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Episode Two

 

Happily ever after? Yeah, right. When you’re barely scraping by, there’s no room for dreams like that. My fantasies consist of zero-balance bills and a toilet that flushes without having to take off the tank lid and jiggle a piece inside every time you flush. Hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?

 ***

“Ma’am, there’s nothing more we can do. Your account is seriously delinquent and if you can’t pay your balance in full by Thursday, we’ll be disconnecting your power on Friday.”

I gasped, speechless for a second. “But there’s no way I can come up with $689 by then. That’s only a few days.”

“Like I said, ma’am, it’s out of my hands.”

Once glance at the clock told me I’d have to worry about this later.

“Yeah, okay,” I said, feeling defeated.

“Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“You mean, besides the nothing you’ve already done?” I asked with an edge.

“Ma’am?”

“Never mind.”

“Thank you for choosing the St. Louis Power Authority.”

Click.

I didn’t remember being given a choice when my dad and I moved into our small mobile home three years ago, but whatever. I hung up, grabbed my bag and ran into The Warren Center.

I hustled downstairs to the dressing room where the St. Louis Mavericks’ Ice Dancing Crew got ready. There were six women and two men, and we performed on the ice before games and between periods, either doing our ice dancing routine or giving away T-shirts and holding on-ice contests.

“Hey, sexy.” One of the arena ushers gave me a smarmy grin before smacking my ass with the flat of his palm.

I whirled around, annoyed. “Knock it off, Dirk,” I snapped.

“I was just playin’,” he muttered, giving me a dirty look. “Don’t be a bitch.”

I ignored him and kept going. I was running late, and I still had to change into my outfit and help load the T-shirt cannons. I liked my job working for the Mavericks as part of the on-ice entertainment crew, but there were too many guys like Dirk. My uniform of skin-tight red leggings and a sequined black and red bra top meant sexual harassment was an everyday occurrence.

“Hey, Nova!” my friend Sierra called out, waving.

“Great timing. We’re almost done with the cannons,” another of my fellow dancers said sarcastically. Dorian was always on my case and though I ignored her most of the time, I couldn’t figure out why she didn’t like me.

“Sorry, there was traffic,” I said, dropping my bag and yanking off my top. I was wearing the leggings, but the bra was uncomfortable off the ice, so I didn’t put it on until I got here.

“Don’t listen to her,” Sierra whispered against my ear. “You can come in early to help next time. She was late twice last week.”

“Thanks.” I quickly finished dressing and started lacing up my skates.

“God, if these outfits were any smaller and tighter,” Sierra muttered, smoothing down the fabric of her leggings. “It barely covers my fat roll. I’m going to get fired if I eat so much as an extra cookie.”

I shook my head. “You don’t have rolls. You’re beautiful.”

She smiled. “Thanks, but we all know I’m nowhere near as beautiful as you.”

I shook my head. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and there’s no difference between us.”

“Oh please.” Dorian rolled her eyes. “You’re a total attention whore and we all know it.”

“Hey, Dorian, your inner bitch is showing.” One of the guys on the crew, Toby Shaw, made a face at her.   

She flounced out of the room, calling over her shoulder, “Whatever. You all know I’m right.”

“Right about what?” I asked in frustration. “Why does she hate me? Do I really hog the attention?”

“Jealousy,” Sierra said with a faint smile. “I’d be jealous of you too if I didn’t know how sweet you are.”   

“Well, you kinda do hog the attention,” Toby said, shrugging. “But it’s cause you’re so damn beautiful. You can’t help that you’re prettier than the rest of us.”

Being born with blond hair, blue eyes and a great metabolism had almost been a curse. Women assumed I was a shallow bitch and men assumed I wanted to be catcalled, grabbed and used for their pleasure. I’d learned a long time ago to ignore it outwardly, but it never stopped hurting me deep down inside, in a place I never let anyone see.

I headed into the hallway, toward the entrance to the ice when Sierra let out a muffled curse.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, turning to her.

“I just got my period and I don’t have any tampons.” She looked panicked.

“Oh, I might have one in my bag,” I said. “Let me run back to my locker to get it.”

“You’ll be late,” Sierra protested.

“It’s all right. Tell them you’re having a wardrobe malfunction and go into the bathroom. I’ll meet you there in thirty seconds.” I turned and ran back to where we locked up our things, digging through my purse until I found the tampon. I didn’t have pockets or anything, so I closed my fist around it and hurried to the bathroom.

“What are you doing?” Dorian demanded, coming out as I was going in.

“What does it look like?” I countered, brushing past her and calling to Sierra.

“You’re a lifesaver,” Sierra murmured, grabbing the tampon and locking herself in one of the stalls.

“See you out there!” I called, walking out and picking up the pace as I clomped down the hall in my skates.

I tended to lose myself when I was on the ice. I loved skating and loved to dance, so being able to combine the two and get paid for it was a dream come true. Not that it paid a lot, but every little bit helped in my life.

“Have you seen the new mascot?” Toby asked me, grinning. “It’s a freakin’ bird.”

“It’s a raven,” I corrected him. “Is he here? I heard there’s a new mascot guy.”

“I guess so.” Toby peered into the hallway where one of the PR interns was helping the new mascot down the tunnel toward the ice. “What did they name this one?”

“Ricky the Raven.”

Toby snort-laughed as we both looked in that direction. The costume was basically a huge mass of black feathers, a big orange beak, and a giant, goofy-looking red and white top hat.

“That might be the ugliest mascot in the NHL,” Dorian muttered, folding her arms across her chest.

“It’s kind of cute,” I said, smiling as the intern led the guy wearing the costume onto the ice.

“You got this, Seth!” she cried, putting both hands on his back and giving him a massive shove.

He did not have it. The new mascot flailed, both arms and one foot in the air. Somehow, he righted himself and started skating again—directly into a guy who’d been on the ice giving out pre-game awards to local kids.

The crowd went wild, thinking this was part of the show. And...maybe it was? But I didn’t think so.

The ice dance team skated out to center ice, waving to the crowd and pulling out the T-shirt cannon. We’d do our dance routine between the first and second periods, but right now we wanted to amp up the crowd. Giving things away usually achieved that and Toby shot the first couple of T-shirts toward the cheering fans.

I was about to go grab the cannon when I noticed poor Ricky the Raven skating directly at me. Instinct made me move aside, and my team members did the same. He was skating faster now, right toward the boards.

Was this guy out of his mind? If he didn’t slow down he was going to crash.

“Hey!” I called, skating after him.

He was going so fast I didn’t think I could catch up. I had to try, though. The Mavericks brass probably wouldn’t be pleased if the new mascot splattered himself on-ice in front of our entire home crowd.

“Stop!” I cried.

Ricky the Raven flailed some more, feathers flapping as the crowd collectively gasped. This was not going to end well. I kept skating, hoping his costume was padded inside.