I’ve been looking in the mirror for almost an hour. Just a little while ago, my face had been drawn and pale. Bags from days of sleeplessness had been heavy beneath the yellow-green of faded black eyes. I’d had a light welt and a collar of bruises on my neck from a good old-fashioned choking. A fresh gash from the latest punch to my temple had still throbbed. And now? Nothing. My skin is clear and unblemished. It is different.
It’s hard to explain. My skin still feels like mine. It depresses under my touch, but there is something off. A sense of security that wasn’t there before. A gut instinct tells me that if someone takes a fist to me now, I will not bruise as easily as I once did.
I like that feeling.
I pull myself from the dream-like reflection and go into the only other room. I’d shoved the boxes containing what little stuff I’d bothered to take from that house, his house, into the corner of this motel room. The “Big Easy Sleeps” is the most charmingly unsavory motel I could find.
Most of my clothes are hand-me-downs, so it wasn’t hard to find a pair of jeans that were a little too tight. My one dress shirt for any family function looks better, with most of the buttons unbuttoned, including the cuffs of my sleeves. I let my hair fall free, and soon enough, my eyes return to that mirror.
Suddenly I realize I am now able to find a positive in the sad fact that I had been malnourished most of my life and forced to do a lot of hard labor. I am kinda hot. Skinny but toned, and my dark black eyelashes somewhat make up for my lack of guyliner. My uncle’s voice threatens to fill my mind, letting me know in no uncertain terms what he thought about men who wore makeup, but it doesn’t. There is almost a wall there that keeps him from infringing on my thoughts, a wall of flames.
I head downtown, and the lights seem to speak louder than the people around me do. They cajole, pulling me toward the brightest, loudest spot.
The Cat’s Meow is the place I find myself, but it is more like a bee’s nest than any feline habitat. The frothing mass of people within bumping, grinding, and leaving in drunken hordes only to be replaced as an equal-sized crowd pours in.
This is the right place.
I let the lights paint my body as I walk through, parting the throng like Moses at the Red Sea. Small movements to the beat of the song cause my confident strut to become a hypnotic dance.
I can feel the sin around me, embracing me as Uncle always said it would. Now I can see why he wanted to keep me away from it. He hated when I got any pleasure out of life, like a dog going on the attack at the mere sight of a cat enjoying itself.
I let every smile, every orgasmic sigh be a knife into the memory of the man. I hope he feels every stab down there. Pop another piece of coal on the hellfire for me, boys.
I step in line with the thrum of bodies gyrating to the music. I let their energy flow through me, and the heat from the fire boiling inside of me flows through them in turn. I know that just days ago, I would have been in the fetal position at the mere thought of these strangers putting their hands on me. But now I press against the nearest body all the harder, needing the contact. I stare into a woman’s eyes with a challenge: fear me, fuck me, fight me…do something.
The challenge is accepted, and the young lady I writhe against dips her fingers below the waistline of my jeans. I respond by grabbing her other hand and popping one of her fingers into my mouth, grinding my pelvis against her searching fingers.
“Lin, what the hell?” I hear a slurred voice behind me as an arm comes into view, grabbing her shoulder. He isn’t rough with her, but it’s enough to break the moment. A tall man wedges himself between us. Again, he is not aggressive, just creating space. The boy is all too polite, how I longed for the cliche of the raging jealous maniac starting a fistfight. This guy seems more likely to cry, and memories of my younger self nip at the back of my mind. I try to shove them aside, but an echo makes it through. Stop crying and fight back! Do something!
“Just having some fun,” the girl, Lin, drawls.
I roll my eyes. I need more, and whatever Dawson’s Riverdale 90210 shit is about to bubble up from the stalls will not cut it. I lean forward and wrap my arms around the tall crybaby’s waist, echoing his lady’s lead by digging my hand into his slacks.
“Yeah,” I whisper, “just having some fun. Care to join?” I lay my chin on his shoulder as I feel him freeze up.
“Can we just go?” he whispers, not turning around. The girl seems to sober a bit and slowly nods before giving me one last heated glance. She pulls the tall crybaby from my grip and out of the Cat’s Meow. They pass a bouncer giving me a completely different look. You’ll have to do better than that, pal.
I stand statue-still staring at the door. That was so anticlimactic. What the hell do I have to do to get some play here? I feel the heat rising in me. The pent-up fires of a youth spent behind walls and on the fist. I hear Not-Tommy Tommyache in the fringes of my thoughts, urging me to make my own fun.
Someone bumps into me. Admittedly, I am standing in the middle of the dancefloor, but it’s still enough to tip my frustration, so I listen to the fiend within me.
I reach out and grab the man by the jacket and pull him back. He comes a lot quicker than I expected. I feel the muscles beneath my more durable skin respond in ways I only dreamed of before. With nothing but a flick of my wrist, the man is on the ground.
I hear an evil laugh and realize I’m the one laughing. Well, it’s coming from within me, at least. I’m not sure it feels like mine.
The next one to touch me is that underwhelming bouncer, as I knew would happen, eventually. He grabs me roughly and pulls me by the arm toward the door. This is much better. I finally begin to feel it, that feeling of letting go. This is what I needed. I smile brighter and happier than I ever had in my entire broken life. I turn my head slowly to meet the bouncer’s eyes as I grip him around the throat. Burn him? No, let’s see what else I can do. With a cock of my head, I think the word push as hard as I can. He is swept back by an invisible force, knocking several people to the ground before slamming into the wall. He remains pinned aloft there like a fly under glass.
There’s a scream, several in fact, the sounds merging with the music and the laughter in my mind.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” a muscled young woman snarls, her eyes briefly flashing animalistic. “Have you gone mad?” She pushes forward.
“You want something?”
“Yeah, for you not to wreck this place or get us all killed just because you don’t get how things work around here.” As she stares me down, I feel others watching, others that aren’t screaming, aren’t afraid of me. Others like her, like me…different.
“And how do things work around here?” I shrug.
“You think you’re hot shit because you can tap into the Source? So can half the people in this town in one way or another, but you don’t play your hand, and you don’t draw too much attention to it or yourself.”
“Especially when you’re clearly all alone.” A man in the crowd laughs, his eyes lighting up like laser lights for a second.
“And looking to stay that way with your attitude.” A third joins in, closing in at my side, his hands cold to the touch as one comes to rest on my shoulder. I’m losing focus, as well as my confidence. I see the bouncer fall from my power and slip to the floor.
“Any suggestions?” I say, my voice threatening to slip back into that old stutter, but I keep it steady with white-knuckled will, maintaining eye contact with the shifter woman who first called me out.
“Yeah,” the fiery-eyed man from the crowd says as his undead friend by my side cuffs my neck like I’m a misbehaving kitten, “get lost.”
I feel a sharp pain in the back of my neck, and the world goes dark. I return to awareness as my ass hits the pavement. I still hear Not-Tommy laughing alongside the ringing in my ears, but this time it is at my expense.
I sigh, leaning back against the building behind me. Two steps forward, one step back, huh? Their words circle between the demon’s guffaws. How things work around here. You’re clearly alone. Alright, I’m a work in progress, right? Time to get to work.