Chapter Six: Violet
Her name was Violet, like her hair. I found that incredibly charming. She was going to let me stay with her, just tonight, and then I had to get my shit together. The way she said that last part didn’t sound like she meant it. Maybe she felt sorry for me.
We arrived at a large house that looked like it had seen better days. One of the windows was boarded up with a piece of cardboard. It had the same charm as Violet did: in rough shape, but carrying that rough extremity with a sense of pride, and still knowing how to draw people in.
“You live here alone?” I wondered how she could afford to live there by herself.
She scoffed. “Oh, fuck no. There’s like five other people living here. Mostly girls. They’re my…roommates.”
She pulled down her sweater and shifted her boobs so I could almost see her nipples and led me inside. The house was bright, despite the early hour, and smelled like cigarette smoke and strong perfume.
Violet told me to wait by the door while she talked to someone. I did as I was told, rubbing my tired eyes. In front of me stood an elegant staircase and a blond girl in a too short pink robe, looking down at me from the top.
I waved shyly. She laughed and shook her head. “Welcome, kitten,” she drawled.
I looked towards the living room on my right and saw several other girls, some a few years older than me, and some older than Kay, lounging on the furniture in different forms of revealing night wear. They were beautiful, in their own irregular ways. A thrill of realization ran through my body. A brothel? I recognized the atmosphere from stories Jimmy had told me about the one down the block from where Kay and I lived. My throat stiffened at the thought of Kay.
Violet came back over to me, pulling my attention away from my thoughts. “You can stay.” She smiled. “For now. Randy said it’s okay.”
I looked around nervously. “Actually…I should go.”
She shook her head. “Nonsense! It’s clear you have no where to go.” She was right, but could I really stay there? Her warm smile comforted me somewhat.
“Uh, okay. But who’s Randy?”
She smiled wider. “He’s our boss.” She looked up at the girl on the top of the stairs and they both giggled.
“I’m Daffodil,” the girl on the stairs said sweetly. Another flower name.
I smiled nervously and Violet led me up the stairs, Daffodil trailing behind us. She led me into a huge room with several beds, some on frames, some just mattresses on the floor, but otherwise tastefully decorated.
She pointed to a bare one in the corner. “You can have that one. Rose isn’t here anymore.”
Her and Daffodil exchanged a look. “She used to live here. Now she’s gone.”
I didn’t push it any further. But if she wasn’t dead, I hoped she wouldn’t mind me sleeping in her bed. Violet handed me a blanket and pillow and I sat down on the mattress. They looked at me sympathetically and I shifted uncomfortably.
“So, what’s your name, honey?” Violet asked sweetly. She came to sit beside me, Daffodil taking the mattress across from mine, sprawling out comfortably.
I didn’t think before blurting, “Cookie,” biting my lip nervously. I scolded myself for not using something more random. What if someone from home came looking for me?
They must have picked up on my fear.
Daffodil’s eyes widened. “Don’t worry darling, you’re safe here. Your name is adorable, by the way. You know, if I had a daughter I was gonna name her Cupcake, so I totally get why your mom did that. So cute.” She reached over to mess up my hair. She had a slight southern accent, which made me feel at ease.
Violet laughed. “None of us use our real names here, anyways.”
The girls felt that it was best to leave their names out of the house, to not tarnish the memories of their mothers. I could understand that.
They asked me questions about myself, but nothing too specific. I liked that they didn’t want to know details. They all seemed to have learned from experience, or had their own stories that they didn’t want others to know too well.
I vaguely told them about Kay and Sam and Julianne and even Dane, only the important things, and that I had left and was never going back.
Violet and Daffodil nodded along with me, not giving me the pity I was expecting. I respected them for that and considered maybe my story didn’t sound bad to them, and that they’d heard worse. I noticed there were dozens of scars on Daffodil’s arms. My problems were probably nothing for them.
The group of girls from downstairs began filling the room, laughing and gawking at me as Violet introduced me as Cookie. I regretted calling myself that. The name sounded dirty now that Kay was gone. They introduced themselves too: Dahlia, Jasmine, and Peony. There were five of them. All flowers. I brought this up, as if no one had noticed.
They all giggled like little girls. “Welcome to the Flower Garden, my sweet little Cookie,” said Daffodil.
I looked at each of them, wondering what had brought them here. “So…how does this place work, exactly?”
They smiled. “Isn’t she darling?” Daffodil tittered.
“It’s simple. They come here or we go out, do house calls,” said Jasmine, a small oriental girl, crossing her arms over her almost non-existent chest. She sighed, bored.
“But why the flower names?”
Violet explained. “Randy wants us to be classier than your typical whores. He’s very old fashioned when it comes to women.” I gathered Randy was the pimp, or some equivalent to it.
“So, he’s okay with me staying here?” I wondered out loud. It seemed too good to be true, but then again, I had nowhere else to go.
They all looked at each other. “Let us worry about that, sugar,” Daffodil said sweetly. “Now, you get some rest, you must be utterly exhausted!” She shooed the girls out of the room, while Violet got my bed ready. My eyes grew heavy.
“Violet,” I muttered, “thank you—.”
She stopped me. “Don’t thank me just yet. You make yourself comfortable, but not too comfortable, ya hear? Sometimes it’s hard to know what Randy will do…but don’t worry, you got us to look out for ya.” She gave me a quick peck on the cheek and pushed me down onto the bed. I was asleep within minutes.
I had been staying at the Flower Garden for several days, and I was starting to feel as though I belonged. When I woke up in the night, grasping for Kay, the girls comforted me and made me feel almost okay.
But, Violet took me aside one night, and although sympathetic, said she had to be real with me. “You’ll never make it here if you can’t control yourself, Cookie. I’m sorry, but…you need to push that shit down. Trust me, it’s for the best. Help yourself and be strong.”
I took her words to heart and did all that I could to not think about…anything. There was no going back now, I’d made my choice.
To keep myself entertained I’d watch the girls in action. It intrigued me. I stood in the background, hidden from view, as different men—of all ages—and occasionally a woman would come into the house looking for services. The girls would jump up from wherever they were lounging and place the patron on a fancy cushioned chair in the foyer, while the girls lined up, adjusting their clothing to reveal as much skin as possible.
Randy, the pimp, would introduce each girl and include her “special talents”, giving each a turn to pose or say something to entice the customer. The special talents ranged from blow jobs to ass play to foot things, depending on the customer. Randy liked to put on a show. He thought of it as his art form, describing the girls with different beautifully constructed phrases every time. I wondered what he would say about me.
This process was mostly for the new customers, though, as a lot of them were regulars and had the same girl every time. Dahlia explained to me that it was like having a relationship with the customers, and that they paid them more to create an experience for them than to just have sex with them. She cared about her customers, as did most of the girls.
I was surprised at the range of people that came into the brothel. Business men, old men, teenagers, married men, and even women. I liked watching the girls interact with them, making them feel welcome and special, as they had done for me.
But after a few days, I was done watching. Violet came into the room one night to readjust herself after a customer as I lay on my mattress.
“Oh, um, Cookie, Randy wants to see you.” She smiled encouragingly.
I sat up, my stomach clenching nervously. “Did I do something?”
She shook her head and turned to the mirror to reapply her lipstick. “Nah hun, he just wants to talk. I mean, you’ve been here for a few days now, he probably wants to get to know you.”
I raised my eyebrows at her. She seemed to mean something other than what she was saying. “Uh, okay.”
She smiled again and grabbed my hand to pull me off the bed. “Don’t worry about it, hun. You’ll be fine. Randy’s a good guy. Just don’t make any sudden movements or you’ll scare him.”
She saw my expression as she pushed me out the door and down the stairs and laughed. “Just kidding.”
Violet took me to a room at the back of the house where I hadn’t been before. A beaded curtain hung over the door and the room smelled strongly of weed. She stuck her head in and said something I didn’t catch, and pushed me inside, leaving me alone. A leather couch and a giant bed with curtains around it took up most of the space. There were gold vases full of flowers on every surface. It was eerily neat.
I had managed to avoid Randy since being at the Flower Garden, at the suggestion of the girls, but it seemed like my time was up and I knew it was too late to run now. I steeled myself for whatever was coming.
But, when I walked into the room and he greeted me with a giant hug, I was caught off guard. He offered me the joint he was smoking and I took it, taking a long drag and handing it back. He looked me up and down, a pleased smile on his face. He was a good-looking man, with beautiful white teeth and thick, wavy, movie-star hair. I figured you had to be, to be a pimp.
He sat down on the leather couch, spreading his legs wide, watching me. He twirled his finger, indicating me to spin, so I did.
“How old are you there, Cookie, girl?”
“Eighteen,” I lied.
He nodded. “You a virgin?”
I said nothing, biting my lip.
He laughed. “I’ll take that as a no. You don’t look like a virgin, anyways.”
He motioned for me to sit beside him. He moved closer, our faces almost touching. “Alright,” he said, picking up the joint again, “this is the thing. You’ve been living in this house, rent free, free food, using my water and shit, and now you owe me. So, you have two options. Obviously, I can’t force you to work for me, but I’m willing to forgive your debts if you do. Start clean. But if you don’t, well, I’ll have no choice but to kick your ass to the curb and make your life in this city impossible. I know, it’s a tough choice, but if you’re smart like I think you are, you’ll make the right one.” He blew smoke in my face and backed away, giving me physical space to make my decision. Not that I had a real choice.
“Okay.” I swallowed and nodded. I guess I had known this would happen. I could have a good life here. I would never survive out in the cold, alone.
He grinned hugely. “Perfect! My darling, welcome to the Flower Garden!”
I smiled nervously. He picked up on it. “Oh, don’t be nervous, baby. We’ll work you up to it. You can’t be a Dahlia in a day. It’ll take a bit of work, but I have faith in you, my pretty.”
He looked me over again and pulled my t-shirt down to reveal more cleavage. “Gonna need a new name for you, though. Can’t have a stray Cookie in my palace of flora. Hmm.”
I thought of Violet’s words and thought a new name would be good for me, help me to distance myself from all that came before.
“What kind of flowers do you like?” He swept my hair back from my neck. The question seemed rhetorical. “Orchid…no. Juniper? Nah. Uh…oh my god I think I have it! Buttercup? You look like a Buttercup, you sweet young thing. Yes! That’s the one!” He clapped his hands excitedly.
“Buttercup,” I said, trying it out. I could grow into it.
He smiled. “Perfect, I’m such a genius. Okay, now you might already know my policies, but here’s the spiel. I get 60% of your earnings, no stealing or you will regret it. The rest is yours, unless I change my mind. No falling in love with the customers, okay girl? Practice some self-restraint. We’re not in the love business, we’re in the lust business. Different. No boyfriends in the house. If you want to have one, and good luck with that, take it outside. If it effects your work I will get rid of him, you get what I mean? You must live here, eat here, shit here. One day off a week, if I think you’ve earned it. And Violet will fill you in on the rest. She’s like my little insider, that one. Mama to my Papa if you will.” He asked if I understood. I didn’t want to ask questions, so I just nodded.
“Great. Now.” He put a finger in my belt loop and pulled me towards him. “Now I gotta test my product.”
I stared at him wide eyed and he brushed the hair out of my face, kissing my cheek sweetly, telling me how pretty I was. He was charming and handsome. He knew what he was doing.
He kissed my neck and undid the button on my jeans. I stopped him.
“What is it, Buttercup?” he asked, still trying to take off my clothes.
My heart quickened and I looked towards the door. “I, uh…”
He smiled and pulled me by the hand over to the bed. “Don’t worry, lady, I’ll be gentle.” I lay on the bed, shaking. There was no turning back.
Randy was gentle, somewhat, but it occurred to me that despite his charm and wit, his skills did not transfer over to his abilities in the bedroom. I guessed that no one had ever told him that, in fear of his constant sugar coated threats. It was unpleasant and awkward, but he was nothing but confident and expected a response to his every touch. I tried my best to make him think I enjoyed it, afraid if I didn’t respond he’d do as he threatened and make my life impossible.
After he was done, he congratulated me on my new home and sent me on my way, saying he’d see me again soon. I hoped he didn’t mean it.
I walked back to the room upstairs, pushing the image of Randy’s sweaty body grunting on top on me out of my mind, trying to come up with some dick-related joke to convince the girls that I was okay, and now one of them. Most of the girls were turning in for the night. It was late. I threw myself down on the mattress, exhausted. Violet and Jasmine were standing across from each other, naked, listing the advantages and disadvantages of their different boob sizes, posing at various angles and pushing and pulling themselves in all directions.
Jasmine caught sight of me from the corner of her eye. “So, Cookie, you staying or what?” They must have known exactly what had happened and that it was coming this whole time. I tried to recall if I had known as well.
“Buttercup, now.” I forced myself to smile.
Violet let go of her boobs and turned to me, nodding approvingly. “Suits you.”
A chorus of agreement came from the other girls in the room. Violet came to sit beside me, her massive boobs swinging violently as she dropped to the mattress. “We’re glad to have you aboard. Now show us what you’ve got.” She yanked my shirt off, bearing my naked chest. I instinctively covered myself with my arms, but she pulled them away and the Flowers gathered around to catch a glimpse.
“Not bad, not bad.” She told me to stand and they took turns giving compliments and criticisms.
Daffodil noticed my discomfort. “Darling,” she drawled, “you need to get used to people looking at your body if you’re gonna work here. We’re just helping you out.” She squeezed my biceps and pinched my stomach. “You have some nice muscle tone…that’ll get you a lot of business.”
Peony came over and looked me over. She was a pretty blonde with big lips who wore exclusively pink. She liked to play the Barbie card. I hadn’t interacted with her much since being here, but she seemed nice enough, if not a little snobby.
“Maybe. Guys usually prefer the softer ones, though, don’t they?” She ran her long fingernail down the centre of my stomach. I shivered.
I glared at her back-handed compliment. “I guess we’ll have to see, won’t we?”
She looked at me like she’d been slapped. The other girls exchanged glances with each other. Peony stepped back and waved her hand dismissively. “Whatever.”
Jasmine snapped her fingers and whistled. “Damn, feisty little girl, huh?”
The room erupted with chatter. Dahlia shushed everyone. “Alright, let the girl get some sleep. We’ll fix her up tomorrow.”
In terms of my “warm-up period”, there wasn’t much of one. There was money to be earned. But, I learned quickly. I had to, otherwise customers would complain to Randy, and I was entirely sure I did not want to know what he was capable of. The rumor was that Rose had tried to stand up to him, and now, well, now she wasn’t here anymore. I couldn’t afford to let that happen.
The Flowers could have many different roles with a customer. We all had a “talent”, or a certain trick we specialized in. I was usually “the virgin”. It wasn’t true, but I was the most believable one out of the other girls. Sometimes I was also “the minor”. The older guys usually went for that one. Or, they’d pick us for our looks, so we needed a few seductive poses to sell our assets. The girls who got picked the most simply made the most money, and were given treats as rewards from Randy, sometimes jewellery or even an extra day off. It was a competition.
Randy tried to sell me right away, as his newest product. I was quickly picked by a middle-aged man with a very visible wedding ring. He was dull looking—a balding head and a plain face—and didn’t say much. If I had seen him on the streets I wouldn’t even have noticed him. My guess was that his wife had gotten tired of having sex with him. I was nervous, fumbling with his belt, my voice cracking when I asked what he wanted to do to me. The timidness seemed to work though, considering he had picked me for the virgin angle.
He was excited by the idea of being my “first”. I’m sure he didn’t actually think I was a virgin but he played along. He touched me gently, telling me what I wanted. I went along with it, letting him take control. He liked being in charge. I wondered if his wife was a powerful woman and never gave him the chance. When we were done, I disposed of the evidence in the bedside trash can and he went back to his timid persona, no longer in control. I felt sad for him, but had to warn myself about getting attached, lest I break one of Randy’s rules.
Most days I would have around five customers. Violet assured me that I was doing well, but not to get used to it, because Randy always expected more. I was surprised by how many people came to the Flower Garden. All the girls had just as many customers as me, most of them more. Sometimes the same johns came multiple times a day. Everyone also had their regulars.
Most of the johns who chose me were like the first man, wanting control over a young “helpless” girl. Sometimes they got rough, and I would cry out for Randy and he would burst in the room, grabbing the guy by the throat and throwing him down the stairs. One of them had slapped my ass so hard I couldn’t sit for at least a day. That broke Randy’s “leave no marks” policy, which he made sure to tell every john that passed through. Not because he didn’t want us hurt, but that he wanted to optimize our earning potential, and no one would choose a girl that was battered and bruised. No one wanted damaged goods.
I was sitting in the living room with Dahlia one night, playing a game of Gin Rummy while we waited for the next john to walk in. I heard Randy call my Flower name from the foyer. Dahlia gave me a reassuring nudge and I straightened my bra, pushing up my cleavage. I walked to where Randy’s voice had come from, emptying my mind, as I always did before a john. He was standing with a younger man with stubble on his chin and a leather jacket smelling of cigarette smoke. He looked familiar.
“Buttercup.” Randy grinned widely. “This man asked for you specifically. Be nice to him.” I giggled, playing the bubbly act. I remembered he had been my customer before. I grabbed the john’s hand and pulled him upstairs, wiggling my hips as I walked, the way Peony had shown me. I had my first regular.
I closed the door of the bedroom and sat down on the bed, my knees pulled up to my chest to make me look nervous and virginal.
“You remember me?” he asked, taking off his jacket.
I nodded, biting my lip. “Of course….”
“Right, Brad. What do you want to do to me? I’m new at this.” I batted my eyelashes.
He smiled and laid beside me on the bed. “Buttercup, you don’t have to do the virgin act. Just be you.”
I raised my eyebrows, wondering how I could possibly “just be me”. “Oh, okay. What do you want to try?”
“Just fuck me like you would if I was your boyfriend.” A reasonable request. I did as he asked, still acting even though he had asked me to be natural.
When it was over, he asked if we could talk. He needed a shoulder. He teared up before I could answer. He told me that his girlfriend had dumped him around the first time he had visited me, that she had told him their unborn child wasn’t his. He said I looked like her, so he wanted to pretend they were still together. I sat quietly while he cried, stroking his hair. Tears were not uncommon. Many people who came through were in bad places, and looking for love in the last place they could think of. I could only do my part to make them feel good for our short time together.
I saw Brad and several others consistently after that. The johns began to blur together. After a couple weeks of “fairly acceptable” work, according to Randy, I was given the gift of a day off. We all had days off in shifts, and mine this time was with Peony. We weren’t on the best terms, since I had sassed her that first day, but as I sleepily woke up from my day off nap, her face came into focus a few inches from mine.
I gasped and sat up, holding my chest, my heart speeding up. She smiled in a strange way and pulled my blanket off me. “Get up! We’re going out.”
I rubbed my eyes. “But…”
“No buts, girl! We’re going to get our party tits out and rock with our giant throbbing cocks out!” She jumped up from where she kneeled, pulling me with her. I stumbled, slightly shocked. She played such an innocent bubble gum girl, so the sudden change in her demeanor took me by surprise.
We dressed in a slightly less revealing version of our work attire and took a few swigs from Peony’s crotch flask before heading out the door. It was black-dark outside, as we walked down the street to our first stop, another house with another kind of operation inside.
I sat on the leather couch next to an unshaven boy a little older than me wearing a ball cap, adjusting my short skirt and crossing my legs lady-like. He nodded and smiled at me, his eyes a startling black. The others sitting around us pretended I wasn’t there. I watched as Peony went into the other room and sat on the lap of a man in a leather jacket, their hands moving swiftly in exchange.
She came back towards me and smiled. Noticing the boy beside me, still looking at me, she grabbed his face and gave him a sloppy kiss. I looked away.
She laughed. “Let’s get going,” she said to me.
I got up to leave, looking back at the boy. He had a look of disgust on his face, directed at Peony. I followed her out of the house.
We ended up at a dirty underground club deeper in the city. We had picked up a few of Peony’s friends on the way. A girl named Anita seemed to take a liking to me, flashing the bouncer at the
club while I snuck in behind him.
We ran inside, giggling. Peony motioned for us to follow her to the washroom. Once inside she checked under the stalls and locked the bathroom door. She took a little baggie of white powder out from her shorts and made lines on the edge of the sink. We all took turns snorting through the dollar bill straw until I felt my imaginary wings start to grow.
Back out on the dance floor, we moved to the music and did what we could to forget about the lives we lived. I closed my eyes, trying hard to not allow myself to think in this brief moment of freedom. When I opened them again Peony and Anita had wandered off, draping themselves over various sweaty men. I was alone, until I noticed a very familiar ball cap sitting at a small table across the dance floor, and piercing black eyes staring at me from beneath it.
I stared back, bodies swirling and sweating around me. He smiled and motioned for me to come closer. I looked over to where Peony was frantically licking the sweat off a man in a tight tank top and concluded that she most likely wouldn’t notice my absence.
I approached him, intrigued, by-stepping the offered chair and instead leaning against the table, our faces close to touching. I took off his hat to reveal several handfuls of messy brown hair. He whispered into my ear, something too soft and low for me to hear. He grabbed my hand and pulled me through the throngs of gyrating bodies, out the back door of the club to where the smokers hung out. I squealed happily as the cold air hit me. He let go of my hand and I twirled, my arms spread wide.
I turned back to him. He leaned his long body against the brick wall of the club, watching me with a smirk. I joined him against the wall.
“So…I’m Buttercup.” I smiled, holding out my hand for him to shake.
He shook it and grinned. “I’m Jake.”
“Jake, what brings you here?”
“I could ask you the same thing, Buttercup. Haven’t seen you around here before.”
“Uh, I’m new? I work with Peony.” I motioned at my clothes, as if that should make it obvious.
He nodded. “Figured.” He stared at me with those black eyes, smiling. “Did you get lost or something?”
I felt a shock run through my body. “What do you mean?”
He shrugged. “You don’t seem like the kind of girl that belongs there.”
I rolled my eyes. “You don’t know me though, do you?”
He smiled. “I like to think that fate brings people together.”
“Is that so?” The cold brick of the wall felt nice on my sweaty skin.
“Yes, something tells me that you and me, this will be a thing.” He motioned between the two of us and shrugged. “I’m a romantic, I guess.”
I nodded, thinking that I too, once was. But that felt like so long ago now.
My mind refocused and I realized I had been staring right into his eyes.
He smiled and pulled me up against him. “You feel it too, right?” He kissed me before I could answer, the beats of the music thudding through the walls of the club behind us.
When the kiss came to a natural pause, I mentioned that I should get back to the girls inside, make sure they hadn’t been carted off by the walking meat they had been dry humping, or worse, notice that I was missing.
Jake looked flushed, his composure broken by my kisses. He just nodded and followed me back into the club. Although I was free for the night, there was a part of me that knew I couldn’t risk being stupid enough to let myself go completely. Maybe out of fear, or uncertainty.
I searched the faces of everyone in the crowd, checking the bathrooms and back rooms, Jake following close behind. No Peony or Anita. They had left. Left me. Alone. I sighed heavily and took Jake’s hat, putting it on my head and pulling it low enough that he couldn’t see the disappointment on my face.
He pulled me to the centre of the dance floor and flipped the hat backwards on my head, moving my hips for me. I danced with him, momentarily forgetting about Peony and Anita and Randy and everything else. For a few minutes, I was held by nothing except those hands on my hips.
It was late, the club about to close. I was sweaty and sticky, my head pounding sweetly to the music no longer there.
Jake took me outside and asked if he could walk me home. I shrugged and took off my heels, the cold pavement sending pleasurable chills up my spine. We walked in silence. I wondered if what he’d said about fate could be true.
Eventually, I felt the need to interrupt the quiet. “So, Jake, you and Peony…?
He looked at me. “What? You mean back at the house…? No, no. For some reason she always thought I wanted her so she pulls that shit sometimes. But I’m not really into blondes with low self-esteem.”
I nodded. “So, like, just brunettes on the lam, then?”
He smiled and took my hand. “If that’s what you are, then exactly.”
“Well, lucky for you I also happen to like brunettes with a flair for the romantic.” I liked to think that my practice talking with johns had made me good at flirting. I had a flash of Julianne and her unwitting charm and wondered if that’s how she got hers too. I shook her face from my head.
“So, what is it exactly that you’re running from?” he asked abruptly, ruining the flirtatious mood.
I rolled my eyes. “Jesus.”
His face was serious and unfazed. “I was abandoned by my parents on a church doorstep. After escaping my foster home, I found my way to Lester, the guy who owns the house you were at earlier. He took me in, keeps me employed.”
I nodded solemnly. “You really are an open book, huh?” Usually that trait made me uncomfortable, but on Jake I found it oddly charming.
He shrugged. “How else am I gonna meet my soulmate?”
I scoffed. “Okay, fine. My mom died so I got on a bus and now I’m here.”
He squeezed my hand. “Alright, I’ll take that. So, working at the Flower Garden…?”
I shrugged. “Just kind of happened.”
“So do you—.”
“Look,” I interrupted, seeing the Flower Garden coming into view up the road. I stopped him on the street. “You should probably just let me go alone from here.” I motioned towards the house. I wasn’t sure how serious Randy’s “no seeing other boys around the house” rule was, but I didn’t want to test it out on sweet, honest, naively romantic Jake.
He followed my gaze. “Oh, right. Gotcha.” He kissed my cheek and then my hand and said he’d see me again soon. I watched him walk away, smiling at the warmth on my face. I saw his black eyes in my dreams that night, watching me.
Peony didn’t show up the next day. A hard knot developed in my stomach as the girls questioned me. They’d seen us leave together, but not return. I swore up, down and sideways that she had left me at the club alone and I had walked home alone, most of which was true.
Violet told me that Peony went on benders once in a while, but always came back. It wasn’t unusual for her to not be back for a day or two, but this was her last strike with Randy. The air held a palpable tension. The only way she had managed to escape punishment thus far was because she was a customer favorite, and also gave great head. But even that couldn’t save her now. Whispers filled the house.
We all went to work that day telling ourselves she would be alright, because she always was. We sweet-talked the johns and touched them and licked our lips the same way we would any other day, as though nothing was different.
Peony showed up two days later, her outfit ripped and dirty and her makeup smudged across her face. She looked horrible, and everyone was surprised that she had come back at all. She was confident in her ability to beg.
Randy came out into the living room as she entered the house and she went to him, dropping to her knees, begging and instinctively trying to undo his belt. He slapped her hard across the face and she fell to the floor. I moved to help her but Violet stopped me, her face tight with fear.
“That was your last fucking strike, Peony. Or should I say Charlotte now. Because you are a Flower no more.” He picked her roughly up off the floor and pulled her to her feet, grabbing her neck and squeezing hard. Her eyes bulged. I looked away.
“Let this be a lesson to all you whores. I am generous, but even Jesus can only put up with so much.” He let go of her neck and she fell to the floor again. “Now get the fuck out of my house.”
“Randy, please, I promise—,” she tried begging again and he shoved her face into the floor with his foot. “Does anyone have any objections?” He meant it as a rhetorical question. “Good.” He let go of Peony—Charlotte—and she ran towards the door, gasping. “No one will ever talk to this bitch again. You’re dead to all of us!”
Randy stepped towards her and she screamed, taking one last sad look at us before running out the door.
If I didn’t believe in Randy’s threats before, I did now. The rest of the girls didn’t seem shaken, but a sympathetic hush blanketed the house. We returned to work the next day as though nothing had happened. Dahlia explained to me that this was just the way it worked, you did the things you had to do to survive, and getting attached was not one of them. There would be another Peony soon enough.
I tried to convince myself that this was true. Peony had never taken a liking to me, but I still felt like a small piece of myself had run out the door with her, leaving behind a dull reminder of what could happen, and what had happened, to many before me. Her empty bed haunted me, and I found myself in a trance I was unable to break.
Violet pulled me aside one day, smelling freshly of sweat and lubricant. “Buttercup,” she started, leading me to the kitchen near the back of the house, sighing as she had that first time she had to force a realization on me. “You gotta stop this.”
I looked at her innocently, trying to focus on the sweet lull of her voice. “What do you mean?”
She sighed again and leaned her boobs onto the island in the centre of the kitchen. “Look, I know it sucks, with Peony and all, but this is what you signed up for. You have to let it go before Randy picks up on it. I’m telling you for your own good.”
Jasmine walked in and opened the fridge. “Just stop being a little bitch, Butter.”
Violet threw a dish towel at her. “Not helpful.” Jasmine put up her hands in surrender, walking back out with a can of soda.
“You’re gonna be okay, honey? I really need you to be okay now. I know it’s tough, but that’s what we gotta be.”
I nodded stiffly.
“Okay, good. Now go get a john.” She gave my ass a light smack and walked away, leaving me alone.
I went back into the foyer just in time for a lineup for a new john. I jumped in line next to the other girls, immediately striking a half-hearted pose. “Show him what you got, girls,” Randy said, as we took turns blowing kisses and making other gestures to attract him.
After some debate, he chose me, although I hadn’t been putting in nearly as much effort into it as the other girls had been. I smiled hugely at the man, with long greasy hair and smoke stained teeth, leading him upstairs.
“What can I do for you?” I asked, seductively pushing him onto the bed. He wanted nothing out of the ordinary, just someone to love him. When we were done, he laid there, looking at me strangely.
“You look familiar,” he said slowly.
I shrugged as I began dressing. “Have you been here before?”
He shook his head. “No…I think I’ve seen you before though…” His eyes widened suddenly. “Sweet Jesus, you’re Kay’s girl, aren’t you?”
I stopped fiddling with my bra and gaped at him. “What?”
He jumped up excitedly. “Yeah, man! I know you! You used to live by my place. And Kay! Oh my god, I’m sorry, man, I heard what happened to her.” He shook his head sadly. “A real shame. She was a great girl.”
I stared at him blankly, frozen.
“So, how’d you end up here?”
“It’s great to see you, I mean thanks for, that, but also good to see someone from back home. How old are you, anyways? You can’t be that old yet…”
I stopped him with a stiff hand. “You need to leave.”
He seemed surprised. “Oh, yeah sure, sorry. Guess you don’t really know me. But yenno I did hear that someone was looking for you? Like, some guy, I dunno his name. My cousin visiting said a girl was missing, I guess that’s you, and someone was looking for you.” He got up and started getting dressed. “But I guess I can tell him I found you.”
I snapped up off the bed and got really close to his face. “Don’t tell anyone anything about me! No one needs to know anything.”
He seemed taken aback. “Uh, okay. You sure? I mean, people must be worried—.”
“Tell anyone and I’ll tell the cops you fucked a minor. Get the fuck out!” My fists were clenched and my face burned as he scrambled to grab the rest of his clothes, stumbling out the door.
Randy came storming in just then, grabbing the guy by his collar. “Is there a problem, Buttercup?”
I shook my head, my fists still clenched. “No problem, Randy, he was just leaving.”
Randy gave me a look up and down and let go of the john, watching him run down the stairs and out the door. I moved to the bed, sitting on my hands to stop them from trembling.
The idea of someone back home finding out where I was made me treat the johns with extra suspicion. Who else could it be but Sam, wondering where I was? Or maybe Jimmy, looking to score anything Kay had left behind. Or maybe a social worker, trying to scoop me up and claim their commission on another lost kid put in the system. Whoever it was, it would only be a matter of time before that blabbing john brought someone to me. But if I tried to run, Randy would find me faster, and he would do to me what he did to Peony, or worse.
Going back wasn’t an option anymore. That was no longer my home. This was my home. And the Flowers were my new family. My old family had died with Kay, and once she’d gone, I couldn’t bear to look at anyone who had known her.
I was thinking about these things one night, half-heartedly playing a card game with Jasmine. A loud noise brought me back into focus. She was snapping her fingers in front of my face.
“Yo girl, you in there? What’s your problem?” She was peering at me like she was trying to get a look inside my head.
I stared blankly at her and she stared back, unwavering.
Then I heard my name and jumped up, looking wildly around me for the source of the voice.
“Goddammit Buttercup! You have someone here for you!” It was Randy, calling from the foyer. My heart beat faster and I flushed with embarrassment.
I walked quickly to him, looking at him quizzically. He sighed and motioned beside him with his head. It was Jake, without a hat this time. I let out an audible sigh of relief then tensed, hoping Randy hadn’t noticed.
He smiled at me warmly and I smiled back. But Randy had a rule so I had to treat him like a customer. “Right this way, sir,” I said flatly, leading him up the stairs. Randy gave me a strange look but I ignored it.
Once we were behind a closed door, I smiled awkwardly at him, unsure. Did he come here for sex? He sat on the bed but made no motion to take his clothes off. He was looking me up and down.
“Wow,” he whispered.
I went to sit beside him, not sure what he expected. “So, uh, what do you want?”
He grimaced. “No, Buttercup. I just came to see you. You don’t have to do anything…unless you want to.” We both looked away.
I tried to relax, my face warm. “Okay…but you’re still gonna have to pay me. Otherwise Randy will get suspicious.”
He smiled. “I figured as much. But we can pretend it’s a date then!”
I relaxed and took him up on it.