One last payment and it'll be over. You've paid off the stupid debt that wasn't even yours and then you're free, finish school and find a job and forget about this whole part of your life.
Sound like a plan?
I slowly head up the stairs of the dingy apartment complex, dreading this final handoff. It isn't a legal debt with a bank or a small loan off a family member, it was eight grand off of one of the biggest loan sharks in the state and he is dangerous. I've been on the wrong end of his wrath three times in the last eighteen months, all because I defaulted on payments.
I was only eighteen when I first started paying this for him and now I'm nineteen and feeling extremely bitter about it. I mean I had to drop out of senior year just to make sure I could work for long enough hours to pay for my apartment, the bills that come with it and this debt.
This debt being the priority.
My wrist still aches sometimes even though they broke it over a year ago, comes with no health insurance so you have to a find a clinic cheap enough so I didn't even have a proper cast.
This staircase looks like it could fall out below me without a sound but each one creaks uniquely and has my heart jumping in my chest. I've taken these steps once a month for what feels like forever and every time I feel like I'm walking into my death and I wouldn't be surprised if this was the time I'd be carried into the depths of the dark by a cold, impassive reaper.
If so, I suppose it was a life well lived for someone like me. I didn't really have good prospects from the day I was born. Born into poverty and sacrificed for money, saved but put into the system where I was met with all sorts of new obstacles that made it almost impossible to face every day with a smile.
Then I was emancipated at 16, freed and happy, living with my boyfriend in a small studio flat that together we could afford comfortably. I could still go to school and he would work, coming home in the early evening so that we could eat together. That all went to shit when he went into the rings, underground fighting he said, we needed the money he said. We really didn't, at least we were warm, sheltered and fed. It was all I ever needed but he was after more.
I didn't find out about the debt until he left and a week later I had a guest knocking down my door. The guest was tall and scarred, bulky and incredibly terrifying. His name was Earl and he had continued to haunt my nightmares, after all he was the one that initiated the first beating.
I still remember begging him to stop, screaming out and sobbing as blood dripped from my head onto concrete, as my wrist hung limply and my body contorted in pain. I worked more hours then, close to seventy a week just to make sure I always had enough money but then things happen and you find yourself out of pocket before you have a clue what's going on.
Second mistake was turning up to tell them I had no money, I thought they'd be lenient... they weren't.
I take a deep breath and knock on the red door that will always be seared into my mind. I always hope that Earl won't be here, that I'll only have to handle Ronnie and Flack. Their punches don't hurt as much and they stop when I beg them to, Earl just doesn't care, I don't know what happened to him to make him this way but I hope it never happens to another human being.
It's clear that God nor fate or whatever controls my existence is not on my side as the hulking figure of Earl dwarves my five foot five frame and induces a complete mental shutdown.
"Inside." His voice is horrible, warped and raspy like he's had his vocal chords attacked and smoked forty a day for fifty years. He smells like an ashtray and a bar all wrapped into one, making my stomach roll uncomfortably.
I slip passed him, my chest tight as I hold my breath, shaking hands reaching out to hand the envelope into his waiting mitts. He has ugly hands, knuckles busted, fingers all wonky and dirty fingernails, yellowing from years of cigarette use. I focus on the little details so I can avoid looking at his face because it scares me to my core.
From what I saw the last time I looked at him, his eyes are almost black, completely void of emotion and scars line every part of his skin, meaning he can no longer grow facial hair to hide it. His ears are all weird, curling in on each other and his nose has probably been broken a dozen times, his teeth - all four of them - are yellow and chipped. Just everything about him makes me extremely disgusted and terrified.
I focus on his worn boots, one having black laces, the other grey. The leather creased at the toes and the heel worn down so much I'd assume he's been wearing them for close to a decade. His jeans are loose and frayed, the ends hanging just above the top of his boots so I'd assume he's had those for longer than he should, either that or he put them in the tumble dryer too many times.
"Boss has wiped your debt but he is giving you a parting gift." Parting seems like a word that's too long for him. The conversations I've had with him give me the impression that he hasn't surpassed second grade so I quickly make the assumption that he has his earpiece in and is being told what to say. I know now not to respond, the beating is always worse when you talk back. "Boys!" He calls for three men who step out from the back bedroom, I don't wanna know what they were doing in there.
They're new with shiny boots, jewellery hanging around their necks and adorning their fingers. Their hair is well-kept and their teeth seem clean, shown by the creepy smiles they're currently sporting. They are also dwarfed by Earl so I succumb to my fate, each man takes a few hits. Taking good care to avoid my face, face hits are last because they could knock me unconscious.
Finally, after my ribs and stomach taking heavy hits, one of them backhands me causing me to slam into the wall. My shoulder taking the pain this time. I ready myself for the next one but find my strength waning quickly, I find myself on the floor with no recollection of getting there when the door slams open.
I cough, feeling the blood rising in my throat so I roll onto my side, crying out as I do so. Feel the pain, it means you're still alive. I can hardly see what's going on but I can hear the sounds of fighting, I'm just grateful that none of the hits are landing on me.
It feels like forever when a man approaches me. Perhaps this is death, ready to welcome me into his cold embrace. It has been a long time coming, there's only so much luck a young girl can have.
Except this man is warm, his arms cradling me to a solid chest. I can feel leather and slight facial hair against my face, a comforting smell of wood smoke washes over me as I succumb to my pain, allowing myself to sleep properly for the first time in awhile.