,” Grizzie conceded, obviously gathering herself to embark upon a grand narrative.

“I was not born any of the women you know, Jane. Neither Grizzie, nor Dusty. I was born Amelia Vanderbilt Bathgate. The Amelia is my grandmother's name on my mother's side, as is my middle name.”

My eyes boggled, because of what Grizzie was telling me of her heritage and because I was literally sitting in a sea of my own hair. It was beginning to appear as if “cutting me dry” would end in making me bald.

“Yes, those Vanderbilts. But my Bathgate relations secretly considered them vulgar. Nouveau riche and not all that wealthy. After all, the Bathgates put the ‘pure' in ‘Puritan.' They were at the helm of the Mayflower. They supplied the coal that blackened the faces at the Boston Tea Party. The ink that signed the Declaration of Independence. The lamp oil that lit Paul Revere's ride.”

I knew my jaw was hanging open. I'd been waiting for all sorts of shocking things to pop out of Grizzie's usually shocking mouth… but I wasn't ready to find out she was a Daughter of the American Revolution.

Grizzie ignored my reaction and kept talking. “When Boston society became too impure, my family moved to Chicago in order to start afresh in a city whose social milieu they could hand select. They did, and they controlled it with an iron fist until the city grew to a size even they couldn't control. But by then the Bathgates were Chicago, at least behind the scenes.”

“How?” I asked simply. What I meant was, how had she left? Why had she left? Especially when she'd been born into a family so famous in both Chicago society and politics that even I, who lived in the farthest corner of the East Coast, had heard of them?

“It's easy, Jane. Being born a Bathgate wasn't all it was cracked up to be. I was born into a world of pure privilege. And total ignorance. Don't get me wrong; I had the best schools, the best tutors, all of that.” Grizzie grinned, but the smile was sarcastic, bitter. “But I took everything for granted. I never questioned the way I was raised—the benefits I enjoyed—versus the way other people lived. If I thought about the fact that others had less than I, it was merely as a way to determine whether or not they were present to serve me or play with me. ‘Friends' were people whose mothers and fathers inhabited the same tax bracket as mine; everyone else was there to do something for me.”

Beads of sweat were forming on Salim's forehead as he pranced around me, his plump hands darting through the air like corpulent hummingbirds.

“That's how I lived for the first sixteen years of my life,” Grizzie continued, tucking her long legs up under her so she didn't trip the whirling dervish currently shearing me like a sheep.

“I firmly believed, if I thought about it at all, that I deserved everything I had and that people who didn't have everything I did deserved to have less. Which is called, what? Classism? And then there's the racism, sexism, and homophobia. Oh, and the hypocrisy. My peers found it perfectly acceptable to bugger their poor, black, or Hispanic g*y lovers, but God forbid someone attempt to come out of the closet or say they agreed with affirmative action or suggest that maybe, just maybe, people from underprivileged backgrounds deserved access to some of the opportunities to which our silver-bespooned births gave us access.”

“So what happened when you were sixteen?” I asked, my voice muffled by Salim's gut as he leaned over me to do something to the back of my head that involved a seriously scary number of snips.

“I fell in love with a girl. Which, as you can imagine, went down really well with the establishment.”

“Ha!” Salim ejaculated, as he whirled my chair around to face Grizzie. “Went down!”

Grizzie shot him with an imaginary pistol. “Anyway, I fell in love with a girl who was also merely middle class. I don't know which was worse in my parents' eyes.” She grinned. “They banned us from seeing one another, of course. Put me into therapy for ‘inversion,' since in my parents' world it's still the mid-1800s. But of course I rebelled, and eventually my girlfriend and I did what any star-crossed lovers worth their salt do. We emptied my bank account, stole a bunch of my mom's jewelry, and ran away.”

I was literally on the edge of my seat at this point, partly because I was wrapped up in Grizzie's story but also because my body was being dragged forward as my hair self-consciously attempted to escape the Lebanese lunatic assaulting it. I nearly died when Salim cut Grizzie off by starting up the blow-dryer. I blanched as I realized that now was the time on “Sprockets” when I got “cut dry.”

When he was finally finished, Salim picked up a different set of scissors and a comb. I closed my eyes, unable to watch. All courage had failed me.

“And?” I squeaked, prompting Grizzie.

“Obviously, the money that seemed to be so much when we stole it lasted about six months. And then the girlfriend went back home. Her parents had joined PFLAG, decorated their house with rainbows, and welcomed her back with open arms. But in running away, I saw the world for what it really was. I was scared, way too young, and in way over my head, but going back home would have required me volunteering for a lobotomy. I literally couldn't conceive of going back to a place that was so… pointless. I realized that all we did, as a social class, was circulate money. And I wanted to live.”

Salim's motions were slowing, his snips growing more considered. I knew he was finishing up. But I refused to open my eyes until the bitter end. Then, when I discovered I looked like Vin Diesel, I could burst dramatically into tears and make him feel at least a little guilty.

“So I did a lot of crazy shit to survive. You know where it all ended up: with Dusty Nethers committing unspeakable, if rather titillating, acts of depravity for money. There are a million things that I wish I had done differently, and a thousand things I regret. But I never regret breaking with Amelia's world. Never. Although ‘Amelia' does go back, sometimes, to monitor her trust fund and to pay homage to the womb that bore her.”

“How were you not disowned, Grizzie? Your family can't have accepted who you are now, let alone who you've been?”

Grizzie laughed, but it was a bitter sound. “First of all, you have to understand that my world thrives on appearances and runs on toadying. So who is going to tell my mother a truth she wouldn't want to hear? She'd be more than happy to shoot the messenger. As for my disappearances, she doesn't want to know the truth any more than I want to tell her. So she accepts my lies about doing degrees in Paris, or volunteer work in Africa, and doesn't ask questions. Plus, I am a totally different person when I'm Amelia. A person I don't know if even you, Jane, would recognize. I doubt many people have made the connection between Dusty and Amelia. And, while I'd love for my mother to know Grizelda Montague and her loving wife, Tracy, I also know that's not going to happen. Anyway, I'm glad ‘Dusty' has been shelved. I won't even get into ‘Crystal' or ‘Tyler'; they were just disasters. But now, for most of the time, I get to be me: I get to be Grizzie.”

I opened my eyes to find myself still facing her. She smiled at me, and for a split second, I saw all the women Grizzie had been layered over each other in a complex tapestry of experience. Then they resolved themselves into the woman I knew, sprawled in a salon chair and practically glowing with a sense of place and self-contentment. I blinked back tears.

Granted, it was partly because I'd caught a glimpse of just how much black hair was currently drifting around my feet.

“How?” I asked, keeping my mind off my imminent hair horror. “How did you find Grizzie?”

My friend smiled. “Easy, kid. I found Tracy. I met her when I was really down. I was in that talk-show jargon ‘bad place.' I really wanted out of the industry, but didn't know how. I didn't know how to live as ‘Amelia,' but all my constructs were nearly as disastrous, just in different ways. Then I met Tracy. And she saw me. I mean, really saw me. I know I sound totally full of bullshit, but it's the truth.” Grizzie blushed, looking down. “I looked in her eyes, and there I was.”

I'd just started to ask a question when Salim tilted my head up to peer at me and then grunted hard. He whisked my chair around so I was facing the mirror, placing another mirror in my hand so I could see three hundred and sixty degrees.

I gasped, awestruck. My hair was amazing. It was still long, well past my shoulders, the burned patch camouflaged by the clever cut. Salim had even integrated my mostly grown-out bangs so that my hair was seamless and healthy and lovely. If I hadn't damned well known that he'd dry hump me in response, I would have thrown my arms around my perverted little saviour.

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