Truth Be Told

By: Holly Ryan

I’d better head back. I lean down and pick up the men’s coats, slowly collecting the bundle of fabrics so as not to disturb my stomach again. When I rise, I freeze. A man is walking toward me from the direction of the crowd. He’s about my height, taking my heels into consideration, and he’s balding, but he has a strong look about him, with his tight shirt displaying his muscles. He has on an old pair of light wash, stained jeans. No coat, I notice. Did he come over here to get his from me? I sift through the coats, about to open my mouth to apologize and offer his back to him, when I see him look back over his shoulder. I stop, the coats dangling in my hands. When he sees that he hasn’t been followed, he says, “Hey there.”

“Hey,” I answer. Everything inside me tells me there’s something off about this. He’s being way too fake-casual for a simple request to get his coat back. I need to get back to Lorelei.

I avoid meeting his eyes and try to slide past him, but he’s blocking my way with his sheer mass. Instinctively, I reach down. My hand hits the bare skin of my leg. I pinch my eyes closed. My switchblade. Fuck.

He ignores the awkward move I just made and tilts his head toward the club. “I saw you on stage.”

I cross both arms in front of me and now embrace the bundle of clothes over my most vulnerable parts. I’m sure he did, but I don’t recognize him.

He looks me up and down. I’ve never felt more vulnerable. I turn my head away.

“What are you doing way back here?” he asks. “You look cold.”

I give a nervous laugh, and it comes out lighthearted, just as I’d hoped. I don’t want to give him the impression that I’m suspicious, or certainly that I’m verging on panic. “I wasn’t feeling well, but I’m okay now.” I shrug my shoulders up to my ears. “I’m freezing.”

He stuffs his hands into his pockets and says nothing.

“Well,” I say, “I’d better be heading back. Thanks for checking on me, but I’m okay. Really.” I try once more to pass him.

He puts his hand up, stopping me. “Wait just a minute. Do you, ah–” he rubs the back of his neck, “I’m not sure how to say this. I’ve never asked for anything like this before.”

Oh, God. I have an idea of what’s on his mind, but I don’t dare think it.

He laughs. “I guess I’ll just come out and say it. Do you offer any…special services?”

I’m frozen, both literally and figuratively.

“Wait,” he says when he sees my lack of reaction. He pulls out a wad of cash and flicks through it in front of me. Two hundred dollars, all in fifties, I note as I count it with my eyes. Bastard. He’s actually serious.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I don’t offer anything like that. None of us do. It’s illegal.”

He laughs again, but this time the laugh is deeper, more menacing. This time, he’s done putting on a show. “Illegal…” A look of insult crosses him and he shoves the money away, then looks over his shoulder again. “What can I do to change your mind?”

I feel my pulse start to pound in my neck. Maybe if I count the beats, it’ll distract me enough until this moment passes. One. Two. The beats get faster, closer together. ThreeFourFiveSix.

“Huh?” He bends down, trying to look into my eyes to pry some kind of answer out of me.

I don’t let him. I continue to look away. Just relax, Stella, and assess the situation. I take a deep breath in. Okay. The guy’s talking dumb, but he looks innocent enough, not that that means anything… and he’s definitely been drinking, which means a hell of a lot. One thing’s for sure: I’d feel better right now if I had my knife.

I snap back to the present and I’m greeted by his face, and his breath stinking of beer and his eyes glassed over. He’s still trying to catch my line of sight.

I shake my head then place my hand lightly upon his chest, an innocent attempt to move him out of the way and free myself of him once and for all. “No. You can’t change my mind, sir. I’m sorry, but like I said, I don’t do that kind of thing. I’m just going to–”

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