Let Freedom Ring

DECEMBER 1996
    Upper East Side, Manhattan, New York

Unbeknownst to me, a senior vice president (mutual funds specializing in the manufacturing sector) at the investment bank where Gordon worked (well, where he lost money on a daily basis until he was transferred to a division where he couldn’t do that anymore, kept on because of his family connections), a powerful man who, for reasons I never figured out, had fallen in love with Gordon long ago.

I couldn’t blame him, really. Gordon was gorgeous in a, ah, bearish way, a way that rather suited his unfortunate name.

The senior vice president’s name was Nigel Tracey and he was brilliant.

So brilliant, in fact, that when he introduced himself to me at a cocktail party one night, he knew exactly how to approach me: With exquisite bluntness.

“I want your husband.”

I blinked.

“You can’t be happy.”

“I’m not,” I said, shocked right out of my normal reserve.

“I’ve been watching you,” he said, and for some reason, the idea didn’t terrify me at all. It felt like, at last, I might have an ally, a powerful one. Not because he was trying to coerce me or manipulate me or force me or deceive me into something, but because he had approached me as an equal, with the honesty of an honest deal about to be put on the table. “You’ve boxed yourself into a corner.”

Well, there went my fantasy of having an actual friend. I gestured over a room full of people at this Christmas cocktail party, all chatting with a gaiety that was as ephemeral as Santa Claus. “Of course I have. Because it’s all about me and what a bitch I am.”

“Oh, shut up. I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Then what did you mean?”

“I meant that you were extraordinarily cast as the villain-martyr of the piece, but that’s to be expected, I suppose. A cold uneducated debutante trying to scrape her charismatic husband off the floor at every turn with nothing more than a calculator and a check register.”

Uneducated? “I have a degree.”

“In what? Underwater basket weaving?”

I bit my lip. Not quite that useless. “Humanities.”

He burst out laughing, then glanced at me, and he immediately sobered. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you cry.”

“I’m not crying. I never cry.”

He pursed his lips and decided not to pursue that; he simply took out a handkerchief and wiped my right eye, then put it back in his pocket—dry.

“Why do you want him?”

He shrugged. “He’s got potential. He needs to be housebroken, but he’ll be fine.”

“And you think you can do that.”

He smiled slowly, evilly, and for the first time in my life, I felt a woman’s desire for a handsome man with some true power—

—who wanted my husband.

“I don’t think you fully appreciate the situation,” I said calmly. “He’s in the closet to himself.”

“Get him out.”

“How am I supposed to do that?”

“Tell him what he is. Point it out.”

I rolled my eyes. As if I hadn’t before, but … I thought about that a minute. Had I? Had I ever really called him out on it?

“I see,” he said.

“Even if I do that, I have a few obstacles to overcome.”

“I’ll take care of your father-in-law. He’ll be in jail by the time you get your divorce and neither one of you will have anything to fear from him. That’s why he won’t admit it, you know. His father.”

I squinted up at him. “You know an awful lot about us.”

“I want your husband,” he said, again, bluntly. “But I like you. What I know of you, what I’ve seen of you. You’re sharp, no doubt, but you’re in a situation you can’t get out of without help. You do what I say, it’ll be a win-win for all of us.”

I stared at him for a moment before I decided to trust him, if only because he spoke with honesty. He had no reason to lie about something like that. It was 1996 and it wasn’t exactly wise for a Big Swinging Dick to come out as preferring dicks.

But Nigel was powerful enough that no one dared use it against him. He was out and proud, and he wanted to rescue me and Gordon for his own benefit.

How could I turn that down?

“All right,” I finally said.

“Confront him. Piss him off. Make him see it. Don’t hint around about it, don’t use nice language. All you have to do is tell him to his face what nobody’s ever had the guts to do because of his father.”

I could live with a gay man who knew he was gay and cover for his affairs, as long as he continued to be the good father he was.

I could not live with a gay man whose self-loathing was killing any chance I had at either making a family life work or getting out of the marriage altogether with my girls in tow.

I shrugged. “Okay.” Gordon was a wimp. He’d take whatever I dished out and go sulk at some bar—some straight bar—and nurse a whiskey sour.

Nigel Tracey—a man I didn’t know very well, but immediately trusted—had given me a way out.

It was a seductive idea.

I spent weeks gathering my courage, always with Nigel at my back, encouraging me, giving me advice, teaching me, keeping my father-in-law busy with whatever crimes he’d found.

Then I had an idea.

I thought that if, instead of telling him straight out, I could maneuver Gordon into admitting to himself that he was gay, we could get some kind of marital counseling to help us work through this and remain friends while he came to terms with his sexuality, then ease him into an affair with Nigel without fear or guilt.

But he would not, could not, be maneuvered in that direction. It was as Nigel had said: He had to be told straight out because hinting had never worked.

“Gordon, you’re gay!” I screamed at him deep into the night, in the den, far away from the sleeping children, my patience with talking exhausted. “You! Like! Men!”

His face red, he slapped me. I clutched my cheek and stared at him, aghast. “Shut up. Shut your mouth, Cassie Rivington! How could you say such a foul thing? That’s disgusting.”

“I don’t care!” I whined, trying to get him to see I was on his side. “I. Do. Not. Care. Just— Stop tearing us up. Go— Go find somebody, I don’t care. We can hire somebody—” No way was I going to bring Nigel’s name into it right now. “I don’t know, but I can’t live like this anymore.”

He slapped me again and left.

He came home two nights later, drunk and pissed—at me, naturally—and wanted to have sex.

That was a bad sign, him wanting to have sex with me.

He had me bent over the bed in a flash, his hand wrapped in my short black hair as far as it could be (I’d kept my hair boy-short for years, at his insistence), his cock shoved in my ass so fast and so hard I screamed and sobbed for mercy.

He didn’t care.

It was the first time we’d had sex this way, and it hurt. It was the first time—of the very few times we’d ever had sex—I couldn’t lie back and think of England.

I was shocked, disgusted. Not frightened, actually, because this was so out of character for him—somewhere in the back of my mind I knew he’d regret this and weep all over me in the morning.

He continued to pump, desperately trying to come, but he never did, killing me in the process.

It was worse than childbirth.

“God damn you, Cassie,” he hissed as he finally pulled out and shoved my face into the comforter. “You can’t do anything right. Shit, you can’t even fuck right. God damn you to hell.”

Indeed.

I called the police, had him arrested. Charged.

It kept him away from me and the children while I got the divorce I’d wanted for years.

It happened too fast for Nigel to make good on his promise to have my father-in-law out of the way, but he was agile and worked alongside me to get all this wrapped up.

My parents were humiliated, but I didn’t have a shred of sympathy for them, not even the same sympathy-from-afar they had shown me.

I had exactly one friend in the world at the moment.

My soon-to-be-ex-father-in-law was humiliated and I stared at him triumphantly when I sat on a witness stand and detailed what had gone on in my marriage, up to and including his propositioning of me.

Unfortunately for me, with the divorce came the information that Gordon had saddled me with debt that would wipe me out completely and oblige me for four times again my net worth.

“Oh, shit,” Nigel breathed late one night as we sat at the kitchen island in the townhouse that was mortgaged three times, sorting through paperwork Nigel had found in Gordon’s office—after Nigel had fired him—and brought to me for explanation.

My name and signature—forged—were all over them, four banker’s boxes full of paper.

No wonder Gordon had stopped pissing and moaning about how much money he didn’t have to spend.

“If I’d had half a brain, I would’ve started to wonder where all those expensive clothes and electronics and useless crap he bought for the girls came from,” I said dully, rubbing my aching head. “I thought his father was fronting him.”

“His father cut him off years ago, Cass,” Nigel said tightly. “They’re both broke, with no prospects. You aren’t going to be able to get anything out of either of them.”

I turned on Nigel. “And you still want him,” I snapped. “Why? What about any of this is admirable or desirable? He forged my signature, Nigel. I can have him thrown in jail.”

And once again, Nigel slid me that slow, evil grin that made me catch my breath a little. “Good. By the time he gets out of prison, he’ll also be out of the closet.”

That’s when I realized there was more there than a simple lust from afar. I didn’t understand it at all.

“There’s a decent man in there somewhere,” he said absently, having turned back to some of the documents. “I mean to find it.”

“You’ve got a little-girl crush on him,” I said flatly.

He chuckled wryly. “Yeah, that’s probably true. I don’t know, Cass. I can’t explain it.”

I pressed charges, with Nigel’s blessing—

“I’ve waited this long,” he said. “I can wait a little longer.”

—and Gordon went to the neon orange country club for a couple of years.

Big deal.

My father forked over his net worth—bankrupting himself and my mother—to help get me out of my hole, and Nigel chipped in a couple million, but I was still three million in debt, the townhouse still upside down in its one remaining mortgage, and me without a job or any marketable skills.

I couldn’t even type.

No amount of gardening in twenty square feet, no amount of frugality on my part would get the mortgage paid, me out of bankruptcy court (there was no way in hell I’d do that) and my daughters off my back for the next greatest pair of designer jeans.

Of all the horrible rotten things Gordon had done to me, I realized far, far too late, the worst had been raising his daughters to be entitled divas, and in the process, teaching them to find me beneath them, worthy only of their contempt.

“I’m going to sell the townhouse,” I said to them one night once I had managed to gather them all around the kitchen island. “We’re moving.” To Queens. Or somewhere. Nebraska, maybe. I didn’t know. Where did one go and how did one live when one was three million dollars in debt and only qualified to work at McDonald’s?

I was prepared for the hue and cry, but I never got around to telling them the lie I had concocted that would not hint that we were worse than broke, and needed to find cheaper lodgings that didn’t involve a car.

(That we didn’t have.)

(I didn’t know how to drive in any case.)

(Yet.)

What I wasn’t prepared for were the immediate accusations of setting Gordon up to get him sent to jail, and I stared at them in shocked numbness, realizing for the first time that they … hated me.

“Jesus, Mom, can’t you do anything right?” Clarissa, child number two, all of nine years old, hissed at me as she slid off the stool and stomped upstairs to her room.

The others followed, though Helene, my oldest at eleven, paused and looked at me with great confusion.

Hurt.

I reached for her, to hug her to me, but she stepped away and walked slowly out of the kitchen away from me, her head bowed.

You can’t do anything right. Shit, you can’t even fuck right.

I laid my head down on the granite and stayed there most of the night until, just before dawn, an idea burst in my head like a Fourth of July rocket blossoming over the Hudson River, complete with Martina McBride singing “Independence Day” in the background.

It was, indeed, my Independence Day.

“Cassie, you can’t be serious!” Nigel bellowed at me the next day when I informed him of his part in my proposed metamorphosis.

The girls were at school and I had never seen calm, cool, collected Nigel Tracey so upended.

“You are insane!”

“It’s the only thing of value I have,” I said mildly, sitting on the couch buffing my nails. “And it’s not even that valuable, really, but I figure I can learn how to do that faster than I can learn how to type and I’m sure the per-hour is better.”

“So how are you going to learn?” he sneered as he paced in front of me, back and forth.

He knew me well enough by now to know my calm meant something.

You are going to teach me,” I said.

“I don’t fuck women,” he tossed out absently, as if I were joking.

“No, maybe you didn’t understand me. I said, ‘You are going to teach me.’ Who better to teach me how to do what a man likes than a gay man?”

He stopped pacing and stared at me, horrified.

“If you don’t do it, I’ll find someone who will.”

“How are you going to do that?”

I looked up at him from under my lashes, and realized that I really did want to sleep with him, had wanted to from the first moment I met him.

And he knew it.

It had been a first for me and I was curious, though now cynical enough to know that there was no such thing as love.

I’d given up on that before I hit my nineteenth birthday.

Maybe once before I died I wouldn’t have to lie back and think of England.

“Don’t tell me you don’t know how to set all this up. And unless you want to fork over the other three million and an extra, you know, half a million while I’m learning how to type, this is my best option.”

He pointed a finger at me. “Don’t put this on me. You’re doing this because you’re upset about not being able to live up to your little shits’ expectations.”

The contempt on their faces, even down to the six-year-old twins’ Paige and Olivia— I deserved it.

“That’s not true,” I said, because it wasn’t. “I can pick up and move and they’ll just have to learn to live with it.”

“You are such a liar,” Nigel hissed.

I waved toward him dismissively. “Get me set up by the end of the week or I’ll find someone who will.” I had no idea how.

He stomped out of the living room into the hall, down the hall. Opened the door. “You bitch!” he yelled before he slammed the door behind him.

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