I parted his legs; they felt sticky under my hands and the coarse, black hairs that covered his meaty flesh peeled back from my palms in slow, wet kisses.
I smiled, opening my lips ever so slightly – they loved that kind of thing, sick bastards – and leaned towards him so my breasts were resting against his chest.
He was panting already, heavy, greedy breaths. I made my way slowly down towards his stomach, my mouth brushing past the fat rolls of his skin, until I met the waistband of his white briefs. I pulled at the material, sliding his pants down. I wanted to close my eyes. I always wanted to close them at this point. But I never did.
I let out a pleasurable whine, pretending to be taken aback by the sight of his shriveled package. He smirked arrogantly back at me. Idiot.
That kind of stunt normally got me a tip, but I didn’t really do it for the money. Acting like it didn’t look like a pile of sagging prunes made it easier for me. His body was my canvas and my eyes would carve the picture that I wanted to see. I had to sell it to him. Make us both believe that I wanted it too, and then he would pay and he’d keep paying for an hour with my flesh.
I looked up at him from beneath my eyelashes. He was staring at me, his bottom teeth jutting outwards like he was bracing himself. I felt my smile faltering as I watched the lustful saliva dribble down his lips. I looked away before he could see my revulsion, and leaned towards his sweaty prunes.
I was fifteen when Violet found me. My stepfather had turned nasty and my mum…well, it was him or me, and I wouldn’t have smacked her teeth in.
It had been a rough few months and the autumn leaves had started to turn from golden, crisp browns to grey crumbles as the bitter cold stole away the last of the sun’s rays.
Violet wasn’t like the others I’d seen on the street: the bearded, old men with their dogs; the gaunt, cocaine stretched faces; or the wide-eyed, scrawny newbies like me. She was sophisticated. Wise.
I remember admiring those carefully painted red lips of hers. She was tall – really tall – and wearing an over-sized fur coat that fell across her bony shoulders. Her cheeks were drawn so far inwards they looked like they’d been pinched in with pegs. She had this pair of penciled eyebrows too, with an arch so high that she looked like she was constantly judging you.
I had squinted up at her, wondering what hell had come to see me next. But she surprised me.
“Are you cold?” She didn’t wait for an answer; she just pulled the fur from her back and wrapped it around me.
I stroked the soft material, wrapping it further around my shoulders and looked back up at her.
“Come,” she said, holding her lean fingers out to me. “You must be hungry.”
I didn’t hesitate to take her hand, and as we walked, I found myself leaning against her, soaking in the warmth of her skin on my cold cheeks. I didn’t care that she was a stranger, that I didn’t know where we were going, all I could think of was the heat. And food. I hadn’t eaten in days and everything before that had been scraps, things I’d found in bins, odd sandwiches people had given me and chocolate bars I’d sneaked into my pockets. Even the mention of food made my stomach grumble.
We arrived at a house. It was large and tucked away from the crowded streets. I followed her inside and up the stairs where we were greeted by a narrow hallway. My heart was beating fast under my jacket, my head was spinning and I worried that I might fall right over.
The hall was a dim shade of red and lined with dull, brown doors. Most were closed, but I dared to spy a look in the ones that weren’t. They were all girls. Some lying across the beds, some chatting to other girls, some listening to music, and some smoking. Some of them stared back and some didn’t.
My whole body was shaking and my stomach lurched with each step I took, dropping in on itself like a swimmer diving into water. I ducked my chin deep into the furs, wanting to hide myself away, but I knew I had to ask.
“W-who are you?”
Violet glanced back at me and smiled. “Name’s Violet Blush. I look after the girls here.” She hesitated. “What’s your name, doll?”
“Cute,” she replied.
I felt pleased, no one had ever called me cute before. “Thanks.”
She shot me a look, her eyebrows arching even further up her forehead. “That’s not good, doll. We don’t need cute.” She stopped walking. There was a door ahead of us that marked the end of the hallway. “You gotta earn your place here. You work hard and you’ll never have to worry again.”
“You’re offering me a job?”
Violet grinned slightly, “Yes.”
“What do I have to do?”
“…Sales – and think of a good name.” She nodded at the door. “Want to see your new room?”
After a client I always sat in the third booth from the back, beside the window. I liked looking out at the people who passed me by. Creating stories for them was my favorite way of escaping my own reality. That and strong coffee.
I really needed a coffee after that last client. After last night too. I was in bed, unable to sleep, when I heard it.
I rushed downstairs with some of the others to see what the hell it was.
The window beside the front door was smashed, shattered glass lining the plastic wooden floor.
“Careful!” Violet had shouted at us. “Mind your feet.”
“Who did this?” I asked her.
“Kids, I’m guessing. Now, go back to bed. I’ll sort it.”
I stared at the glass. There was blood on it. It was almost like someone had tried to reach for the door handle, like they were trying to get inside.
I waited till the others had left, before asking her, “Do really think it was kids?”
“Course, doll. Go on, back to bed now.”
I shook my head of the memory and turned my focus back to the window.
I watched a tall blonde man as he hurried across the road, his brown, shiny buttoned coat and briefcase swishing with each quick stride. That’s Martin. He works in an office doing…accounts. He’s desperately unhappy, wife’s having an affair with his best friend. He knows it, everyone knows it. What does he do? Buys her a diamond necklace and tries to pretend it’ll all go away. Denial’s a bastard. Poor guy.
I smiled to myself, already feeling less on edge.
“What can I get you?”
I broke my gaze from the window and looked up.
The waiter smiled at me, his eyes creasing slightly at the sides. He must have been new. I’d not seen him before.
His hair was long and thick, rippling in dark, messy waves behind his ears and in urgent need of a cut.
I eyed the frilly pink apron tied around his hips and cocked an eyebrow.
His grin widened as he saw me looking.
“Coffee, black. Cheers,” I replied.
He noted it down onto his pad with a nod. “Anything else?”
“Just the coffee.”
I blinked at him. “Yes, certain.”
“It’s really rather good. I just had some.”
“Really, I’m fine.” My eyes flashed disdain. I didn’t understand how upbeat some people could be.
He shrugged again, still smiling. “One black coffee coming right up.”
I leaned back, pressing my neck against the cool plastic of the seat. My hands fumbled, searching my pockets for a cigarette. I should have had one before I came inside. I was desperate for something. Anything to calm my nerves. Four years of selling myself and you’d think I’d be use to it, but I’m not.
I asked Violet once if it ever gets easier. She just said, “Sales is a tough gig, doll. Not many have got the knack, you should be proud you do.”
I didn’t feel proud, I felt dirty. It was like having a thick layer of invisible sludge pasted onto my skin. Sometimes I wondered if others could see it, like I had some huge sign slapped onto my forehead. The dirt didn’t come off either, no matter how hard I scrubbed. It just lay there, festering.
I squirmed in my seat. I needed a shower. Normally I’d at least dab my hair down and splash my face in the hotel room, but I didn’t even linger for that long today. I just wanted to get out.
I’d been feeling tense recently and it wasn’t just the smashed window that had me on edge. I had this strange feeling, for a few weeks now, like something or someone was watching me and I couldn’t shake it.
“You’re imagining it, doll,” Violet had said when I told her.
I rubbed my eyes. I was tired, I knew that much. I hadn’t been sleeping well, not since I started getting these weird feelings.
I shuffled in my seat; I could feel the previous guy leaking out of me, weaving down between my legs. I squeezed my thighs together, crossing one over the other and tried to forget. But I could still feel his sweaty skin against mine, the sound of his heavy pants. I shuddered.
He’d passed me a sealed envelope after he was done. “It’s all in there and a little extra,” he added, as he slipped his wedding ring back on. He’d taken it off before I’d gotten there, not that that would have made a difference. A client is a client. Married or not.
I wanted to roll my eyes at him. I wanted to tell him that just because he took his ring off, didn’t mean he wasn’t a cheater. But I didn’t. I just smiled at him sweetly, like you do with clients.
It didn’t surprise me that he was married, to be honest. Most of them were. But I always felt sick at how casual some of them were about it. Of course, there were those who didn’t want you knowing anything about their lives. Those that were desperate to hide the fact that they were married, but there were subtle hints. I always knew. The faded strip of skin around their wedding finger, the nervous disposition, the small, dingy, out-of-the-way hotel rooms they chose.
I shook my head and looked back to the window.
I jumped. The waiter was standing beside my table, a cup of steaming coffee clasped between his hands.
“I do it all the time. Great fun, isn’t it?” he continued.
“I don’t know what you mean.” I don’t know why I lied. It just seemed weird to share one of my private hobbies with a stranger.
“Oh, well you should try it.” He nodded towards the window. “Ok, look – see that guy over there. What do you think he’s doing?”
“I dunno, walking.”
He laughed and shook his head, “Aw come on, you’ve got to do better than that. Where’s he walking to?”
I stared blankly back at him, playing the fool. He was ridiculous.
“Ok,” he said. “So I reckon he’s just robbed a bank.”
“What?” He said, his grin widening.
“You wouldn’t be walking if you’d just robbed a bank.”
“Well, what would you do?” he asked me, folding his arms over his pink apron.
“Yeah, if you wanted to get caught. This guy – he’s the real deal, a proper expert. Right now, everyone’s rushing around looking for some guy on the run, but our guy, well he’s not running anywhere. It’s genius.”
I snorted again. It was so stupid. He was so stupid. And then I was laughing. It felt strange. I couldn’t remember the last time I had laughed. Not for real. I was so used to faking it. So use to pretending, that I’d forgotten what it actually felt like. And it felt good.
I cleared my throat, embarrassed, and pulled a note out from my pocket to pay for the coffee, but as I did, a few others fell and scattered to the floor. I hastily snatched them back.
His eyes widened and I wondered what he was going to do, but he just tapped his nose and said, “I guess, he’s not the only one.”
I found myself visiting the café more and more after that. Even when I didn’t have clients.
We didn’t talk much, but I could see him watching me, as he cleaned the other tables and took orders. Sometimes he’d nod at the window like he did the first time and say something like, “That one – she’s an international spy,” or “That old lady is part of a drug cartel,” or even, “He’s just won the lottery and lost it all on one fatal poker game.” And each time I’d laugh and feel just a little more like myself.
But every time I left that café, every time I left him, I found that the sensation of dread, the tingling feeling of eyes watching me would rush back, and all that laughter would die and I’d feel scared all over again.
One day, when I was sat in the café, I noticed he wasn’t wearing his usual pink overalls.
“What happened to your apron?” I found myself asking him.
He looked down at the black material tied around his waist and sighed. “Oh, yeah. They got me a standard one. When I started working here they didn’t have any spares. The pink version is really for the female staff.”
“Isn’t that a little sexist?”
He nodded back at me, “Extremely.”
“Well, can’t you complain?”
“Well, I suppose I could.”
“You should!” I found myself grinning at him. “We should hold a protest.”
He nodded along with me, his grin getting wider and wider. “Yes, yes, we should!” He looked around the cafe, as he untied his apron.
I stared at him, a little bewildered. He surely wasn’t going to actually protest…was he?
“This is for all the male waiters who want to wear pink!” He cried, slamming the apron down onto the tiles.
I clapped a hand over my mouth to stop myself from laughing. I couldn’t believe he was actually doing it.
“I refuse to work until my pink apron is returned to me!” He looked down at the black folds on the floor and then stamped on them.
I couldn’t stop laughing. Everyone was watching him, staring in disbelief as he kicked at the apron, hands flailing in the air. He was insane.
I pushed myself up from my seat and shouted, “Bring back the pink aprons!”
He grinned at me, as we chanted together.
“Eric, what are you doing?” a woman shouted from the across the room.
He stopped shouting and looked back at her. “Protesting?”
“Out the back. Now.” Her shrill tones softened as she looked around the café. “I’m terribly sorry, ladies and gentlemen. Please enjoy a complimentary slice of walnut cake.”
I wasn’t sure how long I waited there for him, but when he pushed through the glass doors of the café, I rushed after him.
“Hey!” I called out. “Hey – Eric!”
He turned and stared at me.
“What happened?” I said, hurrying towards him.
“She fired me. Apparently protests about aprons aren’t good for business.”
“Oh shit, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for you to get fired…what you gonna do?”
He shrugged, “I dunno…maybe you could lend me some of your stolen money to tide me over? It’s kind of your fault. I mean, you did say I should hold a protest.”
I rifled through my pockets, pulling a wad of cash out. Violet would kill me if she knew. I’d have to make something up, tell her that one of the clients cheated me out of a few twenties.
“Woah, woah!” Eric said, raising his hands up at me. “I was joking – but seriously, did you mug someone?”
I smirked back at him, “Maybe. Take it. I owe you.”
“Thanks, but I’ll be OK.”
“I didn’t steal it really, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
He hesitated and then reached out for my hand. I waited for him to take the cash from me, but he simply pushed my hand gently back down to my side.
“Maybe you could get me a job instead?” he said. “What do you do?”
Shit. “Uhm…I work in sales.” Shit.
“Oh, right…what do you sell? Are you one of those irritating cold callers that ask me if I want double glazing?”
“Er…no…I sell…clothes…” I replied hesitantly. It wasn’t strictly a lie. I did sell clothes. Only, people paid to see me take my clothes off.
“So you work in a shop then?”
I nodded. Violet’s house was sort of like a shop.
“Reckon you could get me something? I’d make a mean salesman.”
“Er…I don’t think they’re looking.”
“Ah well,” he sighed. “Name’s Eric.” He stretched out his hand to me.
I smirked, my own hands not moving from my hips. “I know, remember?”
“Yeah, but we haven’t been introduced formally. So…” He wiggled his fingers.
I rolled my eyes, but I could feel my face flush as I took his hand. “Lexi.”
“What?” I said, suddenly self-conscious.
“It’s just…you don’t look like a Lexi.”
I tried not to smile, but I couldn’t help myself. “Maybe I’m not then.” I pulled my hand from his and turned on my heels.
“Hey! Not Lexi!” He called after me.
I hesitated and glanced over my shoulder.
“You wanna grab a drink sometime? You know, somewhere other than this place?” He made a small gesture back at the café.
I could feel my heart beating; I could hear Violet’s voice already, screaming at me. We weren’t meant to see men. Not like this. Not for free.
I stared at him, his long hair that needed cutting, his cute dimpled chin, that ridiculous smile. I wanted to say yes. I wanted to say yes, so badly. But I couldn’t. I knew it would never work. If he knew who I was. If he found out. I couldn’t do that to him.
“I’m sorry,” I said, taking a step back. “I’m…I can’t.” And then I ran.
Violet eyed me like vulture, as I entered the house. “You look like hell. Was it that bad?”
I kept my eyes to the floor; I didn’t want her to know that I’d been crying. “It was fine,” I replied. “New guy, Hamish, is it? He seemed happy and I got a good tip from Dick.”
“I’m sure he prefers Richard.”
“Dick suits him better,” I responded, handing the cash over.
She counted it quickly between her fingertips and looked back at me. “Good work. Where do you go all this time, eh?”
I shrugged, “Just for a coffee.”
“…I’ve got another client for you.”
“Tomorrow. Now go have a shower – you reek of Dick.”
I shouldn’t have let myself, but my mind couldn’t help but wonder what if I’d said yes to Eric. What would it have been like? What would he have worn, if not his usual black trousers and tee? I needed to stop. I was tormenting myself.
I reached the hotel door. Number ninety-eight.
It was red, my least favourite colour, and I could see blue spots underneath where the paint had chipped. I’d been to this hotel before. I hated it. The way the beds creaked, the curtains that didn’t entirely cover the windows, even the way it smelt. Like mothballs.
I let out a long deep breath. I couldn’t think of Eric any longer. I needed to make my sale.
The door opened with a rasp, but I couldn’t see anyone inside.
I paused for a moment, before taking my first step. “Hello?”
The room was dark, but I could just make out a figure on the bed.
“Why are you hiding in the dark?” I asked softly, as I moved closer to them. “Let’s turn this on so I can see what a big boy you are.”
I reached for the lamp, but they stopped me, catching my wrist. Their hold was hard. Too hard.
“Ouch baby,” I said, trying not to sound irritated or nervous. “You have one hard grip there. Why don’t I show you how hard mine is?”
They laughed. “Clothes?”
His hand tightened around my wrist, making me gasp.
“You know, I don’t even care that you lied to me,” the voice said. “I don’t even care that you’re a whore. Don’t you think I knew that? I just wanted to be with you. I even got that ridiculous job. Paraded around like some idiot, just so you’d notice me! And the funny thing was, I thought you liked me.”
“I didn’t want to pay for you. Not like the others. I’m not some old pervert who wants his fix! I love you. I wanted you for you!”
“This isn’t funny!” I stammered. “Who the hell are you?”
They laughed and as the light burst into the room, I felt every inch of me quiver.
It was Eric.
He stared at me for a moment, his eyes red, like he’d been crying.
“The more I watched you, the more I fell in love…but you’ve ruined it. You bitch! We could have been happy!” He pulled me forwards and slapped me across the face.
I fell, knocking my head back against the bedside table. The lamp wobbled, throwing dancing streaks of light across the ceiling.
I clutched the back of my head. I had to be dreaming. This couldn’t be real. I squeezed my eyes shut.
“Look at me!” He yelled. He was right in my face now. I could feel the heat from his breath.
He grabbed my cheeks, squeezing them tightly between his fingers and pushed my head down. “Open your damn eyes!”
I opened them. There was money, scattered in heaps across the carpet.
“Look at what you’ve made me do!” He spat, forcing me down onto the bed.
I pushed at his hands, screaming, scratching at his skin, but he was too strong.
“Sell me your clothes!” he laughed, his hands ripping at my buttons, tearing the material apart like some savage animal.
I screamed and thrashed, but his body pinned me down.
“Stop it!” he yelled at me. “Stop it!”
He grabbed a pillow, dragging it across my face, pulling the air from my lips.
I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe. I could only feel him, forcing his way inside.
I kicked and thrashed, but nothing would shift him. My hands felt for something. Anything. But they grabbed nothing but air.
My entire body felt like it was on fire.
He groaned loudly, his body thrusting into mine and then there was only darkness.
He waited for a moment, before lifting the pillow slowly from her face. Her eyes were closed. She looked like she was sleeping. So beautiful.
He leaned forwards and kissed her softly on her smeared, red lips. He had loved her for so long. Watched her everyday from afar and now, finally, she was his. His to keep. She would never sell herself again. No one would ever see her, ever touch her. It was just them now. Like it should be. And she would just stay sleeping, wrapped in the safety of his arms, where she belonged. Forever.
“It’s alright. I forgive you,” he told her, as he lay down next to her lifeless body. “I still love you.”
Bethan Grylls has been working as a freelance writer since graduating from her Scriptwriting degree at Bournemouth. Her experience has been extremely varied, ranging from plays and short films, to ghost writing, blogging and copywriting.
She taught Media and English for a short while, but has since left to follow her dream of writing a YA fantasy trilogy. She does however, still teach, working as an assistant director and scriptwriter for a youth theater group every Friday.
She loves acting and has been in several amateur dramatic performances with a few local groups, most recently as ‘Jack’ in Jack and the Beanstalk, as well as being involved in a modest amount of professional pieces.
When she’s not writing, she enjoys reading, dancing, swimming and drinking tea (she usually drinks tea when she’s writing too, if she’s honest). She also has a keen interest in photography, film, and television and is just about to start a weekly post for an online magazine about scriptwriting for budding filmmakers.
Writing isn’t just work for her, but also a keen passion, and she makes sure to regularly post on her fiction and poetry blog:storiesbybethan.wordpress.com.