~ Tessa ~
“How was the meat?” I asked, pushing my plate aside.
Rico shrugged, “Recall that time we went to Hawaii and grilled on the beach?”
I pursed my lips in anticipation of ridicule. “Yeah?”
“Reminded me of how tender it was, is all.” He flashed his white teeth. Teeth I paid to have fixed when he got into a bar fight during our first year of marriage and needed dental surgery. “Good job, baby.”
The memory of our trip floods my mind, and I almost smile before remembering that was the first time he hit me for answering his phone while he was in the shower and how stunned I was to protect myself. Of course, he would only recollect the food, not how he began the years of abuse I would endure after that fateful vacation.
I stood and collected our plates, piling one on top of the other, trekking back and forth into the kitchen until clearing the table. Rico watched from his seat, face impassive although I caught him fighting against the ropes tying him to the chair.
“Don’t struggle,” I warned after loading the dishwasher, standing over him with a syringe, “I may want you to suffer, but you’ve messed up your wrist and cleaning blood stains isn’t on my to-do list.”
He scowled, dark eyebrows pinching when I loomed closer, “How did you turn into this crazy bitch, Tessa? This ain’t you!”
“You’re wrong,” I smirk, “If you’d taken time out of your day to pay attention to your wife, would have seen the signs.”
“You’re blaming me for this bullshit?” he seethed, “People are gonna notice I’m missing.”
“Oh, yeah? Who? Your little whore down at Silky Centers?”
He blanched, and I giggled, glad I took him off guard. What an arrogant asshole.
“You bitch!” he screamed, “Wait till I get my hands on ya!”
“So predictable,” I mock, “I can be predictable too. It’s Valentines’, and I made your favorite dessert, but I have to go to work first.”
His face scrunched in confusion, “But, it’s nighttime.”
“How observant of you.”
After injecting Rico’s arm, he cursed a blue streak until his words slurred and passed out. I pulled a switchblade from my apron and cut the nylon rope securing his arms and feet. I loved my dining room and if he dripped blood on the carpet… better to think ahead.
Humming a tune I heard on the radio while I fixed supper, dragged Rico’s sorry ass into the den after double-checking the blackout curtains were in place. I had distributed the plastic earlier, taping it down on the entire length of the floor.
He’s a heavy bastard, but with time on my side, I rested until situating his body onto the homemade gurney, handcuffing both of his wrists before doing the same to his bare ankles.
After showering and locking the house, I headed off to work. When I returned hoped he would see this is the only way for us to be free.
~ Bella ~
“Let’s hear it for Princess Ella! We’d like to thank you for spending Valentines’ here at Silky Centers where hearts and flowers aren’t expected but tipping big may make one of these gorgeous girls fall in love anyhow!”
After collecting my tips and smiling my bum off, skipped into the dressing room where my best friend Ava counts the bills before shoving them inside her bag. We split everything because we live together along with two other prostitutes and our pimp doesn’t discriminate when it’s time to pay.
“Where’s Romeo been?” she questions, turning to the mirror we share in the crowded space.
“No idea,” I sigh, swiping at a smudge of eyeliner under my right eye, “Haven’t seen him in days and he promised to take me out tonight. He’s a sweet man.”
Ava snorts, “I’d say the fella’s playing ya, but he hasn’t fucked ya yet.”
“Don’t be crude,” I chide, my English accent heavy, “Rico’s situation’s complicated.”
“Married ya mean,” she rolls her light blue eyes at me and I pretend my blonde hair needs more hairspray to avoid her disproving stare, “If Denny finds out, I ain’t heard nuttin.”
“Denny doesn’t care how I spend my time, only if I meet the weekly quota,” I sass, although we both know he’d beat me senseless for dating, “I wish Rico would answer my text, but his wife expects attention today.”
“Ya think? Girl, it’s Valentines’, as if he’d blow her off for a whore.”
My cheeks flame at my friends’ callus words, “Ava, remind me to never tell you my business again.”
She swivels, waving a long acrylic nail in my face, “You listen to me, I’m your only friend in this fucked up world and I’ve been where you’re at, hoping some rich fella will save my ass. It’s a fairy tale ending we don’t get. Enjoy the nice treatment, the gifts, but don’t for one second believe he’ll leave his bitch of a wife because it’s never gonna happen.”
“He showed me the divorce papers,” I point out, shaking my head, “Doesn’t the fact he won’t cheat on her at least show he respects women?”
“Ha,” Ava laughs, “These days you can print anything off the internet and sign names.”
“I guess,” I pout, hoping she’s wrong about Rico.
“Hey,” the new server Tessa pops up over my shoulder, her smile wobbly, “I’m taking drink orders before heading out.”
“Hello sweetie,” I coo, noting her black eye and bandaged wrist, “What happened to you?”
She blushes, tottering on her six-inch heels. Tessa began working at Silky a few weeks ago and when we bump into each other, she has a fresh injury. I may be a sex worker, but never get roughed up like this woman. She’s not a hooker though, because I’ve watched her and she never entertains after hours.
“My boyfriend,” she swallows and gives us a small smirk, “I changed the locks this time.”
“Good for you,” Ava says absently, preparing for her last set, “Bella, will I see ya at home or are ya waiting around for that schmuck?”
“I haven’t decided, but go on,” I kiss her cheek, watching her strut out the door.
“Damn,” Tessa takes her seat, rubbing her left foot, “Ugh, I hate these heels.”
“You’ll get used to it,” I assure her, wondering if I should have a drink before leaving, “Did you pick up the orders yet?”
She shakes her head, “In a minute. Will you do me a favor?”
I hesitate because asking for help can lead to trouble. I turned nineteen last month and after working the streets since the age of twelve, I have learned you need to be smarter than people around you at all times. Lowering your guard for one second could cost you your life and even though Tessa seems harmless tread lightly.
“Depends,” I slowly respond, “I’m shite carrying a tray.”
“Oh, nothing like that,” she giggles, “Would you drive me home in my car? My wrist hurts badly, and I’ll pay cab fare afterward.”
“You poor thing,” I click my tongue, finding her request odd but my compassion for the battered woman wins over the nagging feeling I should mind my own business, “Of course.”
She beams, and I hope her boyfriend leaves her alone. She’s a fit woman with long brown hair and natural charisma. I’m young, but most of the women here treat me as an equal knowing how I live. Denny makes regular appearances to make sure his property isn’t stepping out of line.
“Can you meet me outside in twenty minutes?” she asks, standing while gazing at the other strippers, “Here, take the keys and play music while you wait. I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t tell Ava.”
I accept the ring of keys with a nod, “Okay, but you’re too trusting, love. Never give your address to customers.”
She gives me a coy grin, and it doesn’t sit right not informing Ava but will for Tessa’s sake, “And you’re too sweet Bella. Thank you.”
When I’m relaxed in her posh SUV, I turn on the stereo and find it already on the station I listen to so play with my phone while waiting. There are no messages from Rico but send the last one for the evening.
ME: I hoped you’d pop in after my shift, but understand if you’re busy. Assisting a coworker before going home. Miss you…
How pathetic am I? Perhaps Ava is right and I should leave the bloke alone but Rico treats me well and has never taken liberties.
The passenger door opens and Tessa climbs inside with her injured hand shoved in her coat, “Ready? Take a left and head to the freeway.”
“Right,” I adjust the mirrors, “How far do you live?”
“Not far,” she hedges, “Did you tell anyone?”
I frown, switching lanes after leaving the on-ramp, “No. Why the secrecy? Is someone giving you a hard time at the club?”
“I don’t like people in my business is all,” she grins and I nod in understanding, “Take the next exit.”
When I pull her vehicle into a wide circular drive of a two-story brick home, she uses a clicker and the garage door on the edge of the manicured lawn opens its jaws.
“Please, park inside and turn off the engine,” she asks mechanically and I do as requested.
“Nice house,” I comment before noticing she has taken off her seat belt and is hovering over me, “What are you doing?” I laugh.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers before I feel a pinch in my neck and my eyes widen when I see a needle.
“What the fuck!” I punch her in the face and she cries out as I grapple for the door handle but my motor functions failing, “You cunt! Let me out!”
“You need this,” she whines and my mind can’t comprehend what she means, “He’s a bad man Bella.”
My head falls onto the steering wheel because I can no longer hold it upright, my body giving up the fight.
Crazy bitch, who does she think she’s messing with? My last thought before darkness descends.