Authors: Grace Hugh
“Sure, walk away. You know you want me.”
I ignore him as I leave the school and get in the car driven by one of Vinnie’s guys. The ride home is quiet. I get to my room and start on my homework while trying not to think about Jans fighting tonight. I looked up underground fighting on the internet. It looks dangerous, really dangerous. There were videos of guys having their bones broken and then stories of brain damage and even death. I don’t want him to fight. I don’t want to live here, I don’t want to be part of this house but what choice do I have?
“God damn it, Suzanne!” Vinnie’s voice booms through the entire mansion and I sit straight up at my desk. “I told you not to be using that shit today. Jans is fighting tonight. I want you there with me. I can’t take you out looking like some kind of goddamn coke whore.”
I open the door to my bedroom. I can hear my mom.
"Oh, Vinnie," she whines. "I'm sorry, I was just using a little bit. Just to take the edge off my nerves, you know?"
"Screw your damn nerves," Vinnie replies and I hear a sound that I've heard too many times in my life, the sound of my mother being hit.
"Lou! Get the girl," Vinnie orders. "I can't take this woman out, so I’ll take her fucking daughter as my date."
My blood runs cold. His date tonight? He can't be serious. I hear the heavy plod of Lou’s footsteps coming up the stairs and push my door closed, leaning against it breathless. What am I going to do? I don't want to be his date. On the other hand I’d get to see Jans fight. It's not like Vinnie would actually do anything with me. I don't think even he's that disgusting.
Lou's heavy fist knocks on my door with a solid thud. I swallow hard and shake my arms trying to push off my nerves before I open it. Lou blocks off the light from the hallway with his massive form.
"The boss wants you," he says.
He stands there waiting for me to answer or follow. I debate just shutting the door in his face but what good would that do? It's not like Lou couldn't knock the door over, probably with one massive finger.
"Okay," I say.
Lou turns and heads down the stairs, so I fall in behind him. As we descend, I hear my mom crying and it makes my stomach turn into a tight ball of tension and fear. I don't want to do this. I don't want to see her the way I know I'll find her. I only wish it was the first time I'd seen her like this.
"LeAnne," Vinnie says in his booming voice. "Get dressed. I want you to look nice. You're going to take your whore mother's place on my arm tonight."
"Vinnie! You can't do this," my mom screams, her voice cracking.
I can hardly believe my ears. Is my mom actually standing up for me?
"I can do whatever the hell I want," Vinnie says.
"Vinnie, you’re mine," my mom says. "You can't let her take my place. What about us? We’re special!"
Yep, should have known better. That's my mother, she'll never win mother of the year, she wasn't worried about me. Her concern was that I might be taking her place on his arm. I close my eyes surprised at my own disappointment.
"You're going to rehab tomorrow," Vinnie says.
It's not a question, it's a command. Vinnie doesn't ask questions and he doesn't make requests. He says what he wants and damn well gets it. We’re nothing more than possessions to him. Possessions don’t get a choice. Mom bursts into tears and she screams and cries. I ignore her, after all this is a woman who just heard her man call me his arm candy and her fear I’d take her place was the only reason she tried to stop it. Besides, she needs to go to rehab.
Vinnie looks at me and frowns. "Why are you still standing there?"
"I don't know."
"Don't know what?" Vinnie asks his voice dropping even lower.
I have to think fast. What am I going to say? I remember Jans’ first rule
‘Don't piss Vinnie off’
"What to wear?"
"Lou will help you," Vinnie says and turns his back on me.
"Vinnie, please, please, baby," my mom begs, crawling after him on her knees.
God, I really can't stand her. She's pathetic. I turn my back on her and on Vinnie, too, then head upstairs to my bedroom. Lou's heavy footsteps follow along behind. As I enter my room, my nerves start to get the best of me and I'm shaking. I go to my closet and pull out some of the dresses that Vinnie has bought for me. I lay them out on the bed and present them to Lou. Lou looks them over surprisingly close. He touches each one, feels the fabric between his fingers, then holds it up and looks at it front and back.
"I like this one," Lou says picking one at last.
The one he's picked out is a simple black dress that is overall modest. I'm grateful for this choice as some of the dresses that Vinnie has put into my closet aren't things that I would ever wear. They're the kind of dresses my mom wears for stripping. They’re more than a little inappropriate for a high school girl and I'm not my mother.
"Thank you, Lou," I say, hoping he'll get the hint I'd like him to leave my room now.
My hope is dashed when he just stands there staring at me. The two of us stand for a long time, neither one saying a word. I grow more and more uncomfortable wondering if he actually expects me to undress in front of him. At last I decide to grab the bull by the horns and see what happens.
"Lou?" I ask.
"Huh?" he asks.
"Would you mind stepping outside?" I ask.
"Oh! Yeah, sorry," he says and leaves the room.
Once I'm alone and the door is shut, I change clothes quickly. I don't want to keep Vinnie waiting and I have to admit at least part of me is excited to see Jans fight. I know he's strong and that he's been training for this. Vinnie has had some of the top trainers in the world coming to the house to work with Jans. He calls him his secret weapon. I don't know exactly what he means by that but maybe tonight I'll find out. Besides, how can I pass up an opportunity to see Jans without a shirt on? My mouth goes dry at the thought. Despite everything, all the fear, all the doubt, I find I’m excited to go. Once I'm dressed, I open the door and Lou is standing outside waiting patiently. He looks me up and down very carefully then smiles and nods.
"Good choice," he says like he wasn't the one who just picked it out.
"Thank you, Lou," I say.
Lou leads the way downstairs then goes straight outside. The limo is waiting for us in the circle drive. The chauffeur has the door open and stands waiting. The two guards to either side of the main doors stiffen as I walk out behind Lou.
"Hurry the hell up. we’re gonna be late," Vinnie's booming voice echoes out of the limousine.
Lou doesn't speed up. He walks towards the limousine with his easy pace seemingly unperturbed by Vinnie's yelling. The chauffeur stands behind the open door and Lou steps to the side letting me go in first. This is only the second time I've been in the limousine and once again I'm impressed with its opulence. Vinnie already has a drink in his hand and is staring out the window.
Lou climbs into the car next to the driver. No one seems inclined to make small talk so I sit in silence lost in my own thoughts. Mostly my thoughts are consumed with Jans. We've only known each other for a few days but already I feel a connection with him. I don't understand it at all since we come from such different worlds. My mom's an alcoholic, drug addict, and a part-time stripper who barely keeps a roof over our head. His dad is a mob boss and he's used to opulent wealth where all I've ever known is poverty. Ever since my dad died, even where my next meal will come from has been in question. Despite the differences in our upbringings, I feel like I understand Jans and he understands me. Just from the few times we've gotten to be together.
Understand or not, I can’t deny there’s a strong connection. Maybe it's just the fact that we both don't like where we’re at in life. Maybe it's fate or maybe it's something else. Whatever it is, it's real and I know it. I'm excited to see him tonight. I think part of what’s bothering me about this was the not knowing. I wouldn’t know what happened to him. What if he gets hurt? I don't think I could stand it.
The car rolls to a stop and outside the window I see we’re not in a good neighborhood. Rundown buildings with broken windows and cars that have been stripped down to their frames line the street. All of it looks like it should be on a demolition list. The chauffeur opens the door and Vinnie climbs out, followed by Lou and then me. It was raining earlier so the street is wet and slick and as I step forward, my foot slips. Lou catches me with one arm and firmly places me back on my feet.
"Be careful," he says.
"Thanks," I say. "I will."
"Fucking women," Vinnie mutters under his breath so that I can barely hear him.
What an asshole
Vinnie leads the way into the building. The moment we step through, there’s a crowd. I can't see past all the people but there are bright lights ahead. The crowd parts as Vinnie walks in with Lou leading the way through. I follow in their wake more than a little lost. People cheer, clap and yell. I hear a loud thumping sound and the crowd goes wild.
A fat, sweaty man with an unlit cigar walks up to Vinnie. He has greasy black hair that’s slicked back tight against his head and beady eyes. He holds his hand out to Vinnie, who takes it and shakes it.
"How's our boy?" the new guy says.
"Like a fucking dragon," Vinnie answers.
"Good," the new man says. "That's real good. I got a lot of money running on that boy."
"He'll win," Vinnie says confidently.
The fat man wanders away and Vinnie continues on his path. We come to a stairway guarded by two men, who if it weren’t for Lou would probably look huge. Compared to Lou, they’re less impressive. As soon as they see Vinnie approach, they both step to either side opening the way up the stairs. Vinnie doesn't look at them as he climbs so I follow along unsure what else to do. When Vinnie gets to the top he turns back and looks at me and seems surprised that I'm still here.
"Lou," Vinnie says. "Take the girl and show her the locker rooms. Check on our boy."
Lou nods and turns, motioning with one hand for me to go back down the stairs. I step to one side and let Lou take the lead. Nobody in this crowd will mess with him. He leads us quickly through and around and then we’re going down a ramp into an area that smells like sweat and dirty socks. I try to not breathe through my nose because I can't stand the odor. We pass a few doors and then Lou comes to one and stops. He knocks softly on the door and I hear a voice answer but I can't make out the words. Lou pushes the door open and walks in. I follow along still lost.
Jans is laid out on a table and an older man is rubbing his shoulders and arms with an oil that smells strongly of menthol. Jans has a towel thrown across his middle but the rest of him is exposed and I trace the lines of his muscles with my eyes. I lick my lips and swallow hard to force moisture back into my mouth.
"Boss wants to know, you good?" Lou asks.
"Yes," Jans answers without opening his eyes.
"Good," Lou says.
Lou turns and walks back out the door. He doesn't spare a glance for me and I don't bother calling attention to myself. I was uncomfortable with Vinnie and besides I'm with the person I'd rather be with. As the door clicks shut I stand to one side in the corner and wait. I don't have anything else to do. The old man finishes rubbing down Jans then slaps his back a couple times before he walks out the door. Jans sits up on the table and the towel barely stays over him. Then he notices me.
His slow smile spreads across his face and then stops in that half-smirk, half-grin that I find endearing. I love the way he looks at me. Like I'm the only thing in the universe that matters. It makes me feel owned and safe. It makes me feel wanted, desired, and needed. When I'm here with Jans, nothing else in the world matters. It doesn't matter who we are, where we are, or anything else. There's just the two of us.
"What are you doing here?" Jans asks.
"Truth?" I ask shrugging.
"I don't want you to ever lie to me," Jans replies. "No one should ever make you feel like you have to."
"My mom was too drunk and high for your dad to bring, so I'm his second choice."
"He what?" Jans says and I can feel his rage.
His hands grip the edge of the table and his arm shakes as his jaw tenses. I shouldn't have said anything. He has to fight and I'm sure he needs to be focused.
"It's okay. At least I get to see you, right?"
Jans relaxes if only a bit. He nods then rolls his shoulders and neck before taking a deep breath, which he slowly lets out.
"You're right," he says. "I knew you were smart."
"Oh? How would you know that?"
"I can tell these things."
I smile. I don't know what else to say to him. Looking at him sitting here half naked fills my head with thoughts that aren't appropriate but I can't take my eyes off the sculpture of his muscles. The tattoos that cover his arms and shoulder only accent the fitness of his body.
"Are you going to be okay out there?"
"What do you mean?" he asks.