Edited. If someone wants to do a better job at it, he is welcome. Also, comments would be quite welcome. I don't mind writing these things, but I would like to know what other people think.
John Davis. Local hero and bookstore owner. He is usually unkempt, a stubble of a beard on his chin, his hair like an unruly mop. If not for his uncanny knack to obtain rare and precious books, his bookshop would have closed shop a long time ago. His only real hobby, spending his nights and money in mistress’s Lyssa’s parlor and burlesque dancing, chatting away with girls and drowning himself in whiskey and other illegal beverages. That was until the quadruples came into town. The two, Rory and Cynthia had become the regular’s favorites. Rory was the favorite of course; a ray of sunshine in what would be a rather dull and droll existence. She could dance like an angel and was able to raise a smile out of even the most cynic and disappointed patrons in the room. Cynthia was the musician. She played the piano like a virtuoso. She was able to give life to even the worse instrument. She could also sing with a voice that talked to God, and even Taxi, usually unable to understand music much, was mesmerized by her voice. She didn’t put a lot of shows, but she was there supporting all the other girls. And, a plus if you asked John, when there were only the “chosen few” as she put it, and the house was locked tight, she was playing the negro music, the blues. Weird and progressive as Worlsend Gate was, there were things that you didn’t do. The third sister was one that could be so much more, but she was a ghost. A nobody. She was not special in any way, and it was a shame because she had a beauty that escaped all her other sisters. She was not fascinatingly beautiful as Rory, or sweet and pure beauty like Cynthia, but she was a better looking woman than most. Her usual expression though betrayed her and made people avoid her. She looked as if she would prefer to be somewhere else, and in places like the parlor people paid for women that were there with them. And finally there was Solstice.
Now if there was a fascinating woman, Solstice was the one, at least as far as John was concerned. She was not the prettiest girl in the parlor. Indeed, her scar had marred her face forever and she hid it with long hair. She was not the best talker. She had a tendency to mumble most of the time, and she only raised her voice rarely. Even when talking about something important, she tried to not be heard. She was not graceful, by any definition of the term. She was tall and gangly and unlike all of her sisters. She could dance, but just barely. People thought that she was mentally ill, because she rarely talked. There were some that were treating her like crap because of it, and John by association. He didn’t care. He was captivated by her, ever since they talked the first time. He recalled it, like it was yesterday, as he was shaving…
He entered the parlor after another day like any other. Books were sold, threats were made, someone tried to kill him on the way to the parlor. A day like usual. He was feeling empty as usual, an emptiness that went away only with copious amounts of the most abhorrent whiskey he had ever tasted, and a falsely sympathetic ear on the arm of his chair. Mistress Lyssa, radiant as always walked to him and took him by the hand.
“Oh, Mister Davis! How fortuitous that you should be our first patron of the day!” Indeed, the parlor was empty, the time too early for most people to get drunk or to spend their money on floosies. He looked at her and managed a smile. He knew that some more days like this and he would not be able to stand being alive anymore.
“Now, now! Don’t be like that! We have four new girls, all gorgeous, all fresh!” she was talking with the vigor of a salesman ready to nail his big kahuna.
“Girls! Come out and let Mister Davis have a look at you!” Some days he felt as if he kept the thing open by himself. He looked at the door from which three identical shapes and a taller one entered. His eyes shot up in wonder, as he saw four girls, four sisters. One wore a sweet and innocent smile. The other, a rather friendly and sultry one. The third was as if she wanted to be somewhere else, though her smile was as fetching as the one the other two had. Anyone less observant than him would have missed that. And last was the tall one. She was an enigma to him, smiling a rather awkward smile, shy and brave at the same time.
“Now, Mister Davis. You know you can have a free drink with each of the girls. I know you will be gentle and considerate enough as a first customer.” she said and smiled, winking at him the same time, a wink the girls missed. He nodded, and sat at a comfortable couch.
“You. Bring me a drink and join me.” he ordered, pointing at the prettiest one. Without losing her stride by his rudeness, she brought him his whiskey and sat on the couches arm. He looked at her.
“Where are you from?” he almost growled at her. She didn’t lose her smile even for a second.
“Oh from Europe. I don’t think you have ever heard our country!” she answered sweetly. She was going to be a success. She had all the makings of a perfect hostess. And she was not an idiot to give away her secrets just because she was ordered.
“Another pretty face then.” he sneered. We got loads of them already!” he kept up with his garish approach. But the girl didn’t even flinch. She stood up and mounted the stage. With but a single look, one of the other girls went to the piano. She began playing one of those Jazz songs that were all the rage these days. The girl on the stage began dancing. Both music and dance were indescribable. He stood up and walked to mistress Lyssa.
“Enough. Those two pass, mistress.” he whispered and then motioned to the third girl.
“My glass seems to be empty.” he said, although it was half full.
“But it still has drink in it.” she argued. He turned it and emptied it on the floor. He looked at her, his gaze steely. Scared, she took the glass and went to the bar, as the tall one brought a mop, and cleaned the mess, mumbling something to herself. The other two sisters didn’t stop from what they were doing, but hey did take notice of what happened.
“This one is useless. She needs a lot more training before you let her work the room. She will be eaten alive, or worse taken somewhere.” he mumbled to mistress Lyssa as he went back to his seat. The woman nodded a nod that the girls missed.
“You, long shanks! Come here!” he said to the last girl, as he sat back down. The girl walked towards him almost shyly.
“So, you are sisters?” he asked her as she sat at the couches arm.
“Yes. Quadruples.” She mumbled back, and before he had the chance to speak, she continued. “There was no need to be mean to Alessandra. Even if it was to check if she was able to work.” she mumbled again, staring at him with one eye, the other hidden behind her long hair.
“There was every need. Most people here are savages and do not care for you or any of the girls here. You are all cheap thrills, just something to use for the night. And some people think you less than human.” he replied. It was not long ago that one man tried to rape one of the girls. He was able to help her, as he heard the struggle while he was walking away from the parlor. It was a weird fight, him drunk and unable to shoot, the man also drunk but less so and packing a really mean Kick. Fortunately his shot attracted the attention of the mistress, which was not drunk and became furious in a matter of seconds. He was hit by a really hard Kick at that time, and he woke up in the parlor with a bruise on his eye.
“You are not afraid.” he told her, amazed. “Usually girls are at least nervous.”
Her smile held, though something in her eyes changed, only for a moment, but to John’s careful eye it was plain as day…
She was swimming in the languid black waters of unconsciousness, somewhere in between what is real and what is fantasy. She was unaware of whether she was alive or dead. Something slow and steady filled the nothingness around her, a darkness so profound that it seemed to go on forever. And then what seemed like an explosion but in reality was a flicker of light, spread through the dark.
The ceiling tiles were glowing with blue around their edges, stars brighter than the sun dancing across her field of vision. The tiles were speaking. Saying something…
“My dear one, have you not yet learned? You are nothing. You are a toy for men, one they will pay a price to play with for a little while and then discard. And, despite that, I take care of you. And how do you repay me? You betray me, try to escape me! And yet I show you this mercy. I give you your life once again. Do not disappoint me again, Solstice. Next time you will leave me no choice. You belong to me, now and always.”
She knew now she was alive, sensation returning to her alongside the pain. The memory of what happened hit her only just before she felt her face. The dull, throbbing ache all but crippled her, but she would not show it. She laid still and waiting for the dark to consume her once more, as an old and tender friend…
Her translucent stare flashed to the floor, only a small show of weakness, but as soon as her gaze once again met John’s she could see in his eyes that he’d noticed the brief change in her. She fixed her sights on a sign on the far wall, played a smile across the corner of her mouth, and stood up to fill his emptied glass. His voice crept across the silence between them.
“You know, I would like to learn a little bit more about you, starting with your name…” John told her, and waved his arm towards the bar, gesturing that he would, indeed, like another drink with her.
He was perfect. His hair combed, his face clean shaven, his clothes pressed and immaculately clean. He smiled and checked himself in the mirror. It was time for his date with Solstice. She would come for “books” or so she told to mistress Lyssa, and he was going to give her books. After taking her see the new movie of an actor that has become ridiculously famous, Rudolph Valentino. He took his bowler hat, something he usually avoided wearing, and waited. And there she was. She was…
“You look stunning!” he said, taking her hand in his and kissing it. She smiled shyly and offered him her arm. They began walking towards the movie theatre, chatting about anything. Mainly he was talking and she was answering. As they neared the theatre he got a glimpse of someone trying to hide himself. He told her nothing but tried to spot the one that was trailing them…
The show was good. The movie was, if anyone asked him, a bore and so inaccurate on Arabic customs that it was laughable. Solstice seemed to have enjoyed it though, the kind of romance that appealed to women. They walked towards a new Italian restaurant that had opened. He was certain that there was something wrong with it, but most that visited it agreed that the food was good. He smiled as the date was progressing perfectly…
Hours later, and with a bag full of books in her hands, Solstice returned to the parlor. She hummed to herself in the way, the date being perfect. John was a perfect gentleman, talking about this and that, making it easier for her to talk back. She forgot all about… everything. She sneaked in the parlor, and went to her room. She put the books down, and, still smiling sat down to her vanity. She would need to change for the night, and John had vowed that he would be there.
“He only wants to bed you.” a voice was heard from behind her, and as she looked up she could see Alessandra in her mirror. She couldn’t figure out how she missed her.
“What are you talking about?” she asked, feeling some of her happiness draining.
“That bully of yours. He only wants what all the others…” Alessandra said, and Solstice stood up, towering over her sister.
“He. Does. NOT!” she hissed at her, her eyes narrowing. She loved Alessandra, but this was not her business.
“He does. You can tell by the way he looks at you, like a slab of meat.” Alessandra droned on, her voice flat and cold. Solstice looked at her sister as if it was the first time she really looked at her. She had a hungry look on her, as if she wanted something.
“He does not.” she answered in her usual mumbling voice and sat down before the vanity, brushing her hair. He had never once asked about her scar, and he had never recoiled as so many men had done in the past. Alessandra added nothing, and she faded away.
“Solstice? Mistress Lyssa wants to talk to you!” a voice was heard from behind the door, one of the girls shouting. She stood up and wore a new dress, one not that fancy and perfect for the nights work. She walked to the mistress’s office and knocked.
Inside the room, a room she had visited once or twice before, mistress Lyssa was waiting for her.
“So? How did it go?” she asked. Solstice mumbled something.
“Oh come on girl! Do you really think that you could hide the fact that you went out on a date?” said the mistress amused. Half the girls have figured it out. Your sisters are livid with curiosity, and the scandal this date will produce will do tons of good for business. So” she smiled at her, “how did it go?” Solstice remained stunned for a second. She was certain she hid her tracks really good. But if Rory and Cynthia knew…
“It was… good.” she mumbled.
“Did that good for nothing bookkeeper try anything funny?” Lyssa asked. Solstice opened her mouth to tell her that he was not good for nothing, that he was the perfect gentleman, that she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself. But shut up as she saw the only woman she had ever met that seemed to know what she was thinking grinning.
“Well, he is not my style for certain. And since you started working, he hasn’t taken another girl.” she told her and then looked outside the window in her office. “You know as well as I do that men are not to be easily trusted. He seems like a good one though.” She walked to the window, and looked at the setting sun. Solstice followed her with her gaze, but then something made her look back to the desk. The man! She had a photo of the man! She began to shake, her eyes huge.
“Just be careful. And Solstice?” said Lyssa. “Next time come to me for a dress. I have one that would look stunning on you and make him forget how to talk.” Solstice stood up, mumbled something and fled to her room.
“Is something wrong?” asked John Solstice that night, as they shat together on the couch, side by side. By now the whole town knew about the date, so this little transgression was forgiven. Solstice wanted to talk to him, but how could she explain everything that happened.
“If I can help somehow?” he offered, knowing that she would talk when she could, and she smiled at him warmly. No matter what would happen in the future, she knew that he was going to help her as much as he could. And as she begun feeling better again, she failed to see the sour look her sister Alessandra gave her, a look full of jealousy, disappointment and loneliness.
The news of my demise were highly exagerated.