WARNING - Contains violence, mature themes and language.
“Great work today, Brad. See you on Monday.” Stavros said, as he sped out of his office door and whizzed right past me.
“Thank you Stavros, you too!” I called out after him. Stavros waved his hand without looking back and walked out of the studio. We landed two new design contracts and completed another project to the client’s satisfaction. Stavros Christou Designs was a beautifully decorated office space located in a converted townhouse, and the showpiece for our interior design clients.
Exhaustion had set in on this gorgeous autumn day, and I couldn’t wait to get out of the office and pick up Steven. We had been seeing each other for eight months and I absolutely adored him. I can only describe Steven Hargreaves as one word - stunning. I honestly don’t know how I landed such a fine man, but I tried not to focus on that. I am cute, but compared to him, I am sadly a 7 against his 10.
I checked my phone and noticed a text saying that my car service was out front. I grabbed my jacket and bag from the closet in my office and hurried out the front door.
“Have a great weekend, Mr. Harrison.” My secretary said as I passed her desk.
“You too!” I replied, hurrying out the door. Multi-coloured maple leaves littered the front yard of the townhouse and crunched beneath my shoes as I walked towards the car and opened the door.
“Hey there.” The driver said as I got in. He was also talking to someone on his speakerphone.
“Hey,” I mumbled. I didn’t want to disturb his phone call.
I fastened my seatbelt quickly as we pulled out into traffic. The driver continued on with his call and my phone started vibrating.
“Hey Steven. What’s up? We’re on our way to you right now.”
“Hey Brad. Cool, cool.” Steven replied with little enthusiasm.
“Do you want to just stay home, order in, and chill tonight?” Steven and I planned to have a relaxing night, but knowing how he was, our plans could have changed in a heartbeat.
“Sounds good. See you soon. Ciao.” Steven hung up.
He sounded exhausted, too. A Friday night at home may do us some good. Tracy Sanford’s tea party is tomorrow afternoon and knowing how incredibly stuffy they can be, it would be best if we didn’t have hangovers. Tracy’s tea parties were infamous and well-attended events amongst Toronto’s elite. She is the sole heiress to the Sanford Tea dynasty. Their teas are exquisite. Tracy, however, was a pompous windbag who would sell her youngest child to the highest bidder if the price was right. She has always been a rich, bratty socialite that liked to throw parties, and drama followed her wherever she went. She would not hesitate to betray a friend in order to clear her name if the situation called for it. Believe me, Tracy has done this to me in the past, which is why I secretly hold a grudge. I was first introduced to her through Steven, and we never really got along. Her past tea parties have been an afternoon full of rich bitches spilling the tea and cackling about shopping. Although the tea parties were great for networking, Tracy only cared about selling her teas, and simply used us for moral and emotional support. She treated us like lap dogs and loved to rub our noses in her wealth and popularity. People like Tracy Sanford wear thin on my patience.
Traffic was bumper to bumper when we pulled up to Steven’s office building. Steven is a journalist for an online gossip magazine called “The Spill” and reports on the lives of Toronto’s social elite for their society page. Before I could send Steven a text, the main revolving doors on the office building swung around effortlessly and he appeared on the street. Steven’s suit accentuated his incredibly fit body perfectly, and the orange-coloured suit jacket was the perfect shade to highlight his flawless skin. I felt aroused watching him cross the street.
“Hey baby.” I said as he opened the car door and sat down.
“Hey, Brad,” Steven leaned towards me and kissed me on the lips, “Ready for home?”
“Yes, let’s go.”
The driver pulled back out into traffic. Steven seemed like he had a lot on his mind. As a gorgeous pansexual male in a monogamous gay relationship, I worried about our relationship frequently. His masculinity seemed to prohibit him from showing his authentic feelings and also gave him a wandering eye.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Nothing, just a lot on my mind. What are we ordering for dinner tonight? I’m starving.”
“Indian?” I proposed.
“Yas! Spice would be nice.” Steven nodded in agreement.
We were about five minutes away from home, and I was starving, too. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and ordered food from our favorite Indian restaurant. The car pulled up to my townhouse and Steven thanked the driver while I finished up my call with the restaurant.
I bought my two-story townhouse about a year ago. Its modern and chic exterior matched perfectly with my high-end taste of furniture and interior, which I designed. I put my phone away, fumbled with my keys until I found the right one and unlocked the door. A waft of lavender cleaning products filled my nose as we made our way in and closed the door behind us.
“Our food will be here in about a half hour,” I grabbed Steven by his belt and pulled him close to me, “you look like you could use some lovin’.”
I slid my other hand down the front of his pants, and he grabbed my hand.
“Sorry babe, not now. I need to finish up an article I have been working on before I can relax. Where’s my laptop?”
“In the downstairs office. You do you, and I will go change into my comfy clothes.” I kissed him and he headed downstairs.
About a half hour later, there was a knock on the door.
“Food’s here!” I called downstairs to Steven.
“Almost done!” Steven shouted.
I brought the food into the kitchen and opened all the takeout containers. The scent of curry and tandoori spices escaped into the air. What is taking Steven so long? I thought as I filled up two plates with food. I finished up in the kitchen and went downstairs.
Steven did not hear me as I walked up to the office door. He was focusing intently on his laptop screen, and I could see the headline from my vantage point. It read, 'Heiress in Serious Hot Water'.
“Looks like quite the expose.” I said, standing in the doorway.
Startled, Steven immediately slammed the laptop shut. “Jesus, Brad, you scared the hell out of me! How much did you see?”
“Just the headline, I’m sorry. I thought you heard me come down.”
Steven took a moment to settle his heart rate and replied, “Good! You shouldn’t be reading over my shoulder. This article hasn’t gone to print yet.”
This was the first time in the history of our relationship that Steven was so secretive about his work. He usually writes his articles in front of me. My mind spiraled with curiosity.
“What’s the big deal? Do we know this heiress?”
Steven stared at me blankly for a minute. I could see the wheels turning in his mind, planning a correct response.
“Okay, okay, yes. We know this person. In fact, we are attending her tea party tomorrow.”
“Let me guess… Tracy?” I quipped.
“This is serious, Brad, don’t joke! The editor-in-chief at The Spill would have a coronary if this article leaked out before tomorrow.” Steven stood up, walked over to me, and put his arms around my waist.
“What is this all about?” I inquired. “Should we cancel tomorrow?”
Steven pecked me on the lips. “No, I can’t let on that anything is wrong. She will know. Don’t worry, I will deal with it when the time is right. It’s best that you don’t know about it, okay?”
“Fine!” I scowled.
Steven pushed his groin against mine, and I could feel his excitement. He unbuttoned my shirt, kissed my neck, and whispered, “Let’s go upstairs.”
“What about dinner?” I gasped as his hands caressed my back.
“We have a microwave.” Steven pulled away and lead me upstairs to my bedroom.
The sun peaked through the two townhouses across the street and filtered into the window of my bedroom. I sat naked on the side of the bed thinking about Tracy. I could not get the article out of my mind. I needed to find out what Tracy’s “hot water” was all about. I figured Steven would be more pliable now that I satisfied him and felt I could probe further into the breaking scandal.
“Babe, I can’t take it anymore. What is happening to Tracy? Don’t shut me out.” I begged while I dressed.
“Ok, ok,” Steven clapped back apprehensively, “but you have to promise me you won’t freak out, and promise me you will keep this completely confidential until after the article drops, ok?”
Steven pulled his phone out of his pants pocket and brought up the article.
“Here. Read for yourself.”
I could not believe what I was reading - ‘Sanford Teas CEO, Tracy Sanford, accused of slave labor and human trafficking, says anonymous source. Documents and eyewitness reports obtained by The Spill allege that Sanford’s tea farms are being used as human trafficking fronts for teenage workers being sold to tycoons as sex slaves.’ I nearly fell off the bed.
“Holy shit babe! This is huge!” I shouted in horror as I continued reading the article.
“See what I mean?” Steven grabbed his phone out of my hand. “I know she is not your favorite person and you would love nothing more than to rub this in her face, but please Brad, just keep it quiet. I will talk to her after the tea party.”
He was right. I would love nothing more than to watch that smug, trust fund baby squirm as I blurted out the article details in front of her entire entourage at the tea party. Reluctantly, I agreed with Steven.
“Fine. I won’t say a word. I will just be my charming self at the tea party and wait until this blows up in her face.”
“Jesus, you can be such a bitch sometimes.” Steven snapped back as he walked out of the bedroom into the living room. The street lights dominated the darkness beyond the living room windows as I followed Steven out of the bedroom. For once, I was actually excited to see Tracy and sip on her hot tea.
Tracy’s estate in Forrest Hill sat on a sprawling acreage featuring a grandiose main house with beautiful landscaping and manicured lawns. Steven and I drove up the winding driveway to the roundabout in front of the main house and parked the car. Tracy’s butler stood obediently at the door to greet us. I caught Tracy out of the corner of my eye and making her way over to us. I cringed.
“Hey girl!” Steven walked up to Tracy and gave her a hug.
“Hey Steven. Glad you could make it.” Tracy kissed him on the cheek. Her gaze turned to me and she looked me up and down, judgingly.
“Hi Brad,” she uttered unenthusiastically, “so glad you both could make it.”
“Thanks for having us.” I replied and turned away from Steven and Tracy to scan the room.
Tracy’s foyer was an immense space sandwiched in between two winding marble staircases, leading to the second level grand hallway full of beautiful paintings. There were pockets of people littered about, but none of which I could join without introduction.
“Feel free to mingle while I steal your boyfriend, Brad. Have some tea, relax.” Tracy joked and walked away from me with Steven in tow.
Tea… tea?! You want the tea, bitch?? I could feel the urge to spill her tea bubbling up inside me. Tracy always separated us during her tea parties. I knew it was a strategic move to get away from me. It irked me to see her acting all innocent and carefree after what I read about her last night. I wished Steven could see her as the evil tyrant she really was.
“Can I have everyone’s attention, please?” Tracy called out, and the patio went silent. “If you will all make your way in to the dining room, you will find samples of our new line of Darjeeling tea sourced from a specialty farm in the Himalayas.”
Everyone headed into the dining room, where Tracy’s staff poured tea into beautifully crafted bone china teacups.
“You don’t seem like you want to be here, Brad.” Tracy probed as she walked past me arm and arm with my boyfriend. “Why haven’t you been mingling? There are many socialites with deep wallets for your little design job.”
“I’m not here to gain work, Tracy. Besides, you are doing enough selling for the both of us.” I blasted back.
“Then what are you doing here?”
“Ok, ok, you two. Enough!” Steven interjected.
“No, I can’t!” I shouted. The room went silent.
“Let’s not do this here. I apologize everyone,” Tracy called out to the crowd, then turned to us and quietly said, “Steven, Brad, can I see you upstairs please?”
We made our way back into the foyer with our teacups and saucers in hand and went up the stairs. The anger and embarrassment radiated through my body and I could feel my pulse in my face.
“What the hell was that?!” Tracy demanded.
“Girl, you have some nerve coming for me. Why am I here?! I am here because you invited me. Did you forget?”
“No, I didn’t forget. I brought you here because Steven and I have something to tell you.”
“Tracy, now’s not a good time.” Steven interrupted as he looked down at his teacup in despair.
“Tell me what?” I questioned. “What’s going on?”
Tracy looked over at Steven, and Steven shook his head in disagreement.
“Steven and I have been seeing each other behind your back.” She blurted out uncontrollably.
“Tracy! I said not now!” Steven shouted.
I stood there for a minute in shock and disbelief. Rage replaced the feelings of embarrassment and anger. There was no holding back now.
“Really… interesting. A slave-driving human trafficker, together with a slutty gossip peddler. You two are made for each other!” I snarled.
“What did you say?” Tracy asked.
“You heard me. Steven, why don’t you tell her? Tell her about the expose article you are writing about her. Tell her about the whistleblower from her company that gave The Spill evidence about her sweatshop tea farms selling teenage workers back and forth to the highest bidders.”
“Steven, is this true?” She asked and welled up with tears.
“Yes,” Steven replied reluctantly, “it’s true. I’m sorry, Trace. Please understand that I am only doing my job.”
“Your job? Your job?!” Tracy smashed her teacup on the marble floor.
Steven put his hand around her waist, attempting to calm her down, and she pulled away from him.
“Get the hell out of my house right now! Both of you!” Tracy screamed and attempted to push both of us toward the stairs. I dodged her hand, leaped out of her way, and she slipped on the broken glass, losing her balance. Her arms flailed around her body as she tried to steady herself. Steven reached out his hand to grab her, but pushed her instead and she could no longer maintain her stance. I watched in horror as Tracy tumbled down the marble staircase, hitting every single step on the way down. Her mangled body finally came to a full stop at the bottom and she laid there, completely lifeless.
Screams of terror filled the foyer as Tracy’s guests trickled out of the dining room. Steven and I locked eyes. I could sense pure hatred towards me in his gaze.
“Somebody call 911!” One guest yelled.
“You two up there! Stay right where you are,” hollered another guest.
Steven wept as he sat at the top of the steps, looking down at Tracy. Instead of comforting him, I kept my distance in order to regain my composure. However, the stress of the situation caused me to lose consciousness, and I felt my body collide with the cold marble floor.
As I regained consciousness, I slowly opened my eyes and noticed that I was no longer at Tracy’s house. My head felt cloudy and medicated. It was then that I realized I was in a hospital, restrained to a bed. I did not know what day it was, or how long I had been unconscious. The only memory that I could focus on was of Tracy dying because I could not hold my tongue. I was always told that monsters roam the earth disguised as human beings, and Tracy Sanford was one of them. I will have to live her blood on my hands for the rest of my life. Did she deserve to die because of me? No. Could I have handled the situation better? Probably. I struggled with the morality of the whole situation more than anything. A wise drag queen once told me that ‘hot tea is sometimes best left unspilled’. I now understood all too well what this actually meant.