Jackson was a college town to outdrink all other college towns. I liked these podunk places. Not because I was a huge partier – I was – but because they were full of young, horny college boys decked out in lacrosse jerseys, Sperrys, and backwards caps with pre-frayed brims. Some called them pathetic. Others called them douchebags. Me? I called them easy. Whenever I blew through one of these towns, I knew I’d last another week on the road before having to scrounge for cash.
I’d arrived by way of my thumb and false pretenses. My trucker friend had taken one look at my dress, or the pieces of it, and figured his stick shift wasn’t the only stick about to get shifted. So who cares if I wasn’t exactly honest? A little pretend prostitution never hurt anyone. Still, he wasn’t happy when he figured me out. Almost threw my ass to the street, right there on I-90. And you know what I say to that? Screw him. He wouldn’t remember me tomorrow.
No one ever did.
I checked into Rita’s Sleep & Keep, a motel palace within walking distance of campus, and made the reservation for one night. I paid up front. Then, exhausted from the day’s events, I settled into my new digs. I’d stolen some tiny liquor bottles from the town over and I cracked them open and got a strong buzz going. The warmth felt good as it settled in my cheeks. It crept into my chest, wrestling with the chill of the room, and I let the familiar numbness take over. It carried me into the shower.
By the time 9 PM rolled around, I was ready.
Dressed in my best impression of Marilyn Monroe on meth, I left Rita’s and walked the three blocks into the heart of Jackson State University.
JSU was my 32nd college. Even so, I could still feel the prickles on the back of my neck. I watched the undergrads, drunk off their asses, as they shambled around campus. They laughed and shouted and hi-fived each other and a spark of excitement settled within me. An eagerness to jump in and play.
Ever since turning thirteen, I’d learned to live a day at a time. That’s how it had to be. But it bothered me how much I enjoyed these nighttime excursions. How much I longed for a little taste of normal. Even if what I did every night was anything but.
I shook my head and picked up the pace, idly fingering the heart-shaped locket around my neck. The engraving rolled under my touch: AJS. A reminder of a time when I didn’t have to play make-believe.
The next street over, the health services building came into view. Lights beat through slits in the blinds and a sign hung outside, nail-gunned to a post: Group Therapy Session, Tonight 10 PM. It was written in pink sharpie.
For a moment, I actually considered showing up, just for kicks, and imagined how that might turn out.
Hi everyone, my name’s Rainey and my touch is like a tall glass of Rohypnol.
Yeah. Just brilliant.
I figured to keep walking, but that’s when I saw him. He sat on the back steps, casual as all get out, a Menthol perched between two fingers. He gave me a once over and I got the distinct impression he didn’t have two shits to give in this world. Even the cigarette teetered between his digits, as if he dared it to fall and burn his crotch.
Naturally, I said hello.
He frowned at me. “You look mighty cold.”
“Let me guess,” I said. “You’ve got the ticket to warming me up?”
“Not really.” He took a drag and shrugged. “I worry about you girls, that’s all. Sometimes I think you forget it’s winter.”
He gestured to my outfit. Tight skirt, plain white tee. Knee high socks. I called it my fly zapper. The boys set themselves ablaze.
“Most guys don’t seem to mind.”
He laughed and I hated myself for finding pleasure in the sound. “No,” he said, “I suppose most don’t.”
“I think someone has to mind. Pneumonia’s a much bigger killer than syphilis these days.”
It was my turn to laugh. “Ass.”
He smiled and took a long drag.
“Look,” I said. I gestured to my outfit. “All this? It’s not me, it’s -”
What the hell? What was I doing defending myself? To this guy? Two minutes ago I had the full intention of seducing and robbing him. What did I care what he thought of me? I looked at him. Really looked at him. He wasn’t particularly special. Decent looking, in a floppy hair cut, dark eyes, and torn up jeans sort of way, but nothing ground-breaking. Still, that look – that look threw me and I didn’t like it.
Maybe I was angry. Maybe I was tired of pretending to be someone I wasn’t. Or maybe I just wanted one person in this world to wake up tomorrow and remember the interesting girl and the nothing conversation they’d had. I don’t know.
Whatever the reason, I walked away.
“You know how it goes.” I glanced over my shoulder. “Places to go, diseases to contract.”
He laughed and said, “stay warm.”
It was the last thing I heard before crossing into Frat Row.
Beta Sig looked like it might collapse under the sheer weight of kegs. Partygoers stumbled in and out of the doorway, clutching red Solo cups and shouting at each other. Like most frats, someone in charge had decided music was only good if you couldn’t hear it over the bass, so the steps shook and the windows rattled with each beat. On the front lawn, two games of beer pong were going side by side. A redhead did a keg stand in the background, two jacked guys holding her legs. Each scored a perfect view of her cooch.
I moseyed over to the beer pong table and pulled a cup from the triangle. This seemed to get people’s attention.
“Hey, what the hell!” one of the players, a big beef cake with no neck, shouted. He moved toward me but paused as he saw my hand slip beneath my shirt and unclasp my bra. ”Oops,” I said, and poured the beer over my chest. I kept my eyes on his.
The shouts went silent. A tense quiet settled over the front lawn, broken only by a ping pong ball rolling off a table. Then everyone cheered, pounded their fists on the table, and moved to surround me. I ducked under their arms, careful to keep out of reach – it would only take a graze – and made my way up the steps, shouting over my shoulder, “sorry boys, another time.”
I’d set the stage. Now I needed the right guy. Someone who lived in the house, someone who would make quick moves. I didn’t feel like wasting time here tonight. Luckily, I found him on the porch, nestled on a couch between a dirty blonde and a passed out brunette. He’d seen my little stunt, and sat up, ignoring the blonde girl slaving for his attention. He wore a flannel button-down and a baseball cap, tilted to the side for maximum douchiness.
“You’re perfect,” I said.
He gave me his best shit eating grin. “Actually, I’m Jake.” He untangled himself from the two girls (the blonde one shot me daggers) and offered his hand. I hesitated out of habit, then shook it, feeling the familiar spark that meant he wouldn’t remember this tomorrow. He cocked his head to the side. “Do I know you? I feel like we’ve met before.”
I smiled. He was full of it, but the irony was undeniable. “Do you live here, Jake?”
“Upstairs. Third floor.” He stepped closer. “How about a tour?”
I pressed my lips to his ear. “How about the short version?”
He smiled and laid his hand across my back. Then he nodded to all his jock friends and led me upstairs. At least he had enough tact to save the high-fives for later.
Jake’s room was one of the cozier ones I’d been in. The floors were wood, dented no doubt from the stampede of loose girls he brought home, and liquor bottles filled the shelves like trophies. An L-shaped couch lay in the corner, a throw cover doing a poor job hiding the stains underneath. Semen, I bet myself. It was always semen. His bed, a nice queen with plush sheets, sat along the other wall. I flopped back on it and sprawled out, feeling my wet shirt chafe against my chest.
The things I did to survive.
Jake didn’t waste time. He tugged his own shirt off and joined me on the bed. The smell of Old Spice and hair gel sucker punched me as his arm snaked around my waist and he leaned forward, his breath hot and raw.
I pulled away, adopting my best shy smile. “I need to pee.”
I swiped a beer off his dresser, rested the cap against the edge and popped it off. Jake arched an eyebrow. I winked and slipped into the bathroom.
The door locked, I ran the sink and fished the baggie from my pocket. Ambien. My pair of aces. I took out four and ground them into dust with the bottom of the beer.
I’d learned long ago that my particular…talent (God, when did I start thinking of it as a talent) had some rules. For one, I needed physical contact. A graze, a little skin on skin. That’s all it took to wipe someone’s memory. From the moment I touched them to the minute they fell asleep, that’s the time they would never remember when they woke. Which brings me to the Ambien. Sleep was the key. And while I could dress and act the part, I wasn’t a hooker. There would be no pole-riding tonight.
I scraped the powder into the beer bottle and swirled. Relationships and sleep. The lifeblood of human living and yet, I could have one or the other. Never both. I’d always found that disturbing.
Jake passed out twenty minutes later. I rolled him over and padded down his pants. Bingo. Reaching into his back pocket, I snagged his wallet. He had a few credit cards, but I knew better than to touch plastic. It wasn’t worth the risk or the paranoia. No. I went for the good old fashion cash. And on this occasion, Jake was a big fish in a little pond.
Four hundred dollars, counting the money I snaked from his dresser. A good haul, but not what I’d hoped for. I sighed and sat on the bed. It couldn’t be helped. I’d have to go out again.
The trip west would take some serious cash. More than I had now. More than I’d ever had.
I raised my legs over my head and shimmied my panties off. I always thought this was a nice final touch. I guess you could call it my M.O.
You see, Jake would wake up tomorrow with a splitting headache. He’d try to remember what happened. He’d recall the porch with the blond and the comatose brunette and then… nothing. It would probably take him an hour to realize his money was gone. Then he’d see the panties, pink with a friendly “hello” scrawled across the front, and his brain – like it’s made to do – would start to fill the gaps. Of course! He must have spent all his money buying drinks at the club. Then he’d gone back to the frat house, gotten blackout, and banged some girl. His friends on the lawn would remember sweet little Rainey, I’d already seen to that. They’d help Jake remember too.
I choked back a laugh, then pulled off his jeans.
It had been six years, but I was finally coming to terms with what my life had become after… the incident. It wasn’t a great life, moving from city to city, living on the road, stealing cash to survive, but it was a life. When you couldn’t rely on friends or family – because you had no friends or family and never would – you learned to make do. I wouldn’t lie and say I was happy, but I wasn’t quite miserable either. I was blah. A happy nothing.
That, of course, was all about to change.
I walked out of Jake’s room that night, just like any other night, never noticing the half open laptop on his desk or the tiny red light aimed at the bed.