Book 1: The Secrets We Keep
“Order ten up!”
I drew in an exhausted breath as I grabbed the plate from the counter and hurried it out to the busy diner. It was a little after seven in the evening, and it had become extremely busy.
Not that I hadn’t expected this. It happened almost every night around this time. It was like everybody who got off work had to come by to get some quick dinner.
Sweat dotted my forehead as I kept up my quick pace, my long hair swaying in my ponytail. It felt heavy like moisture had built up in the strands.
The crowd of people was making it hotter in there. They were packed into the booths and tables, their chatter melding together so much that it was almost like static noise.
Two men who were regulars sat at the booth I brought the order to.
From what they’d told me before, they worked as interns at one of the offices around the financial district, and since they didn’t have families to go home to, they often stopped here for a quick bite to eat.
They weren’t bad-looking guys, only in their mid-twenties, and were nicely dressed in business casual attire, but I also didn’t see where they looked as good as they thought they did.
In fact, they kind of grated my nerves with how they always flirted with me whenever I served their table.
“Hey, Ivy. Are you doing anything after you get off?” the one asked me as I set their plates down in front of them. He had dark-brown hair and eyes and gave me a flirtatious smile.
“Just heading home to bed,” I answered without hesitation.
“Aw, come on, Ivy! Why don’t you come to the bar with us? It’s Friday night, and I bet we could show you a good time,” the other said, trying to entice me.
He had lighter-brown hair and dark-blue eyes, and though he was a little better looking than the other. I still wasn’t interested.
“You know that I can’t do that. Besides, I’m busy as hell right now, and I’m gonna be worn out by the time my shift’s over, so maybe another time,” I stated before hurrying off.
My best friend, Lana, was giggling as I returned to the counter to wait for the next order.
Her light-brown bob was a bit wet from sweat and stuck to the back of her neck, but her brown eyes were dancing with amusement.
“They’re still into you,” she teased.
“Oh, stop it!” I fussed, trying in vain to tighten my ponytail. “Damn, is it that hot in here?!”
“It’s all the people,” Lana said. Her demeanor quickly turned angry. “Plus, Carlos hasn’t gotten the air fixed yet. Damned cheapskate. Doesn’t he know it’s almost summer?!”
I was used to her quick changes in attitude, especially when it came to things that got on her nerves. She had no issue speaking her mind, and as far as I’d seen, she’d always been that way.
Lana had been my best friend since the start of high school, and she was the one who helped me get this job. It wasn’t much, but at least it was something to pay my bills.
Well, it had been.
“Hey, where is Carlos anyway? He was supposed to give me the other half of my paycheck tonight,” I told her.
Lana shook her head. “I don’t know. I haven’t seen him. But it is Friday night, so he might’ve skipped out to hang at the bars with his friends again.”
I grumbled a curse under my breath. Of course my skinflint boss would skip out when I told him I needed my money.
I swore I was going to quit this damned job, but I still hadn’t found anything else, and I needed something to fall back on, even if it was just my tips for now.
I looked through the small window at the line cooks, feeling impatient. I’d been waiting there for nearly five minutes now. The next order should’ve been ready.
“Hey, where’s number fifteen?!” I called.
“Five minutes!” one called back.
“Seriously?!” I pouted as I crossed my arms.
Lana slipped over beside me, still waiting for the rest of her recent order too.
“Hey, you told me you were looking for another job that pays better, right?” she confirmed.
“Yeah. Did you hear about an opening?” I responded, not bothering to hide how hopeful I felt.
“What do you mean ‘kind of’?”
Lana grinned at me as she heard her order being called.
“I’ll explain it to you after our shift. I think it might interest you.”
I knew that not everything Lana suggested was always a good idea, but I’d be nice and hear her out after we were done. She had helped me out before, so I could at least do that.
Besides, I was beginning to think anything would be better than this meager existence I’d been carving out.
My life had always been rough, although I liked to think of myself as a survivor. My mother had died shortly after I was born, and my father wanted nothing to do with me.
I was the product of an affair he’d had, and because of that, he’d immediately signed me over to child services, claiming that he couldn’t take care of me.
Well, it wasn’t that he couldn’t. His wife hadn’t wanted me around.
But I never let that stop me, even if going to different foster homes throughout Brooklyn wasn’t ideal for any kid.
I’d never really settled into any of them, although I admit that most were pretty decent to me, giving me a roof over my head and food in my belly.
As a teenager, I did find a nice older couple who kept me long enough to get me through high school, and that was also where I met Lana.
She quickly became my best friend, even though she came from a pretty high-class family and was much more comfortable in her life.
Of course, outside appearances aren’t everything, and I learned that quickly with her. Her father was always working, and her mother didn’t spend much time with her at all.
But, like me, Lana persevered and kept moving forward with her life. Right before graduation, she’d got a job at this diner and helped me to get hired too.
The job provided me with enough money to live on my own, considering the system was putting me out, and within two months, I’d found my cheap little apartment.
It wasn’t exactly great, but it wasn’t terrible, either. At least I had a place to call home.
The shift was grueling but flew by with how busy we were. Finally, the clock struck ten, and Lana and I were getting off.
Standing outside with her as she had a cigarette, I decided to ask her about what she’d mentioned to me earlier.
“So, tell me about this new job,” I said as we stood together against the wall.
“Well, I say it’s a job, but it might be a little under the radar too, if you know what I mean,” Lana admitted.
“If you’re talking about stuff with the gangs, or drug running or something like that, then forget it. There’s no way I’m getting involved with that,” I warned her.
“No, no!” Lana shook her head before taking another puff of her cigarette. “It’s not anything to do with that. What I mean is that it’s something that they wouldn’t want to get out.
“If you decide to get into it, they’ll make you sign stuff to keep your mouth shut about it. But it’s totally worth it. If you play your cards right, you could end up set for life.”
I knew I was giving her a skeptical look. This sounded pretty shady.
“Really? Then tell me, what would you have to do?”
“It’s not that hard, although you might have to swallow some pride. You know how there are a bunch of big wig guys who come to Manhattan?
“Well, if you sign up with this business, you can hook up with some of them.
“In return for the hookups, you get paid a lot of money, and if you land one that wants you exclusively, you could have it made for life,” Lana explained.
I stared at her as she told me this. She had to be kidding.
“Seriously, Lana?!” I exclaimed. “You do know that you’re suggesting we become call girls, right?”
Lana shook her head as she blew out more smoke. “It is, but it isn’t, and before you say it, they’re not just a bunch of old men or perverts. I saw that when I went the other night.
“Trust me, Ivy, there are some hot guys involved in this. They’re young and single too.”
I frowned as I heard this. Obviously, Lana had already been involved with this scheme.
It certainly explained where she’d gotten the money for her recent shopping spree, although at the time, I had thought it was just from her daddy trying to placate her, as he often did.
“I don’t know, Lana.” I sighed, readjusting my purse on my shoulder. “It’s rough right now, and I’m behind on bills, but I don’t know if selling my body like that to a rich guy is worth it.”
“It’s not that bad, Ivy. Besides, what’s wrong with a little sex here and there? You and I both have good birth control, so you wouldn’t have to worry about getting pregnant.
“Plus, these guys are thoroughly checked for any STDs. Like I said, you can even make it just one night. Couldn’t you use some extra cash right now?” Lana continued.
“Maybe,” I reluctantly admitted.
Lana opened her purse and scrounged through it, finally finding what she was looking for.
“Here,” she said as she handed me a card. “This is the name and number where you can sign up. If you’re accepted, then they’ll tell you where to go for your first night.”
I took the card from her, placing it in my purse. “All right. I’ll think about it.”
I then said goodbye to her and walked down the sidewalk. Yes, I said that, but I was thinking the opposite. No way.
There was no way in hell I was going to give my body to some man for a night for money, no matter how much it was. I was desperate, but I wasn’t that desperate.
I shook my head as I walked. No, definitely not.
The city smells were all around me, along with the sounds of the cars and the large buildings rising high into the sky.
Even though I had grown up there, I still thought the streets stunk from the gases coming up through the manholes, along with all the concrete and exhaust.
Glancing at alleys as I walked by, I saw the homeless and drug addicts sitting around like they always did.
There were so many of them, and they were such a sad sight. But then, humanity felt like it was in a really sad state, at least to me.
The building I lived in was about three blocks from the diner. It was a hulking structure, the outside walls gray and worn-looking, with many sliding windows dotting them.
The smell of marijuana wafted through the air as I entered the lobby, and I wrinkled my nose. While I didn’t judge anybody who smoked it, the smell always got to me, just like Lana’s cigarettes.
I lived on the fourth floor, and because I hated the old elevator, I used the stairs to go up there.
My feet were aching by the time I reached my door, and unlocking it, I stepped into the apartment and breathed a sigh of relief.
Home sweet terrible home.
After setting my purse to the side, I headed into my tiny bathroom to shower and clean myself up.
I stripped off my dirty clothing, putting them to the side on the floor, then stood in front of the square mirror and brushed out my long auburn hair.
Even in the dim light, the red shone in it, and the curls fell at the ends.
I took a moment to stand there and study my reflection, critiquing myself.
I wouldn’t say that I didn’t feel like I was a pretty woman. I knew full well that I was, and I’d had my share of guys flirting with me in the last few years.
I kept my hair long, almost to my waist, and it complemented my pale complexion. My eyes were also light brown, and many said they were striking.
Yep, I was pretty but had no real luck in my life so far.
Lana’s words about that job echoed in my head as I stood there, and I stepped back to look at my body in that mirror.
I didn’t doubt that they’d probably accept me. Not only did I have a pretty face, but I had a nice body. My waist was thin, and my breasts were decent-sized and perky.
I turned to my side, leaning down to take in my hips and rear. They looked nice and shapely, and my skin was very clear.
Oh, God. I caught myself as I stood up. ~What the hell am I thinking?!~
I shook the thoughts off and hopped into the shower, turning it on and shivering a little as cold water sprayed out first.
But it finally began to warm, and I could relax as I started washing off. It felt good to get all of that sweat off me, and I thanked God I didn’t have to work tomorrow.
After finishing up, I turned the shower off and stepped out, drying off and wrapping the towel around me while I blow-dried my hair. After I was done, I exited and sat down on my bed.
My eyes caught sight of my purse as I did. Even though I kept telling myself that I shouldn’t, I couldn’t help reaching over and grabbing it, searching for the card that Lana had given me.
Finally, I found it. I held it closer to my face, studying it intensely.
This card didn’t look any different than any other business card that I’d seen before. It was nicely laminated, with pink at the top and white at the bottom.
There was no business name on it, only an emblem of a shield with a sword through it. A name and number were written on the back, although the name was kind of strange.
Weird name, I thought as I sat back.
I kicked my bare legs, my mind running through everything currently happening in my life: dead-end job, crappy apartment, overdue bills.
I didn’t know how the hell I was ever gonna catch up at this point, and it didn’t help that I was missing half a paycheck right now.
Other than grabbing some food at the diner, I couldn’t even afford to feed myself. I was stuck in what felt like an endless cycle of nothing.
My eyes wandered back to the card I had set beside me. Oh yes, it was definitely a degrading thing, but did I have much of a choice here?
If things kept going like this, then I might end up as one of those people in the alley, struggling for anything and everything.
Maybe just once. After all, Lana was right. Sex didn’t have to mean anything, and if there was no risk in it, then it wouldn’t hurt anything. Besides, I needed money, and bad. I could swallow a little bit of pride.
So, I decided to give this a try. It was after eleven, but this place might still take my call, considering the business they were running.
I picked up the card and my cell phone but hesitated to dial the number. It took me a lot of effort before I was finally able to hit the call button.
Putting the phone to my ear, I listened to it ring a few times before someone picked it up.
“Hello. Celestial,” a woman’s voice said.
Had I called the wrong number? I wasn’t sure, but I decided to give it a try.
“Um, yeah, hello,” I responded, doing my best to sound polite. “I’m calling because a friend gave me this card and told me about a job opportunity for young women. Do I have the right number?”
The woman didn’t hesitate to answer me. “Ah, yes, you do. You are calling about possibly meeting with one of our clients for a night, correct?”
“Yeah. What would I have to do to maybe try at least one night? Would I still get paid if it was only one?” I asked her.
“Yes,” the woman responded. “You will be paid for any nights you work, and while it can vary with the client, the average starts at a thousand a night.”
My eyes got big when I heard that. A thousand a night? I didn’t make that in a month!
“If you are truly interested in working with us, then are you available to come by my office tomorrow morning?
“We can do the interview and take care of all necessary paperwork, and if things work out, then we could set you up tomorrow night,” the woman continued.
That seemed really fast, but I decided to agree. After all, I was desperate. “Sounds good. What time and where do you want me to come by?”
“Why don’t you come around eleven? We are located at 11297 22nd Street. Come into the building, and you will see Celestial’s logo on the door. It is the same as on the card.
“You may enter right away, and we will get started with your interview.”
“All right. Thank you so much,” I said as I wrote the information down on the back of the card.
“You are very welcome. We look forward to seeing you.”
I hung my head as I ended that call. There was no taking this back, nor would I want to.
If this worked, even for one night, it could solve all my immediate money issues, plus give me a little bit to put away if I needed it. If it took giving my body away for a night, then so be it.
I was tough. I was a survivor.
At least, that was what I told myself as I lay down and stared at the darkened ceiling. A yawn escaped me, and I closed my eyes as the exhaustion set in full force.
No sense in overthinking it now. I’d get some rest and deal with what I had to in the morning.
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