Home > Grip (Grip #1)

Grip (Grip #1)
Author: Kennedy Ryan

Bristol

Eight Years Ago, After Spring Break—New York

I FEEL LIKE a fool.

Like those foolish girls who fall for the tricks of beautiful men. Men who keep women on the side. Men who cheat and don’t think twice about lying. I’m usually an excellent judge of character, but I was blinded by a charismatic smile and gorgeous body. By a brilliant mind and a silver tongue. So starved for attention, I mistook Grip’s attention for kindness. Something I could count on. Something I could believe in. I forgot I can only count on myself. Only believe in myself. But now I remember. His girlfriend screaming on the front lawn jarred my memory.

“Cheating asshole,” I mutter, rolling my mammoth Louis Vuitton suitcase through the front door of my parents’ New York home.

My classes at Columbia don’t start back up for another two days, so I’ll hang here until I have to be back in the city. My apartment is cold and lonely. I glance around our foyer, checker-boarded with black-and-white tiles, and up the wide staircase. This crypt of a house is pretty cold and lonely, too. After the last week in LA, surrounded by Rhyson’s friends, I feel the isolation more profoundly.

At least there’s an elevator here. Because dragging this huge suitcase up the steps is not my idea of fun after a five-hour flight. I’m headed around the corner to the elevator when a sound above draws my eyes up the stairs again.

A moan?

I listen more closely, despite my suspicion that I shouldn’t. Grunting and cries of what sounds like intense pleasure.

“Well, well, well.” I laugh despite the crappy day I’ve had. “At least somebody’s getting some, even though it’s my parents. Ew.”

I’m not actually disgusted. I think I’m . . . happy. Happy that after all these years of thinking my parents didn’t even want or love each other, they thought I wouldn’t be home and are upstairs happily fucking in their glorious middle age. I’d always assumed their marriage was more of a business partnership than anything else, with Rhyson and me the two-for-one requisite heirs of a powerful arranged alliance. But it seems they do want each other. It makes my heart just a little lighter.

That’s saying something considering I stayed in the bathroom crying until the flight attendant forced me out for takeoff. Over that . . . chocolate charm lothario. That cheat. That . . . liar. My eyes are still a little puffy, a situation I need to remedy before Mother’s sharp glance starts probing. I’ll already have to endure an interrogation about how Rhyson is doing in Los Angeles. They haven’t seen my twin brother since that fateful day in court when he emancipated. They’ve talked to him even less than I have over the last few years.

“Oh, God! Yes. Yes!”

They’re getting louder and more fervent. Okay, this is getting awkward. They obviously don’t think anyone else is home, or they wouldn’t be quite so uninhibited. I’ll just slip into my room and come out later.

Someone walks through the front door behind me just as the elevator opens. Maybe Bertie, our housekeeper?

It’s my mother.

Oh my God.

Every auburn hair in place, her face as smooth and lineless as it has been the last twenty-one years. She sets her Celine bag on the table by the front door.

“Bristol, welcome home.” She walks forward, her gait even and confident, so similar to mine it’s like watching myself move. She air kisses, an insubstantial affection that falls short of my cheek. “I want to hear all about your trip, of course.”

“Of course.”

I mentally scramble for a way to get her out before the couple upstairs starts grunting and moaning again. Is it dad? I can’t even convince myself that my father is not upstairs fucking another woman. There’s no other logical explanation.

“Mother, I want to tell you everything.” I leave my suitcase by the elevator and walk to the front door. “Let’s go grab coffee. That little place up the street. Pano’s?”

“Coffee?” Mother has a way of injecting tiny amounts of scorn into just about anything, including the little laugh she offers at my suggestion. “You just got here. I just walked in the door. Why would we—”

“Fuck, yes!” The exclamation comes from upstairs.

Mother freezes and whatever drops of scorn she was poised to deliver congeal on her painted lips. Her eyes slowly climb the staircase before they return to meet mine. She looks as self-assured as she ever has, but there’s a film over her eyes as fragile as blown glass.

“Mother, we could—”

“It’s fine, Bristol.” She nods to the suitcase by the elevator. “Take your bags upstairs and we’ll talk at dinner about your trip to see your brother.”

“But, Mother, we should—”

“Bristol, my God! Can’t you just listen for once? Can’t you just for once do exactly what I ask you to do and not make my life any harder?”

It isn’t true. It isn’t fair. I haven’t made her life harder. Not ever. I’ve accepted the nannies who raised me when she and my father took Rhyson on the road. I laid on the couches of New York’s finest therapists when Mother abdicated walking me through my “issues” as a child. I was an honor student. When she asked me to do the stupid debutante thing with the sons and daughters of all her Upper Eastside friends, I did it. I’m in an Ivy League college, like she wanted. If anything, I’ve bent over backward, pretzeled myself to please her when I could.

I turn to leave, but a door upstairs flies open, and a blonde girl, maybe a year or two older than I am, rockets down the hall. Nina Algier, a brilliant flute player and one of my parents’ clients, stops and stares at us over the railing above, hair wild, eyes wide and horrified. Tall and coltish, she’s a rising star in the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She looks back over her shoulder as my father joins her there.

Rhyson and I share his dark coloring, taking only Mother’s gray eyes. He looks so much like Rhyson and Uncle Grady, handsome, distinguished, with just a little gray at the temples. His eyes flick to me before moving on. I never feel like I even register for him. I’m not musical; therefore, I’m worthless. That is how it’s always felt. The hardness in his eyes softens just a bit when he sees my mother, maybe with remorse. I’ve never seen my father sorry for anything, so I wouldn’t recognize it on him.

“Angela,” he says so softly that his voice barely reaches us by the door. “You’re home.”

I bounce a look between my father and my mother and Nina Algier, certain that I’m in an alternative universe. That’s all? That’s fucking all he has to say?

Nina, who has been as still as an ice sculpture to that point, galvanizes into action, rushing down the stairs. Her white silk blouse is half-buttoned and hanging from the waistband of her skirt, and there’s a flush painted on her cheeks when she cannons past us. She smells of my father’s cologne.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Gray,” she mumbles, avoiding our eyes and fumbling with the door handle until it finally opens and she springs free.

“Go to your room, Bristol,” my mother says, her voice the same low, even tone it’s always been. “We’ll talk about your trip later.”

I’m torn between railing on my father, comforting my mother, and getting the hell out of here. I take door number three.

Or rather I take the elevator. As soon as I step off and start toward my bedroom, I hear their raised voices. Their anger, their contention, it was a sound I had never heard before that moment. Not even when Rhyson sued to emancipate did they present anything other than a united front. A cold front, but always united. My parents aren’t prone to displays of affection or expressions of love, so I never expect the emotion that rises from downstairs before I hear the front door slam.

Damn this day. It has ravaged me.

I flop onto my bed and close my eyes. My room, which has been empty for months, is cold. New York is cold. It was only last night that I waded nearly naked into the waves, a hedonist seeking my pleasure with a beautiful man I thought I knew in no time. Even after only a handful of days, I thought I knew. How he got close enough to break my heart so quickly, I’m not sure, but I know it is not whole. Maybe I fell for the possibility of him. The idea that there was actually someone out there who saw me, flaws and all, and would accept me. “Got” me. That must be it. And yet, I can already feel those places around my heart that I stiffened and starched to forget him . . . softening. Giving some quarter and asking me if I shouldn’t let him explain. If maybe he does deserve that second chance.

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