My heart is going nuts right now. I don’t know why this is so scary, but it is! But I promised myself that I would suck it up and be brave, so here it is: my first actual story to be posted on my blog. I wrote this last year as part of a competition held by the Gold Coast Writers' Association. I didn’t place, but I was shortlisted (yay!) and ‘published’ in a free eBook downloadable from their website. It isn’t much, but it’s a start…The theme was 'Finding Gold On The Coast', which my brain translated into 'homeless prostitute'. Makes sense, yeah?
Okay now I’m just stalling. Here it is…Eeep. Enjoy, or something…
TITLE LYRICS: 'A Team' by Ed Sheeran
This was partly inspired by the song, so thank you, Ed :)
The wind stings her eyes, making them weep as soon as she opens them. She shivers, adjusting the old, thin blanket wrapped around her shoulders. She stifles a yawn, fingering the gold locket hanging from her neck.
“Hey,” she whispers, unlocking her arm from the around the small bundle curled in her lap. “Emmy. Time to wake up.”
The small bundle stirs and shifts.
“No, it’s the Easter Bunny. Who do you think it is, silly?” She smiles affectionately as her little sister rises from the park bench that has served as their bed for yet another night.
“If you were really the Easter Bunny, you’d have chocolate,” Emmy grumbles, stretching out her tiny, seven year old limbs. August’s heart sinks as she watches. She’d tried to find them a proper bed, but places in the shelters are limited and there are only so many times a girl can hear I’m sorry, no space tonight before she wants to scream.
“Auggy?” Emmy’s voice brings her back to the present and she blinks, pushing the thoughts away. “I’m hungry.”
“Alright, kiddo,” she says, forcing her lips into a smile. “Let’s find you something to eat.” She stands, stuffing the blanket into her backpack. Emmy reaches for her expectantly.
“Hurry, Auggy. I have to pee.”
“Alright,” she says, taking Emmy’s hand. “Come on.” She takes a few steps before looking back at the bench, giving it a customary final glance. They can’t afford to leave anything behind.
“Auuuuggeee,” Emmy says, wriggling impatiently. “I have to peeeeee.”
“Okay, okay,” she says, turning towards the buildings on the other side of the road. “Let’s go find you a bathroom.”
* * *
“Our bathrooms are for paying customers only.” The man at the petrol station licks his lips, looking at her apologetically. She takes a slow breath in, flashing her most seductive smile. She knows how this game works.
“Please,” she purrs, leaning towards him. “My sister really needs to go. We’ll be quick, promise. I’ll even buy her a candy bar.” She tucks a strand of hair behind her ear, looking up at him and coyly twirling her locket between her fingers. It has the desired effect and he clears his throat, fumbling under the counter.
“S’pose it can’t hurt,” he says, smiling as he hands her the key. Their fingers brush and she widens her smile, allowing her hand to linger on his for a few moments. She tries not to think about how this kind of interaction has become second nature.
“Thank you,” she breathes, curling her fingers around the key. He swallows. She turns and rolls her eyes discretely at Emmy, who stifles a giggle.
“Come on, kid,” she says, taking Emmy’s hand. “Let’s go pee.”
* * *
“How do you do that?” Emmy asks once they’re inside the bathroom.
“Do what?” She turns on the tap and a stream of ice cold water fills the dirty, chipped basin. She bites her lip, psyching herself up.
“Make people do something after they’ve already said no. No, not people… boys.” Emmy giggles as she says the last word, flushing the toilet and coming out of the stall. “Boys do whatever you say.”
“They do not,” she says dismissively, examining herself in the mirror. The shadows under her eyes are darker than yesterday.
“Yes they do,” Emmy says, watching from against the wall. “And sometimes they give you money. I’ve seen them.”
“You don’t know what you’ve seen.” She dips her head under the faucet, wetting her hair. The cold steals oxygen from her lungs and she tightens her jaw, staying there for as long as she can. It isn’t long. “God I hate doing that,” she mumbles, switching off the tap. Freezing rivers trickle down her back, making her shiver.
“Me too,” Emmy agrees, still watching. “I like it when we have a real shower with warm water.”
The innocent comment chills her far more than the icy water dripping down her spine and she says nothing, searching through her backpack for her comb.
“Here,” she says, handing Emmy a toothbrush and a spent tube of toothpaste. “Brush your teeth.”
“There’s no toothpaste left.”
“Yes there is; just squeeze real hard.”
“Fine. Give it.” She takes the tube away, squeezing a small glob of blue paste onto the frayed bristles. “Brush them properly. No one likes a kid with stinky breath.”
* * *
“I could get in trouble for letting you use the bathroom like a dressing room,” the man says wryly when they emerge fifteen minutes later.
“Sorry,” August says, handing him the key. “Road trip. You know how it is.”
The man blinks, looking her up and down. His eyes trace the ladders in her stockings. She tries to ignore it.
“Road trip. Right.”
She offers a thin smile and turns to leave. She recognises the look he is giving her.
“Wait,” Emmy says, tugging her hand. “You promised me a candy bar.”
“That’s right,” the man says, straightening up. “You said you’d buy something.” Bile rises in her throat and she swallows, glancing down at Emmy.
“Sure, Em. Choose something real quick.”
Emmy gives a delighted squeal and races to the chocolate isle. August tries to pretend she can’t feel the man’s eyes on her.
“So,” he says conversationally. “Where you headed?”
She glances up. “Sorry?”
“Where are you going? On the road trip?”
“Oh.” She hesitates. “You know. Around.”
The man nods, scratching his chin. He needs to shave.
“Shouldn’t she be in school?” he asks, nodding towards Emmy.
“School holidays. Picked one, Em?” she asks hopefully. Emmy shakes her head.
“You on school holidays, too?”
“I’m 21,” she lies, adjusting her backpack. “I’m done with school.”
“This one!” Emmy announces, producing a brightly wrapped chocolate bar. “I want this one.”
August hands it to the man without even looking at the price.
“Aren’t you getting something for yourself?” the man asks, still smiling. The joints in her neck stiffen, making it hard to shake her head.
“Not hungry. How much is it?”
She drops the money on the counter, not even caring that the single chocolate bar is costing more than their food budget for an entire day. The man closes his fingers around hers as she tries to take it.
“You know,” he says quietly, leaning in. “I’d be willing to… You know. Help out. If you need money.” He grins and her heart skips a beat,
lurching into her throat. For one brief moment she imagines slapping him, imagines telling him to go ‘help’ himself. For one brief moment, she imagines having other options.
The moment passes.
“Emmy,” she says, handing her the chocolate. “Why don’t you eat this in the bathroom? I need to talk to this nice man for a minute.”
The eager look falls from Emmy’s face.
“No. I don’t want to.”
August turns to face her, cementing a smile on her face. “It’s okay, kid. I’ll be there soon. Lock yourself in, okay? Wait for me.”
Emmy shakes her head, pushing the chocolate away. “I don’t want it anymore. Let’s go. I don’t want it.”
August crouches to her level, meeting her gaze. “It’s okay, kiddo,” she repeats evenly, fingering her locket. “I’ll just be a minute.”
“Just a minute?” Emmy repeats doubtfully.
“Just a minute. Promise.”
Emmy nods and takes the chocolate and the key, shuffling towards the bathroom. August takes a deep breath and turns towards the man, clutching her locket hard enough to cause pain. The day Emmy found it on the beach flashes in her mind.
“Auggy!” she’d called, running towards her. “I found gold!”
She leaves her body behind, allowing the memory of that day to take her away from the overwhelming petrol fumes in the back room. Emmy had been convinced it belonged to pirates, so they’d spent hours searching for the rest of the treasure chest, goofing around and digging
their way across the beach. It was the best day they’d had since... everything happened.
“Emmy,” she’d said once night began to fall. “I don’t think we’re going to find anymore pirate gold. I’m sorry.”
She’d expected Emmy to protest, but she’d just smiled.
“It’s okay, Auggy. I don’t need pirate gold. I have you. Here,” she’d said, handing her the locket. “You should keep it.”
She squeezes her eyes closed. The man doesn’t notice.
“Why are you crying, Auggy?” Emmy had asked, frowning. “Don’t you like it?”
“No, kid, I love it.”
“Then why are you crying?”
“Yes you are. Do you miss Mumma?”
“No. Yes. Emmy…”
“I’m always going to take care of you, okay? I’ll do whatever it takes to keep us together, to keep you safe. Whatever it takes.”
“I know you will, Auggy,” she’d said, taking the locket back and fastening it around August’s neck. “I know.”
She opens her eyes, squeezing the locket into her palm and staring at the ceiling.
Whatever it takes.