Previous: Chapter 4 – Chloe’s New Life
Dominic’s Bar sat on top of a restaurant and had a long, narrow set of metal stairs outside, leading down to a crowd of wannabe gangsters who stood against the wall, smoking cigarettes and talking shit. My nose itched with excitement as I walked up to them, hands in my pockets, a little high from Molly’s weed and sweaty from the speedy walk.
“Violet Esperanza,” one of the thugs said with a Spanish accent. We locked eyes and I realized it was my no-good ex-boyfriend, Andy. Just who I’d expected.
“Andres Baez.” The name made me want to hurl. “We haven’t seen each other since I returned that kilo I stole from you.”
The men in his group laughed. No doubt they would berate him about it later. “What brings you back to our side of the tracks? You musta dumped that white boy cuz I know he wouldn’t give your ass permission to hang out in the hood.”
I rolled my eyes. “Fuck off. As if I’d let that prick boss me around like that.”
“Oh, I see how it is. He broke up with you.” My eyes narrowed, and he laughed in my face, so much that I grabbed him by the shirt and pushed him up against the wall.
“You shut your fuckin’ mouth, bro, or I’ll knock your teeth out.”
He choked on laughter, only shutting up when I raised a fist, ready to punch him. “Okay, okay, chill woman!” His hands lifted to shield his head and I smirked, glad he still feared me.
“I need you to give me two grams on credit,” I said in a low voice.
“What makes you think I’d do that?”
“Cuz you owe me. And I’ll pay you tomorrow.”
“Fine, but give me some space,” Andy responded, shoving me. I released my grip so he could retrieve the little baggies of white powder from his pocket. Then, licking my lips, I reached forward, but Andy snatched the drugs away, hiding them behind his back. “You’ve burned me before, Esperanza.”
“That was then. Things are different now.”
He seemed doubtful but gave in, tucking the ziplocks in my palm. I plucked the cigarette from between his fingers and took a puff off it, smiled and walked away.
“You’re welcome!” he called after me, and I responded with my middle finger.
Up the stairs and through the heavy glass door, I was hit with a greasy, liquor-filled stench. The decor hadn’t been updated since I first started going there as an under-aged delinquent. But the crowd seemed much more mixed nowadays, patrons ranging from fake ID age to mid-40s.
I went to the bar and ordered a mojito, looking around for a recognizable face. With the glass in my hand, I drifted towards the back of the room where an illegal poker game was going on. There’s where my people were at.
“VIOLET!!” It was my BFF of all time, Tiffany. She had been sitting on her boyfriend’s lap as he gambled, but upon my arrival ran up and tackled me in a hug, noticeably drunk. “You haven’t come out in forever! We missed you!”
As I gazed around the table, I doubted anyone besides Tiffany had felt bad about my absence. “Deal me in,” I demanded, plopping down with my drink and throwing in a few dollars.
I played poker for hours, working on emptying one of the baggies while I kicked everyone’s ass at Texas Hold ’em. Drunk Tiffany acted as waitress, rambling about the old days between bringing everyone booze.
“And that time you saved your red-haired friend… what’s her name? Molly!” Her head tossed back in laughter, enjoying the nostalgia. She turned to her boyfriend. “That’s the kinda friend this bitch is. Molly came to pick us up from a dope party on Long Island after we were stranded by Andy’s punk ass. She was high as fuck and crashed some BMW. Molly was freakin’ out but Violet just straight up took the blame, no questions asked, got hauled off to the slammer. Your lawyer buddy saved you from that, right? Gabe?”
Without responding, I glanced at my opponents. “I’m all in,” I exclaimed, pushing the mountain of poker chips to the pot. Only two people were still in the game with me, and neither would guess I was bluffing. With my smirk and confident pose, these guys assumed I had a great hand, both folding instead of matching my bet. I threw the cards to the dealer and hugged my pile of money.
Cashing out, I beckoned Tiffany to have a smoke with me. “Damn, sis, you gotta find a new job,” she exclaimed after I told her of the day’s events. “Trust me, you don’t wanna live with your bro forever. I’m still stuck with mine and they’re drivin’ me nuts.”
“What am I gonna do, though?” I took a long drag off my cigarette, pondering for a moment.
“Get back into dealing. Andy’s lookin’ for someone, and you prolly got enough customers already… you know, from high school.” She blew smoke out of her nose, lost in thought. “And it’s not like anything would happen if you’re caught cuz you got connects. You must have a shit ton of friends in that biz now.”
I shrugged, glancing at Andy and his meathead ‘bodyguards’ who stood near the corner, sipping on liquor out of a brown paper bag. There was a wad of money in my pocket waiting to give him a down payment. Selling could be a quick way to make cash, pay off debts, save enough for a deposit on an apartment, and hold me over until I got a new job.
Without consciously realizing it, I strolled up to my ex-boyfriend and tapped him on the shoulder, asking to do business with his gang. He didn’t trust me at all, throwing out a belligerent cackle at first, but when I thrust the money towards him, we were suddenly on our way to his place for my supply.
A short two blocks from the bar, Andy’s apartment greeted me with the familiar aroma of beer + weed + El Salvadorian food. It brought me back to my teenage years when I was head over heels for the badass, drug-dealing musician, blinded by his charm and good looks. Now I could see his true colors: a dead-beat wannabe gangbanger, covered in tasteless tattoos and oily hair, still living with his parents. Thank you, Gabe, for helping me escape this pitiful relationship.
“Are you remembering the last time you were here and we fucked on that couch?” He chuckled and placed his hands on my hips, pulling me forward so I was against him, erection poking my thigh.
“Ew, get off,” I said as he tried to give me a slobbery kiss.
He gripped my arms, giving me a cutting scowl. “You sure you ain’t plannin’ to fuck me over again?”
“I already gave you half the dough, so get the fuck off me and let’s get a move on.”
Shaking his head, Andy half-grinned, fingers tightening around my bicep. “You still like it rough, bad girl?”
“What do you think?” I sneered, elbowing him away.
“You want the product, you’re gonna have to submit to me tonight.”
“Barf. What makes you assume I’d want your nasty cock?”
He lurched forward, hand now grasping my throat. “You know you want it,” he cooed. “But that’s the deal. Take it or leave it.”
“Fine,” I spat. No matter how much I’d taught him about the BDSM lifestyle, Andy didn’t get it, and tonight there was no time to explain the difference between a bratty spanko and a submissive. I just wanted this to be over.
Andy yanked me to his room and ordered me to undress while he searched in a drawer for rope. I silently obeyed, drunkenness numbing the thoughts of how absurd this was. I decided to give him a show, shaking my hips as I eased my pants down, whipping them off. It was hard to keep from laughing as I did the same with my shirt, finally insisting he put on music.
Rhythmic, hammering drums filled the painful silence, accompanied by violent guitars. When the melody started, Andy crept up to my naked body, wrapping the nylon around my wrists. “You never did this when we were dating,” I said, resisting the urge to correct his shabby attempt at restraining me.
“I’ve learned a thing or two since then.” But he had understood little, because he just circled the rope around and around again, not even securing it.
“If we’re doing this, I’m gonna need another line.”
Stopping for a moment, Andy mulled over my suggestion, finally obliging me. He held the rolled-up dollar bill to my nose and I inhaled. Here goes nothing.
Seconds later, he tossed me on the bed like a sack of potatoes. The rope was unwinding, and his flogger was painless. I didn’t bother pretending like the scene was interesting, choosing instead to daydream about Gabe.
“What are you doing fucking around with this kid again?” He saunters towards me in a fancy, freshly ironed pinstripe suit, one-hundred percent sober and in control of himself. With furrowed brows he bellows, “Didn’t I tell you to steer clear? Do I need to remind you what happens to disobedient little brats?”
“Fuck off, you piece of shit!” I respond, flipping him off.
When Gabe charges towards me, I fight, spitting excuses and cruel words until he’s tired of my mouth. He tugs on a fistful of my hair so I must look him in the face. “You’re going to end up in jail again, and this time we may not get you off the hook.” His hazel eyes are serious, threatening. “Stop fucking around.”
I’m not scared of him. “I don’t care!”
My shouting provokes a growl, and I expect the mild slap across my face. “You DO care, or I wouldn’t be here right now.”
I reach up to return a punch, but he catches my wrist and spins me around, pushing me onto the bed and holding my hands behind my back. He ties me up with ease, so tight that I’m unable to wriggle free.
“This punk is bad news and you know it. Don’t go down the path of self-destruction again.” Gabe rips off my clothes and drags me kicking and screaming over his lap, tuning out my arguments. “If I have to, I’ll beat you till the urge to do stupid shit passes.” I stare at the hardwood floor as the thick tawse crashes on my bare butt with a loud THUD! that hurts more than all of Jason’s spankings combined. My shrill cry only indulges him to continue, realizing how easy it will be to break me. “Are you really going to throw away everything you’ve worked for? GED, college, the hours you dedicated to the legal clinic… all down the drain because of a stupid man?”
Squirming to dodge swats, I yelp, “Fuck Jason! He means nothing!” I want to bust out of the shackles, but Gabe’s clutch on me is too strong. The more I resist, the heavier the lashes fall. My ass is throbbing, only slightly relieved when he focuses on my thighs for a moment, thrashing the leather against my tender skin.
“Obviously he means something, or you wouldn’t let this dim-witted hoodlum fuck you.”
“I’ll do whatever I want!” I’m offended, kicking and trying to shimmy off his lap, but he won’t release me. My ass is maroon but I keep struggling, refusing to let him win.
“Why would you want to fuck such a foul-smelling creature? You’re better than this.”
A tear trickles down my cheek. What the fuck is wrong with me?
“Did I, uh, make you cry?” The daydream disappeared as Andy came into my view, panting in delight now that he had finished using me.
Clearing my throat, I broke free from his “restraints” and wiped my eyes. “Allergies,” I muttered, reaching for my clothes and re-dressing. He tossed a plastic shopping bag of drugs at me, which I deposited in my handbag, not bothering to hide it.
“Don’t fuck me over, Esperanza. We’re not a gang of lil kids anymore. You’re fuckin’ with the big boys now.” I followed his eyes to the opened drawer, shiny pistol tucked away inside. “Steal from me again, it’ll be more than just a beating.”
The night, summer air was sticky as I walked through the busy streets of Queens, ignoring the schizophrenic homeless people who shouted at me for money every few blocks. My brain raced, thinking about the drugs, feeling ashamed and dirty for the way I’d started the next phase of my life. Molly would call it a self-fulfilling prophecy — since I believed I’d never be more than a slutty drug dealer, I sabotaged myself until the belief came true. But somehow I kept finding justification for my behavior: needing the money, euphoria would motivate me to apply for real jobs, I’d stop as soon as I was making a steady income again.
How about finding excuses against your bad behavior? Toby had suggested to me once. And since I had a long walk, I tried to make a list in my head:
Vic and Molly prefer I stay with them rather than get back into this lifestyle (but what they don’t know won’t hurt them).
Andy’s in a real gang now (but I can handle those fuckers).
Generic reasons like it’s dangerous and illegal (but I’m too anarchist to care).
This isn’t working…
Gabe would beat the shit out of me if he knew what I’m doing.
The last thought prompted me to stop in the middle of the block, debating if I should text Gabe back since he was on my mind so much. I stared mesmerized at flashing lights from a police car as I pondered, only snapping to consciousness when I heard two cops harassing a Mexican guy.
“Well, Cesar? What else have you been doing while out here drunk? Did you rob the bodega on 30th Ave?” the tall olive-skinned cop shouted as the shorter Asian scribbled something in his ticket pad. “Where’s your green card? I’ll bet you don’t even have one.”
“No, señor,” the man responded, head shaking in nervous drunkenness at the idea of deportation.
Before the cop could speak again, I ran towards the trio. “Hey! You don’t have to answer them! Usted no tiene que contestarles!” As I approached, I stood up straight, looking at the cops with my arms folded. “You can’t ask about his citizenship status.”
“And who do you think you are?”
Luckily, I had a business card (hidden under the felony amount of drugs in my bag) and effortlessly reached for it, shoving the paper in the officer’s hand. “I’m an immigrant rights activist, and I’d like to know if you’re arresting my client or if he’s free to go?”
“Your client? You’ve just met this man!” The pair looked at the drunkard, then at each other, unsure how to proceed.
“Did you bother reading his rights? Even if you did, I could still call my good friend Captain Johnson of the 114th precinct about how you neglected to provide translation services when your perp obviously doesn’t understand what’s going on.” I retrieved my phone, watching the cops out of the corner of my eye as I pulled up favorite contacts. Clicking on the captain’s name and photo, my phone screen flashed at the officers.
“That won’t be necessary,” said the shorter cop, ripping a ticket off his pad and handing it to Cesar. “Explain to your ‘client’ that it’s a disturbing the peace charge for being drunk and disorderly in public. The bar kicked him out over an hour ago and we’ve received complaints about him yelling on the phone and starting fights with patrons in the outside smoking area. If we’re called again, he’ll be under arrest.”
An impressed smile formed on my lips and I stayed in work-mode, shaking each douchebag’s hand as they left, then turning back to Cesar who stood there with a dumbfounded expression. It only took me a minute to explain the ticket, and after, I commanded him to go home, even going the extra mile to order him an Uber.
“Thank you, señorita,” he said with a thick accent, switching easily between languages. “I can’t be deportado. My family. My kids.” He held out his scratched-up phone, pointing at the background photo of three young children, toothless grins reminding me of the commercials to help babies in third world countries. “I miss them. They need me to make money. Pero no puedo dejar el vicio.” But I can’t let go of my addiction.
Me either, bro, I thought, swallowing those emotions. “What part of Mexico?”
“Oaxaca.” When my eyebrows raised, he continued. “Lo conoces?”
“My mom is from there, the city. But I’ve never been.”
“Muy bien! Somos primos! You must visit one day.” He opened a blank text message and started typing something out, just as his driver pulled up. “Please, your number.” The device fell into my hands and I read the message draft: si necesitas un favor, llamame — Cesar de Oaxaca.
For a moment I considered that he was too drunk to remember me in the morning, much less if the favor I needed was years from now. But you can never have too many allies, so I typed my number in for my new cousin, pressing send and tossing the phone back.
“Be safe!” he called after me, ducking into the black Nissan.
I stood on the sidewalk for another few minutes, finishing my cigarette as I remembered the grinning girl on Cesar’s phone wallpaper. Why do parents insist money is the only necessity? I’d heard the same sob story thousands of times at work — “we had no choice, we have to provide for our children.” But at what cost? Not getting to be there for special occasions like birthdays and graduations, or even missing normal moments like dinners and telenovelas. At least if you’re suffering together, you’ll have each other. But loneliness… that’s what fuels the addictions.
Maybe being deported would’ve been a better option for Cesar than helping him get off with a ticket. But after the government destroyed my family, I only cared about fucking the system.
Molly was already sleeping when I arrived home and started my second gram. My mind raced with ideas of what to do with my life while I shot zombies in a post-apocalyptic universe.
Do I want to find another job? Or is it time to go back to school? Am I smart enough? What would I even study?
None of my questions mattered at the moment as I was more fixated on beating Vic’s high scores. So much that I didn’t notice the sunrise, nor the next few hours that passed until around 11am when Molly casually interrupted my game on her way to shower.
“Gabe asked about you. He said you never wrote back.”
I grunted in response, trying not to listen, too focused on shooting.
“He wants your help with something work-related.”
Pausing the game, I glared at her. “Did you tell him I got fired?”
She didn’t respond to my question. “He said that your ‘outside-the-box thinking’ would help figure out one of his cases.”
I groaned and went back to playing my game. “Gabe can fuck off,” I muttered.
“VyVy, come on, you can’t solve this with drunken nights and video games, you’ve gotta get back out there.” I ignored her, attention solely on killing zombies. “I know things are shitty, but they’ll get better when you get into the swing of things again. Working… Taking care of yourself… Staying sober…” She didn’t seem to realize how impossible it was for me to do that. “What you’re doing right now isn’t helpful.”
Her words coincided with me getting shot and killed in my game. I groaned and glared at her. “Honestly, you can also fuck off.”
I should’ve been nice to her. Molly had helped me a lot in the eight years we’d known each other and had been a better friend than I could’ve ever dreamt of. But at that moment I was too broken to care. And Molly was too nice to make me feel guilty. Instead, she turned and left.
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Chapter 6 – Chloe’s First Day of Work