A fiction I wrote for class last year.
The clock struck midnight.
“I have to go,” I hastily rolled away from Scott’s suffocating embrace and started to pick my clothes off the carpet. I hated the broad, wall-length mirror in front of me. I tried not to look at my reflection as I wiggled into my grease-stained black jeans. It was one thing to degrade your dignity, but it was another to look into the face of guilt after your dignity had been tempered with. Scott sat up in bed and reached over for his pack of American Spirit cigarettes and lighter.
“What’s the hurry?” he murmured, lighting the cigarette.
I pulled my faded brown hoodie over my black blouse. “I have school tomorrow.” As I scooped my purse from the floor, I caught my reflection in the mirror and winced. My eyes were two deep brown pools of shame, ringed with the shadows of insomnia. Behind me, Scott exhaled and a cloud of smoke escaped his pudgy purple lips. Those disgusting, filthy purple lips. I suppressed the urge to flee this dingy motel room, but my feet were rooted to the moldy gray carpet. I needed my $150. I didn’t spend two hours with him for nothing.
It was legally and socially frowned upon for a 42-year-old man to be sleeping with a 17-year-old girl, even if the man was a wealthy manager of an established automobile company.
“You’re ripping me off,” he said, but he swung his thick thighs over the bed and strode naked to his slacks, draped over the lone chair near the dull brown curtains. He drew his leather wallet from the pocket and walked over to me, his steely gray eyes locked on mine. He held out two $50 bills.
“I thought we agreed on $150.”
“We did, if you satisfied me completely,” he said nonchalantly. “You disappointed me today. Your performance wasn’t as good as the last two nights. Now take your damn money and get the fuck outta here.”
I said nothing, although my cheeks were aflame. Wadding the bills into my pocket, I turned to leave, but he gripped my wrist and tugged me so hard, they left red lines against my pale skin. His clenched jaw was inches from my face. The putrid stench of his breath stung my nostrils as he hissed, “Remember, you came to me. I’m not the desperate one.”
I yanked my wrist from his menacing grasp and ran toward the door. It slammed behind me, but his last words escaped through the crack: “Filthy little cunt.”
The icy January wind slapped my face as I trudged through the white mounds of snow. My breaths manifested into little clouds of mist in front of my face and my naked ears burned from the cold. During the long subway ride back from Brooklyn to The Bronx, Scott’s words kept ringing in my ear. Those three words, barked in his deep, gravelly tone, burned in the pit of my stomach and coursed through my veins like poison. “Filthy little cunt.” I forced the tears back.
I climbed the steps to my apartment, a shabby three-story building occupied by five families. My family lived on the second floor with a Chinese family. They had their own room and we had ours. We shared the kitchen and bathroom on the first floor. I had to tiptoe across the wooden floorboards as they creaked mercilessly beneath my slush-covered boots. I slid my key into the keyhole of my room and turned the loose knob.
The slice of light from the hallway illuminated the tiny room just enough for me to make out my siblings, Sean and Kaylee, sprawled on the mattress in the center of the cluttered space, their chests rising rhythmically as they slept.
And sleeping near the door, with her back against the wall, was my mother. She must’ve dozed off while waiting for me to return. Before I could close the door, she opened her eyes and her cracked lips relaxed into a smile as she focused on me.
“Cierra, you’re home. You got me so worried.” she whispered. I leaned in and clasped her calloused palms, letting the loving warmth of them flow into my pained, cold ones.
“Sorry I’m late, mom. The subway got delayed for two hours.”
She swallowed the lie easily.
“Well, you’re home safe, and that’s all that matters. Get some sleep. You have to wake up for school – I mean, for work tomorrow.”
She still felt guilty that I’d dropped out of school five months ago so I could work a full day job waiting tables at Grimaldi’s, a famous pizza joint in Brooklyn. Her job as a janitor wasn’t enough to sustain even a tiny room in this building. Furthermore, the twins were advancing into high school next year. If I didn’t quit school to work, we wouldn’t be able to afford rent, groceries, my siblings’ education and other necessities.
I reached into my pocket and pressed the night’s earnings into her palms.
“$100!” she gasped. “Where did you get the money? Your salary doesn’t come in until next week.”
I plastered a big smile. “Yes, but this was all from tonight’s tips. I served some wealthy customers and they really liked me, so they tipped well. Give this to Ms. Carter when she comes to collect the rent. We’re five days late, but better late than never.”
She brushed her thumbs over the bills, and when she lifted her chin to look at me, tears had welled at the sides of her crinkled eyes. “Thank you, love,” her voice was breaking as she struggled to keep it to a whisper. “I’m so sorry you had to sacrifice so much for us. I’m sorry my job isn’t enough –”
“Mom, stop apologizing,” I cut her off gently. “This isn’t your fault. When dad died, you were the breadwinner and you’ve tried to keep us alive each day by sacrificing your own needs. It’s time I bring something to the table while I can.” I glanced at my sleeping siblings. “Besides, just because I dropped out of school, doesn’t mean Sean and Kaylee should.”
She hugged me and kissed my forehead. “I am so proud of you. Your dad would be too.”
Her words ripped the Band Aids from deep wounds I’d buried in my heart. She wouldn’t be proud of me if she knew what I was doing several nights a week after work. Dad definitely wouldn’t either. But mom didn’t have to know. Neither did Sean and Kaylee.
My dream of being a famous writer had dimmed years ago since my father’s death. But now wasn’t the time to rekindle it. Right now, I was the teenager trying to save her family from the brink of poverty.
I closed the door and the last ray of light disappeared, plunging us back into discreet darkness.