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The Paths We Take #13: So Beautiful

May 8, 2018

 

 

 

 

Claire

 

I had never felt so hollow. I was furious at myself for not fighting back, for just allowing them to enslave me to this world that smelled of latex and rose petals. After Michael, a handful of clients came to see Nikki. Most of them the business types, balding C-suite execs that wore too much cologne, like they were trying to impress their prom date. I loathed being Nikki; I cringed when they uttered the name. I hated her, but I was exceptional at being Nikki.

One of them, a doctor of some type, who breathed like a horse and smelled like sauerkraut, brought me a naughty-nurse costume straight out of a porno to wear for our time together. His heavy nose-breathing turning my stomach as he watched me put it on. Another man just wanted me to cuddle with him, naked underneath the sheets, while he whispered “You’re my girl Nikki. All mine.” The men did not share their names with me like Michael had, and a lot of them didn’t say anything outside of their service requests.

Ariel and I bonded over the course of my first couple weeks at the Donnelly compound. She was free to leave anytime she wanted, but the problem was, she didn’t want to. Donnelly found Ariel the same way someone found me when I was fifteen, online. It all starts with a friend request, then a private message, and then the line. They all had a line. “You are so beautiful,” was the one that was used to snag me.

Yes Claire, you are so damn beautiful aren’t you. Look what it has done for you.

I loved to hear those words, so beautiful. For some reason beautiful by itself didn’t quite get me, but when you added the seemingly insignificant so in front, it was like I was the only girl in the world, the most valuable object that a man could possess.

After a few flirtatious messages, he asked me to come do some modeling. He said he wanted to “help me” break into “the business,” and that I had “more potential than most girls.” I skipped school to meet him at the Marriott just outside of Charlotte. The first photos were quick, he said they were just test photos. I wore a paisley maxi dress and then changed into a black bikini towards the end of the session. He showed me the photos and told me again that I was “so beautiful.”

He sent a car to pick me up for the second session. I called him from the cell phone that he gave me, and I was picked up a block from my house. I told him that my parents wouldn’t like me going to meet up with a grown man, but he said that I could just tell them that I was going to a friend’s house, but to make sure that friend would cover for me if they grew suspicious. Deception became a reflex. I lied until I didn’t even know what the truth was. It was at the second photo session that he asked me to take my clothes off.

After that, it was all about dates with the customers. My photos were all over ads on websites like Backpages.com. They used code words, their own twisted language. They codes were easy enough to figure out if you knew what to look for, but ambiguous enough to keep the ads from being taken down. He said I was a natural talent, that the men were just drawn to me. I had a regular set of clients; he said that they were all in love with me; he told me that I mesmerized them.

My parents found out when I forgot to put the burner phone on silent when I was in the shower. When I got back to my room, they were both standing by my bed, my mom in tears. My dad tossed me the phone, the message “pick up @ 7, GFE” on the open phone screen. They made me stop, called the police, but I denied everything. My mom never looked at me the same after that. She looked through me, sighing after we both failed to speak to each other. When I turned eighteen, I left. I hadn’t been home since.

“Let’s leave,” I told Ariel. She was crushing some oxy on the nightstand. She used an iron-like small statue of a black bear that was meant to be rustic decor to crush the yellow pills inside a piece of paper. The yellows were her favorite, but sometimes she had some of the larger green pills that made her start singing and dancing all over the cabin.

That is how they keep you. There’s no razor wire, bars, chains, or ligatures. They buy you clothes, jewelry, give you a little cash for shopping, and then, there are always the pills. The kind that make you feel like you are dancing on clouds, but then you come back down, but the only thing that you can think of is getting back into the clouds.

“I don’t have anywhere to go,” Ariel said as she stared up at the stars through the skylight. “I don’t even know what a normal life is…  Does anyone?”

“I don’t think so,” I replied as I watched Ariel lean over the nightstand, straw in hand. “I want normal, a little house, maybe a daughter.” I imagined myself standing in front of a small blue house, ranch-style, nothing extravagant, with a white door, pink and yellow flowers in a clay pot on a table beside two white rocking chairs on the front porch.

“There was a girl who left when I first got here. I mean really left. Gone,” Ariel said as she wiped her nose and sniffled. “I heard Donnelly tell Gramps to bring her back, but she never came back.”

I wanted to believe that the girl made it to her own blue house with a white door, but the uneasy feeling in my stomach told me that she hadn’t. For Donnelly, she was too much of a business liability.

The next day, when Ariel came into my room, she was holding her hand to her right eye. She sat down on the bed and removed her hand from her face. The bruising had already started, and her eye was swollen half-way shut.

“I was passed out. He came to get me, and I wouldn’t wake up I guess,” she squeaked out. “I just remember his hands on my throat as he slammed me against the wall. I don’t know how many times he hit me before he let me go. I railed a green this morning and I guess I couldn’t handle it.”

She wasn’t crying. She avoided looking at me when I tried to move her hair out of her face. “You need some ice,” I said. I went to the kitchen and put a few cubes of ice inside a washcloth. I came back into the room and put the ice on her eye. She pushed my hand away when the washcloth grazed her skin. “I’m sorry,” I said. I handed her the washcloth and sat down beside her.

“I think I’m ready to go now,” she whispered as she turned to face me. “I want you to come with me.” She put the ice up to her eye and I could see her jaw tighten as she clenched her teeth.

“Or maybe we should just kill him,” Ariel seethed. She lifted the front of her purple tank-top, and I could see the black handle of the gun sticking out from the waistband of her jeans. She put her shirt back down and gave me a half-smile. It was time to go.

© Josiah A. Miller 2018. All Rights Reserved.