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Dancing in the Dark
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 from afar. She was perfect. Her dance was laid out, 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,” she heard the voices through the curtain. She shivered, dragging her knees under her chin.
“No, she is not up for sale.”
Henry’s voice sounded strained and resisting.
Hazel prayed he would agree, she really did hate it here.
“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,” Neil said. He grinned, running a hand through his curly blonde hair. Hazel sighed and tried to work her way around him, but he cut her off each time.
“Neil, not now. I am busy.”
“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.
Neil’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, bast***. 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.
“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 past.
“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. Apparently that wasn’t the case.
“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.
She kept quiet and packed her red dress. Neil sat on the corner of her bed. They had been staying at the inn for a month, but Neil 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.
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 that thick skull 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 bast***,” 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, than 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 boys not in the shower, than 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, than 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 wh***s, 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, it’s 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. “The girl has 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 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.
The trolley bumped loudly against the crooked cobblestones. Hazel couldn’t fall asleep, though light had fallen a long time ago. She peeked through the shades and saw the moon, a white sliver, flooding the empty streets. Nate was sitting next to her, as far as possible, his head tilted back, snoring. Henry sat in front of them, sleeping also. The other passengers were mostly asleep, too. Except for one girl who stared at Nate. Hazel felt odd, not knowing where to look as the girls eyes widened at the handsome boy beside her.
But soon enough, it became clear that the girl wasn’t looking at Nate, rather, at her. Hazel glanced away, soon to look back as the girl said,
“Look at me.”
The girl had short uneven blindingly white hair. She was young, with wide blue eyes and a pale complexion. If Hazel didn’t know better, the girl looked like she would have risen from the dead.
“Yes?” Hazel whispered, careful not to awake Nate.
“Where are you going?” the girl asked quietly. Then she said, “With them?”
Hazel nodded, not understanding how this was any of the girls business.
“Their circus owners, they own the Big Swing down in New York City. It’s beautiful. Their my idols.”
Hazel nodded and smiled, relieved.
“How is there circus? Is it beautiful?” Hazel whispered.
“Oh! It is! Bright colors, elephants painted extravagant colors. The men who pretend to chop off limbs do it excellently. Other magicians are so great! Even my mother couldn’t believe her eyes. The woman dancers are beautiful, too. I wish I was one of them. Are you?”
Hazel nodded, blushing.
“Well, you fit the mark, with that fierce red hair. You’re pretty,” the girl said quietly.
“Thanks,” Hazel said, not knowing where to look.
The girl smiled, “My name is Eve, what’s yours?”
Eve nodded, and for a moment it was quiet. Hazel leaned back in her chair, thinking the conversation had ended.
But soon enough, Eve continued.
“I wish I was a part of the circus. Mother said I can’t dance, but I can!”
Hazel nodded, “Practice makes perfect,” she said quietly.
Nate shifted in the chair and faced her, still sleeping. Hazel smiled at the drool at the corner of his mouth.
“Well, maybe when they awake I can persuade them to take me.”
Hazel turned around, “Where’s your mother? Wont she be angry?”
“Mother’s not here. She won’t, if I get money from it. I expect I will, from all the men in London.”
Hazel looked up, eyebrows furrowed, “What do you mean by that?” her heart started to beat rapidly, and she broke into sweat.
“Well, usually, after the dancers are done performing, men bid on them. The one with the highest amount of money get to spend the night with them.”
Hazel choked back tears, “The night? As in…”
“Whatever the man chooses to do. But the dancer will get paid finely for it. I know I’m young, but what else could I do? Mother said that at a ripe age boys were staring at me.”
Hazel could see that too. Though pale, Eve was beautiful. She looked elegant and sophisticated, her body was well formed, and her voice was soft. If anything was off about her, it was her energy. There was a lot, where you wouldn’t expect any. But Hazel wasn’t focused on that. She was too worried about the dancer’s after-job. Tears had come to her eyes when Eve had said that. As if it weren’t a big deal for the dancers to go with a random man into the night. I’m not a wh***…would Blake and Nate really make me do that? I doubt it. She glanced at Nate, peacefully sleeping while her heart beat faster than before.
Eve had stopped talking; she turned away and got into a sleeping position.
All night, the words of Neal ran through Hazels head:
“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.”
When Hazel awoke, the sun blaring in her eyes from between the shades, Nate and Blake were already up, talking in hushed whispers.
“Oh, she’s awake,” Nate said, and glared at his father.
Hazel wondered what they were sharing, and then remembered what Eve had said last night. She gulped down her nerves and smiled steadily.
“We will be off in a little while, “ Blake said, wrinkling his nose as he turned to talk to them.
“Are you okay, Hazel? You look pale, dear,” Blake asked, raising his eyebrows.
“Yes, I am fine. I have a question, though. When we get off this trolley and head to where the carnival is set up, what will I do after I dance?” she asked, her voice quivering.
Blake stared at her, “Well, usually we have our dancers entertain.”
Hazel choked back acid rising in her throat, and nodded. She would run once the trolley stopped. She wasn’t going back to her old life. She wasn’t going to be forced under a man, helpless and screaming. No.
Nate nudged her, “You look like you’ve seen a ghost, Hazel, lighten up, it’s not a big deal. They’re entertained quickly,” he winked at her and got up as the trolley lurched to a stop.
Fat drops of water hit them as they Nate and Blake carried their luggage from the back door. Hazel carried her light duffel bag, heart pounding as she looked around her. They had stopped at a curb, a Church coming from the floor. To the left was a bare street that crossed somewhere unknown. On the right was an entrance into the village, where the Church sat.
“Oh, beautiful weather, London is so predictable,” Nate murmured. He glanced at Hazel, who’s eyes were darting to and fro.
“What’s wrong with you, dancer? Father, I believe we’ve been ripped off. This girl is nothing but a lunatic,” Nate snapped, his face reddening.
Blake turned around, “I will not have that talk, Nathaniel, now come on, Hazel,” Blake grabbed her arm and pulled her forward.
The circus was being set up in the middle of the village. A large banner that read The Big Swing hung over the tiny buildings. Children sat on the streets, chattering excitedly. A tent was trying to be put up, but the workers seemed to be having a trouble.
“Idiots,” Blake murmured, and excused himself to help put up the tent.
“Come, I’ll show you where we are to stay,” Nate said, and Hazel followed him. She should have run at the crossroads, but like a fool, she trusted Blake and Nate. Even though Eve could very well be right, she decided that if she ran the streets of London, the only way she could make money was to dance. Where else would she dance if not the circus?