01 – Why Am I Dressed Like This?

The door hisses open to the VIP club room. I pause and take stock of my surroundings. There are the mirrors on the black marble floor, with deep red velvety furniture, a stage with a pole in the center, shining and twinkling lights to set the mood, and a small bar shoved in the corner stocked with the most expensive liquor a person could want for. This room is normally full of the rich and powerful, along with the young and beautiful. The thump of the club reverberates off the two-way mirror wall to let the rich look down on the less fortunate.

Tonight, for one hour only, this room is empty of its partygoers. Sitting in a single chair, Anthony “Big Tony” Scapelli looks like a king on his throne with his broad shoulders, slicked back midnight colored hair, steel-blue eyes, and tanned skin giving way to a crisp white button-down shirt, slacks, and dress shoes. He has a drink in hand, and looks furious, like he is going to murder anything that crosses his path.

The door seals behind me and my life choices that led to this moment flash before my eyes. If I could breathe, I would be hyperventilating. My hourglass figure is accented more with how tight they laced my corset. My blond hair feathered and loose about me, giving the best impression of Farrah Fawcett. A black leather mask kisses my face just around my eyes, the pasty glue holding a slight strawberry scent. I wonder why they make it smell so good. The black leather gloves wrap around my arms. The corset gives way to a chastity belt with a heart over my innocence, and fishnet stockings attached to the garter belt and platform heels, so high I am sure I will fall right over if he gets too violent. In my hand is a riding crop. Why they thought I needed it, I couldn’t fathom. But here I am, standing tall and confident, with a hand on my hip, and riding crop resting against my leg as I size up the beast of the man across the room.

June 1978 (One Year Prior)

“Non!” The nasal and angry voice of my Maman fills the kitchen. My father looks between the petite French woman and me, sighing. I have just landed what I think is my dream job at a fashion magazine and am now all but pleading to move to New York City on my own. The French woman stomps her foot and mutters between French and English about how I will end up on drugs, a whore, or worse. I cannot fathom what worse would be.

“I’m not Rachel,” I grumble, sounding petulant. My elder sister, the famous singer, Rachel Wolfe, had gone off with our other sister and got herself all messed up on drugs and a boy in Europe. I’m not even sure of all the details, other than Papa had handcuffed her to the radiator in our bathroom when she was suffering withdrawal. I was eight or nine when that happened, and it terrified me. The words are enough to whip my father’s hurt and angry gaze to me.

“Hope-Marie,” his tone warns me I am on dangerous ground.

“What? I have a good job lined up. An apartment near it. I can call you every night and promise not to talk to strangers on the train. Or anything like that. Please, daddy,” I beg him. I have a secret weapon against my father. Being the seventh and last child of my mother, Helena, he would deny me nothing. Though Madelyn, or Maman, as we call her, is not about to let me get away with it today. She is being stubborn on the matter.

“It’s my life,” I grumble again. “You can’t stop me. I already bought my tickets and packed my bags. I’m an adult now, and it’s my decision.”

Madelyn snorts, as if everything I said was a joke. “John,” she says with a heavy French accent. “Do not let her go there alone. She does not know how to take care of herself.” The silent conversation between the two of them makes me feel like I am about to lose all of my life. Tears well in my eyes and I bite my lip.

Thinking fast, “You can come visit me whenever you like. See for yourself. I promise I will be safe. I’m a Wolfe. We’re tough!”

My father sighs and runs his fingers through his hair. He hates getting in between Maman and any of us. He still cannot reconcile how to manage the situation with the complicated history he and Maman have. Momma died when I was born. They knew it would happen; he had said. Momma and he had been trying to not get pregnant, and she fought all the advice to keep me. Momma had recovered enough during the delivery to name me Hope-Marie, but then passed away. Maman is the only mother I have ever known.

The silence between the three of us is heavy and makes me feel sad. They will not agree to my going to New York, and I am going. My twin sisters, Double Trouble, as if on cue, come rushing in. Mud and grime are all over both of them and they are beaming as they are each holding frogs. This causes Maman to shriek and makes the girls jump.

Frogs everywhere!

Pretty soon there is laughing, screaming, and we’re using a broom and trash can lid as a shield and sword to usher the frogs to freedom. My father catches my face as he is calming Maman. His look says this conversation isn’t over. I shrug and disappear up to my bedroom, where I slam my door shut. I don’t want to leave my family like this. Not at all. But I will not live in Kansas City, Missouri forever.

I come down in time to help Maman with dinner. Tristan is the one cooking, while Jean-Luc is helping the twins with their homework. I feel like an outsider. My four younger siblings are all Maman’s and Papa’s kids. I have never felt more alone than I do now, even with having eleven siblings. Everyone else got to go off and do what they want. I mean, just look at Rachel! She’s naked on an album cover. Billy gets to ride around on his motorcycle. Even Joe gets to go to the police academy! It’s not fair.

I feel my father watching me throughout dinner. He has a sad and amused look on his face. Maman and the others are having a lively conversation in French about something Jean-Luc had done when he was little. The twins are laughing and snorting. Jean-Luc is blushing. I push the food around on my plate. My mind is a million miles away. A quick glance at the clock on the wall, and I know we will turn in for the night soon. The Wolfe family has a strict curfew of ten o’clock on a school night; even for those of us who just graduated.

I finish up the last of my plate and gather up the dirty dishes to wash them and put them away. I can’t help but laugh at myself about feeling like doing the dishes was compensation for what I am planning. Soon we all retire to our rooms, and I am laying on my bed, staring at the ceiling. My heart is racing, and my palms are sweaty. I have it all figured out. Why can’t my parents see that? I am going to be a big-time fashion designer in no time. This job offer is amazing, and I remind myself of that as I feel the guilt well again that I am about to sneak out in the middle of the night.

The grandfather clock downstairs chimes and I listen, counting all ten of them before I start the farce of getting ready for bed. I have plenty of time. My bus doesn’t leave until one in the morning. I had called Billy, my only sibling who lives in town, and he agreed to pick me up. I fish out my packed bags, and I listen. The house is quiet as I slip from my room and make my way down the stairs, not bothering to turn on the lights. I don’t want to disturb Maman and Papa, or I will never get out of here.

I reach the bottom step and am making my way through the kitchen to the back door when the kitchen light flips on. I cover my mouth to keep from screaming as I jump from fright. There stands my father, still dressed, leaning against the kitchen counter. His face drawn into a frown I have only seen him give Billy. “You are going to break her heart, you know,” he murmurs.

“Papa, I know what I’m doing. I swear. You are gonna be so proud of me. I already have the job. Just have to be there by next Monday.” I plead with him. Can’t he see how important this is to me?

He sighs again and pushes off the counter. “Come on,” he picks up my suitcase and starts toward the back door. I blink in disbelief and then hurry after him as he loads my suitcase into the trunk of his car. I put my other bags into the trunk with it and slide into the passenger seat. He starts the car, and we head toward town. He chuckles when he sees Billy leaning against his bike. My stuff would have never fit on it. They just wave to each other as we drive by.

“Traitor,” I mutter and my father laughs.

“He thought you were running off to meet some boy,” he confesses.

It’s quiet as we head to the Greyhound station. “You know… your mother,” he stops as if bringing up Momma hurts him. “She leaped out of her bedroom window to be with me when your grandmother locked her in.”

I hadn’t known that and could just imagine it. The beautiful, curvy woman in the pictures leaping down into Papa’s arms.

“You’re just like her. You got her looks, and her spitfire. God, I miss her.” When he pulls into the bus station, he parks, and we sit in silence. “I called Marcus’ parents. They live in Brooklyn. If you get in trouble at all, here’s their information. He will take care of you.”

I could feel the fear coming from my father, so I hug him tight and cry. “Oh Papa! I will! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” I hug him again.

His powerful arms wrap around me as if he fears letting go would cause me to vanish. We linger in the embrace, but then he extracts himself and helps me get my bags out of the trunk. I pretend to not notice the envelope as he slides into my backpack and hug him again. Then I scurry over to the conductor, giving him my bus ticket. I glance back over my shoulder, giving my dad a bright smile, and he waves back at me in an encouraging manner.

He stays until the bus pulls away.

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