Dancer for Money

Chapter 3- Lost in the Tide

by Dice


Chapter 3. Lost in the Tide

I lie in the stillness, counting shadows; they drift across the ceiling of Sam's bedroom with the passing of the cars outside, floating away and apart. I'm not asleep, but not awake. It's silent except for Sam's soft snoring and the distant sounds of the street outside.

The sheets against my naked skin are sweaty and tangled between my legs, my body feels heavy and vaguely numb. A kind of nothingness is growing inside me. It's been lurking there, in the shadows, waiting for sleep to finally slip away and it sinks it's hooks into me now. I draw a quivering breath.

I have to wake up.

My head clears slowly and I swallow a hard knot that is forming in my throat and begin to disentangle myself from the sheets. Hints of grey morning light seep through the window as I gingerly ease myself off the bed, careful to keep my aching backside off the mattress.

I check my bandaged leg, stroking my hand down it carefully, but it seems undisturbed despite our reckless abuse of it. Hands cold and shaking, I grab my sweater off his swivel chair and then I bang my knee on the side of the bed as I scramble for my jeans on the floor. I look around wildly, but Sam only moves restlessly in his sleep and gives a light snore. My eyes dwell on him for a moment longer, the hard knot swelling and aching inside me, filling my chest; I hate myself for doing this to him, but I know I can't stay.

There's no scrap of paper to be found, but I'm not sure what I'd write if there were. I let myself out quietly and jog down the stairs, ignoring the pinch in my leg as I run.

Walking downtown I realise just how sore I am, the feel of his hand still lingers, a tacit reminder of something that's now passed me by. Thinking about him makes my steps slow, hesitation pulling on me and for an instance the urge to go back and throw myself in his arms is so powerful I gasp loudly.

I stand still on the sidewalk, eyes blurring. I can't do this. I can't do this. I can't… I won't! I won't let go, I won't surrender… I can't…

I'm nobody's business but my own!

I grab the first bus I see heading in my direction, before I lose the battle with myself. The day is early and not many people are on the bus at this hour, I walk as far back as I can and sit down, claiming the seat for myself by dragging my feet up beside me. I huddle into my sweater, pulling the hood down over my nose. I drift off to sleep for a few stops and then wake up when more people begin filling the bus.

Looking around I try to get my bearings and decide that I'll get off at the next stop, it shouldn't be too far to my flat. The weather has turned sour as the morning's worn on and a chilly drizzle seeps into my clothes as I walk the last few streets.

There is a cold empty feeling in the room when I enter, the type of dismal damp you get in an abandoned building. I fling my wet sweater to the floor and undo my jeans, they cling to my thighs and I peal them off slowly. I toss them over the back of the armchair to let them dry.

The bandages are only bloody on the area closest to the gash, I put them on the edge of the sink and examine Sam's work, the wound looks neat and clean, only dry blood in a thin line between the strips. I pick at a scab and a few drops of blood appear, so I leave the rest be and get up to turn the shower on.

I'm hit by a jet of icy cold water and pull back, turning the faucet to red, it doesn't do anything and I grit my teeth, no hot water again. I turn it off and sit back down on the toilet lid, my head sinking into my hands, I drag my fingers through my hair and let my hands bunch into fists. What the hell am I doing with my life?

"You can't even keep a job as a third rate stripper!" I don't recognise my voice, it's hollow and grating.

My hands come away greasy as I straighten up, I need to wash my hair, cold water or not. Even though I'm quick about it I leave the bathroom shuddering and try rubbing the cold out of my body with the towel. I bring the bandages with me and sit in the armchair to put it back in place. Sitting my bare bum down on the coarse upholstery doesn't fail to remind me what happened last time I was in this chair and I stop what I'm doing for a second and let the memory hit me.

Sam…

I shake my head, no, I won't think about him! I pick up the towel, gently wiping the water from my leg, it comes away slightly discoloured, but there isn't much bleeding. I carefully wrap the bandages over the gash until it's almost as neat as before and then I pat the jeans hanging behind me, they are still as wet and cold. Instead I crouch down under the bed and pull the bag out, I find a pair of pyjama pants that will do for now.

The grey daylight reflects off the tin box and I feel as if it glares at me from the bottom of the bag. I know I have to get it to Nick. Shit, I could do with a hit. It's been long enough since the last that the need's not physical, but it's still there. I find the little plastic envelope at the bottom of the bag, a collection of pills, innocent looking, might as well be aspirin… they're not though.

A couple and I'd be free, free from feeling like this… all of them and… I'm seized with a cold fear that's like a band of steel around my chest, for a moment making breathing impossible. I gulp for air when I can and stuff the bag back under the bed, as far in as my arms will reach.

Then I turn to look at the sheets in front of me. They're stiff with blood, though it isn't possibly as much as I thought the previous night. I let my hand run across the hardened stain and check the covers, but they only have a few brownish smudges of blood on them. I throw that aside and begin dragging the sheets off. They stick like a band aid to the mattress underneath, which is equally stained and after rolling the sheets into a ball I flip the mattress over, turning the stain towards the floor.

I walk out into the stairwell with the sheets still bundled into a ball in my arms. As I open the garbage chute the door across from mine opens a fraction.

"How are you Mrs. Dreher?" I ask reflexively, expecting the door to slam shut as it always does, but it doesn't.

I glance at her over my shoulder, her narrow eyes are keen as always, she watches me and I hesitate, gritting my teeth and then shake myself. I dispose of my burden and close the chute with more force than is necessary - the sound echoes loudly around me. She still hasn't closed the door.

"What?" I snap finally, whirling around to face her fully and she vanishes, her door closing with a sharp click. I look at it for a while, feeling suddenly guilty.

*****

There's nobody outside the club when I arrive. For a moment I waver, but then Dean appears, dragging along a cursing and struggling man by the scruff of his neck. He throws him callously onto the pavement and he stumbles, falling backwards and tumbling down on his side.

The man staggers drunkenly as he's getting up and takes a few would be threatening steps towards Dean before the futility dawns on him and then he gestures rudely at the club before lumbering towards me across the street.

I pull out of the way and let him pass before I hitch up the bag on my shoulder and begin walking, ahead of me the building looms like a prison, the tall industrial windows boarded up from the inside and covered by metal bars on the outside. Dean's eyes are unreadable as he watches me approach and I stop a few steps away as he folds his arms, I wonder if Guy's said to keep me out. I give him a nod and he spits on the ground.

"Oi, didn't you die?" he says with a sneer. "Guy's got some new butt boy doing your spot tonight," he adds and I shrug, feeling myself relax. It's almost a relief, hearing that I've been replaced, but I'm surprised Sam hasn't told Dean anything.

I don't want to ask, but the question draws itself from my lips and I'm unable to prevent the words as they tumble out.

"Sam's not here yet?" I can't look at Dean and I try to seem as if I don't really care, but I feel heat flood my face.

"Won't fuckin' be here!" Dean frowns and his mouth contorts in a sneer as he spits on the ground again. "Fucker quit day before yesterday!"

He quit? I look at Dean and start to ask another question, but then change my mind; I remind myself that I made my choice - he has nothing to do with me and that's the way I want it.

"So, what are you doing here? Came to blow Guy for your job?" he leers at me and I can feel the revulsion showing on my face, he barks out a hard laugh.

"Nick here?" I say coldly and he sobers up, something contemptuous flitting over his face as he nods me through without so much as a word.

I go in; the place is dark and the music, which I always found too loud is a dull throbbing at the back of the room. On the stage I see a boy I don't know writhing while he struggles to loosen a tie in an even remotely sexy way. The dark blue blazer and round little cap is on the stage, already discarded. I've worn the outfit, I would bet it fit me no better than him, in fact his pale face and large, naive eyes make him pull the look off far better than I ever did… despite being a public school brat growing up.

I keep to the wall and keep my eyes on Guy who is leaning on the bar, watching his new find with a disparaging glower. I know the look; I used to feel it burning its way into me when I was on stage and dreaded facing him afterwards. He'd had me bullied into shape by the end of my first week.

The door to the dressing room is slightly ajar, Nick and the others are probably listening to the crowd to see how they're taking the new arrival. I slip inside and close it, shutting out the music and the whistling and sordid commentary. They all look up at me, an awkward, puzzled silence filling the room.

"Oi," it's Shorty who speaks up, I nod a quiet greeting and then find Nick with my eyes. He's looking at me with a gleam in his eyes that I'm unsure of, even though he's clearly surprised to see me; on the table in front of him there's a magazine and on the cover is a half naked man whose face is obscured by two white lines.

Nick keeps looking at me for another moment, then he leans back, a smirk spreading across his face. He holds out the straw, a small piece of red plastic.

"Couldn't stay away, eh?" he says and I swallow, my eyes staying fixed on his hand, but it's the lines on the table that has my attention.

Then Sam's voice strike out of the back of my mind "that shit ain't you, you know?" God, how I wish he was right. I close my eyes. I'm not going to do it. I'm going to hand over the box and then leave, never looking back.

My head reels. It'd be so easy, so good and then what? Get stuck in Nick's pocket like a fucking puppet on a string? This isn't going to own me, nothing owns me!

"Go fuck yourself," I say and there's a barely perceptible shift in the room. He sneers at me, not doubting what's going through my head, but for whatever reason he lets it go, doesn't push or coax, instead he bends over the magazine and snorts up one white line…

"Here!" I hold the plastic bag out and he glances at me, his eyes already distant, but there's irritation in them. He snatches it from my hands and stuffs it under the table without so much as a word. I watch him for half a second longer and then I turn and walk out. We're done.

I walk straight into the bony form of my replacement and he looks up at me with panicked eyes, the bundle of clothes pressed to his chest. The crowd behind him is loud and I hear them calling for more. He seems to see something on my face that frightens him and he pulls back.

Guy is behind him and his eyes lock with mine, a sneer on his face that sends shivers down my spine. I have to remind myself I don't have to take any of his shit tonight.

"Get in there and tell Nick he's on!" Guy gives the boy a shove without taking his eyes off me and he slips past and vanishes into the dressing room behind me. Then Guy gives me a nod to the side and I reluctantly follow. Nick comes out, he doesn't appear to see us. I catch the look in his eyes as the lights hit his face, they're glazed over, strange. He's far gone.

"What do you want?" I turn to Guy, he's leaning on the wall, we're a few steps away from the nearest table, it's empty, but it wouldn't have mattered, nobody sees anything but what's happening on the stage. I wonder absently if the kid is throwing up, I know I was my first night, he'll be on again in little while though… I wonder if he'll make it.

"Here to get your job back?" Guy drawls, I don't hide the glare. "No? Too bad, see I'd be willing to hire you back… for half the pay, that's what I'm paying him," he nods vaguely at the door behind me. "So, I'd get two scrawny arsed wankers for the price of one, not bad business if you ask me."

I don't know what I'm supposed to say to that. If he wants to piss me off, have a chance to beat me up, or what, so I just shrug. He pulls a face, maybe he's disappointed he couldn't bait me, maybe he's mocking me. I don't care I just want to be out of here now. I move to walk away and he gives my arm a yank.

"Oi, tell your boyfriend he can come pick up his last pay check!" he says roughly and lets me go, turning towards the dressing room door.

"Who?" I stare at his back in confusion and he turns back to me again cocking his head with an unfriendly sneer.

"Who the fuck do you think? Ain't you fucking that big ape?" he snarls.

I don't realise what I'm doing before my fist actually connects with his mouth, I feel his head snap back and his teeth cutting sharply against my knuckles. Blood spatters onto my sleeve and I feel it on my face. He staggers backwards, tumbling against the wall.

I stumble back myself, the anger seeping away quickly, being slowly replaced by dread. He's given me reason to stay clear of his fists before and I swallow as he presses his hands over his mouth.

The whites of his eyes have grown huge in disbelief, then they narrow and a bloody hand stretches out to grab me, but I recoil just out of his reach. He snorts out blood through his nose into his hand as he lumbers towards me, behind me the crowd is cheering at Nick's grinding and no one hears or sees the racket. Dean is still outside.

The door creak behind Guy and, for a split second, his attention is divided. I don't hesitate any longer and take off into the throng, shoving a chair over behind me, but he doesn't seem to be following me.

I realise why when I nearly crash into Dean, who suddenly materialises out of the shadows. He almost makes a grab for me, but then looks behind me at Guy and I turn, choking on my fear, but he shakes his head and Dean steps out of my way. I back away catching Dean's sneer for a heartbeat before I'm out the door.

The air outside is cold and wet, it clings to my face and I find myself shaking. I don't stop to catch my breath. The street is empty and I cross it blindly, fleeing into an alley and then I keep going.

*****

I step onto the last landing before reaching my floor. I'm staring into the brickwork with unseeing eyes. My head is throbbing dully and my chest feels as though I've breathed sand. I lean heavily on the railing, each step stabbing pain into the cut on my leg.

An out of place shape catches my attention from the corner of my eye and I flinch hard, my ragged breath coming up short, nearly stopping and my hand gripping tightly at the bars of the railing.

My eyes meet Sam's and my stomach turns over.

The silence grows thick around us and the persistent flickering of the fluorescent light sends shadows dancing across his face, making his features hard to make out.

"Oi," I hear myself whisper, the sound drifting into the silence.

He moves then, from leaning on my door to standing above me at the top of the stairs, I feel my face shape itself into a mien of regret and I look away from him.

"One word and I'll go," he says, voice flat; when I don't respond he lowers his voice even more and speaks with a crisp edge that shakes me to the core: "Say it to my face, Jamie! Say you want me gone and I'll go!"

A shiver runs through me and I turn away from him, sinking down on the stairs, my hand still clinging to a single iron bar as if trying to keep me from being torn away. I feel my shoulders shake, but I'm not crying. I force my fingers to relax and my hand falls heavily into my lap.

He sits down next to me, his warm shoulder brushing against mine and I feel colder still. He says nothing, just leaves the ball in my court and waits. I can't speak, my throat tightens around the words and they sit there, like stones. I lean into him, my head coming to rest on his shoulder. It's familiar, safe.

I breathe in his smell; there are no vague reminders of the club, only the smell of him. His hand comes up around me to gently stroke my arm, as if he's trying to rub warmth into my chilled form. My hand rises to clasp his shirt.

We sit there quietly.

After a while he takes my hand from his shirt and laces his fingers into mine, turning my hand so that he can look at my knuckles. He runs his thumb over the abrasions and I wince.

"Fight?" he asks. I shrug. "Who?" I don't respond, just tilt my face further down. "Are you all right?" I nod briefly, he leans back from me and his eyes rake over the rest of me for signs to disprove it.

The hand on my arm slips up to the nape of my neck and he forces my head up with a slight pressure of his fingers. He looks steadily at my face and I feel like a mouse caught by a lion.

"Did you eat today?" his low voice is a smooth rumble; I hear the warning in the tone and my heart skips a beat. My stomach churns uneasily, reminding me that it only had some cheap snacks and a coke around noon.

I try to free myself from his other arm which is still wrapped around me, but he keeps me seated. I give a token struggle and then slump back into his grip.

"None of your business!" I shove him and he finally lets me go. I turn away slightly, refusing to meet his eyes again.

"Right. I'll take that as a no," he says tersely.

He stands up. Even though he's a couple of steps below me on the stairs he towers above me where I sit and as he leans down I shrink back against the railing, suddenly afraid to take my eyes off him.

"You look like a bloody ghost! You're anaemic you dumb, little shit!" I look at my knees, they've drawn themselves up towards my chest defensively; as I look back up at him I can feel a burn at the corner of my eye.

"I'm not stupid! I'm fucking broke!" I snap, my voice coming out much weaker than I would've liked.

Sam shakes his head slowly and then extends a hand with a sigh. I watch it suspiciously and he gives it an impatient shake.

"Let's go, my treat!" he says.

"I don't need to be rescued!" I refuse his hand and pull myself up by the railing, I still press against it, his looming form still seeming somewhat intimidating to me.

His eyes turn hard; I recognise the look in them from the other night and carefully back away from him. He follows purposefully until he has me backed into the corner of the landing. There's a moment where the silence threatens to drown me and then his hand grasps my jaw and he stares straight into my eyes.

"Can't you see you're a train wreck waiting to happen, Jamie?" he speaks calmly, but with intensity. "I know maybe I can't keep you from crashing, but I can step on the brakes and I bloody will!"

*****

I pull out one oily chip from the newspaper wrapping and bite off a discoloured piece that I spit into the grass, the rest I put whole into my mouth and chew absently. My mind is skipping between half formed thoughts; I refuse to let it settle on any single one, afraid of what I will be forced to recognise if I do.

We're alone in a small park, a children's playground. I'm perched on the backrest of a bench, he's sitting on the seat below me, his warm shoulder against my hip.

No one's said much since we left the stairs outside my flat. He doesn't ask any of the questions I'm waiting for.

The night air is seeping into my bones and I am shaking. At least I tell myself it's the cold. I eat the chips one by one, while Sam has already finished his and crumples the paper into a ball that he tosses towards the waste bin.

It bounces on the side and falls into the paved walkway. He looks at it for a moment before getting up and putting it into the bin. I hide a grin behind my own wrapping.

He sits down heavily beside me again.

I continue to eat slowly. Licking the grease off my fingers and finding every last piece until there isn't a single crumb left to justify my stalling. My ball lands neatly in the bin and he grunts. I'm close to laughing, but somehow it won't come out. I shiver from the cold, digging my hands into my armpits.

He stands and shrugs out of his jacket, but I dodge away when he leans in to place it around me, looking up to meet his eyes.

"I should go…" I say quietly and slip down off the bench.

He says nothing, but when I turn, the jacket suddenly falls on my shoulders, his hands grabbing hold of my arms from behind.

"You're not pulling this shit on me, Jaime…" he mumbles into my ear, his warm breath sending tingles down my back. "Got that?" His voice is a low hiss with a threatening edge that I'm finding myself responding to with a frightening sense of longing.

I have to grit my teeth not to give an automatic 'yes, sir' in reply. My body tenses up under his grip. I will not let him to do this to me, he will not make me want him like that! I fight the tremble in my stomach and try to turn it into anger.

"Let me go!" I snarl; the grip tightens and I feel a hint of panic before he releases me and steps back, the jacket still hanging off my shoulders. I can't bring myself to shrug it off, nor turn around and face him.

"Keep it," he says quietly behind me and then as I try in vain to make myself respond, I hear him walk away, his steps vanishing into the sounds of the city.

Before I can force myself to move he's gone and I'm standing alone, my hands pulling the jacket tightly around me, his warmth still clinging to it. My breath hitches in my throat.

What is wrong with me? A surge of anger wells up and I aim a hard kick at the waste bin, the rattle filling up the quiet of the park and frightening a flock of birds from the surrounding shrubbery. I glare at the bin, the metal twisting inwards in a deep dent.

Sam's jacket is now on the ground behind me. I leave it there and take a few steps away, but then I go back and gather it up in my hands, burying my face in the lining.

*****

Back in my flat I sink down on the foldout bed and sit there, staring blankly out into the room. The weariness is making me feel numb, but there's no ignoring the dull sensation in my bum, not quite pain anymore, but nonetheless there. I shrug out of Sam's jacket and take off my shirt, then I kick my jeans off and wrangle my feet in under the unruly covers, clothes dropping to the floor. Only Sam's jacket is still on the bed and I pick it up, holding it in the air above me, my hands digging into the leather.

It isn't even twenty four hours ago. The memory of him pinning me down, his hand cracking against my skin is vivid, but distant, it doesn't feel like only yesterday. I bite my lip, I'm growing hard thinking about him and my stomach trembles. I lower Sam's jacket over my face and breathe in his smell.

Lying alone in the dark I can't deny it anymore; I want to fight it, but the relentless reality is catching up with me and as much as I want to refuse to feel like this I can't remember how to shut it off.

It's been a long time coming, I can see that now with that irrevocable clarity that only comes to you on sleepless nights.

Our brief chats, a few drags on the same cigarette, the quiet banter as we sit waiting for the bus, I suddenly realise that it's gone and it's like a knife twisting inside me. I roll over on my side, hugging Sam's jacket close and feel a sob tear itself free from my chest, making my whole body jerk.

Chapter 4 - The World is Stone

~ Dice

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