After a little bit, Mel stuffs her face as fast as she can and then taps her fingers on the tabletop while she waits for me to finish my sundae. It has peanut butter sauce and fudge, which means that I’m not hurrying.

“Oh. My. God. Hurry up, Avery. You’re killing me.”

I lick the fudge off the back of my spoon without thinking. The nerves that have been twisting my stomach into knots are finally fading. I think I might be able to find Sean and ask him without puking on him. Screw wine, chocolate does wonders for the nerves. “Done.” I put my spoon down and Mel bounces out of her seat.

“I’ll pay my half to you after you find me. See you in a second, okay?”

“Mel, where are you going?”

She flashes a wicked smile my way. “Back to the jewelry store, where else?” Before I can tell her that an assault charge will interfere with her life, she’s gone.

I sit in the booth for a second and my phone chirps. I pull it out of my purse and thumb the screen to life. There’s a text message from a number that I don’t recognize. The area code isn’t from around here.


I type back, Who’s this?

Someone who misses you.

My stomach swirls as I type in his name. Sean?

Yeah, baby. Do you miss me?

What I type doesn’t convey how much. Yes.

I miss you too… I grin like a dork for a few seconds until his next message appears. So, what are you earring? Pause. I blink at the screen trying to figure that one out when it chimes again. Ducking autocorrect.

That makes me laugh. Ikr? Damn dicks… And I press send before I see the typo. I swear, smart phones were made to make people look stupid. Ducks, ducks! I type quickly and hit send.

Lol. Sure. There’s a pause and then he sends, I need to see you again.

My heart rate picks up and thumps along at a million miles per hour as it soars through the sky. He wants to see me! I try to play it cool and decide to refrain from writing back YYYYYEEEEEEESSSSSS!!!!! like an orgasmic hornball. I’m beaming. It’s a sure thing now. If Sean can’t leave me behind, he must want to be with me. My decision to ask him to marry me seems like a better plan now. I can’t wait to see him, and I don’t want to wait. I’m getting a ring and finding him tonight.

I type back, I’d like that.

Then I’ll see you soon. I need to take care of a few things and then I’ll be in touch.

Acid couldn’t wipe the smile off my face after reading that.

When I finish at the restaurant, I pay the tab and then wander through the mall with a goofy look on my face, resisting the urge to skip and tap my heels together. Oh hell, I do it anyway. I skip twice, which is really more of a gallop, before I jump. When I go to tap my heels together, I miss. It’s the most uncoordinated thing I’ve ever done. I come down with my ankle at a strange angle and fall on my ass.

A couple of guys clap loudly and chide, “Nice, honey! Way to stick the landing!” They laugh and walk by me like I’m too stupid to be alive, but I so don’t care.

I jump up and brush off my butt with a huge blush across my face, giggling. The other guy winks at me, like I’m really cute. Who knew my super sucky coordination skills were attractive? I duck my head and scurry away before I manage to trip on my feet.

When I catch up to Mel in the jewelry store, Tiffany is glowering in the corner with her arms folded over her plastic boobs. I bounce up next to Mel. “What are you doing?”

She beams at me. “I figured I needed some stuff while we were here—ya know, some gold hoops, a 3 carat diamond pendant to match. Nothing much. My friend Roger here is ringing me up and I’m going to pay in cash.” Her voice is so loud. If pride had a face, it would be Mel’s. She beams at me as she lays out over $10,000 in cash, slapping it down on the counter, bill by bill, grinning.

Tiffany rolls her eyes. I wave her over and she looks hopeful. “Hey,” I ask, “you got a second?” She nods, hoping that I’m going to spend as much as Mel. Like I’d spend it with her after that? Seriously, someone sniffed too many markers. We both glance at Mel. After a moment, I say, “It’s too bad you went super bitch on her ass, before. On the bright side, you just pushed your friend’s sales quota over the top for the month.”

I beam at her and walk over to Mel, who’s wearing her new jewelry. “Damn, that’s a big diamond.” It’s a princess cut and looks stunning against her dark skin. The chain is white gold and matches the crusted diamond earrings she bought to match it.

Mel flashes her bright smile my way, actually giddy. “I know. I said to myself that I needed to buy myself a present. I work hard and I deserve nice shit, so I came back in here and Roger—this wonderful man—helped me pick out the biggest diamond pendant they had. Now it’s mine!” She squeals and claps her hands together like she’s too excited to breathe. Then, she looks over at Tiffany and waves. “Have a nice day, Bitchy Barbie.”


On the way home that afternoon, I get a call from Black. When I answer the phone, her voice is terse and the epitome of unfriendly. “Where are you?”

“I’m with Mel, why? Is something wrong?” What could go wrong at an illegal brothel? For a second I think the cops are raiding her office, but it’s too quiet.

Black’s teeth click together when she speaks. “You have a client this evening, Avery. You need to stop in here before you go. It’s late, so I reiterate—where are you?”

I’d planned on driving to Jersey tonight to find Sean. Mel glances at me out of the corner of her eye while driving Southern State like a race car driver. She cuts off a pickup truck who blares his horn at us. We’re going to get caught in rush hour if we don’t get back to the dorm soon. I need to pack a bag before I go.

“I didn’t sign up to work tonight. Mel and I are off.”

“You and Mel are both working. There are clients, Avery and—”

Pulling the phone away from my mouth, I whisper to Mel, “Are you working tonight?” She shakes her head. “Turns out we are. Can she do that?” Mel wiggles her fingers, meaning for me to give her the phone. “You can’t drive and talk—” Mel snatches the phone from me. “Okay, so maybe you can…”

Mel’s voice is as hard as Black’s. “Hey, Miss Black. I was out with my home-fry, Avery. What up?” Mel mouths, “I’ll handle this. No reason to go whiter than you already are. We need to get you some color, girl.” Mel jerks the car and changes lanes, leaving my stomach behind us. I hate driving with her in traffic. She bobs and weaves, yanking the steering wheel, changing lanes abruptly, and flying like the car should have wings.

Mel grins, “Well, it’s gonna cost you. We had plans.” Mel presses the phone to her shoulder and cuts across three lanes of traffic to get to our exit. Horns blare, but somehow she still hears what Miss Black says. “Fine, whatever. All I know is that my days off are getting to be fewer and fewer, and overworked and underpaid are two words that are not in my vocabulary, Miss Black. So, if you want me and Avery to work tonight, you’re going to have to fix that underpaid part. Overtime is a 50% increase. We’re both well into it this month and you know it. Uh huh. Well, that’s a risk I’m willing to take. How ‘bout you, Avery?” Mel makes a sound of agreement, and grins as she comes to a stop light. “Avery says, ‘suck it.’ She’s not taking a charity case either. Go ahead. Sic your big thug on us. I’ll cut him up and don’t you doubt that I won’t. Yeah.” She nods for a few seconds and then a smile breaks across her face like sunlight in the dawning sky. “Damn straight, woman. That’s more like it. We’ll be there in an hour. We both need wardrobe, too.” Mel tosses me back the phone.

I’m a little afraid. I put it to my ear like it might bite me, but Black already hung up. “Are you insane? She threatens to beat the shit out of us and you said bring it?”

Mel shrugs. “It’s part of the game, honey. If you can’t play, get out of the sandbox.” I blink at her like she’s lost her mind. Mel rolls her eyes, “This business is just that—a business. If Black wants to work us like this, then she’s gotta compensate us. That’s all there is to it.”

“Has she ever had Gabe or one of the guys rough you up?”

Mel snorts and glances at me. We turn a corner and head back to the Long Island Expressway. “Where are you getting your info on pimping? Crocodile Dundee? This isn’t 1980, Avery. The most Black will do is make you uncomfortable.”

“You don’t believe that.”

“It’s all talk. Have you ever seen Gabe beat the shit out of anyone?”

“Yeah. Last week. He beat Henry Thomas—”

“So he slapped him around in front of you, but did you witness the whole asskicking?”


“Well, I’ve never seen one either. Odds are that Mr. Dickhead is walking around in the same condition you last saw him in—meaning that Gabe threw a few punches and that was it. If it’s bend over or take a hit, I’d rather get punched in the face. Besides, Black was bluffing this time. She needs us.”

“Yeah, but the key phrase is this time, Mel.” What about next time? Or the time after? What happens when we no longer hold the same value to Black? I don’t want to find out.


The life of a call girl agrees with Mel. She likes to make guys fall on their knees. She tells me that Black gives her the guys that want to be tamed, that need a strong woman. “Most women are too demur. Bunch of pussies.” We’re sitting in the office, checking in.

I stifle a laugh because Black is coming back. She already scolded me for being fat again, even though my measurements are exactly the same. “Avery,” Black snaps her fingers at me, motioning to take the lingerie in her hands, “Put these on and hurry up. You’re going to be late.”

“She’s not late and stop snapping at her like she’s a mutt. Show some respect.” Mel folds her arms over her chest. She’s leaning back in a chair, already dressed and ready to go.

“Why are you still here?” Black’s eyes narrow to slits as she stares at Mel.

“I’m waiting for my friend.”

“Your friend has had enough of you for today. Go and have the driver take you downtown before I get tired of seeing you.” Black glares at Mel and Mel stares back. They hate each other. It’s weird, since I thought they had an okay relationship. Guess not.

Mel backs down first, which is weird. She stands and brushes her dress off. “Fine, but if you mess with her—”

“Yes, you’ll personally carve me a new face. I understand your gang speak. Now go on.” Black uses the most condescending tone I’ve ever heard. I can’t believe Mel doesn’t say anything back, but she doesn’t. Instead, there’s a languid smirk on her face that clearly accompanies the word, BITCH.

Black turns back to me and doesn’t notice, or care. “Well, hurry up!”