Chapter 9: Ulula
Ulula’s thankfulness for this man’s actions was difficult to put into words. She watched him with his long brown hair bouncing as he walked. Ulula didn’t know what to say unless he said something to prompt her.
“My place is right there,” Logen said.
Ulula examined the houses she expected him to reside in. When she noticed he was pointing forward, she realized his house was in a different neighborhood.
To say his place was large was an understatement. The fact she could see it from this distance was something special in itself. She couldn’t wait to see the inside. There must be a second floor, she thought to herself. And there must be two bedrooms, with doors between them and the living room. Wow, he has a living room. And a bathroom with a shower.
Ulula got ahead of herself before she even walked into the house. But when she entered, she realized her uncanny anticipation was spot on. Two bedrooms, one upstairs and one downstairs. The only thing she was wrong about was the second bathroom she did not expect. The smaller bathroom of the two was bigger and more pristine than the one she was provided in her home. Last time Ulula was inside a house like this, she was there to steal something.
Speechless, with the exception of a “wow” here and there, Ulula admired the size of the house. She could only imagine what the houses in Fenicia looked like.
There was an internal debate to determine whether this young man had different intentions. If this was all a plan of his just to get her to go home with him, it was an elaborate one. But Ulula had never experienced someone going out of their way to help her. Vera wasn’t a province conducive to such behavior.
“Go ahead and make yourself comfortable,” Logen said, ambling to the downstairs bathroom. “I’ll be right back.”
As Ulula stood alone in the room, she gave some thought to her next move. This was not a situation in which she often found herself. In fact, this was never a situation in which she found herself. But it felt very much the same. Man finds woman on street, man takes woman home, man asks woman to get comfortable. She had been in many more uncomfortable situations, and this was the lesser of two evils.
Before Logen came from the bathroom, Ulula removed her shirt and exposed her breasts. By the time Logen craned his head up, her shirt was on the floor, and she was sauntering toward him.
Logen’s face was one of surprise, and maybe a little bit of fear. “Woah, what is this?”
“It’s a thank you,” Ulula said as she placed a kiss on Logen’s lips.
Logen lurched his head back. “You can thank me with words, you know.”
“Actions speak louder,” Ulula said as she unbuttoned Logen’s pants.
Logen grabbed Ulula’s wrists and pried them from his waistband. “You’re speaking loud enough already.”
“Isn’t this why you brought me here? Isn’t this what you want?”
“No,” Logen laughed, his face flushed. “No, no. I didn’t bring you here for that. I just thought you’d be safer here. I don’t need anything from you. I don’t want you to feel like you owe me anything.”
“Oh,” Ulula said. She tentatively ambled back to her shirt and picked it up. As embarrassed as she was, she had to admit to herself this outcome was better than the alternative.
“I’m sorry,” Logen said.
“You’re sorry?” Ulula said with a nervous smile. “You some kinda saint or somethin’? I’m the one that should be sorry.”
“No, you don’t need to be,” Logen assured. Ulula sat down on the couch pad, now fully dressed again. She looked at Logen, and he was still staring at her. “How did you, uh…”
She knew what he was going to say, but still wanted to make him sweat a little bit. After two seconds and three beads of sweat, she finished his sentence. “Get a body like this?”
“Yeah,” Logen said innocently. “Did you get augmentation surgery or something?”
“No,” Ulula answered.
“I didn’t think so,” Logen said.
Ulula stared at him, upset with his comment. She considered snapping at him: ’Scuse me? You think ‘cause you’re from Fenicia you’re better than us lowlifes who can’t afford augment surgery. Well gettin’ the surgery doesn’t make you any more of what you are. Men still have penises. Just because they didn’t augment don’t mean they can’t use ’em. Trust me, I know. Just because I didn’t get it doesn’t mean I’m less of a woman. And just because you got it don’t make you more of a man.
The rant sounded good in her head, but only came out as a sigh. She couldn’t bring herself to say it all to the man who saved her from another assault.
Logen saw her face and realized what he had said. “No,” he started, “I didn’t mean it like that. I just know Vera doesn’t have a medical center with an augmentation department. So, chances were, you didn’t get it. Which is hard to believe with a body like…yours.”
Ulula’s embarrassment dissipated when she realized how uncomfortable he was. He probably didn’t understand why he kept saying the things he was saying. She put him out of his misery.
“I have a body like this ’cause it’s fully formed. I declared on my thirteenth birthday. It’s the safest. And it has the best chance of working without problems.”
Logen sounded a little more enthusiastic. “Yeah,” he said, “I did too. Well, not on my thirteenth birthday, but a couple weeks after. I guess it affects women differently than men. I didn’t fill into the man’s form as well as you filled into a woman’s.”
“You didn’t get augment therapy?”
“Nope,” Logen said.
Ulula was taken aback. She thought everyone outside of Vera was able to afford augmentation surgery. It was inexpensive considering everything it involved. Some of her beliefs about this man were complete misconceptions.
“So,” Ulula said, “you knew what you wanted to be when you were thirteen?”
“Yeah,” Logen said. Then he turned quizzical. “Didn’t you?”
“No,” Ulula admitted, “not exactly.”
“Then why declare so early?”
Ulula sat silent for a few seconds. She couldn’t decide whether or not to tell so much of her life story to this man she met an hour ago. Her arms crossed defensively.
“You don’t have to tell me,” Logen said. He was obviously trying to be comforting.
“It’s okay,” Ulula said. “It’s just not the best story. It’s about a guy. He was three years older than me, and already was a man. I was really young and stupid. I thought I was in love with him, and he tricked me into thinkin’ he was in love with me. We had already kissed, and a little more. He said he wanted me to be a woman so we could do everything we wanted. Or at least everything he wanted. I got real excited to become a woman for him. That’s why I declared so early.
“I know it was dumb. I was young and he tricked me. Because as soon as I formed into something that even resembled a woman, we had sex. And after ’bout a few months, that was it. It was over for him. I was a piece in his game, and he won. So, he left me. And now he doesn’t live here anymore.”
“What’s his name?” Logen asked, his voice flat.
“Watcha gonna do,” Ulula said with a mischievous smile, “track him down and kill him with your ninja moves?”
Logen’s face softened. “I’m not a ninja. My mom signed me up for karate lessons when I was younger. I’ve practiced ever since, in case I ever had to defend myself…or someone else.”
“Sure,” Ulula said, nodding. She tried to build up the courage to move on with the story. “Anyways, he left. After that, I was enjoying myself. I guess I liked the attention I was getting from all the older men. I was getting more than all the andies my age. They didn’t declare yet. I got popular, but also got a reputation. So, the guys used me for my body. I got tired of it, and tried to say no. But even when I tried to stop, they didn’t. Dominique and Taylor, they aren’t the only ones, and they’re not the worst either.”
Ulula watched Logen clench his jaw. He still didn’t say much, and seemed to hope it was over. But it wasn’t.
“Dom and Taylor pay me, which is why they didn’t attack me right away. They nicer about it, I guess. But I only do it if I’m low on money, which is a lot. And most people know I need money. So, when you brought me here…”
“You thought I just wanted sex,” Logen finished.
Ulula bit her lip and nodded. “That’s usually what happens. That’s what I got used to.”
“You won’t have to worry about that,” Logen said as he sat down next to her. “Not from me…not ever.”
This was not the first time Ulula had heard somebody tell her this. But it was the first time she felt like someone meant it. She pursed her lips and leaned over, wrapping her arms around Logen’s waist. His arm fell on her shoulder and pulled her in. In his arms, Ulula felt safe for the first time since she could remember. “Thanks.”
“You don’t have to thank me.”
“Yeah, I do,” Ulula said, wiping tears from her cheeks. “For helping me, for letting me stay here, for caring. Nobody stopped to listen to me before. Nobody from here, anyway.”
“Well, I’m not from here,” Logen said, keeping a hand on her shoulder and staring her directly in the eyes. Nobody ever looked her in the eye. “You can stay here as long as you need to. I think you’ll be safer here. I’ll take care of what you need.”
“Why?” Ulula asked. Logen was taken aback by the question, so she elaborated. “Why are you doin’ this? You don’t know me. You ain’t even met me before tonight. Why are you acting like this?”
Logen glanced away for a few moments, gathering his thoughts. Ulula didn’t think it was a difficult question, but clearly it was. Finally, Logen turned back. “I guess it’s what I got used to.”
Creaking sounds woke Ulula up when Logen walked down the stairs in the morning. Countless times, Ulula had woken up in a strange place, and a man she had just met was there. On those mornings, the man would tell her she needed to leave as soon as possible. Maybe they had a wife, or a job, or maybe they were through with her and wanted her out. No matter how nice they had been the night before, they were always the same.
Ulula walked toward the door, but stopped when she heard Logen say, “What are you doing?”
She turned to him as if the answer was obvious. “Leavin’.”
“You don’t have to,” Logen said. “Honestly. You can stay here.”
“Don’t you have work?”
“Yes. But you’ll be better off here than where you were gonna be last night. It’s okay. Seriously.”
Ulula took a deep breath. “Fine.”
Logen tried to turn away fast enough to hide his smile, but Ulula still caught his lips turning up. It didn’t look deceitful enough to be of concern. Maybe he was just happy she was staying.
When Logen left, he told her there were some nuts, seeds, and fruit in the kitchen for when she got hungry. Otherwise, he would be back with some dinner by sundown. That was a long time, but it was not the longest Ulula had gone without eating. Her stomach might not even grumble by the time he returned.
There wasn’t much to do while Logen was away. Ulula tried sleeping through the day, but the nap only took up an hour. She wished there was something to keep her busy.
She remembered Logen telling her there was another e-tab at home. He probably didn’t take it with him to work. There was too high of a chance of getting it stolen again if he brought it out of the house. It must still be there. It was only right to explore the house. After all, Ulula might be staying in it for some time. She ascended the stairs to take reconnaissance on the second floor.
Three doors presented Ulula with three options for exploration. On the left was a closet, and straight ahead was the bathroom. By process of elimination, Ulula determined door three was the bedroom. It clicked open when Ulula rotated the knob, and she let herself inside.
From her experience, Ulula could tell what type of man she was dealing with. Logen’s mattress was lying on the floor, but it was wide and thick. Only the wealthiest of people could afford a box spring or a bedframe. Those who could, only bought it to show off. A mattress like this was considered pretty high class for Vera, but more middle class for a place like Fenicia. The closet contained no hangers for the clothes, as to be expected, but the shirts and pants were folded to perfection. Logen paid attention to detail more than most.
Everything Logen had said checked out. He was pretty well off, but not in excess. He was practical, and took pride in his neatness. Maybe everything else he told her was true too.
Two boxes rested in the back, right corner. If Logen left his e-tab at home, it was bound to be in one of those boxes. Ulula made her way over to them and tried the left box first. Nothing of importance was found, and she lost confidence as she moved on to the next.
The e-tab was under some knick-knacks. She immediately tried clicking it on. When the device started up, it asked for a password. This unplanned hiccup broke Ulula’s spirits.
A second idea popped into Ulula’s mind, and she wondered why she hadn’t thought of it sooner. She had said this e-tab was expensive. Expensive enough to find a way to travel outside of Vera. If she were to take it to a shop and sell it to a merchant or a hacker, she may be able to find the escape she had been hoping for. Maybe this was supposed to happen all along. If Logen came into her life for a reason, it was to provide her a way out of her shitty life.
Ulula tucked the e-tab under her shirt and walked downstairs to the front door. She reached for the handle, but when her hand made contact with the metal she felt something. She couldn’t describe it, but it was there. Turning around, Ulula surveyed the house. What am I doing, she asked herself.She had two options: to leave, sell the e-tab, and try to escape for an improbable chance at safety; or she could stay here, like Logen asked. He promised her she would be safer here, and it made sense. She had never put much trust in anyone, but then again, she never trusted anyone as much as she trusted Logen. He did more for her in a day than anyone else had in a decade. For that she was so grateful she couldn’t convince herself to leave. She returned the e-tab to the box upstairs, sat on the couch, and awaited Logen’s return. After all, she knew where to find the e-tab if she ever changed her mind.