Author's Note: Hiiii errybody. Yep. I'm still alive. It's been a while, but I've finally updated! Woo-hoo! *confetti falls and those little annoying whistle things blow* Anyway, here's another chapter from Tawnee. Despite the fact that I don't update very often, I do love writing this story. I really need to find more time to write it. So, enjoy the chapter and please leave your reviews/comments. Thank you so much, guys! c: -Michele
Two | Tawnee
I began cleaning up my vanity table, putting make-up and hairbrushes back into my make-up bag. The club has finally closed for the night and I am ready to hit the sack, hard.
I hear heels clacking from behind me and see Nicolette in my mirror. She has her red pea coat hanging over her arm and her purse over her shoulder. Her lips are pressed in a gentle smile.
"Hey, want to come over?" she asks. "Stay the night with us."
I smile at her and agree. "Okay," I say and throw my make-up bag into my tote bag.
We walk out of the club, our coats closed tightly around our bodies to cover our revealing clothing. Outside of the club, we remain modest and more reserved. It's rare to see me in anything revealing when I'm not at work.
She calls a cab and he takes us down to her apartment building. The nighttime sky is coated with a rusty brown haze, and the stars are barely visible. We have skyscrapers and pollution to thank for the masking of the starry sky.
I hug myself as I look out the window, trying to keep myself warm. The cab has the heat on, but I barely feel it. Nicolette runs her fingers through her platinum blonde hair and sighs heavily.
"You can take Desiree's room if you'd like," she says. "She won't mind sleeping with me."
"It's fine," I tell her. "I'll take the couch."
"Tawnee, please," Nicolette refutes. "You've been working all night. I'd like you to sleep on a comfortable bed, not a sofa."
I smile briefly at her before agreeing.
"Okay. Thank you."
We're both too tired to really say much more. Before too long, the taxi cab pulls over to the curb in front of Nicolette's apartment building. She tips the cabby and we climb out. Both of us walk out barefoot, our heels hanging by our fingers. The cold cement is so soothing against my feet, which feel cramped and strained from the vinyl shoes.
When we arrive at Nicolette's door, she unlocks it and pushes it open. The lights are all off and there are faint traces of a lingering macaroni and cheese scent. My stomach grumbles. It's the first time I realize that I haven't eaten much today and that I'm starving. Nicolette chuckles as she switches the lights on.
"Mom probably left some leftovers for us," she says. "Sit down. I'll see what we have."
The dim homely lights reveal a small family room and kitchenette, a little square dinner table with matching chairs right beside the kitchenette. Straight ahead is a short hall that I know leads to the two pathetically small bedrooms and sole bathroom which barely fits a shower stall, toilet, and sink.
The apartment is made up of striped green walls and a dark shag carpet. All of her furniture is very rundown; her blue sofa stained with little tears on the edges, the coffee table cracked, and her television so old that it still uses an antenna on the top. The kitchenette doesn't have the top-line of appliances either. With a rusty stove and a refrigerator that barely reaches above her head, it's obvious that Nicolette isn't exactly making bank, although her payments from work do pay the bills.
I can hear the pattering of her bare feet against the brown linoleum in the kitchenette. She opens the refrigerator and peers inside, looking for her mother's leftovers. I make myself comfortable at the breakfast bar, draping my bag over the back of my barstool and dropping my shoes on the floor.
"Now where is that—aha! Here it is. Some yummy homemade mac and cheese," Nicolette muses, taking out a square Tupperware. She opens the lid and sniffs it. The smell of the cheese is so strong that I get a whiff of it where I am. It really does smell so delicious.
"Okay, now I'm really hungry," I chuckle. Nicolette places the bowl into the microwave and pulls out two ceramic bowls and two forks.
"You're going to love Mom's mac and cheese. She likes to use different cheeses to enhance the flavor. It's amazing," she mentions, and the microwave beeps, alerting that the food is ready. When she opens the microwave door, the whole room smells of macaroni and cheese. Again, my stomach roars for some food.
Nicolette and I sit at the breakfast bar, eating our mac and cheese. Actually, I think wolf down or vacuum our food is a more appropriate term. Neither of us has eaten all day, and with all of our dancing and performing back in the bedrooms, there really isn't any time to eat. Our macaroni practically vanishes from our bowls within minutes, the bowls scraped so clean that it looked like nobody even used them.
"That was so fucking good," Nicolette sighs, slouching on her barstool. She pats her belly with content.
"Best mac and cheese ever," I agree, wiping my finger in my bowl for any leftover cheese. Nicolette takes our bowls and puts them gently in the sink.
"I should get you something to change into," she says. "I'm sure you're sick of vinyl dresses."
I chuckle and shrug. "Just a bit."
I follow Nicolette down the short narrow hallway. The door to her daughter's bedroom is cracked open. We peek inside the dark room.
Two figures are squeezed onto Desiree's little twin bed. Nicolette's mother, Jackie, usually stays with Desiree until Nicolette comes home. She isn't entirely proud that her daughter is a stripper, especially with a secret job as a prostitute as well, but she helps as much as she can. I like Jackie. She's always been a good mom to Nicolette, and I love watching her interact with Desiree.
Nicolette sighs and smiles. We then walk towards her room and she switches the light on, closing the door behind her.
Her room is very small, her double bed, armoire, and nightstand cramped inside. The only light comes from the lone table lamp next to her bed, creating a warm yellow glow off the walls. There are a few stuffed animals, presumably Desiree's, that are thrown onto Nicolette's bed, and a picture of the two of them happily together sits on her nightstand.
I sit on the side of her bed and pick up the framed picture. Desiree is about six years old now, with long wavy brown hair and olive skin. She's truly a beautiful little girl, and her hazel eyes are to die for. She'll break hearts one day, that's for sure. Her father is a Puerto Rican man who does God knows what—Nicolette's never been very specific. Even she doesn't keep in contact with him. She's mentioned that he's seen Desiree once, when she was a baby, but other than that, he's never come to visit, poor Desiree.
Nicolette threw a pair of capris white Victoria Secret PINK sweatpants and a hooded sweatshirt onto the bed. I placed the frame down and turned to clench the thick clothes in my hands. I felt so much more comfortable after I changed into her selected clothes.
"Ahh, the feeling of wearing warm clothes," I muse, hugging myself with a big smile. Nicolette grinned and she tugged a tight t-shirt over her head, the hem rising just a little over her midriff to expose her cherry tattoo. She, too, was also sporting some sweatpants similar to my own, only hers were pink.
"Do you want a cup of tea before bed? Tea usually helps me sleep soundly throughout the night, especially because of the stupid noises that go on down in the alley below us," Nicolette explained.
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, you know, the usual. Stray cats meowing and screeching, dumpster divers banging against every single trashcan known to man, sirens down the street blaring at three in the morning because some buzzed loser doesn't know how to unlock his car."
"Wow," I say. "It's normally really quiet in the club after hours." She gave me a smile of pity.
"You can really stand to stay there even after hours?" Nicolette asks. I shrug.
"It's just a place to stay for now. I wasn't planning on living there forever, though I'm sure Donny would love that," I say with a grimace. Nicolette made a face as she thought the idea over of our sweaty, pudgy, bald-headed boss.
"He doesn't … you know … I mean it's bad enough that you do with strangers—"
"No …" I pause. "Okay, well, sometimes. I mean, I got to pay my rent somehow." Suddenly, my body feels chilled and icy and I don't feel comfortable in my own skin. I look away from her and knit my eyebrows together. I never admitted it to others, but it's burned on the back of my mind. It's no secret. I am a slut.
"Tawnee," Nicolette cries out, reaching for my arm. I flinch, but only because I didn't expect her motion. "Donny can't do that to you."
"Remember, he's the one that took me in, no questions asked, when I ran away. I didn't need to show any ID that I was 18 to work at his nightclub. I just had to show him that I could provide a good time. He had a great time, and right after that, he hired me, and even offered to provide some living space. You know this."
"I just hate to believe it. None of us have ever had to sleep with Donny to get our jobs," Nicolette says, speaking for the other girls. She shakes her head. "It's just … it's wrong!"
I roll my eyes and scoff, producing a little grin. "Well, duh. Of course it's wrong."
"I've offered you to come stay with me loads of times."
"I can't take advantage of you here," I tell her. "Your place can't fit me."
"You could share a room with me. Or maybe with Desiree. You know she loves you." I give her a look and she sighs, knowing that I'm right. Her apartment is already so cramped with her mother and I merely spending the night. "I just don't like you staying there after hours, especially with Donny. You don't deserve that."
I look down, turning my back to her again. "I'm not so sure about that."
"Tawnee, please! Stop blaming yourself. You ran away from a horrible situation at home. That isn't your fault at all!"
"But I left my sister and brother—my younger sister and brother." The waterworks are about to arrive, I can feel it. Nicolette's face softens and I shake my head. "Who knows what's happening over there?"
"Why don't you tell the police, CPS, or a social worker?" Nicolette says.
"Tell them what? I really don't know what's going on in that house."
"Tell them what you went through."
"That was a year ago," I remind her.
"No, it was a year ago that you left. But you told me that you've been prostituted since you were nine."
"But I don't know if they're going through the same thing. What if everything is all peachy keen there and they're being treated like the most precious little darlings ever?" I ask. "Heidi and Ryan never knew I was being prostituted. My only fear is that only after I left did they start using them."
"How old are they?" she asks gently.
"Heidi would be going on eleven, and Ryan is fourteen."
"Tawnee, you can go to the police and ask to see them, I'm sure of it. Especially with a past like yours, I can't see how they'd deny you that," she says.
"Well, I'm sure it won't help that I ran away from home."
"You were already eighteen. It's not as if your parents could stop you. Besides," she combs a lock of hair behind my ear, "they treated you badly. Prostitution is a horrible thing." I give her a look and she raises her eyebrows and hands in defense. "Hey, you've never heard me say that I enjoy it, have you? I think it's a gross job too."
I sigh heavily. "They'll never know my parents like I do. Heidi and Ryan loved Mom and Dad. Whenever we'd get into arguments, the two of them would take the sides of my parents. They couldn't understand. They didn't know. Perhaps they are living happily with them." I make a small shrug and hug myself.
"But what if they're not?" Nicolette asks gently.
I shake my head again and head towards the main room. "I'll take the couch, really," I tell her, shifting topics. "I don't want you to have to wake up your mom and Des."
She narrows her eyes before sighing in defeat.
"You just won't quit, will you?" she asks with a shake of her head. I shrug and produce a small grin, but it's empty and lifeless. I can't really be silly at the moment.
Nicolette gathers extra blankets and pillows stored in a trunk in the main room and sets up my bed for me.
"Stay as long as you want," she tells me. I thank her for my bed and sit on the couch. She turns off the light and tells me good night before heading back to her own bedroom. I can feel my stomach churning from just the thought of the dark rooms in my old house. I pull the blanket close to my nose and shut my eyes, praying that my dreams will, for once, be nice dreams.
There's a tinkling sound in the background, as if someone is pouring something into a porcelain bowl. I turn and groan, stretching my arms above my head and curling my toes. Rubbing my eyes out, I sit up and look behind me.
The little ceiling lamp in the kitchenette is on, brighter than I remember it to be. Nicolette is sitting at the breakfast bar while I see Desiree pouring milk into a bowl full of cereal.
Nicolette turns around and smiles widely at me.
"Good morning, sleeping beauty," she teases. I roll my eyes and take a seat next to her at the breakfast bar. Desiree, with her wavy brown hair pulled into a messy ponytail while sporting pink kitten pajamas, turns around with her cereal, and when she sees me, she beams.
"Careful with your cereal, Dessy," Nicolette warns.
"Auntie Tawnee! You're awake!" she exclaims. She places her cereal on the bar and reaches up to give me a hug. Her glorious hazel eyes sparkle up with excitement at me. Desiree is always cracking a smile onto my face, even when I'm feeling like shit. I seriously don't know how she does it. Nicolette is lucky.
"Hey baby girl," I tell her, picking her up onto my lap and squeezing her tightly. "How've you been, sweet pea?"
"I'm good," she says as she scrapes the bowl over the counter and lifts a spoonful into her mouth. "We're learning words that end in –ing."
"Des, finish what's in your mouth before speaking," Nicolette says firmly.
Desiree dropped her shoulders and swallowed her food. "Sorry, Mama," she said softly.
"So, words that end in –ing, huh?" I say. "Can you tell me some?"
She straightened up and smiled widely at me.
"Yes I can. King, ring, ding, barking, and sing!" she says proudly. Nicolette and I grin at her.
"Wow, Des. You're good," I tell her. "Can you spell them, too?"
"Oh yes. My teacher says that I am the best speller in my entire class. Everyone else is still stuck on four-letter words, but I'm spelling six-letter words!"
"Demonstrate for Auntie Tawnee, Des," says Nicolette.
"Kitten: K-I-T-T-E-N. Kitten." She does a little meow and licks her hand like a cat. Nicolette frowns, but Desiree shoots wide innocent eyes at me.
"Nice job," I tell her.
"I love kittens. I really want one. I keep asking Mama and Grandma Jackie, but they say no. Maybe you can give me one?"
"Desiree!" Nicolette hisses.
"Sorry, Dessy. But if Mama says no, then it's a no."
"Desiree, a cat is hard work. We can't afford to keep one, honey," she tells her. Desiree looks into her bowl of cereal and pouts before scooping another spoonful into her mouth.
"I really want one," she mutters. I ruffle her hair.
"Maybe one day when you're bigger," I tell her.
"I am bigger! I'm six years old! I can take care of a kitten!"
"Desiree Jacqueline!" Nicolette snaps. Whenever she pronounces her name, she uses a thicker French accent, which always sounds kind of neat to me. She doesn't typically speak it, so I tend to forget that Nicolette actually knows French.
"We're not going through this again," Nicolette scolds. "Eat your breakfast, please."
"I'm sorry, Mama," Desiree says sadly.
It's always upsetting to see Desiree sad, especially when I'm used to seeing her so happy. I look over at Nicolette, who's still frowning at her daughter with stern eyes. When she catches me looking at her, she softens up and sighs.
"It's okay, baby," she says and kisses Desiree on her head. Instantly, Desiree's mood has lifted and she's smiling widely again.
"We're also learning other ways to say words, like sing, singing, and singer—like Auntie Tawnee." She turns and beams at me, a wide open mouth smile. She's lost one of her top teeth, which makes her smile even cuter.
"Oh, Des, I'm no singer," I tell her. She pouts.
"Yes you are!" she protests. "You're the best singer in the world!" She bites down on her bottom lip and gives me puppy dog eyes. "Sing me a song, Auntie Tawnee."
"Oh, Des, I really can't—"
"Please Auntie Tawnee," she pleads. I look at Nicolette. She grins at me.
"I—" I sigh in defeat. "Okay. What do you want me to sing?"
"Our song," she tells me. She folds her hands together and places them in her lap. She begins to sing before I do.
Sunshine, you are my sunshine
You make me happy, when skies are grey.
Singing was actually a passion of mine, though I wasn't very open about it. My parents were never supportive of my interests. If I drew them a picture from school, it would end up in the trash sooner or later. If I showed them good grades, they'd pat me on the shoulder and then show me to the room. It's hard to remember good times with them. We struggled a lot financially. Before I left, I remember my dad prostituting my mother as well to get extra pay. Thinking about my baby sister still living there sends shivers down my spine, but as I mentioned to Nicolette last night, Heidi and Ryan knew absolutely nothing about the prostitution.
I liked to sing this song when I was alone in my room after I'd met with all of my parents' clients. I'd learned it in elementary school when our teacher would have us sit in a circle and turn the radio on to sing along. It was my favorite part of school. Singing was my only source of comfort. No one else was there for me but me, and singing uplifting songs helped me forget about what I'd just been through. There wasn't a night during my childhood that I did not sing myself to sleep.
I look down at Desiree, who's waiting for me to continue with her. I smile widely. Nicolette surely is lucky to have someone who loves her so much. Desiree is bursting with support and love for her mother, and though she may not understand exactly what she does, it doesn't matter. She's young, and she's happy.
You never know, dear, how much I love you
Please don't take my sunshine away.