Authors: Marci Fawn
,” I mutter to myself. I’m only four months pregnant now, and I’m already struggling to do everything that I used to.
The doctor told me that after the first trimester, the morning sickness and crappy feelings would vanish. Then he suggested that I’d start to develop the ‘pregnancy glow.’
What a fucking liar.
I’m still puking all the time and I feel shittier than ever.
After I found out that I was pregnant, I resolved that I was going to get my life together. I was going to sort out my mood and get myself a job and a place of my own. I didn’t want to live too far away from Bridgette, but I wanted to get out from under her feet. Now that she has a gorgeous little newborn—my nephew, Toby William—the apartment is absolutely full.
Unfortunately, I’ve been in too much of a bad way to do any of those things. The only plus-side to that is that I’ve been having some baby practice. I now feel a lot more confident in my mothering abilities. While I know exactly how hard it’s going to be, I’m also sure that I can do it. I’m not going to be totally out of my depth.
Right now, I’m out getting some groceries for the family. A simple task, but only a few weeks ago, leaving the house seemed impossible. I wish I didn’t feel so awful, though. I wish the dizziness didn’t have to hit at the very worst time. I wish I could just get this one thing right…
An oddly familiar voice questions me a second later. “Are you okay?”
I feel a pair of strong masculine arms wrap around me and I fall into them rather than hitting the ground. For a second, I imagine that it’s Axel capturing me in his arms.
“Here, sit down.” The man gently sets me down on a bench. “Have some water.”
I gulp down the liquid as if it’s the first drink I’ve had in years.
“Thank you,” I say before looking into the man’s eyes. I’m surprised at who I see. “Oh. It’s err…it’s good to see you again, Ryder.”
He flashes a genuine smile at me, and I can’t help but return it. “I heard that you were pregnant,” he says.
“Bridgette came to show me her gorgeous little Toby and spilled the beans while she was there.”
“Oh right,” I say flatly. I don’t really know what I’m supposed to say to that.
“Are you okay?” he asks again. “I don’t like seeing you this way.”
“Yeah, it’s just the pregnancy symptoms.” I wave my hand, dismissively.
“No, no it isn’t. It runs much deeper than that. You’re desperately sad.” He eyes me curiously. “Are you still living at Bridgette’s place?”
I nod, biting down on my lip. That’s the one situation that I’m really struggling with. I can’t see a way out and I really need one. How am I supposed to be a decent mother when I can’t even provide a home for my baby?
“Okay, how about this…” He starts in a very serious business-like tone. “I own a lot of property. I currently have some empty apartments available. Why don’t I set you up in one?”
“Oh no, I couldn’t.” I shake my head. This solution sounds lovely, but I just can’t. “I couldn’t afford it.”
“No, I know. You can’t work when you’re this ill. I’d be happy to come to an agreement with you.” The shocked look in my eyes makes him laugh. “No, not like that. Get your mind out of the gutter, Cherie! I was thinking I could set you up with an apartment, give you a monthly allowance to provide for your child.”
I honestly have no idea what to say. There must be a catch, because nothing worth having in life comes free and so easily.
“I’d be willing to do that on the promise that when you feel up to it, you come and work for me,” he continues. “I don’t mean as a stripper…although I know that you’d be amazing at that, from what my day manager tells me. As a PA. I need a personal assistant for all of the investors that want to be a part of my wonderful, ever-growing business. So…what do you say?”
in my life get an offer as good as this, but at what cost? What the hell am I going to do?
Do I say yes….or no?
ome on fellas
, break it up!” I yell over the braying crowd.
People start to boo me, but I don’t give a shit. I’ve had more trouble than this before. This crowd is nothing; just a few drunken idiots.
Although running the illegal fighting ring isn’t ideal, it’s better than the shit Ryder had me doing early on. I’m simply repaying my debt, every day bringing myself that one step closer to seeing my beautiful Cherie again.
The worst part of this is that I’m actually not that far away from her. I’m still in the city, only a few blocks away from Bridgette’s apartment—where I’m assuming she still lives—but I can’t go to see her. That’s a part of the agreement I have with Ryder, and the one stipulation that there’s no wiggle room with.
I have no idea what’s going on in her life. Is she happy? Did she manage to recover from my cruel abandonment? Is she with someone else now? Oh god, I can’t even think about that possibility. That will crack me into pieces and finish me off. It’s not that I want her to be miserable; I just can’t bear the prospect of her moving on.
“You’re mine. Do you understand?”
The words that I once spoke to her are still true on my behalf, but there’s no telling how she’s feeling from all the way over here.
No, I can’t know a single thing about Cherie until I’m done with all of this mafia crap.
I don’t know what she’d think if she could see me now. I’m almost right back to the person I once was—the guy who was nowhere near good enough for her. I’m not out fucking a different girl every single night, but I
drinking a hell of a lot, just to get me through the loneliness. I look older and more haggard every single day because of this.
“Next!” I yell, inviting the next two competitors to come and beat the living shit out of each other. The only rule is that I can’t let it go too far, and I have to stop the fights before someone gets killed.
I’m glad for this, because I’ve seen enough death to last me a lifetime.
My relationship with Ryder is stable now. I still hate the guy’s guts, but I have to respect the fact that he
save me from going to jail. Now that I’ve had time to step back and reflect, I can see that he had all of our best intentions at the forefront of his mind, even though it really didn’t seem like it.
Time passes. I see fists flying and blood splattered everywhere, but it doesn’t affect me even slightly. In the beginning, I used to join in and have my own fights, but now I can’t see the point. Now I just get done what needs to be done. Nothing less, nothing more.
“Psst.” I hear a familiar, annoying voice hiss behind me.
“Yes, Rosa?” I sigh, turning to face her.
“Placing any bets tonight?” she asks, shifting on her feet.
“Yeah, I suppose so,” I huff, throwing her a twenty. “The guy in the black shirt.”
The gambling isn’t exactly something that I okayed with Ryder, but it’s where my main income comes from now. Obviously, because I’m paying off my debt, I’m not paid for what I do, so I need to get money from somewhere.
It may not exactly be legal, but then again none of this is.
“How you doing, Axel?” Rosa asks, sensing my foul mood. We’ve gotten a bit closer, nothing close to what Ryder suggested, of course. Cherie is the only one for me. But Rosa has turned into a sort of confidant, someone – the only one – I trust in this dirty joint.
“Yeah. Just fed up with this shit.”
“Then why do you do it?” she asks.
I answer her evasively. “I ask myself the same question every day.”
“I’ll be back with your winnings.” She grins, sliding off, spotting another potential customer. Business first, as always.
Finally, at six in the morning, I finish up and saddle off to my shitty little hellhole apartment. I couldn’t afford anything at first, so I ended up in an old crack den. Now I
afford more but I just can’t be bothered to go.
I wander through the door to see the familiar, yellowing walls and grubby beige carpet greeting me.
“Home sweet home,” I murmur sarcastically.
I pick up my crappy old-fashioned cellphone to see three missed calls from Ryder. I call him back quickly, knowing that if I don’t, he’ll give me a shitty job to do as a punishment.
“Hello, Axel,” he says, keeping his professional tone in check.
“Yep?” I respond, not showing him the same courtesy.
“Now, now,” he says sarcastically.
I remain silent. I’m sick of this routine that he insists we go through. I would rather he just get to the point already.
“How are things going with the business?” he asks, finally changing the subject.
is going great.”
I hate it when he calls the fighting ring a business. It’s illegal bullshit, can’t dress it up as anything more.
“Do you have some money for me?”
“Yes, you’ll get it on Monday as per usual.”
“How many fighters?”
The men pay to get in the ring, which is why this is the question that he’s most interested in.
“Nothing I couldn’t handle.”
“I’m hanging up now. I’ll see you this afternoon.”
I press the red ‘end call’ button quickly. I don’t want to spend more time talking to this guy than absolutely necessary.
Over time, I’ve developed an all-consuming hatred for Ryder. I hate the bastard, I hate him with my whole heart and my guts. He’s sent me away from Cherie, he made me miss out, and he made me take the fall. I’ve always known he could’ve resolved the situation differently, but he liked to play with people.
We were like the actors in a soap opera to him, and he directed us as he damn well pleased. And one day, I’d get my revenge for what Ryder did to me. I’d see him go down in flames.
I lay back on my mattress—the only thing I’ve invested in recently—and stare up at the ceiling. I’m tired and pretty drunk, so it isn’t long before my eyes are closing. The only image filling my mind is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed beauty.
t isn’t long
before my dreams swirl away from Cherie and back to the memory that I’ve spent a very long time repressing. In my conscious state, I never think about it, but when I’m sleeping, it always finds a way of coming out.
I’m a few years younger, standing in front of my old boss. I’d wanted to work for him for years and years, so I’d been over the moon to get the job. All I’d known my whole life was fighting. I’d been expelled from school at a very young age for having too many bust-ups, and my life had continued to go that way ever since.
Now I was getting paid for it.
“Okay, Axel. I have another contract for you,” he said.
I was beyond excited by those words. I loved pounding on people; it was the only damn thing that made me feel alive. Well, that and fucking random chicks
but no one was offering to give me money for that.
“Here’s the guy’s address. He owes me four grand. You won’t get it, so you know what to do.”
I nodded curtly, already pumped up.
In the next scene of my dream, I’m in the guy’s apartment. He isn’t there, so I hang around, waiting for him to show up. I strut arrogantly around his rooms, looking through all of his belongings. This is standard procedure in this debt collection gig. If we find any hidden money, we have to take it. After all, it’s only what our boss is owed. This could be for anything
drugs, stolen goods, escorts. I don’t care what these people are into; I just care about getting my job done.
Then I stumble across something so horrific that it pales all of my emotions. In one of his drawers, this guy has tons and tons of child pornography pictures. At first I can’t even believe what I’m seeing. It’s like nothing I’ve ever witnessed before, and I throw them back, repulsed. I don’t even know what to do with myself. I can’t even think about why some dickhead guy would have all of that stuff.
I spot a bottle of whiskey on the side, and I grab it to gulp lots of it down. By the time the guy comes home, almost the entire bottle is gone and I’m just about wasted.
“You fucking…” I start to yell, but he jumps right in.
“I’m sorry, I don’t have your money.”
“This isn’t about the fucking money anymore, you filthy piece of shit,” I slur, staggering towards him.
The red mist has descended, and it’s more powerful than anything I’ve ever experienced before. My strange words have rendered him speechless, so he just stands there until I start hitting him.
“Shit!” he screams, reeling back. “What the fuck are you doing?”
All I can see as I rain my fists down is those horrific images that I saw earlier. I can’t stop my hands from going and going, even when he lets out a strangled, bloodied cry. Even when one or two of his teeth fly from his mouth. Not even when the cracking sound of breaking bones rings out.
I just can’t stop.
I don’t know how long I’m punching for, but the guy is long dead before I stop. He’s the one and only person that I’ve killed, and it’s been tearing me apart ever since, eating away at my soul. I may act the confident and cocksure guy most of the time, but this has always been there. He may have deserved something horrific to happen to him, but I just wish I hadn’t had to be the one to mete out the punishment.
After what I did, I took off. I left town and made my way to the city, and I never went back to collect my fee or see my boss again. I just started over, and I thought that I’d succeeded in leaving my past behind me, until that fucker Ryder brought it up again. How the hell did he find that out? And who else knows?
I jump up in bed, panting hard. The dream always ends with me staring at the dead guy’s lifeless, destroyed face. The one that’s haunted me ever since that godforsaken night.
I look over to the clock. Ten past nine in the morning, which means I’ve only had three hours of sleep, yet again. I’m going to kill myself at this rate.
I stomp over into the kitchen, grabbing a stray bottle of vodka to gulp down. Booze has become my usual breakfast once more. I’m still exhausted, but I know I won’t be able to get back to sleep until I drink myself to it, so that’s what I shall do.
This is my life now.