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Blood & Bourbon

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Story Fourteen, Victoria VI

“I’m probably going nuts.”
Victoria Wolf


Tuesday morning, 5 April 2016

GM: Sylvia groggily wakes up. She thinks she hurts less than last night. That’s also not saying much, because she still hurts like a bitch. Anna’s still in bed with her, but is already awake and scrolling through her phone.

“Hey, sleepyhead,” she says with a tired smile, planting a soft kiss on Sylvia’s forehead.

The time is close to noon.

Victoria: Sylvia smiles at the kiss.

“Morning. Did last night really happen?”

It’s not the first time she said that.

GM: Anna’s smile turns sadder.

“This is the first time I’ve not wanted to say yes.”

Victoria: Her smile falters. She still feels like she laid down on a highway.

“What a fucking night…”

She checks her phone.

GM: Nothing from Jordan.

Victoria: She tosses it back to the nightstand, and sets out for a shower. Clothes. Covering wounds. Being pretty. Pretty enough. She can’t cover everything.

jordan?

GM: Her soaked and dirty clothes are already removed. Maybe she took them off. Maybe it was Anna.

There’s no response to the text.

Victoria: She calls Jordan while she waits for the shower to heat.

GM: It rings to voicemail.

Victoria: He’s probably dead.

Maybe.

Hopefully he didn’t talk.

She opens a text to Christina.

Her fingers hover.

She closes it. No. No bringing in Christina without a solution.

She navigates to the Parish website. Do they list new prisoners?

GM: The closest is an inmate search field:

https://www.opso.us/index.php?option=com_wrapper&view=wrapper&Itemid=739

Victoria: She enters Jordan’s name.

GM: Jordan is not listed as an inmate at the prison.

Victoria: Hm.

Not jailed.

Hospitals won’t release that information.

Where the fuck is he?

GM: No answer is immediately forthcoming from Victoria’s Solaris.

Victoria: The shower gives her some clarity in thought. What the fuck is she going to do?

If you were a private detective, what would you do, Victoria?

Find the demon.

Five minutes later, she enters the kitchen guided by the scent of hot food.

“I’m going to church.”

She waits for Anna’s head to spin.

GM: She finds that Anna’s made breakfast by the time she gets out of the shower. Cheesy scrambled eggs, grapefruit, cinnamon toast. Doing the household cooking is her job, after all.

Anna’s head visibly spins.

“Did last night inspire a conversion?” she asks.

She may or may not be joking.

Victoria: “A conversion? No, I don’t think so. I need to understand what happened to him, and the only way I can do that is to retrace some semblance of his footsteps. I don’t know where the events took place, but this is close enough. For a start.”

A pause.

“That smells wonderful.”

GM: “Thanks,” smiles Anna. “So this is the church your client goes to…?”

“Uh. I mean, ex-client.”

Victoria: “Something like that.”

GM: “Don’t you think it’s a little inappropriate to show up to a client’s church or workplace…?”

“They probably want that as separate as possible.”

Victoria: “Nope,” she answers, popping a bite of toast into her mouth.

GM: Anna looks like she’s trying to suss whether Sylvia’s joking.

Victoria: “It’s one of those things, Anna. You’ll get the answers you need to get when it’s time.”

Nibble, nibble. Bite.

“…he was raving about demons all night. He visited someone close to a church. I want to see if there’s an obvious connection.”

GM: “Well, I said I’d trust you,” says Anna.

Victoria: “Mhmmmmn… and you’re doing so well at that,” she replies with the warmest of praise.

“It’s a church. What’s the worst that can happen?”

GM: “They fill your head with anti-gay talking points and you dump me and renounce being a dominatrix to become a, I don’t know, puppy veterinarian.”

Victoria: “Hardly, Anna, I’m much more likely to renounce my femininity, masquerade as a priest and fondle altar boys to bring me closer to God. You know, the traditional way.”

GM: “So you’d be a transgender pedophile priest?” muses Anna.

“I’m pretty sure there are some trans rights groups that’d want to give you a pass for that.”

Victoria: “I’d call it a middle ground,” she shrugs. “Love you, bye!”

She tosses a handful of scrambled eggs into her mouth, and begins lacing up her shoes.

GM: “Love you, too!”


Tuesday afternoon, 5 April 2016

GM: The interior of St. Louis Cathedral is cavernous enough for Victoria’s footsteps to audibly echo. Flags of nations from France to England to the United States hang from the ceiling, interspersed by the soft light of candlelit chandeliers. Tiny cherubs proffer basins of holy water beside gold-festooned pillars. Stained glass images of Christ and the Twelve Apostles serenely gaze down upon the Friday afternoon’s small congregation. Many of their heads are silently bowed in prayer. There are tourists too, but they are quiet as they take pictures. There is some quality endemic to cathedrals this vast and old that engenders a silence more total than any library’s.

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Victoria: Victoria has as much respect for the sanctity of this building as she expects from the many who seek her services. Every deity should have respect in their own domain.

Plus, Mary would kill her if she was anything less.

She’s never been here—not that she can remember—despite her familiarity with church due to her adoptive mother. She wanders the hall for a time, another tourist among many.

GM: Her tranquility is interrupted by a text from Anna.

Hey you know how you were thinking about all those different lenders to approach? And the one named Simmons?

Sylvia may or may not have told her everything about the man that Émelise did.

Victoria: yeah?

GM: he’s been dead for weeks

just read a news story on it

Victoria: WTF?

how?

GM: heart complications in his house

Victoria: suspicious?

GM: ?

Victoria: _i don’t believe it _

GM: fake news lol?

Victoria: She puts the phone away. What the fuck is her life?

She looks around. Is anyone looking at her?

GM: No one that she sees. People in the fairly empty cathedral are either praying or admiring the architecture.

Victoria: She looks for a member of the clergy.

GM: She does not see any immediately present.

Victoria: Unfortunate.

What did she expect to happen? That a demon would be present, sitting in a corner at a table with a warm cup of cocoa waiting?

She looks around for any staff at all.

GM: There is a clerk at the gift shop outside of the chancel.

Victoria: She wonders if this church actually performs any church services at all.

The dominatrix approaches.

“Hi there! Are there any members of the clergy around? I have a confession to make.”

GM: “I think the father still is,” says the woman. “Father… oh, forgive me, I forget his name.” She makes a sign of the cross, then smiles. “He’s not our usual priest. He’s filling in for Father Malveaux today.”

She stares a bit at Victoria’s bruises, but doesn’t say anything.

Victoria: “I’ve no preference for who. I’m new here. If it’s not a bother… but if it is, I can come back!”

GM: “No, I don’t think it’ll be. He’s probably with someone, if you didn’t see him in the chancel. Things are pretty slow after mass.”

“That’s at noon every day, usually.”

Victoria: “I see.”

Normally she’s up before then.

GM: Normal does not describe the last 24 hours of her life.

The clerk offers her a friendly smile.

Victoria: “Thank you! I’ll be inside while I wait.”

GM: “God bless,” says the woman.

Victoria: She reenters the main room and admires one of the windows.

GM: Victoria waits in peace for perhaps ten minutes. Eventually, an elderly man in a priest’s black cassock and white collar emerges from the confession booth, talking quietly to a parishioner. The other man murmurs something, lowers his head, and takes his leave.

Victoria: She waits patiently for the father to finish his conversation and the parishioner to depart. Once he appears open to more conversation, she approaches.

“Hello, Father.” She holds a hand out in welcome. “I’m new here. Do you have time for one more confession?”

GM: “All the time in the world,” he smiles, shaking her hand back. “I’m retired and filling in for the regular priest.”

He gestures towards the booth.

Victoria: She follows him, moving to sit on her own side of the partition.

GM: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen,” says the priest, making the sign of the cross. Victoria knows she’s supposed to do that part as well.

Victoria: She performs her motions in turn, as all good Christian girls do.

“Forgive me, Father. I have some sins to confess.”

And an ice cream man has a cone or two to peddle.

GM: “Of course. How long has it been since your last confession?” the priest asks.

“It’s all right if it’s been a while. Confession is like exercise. Some is always better than none.” The priest smiles faintly.

Victoria: A fucking while indeed.

“Longer than it should be.”

GM: “Are you happy in your life?” the priest asks.

Victoria: “Are any of us truly happy, Father?” she returns.

GM: “All of us know pain and sadness,” says the priest. “No one’s life on Earth is completely happy. It can be more useful to think of happiness in degrees, than as a yes or no. Are we happy enough? Do we feel we experience God’s love in our lives, more often than not? Do we feel we should be content with what we have, or do we feel our lives are lacking something?”

Victoria: “I think too many don’t ask themselves that question, and seek more to fill a void they keep widening themselves. That’s not why I’m here today, though.”

Truthfully, she isn’t sure why she’s here, either, but she suspects that if there is any truth to Jordan’s lunacy, then they’ll be watching her. She knows she needs to be respectful, and appear normal to everyone else.

GM: “Greed is a void that never fills,” says the priest. “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.

“That’s obviously about money, but it can apply to many other things too.”

“You’re right, though, you’re here for confession. What do you have to confess?”

Victoria: “Truthfully, I’m not sure. I’m not a terrible person. I don’t harm those that don’t deserve it. I also don’t keep God as close to my heart as I should. Is it wrong that I should want to tell you that?”

GM: “Not at all,” says the priest. “Having a close relationship with God enriches our lives in immeasurable ways.”

“Is that something you wish you had?”

Victoria: “In some ways. I grew up with a relationship like that, and somewhere along the way, it fell by the side. Life has a way of doing that when you don’t keep what’s important front and center.”

GM: “So it does,” says the priest. “In what ways do you wish you still had that relationship?”

Victoria: “What do you mean, Father?” she asks, a little confused.

GM: “Oh, I’m sorry. You said that in some ways, you wish you had that relationship. A better way of asking might have been, what do you miss about having a relationship with God?”

Victoria: “The warmth. Knowing I have someone to turn to. It’s like contacting an old friend after far too long: there’s a sense of guilt in knowing that you want to reach out because you need them, not because you want them.”

GM: “Tell me about that. What it means for you to need God without wanting God.”

Victoria: “It’s the difference between needing a friend because they provide you a service, and wanting them in your life because you enjoy their company. I wonder how many people in this world pray when they’re cold and lonely, versus how many pray because they want that relationship.”

GM: “I think that many people do,” says the priest. “They want someone to turn to. They want warmth and assurance in their lives. They want to feel that someone loves them, or that there’s a guiding moral center to the universe. They aren’t worried about being good Catholics. They don’t try to live their lives any differently. They just want God to be there for them.”

“And you know, that’s perfectly all right.”

Victoria: She perks up, looking through the grated window.

“…it is?”

GM: “Being a good Catholic is something you do for yourself. It’s something you do for other people. But it’s not something you need to do for God. You don’t need to earn His love. He’s there for everyone who wants Him.”

Victoria: “Even if we only want him here and there? How is that fair to Him?”

GM: The priest chuckles.

“What’s unfair? Taking advantage of someone, by taking more from them than you give back? Lying to them about why we want them?”

“We can’t lie to God. He sees our hearts.”

“We can’t take from God. He has infinite love to give.”

“He doesn’t run out.”

“God isn’t like other people in our lives. If you only call your friend because you want to feel like someone cares about you, and don’t actually care about him or her, that is an exploitative relationship. You’re either lying to your friend about your feelings, or they’re a lonely person who’ll take a bad friend over nothing.”

“Or, maybe your friend is compassionate person who’s loved in other relationships, and cares about you so much that they still want you to know their love.”

“That’s God.”

“That’s also not an exploitative relationship, because your friend knows what he or she is doing.”

Victoria: She hasn’t considered it like that before. She’s been on both sides of those relationships, where she’s been needed, and where she’s needed one.

Is that what she was to Anna, in some ways? An overwhelming wave of love that carried her completely through the worst times of her life?

Anna loves her, too, though. She always has.

“Do you believe in demons, Father? Not the stories we hear in mass, nor the movies. Real demons.”

GM: “The stories we hear in mass are real to me,” says the priest.

He smiles faintly. “The movies are not.”

“But yes. I believe in demons. And angels, too.”

Victoria: “Have you ever seen one?”

GM: “I believe demons, like angels, are invisible to us. But I believe their influence is at work in the world.”

Victoria: “Curious. They never directly touch us? Physically.”

“How would they influence us?”

GM: “May I ask why you ask this?” the priest requests.

Victoria: “Curiosity. We’ve always been warned about the devil’s influence, haven’t we? But we don’t see horned men in the corners.”

GM: “So we don’t,” smiles the priest. “In the end, I think what’s in our hearts is more important than the devil’s influence. The devil can’t make someone do anything. The devil can’t make you not do the dishes, hit someone in anger, or cheat on your partner. The devil can only tempt. We have to let him in.”

Victoria: “We all have a bit of the devil in us. Don’t we?”

A pause passes.

“Do you?”

GM: “Of course. As you say, we all do.”

Victoria: “How does the devil manifest in you?”

GM: “Like with all of us, he does in many ways. The most recent was sloth. The church asked me to fill in for Father Malveaux today, at the last minute. Part of me didn’t want to. I wanted to sleep in.”

Victoria: “I see. I think that’s the smallest of sins, all things considered. Is Father Malveaux all right?”

GM: “Some would say it’s not so small. Lots of people come to the weekday masses. They deserve to have a priest. The part of me that wanted to sleep in didn’t care. To that part of me, and to the devil, what I wanted was more important.”

“As to Father Malveaux, I’m told he was feeling unwell and took a sick day.”

Victoria: She smiles faintly.

“That’s not so bad. Even the most pious catch colds. Father, how does God view sex outside marriage? I know the texts. How would he view me?”

GM: “God believes you should not have sex outside of marriage, in the same way that a mother believes her child should exercise and eat a healthy diet. Both are good for you. Being good to yourself will better allow you to be good to others. The church teaches that reserving sex to married couples enriches the marriage, provides a healthier environment in which to raise children, and best supports a loving family. Loving families, in turn, support a better society.”

“So, like a mother, God hopes you will make good choices. But God’s love for you is unconditional. God loves you even when you make harmful choices.”

Victoria: For a long moment of silence, Sylvia wonders who she would have been in life today if this man was her father.

Of course, men who portray this potent kindness in public often beat their wives at home.

“No matter what? As long as we ask for forgiveness, God will love us and welcome us when we die?”

GM: They’re similar enough words to Mary’s.

She didn’t get a Catholic father, but she did get a Catholic mother.

“God wants to welcome all of us to His side when we die. But that doesn’t mean what we do when we’re alive doesn’t matter. It’s possible, through our own choices, to reject God’s welcome even when we say we want it. A mother can tell her son he’s always welcome for dinner, but if he murders a man and gets arrested on the way over, they won’t be able to eat together.”

“That’s why his mother gave him so much advice growing up, like God gives us advice through church. To keep us out of ‘jail’ so we may enjoy our creator’s love.”

“But even when it looks like we’re going to jail, God’s love can do amazing things. Do we honestly regret our mistakes and want to repent them? When we ask forgiveness, are we just saying the words because we figure that’s our ‘get out of jail’ card, or because we mean them in our hearts?”

“So, yes. As long as we ask forgiveness, and really mean it, God will love us and welcome us when we die.”

“God will be the mother who springs us out of jail when we have no hope.”

“God makes possible what should be impossible.”

Victoria: “What if we’re already in jail? What if we begin to regret our decisions in life during our eternity in Hell? Can God save us then? The brevity of life and all that happens in it seems so small in comparison to eternity. We’re so young in our lives. Infant souls. I don’t believe we stop learning after death, so why should eternal torment be judged on that infancy?”

GM: “So that’s a complex question you’re asking. Why are we condemned to Hell forever, when we make choices in a life that’s not forever. Why do finite actions earn an infinite punishment.”

“There are several answers.”

“Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote one. He said that some mortal sins can have infinite repercussions. For instance, if you kill a man, can you ever undo all the harm you’ve caused? Can you make up for all the good he might have done in his life, that he never did? No, probably not. So Aquinas says that a punishment that is infinite in duration can be justly imposed for mortal sin.”

“But there’s another conundrum there, as you’ve pointed out. Can a soul change its nature? Can we continue to learn from our mistakes and grow as people after death?”

“The Catholic Church says no. The Catechism teaches there is no repentance after death, because of the irrevocable character that man’s choices take on after the soul separates from the body. The Catechism defines Hell as the ‘definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed.’ We are choosing, when we die, that we want to reject God’s love forever. We are making a choice with infinite repercussions, like Aquinas wrote about.”

Victoria: His words give her a lengthy period of silent contemplation. She’d come here to needle at what happened to Jordan, and had found some level of enlightenment. What a day.

She answers with some uncertainty. “Can we choose to accept God’s love while we sin?”

GM: “Think of it this way. Can a mugger accept his mother’s love while he continues to steal from people?”

Victoria: “I think you underestimate the motive and sociopathy of many muggers.”

GM: “Some muggers might steal out of desperation, to feed hungry children at home. They might hate what they’re doing, but believe they’re out of options. Some sins can look very justified under the right circumstances.”

Victoria: “So I can sin my life away, and as I die regret it all. As long as I repent in my heart and ask for God’s love, I’m welcome in his Kingdom?”

GM: “Yes. You would be welcome in His kingdom. As long as your remorse is genuine, and you sincerely wish you had led a life without sin.”

“There’s another reason the church tries to stop people from sinning when we’re alive, though. It’s because we’re the sums of our habits, and the more times we do something, the harder it becomes to change our ways.”

“For example, could Hitler have repented at the moment of his death? Theoretically, yes. In practice? He’d need to be a completely different person than the hate-filled man who plunged the world into war. That kind of change very, very rarely happens overnight. It’s the product of years of hard work.”

“So, is someone who’s sinned their entire life away likely to regret it all—and to become a different person—when they die? Much of the time, the answer is no.”

Victoria: Victoria is nearing her fill of religious philosophy.

“What’s your name, Father? I appreciate your counsel.”

She still hasn’t given a confession, either.

GM: “I’m Scott. Counsel is part of the sacrament.”

Victoria: “Thank you, Father Scott. You’ve helped me today. As for my sins… where do we start?”

Where does she start? It’s like picking individual strands of hay from a barn.

“I’m not telling my partner the whole truth. I tell myself it’s for her betterment, but I wonder if it’s hurting her.”

GM: “Do you believe she would want to know the whole truth?”

Victoria: “I do, sometimes. But she also trusts me to know better.”

GM: “What makes you believe she would want to know the truth, during those other times?”

Victoria: “I think she might. But she also knows that the truth can do more damage than ignorance.”

GM: “There are people in occupations whose spouses know they keep secrets. For example, lawyers have attorney-client privilege with their clients, and military servicemen may have secret security clearances. The partners of these people know they can’t talk about the details of their jobs. But these people are honest with their partners about the fact they are keeping secrets.”

“Usually, partners are understanding about this, because the nature of the work has nothing to do with their own life, or the couple’s own marriage.”

“Do you feel the secrets you are keeping impact your partner and her life, or do they have nothing to do with her?”

Victoria: She considers the question for a time.

“Could more than do, but in that, her ignorance makes her safe.”

GM: “Does she also believe her ignorance of these secrets betters her life, or her relationship with you?”

Victoria: “I… think so, yes.”

GM: “Do you think so, or do you know? Have you asked her?”

Victoria: She shakes her head.

Right. Grate.

“I haven’t asked her.”

GM: “Trust and honesty are the foundation to any successful relationship.”

“You don’t have to tell your partner your secrets. But you should be honest that you are keeping secrets which have bearing on her life, and ask what she wants to do.”

“She might agree that her ignorance will make her safe. She also might not.”

Victoria: “That’s a fair point, Father. Thank you.”

GM: “You are welcome.”

“I noticed you had some bruises, too, coming in. May I ask if all is well in other areas of your life?”

Victoria: You don’t know the half of it.

“I was mugged.”

GM: “Oh, I am so sorry. Are you all right?”

Victoria: She huffs.

“Injuries happen. I hope the man who hurt me finds peace in his life. I don’t wish him ill.”

Maybe a little ill. She’d love to punch him in the dick and steal his debit card, but she doesn’t hate him. Really, she’s worried about him.

“He was raving about demons. Said I’m one, and took it out on me. I’ve been robbed before, and I’ve never seen anything like him. You think the police might have picked him up?”

GM: “I don’t know,” says the priest. “If he was causing a public disturbance, it’s possible.”

“But your compassion towards the man who hurt you is commendable. You’re a strong person to wish him well.”

Victoria: Understatement of the year. He was a public menace.

“Thank you, Father. I think I feel better now.”

GM: “Good. Then here is your act of penance. Speak with your partner, about the secrets you are keeping in your relationship, and pray to God this evening.”

Victoria: “Yes, Father. Bless you.”

She moves to exit the confessional.

GM: “Just a moment,” says the priest. “There’s three last steps.”

Victoria: She pauses, hand on the door.

GM: “First, I will hear your act of contrition. That’s a prayer where your express your resolve to sin no more. It can be in your own words, or the ‘standard’ one. Here’s how that goes:”

“O my God,
I am heartily sorry for having offended You,
and I detest all my sins,
because of Your just punishment,
but most of all because they offend You, my God,
who are all good and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace,
to sin no more,
and to avoid the near occasion of sin.
Amen.”


Victoria: “Oh my God,
I’ve been wrong for so many years,
and in that wrongness I’ve wronged you.
I can’t promise I won’t sin again,
but I swear that I will repent for the sins committed so far,
and all in the future.”

Close enough.

GM: “And now, for the second step, I absolve you. You’ll say ‘amen’ when I’m finished.”

Father Scott extends his right hand above Victoria’s and makes the sign of the cross.

“God, the Father of mercies,
through the death and resurrection of His Son
has reconciled the world to Himself
and sent the Holy Spirit among us
for the forgiveness of sins;
through the ministry of the Church
may God give you pardon and peace,
and I absolve you from your sins
in the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.”


Victoria: “Amen.”

GM: “Now, the third step. Go in peace, and express your conversion through a life renewed to the Gospel and steeped in Christ’s love.”

Victoria: “Thank you, Father.”

This time, she exits into the main hall.


Tuesday afternoon, 5 April 2016

Victoria: Victoria spends some time in a nearby coffee shop. She orders one—black—and sits, staring at it. Where the fuck is that man?

And then it hits her: she doesn’t need to go to be police. She’s been so frantic in what happened to her that she wasn’t thinking clearly.

The woman draws out her phone, and looks him up in the NOLA registry.

GM: She finds his address in Gentilly.

Victoria: And a short while later, she steps out of the Ryde in front of his place, marches straight up to his door, and knocks.

GM: It’s a quiet- and average-looking suburban home, all things told. It looks middle-class. A sheriff’s deputy probably doesn’t draw the biggest salary, but Victoria well knows that his less than honest inclinations draw in extra on the side.

The door’s answered by a gray-haired older woman with a resemblance to Jordan. She’s lanky-limbed, like him, and doesn’t look to have aged well. Her face bears many years of scowls.

“May I help you?” she asks with a peeved expression.

It may or may not be from the bruises on Victoria’s face.

Victoria: She flattens her expression once the door opens. Calm down, hellcat.

“Hi there! Is Jordan home? I’m a friend of his.”

GM: “Yes, he is,” says the woman. Her peeved expression deepens. “This is a bad time.”

Victoria: “You’re telling me.”

She gestures to her face.

“It’s really, really important.”

GM: “Not to me,” the woman answers pitilessly.

She closes the door.

Victoria: She puts her foot in the door.

“Look, he was not okay when he did this to me last night. I care about him enough that I want to make sure he’s doing better, and if he’s not, then I want to help him. Please.”

She gives her best pleading expression.

GM: The woman gives an exasperated sigh.

“Fine. He’s been a mess since last night. I expect that he did something stupid, like usual for him. Now he’s missing work.”

“Come in, if you can get him to stop blubbering like a big baby.”

Victoria: She steps inside before his mother-assumed can change her mind.

“I will. Where is he?”

GM: “Jordan!” yells his presumed mother. “Someone’s here to see you!”

Victoria: “I think it might be better if I go to him. Given his condition.”

GM: There’s no answer.

“Jordan!” snaps the woman with a look between disgust and disappointment.

She strides deeper into the house. It feels more like an aging woman’s than a young-ish man’s. Everything from the decor to the furniture says ‘retirement-age woman who lives alone.’ There’s kitschy pieces of art, ceramic chachkies, floral wallpaper, pink and magenta living room chairs. It feels like it was decorated decades ago.

The higher-end TV and stereo set, in comparison, feel distinctly out of place. They feel like things someone newly come into sudden cash might have bought. Grabbing the most expensive toys without changing the rest of the home.

The woman bangs sharply on a door, then opens it without waiting for any response. It’s decorated in a younger man’s more minimalist style. Jordan lies in bed, the blankets pulled up to his head.

The woman walks up to his bed and slaps his face.

“Jordan! Wake up, you stupid layabout!”

Jordan makes a startled half-scream of fright, bolts up, and pulls the covers to his chin.

“Mom?! Wh…”

His mother rolls her eyes. “Oh, for fuck’s sake. Your father would be ashamed if he could see what a pathetic little loser his son turned out to be!”

Victoria: Even Victoria winces at that. It’s no wonder he comes to her to be praised and loved.

GM: Jordan’s eyes scan the room. He sees Victoria.

He gives another strangled yell, and makes an awkward motion between dropping the covers and pulling them up further.

“G-get out! GO AWAY!”

Victoria: “Hey,” she croons. “It’s okay. It’s okay Jordan. I’m just here to check on you. You weren’t okay last night. I care about you.”

In that moment, she even believes it herself.

GM: Jordan furiously glowers at her. He’s got a black eye and bruises along his mouth, too.

“G-go away!” he yells, leaping out of bed. He has a t-shirt and boxers on. “G-get out, or you’re under arrest!”

“You can’t arrest people, you idiot, you’re off-duty,” snaps his mother.

“Given that someone decided he was feeling too bad to go in to work today.”

Victoria: “Jordan,” she snaps. “I am trying to help you.”

Maybe some structure will set him straight.

“So let me. Sit.”

GM: “You duh-didn’t help! You gave me THIS!” Jordan angrily points at his own black eye.

His mother doesn’t even look concerned.

“Fix this. I want him going back in to work,” she snaps, then turns to leave.

The door slams behind her.

Jordan glowers at Victoria.

Victoria: “And you left me unconscious, bleeding in a gutter! I’d think we’re even!”

She considers sitting, but decides against it.

“Take a breath. Relax. What happened?”

GM: “You went psycho!” sputters Jordan. “You duh-didn’t help! You were awful!”

Victoria: “Jordan. You pissed yourself in your sleep, attacked me, and ran out the door.”

GM: “Go away!” Jordan yells, pressing his hands to his head.

Victoria: Now she approaches, clasping his cheeks gently.

“Jordan.”

“My love.”

“I need you to relax.”

Her words are calm and even.

GM: Jordan stiffens under Victoria’s touch. His breath is raggedy and uneven. He angrily glares into her eyes.

Then he starts crying again.

“I’m g-going to H-Hell…”

Victoria: “The only place you’re going, my Jordan, is into my arms until you are calm. Okay?”

She tries to pull him into a hug.

GM: Jordan doesn’t resist.

But he doesn’t stop sobbing.

“I’m guh-guh-going-g t-t-to H-H-Hell…”

Victoria: “One day.”

She strokes his hair.

“We all go somewhere. But you don’t have to worry about that. You belong right here. And here is all you need to focus on.”

GM: Jordan bawls his eyes out. Tears and snot get over Victoria’s shirt.

Victoria: She doesn’t mind. She needs him to cry this out. They’re both a mess.

GM: Jordan cries for a while. Long enough that Victoria starts to feel sore standing.

There’s seemingly no catharsis when Jordan is done. Just numbness. She can only tell he’s done from the fact he lapses into silence, and stops shaking.

Victoria: Eventually, she sits. Numbness is better than raving.

She takes his hand in her own.

“You know how much you matter to me, Jordan?”

GM: Jordan gives her a hopeless look.

Victoria: She pats his forearm. Her back is going to rebuke her later.

“How did all of this start, Jordan?”

GM: Vague confusion enters his face.

Victoria: “The fear. It’s not you. What was the moment it began?”

GM: “The nightmare,” Jordan mumbles.

Victoria: “In your dream? When you called me?”

GM: Jordan makes a noise like assent.

Victoria: “Do you see demons around you right now?”

GM: Jordan uneasily looks around.

“N-no…”

Victoria: She looks around with him.

“Have you seen them since that dream?”

GM: Victoria sees nothing out of place.

“Nuh-no,” he numbly repeats.

Victoria: “They can’t get you. They saw that you’re too brave.”

She rubs her thumb against his palm.

“Do you know what you should do if you see them?”

GM: Jordan’s face is without hope.

He does not look as if he believes her.

At all.

Victoria: “You should arrest them. You’re a godly boy, aren’t you?”

GM: Jordan’s face sinks even deeper at that question.

“No,” he whispers.

“I’m going to Hell.”

Victoria: “Do you know what I did today, Jordan? I went to church. I confessed my sins. I bathed in God’s good will and I’m with him again. You can do the same. Do you want Him to protect you?”

GM: Jordan looks ready to cry again at those words.

“I’m going to Hell,” he hoarsely repeats.

Victoria: She seizes his face.

“God forgives those who ask. Do you want to be forgiven?”

GM: “I won’t be,” whispers Jordan. His eyes scrunch.

Victoria: “My love, if God can forgive me for all I’ve done in sin, he can forgive you.”

“We are going to church tomorrow. Or… tonight.”

She pulls out her phone and looks up mass times.

GM: “D’you tell God you raped a priest?” Jordan asks hollowly.

Victoria: “Do you regret what you did?”

GM: Tears bead from Jordan’s eyes.

“Y-yes.”

Victoria: “Do you really regret it, deep in your heart? To your core?”

GM: Victoria finds that mass is scheduled for noon tomorrow.

“Yeh-yes,” Jordan repeats.

Victoria: “Then repent, and God will forgive you.”

“I will pick you up tomorrow at 11:30.”

GM: Jordan gives her a bleary look.

He doesn’t protest.

He doesn’t object.

He doesn’t say no.

He just repeats, in the same numb and hopeless voice,

“I’m going to Hell.”

“An’ so are you.”

Victoria: “Is someone making you say that, Jordan? You’ve said the same words over and over.”

Her eyes are laced with concern.

GM: “What the demon said,” Jordan mumbles. His eyes are far away.

Victoria: “The demon mentioned me?”

GM: Jordan doesn’t nod. Just answers,

“Asked about you.”

Victoria: A chill rips through her spine.

“What did it ask?”

GM: “Your name,” Jordan says in monotone.

“What you wanted.”

“With the priest.”

Victoria: “What did you answer?”

GM: “Tol’ it your name,” Jordan answers hollowly.

“Said you wanted the pictures.”

“Said you paid me.”

Victoria: “In your dream?”

GM: “I begged,” Jordan whispers. “I said I was sorry. I was sorry. S… so, sorry…”

Jordan doesn’t shake with sobs. He doesn’t even tremble. But tears starts to roll down his cheeks again.

“Din’ matter.”

“Said I was goin’ to Hell. For what I did.”

“Said it’d be waiting.”

Jordan’s stare is a thousand miles away.

Then his head slowly tilts, and seems to look both at Victoria, and through her.

There’s a low sound in the back of Jordan’s throat. Like the strangled afterbirth of a laugh. His features twist into a hollow parody of a smile.

“It’s coming for you.”

Victoria: Victoria Wolf doesn’t scare easily. She’s the predator. She’s the alpha. She’s the pack mother, and the protector.

Sylvia St. George is terrified, more for her girlfriend than herself.

“When?”

GM: “Dunno,” says Jordan.

Tears are still trickling down his face, past the joyless smile.

He gives a faint, cough-like laugh.

“I dunno… anything…”

Victoria: She wraps her arms around him, pulling him into a hug.

“You’ll be okay, Jordan. I’ll make sure of it.”


Tuesday afternoon, 5 April 2016

GM: “So, how’d it go?” Anna asks when Victoria gets back.

Victoria: She shakes her head, falling into her partner’s side and laying her head on her shoulder.

“Not well.”

GM: Anna hugs her and rubs her back.

“I’m sorry.”

Victoria: The hug’s long enough that Sylvie loses track of time.

“I committed a crime to take revenge on those who took away what you loved, working with someone to take revenge in loss for someone who they loved. I don’t know how, and I don’t entirely believe it, but I think they know. It’s a feeling. The logic isn’t there. It’s not. I shouldn’t lie to you. I shouldn’t boast my own position to you and obfuscate. I’m sorry.”

GM: Anna slowly takes in that confession.

Finally, she says,

“I don’t want you to commit a crime. I don’t want revenge. I just want to be a teacher again.”

Victoria: “I know.”

She knows it’s selfish, too.

“Have you practiced with the gun lately?”

GM: That question does not look as if it puts Anna at ease.

“Sylvia, what happened? What was the crime?”

Victoria: She holds a silence.

Her voice breaks.

“I don’t want to tell you. Penance. That’s what it was. Blood for blood. Not enough blood.”

GM: “You’re scaring me,” says Anna. There’s fear in her voice as her grip on Sylvia tightens.

“What’s happening? Why are you asking about the gun?”

Victoria: “Because I have a really bad feeling, and I’d rather know you’re safe than you’re not, okay? Just—you can be mad at me, but later! Right now I need to know you can protect yourself if I’m not here.”

GM: “Sylvia, I’m not mad, I just want to know what’s going on! Why do I need to protect myself?!”

Victoria: “The guy I paid to deliver that penance? He’s the one who called me last night. He’s losing his mind, going on and on about demons. The scary thing? The thing that gets me?”

She rests a hand on Anna’s thigh, trying to reassure her. It’s wracked with tremors.

“The questions they asked him—his dream—it just—I don’t know! Something feels wrong! Like it’s more real than a nightmare!”

GM: Anna gives a laugh of relief, but it still sounds more than a little desperate.

“That’s all this is? That guy’s crazy!”

“You heard what a nut he was!”

Victoria: “I did! But he wasn’t like this before. Something’s different. Something—”

She huffs.

“I don’t know.”

GM: “Look, he obviously has problems. Is he your first client who’s gotten this crazy?”

Victoria: She nods to her girlfriend.

“It’s just—”

Maybe Victoria is going crazy.

GM: “Just scary? Yeah, this wasn’t something you signed up for!”

Victoria: She’s still shuddering.

“I—I don’t think…”

But she has no evidence of it, does she? Nothing at all. The only evidence she has is her own involvement in the crimes.

GM: “Look,” says Anna, rubbing her back, “you’re freaked out about this whole thing. Crazy client and getting caught up in a crime.” Worry returns to her face. “What’s the story there?”

Victoria: “With the crime?”

Her horror transforms to concern. She knows how Anna will feel.

“I don’t know if you’ll forgive me.”

GM: “Right now I’m more concerned about keeping you out of prison. I don’t want that, whatever you did!”

Victoria: “If I tell you, you will be accountable for reporting it. I’m not putting the love of my life in prison.”

GM: “Then talk to a lawyer,” says Anna. “At least do that. Please.”

Victoria: She pinches the bridge of her nose.

“If it comes to it, I will. Promise.”

GM: Anna shakes her head.

“Please. This is what I’m asking, if you won’t talk to me. Get ahead of this, before it comes to anything.”

“A lawyer can’t report you or turn you in.”

Victoria: “Legally. Okay. Okay. I’ll get advice for lawyer from someone I trust.”

Christina, or someone similar.

“Promise. I’m not going to jail.”

GM: “Then let’s do that now,” presses Anna. “No sense putting it off.”

“Take it from the teacher. It’s always best to do homework early.” She gives a weak smile.

Victoria: “I would need to call a few friends.”

She presses still hands to Anna’s cheeks.

“I will be fine.”

Victoria always is. She’s worried about Anna.

GM: “Then call them,” says Anna, mirroring the motion and pressing her own hands to Victoria’s. “Please! I’m really worried after how scared you were!”

Victoria: “Look. I’ll do it. I promise. You have my word, and my words aren’t overruled by my position. For now, I need to know that you can defend yourself if something happens.”

Like what? The demon coming for you? Victoria believes in demons, even the fictional kind. They come in dreams, and they work through people. This? This feels different. Unbelievable, yet unshakeable.

“Please.”

GM: The fear returns to Anna’s face at that question.

“Sylvia, what do you think is going to happen?! I have no idea if I can defend myself, not without knowing against what!”

Victoria: “A gun! Our gun. I’ve taught you how to shoot it. You’ve done it before. You remember. Yes?”

GM: “Yes, I do remember! Now will you please tell me what’s going to happen?!”

Victoria: Victoria should be in an asylum with how she looks at her girlfriend.

“I. Don’t. Know.”

GM: Anna’s answering look seems on the verge of tears.

“Sylvia, that is scarier than anything else you could say!”

Victoria: “I’m probably going nuts.”

She’s lost her mind.

“I’m probably just being overcautious.”

She always is.

“But I want to know that you’re safe. You’re my whole world.”

GM: Anna gives a long sniff.

“I don’t feel safe right now. I don’t. I’m scared.”

Victoria: She pulls Anna into such a tight hug that she struggles to breathe.

GM: Anna loses herself in Sylvia’s embrace, as if hoping her girlfriend might squeeze out her fears and turn everything back to normal. Take control, like she so often does.

Moments pass.

Victoria: Moments pass. Then minutes. She lets Anna breathe, but doesn’t let go.

“I will make it okay.”


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Story Fourteen, Victoria V

“We’re going to Hell.”
Jordan Ratcliff


Monday night, 4 April 2016, PM

GM: It’s not long after Sylvia’s settled down to bed with Anna that Victoria gets a call.

It’s Jordan. He really wants a session, and soon.

“I had a night… nightm… about the g…”

The sheriff’s deputy sounds on the verge of tears.

Victoria: “A nightmare about…?” she asks, full of motherly warmth.

GM: “The… the guy! The priest! It was… w…”

There’s no mistaking it. Jordan is full on sobbing now.

Anna stirs in bed and groggily looks up at her girlfriend.

Victoria: “I think that’s all a nightmare,” she purrs. “Why don’t we meet… tomorrow, hm?”

Fingers wrap Anna’s throat, pressing her lightly back to bed.

GM: Does she like that?

Maybe it takes a little while to process after just waking up, but she settles down.

Jordan does not.

He makes a hysterical sound that sounds like something between a scream, a sob, and manic, delirious laughter.

Victoria: “Jordan, my love, it’s only a dream, hm? That’s all it is. Shhh… I’ll see you tomorrow, and you’ll forget all about it. Won’t you? Don’t you believe me?”

She presses more firmly to Anna’s throat.

GM: Anna obediently stays down.

But Jordan does not sound like he believes her, or that he will forget it. Or something.

All it comes messily, sloppily, deliriously, sobbingly tumbling out. To call it “word salad” would imply a modicum of coherence, and Jordan’s words have none. He babbles about being chased, about darkness, darkness, about being eaten, about being raped, about Hell, raped in Hell, dark in Hell, black in Hell, Hell, Hell, he’s going to Hell. For everything. He wishes he hadn’t done this. He wishes he hadn’t gotten involved. That he hadn’t had any, any part in it. He is hyperventilating. He is sobbing. He babbles something about piss in the sheets. He babbles about being paralyzed, and dying.

The man is having what sounds like a full-fledged mental breakdown.

Victoria: “Jordan, my dear, nothing will happen to you. Nothing bad has happened to you. What are you going on about?”

GM: Victoria just gets more of the same frenzied, manic, crying and shrieking babble. Jordan does not sound in the least bit reassured.

Victoria: “Six o’clock tomorrow, Jordan. Okay? Six o’clock. Say it back to me.”

She rolls her eyes, looking at Anna.

GM: “NN-NNOOO!!!” Jordan wails. “I NUH, NUH, NNEEEED Y-Y-I’M K-K-K-ILL M-MYS, F, F—I N-NEEE-UUUHHH-HH-HUH-HUH!”

The man’s words trail off into incoherent sobbing.

Anna frowns with concern.

Victoria: A chill runs down her spine.

“Jordan, baby. Come on. You’re not going to do that. Why do you want to do that?”

She’s painfully calm. She’s his opposite.

GM: “HE WAS A PR… PIESSSTTT!” Jordan screams. He rambles. About how he’s going to Hell. About how it’s too late for him. He’s gone to Hell, he’s going to Hell, Hell is waiting for him, Hell has seen him.

Victoria: Why did she have to rely on such a pussy?

“Do you need me to come see you, Jordan?”

GM: Anna pulls her phone off the table, taps something out, and holds it up:

Talking suicide?

Victoria: She nods.

GM: Anna taps:

Call 911.

“YE… YES! YES!” Jordan babbles. “YUH-YUH… I NEEEEED YOU! I NEEEE-EEEEE-EEEEED YOUUUU!”

Victoria: She shakes her head.

Bad idea.

“Meet me at the usual place, hm?”

GM: “C-can you c-come to m-m-my house-se…?”

Anna taps:

He needs mental health services, not a dominatrix right now.

Victoria: She covers the receiver.

“No cops.”

Then back to the phone.

“You know I can’t do that, baby.”

GM: “Get him to call a suicide hotline, at least!” says Anna.

“P-p-please…” Jordan sobs.

Victoria: “Jordan, honey, do you really think you’re going to hurt yourself?”

She gestures Anna to get the number.

GM:YES! YES! I’M GOING TO H… H…. HHHEELLL!!!!!”

Anna pulls one up on her phone and holds it up.

Victoria: “No you’re not, Jordan. You’re a good boy. Good boys don’t go there. Now, I need you to come to my place—okay? You know where it is. Just call a cab. You can get there.”

GM: A long silence greets Victoria’s first statement.

But at her second, he falteringly manages,

“O… k…k… ay…”

Victoria: “Good boy.”

She hangs up and starts getting dressed.

“Fucking hell. He’s going to get me killed, or arrested, or—fucking—back to sleep, okay? I’ll be back soon.”

Gun: found.

Knife: pocketed.

“If I don’t text you within two hours, call the cops and send the to my office.”

GM: “Wai—hold on!” says Anna, getting out of bed.

“This seriously is not your job.”

Victoria: “I’ll tell you more about it when I get back, ’kay?”

No, she’ll probably not—but she hopes it soothes her for now.

“There are reasons I have to be the one to do this.”

GM: “Look, we receive some suicide prevention training, as teachers,” says Anna. “And… the biggest thing it played up is that we’re great at detecting students at risk for suicide, but we should leave the actual treating to the pros.”

“Jumping out of bed like this kind of violates a bunch of professional boundaries, too. It’s not your place to talk a client down from suicide.”

Victoria: “It is when that client just did some very unethical work to make the world right again, and the police would be very interested to know why he’s yelling about how he wants to take his life over it.”

She holds a pause.

“This is one of those ‘you don’t want to know’ times, Anna.”

GM: Anna looks torn.

“Well, I guess the question is, is this work worth his life?”

“Because you might not be able to help him.”

“What does he do after you leave?”

Victoria: “I won’t leave him in need of help, Anna. Promise.”

Her face softens.

“Promise.”

GM: “All right,” Anna relents. “Just… don’t make this a habit. Your clients really shouldn’t be doing this.”

Victoria: She shakes her head, kissing Anna’s forehead.

“Promise. This is a unique case.”


Monday night, 4 April 2016, PM

GM: It’s a short enough trip to her dungeon. It’s not long, either, before she hears banging against the door.

Victoria: She checks the window first.

GM: It’s him. He looks awful.

Victoria: She grips the knife in her pocket, and opens the door.

GM: Jordan staggers in and slams the door behind him. He’s shaking. His face is white, except for his eyes, which are red and puffy.

“I’m… going… to Hell…!”

Victoria: “Jordan, dear, come in.”

She already has hot-but-not-scalding tea prepared.

“Give me a hug. Come here.”

GM: He collapses into her embrace, trembling and weeping.

Victoria: She pulls him to the couch like that, pushing and reassuring him the whole while. She allows him to feel that human contact.

GM: He needs it. He sobs. He moans. He weeps.

“This… this was… a m-mistake… we fucked up. Oh, god, we fucked up…”

Victoria: “Shhh… He’s no more free of sin than any in the depths of Parish.”

Irony? She’s amused, though it doesn’t show.

“Why the sudden guilt?”

GM: “I had a d… dr…”

He swallows, shaking his head.

“A n-nightm-mare…”

Victoria: “About…?”

GM: Jordan chokes back a sob and buries his face against Victoria.

Victoria: She rubs his back, cooing.

“It’s okay… it’ll all be okay… just a dream… just a dream…”

“Did something happen with the priest…?”

GM: “We’re going to Hell,” Jordan whispers, his voice faint against the rain plunking overhead.

“Both of us.”

Victoria: “Perhaps. When the time comes. Why do you say?”

GM: Jordan just shudders and clings to Victoria.

Victoria: “Is someone coming for us, Jordan?”

GM: “They’re waiting for us,” he whispers. “The demons. They know who we are. They know… what we did…”

Victoria: “What demons are these, my love? Your friends in the mob? The police? How do you know what demons they are?”

GM:DEMONS,” Jordan repeats, emphatically.

Victoria: “Did you know that I’m a demon slayer?”

She sounds entirely believable. Or deranged. Probably the prior to him.

GM: Or joking.

But Jordan looks little assured.

He starts to cry again.

“I don’t… I don’t… oh god, I’m sorry…!”

Victoria: “They can’t get you here, Jordan. It’s impossible. You’ll be entirely safe here. Shhh… rest.”

GM: Jordan looks little assured by those words, too.

But resting, at least, looks like something he wants to do.

He clings to her, head resting against her, and closes his eyes.

Victoria: Resting he can do. For now.

What the fuck, Jordan?

She pulls out her phone.

Fine so far…

GM: Good news. You coming home soon?

Victoria: Eventually…

GM: Should I go back to sleep?

Victoria: Ill wake you up

GM: K. I’ll get some rest tile then. Good luck with your guy

Oh and bill him

Victoria: He’ll be licking our floor for weeks

GM: I don’t even want to guess where that tongue has been…

Victoria: Worry about where mine is going to be.

She sends a selfie of her poking it out, entirely a clown.

GM: I’m not worried about your tongue at all :)

Lol some romantic line that is

Victoria: Bed.

GM: Yes mistress ;)

Victoria: Vic locks the front door, and returns to the couch. She watches for a while, and eventually drifts off.


Tuesday night, 5 April 2016, AM

GM: Victoria dreams of Émelise kissing and fondling her. When she wakes up, Jordan’s still there. He’s twitching and whimpering in his sleep.

Victoria also smells urine.

There’s not a ton of it.

But there’s enough to smell.

Victoria: “What the f…? JORDAN!”

She smacks him.

GM: Jordan gives a half-gasp, half-scream at the contact. He pulls away and looks wildly around. His eyes are wide and his skin is sweaty.

Victoria: “You pissed yourself! You know damn well you’re paying for the cleaning bills!”

GM: Does he look embarrassed?

He just stares past Victoria with hollow eyes, breathing hard.

“O… kay.”

Victoria: “What. Happened.”

GM: “We’re going to Hell,” Jordan whispers. His voice is without hope.

He starts softly crying.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

Victoria: “Is there a reason you can’t tell me why we’re going to hell?”

GM: “The priest!” Jordan exclaims.

“He was a priest!

Victoria: “And? Who gives a fuck? You’ve done worst to less deserving people.”

GM: “He was a m… man of God.”

Victoria: “He was a pawn of a wealthy family, and as politically shrewd and cold-hearted as the rest of them. Do not think him pious.”

GM: Jordan just shudders.

“The demon did.”

Victoria: “Which demon?”

GM: Jordan looks at her blankly.

Victoria: “Tell me, Jordan.”

GM: “I don’t… huh?”

Victoria: “You don’t… what?”

GM: “I don’t understand.”

Jordan starts softly crying again.

“I don’t understand.”

Victoria: “What do you not understand?”

GM: “Everything!” Jordan sputters.

He still hasn’t moved from his piss stain.

Victoria: “Jordan. Fuck’s sake. What is wrong with your head? You were never like this. Why can’t you tell me anything about the ‘demon’?”

GM:STOP IT!” Jordan yells. “STOP IT! You’re suh, suh-posd to m-make things better, and yuh-you’re NOT! I’m d-done! I’m out!”

He stomps towards the door in his piss-stained pants.

Victoria: “Your piss-covered ass slept on MY couch! Get your ass back here!”

She stomps after him.

GM: She catches up to him as he yanks the door open, not stopping.

Victoria: “Jordan!”

She grabs his shoulder.

“Get the fuck back in here!”

He needs an ambulance. She doesn’t call one.

GM: Jordan turns around as she grabs him and shoves at her.

Victoria: She steps backward from the shove.

“What the fuck, man?! I’m trying to HELP you!”

GM: Jordan gives a hysteria-tinged yell and runs out into the rain.

Victoria: Victoria is further confirmed that children aren’t in her future.

She locks the door and chases after him.

GM: She catches up to him. Rain pelts in her face.

Jordan doesn’t respond to her. Just keeps running.

Victoria:DUDE! FUCKING STOP!”

She snags his jacket.

Every minute. Every last fucking minute she has to do this—self-preservation or not—she’s billing him a full hour.

GM: Jordan gives another yell and throws a punch at her.

“YOU’RE GOING TO HELL!”

Victoria: She ducks the punch, aiming to sink her knee into his balls.

“Neither of us are going to hell!”

GM: Victoria’s knee solidly connects with that most sensitive part of male anatomy. Jordan gives a half-cry, half-gagging noise and goes down to one knee then throws a punch into Victoria’s kidneys. It hurts. He throws himself at her as she stumbles, grabbing her by the waist. She goes down after him in a heap. The wet street scrapes her skin. Rain pounds over them both. Jordan screams and throws wild, terror- and adrenaline-fueled punches. Victoria fights herself fighting back, just as hard, out of simple self-preservation instinct.

There’s no finesse or even dignity in what they do. Just two people, flailing and brawling on a dirty street as they’re soaked under the downpour. Jordan socks Victoria in her face, in her gut, even in the cunt. She hurts, everywhere, and tastes blood. So does Jordan. Victoria sees a tooth go flying under one of her punches, or it might just be the rain. Someone throws up. She’s not sure who. She’s not sure how it all goes, in the haze of adrenaline—just that Jordan’s gone by the time she comes to.

And she hurts, everywhere.

Maybe he beat her bloody and left her there. Maybe she beat him bloody and he ran off. There’s red over the streets. Hers? His? Both? Somehow it feels like it doesn’t matter. No one feels like they’ve won this fight. Victoria’s face feels swollen, her lip feels split, and she has a hard time seeing out of one eye. She’s absolutely soaked under the rain.

No one, her gut tells her again, won this fight.

Victoria: She recalls flashes: A spark of pain in her ribs. Her hair pulled. The crunch of his nose. Hitting the ground. Pain in the back of her skull.

White. Then black. Then rain. And heat. Always heat. Heat from the starting day, and heat from the blood on her face.

She pats her pocket. Is the knife still there? The gun?

GM: She finds both.

Did she use either?

They’re wet with rain, but that might’ve happened anyway.

Victoria: She stows them away, and steadily gets to her feet. Can she stand?

GM: It hurts, but looks like it.

Victoria: She stumbles back to the house. No more rain. It smells like piss. She’s going to bill him for every punch.

GM: For all the smell, it’s dry indoors, and light.

The night beyond is dark, wet, cold. Each plunk of rain seems to reverberate with Jordan’s hope-stricken words:

“We’re going to Hell.”

Victoria: Maybe he is. She isn’t planning on that for a long, long time.

She moves into the bathroom to examine herself.

GM: She looks like shit. She’s got a black eye, split lip, and multiple bruises. Her hair is a soggy, sorry mess.

She wonders how Jordan looks.

Victoria: She looks better than Jordan looks on his best day. The thought makes her feel a bit better.

What the fuck is going on? Jordan was never the most intelligent, stable person in the world, but he’d never displayed such a primal breakdown.

She can’t call the cops. That’ll just be another bribe and uncomfortable explanations.

She snags a medical kit and begins cleaning what damage she can.

She can’t tell Christina. Not until she has a solution. Not if she wants to be something. Nor Jill.

It stings. It looks worse once the blood is wiped away.

GM: Her no longer bloody, but still beaten reflection dully stares back at her.

How the hell did it come to this?

Victoria: She wonders how long it’s been since Jordan has seen a doctor. Maybe she should ask for medical history in future clients.

otw home

But she doesn’t go home. She heads to her car, and drives the nearby blocks looking for Jordan.

GM: Anna doesn’t immediately reply. Maybe she’s still asleep.

Victoria finds no trace of Jordan. Not in the middle of the rainy night, at least, while she’s tired and hurting everywhere. Who knows where he went?

A dirty homeless man lying under a corner’s roof leers and pulls out his genitals as she drives by.

Victoria: She makes the universal gesture for ‘tiny pp’ and moves on.

Whatever. Jordan probably got hit by a car. Dead men tell no tales.

She sets her sights on going home.

GM: She finds Anna contently asleep in their bed.

Victoria: Which is worse: Anna waking up to her sleeping in this state, or waking her up intentionally?

She gets an ice pack to hide some of the damage, then sits and nudges her.

“Anna…” she croons.

GM: “Mmmf…” Anna mumbles, stirring. “Daddy, go’ the eggyolk in your han’…”

Victoria: “Annnnnnnaaa….”

GM: “Mmmf… wuzzi… Sylvie?”

Anna gives a tired yawn and sits up.

She fumbles around for the light.

She squints and blinks dully after flicking it on.

“Why you got an ice pack…?”

Victoria: “Hey, I’m not looking the best… Don’t be scared. I’m fine.”

GM: Anna blinks again.

“How’d it go with it… wait, why you got an ice pack?” she repeats.

Victoria: “We had a… Disagreement.”

She keeps it firmly in place.

GM: Anna suddenly seems to wake up more.

“He hurt you?!”

Victoria: “You should see the other guy,” she grins.

GM: “Let me see you,” says Anna, gently attempting to move aside the pack.

Victoria: “Promise not to freak out?”

GM: Those words seem to bring her little comfort.

“Not if you’re missing an eye. But I’ll try.”

Victoria: She snorts, pulling it away.

“Both eyes.”

GM: Anna’s hands go to her mouth.

Victoria: “No freaking!”

GM: She lowers them after a moment, her eyes still wide. She gingerly rests her hands on Sylvia, as if afraid to hurt her further.

“What the hell happened!?”

Victoria: “Something is wrong with him,” she answers, uncertain. “It’s as if he cracked, but it doesn’t make sense. Not with the work and people he’s involved with. This shouldn’t have happened, but I can’t think of anything that would induce this behavior outside drugs.”

And she isn’t sure whether or not he is on drugs. He’d certainly never been that crazy.

“He pissed my couch, got angry, ran out the door, and got into a fight with me when I chased him. I woke up—I don’t know how long later—on the sidewalk. He’s gone.”

GM: “Oh my god!” Anna exclaims.

She throws her arms around Sylvia and squeezes her tight, as if to make sure she’s still there. It hurts, a bit.

“Don’t ever see a client like that again! I knew this was a bad idea!”

Victoria: She might smell like piss, too. After all, she was sleeping next to him.

“Not every client is paid to do things not everyone would be proud of.”

And she leaves it there. No cops.

“I need to find him, but not now. He was going on and on and on about demons, and how we’re both going to Hell, but he never once told me what they were or what happened.”

GM: Anna blinks and pulls back, enough, to look Sylvia in the eye, but keeps her arms on her girlfriend.

“Sylvia, let this guy go. You do not want to find him!”

“He’s crazy.”

Victoria: “I have to. I have to. If he goes blabbing to the cops about this, then it’ll be more trouble than dealing with this on my own.”

She pokes Anna in the ribs.

“Come on. You know I’m tougher than I look.”

GM: “No! You don’t have to! No amount of money is worth you getting attacked like this!”

It takes a moment before the words seem to fully process.

“Why would he go to the cops, anyway, if he’s crazy and attacked you? Crazy people rambling about demons don’t call the cops.”

“And if he does, it was self-defense. You’re safe.”

Victoria: “He’s fucking crazy. I don’t know what he’ll do. The problem is his ranting touches on what I paid him to do, which was illegal, and would interest the cops.”

A pause.

“I’m not worried about it tonight. Not tonight. Maybe not in the morning.”

GM: Anna frowns. “That you paid… him to do?”

“I thought he was a client. That he was paying you.”

Victoria: “Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answers to.”

GM: “I kind of want them when the love of my life staggers in at 5 AM after getting attacked by a crazy man.”

“And then wants to go find him again.”

Victoria: She presses a finger to Anna’s nose.

“Let me be a hero once in a while.”

GM: “This isn’t being a hero,” says Anna. “Who are you saving?”

Victoria: “Us.”

GM: “I don’t see us getting saved. I see you getting hurt, and now wanting to do something dangerous.”

Victoria: “You don’t have to see. You weren’t supposed to see. This is just a setback.”

That’s right, Victoria, that’s all this is. A setback.

GM: “Sylvia, this isn’t normal dominatrix stuff! You see a guy, you help him live out his fantasy, you get paid, done. What is going on?”

Anna looks at Sylvia for a moment. There’s fear in her eyes.

“I’m scared for you. For us.”

Victoria: She pulls the teacher into a warm hug.

“Anna, love, it’s okay. It’ll all be okay. Every last thing.”

Because she’ll make it that way. That’s how it always works, doesn’t it?

GM: Anna falls silent under that hug.

She obviously wants to believe that.

So bad.

“Will you at least talk to a lawyer, first,” she says. “Instead of trying to find a crazy man.”

Victoria: She shakes her head.

“Not yet.”

GM: “Sylvia… I can’t accept you just throwing yourself into a dangerous situation, without even a why,” says Anna.

Victoria: “Do you trust me?”

GM: “With my life.”

Victoria: “Then trust that this is all happening for the better.”

GM: Anna’s quiet for a moment.

“Is this… what submitting really looks like, outside of the bedroom?”

Victoria: “No, Anna, this is what it looks like when your partner loves you and is trying to protect you from the monsters out there, who she engaged with in the first place to make the world just a little more fair to the person she loves.”

GM: Anna’s quiet again.

It’s a lot to ask.

To just accept this.

Sylvia seeking out the crazy client who ranted about demons, pulled her out of bed in the middle of the night, and sent her home with an ice pack and the shit kicked out of her.

Sylvia not talking to a lawyer, after the talk about illegal activity.

Sylvia not even disclosing any details, or reasons, besides, ‘for us.’

It’s a lot to ask.

“Okay,” Anna says quietly.

“You let me teach at an inner city school. And never said ‘I told you so.’”

“You were right about Jeff. You’ve made better decisions than I have.”

She takes a long breath, as if to convince herself.

“I will trust you on this.”

“I will trust you to handle it your way.”

Victoria: The beaten woman pulls Anna into a hug, and leans the pair of them into bed.

“I won’t break your trust. I won’t go anywhere until morning, and when the time comes, I will tell you why this happened.”

GM: There’s some relief on Anna’s face, at that. Hearing Sylvia will at least wait until morning.

Anna wordlessly holds her close. The rain pounds overhead. Jordan is out there somewhere, in some wet and dark and lonely corner of the city, ranting his madness. Sylvia still hurts, everywhere.

But her bed is soft and warm, and so is Anna’s embrace. She can hear hear the woman’s steady breathing in the dark.

For all their worries, there’s nowhere the two would rather be.


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Story Fourteen, Victoria IV

“Why? Why do they have to hate us? Why can’t they just be happy we’re happy?”
Anna May Perry


Friday evening, 1 April 2016

GM: Anna’s thrilled by the news that Victoria’s meeting with banks to purchase Chakras. The meeting with the St. Johns is little ways off.

In fact, Anna seems inspired by Sylvia taking steps to realize her own dream. She says she wants to apply to schools again for a teaching position.

“Did you say your mom might be able to hook me up with something?” she asks, hopefully, one evening over dinner.

She cooks, like always.

Victoria: “She could, I’m sure.”

She hopes.

“I can call her.”

GM: “Please. Anytime that’s convenient for you both.”

Anna looks very hopeful.

Victoria: She pulls out her phone.

“…now?”

A pause.

“After dinner.”

GM: “After dinner,” nods Anna. “I can wait that long.”

“How do you feel about those different financiers you mentioned?”

Victoria: She pauses, her fork halfway to her mouth.

“Like I’m diving in deeper than I should; but, no great moves beyond good without risk. You either earn the respect of the rich and powerful in New Orleans, or you remain another pebble carried by the stream.”

GM: “Financial risk?” asks Anna, concernedly.

Victoria: She reaches across the table, squeezing Anna’s hand.

“Everything’s the same risk, in the end. All that matters is the degree. Don’t worry about me.”

GM: Anna squeezes it back and smiles.

“You can’t seriously expect me not to do that.”

Victoria: “Okay. Worry. But trust that I’ll come back to you. What would you do if I wasn’t here to take the weight of the world off your shoulders?”

GM: “I wasn’t even thinking about me.”

Victoria: “Who were you thinking about?”

GM: “The most important person in my life, of course.”

Victoria: “Rick Towers?”

GM: Anna laughs.

“I know a lot of his movies these days are pretty so-so. But he’s interesting even when his movies aren’t. It’s like… watching the last specimen of some exotic, alien species, almost.”

Victoria: “‘Like’? I’m entirely certain he’s the first real link to the lizardmen.”

GM: Anna smiles again.

“To answer your question, though. Geez. I don’t even know what I’d do.”

“It really has been a relief after everything to just… let you take the driver’s seat.”

“And for you, I bet, not to worry about cooking or the apartment when you’re so busy.”

Victoria: “Among other services freely available.”

The wink she follows with isn’t necessary. Finally, she feed herself a mouthful of food.

“I’ll be fine, Anna. If I’m not fine, I’ll get back at them.”

GM: Anna looks less than thrilled by that last promise, but nods.

“Can I have seconds?”

That’s been another rule they’ve adopted to help manage her weight.

Sylvia can take care of everything.

Victoria: “If you’re planning to run before bed, you may have one extra scoop.”

GM: “Oof. Such decisions.”

Victoria: “I’ll even be kind. Just one mile.”

GM: Anna smiles. “Can you make this decision for me, too?”

“It’s just… more fun when you do.”

Victoria: She clicks her tongue, a devious smile coming to her lips.

“All right. Have your seconds. Clean the pans and put the leftovers away. Allow yourself to digest. Run one mile, and then you can join me in the shower. I’d like my hair washed.”

GM: “Yes, mistress,” Anna smiles back, helping herself to another chicken burrito scoop. They’re refried beans, chicken, peppers, salsa, and grated cheese wrapped in small tortilla, like burrito cupcakes.

Image

Victoria: Sylvia watches her eat, chin in her palm. Watching. Staring. Waiting. Observing.

GM: “I’m suddenly feeling very self-conscious…” Anna laughs.

Victoria: “Oh, don’t worry. Just admiring the artwork.”

GM: Anna gets up, burrito cupcake in hand, and strikes a pose.

Victoria: Sylvia laughs, shaking her head.

“Your silliness is enticing.”

GM: She strikes another pose, munching on burrito as she does.

Very slowly and exaggeratedly.

Victoria: “You keep that up and I’ll be making you massage a lot more than my scalp.”

GM: “Is that a punishment or a reward?”

Victoria: She smiles faintly. “Keep eating.”

GM: “Yef, mifreff,” Anna says past a full mouth.

Victoria: Sylvia finishes her food. Apparently, she’s not all that hungry. It’s probably at least partly Anna’s fault.

GM: Anna takes her time finishing her own food and sits down on Sylvia’s lap.

“I’ve really liked this. Everything these past few months.”

“Is there more we can do in daily life, outside of the bedroom? What’s the next step?”

Victoria: Sylvia wraps an arm about her waist, promising security.

“Honestly?”

She knows the punishment for lying.

“I’ve had an idea in mind, but it’s a surprise.”

Uh oh.

GM: Anna looks intrigued.

And a little nervous.

Just the way Vic prefers her.

“My lady of mystery,” she smiles.

Victoria: “Yours, devoted eternally,” she teases.

GM: Anna nuzzles her nose.

“I guess I should do my chores if I want it to be a nice surprise, huh?”

Victoria: “Mhmmmm…”

Though, who said it will be tonight?


Saturday afternoon, 2 April 2016

GM: Sylvia knows how much her mother loves to have her children over, even outside weekly dinners. Anna’s teaching prospects is a topic best raised in private, anyway. Mary greets her at the door with a hug and question of,

“Have you eaten yet, Sylvie?”

Victoria: She pulls her mom into a more gentle hug than anyone else gets from her.

“Mom, you know that I know better than to come home full,” she laughs.

GM: “I do know,” Mary smiles. “I have someone staying with me. Please be gentle with her. She’s come from a very, very dark place.”

Victoria: “When am I ever not gentle?” she smiles, stepping into the house and removing her shoes.

GM: “When are you not,” Mary agrees. “Don’t take it personally if she doesn’t want to speak with you, either.”

Victoria: “None taken, Mom. New foster?”

GM: “Not quite, dear. Just someone who needs a place of… respite.”

Victoria: She nods.

“I’ll try to talk to her, but I won’t push.”

GM: “That sounds wise. She’s more willing to answer in nods and head shakes, I’ve also found.”

Victoria: She nods.

“What’s her name?”

GM: Mary pauses.

“She’s very frightened about people knowing her name. Why don’t you ask her if I can tell you.”

Victoria: Sylvia gives her a quizzical look, but nods her assent.

“Where is she?”

GM: “One of the bedrooms. I’ll go and get her,” says Mary. “Make yourself at home at the dining room, please. Lunch is already laid out.”

Victoria: Sylvia set her shoes neatly in the rack, just like Mama always had her, then pulls out a chair and sits, waiting.

GM: Lunch is tomato soup with basil toppings and grilled cheese sandwiches. Easy, classic comfort food.

Mary returns after several moments with a young woman. She has long dark brown hair, a button nose, and gaunt cheeks. They look like they might have been plump with baby fat, once, but there’s a deflated quality to them seemingly suggestive of rapid weight loss in a short time. She’s dressed in a plain t-shirt and sweatpants with a thick blanket wrapped around her shoulders. Her eyes are dark and haunted, as well as out of focus. They don’t seem to fully register Sylvia’s presence. She looks in her to mid to late teens.

Victoria: She’s glad Anna isn’t here. She doesn’t need any more grilled cheese.

Sylvia plates a meal, but doesn’t yet eat any of it, not wanting to be rude despite her mother offering.

When the girl enters, she’s greeted with friendly eyes and a warm smile.

“Hello there,” she purrs. “I’m Sylvia. You can call me Sylvia, if you want.”

GM: Anna was spoiled by their initial junk food feast together.

The girl looks at Sylvia warily.

She doesn’t say anything.

Victoria: “Can Mom—Mary—tell me your name?”

GM: The girl quickly shakes her head.

Victoria: “That’s fine, dear. You don’t have to let her,” she smiles, looking up to Mary.

GM: Sylvia’s mom nods in emphasis.

Everyone eats. The girl does that much without prompting. It’s simple, tasty, and filling comfort food. Anna will no doubt grouse missing out on it.

“You said you’d wanted to talk about Anna, Sylvie?” her mom asks. She glances at the girl. “Would that be better after lunch, or is here fine?”

Victoria: “I think after lunch would be best,” she answers. “It’s not so fun a topic for my new friend here.”

Translation: privacy.

“Did you enjoy the grilled cheese? That used to be my favorite meal, when I first got here.”

Victoria: Sylvia pauses, and then it occurs to her.

She produces her phone, opening it to a notepad app, then slides it across the table.

“Is this more comfortable for you?”

GM: Sylvia gets the distinct impression that her mother was framing her question in such a way, too.

The girl does not answer Sylvia’s question until Mary looks at her, then nods.

She looks at the phone without comprehension, up Sylvia, and then gives a light shrug.

Maybe?

Victoria: She nudges the phone closer to her.

“If you’d like to try. There’s no pressure.”

GM: The girl looks at it, then continues munching her grilled cheese.

Victoria: She lofts a brow, looking to Mary. “Perhaps a pen and paper?”

GM: “Perhaps a writing prompt,” her mother gently suggests.

Victoria: “Writing prompt?”

GM: “A question to answer, or other suggestion of what to write.”

Victoria: She did ask her if she liked the grilled cheese. Oh well.

“How old are you, dear?”

GM: The girl taps two numbers on the phone.

19

Victoria: Older than she thought. She has questions for her mother, but not even their echo touches her expression.

“Lovely. I’m 27.”

GM: The girl silently takes that in and has another spoonful of soup.

Victoria: “What do you like to do for fun?”

GM: The girl pauses in her eating to stare numbly ahead.

She does not answer.

Victoria: Perhaps a bit too open.

“Would you tell me your name?”

GM: The girl adamantly shakes her head.

Victoria: “You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

A pause.

“Do I scare you?”

GM: The girl looks at Sylvia, then at Mary, who smiles encouragingly.

She slowly shakes her head.

Victoria: Sylvia smiles.

“Most people think I’m a little scary. You must have seen things that toughened you up, huh?”

GM: In fairness, she’s dressed in normal clothes rather than black leather here.

She’s Sylvia here.

The girl closes her eyes at the words ‘seen things.’

Victoria: She’s being playful, trying to open her up by lightening the mood. Even still, Sylvia is a forward person, and can be a loud personality. Even without the leather and chains, she can be intimidating.

“What’s your favorite food?”

GM: Anna agrees with that.

The girl hits an emoji on the phone:

🍕

Victoria: Sylvia rolls her eyes with emphatic delight!

“Ugh, I haven’t had a pizza in forever! Have you ever had a dessert pizza?”

GM: The girl shakes her head.

Victoria: “Maybe Mary’ll let me make one with you…?” she says, looking to her mother. “If I nab the ingredients.”

GM: “A desert pizza?” says Mary with amusement. “That sounds unhealthy, but I suppose it can’t be any more so than cake or pie.”

Anna and Sylvia know better there.

Victoria: “No, that’d be sandy. A dessert pizza. I made one with Anna when she came home after a really bad day. It was a lot of fun.”

Tasty, too.

GM: “Maybe one with some dried figs for desert,” laughs Mary. “That sounds tasty, though. You could make it a lot like a cake, I’d imagine, only you’d wind up with a lot more icing or toppings.”

“Mmm. No wonder you liked that.”

Victoria: “I have always liked sweets,” she muses to Mary. “We made it with just a few more sweets than that. Once in a while, it can’t hurt.”

Anna has been banned from sweets outside celebrations for the last two weeks.

“Do you like sweets?” she asks the mute.

GM: Too much of a good thing.

Too spoiled from their first days together.

The girl nods.

Victoria: “Are you a chocolate kinda girl, or something else?”

GM: The girl taps another emoji.

🍫

Victoria: She laughs.

“After my own heart.”

She hopes her mother doesn’t take that literally.

GM: Mary doesn’t seem to.

The girl abruptly stands up.

Mary rises with her and touches her shoulder.

“Do you want to leave?”

No answer.

“Will you say goodbye to Sylvie?”

The girl nods.

Victoria: “It was nice to meet you! I hope to see you again.”

She’s sure she will. Sylvia reaches to take her phone back from the table.

GM: The girl freezes in place. Her eyes are enormous and bloodshot.

She screams and flings her soup bowl at Sylvia.

GM: It hits her solidly, and painfully, in the forehead, sending her staggering reflexively backwards. Soup gets all over her eyes and face. She’s momentarily blinded. She can hear plateware shattering as Mary shouts, “ENOUGH!” over the girl’s screams.

Victoria: THUNK!

Sandwich halfway between her teeth, the half-full bowl of soup bounces off her forehead, tumbles down her shirt, skids off her lap and lands upturned on the floor.

A searing fire tears through Sylvia, and if not for the fact that she’s covered in lukewarm tomato soup, the girl would see a searing gaze hot enough to embrittle her very bones.

Sylvia is thankful for that soup. She draws a deep breath, calming herself.

Mostly.

She doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t move. She simply watches.

GM: Wiping her eyes clean of the tomato soup, Sylvia sees that the girl’s screaming features have gone completely still, like a flipped switch. She is silent as Mary takes her by the shoulder and leads her out of the room with an, “I’ll be back in a moment, Sylvie.”

The bowl does not lie upturned on the floor, however, but in dozens of shattered pieces. Tomato soup is all over Sylvia’s clothes, chair, and the floor.

“I’m so sorry for that, dear,” Mary says after she returns. She lightly touches Sylvia’s forehead with a mother’s critical eye. “You’ve got a bruise. Come on, the first aid kit’s still under the sink.”

Victoria: In, out. In, out. In. Out.

In.

Out.

Okay.

She brushes the soup off her forehead as Mary walks into the room, allowing her mother to be her mother. There’s no escaping Mary St. George’s nursing, so she doesn’t even try.

“It’s f-ow! It’s fine, Mom.”

She hisses. Yeah, that’s a bruise.

“It’s just a bruise. I’ll be fine. Do you know why she did that?”

GM: “It’s nothing she has against you, Sylvia. She is… unstable,” Mary merely says. “I think she would have done that to anyone. You did well with her, though it was a mistake on my part to introduce you. She isn’t ready for company yet.”

“Now come along. You’ll be finer with a bandage.”

Victoria: “People are going to think I went to war,” she protests, but follows. “It feels like I did. Ow…”

GM: “I’m sorry, dear,” says Mary as she leads Sylvia into the kitchen. “This was my fault. Now…”

She doesn’t take long to dab off Sylvia’s bruise with a cloth, then applies a bandage from the first aid kit.

“We’re definitely not the same size anymore, but you can borrow one of my shirts. I’ll wash this one and have it for you on Sunday.”

Victoria: Sylvia shakes her head.

“It’s not your fault, Mom. I should’ve known not to startle her grabbing my phone.”

She knows better than to fight her mother on laundry, too.

GM: “I don’t think it was grabbing your phone. As I said, she’s unstable. Something would have set her off. But the milk’s spilled.”

She puts the first aid kit away.

“You can pick out something you like from my dresser to change into, I’ll clean up out here.”

Victoria: “Thanks, Mom.”

She’d say she’s the best, but she already knows it, even when Sylvia fusses.

Sylvia heads into her mother’s room, thumbing through her clothes for something simple. She doesn’t want to leave her without some of her favorite wear.

GM: She finds a number of button-ups to choose from. Mary isn’t much of a fashionista, anyway. Her clothes are simple and practical. Sylvia knows that she buys her jeans from the grocery store.

Her mother’s cleaned up the spillage and broken platewear in impressively fast when she returns. She’s also ladled out another bowl of soup for Sylvia.

“With that excitement out of the way,” she says, “do you want to talk about Anna now?”

Victoria: She reseats herself at the table, dipping her spoon into the bowl. She almost finished the first, but as mothers always know, she’s still hungry.

“As long as she’s okay, yes,” she answers, looking toward the bedrooms.

GM: “She isn’t,” Mary says, matter-of-factly. “But with time she’ll get better, and it was nothing you did.”

Victoria: Her gaze lingers on the hallway to those rooms.

“Anna…”

Mother always told her to spit it out.

“Is there anything you can do to help Anna find a place in education with one of the Christian schools you associate with?”

GM: “Oh. I’m very sorry, Sylvie,” she says, rubbing her daughter’s hand. “Catholic schools aren’t willing to hire homosexual teachers.”

Victoria: “And if they didn’t know…?”

GM: “Sylvie, you know that it’s wrong to lie,” her mother says gently.

Victoria: “Omission isn’t a lie, Mom,” she answers after a pause.

“You’ll really let her dream die? You can save her.”

GM: “A lie by omission is a lie,” replies Mary. Her voice isn’t accusatory, but neither does it waver. “If Anna was romantically involved with another woman and didn’t tell you, how would that make you feel?”

Victoria: Turned on, probably.

“Hardly relevant, and you know it.”

The fire flickers. She controls it.

“Anna is a good Christian. She’s a great teacher. She cares for her students. She leaves her personal life at home. She wears a smile to class every day. And she does. Not. Sin.”

Outside their house.

Unless commanded.

“She has more merit for teaching there than any of those slap-happy ruler-wielders.”

GM: “That may well be the case,” Mary replies without argument. “But Catholic schools choose not to hire homosexual teachers. It would be a lie for me not to tell them that Anna is in a homosexual relationship. Proverbs tells us: ‘The Lord detests lying lips, but He delights in people who are trustworthy.’ Luke tells us: ‘Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.’

“If you would like, I can explain Anna’s situation to them and ask if they will give her an interview. I don’t think they are likely to. But it’s a shot you can take with a clean conscience.”

Victoria: Mary knows that tension building in her face.

The final offer—a concession, Sylvia knows—sates her.

“I suppose that’s all I can expect.”

GM: “This is part of why I am concerned for you, Sylvie,” says Mary. “I am concerned for your soul. If asking your mother to lie is acceptable, how many other sins will become so?”

Victoria: She isn’t helping. Sylvia simply stares.

GM: Her mother stares back. Not angrily, not confrontationally, but she does not look away.

Victoria: “When have I ever been a sinful creature?”

That she’s aware of.

GM: “That is a question I would ask yourself,” answers Mary, her gaze steady upon Sylvia. “Have you committed other sins since you began your relationship with Anna?”

Victoria: “The same rhetorical question applies again.”

GM: “My question isn’t rhetorical, Sylvie. It’s one I would urge you to consider, and strongly.”

Victoria: “My answer is.”

GM: “Is it one you would like me to answer?”

Victoria: “If it was one that needed an answer, it wouldn’t be rhetorical.”

GM: “I don’t appreciate your shortness of temper, Sylvia,” Mary says with a slight frown. “I would appreciate a thank you. I am doing something for you that I am normally not inclined to do.”

Victoria: She looks away from her mother.

“Thank you.”

It’s as pleasant as a bucket of icewater dumped over a shower curtain.

GM: Mary sighs faintly.

Victoria: She glances only halfway back, relenting as much.

GM: “You’re welcome,” replies her mother.

Victoria: Sylvia gets up without a word and walks toward the front door at a hurried pace.

GM: Mary watches her go with a sad look, but doesn’t stop her. Or call after her.

Normally, Sylvia leaves her mother’s house with food.

Victoria: The door doesn’t slam, but it isn’t gentle.

Normally, her mother leaves being told she’s loved.

Normally, Sylvia leaves feeling she is.


Saturday evening, 2 April 2016

GM: “So, how it’d go with your mom?” Anna asks over dinner that night.

Victoria: Sylvia gives her a look.

She hasn’t said much all evening.

GM: Anna leans over and hugs her.

Victoria: She returns the hug, half as strong as she’d usually, twice as strong as she feels she can, and exactly all of what she can give.

GM: “Geez,” Anna murmurs, holding her close and rubbing her back, “that bad, huh?”

Victoria: There is a pregnant pause before she answers.

“How much do you value your career?”

GM: “…why do you ask?” says Anna.

There’s a pause.

“I don’t want to hurt your relationship with your mom, if you locked horns…”

Victoria: There’s no subtlety. There’s no subterfuge. There are no games, nor manipulation, nor art to her speech as usual.

The words come out like vomit.

“If we break up, she’ll get you a job.”

GM: “…what?” says Anna.

Almost disbelievingly.

Victoria: “She’s going to tell them that we’re together, and then give your name. Those two-faced fucks will decline you on that alone. Or, you make the truth what it needs to be—that you’re not with me—and she’ll leave your relationship status out. She won’t take a middle ground.”

GM: Anna slowly blinks at that.

Emotions play over her face. Disbelief. Pain. Even some anger.

“But I love you,” she says, plaintively. “I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”

Red starts to creep into Anna’s face.

“Did she… did she seriously say, and try to make us pick…?”

Victoria: “You won’t become a teacher again in New Orleans.”

She doesn’t notice how badly she’s shaking until the words shake with her.

“No,” she spits. “She clung to her ‘faith’…” She makes air quotes, mocking. “…and set the same outcome. The same piss-poor excuse all of them given. They’re all about love, charity and forgiveness until you fail to meet any one of their irrelevant criteria. Love all God’s children, indeed.

She crosses the room in a heartbeat, wrenching open the liquor cabinet and producing a bottle of whatever-the-fuck, vintage right-fucking-now.

GM: Anna doesn’t stop her. The alcohol is hard and goes down hard.

Her girlfriend is still sitting in place when she gets back.

“Why do you say that,” says Anna, her voice thick. “That I won’t become a teacher. What does… what does your mom know. There are lots of schools.”

“Like, fuck her. What does she know? Why can’t I be a teacher?”

Anna’s hand starts to tremble at that question.

Victoria: “I’m not getting a call that you’re in critical care because some dumb nigger doesn’t understand that the knowledge is more important than the grade and took it out on you.”

She’s seen Sylvia angry before, but rarely this angry.

GM: Sylvia’s anger is no small thing to witness.

Perhaps, were it over any other subject, Anna would want to calm her down. Stay out of the way.

But her eyes are angry, too.

“There are… there are other schools!” she exclaims. “Besides McGehee, that aren’t shitty inner city ones! I can apply to those! That was always the plan, we don’t need her, we can do this without her!”

Victoria: Can they?

Sylvia doesn’t care. In those moments, Anna’s career doesn’t matter to her. Anna’s career is just the catalyst. She’s angry at the entire hypocrisy of the religion she’s been raised to covet.

She drinks again, draining several mouthfuls.

GM: It goes down as hard as the preceding mouthfuls.

Does it take the edge off?

Maybe a bit.

Anna waits as Sylvia drinks.

“What do you think,” she says, lamely.

Victoria: “I think.”

The bottle lands lightly on the table, tipping, but righting itself.

“I think we should go burn down a church.”

GM: “I’d be down for that.”

If the words are meant as a joke, they don’t sound very humorous.

Victoria: Sylvia lofts a brow. Even with the excuse of a wave of drunkenness about to hit, she isn’t sure that’s a good idea.

GM: “No. Not really,” Anna says glumly, looking down at her lap.

“Just…”

She sighs and looks up.

“Why? Why do they have to hate us?”

“Why can’t they just be happy we’re happy?”

Victoria: “Because they’re the most hypocritical group of people on the planet.”

GM: Anna doesn’t seem like she has any answer to that.

“I think that…”

She sighs.

“No, I don’t think. I’m scared. What’ll happen when we tell my parents.”

Victoria: “Nuclear war, probably.”

She reaches for the bottle, then decides against it.

GM: Anna looks little comforted by that answer.

“I’m scared they’re going to disown me.”

Victoria: She looks sideways at her girlfriend.

“Then don’t tell them. We’ll adopt six cats and you can use that excuse.”

GM: “But what about when…”

Anna trails off and looks down at her lap.

Victoria: “When…?”

GM: “When it’s not… possible to.”

Victoria: “Make a child?”

GM: Anna nods slowly.

Victoria: “Well, pray real fuckin’ hard. God loves heterosexual relationships, so maybe he’ll slap a fat cock on my forehead.”

GM: “Sylvie, I’m serious,” Anna entreats with a miserable look. “What do we do?”

Victoria: “Is your relationship dependent on having children? What if you never met a man again? Would your parents disown you?”

GM: “I want children with you,” Anna says, frankly.

Victoria: “Then we will adopt.”

GM: “I mean… with my parents. And my brother. Not how we get kids.”

Victoria: “You… want children with your parents and your brother?”

GM: Anna manages a strained smile.

“Sylvie, seriously…

Victoria: She seriously doesn’t understand what she means, and her expression reflects it.

GM: “What I’m getting at is… when we have kids. How do I not lose the rest of my family. I don’t want to.”

“But we won’t be able to hide it.”

Victoria: “Tell them you’re adopting as a single mother. Or tell them that this is who you are, and they can love you as you are, or…”

Or not.

GM: “I’m just scared,” says Anna. “That they won’t.”

“Do you think your mom still loves you…?”

Victoria: “There’s nothing I can say or do that will change them if they’re set in their ways, Anna. I can only promise that you’ll always have me to come back to.”

“Conditionally.”

“Which is the problem.”

“A parent doesn’t love their child conditionally.”

GM: “What’s the condition?”

“And I guess you’re right, if they’re set in their ways. But you’ll always have me, whether your mom loves you or not.” Anna squeezes her hand. “I guess some part of me was just hoping the always in control domme could magically pull a solution out of thin air…”

She gives a halfhearted smile.

Victoria: She opens her mouth, then closes it. No, she won’t ruin the magic for Anna.

GM: “It’s okay,” she says, rubbing Sylvia’s shoulder. “I know you can’t make them accept me.”

Victoria: “I can only accept you where they don’t. Without condition.”

GM: “I know,” Anna murmurs. “That’s why I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you.”

Victoria: She gives her a quick kiss.

For the first time in hours, she feels a little bit better.

The alcohol helps.

GM: Drinking always helps.

Anna snuggles up against her and lets some time pass, seemingly not wanting to ruin the moment.

Then,

“Could you ask your mom not to talk to schools, please? I think it’d hurt more if she tells them I’m gay and asks for an exception than if I just apply blind.”

Victoria: “If you feel that’s best; though, if she hears you apply to any of her related schools, she’ll tell them anyway. That’s the Christian ‘honor code’.”

“I still want to go burn down a church.”

It seems a better idea now than before.

GM: Anna looks exasperated.

“Would she seriously do that?”

“That’s… sabotaging me.”

Victoria: “She considers lies of omission real lies, so…”

Anna is starting to understand why Sylvia was so angry.

GM: “Okay, well why you don’t you lie to her that I’m not applying to any religious schools anyway, so she doesn’t need to bother.”

Victoria: “I can do that.”

GM: Anna looks satisfied, at first, then a little guilty.

“I don’t want to make you lie to your mom…”

Victoria: “I don’t give a fuck. If she’ll betray me, I’ll betray her.”

GM: Anna looks away.

“I feel like I’m responsible for this.”

“You fighting with your family.”

Victoria: “No, she’s responsible for this. After over fifteen years, she decided to put a condition on her love. She set it back at Christmas, and now the wound is septic.”

GM: “What was the condition?”

“I remember you saying she didn’t approve, and how you wouldn’t hold hold hands at the table, but at least she didn’t kick me out…?”

Victoria: “Right. She’s fine with our sin, so long as we don’t spread it within her home, and she prays for our salvation.”

GM: Anna sighs.

“The worst part is how I’d take that as a win from my parents…”

Victoria: “Maybe two churches…”

GM: “Tempting.”

“Very, very tempting.”

Victoria: “At least one priest…”

GM: “What if we pretend I’m a priest tonight.”

“Helpless and you can do what you want to me.”

Victoria: “I like you alive.”

GM: “We can pretend you want to take your sweet time, then.”

Victoria: Sylvia cants her head this way, then that. She opens a drawer in the coffee table before them, takes out a pocket knife, and opens it.

“Trust?”

GM: Anna looks at it, then up at Sylvia.

“With my life.”

Victoria: She takes the blade, and with the softest pressure, she drags it up Anna’s jeans, tapping it against her thigh.

“We’d start here…”

GM: Anna watches the steel edge trace along her pants, but doesn’t pull away.

“Because that’s a less needed part of the body, if you don’t cut an artery?”

Victoria: “Because it gives you something to worry about,” she answers, that predatory undertone coming through.

GM: “I know you wouldn’t actually cut off my leg, but damn if you can’t be scary with a knife,” Anna remarks with a nervous smile.

Victoria: “Oh no, that’d be much too simple.”

The blade travels up the inside of her thigh, brushing over her pubic mound and slowing beside her navel. Sylvia angles it such that the point isn’t flush with her, just in case Anna moves.

“Do you feel that inside you?” she asks. Her eyes betray a black pit of hunger. She isn’t just taking her sweet time, nor is she just making a point to Anna. No, she’s reveling in watching Anna’s reactions.

“That rush on adrenaline. That uncertainty That vulnerability. That submission. The knowledge that a simple flick of my wrist could change—or snuff out—your life forever.”

Tap, tap, tap goes the blade.

She removes it from her skin, watching.

GM: Anna keeps very still as Sylvia unzips her jeans and pulls off her shirt. Her clothes’ protection is more psychological than physical. She can’t seriously expect them to stop a knife. But there’s something about naked steel over naked flesh that’s so much more visceral. Actually feeling the cold, sharp metal against your skin.

Anna keeps very, very still. She takes small, measured breaths. Her eyes follow the knife’s edge.

Even if she trusts Sylvia, all it takes is one nick. One slip of the hand.

“You… you have the power,” answers Anna. “You have the power over me. You could… I’m alive because you decide it. I’m in your hands.”

Her eyes drift up to the black pit in Sylvia’s.

Is she surprised by what she sees there?

Her breath seems to catch just a bit more.

It’s as she said.

Her life, in Sylvia’s hands. Victoria’s hands.

Hers to keep. Hers to take.

Then the knife withdraws, and Anna lets out a breath she might not realized she ever took.

Her eyes seek out Sylvia’s again.

Victoria: Sylvia isn’t just her girlfriend, nor her long-time friend. She’s her goddess. She’s the keeper of her life, and the single force keeping her here.

She tosses the knife back onto the table, still open, and pulls Anna into a hug. Even with so short a bout of play, she knows the importance of conveying her love.

“You don’t want me to pretend to take my time, because there’s an element that isn’t pretending,” she finally answers Anna’s request while she strokes her hair.

GM: The longtime domme is no stranger to the purpose of aftercare.

Anna gladly hugs her back. There’s a relieved and grateful energy to the hug. It’s an assurance-seeking hug.

A submissive hug.

“I knew you never would… but I wondered, when I looked in your eyes. Was that wrong…?”

Victoria: She strokes her chin.

“Was what wrong?”

GM: Anna rubs her head against Sylvia.

“Wondering, if you would.”

Victoria: “I don’t think it’s wrong. I think it’s self-preservation, but… That is a not-terribly-uncommon way into edgeplay. Usually with a fake knife.”

GM: “So we can say we were more hardcore,” smiles Anna.

Victoria: “We can say your girlfriend goes too far in toying with the idea.”

She winks, taking her hand.

“Now come on. I want a massage.”

GM: “Yes, mistress,” Anna smiles again.


Saturday night, 2 April 2016, PM

GM: The massage is nice.

Going to sleep together is nice.

The prospect of calling her mother in the morning is less so.

Anna makes a show of retrieving and presenting the phone from her hands and knees, but it’s like a spoonful of sugar to make the bad-tasting medicine go down.

“Like I said, I really don’t want her calling up a bunch of Catholic schools and telling them I’m gay…”

Victoria: It’s like being woken up by a puppy dropping their bowl on her head.

“You’re right, you’re right… now shhh…”

She strokes her hair, pulling her back into bed, and dials her mother.

GM: Anna smiles and nuzzles against her.

“Will you take me on a walk next…?”

She trails off, though, when Mary answers, “Hello, Sylvie.”

Victoria: “Mom.”

GM: “I’m glad to hear from you. How is your head?”

Victoria: Bruised.

“Fine. It was only a bowl.”

Launched by a teenager that should be recruited for the major leagues.

“Are you alone?”

GM: “I’m glad to hear that, too. I am.”

Victoria: “Look, I’m just going to be direct: I don’t think you should talk to anyone at schools about Anna if you can’t leave our relationship out of it. It makes you uncomfortable, and I think it’ll only disservice her.”

GM: “All right, Sylvie. I won’t talk to them about her,” says Mary.

Victoria: “And… I’m sorry.”

The words pain her.

GM: “I’m sorry, too,” Mary says quietly. “I’ve never wanted there to be pain between us. But you know that I’ll always love you, dear, no matter what.”

Victoria: Conditionally.

“I know, Mom.”

GM: “You and your siblings are the most important people to me in all the world. All I’ve ever wanted is for you to be happy and fulfilled.”

“I know we disagree on some things. Please understand it’s borne out of love and concern for you.”

Victoria: “I know where it comes from, Mom. You only want what’s best for us.”

It doesn’t stop her rolling her eyes.

GM: Anna silently watches.

“I do,” says Mary. “With all my heart.”

“I know we disagree on what is best. I’m sorry that’s caused us pain. But I will never, ever, stop loving you.”

Victoria: “I know, Mom. I know.”

GM: “I’ll still see you for dinner tomorrow?”

Victoria: Yes Mama, you will."

GM: “That makes me very happy to hear,” smiles Mary.

“All right. I have to get going now, the girl you met needs me. I love you, Sylvie.”

Victoria: She wishes her well, says she loves her, wishes her a good day, and hangs up.

“Well…”

GM: “I guess that went okay,” says Anna, rubbing Sylvia’s shoulder.

Victoria: “Better than I hoped it would…”

GM: “Yeah. I mean, I’m still mad she won’t help me get a job. But that is a better conversation that I think my parents would’ve had.”

Victoria: Sylvia shrugs, tossing the phone down to the bed.

“The world isn’t fair.”

And it never has been.


Sunday night, 3 April 2016, PM

GM: “So… any hints on the upcoming surprise?” Anna asks innocuously.

She’s done all her chores. Cleaning. Vacuuming. Dishes. Laundry. Cooking. She does them anyway, but without any sass or bratting, this time around. She’s made something new every night instead of leftovers.

She’s been very good.

Victoria: “Hints? No, no hints. You’ve done so well, but I need to see something…”

She swirls her hand, searching for a thought.

“Something more.”

GM: “Something more,” says Anna. “What sort of more?”

Victoria: “Something… promising.”

GM: “Promising,” Anna repeats thoughtfully. “Hmm. Interesting word choice.”

Victoria: She simply stares, waiting.

GM: “What time will you be home tomorrow, do you think?”

Victoria: “La…”

Late.

Always late. Buying Chakras on top of continuing to see clients promises to keep her very busy.

“I’ll make time. Picnic?”

GM: Sylvia has good memories of picnics.

“At home would be better, actually. There’s only so promising I can make a picnic.”

Anna looks thoughtful.

“Or at least one in public.”

Victoria: Sylvia lofts a brow.

“I’m fine with public.”

She planned to do the cooking, too. How contradictory.

GM: “Whatever Mistress says,” smiles Anna. “I can show that promise later.”

Victoria: Tap, tap, tap goes her finger.

“Anna?”

GM: Anna stands to attention, but doesn’t drop the smile.

“Yes?”

Victoria: Tap, tap, tap.

“Are you happy?”

GM: Anna looks a little unsure where this has been going, but nods emphatically.

“Yes, absolutely.”

After a moment, she adds, “With you, that is. With things between us.”

Her face falls a little.

“Obviously I want to teach again… I really want it to be summer so I can apply to schools already.”

“I hate just waiting like this.”

“Sitting around until I find out if I can live my dream again or not, you know?”

Victoria: Obviously she wants to teach again. Obviously she wants her career back. Obviously she wants to follow her passion. Obviously she wants not to wait and see. Obviously she knows the dungeon isn’t for her. Both inflict pain. Both enable growth. Both teach. Only one is happy with their path.

But they’re happy with each other, and Sylvie knows that that’s enough to keep Anna going. For now.

“I know,” she says, pulling the teacher into a light hug, running her fingers through her hair. “We’ll find a way.”


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Story Fourteen, Victoria III

“Do you want to run your own house of sin?”
Émelise LeBlanc


Tuesday morning, 29 March 2016

GM: It’s in late March that Sylvia hears: Chakras has burned down. Some idiot with a fire-related kink let things get out of control. Or the dungeon’s less than stringent safety practices caught up with them. No one dead, thankfully, but the BDSM community are shaking their heads.

Victoria’s business is continuing to do well, though. Very well. Anna’s a good secretary and general aide. It’s freed Vic to focus more on expanding and satisfying her client base.

Perhaps that’s why Victoria gets an invitation from a woman named Émelise to discuss a business proposition “regarding the local S&M community’s future” over dinner at Leblanc’s, a nice Creole restaurant in the Quarter.

Victoria: Sylvia is the happiest she’s ever been in those few months. She ensures Anna has a much work that isn’t ‘busywork’ as possible; but, much of what she has is busywork. She does offer here and there to let her take up a riding crop at work.

She has half a panic attack when the invitation arrives. Anna becomes a victim to the hug that follows. There are no survivors.

“What do I do?! What do I wear!?”

GM: Anna is happy for Sylvia. Very happy.

But she is waiting for summer, to get back to being a teacher.

She prefers to receive the crop over wielding it.

“Welllll, is it a business thing, primarily?” says Anna. “Maybe go with something safe, that could be fun or bondage or business…?”

“Um. Whatever that is.”

Victoria: Sylvia already knows what she’s wearing.

What she’ll be expected to wear. The outfit is the first test. If she can’t earn Émelise’s interest, how can Émelise trust her to earn anyone else’s interest?

“I think… I have an idea.”


Wednesday evening, 30 March 2016

Victoria: Sylvia has only a little while to prepare, and she spends every moment fretting. What if she makes the wrong choice? What if she slips up? What if she isn’t judged worth? What if, what if, what if, what if, what if…

Even Anna seizes her by the shoulder to talk some common sense into her.

She isn’t attending dinner.

Victoria Wolf is attending dinner.

“Act like it,” says Anna, in a startlingly accurate rendition of Sylvia.

She steps out of the Ryde Black—as even your arrival matters in this world, she knows—and moves with pointedly languid strides into the restaurant.

The woman that steps into the restaurant is the picture of sophisticated confidence. Her hair is pulled into a stylish bun, silver earrings dangling from her ears. She wears a satin blouse the color of spilt merlot, tucked into a pair of slacks cut for an office setting, but that which hug legs. The outfit sits atop a pair of heels, where function gives way to form.

Once inside, she approaches the hostess and gives the her Émelise’ name.

GM: Leblanc’s is a nice Creole restaurant along Royal Street. Business casual is the dress of the clientele. Lighting is soft and subdued. The building looks old, or at least decorated to appear old; establishments are known to exaggerate that fact to attract more tourists. Rare is the establishment that can turn them aside completely. The hostess is smiling and polite, and tells her quietly that “Mistress Émelise” will see her in a private dining room.

The woman waiting at the table is the caramel-skinned domme who destroyed the other half of Greg’s manhood with her. She has on a dark red dress and greets Victoria with a knowing smile.

“I thought we’d run into each other again, Ms. Wolf.”

“Everyone at Chakras was so sad when you left. But doesn’t every great have to strike out on her own?”

Victoria: A spark of surprised recognition breaks through that iron mask. Her lips curl into a faint smile.

“Mistress… Émelise,” she greets the woman, pausing intentionally, a recognition of their relative roles.

“I’ve never had a decision as tough as deciding whether to stay or take my chances; but, as you said, and it’s only those who take risks that become anything that matters.”

She settles into the chair across from the domme, back straight, hands clasped, elbows off the table, and eyes forward. Victoria Wolf may be one of the predominant predators in the New Orleans BDSM scene, but there’s always a bigger creature. She knows her place and the expectations therein.

GM: “In the BDSM scene or anywhere,” Émelise agrees. “Chef Gino wouldn’t have become famous if he’d stuck at Commander’s Palace forever.”

A waitress approaches the two with menus. Émelise waves her off with, “My usual.”

The woman makes pleasantly idle conversation with Victoria until their food arrives. There are three courses. The other domme’s starts off with crawfish tails with velvety white wine & tomato cream sauce, cayenne, and green onion.

Pic.jpg
The smiling man who gave Victoria her first interview also re-appears with a leashed sub. The other man wears a leather hood that completely conceals his face, although no gag. Gloves and cuffs render his limbs useless. The first man secures his leash to the table’s leg. The sub lies down on his back and opens his mouth.

“You can get rid of any leftovers there,” smiles the other domme.

Victoria: Victoria orders whatever Émelise’s usual is, trusting her to guide in a place she’s never been, and open to something new in the worst case.

She acknowledges the smiling man. If not for his guidance, she wouldn’t be where she is today.

Her shoe brushes the sub’s cheek; a gentle stroke with a soiled sole.

“If it tastes as delicious as it smells, the only morsel he’ll receive is the dregs on my fork at the end.”

GM: The sub whines.

“Then I guess he’ll go to bed hungry,” says Émelise, raising the first crawfish to her mouth. “Poor boy.”

Victoria: “I’m sure we can find him something to eat,” purrs Victoria, taking her own first of the meal. She removes her toe from his face.

GM: The sub makes a grateful-sounding noise.

“So I’m sure you’ve heard about the recent fire,” says Émelise.

Victoria: “An unfortunate accident, I imagine?” she asks, lofting a brow. They both know that it could just as easily have been an accident as a vengeful client returned for blood.

GM: “Extremely unfortunate,” says Émelise between bites of crawfish.

“Both for its effects and its timing. I’m already in the middle of opening a new club. This isn’t a good moment for me to rebuild Chakras—financially, or in terms of simple time and commitment.”

Victoria: “You have my utmost empathy, Mistress Émelise,” she answers, twirling a side plate of pasta onto her fork.

“If there’s any way I can help, or temporarily offer my services…”

GM: “Oh, I don’t expect charity,” says the other domme. “It’s not practical for me to rebuild Chakras, at this point. So I’d like to sell the land and what’s left of the building.”

“That could be to you, if you’re interested.”

Victoria: She chokes on a sip of wine, but manages not to spray Émelise. In lieu of swallowing, she spits the dregs into the sub’s mouth.

“You want to sell me Chakras?

GM: The sub moans and strains against his tether, mouth open wide to receive her leftovers.

“It’s a bit of a fixer-upper,” laughs Émelise. “The building was gutted by a fire. If it were easy or cheap to rebuild, I’d be doing that myself.”

“So at this point I’m cutting my losses, and selling to someone who’s in a better position to take on that sort of project.”

Victoria: Sylvia is in complete shock. Chakras? Hers? Her very own dungeon? Even ripped apart by fire and being nothing but a blackened husk—or so she envisions—it’s still fucking Chakras!

“I thought the sentimental value alone would make it priceless to you.”

Her voice is soft. Where until that revelation she was carefully curated, now her shock leaks through.

“I’m honored that you’d consider me to rebuild it, but I have to ask: Why me?”

GM: “Because you’re a successful independent domme who used to work for me,” says Émelise. “I’ve had a few prominent names use you as a reference.” She winks. “Nice job with Weiss, by the way.”

Victoria: “Weiss? I thought he’d never tell!”

She thrust her finger up through the air, swirling it.

GM: Émelise laughs.

“Telling wasn’t his first choice either, but I required a reference. You really did leave him hungry for more.”

Victoria: “I could have used him for storage by the time he left,” she grins.

GM: “I don’t doubt it,” Émelise declares confidently.

“Anyway, Chakras. Maybe you want to own your own dungeon and have other people working for you. Maybe you want to open a nightclub or a bar or a bowling alley for all I care.”

The other domme rolls her shoulders.

“It’s not my first house of sin. It wasn’t my only house of sin. I enjoyed it, but in the end, it was a financial investment that’s no longer worthwhile for me to maintain.”

Victoria: She turns her face toward a more somber note.

“Do you remember your first?”

GM: “My first what, client?”

Victoria: “First client. First club. What made you decide to break out on your own.”

GM: “Mmm… you could say it was a series of things. I was in the escort business before I found my way to BDSM.”

Victoria: “Really?”

She speaks with a note of interest, but not surprise. No, BDSM is just one outlet for those climbing the pyramid of whores. Sylvia is lucky to have found a path in through the window.

“And look at you today,” she muses. “All right. You knew I would be interested or you wouldn’t have called me here. Did you have a price in mind? Of course, I’d like to see the damage before anything is signed.”

GM: “Naturally,” says Émelise. “We can do it after dinner’s over, if you’re still free.”

Victoria: “For you?” she asks, smiling faintly. “I have until the sun tells us to go home.”

GM: Émelise laughs again between one of the last of her crawfish.

“I doubt the tour will take that long. Though come to think, day might actually be a better time. There aren’t any functioning lights in the building anymore.”

Victoria: Sylvia agrees with her and offers her her schedule for the next few days.

______________________

Thursday morning, 31 March 2016

GM: The next day, Émelise meets her shortly before noon to show her around what’s left of Chakras. It’s badly damaged by fire, as she described, but the building’s frame is still essentially intact.

Victoria: Victoria lets her know that she’ll have an inspector come with her. She isn’t concerned so much with Émelise conning her so much as understanding the scope of any structural damage, which is far more risky and expensive to fix. It was hammered time and again during several of her graduate classes.

GM: Victoria is told that an inspector will be available two to three weeks after she submits the required forms.

The bureaucrat she speaks to heavily insinuates that a cash bribe could speed that up to several days.

Victoria: She makes a quip about the world being more efficient if the requisite bribe is posted on their website, but agrees to pay a reasonable sum to ensure they’re available sooner.

When she arrives, it’s with an inspector in tow, who she gestures to go off and do their job while her and Émelise talk.

“I remember this!” she murmurs, bubbling excitement under that calm. She stops where the reception desk once stood.

“The day you had me take the front desk when Serena called in sick, and that tubby little shit walked in drunker than most tourists and tried to order a fucking pizza! Whatever happened to him, anyway?”

GM: The inspector heads off, seemingly happy to do his job after money’s changed hands.

“Oh, we had fun with him,” Émelise says idly. “I think he spent the night in a cage. He was very frightened to wake up behind bars. I don’t think he remembered much.”

Victoria: “Ha… memories. I don’t know where I’d be today if I didn’t decide I wanted to learn a little more. I figured I could earn what I needed and take some of the fun bits home to my boyfriend.”

She shrugs.

“I’d probably be sitting in an office lamenting how long CAD drawings take to render.”

Sylvia wanders over a room.

GM: The blackened building looks pretty badly gutted. The former engineer well knows that the temperature of fire can cause the affected parts of the building to significantly expand—more than the amount for which they were designed to do. This kind of movement and expansion is likely to result in cracking or structural damage.

“That’s what the lifestyle does, isn’t it?” smiles Émelise. “Gets people to expand their boundaries. Whether they’re dominant or submissive.”

Victoria: She has her suspicions over how bad the damage is, but she’ll wait for the inspector’s report before casting judgment.

“Helping people better understand themselves is what keeps me in the business. Well, and the money.”

She brushes ash of a crippled hunk of metal. It was a table, once.

“When was the last time you played the submissive role?”

GM: “I don’t think that’s why you’re in the business,” grins Émelise.

“Did the chair understand herself any better after you had fun with her?”

Victoria: Caught!

Sylvia flushes crimson.

“…touche.”

GM: “Or Greg.”

Victoria: “…ah, yes, Meatball did have a name, didn’t he?”

GM: “I don’t know, Meatlessball seems more fitting now.”

Victoria can still remember his screams.

But also her own.

Victoria: She shivers.

“It looked more like a meat patty.”

She snorts, shaking her head.

“Mistress, may I ask you something?”

GM: “Feel free.”

Victoria: “Chakras is—was—void of safety, both for the victims physical health and for use of a safeword meaning anything. What I’ve come to understand from other dungeons and most of the internet world is that that’s… uncommon.”

Translation: it doesn’t happen.

“Why? I can surmise an answer, but I’d like to hear it straight from you.”

GM: Émelise laughs.

“Go visit more dungeons.”

“It’s less uncommon than you’d think.”

“As to why, it helps the worthy to grow and become more than they are. And the unworthy can still serve their pleasure. That’s all there is to it.”

Victoria: Has she strayed too far from the shepherd’s teachings? Is her penchant for security and safety in those she dominates wrong? She pauses.

“I see.”

GM: Émelise just smiles knowingly.

The two spend a little more touring the building, or what’s left of it. Victoria thinks she recognizes some of her devices. Steel, at least, is more resistant to fire than drywall. The inspector gives his assessment. There is structural damage, and worse than it looks. This was an exceptionally hot fire.

Still, like anything, enough time and money can fix it. It’s still prime real estate in the heart of the Quarter.

Victoria: Victoria is disappointed to hear of the depth of structural damage, but it’s what she expected to hear. It’s not just a perfect location in the heart of the Quarter. It’s Chakras! It’s fucking Chakras, and she can own it if she says yes.

She’s excited, and she wants to leap for joy and let her mind dream of all the possibilities, but she keeps it reigned in. No, Émelise is an ally, but she’s also a predator. She wouldn’t have gotten where she is today if she isn’t capable of tossing an innocent into oncoming traffic, and so Sylvia is mindful of the cost to come. She won’t be taken advantage of.

“It’s unfortunate, how thorough the damage is.”

GM: “Yes,” agrees Émelise. “But then, it’s why I’m selling in the first place. Too much time and trouble for me to rebuild right now.”

“So what do you think?” she asks. “Do you want to run your own house of sin?”

“It’s a wonderful feeling, to have other dominants subordinate themselves to you.”

That’s what Greg thought, too. Laughing over how much he loved to tame dommes.

Victoria: Greg earned his place.

“I think you know the answer to that,” she smiles. “And that this is entirely due diligence and pleasant conversation.”

GM: “Then let’s talk figures,” Émelise smiles back. “I’ll get you a marketing packet with the property valuation and other info, and we can get a broker to draw up something in writing.”

Victoria: She nods, holding out her hand.

“I’ll look forward to it, Mistress.”

GM: So that happens. Émelise’s broker comes to Victoria with an offer, which includes the following: price, terms, earnest money, bank financing, seller financing, assignment, due diligence period, closing date, utility charges, seller’s disclosure, promissory note, deed of trust, etc. The broker says he’s there to facilitate the negotiation process to ensure that both parties get what they want.

Émelise is selling for a bargain rate, given Chakras’ damaged state. There will obviously need to be extensive repair work. But the land is still worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Victoria doesn’t have enough money to afford this out of pocket. That’s just the nature of commercial real estate. She’ll need to negotiate with bankers to help finance the deal.

Or, Émelise says, she’s willing to sell for even lower. But Victoria will owe her for it.

Victoria: “I wouldn’t dream of pressing you below a fair value,” she says at the offer. “So long as the offer is still fair for you, I’ll accept a marginally lower rate in place of a favor or two.”

Or four.

She’ll still need a loan. She’ll still be in debt. However, a debt to the powerful can be a boon, too, and she intends to use it to help their relationship blossom.

Sylvia clarifies a single restriction: that her favors owed must only involve her.

GM: “I can’t ask you to ask someone else to lend me a cup of sugar?” asks Émelise.

Victoria: She smiles a faint smile.

“Mistress, I only want my family left out of whatever favors you might ask. As little time as we’ve had together, I feel that I know you. Somewhat.”

She straightens her jaw, not quite tense, but certainly more serious.

“I won’t try to presume that your asks have conditions I control. Not after what you’re doing for me. Ask what you will, and I will do everything I can to sate you.”

GM: “That’s just what I love to hear,” smiles Émelise. “And don’t fret, I’m sure that anything I might want from your family I could just as easily get from somewhere else.”

“Besides, what family?” she laughs. “I wasn’t aware that Victoria Wolf had any.”

Victoria: The only answer she receives is a smile.


Thursday afternoon, 31 March 2016

GM: Jordan takes Victoria’s money and eventually reports back that the job is done. He has pictures, some better than others, of Adam (who looks pretty out of it) getting fucked by two trashy-looking black prostitutes. They’ve trashed his house, too. There’s drugs, shit, and vomit all over the place.

Victoria: Victoria makes some amused, at-his-expense comments, taking the pictures and thanking him.

Thirty minutes later, he’s more familiar with tricks he didn’t know Victoria knew, and entirely convinced she can tie knots with her tongue.

She makes an appointment with Christina to deliver the evidence.

GM: Jordan sure seems to think he’s come out ahead in the transaction.

Christina meets Victoria at another restaurant that evening, alongside a third person. She’s a buxom-figured woman in maybe her early 40s with wide hips, ample breasts, and wavy auburn hair that falls past her shoulders.

“This is Jill,” says Christina. “She has contacts in the media that can ensure these pictures get disseminated.”

Victoria: Victoria orders a drink. She hasn’t been very hungry the last few days.

“Victoria,” she introduces herself to the woman, offering a firm handshake.

“Lovely. Thank you, Jill.”

She’s sure that there’s some bill unmentioned. Christina probably took care of it.

“What about the man himself? Has he given any word to the police? They’re not going to let it go, but they aren’t going to be stupid about it.”

GM: “I presume you mean Adam?” says Christina.

Victoria: “Unless you’re toying with the lives of multiple m—”

A pause passes. Of course she is.

“Yes, Adam.”

GM: Jill smirks at her first statement.

“Don’t be silly,” snorts Christina. “A priest tell a bunch of police that he broke his vows? Too many chances of that getting leaked to the press.”

“The Malveauxes are more likely to deal with their problems internally,” says Jill.

Victoria: “I’m sure more than one altar boy will pay for his transgressions.”

She should call Jordan and ensure they didn’t leave any clues behind. Maybe later.

“And for our next performance…” she muses.

GM: “I’d advise waiting,” says Jill. “Two incidents of this type in quick succession will have the family even more alert.”

Victoria: “Probably. It doesn’t mean we can’t plan.”

GM: “Who would be your next choice?” says Christina.

Victoria: “We should probably stray from prominent politicians…”

“…and from murder.”

GM: “That’s a what, not a who,” laughs Jill.

Victoria: Victoria thinks for a time.

“…what about Westley? Even the dead can still bring shame to a family name, if the right ‘facts’ come to light.”

GM: “It’s not impossible,” says Christina. “Lord knows they were covering up his scandals left and right when he was alive.”

“If anything, his death benefited the family.”

She looks thoughtful for a moment.

Jill laughs.

“That’s not impossible, either,” says Christina.

“Few things are,” says Jill.

Victoria: “What do you know about his scandals?” she asks Christina.

GM: “Enough to doubt the official narratives, for one,” she answers with faint amusement.

Victoria: “Go on…” she says, sipping her tea.

GM: Christina looks at Jill.

“Are you new to this, duckie?” asks the other woman, smiling.

“You look young. You’re certainly pretty.”

Victoria: Victoria gives her a look, neither an admission nor petulant defiance.

GM: Jill’s smile doesn’t drop, though it turns a shade more knowing.

“Let me give you some advice,” she says. “Sitting at the big girls’ table will depend on your ability to find things out for yourself.”

Victoria: She takes the advice in silence. It’s appreciated, and clearly received.

“Is there a line the two of you won’t cross?”

It’s a genuine question.

GM: Flint dances in Christina’s eyes.

Anna lost her job.

Christina lost a loved one.

“Probably not,” says Jill.

Victoria: And so she begins.

“We can continue in line with ruining their connection to the church. Gabriel is found drunk with an abused, innocent altar boy, who also has alcohol in his system. Wouldn’t it be tragic if Gabriel wasn’t cautious with how much he gave the child to drink? If he died?”

She shrugs.

“One stroke—forgive the pun—severs his future both with the cloth and his father’s vision of politics.”

A pause passes, and she holds up a finger.

“Poor Virginia can’t handle her cousin’s inner nature coming out. The pressure of family, Gabriel’s actions… It’s all too much. Who would have seen the suicide coming?”

GM: Christina considers that.

“It wouldn’t need to be an altar boy. Evidence of homosexuality alone would finish his future with the family. It’s put Caroline on the outs from what I’ve picked up.”

“Someone’s been digging,” smiles Jill. “There’s been nothing about her in the tabloids.”

“No, there hasn’t,” says Christina. “The Malveauxes are obviously trying to keep it in the family. That’s another avenue to explore, though outing Gabriel would hurt the family worse.”

“The three kings have only so many male heirs,” Jill nods. “Just him and Luke, with Adam a priest.”

“The idea with Virginia is stupid,” says Christina. “Why would she kill herself over her cousin?”

“It’s moot,” says Jill. “Not in the city anyway.”

Victoria: She shrugs.

“So forget Virginia. Homosexuality is easier to pursue than an altar boy.”

Said the gay.

GM: “Yes, it is. A minor would throw criminal violations into the mix,” says Christina. “On the other hand, an older man using Gabriel as a bottom would be a terrible look for the family.”

Victoria: Victoria lofts a brow, a ghost of a smirk breaking her stoic expression.

“All right. Older man. Black? Why not make it worse?”

GM: Jill laughs. “In for a penny, in for a pound.”

Victoria: Tap, tap, tap go her fingers.

“The alcohol angle would work, but would remove his agency somewhat. As would simple pictures. Hmm…”

“I had imagined them being walked in on, but nothing would stop him claiming innocence and rape. Then again, that’s what he’d do anyway.”

GM: “Yes, it is,” says Christina. “It doesn’t matter. The family’s still in a terrible spot if evidence gets publicly leaked.”

Victoria: “As in, if our senior black friend were to upload the video to SexHub, and…”

She looks to Jill.

“…the media caught wind of it?”

GM: Jill laughs again. “SexHub or wherever else. The source doesn’t matter, as long as the video’s real.”

Victoria: “Wonderful. I’ll dig into my cabinet of morally questionable, elderly, homosexual black men and get back to you when the veritable eclair has been creamed. Unless there’s anything else, ladies?”

GM: “I don’t think so,” Christina says dryly. “Call us when you’ve found someone, or if you run into complications.”


Friday morning, 1 April 2016

GM: The next weeks promise to be busy, busy, busy for Sylvia—or, increasingly, Victoria—getting her new business up and running.

Once she signs the dotted line, they begin the due diligence process. The broker facilitates the process to provide Victoria with the information she needs, while ensuring that no one knows the building is for sale until the deal is closed. Émelise says she “prefers not to advertise” the details of her business transactions to the public.

Then there is the building inspection. Victoria has already brought an inspector. The inspector needs to come by again, along with an engineer, appraiser, general contractor, and various sub-contractors. Bribes are necessary at various points.

Then comes negotiation with bankers. Victoria has to put together a professional marketing package, like she’s the one selling something—which she is—to convince bankers to finance the deal and the building’s repair. Bankers like it when they have all the information they need presented in an orderly manner, Émelise says.

There’s more backroom dealing there, too. Émelise is already selling Chakras to Victoria at a discount, so bankers don’t need to finance as much. That will help, says Émelise.

“But so can fucking them,” smiles the older domme. Victoria is fairly new to the world of banking and finance, but Émelise seems like she’s done this sort of thing a lot with her assorted businesses. She lays out several bankers they can approach:

There is Paul Simmons, who works for Fidelity Bank. He does “unspeakable” things in bed. Émelise says that Christina Roberts and Channelle Riqueti refuse to hire out their girls to him—no amount of money will change their minds. Victoria has heard of Simmons’ name, herself. She knows he is unwelcome in the “mainstream” BDSM community and that many dommes likewise refuse to take him as a client.

The St. Johns in the French Quarter are the local branch of the larger St. John family. They own a regional private investment bank and are rich perverts with a reputation for deviancy. They mostly avoid the public BDSM scene, too. Émelise says they prefer to keep their appetites behind closed doors, but assures those appetites are quite insatiable. They don’t enjoy the same black reputation as Simmons, though Émelise still laughs at the thought that mainstream BDSM practitioners could “keep up with them.”

Whitney Hancock Bank is another regional bank with a presence throughout the South. Émelise says that one of its board members, Warren Whitney, has a taste for escorts and sadomasochism. His tastes run “more mainstream.” He could go to a public BDSM club without getting kicked out—though given his family name, he likewise prefers to keep things behind closed doors. The Whitneys are old money and don’t want to wind up in the tabloids.

Finally, there’s Bank of Columbia. They’re a corporate monolith with a branch presence in New Orleans. Émelise doesn’t have any contacts at the bank. They will treat financing her purchase of Chakras like a standard business transaction, no sex involved, if Victoria doesn’t want to find and seduce a banker there. They’re probably the most vanilla option.

Indeed, Émelise seems to have listed these contacts from most to least deviant. The more deviant, Émelise says, the more money Victoria can expect to save—if she can satisfy the bankers’ urges.

She’s also, of course, free to approach multiple bankers and request smaller sums from each.

Victoria: Busy, busy, busy. Between a girlfriend in need of constant attention—or so she feels, and not to a detriment—due to a budding relationship and interest in her new place as a submissive, the business she has already, and the sudden influx of new possibility, Sylvia hardly has a moment to herself. She feels like the busiest woman in New Orleans, and she revels in it.

Success takes time.

Though she has her opinions on each, she stows them in the back of her mind and weighs the cost and merit of each.

The thought of Paul Simmons brings both curiosity and revulsion. If no one in the BDSM community will work with him, there’s a reason for it. Victoria Wolf might be a budding star in New Orleans, but she’s not the most depraved name in the business, and she knows it. If she knew more about him, she might entertain the possibility. Alas, she does not.

The St. Johns are somewhat more palatable, but only in so much as a washed slug is more palatable than one off the ground. She wrinkles her nose at the thought, but moves on for now.

Whitney Hancock might just be the goldilocks zone of bankers. A reputable name. Reasonable tastes, if rough. A desire to be kept out of the tabloids. It’s perfect for her; though, he’s a business man through and through. He won’t crash his business for a night of raunchy fun.

Bank of Columbia is a last resort. Victoria Wolf deals in people, not faceless entities.

After taking the time to think over the options while she makes herself a cup of coffee, she returns to Émelise, seemingly still pensive.

“I have my thoughts, but I’d like to pick your brain on them.”

She sips.

“…Simmons. No loan is worth getting myself killed, or permanently scarred. What’ve you heard about him? I’ve heard rumors, but nothing concrete.”

GM: Busy becomes Victoria. That’s what Émelise says. Even Anna says so, too.

She’s happy to see her girlfriend’s hard work paying off.

But even when it pays off, as Victoria can now well attest, success still takes time and toil.

“He was banned from Chakras, and the other places I own,” says Émelise. “His money isn’t worth the trouble he could bring.”

Victoria: “Banned… because of something he did there? Or on rumor?”

GM: “Let’s simply say I know his tastes,” smiles Émelise. “He’s unpredictable. Sometimes all he wants is a blowjob or missionary.”

Victoria: Victoria lofts a brow.

“I’m impressed by your penchant for secrecy even with a client you never intend to see taken again.”

GM: Émelise simply laughs at that.

“He still takes partners, though. Men like him always find a way.”

Victoria: She grunts.

“…right. So you’d recommend I pass on him.”

GM: “He’s not worth it as a $500 a session customer. Financing a sale this large, though, could be another story. He’ll probably give you the best rate out of anyone, if you think the risk is acceptable.”

“If you do, I’d take precautions to ensure your safety that don’t rely on his goodwill.”

Victoria: “Precautions like…? I don’t think I’ll be able to reach for a gun if he has me tied up.”

GM: “Precautions that don’t leave you at his mercy. You’re a bright girl, I’m sure you can think of ways to do that.”

Victoria: She smiles faintly.

“The St. Johns don’t carry quite the same dark name, if similar tastes.”

GM: “The St. Johns are better at keeping it behind closed doors. They don’t hunt for new victims, like Simmons does.”

Victoria: “Mistress, I’d like you to answer one question honestly about Simmons.”

“Just one.”

GM: “Ask.”

Victoria: “Has he killed a girl?”

GM: “I’ve never seen him do so. But it wouldn’t surprise me.”

Victoria: She clicks her tongue. Nope. Not worth the risk.

GM: “He hosts play parties, sometimes. You might’ve heard of the ones up at Audubon? They’re his.”

Victoria: “Heard? Yes. Had the pleasure? Declined politely, for reasons discussed. I like my lips attached to my body.”

GM: “I suspect he doesn’t kill most of the girls he fucks, of course. Even he couldn’t get away with leaving a big enough trail of bodies. But for a ‘special’ occasion, with a girl he’s sure won’t be missed? I could see him doing it.”

Victoria: Victoria would be missed. That’s comforting.

GM: “No, I’m sure he’s done it, if he really thought she wouldn’t be missed.”

What would Anna do, if she never came home?

Her mother?

Victoria: "The worst you’ve heard the St. Johns do?

GM: “Necrophilia.”

Victoria: “That’s it?”

“I’m less concerned with them wanting cold pussy than making it that way.”

GM: Émelise regards her question with amusement.

“I haven’t heard of them murdering girls. Just doing things that would make amateurs blanch.”

“It’s easier for an amateur to say they’re into extreme things than to actually do them.”

Victoria: Victoria gives her a coy smile.

“Try me. What’s the worst you’ve done?”

GM: Émelise laughs at that.

“Oh, we need to work our way up to that, Ms. Wolf.”

“But as far as something to tide you over, well, I fucked my father.”

Victoria: That earns an inquisitive expression, but one with no judgment therein.

“That is a story for a glass of wine,” she answers, but leaves it at that. If Émelise isn’t entirely aware of Victoria’s curiosity in her—and there’s been plenty of evidence for that, both years ago and today—she is now. Victoria wants her, if only for an hour. Probably more.

“The St. Johns sound like a bundle of fun, if they’ll respect rules; which, I don’t expect them to do. Curious. Both them and Simmons are good friends to have if they see you as a repeated source of fun, I imagine; and if they see you as a renewable resource, I imagine they’re less likely to want to ruin you in one session.”

She thinks on that for a moment, tapping a midnight fingernail on the table.

“…thoughts?”

GM: “What’s the worst you’ve done?” Émelise asks.

“Or something to tide me over, for now.”

Victoria: “Greg might be the cruelest I’ve been, but he wasn’t a client.”

Still, she savors the memory as much as she reviles it.

“The thoughts I have around you are, well…”

She allows that to remain unfinished; an implication and a mystery, both. Let Émelise follow the bait if she desires.

“Two brothers visited me over the winter. Previous college football players. Married. Conservative values. I made them finish into a pair of shot glasses, gave each the other’s, and told them to mix it without using their hands. They’ve never been closer than that.”

She pauses to drink, if only for effect, and smiles.

“They spat it into a bottle of textured wine and gave it to their mother for Mother’s Day.”

GM: Émelise smiles and sips her drink at the mention of those thoughts.

She laughs aloud at the story about the brothers.

“How delicious. There are so many stories about sisters getting fucked together. Or mothers and daughters. Why is it never brothers, or fathers and sons?”

The question sounds more rhetorical than anything, though, as she chuckles to herself.

“So did they both request a session together? Or did you talk them into that?”

Victoria: “We always talk them into more than they desire, because we know what’s best for them.”

She winks.

GM: “Truer words never spoken,” declares Émelise.

“As to your question, I think your assessment on the St. Johns is correct. They’re fairly slow to let new playmates into their circles, for a variety of reasons. But I imagine they’d be good friends to someone they fully let in.”

Victoria: She asks, quite serious, “Would I be in over my head if I take Simmons?”

GM: “As for Simmons, I think much of the fun for him lies in ruining his playmates. Still, he doesn’t ruin everyone who shows up to his play parties, or to the ones he’s invited to. So he can behave himself, if he’s sufficiently motivated.”

“Simmons is a risk. Whether you think he’s worth it is up to you.”

Victoria: She drums her fingers on the table, looking away.

“I find the prospect of taming the problem child enticing for attracting future prospects.”

GM: Émelise laughs.

“Oh, my dear, you won’t tame him. Let’s be clear on that.”

“I’ve never heard of him looking for a dominant partner. Exclusively submissives.”

“Everyone has it in them to be a switch, of course… but that’s not something I’d gamble on with a first meeting.”

Victoria: “When a zookeeper tames a tiger, it isn’t with a whip. It’s with food, and with respect. It’s not that I expect him to bend over and call me mommy. It’s that I hope to paint him such a promise of what I can bring him that he comes to me for his meals.”

GM: Émelise smiles.

“Just keep the whip handy, in case he gets any ideas about what his next meal is.”

Victoria: “Do you ever feel the need to bring security to a potential client?”

“Do you visit them in their homes?”

GM: “They usually come to me.”

Victoria: “Over and over again, I’m sure.”

GM: “Yes,” she agrees, casually, as though it’s a basic fact.

“I don’t think Simmons would appreciate the presence of security.”

Victoria: “He wouldn’t appreciate being dissuaded from his meal, but I don’t intend to be eaten. Sampled, maybe.”

She taps a finger to her lip.

“…it’d be symbolic to fuck him in Chakras, in a way. In its current state.”

GM: “Yes, it would be. Though good luck with that too.”

Victoria: She snorts.

“I can think of three reasons why it wouldn’t work. What’s yours?”

GM: “More freedom in how he plays with his food at home.”

Victoria: “I don’t think it’s a good idea to visit him in his home without a sacrifice.”

GM: “Smart girl.”

Victoria: Victoria is unhealthily focused on the promise winning over Paul might present. In other ways, being associated with him might damage her further. Maybe.

She sighs.

“Tell me it’s a terrible idea. You’ll get your loan no matter who I choose.”

GM: “I’d sooner let you make the decision yourself.”

“You’ve heard my thoughts on the various bankers.”

Victoria: She groans. The stress is easily apparent.

“Tell me about Whitney.”

“Would he ask me to wear a clown suit?”

GM: “I’ve not heard of a client requesting that before, but I’d believe anything in this business.”

“Whitney’s into fairly standard BDSM, from what I hear. Probably nothing you haven’t done before.”

Victoria: “Whitney is a client I’d like. I think, for this, I’ll go with the St. Johns.”

GM: “Have fun,” smiles Émelise.


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Story Fourteen, Victoria II

“I made a deal and they reneged on it, and killed my niece in the process.”
Christina Roberts


Monday evening, 14 March 2016

GM: One Shell Square is New Orleans’ tallest skyscraper. It’s imminently due to be renamed the Whitney Hancock Center, after they relocate their corporate headquarters to the building, but it might be a while before people stop using the old name completely. The Corner Club is in its basement. One Shell Square is one of the comparatively few buildings in New Orleans to even have a basement, thanks to the CBD’s rockier ground.

One_Shell_Square.jpg
The club’s interior is best described as subdued. Soft multichromatic lights illuminate the silhouettes of dark figures. In contrast to the wildly spinning and scintillating lights at French Quarter dance clubs, the Corner Club’s are stationary and reflect a graduating color palette: yellow by the bar, orange in an adjacent corner, magenta in the one next by, and indigo at that spot’s neighbor. People’s faces are visible up close, but dark and hard to identify from farther away. Background music is soft, relaxing, and only half-audible against the low murmur of conversation. There is no central dance floor. Most patrons are parked at the bar, reclining on comfortable-looking leather seats, or secluded in private alcoves or meeting rooms. Most wear business or business casual attire. Ages range from yuppies to parents to grandparents.

Corner_Club.jpg
Marcus Marrow greets Victoria warmly when he sees her. He greets everyone warmly, though her perhaps more so than most. Still, she’s not here for him tonight. Christina Roberts has missed their last several get-togethers. She’s here tonight, though. Parked at the bar and nursing a drink with a sour look.

Victoria:Marcus,” she purrs, resting a hand upon his forearm and standing up on her toes to kiss his cheek, a glint of warm fondness in her eyes.

“It’s been far too long.”

It hasn’t been long; but, then it feels longer than it is once Victoria Wolf enthralls your attention, doesn’t it?

“Unfortunately, we won’t be remedying that problem tonight. Another night, perhaps?”

She doesn’t say when. Poor boy.

GM: “Another night,” the handsome club owner agrees amiably, raising her hand to kind in turn.

Is there disappointed longing in his eyes?

Yes. Yes, there is.

Maybe he could have some say when, if he paid her hourly rate.

But that’s just crass, when she’s seeing you outside of work.

Victoria: She’s already taken enough to make it worth her while, time well-spent aside.

She looks around, spotting Christina at the bar.

“Til then, my dearest.” Her fingertips grace his chin, then leave him wanting and cold.

GM: So very wanting.

Victoria: She arrives at the bar, stealing a stool from Christina just as a man arrives, likely to accost her for a phone number.

“Christina,” she breathes, as if the woman is a gift.

GM: The man glowers at Victoria and heads off.

Christina glowers after him.

“Thanks,” she says rotely, taking another sip from her drink. She’s a handsome, 40-something woman who wears her age well. She has long brown hair that falls to her upper back, matching eyes, and faint lines around her mouth that give her face a slightly sad, or at least contemplative expression. Or at least when she’s not looking as sour as she currently does. She’s dressed in business casual.

Christina_Roberts.jpg

Victoria: She looks at the bartender, taps the bar, points to Christina’s drink, then holds up two fingers.

Two more of whatever that is.

“My, my. I haven’t even had time to bug you yet and you already look at me like that.”

GM: The bartender gets started on Victoria’s drinks.

“I’ve had a death in the family,” Christina says frankly.

Victoria: Her lips part in shock, her hand following.

“Christina… I’m so, so sorry. What was their relation?”

GM: “My niece,” answers the madame in the same hard tone. “My sister’s daughter.”

Victoria: She touches Christina’s forearm gently.

“You have my most sincere condolences, Christina. You’re a dear friend. If there’s anything I can do…”

GM: Christina looks her over thoughtfully as the bartender slides over her drinks.

Victoria recognizes her. Becca Flynn, one of Channelle Riqueti’s occasional escorts.

“Dead is dead,” the madame answers. “There’s not much to be done.”

“How’s work?”

Victoria: Still, she gives her a sympathetic look and brings a drink to her lips, sipping.

“Productive. Riveting. It’s something to fill the dreams of those who… Well, you very well know.”

She isn’t going to allude to anyone. It’s their silent agreement.

She offers Christina a somber look.

“Do you need to talk? We can go somewhere more quiet.”

GM: Christina’s happy to talk about what clients do with girls. But she never gives names.

“Our drinks aren’t empty yet,” she observes. “Maybe then.”

“How’s the one who wants his mommy to say she’s proud?”

Victoria is pretty sure that Jordan savors that more than the actual sexual release.

Victoria: Victoria snorts.

“Babe, you could flip open a phone book and you’d have touched at least 6 names that fit that description.”

GM: “The real question is which half are seeing you or my girls,” Christina says dryly.

She sips her drink.

“Has your girlfriend had any luck finding another teaching job?”

Victoria: She gives a coy smile.

“Variety is spice, and all of that. Anna… Has not. I worry for her if she doesn’t find some outlet for her dreams, but I worry more if she thinks about teaching in the slums again.”

GM: “You can’t teach that class of people,” says Christina.

Victoria: Victoria looks like she can’t decide whether she wants to laugh or kiss her.

GM: “I’ve had a few girls from that sort of background. They’re driven and hungry. They’re also a minority. Diamonds in the rough.”

Victoria: “Clearly someone finds them desirable, or they wouldn’t be in your employ. Though, desire is as much a craft as it is a gift.”

GM: “They’re only desired, at least by my clients, after they’ve cleaned up and learned how to speak. I’ve coached them. You wouldn’t know they were from the Ninth unless they told you.”

“Regardless, that’s unfortunate for your girlfriend.”

Victoria: “How long does it take you? On average.”

She doesn’t answer the comment on Anna yet.

GM: “I coach all of my girls, to some degree, so it’s more of an ongoing thing. They’d already risen above their backgrounds just by going to college.”

Victoria: She smiles, sipping from her drink to fill the pause.

“An ongoing miracle worker,” she teases. “As for my girlfriend, she’ll live. I hope. I’ve filled her time with other activities and other avenues for feeling valuable, but it’s not the same as what she wanted to do. I suppose I could open a school myself…”

GM: Christina raises an eyebrow. “That’s not the sort of thing someone does as a side project.”

Victoria: She shrugs.

“I don’t anticipate it would be, though I don’t anticipate I would be more than funding it. More musing about the idea.”

GM: “Careers don’t always work out. I thought I was going to be a lawyer.”

Victoria: “I thought I was going to build space ships, or ride them.”

She shrugs.

“Now I live the American dream.”

GM: Christina makes chatter about assorted topics for a while longer. The recent death among the Malveauxes, very sad; hopefully they don’t have enemies. The pair’s drinks eventually empty.

“I’m going to stretch my legs at Lafayette Square, if you’d care to join me,” she declares, setting her glass down.

Victoria: Something in Christina’s question piques her warning sensors.

“Sure, I could go for a walk.”

She places a tip on the counter.

GM: Christina does likewise and exits the club. A low drizzle falls overhead. The madame retrieves an umbrella from her car.

“I heard about Anna’s firing,” she says. “Scapegoat, wasn’t she, to placate the girls’ families before the NOPD did anything about Gettis?”

Victoria: “Exactly what she fucking was,” the dominatrix hisses, huddling with Christina beneath her umbrella.

“I managed to connive an extra week’s severance out of them, but they’d hear nothing of reinstating her place, nor even a good word for a future employer.”

GM: “No, I imagine they were putting in a bad word,” says Christina, making her way down the street. Pedestrians pass them by, some with their own umbrellas out. “The Devillers, Whitneys, and Malveauxes went to a lot of trouble to ruin everyone connected to their daughters’ arrests and shootings. The involved NOPD officers have all been fired or demoted.”

Victoria: “They’re going through an awful lot of trouble to ensure word never gets out about what happened,” she says through a sideways glance.

GM: “That what happened, some idiot girls got themselves into trouble?”

Victoria: She lofts a brow, but remains silent.

GM: Christina waits expectantly.

Victoria: “So they say. There’s always more we don’t hear. Do you know?”

GM: “Do I know what?”

Victoria: “What the ‘more we don’t hear’ is.”

Her words are hushed enough that the rain covers.

GM: “Speak plainly,” says Christina as the pair reach the park. “I doubt that any of the club’s Malveaux eyes and ears have followed us out.”

“I suspect I know more than most about the events of that night, though.”

Victoria: She glances back toward the club, verifying for herself that no one followed.

“I can’t promise revenge, but those events affected me, too. You must want revenge for what happened.”

GM: Victoria doesn’t see anyone among the press of pedestrians.

Christina raises her eyebrows.

“And I thought I was to the point.”

Her gaze darkens.

“Yes. I do. I made a deal and they reneged on it, and killed my niece in the process.”

Victoria: If Victoria still had her drink, it’d be all over the bar.

She stares.

“…do you have a close place?”

Even the rain is too open.

GM: “We’re safe enough here,” says Christina. “But your or my car, if you’d prefer.”

Victoria: “Mine. It’s a few blocks back toward the club.”

GM: The pair walk back and get in.

“She said Ms. Perry was one of her favorite teachers,” Christina remarks. “Engaging, enthusiastic, and appreciative of her knowledge.”

Victoria: “She’s one of the best teachers ever to grace this city, and it’s a crime that she’s taking the fall.”

She clenches the armrest in lieu of punching the wheel.

“So, what can we do? I don’t have the resources to fight every wealthy family in the city at once. Not in a public fight.”

GM: “More than the fall,” says Christina. “I know how these families operate. They don’t want her to just get another job. Strong probably spoke with other principals at the city’s better schools and recommended against Anna’s future hiring.”

Victoria: “But why? As a show of good faith to the families? Is this all some warped yubitsume metaphor to sate them?”

GM: “Because Abélia Devillers, Lyman Whitney, and Vera Malveaux all sit on McGehee’s Board of Trustees. They blame Anna for what happened to their daughters, and there was a while in between their daughters getting shot and Gettis getting shot. So they set out to ruin the life of someone they could get to. They tell Strong to put in a bad word with other principals, so of course she does.”

Victoria: This time, she does punch the wheel. She does not, however, hit the horn.

GM: “It’s consistent with what’s happened to the involved NOPD officers. And Amelie. They want everyone they think was involved to suffer.”

Victoria: “All because some girls goofed off in a haunted house? That feels a bit harsh.”

“Not that it’s any less true.”

GM: “Because those girls were arrested at the haunted house, got shot, and almost died.”

Victoria: “Why were they shot? It doesn’t make any sense.”

“I recall seeing the news days later. Hell, Anna got the phone call right next to me as we were watching.”

GM: Christina shrugs. “I could care less. They blamed Amelie. I made a deal with the Malveauxes in good faith to stop this from completely destroying her future.”

“Now she’s dead. I want payback.”

“I imagine you do too, for Anna being blacklisted from her career.”

Victoria: “They took one life, ruined one, and lessened many others. I want them to suffer.”

GM: “They don’t yet know that I know. All the same, you’ll have a freer hand to move against them than me. They dealt with me. I don’t know if they even know abut you.”

Victoria: “They don’t know that you know… what? That your niece is dead?”

GM: “Yes.”

“They disposed of her body. There won’t be a funeral.”

Christina’s jaws clench.

Victoria: “You’re not serious.”

She wouldn’t joke in a conversation like this.

“How did she die, Christina?”

GM: “She was sent to OPP’s male ward. I imagine that had something to do with it.”

Flint dances in the madam’s eyes.

Victoria: Victoria pales.

GM: “I have no idea how she died. She could have been gang-raped to death for all I know.”

Victoria: “Wait… Amelie? Anna mentioned her before. She is your niece?”

GM: “Yes. The girl at the center of the LaLaurie House fiasco, and used as the scapegoat for everything there.”

Victoria: Her poor steering wheel. The cold, collected woman is boiling over and slopping fire all over the car.

“I hope you have a way to collect the names of those who allowed her in there. Police. Judges. Lawyers. Whoever the fuck.”

GM: “None of them were involved in her going to the house. Just the bullshit sentencing for drug charges that should have stuck to the rich girls.”

Victoria: “Every face that watched her go from sentencing to the male ward is just as guilty,” she spits.

GM: “You can’t just send female inmates to the male ward. That’s illegal. Someone went to a lot of trouble, and paid their share of bribes to sheriff’s deputies, to ensure she wound up there.”

Victoria: “My point exactly.”

She rubs her hands over her face, drawing in a breath, holding it, and releasing.

Calm, Victoria. Calm. This isn’t 5th grade, and you can’t go punching cops. Not if you want to strap more than one to a table.

GM: “The best revenge on these sorts of families is destroying their reputations,” says Christina. “They have deep enough pockets to win any legal battle, but you can’t buy reputation. Easily, anyway.”

Victoria: “And how would you suggest we ruin their reputation? We’re two small fish in a very large sea.”

GM: “We deal in reputations. With every client we, or our girls, see. With every dirty and sordid detail we keep out of the public eye, we protect our clients, and they feel safe coming back for more.”

Victoria: She gives Christina a look.

“The moment we open our mouths to ruin one, we’ll be found facedown in the Mississippi.”

“We have to do it without it being traced back.”

GM: “Yes,” says Christina. “They don’t need to destroy us. Just convince our clients we aren’t discrete. Then our businesses evaporate.”

Victoria: “You know as well as I that the moment we’re fully discredited, we’ll disappear. Point remains the same.”

GM: “Disputable, but irrelevant, insofar as both are undesired outcomes.”

Victoria: “Well… We have piles of dirt, and no ability to use it. How would you suggest those secrets come out?”

GM: Christina thinks. “Get other dirt. Get something bad enough on one family member and put the squeeze on him for dirt of another variety. Leak that out through someone else.”

Victoria: She breathes a long sigh.

“We are so dead.”

A pause.

“They can’t get away with it.”

GM: “No. They can’t.”

“They won’t.”


Friday afternoon, 18 March 2016

GM: It’s another few days before the pair meet at a crowded restaurant to discuss plans, at Victoria’s request. Christina thinks it’s better to avoid meeting at the Corner Club for such talk.

Victoria: It’s better not to plan the bear’s demise in its own den.

The pair take a wooden table in the corner, ensuring they’re readily able to spot any eavesdroppers.

“We’ll have to be cautious about how we approach this if we want our own lives not to go down with them.”

GM: Christina orders drinks and appetizers to start off.

Victoria: Victoria sticks to water.

And a plate of wings.

GM: “Naturally. What did you want to discuss?”

Victoria: “The first domino. Our goal is the families themselves, but targeting them would be foolish; so, we’ll target peripheral names or less prominent members, find something about them, and use that leverage to pry something out against the major names. Do you have a preference on which family is first?”

GM: “The Malveauxes,” says Christina. “I don’t see the Devillers or Whitneys being the direct hands behind Amelie’s death.”

Victoria: “Explain.”

GM: “Modus operandi. Connections.” Christina waves a hand. “The Malveauxes play dirtier.”

“They are also the most vulnerable now, in many ways.”

Victoria: She listens intently.

“Ways such as…? Why?”

GM: “Orson had his heart attack. You don’t recover from that easily, at his age or weight. Claire’s and Westley’s death have been all over the news. Frankly, I’d already suspect foul play, with two Malveauxes dead in one year.”

Victoria: “You think?”

Sarcasm.

GM: “Every so often,” Christina answers dryly.

Victoria: Victoria produces a notepad and paper, setting it between the pair. On the page is a list of all living Malveaux members, with a myriad of lines and scratched notes judging them on numerous categories.

“We need a target. I’ve been going over what I know about each, which is minimal. I think… We need to consider a crossroad between how likely one is to have left problematic information, and how likely they are to be damaged by it.”

GM: “All of them have skeletons in their closets,” says Christina, looking over the notes. “That’s just the nature of those families.”

“Dirty laundry can always be manufactured if there’s none within easy reach.”

Victoria: “Right. The elder members would present greater risk but carry dirtier laundry, while the heirs and heiresses would present perhaps less damaging potential, but be less risky for us to toy with. Hm.”

GM: “Not necessarily. Westley had more vices and dirtier laundry than anything his parents personally got up to.”

Victoria: She drums her fingertips on the table.

“Savannah… is an option. I have a relationship with her, but I respect her.”

A pause passes.

“Which Malveauxes are you aware were involved in what happened?”

GM: “If you mean Amelie’s death, I don’t know.”

She pauses as their server arrives with the drinks (one alcohol, one water) and a plate of crispy grilled chicken wings.

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Christina trades brief pleasantries with the woman.

“If I had to guess,” she resumes after the server leaves, “one of the Devillers or Whitneys asked one of the Malveauxes, who passed down the order to Roger Ferris, who possibly passed the order down to one of his agents, either of whom got someone else to do the deed inside the prison.”

“It could have been Abélia or Lyman asking Orson or Matt or Claire. It could have been Abélia asking Cécilia to ask Luke to ask Orson or Matt or Claire. It could have been Abélia or Lyman asking Caroline to ask Orson or Matt or Claire.”

Victoria: Victoria takes her own smallplate, loading a pair of chicken wings onto it—one drumstick, and one wing.

She tents her fingers.

“Curious, that. Why do you suspect the asking ended inside the Malveaux family with those three? You mentioned the trio twice. Only one of those three in each is alive. I wonder if the third has a target on their back.”

GM: “What are you talking about? Claire is the only one who’s dead.”

Victoria: She shakes her head, swallowing a lump of chicken.

“Sorry—victimized. I speculate as to the organic nature—or lack thereof—of Orson’s heart attack.”

GM: Christina waves a hand in dismissal. “You can’t induce heart attacks in people. He’s old and fat. I can believe that easily enough.”

She looks at Victoria for several moments.

“You’re young. You’re new to this world. So I’ll explain how these things work. Ferris is an employee of the Malveaux family. I don’t know who he works for on paper or where he specifically draws his salary from, but Orson, Matthew, and Nathan control the family’s purse strings. They make the family’s major decisions.”

“Someone your age, like Luke or Caroline or Savannah, can’t just order Ferris to go kill people. They don’t pay him. They aren’t his boss. If they think it’s in the Malveauxes’ interests to carry out blatantly illegal acts that carry a minimum of life without parole if someone gets sloppy, they have to go through their parents. Even if Abélia or Lyman approached a younger Malveaux, one of the three kings—or Nathan’s proxy in Claire—would have to sign off on it.”

Victoria: “Not in a moment’s notice,” she muses.

Still, she listens to the woman intently. She is the protégé in the business.

“I see. That makes more sense. I apologize for my… inexperience.”

She draws a breath, wishing this meeting was scheduled for one of their homes instead of a public restaurant.

“That still leaves us with the whole damn family to sort through; though, we don’t need revenge on specifically the one who made the order to have our revenge.”

She thinks for a moment.

“Luke. What do you know about him?”

GM: “His family’s golden boy. Recently engaged. A wonderful life and bright future ahead of him, by all appearances.”

Victoria: “Someone to be protected. Any unfortunate mistakes?”

“…including his wife-to-be?”

GM: Christina gives a sour look.

“If I had dirt on either of them I’d have done something with it by now.”

“Nothing I know of. Cécilia’s even more of a goody two-shoes than he is.”

Victoria: She drums her fingers, thinking.

“Do we tarnish the golden boy, or move on to another?”

The question is only half to Christina.

GM: “His tarnishing would hurt the family. That would be of some satisfaction.”

Victoria: “Do you see another that would bring you more satisfaction? They took your fucking niece, Christina.”

GM: “You think I don’t remember that?” Christina snaps, her eyes flashing.

“If I knew who was directly responsible, you think I wouldn’t have named them instead?”

“I don’t know. I’ll take my satisfaction from whatever hurts the family as a whole.”

“The golden boy. Fucking sure.”

Victoria: She meets that fury, unyielding, but pressing her no further toward anger.

“We’ll start with the golden boy, then.”

Because he won’t be the only one.

“But how to do so…”

Tap, tap, tap.

“…his wife? That may be a bit direct.”

GM: Christina gives a sour look and starts on a wing.

“I could care less whether it’s subtle or direct. So long as they don’t know who’s behind it.”

Victoria: The pair go back and forth over the course of their meal, with Victoria going through each of the Malveauxes and what she knows about them, for what little there is. In the end, she seems to be focused on a pair:

Luke, the golden boy, who would be symbolic to ruin. He’s the shining star. The bright future of the Malveauxes. He’s not half bad to look at, either.

Adam, the future archbishop.

On the latter, she continues, “Is it too cliche to catch him with underage choir boys?”

GM: “Yes,” says Christina. “He’s young. Around 30. Pedophile priests are usually older. I’d find it more believable if he broke his vows fucking a woman than molesting a little boy.”

Christina thinks that both of them are good targets, though. They’re the only adult males of their generation. Both of them will succeed their fathers and uncles some day.

Victoria: “Not if we’re successful,” she muses between sips. A margarita appeared somewhere during their discussion.

GM: Christina’s ordered entrees. Hers is pan-seared something (Vic doesn’t catch what) over a bed of green and yellow vegetables with dollops of sauce.

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Victoria: “All right… women.”

She pauses to look at Christina, who has no shortage of that. But using Christina’s girls would present them being traceable back, which would sink both of them.

“We can’t seduce him, obviously. Nor can we have any of ours do so. How, I wonder?”

GM: “Third party, obviously,” says Christina between a bite of asparagus head. “Someone who can be trusted to keep her mouth closed.”

Victoria: She lofts a brow. Third party is the obvious answer. She knows that much.

“How many families damaged by this whole conspiracy have a young woman that might be thirsty for revenge?”

GM: “None, unless you know of ones that I don’t.”

Victoria: “Slim chance on that.”

“A bribe won’t work. Any bribe we can make to a prostitute can be dwarfed by that family. Threats, perhaps? Mm, no…”

Think, Vic. Think.

GM: “You’re quick to dismiss both of those means out of hand.”

Victoria: “Would you like to explain why I’m wrong?”

GM: “A bribe from the Malveauxes to do what? The deal I’d make with a prostitute, or some other woman, is simple. Sleep with this man, take this money. Done. Another day on the job.”

“If this hypothetical woman goes to the Malveauxes with this plan and without any proof to substantiate it, what is she doing? Gambling they’ll believe her, some random low-life. Gambling they’ll choose to pay her for unsubstantiated information. Gambling they’ll pay her as much as I will for a finished job.”

“Does she even know how to get into contact with the Malveauxes? Does she expect to just walk up to Orson’s estate and get let in? If she doesn’t, does she know what employees of theirs to approach and where to find them?”

“All of that is a lot of maybes and extra hoops for something outside of her typical line of work. Sleep with the man, take the money. That’s familiar. People prefer familiar.”

Victoria: “It’s much more simple when you present it that way. The ‘what if’ that gives me concern is: what if they find her and try to pay her to admit who hired her? Do prostitutes often try to seduce priests of their own volition? If I were a Malveaux, I’d be suspicious. Especially when Adam comes home claiming he didn’t initiate.”

GM: “Is there? How do they find her? Is she so stupid as to give Adam her real name?”

Victoria: “If she is?”

GM: Christina makes an exasperated sound.

“So you make sure she’s not. You interview her. You go over the plan together. Including fake names.”

“Fucking hell. You dye her hair and drug the man, if you really want to cover your tracks.”

Christina gives Victoria a flat look.

“What do you bring to the table?” she asks bluntly. “What help are you?”

Victoria: She snorts.

“I suppose we could just black bag him and take pictures of him being fucked, if we really need to.”

GM: “Why do I need you?” Christina repeats.

Victoria: "Because we’re better off in this together than alone, Christina, and whether I’m a criminal mastermind planner or not, I’m not going to fuck up the execution and I’m not going to sell you out; and,I did suggest both targets along with why, and provide the option of black-bagging, drugging and taking pictures. "

She holds a pause, appraising how her words are taken.

“Sure, you could do all of this yourself. You’d probably be successful. You’ve been playing this game almost as long as I’ve been alive. Work with me and you’ll be better off.”

Her expression softens.

“I know you’re angry, Christina. I can’t imagine the pain you feel right now. If you want to take your anger out on me to feel better, fine, we can do that a bit later, but let me help you now. They deserve all the rage you have, but I need your patience.”

GM: Christina’s scowl abates, partly, at Victoria’s words.

“If you’re in, you need to pull your weight. I presume this is your first time doing this sort of thing. I can’t hold your hand the entire way. There is much less room for error than keeping a middle manager’s wife from finding out he’s getting his needs met by someone else.”

“Now. Adam. Who would you bring in to do the job?”

Victoria: She takes her time, thinking. She isn’t entirely sure it’s the right answer, but it’s sound to her.

“If we want someone to fuck him, we use a third party agency. Paid cash. Tell them we want to give our friend a good time and he’s a little shy. Take pictures from afar of him conversing with them, or better pictures still if she managed to fuck him. If we want to black bag him… I’ve got a favor I can call on. Someone reliable.”

She hopes.

GM: “No agencies,” says Christina. “An outlaw.”

Victoria knows that’s an independent prostitute who doesn’t work for a pimp or madam.

“That’s chancy, though. Seducing a priest. Some of them do take their vows seriously.”

Victoria: “Outlaw works. But I think we’ll have a much better effect recording him passed out in bed with a prostitute than otherwise. So… kidnapping.”

GM: “Yes. Who’s the friend?”

Victoria: She lofts a brow, looking briefly to a passing waitress. Once she’s gone, she answers.

“Deputy in my pocket. Leave it at that for now.”

GM: Christina takes another bite of her greens.

“I’ll say this. A prostitute might not be able to seduce a priest, but there’s a lot fewer ways that could go wrong than a kidnapping attempt.”

“Is your deputy going to fuck this up? Will he go off on his own half-cocked? Will he refuse to listen to good advice? Does he have an inflated sense of his own importance?”

“Because I’ve worked with those kinds of people. Never again.”

Victoria’s heard all about Emmett Delacroix from Christina.

Victoria: “The deputy? He’ll listen. I can see that much. I don’t imagine he’ll be who we’ll be working with, though. He’ll provide me some references.”

GM: “If you’re getting a reference, he won’t know what for,” says Christina. “The less he knows, the better.”

“If he does know what the reference is for, then you won’t meet the reference. He’ll be your intermediary.”

“The more intermediaries between you and Adam, the safer we’ll be if something goes wrong.”

Victoria: She nods. “I think it makes sense to inform him as to what we need done, but not who it will be initially. Yes?”

GM: “Are you meeting the deputy’s reference or using the deputy as your go-between?”

Victoria: “He’ll be the go-between.”

GM: “Until your deputy has a name, his reference can’t set up the kidnapping.”

Victoria: “…fair point. Yet it seems an easy slip-up point to give the name immediately.”

GM: “What do you expect him to accomplish before he knows who the target is?”

“If you mean to have him find a specific kidnapper before saying it’s Adam, then sure. You don’t want him shopping around with every thug from the gutter telling them that he wants to kidnap Adam Malveaux.”

Victoria: She nods at the latter.

“That was my thinking, yes. I’d rather not have word get back to Adam that he can expect a mouthful of chloroform and a dark van.”

GM: “I don’t see word reaching his ears from some gutter thugs. Blabbing about planned illegal acts is just bad general practice.”

Victoria: “Still, as you said, better not to have the name broach lips until we’re sure of our candidate. Trouble avoided and all that.”

GM: “Then that finishes our Malveaux business for tonight, if you had nothing else to go over.”

Victoria: “No. I’ll call you when it’s arranged. Thank you, Christina.”

GM: “The pleasure is all mine.”


Monday evening, 21 March 2016

GM: The pleasure is all Jordan’s too, after his latest visit with his “mommy.”

He prefers aftercare. Cuddling. All part of the experience after he climaxes. He lies against Victoria with his face on her breasts, looking like the most content little boy in the world, apart from how he isn’t a little boy.

Something is wrong with this man, Victoria is fairly certain, but that describes more than a few of her clients.

Victoria: It describes almost all of her clients. Her fingers trace lines through his hair, her breathing soft, a gentle hum emanating from her throat.

“My boy…”

GM: “Mommy…” he murmurs back, nuzzling his face against her tits. Victoria well knows he could do that forever, or at least until their booked time ends.

Victoria: He could do that forever, but this session has a purpose beyond money.

She takes his face in her hands, turning his chin up without removing him too far from what he loves.

“Mommy needs a favor, Jordan.”

GM: His eyes find their way up to hers.

His nose and mouth don’t.

“What’s that, Mommy?”

Victoria: She taps his nose.

“A very, very serious favor. The type of favor that won’t be mentioned outside trusted company, and that may earn you… some free time? Or cash… or something else, hmn?”

Her expression loses a modicum of its curated softness.

“Do you understand?”

GM: He smiles at the tap if Victoria’s finger.

His own expression loses a modicum of its own childlike regression. He looks like he’s listening closely.

“Yes.”

Victoria: “I need someone taken. Just for a bit. Ideally, without messing up that pretty face of his. After all, we want some pictures taken of him having a thoroughly good time. Drugs. Girls. The dream, hmn?”

GM: “You’re the dream,” says Jordan. He delivers the line like he’s saying something deep.

Wit has never been one of his strong suites in their time together.

“Okay. Who and how much?”

Victoria: She kisses the top of his head as if he really is her son.

“The who will be made known once you have someone in mind who you can trust to have it done right. I don’t want my name or likeness attached in any way to this. You are my middle man.”

GM: His eyes swim at that tender kiss.

“Well, I mean,” says Jordan. “I could do it. You can trust me.”

Victoria: “Mmmn, yes, but you know me. I wouldn’t want my dearest boy in danger, and you wouldn’t want me in danger… So… I’d like you to pick the person you trust most to do it right. Or persons.”

GM: “Oh,” says Jordan at that explanation.

“Well, okay. I know some guys.”

Victoria: Her fingers splay over his cheeks, cradling him.

Some guys…? Or some very capable men? As capable as you?”

GM: “Oh. Yeah,” Jordan answers, smiling widely at the praise.“They’re good.”

“I mean. Not as good as me. But good.”

Victoria: She presses another kiss to his forehead.

“And do you know any as good as you…?”

GM: Jordan grins.

“No. None as good as me.”

Victoria: She grinds her hips downward, grinning.

“There’s no one alive as good as you, and you’ll earn what’s yours. Would you tell me a little about these not-as-good-as-you boys?”

GM: Jordan makes a little noise of pleasure.

“Well,” he gets out, “they do this kinda stuff a bunch. They’re in the mob. Though they won’t ever admit it.”

Victoria: And yet you did.

Never trust Jordan to keep a secret. Vic understands.

“Come on, baby. Sell them to me. What makes them so good? How did they do another one?”

GM: “They’re in the mob, like I said,” Jordan repeats. “They smuggle stuff and fuck people up.”

“Like, need a wheelchair fucked up, sometimes.”

Victoria: “And what will they cost for a job like this, hmmn?”

GM: “Uh, depends. Maybe… couple hundred?”

Victoria: That feels cheap to Vic, but she doesn’t let her concern show.

“Regardless the target?”

GM: “Well, they’re probably not gonna do the mayor for that little,” says Jordan.

Victoria: She snickers.

“No, not the mayor. Prominent family member.”

GM: “Like, one of the mayor’s family members?”

“Still probably more, yeah.”

Victoria: She shakes her head.

“No, no. Different family.”

GM: “Probably more if they’re a big deal, yeah.”

Victoria: “How much more?”

GM: “I dunno, depends? Maybe a few grand?”

Victoria: She hums a note of approval.

“Tell you what…”

She releases his face, hands sliding to his chest.

“Today is free, hmn? You talk to your boys, and I’ll get back to you in a few days.”

GM: Jordan grins.

“Wow, okay. That’s really great. What do you want me to tell ’em?”

Victoria: “You know them better than I. That there’s the possibility of a job. They can’t do much if they disappear to Hawaii.”

GM: “Okay, so you want to meet ’em?”

Victoria: “I’ll get back to you on that.”

GM: “There’s a possible job isn’t really a lot to tell ’em.”

“Like, they’ll probably ask who and how much.”

Victoria: She shrugs.

“Then don’t tell ‘em yet. I have a few details to tidy up on my side; so, I’ll call you soon, hmn? And you… can think about what you want with your next session.”

GM: “I’ll think a LOT about that,” grins Jordan.


Wednesday afternoon, 23 March 2016

Victoria: The day after tomorrow, Victoria arrives at Audubon Park, and pulls out a book five minutes ahead of their scheduled meeting time. She pulls out a book to read while she waits for Christina.

GM: Christina meets her there, on time.

Victoria: Once the two exchange pleasantries, Victoria jumps in to why she asked to meet again. She has her middleman, and her middleman feels he—at least, to him—has trustworthy muscle to perform the job; however, that muscle is tied in with the mob. She asked her man not to talk to them just yet.

She continues on that working with the mob isn’t something she’s done before, and before she commits the pair of them to a relationship that could harm them, she wants Christina’s opinion.

GM: Christina says the mob is fine as long as they don’t know that women are behind the middleman.

Victoria: She nods, feeling immediately better about that avenue, and asks if she’s worked with them before, commenting on how casual she seems with it.

GM: “I’ve worked with a variety of people,” Christina answers vaguely.

Victoria: It’s enough of an answer to give Victoria what she needs.

“My middleman is… not the brightest crayon in the box. Would it it be worthwhile or paranoid to give him a masculine name to use to refer to me?”

GM: Christina shrugs. “He’s your man. You decide.”

Victoria: Victoria wonders if Amelia turned into a bug and died in Christina’s asshole.

“Right.”

She goes over the plan one more time: the muscle will kidnap him, leaving him as unmarred as possible—if not unharmed—and will shoot some photos of him with drugs and prostitutes.

GM: Christina has no new objections to the plan.

Victoria: “Very well. I’ll call you when it’s done.”

*GM:


Saturday afternoon, 26 March 2016

Victoria: Victoria meets with Jordan after a few more days on offer of a free session, and a full session is what he receives. Once he’s spent and pliable, she recants the plan again once more, then makes him repeat it back to her. She reaffirms that the compromising pictures of him as guilty as possible is what matters.

She then adds, “If you need to refer to me, you’ll refer to me as Mr. White.”

GM: Jordan seems more than happy to spend and render himself pliable in the dominatrix’s arms.

“Why Mr. White?” he asks.

Victoria: “Because that is what I’m asking you to call me.”

She squeezes his scrotum.

“Do I have to tell you twice?”

GM: He gives an intake of breath as his body stiffens under her grip.

“No. Mommy,” he says meekly.

She can also feel him starting to get firm again.

Victoria: “Good… boy…”

She purrs the words, a tigress luring her prey.

And then she leaves him hard.


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Story Fourteen, Victoria I

“Mom… you’ll love me no matter what, right?”
Victoria Wolf


Monday afternoon, 23 November 2015

GM: Weeks pass.

The boys are convicted by Judge Carson Malveaux for their assorted offenses against Derek and Anna. They receive seven years in Louisiana State Penitentiary and will be up for parole in four. They’ll be convicted felons once they get out. They’ll probably do something to get sent back, Derek thinks, even if they don’t violate parole.

Victoria: Sylvia doesn’t mention what she did to ensure the boys received their just desserts, unless she asks. Anna probably guesses. She also guesses that Sylvia feels their punishment isn’t enough.

GM: Anna does not seem to guess at all.

Why would she suspect that Sylvia went so far as to bribe the police?

Sarah Whitney goes back to school, around December. Anna hears. She’s happy over that. Sarah was in a coma for a while. Doctors feared there would be brain damage.

Still no job back.

Victoria: Sylvia asks if she wants to visit Sarah.

Maybe that’ll provide some closure.

GM: Anna is not sure if either of the girls’ families would want her to have any contact with their daughters. She doesn’t have anything against the kids themselves, though. She just wants her job back.

But that’s nothing new.

Victoria: She pulls Anna into a hug and consoles her.

GM: Weeks pass. Christmas approaches. They’ve been together for around four months, now, and they’ve obviously had feelings for far longer.

Both of their families want each of them over for Christmas dinner.

They haven’t told either of their families they’re official, yet. Anna does not think hers would be thrilled over her being in a same-sex relationship.

Anna asks what she thinks they should do. Both in general and for Christmas.

Victoria: Sylvia makes a suggestion that they adopt six or seven cats and play out the cat lady trope.

“I’m not going to make you feel guilty if you don’t want to tell them,” she says, rubbing her arm where Anna smacked it.

“I don’t think it’ll be any easier at with my family. Just… a different brand of difficult. For visits, maybe yours in the morning, mine for dinner?”

GM: “Do you want to tell yours?” Anna asks.

“About us?”

Victoria: “Do you?”

GM: “It’s your family. I’ll support whatever decision you want to make with them.”

“I do think it’d seem… weird to show up to Christmas with a platonic friend, though, don’t you? That’s for family and significant others.”

Victoria: “Anna. You were my family long before you were my girlfriend.”

GM: “I meant in general,” Anna smiles. “Not with you.”

She curls up against her girlfriend, laying a head on her shoulder.

“You’ve been family for a long, long time.”

Victoria: Sylvia runs her hands up her face, then fingers through her mane of hair, breathing a long exhale.

She can tell her family, and deal with the consequences. She can’t see life without them, nor does she feel any of them will excommunicate her.

She can not tell her family, and…

She’s not spending Christmas without Anna.

“You’re coming with me. I’ll spend half the day with you at your family, but only if you want. If you want to go alone, it’s fine.”

It’s not fine. She’ll be hurt, but she won’t let it show.

GM: “Okay,” nods Anna. “I’m happy to spend Christmas with your family. Whatever they tell you.”

She smiles faintly at the take-charge ’you’re coming’ tone. That’s gotten pretty normal.

“I kinda don’t want to tell mine,” she says with a sigh. “I don’t think they’ll take it well.”

“But… if it’s not a thing this year, it’ll be a thing next year. And the next year. And they’ll ask about grandkids and why there’s no guy in my life.”

She lets out another sigh.

“I guess it has to come out at some point. Just… really not looking forward to that conversation. I’d kinda rather not have it at all.”

Victoria: “According to my mother, if you pray hard enough, God will show you the way. If we pray hard enough, maybe he’ll show me the path to getting you pregnant.”

Yes, even in what’s clearly a joke, Anna would be the carrier.

“You don’t have to tell them. Not if you don’t want to. I won’t make you. Not on that.”

A moment of silence passes between them.

“…you really want there to be a next year? And the year after?”

GM: “Maybe if we pray hard enough you’ll grow a penis, you mean?” Anna muses.

Even joking, she doesn’t say that would be inappropriate.

Victoria: “We could always hire someone.”

GM: “I want there to be many next years.”

Victoria: Even joking, something pulls at Sylvia’s insides. She pulls her closer in turn.

“…I like you being mine.”

GM: Anna smiles up at her and kisses her cheek.

“I like being yours, too.”

“I’m your girl.”

“When you say hire… you mean a sperm donor?”

It’s asked seemingly hypothetically.

Victoria: “I mean… if we ever felt that drive…”

“I’m not sure I will…”

GM: Anna looks at her thoughtfully.

“I love kids. You know that.”

Victoria: “Would you want that…?”

GM: Anna thinks, then nods.

“Eventually. Doesn’t have to be now. But I want to be a mom, in some form.”

“Is that something you… how would you feel about that…?”

Victoria: “We could switch roles?”

GM: Anna snickers.

Victoria: It seems she isn’t going to escape, despite Sylvia bringing the topic up in the first place.

“I… maybe. I don’t know. Something feels so… Artificial about that. I think I’d want a real partner, or at least the warmth of a…”

She shivers, shaking her head.

“This is weird to think about!”

GM: Anna looks at her thoughtfully.

“What do you mean when you say artificial…?”

Victoria: “Insemination. A cold chair, cold hands, cold syringe, cold lube…”

She shudders.

Sylvia perks up.

She pulls up her phone and writes something down.

GM: “Yeah,” admits Anna. “It wouldn’t have to be you, though. It could be me.”

A pause.

“Would you still be comfortable?”

Victoria: “That’s… I need to think about it.”

Not right then.

“There’s adoption, too.”

GM: Anna nods.

“I was going to bring that up.”

“Adoption… obviously means so much to you.”

“And there are obviously more kids who could use loving homes.”

Victoria: She simpers.

“There are so many that need it.”

GM: “How does adopting make you feel?”

Victoria: “Like I’m not ready.”

GM: Anna smiles.

“I don’t want kids just yet. However we’d want them.”

Victoria: The series of topics is an anchor on Sylvia.

GM: “But say when we’re older. 30 plus. How would you feel then?”

“About adoption.”

Victoria: “I… can see it, yeah. Maybe an older child; 10, or so. I’m not sure I’m the right mother for one younger.”

But if she doesn’t does she relegate them to effectively prison?

GM: “Your age,” says Anna.

“When you were.”

Victoria: “I guess.”

She puts her chin against the back of her palms on the table.

GM: “Is this something you’d prefer to think about later…?” Anna asks, rubbing her shoulder.

“We haven’t even hit our first anniversary.”

Victoria: “I think later would be better. It’s… there’s so much in my life that I want to do, Anna.”

So does Anna. It stings her to say it.

“I could lose my business and we’d be screwed. I want more security before I think about children.”

GM: “That’s totally fair,” says Anna. “We’re still young. I don’t even… I don’t even know how my career is going to pan out.”

She sighs at that topic.

“God. Why can’t it just be summer already.”

“I hate waiting.”

Victoria: “Maybe I can talk to my mom… after she calms down about us.”

GM: “About my career…?” Anna asks, confused.

“I thought she was a social worker.”

Victoria: Sylvia explains Mary’s church connections. She might be able to hook up Anna with something at a Catholic school.

GM: “Oh,” she says. “That makes more sense.”

“Yes, please, that would be wonderful! I’d be happy to teach at a Catholic school. I’d be happy to teach anywhere, so long as the students don’t threaten to kill me!”

Victoria: Sylvia makes a mock gesture at shooting a gun.

“Same thing will happen again.”

Not that she wants it to. No, she might not be quite as level-headed if she has to save her again.

“A Catholic school might be calmer…”

GM: “I don’t want you to be in that situation again, either,” Anna says, deathly serious.

“I know you can handle yourself. I know you’ll always fight for me.”

“But something could have gone wrong, and I don’t ever want to take that chance again.”

Victoria: She takes one of Anna’s hands, stroking the back with her thumb.

“I don’t want you to be there again. Seeing you so close to dying…”

She blinks away a tear.

GM: Anna kisses her cheek.

“It’s okay. You saved me.”

“We won’t do an inner city school again. We learned our lesson.”

A pause.

“I learned my lesson. You were right all along.”

Victoria: Sylvia regards her with a mask of disbelief.

Anna corrects herself.

That earns a ‘ha!’.

“We won’t be going anywhere near that type of school. I’d rather you teach in the bayou than that, and I’m not letting you get murdered in a swamp either.

GM: Anna gives her an amused look at that.

“Sorry, I learned my lesson… mistress. Is that better?”

Victoria: She earns a faint smile.

“One day I’ll have to save you from a trip to the grocery store.”

Sylvia shakes her head

“So… Christmas.”

GM: Anna sighs.

“I kinda don’t want to tell my family, this year. There’s just… been enough stress, and ups and downs. I’d like some peace.”

A pause.

“I’ll tell my parents I want to bring you, though. Say how you’ve been so supportive, through everything, Jeff and losing my job and putting me up, it only feels right. They know we’re roomies.”

“Maybe that’ll make it easier when we come out, too. For you to have already spent a Christmas with us. For them to accept you as a big presence in my life.”

Victoria: She squeezes her hand.

“They’ve already accepted I’m a big presence in your life, and I think that’s a fair reason to invite me for the holiday without suspicion,” she muses.

“There’s no pressure to tell them this year. Or next. I understand.”

GM: “Thanks,” smiles Anna, squeezing back.

“We can spend Christmas Eve and morning with your family, and dinner with mine? Since it’s a long drive up to Lafayette.”

It’s phrased as a question, not ’let’s do this.’

That’s become normal.

Victoria: She tenses her brow, thinking.

“Or the reverse? Or one day with your family, and one with mine? Dinner is important to my mother. Probably more than any point of any other holiday.”

GM: “Okay. We could drive up for Christmas Eve, spend Christmas morning, then drive back your mom’s.”

Victoria: She kisses her hand, signing the deal.

“Sold, to the one making pizza tonight.”

GM: That’s Anna, of course. Like always.


Friday morning, 25 December 2015

Victoria: The pair spend a lovely evening and subsequent morning with Anna’s family. Mr. Perry has always been fond of ’Anna’s Friend’ from their very first meeting, where he walked in on her roleplaying a petulant student for Anna’s ‘Classroom Management’ course. He made a quip on punishing bratty children with a ruler back in his day, causing both women to blush for their own reasons. Mrs. Perry was less immediately intrusive to their doings, but offered Sylvia a lukewarm start than only heated over the years.

Sylvia enjoys the evening. It’s just as it always was. In that sameness, she feels hollow. In a way, is she lying to her beloved’s parents? Is she betraying kindness received without condition? She isn’t the same bubbly self by the time they leave in the morning.

GM: Mr. Perry is a police officer, after all. He says that a little discipline is a good thing. Tempered with loving, if course.

The couple really have to try not to blush over that.

The Perrys are delighted to have Sylvia over. Anna’s brother is present too, with his girlfriend. The Perrys don’t seem at all questioning of Anna not having a boyfriend this year. She lost her fiance and her job four months ago. Those wounds are still fresh. Everyone is very supportive and wishes Anna all the best in finding a new position come the summer. Mr. Perry starts to rant angrily about those “no-good f… udgers,” at a look from his wife, who used his daughter as a scapegoat. He looks about to start on a lengthier tirade when Anna’s mom touches his arm and entreats him, “Dear, please, it’s Christmas.” Mr. Perry sighs and tells his daughter she’s the best teacher in the world and that McGehee is going to rued the day they fired her.

“Thanks, Daddy,” Anna blushes.

Victoria: Sylvia makes a comment about Mr. Perry getting her out of jail when she lights them on fire. She’s moved on from cars.

Still, it’s clear Sylvia was affected by her firing, and she cares immensely.

GM: The Perrys are full of cheer and goodwill towards Sylvia, too. They’re so thankful she’s had a friend she can count on during such a trying time. “You sound like exactly what she needed, when she needed someone most,” Mr. Perry remarks.

Anna tells her family about how Sylvia saved her life. The story has everyone gasping and exclaiming incredulously. Mrs. Perry cries, then hugs Sylvia. Mr. Perry looks like he’s fighting tears as he hugs her too. They can’t thank her enough for saving their daughter. They’re overflowing with thanks as Anna reiterates how her best friend saved her life. They say Sylvia will always be welcome in their house.

Anna looks at Sylvia over her parents’ shoulders and mouths,

‘Tell?’

It’s a question. She looks unsure.

Victoria: Sylvia gives it no acknowledgment.

No.

GM: Spending the night isn’t without awkwardness. The Perrys have converted their kids’ old rooms. Anna’s is a guest room. She tells her parents that she and Sylvia can share the bed, it beats anyone sleeping on the couch. They raise their eyebrows, but accept the logic.

There is no sex that night. Just a kiss, and sleeping without touching.

Anna does not want them to walk in and see anything.

Victoria: Sylvia doesn’t press it, even if she teases a few kisses. When they fall asleep, it’s on opposite sides of the bed, facing away.

GM: The Perrys prepare a lovely Christmas breakfast. Anna’s brother and his girlfriend rejoin them for it. Everyone opens presents under the tree. Mrs. Perry gives Sylvia a hand-knitted sweater. Mr. Perry gives ammunition, two concealed holsters—one under the shoulder, one for the waist—and a cute note with a gun drawn on it, saying it’s redeemable for lessons at a New Orleans shooting range from Mr. Perry. He laughs that he’d have gotten Sylvia an actual gift card, but everywhere is closed on Christmas Eve. So he’ll get her one when they re-open.

“You want a good holster,” he says, patting the two. “These are good. Cheap holster will come right off you, if a bad guy grabs it. Cheap gets you killed.”

He’s printed out the forms for a concealed carry permit, too, and filled out as much of Sylvia’s info as he can. He’s also included cash in an envelope to pay for the application fee. All of that is in another present.

“Always conceal that you’re packing,” he says. “Those idiots who walk into Herricks’ with a handgun you can see on their belts? Or those fuckheads-”

“It’s Christmas, dear,” says Mrs. Perry.

“-er, fudgeheads, with semi-autos over their backs at O’Tolley’s, thinking they’re being pro-Second Amendment. Fuc-fudging idiots. If I’m the bad guy, guess what? I know exactly who to target first. You paint a giant bullseye on your back and lose the element of surprise, when you open carry. Always conceal. Got it?”

Victoria: Sylvia holds back tears, her eyes shimmering. As little as Mary has to give, she’s always managed to deliver a happy Christmas for her children. The St. George matron is and has always been magic in providing for her children and teaching them modesty and respect as she does.

“Yes, Mr. Perry. I understand.”

It’s probably better than leaving it open in her bag, even with the safety on.

“This… I didn’t expect… thank you. Really. We’ll get lessons as soon as we get back, and I think it’s time Anna gets her own weapon, too. Just in case.”

GM: “We didn’t expect either,” Mr. Perry chortles.

“Santa had to do some last-minute wrapping,” smiles Mrs. Perry.

Victoria: She gets up and hugs each of them, bleary-eyed.

GM: Anna’s parents warmly return her embrace.

“This is a gift for us, too,” says Mr. Perry, patting Sylvia’s back. “An investment in Anna’s safety. Isn’t that right, pumpkin?”

“Yes, Daddy,” Anna replies, sounding a little choked.

“I showed Anna how to shoot when she was younger,” says Mr. Perry. “But it’s been a while since she was at the range. You going in together sounds like a great plan.”

The drive back to New Orleans is a happy one. “I think my dad gave you his holsters,” says Anna. “There couldn’t have been anywhere open on Christmas Eve…”

Victoria: That drive back to New Orleans is one of the few times Anna has seen Sylvia cry. It’s a happy cry, but a cry no lesser.

“You h-have the b-best… parents…”

GM: “Awww… Sylvie…” Anna smiles, embracing her.

“I do. I love them. That was the best gift I could’ve asked for…”

She doesn’t talk about coming out to them.

She doesn’t want to ruin the moment.

Or maybe it’s happy enough she doesn’t think it.

Victoria: “I—I… I love you. A—and I love them. A—and I hope they’ll always love us!”

She probably shouldn’t be driving like this, but the car doesn’t move from the lane.

GM: Sylvia is always the one in the driver’s seat.

That’s their normal.

Anna smiles, sniffs, and rubs her hand.

“I love you too, Sylvie. So much…”


Friday afternoon, 25 December 2015

Victoria: It’s just after noon on Christmas Day that they reach the St. George home and rap on the door.

GM: The St. George house is abuzz with Christmas cheer. The tree is decorated, the advent calendar opened, and the manger scene is set with little porcelain models of the baby Jesus and the witnesses to his birth.

Sylvia’s mother receives Anna and her daughter with hugs and warm words. Beth passed some years ago, but the modest house still feels more than full between her five children and their significant others. Leslie is the only one who’s single.

Jason, of course, is not present.

Victoria: Nerves wrack Sylvia the closer they get to the St. George home. As Mary opens the door, she’s trembling.

“Hey Mom,” she says, pulling the elderly woman into a hug; tight, but not Sylvia-tight. “Merry Christmas.”

GM: “Merry Christmas, dear,” smiles her mother. Her hair is all-gray now, but there’s strength and life in her embrace yet. She can handle tight, it feels.

Victoria: They exchange their pleasantries with the group, and spend some time enjoy company before the fireplace.

After a (non-alcoholic) eggnog and a few snacks, Sylvia rests a hand on her mother’s shoulder, whispering.

“…Mom? Can I talk to you? In private.”

GM: “Of course,” Mary nods. She tells the others over the playing Christmas music (currently “It’s Cold Outside”) that she’ll be back soon and takes Sylvia into the kitchen. The air is warm from the many dishes in the oven.

“I thought all of you getting older would mean less cooking, but it just means even more during Sundays and holidays,” Mary laughs.

“All of those +1s…”

Victoria: “It means more help, too, Mom. I can do a lot more without you worrying about burning down the house… or putting my brother in the oven.”

She wonders if that has anything to do with why Jason turned out how he did. It was the first and last time they played ‘Christmas Turkey’.

“Mom… you’ll love me no matter what, right?”

GM: Mary smiles at the quip, but turns serious again at her daughter’s question.

“Of course I will, Sylvia. Always.”

“I still love your brother, even after what he’s done.” Mary’s face stills slightly at his mention. “A parent never stops loving their child, Sylvie. Not ever.”

“What do you have to tell me?”

Victoria: Her mother’s response quells her racing heart, but only a little.

Just enough to let her speak a thought. She looks to the door, ensuring no one is walking in.

“I love Anna.”

She leaves it at that, expecting a quip of friends loving each other before reality sinks in.

GM: “More than as a friend, you mean,” says Mary.

Victoria: She doesn’t answer. Sylvia looks like she’s barely held together, shame cracking through her mask.

GM: Sylvia’s mother embraces her again.

‘Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.’

“I will always love you, Sylvie. I will always accept you. That will never change.”

“The morality, health risks, and potential dangers of a homosexual lifestyle make me very concerned for you. But understand always that my concern is borne out of love for you.”

Victoria: Silently, tears overflow down her cheeks. She remembers those first days, when her mother held her as she bawled at the top of her lungs. Now, it’s a simple hugs. Sylvia doesn’t scream anymore.

“I’m careful, Mom. You know me.”

She returns the hug, this time tighter.

“I… wasn’t sure how you’d react, but I didn’t want to be unfair to you; to bring her here and not tell you; to lie to you.”

GM: “I do know you, Sylvie,” her mom repeats, rubbing her back. “I know you will be smart and careful.”

“But being smart and careful can keep you physically safe. I am more concerned for the morality of your actions and the impact they will have on your relationship with God.”

“I am grateful your honesty with me. Thank you for telling me the truth.”

Victoria: “Then pray for me, huh? I don’t think I would have made it to fifteen without your prayers.”

Mary knows she’s trying to appease her, but she also knows Sylvie means it.

“I’m not forgetting about God, Mama. I still go to church. I still pray.”

Just not as often as Mary would like, which she leaves obfuscated.

GM: “I have always prayed for you, Sylvie,” says her mom. “I will never stop.”

“I am glad you are still praying and going to church. I’ve always believed they’re like exercise. More is better, and even a little is better than none.”

Victoria: She hugs her mother, then releases.

“It won’t be weird outside, right? I don’t want Anna to be uncomfortable.”

GM: “You are always welcome to bring your friends into my house,” says Mary. “There are some ground rules, for when you do. I will ask that you refrain from overt displays of homosexual affection. I will ask that you refrain from overt discussion, around the others, of the fact that you are in a homosexual relationship. Can you and Anna abide by those?”

Victoria: Her heart sinks.

“Yes, Mama. Of course. No affection, no talking.”

Not quite, but close enough.

GM: “Thank you, Sylvie,” says her mother.

“Thank you again for sharing this with me. I would rather know what you’re going through than not know what you’re going through. I want to love you and be there for you no matter what happens. I always want you to feel you can tell me things without fear of losing my love.”

Victoria: “I know, Mom. I know. I love you.”

She turns to leave.

A brick from the bridge between them falls into the river.


*

GM: Christmas dinner otherwise goes largely well. Dinner is roast goose and other Christmas staples, with lit plum pudding for dessert. Sylvia sees some of her siblings holding hands with their significant others. Anna doesn’t try to. Everyone sings carols and opens presents. There’s more non-alcoholic eggnog. Maria and her husband kiss under the mistletoe.

The story of Sylvia saving Anna’s life at work draws gasps and exclamations from everyone. Mary asks concernedly whether Anna still works there, and is relieved to hear that she does not.

Mary asks if Sylvia is still concerned for Anna’s safety. Or her own.

Victoria: Sylvia only ever eats plum pudding at her mother’s house, but it’s one of her favorite desserts. She has more than her fair share.

Anna and Sylvia sit by each other. Their hands brush at one point. That’s all. Sylvia doesn’t need to tell Anna what her mother said. Her affection normally rivals God’s, and now she’s gone cold. It’s explanation enough.

Sylvia’s answer takes a moment, but she shakes her head.

“No, I think she’s quite safe where she’ll be working next.”

She doesn’t mention more about the gun, or her other gifts.

GM: “A mother never stops worrying,” says Mary. “No matter how safe her children are.”

“I don’t know what the future holds, Sylvie. But I don’t think that will be the only danger you face in your life.”

She undoes the crucifix around her neck and presses it into Sylvia’s hands. It’s the same one she showed to her daughter in the long-ago thrift store.

“I want one of you to have this.” She looks between Sylvia and Anna. “Whoever you believe needs it most.”

“It’s not a gun. But it has your grandfather’s love for me, and my love for you. I believe it will keep you safe.”

Victoria: Sylvia can’t speak when she’s handed the crucifix. To say she’s stunned is an understatement.

“God’s love and family love is more powerful than any weapon, Mom.”

Anna knows that Sylvia has Christianity somewhere in her heart, but in all these years, it’s the first time she’s ever heard her speak a phrase like that.

GM: Mary’s smile is joyous when she hears those words, so declarative of her daughter’s faith.

“Love overcomes all, Sylvia. As it always must.”


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Story Fourteen, Zoe IV

“You’re full of shit.”
Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputy


Friday night, 1 April 2016, AM

Zoe: Zoe doesn’t remember the walk home. It feels faster than it was, her memories a blur. Maybe it’s fatigue. Maybe it’s hunger. Maybe it’s her smarter subconscious blocking out what memories would otherwise prove to damage her future self.

She slips her key into the lock, nearly falling into the apartment with fatigue. She closes her eyes. She breathes. She needs a shower.

A long, hot shower, and a night of sleep. Chuck can wait. Chuck will wait, no matter what sort of deal they made.

Or maybe not? Fuck, what is in this cocaine, Cash? Maybe she won’t mind it if he wants his payment.

After a shower.

GM: Zoe would say she’s not sure what she expected to find back in Chuck’s apartment, except she was sure.

She was sure it would be something other than this.

Chuck is naked in the bedroom, eyes barely open, ballgag strapped around his mouth. His wrists are secured to the bed with steel cuffs, while a spreader bar is secured between his ankles. His thighs are wrapped and connected to the headboard, so he’s at an approximately 90 degree angle. The head of his penis is covered in a steel sheath that looks as if it prevents erection or stimulation. It’s secured to a padlocked steel ring around his scrotum. There are two keys on the nightstand, on top of a napkin with a lipstick kiss print. On the floor is a strap-on with a double-ended dildo and bottle of lube.

Four photos lie on the bed:

From behind, Chuck bent over on hands and knees. He’s looking back at the camera, ball gag in place.

From behind, there’s a closer shot of his ass. The dildo’s head penetrates his ass.

A closeup of a long-nailed feminine hand locking his penis in the cage.

A photo from behind showing a woman’s back as she rides him. Her body is bare and perfect, with long brown hair that falls down to her back.

Up close, the napkin reads in stylish cursive,

He’s all yours ;)

It’s signed underneath with a simple,

—A

Zoe: She walks into the bedroom and opens her eyes.



“What the FUCK, Chuck?!”

Zoe is caught between trying not to laugh, trying not to be angry, and wishing the entirety of his antics can vanish long enough that she can recover from her endless nightmare.

She stomps into the room, hands flailing. She isn’t sure what to do.

GM: Chuck is still there after the shower.

Still naked.

Still restrained.

Still everything.

He tugs against the cuffs as she re-emerges.

A moaned noise slurs past his gag.

It sounds angry at her.

Zoe: She presses hands to a too-tired face.

She doesn’t need any of this nonsense. Why can’t she have a normal day? A normal night? A normal anything?

Did she actually die and go to hell? It feels like it.

Zoe unlatches the ball gag.

“Who the fuck is A?”

GM: “Fucking… un… tie me…” Chuck grogs.

Zoe: She pinches the bridge of her nose. Okay. This is fine. This is fine. Everything. Is. Fine.

She grabs the keys, then moves to unlock him.

GM: Chuck immediately grabs the first of the pictures and starts tearing it to pieces.

Or at least as ‘immediately’ as he can. He’s pretty slow and groggy about it.

“Fucking… cunt…”

Zoe: For the first time since her phase of questionable faith the first time she’d been made to distance herself from the substance, Zoe wishes she wasn’t as high as she is. Fuck. Her fatigue feels as if it’s been replaced with an injection of coffee, bypassing the stomach and taking a direct line to her heart. She wants to dance, and to fuck, and to scream, and to play, and to shower—mostly shower—and to be fun

She shakes her head, pressing a palm to her forehead and smacking herself a few times.

“Can’t fucking—I’m too high for this shit.”

She sits beside him, picking up one of the errant photos.

“I didn’t know your ass could wink.”

She shrugs, cackling, and tosses it down.

“Is it really winking with one hole? Hmn.”

Maybe that’s a topic for a thesis, when she returns to school. When.

“I’m too in need of you to consider blackmail, too tired of my day to have the energy to think any other way on it, and too high to connect one thought to the next.”

A little embellishment, but just a little.

“So, what in the fuck happened, Chuck?”

GM: Chuck does not immediately answer. He just grabs the next photo and rips it up. His eyes are drooping as he slurs,

“Bad. Decision. All right?”

Zoe: She picks up another errant photo, glances down at it, and begins to tear it.

“Want revenge?”

GM: Chuck stares at her for a second.

His face looks out of focus.

But she sees the hate in his eyes.

“Yeah.”

Chuck grabs the last of the photos and rips it up.

“Those. Those whores.”

“I’ll fucking ruin them.”

Zoe: “Girlfriend, or…?”

She tears the picture to pieces, bit by bit. The edges come first; the periphery of the room, then the bedposts, then the nightstand, then the headboard. Little by little she tears it apart, until all she holds is the center—a snippet of his asshole so focused that one can’t even tell the hole is attached to a human unless they know the context.

She holds it up to her eye, as if an entire dimension of possibility lay inside.

The grin that spreads across her face could light up a city.

GM: Chuck isn’t grinning. At all.

“No,” he growls, though it still comes out half a slur.

He rips the photo’s pieces into even smaller pieces.

“Literal, fuckin’, whores.”

Zoe: She shakes her head as if she’s a dog throwing off water.

“Fuckin’.. what the fuck is in this?!”

It’s some good shit.

“You hired a bunch of whores and they did this? Are you high?”

GM: “They… drugged me.”

He blinks slowly.

“Those whores… they fuckin’ drugged me.

“They drugged me,” he repeats, as if to himself.

He grabs the key on the nightstand and fumbles to unlock the padlock on the device around his dick.

Zoe: “Sounds like you’ve got some enemiiiiieeessss…” she sings, waggling a finger back and forth like a bony metronome.

She comes up behind him, throwing her arms around his neck from behind, as she would her boyfriend. If she had one.

“We should help each other get revengeeeeee! It’ll be fun! I’ll kill your whores, and you kill a cop! Easy peasy.”

GM: There’s a padlocked leather collar around his neck.

Chuck, though, is still fumbling to get off the chastity cage. He swears several times before he finally undoes the padlock and pulls off the steel head. His penis is tinged an unhealthy shade of blue.

“I’ll fuckin’ destroy them,” he slurs.

Zoe: “Ooooooh… That looks sick! We should get the blood flowing.”

She does not, however, move to touch it.

“How will ya destroy them?”

She moves to flop back onto the bed.

GM: Chuck tugs at the ring around his scrotum and swears some more when it doesn’t come off.

Zoe: “How many fucking locks do they have on you?”

GM: “Isn’t a lock, it’s…”

Chuck finally crams in the head of his penis and drags it underneath a protruding, keyhole-shaped portion of the ring. Then he pulls his balls through and throws it aside with an angry look. Normal color starts to return to his manhood.

“Z’where’s the other key,” he slurs.

Zoe: “You need another key?”

She sounds both surprised and annoyed.

“Haaaaa…. guess you’re lucky they didn’t chain your asshole shut!” she says, poking the shred of a picture she’s determined to keep.

GM: Chuck grabs at it.

Zoe: She closes her fist. It’s no more than a square inch after all her ripping.

“I waaaant it!”

GM: Chuck tries to un-pull her fingers. But the man looks ready to pass out at any moment, and there’s barely any strength behind his hands.

“Not… funny!”

Zoe: She rolls back further onto the bed, having the time of her damn life. Why did she ever feel tired?

“Cmonnnnn! It’s cute! I waaaant it! What made them do this, anyway?”

GM: Chuck glowers at her.

“‘Cuz they’re fucked up, is why!”

“Give it to me and I’ll tell you, all right?”

Zoe: “Nuh! They’re whores! Whores fuck! This is a conspiracy.”

She mourns the pretty little photo; at this point, barely a crumpled black dot and vaguely Chuck-colored background.

Then hands it over.

“Fine.”

GM: Chuck rips it up.

“Did a whore a favor. Said she’d pay me back with sex.”

“Brought a friend.”

Zoe: “You should invest in a safe word. Or a gun.”

GM: “Gun,” he mutters.

“Yeah. Drugged me and did…”

He fumbles around for the other key.

Zoe: “Well, technically, they didn’t break their word. Whatcha do for them?”

GM: “Some loser didn’t pay them for sex. Called my uncle ’bout where he lived. Rented from us.”

Chuck finds the key and tries to unlock the collar’s padlock. He swears when it doesn’t come off.

Zoe: “Ooooh. Not very bright going back on their word…”

A pause.

“Whatcha want to do to ’em?”

GM: “Fuck ’em,” he mutters.

“Ruin their lives.”

He tries the other key on the collar’s badlock. It finally comes off. He angrily throws it aside.

“Get them arrested. For whorin’.”

Zoe: “That’s boring,” she sings, waggling a finger at him.

“Oooh, let’s call the cops! That’ll show them what’s what. We’ll just show the cops the pictures—which don’t exist anymore—and they’ll chase them down. That’ll show them.”

Is she mocking him? Absolutely.

“You can do better than thaaaat!”

GM: Chuck glowers at her.

“No, dumbass, get them arrested for being whores.”

“Prostitution is illegal.”

Zoe: She palms her face.

“Dude, you’re literally paying me with a place to sleep and eat with sex. How will reporting them to the police—”

She shakes her head. Hypocrite.

“You don’t want to take revenge yourself? Something more personal? Come onnnnn!”

She reaches out, tugging on his forearm.

GM: He gives her a bleary look.

“Are you… high?”

He shakes his head.

“Whatever. Personal revenge. Yeah… wouldn’t say no.”

“Fuck them.”

“Fuck those cunts.”

Zoe: “Top of the fucking clouds. MAN that was some good shit he gave me!”

She tugs him over and kisses him, hard, exactly as unromantic and unsexy as a cartoon rabbit in a dress kissing a hunter.

“Good! Don’t say no. Personal revenge is much more satisfying.”

GM: Chuck’s response is equally unromantic. He doesn’t even kiss her back. Just pulls away and mutters, “Not in the mood,” with a dark look.

He ambles up and rifles through his dresser for some sweats and a t-shirt. He tugs them on.

Zoe: “Come onnnnn! There has to be something more going on! Paid whores don’t just torture their client in repayment of a favor. Are you suuuuure you don’t have enemies?”

GM: “Yeah, sure!” he exclaims, sinking heavily down back down onto the bed. “Yeah, my family’s got enemies, but I dunno who the fuck’d… who the fuck’d do this to me.

“She was just some whore I fucked a bunch. Paid her.”

“Then brought over this… this literally insane…”

“I dunno where the fuck she came from…”

Zoe: “Did they at least get you off once?”

GM: “I d-ddunno, wh…”

Chuck clutches his stomach, then barrels out of the room. Zoe hears the sound of him retching.

Zoe: She clicks her tongue. Now that she finally wants to fuck, not a soul available is ‘in the mood’. Maybe her mother gave her a good enough fucking that karma continues to decide she’s meant for chastity. Hmn.

“Do you need me to hold your hair back?”

She doesn’t sound entirely serious.

GM: There’s no answer, but after a little while, the toilet flushes.

There’s the sound of gargling and spitting, then Chuck ambles back in to the bedroom with a barely comprehending look and plops back down on the bed.

“Why the fuck are you even here, anyway?”

“Don’t you have… friends?”

Zoe: She shakes her head.

“They won’t talk to me. Mom wins this round! You want to be my friend? Like, the kind I don’t have to fuck? I’ll still fuck you. Apparently I’m good at it! Good enough for three-hun—”

She looks puzzled all of a sudden.

“Two-hun… Dred and…”

She can’t remember how much cash she has. Oh well.

“I got paid for it! I went out and got locked in a closet!”

GM: She doesn’t have any cash. The other Cash took it all.

“Yeah,” Chuck grogs.

“You’re high as a kite, ‘n I’m drugged. Night.”

He sags onto a pillow and rolls over.

Zoe: "Pffffff! Kites got NOTHING on me!”

She lays back beside him.

“…so…”

A pause.

“Develop a pegging kink?”

GM: Her answer to that is total silence.


Friday morning, 1 April 2016

GM: Zoe’s dreams that night are troubled and fitful. She feels like shit when she wakes up. She supposes that a night of cocaine, stripping, and nothing to eat in 24 hours but cheese sticks and O’Tolley’s cheeseburgers may do that.

Chuck is still soundly asleep and lies face-first against the pillow. He doesn’t even snore. The pale-faced man looks really out of it.

Zoe: Fuck. You can’t live with drugs. You can’t live without them. Take them, and you earn a hangover to make any bottle of rum blush with envy. Don’t take them, and you earn a hangover to make any bottle of rum blush with envy, and you’ll punch your own mother to get some.

Zoe doesn’t need a lack of cocaine to want to punch her mother. She’s wanted to do far worse for days now.

She stirs, pressing a palm to a sweat-slick forehead.

Her heart thumps with urgency upon seeing Chuck. She places an ear to his chest. Did she kill him now?!

GM: The sheets are sweaty too. Hers and Chuck’s. Neither of them seems as if they had a good sleep.

Zoe finds it impossible to place her ear against Chuck’s chest when he is lying on the bed chest-down, but his neck has a pulse.

Zoe: He’s alive. That’s good. That’s a relief. For a moment, she wondered if Cash killed him while they slept with intent of pinning a murder on her. It seems he either has a merciful side, or he’s not as vindictive as paranoid-Zoe thinks he is.

She hasn’t showered in days. That’s her first order of business. Also, a time check.

GM: She has a marked sense of deja vu as she steps into the shower. It can’t have been days, can it?

It’s around noon. Friday.

Zoe: It can’t have been days.

But it has been.

She’s a has been.

She has to.

Has to what?

Has to shower.

Has to get to work.

Has to eat.

Food.

Real food.

So much food.

All the food.

She tries to recall what Chuck has in his freezer.

She stored frozen tadpoles in her shared office at Tulane. Some stupid exhibit-to-be to wrestle the interest of doe-eyed undergraduates-to-be. She had better things to do, but as Master commands, Apprentice does.

Maybe she’ll strike him down, one day.

Tadpoles aren’t food.

Not unless you cook them.

And season them.

In that order.

Shower.

Then food.

The sweat won’t come off.

Her skin will come off before the sweat.

Is Cash under her skin?

Are metaphors reality?

Does he really call himself Cash because he likes money?

She has money.

Had. Money.

He’d have liked Zoe.

Last week.

Except her tadpoles.

Though, both are green.

She has no clean clothes.

Fuck.

GM: It has been days.

One night with Chuck already.

Locked up all day in a closet for another.

Stripping all night and parting with her dignity for $280 and coke.

The sweat eventually comes off under the shower. Zoe may or may not feel clean.

There’s food in the fridge and freezer. Frozen meals and leftover, half-eaten restaurant takeout.

Her laundered clothes are a mess. At least half are ruined.

Chuck had wanted to see her naked.

Zoe: She would fuck Chuck three times right now for enough spare cash to buy some clothes and pay back those who fronted her dancing gear, but Chuck is passed out in his own drool.

Should she call a doctor for him? Probably. His heart continues to beat, so she continues to eat.

Zoe rummages through his freezer, finding a breakfast of eggs, sausage and a biscuit—somehow mashed into a paste—and nukes it in the microwave.

It’s better than some alternatives in there.

GM: The microwave dish slowly rotates around with the two ‘biscuit-style scrambles.’ The packaging looks appetizing enough, but it always does.

Do strippers work during the day?

Maybe she has that to herself. Cash Money didn’t say when or at what time she needed to be back.

Zoe: He didn’t, and while she is sure he expects common sense to be applied, she doesn’t want to make assumptions on his expectations lest she get locked in a closet. Again.

The microwave beeps, and she descends upon that poor plate of depressed eggs and other accompanying niceties with all the reserved restraint of a starved dog.

There are no survivors.

Once her plate is clean—quite literally, licked so—she finds the remnants of her clothing. What’s even left?

GM: The finished product, for ‘product’ seems the most fitting term to call it, is two open-face biscuits with egg, sausage, and cheese topping. The food tastes very salty and simultaneously filling but empty. Zoe can already feel her blood sugar spiking.

Technically, all of her clothes are left in the returned hamper. The delicates are ruined. The main articles to survive are the sturdier ones, like jeans.

She feels another striking sense of deja vu. Has she done this before?

Zoe: She has. She knew she had before subjecting herself to facing the same reality again: she doesn’t have enough clothing lift over to make an appropriate outfit to get coffee from down the street.

She groans, tugging her hair.

Okay. This is salvageable. No underwear is fine, for now. Jeans are safe.

She’ll borrow a shirt from Chuck.

GM: The shirts in Chuck’s dresser are a little big for Zoe, but he has plenty of them. They range in style from formal button-ups to wear with suits to more casual t-shirts like the one he’s still sleeping in. Polo shirts and long-sleeved tees round out the middle.

He’s still collapsed on the bed and looks completely out of it. The handcuffs, spreader bar, strap-on, ballgag, and chastity cage lie haphazardly strewn over the floor.

Zoe: They’re a little big, but it’s better than going out topless.

Concern laces her face when she regards him again. She slides onto the bed beside him.

“Chuck.”

GM: The sleeping man does not answer her.

Zoe: He doesn’t answer her, but he’ll probably be fine; and, if he isn’t fine, it’s because she’s already died days ago, gone to hell, and is living an eternity of punishment for her selfish existence.

So, you’re on your own, Chuck.

For the first time since her ‘Worst Day Ever’, she pulls her laptop out. She’d shut it off with intention to preserve it from any water damage before she left the coffee shop. It should be fine, right?

GM: For once, fortune smiles upon her, as the Sunbook laptop boots up without issue. She must’ve packed it fairly high up in the soaked and ruined bag.

Zoe: Blessed be!

She plugs the laptop in, gives it a few minutes to charge, and boots up her browser. Oh no. Oh no. Oh no.

How bad is her inbox?

GM: It could be worse.

But her advisor asked her to come work on Saturday and seem distinctly irritated by the lack of response. Someone else will do that, she’s told, and will get all the credit.

Her advisor also tells her to come wash his car by Monday.

Grad students are, unfortunately, their advisors’ bitches, more or less.

Zoe: She writes her advisor most of the truth: that she ran into some trouble with her family, and that she needs to find a source of income to continue giving her focus to the remainder of her degree. It shouldn’t take her too long! At least, that’s what she tells him.

Unfortunately, she can’t make it to work and she can’t wash his car; but, she says she’ll wash it twice!

Probably in a bikini, if he has his way.

GM: It’s perhaps Zoe’s “luck” that her advisor seems to be checking his mail right now. Her inbox pings with a new email.

Granted, it’s not as if the response took him very long to compose.

It’s only one sentence long.

Wash the car by 5 PM today or you’re terminated.

The threat, she knows, is completely genuine. Advisors have total power over the doctoral students who work for them. There is no appeal. There is no transfer to another advisor. There are no second chances—leave your doctoral program, which you can do at any time, and you are done forever in academia.

Zoe’s heard horror stories about doctoral students who quit and went back to flipping burgers at O’Tolley’s because they found the abuse from their advisors so intolerable.

Zoe: She grits her teeth hard enough that she worries about cracking one.

Given her luck, she consciously relaxes her jaw, rubbing the connection at the rear.

Okay. Leave the supplies out and I’ll come over right now. But seriously, I need to find income aside; my projects will have to keep on hold.

GM: Another just as swift and curt reply pops up:

Keep up with the work or you’re terminated.

Zoe: She smacks the desk.

GM: There are other doctoral students eager to replace her.

She knows that bitterly well, too.

If only she could turn to Mom or Grandpa or even Dad to get him to see reason.

Zoe: How the holy fuck is she supposed to manage her degree, pleasing Cash—literally, probably,—keeping Chuck appeased, and somehow managing to keep enough income to eat once Chuck gets tired of feeding her?

Where does Chuck keep his stash?

She goes to rummage for that. Fuck sobriety.

GM: Zoe’s parents would be the first to tell her she’s a disappointment. She’d be the first to agree that her life is now a disappointment.

Chuck’s stash doesn’t disappoint, though. He keeps a fair bit of booze in his place. Enough that she might be able to kill herself via alcohol poisoning, if she wants to go out that way.

Zoe: No, no, no. She doesn’t want to die. She just wants to feel something more than cold, harsh reality. Cocaine is ideal! She’ll wash her advisor’s car in minutes!

GM: Alas, Chuck has no cocaine in his apartment that Zoe can find. Just alcohol.

Zoe: She whines. What kind of wealthy spawn is he? Terrorists are no fun.

She huffs.

Fine.

She’ll go wash his stupid car.

Maybe blow up his stupid head.

GM: Her advisor’s address is in Metairie. She’ll need transportation.

Or she can just walk the seven or so miles.

Zoe: Why can’t the world pass free transportation?

Well, Chuck did agree to lend her a car. She’ll just take that.

GM: It takes some searching, but eventually she locates his keys.

Zoe: Perfect! Lucky for her, she managed to pass her driver’s test. On the second try.

GM: It’s a too-familiar route to the parking garage with her keys in hand. It almost feels like she’s going out for a drive, in her old car, in her old life—apart from the fact she’s borrowing someone’s else car.

Is she borrowing someone else’s life, in so many words, staying here?

Zoe: The thought strikes her like a pallet of bricks.

All those thoughts of death and Hell and this false reality, when she really is a ghost, possessing others and living their lives, punished every time she tries to live her old life.

She was rewarded when she lived a new life the night before. Somewhat.

But how can she just move on? She can’t just forget who she was, drop decades of work and become a whore.

Her hand settles to her belly at a red light. The thought of a parasite inside her from Trip, or worse, Cash…

She shudders.

But how can she move on?

GM: The only answer she receives is a rude honk from the car behind hers.

Traffic is a poor source of advice.

Zoe: You know how Zoe moves on from who she was?

She rolls the window down and flips the driver the bird, then—checking VERY carefully to ensure she’s not about to hit someone—zooms off.


Friday afternoon, 1 April 2016

GM: It’s a much briefer trek by car than it is by foot. The house of her advisor, Craig Estes, is a well-to-do property located in a nice suburban neighborhood. There’s a big and neatly maintained lawn. It’s a fairly nice house, the kind that belongs to someone with a six-figure income.

If on the lower side on that income level, for him to be relying on his doctoral students to do household chores for him.

There’s a Suburban parked in the driveway, ready to clean. Zoe sees no supplies laid out.

Zoe: Stupid advisor. Stupid Suburban. Stupid supplies. Stupid missing supplies. Stupid PhD. Stupid Zoe.

She huffs, locks the car behind her, and knocks on the door.

GM: She’s answered by Dr. Estes, a middle-aged man with rectangular glasses and receding hair who’s dressed in a button-up. He looks her over with a bored air.

“Supplies are in the garage. When you’re done, I have a list of groceries for you to pick up.”

Zoe: “Yes, Dr. Estes,” she answers, as if it’s Christmas. What’s gotten into Zoe? She’s never been so happy to serve his needs.

“I miss Tulane. I know it’s only been a few days…”

GM: Dr. Estes gives her an odd look.

Zoe: She smiles at him. What a lovely smile. Something’s different.

“Well… I’ll let you know when it’s done!”

And so she sets to it.

GM: Dr. Estes gives a grunt of acknowledgment and closes the door.

Zoe finds some cleaning products, rags, and a bucket in the garage. There’s a garden hose nearby to work on the car with.

It may be April, but the Dixie sun is fat and swollen overhead. It feels around 80 degrees, and it’s extremely humid. Like it always is in south Louisiana.

Dr. Estes’ house is almost certainly air-conditioned.

Zoe: Stuffy corpse. Act like that and I’ll grant your wish.

Still, she cares about finishing her degree. If that means washing his car, and buying his groceries—with his own money—it’s a small price to pay. He’ll pay the bigger price in the long run.

GM: In short order, Zoe finds herself drenched in sweat and extremely thirsty. It’s tiring and physically intensive work, especially in this weather, to scrub the car completely clean.

Zoe: She pushes herself, for now. Suffering is part of the game, isn’t it? He doesn’t care to see his mentees succeed or fail. He cares to see them suffer; so, suffer she will. It will all be worth it in the end. Every. Last. Bit.

GM: Zoe is a sweat-soaked and red-faced mess by the time she’s done scrubbing. Maybe she’s gotten sunburn. She smells awful. Her clothes are going to stink after they dry out, if they do at all in the muggy weather. Dr. Estes looks the car over after she’s done, then says,

“My cat got diarrhea. You can clean the litter box before you pick up my groceries.”

Zoe: “Can I…”

She swallows a sandpaper tongue.

“Can I have a glass of water before I go?”

She’s worked herself to exhaustion; at least, it feels that way, and it shows that way.

GM: “Wash the glass when you’re done,” Dr. Estes says impatiently.

He snaps his fingers.

“Oh. I’m glad you reminded me.”

“My dishwasher’s broken. The repairman comes by tomorrow. Wash and put away everything that’s in there.”

Zoe: “Certainly, Dr!”

She always does. Cleanliness is one of the core tenets of her chosen educational path. Once you know what really lays unseen on used surfaces, you never forget to wash them again.

She just might bash it over his head first.

“Before or after I shop for you?’

GM: “Either,” he shrugs. He produces a wallet and hands her $200, along with a paper shopping list. “That’ll be enough for the groceries.”

Zoe: “Yessir.”

Water. Then another glass.

She takes care in washing the dishes, ensuring that nothing is scratched or broken. No. Zoe is the perfect student. She’s the perfect candidate. She’s perfect. Perfect perfect perfect.

She drinks a third glass, then washes, dries and adds her own glass to the collection.

Next: cat poop. At least it’s in the litter box, right?

GM: There are a lot of dishes. It’s over half an hour before Zoe finishes drying and putting away all of them. Her legs are sore from stretching on the hard tile floor. Her fingers are wrinkled like raisins and smell of dish soap.

At least it’s cool inside.

Zoe’s hope, however, proves misplaced. The litter box is in the pantry room. The cat looks like it missed the box. There’s wet, stinky poop all over the floor.

Zoe: She could leave the cat in the oven…

She hasn’t had Chinese in a few weeks.

Deep breath, Zoe. Outside the pantry.

It’s not the first time she’s been made to clean up after that geriatric feline. It will probably be the last.

She collects the supplies, regretting contacting the doctor, and sets to her next task.

GM: If she wasn’t doing his household chores she’d be terminated from the program.

It’s gross and unpleasant work, even if it is shorter than doing the dishes. Zoe’s wrinkled hands smell like cat shit through the layers of paper towels she uses to clean it up.

Zoe: Where is the monster, anyway? Maybe it can read her mind.

Back to the sink. More washing. Always washing. Her hands still smell like precum to her.

Money in her back pocket, she calls out to him, “Going for your groceries! Back soon.”

GM: Dr. Estes gives no answer. It’s a short drive to the local Herrick’s. Dr. Estes looks like he’s planning a nice dinner, or maybe dinner party, given some of the items on his grocery list. There’s a lot of wine and prime cuts of beef.

Zoe also realizes, as she tabulates up the prices of individual items, that he’s not given her enough money to buy everything. She’s around $50 short.

Zoe: She pinches the bridge of her nose, and looks up at the sky.

I know I’ve never been one for visiting your house on Sundays, God, but if you’re trying to make a point, I’m listening. I give up. Truce. You win. White flag. What do you want me to do?

She calls him.

GM: God doesn’t answer.

Neither does her advisor.

The phone rings until voicemail. She’s invited to leave her name and number and the nature of her call,

“And I’ll get back to you as soon as convenient.”

Beeep.

Zoe: She hangs up.

Okay.

Fine.

Back to his house, buying what she can as close to $200 as possible—including tax.

GM: Dr. Estes looks over everything when she’s back, as if to be sure she did it right. Then he says,

“This isn’t everything on the list.”

The man with absolute power over her future in academia stares at her with a very displeased frown.

Zoe: She whimpers. The moment he opens the door, she tells him, before he even takes the bag.

“There wasn’t enough cash. I’d have paid it forward myself, but—I don’t have any money. I’ve only been eating because a friend has been kind enough to feed me.”

Annoyance: boiling.

Demeanor: calm apparent.

GM: Dr. Estes stares at her, as if making up his mind.

Zoe can see the future of her PhD hanging in the balance.

Over this man’s groceries.

Then he reaches into his wallet, gives her another $50, and says,

“Go pick up the rest.”

Zoe: “Thank you for understanding, Dr. Estes!”

It must be near time for work. She won’t race—she doesn’t want to kill anyone—but she will skitter along quickly when she can to ensure she can get back and shower in time. The last thing she wants is Cash upset with her.

GM: The trip back to the grocery store feels as if it takes forever to pick up the remaining one bag of items. When she’s back, Dr. Estes tells her,

“Go clean my bathrooms.”

Zoe: She checks the time.

GM: A few hours past noon.

Zoe: She groans internally. Still a few hours before she has to be back at Barely Legal.

“Okay.”

He’s punishing her for disappearing for a few days.

On to the bathrooms…

GM: Zoe gets sore from kneeling over tile floor and stains her hands with bleach as she scrubs.

“Did you do the toilets?”

Zoe: “Not done yet!”

GM: There’s no reply.

Zoe: Toilets. Cleaner than when they were bought. At least it’s a feasible request, unlike buying groceries with more money than she’s given.

GM: Then when that’s done and they’re freshly scrubbed, her advisor tells her,

“You can vacuum the floors next.”

Zoe: “O-okay! Anything else?”

I can’t pay for my own funeral when Cash kills me. If you keep this shit up, one of us isn’t surviving the night.

GM: “Not for now.”

For now.

Zoe: Zoe is the best at vacuuming. There’s never been a person who’s vacuumed quite as good as her. Just ask anyone who matters, and they’ll tell you, Zoe J Kelly is the best vacuumer. Believe you her. Her vacuuming brain is yuge.

GM: Dr. Estes doesn’t look particularly impressed when she’s done. He doesn’t tell her she did a bad job, but he doesn’t praise her either. Instead he says,

“Laundry hamper’s in the bedroom. Do a load and fold everything when it’s dry. Iron my shirts.”

Zoe: Eat my shorts. Don’t you have other grad students to fuck with? Does everyone with an iota of power wield it over others as if they’re the ruler of their own, minuscule empire?

The answer is yes, Zoe, and you know it.

“Okay.”

If there are streaks, she’s lighting the washing machine on fire.

GM: There are bunch of dirty men’s and women’s clothes for Zoe to haul to the laundry room and load into the machine. It spins and spins in its cycle.

30 minutes until it’s done.

Does Dr. Estes expect her to just stand around until it’s done?

The drying cycle will take more time, too.

Does her time mean that little to him?

Zoe: Apparently, it does. He’d have been kind to ask her to do this in the midst of everything else.

But he didn’t, did he?

No, he elects to inconvenience her—and other candidates—every chance he can. He’s a bully through and through, even if he is one of the brightest people in the state.

How many of his achievements—how much of his success as an academic—stems from abuse and theft of his protégés?

He doesn’t encourage growth. He doesn’t encourage the field to move onward. He doesn’t want to breed a healthy community that will shepherd humanity into another era.

In a moment of clarity, she decides: If he doesn’t care for any of it in the way she does, he doesn’t deserve his position any longer. Since this Hell began, every time she’s felt that all-consuming fire of inside her—toward Chris, and toward the rapist-that-wasn’t in the club—their life was snuffed out as if a candle in the wind.

She walks back out while the laundry is in.

“Thank you for all you do.”

And she wills that same passionate hate to tide onto him.

GM: Dr. Estes is in his office, working on something over his computer.

“You’re welcome,” he agrees without looking at her.

They are the last words he ever says.

At first, all that happens is he stops typing. The clitter of fingers against keyboard goes silent.

Then he sags forward, breathing hard. He clutches a hand to his chest.

He jerks around in his chair, swiveling to face Zoe. His forehead is beaded with sweat. His mouth hangs open and his eyes are wide. With pain. With terror.

He tries to say something to Zoe, as his eyes lock with hers. All that comes out of his mouth is a paper-dry rasp, but there is no mistaking the look of pleading in his eyes. As he finally sees her as a fellow human being, who right now, he needs.

He staggers out of his chair, towards her, clutching his heart. He makes it two steps forward before he collapses forward onto his shoulder, then rolls to a stop on his back. His mouth hangs dumbly open as his eyes vacantly stare towards the ceiling.

The smell of piss wafts up Zoe’s nostrils. There’s a wet stain around his crotch.

Zoe: Zoe shrieks as if she witnessed her own father stabbed in the heart in front of her. There’s some guilt there, in her heart. What gives her the right to be judge, jury and executioner? Who is she to decide who is and isn’t fit for anything at all?

Guilt is made to take a back seat. This has to look right.

“Professor!? Wh—”

Her eyes widen with surprise; faux surprise, but surprise nonetheless.

She crosses the room in a pair of long strides, meeting him just as he stumbles and collapses in front of her.

“I-is it medicine?!”

Her fingers fumble across his chest, lowering herself to listen to a heartbeat she already knows is fading.

“Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my GOD!”

She draws her own phone out, shaking, and dials emergency.

GM: Zoe might be faking it if she screamed over her father’s death too.

“911, what is your emergency?” greets a female dispatcher’s calm voice.

Zoe: “I-i-it’s my profewdor! I w-was ’elwing him anee COLLAPSED!”

She’s bawling so hard that she’s hardly understandable.

She does, however, manage to convey the address.

GM: The dispatcher stays on the line with Zoe for the seven or so minutes until the EMTs arrive, accompanied by a police escort. It’s a fast response, all things considered. Zoe is asked to open the house’s door for them so they don’t need to break it open.

Zoe: Her voice quivers like a sapling in a storm while the dispatcher tries and fails to restore some calm to her, her tears taking the role of the rain. The leading lady stumbles over her words while they speak, finding a nearby seat on the floor.

When the EMTs arrive, the door is open, Zoe standing moon-eyed behind the frame. The tears stop. She doesn’t have any more tears. How can she? Tears are replace by shock, and Zoe is shock incarnate.

GM: The EMTs try the defibrillator paddles on the motionless man, anyway, despite his minutes-stopped heart: there is always a chance they may be able to resuscitate the clinically dead. They try several times.

Their patient just lies there.

It’s not long before the EMTs “call it” and document his time of death. There’s talk of notifying next of kin.

Dr. Estes’ eyes stare blankly up at the ceiling.


Friday afternoon, 1 April 2016

GM: The EMTs leave the resuscitation adjuncts in place. No one moves Dr. Estes’ body or otherwise disturbs the scene.

Two black-uniformed Jefferson Parish police officers ask Zoe to tell them everything that happened.

Zoe: Zoe tells them the truth: that she was helping her advisor when she came back to mention a thought—momentarily spiraling off into some too-deep, boundary-pushing thought on cellular biology, before getting back to the point once their eyes gloss over sufficiently—and he collapsed. She describes the symptoms in the vague detail that she remembers, and she immediately called emergency.

GM: The biology talk seems to largely go over the heads of the two police officers, if the glazed looks on their faces are indication.

They trade glances between each other when Zoe is finished.

“How well did you know him?” asks one of them, a middle-aged man with a graying mustache.

Zoe: They seem to have bought it. That’s good.

She sniffles. It’s wet and globby.

“A… a few years. He was my advisor. I’m one of the d-doctoral candidates at Tulane.”

GM: “Did he have any health conditions you know of?” asks his partner, a slightly younger and clean-shaven man.

Zoe: She shakes her head.

“We didn’t talk about his health. I just… I didn’t expect anyone… I’ve never—”

GM: “What was your relationship like?” asks the other cop.

Zoe: She explains what is again the truth: that she’s been his candidate for the last couple of years, and is nearing the end of her degree.

“About as healthy as any professor-candidate pairing is,” she adds with a shrug.

“I… I didn’t expect…”

GM: “Who would,” nods the mustached cop. “How long you been over at his house today?”

Zoe: She pulls out her phone to check the time.

“A few hours?”

GM: “And you spent these past few hours talking about biology with him?”

Zoe: “Among other things. I helped him out with this and that around the house,” she shrugs noncommittally.

“I’m…” She shakes her head. “I just can’t—”

GM: “Pretty easy stuff, I’m guessing?” nods the second cop. “Dishes, that kinda stuff?”

Zoe: She nods. “Nothing stressful. Not that I’d think would cause enough stress to—”

GM: “How’d you get so sweaty?” asks the first cop.

“Your clothes smell, no offense.”

Zoe: “Have you been outside?” she answers, raising a brow. She’s more teasing than accusatory, as much as one can tease when so distraught.

“I helped him out by washing his car earlier.”

GM: “Miserable work in this weather,” says the second cop. “Really miserable.”

“He couldn’t just go to a car wash?”

“Looks like he makes all right money.”

“Made,” says the first cop.

Zoe: “Probably. You ever been through the military? The masters in our world trial their students, just as the masters in that world do. One has to be strong, even in academia,” she answers sagely.

Her eyes widen.

“You don’t think there’s something in the house, do you? Gas or something? I haven’t used bleach or anything, but..”

GM: “Mm, maybe. We’re definitely gonna have a detective look this place over,” says the second cop.

“Ask his wife about his health history, that kinda stuff.”

Zoe: She nods solemnly.

“We’re worse off…”

GM: “So, why’d you wash his car, again?” asks the first cop.

Zoe: “When you went through the academy, did your, erm… sergeant? I’m not sure who runs things in the police academy. Did they make you do push-ups? Anything like that?”

GM: “Sure did,” says the second cop. “You gotta pass the fitness test. Same as in the military.”

Zoe: She nods.

“Similar idea, I guess. Need to be able to ensure discomfort and monotony, even in my field. Washing a car sounds silly, but it matters. Things like that aren’t uncommon in doctoral candidates.”

GM: “Less about discomfort than needing to be fit,” says the second cop. “Police work can involve pursuing fleeing suspects. Gotta be able to run. Can involve fights, too. Gotta be strong enough to do push-ups.”

Zoe: “Gotta be able to sit in a lab with a broken air conditioner for more hours in a day than not, or lean over a sink, or—”

GM: “Was washing a car the only thing he made you do?” asks the first cop.

Zoe: Zoe stops in mid-answer.

“What’s this all have to do with him?”

GM: “Just helping us paint a picture of what he was up to, on his last day alive,” says the first cop. “His wife and kids are gonna want to know why.”

“Might be he had a health condition or something and this doesn’t matter, but we like to be thorough.”

“So what’d you do besides wash his car and talk about biology?” asks the second cop.

Zoe: She frowns, sniffling. “Maybe. I’ve been his protege for years, and he’s never talked about his health. Nothing major like this. A cold here and there. I came over to talk about finishing my degree. He mentioned hosting a dinner, and that he needed some help before we’d discuss some problems I’ve been having that took me away for a little. I figured we’d talk after the preparation was done. Just a few other things: the car, shopping, which he paid for, and throwing some laundry in. He was doing some things for the university anyway, so better my time is used than his.”

GM: “So you washed his car, bought his groceries, did his laundry, and talked about biology,” says the first cop. “That was everything you did today?”

Zoe: She shook her head.

“I was just coming back from setting his laundry to go when he—”

She gestures toward where his body is.

GM: “What else did you do?” asks the second cop.

Zoe: She has to think about it. “Cat… poop? Nothing that would make the news or be considered out of the ordinary, officer.”

GM: “So you did his cat litter, bought his groceries, did his laundry, washed his car, and talked about biology,” says the first cop.

The second cop guffaws. “No way I’d wanna do all that shit. Hire a maid.”

“You shoulda seen him at the university. Office hours or whatever.”

Zoe: She smiles politely, pained.

“We’re more than just students. Doctoral candidates are—a brotherhood, of sorts.”

She breathes a quiet sigh.

“I don’t know what we’ll do.”

GM: “So, you wanted to help with all this stuff?” says the first cop. “It was your idea to come over?”

Zoe: “My idea to come over. His idea that he needed help. It’s really no trouble,” she shrugs.

GM: The second cop grins. “Yeah, figures that was his idea.”

“Seems like a real cheapskate.”

Zoe: She shakes her head.

“Sometimes time with the masters is valuable, even in such mundane ways.”

A pause.

She sighs.

GM: The first cop laughs.

“You’re full of shit.”

Zoe: She shrugs.

“Aspirational, probably. Too dreamy? Definitely. Full of shit? Maybe the first two make it so.”

GM: The second cop removes some handcuffs off his belt.

“Hands please. You’re under arrest.”

Zoe: She squints. “Arrest? For what, officer?”

GM: “Hands. Now.”

Zoe: She offers them her hands gingerly.

GM: The second cop snaps the steel around her wrists while the first dryly recites,

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have a right to an attorney. If you can’t afford an attorney, one will be provided to you. Do you understand these rights?”

Zoe: She nods silently, eyes welling up.

“Wh—what am I being arrested for?”

GM: “For hating his guts, being alone with him when he died, and feeding us shit.”

Both police take Zoe by the arm and start leading her out of the house. She sees that more responders have already arrived and are filing into Dr. Estes’ office. They start snapping pictures of the body.

Zoe: “Wh—but I didn’t—”

She doesn’t resist. What is she going to do?

They’re irritating her, but she’s already so thoroughly worn through bone into marrow on how thoroughly this purgatory is punishing her that she doesn’t feel much else.

Fear? Yes.

Anger? Somewhat.

Mostly impatience. What comes next? Will she be charged for wishing someone’s death?

GM: The officers help Zoe into the back of the cop car. The seats are hard, plastic, and uncomfortable. Steel bars separate any passengers in the back from the front seats. The second cop stays behind. The first cop starts driving.

Zoe: She begins to wonder if these are even real cops. What’s next on the menu? Rape? A beating? Maybe they’ll force her to snort cocaine, too.

“What’s your name, officer?” she asks, heart thumping just a little too quickly for her own comfort.

Calm down, Zoe. Thoughts aren’t crimes. Not yet.

GM: “We prefer not to disclose those to crime suspects, ma’am,” answers the officer.

Zoe: “Wh—b—but… how can I have committed a crime? He… he just collapsed!” she whimpers.

Thump thump. Thump thump. Thump thump.

This doesn’t feel right. She is liable to have a heart attack if she doesn’t calm herself down.

“Where are you taking me?”

GM: “The station,” says the police officer. Suburban houses roll past the car’s windows.

Zoe: She doesn’t answer him, nor does she ask anything further. She leans her head against the glass, focusing on her breathing. Why does everything feel so complicated? Every little thing, every moment of every day since she returned home just a few days prior.

In. Out. In. Out. In. Out. Don’t have a heart attack.

GM: The police officer drives Zoe to an ugly beige building with Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Department written over the entrance. The surroundings are nothing but concrete, cars, and viaducts for as far as Zoe can see. There’s no plants or trees. There’s a small and dilapidated building near the police station, almost a shack, with a sign that reads, Troy’s Bail Bonds—The Key To Set You Free!

Zoe: Every step she’s taken for the last few days feels like the long-delayed result of a children’s playful game of warning. ‘Step on a crack, you’ll break your mother’s back!’

Zoe doesn’t much care if her mother’s back is broken for every step she takes, but the relentless, spine-shattering pain she seems to be dealt at every choice she makes—and even some she doesn’t—she does mind.

In.

Out.

In.

Out.

What if she holds her breath? What if she holds it and doesn’t draw another here in the back of this cruiser? What would her false accusers do?

GM: There’s only one way to find out for sure.

The police officer parks his car and opens Zoe’s door for her.

He leads her inside a side entrance to the building and past several empty rows of cells to a room where some other people tell her to stand on a yellow line facing forward and sideways while a flash goes off. They ask her several questions:

“What is your full name?”

“What is your home address?”

“What is your phone number?”

“Who is your current employer?”

Zoe: She gives the officer her name, sparing her mother none of the shame she’d have prefers, sure she’ll pay for it later. She gives her phone number just as easily.

Her address, however, she clarifies as ‘staying with a friend’, followed by his address.

“I don’t really work,” she answers. “My degree is my work. Well… I don’t know where that is, given…”

She huffs.

GM: Then comes fingerwiping. A deputy rubs Zoe’s fingers with a sequence of baby wipes and then splays them onto the glass plate of a scanner: images of her fingertips floating in the computer monitor. A series of electronic chirps seems to indicate the pictures are keepers.

Zoe: The fingerprinting she doesn’t mind and complies.

GM: After that, Zoe’s taken aside by a black, portly, and middle-aged female deputy who boredly says to her,

“Strip search. Take off your clothes.”

Zoe: The strip search prompt earns a raised brow and a questioning pause, but she does begin to undress with all the urgency of a would-be president being informed he’ll be chained down in an all-you-can-rape Middle Eastern dungeon.

“I didn’t do anything…” she whimpers.

GM: No one blinks upon hearing her name is Kelly. She supposes it’s a common enough name.

The cops accept the address she gives without remark.

They ask what university she’s attending for her degree.

The deputy clinically searches Zoe’s clothes and person before handing the former back for her to re-dress. Any personal effects she had with her are confiscated.

Zoe: She answers the questions as simply as they’re asked, redressing with more haste than when the Tulane football team rushed through the women’s locker room whooping and hollering. Shock humor. Ha ha. Very funny. Go Green Waves. She’d have turned the waves a little more red if she had the power.

GM: Another officer then tells Zoe she will be allowed to make a single phone call at this point.

Zoe: She mentions her friend—Chuck —who she’s staying with. He’ll be the one she calls.

“I’m not, like—am I being held? With bail? Because I really didn’t do anything.”

GM: “You’re being held ’til your arraignment,” answers a cop. “Judge’ll set your bail then, if any.”

No one seems to care who Zoe says she’ll call. She’s given access to a landline phone and space alone to make her call from.

Zoe: “How long off is that?”

Can they legally hold her that long? She could have gone into law. She’d know what to do if she did.

Pending their answer, she dials Chuck.

GM: The cop helpfully shrugs.

The phone rings for a long time before it’s answered with a tired-sounding,

“Nnnh, what.”

Zoe: “H-hey, Chuck? It’s Zoe. Look—I—I’m at the police station, or jail, or… something. They think I killed my professor, but I—I didn’t!”

Of course she didn’t. How could she have? She hasn’t been anything but an obedient, complacent protege.

“Can you help me out? Please? I’ll owe you.. and we can call it even on what I helped you with the other night.”

GM: “Wai… wugh?” he says groggily. “What your professor?”

Zoe: “C-come on, Chuck!”

Think, think, think. What was the sign?

“Jefferson Parish Police Department. Please.

GM: “Righ’, start from the begin… th’ fuck you mean, killed him?”

Zoe: “I said I didn’t kill him! He just—he collapsed! I was at his house, and he collapsed. I called the cops, and they arrested me. Come on, I need help, Chuck!”

GM: “Righ’,” Chuck grogs. “I feel like shit an’ I’m a property lawyer anyway.”

“Bu’, okay. I’ll sen’ you a crim’nal lawyer, and we’re even. For las’ night.”

“Don’ talk to cops without your lawyer,” he adds, seeming to find a bit more wind. “Can only hurt you. Won’ ever help.”

“Literally don’t say nothin’ but ‘lawyer.’”

Zoe: “Thanks, Chuck. I owe you. I mean it.”

Little late for the last bit, but she’ll heed it from here on out.

GM: “Eh. Fuck it. We’re even. Balances out.”

Zoe: “What’s the lawyer’s name? Are… you covering the fee, or…? If not… you know I’ll pay you back. One way or another.”

GM: “Amber Cox. An’ yeah, I know you’ll be good for it.”

Chuck still sounds too out of it to be giving a proper leer.

Zoe: She verifies that Chuck is indeed sending the lawyer, and that he has the correct police station, then hangs up. Okay. At least there’s that.

GM: Yes, he’s sending her. Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Department.

“All done?” says a deputy after she’s done. “This way.”

The police take Zoe to a small, bare, and claustrophobic room containing a single table, several hard chairs, and a single dim light. Two handcuffs bolted to the table are securely fastened around Zoe’s wrists. Two middle-aged men dressed in plainclothes suits rather than police uniforms come in and sit down on opposite sides of the table from Zoe.

“How long have you worked under Dr. Estes?” asks one of the men.

Zoe: She nods to the deputy, and follows. Her hands are cuffed, she sits, the men ask their question, and she answers.

“I’ll answer all you’d like to ask once my lawyer is in the room.”

Let it not be said that she doesn’t listen to Chuck.

GM: “This is just double-checking whether the info we have is right,” says the man. “Sooner it’s in order, sooner you can get out.”

Zoe: She simply raises a brow. Nope. Lawyer.

GM: The second man smiles.

“‘Say nothing without a lawyer,’ right?”

Zoe: She nods.

GM: “They give that advice to their clients a lot.”

Zoe: She nods.

GM: “Yours tell you how soon you can expect to get out?”

Zoe: She shrugs. Are non-verbal answers considered ‘talking without a lawyer’? Probably, but these seem harmless.

Zoe folds her hands, waiting. Any minute now.

GM: “Well, it’s up to us and up to the judge,” says the first man.

“We have some leeway in how long we get to hold you before seeing a judge.”

Zoe: “Officer, I won’t be answering anything else until my lawyer —Amber Cox —is sitting next to me.”

GM: “Then when we see the judge, up to him whether you get bail or not,” says the second man. “If he doesn’t set bail, you could be sitting in jail for months.”

Zoe: She falls silent again. Threats won’t sway her. Chuck said not to talk, so she won’t talk. She was polite, yet firm —as she’s been told to be.

GM: “Our jail isn’t as bad as OPP, but I’m sure you have other places you’d rather be.”

Zoe: “All respect, we’ll continue once my lawyer is here.”

GM: “You’re working on a PhD, right?” says the first man. “How many months can you miss before you get dropped from the program?”

“Being sent to jail for any length of time might be an automatic disqualifier,” says the second man. “Lucky for you, police holding cell isn’t real jail.”

“We can talk to the judge,” says the first man. “Get him to set bail instead of sending you to jail.”

Zoe: Silence. Not a smile. Not a frown. Lawyer.

GM: “Are we on the same page?” asks the second man. “Do you expect to complete your program if the judge locks you up for months?”

Zoe: Maybe the cops are less educated here. Oh well. Silence.

GM: “Suit yourself,” shrugs the first man.

He and his partner get up and leave. They close the door behind them.

Zoe is left by herself on the uncomfortable chair, hands chained to the table.

Zoe: She whistles one of her songs. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

GM: She waits.

There’s no clock to mark the passage of time.

No windows to look outside from.

Nothing to do but stare around the featureless room and wait.

Zoe: She counts cracks in the wall.

GM: She counts six.

Zoe: Six! Six whole cracks!

GM: Maybe there are more. The lighting is dim.

Zoe: Wait… No, seven!

What a shit hole.

She bets the officer is so grumpy because he has a tiny penis.

GM: Zoe’s not sure how much time she spends staring at the walls. She feels very sore. She’s hungry and needs to use the bathroom.

Eventually, the door opens and a woman walks into the room. She looks in her early to mid 30s. She’s blonde, somewhat pudgy, and dressed in a gray pantsuit and pearl necklace.

Amber.jpg
“Hi, I’m Amber,” she says as she sits down across the table from Zoe.

Zoe: She looks up from her daydream.

“Ms. Co—Hi! Zoe. Zoe Kelly. Thank you so much for coming.”

GM: “It’s my job,” says Amber. “So, let’s not waste any waste time. Why don’t you tell me what happened?”

Zoe: “My PhD advisor collapsed. I called emergency, and was arrested,” she states plainly. Succinct, and to the point.

“In no way did I harm or want to harm the man, Amber.”

GM: Amber nods. “So you know, it’s my job to defend you whether you harmed him or not. Are you familiar with attorney-client privilege?”

Zoe: She shakes her head. She’s been around lawyers all her life, yet never interacted with one in a legal manner.

“Explain?”

GM: “Basically, anything you tell me as your lawyer, I’m not allowed to repeat without your permission. Even if you’ve killed a dozen people, and I tell the police, I lose my license and don’t get to practice law anymore.”

Zoe: She nods. Simple enough.

“I haven’t hurt anyone. Honest.”

A pause.

“They threatened me. Saying if I talked I would be let out sooner, or kept longer and given bail if I didn’t. I didn’t say anything more than that I wouldn’t talk until you’re here.”

GM: “Smart,” says Amber. “They do that a lot. But talking to cops on your own never helps you. If there’s something that would help you to tell them, waiting a few hours to vet it past me isn’t going to kill them.”

Zoe: She chews her lower lip, thinking.

“I let them know some things at the house before I was arrested. That I was his student, I was helping him around the house; that sort of thing.”

She pauses.

“Why would they arrest me? How could I have hurt him?”

GM: “Lots of reasons to arrest you, unfortunately,” says Amber. “Doesn’t cost them anything to lock someone up, and pretty often that’ll get people to spill.”

“And if they’re wrong, oh well. No skin off their noses.”

Zoe: “They are wrong,” she huffs, trying and failing to rub her temples. Stupid chains.

GM: “Well, hopefully we’ll have you out soon. Can you tell me the full story of what happened?”

“Starting when you went to your advisor’s house.”

Zoe: “That… really is the full story. I was helping him at his house with various bits and bobs, he collapsed, I called emergency services, they came, they examined him, then they arrested me.”

GM: “Can you tell me the extra full version, then? Even things that seem irrelevant, like why you were over at his house, what bits and bobs you were helping with, etcetera. You never know what will turn out to be meaningful, whether to the case itself or just to what the police or DA may seize on.”

Zoe: “He’d asked me to help with a few chores. It’s common for PhD students. I washed his car, picked up his groceries, and cleaned a bit around his house.”

A pause.

“The police mentioned my being sweaty as suspicious.”

GM: “To be clear, I meant those things as examples. Can you give me a full account of your time at his house?”

Zoe: And so she does, recounting her time at his house in honest detail. She’s cognizant of what is and isn’t appropriate for a student to say, but tells the full truth in the confidence of client and attorney.

At the end, she clarifies, “…to be clear, we had no form of sexual or romantic relationship, nor had the thought ever been raised by either of us.”

GM: Amber takes that all in and asks for the details of Zoe’s conversation with the police after Dr. Estes collapsed. As much as she can remember there.

Zoe: And so she relays, as much as her memory recalls.

“I just want to go home, Ms. Cox.”

GM: “Getting you out is what I’m here for,” nods Amber.

“I also don’t think you’ve been completely honest with me,” she says frankly.

“Now, it’s up to you how much you tell me and how much you don’t. I’m your lawyer, not your interrogator. But the more I know about the facts of your case, the better I can defend you and represent your interests.”

Zoe: Her brow softens with a touch of defeated hurt.

“I am honest. I didn’t lay a finger on the man. Not one.”

GM: Amber looks less than convinced by the denial.

Zoe: She lofts a brow. “Be honest. What do you think happened?”

“Why would I throw my degree —a goal I’ve worked on most of my life —and my life itself into jeopardy by murdering a man while alone in his house with him and no reasonable alibi for being elsewhere, then call emergency and sit there? I’m suspicious, I understand —but I’m not stupid.”

GM: “I don’t think you liked him. Doctoral students have to put up with a lot of abuse from their advisors. No one enjoys being made to do a lot of unpaid chores.”

“Could be you saw him collapse and you waited before calling 911, instead of doing it immediately. But that’s just speculation. You’re the one who was there, not me.”

Zoe: “I called immediately,” she affirms with reserved tension. “I don’t know if he has cameras or not, but you’re welcome to check them if he does.”

“Is delayed call of emergency actually a chargeable offense?”

She sounds as surprised as she is.

GM: Amber holds up a hand. “Look, I’m not your prosecutor. It ultimately doesn’t help you to convince me of anything.”

“I’ve represented clients who haven’t told me the full story on their end before. Their thinking usually went, ’She’ll represent me better if she thinks I’m innocent’ or ‘she doesn’t need to know I did X illegal thing to do her job.’”

“But it doesn’t work that way. It’s my job to represent clients whether they’re innocent or guilty. Very often, seemingly unimportant details a client leaves out can be relevant to their cases, as they lack the legal expertise to know for themselves. That usually results in me defending them less effectively, and their getting a worse sentence or plea deal.”

“And no, a delayed call of emergency isn’t a chargeable offense. You’re under no duty to aid someone in peril.”

Zoe: “It doesn’t matter how I feel. Frustration isn’t a crime,” she answers.

What is she going to say? That she liquefied his brain with her thoughts? That isn’t how sane society works.

“Every PhD candidate on the planet becomes ireful toward their advisor at one point or another, whether for mistreatment or high expectations. I’m no different. I didn’t want to be there all day serving him, but I did. Because that’s what my life demands. Under no circumstance did I harm him in any way. He is —was —my path to a career.”

Lesson one in murder, Zoe. Plausible deniability. Noted.

GM: “Frustration isn’t a crime, but it is a motive,” says Amber. “Most murders are committed by people who knew the victim and had something against them.”

Zoe: “What did I kill him with? My thoughts? I didn’t touch him. I was barely within touching distance all day.”

GM: “There are ways to kill someone without touching them. The coroners are probably doing a toxicology test on his body.”

“Telling the police you were honored to do his housework was a bad look. They obviously didn’t believe that, because no one likes doing unpaid labor, and it made you look as if you were trying to hide how much you disliked him.”

Zoe: “Okay—fair. I shouldn’t have said that. I still didn’t harm him.”

And she sure hopes toxicology doesn’t come back with anyone else feeling murderous…

GM: “Okay, you didn’t harm him. Is there anything else you haven’t told me that you’d like to?”

Zoe: “What else would be smart to tell you?”

GM: “Everything. As I’ve said, the more information I have to work with, the better I can do my job of getting you out.”

Zoe: She tentatively shakes her head.

“Can you get me out today?”

GM: “Nope. Police can hold you for up to three days before an arraignment.”

Zoe: She groans. “And they’re probably pissy because I didn’t cave.”

GM: “Or better said, I might be able to. What the police think isn’t everything. You only get arraigned if the DA’s office decides to charge you with anything.”

Zoe: “How long will toxicology take?”

GM: “So, first, the police are going to examine the scene of Estes’ death. The coroner’s office is going to examine his body. The police are also probably going to search his house and talk to his family and/or doctor about any health conditions, to see if him dying the way he did is an unusual event.”

“If it turns out he had a heart condition, or if there’s some other ready explanation for his death, then the police won’t talk with the DA’s office and will just let you out.”

“If they can’t find a satisfactory explanation for how he died, they could then decide to tender their findings to the DA’s office, who’ll decide whether to file charges against you or not.”

“The police can’t hold you for longer than three days, so if the DA doesn’t decide to charge you with anything by then, you’ll be out by then.”

“However, a prosecutor is not bound by your initial charging decision; they may later change the charged crimes once more evidence is obtained.”

“So, for instance, the police could let you out within three days, but then arrest you again a month later if the DA decides to charge you with anything.”

“As for autopsy and toxicology, around three days is pretty typical turnout time for both. They might release you before finishing the exam.”

“It’s also possible that Estes’ family will pay for a private exam of his body, if they’re not satisfied with the results of the coroner’s.”

Zoe: “I see.”

Words hardly true. The fact is that Zoe can’t see the path her future carries her toward any further than she can kick a pebble of gravel. Despite understanding their logic—thanks to Amber—she’s lost respect in the police force.

Is that loss in respect reasonable? Fair? Absolutely not, and even she sees that. It makes the feeling no less true.

“Whatever you can do,” she continues, wilting her head to run shackled fingers through her hair.

She hasn’t forgotten about Barely Legal for so long the entire day. Bigger problems. Fuck Money in more ways than one.

“What do I do now?”

GM: “At this point? Mostly sit tight and see if the DA chooses to prosecute within three days.”

“If this were the full story, I’d advise talking to the police again in my presence, answering their questions, and being helpful enough they decide to release you early. But if it’s not, talking to the police only has the potential to get you in more trouble.”

Zoe: “That’s up to you,” she answers. “What do you feel I’m being untruthful about?”

GM: Amber shakes her head. “Doesn’t matter. If that’s everything, I’m going to look in to some more things on my end and see if there’s anything else I can do.”

Zoe: “That’s everything. Thank you for helping me, Amber.”

GM: “It’s my job.” Amber hands Zoe a business card with her contact info.

Zoe: “They’re probably going to take this…”

GM: “Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Memorize the number just in case.”

Zoe: She looks down at the card, committing it to memory one digit at a time. Over. And over. And over.

“I’ll see you again within three days?”

GM: “Yes. I’ll review the evidence against you, if any, find out whether the DA intends to pursue charges, and talk about your legal strategies from there.”

Zoe: “I’d give you a hug, but…”

She pulls the chains.

GM: Amber gives a wry smile. “We usually prefer to shake anyways.”

Zoe: She offers a hand, however limited.

GM: Amber shakes it and says she’ll be in touch, then takes her leave.

No one comes for Zoe.

Zoe: And so the wait begins.

Timer: 72h.


Friday afternoon, 1 April 2016

GM: Jail is mind-numbingly boring. Jefferson Parish doesn’t seem as if it has too many arrests, because while Zoe hears the occasional person marched into a nearby cell, she never has to share hers.

She’s left to sit on a bench and stare at the wall for hours. And hours. And hours.

She’s able to piss in a stainless steel toilet bolted to the floor.

She’s really hungry.

Eventually, once it feels like night, a deputy comes by with food. Zoe’s told to turn around and stick her hands through a grill in the door to her cell. The deputy handcuffs her to the door, opens it, then drops something onto the ground. Then he re-closes the door and undoes Zoe’s cuffs.

Lying on the floor, swaddled in saran wrap, is the saddest-looking sandwich Zoe thinks she’s ever seen. The bread is white and soggy-looking. She can’t tell what’s inside it. A sticker over the wrapping reads:

Not For Human Consumption

Zoe: One crack. Two crack. Three cra—No, that’s a crackhead. That counts as ten cracks.

She whines. How long has it been since she’s had a serving of her vice? A day? Just about a day. She wonders if Cash is looking for her yet. Maybe he’s forgotten about her entirely.

She huffs, then picks up the sandwich, unwrapping it from its wrap. Does it smell at all appetizing? She images the label must be a scare-tactic.

GM: It smells like something that’s been left in a compost heap. The odor is actively unpleasant.

Zoe: Hunger it is. She sets it down.

Even she’s not hungry enough to consume that. Is that really what they give to even the innocent?

GM: There are no innocents in Zoe’s cell.

Zoe: The only dessert Zoe serves is just desserts.

GM: Sleep comes fitfully and with difficulty. There are no blankets, pillows, or other bedding items in the cell. Zoe is left to make herself comfortable along the steel bench. She’s sore everywhere when she wakes up.

Time passes.

Eventually, a deputy strolls by her cell with something else in plastic wrap. He looks over her old sandwich.

“Didn’t want dinner, huh? Guess you won’t need breakfast.”

Zoe: Did she sleep at all? It doesn’t feel like it.

“Please…” she whimpers. “I haven’t done anything. Can I have some real food? A glass of water?”

GM: The deputy grins.

“Suck my cock and I’ll get you better food.”

Zoe: She narrows her eyes, and silently commits to reforming the police department when she rules the city.

GM: The man just grins and waits.

Zoe: “I’ll take breakfast, please.”

Zoe Kelly is no criminal.

GM: “Stick your hands through the grill,” says the deputy, pulling his cuffs off his belt.

Zoe: She places her hands through the grill, contemplating making a sandwich grenade.

GM: The deputy handcuffs her through the grill and secures her to the door. Then he opens it, undoes his belt and unzips his fly, and sticks his erect cock towards her.

Zoe: She shrugs as far away as humanly possible while chained to an iron door.

“What the fuck?! Aren’t the police supposed to be good?!”

GM: The man chortles, puts his hands on Zoe’s shoulders, and attempts to lower her to her knees.

“C’mon, just suck it off and you can have breakfast.”

“A nice breakfast.”

Zoe: “I didn’t do anything! What the fuck!? You can’t just—you can’t just shove that in my face! Do you know who I am!?”

Was, Zoe.

She lurches away from the bars, tugging on the bindings.

GM: She finds her bindings quite secure, and with the door opening inwards into her cell, there is only so far to get away.

The deputy shoves her to the ground, laughs, and smacks his cock across Zoe’s cheek.

“Can’t I?”

Zoe: “You’re really going to force an innocent woman to suck your cock?”

Yes, he is, and she knows it.

“I am innocent. Do you really want a rape allegation?”

She glances to his chest. Badge? Name?

GM: She sees a number on the gold badge attached to his shirt.

“What, you don’t want breakfast after all?” he smirks.

Zoe: “The sandwich will do.”

Fucking pig. Is this normal for jail? How bad could prison be?

GM: The deputy shrugs.

“Suit yourself.”

He walks over to her toilet, then drops the sandwich inside with a wet plop.

“Oops,” he grins.

Zoe: She glares daggers, committing the number to memory.

GM: The deputy laughs and walks out of the cell, pulling the door closed behind him. Zoe is still chained to the bars.

“Do you want me to let you off from there?”

Zoe: At what cost?

“Yes, please,” she answers, polite as she can manage.

GM: “Say sorry for being a bitch.”

Zoe: You have no idea.

“Sorry for being a cunt, officer.”

She raises a hand in the smallest salute ever to be made, thanks to the cuffs.

GM: The deputy opens the door and walks back in.

“Good girl,” he smiles, then pats her head.

Then he leaves again, closes the door, and unfastens Zoe’s hands. His receding bootfalls echo down the hallway.

Zoe: She recants his badge number in her head.

Over, and over, and over, and over.

And over.


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Story Fourteen, Zoe III

“Do you think your cunt is worth two eighty?”
Ricky “Cash Money” Mouton


Thursday night, 31 March 2016, AM

GM: “Zoe,” says Christopher.

He gets down on one knee before her and clasps her hand in both of his.

“I’m sorry what I said to you. I’m so sorry. It was humiliating, it was cruel, and I didn’t want to do any of it. Your family put me up to it. Can you forgive me?”

Zoe: Zoe whimpers. She feels tears well up in the corner of her eyes as he takes her hand.

“W—why. Why would you d-do that, even if they…?”

GM: “It was all part of a plan,” Christopher says, still kneeling. “They’d think we were done with each other. So they wouldn’t be on our backs as much, after I let you move in with me.”

Zoe: She doesn’t remember walking—driving?—back to Pequod’s. Yet, it feels so natural. Maybe she’ll buy one of her favorite blondies.

Zoe sniffles.

“You… really mean that?”

GM: “Absolutely, Zoe,” Christopher answers somberly.

He doesn’t see nervousness in his eyes. But she sees the question. The hope, that her answer is yes.

“Are we still an ‘us’?”

Zoe: She draws her hand back, biting one of her fingertips, her nerves causing her to tense.

How can she forgive him after what he did to her?

“What about… that girl?”

GM: Christopher frowns.

His face twitches. Sweat starts to bead down his brow.

He stares ahead at Zoe, though, as if unconscious of anything happening.

“Zoe… there’s something you need to know.”

Zoe: She feels a pit well up in her stomach, and she begins to sweat herself. Oh no. Don’t puke. Don’t puke.

“Y—yeah?”

GM: Christopher opens his mouth.

Nothing comes out.

He gives a silent gasp and collapses forward against Zoe’s legs. His hands seek purchase along her blouse. His eyes are wide and feverish.

“Z… oe…”

Zoe: “Ch—chris!” she stammers, clutching at his shirt. She steps forward, catching him as best she can, sinking to her knees with him.

“Are you all right?!”

GM: His mouth opens and closes. Nothing comes out. It reminds Zoe of a fish out of water, gasping its final breaths. The coffee shop’s lights haphazardly flicker. Shadows swim over the other customers, and there’s sounds and exclamations and people rushing up, but Zoe probably isn’t paying attention to them. Chris’ eyes bulge.

“Z… e…”

Then, just like that, they go blank and still.

His hands slacken.

Zoe: Then, just like that, she turns and runs from the shop, abandoning him in her fear to his fate, just as she did the first time.

Zoe Kelly isn’t who she claims to be.

Zoe Kelly is a coward, alone in the world, just like she deserves.

GM: Rain pours over her in thick and relentless sheets. The city’s streets are dark and long and eerily unfamiliar. Pedestrians jostle into her, tall and hard and uncaring. No one moves aside. She’s going the opposite direction as everyone else. She stumbles blindly, buffeted by the uncaring crowd. Hair gets in her eyes. Is it rain or tears that blurs her vision?

She’s swiftly soaked to the bone beneath freezing rain. She’s cold. So cold.

Then, like a flash of lightning, he’s there. Chris’ face. Staring at her through the crowd. Bulging eyes, gasping mouth, waxy pale face and sunken eyes. Like he’s been dead for a day. The other girl is there, too. Her eyes blaze with hate, but her mouth is set in a ghastly and utterly incongruent rictus grin.

Chris seizes Zoe’s hand in his. It’s ice cold. His body presses into hers as his voice croaks into her ear, a death rattle against the pouring rain,

“Murderer…”

Zoe: “N-NO! I’m—I’m not a murderer!”

She tugs with all her might, but he has her, as if a wolf took her wrists between its hungry jaws.

But she is a murderer, isn’t she? Somewhere, somehow, she knows it. It was when she willed it—when she wished he would die—that his eyes bulged.

GM: Zoe desperately tugs and flails. Hollow, heartless laughter rings in her ears as the rain pours over everything. Sight and sound dissolve beneath a deluge of misery and cold. Even Chris’ pale features swim out of focus, and for a moment she could swear they aren’t Chris’ features at all, but Rosalyn’s.

“I’m so disappointed in you.”

Her boyfriend’s corpse seizes her in its arms. Envelops her. Crushes her. Squeezes the life from her. It’s all she knows as the final blackness overtakes her. She kicks and screams and thrashes. Her skin is slick with sweat as she feels the body pressed against her with its cold feet pull away, as she flings blankets off Chuck’s bed.

Zoe: As the corpse that clings to life holds her, draining the heat from her body as if it were one with the icy rain above—one purpose, one drive—she struggles.

And struggles.

And struggles.

And then she doesn’t. She gives up. For the first time in her life, she accepts her defeat, and the punishment she deserves.

It’s easier that way, isn’t it? To just give up?

She sits up with a panic, cold sweat drenching her bare form. Her hands press to her face, blocking out the light of the room.

Or is there no light? The black of her dream is so strong that she can’t tell.

She feels around for Chuck.

GM: There’s a flush of the toilet, and then a door-shaped outline of light as a bleary-eyed Chuck walks into the dark room and plops down on the bed.

“The fuck you throwing off the blankets for?”

Zoe: Her breathing is ragged. She’s cold. Maybe he’s sleeping with a corpse.

GM: Chuck mutters something, picks them up, and hogs them around himself as he lies down, face-first against the pillow.

Zoe: She tugs on the blankets and tries to cuddle under them.

GM: Chuck seems too lazy to stop her and grunts something under his breath.

His feet are warm.

Zoe: Good. She was considering finding a lighter if he didn’t let her under.

She looks past him, checking the clock.

GM: There is no clock.

They are millennials.

It’s on their devices.

Zoe: She whines. Stupid modern era. She taps one of their phones to activate the screen.

GM: 3:36 AM.

Zoe: She huffs. Can’t sleep. Not after that. At least he didn’t yell at her. Plus, he’s warm.

Still can’t sleep.

She rolls out of bed, takes a few minutes to collect herself in the bathroom, then dresses.

Or, goes to examine what rags are left.

GM: Many of her delicates are good for little more than cleaning rags at this point. Sturdier clothes like jeans better survived their prolonged soaking in dirty water. She’s lost probably half of what she packed.

She has a particularly distinct shortage of underwear.

Zoe: “Fuck me…” she mumbles, sorting through her things. Whatever. She can live without underwear for now.

Jeans and a t-shirt it is. Top a hoodie on it, and she’ll be fine.

And an umbrella. Just in case.

She steels herself and steps into the hallway—taking the spare key he gave her for the month—and takes the elevator down.

Where does she intend to go? She isn’t entirely sure. She can go to Pequod’s, though it isn’t open this time of the night.

It only takes her a moment to realize: she doesn’t particularly care where she ends up. A bar. A club. A basement. She steps out into the night, turning left and focuses no further than one foot before the other.


April night, 2016

GM: New Orleans nightlife scene is never quiet, especially on weekends. She finds herself at what looks like a hole in the wall strip club called the Barely Legal. It’s stuck in between the plethora of restaurants and shops that line the partygoer-filled street.

IMG2012754979HI.jpg
Zoe: Her stomach rumbles. She’s still only had a few mozzarella sticks since she puked her candy bar up.

They have food, don’t they?

She heads inside.

GM: Unlike many of the topless establishments of the French Quarter, Barely Legal asks for no cover charge, ushering patrons straight into a neon-red world of scintillating lights, thumping music, and pole-dancing, ample-breasted women in various states of undress. Frat boys, dirty old men, sleazebag cops, and washed-up losers variously cheer, gawk, and leer at the strippers as they stick dollar bills between g-strings. An omnipresent musk of cheap perfume, sweat, pre-cum, dollar bills, and cigarette smoke suffuses the dimly-lit place. A fully-stocked bar lurks in the corner, offering a “wacky” party menu that lets patrons do everything from having the staff refer to them as “master” for $100 to managing the club for a day for $25,000.

Hustler-Barely-Legal-Club-b.jpg
There’s no food that she can see.

But this is the first time she’s been inside a strip club.

Zoe: No food, unless she develops a sudden hunger for eating ass, as is being borderline-demonstrated by a portly man in the corner to a woman whose ass could store a bank vault. She is sure it won’t be quite so secure, nor hard to get into.

Still, for the moment, she finds herself interested in what’s unfolding around her. Perhaps not the sweat. Or the precum. Or the— did the find that perfume in the gutter?

She crosses the room, seating herself at the bar, probably the most out of place creature in the establishment.

GM: The bartender is taking care of other patrons’ orders. He looks pretty busy. Most people here look like they’re drinking.

A middle-aged and dark-skinned man plops down next to Zoe and swings an arm around her. He’s fat and has a stained and partly undone shirt that shows off graying chest hairs.

“Lesh’ have a smoochie!” he grins, holding up a dollar bill as he leans in close with puckered lips.

He smells like the rest of the place, except even stronger. Especially of booze.

Zoe: Maybe this midnight wandering isn’t such a great idea. She cringes at first at the touch, then the thought, and finally the smell.

“I’m not a worker! Just looking for… a drink.”

That was probably a mistake to say.

GM: The man gives a drunken hiccup, then wetly plasters his half-open lips across Zoe’s face. His slimy tongue sloppily pushes into her mouth while his yellowed smoker’s teeth grind against hers. The man makes gumming-like motions as he tries to envelop his mouth all the way across Zoe’s. It feels less like he’s trying to kiss her than he is attempting to slurp down her face.

“Mm-uh-hff-uufff!” he exclaims in something like a guffaw, his nictone-flavored drool freely running down Zoe’s chin.

Zoe: GROSS!

Even Chuck wasn’t this bad early in their relationship!

She tries to struggle out of his grip and away from him, disappearing into the crowd if she can.

GM: The man is flabby and out of shape, but he’s drunk and horny. Zoe’s head painfully clonks against the bar as the man shoves her all the way back onto it, then half-throws himself on top of her, his fat chest pressing into hers. Zoe is pinned beneath his bulk. She feels his hard cock pressing into her thigh through their pants. His hands tear at her clothes as his slobber leaks over her face.

Zoe: She can already feel the bruise that will be there tomorrow, just above her eye. That fucking hurts!

He presses her into the wooden countertop, the breath forced out of his lungs by the hundred pounds or more he has on her.

And that cock.

That stubby.

Little.

Choad.

She wants it gone. She wants it to disappear; to explode into chunks and shrapnel and seed and become nothing.

“G-get OFF!”

GM: The man guffaws something past his mouth, which is still caught wetly swallowing down Zoe’s face. His fat, fumbling hands unzip her jeans and hungrily press against her sex.

Then he makes a little choking sound.

A gurgle, from the back of his throat.

His eyes bulge.

The man doesn’t get off. He collapses face-first onto Zoe, his body completely slack and motionless. Nothing stares out of his wide-open eyes.

The same nothing that stared out of Chris’.

Zoe: Zoe shrieks. She feels those grimy, sweaty palms, coated in a night of beer and unclean women and probably shit from the last time he didn’t wash his hands snaking into her pants.

He falls into her, holding her—pinning her—to the countertop, his fingers invading her.

Or is he?

With a thought—a single tower of hatred dominating her mind—he stops.

She looks, side-eyed and drenched in a vile mixture of his and her own sweat.

.. and she finds a blank face. Just like Chris. As if his mind was never there at all.

“WH—WHAT THE FUCK?! HELP!”

GM: At Zoe’s scream, or perhaps the man shoving her onto the table, the Barely Legal grinds to a halt. People shout and make exclamations of alarm. Hands descend on the body, pulling it off her. Hands descend on Zoe, too. Holding her in place against the bare, her clothes rumpled and her sex exposed for all the world to see.

“What the fuck is this shit?” comes an angry voice.

Cash_Money_Mouton.png The speaker resembles a beanpole that decided to grow limbs. His narrow head is only slightly widened by his black sideburns and ‘70s style coiffure. His puffy lips are pressed into a permanent smile, as if life is a joke whose punchline he alone knows. He smells of deodorant, hair tonic, tabasco sauce, and contagious sleaze that gives his tan skin an almost iridescent sheen. His outfit consists of a ballooning lime silk leisure shirt, a long brown leather coat, bell-bottom dress slacks, and crocodile wingtips. All things told, the man looks like a self-appointed Casanova who’d have a pretty hard time with the ladies… but somehow, Zoe gets the distinct impression, he’s used to sticking his cock into whatever he wants.

“He ain’t breathin’,” says a large man who looks like a bouncer, touching his palm to the man’s neck.

“He’s dead.”

“He have a fuckin’ heart attack?” asks the bartender.

The strippers have stopped dancing. The men in the audience are gawking, but not at the girls anymore. Many sets of eyes come to rest on Zoe.

“You,” says the beanpole-faced man. He makes a fist in Zoe’s hair and yanks her head up to meet his eyes.

“The fuck happened?”

She spots a crescent NOPD badge clipped to his belt.

Zoe: So is streaming more tears than Niagara Falls on its worst day. Between the sudden bouts of attention, and the state of her (newly washed, barely survived) clothing, her nudity, and the fact that she seems to be the one in trouble out of this whole mess, she can’t quite handle it.

“He—he…he was forcing himself…on me, and—and—and…!”

Her words devolve into hiccups and sobs. Poor thing. What a day. What a night.

“He—I don’t know! He just fell! I—I was just looking for s-something to—directions.”

She has a feeling asking for something to eat in here will get her exactly that, and after Chuck, she doesn’t want to earn another mouthful.

GM: The beanpole-faced man looks over the body.

Then he looks back at Zoe.

There’s a dangerous look in his mud-colored eyes.

“Get the little bitch upstairs,” he says, waving at the bouncer.

Zoe: Oh. Maybe they’ll just get her out of sight.

She tries to pull her pants up once she’s let go. If.

GM: She’s not. She doesn’t have time. Zoe’s grabbed by a dark-skinned man wearing a tight black t-shirt that smells like cigarette smoke. He tromps off towards the stairs, yanking Zoe along by her upper arm. Her bare ass and pussy are exposed for all the world to see, when her pants slide down her legs, but not for overly long. The man pulls her up the stairs into a ratty-looking office, then all but throws her onto the ground.

He crosses his arms and silently stares down at her.

Zoe: She scrambles to pull her pants up, eyes locked to the floor, counting the cracks in the flooring.

GM: The man doesn’t stop her.

The clock on the wall slowly ticks.

Zoe: She murmurs, half to the bouncer and half to herself.

“I just wanted to buy some food…”

GM: The man does not answer Zoe. Just stares with his arms crossed.

The clock ticks by.

Finally, there’s footsteps coming up the creaking stairs.

One is the puffy-lipped and beanpole-headed man with the NOPD badge.

The second man might be called handsome. Might. He’s dressed in a leather jacket, dark pants, and tight black shirt. His head is shaved bald. His features are comely enough, but his too-wide smile doesn’t quite meet his eyes. His eyes don’t quite meet Zoe, either. They’re just a few inches off from her face. He slowly runs a tongue across his teeth.

Both men sit down on chairs. Zoe is left on the floor.

“You’re gonna explain this shit,” says the beanpole-headed man.

He idly takes out a handgun from a shoulder holster beneath his coat and turns it over. He doesn’t point it at Zoe.

Yet.

Zoe: Why won’t the Worst Day Ever end? She could be safe in bed, even with Chuck.

He isn’t that bad.

She lifts her eyes from the floor when they enter, acknowledging the men with implicit deference in how she keeps her face largely down.

Mom, you could have given me another chance. Now…

Now she might have her brains paint the walls.

“I…”

She swallows, steeling herself.

“I… don’t know. I just… tried to fight him off. I didn’t want what he did, and his heart gave out. Or something.”

Or something.

GM: “Or something,” says the beanpole-faced man.

“The fuck were you doing in my club?”

He turns the gun over in his hands again.

The smiling man tilts his head, staring to the patch of floor several inches to Zoe’s left, and licks his lips.

Zoe: Zoe’s eyes flit between the wall behind the man, the man, and his shirt. She can’t seem to maintain eye contact with his face.

“I—I was just looking for directions. I—I was hungry. I’m staying with a friend. I don’t want to eat all his food.”

GM: “What is this club?” asks the beanpole-faced cop.

Zoe: “A—a—a strip club, I guess. It s-seemed cool. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to a-ask about the area, especially if I b-bought a drink or something.”

GM: “Are you a muff diver?” asks the cop.

Zoe: “A… what?”

GM: The man idly aims the gun at her.

“Do you like to slobber over girls’ cunts?”

“Do you like girls slobbering over your cunt?”

Zoe: She yelps like a wounded dog when the gun rotates toward her.

“P-please! I’m b-being honest! I won’t c-c-come by ag-gain!”

She knows that not answering probably won’t make him happy.

“I-I don’t know! I… I’ve kissed a girl once. I haven’t thought about i-it more than that.”

GM: The gun does not point away from Zoe.

“So you’re not a muff diver.”

Zoe: “I-I-I don’t know that I’m n-not one!”

Which is true, though he probably understands that Zoe will give any answer to not get shot.

GM: The man with the off-kilter gaze lets out a giggle.

The cop tilts the gun away from Zoe, then back at her.

“So you’re not sure if you’re a muff diver, you got partway there to slobbering over some slut’s cunt, you haven’t thought about slobbering over other sluts’ cunts, and you came to my club because you thought it was cool,” he says.

“Did you come here to watch sluts take their clothes off?”

Zoe: “N-n-no! I—I came because I was hungry. I thought you might h-have food, or that I could get directions to s-some; but, I m-mean. I’m not opposed to—”

She gestures around vaguely, meaning clubs, probably being misconstrued otherwise.

“It s-seems cool. Without the… what happened.”

GM: “Cool,” says the man with the gun.

“It seems cool.”

“But you didn’t come here to watch sluts take off their clothes.”

“You wanted food. From a strip club.”

“You wanted directions. From a strip club.”

“So you went to a strip club. Where you didn’t want to watch sluts take off their clothes.”

“When you could’ve gone anywhere else.”

The man suddenly leaps to his feet, clamps a wiry hand around Zoe’s throat, and presses his gun’s barrel against her head. His puffy-lipped features are set in a furious snarl, like he’s just discovering eggs pelted all over his house.

“How big a fuckin’ idiot do you take me for, you stupid whore? Why the fuck are you here?!”

Zoe: Her lips part to answer when her his hand wraps her throat, cutting off and killing any words that would have been given life.

The gun sets her to crying again.

“I—I—I—I—”

GM: Zoe’s throat burns.

“You have ’til the count of ten before I blow your fucking brains out.”

Zoe hears the gun’s safety click off.

“One.”

Zoe: “IT’S THE TRUTH!” she shouts, forcing her throat open enough to croak an answer.

HONEST! I’ve had a real shitty day, and… I just wanted to fucking see something new!”

Technically true.

GM: The gun doesn’t withdraw from her head.

“Yeah? Then why’d you say you aren’t a muff diver?”

The fingers around her throat squeeze.

“Two.”

The other man runs his tongue across his palm.

Zoe: “I d-didn’t! I s-said I haven’t! I never tried! B-but honest! I’ve walked by this place every d-day for years, a-and I’ve never… b-because I n-never… a-and I’M JUST SHY, OKAY!”

Why, yes! I came here to rob the place. All 120 pounds, unarmed, untrained. Captain Nefarious, at your service.

GM: The other man licks his index finger, seemingly oblivious to Zoe’s presence.

“So you are a muff diver who came here to watch sluts take off their clothes,” says the cop.

“Three.”

Zoe: “W-well, I r-really did j-just come in t-to look! I am h-hungry.”

She is. She really, really is.

“I g-guess? Will you not sh-shoot me if I am? I r-really don’t want to be shot.”

She puts her hands up, as if swearing before a court.

“I m-meant nothing bad.”

GM: The cop lets go of Zoe’s throat.

Then he smashes the barrel of his handgun over her head. Zoe’s skull explodes in pain as she crashes face-first onto the dirty carpet.

“That guy died,” sounds the cop’s voice.

“Heart attack.”

“After you tried to fuck him.”

“Dead guy scared my customers.”

“Scared customers spent less money.”

The cop’s voice is a dangerous snarl.

“You cost me money.”

Zoe: “S-sorry! It’s—it’s not my fault. H-he tried to f-fuck m-me and his h-heart..”

How is this HER fault?!

GM: With her face still pressed against the dirty carpet, Zoe can’t say the cop’s face.

But she hears the venom in his voice.

The anger.

“You owe me money, whore.”

Zoe: “I-I’m s-sorry! I—I’ve got $50! Th-that’s it! I c-can get some from my p-parents!”

GM: “$50?”

A crocodile wingtip suddenly comes down, hard, on Zoe’s fingers, with a grown man’s full weight behind it.

“You owe more than that, you stupid fucking whore.”

Zoe: The scream that fills the room is fit for a movie.

“I-I’ll pay you b-back! I’m s-sorry! I’m sorry!”

GM: “You sure will,” says the cop, grinding his shoe down on her fingers.

“Aaron, get this whore dancing with the others. We’ll collect what she brings in.”

Zoe: DANCING?!

“I— D-d-dancing? Like… on stage?”

GM: The cop lifts his foot off Zoe’s hand, painfully yanks her up by her hair, and shoves her at the bouncer.

The bald man’s eyes flash as he licks his fingers.

The bouncer grabs Zoe by the arm and starts tromping down the stairs with her.

Zoe: This has to be a nightmare. It has to be! She’s still at school—at Tulane, or Chuck’s apartment, or at home—and she’ll wake up soon.

Her family still loves her, and she’ll wake up soon.

She clamps her eyes shut as she’s tugged down the stairs, and opens them again.

No. Still here. Still living a nightmare. Maybe she did die. Maybe she is the one who collapsed and died in that little coffee shop.

She doesn’t struggle. She doesn’t scream. She simply follows, arm in hand.


Thursday night, 31 March 2016, AM

GM: The man’s heavy footsteps creak down the stairs. Zoe finds herself dragged into a mostly empty-feeling locker room. It smells like sweat and perfume. There’s less pre-cum and cigarette smoke. There’s around half a dozen girls in various states of undress. Most of them look like they’re putting their clothes on rather than off. Most of them look dead exhausted. They sound as if they’re gossiping and sharing stares about their shifts, but mostly they look like they’re going home.

A posted sign reads, Entertainers must stop crying before returning to the floor.

The bouncer drags Zoe up to a 30something black woman with a pixie cut and three piercings along each of her ears. She’s dressed less revealingly than the other girls in a black halter top, dark jeans, and lace-up boots.

“Cash Money wants her started,” says the bouncer without preamble.

The woman gives him a frank look. “Everyone’s leaving. That’s not happening tonight.”

The bouncer shrugs.

The woman looks at Zoe. “You danced before, hon?”

Zoe: Zoe shakes her head, pauses, then nods.

“Not, uhm… Not like this. In school. They taught us ballroom dancing. Things like this.”

A pause.

“I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to cause any problems…”

GM: “This ain’t ballroom dancing, hon,” the woman says dryly.

“All right, you’re a baby stripper. You got shoes? Clothes?” Her gaze passes over what Zoe has on. “Thong? Makeup?”

Zoe: She shakes her head.

“I—I don’t have anything. Just what I’m wearing.”

GM: “‘Kay, get those things by your first shift. For shoes you want Pleaser brand, not just whatever heels you’ll find in any girl’s closet. Those’ll kill your feet and you’ll probably fall over. Glitter is good, but you don’t want too much. Married guys don’t want it getting all over them.”

“Also, tampons. If you’re having your period, you can’t dance.”

“Other shit you don’t need but will want. Baby wipes, superglue, baby powder, mints, painkillers.”

“If you don’t have money to buy all that, you can buy it from me. Cost’ll come outta your earnings.”

Zoe: “Wh-when would my first shift be?” she asks after a moment.

GM: “Today. 6 PM.”

Zoe: And they’ll just let her walk out right now…?

“Can I… ask an obvious question?”

GM: “Sure.”

Zoe: “What’s to make me come back once I leave?”

She sounds nervous. She is nervous. She knows there must be something that will make her return.

GM: The bouncer grabs Zoe by the arm again and hauls her away. He marches through some back rooms and opens the door to what looks like a closet. It looks like it’s for cleaning supplies. It’s one of the most cramped, dingiest, dirtiest little rooms Zoe has ever seen. It smells awful and there are funny stains over the ground.

“Get in.”

Zoe: “O-okay! Okay! I’m honest! I d-don’t break my word! I cost you money, and I will be back to pay you back!”

And she will pass any lie detector in the world with that.

Still, she steps in.

GM: The door slams shut in her face.

She hears a lock click.

Zoe: She huffs. She knows better than the bang on it.

“I meant what I said,” she calls through the door.

GM: Her only answer is the sound of retreating footsteps.

It’s pitch dark. It smells horrible.

Zoe: She’s not going to stand all night, so she sits, despite the grimy grossness of the closet. She can feel something sticky beneath her left foot.

They won’t leave her in here all night? All day? Right?

No one can dance and be chipper and cheerful after a full night in a closet.

No food.

Not bathroom.

No water.

No nothing.

She has her phone, but should she try using it? Not yet.

GM: It’s cramped. There’s no room to spread out her legs, just squat. Her company is bleach, brooms, paper towels, and rags.

Time crawls.

Zoe: She knocks on the door. Just gently.

“Hello?”

GM: There’s no answer.

Zoe: She huffs. She could be in bed. In luxury. With Chuck. Even with their deal, he still provides her access to the life she enjoys.

It’s uncomfortable, and she’s already getting sore, but she tries to sleep.

GM: Her task swiftly proves futile. She’s never slept in surroundings like these before. She’s not lying down. She has no blankets or pillows.

She already woke up at 3 AM.

She was assaulted. Watched a man die. Was threatened, repeatedly, with death, and beaten like a cheap whore.

By a sleazebag cop who says she owes him money.

Now she’s being forced to sell her dignity to washed-up losers like the dead man who tried to swallow her face.

She’s being held captive against her will.

In the shittiest little cleaning closet her mind could conjure.

No food. No water. No bathroom.

Nothing to do but squat until whenever they let her out.

What would her mother think? Her father? Grandpa?

Sleep does not feel as if it will come easily.

Zoe: And so she doesn’t sleep. Perhaps a wink. Perhaps a blink. No real, deep, restful, dream-filled sleep.

Like she would have had with Chuck.

She cries at points. Her stomach rumbles. She has to pee. She’s had to pee so often today.

Why did her life flip on its head so suddenly? It feels as if she really has died and gone to hell.

GM: Time crawls.

Minutes.

Many minutes.

Hours.

Many hours.

No one comes for her.

Squatting in the same position for so long becomes intolerable. Zoe has to stand up. There’s nowhere to move. Nowhere to stretch her arms. She stretches her legs, then she squats back down.

At several points, she hears light skittering sounds.

Mice.

Zoe has no idea how much time passes. The pitch dark closet eventually gets lighter, though.

No one comes for her.

Maybe they’ve forgotten she’s there.

Maybe they’re just leaving her to die of thirst.

She’s so thirsty.

Zoe: Time loses its meaning when one is so long without sensory input, let alone an actual clock. Her tongue is dry. Will she be made to kiss someone? They won’t like it.

How can they like it? How can she be anything to be liked at all, caged and unfed and abused like an animal?

Is that what you want, Mom? For me to become an animal?

GM: Maybe?

Time crawls.

On and on.

The light outside dims.

Darkens.

Then.

Footsteps.

There’s a clicking sound. The door opens. It’s the same bouncer.

“You’re up,” he says.

Zoe: Zoe is covered in sweat, and her stomach is roaring, and she has to pee, and she wants to puke. Her heart has been racing for the last few hours, and it’s made her exhausted.

She’s so thirsty, when she speaks it comes out raspy.

“I—n-now?”

She’s still wearing her hoodie and jeans.

GM: The man grabs Zoe by the arm and yanks her to her feet.

“No, you dumb bitch, after you change.”

Zoe: She’s dragged along, and for what it’s worth, she’s compliant in that much.

“I d-don’t know how! And I need a shower! Do you want someone who sat in their stink all night—day—to dance for them?”

They probably won’t smell her over themselves.

GM: “I donno how, I donno how, I donno how!” mimics the bouncer in a shrill, whining voice.

Zoe’s hauled into the strippers’ dress room. It’s got a different vibe than last night. There’s more girls, some naked, others changing into costumes. A couple of them of them are snaring down fast food. More of them are putting on perfume, makeup, deodorant, pole grip, hair wax. Zoe sees one woman inserting a tampon inside herself.

The woman from last night is helping another upset-looking girl glue a broken heel back onto her shoe. She turns to regard Zoe as the bouncer hauls her in. A frown crosses her face.

“Right. I’m guessing you didn’t get the stuff. What’s your shoe size?”

The bouncer leaves without a word.

Zoe: She shakes her head.

“No. They left me in the closet. I’m a six-and-a-half.”

Zoe shivers.

“I really have to pee. And I’m starving. Can I…?”

GM: “Oh, yeah. Cash Money does that sometimes,” the woman says absently.

She turns around, rummages through a bag, then slaps a wrapped O’Tolley’s cheeseburger into Zoe’s hand.

“Bathroom’s that way,” she says, pointing. “Give yourself a sponge bath.”

Zoe: Sometimes?! This is normal behavior?!

And not even a shower?!

Her eyes droop. She can fall asleep. She really might.

She takes the hamburger and moves toward the bathroom, stuffing as much of it down as she can before she gets there.

She strips—silently questioning herself as she does—and bathes herself. She can run. She can fight. She can do try to escape, but she knows that if she does, she might be met with an even worse scenario.

What’s a little dancing? What’s a little groping? What’s becoming the animal dear Mother wants her to become?

She isn’t good enough for her? Fine. Zoe Kelly isn’t beaten. In the battle, perhaps, but not in the war.

So what is the cost of a little groping?

The bath is quick, the burger consumed even quicker, and she returns to the room naked, looking for her guide.

GM: The bathroom is filthy. It makes the one at Tantsy’s look clean. The cracked ceramic tile floor is caked with so much filth that it shines. Toilet paper (some used) and tampons (used) are littered everywhere floor. Everywhere but the actual toilet. The inside looks like it’s never been cleaned. It’s caked almost completely brown, and smells to match.

Zoe also observes, as she squats down to relieve herself, that the door has no locks.

Mid-way through her piss, another girl walks in, glances at Zoe, then pulls down her thong. She proceeds to urinate right into the sink.

“New?” she asks conversationally.

Zoe: Zoe nods, looking around. She gathers her soiled clothing, holding them to her chest sheepishly.

“I—I guess. I’ll be working here tonight.”

Just tonight?

GM: “Trying it out, huh?”

Zoe: She shakes her head.

“I made Cash Money mad. Now I need to make him cash.”

Money.

She amuses herself, even in the darkest times.

“…got any tips? I’m Zoe.”

GM: “Audrey,” says the girl, grabbing some toilet pepper to use on herself.

“Is that your real name?”

Zoe: She nods.

“Should I not use that?”

GM: “You’re green,” the girl remarks amusedly as she tosses the soiled TP onto the ground.

“And no, never. Not even just your first name.”

“My mom gave a guy her real name once, when she was young. Just her first name, but he tracked her down. Dunno how, but he did.”

Zoe: Zoe shudders, grimacing as if she’d just been forced to lick the bathroom floor.

“What should I call myself? Like… anything at all?”

GM: “Well you want something that’s gonna make money,” says Audrey. “Y’know, bold, exciting.”

“And also something that’s hard to get wrong.”

“Like we had a Ruby once who guys mixed up with Rudy.”

“We had another girl who was Aries, ’cuz that was her sign, and customers thought she was Harry.”

She washes her hands as she talks.

Zoe: She thinks about that. What do strippers call themselves?

“Isn’t Rudy a—guy’s name?”

She shakes her head. If the man she killed—

Did she kill him? She wished he would stop existing, just like Chris. Just like Chris before he—

No. She feels her panic spiking her heart rate.

Stop thinking about it, Zoe. Not now.

But if she did, does that mean she can..?

GM: “Yeah, Rudy is a guy name, that’s why Ruby’s bad.”

Zoe: No. Fairy tales aren’t real, Zoe. Wouldn’t it just be perfect if she could make someone’s brain leak out their nose when she wants to?

“…how about Winter?”

GM: “Winter, that’s not bad,” says Audrey as she pulls her g-string back on.

“You should have a fake real name, too.”

“Lotta guys who wanna know.”

Zoe: "I like Ruby! But I like Winter more. Can’t mistake that. Hmmm… I’ll think about a fake real name. What other advice do you have?

She’s almost forgotten that she’s naked. Almost.

GM: “Hm, smile a lot, like you’re having fun. Customers aren’t gonna wanna tip if you don’t look like you wanna be here.”

Zoe: “What if they get too handsy…?”

Is she really going to do this?

GM: “They aren’t allowed to touch,” says Audrey. “You can touch them, though.”

“I mean some will, and duh if you go upstairs, but not on stage.”

Zoe: “O-oh! So if they break the rules…? Is there a signal?”

GM: Audrey pushes open the bathroom door and walks back out towards the lockers.

“Well security’s watching, and you can tell them to knock it off, or yell. They’ll usually warn the guy and kick him out if he doesn’t stop.”

Zoe: She dips her chin. She really is going to do this.

But what’s wrong with that? Why should she care? She won’t be paid for it, but…

Maybe today will stop being the Worst Day Ever when she accepts that Zoe Kelly died, and something new rose from her ashes. Something better. Something stronger.

Wouldn’t that be something, Mom?

GM: Audrey walks up to her locker.

“Also, no offense, you kinda smell… you should go heavy on the perfume.”

Zoe: Not even the sponge bath helped. Drat.

“Borrow a spritz?”

GM: “Yeah, sure,” Audrey says as she slips on a fishnet see-through top that matches her thong. She starts doing up her face in the mirror. The lipstick she uses is very red.

Zoe: “Thanks! I’ll… Be back after I get dressed.”

She wonders in what, but at least for tonight, that isn’t her decision.

She looks around for her earlier guide.

GM: She finds the woman helping another girl with her makeup.

Zoe: “Hey. I’m… Ready. Bathed as best I can.”

Which isn’t well at all.

“What can I wear?”

“And… I’m Ellie.”

GM: The woman looks her over.

“Brooke. You’ve got a ways before you’re ready.”

She shows Zoe a couple spare costumes:

Zoe: Zoe picks a black number from the bunch; the one of the lot that fits something close to her style.

She slips it on, if only to erase the fact that she’s still naked.

“Do you have any… tips?”

GM: Now she’s only mostly naked.

“Wear shoes,” says Brooke. She’s got two pairs of shoes in Zoe’s size to pick between. They’re very high heels with ankle straps and very high platforms.

Zoe: This one is much quicker. She snatches up a pair of pretty, pastel, and black shoes.

Is that a bubble of excitement she feels?

“That’s it? Just wear shoes?”

GM: They add at least six inches to her height after she fits them on. The combination of non-slip outer sole, heavily cushioned inner sole, and ankle support from the strap makes them deceptively comfortable to wear.

“Nah. Makeup’s next. You want bright lips and long lashes. I can sell you makeup and jewelry, or you can ask the other girls to share.”

Zoe: “I’ll see if Audrey will let let me borrow some. Be right back.”

And so she scurries back to Audrey.

“Hey. Can I borrow a bit of makeup? I’ll have some of my own tomorrow, and you can make free use of it in exchange.”

GM: Zoe nearly trips in her haste. These shoes are not conductive to running. The grip at the bottom makes her feel balanced, though, and they give her hips a very noticeable sway as she walks. Her legs have never looked better as she stares down at the world from over half a foot up.

She finds Audrey getting her own face touched up by a woman who looks maybe a decade and a half older than the 20something girl. Both of them are dressed in the same revealing apparel and platform heels as Zoe.

“Yeah, sure, no big,” says Audrey. “This is my mom, by the way, Aubrey.”

Zoe: “Nice to meet you, Aubrey! I’m Z—Ellie.”

She holds a hand out to the woman, her professional history not forgotten yet.

“You really mean it, Audrey? You’re the best!”

GM: Aubrey shakes her hand with an amused look.

“You don’t use your fake name in the dress room, by the way. That’s for customers.”

Zoe: “Oh…”

Her cheeks flush madly.

“Zoe. Sorry.”

Why does she feel sorry?

“I… guess I’m up. Say, if you do well, do they let you go home…?”

GM: Aubrey laughs.

“You’re a baby stripper. It’s fine. And depends how pissed Cash Money is.”

“There was that one girl he kept for a week,” said Audrey.

Aubrey shakes her head. “Wasn’t a week. Three days, tops.”

“That’s true,” says Audrey. “I mean, if he’s really pissed, he can al…”

Aubrey mutely shakes her head.

Audrey finds a spot of makeup on her mom’s face that needs touching up.

“Earn some money, don’t cause a scene, and you’ll go home,” Aubrey says to Zoe.

“Just look like you’re happy to be here. If you see him, be friendly, and he’ll forget about you.”

Zoe: She nods. “I’ll be good.”

Be a good girl, Zoe. You’re my girl, aren’t you?

Her mother’s voice echoes in her head as if she stood right behind her.

She bites her tongue. Gently.

“Okay. Look like I belong her. Don’t cause a scene. Smile. I can do that.”

Is she telling it to them or to herself? She’s not sure.

Don’t wish for anyone to disappear.

She’s not sure she can do that.

What if she makes Cash disappear?

With Audrey’s offer, she applies her makeup to her face, taking care to paint herself a good bit more than her aesthetic calls for, but such is this strange culture.

She could have just made more mozzarella sticks.

“Thanks!” she calls, walking more carefully back to Brooke.

“How’s this?”

GM: Would Rosalyn be calling her a good girl if she saw her daughter here in a strip club?

She could have just made more mozzarella sticks.

Brooke looks her over thoughtfully.

“Looks good. You need to do your nails, though. You want every part of you to look good.”

“I can sell you polish or you can get some from another girl.”

“You need perfume, too.”

“And to pop a mint. You don’t want cheeseburger on your breath.”

Zoe: Zoe looks down at the faded pastel blue of her nails, bitten down and flaked and picked, all breaking her promise not to do any of that. She sighs.

“I’ll see if Audrey will loan me some. I’ll pick up my own for tomorrow.”

And back to Audrey!

GM: Audrey has red polish and cotton candy perfume. Her mom has Calgon body spray. Up to Zoe which she wants. They mentioned that most strippers fall into two camps, in that regard: Calgon I’m-not-even-going-to-try types, and those who swear by their Pink Sugar/famous celebrity/Viva La Juicy I-can’t-believe-she-stole-my-signature-scent-even-though-it’s-readily-available-at-Nordstrom variety.

Both women say she get manicures and pedicures regularly, if she wants to keep doing this. Part of taking care of her body.

Neither of them has a mint, but they know another dancer, Neveah, who usually has a pack of them.

Zoe: Zoe is a simple woman with a simple mission: don’t fuck this up, and don’t end up pissing off Cash. She’s fine with red polish, fine with cotton candy, and fine bugging Neveah for a mint. It all goes into the list of favors she owes in the future.

“Maybe we can go together sometime?”

She can’t remember the last time she got a manicure with anyone. Sami wasn’t ever into that.

GM: Audrey and Aubrey are both amenable to. There’s a nearby salon on Royal Street they really like.

Zoe: In the end, she approaches Brooke, and if she figure herself out, she might even look like she belongs. How strange that such a terrible, horrible, really-bad day could turn into one that makes her feel good.

Even if she won’t be paid today.


Thursday night, 31 March 2016, PM

GM: Zoe’s made to sign an extremely casual if not sloppy-looking employment contract before she’s up. A bouncer glares over her shoulder the whole time she reads it. She’s also given a locker to store her things in. Audrey and Aubrey have some last tips.

“Play up how it’s your first time, guys will love that.” “Don’t be pushy, make a little conversation if he’s into that.” “But if he doesn’t buy anything in 10 mins you’re wasting time.” “If you mess up, just keep going like nothing happened. The guys are too drunk to care.”

Zoe: Zoe stuffs her soiled clothing into her locker, slamming it shut and locking it, speaking to Audrey and Aubrey as she does.

She nods.

“Okay, be a salesman. Got it. And know who’s a buyer and who’s a moocher. But don’t say that.”

She nods again, mostly for her own self-confirmation.

“What if they want to buy me a drink?”

GM: “That’s great, you want them to buy you drinks,” says Aubrey. “The bartender will just serve you water. The money will go towards the cut the club takes from your dances, so you’ll make more from those.”

In short order, Zoe and the other strippers are ushered in. Deafeningly loud music with the beat of a jackhammer blares in her ears. Brass and chrome accents glint along her peripheral vision, from the poles where strippers try out for the nudie Olympics to the rails around the stages and bars. Pulsating neon lights illuminate just enough—and hide even more. A few TV screens show sports, just in case the live action gets boring.

There are a lot of guys. Some are there at booths along a back wall. Others by tables with upholstered chairs, which look like good spots for lap dances. Last are chairs ringing the stage, where up close and personal takes on new meaning. There’s more of them than last night. They all look the same. Washed-up middle-aged losers. Younger losers, who maybe can’t get a woman anywhere else. Drunken frat boys. Average-looking husbands and dads, maybe, if on the seedier side. Some guys look like mobsters. There are even two in police uniforms. There’s also a few women, some on their own, some with guys. Everyone is drinking. Cigarette smoke is everywhere. So is last night’s musk of sweat, pre-cum, and cheap perfume.

Meanwhile, the DJ announce the next set of girls, his voice barely audible over the vibrating bass of the music, “Cinnamon, Kaylee, Gem, Jewel, Winter. You’re up."

Zoe: “Ooooh, I figured it’d be non-alcoholic. Oh well. Water is fine.”

She wishes she had a drink in hand right now, but knows that’s only another errant thought to procrastinate her inevitable march onto stage.

Naked.

Almost.

In front of a crowd.

At least it won’t be a crowd that shares a circle with her mother.

Right?

…right?

She draws a steadying breath, and walks out into the booming music.

GM: “They don’t want you getting drunk on stage,” confirms Audrey.

Maybe Rosalyn is there, among the crowd. It’s hard to tell under the dim neon lighting, or amidst the sea of unfamiliar faces.

But Zoe has a hard time seeing her mom tolerating cigarette smoke, drunkenly waving dollar bills, making lewd jeers and catcalls, and yelling for the girls to bare their asses and take it all off.

GM: One guy blows a wet and sloppy kiss at Zoe. Another one mimics cunnilingus. “What’ll you do for this!” yells a third, waving a $20. “What’ll you do for THIS!” exclaims a woman, waving a $50, to the laughter of her girlfriends. “I’m gonna fuck your ass ’til it bleeds black!” shouts a fourth man, loudest of all. He gets sharply told to “knock it off, buddy” by a bouncer.

Most of the men are actually fairly quiet. It’s the women who seem the rowdiest.

But all of their eyes are on Zoe, her fellows, and the brass and chrome poles they attach themselves to.

Zoe: The sheer number of women in the crowd—really, that the number is more than 0—surprises her. The rowdiness that they present surprises her a step forward. She expected to see boisterous men, and frat boys, and those well past their prime or so out of shape that a strip club is their only inlet for flirtacious accommodation.

She draws a breath, and steps out with a swagger to her poise, a smile on her face. She throws her arms up and out, jutting a hip.

They’re naked, not you. It’s them. You’re just putting on a show, right? Don’t worry about you. Worry about them.

It only works a little bit. Her heart is hammering as if a ball dropped on a taut drum, faster and faster and faster and faster.

She finds the pole, and spins as if it’s her partner, and begins. It’s sultry, and pretentious, a coy, but shy and telling of her first time dancing such a scandalous dance. She isn’t trained, and it shows, but her untrained dance is interlaced and interwoven by juts of her hip and sliding down the pole and grasping her chest and crawling toward whichever victim deigned to lock eyes with her and engage her spell.

Maybe her novelty is something endearing!

GM: Zoe’s pole dance receives a few drunken claps and exclamations. Whistles, too. The other girls are also getting attention, Audrey and Aubrey among them, but Zoe feels like she’s doing all right for herself. Especially considering it’s her first time. It’s easy to feel above all of the men, on the stage in her 7-inch heels as she swings and shakes her assets around the pole. The music thumps past the floating cigarette smoke, and staring down at her neon-painted flesh, it’s hard to imagine that Zoe Josephine Kelly was ever a girl on the straight and narrow.

She sees the other strippers leaning close to the audience so that men (and a few women) can slip dollar bills into their g-strings. A couple ‘rain cash’ over the girls and laugh as they get down on their knees to pick it up.

Zoe: The other girls are masters of their craft. At least, it seems that they are to someone so new to dancing before such a large crowd. Her focus drifts to the other dancers, taking in their various ticks and nuances as quickly as she can.

She dips to the floor, chest to the polished material and hind to some lucky gentleman—or lady—to pick up an errant pair of bills, stuffing them into her top.

GM: The other girls are doing more elaborate things with their poles. Aubrey and Audrey have a move where they grips it with both hands and splay both of their legs in the air, above their heads. That seems to draw a lot of attention. They and the other girls do more things with the pole. There’s a grace born from simple experience with it.

Zoe’s knees swiftly hurt on the stage’s hard surface, but it’s hardly as if she can collect the money by another means in 7-inch heels. Guys hoot and holler as she gets down on the floor. People stick dollar bills along her g-string and down her cleavage. Some do just that. Two get more handsy, though. One man gives her left breast a solid grope. Another guy runs his finger down along her asscrack, then smiles and licks it.

Zoe: How can he find that acrid taste arousing?! She hasn’t had a real shower in over a day! And there is— ewwww….

She wants to try more intricate incorporations to her dance, but she wants even more not to cause a scene by splitting her head on the floor.

…of course, that might turn them on more, and life would be easier if she isn’t part of it. Hmmmn.

Zoe keeps to what she knows is safe and what seems to be working: light exposure, ample movement of her hips, slipping her own hands to her chest and nethers, and collecting bills when they arrive.

She tolerates them. She may not in the future, but she doesn’t want to earn ANY ire this evening.

GM: The increasingly liquored customers all seem to like what she does and money comes in relatively steadily. It’s tricky to hold onto, past a certain point, though Zoe notices some of the other girls setting their cash down on part of the stage that’s out of reach to the customers.

Eventually, though, the song concludes and the DJ announces the next set of girls is up. The ones on-stage clamber down and head back to the dressing room to put away their money in their lockers.

“You did good, honey,” sounds Aubrey. “Just put it in the hours and you’ll get used to it.”

A quick count of Zoe’s money reveals that she’s pulled in $102.

Zoe: Zoe collects her winnings and moves off-stage, offering a little wink to some of her more generous donors.

When did she start sweating so much?! It was hot in the main room, but most of it is from nerves.

She shivers, thanking Audrey, and moves to store her money in the locker. It’s not hers—not tonight—but nor is she done for the evening. She’ll settle up with Cash later.

“You really think so?? I’d love to learn some of the tricks you two did!”

One day. When there aren’t gawking drunkards.

“Do we… Go back out now?”

GM: “Yep,” says Audrey as she stores her cash. “You’ll make most of your money from lap dances. And if you do really well, the VIP room.”

Aubrey checks her makeup in the mirror.

Zoe: She flushes a light shade of crimson.

“What do you… Do in the VIP room?”

GM: “Pretty often you give a blowjob,” says Aubrey.

“Sometimes sex.”

“Sometimes just more lap dances.”

Zoe: “O-oh.”

”O-oh…"

GM: “It pays really well,” says Audrey. “You wanna do the VIP room.”

Zoe: “Y-yeah. Okay.”

How much does she owe Cash, anyway?

GM: “But with a condom,” says Aubrey. “You dunno where these guys have been.”

Zoe: “Blowjob with a condom too?”

GM: “You can ask for more to do without. Your call.”

“But you dunno where they’ve last had their pricks.”

Audrey starts running her mom’s body over with baby wipes to get rid of sweat.

Zoe: She shakes her head vigorously.

“No money is worth that risk.”

Especially because it’s all a pittance compared to—..

Will she ever be taken back if this wild day gets back to her mother?

“..can I borrow one of those? I can’t give you any of what I earned yet. I don’t know how much I owe Cash, but I’ll be good for paying you back.”

GM: “Yeah, sure,” says Aubrey, passing her a wipe. She starts wiping down her daughter’s body too.

“You wanna spot yourself up after every song,” says Audrey. “You’ll probably be sweating a bit.”

Zoe: A bit? She feels like a beached whale after a sponge bath. She takes a wipe and begins to clean herself.

“Hey, uhm… What do we do if they touch you on stage? More than they should.”

GM: “Call a bouncer,” says Audrey.

“Well, tell them to knock it off first.”

Zoe: “How? I don’t want to cause a scene.. Or seem unfriendly to the rest of the crowd.”

GM: “Yeah, you should just let it slide if it’s not that bad,” says Aubrey.

“But just grab one’s eye and wave him over, you don’t wanna scream or anything.”

Zoe: She doesn’t want to let it slide. She doesn’t like how it felt to have that man swipe a finger through her cheeks; to see him lick and suckle as if he were a greedy child stealing a taste of someone else’s cake.

Yet, she does. She does because she’s the new girl, and she’s the one who might find herself with broken fingers or a smashed nose if she’s even perceived to cause another scene in Cash’s club.

For now, she suffers. For now, she endures.

For now.

She nods.

“I guess I’ll go back out now. To the floor. Mingle, right? Sell?”

GM: “Yeah,” says Audrey as she and her mom finish wiping. She gives her makeup another inspection in the mirror.

“You just wander around the floor while the other girls on stage dance. You chat and give lap dances, see if they’ll buy you drinks, and get them up to the VIP room if you can.”

“For privacy, and more fun,” says Aubrey.

Zoe: Privacy. Fun.

Money.

She isn’t here to have fun, and she isn’t going to escape with any money, but if she keeps this up, she will escape.

Is it so bad, though? She made more money in a few minutes than many did in a full day. It’s less than her family makes in the same time.

Not her family. Her past. Her birth family.

The thought brings a note of sadness to her, which she dispels with a shake of her head and a brushing of fingers through her hair. She smiles.

“Right. Privacy and fun.”

With that, she steps out into the front.

GM: Her fellow strippers don’t sound as if they regard this as particularly fun either. Just a job.

But for the customer it’s all about the fun. The fantasy.

There’s a new song belting out over the speakers when Zoe leaves the dress room. There’s new girls dancing up on the stage and sensuously swinging against the poles. Customers are already slipping bills into their g-strings.

Zoe’s fellows from the first song are already making their rounds around the club. One girl is already giving a lap dance. Most customers not sitting up along the stage, and presumably more interested in the dancers there, are seated back along booths or at tables by the bar. They aren’t close enough to tip the stage girls.

“Remember, you’re a saleswoman,” says Aubrey, patting Zoe’s shoulder before approaching the guys at a booth alongside her daughter.

The crowd is the same one she saw earlier—it has been only a few minutes. Washed-up middle-aged losers. Younger losers, who maybe can’t get a woman anywhere else. Drunken frat boys. Average-looking husbands and dads, maybe, if on the seedier side. Some guys look like mobsters. There are even two in police uniforms. There’s also a few women, some on their own, some with guys.

Zoe: Zoe mulls over her options, keeping a faint smile on her lips as she does; something pleasant, yet simple enough to be genuine.

The younger men look to be a poor source of income. Maybe if others turn her down.

Loser. Loser. Another loser.

The fathers-probably are a healthy target. She can play the role of exactly what they aren’t getting at home; though, she’s sure that highlighting anything of the sort is as sure a way as any to be sent right to Cash’s office. Hm.

The police are a fair option, though it’s sure to be a gamble. They’re likely to be Cash’s friends, given the badge she saw the night before, and so are sure to highlight her performance—for better, or for worse.

For the moment, she saunters over to one of the male-female couples, exuding confidence.

“Hi there! Having a good time?”

GM: The man looks in his mid-late 20s. He’s brown-haired and dressed in a button-down and jeans. The woman looks around the same age, with longer dark hair. She’s got on a club dress.

“Yeah, pretty good,” he grins.

He looks Zoe up and down.

“You’re hot. How much is a BJ?”

“Trip!” says the girlfriend, swatting his arm.

“I’m just asking,” he laughs.

“We don’t want a BJ, we want a lap dance,” says the girl.

“Well, I wouldn’t say no to a BJ,” says Trip.

“I just said we wanted a lap dance,” says the girl, more crossly.

Zoe: She winks at Trip, once he says his last bit.

“We can start with a lap dance,” she hums, tapping a finger nail against the rear of his seat, taking careful care to ensure her skin finds his shoulder on the way by.

Her eyes find the girl next.

“…but for who, hmmmn? You, or… you?”

A pause.

“…twenty dollars for a song, either or.”

GM: “Yeah, I want a lap dance,” says the girl. “Me first.”

Trip looks a little annoyed at that.

Neither one blinks at the price she asks, though.

Zoe: Okay. Reasonable price. That’s a good sign. They weren’t surprised, whether for cheapness or expense.

Zoe draws her fingers back, brushing the tips along his cheeks as she sweeps over to the girl.

She settles into her lap, one leg on either side, facing her.

“Any requests?”

GM: “I dunno, just do what you do,” says the girl, leaning back in her seat.

Her eyes sweep up Zoe’s body. “What’s it like to wear those costumes?”

“I thought you wanted a lap dance,” says Trip.

“Shut up, I’m talking,” says the girl.

Trip mutters something rude-sounding and takes a pull from his drink.

Zoe: Zoe slants her eyes toward Trip, her rear grinding toward into the nameless girl’s lap. Her fingers clasp around her neck while she gyrates.

“Don’t act like you get nothing out of this,” she teases the man.

“What’s your name, darling?” she asks the girl.

GM: Trip permits himself a smile, or at least less of a glower, as he watches.

“Delaney,” says the girl.

She’s still underneath Zoe, as if not sure what she’s supposed to do at this point. Her eyes wander along the other girl’s torso.

“I asked you what those costumes are like.”

Zoe: She takes Delaney’s hands, pressing each of them to her ribs, just where her skin meets the fabric of her top.

Her lips find the girl’s ear and she murmurs breathily, “…you’re welcome to feel for yourself. Just don’t get too adventurous.”

A wink, and she leans back, exposing her torso in more full for her to view—and explore, if she wants.

So Trip can hear too, “They’re fun! This is my first night in this one.”

First night ever, but they don’t need to know that.

Her gaze drifts to Trip again.

“You’re welcome to raise a bid for the next song.”

GM: Delaney feels up along Zoe’s body. She limits herself to the other girl’s stomach at first, since that’s what’s there. Then she slowly works her way up to Zoe’s breasts, squeezing them back and forth, rubbing her palms over Zoe’s nipples. The costume’s fabric is very thin.

Trip’s getting a bulge in his pants as he watches his girlfriend feel up Zoe.

“Okay, $30,” he says.

“Your dance isn’t over,” says Delaney, crossly. “Do more lap dancey stuff.”

Zoe: “Oh no it’s not,” she purrs, slipping off the girl’s lap, down down down to the floor, her fingertips dragging lightly down her arms, Zoe’s face pressing to her stomach, then her crotch, eyes angling upward.

She kneels on the floor at the end, a minor dramatic flare, then stands, turning away with a sway of her hips

“…when I’m done with her. $30.”

Tips welcome, though…

GM: Delaney looks notably more into it at that. Especially when Zoe doesn’t break eye contact. She runs her hands along Zoe’s head, pressing the other girl’s face into the space between her legs. Is she wet down there? All Zoe would need to do is pull up her dress just a bit.

Trip’s bulge gets bigger as he watches the exotic dancer entertaining his girlfriend in motion.

Delaney wraps an arm around Zoe’s shoulder and pulls her back onto her lap.

“You’re not done, you stripper,” she breathes.

Zoe: Zoe falls elegantly into her lap, her left hand finding the bare skin of Delaney’s thigh. A little higher, a little higher…

She looks back, up from under the girl’s chin.

“…you could have everything you want back there,” she breathes heavily, flicking her eyes toward the VIP section.

She kisses the underside of her chin.

“Every touch.”

Another.

“Every kiss.”

Another.

“You could make him watch, or… you could have him join.”

For a moment, Zoe wonders what the fuck happened to her. It comes naturally—these words, these actions—as if she were with Chris, or with any of the other number of fantasized encounters she’s had over the years. Playing it out for real upon this woman—a customer, and her boyfriend—draws her out from why she’s here.

For a moment, she is having fun.

She doesn’t want that fun to die.

Zoe: Delaney’s tug into her lap is foreign, and strange, and some not-entirely-ignorably-small part of her wants to shrug away at it; yet, in the same breath, it’s the first piece of positive validation Zoe has in what will be the worst two days of her life.

In two days—a little less—she’s gone from the pinnacle of society with dreams in the stars and a free ride to them to rubbing her ass on a horny guy and his horny girlfriend.

She’s asked many a time, but: What the fuck?!

“So you want to come upstairs, hmmmn?”

She makes a show of thinking while she slips from Delaney’s lap into her boyfriend’s, her crotch finding his—his jeans and her underwear separating—and grinding them together.

The suddenly-stripper whispers into his ear.

“…another $50 and I’ll make her cum upstairs. Another $100 and I’ll do it naked.”

GM: Chuck wanted her to suck his cock.

But that was extortion, wasn’t it, next to this? He was dangling what she wanted, shelter, in front of her, in return for sexual favors.

These two just want her.

These two will pay to have her.

Boyfriend and girlfriend grow all the more aroused at Zoe’s touch, at her kisses, at her sensuously murmured words. Delaney moves her hands down from Zoe’s breasts, and starts to fondle her ass an work towards her sex, until the other girl slips away to straddle her boyfriend. Zoe can feel her glare, but Trip pays his girlfriend barely a second glance as his and Zoe’s loins meet. He’s very hard and Zoe can feel his manhood quivering through his pants.

The man immediately reaches into his wallet produces five $20s, which he sticks down Zoe’s cleavage.

“Make her scream,” he breathes.

The two can’t head upstairs with “their stripper” fast enough, hands hungrily roaming along her scantily attired body with every step. A pale club employee directs Zoe to a comfortably seated mirror-lined room with TV screens in every corner. Past that is a private room with magenta lighting and tiger print furniture.

Barely_Inside.jpg
Trip shoves Zoe backwards onto the couch cushions. Delaney plops down next to her, planting kisses along Zoe’s neck as her hands steadily knead the other girl’s breasts in clockwise motions. Zoe’s nipples are already stiff under the thin fabric. Delaney looks like she’s wet too, judging by the stains along her panties when her dress comes partly up.

“Ah yeah, our stripper’s gonna show us a good time…” says Trip, starting to unbuckle his pants.

Our stripper,” breathes Delaney, giving Zoe’s nipples an emphatic squeeze.

“We’re buying her. Aren’t we?” she grins, shooting a look in her boyfriend’s direction.

“You guys want some Jameson or whatever?” the club employee asks casually, sticking his head in.

Drinks.

Money.

Zoe: “Oooh, do you want a drink?” she asks, feigning excitement—and doing so well—while her fingers find the hem of her top, pulling it over her head with shameless haste. The timing is intentional.

“I know I do!”

Just like that, she’s back to the girl, kissing her throat, pushing her down into the cushions with unabated hunger! The longer she does this, the easier it is to slip into a natural state. She’s never slept with a woman, but it doesn’t feel quite so strange an idea in here.

When in Rome, right?

Zoe lifts Delaney’s legs up, hiking her dress and dragging her panties down her thighs. She doesn’t intend to let her answer.

GM: With her panties out of the way, Zoe finds Delaney wet and ready.

“Eat me out, you stripper,” she breathes, grabbing the back of Zoe’s head and forcing the other girl’s face against her pelvis. She looks like she’s been waxed fairly recently down there.

“Eat me like you’re getting paid for it, stripper! God! You’re so fucked up!”

“Bet your daddy molested you,” breathes Trip. He’s gotten a bottle from somewhere. He takes a glug from it one hand and strokes his dick with his other.

“Bet you’re on crack, aren’t you, with a toddler at home!”

Delaney grinds her pussy against Zoe’s face, holding the other girl’s head firmly in position with both hands. Trip holds the bottle to her mouth.

“Stripper. Stripper,” she pants, pausing to take a pull of booze. “You’re our stripper. You’re just some stripper!”

Zoe: Zoe shoves Delaney’s legs further upward, forcing her head between her thighs, her lips brushing softly against the outer lips of her sex. She wishes she’d thought to read an article on how to please another woman; but, here she is, and here she’s left with only her own imagination.

What does Zoe like?

She likes to be teased.

Her fingertips seize into the flesh of her thighs, controlling and taut, yet without pain. Her lips part, her tongue running along that lip; a hint of a presence, but only a hint.

She doesn’t answer the words. She’s busy. She tells herself she’s focusing. They’re not true, of course, but their intent doesn’t help her state.

GM: Chris ate her out before. She liked that. Just do what she knows she likes, right? Easy enough.

“Lick me, stripper!” Delaney moans, yanking Zoe’s hair as the other girl’s tongue draws teasingly closer to her clit. “Lick me! I bet you’re a lesbian! I bet you do this a TON!”

“Most strippers are lesbians,” says Trip. There’s another glug from the bottle.

Without warning, Zoe feels him enter her pussy from behind. Trip grabs her neck with one hand as he thrusts in and out.

“Ah, yeah! I’m fucking a stripper! I’m fucking our stripper!”

“Fucking our lesbian stripper!” pants Delaney.

Trip delivers a sharp smack across her ass.

“Ah, yeah! You like that? You like having a dick in you, lesbo stripper? Doesn’t it feel good?”

Zoe: Bit by bit, the words eat through her shell. Lick me. Fuck me. Lesbian this. Easy that.

Then she feels him enter her, and she nearly rockets off in revulsion.

No, Zoe. No, no no, no no no. The very worst thing you can do is anger cash, though it seems like everything is pining to make you do that.

She does pull off him just as the first thrust hits, but it isn’t with revulsion. With a faintly forced smile, she turns on her knees.

“You want to fuck me, huh?”

She checks for a condom on him.

“How much do you think that’s worth?”

GM: There is no condom.

“’Fine, ’nother $100,” Trip says impatiently.

He takes another swig from the bottle.

“Stripper! Get back and lick me!” demands Delaney.

Zoe: “Uh, uh, uh,” she answers, waggling a finger. “You want to fuck me, you need a condom, and it’ll be another $200.”

A pause.

“And you can put it in whatever hole you want.”

GM: “I don’t have a condom,” Trip grouses.

Zoe: She shrugs. “I’m sure they have plenty here. And… the cost?”

GM: “Well where the fuck do we get a condom?” Trip asks impatiently.

His erection is starting to sag a little.

“Yeah, fuck that. Bareback, stripper!”

He sets down the bottle, grabs Zoe by both shoulders, and moves to re-enter her just as the male employee sticks his head back in.

“Hey. Condom.”

He tosses it to Trip.

Trip looks a little disappointed.

So does Delaney.

“Oh. All right,” says Trip.

He fits it on.

Delaney impatiently swats the couch.

“Lick me, stripper! Eat me out! I want a lesbo stripper to eat me out!”

Zoe: Zoe breathes a quiet breath of relief when the bouncer interrupts to deliver a condom. The thought of him entering her again at the word ‘bareback’ nearly makes her hamburger rise.

Composing herself, she slips a finger between Delaney’s lips, entertaining her sex while she addresses Trip for the third time.

“Why don’t we have a race, hmn? Let’s see if you finish first… or her. After you agree to the price.”

GM: “Okay, okay, $200,” Trip says impatiently.

“Trip! Look at the lesbo stripper fingering me!” says Delaney, spreading her legs wide as she leans back against the couch.

Trip doesn’t answer his girlfriend. He just grabs Zoe’s shoulders and moves to enter her again.

“Yeah, you dirty lesbo stripper, gonna teach you to like cock…”

Zoe: If I was a lesbian, I wouldn’t be working in a primarily male domin—oh, why even waste space in my head on them? Ingrates.

She adds them to her mental journal of names she’ll hang from the ceiling when she rules the word, and moves her face forward.

Delaney’s sex has an acrid flavor to it—something salty, and sweaty, and wrong, but not so wrong that it’s repulsive. New? Strange? Foreign? She’s never tasted another woman before. Maybe it’s that. Maybe she needs a shower. She doesn’t care.

She knows what she likes—liked—from Chris, and uses those thoughts to guide her while she feels Trip enter her again.

The first time she’s been mounted by another man since—

A long time. She can picture faces, but not names. Scents, but not dates. Emotions. Mostly emotions. She doesn’t like these emotions. She doesn’t like these people. She doesn’t like their names, or their attitude, or their smell, or their feel, or how they touch her…

But they pay her—pay Cash—and so she continues.

For now.

Chris Downs.

Rosalyn Kelly.

Chuck Pavaghi. Maybe.

Delaney and Trip.

The list is growing quickly. She doesn’t even plan to let the dead rest.

GM: But not until then, neither does she.

Trip fucks her doggy style, with relish, cock steadily pumping in and out of her cunt. He grabs Zoe’s hands and pins them behind her back while she eats out his girlfriend, juices running over her mouth. Delaney growls and pins Zoe’s face against her crotch with both hands. It makes what she’s doing less, she supposes, delicate than how Chris ate her out. She can’t teasingly circle the girl’s clit with her tongue, pick how fast or slow or in what direction she goes. She just has a cunt unceremoniously shoved against her mouth. It makes her think of how Cash Money described ‘muff divers.’ “Slobbering over girls’ cunts,” he said. Zoe is definitely slobbering. She’s sloppy. She’s having it done to her, not doing it to them.

“Look at our stripper go!”

Between her pinned hands and head, Zoe is completely immobilized. It feels like she’s being used, for the two’s pleasure. She can’t talk, not really, with her face buried in Delaney’s cunt, but the girl and her boyfriend shout over her.

“God! Look at her! She’s such a slut! She’s a fucking stripper!

“Takes off her clothes for money!”

“Fucks people for money!”

“Look at those fuck-me shoes she wears!”

“She’s a whore!”

“Bet she’s a high school dropout!”

“She’s on heroin!”

“She’s a drug addict!”

“Lost her kid to CPS!”

“She’s a stripper! Our stripper!”

“Our lesbian stripper!”

“We fucking bought this stripper!”

“Stripper! Stripper! Stripper! SHE’S A FUCKING STRIPPER!”

Zoe: Stripper. Stripper. Stripper. Stripper. Stripper.

Stripper.

Stripper!

Stripperrrrrr!

The words echo in her head, as if she’s four years old on the playground again. Her knee bleeds, and three girls and a boy hold hands dancing and skipping a gleeful ring around her.

Clumsy! Clumsy! Clumsy! Clumsy! You know what rhymes with Zoe? CLUMSY!

She wants to cry, and she can’t stop her eyes from welling up, nor tears from flowing down her face. Is it their words? Their chiding? Or is it the sweat dripping into her eyes, searing them to moisture?

Her cunt tastes like ocean water and battery salad. She doesn’t like this. This isn’t a good first experience. She could like this.

But not like this.

Stripper. Stripper. Stripper.

She wants them to disappear.

But she blankets that thought, stifling it to blackness. The last two times she’s wished for people to die or disappear, they did. They did, and if these two do, Cash will blame her.

At least he isn’t big; smaller than Chris was.

Was.

No more Chris.

More Chuck to come.

And cum.

She takes the verbal abuse in silence, servicing the girl and allowing her boyfriend to pump her.

Delaney and Trip. Remember their names.


Friday night, 1 April 2016, AM

GM: Zoe’s two customers never even ask for her name. She’s just “the stripper” or “our stripper” to them. She needs a long shower by the time they’re done with her, and pay her for the sex like a literal whore.

A long shower and her old life back.

But she’s getting neither. She’s up for her next dance. Her top needs to come off for this one, she’s told. So the men can all stare at her tits.

She does okay, she supposes. Her heart’s not really in it. She’s groped and pinched and molested and demeaned as a sex object. And paid for it, even if the crinkled bills lining her g-string feel all-too few.

The lap dance, she supposes, goes okay. The fat middle-aged guy doesn’t keep his hands to himself—so much for no contact—but he doesn’t bite on the VIP room. Maybe part of her doesn’t want him to. So she grinds against his body, and feels his erect cock through his jeans instead of in her pussy. He pays for her for the privilege, and then she finds that all of the money she made from last song’s table dance is gone.

Who stole it?

Doesn’t matter. She’s up for her next song.

GM: That one goes better. She’s desperate to make up for the missing money. The crowd is drunker, three songs and two lap dances in. The fact she’s completely naked but for her shoes no doubt helps. The money flows as freely as the drink—even if the wandering hands and lustful touches do as well.

She winds up on the lap of a young loser who looks as if he’s never touched a breast before. He ejaculates in his pants mid-way through the dance. Zoe only gets a little wet from it.

Only a little.

She’s paid for that, too.

By the time the club closes down for the evening, at too-late-o-clock in the AM, Zoe is dead on her feet. Her shoes are comfortable enough, for seven inch heels, but her calves are stretched. Her knees are really sore from crawling along the stage’s hard flat surface to collect her money. The only thing she’s had to eat in…. 24 hours (?) is an O’Tolley’s cheeseburger that digests in her stomach like glue. Her borrowed spritzes of perfume do little to cover up her sweaty body or the fact she’s not bathed all day. The club’s odor of sweat, pre-cum, and cigarette smoke clings her like a lustful patron wanting to cop a last feel. Her nipples and ass are sore from the number of times they’ve been pinched.

The work is physically and mentally exhausting. Zoe’s not sure how any girl makes a career out of this.

But like any job one hates, there’s money to show for it.

$351, for her second set of songs and dances.

Missing at least $100 from the money stolen earlier.

$102 from her first song. $20 from Delaney’s lap dance. $30 from Trip’s. $100 to fuck Delaney. $200 to fuck Trip. $350, to be “our stripper,” undeserving of even a stage name.

$701 total, for her dignity tonight.

That’s when the Barely Legal’s manager, a sleazy-looking man with a receding hairline, pencil mustache, and an oily grin, explains the concept of “house cut.”

First, the club takes 50% of everything she makes.

She’s left with $350.5.

Then, she’s responsible for tipping the DJ and the bouncers. 10% of everything she brings in.

She’s left with $315.45.

Then, there’s something called a “house fee,” which is a fee charged by the club just to dance on their stage, no matter how much she makes or doesn’t make. That’s a flat $50.

She’s left with $265.45.

The club takes the 45 cents, because they round down and aren’t paying her in literal dimes and nickels.

She’s left with $265. For her dignity tonight.

Also, if she wants to keep dancing for the club, her costume is $50 and her shoes are $100. Brooke is “kind” enough not to ask for a payment tonight, if she comes back tomorrow, though she’ll need to leave the costume and shoes at the club.

GM: Zoe brings up the Jameson ordered by Delaney and Trip, a detail the manager seems to have conveniently “forgotten.” He tells her that half is credited towards her earnings. $30 bottle, so $15. She’s left with $280.

All that’s left is to see whether Cash Money is satisfied with that much.

Zoe: She doesn’t like this. She doesn’t like any of this. Not the touching, nor the staring, nor the grouping, nor the feeling that she’s no more than the inverted perversion of a ‘Where did the bad man touch you?’ doll. She’s meant to be touched. She’s paid to be touched. She’s not smart Zoe Smart Zoe died, remember? Strong Zoe died, too. Successful Zoe was hit by a car. Loving Zoe had a heart attack. The garou-that-was has become the garou-no-more; the wolf beaten and abused as if all the abusers-to-be collectively decided to explore their depraved fetish at the same time.

Then they sold tickets.

She isn’t even good at this. Not really. Not as good as she can be; as good as she thought she would be. This isn’t like school, where everything comes naturally; or, in the later portions of her educational career, with enough of a push to succeed.

Maybe that’s what she needs; to be pushed.

Hasn’t she been pushed enough?

She stares down at the palm full of grimy bills, not even bothering to count them. All that work. All that perversion, and depravity; all the poking and prodding and fucking and sweat and grease. All for the price of a nice dinner

And she isn’t going to keep any of it, is she?

She grabs her clothing, soiled as it is, and knocks on the door to Cash’s office.

“Hey,” she calls. “Paying up.”

GM: “So come in.”

She opens the door and finds the police detective reclining on his seat, unbuckled pants lying in a pile below his hairy legs.

Audrey is giving him a blowjob.

Up close, the beanpole-faced man smells even more strongly of deodorant, hair tonic, tabasco sauce, and contagious sleaze that gives his tan skin an almost iridescent sheen. She’s not sure if the lack of neon lights makes it better or worse.

But he sees her, and his mouth spreads in a half-leer, half-grin that gives new definition to the term ‘shit-eating.’ She’s not sure if he’s sexually aroused at the sight of her, enjoying the sight of what she’s been reduced to, or both.

“How much you got, slut?”

“How much did guys pay to oggle at your snatch?”

Zoe: Zoe marches inside, stopping just shy of his desk.

“T-two hundred and eighty dollars,” she stammers, holding the neatly folded wad of bills out to him. She’s taken enough care to order and stack them. How kind.

She feels an angry spark crack inside her. She wants to lash out—to reduce him to pulp—but that spark has only ever gotten her in trouble.

Besides, it isn’t real. That would be absurd.

She shivers. Gross.

GM: “Two eighty,” drawls Cash Money as he plucks the wad of wash from her grasp.

Audrey keeps sucking his cock.

“That’s how much your cunt is worth.”

“Do you think your cunt is worth two eighty?”

Zoe: She doesn’t answer right away.

“I… I don’t know. They had fun, though—the customers—and they paid, so it must be worth something.”

A pause.

“But is it… enough to make up for…?”

GM: Cash Money idly picks up the gun on his desk.

“That’s not what I asked you, whore.”

He doesn’t turn it in her direction.

But he does turn it over.

“I asked whether your cunt is worth two eighty.”

Zoe: Sparks become a small, crackling fire.

“I—I think it’s worth more! ’cause I learned! I got better! And I can get even better!”

GM: Cash Money points his gun at a bag of white powder on his desk.

“Snort some of that or you’re under arrest.”

The NOPD descent badge glints from the pants at his feet.

Zoe: He’ll probably charge her for this, too.

But she’s needed something to take the edge off for more than just these two days.

She falls to her knees, scooping some of the nefarious powder out and snorts it.

GM: It’s like coming home to an old boyfriend. Casually lying there on her bed, naked, seductive, confident that he’ll fuck her silly and she’ll beg him for seconds, and text her current boyfriend that maybe he shouldn’t come by tonight.

At first she feels her heart beating faster, and faster, and faster. Then she gets this sudden rush wash over her, both inside and out. Her body feels tingly. She’s sweating a little. She has a a drum inside of her limbs and her mouth and her brain that’s moving in sync with her heart. She has the sudden urge to talk, to explain, to listen, to DO. She wants to dance and sing and go somewhere, and take on the world. She’s on top of the world. She’s Zoe Kelly!

Oh, how she’s missed this.

How could her mom cast her out for this?

“See you tomorrow, you junkie wore,” leers Cash Money, cock still pumping back and forth in Audrey’s mouth.

Zoe: “H-how much do I owe you?” she asks, trying to keep her focus off the fact the fact that she suddenly wants to be happy.

GM: The leer spreads across Cash Money’s face like a cumstain through tightey-whities.

“You’ll pay us back.”

“Now get out before I throw you in the OPP male ward.”

Zoe: “Y-yes sir.”

She scurries out of the room.

And down the hall.

And down the stairs.

And across the room, pausing long enough in the changing room to put on her regular shoes and soiled clothes.

And out the door.

And only once she’s out in the Louisiana pre-dawn fog does she stop to think.

All of that—all her pain and suffering, being locked in a closet, and starved, and forced to dance, and being made to please men she wouldn’t give the time of day—is because she made a decision to stop somewhere new.

What if she doesn’t come back tomorrow? What if she chooses not to?

He’ll put our a warrant for her, probably. Somehow.

Daddy isn’t going to bail you out this time.

Neither is Mom, or her sister, or Chris. Definitely not Chuck.

All alone in the world, indebted to the worst cop she could have met. What a day.

Maybe tomorrow she’ll wake up to a cancer diagnosis.


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Story Fourteen, Zoe II

“It’s the same across all families. Piss them off and you’re done.”
Chuck Pavaghi


Wednesday evening, 30 March 2016

GM: Zoe’s (miserable) path takes her to a three-story house built in the second-generation Creole style that is easily recognizable by its distinctive L-shape, flush position to the sidewalk, French doors, broad roofline supported by light wooden colonnettes, and generous, traditional wrought iron gallery overflowing with potted red and pink geraniums. (In southeast Louisiana, a distinction is made between “balconies”, which are self-supporting and attached to the side of the building, and “galleries,” which are supported from the ground by poles or columns.) A wooden sign hangs from the red-bricked building’s front entrance. Faded and crammed-in letters read:

Tante Lescaut’s Occult Curiosities, Horoscopes, & Palmistry

Zoe would have to squint to make out the last two words below the shop’s name. They are even smaller and their paint is even more faded. She can’t read them now. Doesn’t bother. But she knows what they say.

Since 1721

A more legible sign on the double French doors reads simply:

OPEN

The store’s telltale chiming bell sounds as Zoe pushes the door open. The smell of old books, incense, and stranger things has barely filled her nostrils before three mewing cats—one black, one ginger, and one calico—approach her legs.

They sniff, but they don’t rub against her.

She’s too wet.

Further meows sound from further inside the store. It’s a dark, claustrophobic space cramped with overflowing bookshelves, ancient paint-cracked radiators, and occult knick-knacks ranging from pin-stabbed voodoo dolls to coiled, insignia-painted snake skeletons that stare at Amelie with empty eye sockets. Pentagrams, dream-catchers, and apotropaic talismans dangle from ceilings and partly obscure the doorways’ bead curtains.

Cats are everywhere. They roam over the stage prop furniture, track soiled cat litter over the floor, and crouch from perches atop bookshelves to silently watch the store’s patrons. Two felines even lie sleeping on the countertop that shares the cash register. They casually claim the whole space without regard for the dark-haired person who is also trying to use it. Brijbala, a twenty-something third-gender South Asian dressed in an orange… Zoe can’t remember what it it’s called. Some kind of Indian-looking robe or dress. They’re also bedecked in a multichromatic array of crystal- and wood-beaded bracelets, necklaces, and pendants. A red bindi stares unblinkingly from their forehead.

Brijbala’s eyebrows raise at Zoe’s state.

“Astagfarallah,” they murmur.

Zoe’s not sure what that literally means.

But it’s probably stating the obvious:

She looks like shit.

Zoe: Zoe adores cats near as much as dogs. Perhaps it has something to do with how unconditional a creature’s love is. Maybe that’s why she’s never gotten along with her mother.

She looks to Bri—she’s always called them Bri, whether they like it or not—and forces a smile that looks as if she’s a children’s spooky bedtime story come to life. It’s painful.

It’s probably even more painful to look at.

“…I need help.”

GM: “I can see dot,” Bri replies, eyebrows raised as they approach Zoe. “Astagfarallah, you are wet.” They raise their voice. “Tantsy! Tantsy!”

Zoe: Dot? What dot?

She nods.

“It’s—it’s not been a good day, Bri.”

She’s shivering. Drenched. Mud up to her thighs and flecked up her shirt.

GM: “I can see dot too,” says Bri. “Tantsy! Tantsy!”

“I hear’ ya da firs’ ti’, Bala, I’s comin’!” comes an elderly-sounding lady’s gumbo-thick reply.

Several feline mews and the faint rustle of beads heralds the proprietor’s arrival through a curtain of the same material. Césarine "Tantsy” Rouselle’s skin is lumpy all over and so black it has a purple sheen, while her hair so grayed and frizzy that it looks like half-worn S.O.S. pads. Her sunken cheekbones are struck with rouge and her upper eyelids are painted with fluorescent shades of pale lilac. She wears a blue moo-moo stitched with yellow stars, moons, and more esoteric planetary symbols, along with bifurcated librarian glasses that look plucked straight out of the 1960s. Three cats purr and circle around her spider-veined, swollen legs and sandal-beaded feet.

Pic.jpg
The old woman squints at Zoe past her glasses.

“Zelda, ya look righ’ awful, wha’ happened to ya?”

Zoe: What dot? Is this more of her usual insanity? She’s not unknown to speak what sound like wackadoo words to anyone outside the occult community.

She’s long-since given up on correcting her name. At least his one has two syllables.

“I—.. It’s a long s-story.. I— Everything’s w-wet.” She blubbers her words, slurring between her crying and shivering.

“I—.. I need a shower. And food. And—and—and—andtheytookEVERYTHINGTantsy!”

GM: She needs to pee, too.

It’s been a while since she went.

Zoe: “And I need to PEE!”

Her last word blows a bubble of snot so large that its apex hovers at the low end of her vision.

GM: “Righ’, righ’, Bala, make i’ happen, willya?” says Tantsy, seemingly unbothered by the snot. Or perhaps noncomprehending. “F’get da tea, now, f’get it, willya?”

Several cats meow.

“Ov course, Tantsy,” says Bri. “I’ll see ef we haf any food.”

“Lemme see ya han’, Zelda, lemme see ya han’,” Tantsy says distractedly as Bri sets off. The old woman shuffles closer.

Zoe: Zoe is the human equivalent of a wounded animal placing trust in the first warm embraced offered. She gives her hand, trembling.

GM: Tantsy splays out Zoe’s hand in hers, squints close, turns it upside down, then right-side up, and squints even closer.

“Whoa!” she exclaims, looking back up. “I go’ sum ba’ news, Zaylee, you go’ sum BAD lines! Real bad! You gon’… you gon’ be dead ’fore da year out, ’m sorry ta say.”

Zoe: She stares.

..

WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!… I D-D-D-DON’T W-WANT TO D-DIE TANTSY!”

GM: Several of the nearby cats meow sharply at the outburst.

Tantsy absently nods and pats Zoe’s wet hand, as though she’d merely said “that’s interesting.”

“Sorry, sorry, bu’ you gon’ die! Is’ wha’ ya lines say, Josie, nothin’a be done. I’m real sorry, bu’ ya gon’ die pretty soon!”

Zoe: Her words are hardly intelligible she’s crying so hard.

“Mm-mm-mom— icked— out! An— -ank, EMPTY! Clothes-!”

She points at the bag.

“A—and he—he cheated on m-me and DIED!”

She sniffles.

“D-d-did you jynx him?”

GM: Tantsy nods agreeably and pats Zoe’s hand a few more times.

“I jinx lossa folks, I sure do! You be’ I did, the car hit ’im, dinnit? Suh-mack! Middle of da road!”

Zoe: She shakes her head, spiraling water about her. Oh no. Poor cats.

“N-no! He had a—.. an accident! A heart or—or something. In the coffee!”

GM: The cats have mostly pulled away from the soaking wet intruder into their home. There’s a few affronted-sounding mews.

“Righ’, righ’, da coffee, I knew dat, Sophie,” Tantsy nods, indifferent as some raindrops splash over her face. There’s a few more absent pats of the hand. “Boilin’ coffee, he gulp it down, an’ it burned ‘im, dinnit, boiled righ’ outta his guts, it was so hawt! I made ‘im ’splode, haw haw! Dat’ll teach ‘im! Das’ wha’ he get fo’… fo’…”

Tantsy trails off.

“’Mind me, what he do, ’gain?”

Zoe: “Y-yeah! H-he must have!”

Despite her crying, the sheer ridiculousness of Tantsy brings some balance to her negative clime.

“H-he cheated on me! I said I needed him! He-.. he brought another girl! And kissed her! Then died! I think.”

GM: “Yep, yep, dat it, he died!” nods Tantsy. “You go’ it wrong, dough, he died, den he kissed da girl. Das’ how it happened.”

Zoe: Zoe squints. What?

GM: Tantsy waves a hand.

“No, no, wai’, firs’ he kissed her, den he cheated on her, den he died. Das’ it.”

“Bu’ he loved you, Sophia, he really did. ’Member him always, how he loved you.”

Zoe: “He DIDN’T! He CHEATED on me! And my—my mother shut me out of—..”

GM: Tantsy nods agreeably. “Das’ right, it real sad, real sad, but ‘is life. If you wan’, I can summon ‘is spirit, so you can say bye. Long goodbye, nice an’ proper, sweet-like?”

“I can feel ‘is spirit righ’ now, Scarlett, you’re da only thing he thinkin’ of!”

“You wan’ some weed?”

Zoe: Zoe nods, then stops.

“I.. don’t know if that’s a good idea.”

Even if Tantsy can summon spirits, what if he only validates what he implied: that he never loved her? That he used her?

She regards the woman.

Drugs got her into this mess.

“Fuck it. Yes.”

GM: Tantsy ambles over to a junk-cluttered seance table with several cat-occupied chairs. She absently sits down on the cat, causing it to meow furiously and race off before it’s squashed under her posterior. The old woman reaches into the folds of her Mickey Mouse-stitched moomoo and produces two handrolled joints and a cigarette lighter. She directs Zoe to hold the former as she lights the latter.

“Dis’ll help ya talk ta as’roids too, Pisces real happy wi’ ya, ya know. Say ya gon’ live a long wonnerful life. Ya gon’ have ten baby boys, an’ twelve gran’babies!”

Zoe: Zoe takes the joint, slipping it between her lips. It comes back to her easily. Too easily. She leans in for the light.

Then chokes.

“I thought I was going to die soon!”

GM: The marijuana smoke is a welcome feeling until she starts choking.

Tantsy waves a hand.

“Two of ‘em gon’ die young, ya boys da’ is, bu’ eigh’ boys an’ foah moah granbabies ain’ bad, innit?”

Zoe: “N-no! You said I was going to die!”

She realizes then that she didn’t question it at all. She simply accepted it when Tantsy first said it: Zoe will die soon.

GM: “Oh, well, you is gon’ die soon, bu’ ya gon’ have ten baby boys ’fore ya do,” nods Tantsy, taking a long drag from her joint.

“Be’er get started on names, righ’? Haw haw haw!”

Zoe: Zoe clasps a protective hand to her belly.

NOPE.

She inhales deeply from the joint. Make it go away. Make it all go away.

“I don’t know what to do, Tantsy. I’ve got nothing.”

GM: Tantsy smacks her lips and takes another long drag from the joint.

“Naw, naw, Pisces like you, you go’ plenny. You gon’ do a lot, ‘fore ya die. Ten boys, an’ one o’ em’s gon’ be president!”

Bri appears. They’ve got a candy bar and a tea set with a steaming kettle and two full cups.

“Dat’s all de food I could find, sorry. Vould you care for tea?”

Zoe is aware that the tea at Tantsy’s is very, very strong.

Zoe: President of what? Loserville?

That single but of kindness is enough to bring the tears back, this time silently. The old woman always seems to know exactly how to help Zoe find her footing. Even if her sanity is in question.

“That would be lovely.”

GM: Bri sets down the teacups on the table, along with the Butterfingers candy bar, then withdraws.

The tea tastes incredibly strong. It’s at once sweet and bitter like black licorice and makes Zoe’s head swim. She can feel her heart pounding in her chest.

Zoe: It’s incredibly strong, but such is the norm for Ms. Tantsy. She doesn’t half-ass anything! And she has a big ass!

“I wish you could understand what’s happening, Ms. Tantsy. I really need your help,” she laments after a sip of that horrid solution.

GM: It leaves an oily aftertaste in her mouth.

Her stomach growls.

She still needs to pee.

She’s still soaked to the bone in her wet clothes.

But it is warm and dry here, at least. She can hear the rain pounding against the roof over the low mewing of the shop’s many cats.

One of them rubs against Tantsy’s leg. She smacks her lips and takes another long drag of the weed joint.

Zoe’s head feels funny. All of her feels funny. Like she’s floating away from her body and all of its aches and wants and pains. It feels like this scene can’t possibly be real. Is this actually happening to her, Zoe Kelly, whose life was fantastic just under an hour ago?

Zoe Kelly was rich. Zoe Kelly was successful. Zoe Kelly had a successful boyfriend. Zoe Kelly lived in a nice apartment. Zoe Kelly had a future ahead of her.

Zoe Kelly isn’t supposed to be a sobbing, rain-soaked mess who sits around an occult shop’s rickety table smoking weed with a crazy old lady while a sad-looking torn sack of soiled clothes sits in an expanding pool of dirty water.

“You wan’, we cou’ do a tarot readin’,” Tantsy offers helpfully.

Zoe: The tea used to be used as a private exercise in modesty. She consumed not because she liked it, but because it helped center her lifelong lack of need in reality: sometimes, those who had not had to make due with what they had.

Of course, she knows that Tantsy simply enjoys the wildly unattractive blend of spices and suffering.

Today, it makes Zoe want to vomit. It’s not so philosophical on an empty stomach.

And it’s more to pee. Her bladder hurts. And she’s hungry. Her stomach hurts. If she vomits, it’ll be bile and a mouthful of tea.

The warm-dry only makes her cold-wet more apparent. She shivers.

And then she doesn’t. She’s warm, and cuddly, and light, and loved, and—

What did Tantsy put in that joint?

She settles dilated, glacial eyes on the elder and harumphs.

“Sure. You can’t predict worse than a dead, cheating boyfriend leaving you with 8 kids after today.”

She looks left and right, making sure there isn’t any beer to hold. Superstious? A little.

GM: There’s no beer, at least. Just a glass of green-looking tea and a fat candy bar.

Tantsy just cackles at Zoe’s answer, cricking her joints as she gets up. She sets the lipstick-smeared weed joint down on the table. She ambles off, past the mewling cats, then retrieves a stack of tarot cards from a cluttered shelf. She absently shuffles them between her veined hands as she returns and sits back down.

“So which way you wan’ do it, Samantha? We kin do da love spread, da success spread, da celtic cross, c’reer, three car’, spirishal…”

Zoe’s familiar enough with those.

The Love Spread. This six-card spread helps you evaluate your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual connections with your partner. It can tell you how strong and happy you are, and what you can do to improve your relationship or take it to the next level.

The Success Spread. This five-card spread is used when you are facing hardships or obstacles in your life. It can point you in the right direction to deal with a problem, and it can help you to solve the problem and overcome the challenges you are facing. It can also warn you about a coming disaster in your life and how to prepare for it.

The Celtic Cross Spread. This ten-card spread is ideal for dealing with intricate situations, helping the reader understand the full depth of the problem and the best way to deal with it.

The Career Path Spread. This seven-card spread helps you deal with the challenges in your professional life. It may include ‘how to get that raise or promotion’, ‘whether the job you are in now is the right one for you’, or ‘what other career choices are favorable for you’.

The Three Card Spread. This is the simplest and the most broadly useful spread, as it has only three cards. It is also one of the most powerful spreads, as it can give you prompt answers for anything you want to know or find out.

The Spiritual Spread. This eight-card spread helps when you are plagued by spiritual issues. It addresses your innermost fears and worries and how you can move forward on your spiritual journey.

Zoe: She snags the candy bar from the table and unwraps a corner, nibbling on it. Her mother forbade sweets all her life, even into adulthood. In her undergraduate, she once learned of moderation through over indulgence. Since then, she’s limited her sweets again.

But she’s hungry. So hungry.

Nibble nibble.

“Success.”

GM: It’s sugary, chocolatey, and buttery. It’s a poor substitute for real food.

But it fills.

Tantsy shuffles the cards some more, closing her eyes and running her fingers over them, then lays out five cards in a horseshoe spread. One card at the top. Two lower cards at the left and right. Two more cards, also lower, to the left and right of those cards.

Zoe: She swallows. It’s hard. She wants real food.

She doesn’t want the cards to be turned.

It’ll get worse, won’t it?

GM: “Okay, now dis’ firs’ one gon’ tell us ya problems, da things ya believe dat’re holdin’ ya back…” says Tantsy.

She flips it over.

Pic.jpg
“Wuh oh,” says Tantsy.

Zoe: The color drains from her face. The candy bar rebels in her stomach.

GM: “Lesse… ya been oppressed, lately?” asks Tantsy.

“Obsessed, depen’ent, addicted, pleasuh-seekin’?”

Zoe: She stares.

GM: “Cuz da devil, he chained up da man an’ woman, see. Dey his slaves.”

“But dey ain’ lookin’ like dey min’in it too much, is dey?”

“A’ firs’, anyway, haw haw!”

Zoe: “I—.. yes, but I was punished for that already, Tantsy.”

GM: Tantsy nods.

“Shoh, shoh, dis’ jus’ how dey go’ where dey is.”

“Da’ how you go’ where you is?”

Zoe: “How I .. go where I am?”

GM: “Da man go’ a flame on his tail while da woman got a bowla grapes on her tail, which means dey addicted ta power an’ da fine things in life.”

“But dey don’ look too happy up close, now do dey? Dey los’ deir power, dey naked an’ chained up, an’ dey exposed an’ ashamed.”

“‘Cuz dat wut happen when da devil’s ya masser, haw haw haw!”

“Dey be’er fin’ some clothes! Haw haw haw!”

Zoe: “Are you saying I’ve given too much to my own vice?” She’s still confused.

GM: Tantsy takes a long drag from her joint.

“Yes, yes, def’nitely, ya vice is ya masser, an’ ’is made ya naked!”

Zoe: She begins to cry again.

“It is, Me. Tantsy, it is! I—I said yes to something I shouldn’t have, and my M-Mom caught me! She… she took everything.”

GM: Tantsy nods along.

“Das’ da devil, yessir! He a bad masser! Bu’ lesee wha’ ya need ta do now, hey? Dis da thing you gotta do!”

Zoe: She nods and waits for what comes next. Probably the police at the door. She won’t be surprised if her mother calls them, too.

GM: Tantsy flips over the card.

Zoe: Zoe wants to flip over the table.

GM: Tantsy frowns.

“Huh, das’ weird!”

Pic.jpg
Zoe: Zoe has seen tarot readings before. It didn’t interest her. She knows that upside down is usually a bad sign.

Usually?

GM: “See, when temperance is uprigh’, da means… peace, patience, calm, harmony, seren’ty, balance.”

Zoe: She’s fucked.

GM: “Upsi’ down, here, da means… somethin’ outta balance, excess. Turbulence.”

“An’ it means das’ wha’ you gotta do, ta ’scape da devil.”

“Uh, remin’ me what we readin’ fo, ya wanna fin’ a husband, is da’ it?”

Zoe: “I’m not sure I can do that anymore, Ms. Tantsy,” she relents, her brow furrowing with thought.

Especially if she keeps offering her drugs.

And forgetting her. Everyone wants to forget her.

She’s circling the drain, and not a soul wants to save her.

“N-no, Ms. Tantsy. I—I need my life back.”

GM: “Oh, well, dis how ya ge’ it back, den!” Tantsy nods.

“Excess!”

“You shou’ eat a lotta hot dogs.”

“Do ya like hot dogs?”

Zoe: “Made from Hokkaido Wagyu scraps?”

Otherwise, no.

GM: “Made ferm any kinda scraps!” Tantsy nods. “You shou’ ea’ a lotta ’em.”

She waves at the candy bar.

“Eat ya candy, now. G’wan, eat up.”

“Excess!”

“Das’ how ya ge’ ya life back.”

“Excess!”

Zoe: “Excess? What does excess…?”

She bites a more full mouthful of chocolate. It takes a team of lawyers to get her to swallow.

GM: Her stomach loudly growls.

“Excess! Moah, moah!” exclaims Tantsy, clapping her hands.

“Drink ya tea, too. Excess!”

Zoe: “Y-yes, Ms. Tantsy!”

She stuffs the entire candy bar in. Then the tea. Then she swallows.

She feels as if her head was stuffed into a used toilet.

GM: The candy bar tastes oily and sinks down her throat like a brick. Her head swims some more. She feels woozy, but is all-too conscious of her heart’s strained beating in her ears.

Tantsy claps her hands.

“Goo’, goo’! Excess! Dat be it!”

“Make sure ya eat some hot dogs, too.”

“Or maybe pizza, dat also okay.”

Zoe: “I—I have to pee, Ms. Tants—”

She burps, covers her mouth, and runs for the bathroom.


Wednesday evening, 30 March 2016

GM: The peeling wallpaper is painted with rows of mushrooms. The toilet is moderately clean. The piss comes out of her like a released tide, and the shit after it. She feels really, really woozy. Her stomach hurts. The mushrooms swim in and out of focus.

Zoe: She ran because she has to puke, but everything inside her is fighting. The chocolate and tea have a domestic dispute in her stomach. Her head wants child support from her heart. Her heart calls its baby daddy, her bowels, who state their argument. Explosively. Her bladder finally releases with an OOOOOOoooOOOOOMMmmnYES…. Everyone else pauses. They clap. She pukes between her legs. At least it isn’t in her underwear. How does she puke so much? She hasn’t eaten since breakfast.

She’s never felt so empty. Her heart. Her stomach. Her innards. Everything except her head, which swims as if the tide that swept Moses away takes a holiday between her ears.

GM: She feels a little better, with her stomach purged. The Butterfingers bar is completely intact, albeit wet with rancid bile. The bile-soaked candy ferments in a pool of shit and piss. Zoe can smell the nauseous cocktail wafting up from between her legs. There’s some orange flecks of vomit over her thighs, too. Evidently, there’s only so far she can spread her legs under short notice.

Chuck would agree with that, wouldn’t he?

His apartment is probably clean, warm, and has lots of food.

If she’d just taken his offer she’d be clean and dry. So would her clothes. Maybe she could’ve even gone back for multiple trips of stuff from her apartment.

Then again, when Mom said she was being kicked out, did it occur to her that she’d end up here?

Zoe: Excess. If she hears the word again, she’s liable to become excessively violent.

Or she might, if she stops feeling so absolutely terrible. She wraps her hand with several layers of toilet paper, cleaning herself off as best she can manage with the dollar-store wonton-skins Tantsy buys for toilet paper.

Oh, how angry her mother will be if—

Chuck.

Suddenly Chuck doesn’t sound so bad.

In perspective, that is.

But him and his grubby hands…

She shivers. What was once a clear answer is suddenly blooming temptation.

She can always kill him. His kind die all the time and the police blame others. Never the white girl.

But he’s rich. It probably won’t be the same.

Hmn.

Maybe this will work.

Zoe opens her phone and scans her contacts: Charley, Charlie, Cheeseburger’s Cheez Hut, Chubby Classmate, Dave.

Dave?

Where is Chuck?

She keeps scrolling.

Oh. She’d put him under the prefix, "NOPE: ", along with a number of others. She resets him to “Chuck Pavaghi” in case he ever glances at her phone, and texts him.

I live with you for one month. You recover everything my mother is throwing out. You provide a space for it all, clean, warm and dry. I’ll sleep with you five times during the month at times of your choosing provided it doesn’t affect my professional obligations.

She pauses, rereading and considering. She still can just kill him. What does she have to lose?

Then she adds:

No questions asked or complaints given on what you want during those 5 so long as it doesn’t leave a mark. No videos. No pictures. No recording. Contract to be written.

GM: Chuck texts back:

one fuck a week? yeah fuck that

Zoe: Counter offer, Business Man.

GM: you need to get me off every day

Zoe: I’ll fuck you every three and you can service yourself to me on the interim two.

I know how much you want me.

GM: and i know how much u dont u must be prty desprte to be offering this soon

but tell u what youll only have to blow me half the days

actual sex the other half

stay or leave whenever u like but i cum every day your here

Zoe: $100k and I’ll agree.

God, he can’t even make full sentences.

GM: haha yeah no lol

Zoe: It’s not like the money means anything to you. It’s peanuts. You’d pay that much for an escort of my quality.

GM: yeah no lol no escorts that much

u do kno how much one costs rite?

Zoe: A white escort won’t fulfill the thoughts you have about me. You want what you want? I want cash and a place.

GM: __ur not worth 100k lol. u can fuck me every day __

Zoe: 75k, you fuck me once per day, bank days you don’t feel it, and all of the above asks.

And I get to borrow a car. BORROW.

GM: hahahaha yah ur not worth 75k either

The two negotiate back and forth. Chuck isn’t willing to make a down payment on a house to stick his dick in her, even daily. But he does want to fuck her, or he’d have just stopped responding by now.

Zoe: Okay. I get a place to stay, storage, and a car to use that I will pay for my own gas in. You get to fuck me once a day.

Is her dignity really worth a roof?

Yes.

She has none left, anyway.

And we’ll bring my things in from the garbage together. Or one of your staff.

GM: ok that works swing by whnvr

That is what her dignity is worth.

A roof.

A space for her stuff.

A borrowed car.

And no gas.

Zoe: She breathes a sigh of relief. Sorry, body. Sorry, dignity. Not sorry, Chris.

I don’t suppose I could get a ride?

GM: sure if u dont wear any clothes when your at my place ;)

bsides wen were fuckin obvsly lol

Zoe: One day without clothes for a ride.

Anything is less humiliating than this day.

GM: c u soon ;) were u at?

Zoe: She texts him the address of the shop, then pulls her clothing together, ensuring she’s clean first. She returns to Ms. Tantsy for the other half of reading and seats herself across the older woman. She looks just as crummy as when she went to pee a few minutes earlier, but with a light tinge of rose to her cheeks.

GM: She finds Tantsy asleep in her chair with a cat on her lap. Two more cats have taken over Zoe’s chair. Another feline has sat down in ‘catloaf’ position over the cards.

Zoe: She sighs.

Still hungry. Still wet. Not the kind of wet Chuck wants.

Oh, he’s in for a treat when he sees her.

For a few moments, she considers calling off the whole thing. Maybe she can call Sami. It’s been a little while since they’ve been close, but they have a history, and that history should still mean something to her. Maybe.

Not her sisters or brother. No, Mom would have warned them off.

Not President McGregor. She doesn’t want to jeopardize her PhD further, and he might be just as shallow as Chuck. At least Chuck has the means to provide for her if she really needs it. For another deal, she’s sure.

Her other friends? Her band? She can’t bear the thought of them seeing her like this. Years of friendship, and she’s still insecure about being seen as the poser rich girl. Without her wealth, she falls to pieces. What will that tell them?

Chuck it is. She’ll suffer, but she’ll benefit..

“See ya later, Ms. Tantsy,” she murmurs, dragging her back to the door to wait. Fuck, this weed is strong.


Wednesday evening, 30 March 2016

GM: Zoe waits by the door.

She’s still wet.

Still hungry.

Still vaguely nauseous.

At least she doesn’t need to pee or shit.

Perhaps she feels cleaner.

Perhaps she doesn’t.

But eventually, she gets a text from Chuck:

__Im outside_

He’s driving a flashy-looking BMW. He parks by the curb, but makes no move to actually get out and help her with her very wet and very heavy laundry bag.

Zoe: The monster emerges. He probably doesn’t recognize her.

Why is a homeless woman opening his door?

It’s locked. She knocks.

GM: He gives the homeless woman a disgusted look at the knock. He opens his mouth, as if to say something. Something angry.

Then he blinks.

Then he frowns.

He taps into his phone.

Zoe gets a text on hers.

if thats actually u text me back

Zoe: She slaps her phone against the window, showing his text.

“IT’S BEEN A LONG DAY!”

GM: “Jesus, you look like shit,” says Chuck.

It sounds more critical than piteous.

But the car door unlocks.

Zoe: She opens the back door, tossing her life onto the floor. Sopping wet. Soaked through. At least the laptop is off. It’s probably salvageable.

She opens the passenger door and falls into the car, shivering.

Still want to fuck me?

GM: Chuck starts driving.

He looks less than pleased by the sound of wet cloth slopping against his car’s floor.

“If you can’t clean up after a shower, deal’s off,” he says.

Zoe: “I just need a shower,” she grumps.

“A shower. Dry clothes. And therapy. You know I’m good for my word. A Kelly never fails to deliver.”

GM: “Yeah, we’ll see there.”

“Man, your parents must be pissed.”

“The hell did you do?”

Zoe: “Y-y-you have no fucking idea. Then again, maybe you do. Asian parents are strict, right?”

GM: “They are, yeah.”

“All about getting good grades.”

Zoe: “M-mom didn’t like learning I got into coke again.”

She looks at him sideways.

“…you don’t … do you?”

GM: “Sometimes, yeah,” says Chuck.

Oh.

Oh.

Maybe he can hook her up.

He snorts.

“Parents. Mine don’t give a shit. S’long as I do my job.”

Zoe: “Mine do. Did. Image and all that.”

There’s a long pause.

“…I’ll clean up.”

GM: “Girls on drugs are junkies whoring themselves out.”

“Guys on drugs are just partying hard.”

Zoe: Her thoughts wander to a scene involving her in a teacher’s outfit, him with a bad grade, and a riding crop. Maybe the next month won’t be what she thinks it will.

Hm.

“Well, this girl was coming home for a hit when she met her mother at her apartment handing her an eviction notice.”

A pause.

“Do you have chips at home? I haven’t had chips in years. I want chips. Barbecue. Or sour cream and onions. Didn’t they produce some Mountain Dew Dorito flavor?”

GM: “…your parents don’t let you eat onions?”

“Oh, no. You mean chips.”

“Yeah. I’ve got chips.”

Chuck grins.

“I can think of some fun ways for you to eat them.”

Zoe: “Whatever. As long as I get a shower first. And food. I’m starving.

She really doesn’t care. Is it numbness? She isn’t sure.

She nestles into her little nook of the car, wrapping herself in her arms.

“You know, if you don’t entirely abuse our deal, this could become a beautiful friendship.”

As long as it involves chips.

GM: The car is warm and the seats comfortable leather. Rain thunks against the windows outside.

“Hey, as long as you’re not a bitch about anything, I can be a great friend to have.”

Zoe: She mumbles something involving the word ‘bitch’.

“…what—”

Hm. No. She doesn’t want to ask that yet.

“Can I shower after we bring my stuff in?”

GM: “You’ll do that first, I don’t want a dirty person tromping around my apartment. Hugo’ll grab your stuff.”

The live-in property manager.

“Oh. She’s not coming by tonight, but I have my girlfriend over semi-often.”

“When she’s here, you’ll need to hide in the closet or something.”

Zoe: “Nothing. Okay. Make sure he gets everything.”

“Please.”

“I can just go out? I asked for money because Mom drained my bank. I got nothing. What do people do when they’re out of money? Like, aside from get a job. That’s obvious. They do that before they’re out of money, right? I’m actually out.”

“I guess I can get a job. That would keep me out. Or I can fuck her too?”

GM: “I wouldn’t complain,” he grins. “Hell, that sounds fuckin’ awesome.”

“Dunno she’d be into it, though.”

“She’s kinda a prude.”

Zoe: “Give her enough coke.”

GM: “She’s not into drugs.”

Zoe: “Neither was I.”

GM: “Maybe slip her something, though.”

Zoe: “There’s the vacant morals I knew you had. Good boy.”

GM: Chuck snorts.

“Like she and you are any better.”

Zoe: “You’re not so bad once you get past your cock dragging you toward the nearest attractive woman by the balls.”

GM: “Hey. I’m honest about it. You know what you’re gonna get from me.”

There’s a slight edge to Chuck’s voice.

“Families like yours get up to just as much dirty shit as mine. Maybe even more. But you guys hide it and pretend you’re better.”

Zoe: “You’re not wrong.”

She knows he’s in the life. They both know how the world works. They control related spheres, and her family is better than his.

“And you’re going to get to defile our pristine porcelain,” she answers, waxing dramatic with an amateur actress’ feigned against and the wave of a hand.

“Not that I care.” She shrugs. “Fuck the whole china cabinet.”

GM: “I don’t care about that either. I just want a hot girl who’ll suck my cock regular.”

Zoe: She slants her eyes toward him, uncertain.

“…you don’t want me because you’ve wanted to fuck the Kelly daughter?”

GM: “I mean, because you’re hot, yeah. But your last name isn’t gonna suck my dick off any nicer.”

“Sarah’s a Whitney and she always spits it out into the sink.”

Zoe: Oh. There goes her leverage.

“That’s boring.”

GM: “She’s boring.”

Zoe: “She’s your girlfriend?”

GM: “I guess, yeah.”

Zoe: “I bet I can fuck you so well you’ll leave her by the end of the month.”

GM: “Not likely, if you’re on the outs. Grandma wanted me to shack up with her.”

Zoe: “I won’t be on the outs forever. I don’t lose. Mom does.”

GM: Chuck snorts.

“Good luck. Moms and Grandmas and Grandpas don’t lose.”

“See exhibits Westley Malveaux, Susan Malveaux, Caroline Malveaux-Devillers, Gabriella Kelly, and of course Zoe Kelly.”

“It’s the same across all families.”

“Piss them off and you’re done.”

Zoe: She shrugs.

“I’ll be different.”

As if she’s the first to speak those words.

“I will.”

Now she’s convincing herself.

Her stomach rumbles.

GM: “Oh, related thing. Femdom. I’m not into it. Like, at all. Do any of that and it won’t count as sex.”

Zoe: She shrugs. “I don’t really care. Whatever you want. I’m not a starfish, so if that’s what you’re expecting..”

GM: “Yeah, don’t know any guy who’s into that. I want you to be really into it.”

“I want you to suck me off, but not all the way. I want you to finish me with your hand so I cum on the floor.”

“And then I wanna watch you lick it up.”

Zoe: “Not my face?”

“Hmn.”

GM: “If I cum on your face it doesn’t get on the floor.”

Zoe: “It does if you cum a lot.”

GM: “I like that. Watching girls lick it up.”

“Yeah, well, I cum all the time. You only get the really big multi-roper loads if you haven’t cum for a while.”

Zoe: “I wonder how much fun we’d have if you fucked me every day, but only finished every third.”

GM: “That sounds awful, why the fuck wouldn’t I wanna finish?”

Zoe: “I don’t know, cause you’ll finish more later?”

“…or you could fuck Sarah, and not finish until… later.”

GM: Chuck laughs at her second idea.

“Mmm, yeah. Maybe give her a complex over it.”

“‘I can’t satisfy my boyfriend!’”

Zoe: “I don’t really care if she has a complex or not.”

GM: “I do. Think it’d be funny.”

Her thought proves apt, though, as Chuck parks inside the Giani Building’s garage. It feels almost surreal to be heading back there. She could have just never left.

Chuck gets out, locks the door after Zoe removes her falling-apart bag, and walks to the elevator.

Zoe: Gentlemanly. At least Chris would have helped her with her bag.

She drags it with both hands, following after him.

GM: Chris also hooked up with another girl.

Before he died.

That feels like it can’t possibly be real.

But nothing about the past few hours has felt real.

Chuck, meanwhile, presses the button to his floor (their floor) once she’s hauled her falling-apart bag inside, without his help. The door dings open. He lets her drag the bag down the hallway, too. It leaves a trail of dirty water after it. Zoe has to pause several times to grab soiled clothing articles that fall out.

Chuck shakes his head.

“You coulda just taken me up earlier.”

Zoe: “Would you have taken me up, were all things switched, Chuck? Would you have so easily shown me your belly?”

GM: “I wouldn’t have had to,” says Chuck, unlocking his apartment door.

“‘Cuz that’s one area my family’s better.”

“We’d never kick out one of our own, like that.”

Zoe: She starts to cry again. Just a little. Silently.

She would never have her sisters out. No matter how badly they mess up.

She doesn’t comment on what he says. Thinking about it hurts enough. If she talks, she’ll cry more. He doesn’t like girls like that.

Then she’ll be out in the rain again.

“Will my stuff be brought in soon? I have shampoos and… stuff.”

GM: Chuck watches her cry.

He doesn’t sneer at her.

He doesn’t comfort her.

He just watches.

Then he looks down at his phone.

“Hugo says your stuff’s all gone. Parents cleaned your apartment completely out.”

Zoe:HRRRGGHH!”

Everything! All of it! Her life! Her entire life! Pictures and knickknacks and soap and clothing and books and achievements! All gone!

“How much is a murder?”

GM: Mom has always been thorough.

“Premeditated? Life with hard labor and no parole, or death.”

Chuck heads into his apartment. It’s a similar setup to Zoe’s. Identical, actually. Same floor plan. Roomy. Modern-looking decor. Glass tables and leather furniture. Big TV with a video game console.

Zoe: She looks at him as if she silently is saying, ‘Really?’ She’s heard rumors of murder-for-hire in their circles.

Zoe attempts to summon a mass of strength to carry her laundry bag over his pristine floor and to the bathtub.

GM: “That’s the law on the books,” says Chuck. “I-”

He’s interrupted by barking from a medium-sized and semi-furry brown dog that rushes up to him. Chuck grins, squats down on his haunches, and rubs the dog’s face back and forth. “Whooza good boy, Argent, whooza good…”

Argent looks at the wet, smelly newcomer into the apartment and faintly growls.

Zoe: Zoe drops the bag from just a foot above the ground, falling to her knees as the dog bounds in.

“You didn’t tell me you had a dog!”

She hasn’t seen a dog in person in— gosh, forever!

“You’ll get used to the smell! Because it won’t be here! Once I shower.”

And fuck him.

GM: “Who doesn’t have dogs, if they can?” says Chuck, not looking away as he pets Argent’s flank.

The dog woofs and looks his face.

“One of my neighbor’s been pushing to ban pets from the building, but fuck that, I’m keeping mine.”

Zoe: “You own the building. It’d be a little odd if they won over you.”

She holds a hand out to the pup.

GM: The dog warily approaches and sniffs.

Zoe: She’s owned dogs over her life, and has some basic understanding as to the human-canine butt sniffing.

She holds her hand out, waiting patiently. Only if he approaches or gives some other positive sign does she pet him.

GM: Argent sniffs some more, then finally licks her hand.

Zoe: She pets the dog, smiling for the first time that day. Dogs don’t hold grudges, so long as you’re nice to them. Or have treats.

She scratches behind his ears, then hoists her bag up and moves through the apartment, stepping over and around furniture and oddities, keeping the room as clean as possible.

Thump! goes the bag into Chuck’s bathtub. Will any of that clothing be salvageable?

She sighs.

“Shower or bed after?”

She doesn’t sound enthusiastic. It’s not his fault.

GM: The dog wags its tail and follows after Chuck.

“Shower first, then you can blow me,” he says, seemingly unconcerned.

“Maid service will take care of the laundry.”

Zoe: “I have little confidence in how salvageable my things are.”

She sighs.

“Did you eat dinner?” she asks while turning on the shower.

GM: “Yeah,” he says.

“Do you think you’ll give a better BJ before or after you’ve eaten?”

“Come to think, I’ve never had sex with a really hungry girl before.”

“Wonder if that makes it any different.”

Zoe: “No, it doesn’t, and probably before, unless you want me to puke on you. Some guys are into that. Girls too, I guess.”

She strips herself down, knocking the door over; but not closed. What does it matter? He’ll come in if he wants to regardless.

“Can I bum dinner off you after?”

GM: “Yeah, you can have dinner.”

“BJ first, though. I wanna see if you being really hungry makes a difference.”

With those words, he leaves her to it in the bathroom. The shower is exactly like her old one. The products are different, and primarily male, but there’s a couple that look like they’re for girls. Maybe they’re Sarah’s.

It almost feels like she hasn’t left home. It’s so strange to be in here. In this shower that’s exactly like her old shower, after she’s been kicked out.

Zoe: She wonders who her old place will be rented out to. Maybe they’ll take care of the place. Maybe she’ll get it back one day. Maybe she’ll murder her mother and inherit the house.

The shower itself is languorous. She doesn’t want to move, and thoughts of earlier events plague her. She wants to scrub herself clean—and she does, as if using an iron wool to rend rust from sheet metal—but the faster she finishes, the sooner she’ll have to meet Chuck.

Maybe it won’t be so bad. She’s had casual sex before, and he isn’t that bad looking. If she can forgive the fact that he’s not her kind.

Maybe it’s true what the stereotypes say. Then again, a sample size of one does not an experiment make.

Scrub, scrub, scrub.

GM: The water is hot. It feels heavenly to be out of her cold, wet, dirty clothes. It feels heavenly to let the hot water cascade over her body and wash away everything that’s made this day the Worst Day Ever. It feels heavenly to lather herself up with soap and be clean and warm again.

And she’ll get to eat, too. She’ll have a square meal and a dry roof over her head when she goes to sleep in this warm, dry apartment.

After she gives Chuck a blowjob.

Is that better than having his dick in her, or is that something else that’s better to get over with?

Then again, maybe it won’t be so bad.

Indian-American isn’t white, but he’s light-skinned enough. He doesn’t even have slanted eyes.

Grandpa’s not said nearly as many bad things about them as he has black people.

Zoe: Too soon, she shuts the water to her sanctuary off. Night one of thirty days of darkness begins!

Slight darkness.

Mocha madness?

Maybe he’ll be less repulsive if she imagines a Pequod’s logo on his chest and a caramel drizzle on his cock.

Or vanilla?

She smiles at the private innuendo and wraps a towel about herself, drying her hair somewhat with another. Chris likes—liked—her hair a little wet.

.. and out she goes, into the unknowns of the interracial dating scene, contemplating a short trip to their top-floor window on the way there.

Oh, what would grandpa say now?

GM: Grandpa knows she’s been cast out and cut off.

She comes out to find Chuck sprawled out on the couch, changed into a t-shirt and sweats, and watching TV. Argent naps in a doggy bed nearby.

When Chuck sees Zoe, he pulls down his pants.

“All right, time to pay your rent.”

“You can take off the towel.”

Zoe: Zoe pauses, eyes flicking downward. Are the stereotypes true? Does he break expectations? Can she provide a deep-throat experience without him passing the center point of her tongue?

She wonders if Argent has a bigger penis. Not that she’ll ever fuck a dog.

Her eyes wander back to him, slipping a thumb into the tension point of her towel. It falls to the floor.

Why does she feel so naked? Not literally, as she literally is.

She feels like a specimen.

GM: Chuck looks her over and grins.

“Yeah, you clean up nice.”

His penis looks pretty average-sized.

Do native Indians have smaller ones, next to American-born Indians?

Is it poor nutrition that’s responsible for that?

Chuck starts rubbing. He swiftly gets hard.

Zoe: She sinks to her knees, brushing his apart.

Well. There it is. First one she’s seen up close in years.

First that she intends to touch, anyway. There was that one time at that mock-Bachelorette party…

Okay, first the she intends to touch more than a little.

Seems normal. No protrusions. No warts.

That she can see.

Smells fine?

Doesn’t smell like anything at all.

Why is she so concerned with smell?

Distracting, distracting…

GM: No visible warts. No visible protrusions. Smells okay.

Little darker than the last one she saw, but not overly much so.

Just a penis that she needs to suck off in return for a car and place to stay.

She’s not being directly paid for this.

Does that make it better?

Zoe: She places a hand on his belly, gently urging him to lay back, fingers wrapping his shaft. She wishes he’d just asked her to fuck him. At least she could have just closed her eyes and taken it.

GM: Chuck lays back and looks glad for it.

After all, it’s late.

He’s probably had a long work day.

Just wants his new bedwarmer to suck him off and give him an orgasm without too much effort on his part.

She can still close her eyes, if she really wants.

Zoe: She used to goad Chris into sating himself with her. She got something out of that.

This is mechanical. Heartless. Cold. Dead. She could be a corpse set on a large plate and microwaved on medium for thirty seconds, then dumped before him; a doll with a pretty mouth; warm, wet, and equally disgusting.

Her mouth is moist, but only because she’s so hungry, and that thick goopy saliva from vomiting is still in her mouth. She hasn’t brushed her teeth, but she did rinse her mouth out in the shower.

Close enough. It’s not like he’s going to kiss her.

Her stomach hurts.

Zoe spits a globule of that thick stomach-saliva onto his head, standing it upright in her hand, and rubs it in as if massaging a client in a vocation she’s never had.

She knows this is bad, but it’s bad because she doesn’t have the investment to make it good. If she doesn’t, she’s going to be out in the rain again.

She fills her mouth with his shaft, locking her lips around it and pressing her tongue beneath his head.

It’s Chris. It’s Chris. It’s Chris.

It’s Chris but loyal. It’s Chris but loyal. It’s Chris but loyal.

This isn’t helping.

GM: Nothing about today has helped.

What kind of girl gives a good blowjob after she’s been kicked out, cut off, experienced (brief) homelessness, watched her boyfriend cheat on her, watched her boyfriend possibly die, gotten soaked in the rain, lost all her worldly possessions, gotten sick, thrown up, and most of all just wants to go to sleep and pretend The Worst Day Ever never happened?

Maybe one whose future is contingent on providing sexual satisfaction, though.

Chuck grins once his dick fills her mouth.

“Ah yeah. You look great. With my cock in your mouth. You can’t even talk.”

It’s amazing what difference state of mind makes. She was going to show Chris the best night of his life.

Zoe: And yet she tries. Her tongue is magic, once she clears her mind. Her lips are silk. Her hand demands his pleasure with honey more than a command.

But she doesn’t clear her mind. Not fully. Enough, perhaps.

It’d be so much easier if he’d just ask to fuck her.

GM: Easier for her.

But this is easier for him.

Chuck mostly just sits there with his legs spread, lazing back against the couch with a content look on his face. He initially looks half-asleep. To Zoe’s credit, he looks increasingly awake the longer she pleases him with her mouth. He makes a few noises. Sometimes he runs a hand through her hair, or along her face, and says “Oh, yeah, you like that,” or “Look at you go!”

But for the most part, he just watches and enjoys himself as Zoe sucks his throbbing cock.

“’Bout to cum… aim my dick with your hand…” he pants.

Aim it at the floor, of course.

So he can watch her lick up his spunk.

Zoe: Zoe has had bad days before, and she’s had to give her full effort—usually to academia, sometimes to her family—on those days. It is with that same resolve to succeed—or, in this case, to suck seed—that she levies her whole effort to finish him with such a resounding crescendo of effort that even his girlfriend will smell semen from across the city.

His words are met with doe eyes and muffled ’mmhmm’s, and when he commands her, she aims his cock at the floor, stroking him with a saliva-slickened hand.

GM: “Ahh, yeah,” Chuck pants, his breath coming harder and faster. “Ohhhh, you’re good, fuck—ohhhh, YEAH!

Zoe’s expert stroking swiftly brings him to climax as he blows his load. A moderate rope of cum squirts out over the carpeted floor.

Chuck smirks and wordlessly points.

Zoe: Chris shot bigger loads. She misses Chris. If Chris were here, she’d stab him, and take a cleaver to his balls, and puree them with cream, a dash of salt, garlic, and simmer them into a sauce, but at least he had a good-looking penis.

This looks like a mini hotdog left in the air fryer too long with a sad cough of spoiled cheese dripping out the tip.

Obediently, she lowers herself to the floor and runs her tongue through his cum. Gross.

GM: If Chris were here, would she even need to do that? The last she saw him, people were giving him CPR.

Chuck’s cum is really salty. Saltier than Chris’ was.

He grins and leans closer.

“Eat it up. All of it.”

“I’ll pay if you can burp.”

Zoe: She wouldn’t need to. She wants to.

It’s probably all the curry. So much MSG.

Zoe presses her face to the floor, the entire flat of her tongue dragging along the carpet as if she’s a cat cleaning her young. The cum is stuck to each fiber, and only little by little does she collect it.

But she does collect it, humiliating as it is. She licks every drop—every drop, every morsel, and every strand—of that little spurt of semen from the floor.

When she rises, it’s with a covered mouth and a polite-yet-satisfied burp. Ladylike to the last, even when commanded to burp.

GM: She has to ‘kiss’ the carpet, too. Use her mouth and lips, not just her tongue, to get it all. It’s like she’s kissing the carpet.

Kissing his cum.

At least there isn’t too much of it. Those multi-roper loads he mentioned.

Chuck amusedly claps.

“Not bad, not bad. I’d say that’s worth a 10% tip.”

He grins.

“I’m not sure you have anywhere… convenient, to put the money, though. Do you still want it now?”

Zoe: She smiles a faint, defeated smile; something grateful and demure, yet betraying inferiority. That’s what he likes in his women, isn’t it?

She nods.

“10% of what? Unless you’re going to get me 10% of the way off.”

He will find that quite hard to do.

“…not that I don’t want cash,” she adds, blushing.

GM: Chuck’s still grinning.

He looks like he enjoys that quite a bit.

“I liked this, and 10% of a $500 upper-range escort is $50, so $50.”

“That’s around how much they charge for additional kinks too.”

“Unless you’d rather accept payment in getting partly off.”

Zoe: She shakes her head, rolling her shoulders.

“I’ll take the cash.”

A pause.

“…will I be sleeping with you? Or the couch? Or…?”

GM: Chuck shrugs.

“I’ve got one bed. Couch is yours, or you can sleep with me if you’re naked, don’t hog the blankets, and don’t have cold feet.”

Zoe: Zoe muses on the thought.

On one hand, he’s Chuck. Being Chuck is reason enough to want to sleep on the couch.

On the other hand…

She’s alone. Completely. Utterly. Even someone like him is better than embracing a lonely heart.

“…if you don’t mind the company.”

She checks the clock. It can’t be bed time already. She hasn’t even eaten.

GM: Don’t they say no relationship is better than a bad relationship?

‘They’ probably haven’t gone through everything today that Zoe did.

It’s only moderately into the evening.

“I never mind a naked girl’s company,” smirks Chuck. “Be a couple hours before I hit the sheets.”

He flicks the TV back on.

Zoe: Zoe lifts herself off the floor and onto the sofa. She settles half a cushion away, then decides to shift closer.

Why does she want to cuddle him?

Right. Lonely.

“What is there to eat here?”

And where is that $50!?

GM: “There’s takeout in the fridge,” says Chuck. “Frozen shit in the freezer. Help yourself.”

He tucks his dick back into his sweatpants.

Zoe: She pushes herself off the sofa, sweeping into the kitchen. Her fingernails dragon on the countertops she passes, and she pulls open the freezer.

Mozzarella sticks? Mother would kill her.

Perfect.

Into the oven they go!

Ugh. Another thirty minutes before she can eat.

GM: Mozarella sticks, frozen pizzas, Hot Pockets, ice cream, and so many other bad to eat things.

Some have shorter cook times. But all entail waiting. Unless she wants to gorge on ice cream.

Gorge on ice cream naked.

Zoe: Now what?

She can’t put on clothes, which means she can’t go out. Not that she wants to.

She can’t even leave the apartment. Not without being arrested for indecency.

Zoe leans on the counter, crossing her arms at the wrists, and droops her cheek onto her palms, looking at him.

“I guess we hang out now?”

GM: “I guess so,” says Chuck as the TV plays. It looks like an action movie of some kind. There’s an exploding helicopter.

He’s sweeping over what parts of her he can see, though.

“Damn, you’re hot. I’d want you to blow me if you just hadn’t.”

Zoe: From the other side of the counter, angled as she leans, he can only see the curvature of her rear.

She glances to the oven. 29 minutes. Probably 29:50, as she only just set the timer. It doesn’t show how many seconds.

“So I’ve been told.”

She speaks each word as if in time with a metronome, playing up the advantage he just unveiled.

“Lucky. Lucky. You.”

GM: “Yep,” grins Chuck, eyes resting on that shapely rear.

“I think we’ll do anal, tomorrow. I want to ram your ass. Really fuckin’ ram it.”

Zoe: “As long as you use lube and warm me up first,” she shrugs. Apparently, it’s not something is overly concerned over, done right.

She moves back to the sofa, sitting against him.

“Get your fantasies while you can.”

I need a job.

GM: He addresses her breasts as he talks.

He makes no pretensions of doing otherwise.

“I sure will.”

Zoe: She clicks her tongue. Typical.

“…y’sure you don’t want to go again? You look like I’ll be half consumed before my dinner is done. Or we can watch a movie.”

In which case, she’ll probably pass out, and she knows it.

GM: “I got off less than five minutes ago. My dick’s gonna be sore. We can watch a movie and go again at the end.”

“Or mid-way through, whatever.”

Zoe: She chews her lip, looking up at him. Chris could go twice. Sometimes three times.

Hm.

She nestles into his arm and turns to watch the movie.

GM: It’s got a lot of explosions. The protagonist is some kind of special forces badass who leads an elite team of special forces badasses who kill werewolves. It’s Action Bill and the Danger Squad. It actually seems to be a TV show rather than a movie.

It’s dark outside. Rain steadily pounds against the windows in thick sheets. The living room is warm and dry. She can smell the cheese sticks warming in the oven. Chuck seems amply content to have a hot naked girl curled up against him.

It’s not how she’d expected to spend her evening, but it beats sleeping on the streets.

Or swallowing her pride before her friends.

Zoe: She retrieves the sticks the moment they ding, excited for something for the first time all day. She’s even able to find some marinara sauce in fridge! Yum.

The girl returns to her seat beside her Master-for-the-month and enjoys her meal, yelping when an errant stand of cheese lands on her bare thigh. At least it isn’t on his sofa, and at least it doesn’t leave more than a little red mark.

It doesn’t take long for her to pass out once she’s eaten. At least the plate makes it to the coffee table.

Despite how she’s looked down on Chuck every day before today, and despite how she’s been abused into a deal—in her eyes—to keep out of true homelessness, he’s earned some respect from her. Maybe it’s Stockholm Syndrome of a sort. Maybe not. She holds her end of their deal, and he does his.


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Story Fourteen, Zoe I

“I’m so disappointed in you."
Rosalyn Kelly


Wednesday afternoon, 30 March 2016

GM: “I’m cutting you off, Zoe.”

Those aren’t words Zoe expected to hear. Then again, neither was she expecting to find her mother and several of the woman’s staff in her Giani Building apartment after getting home from a long day at Tulane.

Pic.jpg
Rosalyn Kelly is a tall woman with silver hair that would be “prematurely white” on a woman who doesn’t wear it as well, but she does wear it well. Pale-skinned and slender-framed, the all-white woman cuts a striking figure in her preferred black pantsuits. The distantly professional, camera-ready, poised and confident smile that typically graces her lips is absent today. Instead, they’re set in a motionless line. Her features look still enough to be carved from stone. Her blue eyes, fixed on Zoe, don’t seem to so much as blink.

Zoe knows her mother well enough to know that the woman is livid.

Maybe it’s because of the bag of cocaine her PA is gingerly holding.

“Pack your things,” Rosalyn says shortly. “You’re evicted. You’re on your own.”

Zoe: Zoe has heard the phrase ‘swallow your heart’ before. The meaning isn’t lost on her, but she surmises it isn’t the very real sensation that it’s lingering so far up her throat that she can almost chew on it.

How? How did she found out? Does her mother have cameras installed in her apartment? Did she hire a private detective to follow her around? Did she hire a thief to break into her room on some white-hat greater-good-of-the-family crusade?

Zoe’s mind races from thought to thought, discarding paths of action as quickly as they arrive. No. No. No. Wrong. Impossible. No way out. A chill runs through her, pulling what color remains from that flush of embarrassed guilt.

“I…”

She stammers a word; a syllable; a single utterance, before the dryness of her mouth cracks a lip and presses her silence again.

Why did she pick now of all times to play the mother? She could have called. She could have texted. Hey, get out. You promised.

She did promise. Years ago, by that point, but she had given her word all the way back during her junior year of high school that she was done with the scene.

She can lie.

No. She’ll only embarrass herself.

The girl collects herself, smoothing her blouse and looking up at her mother for the first time since she’d uttered her decree.

“…how?”

GM: “Well, honey, just…” starts her father’s voice.

Pic.jpg It’s from a Sunpad held by another one of Rosalyn’s staff. Bob Kelly looks like he’s in his D.C. congressional office, if the surroundings, nearby American flag, and suit he’s wearing are any indication. Zoe’s father is a younger man than his wife, but he’s not aged as gracefully. Where Rosalyn seemingly “got her aging over with” in a single quick go, and looks better for it, Bob feels like he’s trying to hold onto his youth like a fat kid refusing to let an ice cream tub be pried from his pudgy fingers. He’s got a shorter frame and tubby belly that his slender wife doesn’t have, more wrinkles along his face, and limper brown hair that’s starting to turn noticeably gray. He’s got a wider, easier smile that crinkles his eyes in a way that Rosalyn’s doesn’t.

Right now he’s not smiling, though.

“…look, we’re very disappointed in you, right now, but jus-”

“That’s your problem,” says Rosalyn, interrupting her husband without looking at the screen.

“No third chances, Zoe. You gave us your word. Collect your things and get out.”

Zoe: “I—”

More stumbling over her words! Dammit, Zoe, get it together! She knows her immediate lack of an explanation is a more sure sign of guilt than any hard evidence, even if said hard evidence hangs in a tiny bag before her.

What more can she do than collect the cracking foundation of her dignity and call it intentional aging?

Zoe sets her jaw, challenging.

“After all I’ve done. So many years of everything you asked for; not a hair out of place, not a step off the path you chose.”

She pauses.

“That’s it, then? No explanation? Not even a conversation?”

GM: “Do you have an explanation for the cocaine?” asks her mother. “The weed? The LSD? Oh, yes, Zoe. We know. I don’t recall you having any conversations with us about resuming your drug habits.”

“Look, honey, this isn’t the end of the world,” says her father. “You can still have a future. You’re not going to get arrested. But there needs to be a consequence for your lying to us, and your mother and I feel this is an appropriate one.”

Zoe: She hardly allows her father to finish a sentence before cutting in.

“A future?! My future was fine! Months away!” Her words are worse than venom. The acid in her tone can etch the diamonds that line her mother’s watch.

You. You are risking my future,” she spits, raising a bony finger to the woman.

“Stop this nonsense and the future will be fine. The family will be fine..”

GM: Rosalyn’s face cool face takes in her daughter’s vitriol like it’s spittle getting flecked over those same diamonds.

“That’s the first correct statement you’ve uttered, Zoe. The family will be fine.”

Bob lets his wife talk.

“You may retain your use of the Kelly name, but you will keep nothing else to drag us down with you. Your car will stay here. President McGregor will be terminating your doctoral program.”

Rosalyn glances at her watch. Zoe can make out her furious visage reflected in the tiny clear gems.

“I’ve spent enough time on this. Get your things and get out, or security can escort you out. Your choice.”

Zoe: Rage froths over the top of Zoe’s meager ability to compose herself. She wants so, so badly to take that anger inside her out on her mother; to harm her, and wound her, and make her realize just how wrong she is.

Why not? What should stop her? Everything she cares about—her career, her family, her livelihood, and her life—is being taken from her.

“I don’t have a suitcase. Not here. Do you expect me to don 12 pairs of underwear and 6 pairs of jeans? Or would you like me to live in the clothes I have on?”

Zoe takes a step toward, then past her mother, and just as she catches the expression on her face, she feels herself crack inside. She doesn’t lash out, though her arms tense with desire to strike. She’s punched others before, but never in such a vitriolic response.

Tersely, she adds, “…I’d like you all to leave for the evening. You will find I respect your wishes by sunset, and you won’t hear from me for some time. Check the news, dear mother. You may yet find the Kelly name has more air time.”

GM: Rosalyn cups her daughter’s cheek in her hand, as if Zoe is but a small child again.

“Oh, Zoe,” she murmurs.

The woman’s voice is almost tender.

Almost.

But her eyes remain as hard and as cool as the diamonds along her wristwatch.

“Don’t mistake your privileges being revoked as your being released from responsibility to us. You are not. The maintenance of the Kelly name is still your responsibility—call it partial repayment for my giving birth to you and spending lord knows how many hundreds of thousands of dollars over 26 years. I’d say that’s quite a debt you owe, now wouldn’t you?”

Rosalyn runs her hand up along Zoe’s hair.

Finally, she smiles.

“No, my dear. Let me be clear with you. If you should wind up in the news as part of some ill-conceived revenge publicity stunt—you will not ever be able to attempt such a thing again. There are far more drastic and permanent measures your grandfather and I can employ to secure your compliance. I trust that I am perfectly understood?”

Bob coughs from the tablet screen.

“You should really listen to your mother, Zoe.”

Zoe: With a sweetness so sickening it would make even the fattest of children cringe and vomit, Zoe answers.

“Clear as the sun is warm and the rain is wet.”

She believes them. She harbors no doubt that they could employ all manners of underhanded, illicit tactics to keep her silent; or, at the least to keep her from soiling the name.

Her mother had offered her all the reaffirmation she needed to hear, and she intends to use that information to close doors in her life, and to open others.

I’d say that’s quite a debt you owe, now wouldn’t you?

She is an investment. She has been an investment her entirely life. She knows that, of course, but until that moment—somewhere deep inside her—she harbored delusion that a mother’s love lay beneath it all.

Very well, Mother. War it is.

Unless she is stopped, she continues on up to her apartment.

GM: Rosalyn smiles at her daughter’s answer.

She doesn’t stop Zoe from turning away.

But it’s just as the younger Kelly takes her first step towards the bedroom that she calls,

“Zoe.”

She spreads her arms.

“Let’s have a hug.”

Zoe:

Zoe pauses.

What?

She looks back.

…no, she hasn’t opened the bag, so she hasn’t gotten into the cocaine. Maybe the LSD?

She raises a manicured brow, waiting silently for an explanation as to the sudden need for hugs. She’d had more hugs from a month-long fling than she had her whole life with her mother.

GM: No explanation is forthcoming.

Only her mother’s patiently outstretched arms.

Zoe: “Why now?”

GM: “Because I am your mother, Zoe, and because I have asked you for a hug.”

Zoe’s father coughs into his hand over the screen.

“You should really hug your mother, Zoe.”

Zoe: Zoe stands there for long enough that Rome returns from the ashes, conquers France, and goes drinking with Russia. Calculating, calculating, always calculating.

She takes a step toward her mother, hesitant as a tiger’s cub and rigid as a plank if wood, if as likely to snap as if she were made from balsa.

Why?

She holds an arm out. Just one.

GM: Her mother waits.

Patiently.

Arms still outstretched.

“Both arms, Zoe. Haven’t I taught you not to do anything by half-measures?”

Zoe: She wishes she was more athletic. If she’d joined weight training, she might be able to pop her mother’s eyeballs out with a hug.

All this is is a show of dominance; a confirmation that her disobedient cub still follows her mother’s orders.

She offers both arms, relenting both in will and in tension.

“I’m sorry.”

Play the game, Zoe.

GM: Rosalyn’s arms embrace her daughter and hold her close. She doesn’t say anything, for a while. Zoe feels her mother’s body pressed against hers. Registers the faint beating of her heart.

Her mother’s breath is a whisper against her ear.

Several special words, just for them.

Not for the help to hear.

Between mother and daughter.

“I’m so disappointed in you.”

Zoe: “I know.”

You can make this go away! It’s nothing like before! It’s just a little something; something to take the edge off! I could drop it immediately. Just pretend this never happened!

No. She knows the words won’t change anything. When Rosalyn Kelly is set in her mind, nothing will change that.

“I know.”

GM: Rosalyn strokes the back of her daughter’s head. Back and forth, against her head.

“I made you, Zoe. I carried you inside me, for nine months. A helpless little passenger inside of my body, utterly dependent for survival. Then I brought you out, into this world. Doesn’t that just seem so incredible, sometimes?”

Zoe: “Life is incredible, Mother.”

She believes it. Life is a private mysteries she’s wanted to solve for much of her life.

She swallows, biting back pride with it. False pride.

Play the game, Zoe.

“…is there any way I can earn your forgiveness, Mom?”

GM: Rosalyn holds her daughter close.

“I made you, Zoe. I created you. You are mine.”

She pulls away, just enough, to meet Zoe’s gaze in hers, though she does not release her arms.

“Say you are mine.”

Zoe: She recalls a distant exchange with Charlotte during their earlier years, in which they went back and forth on whether or not they should carry a weapon for defense and deterrent. A gun was out of the question—they were only 16! Mace seemed entirely too much work to acquire. A pocket knife, though? That was reasonable, and their parents might have approved it. Zoe didn’t feel it was necessary at the time, though, and in some dark chamber of her heart, she enjoyed the danger.

In this moment, she wishes she’d decided differently. She could carve her name into her mother’s perfect cheeks, rending that fatty meat asunder to stake her own claim.

Who will own who in the end, Mom?

“I’m yours. Always. I’ll earn your forgiveness. I’m sorry.”

It’s a hollow promise. Zoe knows—they both know—that the promise is an impossibility, each for their own reasons.

Unless Rosalyn adds more or stops here, she turns to collect her things.

GM: Charlotte thought mace was better. It’s a self-defense weapon. No one blinks twice at a girl with mace. A knife is harder to explain.

The tablet, meanwhile, is off. Zoe can guess her father’s motivations for not sticking around, absent even a goodbye.

Rosalyn kisses her daughter’s head.

“That’s a good girl.”

She turns to the help. A man who looks like a bodyguard in a dark suit.

“Watch her. Make sure she doesn’t leave with any drugs.”

There’s a clicking of heels against floor, and then Zoe’s mother leaves the apartment without a glance back, trailed by her PA.

Zoe: Oh, Dad, always the coward. You never were one to hang around once emotions flared, even so bitterly subtle as between Zoe and her mother, were you?

Click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click…

She watches her mother disappear through her apartment’s Giani, those incessant heels relentless in her head as if she were made a monkey’s symbol.

Finally, she looks to the security. Does she know him? Probably not. Hired help doesn’t tend to remain long under direct supervision by Rosalyn Kelly, save her most senior executives, who are paid well enough to endure her infernal expectations.

“Will you wait here, or would you like to help me fold my underwear?”

GM: The man leers at Zoe. He’s got the craggy face and the hard stares she’s come to recognize around ex-service members who’ve found employment as private security.

“You want me in your panties, huh?”

Zoe: “I prefer men who don’t look as if a culture of yogurt developed miniature nuclear warheads and found their faces used for a testing ground.”

It isn’t entirely true. Scars are stories, and Zoe finds them attractive. Depending. Really, she might consider him if she wasn’t bleeding frustration with her mother onto her staff. Maybe.

Whether he follows or not, she continues into her bedroom—attempting to slam the door on him if he does follow—and begins an attempt to cram her life into a laundry bag.

GM: The much larger man follows Zoe into her bedroom, easily forcing open the door she tries to slam. His craggy features turn uglier at Zoe’s taunting words.

“Mommy and Daddy are kicking you out, little girl. I’d watch that mouth of yours.”

Zoe: Zoe pauses, marveling at his audacity with her back turned. Even in her position-to-be, she’s still a member of the Kelly family, and Mommy and Daddy won’t stand for much brutality to get out on a member of their family.

Of course, they can make it disappear, if it does happen.

Hmn.

She decides it best not to retort and set to collecting her things. What can she fit into a mesh bag? Enough clothing to last a week, wrinkly as it will be? Her phone, though she’ll have to find public places to charge it. Her laptop. Even if they don’t let her keep that, her mostly-complete thesis is backed up on the cloud. Mommy can’t take that from her!

Shoes? Something comfortable. She puts those on. Boots? No, she doesn’t have room. Shit. Sandals? No. Just the shoes. She assumes her mother will throw out what isn’t taken.

Pillow? No room. Blanket? It’s warm. She shouldn’t be outside more than a few days. They won’t let her.

Right?

GM: The silence that answers that thought is deafening.

The large man, meanwhile, attentively watches her pack.

No drugs, said Mom.

Zoe: Pack, pack, pack. Zoe makes no effort in hiding what she stuffs in her bag, and no matter how closely Mr. Security watches, he won’t find find a single crumb of mushroom nor grain of cocaine. Not a one! Zoe has only just begun experimenting—just once or twice! She isn’t an addict. Not yet. It’s just a little something to take the stress off her workload.

Once she finishes packing, she turns to the man, gesturing to the door.

“Shall we?”

GM: The man follows her out, then closes and locks the door behind her. Zoe doesn’t ever remember giving him a key.

He gestures grandly down the hallway.

The elevator dings open. Chuck Pavaghi walks into the hall. He’s a handsome Indian-American man around Zoe’s age, dressed in a suit with the jacket open and the tie undone as though he just got off from work. He lives on the same floor. His dad developed the property. She’s not sure if he even pays rent. She is sure, though, that many of the girls who visit his apartment are prostitutes.

Chuck_Pavaghi.jpg
“Huh,” he remarks, glancing between Zoe and the unfriendly-looking man locking her apartment door.

Zoe: Huh indeed. She glances at him, meeting his eyes with the same polite ferocity she offers any she considers of her echelon. A faint smile follows, prescriptive and polite.

Then she continues on out.

GM: “Parents giving you the boot?” Chuck asks, calling after her.

The Pavaghi clan, her mother has sniffed more than once, are new money.

Zoe: She pauses, turning back to him.

“Life never ceases to surprise you, does it, Chuck?”

She shrugs.

GM: Chuck smirks.

“You can stay with me, if you don’t have a place lined up.”

“My rent’s very affordable.”

Zoe: And soil herself with the filth of a monkey playing sophistication? No.

“Let me collect myself, hmn? Mommy dearest doesn’t tell me what to do anymore. Maybe.”

She won’t risk closing a door, but that will not be her first option.

GM: “Won’t find a better rate for a building this nice,” says Chuck, and lets himself in to his apartment.

Zoe: Zoe waggles her phone at him as she walks into the elevator. “Text me, Chuck. I know you’ve got it already.”

It’s just like Chuck to skim the records of tenants for his own slimy use. She’s almost entirely certain of her assertion.

GM: Chuck winks as he disappears behind his door.

“Heh. You’re broke,” says the man she’s with.

“Unless he makes you fuck him.”

He shakes his head and starts towards the elevator.

“C’mon. Don’t got all day.”

Zoe: She looks to Mr. Security.

“That’s the implication, dear. When you’ve all the money any of the masses only dream of, collecting more becomes a game of score. The real power is in using it to bend others to your will.”

She pauses.

“Wouldn’t it be a delicious victory for him to bend his superior to his will?”

Literally and figuratively. She smiles at the thought. For the first time, she regards her escort with a modicum of thought, as if she realizes that there is a person inside that cratered skull of his.

“What’s your name?”

GM: “Sure would be,” says the man. He’s got a shaved head, dark skin, thick arms, and a full beard.

“Trayvon.”

Zoe: Of course his name is Trayvon. Zoe shuffles her things about, offering the man the courtesy of a handshake.

“I know you’re just doing your job. There’s no bad feelings for that. Zoe.”

GM: “I heard,” says Trayvon.

He regards the handshake with some amusement as he returns it. His hand is much larger, ticker, and darker than hers, but he doesn’t try to crush her hand.

Mom has always scolded her for her limp handshakes.

Zoe: Limp as it is, she squeezes back with a level of effort that exhibits intent without trying too hard, as a child would.

“I don’t suppose you have any advice on where the recently-evicted might go, hmn?”

Assuming he does not, she looks up a “So you’ve just been evicted…” article.

GM: Trayvon presses the button for the elevator and follows her inside.

“You can stay with me if you pay rent on your back,” he answers helpfully.

The article isn’t very helpful either.

Zoe: She restrains the disappointed sigh that she wants so badly to express.

Typical. Fucking typical.

“Your offer isn’t quite so strong as Chuck’s. There’s no chance at amicability, is there? It’s not as if I’m going to disobey the orders you were given.”

GM: Trayvon shrugs.

“Don’t got nothing ’gainst you. You wanna hang around the lobby or something?”

“But if you want advice, go crash with a friend. Get a job and help pay for shit.”

Zoe: She shakes her head.

No, she decidedly does not. What Zoe wants most is to find some time by herself. Alone. Privacy. She had tried to coerce her mother to take her minions and leave, but she’d left this crass piece of work with her.

What Zoe wants is a place to let her emotions out without fear of judgment, and she’s not sure she has that right now. Not a single place nor a person in her life. Not whom she trusts at this level of catastrophe anyway.

She taps a free finger on her hip, her panic becoming more evident.

She’d understood what was happening to her the moment her mother made it clear. A led to B, B led to C. She made and unfortunate decision, so she was evicted. Yet in that moment, as the pair step out of the elevator, the true weight of the result hits her: she has nowhere to fucking go, she has no idea where her next meal is going to come from, she’ll probably be sleeping on the pavement, and she may actually have to take up Chuck’s offer if she wants to avoid any of it.

Sorry, Trayvon. No way in hell.


Wednesday evening, 30 March 2016

GM: Trayvon escorts Zoe out of the Giani Building. He ‘asks’ for her keys. Then he leaves. Just like that, Zoe is left standing alone on a downtown intersection. Cars honk and blare as they drive past. Crowds of pedestrians walk by Zoe, indifferent to her plight. It’s an odd thought that all of these people have homes and destinations. Many are just getting off work. They have dinners they’ll sit down to. They have beds they’ll go to sleep in. They don’t consider where those things come from. They don’t have to.

Overhead, it’s starting to rain. It’s a faint drizzle, but Zoe can already feel wet pitter-patters against her head.

Even simple shelter from the elements is no longer something to take for granted.

At least Chuck’s apartment must be dry.

Zoe: Chuck’s apartment would be drier for his trying to woo her. His very aura sucks the sexual energy out of the room.

Okay, Zoe. You’re a smart one. You’ve been in worse situations before. You’ll figure this one out, too.



No you haven’t, and no you won’t.

The voice nags at her, small as it is; that miniscule questioning of her confidence.

It would be raining, wouldn’t it? She looks up at the sky, holding out her key—the car key and the apartment key only—to Trayvon. She doesn’t offer him the dignity of a farewell when he snatches them away.

Once he leaves her, she taps her phone feverishly. Contacts.. C.. H.. R.. Call.

“Chris? You there?”

GM: The phone rings.

Wouldn’t that neatly solve all of her problems? To just stay at his place? Once she has solid ground under her, once she has a place to eat, sleep, and bathe again, she can work things out at Tulane. This doesn’t have to destroy her life. She can complete her PhD at Chris’ place.

The phone rings.

And rings.

“Hey, it’s Chris. Leave a message and I’ll get back to you,” sounds her boyfriend’s assured voice.

Just the voice she wants telling her everything is gonna be all right and of course she can stay at his place.

If not for the fact that it’s a recording and she’s newly homeless.

Beeeep.

Zoe: Asshole!

He doesn’t deserve it. She knows he’s probably busy with his own workday. Why did she have to pick someone with ethics-apparent?

“Pick up the phone you ass! I—something happened. I need somewhere to think, and—it’s going to rain soon. Pretty badly. Shit. Call me when you get this, okay?”

She hangs up, following her voicemail with a simple ‘call me’ text.

Shit.

What’s nearby? A coffee shop? That’ll do. At the very least, it’s out of the rain. That’s something, right? Keeping dry? They know her there. She won’t be out of place.

GM: There’s a Pequod’s just half a block down. Inside, there’s calm music and rows of displayed baked goods. People sip their drinks, munch of snacks, and wait in line at the register, despite a sign to Please! Ask a barista about your mobile order. Many of the customers look like downtown professionals. The seats are wooden and look uncomfortable to stay in for hours, but at least it’s dry. Rain patters against the windows.

It’s too bad she can’t stay forever.

Hopefully she won’t have to.

Zoe: Uncomfortable by intent. Her mother had taught her enough about business to intuit design decisions that appear either innocuous or as being cheap, but are intended to further your cashflow.

Zoe takes a seat, setting her laundry bag of life beneath the table. She draws a breath, smooths her hair out, and checks her phone.

Nothing yet?

She moves down the list, calling each of her friends in turn.

Charlotte? She’s far, but .. surely she’ll answer.

Susan? Do nuns carry phones?

Sami? If she isn’t stoned out of her mind or thirteen and a half inches down her latest beau, she might help.

Another.

And another.

And another, and another, and another.

Meanwhile, she pulls out her laptop and navigates to her bank account.

Please, please, please. Don’t take that away from me. You can’t leave me with nothing.

GM: A few people look at Zoe’s laundry bag.

She becomes acutely aware that one else in the coffee shop has a laundry bag with them.

Does she look homeless? She’s much too clean and well-dressed, surely.

It’s while her first call is outgoing that the display for Whitney Hancock’s Personal Online Banking pops up. The blue and white webpage has a picture of an attractive young woman smiling widely as she navigates her laptop from the comfort of her tastefully decorated home. Chris once remarked that, “This is the face of someone who found out her test results were ‘HIV negative’, not ‘I accessed my online banking account.’”

Zoe pulls up her account balance.

It reads $0.

Apparently, Rosalyn has as much control over her children’s finances as she does her husband’s.

Zoe: What color remains in her face drains as if that webpage had unplugged a drain in the base of her neck.

$0.

Even the money she’d been given through her PhD grant had been drained; money she was intended to live on, if she weren’t a daughter of privilege.

Isn’t that theft? The money was in her account. Her bank. Her login. She pictures her mother as that sneering face, and if not for the lingering thought that she can’t just get another, she might have launched the laptop across the shop.

She can’t even buy a coffee.

Where the fuck are you, Chris?

Her eyes well up as her emotions finally leak through her curated exterior, and she begins to cry frustrated tears.

GM: $0.

You can do that with bank accounts, easily. Set them up so other people can make deposits and withdrawals. Don’t even need to be an executive at the bank to make it happen.

Meanwhile, her calls go out, one after another.

“Hello, you’ve reached Charlotte Malveaux. Please leave your name and number, and I’ll return your call as soon as I can.”

Beep.

“We’re sorry you have reached a number that has been disconnected or is no longer in service. If you feel this is in error, please check the number dialed, and please try again.”

Beep.

“It’s Sami. Leave a message.”

Beep.

Beep.

Beep.

The tears run down her face as she shakes by herself. Several nearby patrons cast her disapproving looks. Two start whispering and pointing at her. At her laundry bag.

She can’t even buy a coffee.

Zoe: Every failed call exacerbates her crying. Tears become a stream. A stream becomes sobs. Sobs become—

She slams her laptop shut, stuffs it in her laundry bag, taking enough care to wrap it in some clothing so it wouldn’t get wet, then dashes out into the rain. At least the coffee shop has an overhang to keep her dry for the moment.

She pulls her phone out again, hovering over another name: Gabriella.

No. Her mother would have already warned her sisters and brother against contact. She doesn’t want to land them in any trouble, either.

Her heart beats against her chest as if it, too, wanted to leave her alone in the lukewarm rain.

Her fingers dance without conscious thought.

‘Mom, I’m sorry. I made a mistake. Lesson learned. It’s been ten years. Ten years of work, and my mistakes kept the others from similar mistakes. Can we talk?’

GM: Gabriella is probably sitting down to dinner with her husband and children, right about now.

Zoe had made fun of her for it, for being such a picture-perfect housewife. But a warm dinner with an actual roof over her head sounds like just the thing, right about now.

The drizzle isn’t just a drizzle anymore. New Orleans weather is unpredictable. Now it’s a true April shower. Fat droplets of rain thunder down against the overhead, thud-thud-thud-thud-thud. There’s a loud honk from traffic as Zoe frantically types into her phone, and then the screech of tires. Water from the street splashes all over Zoe’s pants and laundry bag as a car blares past.

There’s no response from her mother.

Zoe: FUCK! FUCK FUCK CUNT WHORE SHIT BITCH!! WHY THE FUCK DID I CHOOSE SUCH A THIN TOP ON A RAINY DAY?!!

FUCK!”

She kicks a nearby—something, anything! She’s losing her calm, and she doesn’t really care who the target is.

It isn’t trash can, as she hopes. It’s a puppy.

Oh fuck.

She puts one foot before the other before anyone can stop and accost her for her outburst. She wants to be anywhere. Anywhere but here.

GM: The corgi gives a strangled yelp as Zoe’s foot connects with its flank, kicking it several inches into the air before it crashes to earth against pavement. The dog scrunches its eyes and whines pathetically as its owner scoops it up in her arms.

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“Fuck you, cunt!” she yells at Zoe’s retreating form, her voice absolutely livid. “Fuck you!”

“The fuck’s your problem!?”

Bereft of the overhead’s shelter, rain beats down over Zoe’s exposed body. Soon she’s wet everywhere.

Wet, cold, and homeless.

Unless her boyfriend calls back.

Zoe: Guilt overwhelms her. She allowed her anger and frustration with her punishment wound a puppy! A puppy!

Zoe tears down an alleyway, intending to break line of sight with any who saw her abuse that poor, defenseless, adorable, snugglable animal.

No, Chuck. I’m not going to call you. Even if I had your number.

GM: Rain continues to pummel her. It’s even lonelier in the alleyway. A homeless man is rifling through a garbage dumpster. Several more huddle against buildings away from the rain, faces buried in their sleeping bags.

Is there where she will sleep?

Maybe not.

Because then her phone rings.

It’s Chris.

Zoe: She slaps the phone so hard to her ear that the earring digs in to her skin.

“Chris? I—the rain is loud!”

GM: “Y-yeah, I c-an-n he-ar it!” he answers, his voice garbled against the downpour.

“Y-ou sai- soe-thig happ-ned?”

Zoe: “Y-yeah! Can you pick me up? Meet me at the coffee shop across from my apartment!”

GM: “Y-y-ah, s-ur, g-mme—ten?”

The rain continues to pour down. Her hair is drenched.

She’d say she should’ve packed an umbrella, but at least she won’t need to now.

Zoe: “Y-yeah! Okay! Ten minutes! Love you, bye!”

She remembers what joy feels like, and she’s going to give him a night he’ll never forget. Not even their eventual wedding night will compare!

She sprints back down the alley, back around the corner, past the site of her attempt to send a puppy to the moon, and skids to a halt under the overhang of the coffee shop.

GM: Zoe picks a good time to get out from under the rain. She clearly didn’t send the puppy to the moon, because it’s raining cats and dogs. Everyone looks like they have an umbrella out. Water steadily patters down against the pavement.

The minutes pass.

People come in and out of the coffee shop.

They come.

They go.

A clerk passes by.

Cars roll on by.

One’s his car model—oh, no. Not him. ’Nother guy behind the wheel.

The rain pours.

Zoe: At least he’s cute.

Maybe he needs a girlfriend.

GM: Maybe he wouldn’t want her.

After all, she looks like a mess, between her soaked hair and clothes, and her equally soaked laundry bag. Her pants and bag are streaked with muddy brown.

She’s been crying, too, but maybe that’s hard to make out past her already rain-slick skin.



Zoe: Natural beauty only runs so far when life kicks you in the gut and spills your entrails all over the sidewalk to play tea leaves.

Surprise: the reading isn’t great!

She calls him again.

GM: It’s easier to hear under the overhead.

“Hey, it’s Chris. Leave a message and I’ll get back to you.”

Beeeeep.

Plunk-plunk-plunk, goes the rain.

She’s cold.

Zoe: She texts him, ‘Chris WTF? It’s freezing! Are you okay?’

GM: There’s no response.

New Orleans isn’t that cold. Not really.

But it’s wet.

Very wet.

It’s a lot colder, too, after your mom has evicted you and left you without a penny to your name.

It’s been ten minutes.

Maybe he’s about to show.

You can’t always expect someone to arrive in exactly ten minutes when they say ten minutes.

Can you?

Zoe: She knows her impatience isn’t something to project on him, but— well, he’ll understand once she’s in the car and can talk to him.

The girl draws a breath, centering herself.

He’ll be here. He’ll be here. He’ll be here. He’ll be here.

GM: The rain plunks.

And plunks.

And plunks.

And plunks.

The numbers on the time section of Zoe’s phone go up.

And up.

And up.

And up.

Five minutes late.

Six minutes late.

Eight minutes late.

Zoe: This is fine. This is fine.

GM: Ten minutes late.

Zoe: She has to pee.

‘Paying customers only.’

GM: And she’s very cold.

It isn’t that New Orleans is cold.

It’s that she’s wearing wet clothes, in the rain, in the evening.

Standing on her feet under an overhead.

Waiting.

Twelve minutes late.

Fourteen minutes late.

Sixteen minutes late.

Zoe: ‘Hey, I know I can be bitchy about time, but I really need you right now, Chris.’

GM: Eighteen minutes late.

Twenty minutes.

Twenty-two minutes.

She’s hungry.

Her stomach rumbles.

Zoe: ‘Chris?’

GM: She had to skip lunch at Tulane today.

Zoe: ‘If ever there’s a time where I need you to be here, this is it’

GM: But he is here.

She’s not sure how she didn’t notice it.

No, she is sure.

Because she was looking down the street. Not into the coffee shop.

Into the coffee shop, where he’s comfortably parked at table, with a half-eaten pastry and tall cup of coffee.

Sitting next to another girl.

They’re hunched over his phone, smiling and laughing.

Zoe: She blinks.

No.

It can’t be him.

She turns back to the road.

Then back to the shop.

Had she not seen him before?

She walks in.

Is it him? Is she seeing things?

“Chris?”

GM: It sure looks like him.

Image

Zoe: “Chris,” she says more firmly. She looks like a drowned animal, hair stuck in a giant, matted knot down her back.

“What the fuck? You didn’t tell me you were here.”

She doesn’t register the other person yet.

GM: Chris Downs is a 20-something man with combed blonde hair, a lean frame that’s dressed in his work clothes, and a five-o-clock shadow from a long day at the DA’s office.

She doesn’t look like just a drowned animal. She looks like a drowned animal lugging along a fat wet laundry bag that’s caked with dirty street water.

Do homeless people look like this?

Are the baristas who didn’t stare at her suspiciously doing that now?

She doesn’t register them either.

Chris looks up as his girlfriend approaches.

For a second, he looks surprised. Genuinely taken aback.

“Oh. Wow.”

Then he starts quietly laughing.

So does the girl he’s with.

Zoe: She lofts a brow. Ding, 192nd floor. Oh yeah, that done.

“…is there a reason you’re laughing? I assure you, none of what happened is funny.”

Her words are colder than even she is.

“I need a shower. Come on, let’s go back to your place. I’ll explain aft—”

And then it hits her.

“Who is she?”

GM: The girl looks around Zoe’s and Chris’ age. Maybe mid-twenties. She’s got fair skin, red hair, and is dressed in jeans and a blouse. Stylish but casual.

“You look like you already got a shower,” says the girl.

She and Chris start laughing again.

Harder.

“Do you want to tell her?” says the girl.

Chris links his hand through hers on the table.

“Oh… she’s my girlfriend,” he grins.

The other girl smiles.

Zoe: Zoe doesn’t.

She feels the animalistic need to snap building inside her. She wants to hurt him; to hurt her; to carve that smile from her simpering, whore face.

Is it worth it, Zoe? Is she worth going to jail over? It’d be warm there.

She draws a breath, cooling that raging beast inside her. Zoe has always had a fiery temper. Never has she quite so badly wanted to let it reign.

“Say this is a joke and I’ll forgive you.”

GM: “Okay,” grins Chris.

“It’s a joke.”

Then he turns and french-kisses the other girl. She smirks at Zoe as she wraps her hand around his neck, tongue fondling his.

Zoe: No, no, no. No. No. No. No. No.

No.

No.

No no.

She doesn’t remember turning, nor the rain whipping into her face. All she knows is if she doesn’t leave, she’ll carve the eyes from his sockets.

How can one life—one great, successful life— have fallen so far in a span of hours?

Sh texts: Mom. Please. You’ve made your point. I’ll move home if you need. You can access my phone. It won’t happen again. I can’t deal with what’s happening!

GM: She doesn’t remember turning.

She doesn’t remember rushing out the door.

She doesn’t remember the rain whipping into her face.

But she hears the shouts.

They’re coming from the coffee shop.

Chris is slumped face-down over the table. People are making a commotion around him. He doesn’t move.

There is no response from the text to her mother.

Zoe: Zoe pauses long enough to catch her breath.

She rubs her nose on a rain-soaked sleeve, sniffling. Fuck him. He probably has half the coffee shop roaring.

Is her mother really going to carry on their cold war? She’s relented. Zoe has admitted defeat and given her concessions. What further terms does her mother have?

No answer, still.

She has one final person who might help her, and draws her phone out under an overhang a few blocks from the shop to call her.

“Ms. Tantsy?”

GM: The phone rings several times.

“Namaste,” greets Brijbala Chugtai, the third-gender Pakistani self-proclaimed yogi who works at Tante’s. “Dis is Tante Lescaut’s Occult Curiosities, Horoscopes, & Palmistry, how may ve help you today?”

Back at the coffee shop, people are making increasingly frantic motions around Chris.

It looks as if they’re administering CPR to his chest.

Zoe: “I— I— I—” she pant-blubbers.

“I need help—is Ms. Tantsy there?”

GM: “Yes, Tansy is in,” answers Brijbala. “If you need help, she vill do vhat she can.”

Zoe: She realizes that between the rain and her panic and her crying and her snot-covered face, she probably doesn’t sound like herself.

“It’s—Zoe. I—I don’t have anything. Anyone. Can I come by?”

GM: “Oh. Hello, Zoe. I didn’t recognize you. Ov course you may.”

Chris still isn’t moving as responders continue their chest compressions. His new girlfriend looks like she’s screaming.

Zoe: Her lips part, but the words don’t come. The panic inside the coffee shop; it’s not Chris ranting or raving or mocking her, nor sucking attention to his new toy, as he did for so many years.

It’s him. Him unresponsive. Unconscious. Dying.

Dead?

She can’t see him.

She forgets the phone still pressed to her ear so hard that the screen threatens to crack on the point of her earring. She forgets the thickly-accented woman affirming her question.

Brick by brick, block by block, her life is being dismantled. Destroyed. Trounced and trashed as if an angry child kicked over their sibling’s Lego set for no better reason than to see them cry.

Zoe has hurt before, but this isn’t pain. This isn’t like when their dog Milo died, nor when she was told her first crush liked someone else. This isn’t like the cancer scare her sister had a year or two earlier, nor when she thought she’d caught Chris cheating last summer.

This is pure, bony, undiluted, unmitigated agony, delivered straight to the flush core of her gated heart with such a potency that its rot threatens to consume her from within.

Yet, what will remain: death and a memory, or a monster? The lonely chill of a hollow room, or the all-consuming ice of a hollow being?

She tugs her bag up out of the puddle seeping into ruined garments at the bottom, finally answering a voice in her ear that may or may not be there anymore. She isn’t sure how it’s been.

“Th-thanks.”


Wednesday evening, 30 March 2016

GM: Tante Lescaut’s is almost ten blocks away.

No big deal, when Zoe had a car.

No big deal, when Zoe could take a Ryde or a streetcar or a taxi or what-fucking-ever.

No big deal, when Zoe wasn’t a broke nobody.

But Zoe is a broke nobody, now, without a dime to her name.

So she walks.

It’s possibly the most miserable walk of her life. The rain doesn’t let up. It cascades down in sheets. In buckets. Zoe is soaked to the bone. Her hair is all but plastered against her skull. Her shoes fill with water and wetly squelch with each step. Her laundry bag of clothes is utterly soaked. That makes it heavy. Zoe did all right at track, but she’s always been terrible at lifting. She can’t carry the bag. She has to drag it, with both hands. It’s impossibly awkward. There are curbs she has to drag the bag up, then pull it down. Sometimes she doesn’t see where she’s going. Maybe it’s the rain in her eyes. Maybe it’s tears. Something happens to the bag at some point, though, because her clothes start falling out onto the street. Cars run over several before she can snatch them back up and stuff them into the falling-apart bag. She’s not sure when the hole appeared in it. The several holes.

An umbrella might’ve kept her drier, but this would be even more awkward without a free hand.

Then again, maybe it wouldn’t have kept her dry. Cars don’t feel like they notice her. Or care about when she crosses the street. They blare past her, splashing her legs with more dirty street water. She can’t get any wetter, but her pants and shoes are starting to turn a distinct shade of brown, not to mention it feels awful getting her feet soaked all over again.

People stare at her, too.

At the soaked and dirty and umbrella-less and hysterical-looking girl who’s heaving and ho-ing this soaked, raggedy bag after her.

They stare at her with disgust. With scorn.

She looks like a crazy homeless person.

Is that wrong?

Because she is homeless.

Is she crazy, too?

Zoe: So she walks.

And walks.

And walks.

And walks.

She walks past the wounded puppy. It recoils and yelps.

She feels bad.

So she walks.

And recovers another piece of clothing.

Then a second.

She leaves the third. It was a gift from Chris. She didn’t wear it much, anyway. Not her style.

Why did she pack it?

Because she wore it for him.

Sometimes.

She walks to Tante’s.

Then past it.

She passes a pizza parlor. Her favorite pizza parlor. She’s so hungry; a thousand times hungrier than before Chris—

Her stomach states it’s anger. She apologizes.

No money.

Chuck doesn’t sound so bad.

Beef chuck, not Terrorist Chuck.

Though she’d like to see both in an oven.

Separate ovens. She doesn’t want the flavors to mingle.

She walks back to Tante’s. This time she finds the door, pushing it open.

She looks like a rat. She feels like a drowned one.

The smell of pizza lingers.

Zoe au Pain:
Prep time—10 minutes
Cook time—eternity


Mix one mistake with one cup excuses and one cup good intentions.
Add regret to taste.
Mix in large bowl
Chill overnight
Present to Mom


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