1 Barely LivingMature

After graduation, twenty-four-year-old Leah was determined that no man would destroy her plans for the future. Or so she thought. Her best laid plans and well-ordered life were turned head over heels after her best friend, Janie, invited her to a "coming-out" party.One look at Rhett and all previous thoughts went straight to hell. He made an unbelievable offer to her: "Give me 10 nights and I'll show you pleasure beyond your wildest dreams."Was this an invitation to paradise or would his

"This should be one of the happiest days of my life," Leah mumbled under her breath, stomping her foot in agitation.

After four years of working her ass off to get her degree, she felt just as empty as she had when she first stepped foot on the grounds of the campus. When she stepped out on the green in a few hours, she would receive a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business; not bad for a girl from a trailer park in nowhere Mississippi, so why the hell couldn't she be happy?

She felt as if she was drowning, and every time she tried to pull herself to the surface and into a better mood the current reached out to drag her back down.

Try though she might to analyze the situation, she still wasn't sure what was wrong with her. Tonight was the result of four years of hard work; she had focused on nothing else during the whole of that time, and she knew she should be pleased to have finally reached the end.

Her relationship wasn't the problem, she didn't have one. Leah had long ago concluded that relationships were pointless, and entering into one would only make her unhappy, and get in the way of the career she was working towards.

Growing up she had witnessed her parents degenerate into children in their behavior as their relationship collapsed. That had convinced her that relationships weren't worthwhile, an opinion that was cemented when her father walked out on her mother for a younger woman.

She just couldn't see the point in getting involved with someone who would leave her the moment she was no longer young and sexy.

Putting on a bare minimum of makeup, she never wore much, Leah continued to dwell on her discontent, wondering if it was the future that had her so confused and agitated.

Now that she finally had her degree, life was uncertain. Jobs were hard to come by, even with a degree, and over the next few months she would be lining up interviews, she hoped. There was no guarantee that she would find a job however, let alone her dream job, not that she knew what her dream job was.

The only thing she knew for sure was that she had left Mississippi and moved to Chicago to avoid poverty, and she had no intention of going back there.

Thinking about the move from Mississippi, and the possibility of having to go back there if she couldn't find a job, brought her mother to the front of her thoughts.

She could have done anything with her life; one night she'd found her mother's scrap book, it was filled with pictures of her on stage in Nashville. She was so beautiful and full of life in those pictures, not like the worn out woman she had left crying as she pulled her old pickup truck, the one gift from her father she still possessed, out of the drive, all those years before when she left for college.

Her mother had refused to talk about her dreams and her life on stage, and Leah had discovered that it was best not to bring the subject up. The sad look of desire on her mom's face broke her heart; she deserved so much more than her useless excuse for a father had ever given her.

From the moment her father left her for a twenty-something year old slut, Leah had been forced to watch as her mother withdrew into herself, becoming a shell of the person she had once been. She stayed as long as she could, but after spending the summer following her high school graduation watching her mother torture herself over what she had done wrong, and listening to her cry herself to sleep every night, she'd had enough.

In her opinion her dad was a piece of shit, and she hadn't spoken to him since he walked out. It wasn't the thought that her stepmother was the same age as her that stopped her talking to him; it was the memories of what he had done to her mother. He was the epitome of everything she despised about men, and the main reason she refused to get involved with anyone; with the result that she was a twenty-four year old virgin, with no interest in changing that fact anytime soon.

Pulling her long dark hair into a sensible flip, Leah stepped back from the mirror and took a deep breath in an effort to get her emotions under control. She knew Janie, her best friend since she moved to Chicago, would arrive any minute so they could walk down the aisle together.

Grinning at how screwed up that thought sounded, even in the silence of her mind, she realized the proceedings that were to take place shortly was as close to a wedding as she was likely to participate in; at least with her as a principal figure.

Janie was everything Leah wasn't; outgoing and sexy, and she dated anything with two legs and a dick. It didn't hamper their friendship in the least though. Leah admired her friend because she went after what she wanted, and didn’t let anything get in her way, and that included men.

While Leah didn't get Janie's craving for the male species, she found she couldn't dislike her for it. Janie used men the same way other men used women, taking what she wanted from them and then moving on to the next hunk. Despite that they still fawned over her like dogs in heat.

In the beginning Leah had wondered why she didn't dislike Janie for the way she treated men, since it was essentially the same way her father had treated her mother. Over time she had come to the conclusion that it was because her friend never promised the men anything, and consequently never broke a promise, while her father had made promises to her mother, promises he had broken.

"I hope your ass is dressed, girl," Janie called out as she walked into her friend's dorm room without knocking. "I'd hate to be late for our own graduation."

"In the bathroom," Leah called back, putting on a coral colored lip gloss before joining her friend in the main room. The moment her eyes found Janie she laughed, "Sorry, babe, but that gown does nothing for you."

"Smart ass; it's what's underneath that counts," Janie retorted, lifting the hem of the gown to her waist. She laughed at her friend's expression; she was wearing absolutely nothing underneath.

"Holy hell, Janie." Leah blushed furiously, shaking her head. Very little bothered her, she generally just ignored things, but somehow Janie always managed to shock her.

"Yeah, I'm hell on wheels." Giggling Janie dropped the hem and put her hands on her small waist. "Now get your ass in gear, I want to get through this crap as quickly as possible, I've got a hell of a party lined up for when we're done."

Leah groaned aloud at her words. "Janie, you know I don't mind being your designated driver, but please tell me you won't be getting us kicked out of whatever bar we're going to tonight." Her friend had a temper, and the last time they'd ventured out on the town a guy had gotten a little too friendly; it had ended with Janie throwing him across a table.

"This isn't that kind of party, girlfriend." Janie waggled her eyebrows. "Now get dressed so we can go!"

"Where are we going then?"

“That’s a surprise,” Janie told her, grinning secretively.

Leah was curious, not to mention a little apprehensive. She'd been the non-drinking friend in the pair since they'd met, and over the years had almost become Janie's bodyguard. When Janie decided to party she had a tendency to party hard, and Leah had been forced to look after her on many an occasion when she had drunk too much.

Returning to her bedroom Leah pulled on the plain brown dress she'd selected for the evening, and then slid the graduation gown over the top of it. Before leaving the room to return to her friend she grabbed her cap off the dresser.


They made it to the ceremony just as it was about to begin, and though she was excited to be receiving her degree, Leah found it to be one of the most boring periods of her life. She actually breathed a sigh of relief when it was over.

"I thought it would never end," Janie said with a laugh as she slid behind the wheel of her little two seat convertible.

"I'm with you there, but hey, we finished!" Leah stared down at her degree in its leather holder before sliding into the passenger seat and putting on her seatbelt.

"Now the real fun can begin. I hope you enjoy yourself tonight." Janie revved the engine, smiling at the sound it made.

"This is one hell of a car." Leah didn't begrudge her friend the exotic ride, but she did wonder if she would ever have the opportunity to find out what it felt like to own something so expensive.

"Just another one of daddy's payoffs for always being busy," Janie said dismissively, an unhappy look on her face. She quickly pulled herself out of her funk however. It was one of the things that drew the two of them together; both of them had worthless fathers. The only difference between them was that her father tried to make up for being worthless by throwing money and gifts at her.

"At least he's rich," Leah said with a sigh as they drove off.

"Money doesn't buy happiness, Leah; you remember that, because people that tell you otherwise are full of shit."

They'd argued about the merits of a rich worthless father over a poor worthless father on a number of occasions so Leah changed the subject. "Where's this exclusive party taking place tonight then?" Over the course of the four years they'd been friends Janie had taken her to just about every bar in Chicago, as well as a significant number of the town's elite homes.

"I told you, that's my secret until we get there," Janie said with a laugh. "Trust me; this will be better than any of my surprises so far."

She bit back a groan at her friend's answer. The last time she'd heard that line they'd ended up on some rich guy's boat, travelling to Jamaica for the weekend. The trip had been great, but for her having to watch Janie wrap herself around a guy she barely knew while she tagged along, that hadn't been much fun.

Keeping her mouth shut, Leah watched the scenery go by until they drove into Highland Park. Whomever Janie's friends were, it was clear to her they had money, and she gasped as they pulled up the cobblestoned driveway in front of a white-washed brick mansion that had her eyes widening. "Who owns this place?" Leah wanted to know. "It's like something from another world."

"Rhett's definitely a different breed." Janie giggled at some insider joke as she opened the door and got out of the car.

"Rhett? Like in Rhett Butler?" Leah laughed, the house before her was far more modern than the beautiful mansion in her favorite movie, but was definitely something to look at.

"I'll let you call him that," Janie gave a little wink, "his last name is Hammond, he's a friend of my new, um, friend."

By friend Leah knew Janie meant lover, unusually though, she hadn't met the latest man in her friend's life.

When a tall handsome man walked out the front door of the house and descended the steps to take Janie's keys, Leah couldn't help but whistle. "Color me impressed, he has a valet to go along with the fancy house. What are the chances of him giving me a job?"

Janie shook her head at the surprise her friend displayed for something which was, in her experience, fairly normal, and handed over the keys. "Trust me, hon, I don't think you're the type of girl to earn money from Rhett, then again…" she trailed off.

Leah turned to stare at Janie as the implications of what she had said penetrated her brain. "You mean he pays women for…" she cut off what she had been about to say, partly because she didn't want to suggest that someone her friend knew was that kind of person, and partly because the front door had opened just then to reveal a butler in a tuxedo.

The sight of the man made her eyes widen, it was clear to her that Rhett, whoever he was, had far more money than he knew what to do with if he could afford to employ someone just to open the front door.

"Good evening ladies; if you would kindly follow me." The butler waited until they had entered before shutting the door. He then led the way across the polished marble tiles of the foyer.

Leah and Janie looked at each other, barely suppressing their laughter at the stern expression on the man's face, as they followed him over to the door he held open for them.

The room they entered was huge, and boasted a wooden floor that had been polished to perfection. In the center was a massive table, adorned with a pristine white cloth and covered with dishes containing every food imaginable. Fragrant blooms nestled among the huge sterling silver platters, while at the near end bottles of champagne, surrounded by crystal goblets, awaited opening.

"This is definitely some setup," Leah whispered, wondering why they were the only two there, when it was apparent the feast was meant for many more.

"Rhett likes to go all out when he is accommodating guests." Janie grinned. "Now where is that date of mine?"

"Hello, gorgeous, you're late."

The new arrival, who Leah immediately surmised was Janie's date, was handsome, she couldn't deny that.

"And this must be the elusive Leah," he said, holding out his hand and smiling, though only after lifting Janie into his arms and twirling her around, before setting her down with a kiss.

"Leah, this big hunk is David, David, my best friend Leah." Wrapping her hand in his Janie looked up at him adoringly.

Leah was stunned by the depth of feeling in her friend's eyes; she'd never seen Janie look that way at a man before. "It's nice to meet you, David."

"And you, Leah, I feel like I know you personally, even though we've just met; Janie speaks about you all the time." As if it wasn't something he did usually he laughed when he shook her hand.

"Thanks, I think," Leah said, raising an eyebrow in her friend's direction, wondering what Janie had said about her, in her opinion she wasn't interesting enough to talk about.

"Everyone else is already down in the basement, but if you would like to eat first I'll stay with you," David told Janie, the look on his face suggesting that she was the most important thing in the world to him.

"Um, Leah, would you mind if we grab something to eat after I introduce you?" Janie asked nervously. That night amounted to a coming out party for her and she was more than a little concerned. No one outside of those involved in it knew about her secret life, not even her best friend, and she wasn't sure how Leah was going to take what she had to say.

Seeing Janie so nervous, and obviously embarrassed, was a first for Leah; her friend had never been anything but confident and in control before, no matter where they had been or what they were doing. "I'm really not that hungry," she said finally. She had no idea what was going on, but it was clear that it was something out of the ordinary.

"Okay, well what I'm about to share with you is something I've been hiding for a long time." Janie hesitated, biting her lip anxiously. "This is a big step for me, letting you into this part of my life, but if you can't handle it, I'll understand. Just say the word and I'll drive you straight home; I just hope that it won't change our friendship."

Leah could see the desperation in her friend's eyes and felt a moment's panic. What could be so bad that Janie would worry about their friendship, she wondered. "Janie, I love you, but I have to be honest, you're scaring the shit out of me right now."

"I think you're making things worse than they need to be, babe. Just take her downstairs; if she freaks out, we'll take her home." David winked at Leah before turning and holding out his hand to his date. Janie took his hand and David smiled. "Just stay close behind us until we introduce you, Leah." With those words he led off with Janie at his side, while Leah followed behind them, her stomach tying itself in knots.

The End

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