One of the things – because they were several now, and becoming more every day – Charles could remark on about James, was that he was never given any control or even choice in the bedroom. James had a plan for everything that needed to be executed and in what order, and he followed it sternly, night after night. He wanted Charles turned away from him, on his knees, holding the frame of the bed and not doing anything else. Charles had never even tried to argue this, because while he was in charge of everything else, it had been quietly decided that James took over that when the door was closed behind them. And if the situation was going to be like this, then Charles had realised that he might as well utilize it the best he could.
Afterwards James – who always finished a second after him, as if he had been waiting for minutes already – pulled out and sunk down next to him with a sigh of a work well done.
Charles rolled over, got down from the bed and slipped into a satin dressing gown. When he turned around James was in the process of pulling the cover up over him.
“Don’t do that”, Charles said. “What am I supposed to look at then?”
James rolled his eyes and pulled the cover down again. With a smirk he got on his side, holding his head up with an arm rested on its elbow.
“It’s cold though”, he whined.
“Oh, I can imagine, Mr India.” Charles took a cigarette box from the bedside table and opened it up.
When he looked at it like that, James naked on his side, in his big bed with the purple frame, the brown covers and the matching canopy, he could almost convince himself that it was all real. The bed just as expensive as it looked, James’ affection for him actually genuine. It was all real, and it belonged to him. But it was not. None of it.
He fished up a cigarette and held it out. “Do you want a fag?”
“Wouldn’t that technically qualify me as a prostitute?” James asked jokingly.
Charles put the cigarette in his own mouth and the box back down on the table.
“Aren’t you ‘technically’ qualified already?”
James frowned. “What does that mean?”
“Well”, Charles lit a match and then his cigarette, “you sleep under my roof, eat my food, wear my clothes.” He shrugged and took the cigarette between two fingers. “Quite expensive you are too.”
“But bloody well worth it”, James muttered.
With a grumpy expression on his face he turned around, rolled himself up and wrapped himself in the blanket.
“I’m sorry”, Charles said sarcastically. “Did I hurt your feelings?”
He could not make out a word of what James mumbled in response. He sighed.
It had started happening now. The novelty of the mystery that was James was beginning to cease. He was growing regular and boring, and the fact that he was so difficult to converse with and had not revealed a single thing about himself after the talk about his father was getting irritating. He had an entire life outside of this house, but Charles had no idea what he spent his days and occasional evenings doing. He realised more and more that he had only been granted very few pieces of James Federline, as if they were for some reason incredibly valuable, and he did not deserve more. It all made him feel old and worthless, and he was getting more and more convinced that James might not be as fantastic as he had once appeared.
“Fine”, he said. “Be like that then.”
He got back into bed and lay on his back in his own end, as far away from the angry cover ball he could get. There he smoked his cigarette, and just thought. He tried to focus on the pure miracle that was having a man like James lying in his bed – which was, he understood, the best he could hope to do these days – but his thoughts kept drifting. To Nicoline, to money, to the growing problem of Ashbless.
He was not taking his father’s death well, and on top of it all he had inherited way too much from him and was too rich for his own good. He was quickly spinning out of control, and something would have to be done about him. Charles shook his head and smiled as he thought about how close he had once been to ending up just like that. He might have done it too, if not the truth about the debts had come out. He had a rare moment of gratitude. What did it matter if he had no money, if Nicoline was the way she was and James beginning to become the same? At least he was not Ashbless.
The big clock on the ground floor struck twelve times. Charles expected James to get up now, because he felt like sleeping soon, but he did not move.
“James”, he said.
The ball under the cover remained still. Charles leaned over and repeated his name. In the silence as he waited for a response that did not come, he realised by his breathing that James had fallen asleep.
He reached out to take his shoulder and shake it, when his eye was caught by the gold chain around his neck. The locket lay just below the pillow.
James never talked about it. They had not mentioned it since after that first breakfast. But Charles had never in his life seen something more enticing, and what an easy thing it was. All he had to was open it up, and steal a piece of James that he had been deemed undeserving of. He would never even have to know it.
Charles leaned over closer, and carefully reached out and grabbed the locket. It felt so small and light in his hand that it was difficult to see how it could have such a big importance for James. It was, after all, an object. What harm could it do if Charles looked inside?
He opened it up. Just as expected, the photograph was of a woman, but she had no resemblance to her son. She was around his age, but her eyes were bigger, her mouth wide and lips full. Her hair was the same colour as his and done up in a chignon, but her skin was much darker. And what was it that was wrong about the photograph?
Charles saw the ashes just as they fell from his cigarette, and a second later they landed on James’ shoulder. Cursing on the inside, Charles pulled away just as his eyes flew open and he snatched back the locket, closing it.
“What are you doing?!” he shouted.
“Sorry”, Charles said, getting back to his own side of the bed, a safe distance away.
James looked at his shoulder and brushed away the ashes. “You just burned me!”
“I was only-“
“Invading my privacy?!”
“James, you’re not private.” Now Charles was raising his voice too. “You’re secretive.”
“If it was so bloody important, you could’ve just asked!”
With that James got up, blanket tightly wrapped around himself as a punishment. He moved angrily towards the stool at the foot of the bed, where he always left his clothes.
Charles resumed his previous position took a puff of his cigarette. “I didn’t know your mother was dark”, he said. “She looks African.”
“She was Indian”, James muttered, grabbing his underpants. “What’s the bloody problem?”
“Nothing”, Charles said. “Was that why you didn’t want me to see it? Because you’re half Indian?”
James replied nothing, just pulled on his underpants with one hand and held the cover secure over his shoulders with the other.
“Oh.” Charles smiled. “You’re quite ridiculous, aren’t you?”
He knew now, and he felt very victorious. As if a battle had just been fought in the room, and he had won it. The mystery that was James had been revealed.
He moved on to his trousers.
“How did she die?” Charles asked.
“Childbirth”, James replied sharply.
“My mother died in childbirth.”
“A lot of women do.”
“Was it with you or a sibling?”
James buttoned his trousers. “Sibling. I was five.”
“What happened to them?”
He stopped and looked at Charles as if he had not understood the question.
“The sibling”, he clarified.
“Oh.” Apparently James had forgotten that there had to be a child involved in childbirth. “Also dead.”
“I’m sorry”, Charles said.
James turned away, grunted and escaped the cover, throwing it back onto the bed.
“Well, if you’re going to be like that”, Charles said, “I might as well ask. How are things going?”
“’Things’?” James echoed, getting into his shirt.
“With your lost luggage. You said you’d try to telegraph the ship?”
“Right.” James started buttoning the shirt. “I’m working on it. I mean, I did.”
“You telegraphed them? So what did they say?”
“Uh.” James furrowed his brows and visibly tried to remember. “They said they can’t control if it’s been forgotten on the ship until they’re in port again.”
“Which is when?” Charles asked.
“It’s due to arrive in London in a few weeks”, James said.
“What’s it called?” Charles put out the cigarette into the ashtray on the table. “I thought I’d keep an eye out, to help.”
James, finished with the buttons, straightened out his shirt. “You help enough already.”
“The name”, Charles demanded.
“I don’t know if I remember”, James said, putting on his waistcoat.
“You’ve been on one ship in your entire life and you don’t remember what it’s called?” Charles raised a brow.
“Miranda”, he said. “It’s called Miranda.”
“The Miranda, in a few weeks.” Charles smiled. “Perfect. I’m sure everything will get resolved.”
“We can hope”, James said. He picked up his collar and stuffed it into a pocket on his trousers.
“So soon you’ll have more money than me and I can take advantage of you instead”, Charles said in a light tone.
James did not take it as a joke. He looked at him and frowned.
“Is that what you think I’m doing?” He sounded more disappointed than hurt or upset.
Charles shrugged. “Is it not what you’re doing?”
James shook his head, not as an answer, but to display disbelief.
“Look, I’m not accusing you of anything”, Charles said. “I’m just stating the obvious.”
“You’re being quite ridiculous”, James sneered back. “Do you seriously think I don’t care about you?”
“Yes?” Charles replied hesitantly.
James grabbed his coat with an exasperated sigh and walked towards the door.
“I’ll see you at breakfast”, he said. “Good night.”
“Good night”, Charles called after him.
The door closed with James on the other side, and he felt confused. He was confused about James’ irrational anger, his odd, dramatic and probably – or most likely? – false declaration of caring, and even more by the photograph. He had figured out what was so strange about it. Considering the age she was in it and the fact that she was James’ mother, it must have been at least close to 20 years old. So why did it look a lot newer than that? Why did it look just as likely to have been taken the very same day?