Fifty Shades of Dorian Gray (11 page)

BOOK: Fifty Shades of Dorian Gray
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“What a place to find one's divinity!” cried Helen, winking as she broke away from him and sunk into the sea of smoke and men. She remained out of sight for a long while.

Dorian soon found himself in fragmented talk with some of the actors from the play. Aside from an untucked shirt here or a loosened suspender there, the men were essentially still in costume. To be up close and talking to them as men rather than as characters was disillusioning. They were like impostors; their smiling, natural faces were devilishly unreal, and Romeo was just an average ruffian who talked speedily about a “pre-arranged” and “upcoming” trip to America that was obviously neither. A black, hairy mole took liberty on the tip his nose. It summarized him in a sad way.

Dorian sought sympathy in a bottle of gin that was being passed around. A couple of the actors were talking about going to a men's club, and Dorian had halfway agreed to join them when he felt a tug on his shirt cuff. He turned around and there was Helen, smiling broadly at him, a smug twinkle in the blackness of her eyes.

“There you are,” he said.

“Busy?” she asked.

Dorian shook his head.

“Bored,” he replied. “I'm soon to head out to a club, I think.”

“You may want to postpone that,” said Helen. Dorian frowned. How Helen dreaded this time of the night, when her rowdy companions trotted off to vile, stinking places where she was not permitted entry. He felt a strange compassion for her, this soul who had been miscast as the fairer sex, when she was as swarthy and rugged as any brute. The most prestigious women's clubs of London kept their innocuous reading rooms stocked with romance novels, and their bed chambers virginal and immaculate to appeal to the virtues of a woman of her wealth and position. The finest boutiques swung open their doors in the hopes that a lady as spendthrift as she would buy their soaps and petticoats. She could have anything she wanted, but the frills and flowers and gasp-worthy price tags that sent the hearts of the most sophisticated women squirreling into a most unsophisticated squall left Helen unfazed at best, but often insulted. The objects of her desire lived in the smoking parlors and the men's clubs; they didn't bear any designer label or cashmere, or pearl. These objects, in fact, were not objects at all; they were actions representing freedom, and they were not for women to touch.

Dorian knew how badly she wanted to be a part of a man's devil-may-care world. He perceived her as a kind of vampire in reverse: banished to the day, to dress fittings, to teatime, and to gardens being coaxed into year-round blossom. He pitied her sometimes. How peculiar it was to be friends with a woman. Everything in society complicated, shunned, and forbade it.

As a meager means of consolation, Dorian offered Helen the bottle of gin that the men had been sharing. She took a hearty swig, her eyes bent on him. She then slammed the drained bottle on a little table with such force that the table broke. The commotion barely ruffled a feather in the general clamor, and the spectacle, it seemed, would soon be forgotten—until Dorian saw Romeo. When Helen had broken the table, she had sent a bucket of melting ice careening into Romeo's lap. He leaped up in a laughing fit, too drunk to stand straight. He held his stomach, either for equilibrium or to measure his need to retch, or both. His eyes settled in a bleary squint on Helen.

“Helen Wotton!” he cried, as if her name won him a raffle in the underworld.

“Romeo, oh, Romeo,” said Helen, with a roll of her eyes.

“Ah!” he scowled, then cried out. “It's me! Alan Campbell!”

“All right,” said Helen, with an air of indifference that indicated the name didn't ring a bell. This upset Romeo Alan Campbell. He shook his fist heavenward.

“You feign ignorance, Helen Wotton!” he cried, turning to the small group of men around him for sympathy. They shared a crude, confused laughter.

“Well, I suppose lying is a necessary skill in your field,” said Romeo Alan Campbell.

“Lying?” said Helen. “I leave that to you. You do it so well.”

Romeo Alan Campbell scoffed.

“You make the mistake of the low commoners, Helen Wotton! Acting and lying are unrelated!”

“I agree. I love acting. It is so much more real than life. But what you were doing out on stage was lying.”

Romeo Alan Campbell turned a curious shade of red.

“Mr. Campbell, is there something you wish to obtain from me?” asked Helen.

Romeo Alan Campbell bit his lip, and waved to the small group of men around him.

“You know of Helen Wotton,” he cried to them.

“Ah, the rich old whore!” called one of the men, who, for some reason, was dressed as a clown, with a fat red honker affixed to his nose and a tassel of painted bells strung around his neck. He saluted Dorian empty-handed.

“She'll fuck ya' blind!” cried another man in thick spectacles.

“Does she need a dressing room?” cried another, rather nonsensically. He was too short to be seen over the shoulder of Romeo Alan Campbell.

“An undressing room is what she needs,” cried Romeo Alan Campbell, riling the crowd into an uproar.

Helen remained stoic, dragging coolly from her cigarette.

“Old husband, quite the moneybags,” said the clown. “You can find him belly up in the gutter by Madame Stroggel's lodging house. And we all know the sort of lasses who lodge with Madame Stroggel!”

“Aye!” cheered the men, then snickering like meddling rats. Helen only smiled. On one hand, Dorian was proud of her endurance; on the other, he was appalled that she had to endure such behavior at all. He was embarrassed for her and took her aside, a gesture that made the men hoot and holler all the more.

“Is there anywhere you'd like to go?” he murmured in her ear.

Her eyes were frosty and unfocused. For the first time, Dorian was worried about her.

“Where would you like me to take you?” he asked.

“Wherever you wish.”

“What about the club?” she asked, clutching his arm.

“Aren't you heading there shortly?”

“I want nothing to do with these boorish asses,” he said. “I am your humble guest, and they are content to insult you as if it were a wicked game wherein the greatest loser wins.”

Helen nodded.

“If I may just take a moment to sit down and just . . .” she said, puffing rapidly from a cigarette perilously nearing its nub.

“Of course, of course,” Dorian whispered. “We shall go outside and inhale the cool, sobering breeze. Then we may go have a cup of tea somewhere. There is no need for you to be subject to all this. You are none of what they say. And Lord Wotton—while I've yet to make his acquaintance—why, his doings reflect nothing on you. Though I am not inclined to believe what they say of him.”

He wanted to give her tousled, blond head a kiss but did not want her to be heckled further.

“Let's just get out of here,” he said and, shielding her with his arms, escorted her out of the packed room. A brawl was beginning, and Dorian sensed that if they didn't get out quickly, they'd be cornered.

Helen murmured something inaudible as they were walking out.

“Shh,” said Dorian, patting her back. “Let's just get out of here.”

Poor dear! No matter the steel façade, she was beneath it, like all women, mere porcelain and pain. He squeezed her shoulder and led her toward the lobby. From there they would exit onto the main street and hail a hansom. They could find peace in a sleepy tavern nearby. He'd have a stiff Alexander. The lady would have a hot tea to calm her jangling nerves.

“No!” she cried, as if she'd heard the non-alcoholic recommendation. She jerked free of him.

“What's the matter?” Dorian asked.

Helen started toward him and put her hand on his belt and tugged until it loosened. She held the buckle teasingly and laughed at the look of surprise on his face. Her eyes were gleaming onyx. Dear God, had she gone mad? He ought to have known better than to get involved at this capacity with a woman. Women were always going mad. It was like going anywhere else for them, only they didn't announce it like they did when going to the store. They just went. One moment they were there, the next they had gone to madness, where they could stay for as long as they damn well liked.

“Helen, please stop.”

She pouted like a child denied her playtime. With some strength, Dorian removed her hands.

“Let's go,” he said, starting back toward the exit.

“Sybil Vane!” she cried, standing with her arms crossed. She was only one person—a woman, at that—but it looked like it would take an army to move her.

“What about her?” he asked, and then asked himself,
yes, what about her? Where had she gone? Why hadn't she made an appearance backstage?

“I know where to find her,” said Helen. Her voice was her own again, husky and sure.

“Helen, this is play will be showing for a month,” said Dorian. “We can find her any night of the week. Let's get away from these jeering fools.”

“No,” she said, grabbing his hand. “Follow me.”

She veered them down a gas-lit hall with arched medieval doors, some looking like they'd been shut for years, with rusty knobs and sodden cracks. Others were ajar with smoky light peering out. There was a woman laughing somewhere. The air was dank.

At the very end of the hall, Helen stopped before a door, which read Dressing Room on a slat of wood glued haphazardly to the top. Underneath it was a dingy chalkboard bearing, in a dusty yellow chalk, a name: Sybil Vane.

Helen stepped back and raised a brow at Dorian, leaving this task to him.

Reluctantly, he knocked.

“No, fool!” cried Helen. “Don't attract attention!”

“Pardon?” asked Dorian.

“Oh!” cried Helen, as if she were dealing with an incorrigible child. She pushed Dorian aside and gave the knob a hard turn, pushing her weight against the door until it barreled open.

It was a dressing room, indeed, although a dingy one. The wallpaper, a pale-blue paisley, was peeling, revealing crusty, water-damaged wood. The room was only big enough to hold a few people, and not comfortably. A small dressing table took up much of the space. Plates of powders and unguents covered it messily with stray brushes hanging around them. The mirror was spotted and cracked so that when someone looked in it, he became doubled and ghastly. A flickering lantern was the only source of light.

“Sybil,” called Helen in a low voice. “My dear Sybil, I have brought him to you.” She crept to a tall wardrobe that had cheap fabrics sticking out of its not-quite-shut doors. Helen opened them, and a crouched figure stirred. Dorian glimpsed a tendril of coppery-red hair.

“Sybil, darling,” said Helen. “I promised to bring you your Prince and here he is.”

Helen signaled for Dorian to come over. She held a finger over her lips, indicating silence.

“She's a wee bit timid,” Helen said. “Come.” She reached for Dorian's hand. Reluctantly, he gave it.

He crouched in front of the cabinet in which Sybil Vane crouched.

“She'll come around,” whispered Helen in his ear, and then went to the dressing table, where she pulled out a chalice of emerald liquor—absinthe. Dorian turned to her for an explanation. She merely winked at him.

“Romeo always keeps a goblet of love potion for his Juliets,” she said, pouring a glass and setting it to heat over the flickering lantern.

Dorian touched the girl's shoulder with a kind of cautious gentleness he'd only known when, as a child, he'd held his hand out to feed wild doves.

“Sybil,” he said.

She turned to him. Her face was tear-streaked. There was terror in her large brown eyes. Up close he saw that her hair was dyed with henna. Her roots showed an ashy brown-blonde.

“Prince Charming?” she said, her voice cracking.

Dorian felt that if he answered, “No,” the girl would become more upset. He placed a hand on her huddled knees. She was trembling.

“Yes,” he said. “Yes, it is Prince Charming. Come, let's get you out of here.”

He lifted his hand and held it to her. She looked at him, her lips quivering, and shook her head.

“It's all right. I can take you out of here and get you a nice meal. A hot meal. You would like that, wouldn't you?”

She nodded and looked up, trying to show him something. He followed her gaze and shrieked at what he saw. The long satin ribbon that had held her Juliet locks back was now binding her wrists to a metal spoke in the cabinet wall.

His shriek startled her and she looked at him in panic.

“No, it's fine,” he said. “Let me just—” he began. “If I may unwrap this, all right?”

She did not refuse so he went into the dark, mothy cabinet. Behind him, Helen called out. “The drama, the drama,” she said. “It goes on well after the curtain has fallen!”

“Helen,” called Dorian, wrestling with the tie. She'd made quite a knot.

“She told me to wait for you,” murmured Sybil. “She told me you would come. I saw you that night. That night at the theater. You saw me. You saw me, too. I wanted so badly for you to come and talk to me afterward. But you disappeared. I thought it too good to be true, a man like you to come to talk to me.”

The girl giggled through her tears. She was either drugged or totally mad.

“Helen, what have you done?” he cried, as he finally undid the knot. With her arms free, the girl closed like a Chinese fan unto herself.

“Oh, Dorian, please,” said Helen. “If you want to make a scene, the stage is out there.” She stooped down to him and held out a glass of absinthe. “Careful,” she warned. “Hot.”

Dorian took the glass and, not knowing what to do with it, offered it to the poor girl. She grabbed it in a flash and drank.

“Good girl!” cried Helen.

Dorian turned to her. “Have you gone completely mad?” he cried.

BOOK: Fifty Shades of Dorian Gray
3.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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