He leaned back in his seat, crossing his ankles.
The stage flooded in light, and a whisper ran
through the crowd.
A girl danced onto the stage, her hands intertwined above her
head. Her legs moved like the wind, soft and smooth. He held his
breath in awe, watching her. She wore an orange dress, the color
of autumn, and her face was that of a stone-figure. The music
that wrapped around her tiny body was elegant, and got louder. He
leaned forward now, uncrossing his ankles and studying her
He leaned back in his seat, and crossed his ankles. The stage flooded with light, and a whisper ran through the crowd. A girl danced onto the stage, her hands intertwined above her head. Her legs moved like the wind, soft and smooth. He held his breath in awe, watching her. She wore an orange dress, the color of autumn, and her face was that of a stone. The music that wrapped around her tiny body was elegant, and started to reach its crescendo. He leaned forward now, uncrossing his ankles and studied her from afar. She was perfect. Her dance was perfected, and as she danced, he could feel the whisper of Heaven brushing across his skin. The stage drowned in darkness, and when the light returned, she was gone.
“I’ll give you a thousand for her,” Hazel heard the voices through the dusty curtain. Sitting on the hard woodened stage, she shivered, and dragged her knees under her chin.
“She is not for sale.”
Henry’s voice sounded strained, Hazel couldn’t blame him, and a thousand was the best offer ever made.
Hazel closed her eyes shut and whispered words to God.Please, please let Henry give me away. I can’t do this anymore. I can’t.
Wherever she went, they ended up staying at a dank inn where men would beg for her hand in marriage or a night spent out with her. Henry was always striking her in the face if she did not follow what he demanded of her, and more often than not did she find herself crying in a room, alone.
“Three thousand, that’s my final offer,” the other voice said.
Hazel gasped, this was a large offer. There was no way Henry would decline.
“Please, come with me, we shall discuss back here.” Footsteps descended away, and Hazel got up to follow but was stopped.
“Oh hello,” Neal said. He grinned, and ran a hand through his curly blonde hair. Neal was tall and strong, with bright blue eyes and a sloppy grin. Girls wooed over him wherever he stepped, but he never seemed to leave her alone. Hazel sighed and tried to work her way around him, but he cut her off each time.
“Neil, not now. I am busy,” she whispered angrily.
“Oh come on, darling, surely you have time to spare.” He reached out with his hands and wrapped them around her waist, pulling her close. Hazel flinched as he whispered in her ear,
“It will just be a moment.”
Hazel cried out, but he put his hand over her mouth to smother the noises.
Neal’s sloppy kisses trailed down her neck, and his hands went places she disagreed with. Finally, Hazel got the courage to kick him in the knees, and ran off as he fell back, startled.
Hazel wiped the feeling from her lips, tears spilling down her cheeks.
What a putrid, foul, bastard. I hope Henry gives me away, so I won’t have to deal with that disgusting Neil.
Henry stepped through the curtains with another man, and his eyes fell on hers.
“What is the matter, darling?” he asked softly, though it was all an act. Henry fondled with her just as much as Neil did.
Hazel didn’t answer; her attention was on the man left to Henry. The two men couldn’t have been more different. Henry was short and scrawny, with no hair on the top, only on the sides. He dressed poorly, though he had money to dress better. The other man was tall and handsome, though he was much older than her. He had green eyes that matched well with his un-wrinkled suit. Hazel smiled at him-he was how she pictured her father to might have looked. Henry sighed and said,
“I have an announcement.”
“There you are!” Neil shouted from a distance, and caught up with Hazel. He looked like he was about to hit her, but sighting his father and the guest, he stopped.
“Hazel, you are to take your things and leave with this kind man.” Hazel’s heart pounded in her chest with happiness, and she broke into a smile. Her hands, once at her sides, were now over her mouth, holding in a cry of happiness. Tears threatened to spill over.
“Hello Hazel, I admire your talents very much. My name is Blake.”
Hazel bowed to him, wanting to run into his arms and be swept away from this horrible place.
“Well, I think you will need some time to get ready. I’ll be back in an hour to pick you up.”
I don’t need a whole hour,she wanted to scream,ten minutes is enough, please don’t leave me with these people. Please.
But Hazel just thanked him and scurried off.
“I will miss you much,” Neil said.
Hazel turned around, surprised. She thought she had been alone in the room. But she was never alone. She rummaged through the desk for her tiny doll, Meredith, and packed it away.
“One day, when we meet again, we will get married and live our life together.” He said it so surely, Hazel almost believed it herself. Hazel once thought that was what to happen, herself. She had been in Henry’s and Neal’s grasp for so long, there was no other choice but to marry Neal.
She kept quiet and packed her red dress. Neal sat on the corner of her bed. They had been staying at the inn for a month, but Neal treated it as if it were home. Especially her room. He would make a cozy little niche for himself there. Hazel tried to work around him, but he was like a boulder, impossible to look past.
“Kiss me one last time, darling.”
Hazel looked up and dropped the dress on the floor in shock. It made no noise as it hit the floor, the smooth fabric slipping against the rough carpet.
No, you pathetic fool,she wanted to say. When she went on as if she hadn’t heard his ludicrous request, he grabbed her by her elbows and pressed his mouth to hers. Hazel tried to fight back, but he pinned her down under him.God, please,she thought, tears burning on her face. She bit his tongue hard and the moment of his shock gave her time to get away. She was halfway across the room when he crossed in front of her with a whip-like speed.
“You are a dancer, you are supposed to be the loose sort, am I not correct?”
Hazel hated that more than anything. When he spoke with that menacing tone, trying to persuade her to drop her dress.
“No, Neil. I am not only a dancer, I am a lady, and I am not of that sort. Are you really so desperate you won’t let it through thatthickskull of yours?”
“Who are you calling thick?” Neil hissed. Hazel spat at his face and grabbed her things. Surprisingly, Neil didn’t follow her. When she turned, he stood at the door, his collar unbuttoned, his cheeks flushed, watching her.
“I hope you have fun with Blake. Don’t be mistaken he won’t try what I have on you, darling. A dancer is a dancer. You’re not any different.”
Hazel took a deep breath and slipped on her coat.
“The ridiculous thing is that we might have had a chance if you weren’t such a bastard,” Hazel said. Neil’s silence then was the best sound in the world.
Blake was waiting in the inn lobby when Hazel got there.
She cleared her throat and he turned around.
“Oh, great! You are here! Are you all buttoned up? It is very chilly out there.”
Hazel nodded. If she wore just a night gown, she would go out in the frigid weather to escape Neil and Henry.
“Well, we shall be going than.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, where exactly are we going?” Hazel asked.
Blake opened the door for her and stepped outside. Fat flakes of snow spiraled down from the sky, drowning her face in hope.
“Well, we’re going to London, and then traveling of course. But first I will introduce you to my son. He’s staying in a motel nearby. He’s currently packing, so once we get something to eat, we’ll be on our way.”
Hazel nodded and watched Blake. He clambered into a carriage parked at the curb of the street. She followed after him, too shy to just jump in the carriage.
“Well, come on than, we don’t have all year,” Blake said, grinning. Hazel looked back at the motel, with its dingy windows.
She smiled at Blake and jumped in.
The carriage stopped abruptly and Blake took off his hat, shaking the snow off. Hazel stepped down from the carriage, and Blake said,
“Don’t mind my son. He’s an irrational sort. Always upset. He doesn’t talk much, mind you.”
Hazel nodded.Maybe Neal was wrong, maybe these two men will keep their hands to themselves. Blake was a respectable man, unlike Henry whose greedy hands always wanted more.The motel Blake’s son stayed at was a grand one, indeed. When they entered, a man took their coats and hung it up. He smiled at them and pressed the elevator button for them. Hazel found herself grinning despite having no clue where she was heading. The carpet in the lobby was soft and clean, unlike the dingy white ones before. When they entered the elevator, the walls were gold. Hazel gasped and smiled back at her reflection. Her red curly hair was pinned back in a bun, only a couple of loose strands hanging at her neck. The shirt she wore was ripped at the bottom, but her pants looked classy, at least. When the elevator bell rang, Blake stepped out without hesitation. He strode down the long hallway, his posture straight. Hazel had to take large steps to keep up with him. Blake knocked on the door patiently, but his face gave away annoyance.
“Hopefully that boy’s not in the shower, then we’re doomed,” Blake remarked, and Hazel laughed quietly.
The door opened to reveal Blake’s son. Hazel took a step back. His eyes laid on his father, then raked down Hazel’s face.
“This is the dancer, I suppose.”
Blake nodded, “She has a name, Hazel,” he said and opened the door wider with his hand.
Blake’s son stepped out of the way to let them in. Hazel could feel his eyes on her when she followed Blake into a room.
Blake turned, “Son, you’ve made a mess. What have you done while I was gone?”
“Oh, I just hired some whores, the usual, father.”
Hazel turned in surprise, lips parted as if she wanted to say something.
“Nathaniel Henry Gideon! We have a woman in our company; pertain from your usual arrogance.”
Nathaniel grinned and shoved back his dark brown hair from his sharp, angular face.
“Father, don’t call me Nathaniel, its so prude. I like Nate much better.”
Blake narrowed his eyes at his son menacingly, “I’ll call you Nate when you act your age.”
“That’ll take years, Father,” Nate mumbled.
Hazel laughed despite Blake’s glare at his son. Already, she felt more at home than she did before. Blake was a respectable man, unlike Henry. The vibe she got from Blake was serene and gentle. In her dreams, Blake was who she imagined her father to be. Of course, she never pictured Nate to be her brother, he was much too handsome. Hazel choked in surprise at her thought, her face burning.
Nate glanced at her in confusion, “Water?”
She shook her head and smiled.
“She’s a quiet one, this one,” Nate said, gesturing to her with his chin.
Blake sighed and looked under the bed, banging his head and cursing. “Thegirlhas a name, Nate. Please use it.”
Nate leaned against the wall, crossing his arms over his chest. Hazel couldn’t meet his gaze, so she settled her eyes on his collar. Suddenly, Nate detached himself from the wall and circled her. Hazel shivered, flashing back to Neal circling her in the living room, undressing her with his eyes.
“So, you’re a dancer, aren’t you?” Nate said softly.
Hazel nodded, mute.
“Tell me more about you. How much did my father have to spend to get his hands on you?”
His hands on you,her brain shut down and she backed away, toppling over a box and landing on the floor.
“Leave me alone! Don’t touch me!” she screamed, scrabbling backward on her hands. Blake removed his head from under the bed and scowled at Nate.
“What is going on?” he said.
Nate just stared at her in amazement, and despite herself, she couldn’t help feel embarrassed.
“I…” Nate started, but couldn’t finish.
Blake pushed aside his son, “It’s her first day, try not to kill her already, Nathaniel.” He reached down and offered his hand to Hazel. She looked up at Blake, his kind, warm green eyes. She put her hand in his and stood up. An eerie silence followed after, until Blake said,
“Well, we should get going.”
The carriage they had used to get there turned out not to be Blake’s. He had borrowed it from his friend to get around, so first they went to drop it off by the man’s market. Hazel sat in the back, staring at her lap, Nate beside her, looking out the window. It had stopped snowing for a change, and Hazel was glad for that. It was much too cold outside. When they came to a stop, Hazel didn’t want to leave the carriage. It was very warm and comforting. But she slipped out after Nate, who didn’t bother to spare her a second glance. Blake patted the carriage fondly, and entered the store, telling Hazel and Nate to wait outside. Hazel stood by, wrapping her arms around her body as tightly as she could to feel warm.
“I wasn’t going to touch you,” Nate said suddenly.
Hazel looked up, and finally met his gaze. He was quite handsome, with the same green eyes as his father and dusty brown hair. But his eyes were more angry than sad.
Hazel looked away, “Forgive me; I was used to be handled in such a way.”
“The people before you, how many were there?” Nate asked. From his pocket he took a cigar and held it up to his lips before lighting it.
“Two, a man and a boy my age,” she said quietly. Talking about Henry and Neal felt like she was creating a wound in her heart. Hazel would rather talk about anything else in the world at the moment.
“Disgusting. A man? Didn’t he have a wife or something of the sort?”
Hazel shrugged, “Probably at some point. But I don’t know. He thought that because I was a dancer, I was a loose sort. Both of them tried to get me in bed with them.” Tears spilled down her cheeks, but it want because of the cold.
“I am sorry,” Nate said quietly.
Hazel looked up, surprised. She shook her head and said quietly, “Nothing you could have done.”
Nate pushed his hair back from his face, a gesture that seemed casual to him, “Did you ever have to…”
“Yes,” she said painfully, squeezing her eyes shut to forget the bed springs creaking, the sound of her shirt buttons popping.
A hand went to her face gently, brushing across her eyes, “Don’t close your eyes. They’re already gone.”
Hazel looked at Nate in surprise; his voice had taken on a softer tone than usual.
Blake stepped outside, slipping on his gloves, “Alright, well we better get goin-“he glanced at them, Nate staring at Hazel.
He coughed loudly, and Nate glanced at his father, “What?” he said.
“I was talking,”
“And I was listening, God, Father.”
Hazel laughed as Blake threw his hands in the air and mumbled a curse.