Without making direct eye-contact with a single person, Shayla read the room. She was cold, she was broke, she was getting sick, and she didn’t have time to play around. Her best bet was the elderly black man in the back corner-he was so old he was practically gray, and he looked nice in that way old guys do-the ones who want to rescue lost little girls, not the ones who want to screw them. She didn’t have the stomach for that crap today. Things were about to get ugly for her.
She just needed forty bucks for now. She could figure the rest out when she felt better. The old guy was probably only good for a twenty, which was no problem; it was easy to make the case for twenty bucks. Forty tended to give a stranger pause. Besides, she could roll twenty into forty without his help.
She took a deep breath, thought the saddest thought she could think that didn’t involve her life, and turned on the crocodile tears.
Then Shayla went to work.
Nineteen years old and barely five feet tall, she was still blessed with a baby face — hooded deep brown eyes, a perky nose peppered with a smattering of tiny freckles, and a pouty mouth — and she knew how to use youth and the air of innocence to inspire pity and compassion in her marks. She would cry and tell the story of how she’d had to run away from her abusive drunk of a father. She wasn’t lying, exactly. She did, and he was. She just gave the impression that it had happened more like 5 days ago than the 5 years it had really been since she’d seen that sonofabitch.
Only once did someone call her on her shit about it. It was about a week ago, and she’d been too spooked to try ever since. She was here because she had no other option; her guy had about had enough of her begging for fronts she was never going to be able to cover and she knew what came next for girls like her. She was out of options, and she was afraid to run her game on the old guy, and she was afraid not to. She was starting to look like a dope fiend. The baby face was overshadowed by the hollows in her cheeks and the track marks she couldn’t quite hide anymore.
Maybe he was hard of hearing and the tears would be enough. She wouldn’t even need words because she looked pitiful enough that he’d feel bad for her, or she looked dirty enough that he’d want to be rid of her and just hand it over. Well, there was only one way she was going to find out, right? And it wasn’t by sitting here pondering her outcomes. It was now or never. Her shakiness and sweating were starting to be more visible. She had to act fast if she didn’t want to show the whole goddamn world what she really was. She drew a long breath, and she let it out slow. It cleared her mind up some and she felt more solid. She headed towards the man.
“Shit!”, Shayla shouted mentally. “God Damnit!”
Now she’d really fucked things up. She met someone’s eyes on her way over. Goddamned rookie mistake! Just to make it better, she’d met a woman’s eyes. Even better, it was the woman who’d called her out last week and challenged her to admit why she was REALLY there. To admit the only thing her being there had to do with getting better was the fact that she could use it to feed her habit. And that was true. ALL OF IT. She WAS there to get better, and right now, the only way to get better was to fix. Period.
Well, fuck. She had to abandon this mission, for sure. Once you’re made somewhere, that place stops existing. It was a bummer. She actually really liked some of the losers here. Anyway, whatever. She didn’t have time to be a big baby. She had to regroup and take care of business.
It was fine. It was life.
It was HER life.