The door to Jan’s bedroom was closed. For whatever reason, Elu seemed to be seeing less and less of her roommate these days. She shook her head and checked her purse. There was some money in there. She grabbed her coat and purse. The corner store would have cereal and milk. She couldn’t face much else right now. She closed the front door behind her.
It was cold outside and Elu had to be careful to pick her way through the snow and ice on the sidewalk. The ice could be lethal she knew and didn’t want to slip. She got to her apartment building and put in the key code to get in. She was walking up the stairs to the apartment when she heard the yelling. Who was that? She stopped in front of their door and was about to put the key in the lock when she realized the door wasn’t closed. The sound of her roommate Jan filled the apartment.
“I know you took it, you slimy bastard!” she screamed. “Now where is it?”
Elu came around the corner holding her bag. Sabastian was sitting casually at the kitchen table twirling a DosEquis beer bottle and looking down at it. Jan was dangerously close to him, leaning over. The veins in the side of her neck were bulging and her face was red.
“Hey, it’s not big deal. I just borrowed it for a little. You’ll get it back, don’t over-react.” His tone was casual and bland.
“Over-react, over-react! I don’t want it someday. I want it back now! Give me that slip,” Jan demanded and stuck her hand in the young man’s face.
With a slight movement of his wrist, Sebastian pulled out a slip of white paper from a jacket pocket and handed it over. Jan snatched it out of his hand and turned, seeing Elu for the first time.
“And tell your Godamn boyfriend to stay out of my room in the future!” she raged. Jan was still in her outer coat and her purse swung back and forth over her shoulder. She pushed past Elu still with the angry look and stuffed the paper in her purse. She slammed out the front door.
Elu came into the kitchen and put the bags on the table. She slowly lowered herself to a chair.
“What…” was all she could get out.
“Oh, hell,” Sebastian took a drag on his bottle. “It’s no big deal. I just borrowed that red stone ring of hers for a little while. She’ll get it back.” He smirked and added, “You make lots of money,” and took another sip.
“Like you borrowed my gold necklace?” she asked him.
“Baby…” he scooted the chair closed to her. “I’m just having a little down time right now. I’m a lover not a fighter. I’ll be back in no time. We still love each other, right?” he gazed into her eyes.
Elu felt hypnotized. “Yes,” she said softly.
“Good, good.” He smiled again. “Got to go, know when I’m not welcome. Got you a little gift.” He pushed a tiny paper packet her way. “Enjoy. Love you.” He kissed her on the forehead. “Got to go before Bitchzilla comes back and ruins the evening. See you later.”
He picked up his beer and headed for the door then turned. “Don’t worry about your dumb necklace. It’s just for a little while. I got some great leads coming in. You’ll see.” He went out the door and closed it behind him.
Elu sat and stared at the packet. She knew what was in it. She wanted it and didn’t want it. Blow, Sebastian called it. She picked up the little package and put it into a teapot on a shelf. Not now, maybe later.
Sebastian was a few years older than Elu and had come to New York to be a stocks and bonds trader. He had ¾ of a college degree in marketing and dropped out of school to ‘make the big bucks’ he had told her. From Scottsdale and from a well-to-do family, the young man was used to the good life and did indeed make the big bucks for a while. But the early wake up hours and the pressure got to be too much for him and he dropped out of that line of work.
He had done sales of all sorts and with his good looks and charm always managed to do well and make money. Somehow, something always seemed to get in the way and he ended up out of work, looking for another job. Right now, he was trying his hand at hedge fund trading and was convinced this was really the ticket this time. In the meantime, all the money Elu was used to making every week seemed to be dissolving into thin air and she couldn’t figure it out.
When the month came that she didn’t have enough for rent, Jan gave her a long, cold stare.
“I will cover you this time, girlfriend, but no more. Get that lazy boyfriend of yours to cough up some cash or you’re both out.”
The lease was in Jan’s name so the girl knew her friend could make good on her word. The next time Sebastian asked her for a little to get by, she told him no.
“We need it for the rent.”
He looked calm as ever and went over to the fridge to get a beer. He got the last one and sat down staring at her. He unscrewed the top and took a big sip.
“And, another thing, you need to bring in money for groceries.” She was standing up close to the sink. Suddenly, he was behind her and pushed her up against the kitchen wall, hard. He had lifted her off her feet with his big hand around her neck.
His blue eyes were red and blood shot. He breathed heavily into her face and smelled of beer and old cigarettes. She tried to turn away but couldn’t, he had too firm a grip on her neck.
“Don’t you ever talk to me like that again, you little bitch. I know who you are and what you are. You got it?” He was talking through clinched teeth. She was terrified.
She gave a slight nod and he let her down. Then, for whatever weird reason, he started to brush her off like she had crumbs on her shirt. She started to tremble.
“I’m going now…but, we’ll talk later.” He gave her breast a tight squeeze until she winced with pain.
He backed off, grabbed the beer and stormed out of the apartment. Elu slid down the wall and just stared into space. She started to cry, little tears at first and then big, gushy ones. Her mind was a cloud of confusion and she couldn’t think. She stumbled up and went to the bathroom to take a hot bath.
The next few months, things seemed to settle down a bit. Elu continued to dance at the club. Sebastian stayed away from the apartment more and spent more time in his grubby, singles walk up working on hedge fund deals. He kept talking about big money that was just about to come in.
Elu sighed when she heard this. They were out for dinner and she paid. It usually wasn’t at the really great restaurant they had been to before, more like pizza and beer but it was food and it was hot.
She paid her rent on time and Jan accepted it without comment. Jan had gone to the pawnshop herself and got back her mother’s ruby and garnet ring. She didn’t tell Elu how much it cost her but Elu noticed that Jan’s bedroom was always locked now when she left the apartment.
It was the weekend of Mother’s Day and Jan told Elu she would be going upstate to see her mother.
“And, I know I don’t have to tell you to keep that slug out of my bedroom, right?” she arched an eyebrow at Elu.
“You’re door is always locked. How could he get in there?”
“Knowing that little creep, he could figure something out.” Her tone softened a bit. “Elu, you know I like you. Always have. But, really, if much else happens with that little bastard, I am going to have to ask you to leave. Comprende?”
Elu couldn’t do anything else but put her head down and nod. It reminded her of the way her mother used to speak to her and she felt ashamed.
Jan grabbed her trolley suitcase, locked the door on her room, and slung her purse over her shoulder. As she was about to leave, she stopped and looked at the forlorn visage of her friend. She came over and gave her a hug. “I just wish…I wish…” she seemed to be out of words for what to say. Then, turned and went out the door.
Elu sank down on a kitchen chair and stared into space. There was a little ‘ping’ on her cell phone. She opened up her message box. Daniel had sent her a message. “Grandpa in hospital, call me”. A sense of terror swept over the girl. She grabbed the phone and had a short, terse conversation with her brother. Grandpa was in the hospital because of his heart. She was scheduled to work that night but promised to come over as soon as she could.
Her shift went by in a blur and Elu found herself repeatedly looking at the clock. 1 am couldn’t come fast enough. She got off. Rocky, her favorite bouncer, found her a cab. She told him about her grandfather.
“I’m sorry babe. That sucks. Want me to beat up that lousy boyfriend of yours? Do it for free. Might make you feel better.”
In spite of herself, Elu laughed and smiled. Rocky was the biggest, buffest gay guy she had ever met. Hell, she didn’t even know what gay meant until she had moved here. She got into the taxi and told him to rush. Her body was tingling from raw nerves.
She let herself into the apartment, her outfit still on under her heavy jacket. To her surprise, Sebastian was sitting on the sofa in the living room. There was some strange man with him. A big, fat, sweaty guy. The fat guy was in his forties with thinning hair. He kept wiping his brow with a handkerchief.
“Babe, you’re home!” Sebastian was expansive. “Hey, meet my new, good client, Samuel from Milwaukee. Samuel, Elu, the Indian.”
Samuel got up to shake her hand. He was nervous. There were wet patches in the armpits of his shirt. He reached to shake her hand. “I saw your performance at the club, Miss Elu. Stunning, just stunning. You dance so well and you’re so…” he paused to find the works, “you’re so beautiful.” He stared at her transfixed.
Elu yanked her hand out of his grip and looked over at Sebastian. “I got to go change.”
“Sure thing,” he waved at her. “We’ll be here. Samuel brought you some of your favorite stuff.” He waved at the coffee table. Lines of coke were already set up on a mirror in the middle.
Elu’s mouth got dry. She pulled away and went into the bedroom. She stripped off her costume, pulled on a t-shirt, jeans and boots. A heavy sweater went over the top and a jacket with a hood. Sebastian sauntered into the room.
“Where’re you going babe? You’re going to miss the party!” He sipped his beer casually and looked over at her dressing.
Elu yanked the jacket on and spun toward him. “What is that guy doing here?” she hissed at him.
“Calm down, calm down, girlfriend,” he put his hands out in front of him as if he was surrendering. “He just came to see you. He likes you.”
Elu stared hard into Sebastian’s eyes. She was shocked to see the clear blue were darker down and seemed to have no depth anymore. In a flash of understanding, she completely got exactly why Samuel was here, this night, when Jan was gone. She pushed past her boyfriend. He tried to grab her arm but she wiggled away, grabbed her purse and was out the door. She didn’t even bother to close it.
“Babe,” Sabastian yelled after her, “what am I going to tell Samuel?”
“Go to hell,” she shouted and banged out of the apartment building. Calling a cab, they drove straight to the hospital. Daniel was there by their grandfather’s bed. The old man was hooked up to every kind of machine imaginable. His eyes were closed. She got a chair and pulled it over to Daniel’s.