The Price of a Phone (backstory for Tanaya from the novel The City's Allee)

Tanaya gripped the iPhone tighter. Stretch always checked in at 2:50; the end of every fuckin’ school day. What the hell was his problem lately?

At 3:30 she jumped off the bottom two steps to get a better look down the street. No black Dodge. She thought of running to catch the 3:45 train, but knew better. If he drove by and she wasn’t waiting, he’d be pissed. She did everything not to get him pissed. Lately though, he always seemed pissed no matter how hard she tried to keep him happy.

She crushed her cigarette into the low cement wall and tried to shake off the care, “Assholes, all of them.”

As she checked her messages a tenth time, his Dodge rolled in front of her and she forgot all about being annoyed. She jumped off the steps and ran for the front passenger side door. A girl sat there and didn’t move out of the seat when she yanked the door open. Annoyance flooded all sensibilities, “Get the fuck out of my seat!”

Tanaya looked at Stretch for back up. He smiled, gently, “Now, Tanaya, hop in the back will you? Just a short ride.” The bitch smiled, and Stretch nodded toward the back.

Tanaya glared at him as she slid into the back seat. He ignored her and the two of them continued their conversation in the front seat. He called the bitch “Gorgeous”. A pet name, of course, because she was not gorgeous. She was stupid, though, the way she threw herself at him. Stretch hated girls going all goo-goo over him. “God, you are so stupid,” Tanaya snickered and waited for him to say something nasty to her about the way she leaned into him and kept rubbing his thigh.

He didn’t seem to mind this time.

They drove into an unfamiliar neighborhood and she hoped they were dropping “Gorgeous” off first. Stretch looked at her from the rear view mirror, “We’re heading into Carraway. I have a new friend who could use a little company. He saw your video on my phone and asked to hang out with you today.”

This was different. A warning shot up from Tanaya’s stomach but she kept her reaction calm, for Stretch, “What do you mean ‘new’?”

“He’s a good guy, I get good reads on people you know? Just like you YaYa. You're special, one of the best.” And then he winked at her and she felt special again. ‘YaYa’ was his pet name for her. He whispered it in her ear the first time they made love. Whenever he called her YaYa, she remembered that first time.

Sex with Stretch was pure heaven. After the first time, he told her she was young and needed to watch some videos to learn more. She agreed, eager to please.

While they watched, he kept telling her how much more beautiful she was than the other girls. It was fun and exciting and Tanaya believed everything he told her.

Then the videos were threesomes and that made Stretch horny as hell. In the beginning, even Tanaya was turned on. He whispered in her ear, “So, you want to try it? You’re just so beautiful. You shouldn’t be under the covers with just me. You’re valuable, priceless.” God, he made her feel special.

When they started their own threesomes, he bought her an iPhone, new shoes, fancy underwear, and clothes. Whatever she wanted, he went out and bought.

About two months ago, he stopped participating and just watched.

It was kind of creepy until Stretch explained, “I love to watch you with other guys. You’re that good. It’s like art.”

She accepted it as a way to make him happy - the way he made her happy. Most of the time, she liked the sex. It wasn’t that bad. She only hated it if they didn’t brush their teeth. Beer, cigarettes, and pizza breath made her sick to her stomach. Why did so many guys smell like beer and pizza? She told Stretch she didn’t like to kiss them on the mouth. He told her, “Rise above it and do what they want. You’re a professional.”

So, she got really good at holding her breath.

Soon, it was all just normal. Stretch always checked in at 2:50 to let her know when and where and with whom – 3 to 5 times a week.

There was no contract between the two of them. To Tanaya, it was a healthy relationship. They weren’t cheating on each other and he took great care of her.

She watched him now from the back seat. As he tucked a strand of hair behind the girl’s ear, Tanaya knew she was replaced. The tears welled up and she turned to look out the window. Stretch hated when she cried so she bit her lip to hold them back. She’d never be able to watch him with someone else.

Why didn’t he feel that way about her?

He pulled up to a house with the numbers 4367 over the front door.

With as much disinterest as she could pretend, Tanaya asked, “Is she coming, too?”

Stretch turned around in his seat to look at her, “No, I’m going to show her around. He really just wants you. It’ll be fine. You’re a pro now. I’ve got a couple of calls in about you.”

Tanaya couldn’t be pissed at him. She already had sex with so many guys what was one more? But, the girl in the front seat? She wanted to claw her face off.

“You OK?” Stretch reached over and rubbed Tanaya’s knee, “He’s in there, ya know, waiting. Really nice guy. He just moved into the area and said he misses his wife.”

It never occurred to her to say no. How could she say no to Stretch when they’ve been through so much and he believed in her? She opened the door and climbed out. Stretch called out moral support, “You’re so ready for this Tanaya. I’m proud of you. You’ve got your phone, I checked him out for you and he’s a good guy.”

And then he put it all in perspective for her, “I’ll be back in an hour. Promise. Text me.”

She didn’t want to disappoint him, or worse, look like a fool in front of the bitch in the front seat. So, Tanaya walked up the concrete steps and banged on the door.

As she stood on the porch waiting, she heard the two of them laughing in the car.

“Whatever,” she whispered and stood a little taller as the front door opened. Like always, she did exactly what was expected of her.

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