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Chapter Seven

I once heard people refer to fate having a comical side– throwing twists and turns into our lives that would eventually lead us to that desired ending where life would be that perfect mix of euphoria and meloncholia.

Well if that was so, then fate had a sick sense of humor.

My cabin was empty with the exception of my barely existent being that continued to gaze out the window as fields turned to bodies of water, that then turned to roads–cold, lifeless roads. This train had to reach its destination eventually. It had been days since I set foot on land that did not move beneath my feet. It had been days since I breathed the fresh air originating from the Earth and not the fabricated scent of pine flowing out of the vents all around the train.

I leaned my head back against the soft cushion of the seat and shut my eyes to bask myself in the freshly distributed scent that filled every crevice of my cabin. It was at that moment that my hands moved from my sides and to my lap before slowly settling on my stomach.

“What future is there when you aren’t here to share it with me?”

___________________________________________________________________________________

I believed that things had to get really bad before they would get better, or at least that’s what Ian said every time I came home coated in sweat that wasn’t mine, with dried up tears on my face. So as I folded the thick stack of mint bills over and stuffed them into my bag, I smiled with pride because that was it. I was done. That was the last time I spread my legs for cash; the last time I danced for a tip; the last time I let someone call me Lady Bijou as their filthy paws grabbed at me and further tainted my psyche. Just as I shoved my birth name to the dark depths of my mind when I first started this humiliating profession, I was now ready to do the same to my stage name. This had gone on long enough and now that I had enough money to get out and support myself, I was ready to walk away from The Red Light Club.

“Would you look at that? Is the Lady Bijou jackin’ money or were you that good of a fuck? Doing overtime? Sucking off those old geezers for one more bill?” Guffawed the blonde who was obviously getting a head start on her evening booze binge to help herself through the night. In the years that I spent selling myself to those who stared at me like a meal on a silver platter, Elda, the swaying woman with her barely covered breasts and dark circles under her eyes, remained the same. She was clearly lost and formed a dependency on this job while I was trying to get out. Since the beginning of our acquaintance, Elda along with Hikari, and occasionally some other girls, never failed to pester one of the few girls who didn’t share what it was she wanted to do with the money she was earning each night by doing things that would make her poor mother cry.

“Not going to answer me, are ya?”

There was no use in raising my voice when I was so close to getting out, so close to putting all of this behind me so I could work on the next phase of my life plan. I threw my purse over my shoulder and smiled sweetly, just as I did to everyone I encountered. Friend or enemy–it was all the same. Genuine or fictitious–it was all the same.

“Be safe tonight, Elda.”

“Bijou!” She screeched when I walked past her through the strands of colorful beads that hung down from the ceiling of the grungy dressing room. It was where I spent so many evenings crying myself to the point I could barely see and where I skimmed through the skimpy outfits on the hangers before taking my place on stage. So many memories were now encrypted into the cold hardwood of the room. So many memories I hoped to abandon.

But now I wouldn’t have to do that anymore.

I wouldn’t have to cry after being poked and probed like a doll meant to satisfy perverted fantasies, because that wouldn’t be happening anymore.

I was now free to walk out with my lips pulled back, revealing something that was finally true and as genuine as it could have possibly gotten.

A smile.

Not even a full mile from the club and I already felt free of that filthy shroud that always embraced my torso like a leech begging for another drop of sanguine fluid to quench its never-ending thirst. My skin wasn’t covered in sweat or spit, only by the mist that left the fountain in the center of the south side area of Crystal Springs. Now all I had left to do was to walk through the archway that would lead my underground to the subways, so I could avoid walking along twisted streets. It was starting to look like it was going to rain anyway and the subway’s green line just happened to stop a couple of feet from the apartment building where Ian was probably waiting for me.

Since the night Ian showed me the difference between having sex and making love, we made a promise to drop whatever it was that held us back. I knew Ian wasn’t clean that night and I knew that it wasn’t the first time his eyes embraced a fogged cloak. I guess after months of wondering how he managed to get paychecks in the triple digits without doing anything that stripped him of his basic human rights, it finally clicked. It was exposed to me from the very beginning, wasn’t it? Yeah, it was. Ian held and sold narcotics to users like himself, but after our many nights together, we formed a promise that would be fulfilled when he went clean and when we had enough money to leave Crystal Springs once and for all. My heart held doubt in the past. I was afraid that I would never know what it would feel to love and be loved in return, but even after I was left to cry myself into a state of complete numbness, Ian was there to pick me up and promise me a life much better than what we were “gifted” with in this dreadful city.

Now those cheerful daydreams would no longer remain simple daydreams but a reality that was not that far from our grasp! We would take a train, just like he said, and then we would start over. In a new town with new people and new everything–Ian and I would begin our life anew. We would create new memories that wouldn’t haunt us, that wouldn’t drive us to the brink of insanity. We could maybe even get married one day and have kids together. That was what I was ultimately looking for by leaving France, wasn’t I? An adventure to find someone who would look into my eyes without seeing a child and now, without seeing a used and abused call girl.

The past was now just the past, and it would stay that way the moment Ian and I would put our savings together for the tickets that would take us wherever the trains tracks would lead us. We had no desired destination when every place that wasn’t Crystal Springs seemed like a safe haven.

My heart began to beat at twice the resting rate when the doors of the subway opened so people could spill out from the inside after being jam-packed like sardines in a tin that was even smaller and more compact than usual. But when I took a whiff of fresh air that was no longer mixed with the funk of exhausted constructions workers, I was given a second wind of energy to force myself up the stairs and through the gate that brought me back the streets with opaque skies that peeked over the colossal apartment buildings.

I picked up my pace and developed a sort of joy-filled bounce in my walk the closer I got to the apartment building that I grew to call home. And with each step that I took up the stairs, my grin grew wider and my skin broke out in goosebumps at the thought of who was waiting for me beyond the door. After passing the elevator–with an out-of-order sign pasted onto it– six times, I clutched my purse closer to my chest while I fished for the keys to the apartment. Now humming some tune that I probably picked up from the stereo blaring in the dressing room at the club, I felt my cheeks warm up when I approached the door and reached to unlock it. What came to me as a surprise was that it was already left slightly ajar. Normally I would have taken some precaution since we didn’t exactly live in a five-star hotel, but a barely attended apartment building with a deaf and ill-mannered landlord who didn’t seem to care much about the rats that often scampered down the hall in the middle of the night. This was different, I guess, because I stepped right into the room with my blood rushing with adrenaline in hopes of finding my boyfriend waiting for me, to congratulate me on my last day of that dehumanizing job. And even while in the back of my mind I  had to consider the idea of a break in, I wasn’t welcomed with that. No. There was no clatter of furniture falling and our belongings being stashed into a pillowcase. Truth be told, not a sound was present in the entire apartment.

“Ian?” I squeaked and gripped the faux-leather strap of my purse, hoping to use it as a weapon if necessary. I was out of pepper-spray so there wasn’t much for me to do but use anything and everything to protect myself. “Eliza?” I tried again, only calling out the name of our other roommate as my legs criss-crossed on the way past the kitchen and past the bathroom.

Again, not a single squeak or peep was made.

“D-did someone leave the door open? Ian, it better not have been you because we’ve been over this.” I chuckled only to help calm myself down till I made it out of the living room. I was left disappointed at the lack of human life on the couches or by the windows, where Ian normally smoked if he wasn’t on the roof. But as I quickly walked back into the hall, my eyes finally caught sight of the only room with its door left open: Ian’s room.

At that point I wasn’t expecting anyone to be present, but I was surprised yet again at the sight of Eliza leaning against the dresser just beside the door. The sudden realization that it was my former co-worker made me jump, ramming my elbow into thick wooden door frame.

“Oooooh! Shoot! Eliza! Why didn’t you answer me when I called out your name!? You had me thinking we had some serial killer lurking in here! My purse wouldn’t have been enough to beat the shit out of anyone let alone a killer!”

Eliza didn’t laugh or crack a joke at my ridiculous assumptions. Her face was painfully still and her eyes never made the effort to reach mine.

“Hey, are you okay? Where’s Ian? He said he was going to be home so we could celebrate.”

Her eyes revealed their solemn state but not a word left her chapped lips. She didn’t point or make an effort to inform me about what was going on. She  only nodded towards the bed that I shared with Ian on most nights.

It didn’t click till I noticed the lower half of the man, with whom I felt safe, sticking out from the other side of the bed. As much as I wanted to think he fell out of bed and was too lazy to get his bum back up, I knew that it couldn’t have been it because of Eliza’s lack of a reaction and desire to communicate. So I did what my heart directed me to do. I dropped my purse and allowed it to fall to the wood-covered ground before rushing to his side.

I found him on the side closest to the windows that welcomed the first rays of sunlight each morning. His body was stiff and no matter how much I pleaded my mind to block things out, I noticed the pricks on the inside of his arm and the syringe left in the palm of his hand. No, this couldn’t have right. He promised!

In some desperate attempt, I crashed my mouth onto his and began performing CPR. My hands pressed down onto his still chest and I whimpered at the lack of response from him. I went back down to deliver more breaths and watched his chest rise and fall back down when I stopped. Nothing.

“No, no!” I cried out after dragging him away from the bed. The syringe was taken from his hand and tossed in Eliza’s direction before I looked back down at Ian’s already chilling body. His eyes, his charming eyes gleamed like glass and they were lined heavily with a rusty tint.  “No, please don’t be gone. Please!” I begged with his body pressed against my chest. Rocking him back and forth like a child wouldn’t help, I knew that, but it brought him close to me.

“H-he said he would stop using! He said he would get clean for us!” My eyes could barely register the sight and feel of the man I cradled in my arms, but as my lip quivered and I fought back gargantuan sobs, Eliza remained emotionless. Did this not startle her? Didn’t she feel at least an ounce of grief knowing that the guy she spent so many years living with was dead at her feet?!

“He said that?” Eliza finally spoke. “You do realize that you trusted a junkie,right?”

“He promised!”

The dirty-blond haired woman crouched down and forced my face to level with hers. “Don’t be an idiot, Riona. Junkies can never keep promises. They can never love or care. This fuck up was bound to OD eventually. Fucking dumbass,” She growled, getting back to her feet.

“Shut your mouth, you bitch!” I sobbed. “How could you say that to the man who took you in when you were just as fucked up as I am now? Don’t you even feel a little sadness? Don’t you feel horrible?!”

She didn’t speak.

Her hands grew stiff from what I could tell when she pressed her palm firmly against the door frame.

“Ian was always like this, Frenchie. The only thing he loved was what killed him. He loved that shit more than any human that laid a finger on him. He used me and he used you.” Eliza exhaled sharply and leaned against the door. Maybe all of this was finally hitting her as it was hitting me. “Ian was a liar, a user, abuser, and a scum. Everything he did was for himself. Never for a minute think that he loved you because he said the same to me.”

“I-I know, but I’m not you. Ian loved me and we were going to get out. We had plans to buy our tickets tomorrow and leave.” My index finger traced his stiff jaw as tears traveled from my eyes and onto his grey shirt. “Things were supposed to get better. Things were going to be great. I was going to be finished with this shithole!”

“Honey,” Eliza sighed loudly, “there is no way to escape Crystal Springs because the longer you stay, the harder it is to get out. This place eats at you and takes away everything you once were. You may leave the city but the city will always stay with you.”

“I can still get out!”

“Well then I wish you luck because after finding that surprise in the bathroom, I’m guessing you’ll really need it.”

_______________________________________________________________________________________

The presence of the surprise I got after weeks of throwing up on the job didn’t make me smile or frown. Its existence mattered as much as I did at that current point in time, which fate made painfully clear to me with everything that I endured in the last two years. Whatever it was that was burrowed deep within me–whether it was a male or female–I could only hope that they wouldn’t end up ruined as I was now, because no one deserved that. But I guess what made all of this somewhat okay was knowing that I was carrying Ian’s child. I honestly had no doubt about it because I was always extremely careful on the job. No one would get close to me without being covered. Only Ian allowed me to drop my guard and lose myself in a flurry of his passionate kisses and gentle touches that always made my toes tingle and my spine vibrate when I fought back the high-pitched moans from filling the ecstasy-filled room.

My saviors who sheltered me after landing in a city that I had hopes for were nothing but fallen angels.

Eliza used me and thought of me as her key to salvation when she only led me towards oblivion. Without me she would continue to roam the damned city in search of mercy from the city that swallowed her whole.

Ian…

Ian showed me how it felt to be loved and no longer afraid of what awaited us on the other side. But he also promised things that we would now never have. There won’t be a happily ever after for us because his one true love was something that got closer to him than I ever could.

It was heroin, his one and only, that stopped his heart cold  and broke every single promise that we made to each other.

We’ll buy two tickets, get on that train, and not look back!

No, for only I made it on the train with only a spare ticket in his memory.

I’ll get a job that’ll have nothing to do with dealing!

But the using wouldn’t stop, right?

I’ll make a vow now, Riona. I vow to make sure we get out of here together because I want us to start a life away from here. We’ll start over. 

No…

We’ll get married.

No…

We’ll raise this kid together.

No…

I’ll always love you and only you.

No…

No..

No.

Ladies and Gentlemen, good afternoon. The attendants will be making their final rounds with food and drinks. As a reminder, we will be at the final stop in approximately two hours. I repeat: two hours.”

Announcement.

Hello there 🙂

First of all, I would like to take the time to thank you for reading this story ❤ I hope you are enjoying it as much as I am enjoying working on it. But the reason why I am writing this little announcement is to apologize for the wait. I know that it has been a while since the last update of A Song to Say Goodbye, but I am currently working on chapters, as well as Extra Scenes for The Wells Legacy–which is my main project that I have been working on for around a year and a half now. The current generation requires a lot more work than previous generations, so I am putting forth a lot of time and effort into it.

But the main thing is that I have no forgotten about Riona. No-no, that is something I simply cannot do. The next chapter is outlined and just waiting for me to find the time to sit down and crank it out. I hope you guys don’t lose faith in me, but please understand that while I am working on both blogs, I am also a college student, and that work requires my attention first.

So…

I hope you guys will stick around for the next chapter of Riona’s story. ❤

Once again, thank you for your kind words, and thank you for following this blog, I really appreciate it. 🙂

Have a great week, everyone ❤

 

Chapter Six

The emerald trees were coming into view, and just as soon as they appeared–they were gone. Branches swayed and as the train progressed down the track, the breeze began to carry the vibrant leaves. Their vibrant colors were shifting to warmer and darker colors as we arrived in yet another unnamed region. Each leaf floated along the imaginary trail left by the wind. It was almost like a dance–perfectly choreographed, yet  graceful and innocent. That was the beauty in nature, the beauty that was so easily swept aside.

By now, I knew that I was far away from Crystal Springs, but not far enough to let go of the memories that gnawed at my brain and my heart. Gently brushing my hair behind my ear, I found myself gazing at the barely visible reflection of myself while I allowed my finger to circle the rim of the now empty cup. I recalled doing this many times in the company of my fallen angels. With bursts of laughter we threw back drinks, we laughed, and forgot all of our worries, but look at where it has brought us.

“You were just like me.”

Eliza, my mentor, my “friend”–she taught me all that I had to know in the business of prying money from the filthy clutches of men. She often reminded me that things would be alright, and that she would help me. Little did I know that this wasn’t a simple act of charity. Her courage and the way she carried herself was a charade to fool not only everyone around her, but her as well. Crystal Springs had us creating false personas to help us cope. Some took it further and allowed that new persona to become part of them.

“I was your key to salvation, wasn’t’ I?” I whispered against the glass that revealed the moving scenery to me.

______________________________________________________________

The gentle breeze was nothing else but a barely audible hissing sound coming from the crack in the window. Two figures sat in silence as battered wallpaper tickled the exposed concrete wall. The quiet scraping sound echoed in the silence of the room, and yet everything remained still between the two occupants of the apartment. Minutes went by and the scraping continued, building up the tension that grew till it was so thick it could have been severed with a knife.

With her arms folded neatly around her knees like a bow on a present, Eliza exhaled softly before rubbing her forehead against her knee.

The man said nothing, but propped his feet up on the somewhat stable coffee table. Already struggling up hold up the half-finished bottle of rum, the table took on the extra weight of Ian’s feet with nothing more than a weary squeak.

“You’re home early,” groaned the man, stretching his arms over his head. His hand found its way to the zipper of his hoodie moments before he tugged on the metal bit and pulled it down.

She wanted so much to pretend she didn’t hear him, but confrontation was inevitable. Her lips were chapped and her eyes were dry, but what was bothering her was the fact that her throat felt like it was a home to a desert. Dry and burning. Her once neatly trimmed fingernails were jagged by her own doing. Feeling his eyes on her did not help. Eliza searched the depths of her mind to retrieve any rational response, but it was proving to be more difficult than she planned. The last few weeks were difficult, and her psyche was shaken.

“I didn’t go to work,” She finally said.

“Well, judging by your attire, I wouldn’t doubt it, “He chuckled. “Are ya sick? You know, you can’t afford not to work. The bills don’t pay themselves, and Riona and I can’t be the ones to pamper you, princess.”

Hearing his voice remain so calm and content, Eliza shook her head and rubbed her knee. With her mind retracing the events of the last several weeks, she didn’t know where to being or what to say. In her mind everything was put together perfectly and there was no hesitation. Executing those thoughts was more difficult.

“You fucked her, didn’t you?”

“What th-“ He shook his head and quickly found his gaze fixed on the seated female. “What the hell are you saying?”

“Did you invite her to your room? Did you press your lips to hers? Did you sleep with her, Ian? That’s all I’m asking.”

A scowl spread across his face in hopes that it would make Eliza back off of the topic.

“There’s no need to make that face, Ian. You know, I don’t even know if I need to hear you say it because that disgusting aura emanating from you is proof enough that you did. The walls aren’t sound proof, and you were always so very vocal. Groaning and moaning was always your specialty when you dirtied the innocence of the guests in your bed.”

Eliza’s smooth tone was enough to urge Ian to get up from the couch. “What does it matter to you who I sleep with, huh? Are you jealous?”

She shook her head, “Not at all. We might have had our shares of ‘fun times’, but this isn’t about me. It’s ab-“

“How is this not about you? You always manage to pry out that pity story from your aching heart, don’t ya?”

It was then that Eliza’s eyes watered and she wasn’t able to remain sitting. Pushing against the hard ground, Eliza managed to get up to her feet before shaking her head slowly at first and then suddenly shaking it frantically. “You…you don’t understand!”

“Believe me. I understand your every intention when it comes to Riona. I understood it the moment we saw her at the plaza.”

“But do you blame me?” She cried out. “How can you blame me when my life went to shit? I was just like her and she is just like me. Do you not understand that it wasn’t supposed to end up like this?” Shoving him, Eliza scoffed, “Everything was going to be alright, that’s what you told me, and that’s what I told her. ‘Everything will be okay with time’, I told her that just as you told me, but things obviously didn’t get any better. Look at me, Ian! I fuck old guys for money when I should be staying far away from you! I should be in school, taking classes and passing them with flying colors so I could make something of myself, but I’m not…”

He stepped back as his eyebrows arched in response to Eliza’s little speech. His arms were crossed and her cries did not touch him. “Do you feel guilty now, is that it?”

The feeling of guilt was wretched. It was unpleasant and sent a whirlwind of nausea to Eliza. She couldn’t stand the sight of Riona at the club. The way she used the moves she taught her, and the way her hair reeked of musty perfume that most definitely did not originate from her own bottle of perfume, but the perfume of clients—it sickened her to the core. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this, Ian. She was supposed to make it. Riona was supposed to be somebody, and I was supposed to help her not send her spiraling down the same path I took not that long ago.”

“That’s what you get for picking up some random chick from the street hoping to be able to play the role of a Saint. That was what you were going for, right?” He rolled his eyes. “Young naïve girls come to the city to chase their dreams only to have their dreams disintegrate. The city devours the weak, Eliza.”

~*~

I fumbled with my keys before choosing the correct copper-colored key and inserted it into the keyhole. Not sure if everyone was sleeping, I slowly turned the door knob and immediately yelped at the sound of the squeaking door. That was the problem with that door. If one wanted to be quiet, you couldn’t open the door slowly or a chorus of nails against a chalkboard would greet the inhabitants of the homey apartment in addition to those roaming in the hall.

“I’m sorry, “I muttered under my breath after I shut the door and slipped out of my coat. Eliza didn’t go to work, so I decided to stay to earn some extra money. Having a single person not contributing for a day would have hurt us as a household. I couldn’t let that happen because the lower we slipped, the harder it would be to get back up. I wasn’t going to be down there. This was my time to get my things together and figure what I will be doing—what we will be doing. Ian and I were spending time together now, and it was just what I needed after work. Perhaps he wasn’t asleep?

After I shoved the keys into my hoodie’s pocket, I stepped forward, my feet crisscrossing as I gracefully walked towards the living room. My mouth was formed to speak Ian’s name, but my eyes widened at the sudden increase of volume.

Why was his face so twisted?

“Don’t you fucking understand, Eliza?! You did this. You chose this life.”

“She is my salvation, my life pass! That Frenchie is my second chance to start anew and forget all the shit that happened. I want so much to turn things around and to walk away when you invited me in. You’ll hurt her…”

“Eliza…”

My eyes darted back and forth while I hid behind the wall separating the hallway and the living room. The air was uneasy, but I couldn’t help but sense a certain sadness from the sound of Eliza’s voice. Was she crying? With my face pressed up against the wall, I listened closely to their conversation. “She is my salvation”? Wh-what?

They were talking about me?

Eliza nodded and brought her hands up close to her face, “You’ll hurt her just like you hurt me, Ian. She’s going to be damaged just as I am now. She will live a life of regret just as I am. You won’t be there for her…”

“That’s not true!” He barked. “I like her, and if you weren’t so obsessed with receiving your ticket from whatever deity you bow down to, you would have noticed that. I’m not messing with Riona.”

She nodded before bringing her trembling hands to her face, “So you say, but it does not change the fact that I messed up. We led—I led her down a predestined trail to damnation in this city. I, with the help of this god-forsaken city ruined a girl in search of adventure. I fucking killed my dreams, Ian…”

______________________________________________________________

My fingers dug into the door frame when I heard the defining cries of the woman I looked up to. Her strength, her knowledge, was it all a lie? Was it all a mask? Eliza was a soul lost to the city, and it seemed that I was skipping down the same path. I wasn’t angry. No, I couldn’t. Eliza was trying to help her poor, tainted soul by trying to help me. By guiding me through the life of a struggling city dweller, she ended up leading me like a succubus beckoning her prey. I was seduced with her lies, but all was clear now.

I was her ticket to salvation, but the ticket was void.

Still nowhere near being far enough from that soul-shattering city, I found the corners of my mouth curving to form a smile—something I had not done in a long time. I pitied Eliza for trying to help me. I pitied her cries and her attempts to redeem herself as a woman of good morals and purity.

“What a shame it is that you just had to pull down another who mirrored your past into the darkness of the city. No matter how much you wanted to rise above it, you just sunk in deeper…”

Chapter Five

I helped myself up from the bathroom floor before taking one last look in the mirror. This was now who I was. Bijou would forever be a part of me just as much as the old Riona. My being was tainted and all I could do was keep moving forward because I knew I could never forget all that I encountered in Crystal Springs. There was no way that I could forget the people I met, the things I did, and the things I said.

“Are you happy, Ian?” I muttered before grabbing the door handle, so I could finally make my way back to my cabin. I didn’t need any more quirky attendants checking up on me to make sure I didn’t pull the plug on my life.

As I wandered down the long hall, I avoided the glowing glances of the women with their trolleys.

“Would you like something to drink, ma’am?”

“Do you need an extra blanket or one of complementary magazines?”

Each time I shook my head and continued to walk back to my cabin. Finally, I was back in my temporary home, but the moment I brought my arms up for a good stretch, I noticed my glass of water was refilled and underneath it was a torn half sheet of paper. Looking back, there was no one behind me or anywhere near my cabin. Was this a joke?

I walked up to the sheet of paper, so I could inspect it. Upon the torn sheet of paper, I found four words that immediately left my eyes with a glossy coat.

“E-everything will be alright, “I whispered before slumping down in the seat.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

I would have been lying if I said I was with Jay once. No, this was recurring and each time, his touch become more vile. And with each time, I continued to send “Riona” further and further into my shaken psyche. I couldn’t let anything happen to her. She didn’t deserve any more of this.

One time wasn’t enough to rid me of the need for money– for stability. I danced during regular hours and when the lights began to shut off, I was in Jay’s rough embrace.

“Dude, pass that to me! You’re definitely hogging it!”

“I paid for it. Where is your contribution? You know how expensive this shit is?”

Ian had his friends over–which meant that we would have some overnight visitors. I didn’t mind all that much, but when they tried to engage in a conversation with me while I was trying to sleep-well, I wasn’t too pleased. The first hour or two, I would go unnoticed because they were obviously so drawn to whatever substance they were sampling that night. No, none of it was legal, but as long as they left me out of it, I was fine.

That night, it was different.

“Riona! You’re home!” Grinned Ian– who had a half-dressed female hanging around his neck.

I smiled and shrugged, “So it would seem. I will talk to you later.”  Flicking my wrist, I gave him a small wave before turning around to make my way to my room.

 That was usually how it went. I would say hello and then retreat to the bedroom, so I could rid myself of  the fresh memories of the evening. That wasn’t the option that night because the moment I reached to open the door to my room, Ian was at my side–pulling at my arm.

“Come play with us, Riona. I missed you!” He pouted.

When he talked like that, I wanted so much to forget what I had to do only hours before. I wanted so much to believe his words, but this wasn’t him. It was the monster playing nice with his mind. As long as he was high as a kite, Ian was well, everything I needed. To be honest, I liked him like this. Even if he didn’t remember anything the next morning, I embraced his affection towards me. Affection, that’s what it was,right?

My muscles relaxed and I couldn’t help but smile when I saw his smiling face. Those cloudy eyes were staring at me with such a longing that I could honestly feel my heart beating fast in my throat! Just one look from him and I was ready to accept his request to join him and his “friends”. 

“W-wouldn’t your girlfriend get mad if she saw me standing next to you?”

He nearly snorted when he heard me speak. “Girlfriend?”

I blushed and nodded slowly, “The girl. She was on you. Is she not yours?”

Ian reached for my hand and shrugged, “I don’t really have a lady friend, Riona.”

Almost like a cat-like reflex, I gripped his hand and sighed happily. Even if he was just leading me back to the room of strangers–Ian took my hand in his. I just wanted to embrace that moment. I wanted my mind to twist that moment into something it probably wasn’t. This charade would help me forget the night’s events. Yes, that’s what was going to happen. I would be able to sleep in peace.

When we walked into the living room, I was expecting strange glares, but I saw none of that.

A loosely clothed man with an outrageous haircut winked at me and offered me a bottle. When I held it in my hands, I looked around.

“W-what do I do?” I whispered.

“DRINK UP!” Cheered the other man before he leaned over and popped off the bottle cap with a bottle opener that he had on his key chain.

Just one whiff of the bottle’s contents and my eyes watered. That proof of that alcohol was definitely higher than 80%. Drinking wasn’t something new to me, so it wasn’t that I was nervous about trying something that would leave a burning sensation in my throat. Back in France, I would have wine with my dinner, or when I went out with some friends. But in Crystal Springs, this sort of drinking was recreational and it didn’t stop till you were silly. All I had to do was take one look at Ian and I found myself throwing back bottle after bottle with these strangers. We moved on from bottles to shots and from shots to bottles.

The loosely clothed man, whose name I learned was Logan, turned on the stereo and began to sway his hips from side to side before raising his arms above his head. There was something in the music. Yes, that was it. The music moved us in a way I couldn’t even explain, but as I continued to watch Logan move, I looked back at Ian and whimpered. He glanced down at me and smirked before placing his hand on my waist.

“Let’s dance, sweets.”

As my body rubbed against Ian’s, I felt  my cheeks turn a darker shade of red. What on Earth was I doing? At that moment, nothing mattered. I was dancing and I was happy for the first time in a very long time.

The apartment was filled with drunken laughter, but for once, I was part of that crowd. I too was laughing like a drunken fool!

“What is this music? It’s so…sensual and god, I can’t even describe it!” I giggled.

“It’s trip-hop baby! It’s like sex to the ears!” Shouted Logan over the music while he demonstrated his very exotic dancing.

I wasn’t sure if it was the alcohol working its magic, but I wanted nothing more than to press my lips against Ian’s. The affection I was receiving from him was enough to send me into a spiral of absolute joy. But I knew from experience that men weren’t after the key to our hearts, but the key to our pants. Well, at least the men I had to deal with.

The music sent shivers up my spine and I loved every one of them. My flesh felt like it was on fire, but I continued to sway my hips from side to side as I brought my hands into my hair. The feel of my long locks against my skin left me grinning.

“Do you like the way I dance, Ian?” I purred before I backed up into him.

Without looking, I could feel that Ian had the wild grin upon his face. There was no doubt about it that his body ached just as much as mine did. It was our tainted bloodstream that was crying out–begging our brains to wrap our arms around each other.

“Riona, ” he whispered hoarsely while he tugged on my hair ever so lightly. He then moved his hand down from my hair, to my side, my lower back and finally to my exposed thigh.

The feel of his hand on my skin left me biting down on my lip. I could have let so many things slip past my drunken lips, but I refrained from speaking. Doing these things for money was making it difficult to separate actual desire from the illusion of desire we were forced to portray while at work.

Just as I was about the lean my head back to look Ian in the eyes, he pulled away from me.

“Ian?” I suddenly gasped when he took hold of my hand. This wasn’t a leading hand, but a hand to get my attention.

“Riona,” he whispered.

Oh how I loved hearing him say my name like that.

“Yes?” I asked.

“We haven’t seen each other all day. What do you say we go somewhere quiet, so we could chat?”

So we could chat? There was something about the way he said that–those words left my stomach doing somersaults. But what did I do? I accepted his proposition to “chat”. I couldn’t say no to him and I didn’t even know if I would have said no if I could. The one man who didn’t throw his money at me. The one man who didn’t try to force himself on me. The one man who wrapped his arm around my shoulder as he listened to me talk about my day. 

That man was Ian.

We walked down the hall till we reached two doors. One that led to my room and one that led to his room. I wasn’t sure where this chat was supposed to take place, so I simply stopped and waited for Ian to make his move.

“Here, ” he muttered before helping me to the door leading to his room. Before my hand could even reach the doorknob, Ian turned me around, so I was facing him.

“It’s so hard staying away from you, ” He chuckled as he caressed my cheek with his right hand. His touch was not filled with anger or anything but want.

“Do you understand how much I want to kiss you right now?” He whispered against my neck.

“Then kiss me, Ian.”

He pulled away for a second before shaking his head, “I am not one of your clients, sweets.”

“I know, so please kiss me.”

The way his eyes traveled down every inch of my body had me growing antsy. My lips were begging for his and I couldn’t take it anymore. Ian opened the door and motioned for me to go inside. Our “chat” was going to be private and Ian made that clear when I heard the clicking sound come from the door. I was locked in with him and I didn’t mind. No screaming junkies or drunken women were going to stop our lips from crashing against one another’s.

It was that moment that Ian approached me and smiled that perfect smile that always made me weak in the knees. He reached to touch my collarbone as he brushed my hair from my face.

“You’re trembling.”

I didn’t want to hear another word from him and he could tell by the way I was eyeing him and his tender lips. Talking wouldn’t help when our bodies were nearly shouting for us to rip our clothes from each other’s bodies. Ian wrapped his arms around me, so he could hold me close as our lips met. His lust-filled movements gave my insane goosebumps that had me crying out for him.

Ian was different.

This was my very own Ian who was perfect even if he was long gone because of the poison in his body. But this Ian was special because he cared about me. Well, at least he made it obvious that he did. He kissed me on the lips all the way down to my hips before our eyes met.

We were past the point of no return, right?

Without his help, I unhooked the clip on my binding tank top. Within seconds, it was down on the ground. My skirt? Gone.

It wasn’t long before Ian decided to join me. His clothes soon found their place on the ground and we were once again in a lustful embrace–exploring each other’s bodies before we fell down onto the bed. He wasn’t as eager to take off my undergarments as the men who paid for my services. He was gentle and took the time to caress my face in his hands while we kissed.

And with every kiss, I felt myself sobering up or at least letting the passion subside for a mere second. I realized what it was that we were about to do. The flashes of Jay and other men poisoned my mind while Ian did his best to treat me like a real woman, and not just an item on a shelf that was then used and abused.

“Look at me, ” He smirked as he slowly pulled his lips away from mine.

I did just what he asked. I stared into those foggy eyes of his and waited. What was stopping him from peeling the remaining fabric from my body?

“I promise you, Riona…” He began. With a soft kiss upon the corner of my lips, Ian sighed happily.

“I promise you that everything will be alight.”

 

Chapter Four

~Author’s Note: I know I said I wouldn’t add warnings, but this one really needs it because I know there are people who omit these. This story is meant for mature audiences and if you keep reading…I trust that you can handle substance that is meant for mature eyes. Thank you~

“Money, money, money, the root of all evil, “I muttered to myself while I remained seated with my head against the wall of the bathroom.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

I got the job.

I was now the “new” girl at the The Red Light Adult Club. I wasn’t sure why they called it that since it wasn’t really red. Maybe it was because red was a very sensual and passionate color? Well, whatever it was it was definitely not something I would describe as passionate. 

All of the girls working there were not much older than I was. Each and every one of them had their reasons for turning to this profession.

The money is great.

It’s the only think I’m good at.

I love it when they look at me.

I enjoy dressing up.

All of those reasons weren’t enough to help me feel better–more at ease. I was there for the money, but being in that humiliating outfit was enough to make me nervous. No one has ever seen me naked except for my parents when I was a little kid, but that was it. How the hell did I agree to this?

Eliza was my mentor. She taught how to move, how to act, and how to speak to the strange men that eyed me like a piece of steak. I was never comfortable with my body, but I had to set my insecurities aside.

Riona Girard was gone.

I was now Lady Bijou and I was the main attraction.  My name was announced through the intercom and I was the center of attention the moment I walked down the catwalk. My body was embraced by the fitting corset lingerie. My legs were suited with white stockings and a garter belt. I was the image of perfection in the minds of the lonely, sexually frustrated men.

“Now, please welcome our newest little doll. She is your image of perfection. She is your little French porcelain beauty. Tip your hats and hold your jaws because here comes Lady Bijou!”

For the time being, I was their Goddess. I had them wrapped around my finger as I traced my fingertip along the frills of my outfit. My sly smile drove them wild. They were animals. They were monsters, getting off on the very thought of laying me down. I was their untouched beauty. I was what they craved. Swaying my hips and slowly running my hands down my sides was enough to leave them howling like a pack of wolves. Bending down to run my hand up my leg and up to my chest, I watched them drool. They were hungry. They wanted to see my untouched flesh. Their dark orbs penetrated my facade. Begging, howling- they reached out so they could tuck their filthy dollar bills into my stockings, but I taunted them. I taunted the beasts before I turned my back to them. With trembling hands, I unlaced the corset and allowed it to hang loosely against my chest.

This was what I had to do. This was my ticket to my next meal and a guarantee that I would have a warm bed to sleep in.

To the beat of the music, I exhaled slowly and just like every other night at the Red Light, I shed my clothes. I exposed my body to strangers. I watched older men whisper hungrily to their companions as they eyed the beauty mark that no one but my parents knew of. They licked their lips as I traced my finger along my exposed breasts. I was untouched and my body tingled.

The way they looked at me brought color to my cheeks. When I was down to nothing but my stockings, I crawled to my devoted fans. Their burning eyes stared at my naked body. One my one, they reached to tuck their money into my stockings while watching me grin.

“Merci, my dears, “I would whisper seductively. “Lady Bijou is pleased.”

After my third humiliating show, I found myself in the dressing room with the other girls who chatted and giggled about the tips they received and the plans they had for the money they made. They had no intentions of saving. They spent everything and I wasn’t even sure if any of the stuff was legal.

“Hey, new girl.”

“Two hundred, fifty-six, fifty-eight, “I muttered while quickly skimming through the bills.

“Bijou!”

“Yes?” I asked, not looking away from my thick stack of bills in my hand.

“How much did you just make?” Asked a dark-haired female.

I was still pretty new, so making friends was not going too well. The girls weren’t mean or annoying, but I just wasn’t ready to trust them. My money was all I had and that’s all that I protected. Sharing my personal earnings was not in my plans.

“Come on, New Girl, “Snickered a blonde while adjusting her bra. “Are you afraid we’ll take your cash? Fuck, we have our own, so chill,alright?”

The moment I opened my mouth to speak, Eliza stepped in and growled before rubbing her nose, “The hell is going on in here? Hikari? Elda?”

The two girls roller their eyes and stepped back.

“Just because that shit lives with you, you’ll stand up for her? We’re just asking how much she made, ” said Elda.

Eliza shook her head and took our her own money, “Our earnings are our own. We never shared and we never will.”

“Alright, you old cougar.”

“Shut your fucking mouth, “Snarled Eliza before she disappeared behind a curtain.

The female who went by the name Hikari cackled before nudging her dark-haired companion, “You see what that shit does to you, Elda? It makes you turn into a psycho bitch!”

All of the arguments were normal. The girls had their own ways of coping with their job. Some of them drank. Some of them smoked and some of them snorted god knows what.

I, however, sat and counted my money. From my shows and regular lap dances, I made around four hundred a night. Even if the pay was alright, I would have to sit in the shower for hours, scrubbing my body till it burned. But no matter how hard I scrubbed, I could never rid myself of the feel of their filthy hands. They weren’t supposed to touch me, but there were some who couldn’t resist as I lowered my bottom against their laps.

~*~

 “Do you have my money, sweets?” Cooed Ian as he watched me pull my stockings up.

“Y-yes, just hold on.”

He walked into my room and bit down on his lip as the sight of my loosely covered chest.

“Are they treatin’ you nice over there?”

While digging through my bag, I glanced at him from the corner of my eye. The way his eyes focused on me sent a wave of goosebumps up my spine. “Yes, they’re alright. The girls can be quite annoying, but that’s normal. Hmm, just one more second.” I leaned over and pulled out the thick wad of money-which was neatly bound by a rubber band. “Two hundred and fifty. Exactly.” I smiled as I reached out to hand the money to him.

Ian stepped forward and took the money, but he grabbed hold of my hand and smirked, “Thank you, sweets.”

Every time he looked at me like that, or when he would call me some pet name, I would find my face glowing, radiating in response to his smooth voice. But the moment he would leave with what he wanted int he first place, I would look back down to my bag. Empty. The money I was making wasn’t enough. Ian asked for money twice a week since I was still paying him back. Then I had to contribute to the groceries. I shopped for us when it was my turn to do so. That money was coming out of my pocket. By the end of the week I was broke again. This endless cycle had me breaking down each night. This job was supposed to help me get out of this nasty situation, but so far it was keeping me on a “paycheck-t0-paycheck” life. I couldn’t do this much longer.

Two months passed and I was still dancing and shedding my clothes for singles. Each week I would pay Ian. Each week I would go back to being broke. I wasn’t going to put up with it, I had to do something. While getting ready for a show, I found Eliza applying a new coat of glossy red lipstick.

“Can I ask you something?”

“Uh huh, ” She hummed as she smacked her lips together.

“It’s about the money, “I began.

Eliza turned around and furrowed her brow, “What about it?”

“Is there any way that I could make more? I-I am doing everything I can. I even charged a guy extra to cup of a feel. Filthy bastard took advantage of that, but at least he threw a fifty down my top, “I muttered the last bit.

The way my roommate looked at me I could tell that she had a solution for me, but why would she be so hesitant? Did she not want me making more money? Eliza motioned for me to sit down.

“What is it?” I asked once I sat down in the chair before the vanity mirror.

“You say you want more money?”

I nodded.

“I wish you didn’t say that.”

“Why not?”

“There is a way to make more money but Leo didn’t tell you, did he?”

Leo was our boss. He was a pretty level-headed guy. Well, for someone who ran a strip club, he was alright.

“No, he didn’t say anything.”

Eliza scratched her head and looked around before focusing her attention on me. “There are some things that you weren’t told, Ri-” She paused and sighed, “Bijou. What these men do is sick, but they have money.”

“What do you mean?”

“We’re all auctioned off for certain evenings. Think of it as overtime or just a way to get extra cash.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“You are off-limits because you don’t know anything about this, “She said.

Auctioned? I shook my head and chuckled, “Are you saying we’re sold like property? Like paintings?”

With a soft chuckle, Eliza shrugged, “The way you say it sounds a lot nicer.”

“T-then what do we do if we’re chosen for the evening?” I asked even though I already knew the answer.

“You fuck them and then you get your cash. Believe it or not you actually have really high bids. One guy has been coming here every night and staring at you like some fiend. It’s strange, but he put down a lot of money. You’re a virgin,right? That means you’re worth much more than the other girls. You’re rare.”

As Eliza priced me like a product that belonged on a department store shelf, I stared at my trembling hands. Was I truly willing to go through with something so extreme just to get money? Well, I took on this profession for the money. Things were tougher and I had to fight to get ahead, didn’t I? Was this may way of fighting? Getting ahead?

“How much would I get?” 

I couldn’t believe what I was saying and neither could Eliza.

Nearly choking on her own spit, she cleared her throat and played with the straps on her top. “Last time I talked to Leo, he told me that your price broke eight hundred.”

Eight hundred dollars to sleep with me? I shuddered at the thought, but maybe it wouldn’t have been that bad. Maybe with that money I could finally start saving up to get out of Ian’s apartment. I couldn’t stay there forever,right?

Eliza touched my shoulder and whispered, “It will get easier with time.”

I agreed to sell myself to some sleazy bidder who wanted to take something dear from me. My last ounce of innocence was now his property. My hope for a romantic “first time” was shattered. There was no romance. Here, romance was dead. Everything was pure filth. Eliza announced to Leo that I was going to get my extra cash. She gave me a name and a very basic description of my “client.” Something that was supposed to be a sacred bond between lovers was now a business transaction. 

The man didn’t look like was he older thirty or even close to it. His apricot hair caught my eye and I knew that I would have to approach him sooner or later. The man had his money and was waiting for me to show up, but how on Earth would one go about bringing up the topic? “Oh hey, I’m your prize. Let’s screw?” No. That couldn’t have been it.

I simply approached him and there was nothing that needed to be said. He knew why I was standing before him. He was the one who requested me. He was the one who “won” me.

I was ordered to take him to the back of the club where I found a locked door. There was never a reason to ponder about what was beyond that door, but now I knew. Beyond those doors was where girls, just like me, would allow themselves to be dominated by their “clients.” The room had nothing but a bed and a couple of lights with the occasional bottle of hard liquor. So that’s what they did? They drank and spread their legs for a few extra bucks? Well, it was way more than few, but was it really worth it?

My body suddenly froze at the sound of the mans voice.

“You’re more beautiful up close, Bijou.”

“Thank you, sir, “I whispered while averting his gaze, but it was no use.

The man smiled and cupped my chin in his hand, “Love, call me Jay.” While he slowly ran his hand along my cheek, his smile began to twist into a hunger. “You can shout my name if  you want, my pure little porcelain beauty.”

My stomach was turning and I was rethinking this. Maybe it was a bad idea. Maybe I shouldn’t have agreed to this. Maybe I should have protected my last bit of innocence, but it was too late now. My last bit of the pure Riona was going to be snatched away by some horny freak.

As the man leaned in to plant his lips upon mine, I pushed him back.

“No kissing.”

“Very well,” he chuckled before lowering his hand to my chest. Firmly gripping me, Jay groaned against my neck before pushing me towards the bed. “I will take care of you, my angel.” He quickly threw off his jacket and motioned for me to lay down.

If I did as he asked, then he would just do it and leave,right?

When he was down to his briefs, Jay ran his hand up my inner thigh before he reached the lining of my bottoms. “We best warm up for this,right?” He whispered before tossing his briefs off of the bed.

The man revealed himself to me and I couldn’t help but blush. I had never seen a naked man before except for my baby brother, but that was totally different. This many was fully grown and at this point, I was frightened.

“What’s the matter, Bijou? My darling?”

“I’m a virgin, “I spat out. “I’ve never done this.”

Jay grinned and leaned in closer so he could press his lips against my shoulder, “I know. That is why I will be taking special care of you.”

Special care of me? I started to feel sick.

“W-wait!” I shouted as he pushed my shoulders back, so he could hover over me. His body smelled of expensive cologne  and his flesh gave off a strange warmth.

“What is it?” He groaned while struggling to remove my panties with one hand. My squirming definitely did not help him.

“I don’t…I…”

Shut up, Riona. You need the money, and Bijou can get it for you. That’s what my mind shouted.

“D-don’t hurt me, “I whimpered before I stopped squirming. Within seconds my underwear was around my ankles before it was thrown off of the bed to join Jay’s clothes. The feel of Jay’s hand between my legs was foreign and I wasn’t sure how to respond. This wasn’t something I wanted, at least not from him. His eyes held a sick obsession as he groaned at the feel of my exposed skin against his fingers.

“A ripe little dolly, “He chuckled before tugging on the seams of my corset. Pulling the lace string that held my corset together, he growled hungrily. “I’ve been waiting for months to lay my hands on you, Bijou. Your innocence captured me and I had to have you. Your beauty is out of this world and now I have you. I finally have you!” He grinned before pulling the corset from my torso.

I was now fully exposed to man I never met before that evening. Goodbye innocence, I thought.

“Oh, speak to me, my beauty. ” He commanded. 

“F-f-” I trembled.

“Say it, “He smirked  before pressing himself against me.

I couldn’t take it. Why was he taking so long to do this? I averted his gaze before muttering, “Fuck me.”

The filth that escaped my lips past the point of no return. Jay, with his crazed eyes broke through the last bit of innocence I had. The room was filled with my pain-filled cries while I gripped the strangers flesh. The pain shot throughout my entire body and I couldn’t even get myself to cry. Not a single tear was shed as the man continued to thrust his hips against me. The sound was vile and I felt ill, but I couldn’t throw him off. He was strong, and I couldn’t believe that I was still even thinking this, but I needed the money.

“It’s alright now, Bijou, my love, ” chuckled the man before staring into my eyes. Not holding back, his lips crashed against mine and my body shot into a panic. 

“Mmmph!”

“Shhh, this is romantic. You’ll love me, sweet dolly.”

There was nothing I could have done. I was his prize. He had my cash. I had to deal with it. I had to deal with this strange mans lips against my lips before he moved on to my neck, my breasts and my stomach. His touch wasn’t sweet, it wasn’t gentle. His touch was disgusting and I wanted him out of me.

But I didn’t say anything. Why? He wasn’t beating me. He wasn’t forcing himself on me. He wasn’t taking advantage of me. I gave him legal permission to do the deed, to screw me.

I was a puppet. Riona was shoved to the darkest and the safest depths of my mind. The morals Riona once had meant nothing to Bijou. I, Bijou did everything to help get the money. I was willing to go this far. I disconnected all of my feelings and allowed myself to be placed into the lap of a stranger.

Jay guided my hips in sync with his thrusts while kissing my shoulder. Did he find this intimate?

This was just part of my job description. Slowly, my body was growing weary and I just wanted this to be over. There was no magical moment, but I couldn’t deny that I moaned just to satisfy this freak. Well, this freak was expecting me to earn my money,right?

When he finally finished and slid out of me, I remained on the crimson sheets. He was pleased with his work and slipped back into his clothes before assisting me with mine. I didn’t understand his actions, but I needed all the help I could get. My body was sore and the very thought of movement brought me immense pain.

After we finished getting dressed, he led me to the door before placing  eight bills into my hand. Leaning in close to me, he inhaled and chuckled.

“The Lady Bijou is no longer untouched.”

Chapter Three

Eliza and Ian were the only friends I had when I first moved to Crystal Springs. They took me from the streets and brought me into their home, gave me a bed, and “protected” me from the city. Looking back at all that had happened, I couldn’t help but snarl at the imaginary image of the two.

Their illusory beings mocked me. They knew what they were doing to me the moment they allowed me to stay, didn’t they?

I did things that I am now ashamed of even thinking about, but what could I have done? Everything I did was to keep myself alive, to keep a roof over my head. No, I could never forget their demanding screeches as they banged on my door. Of course, they weren’t the demanding ones, but the monster that was pulling their strings was. The monster, the puppet master.  The money I pried from my pockets was their key to a fix. Their fix was the key to their mellow selves.

The city life was hard, but couldn’t they have spared me? Couldn’t you have spared me, Ian?

“You didn’t have to follow” was all I heard in my head now. His haunting voice still called for me.

I clenched my fists and looked at the mirror, “You didn’t have to do that to me. You didn’t have to do that to yourself!” I shouted before slamming my fist against the metal door. Pursing my lips, I covered my hand and moved back to the corner. As I bent over, a low hiss escaped me, “Fuuuuuuucking hell.”

“Ma’am?”

Of course someone would pay attention to a female shouting profanities in a bathroom.

“Are you alright, ma’am?”

“Y-yes! I’m sorry, I just stubbed my toe on the cabinet.”

“If you need any medical attention, please just press the emergency button beside the sink.”

I glanced over at the area beside the sink and sure enough, the emergency button was present. With a soft sigh, I leaned my head back against the wall and sniffled.

It had been a very long since time I shed any tears, but the very thought of the moment I stopped crying left my skin crawling.

I only allowed it to happen to stay alive. That was what I continued to tell myself.

“It will get easier with time.” That’s what you used to tell me, Eliza.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“H-Hello?” I whispered upon stepping into the apartment.

Yes, I was still living with Ian and Eliza, and well, all the other people who often stumbled inside to crash on the couch or on the extra bed I had in my room. I wasn’t complaining because if it wasn’t for Ian and Eliza, I would have wandered the streets. They didn’t demand my rent immediately. They gave me some time to start looking for a job and I did just that.

Each day I would get up from my bed, find the nicest clothes I could, and march into every store I came across. I visited every place possible. From fast food joints to department stores, I presented myself as best as I possibly could. I recited the several reasons as to why I would have been the perfect candidate for the job, but as hard as I tried I was sent back out. Positions were already filled or places weren’t hiring. Each day would be the same exact situation.

“Riona?”

It was Ian. I ran my hands through my wind-blown hair and adjusted my glasses before walking into the living room where he often lounged around on the couch. He went to work early in the morning, so I only saw him in the evenings. His sleeping schedule must have been messed up since he was always up at strange times, but I had to admit that I liked talking to him after a hard day of job-hunting.

“Yes, it’s me, “I replied before making my way before him.

Noticing my gleaming face and exhausted eyes, he motioned for me to step forward. When I was close enough, I held my breath. Ian was at least four years older than me and I was strangely drawn to him. He was kind and he listened to me. It had been quite some time since I actually sat down and talked about my day with anyone, but Ian changed that.

“Here, “He whispered as he touched my cheek. “You must be tired, huh?” He asked before gently pulling my glasses from my face and placing them on the cheap coffee table before us.

I still felt the warmth from his hand on my face even when I stepped back, so I could muster the courage to form a sentence.

“So since you’re not replying, I take it that your day was long, right?”

I gave him a small nod. “Yes, I checked all the stores on our side and most of the stores on the other side of town.”

“Oh, I see.”

At that point, I was expecting him to finally get angry, but that didn’t happen. Ian chuckled and held his arms out as if he was embracing an invisible entity.

I stayed quiet.

“Well, are you going to let me look like a loon?” He laughed, “Here, sit down. I’m not tired, so you can talk my ear off all you want.”

When I took my seat beside Ian, I poked my index finger against my hand. I wasn’t sure what to say or how to ignite anything. After a day of talking nonstop, I couldn’t think of anything.

“So no one was hiring?” He finally asked.

The warmth I felt on my face suddenly turned hot, but it wasn’t because of him. Oh no, it wasn’t anything like that. I was embarrassed and I felt like a failure. Here, Ian was letting me stay in his apartment without having to pay rent till I got a job. Even if I was working myself to pure exhaustion trying to find a job, I still didn’t think I was trying hard enough. There must have been a position that wasn’t filled at some fast food joint! They always needed people!

I guess I had to reply eventually, so I turned my head to look at him and nodded slowly, “I checked every store, but none of them had any positions available, not even maintenance positions.”

“Ah, well, tomorrow is another day, Ri-“

“No!” I groaned, bringing my hands to my face.

“Uhh, did I say something?”

I shook my head while still keeping my face covered.

“Riona, what’s wrong?”

How on Earth was he asking that? Was he drunk or just too nice to say it to my face? He must have been too nice because no one would have treated a me with such kindness knowing I was living with them for free.

“I need to find a job so I can pay you the rent and buy food. I can’t keep mooching off you and Eliza. I’m really sorry!”

Ian scratched his head and reached to touch my shoulder. His voice was calm and filled with anything but anger. He was understanding and as he rubbed my back, my staggered breathing began to slow down.

“Shhh, don’t worry about it right now. Tomorrow is another day. Today is over and there’s nothing we can do about it. We just have to keep moving, ya know?”

“B-but I can’t keep this up, “I said with a soft whimper in my voice.

There was something in his eyes as he looked me up and down. It wasn’t a look that would have insulted me, but the gleam in his eye translated that he had come up with something.

“What is it?” I asked.

“I may have someone you could talk to about a job.”

“Really?!”

“I don’t think it would be something you would consider to be a dream job, but the pay is decent.”

“I’ll do it! I’ll do whatever they need me to do!”

He looked down and allowed his hand to slither down my arm, “Talk to Eliza.”

Maybe I was over excited about a possible job opportunity that I forgot to ask what the job was. Maybe I should have done that before parading around the apartment with an excited grin because when Eliza walked in, things began to click.

I never knew what either of them did for a living, but I knew that they were bringing in enough money to afford a three bedroom apartment. I needed to contribute to that, but upon finding out the source of Eliza’s income, my stomach began to squirm. Her job wasn’t something a young girl would choose to do, but would it be something I would choose to do?

 Her attire was nothing compared to what she wore the very first time I saw her. Her torso was loosely embraced by a black corset and her skirt was well, a tiny piece of fabric. I wasn’t even sure if that was considered a skirt. Her skin was shining, but her tiered face soon gave off a half-smile once she pulled out a thick stack of money that was bound by a rubber band.

“What’s going on?” She asked while she ran her fingers along the bills.

“No one is hiring and Riona desperately wants a job, “Muttered Ian.

“Desperately? And you send her to me?” Eliza scrunched up her nose and turned to me, “Are you sure?” She nipped at her lip and exhaled, “Ian, does she even know what I do?”

“You dance!” I chirped.

“Sweets, it’s not just your regular dancing…”

“I know. You dance for people a-and they pay you.”

Hearing me struggling with the basic job description, Eliza tossed Ian the money before she turned back to  me. Could she tell I was nervous? But what could I have done? No one was hiring and this would only be until I could get enough money to figure out what I was going to do. I looked at Eliza and at the beads of sweat that lined her brow. I wondered if she chose that job because she wanted to. No, that didn’t seem like something she would choose, or maybe she simply hid it well.

“Knowing the truth, did you change your mind?”

 I had two choices. I could have continued the tedious job hunt or I could have taken the job. No, going back to France was not an option because I didn’t want to see that look on my sisters face that shouted “I told ya so!” This was my opportunity to do something different and to get a fresh start as Riona, the girl who took a chance, and not Riona, the girl who stayed home and watched her life pass her by.

“Think this through, Riona. It’s not something you can rush because I’ll be honest with you, this job isn’t something you would talk about with your Mother. I know my Mom is probably regretting the moment she gave birth to me knowing how I turned out, but hey, the money is good.”

“I-I haven’t changed my mind.”

“So?”

“I want the job.”

In the club that Eliza worked at, it was easy to get a job because her boss needed new girls. It was definitely strange even talking about this profession, but I guess I had to get used to it. I had to set my feelings aside if I wanted to earn the money. I knew that I would have to step out of my comfort zone for the job. 

While getting ready for bed, Eliza walked in and leaned against the door frame.

“Hey.”

I set my pillow back down on the bed and motioned for her to come in.

Eliza folded her arms across her chest as she looked around, “If you want to work at the club, you will have to make some changes.”

“Changes?”

She nodded, “You really have to set ‘Riona’ aside when you’re at work. Things will be easier for you if you change something about yourself. Physical changes always help.” She stepped closer to me and twirled her finger through my hair.

“I’ll have to cut m-my hair?”

“Oh no! No!” She laughed, “Your hair is far too pretty to cut. I would suggest dyeing it.”

After staring into the mirror so I could memorize the old “Riona”, I closed my eyes and took a seat. My decision was made. I was going to dye my hair and set the old Riona aside.

Rubbing the dye into my hair, Eliza began to hum. How did she stay so calm and collected? 

“Have you been working there for a while?” I asked.

“Hmm? Oh, yeah, I guess.”

“How do you..?” I mumbled.

Eliza chuckled and sat down on the bed. “How do I take my clothes off for money?”

I felt my cheeks warm up before nodding slowly.

“Well, it’s, “She sighed, “I won’t lie. It’s humiliating and at first I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it. I just push those thoughts aside and remember that because of those old creeps, I am able to live here. You just have to keep your eye on the prize.”

I slightly smiled, “You’re very strong , Eliza.”

“Nah, I’ve just gotten really good at pretending, but thanks.”

After the dye embraced every last strand of chocolate hair, I wandered over to the bathroom, so I could rinse off any remaining dye that refused to latch onto my hair. As I ran my fingers through my hair, I couldn’t help but smile. This was going to be a new part of my new life. Things would finally start looking up, wouldn’t they? I was going to have a job that I would work hard to keep and I was going to have a roof over my head. In a way, things were starting to look up.

I was no longer Riona, the innocent little girl who sat in the back of her class, but I was Riona, the exciting and brave woman who would have a great life in the city.

“Well, well, I think I did a pretty darn good job, “Grinned Eliza while she played with my now silver hair.

I intertwined my fingers with my own and sighed happily, “This is the new Riona, eh?”

Suddenly, Eliza gasped and grabbed my shoulder, “Actually, I forgot to mention that you will need a stage name.”

“A-a stage name? I thought that was only in movies, “I whimpered.

“No, no. Stage names are for your safety and well, they can also get you some extra money. My name is Eliza, but when I’m at work, they call me Kitten.”

I cocked my head to the side. Stage names were like pet names? Was I going to be a pet?!

“It’s not as bad as you think. We just have to figure something out for you. You’re French,right?”

“Yes, “I replied.

“Perfect. Now, we just have to figure something out that sounds sexy and well, French.”

Sexy. That word never settled well with me.

“Pepe, Jacqueline?” Mumbled Eliza as she ran her hand up her leg, so she could pull up her long socks. “Nothing sounds right.”

“Helloo? Are you girls still up?” Asked Ian before opening the door to reveal himself to us. He was in nothing but his sweat pants, so he was probably on his way to bed.

I was still in nothing but a dress shirt and cotton undies, so I immediately shot up and grabbed on to the bottom of the shirt. Oh please, if I was going to be dancing at a strip joint I had to get used to this,right? Oh boy, this was going to be much harder than I thought.

“Wowza!” He laughed and pointed his finger at me. His toned chest definitely caught my eye.

“He-hello, Ian, “I managed to whisper.

“You are smokin’ Riona!”

“HEY! It’s not Riona right now.”

“Stage name?” He chuckled, “Just nothing that is close to yours,alright? One Kitten is enough.”

“Shut the frick up, you loser, ” She laughed before nudging me, “Hey, Riona. Why so quiet?”

Then it came to me. I had the perfect name that didn’t scream STRIPPER, but something more subtle and even a little cute. My cheeks were a lovely shade of crimson and I could feel it as I spoke.

“I have a name.”

Ian and Eliza smirked, “Oh?”

“Say hello to Bijou, “I giggled.

“Helloooo, Bijou!” They said in unison.

Chapter Two

With half closed eyes, I flicked my wrist repeatedly to watch the clear liquid form a miniature tornado inside the glass. While the liquid swirled around, I did my best to fight the urge to sleep, but my eyes were growing heavier as if a ton of bricks was weighing them down. No, I couldn’t let myself drift off knowing what was awaiting me on the other side. Sleep was once a sanctuary, a safety net after a day full of unmentionable events, but now, I’m not sure if I could even recall the last time I woke up with a smile upon my face.

I came to Crystal Springs seeking a new life and opportunities to fulfill colossal dreams. With my innocent mind and pure flesh, I would stand before the giant fountain with a juvenile grin plastered on my face. Fresh out of High School, no real-world experience, I was way in over my head when I reached in so I could sprinkle the small droplets of water against my overheating face. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t have a place to stay.

I didn’t have a plan.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“Excuse me?”

“La bonté, l’eau sent si bon. C’est un peu puant, mais je vais vivre.” I muttered as I sniffed my hand before rubbing the excess water against my hoodie. As I wrinkled my nose, I looked back into the fountain to examine the thick layer of copper coins that lined the bottom of the structure. “Fountain water sure doesn’t smell too good.” I whispered, in English that time.

“Just leave her alone. Didn’t you hear that shit coming out of her mouth? She’s a foreigner,” Snarled a male.

“Ian, shut your trap for one fucking moment, alright?” Groaned a female before her sneakers made a light scraping sound against the pavement as she walked forward.

“I wonder, “I muttered while I snaked my hand through the change in the water. My mind was racing, thinking of all of the money that was there and why no one was taking it. Sure, we had these in France, but I was expecting something different here. Maybe the movies really did blow things out of proportion when they talked about the city life. With my grin growing wider and wider, a small squeal sneaked past my lips.

“HEY!”

Immediately, my eyes widened and I shot up to look at the woman before me. Her dirty blond hair hugged her tan shoulders and her body was clothed with a tight black tank top and faded denim jeans . With her emerald eyes, she looked me square in the eye and raised her hands as if she were an orchestra director, motioning for the strings to place their bows on the string. Did she think I was deaf? Was she going to start signing?

“Hell-o!” She shouted. “Speak-o English-o? Comprendo?” She shouted while flailing her arms around as if that was supposed to help communicate what she was trying to say.

“Not everyone speaks Spanish, you moron!”

“Well, why don’t you try figuring out what she speaks. At least I passed my Spanish class!”

Looking past the woman, I noticed a dark-haired male flashing both of his middle fingers at the snarling female. They must have been good friends,eh?

“I-“

“Why don’t you just get lost!” She shouted once more.

“I sp-“

“Shut up, Eliza. You look like a lunatic waving your arms around like that. I’m sure that chick thinks so too, “cackled the man.

“Excuse me!” I chirped.

The fuming woman suddenly cooled off and turned to look at me. A sly smirk graced her bronze face before she gave me a nod, “You speak our language?”

I nodded.

“What the fuck kind of language were you speaking earlier if it wasn’t Español?” She laughed.

“What language?” I asked, trying to figure out what I said before I was startled by the pairs conversation. Well, if you could even consider that to be a conversation.

“Well?” She asked, sounding impatient.

“Maybe I was talking to myself in French? I have a habit of doing that. I just sometimes start talking and there honestly is no end. Maybe it’s because I’ve been pretty much alone since I got here, but it’s quite alright. I-“

“Woaaaaah, slow down there, girl, ” chuckled the woman as she motioned for the male to step closer. Latching her arm around his shoulder, she exhaled loudly. “Well, I was going to ask you something, but all of this foreign mumbo-jumbo made me forget. Good lord. Ian, sweetie, do you remember what I wanted to ask her?”

The man who was apparently named Ian, threw the woman’s arm off of his shoulder and cleared his throat, “You seem a little lost. Did your Mom leave you here?”

“My Mom? No, I’m here alone.”

Eliza furrowed her brow and grabbed onto Ian’s arm. “Alone? Aren’t you a bit too young to be wandering around the big, bad city all alone, little girl?”

Ugh. I hated that. I hated being called “little”. Was I going to be treated the same way as I was back home as the little innocent Riona who always needed a helping hand? No. This was me stepping out of my shell, moving forward, and not looking back.

“What does it matter to you? I am definitely old enough to wander here and even live here on my own. Alright? Hey, why should I even be explaining myself to you? This isn’t any of your business!” With clenched fists, my cheeks puffed up and I wanted to keep going and going with every little smart remark I could think of. Perhaps it was the city aura that was getting me all worked up.

“Ian, I’m going to have a little chat with  this little “adult”. Why don’t you go meet Drake, pay him, and then go home. Get some extra sheets, okay?”

As I watched the man give Eliza a stern nod, I found myself grabbing my stomach. Was it already that late? I only had 452 euro with me, which was a little over 600 American dollars, and I was hoping that it would last till I would find a job and an apartment. My mind was racing, trying to figure out how to satisfy my screeching stomach without spending much of my money. But as usual, my stomach gave off a raptor-like growl.

“Eeep!” I blushed and lowered my head.

“Hmm?” Smirked Eliza as she pointed at my abdomen. “Are ya hungry?” Not waiting for my reply, she motioned for me to sit down on the granite stairs across from the fountain

I did as she told, but when I did finally sit down, my mind was blown by the sight of the busy city with its buzzing civilians and exclaiming street vendors. As the sun began to set, the city only continued to expand. The streets soon lost the buzz of the civilians but that didn’t mean anything. The city never slept,right? Every building in the distance was beginning to light up like the stars in the sky.

“You like it here?” Asked Eliza.

“It is…it is very pretty at night, “I spoke softly.

“It may seem like it now, but don’t think that everyone will come and help you, little girl. The city can bring you way up to walk among the stars in those big buildings, or it could send you spiraling down to nothing.”

“I’m not a little girl and I just want to make it to the middle of that, but first, “I whimpered as my belly growled.

“You never told me if you were hungry, li-” She stopped and nudged me, “What’s your name, hungry girl?”

“Riona, “I replied.

“Wow, that’s a really foreign name, but alright, Rihanna.”

My eyes widened as I waved my hands in front of me, “It’s Riona! Ree-ona!”

Eliza and I remained sitting as we laughed and talked about what the city meant to me and what I hoped to accomplished while living there. As I talked about my dreams of living in a little studio apartment with a kitten and a stable job, I could hear Eliza chuckling.

“Maybe you’ll make it there, Riona. Maybe you will, “She said quietly while she rubbed her wrist. With a short sigh, Eliza smacked her hand against her knee and stood up. “Well looks like it’s time to go home.”

“Oh. It was nice talking to you, Miss Eliza. That is your name,right?”

She nodded, “Yup, that’s my name and I hope this isn’t the last time we get to talk.” Taking a look at me and the small bag beside me, Eliza clicked her tongue. “Come on.”

“W-what?” I whimpered.

“You can’t stay on the streets all night. Been there, done that. It’s not fun, so come on.”

Just like that, I was given a room and a small bed to sleep in for the night till I could come up with some rent money. I never imagined that fate would be so kind and bring me such angels to take me in and keep me safe from the rumored darkness of the city streets.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“Good Morning, passengers. The trolley will be making morning rounds in just a few minutes. This is a perfect time to stretch your legs, say hello, and prepare yourself for another full day of travel. We hope you are enjoying your trip!”

“No sleep, “I muttered before standing up and stretching my arms over my head. To be honest, I lost track of how long I was on that train at that point, but it didn’t matter to me. I was going away, and that’s all that I needed to know.

For a train ride, everything was very smooth. It must have been a good route or well, who would have spent hundreds of dollars for a ticket, right? I stood before the window, expressionless. The further we moved along the tracks, I knew that it wouldn’t be long till I could start over. One by one, my memories would surface and begin to fade.

I picked up the glass which contents were almost evaporated completely. After taking a small sip from the half-empty glass, I shook my head and placed it back down.

Why did it take me so long to realize I was sent fallen angels?