When Eva stepped off the bus twenty-eight hours later, her immediate impression of downtown Las Vegas was the communal swarm of the general public. Some people strolled in pairs or packs while others walked more purposefully. Eva figured the strollers for tourists on their way to nowhere in particular and the purposeful walkers for the locals on their way to lunch or back to their jobs from lunch.
Just outside the bus station, Eva spotted an empty bench, sat, crossed her legs, and wished she had a cigarette. She decided the bench was an adequate vantage point to begin to develop some sort of survival plan. She had one dollar and sixteen cents in her pocket, no job, no prospect of a job, and no place to live.
Two of the strollers, twenty-year-old-something men, walked past her bench and stared at her intently. They smiled at her as if they knew her or wished they did. They walked past her and, from the corner of her eye, Eva saw them slow their walk, whisper to each other, turn around and stroll back toward her.
“Hi, honey,” one said, his smile broadening. “What’re you doing?”
“You busy?” said the other one.
He gazed at her intently and Eva immediately spotted the unambiguous male desire stirring in his gaze. She recognized immediately the eager expression on these two, young faces. She understood these men, and all the men just like them. She had seen that identical wanton expression dozens of times when Dwayne had brought men—young and old—to the house to be with her aunt, to take her aunt into the bedroom for a time, and for them to leave smiling and sated twenty, thirty minutes later, chuckling and thrusting cash money or illegal drugs into Dwayne’s outstretched palm.
Eva knew these two boys wanted to be with her, and she knew they would pay her if she did.
“You live around here?” asked the first one.
Eva shook her head. “No, I just got here,” she said.
“So what are you doing? You busy?” repeated the second man. His eyes were wide as he eyed her hungrily.
Eva saw a few other strollers glancing at her as they passed, glancing at the two young men talking to her, and then conferring with each other as they continued on. She studied the two carefully and guessed they were probably two college boys on vacation. Horny, but harmless, she judged.
“I’m hungry,” she said. “You want to buy me some lunch?” Her eyes went from one to the other of them.
“Sure,” said the first, jumping at the opportunity. “What do you like?”
“There’s a pancake house two blocks that way,” chimed in the second boy, gesturing. “Want to go there?”
College boys or not, Eva had no intention of walking any distance at all with these two strangers who had sex with her on their mind. Instead, she stood and said, “No,” while pointing to a twenty-four-hour diner directly across the street. “I want to go there.”
The Diamond Diner was bustling with clinking silverware and scurrying waitresses with coffee pots in their hands, but the three of them managed to snag the booth closest to the door. Eva jumped in first, so she could sit by the window, and pushed her shopping bag next to her, close up against the glass.
One of the boys—the one who had spoken first—sat next to her, close enough that his shoulder touched hers, and the other boy sat across from them.
“So, what’s your name?” asked the second boy.
“Coffee?” A tall, red-haired waitress hovered table-side with a coffee pot in each hand.
“Sure,” “Yeah,” said the boys.
“Regular or decaf,” she asked, popping her gum.
“Regular,” said one; “Me too,” said his friend.
“How about you, honey,” the waitress eyed Eva as if she knew everything there was to know about this rendezvous.
“I’ll have some milk,” Eva said, inching closer toward the window.
“White or chocolate?”
Eva grinned. “Chocolate,” she said. She could not remember the last time she’d had chocolate milk—probably kindergarten.
“So, what was your name?” pressed the boy across from her.
Eva hesitated and glanced out the window as a bus drove past with a large Dolly Madison Cupcake advertisement on its side. “Dolly,” she said.
“Dolly!” Both boys laughed. “What? Did your mother name you after Dolly Parton or something?”
Eva stared at them, her face blank. She did not like being laughed at by these two jerks, and she particularly did not like them referring to her mother as if she had been stupid; she hated sitting with them, but she was hungry. The college boys made a crude joke between themselves about Dolly Parton’s breast size; Eva ignored it and gazed out the plate glass window.
The boys talked throughout the breakfast, mostly about themselves, and tried coaxing information from Eva about herself. Eva was polite; not friendly. She remained purposefully aloof, evasive, and responded with only half-truths or outright lies. Toward the end of the meal, the boy sitting next to her slipped his hand on her knee and Eva immediately stabbed it with her fork as hard as she could.
“Oww!” he yelled, snatching his hand back. “What the hell! What’d you do that for?” His angry eyes seared into her. The other boy started laughing, pointed at his friend, and said “You, dufus, you have to pay her first. Don’t you know that?”
The first, rubbing the back of his hand and seeing the small trickles of blood there, studied her and said, “How much? We haven’t settled that?”
Eva swallowed the last of her chocolate milk, swiped her napkin over her lips, and edged herself further into the corner of the booth. Crossing her arms over her chest, she said demurely, “How much for what?”
“You know damn well what,” snarled the first, dabbing his hand with a napkin.
“No, I don’t.” she said coyly. Noting the frustration on their faces, Eva relished the power she wielded over them. She adored the feeling the control gave her, and she felt safe enough to smile at them, really for the first time.
“Look, you little tease,” said the first boy, grabbing her by the wrist, “you’re going to put out, see. Why do you think we bought you lunch—charity or something?”
Eva grabbed her fork and pressed the flat side against his face, close to his eye. “Take your hands off me, dickhead, or I’ll stick this fork in your eye, you piece of shit.” Instantly he removed his hand and pulled away from her.
“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” said the second boy, getting nervous. “We’re getting off on the wrong foot here. This is business that’s all. There’s no need for all this acrimony. We bought you a meal, and now you do us a favor. We’re willing to pay for it—within reason, of course.” Pleased with himself, he grinned, sat up straighter, and waited. The boy reminded Eva of a hyena she had once seen in a child’s picture book about animals in the wild.
Still clutching the fork, Eva said “You want to fuck me—both of you want to fuck me, right?”
The second boy, the negotiating hyena, said “I’d be happy with a blow job if you’d rather.”
“Me too,” chimed in the first boy, watching Eva warily.
Eva laughed at him. “Me too, me too,” she mocked him. “You sound like my baby cousin. Look boys,” she said, tapping the fork in the palm of her other hand, “nothing like that is going to happen. I’m not fucking you, and I’m not sucking your cocks. Understand? Thanks for the lunch, adios amigos, and we’re done here. Now let me out of this booth.”
Momentarily dumbfounded, the two were at a loss for how to respond. Then the hyena whispered, “Look, Dolly, don’t be like that. We like you. We can pay. I’m sure we can pay you whatever your going rate is, maybe even a little more. Come on, what’d you say?” Flashing his most confident smile, he winked.
Eva saw the weakness in his begging and she savored her complete command over them. Never before in her life had she felt this powerful, this in control of her life, her situation, her destiny. The sensation was intoxicating, new, strange, and empowering, but, she decided, Time to end this.
“Unless you let me out of this booth right now,” she said, looking from one to other of them, “I’m going to start screaming at the top of my lungs. Then, I’m going to say you two perverts are trying to kidnap me, and, since I’m underage, I don’t think that’s something you want to try to explain to the cops, is it?”
Looking angry and, Eva thought, with an odd mixture of both contempt and regret in their expressions, the college boys left the restaurant after paying the bill at the register. They exited quickly without looking back. Eva noticed they had not left a tip on the table for the waitress. Cheap bastards, she thought.
By now the noontime rush was easing slightly, and Eva spotted the red hair of the waitress who had served them bobbing its way toward the kitchen. She took the one dollar bill she had left out of her purse, placed it on the table top, and scooted out of the booth.
“Do you know if they need any more waitresses here?” Eva asked, catching up with her.
The waitress spun around and scanned Eva from head to toe. Her gum chewing had a regular rhythm that she interrupted to ask, “What happened to your johns?” She was smirking.
Eva bristled. “They weren’t my johns. They were just buying me lunch.”
“Right,” she grunted, clearly unconvinced. “No skin off my nose. I don’t know if Pete’s hiring or not. I don’t think so, but he’s in the kitchen, you can ask him yourself.” She immediately resumed her march and headed toward the double metal doors leading to the kitchen. Eva followed.
“Hey, Pete,” she yelled as they entered a beehive of clanging, shouting activity, “this little girl wants to talk to you, and don’t be the asshole you usually are.”
A bald man with a pudgy face and a battered nose popped his head up from the skillet he was tending and said, “Fuck you, Melanie!” Peering over at Eva, he frowned, lowered his attention back to the skillet, and said, “Yeah, girly, what you want?”
Eva walked quickly toward him and barely got the words “job” and “waitress” out of her mouth before he snapped, “No waitress job for you; I can use you to clear and wipe down tables if you want; that’s all I got.”