It has been an entire year since Brinley has been home. After spending a year in captivity at the Elusive Chamber her biggest fear is her freedom. The fear of showing up after a year without a word. The fear that life and the man she loves moved on without her.
Now that Brinely is free from her captors her life belongs to her again. As she rides in the back of the limo heading to her childhood home, she can’t help but wonder if every one else in her life has moved on, or did they hit the pause button the day she went missing.
Life isn’t perfect, not by a long shot, but Brinely Avery Bishop’s life was just about as perfect as it could get. She had the most amazing boyfriend, Logan. She was going into her senior year of college, and she and her boyfriend were planning to move to New York. Brinley’s near perfect life and bright future were snatched away from her when she was snatched in broad daylight, and held captive at The Chamber, an exclusive sex club for the world’s richest men.
Chapter 1-I'm Going Home
This is it. I am hoping to hit the reset button. I can forever shed the label of Violet, the sex slave, the Chambermaid—or whatever I was for the last year—and become me again. Once I ring this doorbell I can resume my life as Brinley Avery Bishop. College student, daughter, aspiring actress, girlfriend? Maybe I will follow my agent’s advice and dye my naturally blonde locks. I could do a vibrant red, or even a deep brown. Doesn’t matter the color. The point is, if I look less like me, I will feel less like her.
My palms sweat as I reach for the doorbell. I haven’t seen my mother in a year. She must be out of her mind with fear. I can’t imagine what she has suffered, waking up one day to learn that her only daughter is missing. I’m sure by now she believes I’m dead. How else could she mentally survive?
I have no idea what to say to her. What will be too much for Mason? What will be enough for her?
Too much time has passed.
Still, I have to do this. This is my home and we are the only family each other has. With shaky hands I depress the bell and I wait.
It feels like forever.
My heart feels heavy. I am excited and scared at the same time. I can’t imagine what her reaction to me at the door will be. Then the questions. How will I answer them? Mason was dead serious when he made his threat to us: “Breathe a word of your whereabouts, or what took place here, and suffer most heinously.” It’s not like I even know where I was. I was blindfolded on my arrival as well as my departure. Mason did his job well. No one used their real name in The Chamber, not even me. So what would I say? Nothing that could help anyone locate the place.
What Mason doesn’t know is that he has nothing to worry about. All I want to do is forget about my year of being passed around from stranger to stranger, while they used my body for their own pleasure. I am the last person who would run around broadcasting what I went through. The sooner I can put it all behind me, the better—but somehow I know I will never forget.
When the door flies open my mother and I just stare into each other’s eyes. Green to green. She looks older. Her eyes lack their usual brightness. Her blonde hair lacks its usual luster. While I probably look too good. During the last year I was kept in impeccable shape and condition. Regular spa treatments, my own personal groomer and masseur. Another thing to explain to my mother. Of course, one would expect an escaped kidnap victim to look beaten or bruised. Worse for wear, not like she just stepped off a photo shoot.
“Brinley.” The word is a whisper. She gazes at me like a ghost from her past.
I grab my mother into my arms. She folds into them and we both sob in the doorway. I don’t let my mother go for what feels like forever. I don’t want to. She is home. Seeing her, holding her, is my only proof that I am home—that I am free.
“Come, let’s get you inside, honey.”
My mother takes my hand and doesn’t let it go. I follow her inside on unsteady legs and take a seat on the sofa because I lack the strength to stand at the moment. On my long plane ride home, I thought of all the things I would say to my mother. Somehow all of those words have evaded me. I feel like a stranger, like a cloned version of myself. All of a sudden I am a sci-fi experiment. I look like Brinley. I sound like Brinley. I even have her memories. But something feels different, because a different me has returned home. Tarnished and forever changed, because of The Chamber. How can anyone experience an entire year at the hands of a cunning and sadistic monster, and not be changed? Not be ruined, broken. Even the strongest among the seven of us will struggle on this most dreadful and awaited homecoming.
I gaze around the house that I grew up in and it pretty much looks the same as it did a year ago. My mother has always preferred a minimalist approach to furnishings. One sofa. A television stand, with a smaller than necessary flat screen television. A bookshelf that she made out of recycled materials, and her abstract paintings plastered over the walls. I remember when she first picked up this hobby I teased her that just because you can purchase a blank canvas and acrylic paints, it doesn’t make you an artist. But looking around at them now, after a year of missing her, and missing my home, I realize her paintings are masterpieces. They are to me, because this house, this sofa, my mother, and her art, all equal home.
My mom is a hippie in the truest form. My mother has always believed that a house is for eating and sleeping, and the outdoors are for living. Camping, hiking, biking, sightseeing, gardening. Anything that gives us the opportunity to convene with nature.
My mother returns with a glass of water. I hadn’t even noticed that she’d left the room. I take my time with the water, tasting it. Savoring the simplicity of a glass of water in my home. I glance over at my mother and see that her face is wet with tears. Mine is too. Suddenly the water has to compete with the lump that has taken up residency in my throat.
After a long silence, my mother blurts out, “I can’t believe you’re here!” She takes me into her arms again. There is no coffee table to set my glass on, so I hold onto it and my mother. We cry onto each other’s shoulders. Big, sorrowful, relief-filled tears. “I am never letting you out of my sight again. Do you hear me?” She breaks our hold and begins checking me in earnest. “Where have you been? Are you okay? Are you hurt?”
“Define hurt,” I say, wiping my eyes.
“Please tell me what happened, Brinley. Where were you?” my mother asks, wiping her eyes.
I take a deep breath and begin to tell the last story I ever want to repeat. The worst part is that I know this won’t be the last time I tell it. There will always be questions. The hardest part is figuring out the equal balance of telling her what I can without landing myself on Mason’s hit list, coupled with what will satisfy a mother who has been without word from her child for a year. “I decided to go for a morning run near school. I know that I should have listened to Logan. He said it was not safe for me to be running alone, especially in Hollywood. But you know me. You always said stubborn was my middle name.” I take a long draw of my water. “Mom, do you have anything stronger than water?” I need liquid courage.
“Sure, baby.” My mom pops up and quickly returns with a bottle of Pinot and two wine glasses.
I guess we both need something extra right now. I take my full wine glass and practically down it. It only takes a couple of minutes before the effects of the alcohol hit me, making me feel less anxious.
“So like an idiot I leave the safety of my dorm, the company of my friends, and I innocently take off on a run toward the GPO.”
“The what?” my mom asks.
“Seriously, Mom? The Griffith Park Observatory. I didn’t think anything of it, really. I mean, I always thought the freaks came out at night, you know. But this is the day I learned the freaks never sleep.” I take another long draw of my wine and finish it. My mother refills my glass. I don’t hesitate to take another sip. “I make it to the GPO in record time. I’m feeling that high I get from running. Then I bend down to tie my shoe and before I can get back to my feet again, I see them coming for me. Three men. I didn’t even have a chance to run, or scream, or fight. They were on me before I could process what was happening to me. A cloth to my face and that was it. Lights out for me.”
My mother finishes her first glass and pours another. Tears are rolling freely down her cheeks. I can’t visibly see that her hands are shaking, but I hear it when the bottle clanks repeatedly against her wine glass.
I continue. “When I wake up, I’m on an airplane.”
“Where did they take you?”
“I have no idea. I thought for sure I was heading to my death. I had no reason to believe otherwise. I mean, only psychos kidnap perfect strangers—steal them from their lives. I just knew I would die and never see you again.” I pause. I draw in two deep breaths. This is the tricky part. What I say from here on could get me into a lot of trouble. That is, if I believe Mason’s threat, and I do. “What I learned after I got off the plane ride was that death would have been the easy way out for me, Mom. Death would have meant peace. But when I got off of that plane, I never thought I would know peace again.”
My mother tries to stifle her heavy sobs as they rip through her, but I can tell she has never been more scared than this moment, hearing my words. My living nightmare.
“The place I was taken was a sex club for very rich and powerful men. I was forced to work there.”
“Oh my god! Oh my god!” My mother pulls me into her arms. Her cries are loud and frightened. “We have to call the police.” She squeezes me.
“And tell them what?” I pull away from her so I can look her in the eyes. She needs to understand that calling anyone, telling anyone, is not an option. Especially the police. “Mason warned us that if we said anything, he’ll come after us. He said we wouldn’t be safe anywhere on earth. He will make us suffer. He’s a dangerous man. Trust me. The men who take part in his annual chambers will do anything to keep this covered up. Let it be over. Isn’t it enough that I’m home?” I beg and plead with her.
My mother grabs hold of my arms, and shakes me a little. “You listen here. I don’t give a rat’s hairy ass about Mason. He took you! Kept you for a year! Made you do unspeakable things. He has to pay! He has to be stopped!”
I jump up from the sofa. I have to get through to her. “This is a losing battle. You don’t want this. What if he takes me again? Just drop it, Mom! When I first got there he showed us videos. He watched me and you for two years before he kidnapped me! He’s probably watching me now! I have the money. I just want to forget.” Tears are pouring down my cheeks.
I just want her to understand, I don’t want to look over my shoulder. I want to live my own life, free of The Chamber. Free of the monster. I need to work at living my new life. I hit the reset button and now I need to find my new normal.
“I just want to get past this, Mom.” I am exhausted.
“What money are you talking about, Brinley?” my mom asks.
“Four million dollars,” I say. My voice is just above a whisper. I know she is going to freak out. I mean, if I was a mother and my daughter was telling me what I am telling her, I would freak out too. “I know you have to call the police and tell them I am home. I know they will want to talk to me, ask me questions. But I can only tell them the bare minimum.” I continue to speak in a low, unsure voice. “This is the way it has to be, Mom. The only way I can be here with you.”
“I can’t believe what I am hearing.” My mother is off the sofa, and now she is pacing. “I don’t understand. Why would you be paid four million dollars?”
I flop back down on the sofa. I bring my knees up to my chest and bury my face into them. I speak to my mother from this position. This is exactly what I wanted to avoid—discussing any aspect of my time in The Chamber. The last, most humiliating and embarrassing year of my life. I know that when you show up on your mother’s doorstep after being gone for a year with no word or communication, explanation such as this can’t be avoided. “I don’t know, Mom. We are talking about a crazy person here. He kidnapped seven of us, made us have sex with a bunch of rich guys for a year. Then paid us millions for it. Crazy is not meant to be understood. Crazy just is, and crazy seems to have the power to do whatever it wants.” I knew this would be difficult for her. How can I expect anyone to understand what I went through? When I know, with the exception of the six other girls—my sisters—no one ever will. I am not happy that I was paid, but I am not going to give the money back. It won’t change what happened to me, to any of us. But I left a sex chamber a millionaire.
The worst part of all of this is how confused I feel. When I first arrived at The Chamber I wanted to die. To curl myself into a tiny ball and fade away to nothing. But crazy has a way of changing you. The Chamber was nothing like I expected it to be. I wasn’t chained to a wall. I wasn’t kept in some dank, dark cell. I wasn’t beaten. It was quite the opposite. I made friends inside with the other girls. I had massages and manicures. I had my own personal trainer and groomer. The only time I felt like I was in hell was when I had to perform sex acts with strangers who, by the end of my year, weren’t even strangers to me anymore. All of this, and the money, makes me even more confused, and makes my experience even harder to fathom. Meaning, anyone I tell the full details of my story to would think I’m crazy too. I don’t know why Mason is worried about us telling anyone. I never want anyone to really know what happened in the vast walls of The Chamber. What would I say, anyway? Well, Mom, I had sex with thirty-five different men. Thirty-seven if you include the times that Mason had his turn with me, or the times I was just too exhausted to heed the warning not to fall asleep in my Chamber, and my personal guard Gabe came to visit me. So why should I feel guilty about the money? I know it won’t buy me my sanity, but that much money will help me start my new life—especially when I don’t even know who I am anymore.
My mother watches me with well-placed concern in her green eyes. I hope she can see me behind her eyes. The same little girl who loved acting and making up stories since I was in grade school. The same me who wanted to finish college and travel to New York with my boyfriend Logan, and attend Julliard. The same me who was head over heels for said boyfriend. And even though I am not quite the hippie she is, I hope she still recognizes the me who saw the beauty in the mountains, the trees and the ocean. I am praying that as she gazes at me, confused and afraid, I still exist in her eyes, because I may need her help to find myself along the way.
When my mother scoots toward me on the sofa, I am surprised and relieved when she grabs me into the most loving and protective embrace I have ever felt. We both sob again in each other’s arms. She may never understand what happened to me, but she loves me regardless. Thank you.
“We will get through this together, baby,” my mother promises. I am so overcome, I can only nod. There are no words.
My mother calls the police and she agrees with me that I can tell them whatever I feel they need to know, thus keeping us safe. I don’t mention the money to them for fear that it will raise too many questions. The kind I am not allowed to answer.
I am beyond exhausted. I get by only sharing the bare minimum with the officers. The location I was snatched. That everyone in the place I was kept used a fake name. That I only saw the outside for the first time today. I told them that I traveled a great distance by plane, but have no idea where I was being kept for the entire year. My mother sobbed quietly while I spoke to the officers, who could only tell me how lucky I am to be alive. I see a look on my mother’s face that worries me—a cross between fear, pity, and sadness. She tries to mask it, but I catch the glimpse before she can wipe it away.
One of the officers gave us his card in case I remember more. If only they knew just how much I remember. They also gave my mother some information on places I can go if I need emotional help. And just like that, they were gone. I hope I don’t receive any more visits from the police. I am willing to bury any memories of the last year. If I am lucky my name and case will get filed away under unsolved crimes.
My room looks just like it did before I moved into the dorm two years ago. I feel like I am back in my last year of high school, with posters of the latest heartthrobs plastered on my walls, along with my many collages from my high school photo journey. I was really into pastels my last year of high school. My room looks like an Easter basket exploded and the colors stained the walls and floors.
All of my belongings from American Musical and Dramatic Academy, or AMDA for short, are back in place in my room. Damn, I had a sweet spot in the bungalows too. I bet my friends and teachers all think I’m dead. Whatever. I’m too tired to think about my life. I hope my mom calls Logan for me. I mean, it was bad enough just popping up on her doorstep after all this time. I can’t do that to him. If he is even still in Los Angeles. That thought frightens me. At least if she calls him first, giving him time to process the fact that I am home, he won’t have to stare at me like a ghost come back to life when he sees me. Because as much as I can’t wait to see Logan, I fear the same look in his eyes.
What if he has moved on? He could have a whole new life, complete with a girlfriend by now. What if he has a girlfriend? I can’t be upset with him if he does. It’s been a year. Snap out of it, Brinley. If he moved on there is nothing you can do, I tell myself. Today I will sleep, recharge. Tomorrow, life.
When I stare down at my bed, my stomach becomes queasy. The spring-violet-colored comforter thrusts me back to The Chamber, to being Violet. I run into my bathroom and deposit what little I have in my stomach into the toilet. Closing the lid, I sit on top of it and run cool water into the sink. I don’t fight the tears that stream down my face. I have grown accustomed to crying this past year. You will be okay, Brinley. It is just a color. It doesn’t define you. It never did. You are a survivor. You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t. I grab a towel, dampen it and wipe my face. I gather myself together and walk out into my room and remove the comforter, putting it and any memory it might force me to recall of Violet out in a heap in the hall outside of my room.
I pull a quilt from my closet and wrap up in it and lie on my bed. Right away I feel the pull of sleep, my body spent from a very emotional reunion. When my mother knocks on the door I am almost out.
“Honey. Sorry to disturb you. But I saved these for you. I knew you would come home to me.”
I glance and see that she has a stack of journals.
“I planned to give them to you for your birthday last year. I know how much it helped you to write in them when Dad died…I just thought maybe…”
I sit up in the bed and take the journals from her hands. She plants a kiss on my forehead. After everything, being home still doesn’t feel real. I think I am just numb. I stack the journals on my bedside table. “Thanks, Mom. I think I can use them,” I tell her. She is right. When my father was stricken with cancer, and died a year later, my journals were the only thing that kept me sane. I could lay it all out on paper. The anger, the fear, the pain.
“I mean, unless you want to talk to a professional,” my mother adds.
“How about I try these first, Mom?” I say.
“Okay, baby. What do you want me to do with the comforter? Was it dirty?”
“The nearest trash. I don’t like any shade of purple. Not anymore,” I say flatly.
“Will do. Let me know if you need anything.” She heads for my door. “I love you.”
“‘Kay. I love you too, Mom.”
I think I was asleep before she closed the door.