03 – Maman Knows Best

I stare at him in mortification. The first time he touched me, I felt my skin crawl. With the hissed threat, I freeze. I cannot fathom what he wants until I look down toward where his hand is trying to push me. The bulge in his pants makes my stomach churn. Just what does he expect me to do? My gaze comes back up to him and I blink in disbelief. His hand applies more pressure, starting to hurt my shoulder. All I can hear is Maman screaming in my ear again. I want, more than anything, to be a fashion designer, and Vogue is a golden ticket to that. The look on his face, and the way he grabs me, makes me actually want to vomit. I am a good girl. I don’t mess around with boys. I dress appropriately, and I go to church every Sunday. I slap his hand away again and quickly retreat, tears clinging to my lashes.

He gives a husky laugh and stalks forward. This causes me to retreat until my back thumps against the wall. His body presses against me, and he plants a hand on the wall by my head. I struggle and push against him, trying to free myself from him entirely. 

“Get off me,” I shriek. It makes him wince, and he gives me a smirk.

“Go home, little girl.” He jerks the door open and shifts his weight, opening an escape through the door. I bolt like a skittish cat, hearing his laughter as the door closes. I don’t think I stop running until I am outside. The noise of the cars, people talking, and the sultry summer air are all a relief. I hail a cab and curl into the backseat like a wounded bird. My head is against the window as I watch the cityscape of Manhattan pass me by and give way to the Williamsburg bridge crossing over to the Southside. 

The Southside is in Brooklyn and predominantly populated with Blacks and Latinos. Not that I have a problem with either, but the amount of money these people have shows. As I watch the pretty landscape of Manhattan give way to the lived-in feel of the Southside, I can’t help but feel even more dejected. How has everything been so wrong? Silently slipping from the cab and trudging up the four flights of stairs, I fling myself onto my bed and cry. I want to call my father to come get me, or to beat up that horrible man. I want to be in a swank apartment that didn’t smell like something had died somewhere, no matter how many sweet-scented candles I lit. 

I’m a Wolfe, and we’re known for two things; resourcefulness and being stubborn. Going home now would just admit defeat and then I will be stuck in the middle of nowhere Missouri, getting fat by having some construction worker’s babies. I’m not sure how long I sulk on the bed, staring up at the paint-chipping ceiling. I need to do something, anything. 

My phone rings and I look at the clock and see it’s after dinner time.

It rings again.

I grudgingly get out of the bed and go over to the wall where the phone hangs on. “Hello?”

“Hey, baby. It’s your papa. Just wanted to call and see how your first day was.” The soothing voice of my father brings tears to my eyes again. I wipe my face and try to get my breath under control. One shaky word and he will be on the next plane out here to rescue me.

“It was tough, but good,” I lie. The overwhelming guilt of lying to my father makes my stomach sick again. I don’t want to stay long on the phone, because he will catch me in the lie.

“Is she alright? Does she need us? Is she ready to come home?” I can hear Maman in the background. Madelyn Wolfe’s voice sounds like she has been crying herself. 

I give a light laugh at the rapid-fire questions and can just imagine the petite French woman hovering around Papa like a hummingbird. “It’s wonderful out here, Papa. Tell Maman I will call her on Saturday and give her all the details. I really need to go, I’m wiped.”

I can almost see the brow furrow on my father’s face. He can smell a lie a mile away. “Alright, baby. If you need anything, you know how to reach us.”

“Love you both,” and I hang up the phone.

Smacking my hand against my forehead, I’m pretty convinced I’m the worst person in the world. I grab my keys and my purse. I can’t stay here and wallow. I quickly trot down the four flights of stairs and out the door. The men who live on the second floor are sitting on the outside steps, wolf whistling as I shoot out past them.

I don’t look back. If I look back, it will give them the wrong impression. Instead, I quickly cross the street and practically run around the corner. I can hear their laughter and their choice words about what I am doing alone at night on the street. It only takes me about five minutes to find the little diner that’s open twenty-four hours. I plop down into a booth to order coffee and a piece of apple pie. There is something comforting about a near empty diner. The hum of the lights, the banter between the grumbling line cook and the waitress, the lack of chitter chatter otherwise, all make up the perfect place to sort out my life. It’s too early for any of the more unsavory types, and too late for working stiffs.

I teeter between tears in my eyes and sighing resolve. I can do this. I tally up all the money I have and how long it will last me, then the amount of money I had expected to be making. I will need a job that will pay me at least that. Now to just find the job. I am pretty sure I have been here all night, trying to solve all of my woes on the diner napkin.

“Girl, if you drink anymore coffee, you’re gonna be coffee,” the woman approaches my table. “Mind if I cash you out? I’m heading home for the night,” confirming that I have, in fact, been here all night. I see the sun peeking over the horizon when I finally look out the window.

“Oh, sorry. Yeah. What do I owe you?” I reach into my purse to fish out the money.

“Two seventy-five,” she’s raising a brow at me, and I can see the gears turning in her eyes. Like she is trying to figure out what a young girl like me is doing in a diner like this. I hand her four dollars and tell her to keep the change. As I leave the diner, not far behind her, I chew my lower lip in thought. My mind is racing, and panic is starting to set in.

Just what do you think you’re doing? Call Papa. Go home. He’ll understand. You’ll be safe. No. I’m not going. I can do this.

I don’t even realize I am back outside my building as I argue with myself. The men from the second floor are gone. I look up at the little building. I know I can do this. Maybe Vogue isn’t in the cards. Maybe someone saw what Philip had tried to do and fired him. I have to have hope. It will all be alright. I’ll be damned if I’m going back to Missouri.