On the morning of her 14th birthday, Winnie woke up with the old familiar soreness of having been beaten. She hadn't taken a like that one since Pa left town. She certainly didn't miss the feeling, but it was hardly shocking.
Last night Winnie was prepared to do whatever this "gentleman" wanted her to do. Apparently after he went about the usually unpleasantness that went along with whoring, he wanted Winnie to stand there and take a beating. She of course didn't question this or say a word.
The big surprise was when Madame Nan heard the ruckus going on. She barged into Winnie's room with the assistance of the bartender who worked downstairs. They threw the man out, letting him know he was not welcome back at this establishment.
Why would she do that?
Winnie decided she had best not think about it. She went to check on Dotty who was still recovering from whatever it was that took her away for those days. Winnie was stunned and happy that she found Dotty out of bed sitting chair by her mirror.
"How are you feeling?" Winnie asked
"Better, I think."
She really did look better. It worried Winnie how her friend could change so drastically in a matter of weeks and days. Winnie never changed for anything. She was like a mountain. Nothing could bother a mountain. Of course, Winnie had never seen an actual mountain. She just thought it was for her own good that she not let anything break her.
"Good. It's nice to see you out of bed. Can I get you anything? Would you like some tea?" Winnie offered.
"No, but thank you for tending to me so kindly" Dotty said with half of her old smile.
"It's something to me. Come and sit down. We can sit and chat, like sisters."
"I had a bunch of sisters, once." Winnie said blankly.
"Well I suppose we can look after each other now." Dotty said.
"I suppose." Winnie said as sat down on the bed and tried to smile.
"So, I think I'll be able to work again in the next few days." Dotty said, changing the subject and her tone.
Winnie hoped that Dotty would be ok to work, but after seeing her come in the door looking like a ghost of her former self, Winnie couldn't help but be concerned. Was it really for the best? Or would something else horrible happen and then Dotty is broken again and Winnie is working double again. Neither of these things sounded good.
"Well good. I guess." Winnie said trying to hide her fears and be encouraging.
"Of course it's good. Someone has to do it."
"Can I ask you something Dotty, as your friend and a whore in training?" Winnie asked with some hesitation
"As long as it has nothing to do with why I'm haven't been working, yes."
It was so clear whatever happened with Grey and the trip was awful that Winnie knew not to bring it up. She wouldn't dare say anything to remind Dotty whatever terrible thing happened. If Dotty wanted to talk, which Winnie doubted she would, Winnie would only listen.
Winnie paused to take a breath. She had been thinking about this for some time.
"How did you get into this? Why are you a whore?"
"Oh that's easy" Dotty said as if Winnie had just asked her the color of grass, or if the sky was blue.
Winnie was relieved to know her friend was not offended by her question, but why would such a beautiful young lady need to be a whore? All of these women probably had stories, but Dotty was the only one who she really felt alright asking.
"My Mama was a whore. I was born at Storyville or somewhere around there." Dotty continued. The words came out plain as day, she might as well have been talking about the weather her tone was so light and conversational.
Winnie was shocked, but tried not to let it show on her face. She never thought of herself as naïve, but she hadn't ever considered that children could be born and bred in a whorehouse.
"What happened to her?" Winnie asked. It was the first thing that came to her mind.
Winnie imagined that Dotty's mother was as beautiful as Dotty. Maybe a man fell in love with her and took her off to live with him. That would have been a nice ending and given Dotty reason to be optimistic. That could happen, maybe.
"She died. I really don't remember her. I was just four years old when it happened."
Of course. This is reality not some bedtime story. This is a whorehouse. Who would love a whore?
"Oh. I'm so sorry" was all Winnie could say without fear of upsetting her friend.
"It's fine. I don't need anyone to being sorry. I was really the lucky one. I had a little brother. The ladies kept me and raised me to be a whore, but I don't know what became of my little brother, poor thing."
"You always manage to see the light in situations." Winnie pointed out.
Both of the young women had lost family. It was hard to for Winnie to think about the little ones, but she was sure they were better of without her as a mouth to feed. Maybe her brother nearest in age would find work soon. She hoped for the best for them and for Dotty's long lost brother, but there wasn't much to be done other than save money and send it to Ma when she could. Thinking about them much would only make life harder.
"Well now we are chatting like sisters just like you said. We can be sisters." Winnie smiled warmly even though she knew this whole thing was sad.
"I'll drink to that." Dotty proclaimed.
"I would too, if I hadn't finished that bottle of white lightning two weeks ago."
"I don't blame you. The good thing about living here is there is always more where that came from!" Dotty said before getting up and reaching under hear bed in a very awkward position.
"Ouch! Help me up will you sister?"
Winnie clenched Dotty's hand. She was still hurting from something. But life must go on and Dotty's life had always been the life of a whore. She probably would return to work in a few days. Winnie would have to hope for the best.
When the two young women were both standing Winnie noticed that a full bottle of white lightning was in Dotty's other hand.
"I would laugh, but it hurts." Dotty joked.
"I think you deserve the first drink" Winnie said
Dotty opened the bottle raised it as high as her arm could reach and said "Cheers"
"Cheers" Winnie copied the same movement.
Winnie didn't bother her friend with the story of last night's beating, nor did she mention to anyone that it was her birthday.