Tiny Dancer [EverlyxSterling]

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Everly, Apr 11, 2015.

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  1. [​IMG]

    "Natalia, what the fuck was that? You look like a damn amateur out there. I don't pay you to flop around like some sort of dying prostitue. Get your shit together or get the fuck out of my club!"

    Natalia put one hand on her hip, giving the shouting man a cold glare until he turned and stomped off to release a fresh wave of rage at somebody else. His wife had been caught cheating.. again. No big surprise there. Evan was fat, ugly, and his temper was shorter than his dick.. and from the rumors in the club, that was nearly impossible. Still, he was her boss. She made a face at his back as soon as he turned around, then huffed and walked off to get dressed. The sun was up and that meant the business was shutting down.

    "Just ignore him, Nat. He's an idiot," another girl piped up when Natalia strolled into the dressing room. The girl was the closest thing to a friend the Russian stripper had. Big, sparkling green eyes peered out from a sea of black curls and cheerful pink lips. It was as though the girl oozed optimism. If not for her attitude, Natalia would have hated her immensely, but Lily had proven herself a force to be reckoned with when she punched a man in the face and broke his nose the very first night she had danced.

    "I know. Cocksucker," Natalia agreed, half smiling. She didn't bother stripping out of her black stockings or her corset, instead pulling a dress on over it. The low cut front showed off part of the black silk corset, standing in stark contrast to the light grey satin and ivory lace of the dress. Because her undergarments were so dark, they were easily seen beneath the dress, but she didn't care. She slid a long rosary on over her neck and flipped her messy blonde hair over one shoulder. Good enough. She had a date to meet and she was already running late thanks to Evan's little episode. "See you tonight," she muttered to Lily, getting a cheerful wave in return as she left out the back door.

    She walked outside, pulling a pack of cigarettes out of the tattered grey bag that hung from her shoulder. Smoking was a disgusting habit, but it took the edge off when she was itching for a hit. Right now she was on her way to meet a dealer, so she had to be patient. Somewhat. She took a drag and relaxed, her black heels clicking on the pavement as she started her walk. Time to put those tips to good use. She smirked at the thought and exhaled, blowing the smoke in a lazy ring. The good people of the world passed her by, walking with purpose in their business suits and pretty skirts. She got several looks, some angry and some lustful, but she ignored them all. As if they had more right to be here than she did.

    "Americans," she breathed, rolling her eyes. After ten years in the states, her accent was not as thick, but still quite obvious. She took another drag off the cancer stick in her fingers, turning down the street where she was supposed to meet up with her dealer. Well.. one of them, at least.
    #1 Everly, Apr 11, 2015
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 14, 2015
  2. Damian tenderly held his mother's frail, withered hand. They felt cool to his touch, and he pressed as firmly as he dared in hopes of transferring his heat. Damn tubes, he grumbled. The strings of pex tubes issuing from his mother's IV made it hard to fully grasp her hand, but they streamed the essential fluids and medicines that kept her alive. They had a purpose, so he tolerated them. But, they made his beloved mother look inhuman, more like an artificial object approaching an inorganic character.

    Like an engine, he thought. His mind took the bait, and he challenged himself to remember the myriad hoses and lines of an aircraft engine: primary fuel line, injection to rocker spindles, supply to and from pump. Even the bed was caught in the dragnet of his imagination, and knobs became anti-siphon valves and timing gears - dead, mechanized components from a protective shell that eventually grounded to a halt.

    What's the fuck's wrong with me?

    Damian shook his mind free of the abstraction. Therese Greyson was still alive, though barely. Her pancreatic cancer was detected in its later stage, which effectively spelled a death sentence. She was tough, and a survivor, though. She raised Damian and his brother, Joseph, alone in the barren, wind-swept expanse of Central South Dakota. They led a hard, unforgiving life, but they somehow managed. Damien was in Iraq when he learned Joseph decided leave home without warning, following in the footsteps of their father. Bastard.

    The treatments his mother received alleviated her suffering, since the cancer was spreading with unbridled aggression. She was asleep now, at peace, and Damien watched a clear solution drip into her bloodstream. The sight unsettled him, and he glanced at his watch to avoid the reality before him.

    It was six-o-clock in the morning. It was time for him to leave for Andrei's and meet up with the band, his extended family. They met nearly every morning and practice for two hours, and Damien had come to rely upon the ritual of their gathering. It kept him from drifting off into his thoughts and the darkness that constantly threatened to overtake him.

    Damien rose, and kissed his mother on her forehead. "I'll be back tomorrow, Mom. I love you."

    The #12 uptown bus was curbside when Damien reached the street. The driver knew him, and idled some days when he wasn't waiting at the corner.

    "Thanks, Trevor."

    "No problem, man," the bus driver replied.

    The bus purred from the curb and made its way from the Kettering Cancer Institute, and wove through the early morning traffic. When Damien stepped off the #12, Andrei was waiting upstairs with a hot cup of coffee and an egg sandwich.
    #2 Sterling, Apr 12, 2015
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2015
  3. Natalia walked down the sidewalk, her eyes automatically scanning the faces and vehicles nearby as she approached her destination. She had only met up with this guy twice before and he had seemed a bit nervous about meeting today, so she was cautious. If he was some sort of pawn for the cops, she wasn't about to rise to the bait. She was smarter than that, even if she was desperate. Her eyes caught nothing untoward. Perhaps his nervousness was due to something else. Honestly, she didn't care. As long as she wasn't arrested and he had stuff to deal out, she was happy. He could deal with his personal issues on his own.

    She blew out another smoke ring and lazily flicked the end of her cigarette aside, not bothering to crush it since it was laying on concrete against a building made of nothing but steel and glass. No big threat there. It blended in with the grime of the street. She smirked at that. All the good people of the city, strutting their important selves to work in shiny shoes, not realizing they walked through things more disgusting than they could imagine. She knew what sorts of things had been spilled on these sidewalks. It was enough to make a grown man shudder. She pushed the thoughts away and looked back up in time to collide with a teenaged boy walking in the opposite direction.

    "Watch where you're fucking going," she snapped, shoving him aside immediately just in case he was a pickpocket. Idiot boy. He cursed at her and stomped off. Hmph. Somebody needed a hit just as badly as she did, apparently.

    She paused at a crosswalk, her arms folded across her belly as she waited for the signal with a group of other people. Bored, she glanced to the side and noticed a man in a well-tailored suit was eyeing her in a not-so-subtle manner. She batted her eyelashes at him and smiled, turning her body just a bit and scooting her fingers up to flash him a bit of thigh. He shifted around, clearing his throat and using his briefcase to cover a growing 'problem' between his legs. She smirked and turned away, strolling across the street as soon as the signal flashed. Men were so terribly predictable.

    "Alright.. second floor.." she muttered to herself, glancing up at the building she needed. Public. Not something she was fond of, but Andrei had assured her it would be fine. She glanced around, then slipped in the front door and went upstairs. Music flooded the stairwell. It was a hard metal sort of music that made her pause for a moment and glance up at the second landing. Seriously? Metal? Why did nobody appreciate the classic things in life anymore? Not that she did either. She shrugged and continued up, finding the door that she needed. After checking to ensure she still had her cash, she rubbed her arm absently and knocked hard three times to be sure she was heard.
  4. "Stop! Stop ..."

    Damien called out the halting order over a cacophony of distorted guitar screeches. "Blair, you're still not keeping tempo. You gotta hit the D# power chord when you hear this ..."

    Damien settled onto his drummer's seat and gripped his stick firmly. His eyes ran across the numerous white circles around him and the orbiting copper cymbals. The set flooded his mind, and the drums were reduced to mere targets below him . Damien was soaring above, waiting to unleash his armament of beats and inflict his aggressive will upon the percussion set. There was an abusive dimension to how a drummer interacted with his set, but it was also cathartic - unlike electric guitars, drums returned a sensation back onto the drummer that filled the body. It became a way of feeling oneself.

    Playing drums was often considered a subsidiary - or, at least, a less glamorous - role within a band. Always situated toward the rear of the stage, the drummer himself was rarely a part of the acts visual aspect. He was not standing up, fronting moves, gyrating, or making a display to the music. Unless propped upon a riser stage, the drummer might as well vanish like a ghost within the larger aura of the performance.

    But, that's just what Damien preferred. He despised attention, and was perfectly content to exist in his own world without the burden of callous judgment. Damien was a hypocrite, however, and he knew it; he imposed standards upon himself, and everyone around him - especially, those he cared about. Damien subsumed his will into the lives of those around him, and provided a structure not otherwise present - not unlike how drums give a song it's rhythm. And although his presence on stage might have been invisible, Damien operated more as a quarterback in his pocket of percussion.

    "At the snare," Damien instructed.

    Damien adjusted his head phones, then drilled a triplet skank blast before rolling the snare into a rapid-fire beat.

    "Got it?" Damien asked.

    Blair nodded in accord, then began quietly tuning his guitar as Andrei preened himself before a mirror.

    "Anyzhing wrong this morning, Flyboy?" Andrei asked Damien.

    Andrei spoke with a slight Bulgarian accent, and wore a kind, but cocky expression. Andrei was the vocal lead, and owned the building the band used to practice. It was bought by his parents when they first arrived in America as a storage facility for their nascent textile business, and then give it to Andrei when he told them of a vague "entrepreneurial opportunity". That "opportunity" was this band, and when his parents learned the truth they were, at first, displeased. But, they genuinely loved Andrei, and had always doted on him mercilessly. The only son usually got his way, and Andrei's bubbly optimism was a testament to both his parents kindness and leniency. Andrei gazed into the mirror, and flourished his black hair like a prince.

    "No," Damien answered, "just wanna get the timing right."

    "Vhat is there to worry about? It zounds great!"

    The bass player stood quietly off to the side. At first glance, the long-necked bass strapped to his shoulder looked comically over-sized. Jory Gutierrez was shorter than average, but his arms were unusually long and his fingers exceptionally dextrous. He milled about the speakers and lifted the neck of his instrument to keep from knocking into Damien's outlying crash cymbals. His brown eyes peered at Damien above a barely trimmed Franz Joseph-style mustache, then rolled back in annoyance at Andrei's exuberance.

    Damien smirked to himself. Of all the band members, he felt closest with Jory. He carried himself with a calm comfort that imparted confidence to anyone near him. Jory was like a totem, but tattooed, mustached, and in a five-foot seven-inch Hispanic package. Most importantly, Jory was an army reservist; and though he'd only served a week in the rear section during the last Iraq War, he had a greater sense of what haunted Damien in the dark corners of his night.

    "You ready, Blair?" Damien asked.

    "Yeah ..." Blair was a man of few words, and those words often entered the world as a gravely whisper. Blair finished tuning his fifth sting, then nodded to Damien.

    "Alight, guys ... let's take it from the top ..." Damien signaled the cue by tapping his drum sticks together.

    click, click, click, click

    The band was playing better now, and the music flowed more easily. Blair made his chord transition cleaner and with greater mastery than his last attempt. But, just as Damien smashed the chinese cymbal to begin the second part, he thought he heard another rhythm that did not belong in the song. It was more of an insistent knocking sound, and came the front door on Damien's left. He left his headphones on his stool, as the rest of the band dissembled into a variety of tones and distortions at the loss of the drums.

    Damien opened the door - and was stunned by the woman standing just outside. She was incredibly beautiful, and unlike anyone or anything he had ever laid eyes upon. His stomach caved in from the first impression, and he felt the rims of his eyes smoldering. Damien's jaw clenched, and his eyes narrowed.

    "Can I help you, Ma'am?"
    #4 Sterling, Apr 13, 2015
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2015
  5. If Natalia had not been so looking forward to going home and getting high out of her mind, she likely would have reacted more poorly to being called 'ma'am' at six o'clock in the freaking morning. Oh, how she hated that. It made her feel old. She eyed the man at the door, immediately dismissing him as unimportant. He didn't have a cop vibe and he wasn't her dealer. Therefore, he was just a boy that was in her way of getting what she needed. She cocked an eyebrow, one hand resting on her hip as she watched him eye her in a way that was all too familiar. Men. She rolled her eyes and reached out, brushing him aside as she stepped in.

    "No," she said simply, her grey eyes scanning the room until they landed on Andrei.

    Ah, there he was. Her dear, pompous idiot of a dealer. To be honest, she liked him better than most that she had to deal with. Even though she got the feeling he was a bit full of himself, he had yet to be rude to her. Their interactions were usually quick and to the point. This was the first time that she was forced to even see other people when meeting him. She tilted her head, giving him an irritated look as she waited for him to realize she was there and waiting for him to hold up his end of the exchange.

  6. The woman brushed past Damien with an elite air that was as dismissive as it was rude. She seemed to care little for what others thought of her, and swept into the room with purpose. Damien thought an intense hunger pervaded the woman's bearing, and he grew suspicious. When Natalia fully entered the room, Damien was afforded an unencumbered view of her appearance, and was taken aback by its overt sexuality. If she was a girlfriend, Andrei hadn't mentioned her; Andrei couldn't keep his mouth shut about anything, let alone if he was banging a broad as sexy as this one. But, there was no affection in her tone, and she addressed Andrei in a curt, business-like manner. Perhaps she was a hooker, come to settle a debt, though the settlement of grievances was usually the territory of pimps and honky-tonk daddys. Damien shook his head at woman's lack of manners and walked back toward his drums.

    Andrei's initial reaction was one of welcome, and his face lit up at the sight of Natalia striding into his Studio like a model on a runway. He recognized the woman, and remembered her from ... somewhere, did it really matter?

    Then Andrei saw what Damien saw - her look, the gaze of a hunting animal on the prowl. A look of dread filled Andrei's surprised eyes, for a number of realities crashed into his little brain. He remembered Natalia now, and knew this was not a social call. She was here for drugs, and she looked as if murder might result if denied.

    The direness of that realization paled under the unexpected, and horribly miscalculated collision of his private and criminal worlds. Natalia, along with his few other customers, normally came during the day or evening. He thought he made those hours clear. Did he with Natalia? Andrei's hand ran through his thick, black hair in thought. Details were always so fussy, and he heard the voice of his parents echo in his mind that to ignore details was to invite the devil. Andrei began dealing minor drugs to sate the entrepreneurial spirit fostered by his parents. Andrei saw himself as a future captain of whatever industry he set himself toward, and secretly yearned for a life with more trajectory than a metal singer. The band was more of a hobby for Andrei, an excuse to feel the lime-lights glow and be adored.

    Andrei had attracted a very different type of attention this morning, and felt less than adored. He looked at his friends around him, and stammered at their confused faces as a strange woman barged into their sacred realm like she owned the place. The band made a pact, and Damien had been the strict enforcer, that no one was to partake in drugs while they performed. At the time, Andrei agreed with a wave - promises were creatures of the moment to Andrei, and served as an excuse to persuade. The whole affair was more of a game to the playboy. The problem was that Damien was not easily deceived, and brooded over aspects in his life like a fell hunter in the night. Damien intended on keeping his word, and meant to ensure the band did not stray, as well.

    The appearance of Natalia was ... unfortunate, and Damien tried to mitigate the situation before it blew up in his face.

    "Natalia ... Baby! здравствуйте! So good to see you. You're here a little ... early." Andrei cast an apologetic look to his friends hoping to assuage their concern with a vague notion of familiarity with the Russian. Natalia was familiar to him, and aside from epitomizing everything a red-blooded man wanted a woman to look like, he related to her Slavic sensibilities. He spoke a little Russian, just a few phrases from his parents. Natalia was nearly on top of him, and Andrei backed-up, away from the band toward a back room.

    "Hey, guyz ... Let's take a break for a sec ... Blair, joints are on the desk, if you want."

    Andrei turned and fully opened the door for Natalia, closing it behind both of them.
    #6 Sterling, Apr 14, 2015
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2015
  7. Natalia watched Andrei closely, watching the array of emotions flit across his face. He was entirely too aware and perky for this hour of the day. Obviously he wasn't high yet. Instead of being relaxed, he seemed a bit upset and tense about something. She watched as his eyes flicked from her to the man who had answered the door. Had she misjudged him? Was he a cop after all? No, the drummer did not appear to be paying them an overdue amount of attention. Her eyes moved back to Andrei and she narrowed her eyes as he accused her of being early.

    "Early?" she repeated, annoyed. Her Russian accent came out more when she was displeased, and right now she wanted to throw a guitar at him. Early?! He had told her to come as soon as she was off work. Did he think strippers finished dancing at night when men were still in the club?! Idiot. She glared at him with a frown, advancing on him slowly and debating slapping him as he suggested the band take a break. Wise. She stepped into the room with him and rounded on him as soon as the door was shut.

    "идиот," she hissed, crossing her arms. Anything that reminded her of home was treated with disgust, and Andrei was no different at the moment. He dared speak Russian to her? Such familiarity displeased her immensely, and she was more annoyed that he was obviously hiding his habits from his friends. If he was so determined not to tell them, he shouldn't have invited her to stop by at this hour. Still, he had what she wanted. She stepped closer to him, a bit of a smirk on her lips when he backed against the wall as if scared of her. Why was it that people always assumed Russians were violent?

    It was probably all the vodka.

    "Next time, you come to the club. I'm not pretending to be your girl just so your little friends in there don't know you're dealing," she informed him, taking her cash out of her purse and sliding it into the back pocket of his jeans. She rather enjoyed how he squirmed when her body pressed up against his. Good. Let him be uncomfortable. He deserved it for being such a dolt. She reached into his other pocket with deft fingers and drew out the drugs she so desired, dropping them in her bag with a satisfied nod. If he wanted her business again, he'd have to come to her, and that was that. She could always go to a different dealer, but finding customers when you were keeping your habits from your friends was difficult. He needed her far more than she needed him.. though he always gave her good shit.
    #7 Everly, Apr 14, 2015
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2015
  8. “Who the hell was that?”

    Damien asked the question more to himself than anyone in particular. His eyes were fixated upon the rear door, closed to the three friends still holding their instruments. The woman had left an indelible impression upon Damien’s memory; not only was she beautiful, but she carried herself with a raw ferocity that excited him. Damien tried to temper his desire with the reality at hand – she also exuded a sketchiness that was far from healthy, or even mildly acceptable. The city was an urban mixing bowl of varied backgrounds, ethnicities, and incomes, and appearances could be deceiving – Damien trusted a tattooed mongrel over a straight-laced psychopath any day of the week. How one treated others was the final arbiter of character on the streets.

    “She don’t seem very friendly,” Jory added, scratching his mustache.

    Blair shrugged and took a drag from one of the blunts that Andrei had left on the desk. “Who knows, who cares,” Blair said.

    It had already been a few minutes of silence after a sublimely dramatic introduction, and not knowing what was transpiring in the rear room was driving Damien insane.

    “What’s he doing in there?” Damien asked. Hollow silence was the initial response, until Blair coughed out the answer between puffs of yellow-green smoke.

    “Probably dealing …”

    Damien broke his gaze from the door to regard Blair with stunned incredulity. “Dealing?”

    A shrug was the only consolation Blair gave the drummer. “What else is that stash of pills in his desk for.” Blair took another long drag, and then started studying the sheet music for the second part of the song.

    The desk in question was known to all Andrei’s associates. It belonged to his father, and was more of a broad board, crafted from Serbian Oak, that was kept in place mostly by its great weight. It was more of a covering surface that could be applied to any piece of furniture that accepted it, and withstood its burden. Damien knew the desk well, he helped Andrei move it upstairs himself. Damien sighed in both disgust and exasperation.

    “Blair, if you knew, why didn’t you say something?”

    The axeman shrugged again. “I dunno … it’s his place.”

    Damien didn’t wait for Blair’s milquetoast response; he knew it would be unacceptable and disappointing in its own right. He was headed for the door at a steady pace, only slowing to grasp the handle and enter unbidden. There was surprise, maybe some shouting. The woman might have been saying something in that harpy voice of hers. Damien didn’t hear them, and walked directly to Andrei’s desk. The weight required Andrei applying both of his arms to lift, but Damien calmly lifted the mass fluidly with one hand. The vintage coins piled on the surface scattered in every direction, and rolled into distant, dark corners. The plastic bags were nestled together cozily, divided in separate rows, by type. There was a loving care to how the pills were tended; it was the product of time and devoted application – it was evidence of a dealer with serious intentions.

    Disappointment washed over Damien’s slackened face, and he walked slowly toward Andrei. He paid the woman no attention; indeed, given the surprise Damien registered upon first seeing her, he now regarded her as little more than an unfortunate, broken accessory – like a frayed thread on a forgotten sweater. Andrei was petrified by what Damien discovered, and released furtive glances at Natalia.

    Damien’s voice came breathy and full of sadness. “Andrei … that the fuck are you doing?”
    #8 Sterling, Apr 14, 2015
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2015
  9. Natalia reacted on instinct when the door suddenly opened right next to them. She rapidly stepped back from Andrei and ducked to the side with a frown, her movements indicating an expectation to be slapped or grabbed. When neither one happened, she scowled in annoyance and watched the newcomer open up a desk. Andrei's stash. She raised an eyebrow at the upset drummer, her eyes flicking to Andrei. Both of them seemed rather wound up by the situation. She noticed that Andrei kept looking at her, but she offered him nothing. Her presence here was not to be a lifeline to him. Even if she cared about his position, she couldn't help him. Nothing she did or said now would make the least bit of difference except to make it worse. He was on his own.

    "And that's my cue to leave," she said, shaking her head a little.

    She stepped out of the room, knowing Andrei would either come find her at the club at some point or he wouldn't. Either way it didn't matter. Her world did not revolve around him and his barely included her. They were like strangers who happened to bump into each other before moving on without ever coming into contact again. Or so she thought.

    "See ya later, boys," she muttered as she passed the pair waiting in the other room. One was smoking a joint and the other seemed to be not paying attention to anything. Well there. She left the space and headed back downstairs, soon on the street once more. It wasn't long before her steps took her to her own apartment. The space was over a bakery and constantly smelled of sugar. When she was still a student, she had fallen in love with it. Now she was still here because the rent was cheap and the owners didn't dare kick her out. It was convenient.

    She went upstairs and unlocked her door, barely stepping inside before kicking off her shoes and dropping her dress on the floor. As she went to her bedroom, she left a trail of clothes and jewelry behind until she was naked with nothing but her rosary necklace and a packet of pills in her hand. Perfection. She flopped on the bed with a smile and downed her newly purchased goodies, eager to fly high as a kite so that she could finally get some sleep before going off to work again.
  10. "And, that's my cue to leave."

    Andrei's eyes watched with childish disappointment as Natalia turned and stalked from the room. The click of her heels echoed within the rear room, then grew softer as she led herself out the front door and down the stairs. She'd left, and taken her selfish apathy with her. Good riddance, Damien thought. Andrei's eyes were fixed upon the open doorway, and he slid down the wall to sit sullenly upon the floorboards.

    "I don't know who your crack whore friend was," Damien began, "but that's what people like her do ... They abandon you. You're nothing to them, except what you can provide. They don't appreciate you for who you are, only what you have." Damien's voice came stern, yet compassionate. He didn't yell; raising his voice was not his style. He found it rarely accomplished anything, preferring demonstrations to the venting of raw emotion. In this regard, Andrei could not have been more different from Damien.

    "Vhat the FUCK, Dude!" Andrei's remonstration came coarse and petulant, like a child denied his fancy. "You totally made me look like a limp dick. She probably won't come back here again."

    "She's definitely not coming back here again. I see her again, I throw her skinny ass down the stairs. Got it?"

    Andrei stood back up, his pride now pricked. "Dude, vhat's your problem? Who the fuck put you in charge?!"

    "You did," Damien answered, "when you agreed to not do drugs while we're performing."

    "I'm not doing drugs, man, I'm clean." Andrei looked down, shrugging in an off-handed manner. He shuffled over toward his desk and began to collect the coins that had scattered on the floor. "I'm just ... dealing this little stash for extra cash."

    Damien sighed, and began to help his friend. "Andrei, splitting hairs really pisses me off. You're not cut out to be a drug dealer. You're not ..."

    'Bright' was the word that entered Damien's mind first.

    "... callous enough to keep dealing. And, don't pretend you don't know what's at stake. You really want to contribute to people ruining their lives? You think your parents would approve of this?"

    Andrei returned a cold stare, then retuned to picking up the coins. He knew his parents would definitely have not approved, but that was the point. Andrei wanted to start a venture of his own making, of his own design. It didn't help that his parents simply adored Damien, who, strangely, couldn't be more different than his parents. Perhaps it was Damien's South Dakota character, or his blunt bearing from sustained military service. Either way, Damien was a welcomed personality to Andrei's parents, who had hoped some of Damien's discipline might rub off onto their indulgent son. Damien was invested as an older sibling to Andrei, and Damien played his role with sober duty.

    "Worst of all, you could get hurt or ..." Damien didn't finish his thought. He let the unspoken consequence hang, undefined, on purpose. Part of the reason was dramatic effect, while a darker side of Damien refused to consider a consequence that would send him spiraling into even greater darkness.

    The two friends continued to retrieve the remaining coins in silence. Damien returned the oak top back to the table, concealing the bags of pills. "You can do whatever you want," Damien said, "but, you're going somewhere no one can help you. Not me, not the guys, and not your parents."

    The antique coins were stacked once more in pristine piles upon the oaken surface. "You know, you really are an asshole." Andrei's declaration came softly, a last deluded barb of control from a perpetual child.

    "Yeah," Damien replied, "they taught us that on the first day of Basic." Damien knew he had won, and returned outside to his drum set and leaned back upon his humble throne.

    "You girls done?" Blair asked.

    Damien walked up to his microphone, hands buried firmly in his pockets. He gave Damien a boyish grin. "Hey Damien,... She was a looker though, eh?"

    The drummer shrugged. "I've seen better ..." In truth, he hadn't. There was something about the woman that haunted him in a way he could not quite understand. One thing was for certain, he hoped to never set eyes upon this Natalia ever again. "Second part, from the top." The snare released a vicious drill, picked up by Blair and Jory. Andrei closed his eyes and leaned forward and yelled the lyrics.

    The excitement of dissection is sweet.
    My skin crawls with orgasmic speed ...
    #10 Sterling, Apr 15, 2015
    Last edited: May 16, 2015
  11. Natalia woke several hours later, her stomach growling at her. She hadn't eaten the day before and apparently her body was a bit annoyed. To be honest, she didn't have food in her house at all because she spent all of her money on drugs and clothing for the club. She glanced at the window, noticing the sun was starting to go down. Another day gone. Time to get ready for work. She slid out of bed and stretched, her body bending back until her hands touched the floor. Her back cracked and she sighed in satisfaction before sliding down into a split and leaning forward to lay her cheek on her leg. This was so relaxing. She didn't understand why the other girls didn't stretch this way.

    After getting all warmed up, she stood and went to the bathroom. Shower, makeup, clothes. She applied the same thick eyeliner as the night before, knowing men liked how it made her look. Her hair was a tangled mess, so she brushed it all out and simply let it air dry. Any more effort than that was a waste. Nobody cared if you looked perfect when your legs were wrapped around a pole. She sighed at the thought and rummaged through her closet, settling on a sparkly red bra and panty set before adding matching garters and stockings. Her shoes today were black heeled boots that went up to her knees, with silver buckles up the sides. She examined her reflection, then slid into a black and silver dress that skimmed her knees, so that when she walked you could see flashes of red from the stockings. That would do.

    Once she was ready, she grabbed her bag and headed out the door without bothering with a jacket. Why did she care if people could see how provocatively she dressed? It was her job. She rolled her eyes at the thought, heading out onto the street and walking downtown. Time to grab a bite to eat before work.. and maybe something else too.

    One of her favorite dealers was Samson. He was extremely well known by the police, but for some reason he was never arrested. Natalia had a sneaking suspicion that the cops were afraid of him because of how far his influence had spread, but she wasn't sure. All she knew was that the well-dressed man conducted his business nearly in public and nobody batted an eye. He owned a cafe where he worked as the cook and dessert came in the form of whatever you wanted and could afford. There was no place better to dine, in her opinion.

    She went in and slid into a booth, crossing her legs and ignoring the looks that she got. The waitress didn't even bother coming over since Natalia ordered the same thing every time, so she simply put in the order. The stripper was simply waiting, gazing out the window when she both heard and felt somebody sit in the seat across from her. What the fuck? She looked up and saw that Lily had taken the seat and was giving her a smile. The girl was dressed in a dark green sundress that clung to her torso and flowed around her legs, not showing off anything but still making her look gorgeous. It was the same shade as her eyes. For some reason, Lily never wore her work clothes out in public, as if she didn't want anybody to know who she was.

    "Natalia! Hi! I figured we could eat together when I saw you were alone too. Do you mind?"

    "No, it's fine," Natalia murmured, half shrugging. Lily was a friend. She relaxed and they chatted absently about work, even laughing about a few of the regular customers they had who got a bit too grabby. All was well until they were done eating and the waitress came over with the check and three full syringes in a small bag for Natalia. Lily paused, then frowned and shook her head a little.

    "I wish you wouldn't do that, Nat," she said softly. "You're so much better than that.."

    "No, I'm not. And neither are you," Natalia snapped, scowling at her. "Stop acting like you're some sort of respectable lady, Lily. You strut around naked and tuck money in your underwear. You aren't better than this and it's about fucking time you realized it."

    She stood and walked off, accidentally leaving her syringes there on the table with a wounded Lily as she left the restaurant.
  12. Lunchtime was a transitory experience for Damien. While other denizens of the city ate and indulged in mid-day relaxation, Damien raced from Andrei's Uptown pad to his job in the Theater District. The transit time depended on the method of travel available to Damien when he left band practice around 11:00am. There was a Mid-Town Express bus that dropped him off about a block away from the Sullivan Theater that took only twenty minutes. He had owned a bike, once, until it was stolen by some worthless shit. If Damien dawdled or was delayed and missed the bus, he was forced to ask for a ride from Blair. If Blair was stoned or unavailable, Damien was forced to huff it by foot, and he could make the journey in fifty minutes with a light jog. Of course, winter conditions made jogging hazardous, and jogging in the summer meant that Damien arrived for work as a sweaty mess.

    Thankfully, Dante Alessandro, the Sullivan Theater's general manager, was an understanding man. He knew Damien's background, and about his mother; Mr. Alessandro felt that Damien was a special young man and helped him out whenever he could. He paid for Damien's dry-cleaning, and made sure there were no less than two-pressed uniforms waiting for Damien when he arrived. Mr. Alessandro would sometimes buy a sandwich and leave it on Damien's desk, leaving a note claiming it was a left-over from earlier in the week. Damien knew it when Mr. Alessandro was secretly supporting him, and he was firm when expressing his gratitude.

    Today, Damien had caught the bus on-time, but forgot his lunch at Andrei's Studio. He arrived famished. The ordeal with Andrei's "client" made him more acutely aware of his hunger. Luckily, Mr. Alessandro was waiting near his desk with a batch of lasagna. "Hey! Damien! How ya doin'?" Mr. Alessandro spoke with a thick, New York accent. "Come 'ere ... my parents made some lasagna last night, thought you might want some, eh?" Mr. Alessandro didn't wait for a reply, and began to place scores of tupperware bowls on Damien's desk. A napkin and a plastic fork punctuated the gesture. Damien enjoyed the attention.

    "Thanks, Mr. Alessandro. I forgot my lunch at the Studio, so ..."

    "Ehhh, forget 'bout it," the man dismissed with a wave. "I need you tip-top when you're inspecting those overheads."

    Damien craned his head upward, straining to peek at the large, encased box lights. "Acting up again, huh?" Damien asked.

    "Yeah, probably just a bad fuse or faulty wire." Mr. Alessandro was trying to be optimistic. Those lights were a central part of the Theater's light system, and if anything happened to them, their loss would be noticeable. The Theater would be hard pressed to assemble and affix the supplementary lighting to compensate. Luckily, Mr. Alessandro had Damien as his building and stage tech. He knew Damien used to fly planes in the Air Force, and had a rudimentary knowledge of every system within the building. There were few challenges Mr. Alessandro gave Damien that the young man could not overcome. Damien gave Mr. Alessandro a dependability that was priceless, and knew his character extended from his commitments outside the Theater.

    "How's yer Mom doing today?" Mr. Alessandro asked.

    A sigh escaped Damien, one that spoke more than his words. "Same as last week. She's ... not really ... improving, you know?"

    Mr. Alessandro nodded, as he helped himself to the open container of lasagna. "What, ah ... what do the doctor's say?"

    "The doctors dance around the fact they don't know for sure, but I know how people act when death is near. They keep handing me these corny hospice brochures. Trying to soften me for the inevitable, I guess."

    "Yeah, that's too bad, kid. Both my parents are still alive, thanks be to the Heavenly Father. But, I tell ya, sometimes they fight like cats-n-dogs. It's a miracle they haven't killed each other before now. But, at the end of the day, they need each other more than anything on this entire planet. So, they forgive each other every night, then wake up and start at it all over again." Mr. Alessandro laughed, saying, "I don't know what's gonna happen when Pop retires."

    Damien listened intently, while eating the lasagna hungrily. It was delicious, and he couldn't remember when he last had such a nourishing home-cooked meal.

    "You ever think about finding someone?" Mr. Alessandro asked, seemingly out of the blue.

    Damien nearly choked on a slab of pasta and ground beef. "I'm sorry, Sir. Find someone?"

    "Yeah, I mean ... you know, you're a good kid. You work really hard. Dames should be falling over themselves."

    "No ... No, Sir. I'm a ... much too busy for something like that. I've already got a lot on my plate, with Mom and all."

    "Oh, sure, sure," Mr. Alessandro said, "I understand. It's just that I know you got some tough times ahead of ya. And having someone in your corner can make all the difference. Ya know what I'm saying."

    In all honesty, Damien didn't know what Mr. Alessandro was talking about. The last girlfriend he had was in high school, and she ended up leaving him for the football team's star cornerback. The last time a woman touched him was in Dubai, right before last deployment. The girl was not Saudi, but a foreigner to the Emirates. She feigned pleasure, and Damien guessed she rather have an American cock inside her than starve to death. The whole episode disgusted Damien, and he passed when his squadron left barracks for R&R looking for local pussy. Driving an A-10 Thunderbolt was significantly more dangerous than piloting a strike fighter, especially when the American coalition enjoyed a two-million square mile sector of air superiority. The F-16's were fine ... but, the ground support aircraft, like his A-10, was under constant threat from rocket-propelled grenade fire, and surface-to-air missile batteries. If any pilots earned the right to live a little loose, it was the A-10 drivers. Tiny Dancer. Thoughts of his last aircraft consumed Damien's thoughts, and he became pensive in wistful reverie. She was the only reason he was standing here alive.

    "Yeah," Damien lied, "I know what you're saying. Look, Chief, I better to those overheads, huh. Thanks for lunch, and give my best to your parents."

    Damien secured his tool belt and fixed every item on his daily bulletin - including the overhead lights, which were plagued by a frayed electrical connection. Damien completed his weeknight shift, which ended around 8:00pm. On weekends, he had to shift his schedule to accommodate whatever show was performing. Mr. Alessandro preferred having Damien present, and on-hand during shows to ensure everything ran smoothly. In compensation, Damien was afforded flexibility in days off during the week - especially when shows were not scheduled. Though Damien took some form of transportation to the Sullivan, he preferred walking home after work. It helped clear his mind, and gave him time to himself. Some nights, he stopped by Franklin's Batting Arena to hit some balls.

    Damien walked out of the Sullivan, and it was evening. He started walking, not certain where he'd end up.
  13. Lily sat in the booth alone for several minutes, staring at the syringes on the table. Maybe Natalia was right and she was not any better than anybody else. After all, she stripped for men who were usually married and just looking for something extra. They always tried to give her more cash and invite her to the back rooms where some girls went to give more than a dance, but she had always declined. She wanted to believe that she was more than just an exotic dancer. Maybe someday the cash really would go toward putting herself through school like she always said to the girls at the club. Right now she was just saving it all away, trying to get enough to get her own place so that she could leave her parents behind. She had avoided things that seemed unsafe or unhealthy. Now she was faced with drugs, and she knew it wasn't pot, which was the only real thing she had any sort of experience with. The responsible thing would be to give them back to the waitress or take them to Natalia since the girl had paid for them.


    Maybe she shouldn't. If she took them for herself, she could find out what Natalia thought was so great about it. Maybe then her friend would like her more, because she could understand what she was going through. That would be nice. She hesitated, then finally picked up the small bag and tucked it into her purse before quickly leaving the cafe.

    Natalia, irritated, had smoked her way through four cigarettes in the time it took her to walk to the club. She was so annoyed that she didn't even realize she had left the drugs behind, even as she got to work and began preparing to go on stage. The doors opened at eight and didn't close until five. Evan was already in a rage, screaming at the dj because one of the lights wasn't working. She rolled her eyes, ignoring the commotion as she slid her dress off and ran her fingers through her hair. Good enough.

    "Hey, have you seen Lily?" one of the other girls asked as Natalia went over to the bar to get a drink before any customers showed up.

    "Why?" Natalia asked, frowning.

    "She's always early, and she isn't here," the girl pointed out, rolling her eyes as though it was obvious before she walked off. Natalia blinked and glanced at the door as they unlocked it and opened it wide for business. Hm. Maybe Lily was still eating. She shrugged and quickly took her drink backstage, listening to the music start up in the other room. Now all she had to do was.. wait. Where..? She blinked and set her drink aside, rummaging through her bag. Oh, fuck! Had she taken them?! She groaned and threw her bag aside on one of the tables. Shit. She downed her drink quickly and pulled out her phone, sending a quick text off to one of her dealers while Evan began snapping at her to get her ass on stage.

    "I'm going," she finally snapped back, flipping him off before walking out on the stage. She smiled at the few regular customers who were already there, then she grasped the pole in her hands and started to dance.
  14. CRACK!

    The baseball sailed wide to the left. Damien hoisted the bat, and crouched once more into position.


    Better this time ... the ball shot out toward what would have been the left foul line. Damien took too long in thought, and the automatic pitcher sent another white ball at him near 90 m.p.h.. Damien reacted quickly and arced the bat upward, incurring a high, fly-ball that hit the mesh net ceiling, then fell to the floor with thud.

    "Hey Lieutenant! Yer head in the game?"

    The concerned call came from a burly man in a camouflaged t-shirt behind the operators bunker. Frank Thompson owned Franklin's Batting Arena, and welcomed Damien several evenings a week. He watched Damien whenever he came to hit balls, and was observed him shrewdly. Damien acted distracted this evening; he was hitting erratically, almost would have been hurt had he not expertly sliced up at the last minute. Frank shut down the machine and hobbled around the counter toward Damien. He leaned on the aluminum bat, still warm from repeated contact. Frank's approach was slow, owing to his lop-sided gait. Frank was a retired Army Veteran, and sustained permanent injury to his leg during his last tour. He eventually lost his leg, and was given a prosthetic one instead. The doctor's told him the change would be minor, and in time, he would learn to move about with great ease. Bullshit, was Frank's perennial response to most everything he heard, especially from doctors. It fucking hurt a lot of the time, so he didn't move around unless he had to. The lack of mobility made Frank heavy around the waist, which only compounded the pressure and pain on his prosthetic limb. Fucking Doctors.

    "Sure," Damien responded. "Well, kinda ... no, not really. Sorry, Frank."

    "It's alright, kid. Why don't ya come back and we'll grab a cold one?"

    Damien collected the bat and the spare baseballs littering the batting zone. He'd let a few fly past, which were caught by the mesh net enclosure surrounding the batter. All these items Damien deposited into a white, mason's bucket and hurried to catch Freddy. The pair rounded the counter behind a set of observation bunkers, and then past a door that read "Private Only". Frank bent down and opened a mini-fridge, and produceed two cans of Budweiser, cracking both open. The men clinked cans, then tooka ceremonial swig. Franks reclined in a special leather chair that was raised higher than usual, while Damien found his comfort in a simple folded chair.

    Frank was an Army man, and the armed forces are notorious for their rivalry and non-cooperative attitudes. However, such prejudices are meaningless after military services has expired. While serving, a soldier's duty is to serve his/her country and defend his comrades; when discharged, the world becomes a very lonely and isolating place, typically with few sympathetic references or assuring organizations. Even the government tries to vilify Veterans, calling them 'free-loaders' for expecting benefits and payments promised when they agree to place their lives in harms way. Any person who has served becomes a brother or sister against a country consumed by a growing indifference to the notion of personal sacrifice. Military personnel understand this notion all too well, and finding another who lives by this creed affords a degree of comfort that helps ease daily burdens.

    Though over three decades his senior, Frank deeply respected Damien, and his pilot history. Frank was a grunt, having led a platoon of general infantry for most of his tours. Heavy fire was not uncommon, and he remembered the relief and confidence knowing a Thunderbird was inbound. There were fewer sounds more beautiful than the low, grunting whine of a 30mm cannon decimating the opposition like an unholy plague from the Old Testament. Frank also had a sense of what happened to Damien, and how he lost Tiny Dancer. Soldiers who have taken hostile fire in active duty, rarely talk about their experiences, harrowing or banal, even with one another. There's a silent, stoic kinship that's reliable and trustworthy between such people, for they know normal civilians simply cannot understand what lives inside of warriors. The burdens lasted a lifetime, and was often heavy.

    An hour had already passed. Hardly a word had been exchanged between the two warriors. Frank moved to rise for a second Budweiser, but Damien beat him to the mini-fridge, handing him an open can before he could get up.

    "Thanks, Lieutenant."

    "You're welcome, Sarge." Damien felt better already, which was precisely why he came to Franklin's in the first place. He collected his bag, and threw it over his shoulder. "See ya 'round, Sarge."

    "Have a good one, Lieutenant!" Frank lifted his can high as Damien set out once more to walk the streets toward home.
    #14 Sterling, Apr 15, 2015
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2015
  15. "Where is she?"
    "She's next!"
    "I don't know.."
    "Evan's flipping the fuck out.."
    "Just chill out. She's probably sick or something."
    "Who cares?"
    "Somebody else go on!"
    "Eugh, whatever.."

    Natalia rolled her eyes, listening to the other girls chatter about Lily once she had finished her routine. She was sitting backstage, perched on one of the tables with a lit cigarette in her fingers and a few empty shot glasses at her side. Though she feigned disinterest, she was starting to get a bit worried about her friend. Lily was never late and never missed work without calling first. Plus, she had just seen the girl before they were supposed to be here. Paired with the fact that Natalia had left drugs just sitting around, and she was worried Lily had been mugged or something equally terrible. She pulled her phone out of her bag and dialed Lily's number, but all she got was the too-cheerful voicemail message. Hanging up without leaving a message, she sent a text instead and set her phone aside. Nothing that could be handled right now.

    Her phone lit up and she glanced at it. It wasn't Lily, but it was still a text she wanted to see. She smirked and slid off the table, using a side door to go out into the main room. He would be around here somewhere.. Ah, there he was. One of her dealers, here to fix her little issue. He nodded toward the door and she followed him out onto the sidewalk, the cool breeze not bothering her despite the fact that she was dressed like a Victoria's Secret model instead of an upstanding citizen. She stood by the door, lingering as she took a glance around. Nobody. Good.

    "I have to pay you in the morning-" she began, pausing when she noticed the disapproving scowl on his face. "Look, it's either that or nothing," she snapped, glaring at him. Instead of responding verbally, he simply smacked her across the face and turned away, obviously irritated at the waste of his time. On his way back across the street, he bumped into Lily, who was making a weaving path to work. He scowled and shoved her aside, knocking her over with ease since she was high as a kite.

    Natalia rubbed her cheek angrily and was going to head back inside, but then she heard a squeal of tires and turned. She spotted her friend in the street right before she noticed the car that couldn't stop.

  16. Damien avoided the sticky, brown spots littering the steps up to his run-down four-flat. The building was a dull mixture of tarnished faux marble and cracked brick veneer, and the interior carpet should have been replaced years ago. There were two sets of glass doors that composed the entry foyer; the first opened into a tile-floored mailroom, and the second entered the building proper. Damien could see two brown packages sitting on the top step of the two-risers within the building just inside the foyer. They belonged to Mrs. Thornquist on the second floor. The widow and Damien had come to an arrangement after Damien caught the elderly woman hefting heavy packages up the narrow steps. She nearly fell, and would have landed herself in the hospital had Damien not been behind her to prevent the disaster. He insisted that Mrs. Thornquist leave any packages inside the protective area within the building. For his efforts, Mrs. Thornquist was allowed to shower Damien with plates of prepared food and baked goods. She had worked as a stewardess and chef's assistant downtown at The Grand for a decade, and felt a measure of comfort distributing her trade on a worthy neighbor.

    The packages were particularly heavy that evening. Damien thought he heard the clunking of dense metal from within the boxes, and he would not be surprised if he found bar-bells inside. Mrs. Thornquist's door was slightly ajar when he reached the top landing, and quietly entered to the sound of Duke Ellington over a radio. Damien gently placed the boxes near an inside corner, so that no one would trip over them unaware. He wasn't worried about Mrs. Thornquist's ability to open the boxes; he'd seen her handle a paring knife on apples once and left with a fearful respect. Damien crept into deeper into the apartment to find Mrs. Thornquist sound asleep in a Deco-period fabric chair. The television was on, but on mute, and the radio provided the only sound to oppose her light snoring. He always felt odd waking her at night, and settled with splaying a knit blanket over her. Damien turned off the television, then moved to the radio. A black-and-white portrait of the late Mr. Thornquist stood proudly on the shelf next to the radio. He looked to be an Army officer, from the Korean War era. Damien stood transfixed, watching the man in the photograph, half convinced he might begin to move and speak. Damien realized he wished he could communicate, and ask many questions that plagued him. It was nonsense, though. It was already late, and Damien needed to return downstairs. He switched off the radio, then crept out, locking the door behind him.

    Damien literally took two steps onto the ground floor, when his neighbor's door swung open with a timid creek. It was Jenny, and she was often awake when Damien returned from his day. She was a pretty woman, tall and thin, with light-brown hair that hung past her shoulders. "Hello, Damien," she said.

    "Hi, Jenny."

    "Did you take care of Mrs. Thornquist?"

    "Yeah," Damien answered, "she left some boxes, and I shut down her apartment for the evening."

    "I heard her radio on through my ceiling, and thought she might have dozed off."

    Damien was tired, and thought Jenny to be sweet, but inane, in her affection that she obviously held for him. Still, he knew it was wise to develop good relationships with neighbors, so he played along with a vague sense of detachment.

    "How was your day," she asked.

    "Fine, I suppose." It was the answer Damien usually gave the young woman. In his heart, he knew she would love him (or try) to the best of her ability. He did not find her unattractive, but that wasn't the concern. Jenny was too clean and pristine. She grew up in rural Connecticut, and while not familiar with the trappings of wealth, her existence had been fairly free from the darker sides of life. She was interested in skipping through fields of flowers, but Damien was a black hole of regret and guilt. He could never subject her to himself - his true self - knowing that the exposure would likely scar and cripple the simple woman. Damien wanted someone familiar with the darkness found in the human soul. Or, that's what he thought.

    "Well, I've had a long day ... good night, Jenny."

    "Good night, Damie ... Damien! Wait ..." Damien was turning, but regarded the woman once again.

    "I was wondering if you'd let me buy you a drink sometime. I know you're busy, but I'm flexible and ..." A strange confused emotion revealed itself on Jenny's face. "We've talked like this for almost a year now, and I don't know anything about you. Would you mind?"

    Everything cell in Damien's body screamed NO! And he knew there would be no good that would come from something as innocuous as an evening drink. But, something relented in the cast off warrior. He just felt run down and beat in a way that truly eroded the barriers of self-imposed isolation.

    "Sure. Sure, Jenny ... that sounds great."

    "Really!" Her eyes sparkled with hope, it was almost adorable. "That's great."

    "Yeah, so ... listen, um. I'm wiped out. You mind if I hit the sack?" Damien asked.

    "Oh, .. no. Of course, please." Jenny looked as if she might not sleep for three days in her excited state.

    "Okay, .. I'll talk to you soon. Good night."

    "Good night, Damien."

    She carefully closed her door as Damien opened his. He wondered why he'd done what he'd done. After a shot of vodka, he realized it was Mr. Alessandro who had planted the seed. I know you got some tough times ahead of ya. And having someone in your corner can make all the difference. Was Damien being selfish and callous, not the warrior seeking to help others after all. He didn't know and didn't care. All he knew was that the world was a lonely place, and the more isolated you became, the deeper sins dragged you down into the pit of their misery.
    #16 Sterling, Apr 15, 2015
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2015
  17. Natalia sat, her elbows pressed against her knees and her fingers curled around each other in a tangled mesh that was somehow comfortable to rest her chin on. Her grey eyes were rimmed with red, barely blinking as they gazed at the geometric pattern below her feet. White square, white square, grey square, white square, white square.. She had already memorized the entire floor as well as the number of lights on the ceiling (Twelve) and the number of boring painting replicas on the walls (Four). Her body was stiff as could be, nearly as unyielding as the navy plastic chair she was perched on.

    "I've already told you I didn't see anything. She works for me, that's it... No, I already told you she's never failed a drug test... Yes, I know she tested positive! But she didn't buy the damn shit from me so would you let me get back to work now?!"

    Evan stomped by in a huff, but that barely caught Natalia's attention.

    Hospitals. How she hated them. They all had a very distinct scent, no matter if she was sitting in New York City or Russia. The soft gossip of nurses, the tired laughter of doctors, the sobs of visitors. It was like a symphony of wretchedness. Every sense was flooded, from the touch of pain from the uncomfortable chair to the metallic tang left on her tongue from getting too close to Lily's bloody body. Hospitals were never fun for anybody, but for her, she could only think of her mother. This was where she had died. Not this hospital, of course, but the atmosphere was the same. She could still feel the terror creeping in to her mind, threatening to drag her down into the black depths..


    She looked up in dazed surprise, realizing a doctor was standing in front of her. Blinking, she stood up and followed him as he explained that Lily had woken up just long enough to request that she be allowed in before she passed back out. The rest was medical jargon. Internal bleeding, don't know the extent of the mental damage, unlikely to recover, know more in the next few days. She just nodded, not saying a word until the doctor left her alone in front of the door.

    Lily was gone. Her body was there, but what Natalia was left looking at when she walked into the sterile room was not her friend. It was a shadow of the vibrant girl that had once danced around in her underwear backstage singing Don't worry Be Happy just to make the other girls smile after a long night. This pale creature could not possibly be the same person who always split her tips with the bartenders on the nights that they got shortchanged from Evan. Instead of sitting up and laughing the whole incident off, Lily simply laid there, covered in wires and seemingly unbothered by the soft beeping of the machines next to her. There was even a mask on her face, obscuring her smile, if there had been one.

    Natalia sat down in a chair, noting absently that this one was cushioned. Comfort for those who have none. She recalled her father telling her once 'Heavy is the head that wears the crown'. At the time, she had assumed that he was telling her being a dancing princess like she wanted was not all it was cracked up to be. Now she had a feeling he was speaking of guilt. She had started this mess, and now she was living with the consequences. If not for dining together earlier, Lily would have been dancing her heart away right now on a glitter-coated pole instead of fighting for her life.

    An hour later, a nurse firmly yet politely insisted that Natalia leave. Visiting hours were over and she was not family. She walked out, heading back to the street and trying to process her thoughts. It was as though she was numb to the core. She shook her head a little, walking like a drunk until she made it back to her apartment and passed out on her bed.
  18. "You do know she's dying, right?"


    Damien made his early morning visit, as always, and before entering the hospital was required to pass a checkpoint and surrender a form of identification. The affair was ostensibly for "security purposes", and being an urban hospital, Damien could understand the need to safeguard points of entry. However, hospital are corporate in nature, not charitable institutions. As such, some fucking suit had the brilliant notion of perverting an incontestable procedure - like general security - and capitalize it as an opportunity to recoup profit.

    The Hospital rotated their security guards on a regular basis to prevent familiarity with patrons. Of course, because Damien visited every morning, he knew every single guard by name. Jackson had greeted him that morning, and smiled replete in his ballistic vest and leather jacket. A security patch was sewn on his shoulder, and it read 'Servas Security'. Damien had little esteem for private security companies as a general concept. He considered joining one right after being discharged from the Air Force, but never applied; he found he despised the way private security companies invested themselves with faux authority by mimicking actual police uniforms and tactics. It was disingenuous, which inevitably rubbed Damien the wrong way.

    Jackson, however, was a decent fellow and a family man. His parents lived outside of Trenton, New Jersey and worked near the airport to make ends meet. Damien sympathized with their struggles and hard-working ethic. Jackson appreciated that Damien knew more about his family than his co-workers. That's why he wore a shameful face that morning.

    "Hey, uh, ... Damien? You, ... uh, got a flag this morning."

    "I see," Damien said. He had convinced Jackson to waive him through in the past, but Jackson confessed to being threatened with transfer if he did it again. Failing to send in loved ones of indebted patients was bad for business, and the Hospital intended on twisting whatever thumb-screws it could to stay afloat. Damien knew how digital security worked, and his identification began a tracking process. Someone was watching him, and knew to expect a visit within the half hour. They also knew to punish the security detail for not deterring entry. Jackson looked up at a line of doctors filing in through the sliding doors. He couldn't face Damien.

    "Thanks for letting me know. Catch you later, Jackson."

    Damien had allowed himself to be siphoned off, like cattle in a chute toward the slaughter. He was directed down a maze of bland hallways, and nodded to the various attendants who gave directions. He knew precisely where he needed to go, and negotiated the route expertly. And that brought him before this woman, whom he's spoken with before, but refused to learn her name. One might suspect that adding a personal dimension might help elicit some degree of sympathy. But, that was wrong. Damien knew this for a fact, just as he knew that the staff behind the glass pane possessed a unique brand of remorseless discipline.

    "Our records show Mrs. Greyson is behind on her last two payments, as well as a number of outstanding miscellaneous charges. We wanted to make you aware of them, and wondered how you'd like to pay for them today."

    "You do know she's dying, right?"

    Damien stood in a cold, stiff booth facing a low desk behind bullet-proof glass, and stared at the hospital accounts receivable staffer with a blankness that skimmed the edge of outrage. The functionary typed blithely at a computer whose hum droned on into Damien's brain like an automatic drill. The staffer ignored Damien's question.

    "Mr. Greyson, we take questions of financial responsibility very seriously."

    "As do I ... My Veterans Medical Coverage-"

    "Does not," she interrupted, "cover many of the last few procedures ... at this location. You'd have to transfer her to ..."

    "Ma'am, she's dying and bed-ridden. I'd need a paramedical crew to move her, even a block away. I can't afford-"

    "Your financial situation is not my concern, Mr. Greyson. The collection of your mothers debts is. I've done my job in explaining the facts this matter. Do you require any further information?"

    Damien felt the question was more of a dismissal. The Hospital could not bar family members from visiting infirmed loved ones, but the threatening possibility usually provided the proper emotional pressure to win any financial standoff.


    The stroll to his mothers room was a lonely one for Damien. It wove through cart-filled corridors and elevators filled with perky nurses and half-awake doctors holding steaming cups of strong coffee. When he stepped off the elevator, Damien normally stepped to the left, toward his mother's room. Today, he turned right and approached a full-story plate-glass window. Cell phone communication in hospitals always sucked, but sometimes signals could be found near windows. Damien stood flipped open his phone and checked the signal strength. Four bars. Perhaps it was a sign? His fingers pressed downward, and cycled through his contacts.

    What was her last name, again?

    And then, he found it. Darden... Jenny Darden. He started a text ...

    Hi Jenny. Thought about last night. Drinks tonight sounds great. See you around 8:30pm? Damien.
    #18 Sterling, Apr 16, 2015
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2015
  19. Since Natalia hadn't gone back to work, she had gone to sleep before midnight for the first time in years. As such, she woke up when she would normally be getting home. She groaned and stretched, feeling as though she was hungover. The discomfort faded when she thought of how much pain Lily was in. She frowned and dragged herself out of bed, going through the mechanical morning routine. Shower, brush teeth, brush hair, dress, eat breakfast, do make-up, put on shoes. She automatically dressed for work, assuming that she would be going in later if she could manage it. Her legs were almost completely exposed up to her hips, clad only in black thigh-highs that disappeared into a pair of black ankle boots. She slid a pair of black shorts on that just barely covered her ass, then tugged on a white tank top that clung to her body. Satisfied, she grabbed her bag and a jacket before heading out the door.


    Early morning traffic was not something she was used to anymore. She frowned to herself as she walked along in a cluster of people who clearly had somewhere more important to be. It wasn't that long ago that she was one of them. Walking with purpose, often running late, eager to get to class. Now she was merely trudging along the sidewalk, her only destination to see a friend that was likely going to die because of her. She pulled a cigarette out of her bag, lighting it up and finishing it within a two minute span before lighting another one. In the fifteen minutes it took her to get to the hospital, she went through eight more.

    She went through the hospital security with a bored expression, ignoring the looks she got. Once she was waved through, she went upstairs to Lily's floor without paying attention to anybody she passed by. They might find interest in her, but she was only interested in one person. She hesitated before opening the door, then pushed it open and tried not to inwardly cringe. There was no positive change. No eyes open to greet her, no cheerful smile. If anything, Lily was more pale now and her breathing was labored. Natalia sighed and walked in, not bothering to close the door behind her.

    She pulled a chair up to the side of the bed, her fingers shaking a little as she set her bag aside and slid her rosary necklace off over her head. Bowing her head, she rested her elbows on the edge of the bed and clasped her necklace in both hands to allow the cross to dangle. She closed her eyes and began to silently pray.
  20. Damien's vigil at his mother's side had only lasted half an hour when he heard a noise from the hallway. It was a dull, rolling sound, like a rubberized wheel on tiles. Soon, a nurse entered the room pushing a cart laden with syringes and miscellaneous equipment. Damien must have given the nurse an abusive look - she replied unbidden with a caustic tone.

    "Sir, you'll have to leave the room, please."

    Damien stared back in shock. "But, ... I'm her son. I'm always here in the mornings. Is this visiting hours?"

    "Normally, sir, yes," the nurse replied curtly. "However, Mrs. Greyson has a scheduled chemo transfusion now, and I need to ask you to leave the room. Standard precautionary procedure."

    Damien didn't wish to leave this mother, but he knew didn't want to rile the hospital establishment more than he already had. He quietly nodded and picked up his jacket, kissing his mother on the forehead. "May I wait outside until you're done."

    The nurse sighed tersely. "Of course, sir. Though I don't know when I'll be finished."

    "I understand," Damien responded. He left the room quietly, with great reluctance, and made his way down the hall. The common waiting area consisted of furniture covered in grimy, stained fabric of peach-orange hue. Being particularly clean was not important to Damien, but he felt that a hospital should be more sanitized than his toilet. He sat down, alone, in a chair flanked by many just like it to either side. A television was mounted in the upper ceiling corner, and droned on about the war in the Middle East.

    "Today, Coalition Forces have been repelled by Islamic Insurgents along the key military corridor of Al-Shaq. Sources claim that the ground fighting has been fierce, with high casualties on-"

    Damien was holding the controller before he knew what he was doing, and with the press of a button, silenced the newscast. He returned to the germ-ridden seat and sat back, accepting its condition. Damien looked around the empty waiting room, then began to scan the area outside. The sterile medical corridor stood in stark contrast to where he sat, and there were a number of rooms along the far wall. All had doors, and most of them were shut. One, however, was open. He could see a woman on a bed. She looked damaged, with wires and tubes streaming from her body. Just like mom, he thought. Then, something very unexpected happened - he recognized the woman kneeling at her bedside, it was the blond who appeared at Andrei's to buy drugs. He squinted, trying to take a second, more studied gaze. In truth, it was difficult to see her face, but the hair was nearly identical.

    Damien sat back to rest, keeping an eye on the room from his safe distance.
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