The Empty Chair

More than half of the seats in the auditorium were occupied and a hundred or so procrastinators were still in the aisles. Individuals were looking for a group to be a part of, and groups were chatting casually and looking for a row of enough empty seats for their comfort. The younger ones in the crowd (self-consciously playing with their hair in the reflection of their smart phones), social butterflies (flopping into the fold down chairs with relish), and social flops (floating around with eager hopes) were all obliged to take a seat for the next 45 minutes. The choosing of seat somehow took a higher importance than was perhaps necessary.

An older woman stopped suddenly in front of me and I brushed into her. She offered a brief apology as she turned around and went back up the steps the way we had just come. Perhaps she had seen someone on another aisle and needed to reach them. I would have ducked into the row to let her past, but the unshaved flannel shirt sitting there had his big boots sticking out so that I could not, without getting mud on my jeans. It was my turn to utter an apology to the flannel shirt for backing into him, though I felt he didn’t really deserve it. I continued a few steps down, not recognizing anyone very significant to me. I saw some friends from freshman year, but they were already sitting in a full row. I waved my hand casually as I passed them and few raised their own hands in acknowledgement, contented in their cozy spot among friends.

I saw a guy who had hit on me awkwardly in Public Speaking sitting by himself on a perfectly good row with several empty seats for spreading out. It wasn’t worth it. I continued several more rows before I would consider settling in again. I found another row with several empty seats. I chose a seat three in from the aisle. That should be welcoming enough without seeming like I was waiting for someone specific. The chair squeaked loudly as I sat. Well, there was no moving now without attracting attention. Just then, a group of chatting Elementary Ed. majors came down my row from the other side. They started counting seats. The number ended at my chair. They clearly stated the number of seats they needed again to one another and then looked at me dumbly.

“I can move down if you need me to,” I said as I picked up my purse and the chair protested loudly.

“Oh, could you? Thanks.”

A girl with designer clothes and boots so pristine, I was sure it was the first time she had worn them, sat next to me and laid her coat on the back of the chair, spilling the sleeve over into my space, which I tried not to notice. Once settled in, she immediately turned to the guy on her right. Apparently, he was a very amusing because she punctuated his every sentence with a high-pitched laugh or a bubbly euphemism. While her back was turned, I gently flipped her coat back over the arm rest and settled in to watch the crowd. I was about three quarters of the way back, so I commanded a good view of the rest of the masses and there was a good chance someone would take the seat beside me before the speaker began. The time on the screen currently flashed 2:41 and counting down.

More people walked down the aisle, some in groups, some alone. Most of the people alone were looking up only briefly from their phones to check for available seats. I didn’t recognize any of them. Would someone I know sit next to me? What if it was someone I hadn’t seen in a while? 2:07.

Would it look bad if I moved to the aisle seat if no one came by the start or would that look like I had been stood up? I picked my purse again and idly looked through it until I found my Chapstick. I put some on and by the time I put it back in my purse decided I would stay in this spot either way, so I set my purse back down. The transient trickle had slowed down now as most people had a place. I turned my head to see who else was still coming down the stairs. A few people moving a little more quickly than the others had, trying to beat the dimming of the lights, but still no one I knew. 0:53.

I gave up hope of having anyone interesting to converse with and entertained myself watching a girlfriend trying to discreetly signal her boyfriend who had passed her and had resorted to standing in the very front and scanning the crowd with his mouth open. He finally caught the signal right before the lights dimmed and took the steps two at a time.

I looked at the empty seat beside me one more time, and suddenly there was a hand on it, pressing it down. I made eye contact with the lanky man sitting there and we shared a brief smile then turned our attention back to the front as the announcements started. When he crossed his legs, I noticed his shoes were nice leather. I always liked it when guys took care to wear nice shoes instead of sneakers. Funny though, most people naturally cross their right leg over their left leg and he did the reverse. Was he left-handed too?

The 45 minutes passed, the speaker talked, and I tried to think of anything original to say or ask the pleasant gentleman on my left to prolong our acquaintance. Nothing original came to me. The talk finished, the lights went up. I slowly picked up my purse as the girl beside me stood up and tucked her coat under her arm as she continued talking. The coat was inches from my face. I craned my head away and as I did, I noticed he was already gone.

 

Image from unsplash.com

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Old Soul

“When I was little, we used go into the neighbor’s cornfield when the corn was high. It must have been in August or September right around when school started. We’d go early in the morning and then we’d pretend we were explorers in the jungle until it was too hot to be in the jungle anymore.” Sophia took a sip of the lemonade and brushed the bangs out of her eyes. They clung heavily to the side of her face, damp with perspiration.

Isaac smiled, “Yeah, we didn’t have any cornfields near where I grew up, but we’d climb trees a lot and pretend they were watch towers. Wow! I hadn’t thought about that in a while. I remember once I stayed up in a tree until dark because my brother bet he could find me no matter where I hid. I was in trouble at bed time though because I had forgotten to feed and walk the dog while I was up in the tree.” He chuckled at the memory. He set his empty glass down on the porch and the condensation began to make a wet ring on the peeling paint.

Sophia giggled, “That happened to Trevor once too.” She became pensive again, “Time goes so fast… Are you ever worried that you’ll pass something important by accident and you won’t be able to turn around and get it when you want to?”

His high school years had seemed as if they would never end. He remembered the frenzy and pressure of SATs, applying for colleges, looking for scholarships, and the social pressures of senior year. However, the years afterwards seemed to go faster. He and many of his friends had graduated from the same university. He had been to several weddings over the last few years, and he was now in the stage of musing over if a master’s was worth the time and money or if he should look into a better job right away. He felt very old all of a sudden. Had he missed something in all this? Maybe that was why he had been so restless recently, wanting to do something important, but not being able to decide between grad school and investing in work. As he watched Sophia finish her lemonade and rest the glass of half melted ice cubes against her cheek, he couldn’t help the slight twitch in the corner of his mouth. “If it isn’t rude, how old are you anyway?”

“So old… I’m nearly nine.” She protested his incredulous look, “Pretty soon I’ll be in middle school! I won’t be able to be in the children’s play or have as much time for playing outside or with my dolls. I will have more homework and important things to do.”

He looked across the open lawn and beyond the fence to the neighbor’s cornfield, his tongue searching for little bits of lemon stuck between his teeth. He had agreed to spend the summer at his aunt and uncle’s so he could have some time to think without pressure. This coming from Sophia was almost too much. “You have three or four more years before you have to get ready for middle school, right? Just relax.”

“Yeah, only three more chances to be in the elementary poetry contest, three more summers at camp, three more Christmas days when everything is really a surprise. Three isn’t a very big number, you know?”

He had to admit it wasn’t. Three was the difference between thirteen and sixteen, between a freshman and a senior. It had been more than three years since he had last seen Sophia, just learning to read and refusing to look him in the eye for any reason. That was the last time he had visited the old farm house, getting to the point of needing repairs. This summer, Aunt Jillian and Uncle Matt had asked for him to stay with them a few weeks to help with the remodeling. He didn’t mind the work and figuring things out, but he had been nervous because they were so laid back. He hoped they would actually be able to accomplish something, as they were known to drop work for a craft project or pick-up game in the yard with the kids. So far, the work was going smoothly and he was grateful he had come. He smiled to himself thinking of how different Sophia was from them, already worrying about middle school.

“Well,” he decidedly slapped his thighs and turned to face Sophia, “since you only have three more June 5ths before the end of your childhood, we had better make the most of today. Why don’t you show me your club house in the woods? Your mom said it is pretty impressive.”

“That’s because Trevor and Josh helped me. We haven’t finished it yet though.” She reached between the rails on the porch steps to pick a rhododendron. She rolled the stem in her hands a little while and stuck her nose in the bloom. Then a surprisingly calloused little hand shyly reached across the porch step and took her cousin’s hand. “But I want you to see it anyway. Can you show me how to fix the pulley? It keeps getting stuck.”

The pair hurried across the yard and over the split rail fence, not wanting to lose another minute. They worked on the club house and imagined they were fortifying it for a battle. Then it occurred to him. Sophia hadn’t been worried about missing something important like a middle school reading list, or getting into a club, or finding the perfect job. She was worried about passing by something like… this; a miserably hot afternoon spent improving her club house. She hadn’t mentioned middle school because she was trying to prepare for it; she’d mentioned it as a deadline. She was focusing on enjoying as much as she could before she had to move on. The shadows were growing longer. Uncharacteristically, Isaac did not feel the need to return to the project in the house, which he had taken a break from several hours ago. Isaac worked just as hard on the club house as his cousin, still thin and childlike, yet already aware of the value of time. As they made calculated adjustments and tweaks, Isaac put in just as much effort as when he was working on wiring with Uncle Matt or completing an application. It seemed important somehow.

Photo from unsplash.com.

Invisible Hands Conclusion: Healing Hands

She held a book in her hands, unopened, while she stared into the space in front of her. The girl across from her room had packed a backpack and walked out the door a few hours ago. No one had suggested it out loud, but those remaining walked around listlessly, suffering a vicarious disappointment. They all knew she was going back to him. Not everyone could give up the dream. Or maybe she just couldn’t stand the withdrawals anymore and knew he would give her a fix. It weighed heavy on those who were left, like a heavy coat that had gotten wet in an unexpected downpour. Her place would be taken again soon enough and there would be another fragile, yet fighting heart beating in the room across the hall. A fourteen-year-old had joined the house only two weeks ago. She kept a ragged stuffed dog in her room and bright light always shone through the cracks around her door at any hour of the night. However, she would deny this dependence with an unlooked for fierceness, complete with vulgarities that turned the heads of even the most veteran women. Twenty seemed like a wizened old woman compared to childish, jaded fourteen.

The fear had dissipated considerably in the last several months. Though occasionally she would have moments of panic or sense the phantom hands, their visits were far less frequent and she felt stronger against their manipulative touch. They could no longer make her do what she did not want to do. One thing remained. Guilt. Yes, she knew that he had been guilty. She could no longer defend him or believe he was capable of fulfilling her dream. But she still saw a condemning finger in every friendly glance from a man, every dollar bill, and every little reminder of him and how she so easily had given in to his every wish, even when her conscience balked. She was the kind of woman universally looked down on for lack of morals. Lack of hope might be more accurate.

The book she held was a paperback copy of the Bible. She wanted to open it, but didn’t know what to read and was unsure if opening to a random page would provoke a special message from God or if that was too much like roulette. The counselors and women who ran the house always seemed to know the exact page for every occasion.

She prayed, “Um God, you won’t mind if I try to read this will you? If you would help me out, I don’t really know what I’m doing.” She opened the book to the New Testament. She hoped that was right. She thought that was the part about Jesus. She began to read, slowly trying to remember how to pronounce the names she must have heard before long ago. The room gradually darkened until she realized she could barely see the page. With the lamp shining brightly, she continued.

When her eyes felt dry and she was forced to close them for a while, she finally closed the book. It seemed that Jesus knew people like her and still loved them. He also seemed serious about people following him. She cringed, thinking about how foolishly she had followed her abuser. She wondered how someone could follow Jesus now that he was in heaven so far away. That was when she felt them. She felt two hands resting on her head. She shied away instinctively, and then sensed that these hands were unlike the ones before. These hands were not seeking pleasure, they were offering peace. She imagined that they had been wounded and carried great burdens.  She let them rest gently on her head.

“Jesus?” she whispered, like a child sneaking into her parents’ room in the middle of the night, hoping for an embrace, but unsure if she would be sent back to her room without anything. “Do you forgive me? I’m…I’m sorry. I’m so sorry for this horrible thing I’ve done. And I’m so sorry that they killed you. That must have been awful. I swear I won’t go back to him. I’ll follow you now if you’ll let me.” She grabbed the corner of the blanket and wiped away the tears. She felt the embrace she’d looked for, making her…whole. The corner of the blanket was quickly drenched as she felt an entirely new kind of hope, not a hope of surviving, but hope of thriving in an intimate love. He was a like a miracle worker, drawing out the poison of a deadly snake bite and offering life again.  After the tears, she lay down to sleep, completely at rest.

Photo is mine.

Thank you for reading! If you are interested in learning more about human trafficking statistics or want to help, you can find information here.

The actual percentage of women and children who escape or are rescued from trafficking is quite small because of the manipulative nature of trafficking. Unfortunately, many who have escaped will return to their pimp because of addictions and old habits of the mind. This story is one of hope, but it is not the reality for many. 

Invisible Hands Part 4: A New Dream

She slowly opened her eyes. The light yellow paint on the walls glowed like sunshine itself in the early morning light. She ran her hands over the uneven stitches of the bright patchwork bed cover, admiring the warmth of a homemade craft. Someone was knocking at the door.

“Come in?” she said as she sat up and leaned against the bed frame, feeling light headed. The retro spindles dug into her back, but it was somehow comforting, solid.

The door gently swung open as a woman with a short, peppy haircut stepped in, bringing the smell of eggs and sausage through the door with her. “Good morning. I’m glad I caught you while you were awake. Is there anything I can get for you?”

“Breakfast would be nice. I feel hungry all of a sudden. Um, can I ask you a question?”

“Of course,” the lady walked across the room and smiled, a few wrinkles starting to show around her eyes. The glimpse of a tattoo showed on her wrist under her long sleeves as she rested her hand on the window sill near the bed.

“Where are we?”

“The safe house.”

“Yes, but I mean, where is the safe house?”

The lady hesitated, then said very softly, “If you don’t remember the way, it might be better if I don’t tell you just yet. Just be content to know that no one else knows where you are right now either.”Her voice was therapeutic, like a mother comforting a child after a disappointment.

She nodded, “Oh, I see. How long have I been here?”

“They brought you in two nights ago, after the Emergency Room. We will arrange to take you back when necessary to get the stitches out and see how you are recovering.”

Remembering, she lifted her hand and lightly touched the side of her head and felt the area bristled with new short hair and touched the tight stitches gently. He’d hit her with the gun. She could read his lips, his beautiful lips, as he said, “I’ll kill you next time, whore. You don’t ever say no to me!” He had said it before actually, but for some reason, she’d never really feared he would do it until this time. She had always been confident that his love for her would stop him before it was too late.

The lady’s voice came to her through the memory, “It would also be a good idea to go in for a physical soon to check for… any complications. Also, we don’t want to rush you, but I do want you to know that staying here does come with some commitment. For the time you are here, you won’t be able to use your old cell phone. Any internet access is limited and monitored. You also have to agree to meet with one of our counselors regularly and to help out with things around the house. Please understand that it is not because we don’t trust you, but all of the ladies here have damage of some kind and we need to be very careful for all of our safety. We are more than willing to help you if you would like financial or legal advice. We can also help you with education or skills training, depending on what you would like to do. I don’t know your story yet, but I would like to if you are willing to share it.” She smiled and continued, “You have a few more days to think about it and decide if you want to commit to our rules. Then you can let us know what needs and goals you have and how we can best help you. We really do want to help.”

She believed her. She slid back down into the bed and closed her eyes again, “Yes, let’s talk in a few days.” The lady quietly walked to the door and closed it behind her. So she had done it. She had called the safe house after he left her locked in her room. Would he be okay without her? She once again tried to visualize the little white house. It was on the verge of collapse, with caution tape across the door and a neon notice of condemnation. She breathed in deeply and slowly exhaled. As she did, her breath blew against the house, strong enough to push in the walls of the weary building. The dust settled around it and she opened her eyes, uncertain of what would take its place, but satisfied for the moment.

No more hands. Invisible or otherwise. She didn’t care how many times she had to talk to a counselor or how many years she had to wait in the quiet of the yellow room, but there would be no more hands.

Photo is mine.

Part 5: The Conclusion. If you are interested in learning more about human trafficking statistics or want to help, you can find information here.

The actual percentage of women and children who escape or are rescued from trafficking is quite small because of the manipulative nature of trafficking. This story is one of hope, but it is not the reality for many. 

Part 1Part 2, and Part 3

 

 

Invisible Hands Part 3: A Fading Dream

The key scratched ineffectively against the lock, as her shaking hand refused her commands. She finally used her other hand to steady it and fit the key into the lock. She threw a quick glance over her shoulder and as she did, she turned the key the wrong way. She had to twist it back the other way, all the time breathing heavily. She felt something cold against the bare skin of her shoulder. She jumped around and braced her back against the door. All she saw was the sagging stairwell, its wall paper perhaps even more faded than within the room. She wished the invisible hands would leave her alone. She slowly turned back to the door and let out a relieved sigh as it clicked open. She closed it behind her with a bang, right on the fingers of the invisible hands. She watched the fingers squirm with a grim smile as she slid the bolt cruelly.

A metallic beep turned her attention to her phone. “How much?” the message read.

She gradually loosened her grip and let the phone and the message fall with a clatter. She kicked it into the corner with the toe of her shiny silver heels, a little dulled in places. She took off the heels and pulled out a hoodie from the closet. She put it on and lay down, pulling the blanket over her. She still shivered, even though the other tenants had all opened their windows that evening for some relief from the humidity. As she lay, she felt a hand on her thigh, the finger nails digging in, then another twisting her ankle. Another hand pulled her hair and two roughly groped her breasts. More and more they came, all different sizes, all wanting and claiming. The phone in the corner continued to buzz persistently. Finally, the Other One came. She knew his hands distinctly from all the rest. They started at her feet, feeling their way up until they grabbed her throat and squeezed until she desperately put her hands up to fend them off. The phone left off beeping and began ringing loudly. Answer the phone! If she could answer the phone, she could make it! It would help her! She tore free from the hands, “Hello?!”

“Why didn’t you answer me?!” his voice pierced the tiny apartment with expletives.

“I was just about to, Babe. I just…”

“Well! How much?!”

“$600,” she shouted back as quickly as she could.

“For two nights on the weekend?! Are you staying out all night?” Without waiting to hear her response, he railed on, “You haven’t been doing your part. We’ll never make it at this rate. I’ve got debts to pay and we are barely making enough to cover the lousy apartments we do have. Do you think we’ll be able to move in together any time soon?”

“I’m sorry, Babe. Maybe if you come over, we can talk about it. We haven’t just talked in a while and…”

“I’ll come over later to get the money. I can’t stay long though. I’ve got a possibility of another job. I’ve got to look into it. Don’t leave your room until I get there.”

The call ended abruptly and she sat back down on the bed. If he came, he would count the money, look at her hard, and then maybe make her perform. It was hardly ever fun anymore. It was only business, testing the merchandise for errors. She thought of the little white house. It seemed further away now than it had when he first said the word “married”. It was cast in a scarlet tint and had buried itself behind a thick hedge so that you could barely see it from the road. But it was still there. It would not fall.

She looked at the time. Her shift would start in a few hours. If she didn’t come in this time, she would lose her position. She could leave the money on the table and he could let himself in with his key. But if she left before he came over… she shuddered. She balled up her hands in the pocket of the hoodie and curled up on the bed again. Her fingers played with a bit of paper inside the pocket, eventually pulling it out quizzically. It was a phone number. She had not looked at it in months, but she immediately remembered the moment she had hastily torn it from the advertisement stapled to a bulletin board. Maybe… No. Not yet. It would be okay. She’d make a lot this week and then he’d be happy. He was just stressed. It wouldn’t be long at all before they were out of this money trouble and then they could get married. She fell into an uneasy sleep.

Photo is my own.

Part 4 can be found here. If you are interested in learning more about human trafficking statistics or want to help, you can find information here.

Part 1 and Part 2

 

Invisible Hands Part 2: The Welcome Lie

His knuckles rapped the dented table heavily in a stead rhythm as he stared at a peeling section of wall paper. She sat in the other chair, sipping her coffee, watching his hand, feeling the pressure of its rhythm. Finally, his knuckles came down and rested.

“I’ve been having some trouble at work, Baby.”

“Yeah?” She paused with the mug clutched between her hands.

“They’ve been taking away my hours. I wouldn’t worry so much if it were just me,” he put his hands over hers, “but I can’t just think about myself.” He smiled.

His smile belonged to her. She tried to memorize every detail of it. “That’s sweet of you, Babe.”

“I just wish there was some way we could get some more money. Then… I don’t know. We could think about getting married or something.”

She felt as if she had just jumped off the edge of a cliff and was now plummeting toward the sparkling water below, unable to breathe in the thrill. A tear came to her eye from the rush of wind and it still sparkled there as she returned to the room and let go of the mug to hold his smooth, strong hands. “What?”

“I mean, I really want to. We could get a nice apartment. You could have a real kitchen to make dinner in. Maybe we’d have a kid or get a dog. It’d be nice wouldn’t it?”

She nodded, mouth gaping open. He loved her. She was going to be married. He wanted to marry her. She thought of a little house in the country, far away from the suffocating, dingy city and the apartment with peeling wallpaper and mold spots. It was unlike any foster home she’d every stayed in. The little house was like the one she’d read about it in 3rd grade in a book she’d rescued from the school library’s discard pile. She heard voices of children laughing and playing in the yard, while the smells of the some fancy foreign dish she’d made, no… better a simple chicken pot pie, wafted through the house. His dress shoes squeaked against the hard wood floors as he came home from the office, smiling and inviting her into an embrace.

“I just wish we could get some more money.”

The grey room came sharply back into focus. Money. Was that the only obstacle? It was immediately personified in her mind as a great fat man with a greenish skin, smoking a cigar and clanking coins between his fat fingers, withholding the deed to the little white house. Cruel, cruel man.

“Maybe you can help,” he offered as he saw the pictures swirling around before her eyes, within reach.

“Of course! I can ask for more hours, though they haven’t been very generous with those for me either. Maybe I can try to get another job.”

“Yeah, that’d be great, Babe.”

“Maybe I could work a night shift somewhere.”

“Yeah,” he paused and watched her as she stared into the cooling coffee, wracking her brain to try to remember where she had seen a hiring sign the other day.

“The other week I heard about a pal of mine whose girl made a bunch of money so they could get married.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

He stood up and got out a mug and poured the coffee into it, walking slowly back to the table so as not to spill. He blew on the coffee, then took a cautious sip. She shifted in her seat, not taking her eyes off him for a moment, waiting for a word of salvation from his lips.

Finally, with more force than she intended, “Well?! How did they do it?”

He looked at her with surprise, “Huh? Oh, she went out and met some guys. They thought she was pretty hot, so they paid her big bucks to check out a hotel room with them.” He took another sip. “It only took them a few months and then they could afford to get married.”

She watched him take another long sip. His lovely, lovely mouth. Then they came. The invisible hands gripped her shoulders and slid inward to close around her neck.

“It might be the only way,” he said slowly and solemnly.

She gave her shoulders a shake and the hands departed. “Did…did it bother your friend that his fiancée was…going with other guys?”

“No, Babe, it wasn’t like that! She wasn’t into those guys. She just had sex with them and they’d pay her. They’re happy.” He dragged his chair across the linoleum floor and put his arm around her. “I will always love you, no matter what you do.”

He loved her. She took his free hand and kissed it. “I never want to leave you. We’ll make it work. If you do your best and I do mine, I just know we can make it work.”

“That’s right. We’ll each do what we can.”

Photo is mine.

Part 3 can be found here. If you are interested in learning more about human trafficking statistics or want to help, you can find information here.

Part 1 can be found at this link.

Invisible Hands Part 1: No Longer Alone

She sat staring at the phone resting on a coffee table, heavily scored with all kinds of marks and dings. Around her, the bluish grey wall paper peeled off the walls as if it too wanted to be rid of the moldy, tired place. She got up and got a soft drink out of the humming mini-fridge. The room was small with just a few cheap cabinets nailed into the walls, an old dresser in one corner, and a twin bed in another.  She got two cups out of the cabinet and checked them for dust. Satisfied, she placed one on the table and filled the other. She continued to stare at the phone as she took a sip from her glass.

Within a few minutes, the phone buzzed. She shoved it in her pocket without really looking at it. She undid the heavy bolt and nimbly ran downstairs to unlock the outer apartment door. Light laughter and a deeper chuckle echoed up through the floor boards of the little room as two sets of footsteps ascended and came into the room.

As she closed the door and did the bolt again, his arms encircled her from behind and he whispered in her ear, “You look beautiful today.”

She swatted him away and teased, “You probably said that to the cashier at the convenience store too. Did she give you an employee discount on the chips?” However, she was secretly pleased that he had noticed she was wearing make-up and was wearing her only designer shirt, which a coworker had given to her.

“No!” he insisted. “Well, I might have said something like that, but I didn’t do this with the cashier.” He turned her around and rested his forehead against hers, smiling. She laughed a little and blushed as he kissed her; though this time she didn’t push him away. After a sweet minute, she slipped out of his grip and filled the second glass. They sat down on the bed and drank their coke and ate the spicy chips. They chatted about how horrible their jobs were and which movies they were looking forward to getting to theaters.

“Do you get lonely here much?”

“Sometimes, when I don’t have a lot of hours at work.” Liar. She was lonely all the time.

“What do you do when you come back from work?”

“Mostly watch movies on my phone,” she demonstrated the scratched phone which was several years out of date. “I try to exercise some or take walks. There are some nice people in the park if you have time to chat with them.”

“I love watching movies with friends. Someday, we should have a movie night on my laptop. That would be better than on your phone, huh?”

“Yeah, that’d be great.”

They fell quite for a little while. He moved the empty glasses and chip bag to the floor. She twirled her long hair in her fingers, painfully aware of split ends and a course texture from using cheap soap. She felt his hand on the back of her neck. She looked up and met his eyes, so handsome.

“You don’t mind do you?”

“N..No,” she stuttered.

After a series of kisses and tight embraces, he pulled back and reached into his pocket.

“Here,” he said assertively, “I picked this up with the chips, just in case.”

She took the package from his hand, blushing, yet thankful that he had been so thoughtful to get her protection. He wasn’t being pushy at all. Going into the tiny bathroom, she read all of the instructions, feeling very naïve and ignorant. She wondered what he would think if he knew that she had never even kissed anyone until this week. Well, not by her choice. Several minutes passed in the bathroom, mostly spent gripping the sink while looking in the mirror that just barely showed her face and collar bones. She was alternating between trying to conjure up a sexy expression and being on the verge of vomiting. She wondered if it would it hurt as bad as last time. Surely not. She had been so little then. At eighteen, she was a woman and it would be more natural this time. This time, he wouldn’t smell of cigarettes and spearmint gum or pinch her with the links of his watch. Finally, she opened the door.

“Sorry I took so long.”

“Don’t apologize. I want you to be comfortable.” He came up to her and held both her hands, almost as if they were saying their vows. He lifted her up like a princess and laid her on the bed. As his hands went under her shirt, sliding it off, she suddenly gasped. She had felt the imprint of the Other One’s palm against her cheek from a hard slap and now he held down her ankles with his other invisible hand. Hands all over her!

“Are you okay, Baby?”

She let the moment of panic pass as she breathed deeply and concentrated on his big brown eyes, full of concern. Then with a supreme effort, she ignored the invisible hands. “Yes. I’m fine.” She kissed him as his weight pressed down on her and his breath, still spicy from the chips, permeated her hair. It would be okay. The hands would go away now.

Photo is mine.

Part 2 can be found here. If you are interested in learning more about human trafficking statistics or want to help, you can find information here