Page 4 of Before (After 5)

I’d taken the train to downtown hoping to accomplish . . . something.

What, I’m not entirely sure, but I’m so, so tired of feeling like this. Emptiness can make you behave in ways you could never imagine, and this is the only way to satisfy the giant fucking hole inside of me. The satisfaction comes and goes as the men ogle me. They feel entitled to my body since I dress in a way that purposely entices them. They are disgusting and entirely wrong, but I play into their lust, encouraging their behavior with a wink of my eye. A shy smile at a lonely man goes a long way.


Needing this attention makes me sick to my stomach. It’s more than an ache; it’s a scalding white-hot burn inside of me.

As I turn another corner, a black car approaches, and I glance away as the man behind the wheel slows down to look at me. The streets are dark, and this zigzag alley is located behind one of the richest parts of Philadelphia. Shops line the streets, each of them having their own back dock here.

There’s too much money and not enough pleasantness in the Main Line.

“You want to go for a ride?” the man asks as his automatic window rolls down with a smooth whir. His face is slightly wrinkled, and his sandy-brown-and-gray hair is neatly parted and combed down on the sides. His smile is charming, and he looks good for his age, but there’s a warning that sounds in my mind each and every weekend that I take this walk, follow this zombie routine for some unknowable reason. The faux kindness in his smile is just that, as fake as my “Chanel” bag. His smile comes from money; I know this by now. Men with black cars that are so clean they shine under the moonlight have money but no conscience. Their wives haven’t fucked them in weeks—months, even—and they search the streets for the attention they’ve been deprived of.

But I don’t want his money. My parents have that, too much of it.

“I’m not a prostitute, you sick fuck!” I kick my platform boot at his stupid shiny car and notice the gleam of a band on one finger.

His eyes follow mine, and he tucks his hand under the steering wheel. Douchebag.

“Nice try. Go home to your wife—I’m sure whatever excuse you’ve given her is set to expire.”

I begin to walk away, and he says something else to me. The distance catches the sound, carrying it away into the night, no doubt to some dark corner. I don’t bother looking back at him.

The road is nearly empty since it’s after nine on a Monday night. The lights on the backs of the buildings are dim, the air calm and quiet. I pass behind a restaurant where steam billows from the roof, and the smell of charcoal fills my senses. It smells amazing and reminds me of backyard barbecues we’d have with Curtis’s family when I was younger. Back when they felt like a second family.

I blink the thoughts away and return the smile of a middle-aged woman wearing an apron and a chef’s hat walking out of the back entrance of a restaurant. The flame from her lighter is bright in the night. She takes a drag from the cigarette in her hand, and I smile again.

“Be careful out here, girl,” her raspy voice warns.

“Always am,” I reply with a smile and a wave of my hand. She shakes her head and puts the cigarette back to her lips. The smoke fills the cold air, and the red fire at the end of the cigarette makes a crackling noise in the night’s silence before she tosses it to the concrete and loudly stomps on it.

I continue walking, and the air grows colder. Another car passes, and I move to the side of the alley. The car is black . . . I look again and realize it’s the same shiny black as the last one. A chill runs cold down my back as it slows, tires crunching on the trash covering the alley.

I walk faster, choosing to step behind a Dumpster to gain as much distance from the stranger as possible. My feet pick up the pace and I walk a little farther.

I don’t know why I’m so paranoid tonight; I do this nearly every weekend. I dress in a hideous smock, kiss my dad on the cheek, and ask him for train fare. He frowns and tells me that I spend too much time alone and that I have to move on in the world before life passes me by. If moving on were so simple, I wouldn’t be doing this quick change into this dress or shoving the smock into my purse to put back on during the ride home.

Move on. As if it were so simple.

“Molly, you’re only seventeen; you have to get back to real life before you’ve missed too much of the best years of your life,” he tells me each time.

If these are the best years of my life, I don’t see much point in living any longer than this.

I always nod, agreeing with him with a smile while silently wishing he would stop comparing his loss to mine. The difference is, my mom wanted to leave.

Tonight feels different somehow, maybe because the same man is now stopping next to me for the second time in twenty minutes.

I break into a run, letting my fear carry me down the pothole-filled street to the busier road up ahead. A cab honks at me when I stumble into the street and jump back to the sidewalk, trying to catch my breath.

I need to go home. Now. My chest catches fire, and I struggle to breathe in the cold air. I step back onto the sidewalk and look in every direction.

“Molly? Molly Samuels, is that you?” a woman’s voice shouts from behind me.

I turn around and see the familiar face of the last person I want to run into. I fight the need to bolt in the other direction when my eyes meet hers. She has a brown grocery bag in each hand as she walks toward me.

“What are you doing out here, and this late?” Mrs. Garrett asks as a chunk of hair falls down over her cheek.

“Just walking.” I try to push my dress down my thighs before she looks again.

“Alone?”

“You’re alone, too,” I say, my tone more than defensive.

She sighs and shuffles the grocery bags to one arm. “Come on, get in the car.” She starts toward the brown van parked on the corner.

With the click of a button, the passenger-side door unlocks, and I step inside hesitantly. I would rather be inside this car with her and her judgment than out on the street with the guy in the black car who doesn’t seem to take no for an answer.

My temporary savior gets into the driver’s side and looks straight ahead for a minute before turning to me. “You know you can’t act out like this for the rest of your life.” Her statement ends in a strong tone, but her hands are shaking on the wheel.

“I’m not—”

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