Dancer for Money

Chapter 2 - A Fool's Game

by Dice


Chapter 2. A Fool's Game

The door is propped open by an empty plastic crate, the low buzz of a vacuum cleaner reaches me as I press my weight into the door pushing it open a slight bit more to let me through. I nod at Bea as I walk past and she cocks her head, her body jerking to the rhythm of the shrieking heavy metal music I can hear despite her headphones, she slides the nozzle ineffectually across some broken glass on the floor, but doesn't seem likely to muster up any more effort.

The club's still empty, it's early and a weekday, there'll be a crowd though, later, there always is. I don't see Guy, but another shape catches my eye, leaning casually on the railing lining the stage. He's watching me approach with a lazy smile playing at the corner of his mouth.

"Hullo," Sam gives me a slow nod.

"Hey," I say awkwardly, I hadn't been sure I'd be able to look him in the eye tonight, but now that we're here I feel my pace quicken in tune with my heartbeat and I have to stop myself from rushing up to him.

I tilt my head and give him my usual wicked grin and a nonchalant wink as I walk past him towards the backstage door. He says nothing only follows me with his gaze, but just as I'm about to open the door he slips a hand around my arm and applies enough pressure to stop me dead. I check his face quickly, but he just looks at me quietly.

"What?" I swallow, he's too bloody strong for my comfort.

"Don't do nothing stupid tonight, all right?" he says and then lets me go and, taking his eyes off me as if he neither expects nor cares whether he gets a response, he moves away to make the rounds and I stare after him for a moment, then look down at my feet.

I know the feeling that's creeping up on me. It's familiar enough, although I used to tell myself that it was a useless emotion, one that would just pull me down and drown me, only…

I decisively shake it, it doesn't matter, nothing matters. I swing the door open, then slam it shut behind me, working myself into anger. The room stinks of cigarettes and sweat. The light reflects in the mirrors on the walls, intensifying it and it's a stark, almost painful contrast to the dimly lit club outside.

There's an odd mix of urgency and lethargy in the narrow room. A few of the boys are draped across the sofa, Ollie's reading a magazine, a couple of others are getting dressed, or undressed as the case may be; there's some kind of argument over socks that I tune out. I grit my teeth and let my glare settle on the far wall.

"What crawled up your ass?" Shorty slams a bundle of clothes into my chest and drops down by the mirror, lighting a cigarette and squirting hair gel in his free hand. I wince and give the pink silk of the costume a look of disgust before dumping it on Ollie, who pulls a face and toss it across the room. I sit down on the table.

"Your ex!" I tell him and he flips me off and rolls his eyes, not really interested anyway.

The door opens again and I look up as Nick saunters in, his spikey, bleached blond hair look almost translucent against the dark of the club outside. As he shuts the door he finds me with his eyes and a teasing smile flit across his features. I blow out a groan between clenched teeth.

"You owe me…" he says playfully, but I know the undertone and look away. Damn it. Of course he'd pull that shit on me now, why wouldn't he? He can smell when you're ripe. I cringe and begin forming a response, but none can really end with me giving him money.

"Hell, Nick, my rent is due… fuck…"

"Find some trick then, fuck if I care how you get it!" he says, a sharpness to the carelessness of the comment. He jostles Shorty out of his seat, the other boy jumping aside as if stung. Nick gives me a long look across his shoulder in the mirror.

I meet his eyes for a moment and then look away. Shorty's across the room now and like the others are pointedly not looking our way. I swallow a sour rise of bile from my gut. I know some of them hustle to sustain their habits, but I haven't fallen that far… unless you count the occasional hand job for a tenner and I don't. I don't.

There's a call at the door, club's opening. The others move out, some will go on stage, some will serve drinks. I remain seated on the table.

Nick stands and gathers up a couple of things from the surface in front of him, he starts to change his clothes, but then he stops and turns on me, the look on his face changing to a calculating one that sends chills down my spine. "Or… if you're interested…" he drawls making certain he has my full attention. "I'll let it go… if you do me a favour."

Shit, shit, shit. Favours for Nick, that would be one of those stupid things Sam was talking about. But I really don't have the money, doesn't matter what meagre tips I earn tonight, Nick will want more than what Guy lets me keep and the damn rent really is due, late actually if you want to be picky about it.

Caught between the unspoken threat of Nick's connections and the less than appealing idea of being homeless if the landlord catches me without cash, I finally shrug and nod my head, he doesn't say anything more, just leaves for the stage.

I'm up next, I swallow the acid in my mouth and start to change.

*****

Dean hauls the last shitfaced loiterer up from his chair, dragging him towards the exit. I stare dark eyed after them, another night over. Nick brushes past me, squeezing my hand as he goes past without even a look back and heads out. I slip the small key into my jeans pocket and roll my head, listening to the crackling of my neck.

I'm in no way up for this.

Letting myself out through the backdoor I find myself in the back alley, the stench of old trash from the dumpster curdling my insides. It's dark, the light over the door long since broken, I move to stand just out of reach of the streetlights, not certain what I'm waiting for.

The door slams behind me, startling me and I turn to the sound of a lighter, the quick flare lights up Sam's face. He doesn't seem surprised to see me, obviously saw me leave. He comes towards me and I can't take my eyes of him; a prowling predator bathed in darkness and mist.

He stops beside me, tilts his head and takes a drag of the cigarette before passing it to me, I take it, feeling the tremble of my hand as our fingers meet.

"Are you hustling?" he takes another cigarette out and lights it.

"What if I am?" I hold the cigarette between cold fingers, trying to make him look away, but he simply returns my glare until I'm the one who turns away.

"Me and Dean threw some real assholes out tonight, probably still around," he says.

Fair enough, good of him to warn me, I've had my share of disturbing encounters with the dregs who can't even measure up to the low standards of the dive Guy runs.

"I'm not hustling," I assure him.

"So, what are you doing?" he counters and I have another try at staring him down, but fail and resort to rolling my eyes instead, sneering.

"None of your business, is it?" I say.

He draws closer, leaning his dark hand on the wall behind me and I press my back against the bricks looking up at him. He doesn't speak at first and I am about to tell him to get off my back when he leans in and catches my lips in a relentless kiss. I kiss him back without thinking and feel my head reel with the sensation, I close my eyes and drown in it.

Then he pulls away, breathing heavily.

"I think I'm making you my business," he says and I snap back to reality and give him an angry shove.

"I'm nobody's business but my own!" I snarl and turn to walk away, but his hand is around my arm, again turning me around and I glare at him. "Look, I like you, Sam, let's keep it that way!" I say warningly.

"What good will that do me if you're dug out of a dumpster tomorrow morning?" he returns and I snatch my arm out of his grip.

"Fuck off!" I hiss. I really don't have time for this; the key in my pocket feels like a lead weight and I need to go now. "Just leave me the hell alone!" I back away and this time he lets me go, only his eyes following me into the night.

*****

I still feel as though Sam's watching when I get off the bus at the last stop on Eastern, the driver turns the engine off and snaps open a newspaper. He gives me a glare in the rear view mirror when I hesitate at the door and I jump out. The doors close even as I'm still touching them. I feel an urge to kick a dent in the side of the bus, but it wouldn't be clever getting myself noticed or remembered out here. Not tonight.

I pull my hood down a little more and shove my hands into my pockets. I try to walk calmly, as if I'm on my way home, but I sense the nervous spring in my step and the twitch in my neck every time I have to prevent myself from turning around sharply at a noise.

There are mainly businesses and warehouses in this area. I've worked here on odd jobs and know my way around, even waited tables at a small café for a few weeks before I gave it up, didn't even stay long enough to get paid.

It doesn't take long to track down the place where Nick has asked me to pay a visit. It's a small building squared away in the corner of a large car park. Over a dark window with a metal grate pulled down across it, an unremarkable sign spells out the equally unremarkable name. I draw a shaky breath and grip the key in my pocket - it's not for the front door.

I skirt around the edge of the car park, ending up at the entrance to a narrow ally where someone has parked a muddy van. I press against the wall and clamber over a couple of crates and then I'm standing in front of a backdoor with a large padlock. I squeeze the key. My teeth are rattling now - there's still a chance to go back, catch the next bus and tell Nick… tell Nick what?

I pull out the key and wrap the sleeve of my sweater around my hand as I grab the lock. I will the key not to fit as I fumble with it, but it slips right in and I turn it; the click echoes in the silence. I stiffen, a car passes somewhere in the distance and then nothing again.

I still keep my hand inside my sleeve as I push the door open. Just in and out, lock the door and no one will ever know I was here. The storage room is pitch black and I obviously have no torch and no lighter. I let the door close behind me and then I stand in the dark until my eyes adjust and I see the shapes of shelves and boxes. Edging forward, I exit the backroom and come into the front. The grate across the window casts jagged shadows on the tile floor.

Nick's instructions left me with little doubt as to what to take and where it is and I steer my steps towards the manager's office, but as I turn the handle the door refuses to budge. I nearly laugh out loud.

I back up and look around. Entering a building with a key is one thing, breaking into a locked office is another. I stare at the door and then close my eyes.

The kick breaks the doorframe and I wince at the noise, but the door flies open, slamming into a filing cabinet. I wait tensely for some evidence that my actions have dropped me in it, but there's nothing. I move forward and walk behind the desk, careful not to touch the knobs with my bare hands as I open the drawers. Bottom left I find what I'm looking for, a green and blue plastic bag with a tin box in it. I didn't ask Nick what was in it or why he needs it and I won't; perhaps he doesn't know either.

I pull the office door closed behind me, surprised when it snaps in place despite the broken frame. Then I make my way through the unlit storage area, knocking my knee into a shelf, I curse under my breath and then I'm finally out the backdoor.

The van is gone.

Standing there immovable, my mind races. I know I have to act and quickly before anyone notices me - whoever moved the van could be coming right back. I unhitch the lock from the latch and lock it, then realise I touched it and hurriedly wipe it with my sleeve.

"Oi! You! What the fuck are you up to back there?!"

I drop the key on the ground, frantically snatching the plastic bag up. Backing into the wire fence behind me I watch as the shape of a man moves towards me, vaguely backlit from the lights in the car park. There's no way to get by him, he is hefty and the narrow alley isn't wide enough for me to dodge him. I press harder against the fence and suddenly feel it give behind me. I fall onto the asphalt on the other side, my jeans shredding on the metal fence and my foot catching in the narrow gap. The plastic bag is ripped open and the tin box clatter to the ground.

The man lurch forward, cursing and hollering and I tear my foot loose from the fence, my shoe coming halfway off. Grabbing the box I stumble down the street, pressing my foot back into the shoe. Not caring where I am, or if I'm going the right way, I run blindly, the box pressed against my chest.

I've probably run for half an hour before finally my lungs give out and I see only black swirls before my eyes. I lean forward against an anonymous brick wall, panting with my head resting in the crook of my arm and my chest aching with every indrawn breath. My muscles burn and I want to throw up.

The tin box dangle in my left hand, miraculously unscathed. I realise, looking at it from the corner of my eye, that it has a lock, which was why it didn't open when it fell to the ground. I place it under my arm and turn to slump heavily against the wall. Sweat is dripping off me and the cold early morning air chill me to the core, but I know that isn't why I'm shaking.

When I finally manage to force myself to move again I feel a stab of pain in my leg. I look down and see that the tear in my jeans is dark with blood, I grit my teeth. I look around; practically alone but for a truck being unloaded across the street and further down some people are moving into a building that just opened.

I set the box down and slip my sweater off, then my t-shirt which I rip in half and tie around the bloody gap before pulling the sweater on again and the hood down over my forehead. Then, the box tucked securely into my armpit, I start walking.

*****

The knocking is getting to me. A steady hammering that just won't stop. I finally lift the pillow off my face and roll out of bed. My legs are wobbly and I steady myself on the dead man's chair and then on the bookcase and then the wall. I stumble to the door and open it, it's caught and pulled out of my hand, safety chain long since torn off in a row with someone I should've paid back before I had to pay interest in bruises.

"Where the hell have you been?" I wince and lock eyes with Sam, startled by his presence and by the evident anger in his voice. I don't know what to say so I shake my head vaguely, it's not the answer he's looking for. "Are you gonna let me in?" he asks, I shake my head again. "Right."

He remains where he is, looking at me so hard he might as well be smacking me upside the head. My nonexistent resolve weakens and I step back, letting him by. He hesitates for a moment and then moves past.

The flat holds no interest for him and he doesn't appear to see any of it, he only turns to look at me, his arms folding across his chest and his muscles flexing unnervingly under the black leather jacket; I try to swallow, but my mouth is dry. I don't even know what time it is, only that it's dark outside and my head is pounding.

"Want a beer?" I ask, hearing how vapid I sound even as I see his face darken.

"Oh, for fuck's sake!" I flinch back as he throws out his hands. "Where the hell have you been at, you little shit?"

"What's it to you?! God, leave me alone!" I respond in kind. "What the hell right do you have…"

"You haven't shown up at the club for two bloody days!" he shoots me down and I stare at him not quite sure I heard right.

I remember coming home and I remember putting the box… I drop to my knees and dig through the duffel bag under my bed until my hands close around the hard, cold tin box, I don't take it out, just shove it back under the bed. Sam's hand comes down on my shoulder and tightens around the fabric of my sweater; he pulls me up, grabbing me around both arms and then he shakes me once, hard.

"Where were you?" he barks at me and I want to tell him to fuck off, but faced with his overpowering strength I can't get the words out, so I just look at him, eyes wide.

"None of your business…" I trail off. He lets me go with a small shove and a sound of disgust and then moves back.

I can't look at him, shame burns in my stomach like battery acid and my head is still pounding. I want him to leave and I want to crawl back into bed and just die. I can't get my head around losing two days. It doesn't make sense. Of course, it's not like it never happened before, but usually there have been vast amounts of alcohol or something stronger involved, just sleeping away two days shouldn't happen…

Fuck, I probably lost my job too! I'm about to ask Sam when he steps up past me and pulls the covers off my bed.

"The hell is that?" he says and I turn around to look at the bed.

At the lower end of it the sheets are stained nearly black and I look automatically down at my leg where the t-shirt covers the tear in my jeans, it's soaked through. His eyes follow mine and he lets out a grunt, grabbing my arm. He pulls me over to the armchair and stands me in front of it.

"Take off your jeans!"

"What?"

"Just fucking do it, or I will!" he orders and my hands obey despite their trembling. I slip the jeans off; as usual I don't wear underwear, but he doesn't pay attention to anything above my knees, he simply shoves me into the chair and kneels down beside me. "What did you do?"

He examines the gash, it's long and deeper than I thought, although it seems to have closed under the dried blood, when the denim sticks in it, it only reopens a fraction. It makes me a little sick to think I've been lying in my bed bleeding for two days. I don't answer him. There's nothing to say that he'd like to hear or that I'd like to share.

The sting on my bare thigh is so sudden and startling I cry out and nearly jump up, but he holds me back and I take an angry swipe at his shoulder that he barely acknowledges.

"Just fucking tell me!" he says.

"I hurt it on a fence!" I answer coldly.

"On a fence? Where?"

"Somewhere…" he looks at me with those hard eyes again. "I was doing Nick a favour!" I bite out in a muffled voice.

He looks at me, his eyes still hard, but filled with disbelief; then he gets up. For a second I think he'll walk out, but then he leans over me and I only have time to see the purpose in his eyes before he roughly turns me on my side against the armrest and cracks his palm down on my unprotected ass.

I fight unsuccessfully to get up, but he's holding me down with his weight and a strength that allows him to toss grown men into the street at will. My slight build has nothing on him and I know it, but can't stop myself from trying to get away from the searing pain he's inflicting.

"Ow, ow, Sam! Don't! Damn you!" I try to hit him, try to make myself angry instead of miserable, instead of frightened and vulnerable, but all he does is force me higher up on the armrest and spank harder.

He doesn't hold back, he delivers one firm, deliberate smack after another while I squirm and thrash. I'm fighting myself more than him now, trying not to cry out, but tears are welling up and I hate myself for it, it's childish, weak.

"Sam! Stop!" I'm desperate enough to plead. "Please, you have to stop! Please, Sam!" He doesn't respond and he doesn't stop. A sob escapes and then a gasp and then I come undone, burrowing my head into the upholstery, silently letting the tears flow.

He stops. His hand rubs at the back of my neck for a moment in quiet recognition and he relents, backing off. I stay where I am, hiding my face and letting the tears dry up. My stomach keeps convulsing even after I stop sobbing, but I get myself under control and sit back up, wiping my runny nose on my hand and sleeve.

"I thought you were smarter, Jamie," he tells me very quietly and I nod my head mutely in agreement. He crouches down in front of me again, a hand stroking my thigh, I wince and he lowers it to my calf and the messy cut. "Do you have anything to use for this?"

"Like what?" I mumble and he rolls his eyes, letting out an exasperated sigh.

"Like bandages, antiseptics… nothing?" he frowns and stands up again. "Right. OK, suppose you're coming with me then," he resolves and fetters me with a grim look when I begin to squeak a protest, I sink deeper into the armchair and stare at the floor.

The antiseptic stings like fire down my leg and I twitch aside and thump him with my fist, he snatches my wrist as he sways backwards and glares at me.

"Do it again, I dare you!" he growls.

"Fuck you!" I return.

"You already did," he throws my own words back in my face and I fight the temptation to stick my tongue out at him.

He cleans the gash in my leg carefully, it starts bleeding as he's working and he asks me to hold a towel against it while he gets some strips, I raise an eyebrow and he shrugs; he uses them to close up the gash and then he wraps a bandage around my leg. It's evident that this isn't the first time he's done this.

Gathering up the remaining bits and pieces he takes the bloody towel from my hand and then he vanishes into the bathroom again. He doesn't close the door and I hear him move around.

The flat looks no different today from the other night, the same pale green and brown tile in the kitchen and the same drooping flower on the windowsill behind the couch, but all the same everything has changed. I roll down the leg of my only other pair of jeans and then lean back in the kitchen chair, allowing the twinge of pain in my buttocks to carry over into a duller sensation that is still painful, but which I feel better for being able to bear without cringing.

I wait. He washes his hands and I hear the water running for a long time and then it's quiet. I wait a little while longer, rubbing my thigh with a hand that's beginning to sweat. I shift my feet under the table to prevent them tapping tensely.

Then I stand, turning my back to the bathroom. I glance at the photos in the bookshelf, he's in almost all of them, as a young man, as a boy, with his brother, with his parents, with friends. I take one down, running my finger over the black frame, he's told me he was adopted, but seeing him with his parents, towering over the lean, fair skinned man with glasses, who has to be his father, even as a teenager I'm still slightly thrown. I put the photo back and return to the chair.

He comes back out after another few minutes, but he stays across the room from me, leaning his shoulder against the wall with folded arms, simply watching me with an impenetrable look in his eyes. My foot starts tapping again.

"You hungry?" he asks and I take my eyes off him and look at my hands in my lap. I nod without looking up, I'm not really hungry, but well aware that I haven't eaten for over two days. "I could go for that beer about now, you?" I nod again.

He warms some leftover stew with noodles and nods me over to the couch as he places the plate and a beer on the coffee table, sitting himself down in the other corner, dangling an arm over the back of the couch and opening the beer with one hand. I don't move, looking at him my stomach quiver at the sight of his bare forearm, swung out as if inviting me in, the shirtsleeve rolled up casually.

I slowly stand and purposely take the route that forces me to brush against his legs when I sit down, he doesn't budge, but I see a glint in his eye and the slight twitch of his lip. I wet my own and chew absentmindedly on the lower left corner of them. He lifts the beer to his mouth and drinks unhurriedly.

I give him a sharp push with my knee so that he dribbles a mouthful over his chin and then, as he wipes his face with a stifled curse, I slip down in the couch, pulling a leg up in front of me in defence. He gives me a glare that's completely ruined by a grin he can't prevent.

"You're really asking for it!" he says and I grin back.

"Uh uh, don't get any ideas!" I deny the accusation passionately.

He relaxes back into the couch, propping up an elbow so he can rest his head in his hand, he's watching me again with that look I can't read. I pick up the fork and dig into the food, it's spicy and tastes of curry, which I don't really like, but I eat anyway.

"Not the first time, eh?" it's not really a question and I can't think of a response so I just shrug and keep eating. He's still watching me.

"Why?" I say indifferently when the silence begins to get to me.

"Am I wrong?" he returns and I sneer a little; he laughs. "So?" he prods for more information, but that I'm not willing to give, so again I just shrug vaguely and turn my attention back to the now almost empty plate. "Right."

That curt little word says an annoying lot. I give him a tired look, he wouldn't even begin to understand if I told him. I set the fork down. The beer remains unopened on the table.

"I should go…" I state and start to get up.

"Right."

There it is again, now with a slight sarcastic tone that grates on my temper. He takes another swig of his beer and then holds the can with both hands looking at it, his head shaking slowly as if in response to his thoughts. I stand up completely, wiping my hands on my jeans. Now it's my turn to lean over him, eyes hard and jaw set, I place my hand on the back of the couch and tilt my head.

"Fuck off!" I say tightly when he meets my eyes. "It's none of your business!" He looks at me quizzically and then turn away as he sets the beer down. I know I'm pushing my luck, but stay where I am, my heart beating hard against my ribs, heat building from my torso and up my neck.

He languidly uncoils himself and leans back into the sofa, every inch of him declaring my challenge accepted. One hand comes up and he nudges my chin, his half-lidded eyes locking with mine and my knees nearly buckle.

"I thought I told you, you little shit," he says and the last words roll off his tongue softly like they're an endearment, "I'm making you my business."

His hand moves to rest on the back of my neck and it's like a vice, refusing to give when I begin to pull away, but his lips as they close on mine are gentle, almost hesitant… I find myself responding to both actions with startling need.

I lean into him, my hands slide down his body and I pull his t-shirt off him. His fingers hook into the belt loops of my jeans, drawing me even closer and I kiss his neck and then his chest while he struggles with my hoodie; my knees hit the floor, the hurt leg forgotten and I kiss the taut muscles of his abdomen while opening his fly.

He leans forward and catches my mouth with his again, our eyes meet as I pull away, breathless, his hands cup my face tenderly, but there's an unmistakable firmness in his grip, I grin at him but he buries his matching grin in my neck, kissing me down the shoulder… I melt into him.

Chapter 3 - Lost in the Tide

~ Dice

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