Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone

OFF: CHALLENGE POST HOOOOY

ON:

The blubbering fat man that leaned on Zazi's side was...both her favorite and not favorite customer. He cried and begged forgiveness, and she knew her role was to deny him.

She wasn't sure what this whole thing was, but it was the easiest thing she ever did besides hanging off an Earl's arm in order to infuriate his once wife.

The man sobbed, having sunk down off the bed, leaning against her knee. "P-Please! I'm so so sorry, pleeease!"

Zazi slipped a slender finger under his chin, making him tip his face up to her.

Ruddy red face. Tears and snot running everywhere. What an ugly creature. She smiled at him.

"No."

She sharply slapped him, pushing him to fall back, and crossed her legs. "Get out of my sight."

He scrambled up, chest heaving, his face red and she thought, for one moment, this would be it: he'd snap out of whatever weirdness this was and throttle her. But no, he dug for the money and tossed it at her, fleeing out of her rental room.

She counted it out, a tad surprised at the additional dollar. "Well well...hope you come back," she muttered, slipping the money into her hidden pocket, standing up and smoothing down her outfit, grimacing at the wet spot on her shoulder.

Gross.

She cleaned up, only redoing her make up a little. Sometimes his sobbing made her tear up, if only in empathy. She felt a pang of sadness for him, which quickly slipped away as she stepped out of the room.

Girls danced on the bar room floor, cooing and making silly faces at the drunken men, grabbing up their money that they offered like it was limitless.

She needed a smoke. Bad.

Her heels tapped as she walked down the hall, tapping another girl's shoulder as she passed. "Headed to the balcony." The other nodded, rushing off to go and serve beer.

Zazi opened the door to the balcony, leaning on the edge of it on her arms for a moment.

God, this city was beautiful in the sunset. It was ugly during fog, and ugly in the rain, and morose every other day, but the way the sky was painted purple, the sun slowly slipping away...it was romantic, she was told.

After a moment she withdrew a long cigarette, taking a lighter she had nicked and lighting it up, taking a long drag and breathing out the smoke through her nose.

Absolutely beautiful.

It only lasted a few minutes before the door opened, and something heavy smacked her in the back, falling off onto the floor, jangling.

"What the hell is this?!"

Another puff, and Zazi's eyes slowly went down to the beautiful Chinese silk purse that Sunshine had hidden away, then slowly looked up at the Madam.

A spitfire Italian with bright angry red hair. The woman was as beautiful as ever, looking a sprightly twenty rather than the forty she was pushing.

Zazi tsked. "...seems like a purse."

"A purse with WHAT."

"Money."

The Madam seemed to swell up like an angry bullfrog, her face burning bright red. There were a few girls behind her, having heard the shouting, peeking out their doors to witness the drama.

"You're keeping money from me, rightful money that you OWE me for saving your hide from the streets where rats could eat you!"

"...yup." Zazi let out another puff. The Madam wouldn't kill her, or throw her out. Make her life hell, sure, but as she even said, Zazi owed her so much money that she'd be taking a massive loss at tossing her out.

"You ain't do that. Working women only save up money for one of two reasons, and I know you ain't got no suitor."

Zazi tapped her fingers on the railing, her eyes slipping from the heaving Madam, to the roof, then back down, shrugging. "Maybe."

Her cigarette falling out of her mouth and down into the street was what registered first before the sting in her cheek. The Madam sighed, sweeping a hand over her own hair. "Well, I ain't giving you any more food than you're already getting. This'll put a dent in yer earnings, so I expect you to work twice as hard."

Zazi just stared at her until she twirled around, chewing out the ones in the hallway and making them scatter. Zazi tilted her head back, looking up at the sky.

Absolutely beautiful.

She missed her cigarette.

As if on cue, one of the short ones appeared in her vision. She opened her mouth, letting the other light her up. She didn't like these, they weren't as sweet, but it still gave her the energy she needed. "Hm. Thanks."

Poppy shrugged, leaning back against the railing, mimicking her. "Nothin'. Madam right? You um...have-"

"Yeah." Zazi took in a wheeze of a breath, letting out a short smoke cloud. "Yeah. Sunshine found out. She'd been in the family way before, wouldn't elaborate. Said it's obvious."

Poppy nodded, frowning as she leaned down, picking up the abused little silk purse, pressing it into Zazi's limp hand. "You're saving up for um...the workhouse?"

"No."

Poppy appeared surprised at that, blinking several times. "But, it's expensive, to get someone to stand for your character."

Zazi shut her eyes tightly, her hand clenching around the purse. "We were gonna run away."

Poppy stood up straighter, looking pale. "What?!"

"Yeah. Expensive to get to the country, expensive for a house, expensive for a kid...but Sunshine wanted it. She said we could make it work, live together and raise the kid and teach 'em right from wrong." She slipped her hand up, tugging the cigarette from her mouth, putting it out on the railing. "Sunshine don't come back, warehouse is all I've got left, I guess."

Poppy nodded quickly, with a bright smile. "Azalea said she had someone on the cheap! Hers got a good family, I'm bettin'. You know what'll happen if you run."

Zazi nodded, smoothing her hand through her hair slowly. "She can threaten all she wants. I owe her too much for her to toss me in the slums." Her eyes skated across the sky, and she buried her face in her hands. "Sunshine drew in the rich lookin' folk, just so we can have a bit of a head start."

She slapped her hand down on the railing, making Poppy jump, and Zazi sighed, leaning down and pressing her forehead against the railing. "Maybe we pushed our luck too hard," she whispered.

Poppy nervously pet her back, smiling shakily. "M-Maybe he seduced her, ya know? Marriage ain't nothing to sneeze at!"

Zazi shrugged, not moving for a moment.

Poppy thought for a moment, perking up. "Well, hey. Maybe if you work where she went, you'd meet him again! Ain't no man can avoid their usual haunts!"

Zazi slowly nodded, standing back up. Her face was mysteriously wet on both cheeks. "You got a point, Poppy. A real good one."

Poppy grinned, her freckled cheeks reddening. "Thanks! It's how I sometimes get Azalea's clients, she gets so mad!" She giggled. "Alright um, it's my turn ta sing, so..."

She turned around, jumping as Zazi's hand reached out, grabbing her shoulder sharply. Zazi stared at her with a neutral face. "The Madam knows, and maybe some of the girls up here, but this remains a secret. Word burns like wildfire, and I've got a month before I start showing. I have a month to find Sunshine's suitor. And I ain't chancing anything."

Her fingers squeezed into Poppy's shoulder, her eyes darkening. "Got it?"

Poppy teared up, nodding fast. "Y-Yes! Okay! I won't say a thing!"

"...go away, Poppy." She let her go, Poppy rushing through the balcony doors, leaving Zazi to stare at the sky again as it pulled a curtain of black over them.

What an ugly city, tarnishing every single person inside it, darkness entering them and jumping from each person to tarnish the next.

She thought, for a moment, she could see a flash of light in the darkness.

She turned around and went back in, her future as bleak as the city around her.

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