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The ride home from Rockport was going to be a long one. I could tell by the way she was scraping her fingers along the clasp of her purse.
I decided to engage my talent for saying exactly the wrong thing at any given moment.
"She's just trying to get a reaction..."
And she got one. Kelly was just itching to begin her tirade, but was waiting until I was on the highway so that she could rant without interruption. Yes, this was going to be one very fucking long ride home, and here came the highway entrance.
"You're enjoying this. Admit it, " she accused.
No lies. I wouldn't deny it.
"You actually enjoyed watching her parade out her lifestyle for me, and me just sitting there with my face going red, completely speechless."
"Seeing you speechless is a rare event, " I poked back. " You have to let me enjoy it just a little."
She sent me a warning glare that smoldered in my peripheral vision.
"Hey, I told you about Molly, " I defended myself a little.
"You told me that she was a little ... what was the word you used? 'Unconventional', that's what you called her."
"The woman had slaves, Joel. Slaves! Six of them."
"I didn't know she would have slaves at the house. " I shrugged.
"Holy fuck, Joel. You're talking about this like it's no big deal, like having slaves is just an eccentricity. Why didn't you tell me that she was into this kind of shit? You can stop grinning any time now."
"Calm down, Kel. You're a big girl. I knew you could handle yourself. And honestly, I really didn't know that Aunt Molly would have slaves there. I thought it would only be us. Yeah, I knew she'd shock you a little by talking about her lifestyle, but I didn't think she'd go to that extent."
"Slaves. Is that even legal?"
"Well, it's not like they're really slaves, is it? It's just a game for these people."
"I don't know about that, Joel. It's too fucking weird. When you were out having a drink with Walter ... and thank you very much for leaving me alone there, by the way..."
" ... Molly was chatting with her friends about the slaves. The way they were talking, Joel ... they actually buy and sell these girls. Molly was talking about one of them that had a discipline problem, and how the girl was confined and punished until she was more ... willing. It didn't sound like just a game. Are you sure it's all voluntary?"
"I wouldn't know. I mean, not as a certainty. I visited my Aunt a couple of times a year through my childhood. I'll have to admit that I was always curious about what she did, but she never shared any of the details. She was always embarrassing my Mom by making little references to 'her girls' or something like that, but otherwise, she was just a lot of fun to be around."
"And she never let you 'borrow' any of her slaves?"
"Not a chance. My mom would have killed her, " I cocked my head towards her. There was something odd in the tone of her question. " Why would you even ask that?"
"It's just that ... well ... she wanted to know if I would like to borrow one."
"You're kidding. She didn't."
"Yes she did. She even called it a 'wedding present of sorts'."
"I can't believe it. She must be in a mischievous mood today."
"So that's normal for your Aunt Molly?"
"Oh yeah. Don't worry about it. She just wanted to see your reaction. Nothing will come of it."
I was wrong. Something did come of it.
The next Monday, when I came home from a very rainy game of golf, Kelly was waiting at the kitchen table with a girl I'd never met. Kelly rose to greet me at the door.
"She was waiting for me on the front porch, Joel, with a note from Aunt Molly. Would you like to read it? The girl is a personal gift to me."
"Is that what the note says?"
"Then I guess I don't need to read it, " I said, hanging up my wet jacket.
"Don't be impossible, Joel. What are we going to do?"
"Well, first of all, we can stop whispering. I'm sure that she knows why Molly sent her here. In fact, I'll bet she has very specific instructions."
"This isn't funny."
"Oh, come on. You're playing right into her game. Molly has always liked the kind of attention she gets from this sort of thing."
"So what do I do?"
"Whatever you want, " I winked playfully. " I mean, she's your slave."
"Then she'll be on the first bus tomorrow back to Rockport."
"Why not today? Slap some stamps on her ass, and I'll drop her off at the post office for you."
"Don't be rude, Joel. Miriam is a guest in our house."
Besides, Kelly liked to have a project. I could always see it in her eyes when she was up to something. For example, she recently decided to have the street lamps around town replaced.
"They give our streets such an ugly orange glow, " she had remarked to me one night, while we were having sex. It wasn't unusual, really, for Kelly to be chatting during sex. She just couldn't shut down her head. It never stopped her from enjoying herself, and I thought it was cute. Of course, a month later, she had convinced the township council to switch make the expensive switch to more attractive street lights.
That was the way her mind worked. Focused. And she was right. The town did look much better with the new street lamps.
This project, delivered to our front porch by my mischievous Aunt Molly, was not so different. Kelly spent the rest of the evening talking to the young woman, trying to solve the riddle of human slavery. It was her way of taking control of the situation.
Miriam was irritatingly passive.
"Do you want to talk about why you've become a slave?"
"If it pleases you, ma'am."
"Were you desperate for money? Was that why you sold yourself?"
"Well, how much did she pay you?"
"I'm not sure I understand the question, ma'am."
"Aunt Molly. How much did she give you to become a slave?"
"Nothing, ma'am. She bought me from my boyfriend."
"And how much did he give you?"
"Nothing, ma'am. I asked him to sell me."
I made myself a sandwich for dinner, and listened in while I was nearby. Kelly was making all of the arguments. Wasn't there a value in freedom? I don't know, ma'am. Wasn't there something else that Miriam want to do with her life? No, ma'am. What if she were ordered to be free? Please, I wish you wouldn't do that, ma'am. Kelly attacked the issue with such energy, it was almost exhausting to watch. She was still at it when I went to bed that night.
Miriam was in the guest suite when I woke up the next day, and I have no idea what time Kelly went to bed. She was still asleep when I went to work in the morning.
The next I heard of it was when Kelly called me on my cell in the early afternoon.
"No golf for you today, playboy. We have that strata council meeting tonight."
"Sounds like as good a reason as any to spend some time on the links."
"You're not missing it, Joel."
"Don't make me come down there and embarrass you in front of your friends."
She would do it, too. Strata council was another project of hers, and she was doing her best to bring me along for the ride.
"Oh, and bring home dinner ... for three. See you at five."
Then click. I dialed her right back.
"Cute, the way you just slipped it in there. Dinner for three. Have you decided to keep her then?"
"Keep ... don't be ridiculous, Joel. She's not a stray dog."
I sighed. Moments like this just confirmed my suspicion that I'd never quite understand the way Kelly's mind worked. I'd enjoy the ride, but I'd never know what was coming next. " See you at five."
I'm much easier to read, and much easier to please. I suspect that Aunt Molly was secretly delighted that I'd found a girl who was more 'challenging'. If we survived the current slave crisis, I figured they'd get along swimmingly.
Over the next couple of days, I found myself with some unexpected free time. Kelly was occupied with her newest project. I filled my days easily enough, with a few extra listing appointments with real estate clients, and a couple extra trips to the racquetball club, but I did sort of wonder what was going on at home. Miriam was staying, that much I knew. At the end of the week, I finally asked about it.
"Well, I can't very well send her back, can I?" Kelly answered my question with a question.
"Miriam needs my help, Joel. If I send her back, she'll probably choose to stay a slave forever. Here, she has a chance."
" ... a chance to fold the laundry. I see."
"Smart ass. If you must know, Miriam basically follows me around waiting for instructions. If I tell her to buzz off and do her own thing, she gets this sad look on her face, and just waits for me in her room. I have to occupy her time with something, just to keep the both of us sane. Besides, it's a whole lot kinder than anything Molly and her friends would be asking of her."
"With the fringe benefit that we now have a house servant. Nice. I can't wait until poker night with the guys."
.... There is more of this story ...