Bribery is underrated. I think I could get Amber whacked if I bribed Mel with a stack of chocolate chip pancakes. She eats them, doused in strawberry syrup. The pancakes look like they’ve been shot.
“How can you eat that?” I ask. It’s so sweet. I have eggs and bacon. Well, I had bacon. Mel tool that already.
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“It’s freakin fantabulous. Everyone should eat this for breakfast. Every day. It’s the breakfast of champions.” She shovels another bunch of fluffy pancakes into her mouth. A bead of syrup runs from the corner of her mouth.
“That’s Wheaties. And you’re looking a little vampy, there.” I touch to corner of my mouth and tilt my head toward her and say, “You’ve got syrup. Or is that drool?”
Mel’s back stiffens as she wipes away the blot of red. She points a fork full of pancakes at me and says, “I do not drool. Not unless it’s a particularly hot guy. Then I might drool, a little.” She chews and takes a swig of milk, then asks, “So, how’d last night go? Are we still on Team V?”
I laugh. “You’re so stupid. Team V Yeah, I’m still on Team V Things got out of hand last night. Black showed up and pulled me away.”
Mel’s jaw drops and the fork freezes half way to her mouth. “No shit!” She leans in closer and lowers her voice, “What the hell happened?”
I tell her. As I retell the horrible events of last night, I push around the food on my plate. I don’t feel very hungry today. When I finish my story, I look up at her. Mel hasn’t taken a bite. I tell her, “Black said she’d match me to someone else. I got paid a little bit, enough to treat you and pay some bills, but not enough to be home-free the way I thought I’d be. I don’t know what to do.”
“You’re back to square one.”
I nod. “Yeah, I suppose so.”
“Why did Sean do that? It almost seems like he wanted to blow the whole arrangement.”
“He didn’t. He didn’t react well when I showed up. He left. I chased him. It’s notlike he lured me outside to irritate Black. He seemed as surprised as I was when she showed up.”
“That boy is messed up.” She points her pancake at me before popping it into her mouth.
“We already knew that.” I sigh and lean my head on my hand. I poke my eggs and paint the yellow yolk across the white plate.
Mel watches me. “You seem out of it. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were falling for the guy. You’re all doe-eyed, making hearts in your food.”
“I am not,” I say, straightening up.
“Whatever,” Mel says, “I just call it like I see it. You’ve got that Bambi look on your face, like you’re swooning for Mr. Freakshow.”
I snort-laugh. “You’re so mental. That’s not it. I just don’t know if can do it again.”
“It’s just one guy, one time,” she reminds me.
I nod. “That’s what it was supposed to be this time.”
After breakfast, I head to the library to get caught up on school work. The building is huge and smells like dust and old paper. Once I get into the stacks, the lighting sucks. I navigate my way through the massive building until I find my little chair in the corner. It’s a good spot because no one ever comes back here. There’s a desk and chair against the wall at the end of one of the rows. I toss my book bag on it and pull out my work.
After a few hours pass, I’m leaning with my hand in my hair, staring at the cinderblock wall in front of me. I can’t concentrate. I have no idea what to do. I thought my financial problems were solved and that I could go back to studying. Sean was ideal bait, but then Black sent him packing. I don’t know if I can do it with someone else.
Memories flit through my mind and I can feel Sean’s hands on my skin. I wish Black hadn’t shown up. I wish things progressed further. I wonder what it would feel like to have my sweat-covered body slip over his, what he would feel like inside of me. My body warms at the thought.
I’m so out of it that I don’t hear Marty until he’s next to me. “Well, looky what we have here.”
I jump out of my skin when he speaks and twist in my chair. I had no idea he was there. Marty laughs at me. He’s wearing a pair of dark jeans with frayed patches on the thighs, coupled with a tee shirt and denim jacket. His blonde hair is spiked. He looks like an 80’s remnant.
I swat at Marty, meaning to slap his leg, but he dodges my hand. “You scared me to death!” I whisper yell at him
He laughs and drops his backpack on the floor next to my desk, and then takes his extra tall body and leans against the wall. Shoving his hands in his pockets, he says, “Only people with something to hide get all skittish like that. What’d you do? Kiss a girl?” He winks at me and grins.
I cover my heart with my hand, willing it to resume a normal pace, but it ignores me. I don’t look at Marty when he speaks and he catches on. “So, you do have something to hide. Is it juicy?” I glance at him, thinking that direct eye contact will help, but the guy sees right through me. In a hushed voice, he squeals, “Oh my God! You have to tell me!” As Marty talks, he falls to his knees and scoots toward me, clutching his hands under his chin, like he’s begging.
I laugh it off. “There’s nothing to tell.” I squirm in my chair and go back to reading my textbook.
“You’re a bad liar.”
Sighing, I say, “I know,” and slump forward, planting my face in the book. “I can’t lie, but I can’t tell you.”
He grabs my shoulder and pulls me up. I look him in the face as he asks, excitedly, “Is this about the questions you asked the other day?” My face must answer for me, because Marty gets more excited. “Oh my God, you did something morally deplorable, didn’t you? What was it?”
When I don’t answer, he starts reasoning it out, which scares me to death. He ticks off his fingers, “Well, we both know it’s nothing to do with lying. So that leaves cheating,” he ticks off a second finger and pauses, looking at my slumped shoulders, and says, “Yeah, I can’t see that one either. You’re hardwired to not cheat. That leaves stealing, adultery—”
“Are you just going to list the seven deadly sins and hope I confess when you hit mine?”
He waves a finger in my face. “Ah ha! That means it was one of the big seven.”
“You’re an ass. Leave me alone.” I pretend to read my book. Marty grabs the pages and yanks it away. “Hey!”
“You tell me everything, why can’t you tell me this?” he says holding my book just out of reach. I make a grab for it and miss. He’s too damn tall.
“Because I can’t. And it doesn’t matter now anyway, because everything is all fucked up.” I stop jumping for my book and sit down hard in the chair. It feels like a wave of hopelessness crashes into me. Suddenly, I can’t breathe and my heart is pounding. I grab the hair on the sides of my head and look at the floor, saying, “I can’t do this.” My breathing becomes labored, like I’m having an asthma attack.
Marty puts my books down and kneels next to me, placing his hand on my back. “Whoa, Avery. Calm down. Slow your breathing.”
Tears well up behind my eyes, but they won’t fall. For once, I wish they would. I wish I could jusi cry and have this part of my life over with. I rock in the seat. “I can’t do this.”
“Do what, honey? Be more specific.” Marty’s hand rubs small circles on my back. He leans closer to me. “Tell me, love. I’ll help you however I can.”
“But that’s just it,” I look up at him with glassy eyes. “You can’t help me, no one can. I have to do something that I don’t want to do. I’m fucked every way ‘til Tuesday with no way out.”
Marty keeps his hand on my shoulder and looks at me with an expression that I can’t read. It’s not pity, it’s something else, more like pity’s bastard cousin. “Avery, you ever think that you’re alone because you want to be?” I bristle at the suggestion, but he presses a finger to my lips to shut me up, and shakes his head. “No, don’t talk. Listen. There’s a time for listening, and that’s now. I know you’ve got no one and that you’re all by yourself, but you don’t have to be. I’m here and so is Mel. You shut us out, Avery. When things get hard, you retreat into yourself and no one can get through those walls you put up. It doesn’t have to be that way. Friends are your family now. I know that I’d do anything for you, you don’t even have to ask.”
Awh fuck. His words trigger the tears and they rush down my face. Marty smiles at me, like he knows better. Maybe he does. Maybe I’m the one who’s fucked up. Maybe I don’t have to dc everything by myself, but I don’t know what that world looks like. The only people that I could depend on through thick and thin were my parents. Family was everything to them, to me. Now that I don’t have one, I feel lost, like I don’t belong anywhere, like I can’t fully trust anyone.
I wipe the tears from my face with the back of my hand.
Marty reaches into his pocket and hands me a clean, white hanky. It’s perfectly folded into quarters and creased like he ironed it. He holds it out to me.
I laugh, half choking on the phlegm in my throat. I take the hanky and dab my eyes before wiping my nose. “You made me cry. No one makes me cry.”
“Really?” he asks wryly. “Everything makes me cry. Why do you think I walk around with a hanky?” He grins at me.
I look down at the white cloth in my hands, damp with tears. The confession spills out of my mouth. “I was offered a position as a high dollar call girl. If I take it, it solves my money problems. I can finish school and move on with my life.”
“But…” he prompts, assuming nothing. Marty’s great like that. He doesn’t condemn me.
“But the obvious. But I’d be selling my body. But I’d be letting some stranger have sex with me. But, I’d be giving away my virginity to some freak.” my voice fades as I say the word, thinking of Sean.
Marty smiles softly and adds, “But you like someone else.”
I look up at him. “How’d you know?”
He shrugs, “Just a hunch. Something about the way your voice sounds, like there’s more there than you’re saying. So who is this guy?”
I look at my hands as I speak. “No one. I don’t even know. He helped me when my car got jacked. I’ve seen him a few times, and then I got the job offer. After talking to you the other day, I took it. I took the job because he was the client. Then, things got messed up, and now I can’t have him” My voice hitches in my throat as I speak. Shaking my head, I ask, “What’s wrong with me? How can I like a guy who’s that twisted? He ordered a virgin call girl.”
“And you showed up,” Marty says, patting my knee. “Listen, life doesn’t always make sense.
Maybe this whole thing’s fate, maybe you’re supposed to be with this guy in the end—I don’t know— but it seems to me that’s what’s holding you back.”
“That fucked up guy. You’re totally sure that there is no way for him to be a client again?”
My eyes flick to his. I shake my head. “No, the madam was really pissed.”
“Then, raise the stakes. Tell her that it’s him or nothing.”
“And what if she says no?” I’m screwed if she says no.
“Then, you’re no worse off than you are now. Why not try to get the money and the man? Go for the gold, girlie. You’re only young once.” He bumps his shoulder into mine and smiles at me.
“Got any more clichés that you’re dying to use?”
“Nah, I just know how much they irritate you. Go find your boss, call girl. And if you work things out, I’m taking you shopping.” Marty gets a giddy look in his eye. “I saw this perfect little dress at Black Label. Any guy would love to rip it right off of you.”
I laugh and lean into his shoulder. The whole in the center of my chest, that painful ache that was consuming me, withers and I feel like maybe I can do this. I have to convince Miss Black to get Seai back. I can do that.