by Jay

It was three in the morning and the club was still in full swing with blinding neon lights, smoke clouding the room and perfumed girls grinding on poles, stages and men. There was barely enough room to move through the crowd of men throwing countless ones and women drinking it all up. The bass from the speakers vibrated the walls and I had to yell to be heard over the music.

"I WOULD LIKE A GOOSE AND CRANBERRY!" I practically screamed at the bartender. While she scrambled around the bar, my eyes scanned the club looking for my friend. Because the club was small, it didn't take long to spot her over in a corner moving her body slowing and seductively to some of the latest trap music. She was dressed in a bawdy netted dress with a matching thong that glowed under the flashing black light. We had a good time earlier that day, when we shared laughs while I jokingly helped her shop for her outfit. But then, my stomach churned at the sight of her with low red eyes burning like embers. Her skin held a glistening layer either from sweat or body oil, I couldn't quite tell. I watched her mocked dance moves all the while her body exposed and practically naked for a crowd of strangers.

I can remember grabbing my drink from the bartender and concentrating on balancing in my five and a half inch platform heels. I took a seat in an obscure part of the club careful not to draw too much attention to myself as I was uninterested in anyone there. Regardless of the amount of money being flashed throughout the club. After laying back in the soft chair, I allowed the effects of alcohol to take control as I relaxed and counted the minutes left until we could leave; contemplating how I could get the smell of smoke out of my air before class in the morning.

I don't support my best friend's decision to dance in order to have money for school but I couldn't talk her into or out of anything. She's a Taurus and they're stubborn in that way. Besides, this was better than her selling her body for money. Or in a way wasn't she already selling her body for money? I knew there was another way that she could get money, but she didn't want to be like me, working 3 jobs and going to school to buy the things that I wanted. We all want that fast and tax free money.

Our ride home after the club was tight-lipped, neither of us knowing what to say or what not to say for that matter. I stared out into the night and watched the street lights blur into one long strip. The summer air had muffled screams as we zipped past other cars in a hurry to get back to campus.

"So, what did you think of tonight? How did I do for the first time?" She asked and I could hear an edge in her voice. I couldn't quite place it then and I remember thinking that she may feel judged. It wasn't my first time being in the strip club but it was my first time going to "support" a friend.

I continued to stare out the window, "I think that you have a lot of balls to be doing what you are doing, but I hope that it's not something you want to do for long." "It's not…" She hesitated and then shifted in her seat, which is what caused me to look at her. I could tell she was censoring her words for me so I waited, attentively and patiently. "I just need the money and the money was great tonight." I stared momentarily at her face and could see the shadows of a smile. And that was it. That was when I lost her and as I give myself one last glance in my full length mirror, I'm thinking yet again that I don't want to go anywhere with her. Hoshea doesn't want me to see her, much less go somewhere with her. But she told me that she has this new side hustle and because of my need to protect everything and everyone around me, I just have to make sure she's safe.

Hoshea's warming touch makes me jump slightly as he wraps his long, strong arms around me from behind. He pulls me closer to him and I can feel plead in his embrace. His eyes meet mine in the mirror then sweep over my outfit choice as I turn around to face him and hear his disapproval. I briefly contemplate showing my outfit off for him but dismiss the idea knowing he's not in a playful mood. I'm wearing a fitting red wine colored dress that stops a couple of inches under my backside. My cream 4 inch pumps add more definition to my toned legs.

"I don't want you to go," he says instead and I can't help but roll my eyes. We've been over this a gazillion times already today. "Just stay home with me." He smirks.

"As much as I would love to lay in your arms, I have to go. A promise is a promise. You wouldn't like it if I broke some of the promises I've made to you, would you?" He exhales sharply and I know I've won for now. "Just be safe." I nod and give him one of my cutest smiles that I keep hidden for special situations. My phone rings and he kisses me chastely on my lips before turning to answer. Two years later and his kisses still share the same effects of ice cream on a sunny day. I smile fondly at him but he holds a steady expressionless gaze and I know it's Brandi calling. I grab my phone and step a few comfortable feet away.

"Hayyyy girl!" She squeals through the phone. "I hope you're ready because I'm outside."

"Yes honey bun, just give me a second and I'll be out." I end the call and finish packing up my pocketbook adding in my phone charger, my liquor flask and after a second thought, my taser. I give the overprotective-love-of-my-life one last kiss on the check before running out the door. I hear him yell after me to turn on my location finder. I smirk and roll my eyes. We're both a little too protective, I love that about him. I switch on the app before jumping in the passenger seat to ride with my best friend.

"I am so glad that Hoshea, the security guard, let you out to have some fun," she snarls, then swiftly changes her mood. "It's about time because I really needed you to ride out with me tonight."

I chose to ignore her comment about my boyfriend, "you know I'll always come through when you need me." And I mean every word. We share a quick caring look before she reaches under my seat and hands me a personal bottle of 1800 tequila. She knows exactly what I like and I'm thankful as I make a quick mix, all my earlier worries forgotten.

We fill the car with the smell of liquor, our friendly banter and gossip about things that has happened within our last few weeks of seeing each other. I'm submerged in a bubble of wonderful friendship and not paying too much attention as we pull up to a run-down motel on the other side of town. The building is made of old stubborn bricks and chipped faded red paint covers the many doors lined side by side on one ground level. Everything around us is quiet and haunting except for the ghostly scream of the wind outside. My mind kick starts it's thoughts as I'm wondering what we're doing here but my brain is halted by the alcohol. I curse myself for drinking so much as I get a knot in the pit of my belly foretelling that I should be practically sober for whatever we're about to get into.

"Before you start to think too much, just let me tell you what's going on." Brandi calmly says to me. Too calmly for my taste. It's my turn to shift in her seats. "I've been doing room calls for a few weeks and now I have a few girls of my own." She pauses looking me squarely in the eyes to make sure I'm digesting what she's feeding me. I could not find words so she continued. "I need you here to watch them for me as I do a few calls myself. I have to keep count of their customers so that I can get my percentage. I'm going to point them out to you and you can sit in the car to watch."

She hands me an empty college-ruled notebook that she's marked some room numbers on and I laugh. Not because, it's funny, not because I'm drunk, not because I'm wondering how I got here but because it was the only thing I could do to keep myself from crying. My friend is literally selling her body for money.

"What's so funny?" She's offended and I can tell.

"Why are you doing this? Do you realize how dangerous this is? That one of these men could kill you at any given moment? Could rape you? Could give you something that you would want to give back?" I'm breathless and emotional. My phone rings, it's Hoshea so I ignore it. I can't talk to him right now.

"The money's good." She replies nonchalantly without a second thought, then gets out and closes the car door. I watch after her as she points to three consecutive rooms 104, 105 and 106 before disappearing into the fourth, 107.

I close my eyes and lean my head back on the seat. My thoughts give a failed attempt to wrap myself around what is going on. The minutes tick by as I allow my mind to scream at my heart for being so protective. What have I agreed to do? How did Brandi get herself into this? How can I get her out of it? Hoshea's call halt the endless babbles in my head.

"Where are you?" He demands before I can even say hello.

I can't tell him where we are, that will dismantle my loyalty to my friend. "I'm with Brandi." Quick and easy.

I hear him huff through the phone. "Don't be impudent." His patience is nonexistent and I assume it's resulting from me not responding to his 1st call. I try my best to feign calmness, "we're out having a few drinks." Which wasn't a complete lie. Just not the complete truth.

"I can hear your slurred words, so I know that you've been drinking. I don't hear anyone or any noise in the background." The door to 106 opens and a tall man with blonde hair dressed in an ominous business suit walks out. I mark a tally beside her room number in the notebook.

"I'm going to ask you one more time Angel and you better not lie or I'm coming to wherever you are." I close my eyes in exasperation and weigh my options. Tell him where I am and what I'm doing, he's coming. Tell him where I am and lie about what I'm doing, he's coming. Or just hang up and turn off my location finder so he can't come at all.

"We're out having drinks. I stepped outside to answer your call. Stop being so overbearing and untrusting!" I hang up and immediately turn off my location finder. I know this will be a fight when I get home. I don't really think such things about him. He just doesn't trust Brandi. They've never clicked since I first introduced them. She thinks he takes all my time and he thinks that she's a bad influence. I can understand both perspectives and I hate being put in the middle of the two. The two of them were the first people that I met when I came to Winston Salem State University and it's a shame that neither can understand how much the other means to me. He starts an endless series of callbacks and I soon lose count of how many of his calls I've ignored. I repeat my calming process and lean back covering my face with my clammy hands. It's all beginning to be too much.

A black Benz pulls up beside me and reflexively I duck down in the car. As soon as I hear the car door close, I peek over the dashboard and see a medium height man with dark brown skin and shoulder length dreaded hair. He's wearing all white with designer jeans and a V-neck t-shirt sculptured around his muscular frame. He walks up to the motel and after a moments of hesitation he fixes his clothes, throws his hair back to clear his face and knocks on Brandi's door. He looks around anxiously in the few moments that it takes for her to come to the door and I'm able to see his perfectly chiseled face. I look on in admiration of him and watch as he moves inside her room. Before she could close the door, I get a quick glance at some of the skimpy lingerie that she has on.

A few agonizing minutes crawl past midnight before anything happens. The door of 110 swings open and a petite white girl walks out in a short party dress with her hair pulled back into a sloppy pony tail. She walks over to the Benz and peeks in the passenger window. The girl has the most bewildered look on her face as she walks around the car then peeks in through the driver's window briefly flashing me her bright pink panties. She pivots on her bare feet and her green eyes stare straight in the window into mine.

Through the car windows I can hear her yelling, "who took my fish!?" Confused by her sudden outburst and her question, I just stared blankly back at her. Her face transformed under my gaze from disorientation to fury. Her green eyes flashed and bore through the car.

"Why you just sittin' there starin' at me? Who baited my catch? Who preyed on my victim?" Her voice is louder now and I can tell she's not going to retreat. I shake my head in irritation. My night is already ridiculous enough without her input.

I take a sip of my drink then roll the window down halfway. "I have no idea what you're talking about." I say senseless and continue to look at her through drunken lids.

I hear her let out a low growl, "don't play stupid" she yells before calling me out my name. The door to 104 opens and we both turn to look at a young Hispanic boy who pulls a tattered hat down over his eyes and walks away hastily. A short, curvy girl with sun kissed caramel skin and hair that tumbles around her shoulders in frizzy brown waves, walks out and towards the two of us.

"Dove, this ain't got a thing to do with you. So you might as well go on back in that room and get yourself together for your next call." The white girl says to her.

"It got everything to do with me Scarlet, if you all in Brandi car." Dove tosses her hair over her shoulder and places a hand on her hip.

Scarlet looks at me then to her then back to me. Her heated gaze is burning my face and makes me reach into my pocketbook to hold my taser.

"Look, I just looked out my window. This car been here for over an hour and my prey just got here so I know this girl seen something and she sittin' here lookin' stupid like she don't know what I'm talkin' 'bout. She playin' with my money."

Dove walks over to us and opens her mouth to speak but stops when she sees a white Escalade truck pull up behind us. Her reaction causes Scarlet and I to both turn around and look. Scarlet struts over to the driver's side of the truck and after a brief exchange of words a short stumpy black man hops out the car and strides confidently over to us. Out the corner of my eye, I can see Dove tense and fold her arms across her chest. Stumpy walks over and with no hesitation, pulls a gun out and sticks in through the window into my face. I'm staring into the barrel of the gun knowing there's no light at the end of this tunnel. In the two seconds that Stumpy has the gun in my face I think about what got me here, how I should have told Hoshea where I was and to come get me and how no friend of mine would ever put me in this type of situation.

The door of 107 opens and dready walks out with Brandi in tow counting her money. She stops when she sees the situation unfolding in front of her and Dready puts his hands up in defense.

"Angel..." Brandi says with a shaky voice and trails off.

Scarlet walks over and snatches the money from Brandi's hands. We all turn our heads when we hear another car's tires screech to a stop behind the Escalade. I can't see the car because of the Benz parked beside us and the gun still aimed in my face. But, a warming feeling rushes through my entire body when Hoshea comes running around the Benz and seemly flies to tackle Stumpy down. The two of them tussle on the ground while Brandi takes the opportunity to punch Scarlet and try to pry the money from her hands. Dove jumps out of the way of the men tussling and runs screaming back into her room and slams the paint chipped door. Dready runs back into Brandi's room and tries to close the door as unnoticeable as possible.

I'm not sure at what moment I start to cry but tears blind my vision as I climb over the driver's seat and fumble to open the door with one hand as I have my taser in the other. With drunk and weak legs, I stagger to the two of them still rolling around throwing fists on the parking lot gravel. I hear Hoshea's yells through clenched teeth for me to get into his car. I wouldn't dare leave him. I hear gun shots pierce all the noise and both Brandi and Scarlet hit the ground. I'm not sure which of them has been shot but it fuels me and I start my taser and take the crackling electric shock right to Stumpy's forehead. I hold it there and watch his body involuntarily shake like he is in the electric chair. His eyes snap shut and I jump back dropping my taser. I reach up and touch my face mixed with tears and sweat. Hoshea hops up in shock and looks around with a wild look in his dark chocolate eyes. A look I've never seen before, resulting from his inability to control the situation. After a brief moment he picks me up and throws me over his arms like a rag doll. Over his back and through my teary eyes I can see Brandi standing up and picking up money of the ground.

Hoshea places me gently in his car and runs around to the driver's side. Before he pulls out of the parking lot, I can see Brandi going through Stumpy's pockets before jumping in her car and following us out of the parking lot.

Driving way too fast, weaving in and out of unsuspecting cars, Hoshea calmly rubs my thigh as I continue to cry uncontrollably. He has settled down since gaining a sense of what has happened.

"I had a feeling you were in some trouble. I left as soon as you hung up on me and I had already screenshotted where you were." He says softly.

I didn't reply, but continued to cry. Cry for my friend who lost herself to money, cry because I could no longer be her friend, cry because I was so stubborn to Hoshea and cry because I was so thankful for him. My Hoshea. My savior. I'm grateful that he took on the role of his name.

One day my professor told me that everyone has a selling price, he then asked me "how much are you willing to sell yourself for?"

Hoshea by Jay

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