Home > Taming Cross(7)

Taming Cross(7)
Author: Ella James

I feel like an asshole for not calling, but I know I won't—not yet. I don't want to talk about what happened the other night with Suri. I don't want to talk about what happened with my parents, or about Renault. Don't want to talk about Cross Hybrids or Hunter West or the wedding.

I have enough conscience to feel guilty for neglecting both my longtime friends. Suri deserves an in-person apology, and Lizzy deserves some face time. I just don't know what to say to them. Suri, for all the reasons anyone would guess, and Lizzy because...fuck, I don't know. She's living in some wedding fairytale land, while I'm in bike shop purgatory. It's not that I'm not glad for her. I am. I'm glad she's getting the happy ending she deserves. I just don't feel like I have a lot to offer anyone right now, and besides that, it's too much effort.

I wait around the house another twenty-four hours to see if I get another pain attack. Another neuralgia episode, as they’re formally called. When nothing new happens and I don't feel quite as tired, I get back on the Mach and ride over to the local library.

I used to have internet at the shop, but I didn't pay the bills while I was in rehab and since coming home, I haven't felt like getting it turned on. What's the point? I pretty much know I have a pile-up of work orders, people wanting custom jobs, and I also know I'm not open for business at the moment.

I feel a little tug of guilt as I get off the bike and stride up the stairs of the two-story brick building. It's true, I miss working on bikes—and the money—but I can't do it one-handed. Not without some help. And help would lead to pity.

I pay one dollar for a temporary library card and sit down at one of the black plastic computer desks on the back row. I pull my little photo out and put it on the table. I haven't looked at it but once or twice, just for a second or two as I loaded and unloaded it from my pockets, but here under the fluorescent lights, something about her face strikes like a chime inside my chest. Missy King. Meredith Kinsey. The mistress. The whore.

Her smile looks genuine. It makes her green eyes tilt up at the edges. Her pretty mouth looks innocently happy, slightly playful, and very familiar, as if she knows the photographer well; as if they're friends. I scowl down at the image. This girl looks young. Eighteen at most. I wonder, not for the first time, if my father made up the name he gave me. This girl, with her prim white button-up blouse and straight white teeth, is probably the daughter of a California senator.

Pecking at the keys with the fingers of my right hand, I search the name. Within milliseconds, links appear. The first one grabs my attention: Meredith Kinsey – Managing Editor, The Red & Black.

I squint. Clearly, that one's not my girl. Missy King was a high-priced prostitute, not a journalism student.

I click on the second link and find 'Meredith Kinsey' on a list of University of Georgia, Grady College scholarship recipients. She's there not once, but three times: William Dale Tichenor Scholarship for Excellence in Journalistic Writing, Sean Love Scholarship for Dependability and Service, Gloria Stamps Scholarship for Excellence in Academics.

I snort, drawing a glance from the punk ass kid beside me. Yeah, this can't be her.

Back on the main page, I try a few other links, wondering why the hell I didn't ask my father where the girl was from. Couldn't have been Georgia. I find another Meredith Kinsey: award-winning quilter from Salt Lake City. Her web site features a picture of a gray-haired woman with a bowl cut.

The next link takes me to Meredith Kinsey, singer/songwriter. I feel hopeful about her, but then I notice she's in Ireland—and just updated her blog with new lyrics today.

I sift through Meredith Kinsey, freelance writer for an Atlanta home brewery magazine (probably the college kid after college); Meredith Kinsey, high school gymnastics star in Boise, Idaho (photo shows a girl who can't be older than 10); Meredith Kinsey, harpist in Knoxville, Tennessee (tall with a prominent facial scar, which my father would hate); Meredith Kinsey, dead at age 86 in Kansas City, and another dozen or so Meredith Kinseys before I get to almost an entire page of links that direct me to The Red & Black: award-winning college newspaper at the University of Georgia, operating independently without the use of student funds since 1980.


I sigh and click on one of the links, because it's dated two years before my Meredith Kinsey disappeared, and it looks to be a rant about the horror of beauty pageants. I skim the piece, finding that this particular Meredith Kinsey objects to pageants on the grounds that they objectify women; she compares the women in their swimsuits to cattle at an auction. I lift my brows. Definitely not my Meredith.

Except…there's a small square picture in the middle of two columns of text, and the face is identical to the one in my picture.

Meredith Kinsey, college feminist.

Holy shit.


I SPEND THE next hour looking for more information, trying to figure out how a college student with strawberry-blonde hair, twinkling green eyes, and a wide smile turned into Missy King, governor's mistress and small-time extortionist-turned-sex slave.

I click on every link I find, reading through a couple of her news stories and one more opinion piece (“Holiday Celebrations Can Be Inclusive And Traditional”) before the timer on my screen flashes, and I'm forced to give my computer to a woman who's wearing a pink suit and texting on a red cell phone. I pay three dollars for a permanent card, which will buy me unlimited time tomorrow, and head out into a drizzling rain.

The photo my father gave me is tucked into a little pocket on the inside of my beat-up jeans, but I can see her face as I roll down the streets of downtown Napa. The bike's tires make a shhh sound, tossing up a spray of rainwater that makes my ankles cold and chills my feet through my boots.

I don't get it. Is this some ruse my father cooked up? Why would a college girl—and no need for student loans—turn to a life of prostitution?

I know what they say. People like Lizzy. “The girls choose to be escorts. It's their choice, Cross. Smarter than giving yourself away for free like some of us, mm?” Marchant fed me even more cliché lines: They're stakeholders, some of them have stock portfolios, working on college degrees through the University of Phoenix, la da da.

I bet most of them don't have college degrees. I bet they didn't get into the whoring business just for giggles.

As I fumble for the garage button with my elbow, pressing into the pants pocket where I keep my keys, I feel the familiar sting of guilt. Whoever she is, Missy King deserved better than what she got. And as far as bullshit goes, I'd have it coming out my ears if I didn't admit that it's my fault nobody went after her. I could have told somebody. I should have. Instead, I tried to forget about her. I told myself it wasn't my business. That she was already out of reach.

It might have stuck, if I hadn’t been taken to Mexico myself and watched as my best friend was on the auction block. Ever since that day, it's been under my skin like a bad rash. Missy King was just as helpless as we were.

And for all my lofty thoughts about desperation and how escorts have no other options, I want to believe that Missy King is not Meredith Kinsey. I want to believe that Missy was a shallow girl who wanted to drive a shiny Porsche and wear expensive jewelry. A girl who, like me, was giving it away to anyone who asked and figured why not charge?

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