Written by IllaRouge
It was morning, sure enough. Imelda pushed herself up from the hotel mattress as the sun peeked through the blinds. She groaned. Her head still hurt from the night before. The dizziness that remained made the room seem foggy and unfamiliar. She felt her way to the bathroom and pissed in the toilet without sitting down. When she came back out, she found her clothes crumpled next to the bed in a single pile. She pulled on her shorts and a bra as she fumbled for her phone.
She put the rest of her clothes on. The few cards she had were wrapped in a rubber band on the night stand. She picked it up, along with the few dollars she didn't have stashed in the only bag in her room. She pocketed her belongings and left, the hotel door swinging closed.
The koi passed the hotel office and crossed the street. She ducked into a bodega. A vole sat on a high stool behind the thick glass. "Imelda, don't usually see you on this side of town."
"Staying in the hotel," pointing behind her with her thumb. Set picked a tamale from the heated display and an unsweetened tea from the open palette of them on the floor.
"The hotel? What happened to your apartment?"
"Needed the money." She put a five dollar bill on the counter.
The vole took it from the metal exchange container. He tossed a few quarters in for Imelda's change. "Don't waste it all."
Imelda cursed at him in Spanish. He flipped her off, and they both smiled at each other. She turned with her things and waved without looking. She stepped out onto the hot Los Angeles streets.
It was a longer walk, but she was used to it. Can't have a car here, and she wanted to pinch every penny she could for the trip. Her fresh degree was stashed under the hotel bed. Mathematics. Made her laugh thinking about it. She wasn't sure if she was going to take it with her. Probably would. She worked her ass off to not owe a dime after four years of school. "Non-traditional student." Older, they told her, qualified for some scholarships but not others. Basketball made ends meet, but she needed a bit more to be in the black as she left. Whatever, she figured. She made it well enough.
She passed one of her old haunts, a long row of project housing where she bummed a couch or two the first couple years. A few furs sat on a stoop near one of her more frequent couch surfing spots.
"Ay, puta!" Imelda approached the bunch. She wasn't sure who had greeted her, but she high fived each of them. She kept walking as they spoke. "You looking busy, huh?"
"Going to Vegas, chica."
"Yeah, you gonna hit the jackpot?"
Imelda turned, walking backward. "Ain't that why anyone goes to Vegas?" A few howled in laughter, while the others insulted goodbyes.
Los Angeles is hot, no matter what time of year it was. She felt the heat, but it didn't bother her like it did some days. She had a mission. Skipping rent, she had enough to get to Vegas. She'd already stashed what little valuables she had in a friend's storage unit. She figured she had a couple months before he'd come calling for her share of the fee. Two, tops. Anything else she might need, she had stashed in the two bags to her name. Lucky or not, she saw enough promise in her selection for the draft. She'd figure out affording an outfit for the night when she got there.
It took her about an hour to get to the bus station. Once her itinerary was set, a fat tiger on the other side of the glass told her the price. "The fuck, that's not what it was online."
"Those are regular rates. You want to leave tomorrow. You're lucky there was even a seat."
She might try to argue her way out of this at another time, but this was desperate. She'd damn well run there if the bus broke down. She threw the money under the glass, and he scooped it up to count without much offense. Pretty soon, the old printer managed to spit out her ticket with dying spindles and faded ink.
"Make sure you bring your ID with you, or you won't be getting on the bus."
She reached in and tore the ticket and its receipt from the printer herself. "Fuck you, buddy." She spun around and headed out the sliding doors. She checked the time and the port number. With everything in order, she headed back for one more night in the hotel. She definitely wouldn't be able to pay that bill, so she'd have to leave extra early.
Groaning at herself, she knew she needed some extra cash. Stupid ass priority pricing, fuck you. She made a detour. There was a basement dive nearby. They ran fights on Saturdays. She abstained during the regular season to avoid any suspicion, but she'd need something for a draft night outfit. Something classy, maybe one of those white tuxes. Either side of the transition, she fancied herself clothes like that. The smile it gave her got her pumped, her sharp teeth as much bite as bark. She was getting excited.
"Fuck, fuck, fucking fuck!"
Imelda leaned in front of the mirror. Blood was pouring down the side of her face. It looked worse than it was. No slouch to dive fights, she made sure to take her piercings out beforehand, but one dickhead caught her right on the ridge with a ring he was still wearing. Tore that hole a little bigger. Stung like a motherfucker, but she hoped nothing noticeable after all was said and done. She splashed water on her face and wiped away as much blood as she could. The protective ring on the alcohol crackled off as she turned the cap. She pulled off a few of the thin pieces of toilet paper and folded them. A quick inversion of the bottle, and she was pressing it to the wound, a fresh round of expletives spilling forth, this time in Spanish.
On the bed, a wad of bloodied cash sat next to a small bottle of tequila. Once she was done, she came out with some fresh toilet paper and the rubbing alcohol. She spread out the bills and tried to clean them up. They looked relatively fine after.
Yeah, this was better than having enough money earlier. She threw back the tequila and tried to get some sleep.
They never called her name.
They never called it again.
She had nowhere to go.
It had been about two weeks. Imelda managed enough fights in Vegas to keep herself fed. Some nights, she was lucky enough to impress a bottom or a femme, someone who didn't care enough about what she was packing and whether or not she could hold her own through the night. She didn't care, so long as she wasn't on a bench. A few of them were even good, she figured. A plump robin gave her a few extra bucks to come back the next day, but she kept away, worried they might be a cop.
Most days, she spent her time either in the library or the McFaunal's. They had charging stations and A/Cs. The days she could afford the food, she kept it cheap with coupons on her phone.
Her phone buzzed next to her latest meal of cheeseburgers. She didn't recognize the number, but it wasn't from her former landlord, for once. She picked it up and swiped it open. "Yeah?"
On the other end, someone very official and professional greeted her with some pleasantries. She was about ready to hang up when something caught her off guard.
What came next was a slue of details and arrangements. She didn't feel like herself. She felt like this person was looking for her on draft night. She thought that woman had died. Maybe it was the haze of last night's drinks. She slapped the table to bring herself out of this daze.
"Wait, hold the fuck on, what are you saying?"
Restricted contract. One year, one million. Would she agree? When could she come in to sign?
Her shoulders heaved. She was crying, right? The employees were already chatting about whether or not they should call someone. Whoever this was, she still hadn't gotten their name, they were likely used to this kind of pause. They reassured her that, yes, this was happening. Imelda threw her head back and started laughing.
"Fuck yeah, gringo!" She cheered, which seemed to calm half of the employees while worrying the others. After a moment of laughter, realizing she had dropped it, she picked the phone back up. "But I need a ticket to get there, está bien?" Imelda knew when to be humble, but she hoped it would be one of the last times she would ever need to.