Home > Taming Cross(14)

Taming Cross(14)
Author: Ella James

I was pretty much just like I was in high school, in college. I dated a few guys, and we did more than kiss. I didn't sleep with all of them. My roomie, Carla, used to call me a kissy whore, and I guess I was. I was looking for the hugs and cuddling; the kissing and other things—the hand-jobs and the blowjobs and quick sex in the back of cars—were just a way to get there.

Unexpectedly, I found another rush, another passion, and strangely enough, it was the student newspaper. For about a year and a half—part of junior year and all of senior year—I stopped dating completely and just worked. I loved it.

I would go to the bar every once in a while, or smoke pot at a friend’s house. But the rest of the time, I was working, chasing my new buzz. It wasn't a bad life, and I never even thought about my lack of parents.

So, when I met Sean the weekend before graduation—when I finally met the infamous Sean Tacoma, weed dealer and all around badass—I couldn't help but be smitten.

Sean was cute, with bright green eyes and reddish blond hair, and all I could think about was what pretty babies we would have. They would be cuter than all the other kids in preschool. Better dressed. And they would have the perfect family with a mother and a father.

Stupid, I know. Stupid, selfish Meredith.

I squeeze my eyes shut thinking about how stupid I was. I didn't know where my choices would take me, and if I had...I could have joined the Peace Corps. Been a missionary. Nowadays I think that I would like that. Volunteer work. Work that helps people. Now that I don't have any choices that don't suck.

Sometimes, since coming to the clinic, I think about the pretty kids that Sean and I would have had—if we hadn’t gotten into trouble in Atlanta. If I hadn’t fled to Vegas. Sometimes I think about the children I’ve met here who were born without arms and legs, children with cleft lips, children who can’t afford clothes, and I feel sick with my old self. I wish I could send a note back to my past.

“Señorita Merri, you look sleepy!”

I'm holding four-year-old Maria in my lap, and we're working on her hand coordination. She has a rare condition where she's missing a part of her brain—the corpus collosum—so she has trouble with fine motor skills.

I lean in and kiss her on the nose, then snap my teeth near her cheek. “Grrrr! I am a dragon! Dragons never sleep!”

Maria giggles and snaps her teeth at me, and in seconds we are rolling on the floor. She flops onto her back, still giggling, and points to my hair. “You have a barrette. It looks like a diamond. I like diamonds.”

It's not a real diamond. I found it on the ground one day and only kept it because I really needed something to keep my hair out of my face. Pretty soon, I won’t need it anymore.

“Can you get it out of my hair?” I ask, grinning. “If you can, you can have it.”

I feel her little fingers grip my neck as her other hand delves into my hair, and I can't resist tickling her underneath her arm.

“No fair!” she cries, but she's laughing.

I lean my head down and wait for her to free the barrette.

If only I had known how nice life is when you're focused on something besides yourself.

When Maria gets the barrette, I clap and kiss her cheek. I hold her close for just a second, telling her a silent goodbye. Tomorrow, I'm leaving. I hope she wears the barrette for a long time. I hope that she’s the prettiest girl at preschool.









THE CLUB IS less than fifty yards ahead: a boxy white and red building framed by a parking lot that’s surrounded by dirt. As I come up on it, I realize it’s not quite as small as I thought—maybe about the size of a skating rink back home. The parking lot isn’t empty, but it’s not full, either. I count maybe fifteen or so cars and one ragged-out white Honda.

I notice, as I park beside an old Maxima, that on the wooden porch there’s a girl with long, bleached blonde hair wearing nothing but a sombrero and a black string bikini. I wonder how seedy a place has to be for Priscilla to call it that.

It takes me a minute to get off my bike, because my body is so stiff and sore, and after that I have to dig through my bag to find the one source of protection I was able to take across the border: a small, palm-held Taser. I bought it for Suri years ago, when we were all starting college, but she refused to carry it, and somehow it ended up at my house. I slide it into my pocket, check for my wallet, and lock my bag onto the bike.

The whole time, this girl is dancing for me. As I cross the dusty parking lot, where the air smells of sour liquor and fried foods, she rubs her palms over her tits. I try not to ogle her, but her tits are huge, and her dark eyes seem to beg me not to look away. When I get to the door, she holds out her hand for me, like she wants me to take it and pull her inside. I don’t take it, and she makes a pouting face. A second later, a short, broad-shouldered bouncer comes out the door, trailing a cloud of bar smoke. Mexican party music booms behind him.

He gives me a murderous look, but the girl laughs and says, “This one is okay, Pedro.”

The guy flicks his fingers at the door, and I step into the thickest cloud of smoke I’ve ever seen. I can hear the clink of pool balls before my eyes clear enough that I can see. In every direction, there’s a pool table, and on my left is a long bar where girls in short shorts and skirts are talking to guys in grungy, baggy clothes and sometimes baseball caps. Like inside a lot of bars, the patrons are mainly in their 20s and 30s.

I choose a booth near the back of the room and pull my flip phone out of my pocket, pretending to text someone while I get a better look at things. I rest my right hand on the tabletop and cringe at the sticky filth that coats it. That’s when I notice the filmy curtain on the wall a few feet to my right. Beyond it, I can see women’s bodies in various states of undress, gleaming in stage light. Someone gives a catcall, and one of the girls rips her thong off.

After few minutes of pretend texting, a waitress comes to my table, wearing nothing but a lacy pink apron and a G-string. She turns her body to the side, giving me a good view of her ass. Then she bats her fake eyelashes and smiles at me. “Can I get you something to drink, sir?” she asks in Spanish.

While I order a bottle of Corona, she looks me over—slowly. I must be really off my game, because it makes me feel uncomfortable. Like she can see all the scars under my clothes. Like she knows my hair is short because I had my skull sawed open less than six months ago.

When my beer arrives, the uncomfortable feeling magnifies. I look around the club and realize I have no idea what to do next. I take a few swigs, discreetly searching the room for someone I could ask about Carlos. I see a few bouncers—one with prominent acne scars, one with a permanent scowl, and one surrounded by flirting women—but none of them is nearby, and none looks in charge.

I finish my drink and order a second. It’s been a long while since I drank regularly, so I feel a little lightheaded, but it works. Makes me looser. When the waitress brings my second Corona, I lean in and ask her if she knows Carlos.

She hesitates for half a breath, then nods toward the sheer curtain on the other side of the room. “He’s there. In the club.”

I guess the curtain separates the strip club from the bar. I slide the waitress a twenty. “Thanks.”

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