Katja stared at the two tiers of fabric she’d ripped off her gypsy skirt lying on the floor like blood that had seeped from her own body. She breathed into her hands, forcing her lungs to expand and deflate at a proper rate, willing her heart to slow.
She didn’t want to do this, but she didn’t have a choice. It was too cold to sleep outside and even if she survived one night, there was always the next and the next. Spring weather was late coming to Saxony this year.
It wasn’t like she didn’t know what to expect. She had her first boyfriend at sixteen. Niklas Reinhardt. She’d crushed on him for a whole year prior to the outdoor party where he finally noticed her. They hooked up that night, and he’d clung to her for the next two years. He’d told her that everyone was doing it and it was expected that a girlfriend give it up for her guy. He was drunk the first time they did it, and it had hurt, but it wasn’t completely awful.
She didn’t know why she stayed with him as long as she did. He was good looking in a geeky, teenage-boy way, but she never loved him. He worked well as a buffer to keep all the other hormonal boys away, though. Dealing with one was enough trouble.
Irma lent her a pair of black high-heel shoes and offered advice. “You’ll be freezing but you can’t act like it. If you have to wear that jacket, at least leave it open. Mess your hair up and wear this.” She handed Katja a tube of bright red lipstick. Katja applied it with a trembling hand, feeling flustered as her roommate watched her put it on.
Once outside, Katja wasn’t sure where to go.
She thought staying in Neustadt was her best bet. During the day, the town was family friendly, with mothers and fathers pushing baby carriages and holding small hands. Alongside the families, the elderly strolled slowly, and the punks walked their dogs and carried boom boxes. Every wall was either tagged or papered with posters announcing the latest band or event. The bohemian, grunge atmosphere of Neustadt called to artists and inspired unique shopping venues that attracted tourists from all over the world.
At night, it was a perpetual party place. Music blared from the clubs and bars. People roamed freely with open drinks, seemingly unaffected by the cold. There was laughing and shouting and stumbling over the cobblestones. The graffiti artists came out along with the pot smokers. It was a fun, happy place, where young and old partied together.
You could sell drugs, and you could sell sex.
Katja stood on a corner, propped a hand on her hip and presented a long leg covered with sheer, black hosiery. What was left of her red gypsy skirt ended snugly, high on her thigh. She resisted giving into full-on shivering, and pasted a big, phony smile on her face.
She could do this.
No, she couldn’t. It was irresponsible and it was dangerous.
Her confidence faltered and she bit down on her lip ring to keep from bursting into an ugly cry.
Oh, God, what was she doing?
If she went back to Berlin…
Maybe she would call. It was a throwaway phone, the only kind she could afford and she was down to her last three minutes. If she called, it would be the last time. She was too cold to think it through and pressed the number on quick dial. She held the phone to her ear with frozen fingers and almost hung up, but a young voice answered after the third ring.
“Hi, Sibylle. It’s Katja.”
“Where are you?” Katja caught the tremble in her sister’s voice. “When are you coming home?”
“I don’t know. Is everything all right?”
When her sister didn’t answer, Katja grew nervous. Her minutes were running out. “Is Mama there, Sibylle?”
Katjia heard static and assumed her sister was fetching her mother. Hurry. But then she heard the one voice that made her blood curdle.
“Get your tight rear-end back here, brat!”
Katja disconnected the call and let out a low groan. A quick check on her time allotment showed eighteen seconds left. Not even worth keeping. She chucked the phone into the nearest trash bin.
Fine. This was her reality. She would deal with it. Whatever happened to her tonight could be no worse than if she went back and faced her step-father. And he wouldn’t bother paying.
She took short, quick breaths to regain her composure, and then unzipped her jacket with stiff, red fingers. She forced another smile and turned to face the driver of a silver car that had slowed to a stop at the curb.
She tilted her hips and presented her legs, raking her long hair with frozen fingers.
The window rolled down and a man in a shirt and tie peered out.
“It’s cold. Get in.”