Mel stalks to her room. There’s a frosty silence between us. It’s nearly 2:00am by the time we get back to the dorm We pass my door first. I move to unlock it, but when I jab my key in and turn the knob, the door smacks into the couch. Again.
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“Damn it, Amber! Open the fucking door!” I’m about to lose my mind. It’s the middle of the night. There’s no one to report her to, and I am not sleeping in the hallway.
Mel stops a few paces away and turns back when she hears me yell. Her voice is quiet. “Come stay with us. You can beat the crap out of Amber in the morning.” She doesn’t wait for me to cave and follow her back to her room I watch Mel’s long curvy form walk down the hall and wonder if I know her at all. She’s a goddamn prostitute. How did I miss that? Am I that naïve? I suck in a breath of aii and let it out in a rush.
Running my hand through my hair, I push it back from my eyes and sulk down the hallway after her. She opens the door in silence. I follow her into the room and close the door quietly, assuming her roommate is already asleep, but the room is empty. We both live in the west tower at the far end of campus. It’s the cheapest dorm and the one farthest from everything.
Mel picks up a note next to the lamp after she turns it on. The little room is a photocopy of mine, minus my hideous roommate, Amber the skank. The walls are eggshell white with an industrial tile floor. Mel decorated it more poshly than I did. I could never afford the pretty curtains and thick throw rug that covers the floor. All the throw blankets, lights, and pictures make it feel like a home. My room doesn’t feel like that. It feels like the prison cell of a sociopath. Amber covered her half with sparkly crap and my half remains empty, barren, like my life.
Mel reads the note and puts it down. “She’s out for the night.” There’s an awkward pause that makes my mouth fill with cotton. I feel like I should apologize, but I don’t want to. She took me to fill out an application to be a hooker.
Mel presses her lips together and looks at me. “I didn’t mean to. ” she closes her eyes and shakes her head. Pressing a finger to her temple, she says, “I didn’t mean to upset you and I sure hope that we can still be friends.” She works her jaw after she carefully says each word and stares at me.
“I’m pissed, but I’m not stupid. Why wouldn’t we be friends anymore?” I feel a tug in my gut, a warning that I might actually lose her. It makes me step further into the room I can’t lose her. She’s my best friend and as close to family as I’ll get.
“You’ve got that look on your face. The one that says condemnation, damnation, and all those other nations where sleeping with a guy is frowned on and followed up with a swift banishment with brimstone.” Her hands move as she speaks, flying through the air. She’s really worried.
I sigh and rub the heel of my hand against my eyes. “Mel, oh my God, that’s not it. You walked me into a job interview to be a hooker. I thought I was applying to be a hotel clerk. They’re kind oi different, in case you didn’t notice. You fTickin’ blindsided me, that’s all.” That’s all, like that’s nothing major. My best friend is a hooker. My shoulders slump forward. I don’t want to fight anymore. I’m exhausted and I have to get up early to study, since I have to work tomorrow night. I sit down hard on a fluffy hot pink chair and pull a blanket over my lap.
Mel sits across from me on her bed. She pulls off her shoes and stockings, as she speaks. “You wouldn’t have come if I told you what it was, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or not—but you’re screwed. If you get one C, just one, you’re totally fucked. No more scholarship, no more college, poof! It’s gone. You’re walking the line already in Psych. You can’t fail Monday’s test. It kills your wiggle room, and you’ll have to pull straight A’s for the rest of the semester. You know you can’t do that working as much as you do. This is an upper level class, Avery. You’re almost done. It would suck to blow the whole thing now.”
I stare blankly at the wall as she speaks. I already know all this, but hearing it still stings. I don’t look at her. I feel more desperate every day. I can’t handle this on my own, but I am on my own. There’s no one to help me when I fall flat on my face, which seems like it’s going to happen soon. I’m on the downward slope and picking up speed. If things don’t change, I’ll crash. I can’t think about it. I push the thoughts away, unable to deal with the repercussions.
“How’d you end up working there?” I ask, still feeling uneasy, picking at the fringe of the blanket on my lap.
Mel looks at me cautiously. “I was doing what you are doing and falling behind. I’m not losing my scholarship. It’s my only way out of that hell hole. When I came here, I said that I wouldn’t go back Come hell or high water, I have kept that promise to myself.”
Determination burns in Mel’s eyes. My eyes just feel tired. I look at her, not understanding how Mel could do it. At the same time, I hear it in her voice—she can’t go back. I have nothing to go bad to, but still. I can’t do what she does. I want my first time to be with someone I love. I never, even for a second, thought about selling sex.
My mind goes in several different directions. I doubt she follows me when I say, “I admire you you know. You have more guts in one eyelash than I have in my entire body. I’m going down in flames and I can’t stop it.”
“Yes, you can,” she says, her voice filled with empathy. “Listen, Avery, you don’t have to do what I did, but you have got to do something. We both see the crash and burn racing up on you. Change something. Take control of your life so it doesn’t happen.”
“You think you can control life? What are you, new?” I shake my head and tuck my feet under my butt. “Life is random crap that happens. You can’t control it.”
“No,” Mel says, her voice full of conviction, “Your life is what you make it, and right now you’re letting a good life slip away. This is a good chance, Avery. Maybe it’s not the way you thought things would be, but working for Miss Black has been a godsend for me. I would have lost my scholarship and had to crawl home. No one said I’d make it. They thought I’d burn out and fail. That gave me more conviction to stay and fight. I’m not living like them. I refuse.”
Mel folds her arms over her chest. Her family abused the crap out of her. She was battered, neglected, and selling dime bags before she was 12 years old. Mel left her family as soon as she was old enough, and cut them off without looking back.
Meanwhile, it seems that all I can do is look back. If my parents were alive, this wouldn’t even be a consideration. I’d be living at home, eating my mom’s meatballs, and having my dad fix my car when it acts up. Instead, my life took an unexpected turn and here I am, fending for myself before I’m ready. I’m so not ready, but it’s sink or swim time and I’m drowning.
My voice is small when I speak. “I can’t let some guy have me and then take the money off his nightstand. I can’t get paid for sex. I just can’t. I know you mean well, but—”
“The guy doesn’t pay you, Miss Black does. It feels like a date, Avery, a really good date. And if you took the deal they offered you, it’d be better than that. You’d have insta-boyfTiend and he’d walk you through everything, Miss Virgin, which is way better than guessing,” Mel smiles sheepishly, like she’s thinking of something embarrassing. “I don’t know. It just doesn’t seem that bad to me. It sounds like dating made easy. and by the way, here’s some money.”
I smile at her. “You make it sound easy.”
“It’s easier than dating. You never know if the guy’s lying or where his thingie’s been. And he’s just trying to get into my pants anyway. This is easier.” Mel smiles at me.
I laugh. “Thingie? Is that the professional terminology taught to you by the prestigious hooker coop?”
“Co-op. Cute. Real cute.”
Shrugging, I grin, saying, “I try.”
“No you don’t. You’re just naturally wholesome, like butter. In little quantities you’re all right, but large doses—”
“You are so gross!” I throw a pillow at her as she finishes the sentence.
We talk about random things after that. I don’t want to entertain the idea of working for Miss Black, but it keeps jumping into my mind like a demented bunny rabbit. I start to doze off and spring! there it is again. And the question that bothers me most is this:
Would it be so bad?
I see those blue eyes and think maybe not, but I can’t cross that line. Something inside me holds me back.