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Contractually Obligated

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Ray never thought it would end like this. Laying in a filth infested alleyway with nothing but raggedy, old jeans and a stained t-shirt to warm his shivering body. The last sounds he would hear are the bustling footsteps of the city's dreary morning, the cracks of lightning crying buckets of acid rain on the cement, and his stomach's deafening pleas for sustenance. He was beginning to believe that he deserved this punishment. A boy who steals and whores himself out for a quick buck – whether it be a quick buck to pay for a sandwich or a condom – he knew he deserved the worse for his augmenting pile of sins.

His last client was not what he expected. The man approached him a day ago with a smile that screamed 'I will pay you anything to help me forget about my unhappy marriage.' Ray liked those types, and fuck, the ostentatious car he arrived in was only a plus in Ray's book. And don't even get him started on the man's house – well, it was more of a fancy penthouse suite, fully equipped with the little heart-shaped soaps, a grand piano, and a balcony pool. The young Puerto Rican thought he hit a jackpot with this one. All he had to do was lay the guy, get paid, and then when he fell asleep, rob him of everything that would fit in that designer duffel bag hanging on the closet door. Simple as fuck, right?

Wrong.

Ray thought about a lot of shit, but he never thought he would be raped. He could only imagine the ridiculous face he made when he realized the man had drugged him. What about this man made Ray forget the golden rule of never taking a drink that wasn't made right in front of you? Even if the drink is in a fancy glass, all multicolored and shit, you don't take it! How much stupidity and ignorance ran through Ray's head that night? Why couldn't he think past the man's wealth?

The whole night was a blur to Ray but when he came to his senses the next morning, all he felt was pain. He was completely bare, spread eagle, and tied to the man's coffee table. There, he was fucked and abused for hours, though it felt like years. The slaps wouldn't have been that terrible if they weren't paired with harsh, painful sex and as for the choking, he was used to it in small doses, but he literally could not breathe. It got to a point where Ray's indignant, 'let me go, you asshole' attitude turned into more of a begging, 'just let me go, please'.

All that torture ended with him being thrown into an alley clothed in only his shirt and jeans from the day before. That man stole everything from him, including his dignity and his nice pair of checkered sneakers. How did my life turn out like this? Ray wondered. Death had to be creeping up on him and if the lack of feeling in his toes was any indication of it, then he was sure this alleyway was his deathbed. I am gonna haunt the shit out of that rapist fuck, Ray thought, but he didn’t even know the man’s name.

“Hey, you okay kid?” The voice was angelic, not in a literal sense, but anyone who could help Ray not die was an absolute angel.

“What's it look like, asshole? I'm rolling around a pile of garbage in the middle of an alleyway. I'm definitely not okay!” Smooth Ray, scare away your only means of survival, he thought.

The man laughed and entered the alley, “My name is Joel, nice to meet you, trashman.”

The Puerto Rican rolled his eyes at the man, “My name's Ray, you fucktard.” Joel was wearing torn baggy jeans, a gray hoodie soaked in rain, and some cheap black sneakers, nothing close to Ray's usual clients but anything would do at this point.

“You've got quite the mouth on you, trashman.” Joel knelt beside Ray.

“Well I ain’t selling it today, so get the fuck away from me.” Ray was abrasive, but he’s learned from his previous encounters. You can’t give it out to everybody.

“And I’m not buying.” Joel shrugged. “Look, you seem like you need help. Do you need help?”

Ray couldn't comprehend Joel's sudden generosity, but in his experience, everything came at a price. The Puerto Rican knew he would probably be on his knees for this man later, but as long as he was on his knees in a heated area, he didn't give a flying fuck. “Yeah, I need help.” He tried not to be too abrasive with his words.

“Okay, come on. Get up,” Joel grabbed Ray by his arm and lifted him from his place on the frigid cement. “This way, to my car.” The older man led Ray out of the alley and down a block, completely ignoring Ray's shoeless feet.

They approach this sleek black Mercedes Benz and Ray beamed. Maybe this Joel guy is a catch, after all, he thought. “Nice ride,” Ray commented instinctively, knowing that men with money tend to enjoy compliments to their wealth.

“Hm, no 'fucking nice ride' or 'god damn, that shit is nice'? You see nice things and all of sudden your potty mouth disappears, huh trashman?” Joel teased as he unlocked his car and invited Ray to sit in the front seat.

Ray snorted, “Fuck no, but I do appreciate nice things and those who give them to me.” He slid onto the car's leather interior and started thinking about how disgusting he must seem to Joel. Before the older man could make it around the car to the driver's side, Ray was rolling down the window to spare Joel's nose.

“Is that a sign of you accepting your status as the stinky trashman?” Joel snickered as he put his vehicle in drive and pulled out the parking space.

“Shut the fuck up,” Ray was too tired to argue. He was too tired, cold, hungry, sore, and gross. He simply did not have the strength to resist the trashman status and the heat in this car wasn't helping. Hopefully, this one isn’t a fucking murderer or some shit, he thought.

Ray remembers falling asleep as Joel exited the city listening to tacky old people music. He wasn't sure how long he'd been out but when he woke, he couldn’t believe his eyes. He thought this hoodie-wearing man was bringing him to a nice single-family, suburban home. He certainly wasn't expecting anything this luxurious.

Joel pulled into an automated black front gate with the letter's JH bold on its surface and dipped in gold. The driveway seemed never-ending and it was surrounded by the most elegant gardens. The roundabout in front of the five-story, ivory mansion had a center fountain with one of those fancy Greek statues that Ray has seen in movies. The doors to the mansion opened and two lines of maids and butlers stood on either side of the entrance, bowing in welcome. “You're drooling, trashman.” Joel laughed as he got out of the car, handing his keys to a young boy wearing a red vest. “Come on, I don't have all day.”

Ray got out as the red vest climbed in, and he was made speechless by the wealth around him. Who knew this guy was capable of all this? “So this is...um...your house?”

“Well, I wouldn't call it a house but yeah, sure.” Joel ushered Ray up the front steps, between the sea of maids, and through the immaculate doors to the Heyman estate's mansion. Inside was more astonishing than Ray could comprehend, much fancier than his last client's minuscule penthouse. Joel had it made, and Ray was determined to take as much as he could from this man. “Are you impressed?”

“No, not impressed, just cold, hungry, and stinky.” Ray tried to conceal his motives, at least for now. “You have a bathroom in this gigantic place?”

Joel laughed, “Yeah, yeah I do.” He turned to face one of his younger butlers. “Hey, Michael, can you help my friend here get cleaned up? Fit him in some clothes too, if you don’t mind.”

The curly-haired boy bowed, “Yes, sir. Also, the Gents have arrived for your meeting and are waiting in the main conference room.”

“Thank you, Michael,” Joel placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder and leaned in, whispering something incoherent.

Michael nodded to his boss then he swiftly made eye contact with Ray, as if he was trying to analyze him. “Please follow me, sir.” Michael began walking up the wide staircase that connected the entrance area to the next floor.

Ray stood there for a moment before realizing that by sir, Michael meant him, and hurried after the curly-haired butler. The young Puerto Rican stared up at the high ceilings as they ventured down the extravagant, winding hallways. The deeper they went in the mansion, the more Ray realized just how lucky he was to be in that alley at that time.

“So how did you and Mr. Heyman meet?” Michael made idle conversation, clearly feeling awkward. Ray would feel that way too if he had to walk in front of a smelly stranger.

Ray laughed nervously, “It's a funny story actually,” He paused as they entered a bathroom. If you could even call it that. This wasn’t just an ordinary bathroom. This was a bathroom fit for a king and holy shit, is that a jacuzzi tub? “This place is fucking insane.”

“This is one of the master baths; feel free to make use of all of its devices.” Michael began tornado-ing around the bathroom; running the bathwater, preparing fresh towels, selecting shampoos and soaps, laying out a new toothbrush. “As for your attire, please place them in the bin outside the door to be discarded. Mr. Heyman promises to replace them if you wish.”

One of the master baths, he says, Ray thought. He was not used to this sort of pampering, “Uh, tell him not to worry about it. I'm not attached to them or anything.” Ray chuckled, “Although, while he’s offering, a pair of checkered Vans would definitely hit the spot.” Ray was joking, but Michael nodded as if he could make just anything appear from thin air.

“Very well,” Michael gave a small bow before moving towards the door. “I will return in about an hour with a fresh pair of clothes for you, sir.”

“Thanks,” Ray muttered as he began removing his shirt. “And uh...Michael, right? You can drop the sir, just call me Ray.”

“As you wish, Ray,” With that, Michael took his exit.

In gaining some alone time, Ray could finally breathe. It has been about two days since his last shower and he hadn't taken a bath for months. Seriously, who takes baths? For the next forty-five minutes, Ray indulged himself. He took a bubble bath, washed his hair, shaved, and even prepped himself for sex if it came to that. All the while, he completely ignored his experiences from the previous night, choosing to lock away the twinge of pain in his heart rather than come to terms with it. He ignored the soreness and the light hue of bruises and the tightness in his throat that threatened to become a sob. He was no stranger to pushing feelings away.

There was a knock at the door. “Ray, it's Michael. I've brought you a change of clothes.”

“Uh, yeah. Come in Mike.” Ray wrapped a towel around his midsection as Michael entered the room. He brought with him a designer suit, three tie choices, dress shoes, and accessories to boot.

“What's with all this?” Ray was skeptical. Maybe this Joel guy had a suit fetish.

Michael flashed Ray a look of concern but quickly reverted to his butler facade. “I'm not sure if Joel explained anything to you when he picked you up – he didn't explain anything to me, that's for sure – just put this stuff on and when you meet them, you’ll know.” With that, Michael stepped out of the bathroom.

“What the fuck? Am I selling my soul here or what? Damn.” Ray mumbled to himself as he got dressed. Surprisingly, the suit was his style. Everything seemed oddly fitting.

Ray stepped out adorned in all but the jacket. “Um, the jacket is kind of big, but everything else fits fine.” His hair was slicked down, and his facial hair was shaven into a neat style. “What do you think?”

“You look fine,” Michael nodded in approval. “But I have to tell you something.”

“What?” Ray looked confused. “What is it?”

Before Michael had a chance to open his mouth, he was interrupted by another butler. “Michael, I hope you are taking care of Joel’s choice, and not doing anything that would scare him off. The Gents would not be pleased.”

“Alfredo, you know I would never.” Michael seemed defensive.

“I’m right here, you fuckwits.” Ray wasn’t one to hold his tongue. “What are you talking about?”

Alfredo smiled darkly, “Feisty one, isn’t he? Master Ryan loves those kinds.”

“Who's Ryan?” Ray squinted. “Is he one of those Gents Michael mentioned? Can a guy get a fucking answer around here? Damn.”

Michael didn’t seem too keen on speaking in front of this man. “Ray, for now, follow me.” Michael grabbed the jacket from his hands. “I will take you to Joel so you can discuss your role going forward. He will explain everything.”

“Finally, some help,” Ray stalked away, following Michael back down the hall.

Alfredo called out, “Hope you’re chosen by the right one, Ray!”

Ray snarled at him and threw up a quick middle finger. “What’s his deal, Mike?”

“He is probably having a hard time with Master Ryan. It’s his first time with him, and-,” Michael paused and took another deep breath. “I’m saying too much. Listen, I don’t have much time to prep you or anything. Just, be polite. When you get in there, Barbara or Joel will explain what is going on. Remember, try to win over Jack. Geoff is survivable, but avoid Ryan at all cost, you understand?” He led them towards a pair of black lacquer doors.

“I mean, I still don’t get it, but if you want me to seduce someone, I can manage that, and I will avoid Ryan.” Ray shrugged, not fully grasping his situation but, in the face of wealth, he found himself not caring. So what? Joel wasn’t the only guy he had to please. None of that was new to Ray. The only thing Ray cared about was taking what he could from these men.

“Okay, good, that should be all you-” Michael was interrupted by the doors swinging open. Two maids walked out, escorting a very tired looking young male. “Gav!” Michael exclaimed.

“Micoo,” Gavin breathed out. “I’m Jack’s now.”

“Joel didn’t…?” Michael didn’t even need to finish the sentence before Gavin responded.

“He took Jeremy instead,” Gavin was then ushered away by the maids.

“Next week, for sure!” Michael blurted out before Gavin was out of sight.

Ray looked at Michael, who seemed worried, yet relieved at the same time. It made Ray wonder for the first time what kind of mess he had gotten himself into. Whatever was beyond those doors seemed so daunting, and for a brief moment, he considered running. Yet, the intrigue of the unknown piqued his interest even more. The doors swung open once again, and a beautiful lady stepped out wearing a little black dress. She was holding a gold-plated clipboard, standing in white stilettos, and her golden hair was pulled into a neat, tight bun. “Is Ray ready?” She spoke to Michael.

“Yes Ma’am,” Michael gestured towards Ray.

“Oh Michael, I told you to call me Barbara.” She giggled and stole a glance at her clipboard. “Okay, follow me, Ray.” She gestured towards the inside of the room.

“Okay,” Ray strolled in, stealing a final glance at Michael’s face before entering the room. He seemed worried but too afraid to say anything.

The door silently closed behind them and Barbara began a graceful stride down the long hallway beyond the doors. Her heels rhythmically clapped against the black and white checkered floors. The design reminded Ray of the shoes he’d lost. The path was dimly lit by white ceiling lights that were reflected against the black lacquer walls. The design made it seem like it would go on forever.

“So, Bar- Miss Barbara, where are we going?” Ray broke the tense silence.

Barbara stopped dead in her tracks, “Joel didn’t tell you.” It was more of a statement of realization than a question. She tilted her head slightly to the left, taking a pen from her clipboard and writing something down. “Listen, I’m not allowed to say much. Burnie would have a fit if I broke the rules.” She began walking again. “But for you, I’ll bend them a little. Trust me when I say you’re not the first clueless one Joel has brought in. Michael Jones can attest to that.”

“Okay, well, what can you tell me?” Ray picked up his pace to keep up with her.

“Well, each month or so the Gents trade their um…well, let’s just call them servants. It’s like a fun, little game to them.” She slows down to let Ray catch up. “What the details of the game are, I can’t say, but I can tell you this: most of the Gents are easy to win over. You are basically in control of the situation.”

“Is this like a weird human trafficking thing?” Ray stops.

Barbara sighs, “Joel really should’ve explained things to you more.” She stops again and places a hand on Ray’s shoulder. “This is not human trafficking. I can say that for sure. If you wanted, you could walk right back from where we came, leave and never come back. Joel’s people will contact you with a non-disclosure agreement and with a quick signature, you can live like you were before. However, once you decide to go in there, it won’t be that simple to get away.”

“What do you mean?” Ray’s confusion amplified.

“Look, we’re running out of time,” Barbara’s confidence faltered a bit. “Just know that if you are anything like me, you’ve come from nothing. These men are allowing you an opportunity to live without worrying about money. They clothe us, house us, feed us, give us healthcare, and access to education, and all they ask is for us to be good help and play this game with them.”

Ray’s mind wandered back to the way he was living before, and where Joel found him in the first place. He remembered the cold, wet, and lonely nights where he could not afford any food, so he would blow some random douche-bag to get a few bucks. He knows how hard it is to survive on his own, and the twinge in his heart made him want to be as far from that life as possible. So, if they wanted him to play this stupid game to never go back there, then motherfucking game on. “Fine, take me in there.”

Barbara smiled and breathed a breath of relief, “Good choice, now hurry up. We’ve wasted enough time as it is.” She took him down the remainder of the hall until they approached a sleek mahogany door. Next to it was a small podium with a black book and pen atop it. “Alright Ray,” Barbara gestured to the book, “This is a contract that everyone signs before going in. It states that you will completely refrain from doing any harm to the masters. By signing, you also agree to not speak of anything that occurs within that room to anyone who is not a master, or who is not a servant under a master, unless designated otherwise by a master. You agree to allow the masters to touch your body to appraise you. However, the masters are not allowed to use any level of force against you. Finally, upon signing this contract, you agree to complete at least five trade cycles, one with each master. All these terms are final and cannot be altered at any time. Do you agree to those terms?”

Ray nodded slowly, “Sure.”

“Then please review the contract and sign on the dotted line.” Barbara opened the book and gestured for Ray to take the pen.

“Okay then,” Ray took the pen and without reading the long passage above, he scribbled a messy signature on the paper. “Now what?”

“Follow me,” Barbara grabbed the door’s handles but paused before opening them. “Oh, and one final piece of advice: speak when spoken to and do not follow my lead because I have seniority and you do not.” Barbara giggled again, calming Ray’s nerves.

She grabbed the handles tightly and pushed. Inside, jazzy music filled the air and you could hear laughter bellowing from within. There was a soft smoky scent filling the old money atmosphere. “Gentlemen!” Barbara’s voice was melodious and fell perfectly into the ambiance of the room. “I hope you are enjoying yourselves this evening. We have our next young man prepared for you.” Two maids dressed in black suits appeared on either side of Ray, gently leading him to the center floor and then silently ambling away.

The design of the hallway was not echoed throughout this room. That black lacquer was replaced by a dark mahogany wood that decorated the walls and furniture. Four mahogany columns reached up to the high ceilings. The floors were clean, black, and reflective. The ceilings were red velvet and the lighting was low and warm. The Gents sat in leather chairs in a semicircle in the center of the room, all currently directed at Ray. They were all so attractive, and in Ray’s mind, any of them would be great lays.

The first seat was Joel, but it was much different from hoodie Joel. This Joel was cleaned up, wearing light gray pants with a matching vest over a white button-up. It was all properly fitted and probably very expensive. His shoes were shined, and his hair was clean cut. He seemed the most down to earth and relaxed, as his sleeves were rolled to his elbows and his top button was unfastened.

The second was a bearded man in a classic black suit. His jacket was draped across his thigh and he had thick black suspenders, which reminded Ray of the men in classic films. This man was portlier than the others, but it gave him a look of strength, and his visage was kind and comfortable. His eyes gave Ray a sense of calm like watching a river flow.

The third was much wilder than the first two like he could punch down a tree with his bare hands and feel nothing. He had disheveled hair, a handlebar mustache, and tattoos that covered everything that Ray could see and presumably everything he couldn’t. He wore a collarless red button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled and tightly fitted black pants. He was nestling a glass of whiskey in his right hand and giving Ray an intense stare like a goon in a yakuza movie.

The fourth seat was empty, but the man in the fifth seat had a mad look in his eyes like he could eat Ray alive and not think anything of it. His jacket was green and red plaid with gold buttons, his pants were khaki, and his shoes were a shiny black. Ray felt a heat from him like molten metal as it’s quenched.

The final seat was empty like the fourth.

Ray wondered for a moment who could be missing, but his mind was derailed by Barbara’s voice. “This meeting will be for the appraisal of Ray, presented by master Joel for a tentative one week trade, open to negotiation up to two weeks.” Barbara reads from her clipboard. She is standing a few feet behind Ray, and her voice is carrying throughout the room. “This is his very first appraisal, so gentlemen, please be kind and do remember the rules.” Her voice ended there and all that could be heard were her heels clicking out the door, which shut with a soft creak.

Ray was alone now, and certain that not a single amount of banter could tear through this silence, so he just stared at Joel, who was different among these men. Different, yet the same. It made Ray feel the same type of ease he felt in the alleyway.

“So, your name’s Ray, yeah?” The man with the handlebar mustache spoke. “My name is Geoff, with a G.”

Ray nodded, “Yes, that is my name.”

The bearded man laughed, “You can relax in here Ray. My name’s Jack. It’s nice to meet you.”

Ray smiled at him, but it was a nervous smile. “Nice to meet you too.”

“I got to say, Joel, you didn’t say shit about him being so shy. I hate the shy ones.” The man with the mad eyes spoke.

“He’s just nervous,” Joel said. “Give him a break Ryan.”

Michael’s words echoed in Ray’s head. Try to win over Jack. Geoff is survivable but avoid Ryan at all cost. He now knew that Ryan hated shy boys, so he was going to play that angle. This is all just seduction and role-playing. Ray could do that.

“So, Ray, I’m sure you have questions. What are they?” Joel asked.

Tons of questions swirled in Ray’s head, but he was convinced that this was a test. “I don’t have too many questions.” Ray put on a facade of shyness, clasping his hands together behind him. “But I do want to know which one of you wants me.”

Geoff leaned forward, a bit surprised and very eager, “Okay Joel, now you have my attention.”

“Told you, Geoff, I found a good one,” Joel spoke confidently, and gave Ray a knowing look. “Obviously a talented one too.”

Geoff hopped up from his seat. This caught Ray off guard and he flinched, but it worked perfectly with his fake, coy demeanor. Ray wondered if Geoff, the one Michael called survivable, would be the one Ray was given to. Geoff, with his whiskey still in hand, circled Ray, looking him up and down as a predator would his prey. It was an intense assessment. Geoff stopped in front of Ray and took a quick swig of his drink. “I want you, Ray.” He moved into Ray’s personal space but did not place a single finger on him.

Ray wasn’t sure if Geoff’s obedience to the rules was a courtesy of this room. Geoff breathed, “May I touch you, Ray?”

The air was heavy with the smell of Geoff’s woody cologne, the smoke snaking from the ashtray, and a bite of alcoholic aroma. Ray pondered if this question was also a test. If he were to agree, would he seem too easy or just too stubborn? Who among these men would appreciate that level of self-respect? Ray thought Jack would. “No,” Ray was firm and admittedly, he probably came off a little more playful than shy. “You may not.”

Geoff smiled at Ray’s answer and spun around on his heel, returning to his seat. “Jack, I can see your wheels turning already.” He glanced at Jack, who seemed to be pleased with Ray’s answer.

“Ray,” Jack chuckled warmly. “Why the refusal?”

“Because I like to be earned.” Ray smiled at Jack.

And then, without Jack having the time to speak, the door opened once again. The voice that emerged gave Ray the chills. “Sorry, I’m late Gents. Had to wrap up another meeting.” It was the voice of the man that had raped Ray. “Barbara says we have an interesting one today, hm?”

“Yeah Burnie, this is Ray.” Joel introduced Ray just as Burnie walked close enough to realize exactly who Ray was.

The look of surprise Burnie had turned very quickly into a look of sadism. “You don’t say.” Burnie smiled at Ray, “It’s very nice to meet you, Ray. Welcome.”

Ray was frozen with fear. The thought of Burnie taking him was unbearable, so much so that he threw away Michael’s words of warning. Any of these men are better than Burnie, Ray thought.

“Quiet, are we?” Burnie let out a click of his tongue and got real close to Ray. So close that no one but Ray could hear what he was saying. “I’m really into the quiet ones. The real docile types, the ones that can’t talk or move, but somehow manage to beg and writhe. The broken ones.” With that, he turned to his seat. It was the fourth. Just before he sat, he shook Ryan’s hand and whispered something to him. Ryan smirked and nodded, and it gave Ray a terrible feeling of dread. As if the whole room had been engulfed in flames, the twinge rustled from its place deep inside Ray’s heart.

The sound of heels echoed from the hall outside the door. As it swung open, Barbara and two maids emerged. “Gentlemen, the time for appraisal has ended. We will now go into the offers. Ray is being presented by Joel, the current owner of Michael and Jeremy. As our rules state, no one Gent may have more than two charges at a time and the person who presents a new charge may not take the first cycle.” She moved beside Ray. “Therefore, offers may be made by Jack, the current owner of Trevor and Gavin, or Geoff, the current owner of Lindsay, or Ryan, the current owner of Alfredo, or Burnie, the current owner of me, Barbara. If no Gent makes an offer, Ray moves into the rotation and will be given to Jack by default. If all parties understand, please say aye.”

Without question, the Gents say aye. The room falls silent and Barbara glances at Ray. “Do you understand Ray?”

“Aye,” Ray says unconfidently while glancing nervously between Burnie and the floor, silently wishing that the reflective blackness would latch on and swallow him whole.

“I’m going to start us off Gents,” Burnie speaks. “I want Ray, and I’m willing to part with Barbara to get him.”

All heads turn to Burnie, looks of confusion in their eyes at Burnie’s offer. Even Barbara, who had only shown perfect composure, had an unexplainable pain in her eyes. Ray wanted to tell her that she needed to get away. This was an opportunity for her and she should be glad, but Ray couldn’t speak. His confidence was shaken, and his facade was crumbling against the intensity of Burnie’s presence.

“But you never put Barbara up for an offer,” Joel says.

“I’m looking for a change of pace here.” Burnie gave Ray a dark look.

“Well, I don’t know if I can beat that wildcard, but I want Ray, and I’m willing to give up Trevor,” Jack says.

Ryan beams. “I did want to put an offer in for Ray, but if Jack gives me Trevor, I’ll pull out my offer.”

Jack nods, “I agree to those terms.”

Geoff looks to be considering his options, “Well, I was also going to put in an offer, but I will take Barbara and stay the fuck out of it.”

“Burnie,” Barbara’s voice cracked a little. “Do you agree to those terms?”

Burnie nodded and, without remorse, said, “Yes I do.”

Barbara seemed off her game now, as if having to leave Burnie was a sad thing. “Then we will move into negotiations between Burnie and Jack.”

“Jack, come on, I gave up Barbara for this,” Burnie speaks smoothly. “Let me have this one.”

“I don’t think so Burns,” Jack shook his head. “I’m taking Ray. Let’s go into a vote.”

Barbara nodded, pulling three cards with gold detail from her dress pocket. “Please write your vote on who Ray should go to and fold them in half.” She said as she passed out the cards to Joel, Geoff, and Ryan.

Each Gent wrote their decision, and never before had Ray been so nervous. How had everything come to this? A sick game of survival where three practical strangers were voting whether or not he went to hell island. If he had known Burnie was a part of all this, he would have never signed that stupid contract. What if he has to complete a trade cycle with Burnie? He begins to have flashbacks to being tied to the table and begging to be released. He should never have gotten in the car with Joel. Rich guys are all trouble.

“I will now read the votes.” She collected each card from the Gents, careful to keep them in view of everyone. She took her place beside Ray once again and opened the first card.

“Burnie.” The first card said.

Ray’s heart dropped into his stomach and sweat collected on his forehead.

“Jack.” The second card said.

Ray was certain Ryan voted for Burnie and Joel probably voted for Jack, but who did Geoff possibly vote for.

“For Ray, the Gent who has been granted tentative one-week ownership is Jack.” Barbara lifted the cards to prove she had properly read them. “Congratulations Jack.”

“Yeah, congratulations.” Burnie seemed upset, but Ray couldn’t be happier.

Barbara spoke one final time, “Gentleman, this brings us to the end of our night. The current ownership is as follows: Joel owns Michael and Jeremy, Jack owns Gavin and Ray, Geoff owns Barbara and Lindsay, Ryan owns Trevor and Alfredo, and Burnie owns no one. We will have another meeting next week. Joel has graciously offered to hold the after events in his bar area, so please enjoy the rest of your night.” Barbara bowed and with one glance at Burnie, she sauntered out the room, obviously hurt.

Ray was escorted out by the maids. His heart was racing. As he passed through the hypnotically long hallway, he wondered what his fate would be like in this first cycle. Michael said Jack was the best, so it couldn’t be that terrible, could it? They arrived at the end of the hallway, where he was greeted by Michael, whose face dripped with concern.

“So, how did it go?” Michael asked as he gestured for Ray to follow him to another hallway.

“I’m Jack’s apparently,” Ray shrugged, but Michael beamed.

“Damn, you’re lucky Ray,” His smile was much calmer than it was before. When they first interacted, Michael walked on eggshells and behaved like an underling rather than an equal. Ray wondered why the sudden change.

“You seem chiller now, what’s up with that?” Ray noted that this hallway was different from the one before, but the ceilings were just as high.

“Well, you signed the contract. I don’t have to worry about letting things slip.” Michael’s response sounded more Jersey than it did before, and honestly, it comforted Ray to know he was around normal people too. As they made their way down the hall, a similar vein of jazzy music could be heard spilling from a black door.

“What’s that sound?” Ray wondered.

“The after-party,” Michael smirked, kind of devilishly as he grasped the door handle. “This is probably my favorite part of staying in the game. The amenities, you know.”

The curly redhead pushed the door open, and the full force of the music hit Ray’s ears. Inside held many of the design choices from the appraisal room, but this room came equipped with a fully stocked bar, a live band comprised of more suit-clad maids, a dance floor, and a lounge area. Sitting around it were a group of young people, who Ray guessed were all part of the game.

“Micoo!” The same British boy from before exclaimed, while he hopped up from his seat at the lounge and all but flew into Michael’s arms. Ray thought they were just friends but the Brit landed a kiss on Michael’s mouth. It was deep too, as Gavin’s tongue could be seen dipping pass the Jersey boy’s pink lips. The Brit pulled away and pressed a quick short peck on Michael’s nose before fixing his gaze on Ray.

“Hi there, Ray, right?” The boy asked, and Ray nodded.

“And you’re Gav, yeah?” Ray asked. “You’re the one from earlier?”

“Yeah, that’s me. Full name’s Gavin though, but don’t mind a nickname. Nice to meet you.”

“Likewise,” Ray let a small smile slip. “It seems we’re both Jack’s.”

Gavin gave a surprised glance at Michael, “Really?” Michael nodded to Gavin’s question. Ray watched as the two’s obvious chemistry allowed for a silent conversation to be had. Gavin smiled and Michael returned it with the quick nod, all of which left Ray confused.

“Hey Ray, do you know anything about our Gent?” Gavin’s voice deepened, it became a bit more sultry. For some reason, that change in demeanor excited Ray. Besides robbing the rich, sex was his favorite pastime. Plus, he didn’t get to top often, so he would gladly lay Gavin out and show him how good Puerto Rican cock could be.

“Not a thing,” Ray gave into the flirting. “You gonna teach me what he likes?”

Gavin smirked, pulling away from Michael’s embrace and leaning into Ray’s. “He likes to watch.” The Brit whispered against Ray’s ear, giving a small kiss to his neck as he pulled away.

“Okay, enough yanking dicks! Come over here and introduce him to the rest of us!” A girl with red hair called over to us, making both Gavin and Michael laugh.

“Alright, alright,” Gavin said as he sauntered back to the lounge area with Michael attached at the hip.

For a moment, Ray took in the scene. Presumably, these were the other seven people in the game with him. Two girls and five boys, all lavishly dressed and very attractive. Barbara was still wearing the little black number from earlier, and beside her was another girl donning a flowy black pant with a white tube top and heels with more shine than the sun against the ocean. There were two slender boys to their right, curled against one another. One was Alfredo, whom Ray had encountered with Michael in the hall, and the other, he hadn’t seen before. Both were wearing black slacks and loosely fitting white button-ups. Ray was convinced he could use their shoes as a mirror with the way the light bounced off them. The last boy was more buff than the others, and the most casual, wearing a black tank top and dark wash skinny jeans.

Did Ray belong among these people? Why did Joel bring him here? Thoughts of being thrown from Burnie’s car into a pile of trash flashed back into his mind. The stench of rotten food and the texture of disposed napkins and mud. Then a realization dawned on him: did Joel know? Did he know about Burnie and what he did? Ray started fuming, frozen in his place by the door. His mind racing, wondering if this kindness was some sort of ploy to get him back in Burnie’s clutches. The air around him felt stale. Was it filling his lungs at all? He clutched at his chest to see if his heart was still there, but it was racing. The room was spinning, and he couldn’t see clearly. Where were his glasses? He touched his face and they were there, but he couldn’t see straight. Panic filled him. He couldn’t breathe. Purple spots filled his vision and the floor felt like it was rocking, moving back and forth like a boat at sea in the middle of a storm. His legs felt like jelly, shaking under the weight of his panic. What happened to that smooth jazz that caressed his eardrums? Why was it replaced with such a loud ringing? Where was this ringing coming from? The twinge in his heart wasn’t just a twinge anymore. What was happening? Where was he? Why was he here? Who is screaming his name? What? Why? How? Air. He needed air. He couldn’t see, everything was black.

A loud crack was the last sound he heard and a dull pain was the last sensation he felt before nothing.