The Story Of Who
My mystery patron was all straight lines and starch-stiffened uniform—not much different from the other soldiers I had entertained before, at least from the back.
I hoped he was handsome. The handsome men were always the easiest to manipulate. I didn't even need to dive into their minds to know that a little stroking of their ego and they would be eating out of my hand. Still, my usual patrons didn't put me last on the list when shopping for a girl.
I feared he would be disappointed by what he ended up getting.
"Good morning, Sir," I greeted him and smiled, demurely, like you do after hours of practicing in front of a mirror.
I was out of my element, entering the room to find the patron waiting for me instead of the other way around. I had no time to arrange the furniture or position myself so that his gaze had no choice but to fall on me. I couldn't pretend to have been preoccupied with something else prior to his arrival. Like this, the truth was laid bare for everyone to see: I was a slave and he was the master.
This man had successfully taken the initiative from me and didn't even bother to look up when I walked into the room.
He was someone who liked to be in control.
I greeted him again, allowing my hate to fester and spill into the cracks in my smile.
"Good morning," he answered coolly, eyes still fixed on the table in front of him.
Out of both habit and practice, my feet made nearly no sound on the soft, padded floor of the room but when I got close enough, I saw his ears twitch with awareness of my presence. Uh. Enhanced hearing?
I held my breath and reached a hand out towards his shoulder. His slender fingers closed over my wrist like a vice; a spark of pain erupted beneath my skin.
"Please. Don't." Finally, he looked at me, piercing me with the brightest, blue eyes I had ever seen.
He was handsome—the type of handsome that belonged to models and flower boys—with a long row of dark lashes framing his eyes and full cheeks that softened everything sharp about him. It was a wonder that the Sorting Farms let him slip through their fingers. How could they let someone so pretty end up being a soldier? Weren't they afraid of him scaring himself?
I widened my smile and lowered myself onto the cushion opposite him, making sure to keep the low table between us as I folded my legs beneath me. "Sir is looking so tense. I couldn't help but want to help you release all that tension."
He cleared his throat and reached for one of the clay tea cups on the table. I beat him to it and snatched it up along with the teapot.
"I hope my service is satisfactory." I poured the beverage in a wide, graceful arch and watched it gain a red tint as the lights filtered through it. "It has been a slow day."
"There is blood on your dress."
"Is there?" Pushing the cup towards him, I pretended to look for it. "I apologize, there was quite the commotion during our meeting just now. Are you particularly sensitive to blood? I can change if you wish."
I ran my hands over my shoulders to peel the fabric over them down my arms to reveal the dip in my collar and the crest of my breasts.
The wrinkles that formed between his brows did nothing to subtract from his handsomeness, if anything, the little touch of humanness made him feel more approachable. The combination of his cold expression and the dark strands of hair that fell over his eyes gave me the impression that he was here for work, not pleasure. "No need."
He polished off the tea and set his elbows down on the table. "Your name is Who."
I made a show of fixing my dress back up and poured myself a cup as well. The only other thing on the table was a basket of grapes. As a curtain girl, makeup was not only limited to my face, but to the extravagance of my room. The wine had been replaced with tea. The exotic fruits with grapes. My livelihood was being cut down right in front of me and I had to endure such for three days.
Matron Elsa was really determined to have this season treat me unfavorably.
"Why?" he asked.
I considered making a joke about how it had been the first thing that had come to my mind and now I couldn't change it, but he didn't seem like the type to laugh, even if it was for the sake of avoiding awkwardness. Instead, I offered him another smile, letting my emotions slowly take control of my facial muscles until my lips took on a sly and seductive tilt. "I can be who-ever you want me to be."
"Is that how you answer every time?"
I nodded seriously and took a sip of tea. "You don't look like you're here to enjoy my company, Sir."
"What do you know about the service industry of the GS?"
That our generation is being used as a sacrificial pawn. I pressed my thumb to my lips and felt the red gloss come off to stain my skin. "Children are raised to become either slaves or soldiers… to further the agenda of our great Emperor."
"You don't sound too thrilled." He rested his chin on his intertwined fingers and fixed a brooding stare on me. Were we pretending to be rebels now? "Does your success displease you?"
I flicked my hair over my right shoulder, mulling his question over in search of his true motives. I examined his uniform again—took note of the lack of insignia and stars; the clandestinity of it all. "Are you here to interrogate me, Sir?"
"The other girls say that you have been here the longest." His gaze flicked to my tattooed wrists. "That would have made you ten or eleven when you first got here."
I clasped my hands together and made myself look bored. The tattoos were given at varying intervals and helped patrons estimate the age of the girls they were visiting. It cut small talk to a minimum but wasn't fairly accurate when dealing with someone like me, who had been here before the system was even made. It was cute of him to try his hand at guessing.
"The others who started with me are no longer with us, yes," I said.
"One of your roommates was dismissed today."
"Dismissed is quite a mild word, Sir."
"You may refer to me as X," he said.
I leaned my cheek against my palm, enjoying the way he searched my face for something I wasn't sure existed. "That is quite a name, X."
"Like slaves, soldiers choose their new names." He ran his hand through his hair, messing up the gelled do. "And like slaves, not all soldiers are equal."
I bit my tongue before I blurted out that a soldier and slaves were nothing alike. The only thing we shared was our general lack of freewill. "I heard that you have visited all the other girls in the Block. I doubt I possess what you assume they lack."
"You have experience."
"If that is what you're here for, why bother interrogating me?"
"What happened to your hands?"
"Oh this," I turned my attention to the striped bruises lining my palm, "I burned myself while making tea. It is a little red, isn't it?"
"You don't use incense here."
"Only if it's requested."
"You're not wearing makeup."
"I hadn't expected someone to grace me with their presence so early—"
"And you still dared to show up."
I tried and failed to feel offended. His words contained so little emotion that reacting to them would make me seem overdramatic. "I like to think my patrons care more for my winning personality than my face."
X shot to his feet and bowed deeply. "Thank you for your time."
I popped a grape into my mouth and watched him leave, not able to tell whether I had succeeded in offending him or not. The moment the door shut, I shut my eyes and threw my head back to down the rest of the tea like it was a shot.
How I wished I had some alcohol to wash down whatever that conversation was.
"He's crazy." I stretched and unfurled myself on the cushion, enjoying how my aching joints snapped into place. I thought of his smileless lips and dark eyes; the way his uniform rustled when he moved; the perfect straightness of his gold buttons.
X wasn't a man that visited glorified brothels to have his ego professionally stroked. He didn't care for my reputation as the best in the business either.
If it was up to me, I would never see his handsome face again.
Like with most things in life, X's visits were rarely up to me. He came whenever he pleased, left whenever he wished, and didn't stay long enough to add anything but cents to my weightless pockets.
I was the only girl he visited more than once and after getting the privilege of being graced with his sombre face for three days in a row I had to ask him, "Why?"
He didn't look at me—that much I was used to. Though I cradled a jug of warm wine between my palms, he still preferred tea.
"You are the best, aren't you?" He was the only one I knew who could make a compliment sound like an insult.
I should have known better than to expect something more than a superficial answer from the likes of him. "You know that appointments with me are arranged based on the preceding ones?"
Without waiting for him to answer, I continued, "You used your connections to be put yourself first in line everyday but you don't spend more than a few minutes at a time…"
I batted my lashes at him. "Sir X, is your goal to make me lose money?"
"No," he said, rolling the teacup between his fingers until steam swirled on the surface of the beverage. "I will pay for full sessions from now on."
I hadn't expected him to agree, especially since his entire being seemed to exist simply to annoy me. I would have teased him about hiding gold in his pockets but he managed to excuse himself before I could get the last word in. Bastard.
Now, the girls giggled when I walked by, whispering about my likelihood of being redeemed as his mistress.
It was Joy that they sent to weasel out the information. The grievances she felt about Bess' dismissal all but vanished when she pulled me out of my room at the end of the day and led me down the eternal stretch of hallways into the one we shared.
After a week of being confined to a room filled with wealth, it was jarring to sleep in the cramped, incense-filled room that we had been raised in.
"So…" She winked at me conspiratorially, as though her dreams weren't filled with scenes of her overthrowing me.
Friendly competition, she liked to call it.
"He hasn't talked to me since the first day." I rolled my eyes and changed into my nightgown. "He doesn't even smile."
"Oh, he smiles at no one. Not even his soldiers." The hand she was using to wipe off her makeup paused. "The boys say he's investigating a murder."
"You know that man? The patron that promised to redeem Bess? His wife died a day after Râini."
I hummed dispassionately; I had no problem with people using my gossip to entertain themselves but I drew the line at spreading rumors about others.
"Wait… Wasn't she the one who slapped you at the festival?"
I could only smile. Fatigue crept up from behind my eyes and it was all I could do to keep them open. "Was it?"
"Ah, Who. The gods shine down on you."
"I don't need the gods." I gave in and shut my eyes in favor of navigating the room blind. "I can handle my affairs myself."
"Alright, alright. You're the goddess, yourself." She laughed. "Goodnight!"
I threw myself into the bed and pulled the thin covers over my head. "Goodnight!"