I was halfway up the stairs to the co-op Trey and I shared with two other families when I heard a heavy click clacking of heels followed by a smoke stained cough. Rolling my eyes I turned to find my mother, Mahogany, standing in front of me, hands on her bony hips. She looked fifteen pounds lighter in the loose zebra print dress that swathed her small frame. My lips formed a thin line as I walked back down the stairs to talk with the woman who was responsible for making my early years a living hell.
“What are you doing here?” I hissed, looking around to make sure no one I knew was walking by.
Mahogany adjusted the cheap blonde wig she wore. “I need some money.”
“You need money?” I repeated incredulously. “I gave you money last week.”
“Vixen, that wasn’t nothing but some change.”
“You call five hundred dollars ‘change’?”
“It lasted me only a week; so yes, I call that ‘change.’”
“Well then here’s a couple pennies,” I said, pulling out a twenty and tossing it to her.
“What the fuck is this supposed to do?” she asked loudly.
I could see Mark, my neighbor, a few blocks down, squinting in our direction. I sucked my teeth and grabbed her arm, pulling her out of his view. “Make that last you tonight and I’ll see what I can do tomorrow,” I said through gritted teeth.
Mahogany sneered at me, yanking her arm from my grip with surprising strength. “You better make something happen unless you want me to come back over here scaring all your neighbors.”
“Stay the hell away from here.”
“It’s not my fault you’re scared, Vixen,” she continued as if I hadn’t spoken. “You’re scared that all these people in this neighborhood will see you for who you are. ‘Cause no matter how nice your clothes are or how good you look, you ain’t nothing but a whore like me.”
I walked away from her and shoved my key into the front door. After a few seconds I heard the sound of her cheap heels click-clacking down the street and knew she was gone.
“Hey,” Trey said the moment I entered the apartment.
My heart dropped when I saw where he was sitting. Putting on my brightest smile, I managed a bright, “Hey.”
“So,” he said lightly as he got up from the seat we kept by the window. “Who was that?”
“Just some stupid crackhead bothering me.” I said lightly, walking into the bedroom so he couldn’t see the tears pouring down my cheeks.
“She was there for a while.”
I slammed the bathroom door shut, turning on the shower to drown out the sobs that racked my chest. Trey knocked on the door, calling my name. I ignored him, too hurt by my mother’s harsh words to be bothered. The steaming hot water streamed down my face, mixing with my tears as I let go of the tidal wave of emotions that overcame me. My mother was right: behind my expensive clothes I was nothing but a whore and undeserving of a decent man like Trey. He loved me now, but I was sure once Trey knew the real Vixen he would treat her as such.
“Vixen, what’s your story?” Gino observed me over his glass. “And don’t say ‘there isn’t much to tell.’”
“My mother made me a prostitute when I was twelve years old. My first john was my father,” I admitted for the first time in my life to anyone. “When I was fifteen I decided I couldn’t take it anymore. I ended up running away and never looked back.”
“What happened to him?”
I downed the rest of my drink, the bubbles from the champagne offering a decent cover for the tears welling up in my eyes. “He’s exactly where he belongs. Locked up in a cage like an animal.”
“Good,” he replied, staring up at the starry sky partially obscured by the bright lights. When he spoke again, his voice barely reached above the city din below us. “Am I the first person you’ve ever told?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Because you look relieved.” He turned his heated gaze to me. “Why haven’t you told your boyfriend?”
“As strong and independent as Trey is, he still relies heavily on the approval of his family. My past might not matter to him, but it will effect the way his bourgeois family treats me.”
“It’s easier to pretend to be someone you’re not than live as you really are,” Gino replied coolly.
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” I felt my hackles rise at the dismissive way he was treating my personal problems. “You think I like being Vixen ‘the orphan’ or Vixen ‘the commitment-phobe?’ How dare you sit back and act like I’m supposed to wear my emotional scars on my chest for the world to see.”
Gino shrugged, the corner of his mouth tugging into a small smile. “All I’m saying is that this ‘boyfriend’ is in love with a woman who doesn’t exist. If you really want to know where you stand with him, show him the real Vixen and see if he stays.”
“Easy for you to say but not practice,” I spat, standing up and adjusting my dress. “You sit here in your anonymity and luxury afraid of anyone getting too close to you not because you’re a thug or whatever else you feel like it is. You’re afraid of rejection just as much, if not more than me, Gino.”
I turned to leave when he grabbed my wrist, leaving me no choice except to acknowledge his existence. “We may both have a fear of rejection except there is one huge difference between you and I: I live in the real world while you live in a world you’ve manufactured. At least when I’m rejected it’ll be because of something she didn’t see in me. I am visible and my intentions always remain clear.”
“How about I make one thing clear for you: this date is over.” I snatched my hand away from him and stormed into the living room to grab my purse.
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