Authors: Freya Barker
Tags: #sex trade, #Human trafficking, #Maine, #FBI, #drama
Copyright © 2016 Margreet Asselbergs as Freya Barker
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or by other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author or publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in used critical reviews and certain other non-commercial uses as permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the author, mentioning in the subject line:
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This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any person or persons, living or dead, any event, occurrence, or incident is purely coincidental. The characters and story lines are created and thought up from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
To all women struggling and scrapping to build a better life for themselves.
Whether battling emotional, economical, or health-related issues, women have an endless reserve of strength to draw from when overcoming negatives in their lives.
Just because we sometimes get stuck in a place we didn’t choose for ourselves, doesn’t mean we don’t have the ability to change it. Because we do.
We have the power to change our paths—We have the strength to create a meaningful future.
Madre de Dios!
The place looks like a box of crayons exploded. My eyes scan the colorful space as I follow Viv through the sparsely furnished apartment.
When she first suggested I could rent her apartment, I didn’t take her seriously. Why would I? I’ve never rented an apartment in my life. I’ve never had a space to call my own. Not in all my forty-four years. I certainly have never had someone offer me anything, without there being an ulterior motive. Something in return. So I was suspicious. But after Pam—my counselor at Florence House, which has been my home now for close to six months—explained that Viv was simply paying it forward, I started thinking. Maybe I could let my guard down a little. Maybe it was safe. So far I haven’t seen any sign of
and I’ve been very careful. I never catch the bus to work at the same stop twice in a row, which means I sometimes have to walk a bit, but I don’t mind, even though it’s getting pretty cold out. Initially, I’d been nervous about working in a bar, but it’s not the type of establishment I would ever expect to see anyone I know. Still, so far I’ve been careful to keep my head down most of the time. I’m slowly starting to relax a bit, thinking maybe they’ve forgotten about me.
I don’t trust easily. Hell, it took me an entire month of daily sessions before I gave my story to Pam. The story I decided going with, that is. A hint of truth. Just enough to explain why I came there in the first place.
Six months ago I knocked on her door, while keeping an eye on the street behind me. I’d heard about Florence House from one of the girls who used to work with me. “A safe place for women,” she told me. A safe place is what I needed and Pam seemed to recognize that the moment she opened the door, pulling me in as she herself scanned the street behind me. She didn’t ask anything at first, just asked if I had something to sleep in, and if I needed a toothbrush, before showing me to a tiny bedroom with only a single bed and a little table as nightstand. She apologized for needing to look through my tote bag but assured me it was standard procedure to ensure the safety of all the residents. Finding only the few clothes I’d managed to grab, and my single picture frame, she handed me back my bag and showed me the bathroom. When she went to grab a few towels for me, I couldn’t help flipping back the covers on the bed to find to my surprise: the sheets were clean and smelled fresh. I think that may have been the first time since I was a little girl back home that I slept soundly.
Pam is also the one who set me up with the job at The Skipper, a local pub out on Holyoke Wharf. Viv is the manager there. She had some personal stuff going on when I started working, so it was a few weeks before I even met Viv. She’s nice, just like most everyone else there. But I’ve seen
before; it often masks something darker. I don’t really trust
Tending bar and waiting tables is not new to me and it was pretty easy to slip into the routine. My first payday felt good. I never held a fistful of bills I could keep. I’ve saved most of it in the toe of my winter boots. Every now and then, I take it out and count it, not quite able to believe it belongs to me. What little I brought with me, when I landed on the doorstep of Florence House, fit into a large tote bag. The additions to my limited wardrobe were courtesy of the local Goodwill store and Pam. She’s not a small woman either, although much taller than I am. Luckily over the years, I’ve become handy with needle and thread and was able to hem the hand-me-downs to fit me better. Having my own money is a different experience. Gunnar, my boss, said he didn’t have a problem paying me cash, as long as I understood that at some point, when I have my shit together, I’d have to go on the books. When that time comes, I know I’ll have to move on.
“So what do you think?” Viv prompts, propping her hands on her hips and smiling. She stands in front of the big window, with view of the water, in the living room and looks at me expectantly.
“Beautiful,” I agree with her honestly, making her smile even bigger.
“Perfect.” She claps her hands before continuing, “I’m sure you’ll love it. If only for being close enough to work you can walk it.”
“Thank you,” I quietly say, watching her face turn serious when she spots me pulling out the stack of bills I’ve saved up. “But I checked some of the other apartment listings, and I think you made a mistake. The rent you mentioned is much too low.” I slowly count out the bills on the kitchen counter, to make up first and last months’ rent, for an amount I found to be more accurate than the $500 Viv quoted me. When I look up, she is glaring at me. By reflex, I lower my eyes immediately.
“Ruby.” Her smoky voice is soft yet threatening. “Ruby, look at me.” Slowly I raise my eyes to find hers softer but slightly irritated. “We agreed on $500, no last month needed. What you counted out is enough for four months.” She walks over and places her hands on my shoulders, bending down to look me in the eyes. “Trust me. I’m not ready to sell this place, and if not for you, it would just sit empty. We’re both benefitting here.”
“Okay,” I concede on a whisper.
t’s late by the time I let myself into Florence House with the key Pam provided to me a couple of months ago, when we negotiated new terms for my stay here. She’d offered to let me stay here indefinitely, until I had a chance to find my feet, and I would clean the house and help take care of the new girls that came in from time to time. That was something I was good at, looking after the girls. I have a lot of experience dealing with the inevitable range of emotions that comes from finding yourself somewhere you’d never expected to be. Not to mention the physical and emotional scarring, which inescapably was part of why they showed up in the first place.
I’d also tried my hand at cooking, but was soon dismissed of that task after only a handful of disasters in the kitchen. The same kitchen I could now see light coming from. It softly illuminates the hallway. I head that way after hanging my coat in the wardrobe closet. Pam is bent over her book, a hand loosely draped around a mug. The lone light over the stove is barely enough to read by, but Pam seems to dislike bright lights. Hence bending over her book to be able to discern the words.
“You’re gonna spoil your eyes,” I warn the older woman. She lifts up her head, apparently not having heard me come in, which is odd. She slaps the book closed, but not before I spot the torn envelope I see tucked between the pages. “Everything okay?” I ask her, a little worried at the suspicious shine in her eyes.
“Late shift?” She turns the tables on me, obviously trying to avoid my question, and I let her. It’s not my place. I’ve felt a deep sadness from her since I met her, but this is the first time I see the evidence.
I dump my tote bag on the table and pull out a chair. “Yes. I stayed late because I went with Viv to look at her place this afternoon.”
Immediately a bright smile lightens up her face. “You did? I’m so glad. Cute place, right? What did you think?”
“I like it,” I tell her. “But she’s insisting on the rent price.” I lean with my elbows on the table. “I know she can get at least double that.”
“So? Not like she needs it and besides, like I told you, she doesn’t want to let go of the place completely. I’m sure she’s thrilled to have someone she knows live there.”
Her tone is firm, but I have trouble fully believing it. Good fortune is not something I’m accustomed to, and I’m pretty sure Viv wouldn’t be so thrilled if she really knew me. I don’t say any of that. I know better than to try and argue with Pam.
“I told her I’d take it. It even has some furniture, so I only have to bring over my bag. She said I could sleep there tonight, but I want to wait until the weekend.” I look down at my clasped hands, not wanting to give away that I’m really nervous. Terrified, really. I don’t think I’ve ever been truly alone. Oh, I’ve been lonely, but never without someone to share a house or apartment with. In fact, most of the places I’d lived had been so crowded, I would often dream what it would be like not to have to answer to anyone, to truly be alone.
Pam’s dark hand lands on my lighter ones with a light squeeze. “Girl, you’re free to take as much time as you need,” she says, understanding in her dark eyes. She sees more than I’m comfortable with. “Although, I will say, I’m gonna miss having you around. Especially with the new girls; you have a real connection with them.”
“I will miss you too. Everything...I mean...without you...”
“Hush,” Pam cuts me off. “Not like you’re moving across the country, for Christ’s sake. You’re a few measly blocks away, and I’m hoping you’ll pop in to continue our sessions for a bit longer. As for the girls...perhaps if you have time in your schedule, you can help out from time to time. Get them settled in when they get here.”
“I would like that.” I give her a little smile before pushing back from the table. “I hope you don’t mind, I’m tired, I think I’ll head upstairs.”
“Good night,” I wish Pam over my shoulder as I walk into the hall.
It isn’t until I reach the bathroom, up on the third floor, that it occurs to me I’ll soon have a bathroom to myself for the first time in my life. If I want, I can take a bubble bath this weekend. Something I’ve always dreamt of.