As I walk toward my room, I run into Mel. She darts out of her room when she sees me walk by. I don’t feel like talking and I need to change.
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Mel doesn’t seem to care though, and yanks me by the elbow. “Whoa! Where do you think you’re going?” I whirl around and catch my balance before I fall over. Sand falls out of my pant leg onto the dingy gray carpet. Mel glances at the sand and back up at me. She crosses her arms over her ample chest and throws out her hip. Her head sways as she scolds me. “Have you lost your mind? I saw you with that guy on the beach. You can’t date anyone. Get your ass in here.” When I don’t move and flick my eyes longingly down the hallway, she snaps her fingers. “Now.”
I sigh. “Fine. Whatever.” I follow her into her room Her roommate is out. Mel has at least nine books open with pages marked with little sticky notes. She’s working on her research project.
“Don’t give me that shit, Avery. I saw you and if I saw you, Black could have.” She shuts the door. After moving a book, she extends her hand to the chair I usually take when I visit her room “Sit, and tell me what the hell you’re thinking. Black won’t pay you a cent if you violate your contract, which—by the way—you did by making out with some guy on the beach.”
My eyes feel tired, strained. I glance up at her. “How’d you find me?”
She cocks her head to the side and makes a face. “Do you think I’m stupid?” Tapping her finger to her lips, she says, “Let’s see, what are the three places Avery runs off to when she’s psychotically upset?” Mel ticks them off on her finger as she lists my three places. “One, that shitty old church out in timbuckfuckingtoo, which is a hell of a drive to make when you’re not already out there. Two, your parent’s grave. And three, Jones Beach, Field five. Seriously, what the hell is going through your head?” She folds her arms over her chest and taps her foot. Mel is still standing in front of me. I know she’s scolding me because she knows what’s at stake—everything, my whole life.
I don’t look at her when I speak. “I didn’t realize you knew all those places.”
“A girl can’t have a brain? Since your parents died, I know exactly where to find you when you go into that super funk, but Avery—after everything you went through to get that job and you already did the nasty with a client—why are you throwing it away?” Her arms fall to her sides and her voice softens a little.
“I’m not,” I say, feeling emotionally barren. “The guy on the beach was Sean. I ran out to the cemetery. You’re right about that.” She nods like damn straight I’m right. I glance up at her. “Please sit. Today’s been hard and I really don’t need you towering over me like you’re going to strangle me.”
Mel grumbles and then plops down on her bed. “Go on.”
“Sean was there. I didn’t see him at first.” I feel the story stick in my throat. I don’t want to tall
about it, but I need to. I tell her about the paper that fell out of his coat, his wife’s name, about what I thought. “But I was wrong. She died and I don’t know what happened to the baby, he doesn’t talk about it. He’s hollow, like me.” I’m staring into nothing as I speak. My voice echoes in my ears. I feel like I’m not even here anymore.
“Bullshit.” Mel rushes toward me, which shocks the hell out of me. Grabbing me by the shoulders, she pins me back in the chair. She shakes me hard, yelling in my face as she does it. “Wake the fuck up!” Mel releases me. I blink rapidly and look at her like she’s nuts. “You think this is a game? You don’t have the luxury to have that spaced out look on your face. One mistake Avery, just one goddamned mistake will send you into cardboard-box-land and you’ll never come back.
“This was a mistake. You’re falling for him That’s a bigger mistake. There’s nothing there for you. The guy is fucked up beyond repair. He hired a call girl so he wouldn’t have to deal with whatever shit happened to him It’s none of your business. He’s not yours. He never will be, so stop thinking about him like that.
“This will ruin you, Avery. Maybe you don’t see it yet, but I sure as hell do. And you’re not like him I know you think you are, I see it on your pasty face, but you’re not. He has no soul. That guy is dead inside. You aren’t. You’re still fighting back. Don’t give up, girl. As your best friend, as a girl who’s had her share of shit, don’t surrender. You and me, we’re survivors. You’re going to get through this. You’re going to finish college, get your master’s degree, and get the hell out of here. I know you will.”
Mel’s passion is contagious. I feel incredibly stupid for moping around, for attaching myself to someone who doesn’t want me. Swallowing hard, I ask, “How do you know? I mean, Sean seems—”
Mel leans toward me and places her hand on my shoulder. “Listen. I’m going to tell you how I know, and don’t think that I’m mean. I’m just telling you what’s real, okay?” I nod slowly. Fear pulses through my body. I can already tell that I’m not going to like what she has to say. “That boy don’t love you. He’s not even into you. He came to Black and asked for a virgin. That was it, Avery. You were the only one, so he took you. I was there when he called. He wanted a curvy blonde. Black said all we had was you. You’re not his type. You’re a warm pussy to fuck and nothing more. Avery, do your job and get the hell away from him.” She tightens her grip on my shoulder.
I can’t look at her. Inside my head, I know that’s all I am I’m a hooker, but sometimes it seems like more. My jaw locks as she speaks. When I try to talk, I work it to loosen the tense muscles. “You’re right. I know you’re right. ”
“And, nothing. I’m nothing to him All this is new to me. I can’t separate my heart from my body.” I blink slowly, trying to get the burning sensation in my eyes to stop.
Mel sits down across from me, but still within reach. “Admitting that it’s just sex is the first part. Doing it over and over again is what steels your heart. When you do it that way, you don’t know who they are and you won’t care. It’s money, it’s a stress-reliever, it’s fun—but it’s never love. Avery, you got to remember that. They want no strings, no emotional attachment, and that’s what we give them.” Mel pauses for a second and then glances at me, like she shouldn’t be asking. “What do you think about taking another client? It would help you get over this one.”
“I already told Black that I would.” My chest feels like it’s going to cave in. The pressure’s too much.
“Good. Good.” Mel pats my knee. “That’s the first step out of this. When you do it with another guy, you’ll see that what you feel for Sean is just a trick your mind’s playing on you; that it was only fucking. If you told Black that you want another client, she’ll have you agree to the person and sign the contract tonight before going to Sean. Sign them Don’t wait. It’ll keep things from getting more muddled. You can do this, Avery. It’s a good job.” Her eyes are so vibrant. She’s leaning toward me, trying to hold my gaze.
I nod slowly, like I’m stuck in a vat of gelatin. “I know it is, but I don’t know if I can shut him out. How do I do that?” I ask, glancing up at her. I feel so lost, so alone. I bury my face in my hands and breathe.
“It’s a job, Avery. Keep things that way. Let him lead and don’t kiss him, don’t give the chance for anything else. The guy has got to have some fetish shit going on. Drag it out of him and do it. That’ll shatter your prince charming version of him real fast.” She pats my knee again, and then grabs my hands and pulls me up. “You need some fun.” I start to protest, but she waves me off. “No, I know you gotta get ready, but you’ll like this fun. Come on.”
Mel drags me down the hallway and stops in front of my door. She grins at me with mischief her eyes. Mel presses her fingers to her lips, telling me to be quiet. Then she turns the knob and kicks open the door. The door makes a loud thud. Naked guy is standing at the counter. He jumps a mile. I can’t believe he’s still here. I look around for Amber. The light in the bathroom is on and the shower is running.
Mel walks in, sashaying her hips and making a beeline for naked dude. I follow her in and watch, leaving the door open behind me.
“Hey, ladies,” he grins at us, “Is it time for a threesome? I got my—” The smile falls off his face. Concern flashes in his eyes when he sees Mel coming for him
“I want you to take your skinny ass out of this room and never come back.” As she walks, Mel passes the turkey carcass and takes the carving knife. Mel flips it in her hand like she’s a ninja. My mouth falls open. So does naked guy’s.
He lifts his palms, “Ladies, please. I can do you both separately. That’s not a problem” His normal bravado is gone. His voice sounds like it’s stuck in his throat. Mel flips the knife. It turns handle over blade several times and then she catches it in her hand.
“Sure, pasty. Let’s do it. I’ve got a bit of a pain fetish though, so let’s just say that this won’t be pleasant—for you.” Mel smiles at him
Naked guy doesn’t speak. He glances across the room His clothes are at the foot of Amber’s bed.
He smiles at Mel like he’s going to say yes, then turns on his heel and runs. Naked guy nearly knocks me over, muttering crazy bitches under his breath and tears down the hallway. Laughter follows in his wake. Mel grins at me, and stabs the knife into the cutting board.
A few seconds later, we see naked guy running across the quad, out the window. I laugh. Apparently his exhibitionism was only for a lucky few ladies, because he’s screaming like a lunatic as he runs for the bookstore. I wonder if he plans on buying new clothes or hiding in the stacks.
“You knife juggling nut,” I say to Mel, laughing.
“Nobody plays wussy games like darts, not where I’m from.” She laughs and looks out the window. “Did you see his face?”
I did. Smiling, I joke, “I think Amber lost her fuck-buddy.”
As if summonsed, Amber appears in the bathroom doorway. Her hair is wrapped in a towel and she’s wearing a ratty old robe. She rolls her eyes when she sees us. “Get out of here, bitch,” she says to Mel, which was a mistake. No one says that to Mel.
Mel walks over to her and growls in her face, “What’d you call me, you little piece of—”
I tug Amber’s arm She doesn’t move. I hiss in her ear, “That was like the worst thing you could have called Mel. All those rumors about her growing up in the hood are true and you just pissed her off. You might want to run before she rips your face off.”
Amber comes to life. She frantically mutters things that make no sense and finally says, “I have to go.” She races out the door in her robe and doesn’t come back.
I hug Mel and say, “I owe you one. Thank you.”
She nods. “What are friends for if they can’t chase off hoes and guys with little winkies?” We both laugh. Mel turns to leave and says, “Get dressed in peace. I’ll check in with you in the morning. We can have pancakes. I’m running a syrup deficit.”
I watch her walk away. Confidence lines her shoulders, even though her life has sucked. It’s made her stronger and she’s better for it. I’m done moping. I’m not letting my past consume me. I don’t care what it takes, I’ll survive because I want to—on my own terms. Fuck everything else. I deserve a happy life.