“Fifty dollars,” she said softly, but with no embarrassment. That had left her long ago.
“Fifty?” The man cried, almost ready to walk right out of the bar. “That bitch over there only charges twenty.”
“She’s thirty-two, I’m seventeen,” she answered, a hard undertone leaking into her otherwise childlike voice.
The girl was thin, breasts barely filling an A-cup, hipbones sticking out at sharp angles just above the waistband of her jeans. She had stringy, pale blonde hair that laid naturally pin straight over her shoulders. She wore the faintest of make-up and smelled of cheap fruity perfume. She had on a tight, pink ribbed tank top and faded jean shorts. She had also donned bright pink platform stilettos, balancing on them like a professional.
But the most outstanding thing about her were her eyes. Above her cute, pointed pixie nose and swollen cupid’s bow lips were two brilliant green orbs, shining like jewels in the dim light of the bar. But aside from their inherent beauty, they were empty. There was no emotion in them- no cold, warmth, joy, sadness, hope. Nothing that let you know she felt anything. And they watched, unwavering, taking in everything she saw and immediately locking it away.
Her cute childlike face was molded into an inviting, seductive expression, but her eyes couldn’t seem to keep up. She had all the right moves, but her eyes betrayed her lie.
“Fifty bucks?” The man- an old, overweight, balding man in a cheap grey suit- asked again, his voice less sure now. He was considering the proposition.
“Seventy-five gets you a full hour,” she pushed, eager to do something to keep herself busy. Her voice was a little too mature for her age, but that only made the clients feel less guilty for what they did to her, not that it made any difference to her. “I’ve got a room next door.”
That seemed to be the answer he wanted to hear and downed the rest of his beer.
She finished off the double-shot of Jack she had bought with her fake ID and took his hand.
It would be okay, she told herself, the alcohol would make her brain numb by the time they made it to the room.
The man had left an hour ago, but she still hadn’t moved. The entire left side of her face throbbed, she could feel it starting to swell as she stared up at the fuzzy ceiling. Her hips were sore, too, and things lower.
But she had asked for it. Literally.
“Hit me,” she had told him. “Hit me, dammit!” And he had. More than once. He apologized after, but she never heard him, letting the pain consume her thoughts. And he went back home to his wife.
His wife, who probably lived in the suburbs in a nice, clean, peach-colored home. Four bedroom, two and a half bath, two car garage. They would have a perfect lawn, too. The wife herself was probably only average looking, wore her make-up subtle and only the best brands, diamond earrings from their tenth anniversary hanging from her ears, her hair professionally dyed and styled. She’d have a good, womanly job where she wore cream-colored skirt suits with low, conservative pumps. The woman couldn’t even wear stilettos in her dreams.
She closed her eyes and looked away, shutting off her thoughts. She couldn’t understand how she had ended up with this life, she had done nothing to deserve it. But that was life, you didn't have to understand, you just had to accept it.
She lay there for minutes on end, no thoughts crossing her mind, no emotions passing through her heart. She wished for sleep to overtake her, but she had just woken up a few hours before.
She focused on the pain in her face, letting it into her heart and mind. It was the only thing she felt anymore. Only thing she could feel anymore. The only thing that ever came back- that she could make stay. Everything else left sooner or later. Only the pain stayed. And she could never get enough.
She had to go back to the bar, she told herself, had to get another hundred before the night ended. She needed to eat. She’d been sick and hadn’t been able to work- or eat- for a few days. Plus, the man had ruined her shirt, she needed to get another.
She retrieved some ice from the ice machine down the hall to keep the swelling down- no one wanted to fuck damaged goods.
She held the ice to her skin until it burned before letting it drop it into the trash bin in the bathroom.
She dug through her bag- the one that held everything she owned- until she found her make-up. She reapplied it a little more heavily than before, but still trying to keep the natural look. She didn’t want to look like those old, jaded whores outside.
She slapped her right cheek a couple of time so the size difference between the two wouldn’t be so noticeable. No one wants to fuck damaged goods, she reminded herself.
She practiced a seductive, yet innocent smile in the mirror, trying to get the deadness out of her eyes. The hollow emeralds just stared back at her coldly.
Happy thoughts, she told herself, happy thoughts.
But she had none, and when she looked into the mirror again, all she saw was pain- a broken soul.
She screamed, slamming her hands on the counter. What was wrong with her? Didn’t she understand? No one wanted damaged goods! But even as she told this to herself, she knew she wouldn't change. She couldn't get enough of the pain. It was the only thing she had left.
Tears welled up, despite her efforts to push them back down, and her legs gave out beneath her. She cried against the cold tile floor, letting the chill seep into her skin.
She needed to feel something.
She was so sick of feeling numb.
But she wasn’t the only one.
Nobody knew why he went into the bar that night, not even himself. And if anyone asked why he had chosen her, no one could give an answer. He had been alone for a long time, no one interested him anymore. Everyone knew that. But tonight was different. She was different.
His eyes saw her as soon as he walked in. The skinny little thing sitting at the bar, shooting back liquor at a disturbing pace. Her eyes scanning the room intently.
He knew the look well, she was searching for prey. Some sucker she could whittle a little cash out of so that she might survive another day.
She wore a cheap cotton sundress that hung from her bony shoulders. Her eyes were hollow, slightly yellowed. Dark circles hung below them, a fading bruise on her cheek hiding under layers of make-up. She pulled her limp blonde hair to the side in a weak attempt to cover it.
Finally she saw him, noticed him staring, and a slow, predatory smile crept onto her face, those bright eyes remaining dead. She made an intimate “come-hither” motion, her expression changing to match.
He smiled- a real smile, not like the ones she gave- and approached her. “How much?” He asked boldly.
She looked him over, took in his fancy suit and expensive shoes. “A hundred dollars an hour,” she told him in a low whisper, leaning forward to give him a look down her dress.
“You’re hurt,” he said simply, nodding to her cheek.
Something passed through her eyes before she looked away and picked up another shot of liquor. “Fifty. I’m not going any lower. It’s the cheapest you’ll find here.”
He nodded slowly and opened his soft leather wallet, pulling out a crisp hundred dollar bill. “I want my full hour. Come on,” he said, taking her hand gently. He noticed no warmth in them, either.
“I have a room rented next door,” she began, but he cut her off and led her outside.
“We won’t need it,” he told her with a soft expression and led her across the street.
“Where are we going?” She asked, just a hint of an edge to her voice. She knew nothing good came out of diverging from the usual. It almost always ended up dangerous. And would probably cost her the rest of the night.
“On a walk,” he answered nonchalantly, heading toward the park downtown.
“A walk?” She asked, disbelief heavy in her voice. Nobody hired a prostitute to go on a walk.
His eyes, warm and brown, slid down to her. “You said one hundred dollars for an hour. You never specified for what. And I want to take a walk. It is a beautiful night for it, am I wrong?”
She looked at him with distrust, watching him warily as he tilted his head up to the clear night sky.
He had a sharp jawline, clean shaven, and was maybe twenty. His hair stayed spiked up on its own accord, making him look very youthful, but something about him made him seem so much older. Maybe it was the way he dressed- he wore a dark expensive suit and she was ninety-nine percent sure the ring on his thumb was real gold. No twenty-year-old dressed like that. At least no twenty-year-old looking for a prostitute.
“Why do you look at me like that?” He asked, eyes still looking to the sky.
She frowned, bothered by his nonchalance. They should be heading up to the room by now, getting this over with. She didn’t like how he didn’t seem to be interested in sex. It wasn’t natural. “I don’t trust you,” she said honestly.
That made him smile again and he looked at her, giving her hand a light squeeze and motioned for them to keep walking.
“Who did that to your face?” He asked, his voice no longer pleasant, but cold, like hers.
“I ran into a wall,” she said lightly. “I’m very clumsy,” she added in a cute voice. Sometimes men liked clumsy, gave them a reason to be protective and manly.
“The bastard should have a taste of his own medicine,” the man said darkly, not accepting her flimsy excuse.
She frowned again and looked away, shame washing over her. Her frist feeling of regret in a while. “I asked him to do it.”
She heard the man take a deep breath, he seemed shocked by her answer, but quickly recovered. “Why?” was all he asked, no judgment in his words.
She couldn’t look up again, meet those honest eyes. For some reason, he seemed kinder than the other men she dealt with. He seemed to actually be interested in her, and not just for her sex. That bothered her, made her uneasy and fidgety. It just wasn’t natural.
“I needed to feel something. I’d rather feel pain than nothing at all.” Her voice came out so softly she wasn’t sure she had even said anything. But he had heard, his thumb began massaging her hand faintly. It tickled, the little motion sending spikes of electricity through her body.
“What is your name?” He asked abruptly, leading them down a dark path through the park.
She looked up at him finally, giving him one of her practiced smiles. “Whatever you want it to be, baby,” she said sourly.
“I want to know your real name,” he asked kindly, ignoring her tone and giving her another look that made her uncomfortable. He was too nice. Too honest. Too much. “Please tell me your real name.”
“Rebecca” she said, her voice going dead, her eyes returning to the ground. She couldn’t stand looking at him. Why couldn’t he just fuck her and be done with her like all the other guys. She didn’t like all this talking. She wasn’t used to it. Even the other whores didn’t talk to her much. They were all jealous of her youth. “You can call me Rebecca.”
He knew it wasn’t her real name, but he also knew it was the closest he was going to get. As a sign of good faith, he accepted it. “Hello, Rebecca, you can call me Caleb.”
She ignored the name, knowing that after tonight she wouldn’t see him again anyways. “Why are you being so nice to me?”
“What if I told you that I could make it go away?” He asked her, instead of answering her question.
She laughed bitterly, shaking her head. “Making it go away isn’t the problem. The problem is making it stay.”
“Making what stay?” He asked her, sounding sincerely interested. He stopped and faced her, not surprised to find her watching the ground again. She couldn’t seem to look at him. And he didn’t make her. She was still hurting inside, too many people had used and abused her. She didn’t know kindness yet. But she would.
“Anything,” she whispered, “anyone.”
He reached out to touch her and she let him. He pushed back the pale hair that covered her face and lifted up her chin with a gentle touch. “I’ll stay.”
She smiled at him, but it was one of her fake ones. There was no real feeling behind it. “I’m sure you will. You’ll stay until the hour ends.” She had heard it all before.
“This life hurts when happiness doesn’t work,” he told her, as if to explain away her animosity of the world.
She laughed again, her voice still filled with bitterness. “Has anyone told you your advice sucks? Here, I’ll give you your money back, just let me go back to the bar.”
“Some say,” the man continued like she hadn’t said anything and ignored the money she held out, "that even anger is better than misery. Because it gives you a raison d'etre.”
“I prefer agony,” she muttered, following reluctantly now as they walked through the park.
“But isn’t love a better alternative than both?” He asked.
Love? She watched him with a doubtful eye. She knew he looked too good to be true. He didn’t seem to be dangerous, just lonely- or crazy. But she knew she should have just passed on him. She didn’t need the extra money that bad.
“I have a plan,” he said suddenly when she didn't show any signs of answering, grinning once again. She had to admit, he had a nice smile. It was friendly, not hesitant or shady like the other men. He wasn't ashamed to be seemed with her.
“A plan for what?” She asked boredly, ready for this to be over with. She didn’t like the sound of this “plan”. God, she hoped she wouldn’t be the victim of some psycho murderer. That would ruin her night.
“Take my hand and I’ll show you a world you can understand,” he said, holding out his other hand for her to take.
She grabbed it just to go along with him, not like he would just let her go now. He held them up to his lips, hiding his smile. “You’re hurt, wounded. You’ve been abandoned too many times. You’ve gone numb and pain is your answer. But what if there was something that tied you to the person you loved forever, so that he could never leave? So that you would never feel pain?”
“I hope you’re talking about handcuffs,” she said coldly, “because I am not getting married. I know I said ‘anything’ but-“
“I was thinking on a more metaphysical level,” he said with an amused chuckle.
She arched an eyebrow, her eyes staring into his and not liking what she found. They were too deep. Nothing like hers. Meaning and memories swirled in the depths of his eyes. There were nothing in hers.
“You mean drugs?” She said hopefully.
He smiled and pulled her closer, encircling her waist in his arms, and looked down into her eyes, seeing only his reflection. “Eternity is lonely when you must spend it alone. I have traveled this world ten times over by myself. Nothing interests me anymore, I’ve grown tired of it all. Sometimes I think my heart’s gone numb. If you help ease my loneliness, I can promise that you will never be empty ever again.”
“You can’t promise that,” she snapped, anger coming to cover this vulnerability growing in her heart. “You think you’re the first person to say that? You think no one’s ever come and promised to spirit me away? Fix all of my ‘problems’? Well, guess what, you’re not and you can’t.” She had tried it before, taken an offer from one of her Johns. She had even stayed with him for a while, but in the end, she was just a whore in his eyes, and when he got bored of her, she was back at the bar again. Only with her heart cleaved in two. That wasn’t going to happen again.
He just looked at her with caring eyes, this thumb coming up to brush her lips softly, his fingers still entwined with hers. “Those eyes have seen so much,” he whispered.
Her throat closed and she tried to look away, but he kept her there, where she could see him. But she had to look away. She couldn’t take the emotion in his eyes, the look he was giving her. She had thought she’d seen them all: pity, anger, guilt, disappointment, fleeting happiness, joy. But she hadn’t seen this one. This look that melted the layers of ice around her heart. All the looks had always been directed at her, but this one looked into her. He didn’t just look at her, he saw her. For once, she wasn't just a whore.
Suddenly, her heart raced and she could feel tears in her eyes. She quickly tried to shove away the emotions, to block them, lock them away again so that she couldn’t be hurt. But he drew her into a hug and she felt another layer of ice melt. He was so warm against her, his arms wrapped around her as if to shelter her from the world. No one had held her like that. Not even the few times the men had stayed to cuddle. They were all ridden with guilt, regret, sadness, loneliness. They needed someone to be there for them, to reassure them that it would be alright. No one had been there for her. Not until now.
“It’s alright,” he coaxed, rocking her gently, “I’m right here. I’ll always be right here.”
“Stop lying,” she whispered, words choked by her quiet cries. “Please, stop lying to me.”
“I’m not,” he told her sincerely, his voice calming her. “I’m here for you. I'm here to save you.”
She laughed, but this time it was just a little less bitter, a little more curious. “Save me from what?”
“All of this,” he told her. “I told you, I can help you. I asked you before: what if there was a way to tie us together forever? A way that ensure that no matter how far away I was, I’d always be able to find you. That no matter what happened, I’d still be there? That no matter how fast I run, that I’d never be able to leave you because you’d always be a part of me?”
She smiled, and it felt odd on her face. She hadn’t practiced this one. She knew that she shouldn’t believe him, everybody always left. There was no such thing as forever. But the words, the empty promises, they were still nice to hear. And even nicer to believe. “Would I still be numb?”
He shook his head and replied honestly, as if he really believed what he was saying. “No, never. I would show you so many new feelings. So many new things outside of this small world you live in now. You would be happy.”
“Happy?” She asked, the sound of the word tripping awkwardly over her tongue. “I don’t know how to be happy.”
“You will in my world,” he answered. “Would you like to see it?”
She laughed again, the bitterness slowly fading, so that now she sounded only jaded. She was letting her eyes close with his arms still wrapped around her. The feeling would end, just like everything else. But it felt so much better than pain, so much more filling, so much less hurtful. Her body began to relax and she almost reached out to touch him, but some part kept her back. “If there were such a world, I would love to see it. I’m so sick of this one. I want to feel something.”
“Are you sure?” He asked.
She nodded. “I’m positive. But-“
He didn’t let her finish. He let her hands drop from his and grasped her face in his hands, one of his many smiles flashing onto his face. “You’ll thank me later.”
“Wait, what-“ she began, her words dying when she saw his new smile. This one was so different than the others before. It was wider, and showed all of his teeth, pearly, white and sharp. His two canines longer and sharper than the rest. That just wasn’t natural.
“Don’t worry,” he told her tenderly, his eyes still brown and warm and kind, “when the lights go up, you’ll understand.”
And then he bit her. She could feel her life being drained from her, stolen away from her as if it wasn’t hers in the first place, as if she'd just been holding it. Slowly, the world blurred, her heart slowed, her breathing stopped. And everything went black.
She opened her eyes and saw him lying beside her, resting on one hand, watching her hungrily. They were inside now. She knew she had been sleeping for a while. She could no longer feel her heart beat, but there was so much more to replace that. The colors, once before dull and dry, seemed so colorful and vivid. And the sounds, she could hear everything. She could feel everything. Especially him. He was so close beside her, wearing just a t-shirt and jeans now, one of his muscuar arms entwined with hers, his fingers drawing abstract designs on her skin. The soft touches sent little sparks up and down her body, making her shiver in the best way.
“You’re still here,” she said softly, her heart doing a little flip.
He smiled at her, one finger reaching out to trace her jawline. “I’m still here,” he repeated, his voice just as soft as it ever was, and leaned in for a kiss.
Her pulsed jumped just for a moment and she felt a thrill go through her body. She had a light feeling of floating on air, warmth all through her body. A smile- a real smile- tugged at her lips and she felt this feeling of contentment. No… it wasn’t contentment, it was happiness. She felt happy. And for once, she felt no pain. She had had enough. No more asking for it rough. No more pain without love.
“You know I’ll always be here for you,” he whispered against her lips and kissed her.