“No, except for every single word that just came out of your mouth,” Graham replied.
“You seem to know it all, don’t you? Well, go ahead, tell me what you see when you look around,” Richard urged.
Don’t do it, Richard. Don’t awaken the beast.
“Trust me, you don’t want to know my thoughts,” Graham said, standing tall.
“No, come on, enlighten us, because I’m kind of sick of the attitude,” Richard replied. “Your pretentious tone is extremely unwarranted, and frankly, extremely disrespectful.”
“Disrespectful? Pretentious?” Graham asked, arching an eyebrow.
Oh no. I took note of the vein popping out of the side of Graham’s neck, and even though he kept his voice calm, he was growing more and more irritated as he spoke.
“We’re standing in a room full of paintings and sculptures of your penis, which, if I’m honest, seems to be nothing more than a little man trying hard to overcompensate for something he’s lacking in his life. Judging by his height and need to force people into a room to stare at his cartoonish, oversized genitals, he’s lacking quite a bit.”
Everyone’s mouths hung open, stunned by Graham’s words. My eyes stayed wide, my chest tight as I yanked on Graham’s arm. “Can I please have a word in the other room?” I asked, but it was much more a demand than a polite request.
“What was that about?!” I whisper-shouted, carrying Talon into the darkened exhibit where Graham headed.
“What are you talking about?”
“You. That whole act back there.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he replied.
“Come on, Graham! For once in your life can you not be condescending?”
“Me? Condescending? Are you joking? He made portraits, of himself, naked, and deemed it as artwork when truly it’s just some kind of hipster bullshit that doesn’t belong in this museum.”
“Your idea of talent is jaded.”
“I know,” I replied harshly. “I do, after all, read your books.”
“Oh, good one, Lucille. You really told me,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Yet unlike your so-called boyfriend, I know my flaws when it comes to my craftsmanship. He believes he’s the best of the best.”
“What do you mean? What do you mean ‘so-called’ boyfriend?”
“He doesn’t know you,” he said assertively, making me raise an eyebrow.
“We’ve been together for more than five years, Graham.”
“And yet he still hasn’t a clue who you are, which isn’t shocking, because he seems to have his head so far up his own ass he has no time to focus on anyone else.”
“Wow,” I said, completely baffled by his words. “You don’t know him.”
“I know his type, the type of people who get the smallest taste of success and feel as if they can toss away the things and people from their past. I don’t know how he used to look at you, but he stares at you as if you’re nothing now. As if you’re below him. I give your relationship two weeks. I bet it’s over in a month, tops.”
“You’re being a jerk.”
“I’m telling you the truth. He’s a self-righteous piece of shit. Do you know what the nickname for Richard is? It’s Dick, which is so fitting. I mean really, Lucille, you sure know how to pick ’em.”
He was fuming, his face bright red as he fiddled with his cuffs nonstop. I’d never seen him so mad, so far from his normal unemotional self.
“Why are you so angry? What’s wrong with you?”
“Never mind, forget it. Hand Talon over.”
“No, you don’t get to do that. You don’t get to explode and be disrespectful to my boyfriend and then tell me to forget it.”
“I can, and I did.”
“No. Graham, stop it. For once in your life, just say what you are actually feeling!”
He parted his lips, but no words escaped him.
“Really? Not a word?” I asked.
“Not a word,” he softly replied.
“Then I think you’re right. I think it’s time for you to go.”
“I agree.” He stood inches away from me, his hot breaths melting against my skin. My heart pounded against my ribcage as I wondered what he was doing, and he took a few seconds before moving in closer. He straightened his tie, lowered his voice, and spoke so sternly. “Just because you smile and act free doesn’t mean the cage doesn’t exist. It merely means you lowered your standards for how far you’ll allow yourself to fly.”
Tears burned at the backs of my eyes as he took Talon from my grip and turned to leave. Right before he stepped out of the darkened area, he paused and took a few deep breaths. He turned back my way, locking eyes with mine, and his lips parted slightly as if he were going to speak again, but I held my hand up. “Please, just go,” I whispered, my voice shaky. “I don’t think I can take any more tonight, Mr. Russell.”
The coldness of me using his last name made him stand up straighter, and when he disappeared, my tears began to fall. My fingers wrapped around my necklace, and I took in a few deep breaths. “Air above me, earth below me, fire within me, water surround me…” I repeated the words until my heartbeats returned to a normal pace. I repeated the words until my mind stopped spinning. I repeated the words until I erased the shock Graham had caused to my soul. Then, I headed back to the gala with a fake smile on my lips, and in my head, I repeated my words some more.
“He’s still calling you?” Richard asked, cleaning up his paintbrushes in the bathroom sink. I leaned against the wall in the hallway, staring down at Graham’s name flashing against the screen.
“Yup.” I hadn’t seen Graham since he exploded at Richard’s gala five days ago, and he hadn’t stopped calling me since then.
“And he doesn’t leave a message?”
“Block him. He’s the definition of a psychopath.”
“I can’t. What if something happens to Talon?”
Richard glanced my way with an arched brow. “You do know she’s not actually your responsibility, right? As in, she’s not your kid.”
“I know, it’s just…” I bit my bottom lip and stared down at the phone. “It’s hard to explain.”
“No, I get it, LuLu. You’re a giving person, but you gotta be careful, because a man like him is just a taker. He’ll take all he can from you and treat you like crap.”
My mind thought back on the dinner Graham and I had a week before, the night when he showed me a small, softer side of him I’d wondered about. The thing about Graham Russell was he lived almost completely inside his mind. He never really invited a person to see his inner thoughts or feelings. So, the night he exploded at the art show, it was a complete one-eighty from who I’d come to know him to be.
Instead of engaging in more talk about Graham, I shifted the conversation. “Do you really have to be gone for a week?”