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Chapter One: Sarah
Every eye turns to the girl standing in the doorway. She's beautiful--a model straight out of the pages of Vogue or Cosmo--but that's not what grabs you. It's the combination of a child's face atop a sexy showgirl body. The contrast is unnerving.
She stares back with a haughty pout as if daring someone to say something.
She's enjoying this, Sarah realizes. She likes shocking people ... screwing with their heads. Look at the way she spreads her legs ... how she flaunts her nose stud and touches her bare hip with her hand ... it's all part of a carefully cultivated image. Sarah looks at the other diners, trying to read their faces. They see a girl "gone bad," that's for sure, and they don't like it. I wonder what they would think if...
Suddenly another thought enters her mind--maybe she's a CELT!
Can it be? Could one of those rare creatures be here, in Las Cruces? Sarah had read about CELTs until her eyes hurt--all the girls had--but she'd never seen one in person. It's possible. She's beautiful enough, and she has that same detached expression, as if she were some kind of exotic, superior species.
Sarah looks again at the other diners. Some of them seem really angry.
That's it! She is a CELT. They've already guessed it! Shit! That's why they're so hostile. CELTs are despised in places like this. A cheap whore is more welcome. To them, whores are victims--lost souls caught up in one of life's strong currents. CELTs, on the other hand, are cold and greedy bitches who've sold their souls for money--evil sirens who get off on their own humiliation andpain.
Sarah knows it's not that simple. Yes, they are different, but that doesn't automatically mean they're evil. There's got to be more to it than that. Maybe it's the pain. Some freaky people get off on pain; they want the bondage and the discipline. That's hard for me to understand. It should be just the opposite for any sane person. Still, maybe ... I wish I could talk to one of them and get her side.
One of the two men with the girl points to an empty booth. The diner is crowded, and they need to thread their way carefully through a gauntlet of heavy women overflowing into the aisle and dusty day workers.
He's nervous, Sarah realizes. He didn't expect so many people in here or such a cold welcome.
She almost feels sorry for him. It must be hard traveling with someone so beautiful--people staring, whispering, making judgments--not to mention those who simply lust after the girl. Sarah turns back to the somber crowd. They are my neighbors, but I don't want to be one of them. They're hypocrites! Why dump on her? You people fuck each other like rabbits, you get off on violence, you discriminate against everybody, including your own women, you...
She takes a deep breath. Why am I getting so worked up? This isn't the first time I've seen their hypocrisy in action. Las Cruces is dirt poor, isolated, inbred, and desperate. They survive on their fantasies and their prejudices. I just wish...
"Where did they come from?" Frances whispers, leaning into the table. "Look at the way she's dressed. Her skirt barely covers her ass. They shouldn't let that kind of city trash into a decent place like this."
"Yeah," Sarah mutters absently without taking her eyes off the trio.
She remembers what she's learned about CELTs. They definitely aren't whores. Whores are they are well, whores. There's not much more to say about them. CELTs are different ... special. They need to be incredibly beautiful, of course, like this girl. That's the first thing. They also have a legal contract that spells out what ... activities are permitted.
"Activities!" Sarah laughs at her inability even to think the words. CELTs can be everything from no-touch escorts to bondage slaves. She shudders a little at the word slave. Of course, the more extreme the "activity," the more they get paid. She trembles again at the idea of it. It's all consensual, she quickly reminds herself. A CELT can back out at any time.
That's what I like ... the consent. That's what makes it so, well, so liberating. A CELT is doing what she wants ... with her body, with her life. When did women ever have such rights? Legal rights! Sarah knows that she's overstating the case and that her logic is a tainted with her own girlish fantasies, but still there's something appealing about having such personal freedom. No one in Las Cruces thinks that girls should have such choice in their lives ... that's for sure.
She ponders the only part of this that bothers her. The ... bondage! I wonder what that involves, exactly. What does it feel like when you're bound, and someone else is in control? I can't even imagine such a feeling ... lying with my hands tied, waiting helplessly for some man to raise his whip, listening to the sound of it cutting through the air, feeling the pain, knowing that it will stop only when he wants it to stop ... Sarah uses a paper napkin to wipe the tiny beads of sweat off her upper lip. Forcefully, she pushes the troubling image to the back of her mind. Why?
Sarah looks the girl over carefully once again. There no denying her sensuality; she must drive them wild. I wonder what men are like when they're with her, with no real boundaries. It must be scary to be so desirable. She shudders again, imagining the girl bound and naked, kneeling at a man's feet, her huge round eyes looking up, waiting for...
"And don't they have a dress code in here?" Frances whispers. "Can people just walk in wearing anything they damn well please?" She tries to look both nonchalant and outraged at the same time.
"Why would they need a dress code, Fran?" Sarah responds patiently. "It's hot. She's dressed for the weather. Anyway, it looks worse than it is. She's got really long legs, and she's wearing heels." Sulking, Frances leans back, trying to formulate an adequate response.
Fran is her best friend, but she's not much of a free thinker. Sarah looks at her kindly. We hang out together because we're both eighteen and pretty and there's safety in numbers. Yes, that's important. We really do help each other fend off the verbal assaults and unwelcome touching of the local boys. But we're not alike.
She remembers the conversation they had yesterday. "They're all fucking Billy goats, Fran ... retards, bullies, and braggarts." Sarah had just had been mobbed and felt up in the hallway by a crowd of local boys. "I hate the way they feel entitled to paw us. I hate the way everyone in school just turns a blind eye towards their antics."
Fran helped her collect herself, and then responded in her own way. "You're right, Sarah. Someone should do something about them. They're animals. All they want is sex. I hate sex--all kinds. Mostly, I hate oral sex. It makes me want to vomit, and my sphincter tightens up like a drum whenever I hear the word anal."
Despite being shaken up, Sarah had laughed. Fran's graphic sexual imagery was kind of an inside joke with them. The truth was that she didn't hate sex any more then she hated the boys' attention. Like most of their friends, she loved it and was excited by the idea of intercourse--missionary, oral, anal, or multi-holed. Sarah knew it, as surely as she knew her own name. It was written all over her face, every time they came near the subject. Her contrary words were just a diversion: homage to the local customs of womanly modesty ... a mask. Everyone in town wore a mask.
Sarah didn't subscribe to their secret lusts. She feared a sexually-driven entanglement with the town's boys. Most girls around here can't wait. They're destined to suckle a trailer full of kids before they're thirty. That's just the way it is for most of us. We're poor desert trash; what other choice do we have? Not me. I want more. I'm not going to settle for a life of K-Mart, kids, housecoats, and church socials. I'm getting out even if it kills me.
"I like kids," Fran would answer lightly whenever Sarah took to the soapbox with her getting-out tirade. It was her way of making light of her friend's drama. Most of the time, Sarah would also laugh and change the subject to some desperately unimportant teenage topic, but that was a ruse. She was obsessed with the idea of escaping from Las Cruces, from the groping hands of the brutish young men that represented the future of this place.
This town is a prison, and I'm serving a life sentence with no chance of appeal. The only way out is to escape.
"Shit! Now he's got his hand on her ass."
Fran's whispered outburst brings her back to the present. Sarah watches the trio as she counts out her share of the check. They are now standing awkwardly in the aisle, waiting for their table to be cleared. The girl leans on one leg with practiced insouciance. One of her male companions, a stocky bald guy, lightly rests his hand on the top of her ass. He leans over and whispers something in her ear. She turns and walks to the Ladies Room. Sarah stares after her, casually sipping the last of her drink.
Did he just send her to the john? That's weird.
Annoyed, Frances asks, "Why are you staring at them like that, Sarah?" She has her back to the group. "People are going to think you admire that dirty whore." Her stage whisper drips with righteous anger. "Maybe you should get one of those nose things for yourself ... maybe one for your tongue, too." She then she giggles nervously. "Course, you'd never be able to open your mouth again in this town ... and that would be a real tragedy."
Signaling her to be quiet, Sarah continues to watch the men out of the corner of her eye. Finally, the men are seated, and there's nothing more to watch.
They sip their Cokes, talking quietly until the girl reappears from the bathroom. Fran notices and starts to say something, but Sarah hisses at her to be quiet again. There's something happening with these three, and she wants to catch it all.
The waitress wanders over. "You girls head straight home now, hear ... be dark soon." She looks at Sarah, and then casts a furtive glance in the CELT's direction. "Fran's right, Sarah," she adds. "You stop starin' at them right now. They don't have nothin' to do with us." She had obviously been listening to them.
Fran smiles smugly and begins to slide out of the booth. Sarah nods as well, and rudely pushes their check and money across the table. Sally, the waitress, gives her a hard stare, and then walks to the register.
"Sit!" Sarah orders as Fran begins to stand.
"For what?" she asks, exasperated at her friend's strange behavior. "You heard what she said!"
"So what? She's not my mother," Sarah says, staring intently across the room.
The girl walks back to her booth. She waits to be let in. Instead of moving aside, the younger man gets up and whispers something to her. She stiffens and her face turns a little red. He takes her arm firmly and walks her toward the door.
What's going on here? Sarah watches them move through the room. For someone with so much obvious attitude, she's awfully obedient. Could she have one of those extreme CELT contracts? Sarah wets her lips at the prospect. Now this is getting really interesting.
"I'm going to hang out here for a few minutes, Fran," she announces suddenly.
"Sarah, for crying out loud, I need to get home. If we're still here ogling this bitch, Sally will tell my mother."
"So what?" Sarah asks again. "We're not doing anything wrong."
"So what, so what..." Fran repeats the words, struggling for something to say.
Sarah saves her the effort. "You go ahead. I'll see you tomorrow." Her eyes are still locked on the pair heading for the door. Then she adds more kindly, "Call me tonight, and I'll help you with the math homework. Okay?"
Fran blows a puff of air out of her mouth and gets up quickly.
"You better." She walks away annoyed, arriving at the diner's doorway at the same time as the man and the girl. The man smiles at her and holds the door open with his free hand. Fran darts outside, rudely ignoring his courtesy.
Sarah watches them leave, and then shuffles around inside her school bag, trying to look busy. In five minutes, the man comes back without the girl.
Where is she? There's nothing around here within walking distance except the bus stop. Is she waiting in their car? Why?
The man walks back to his booth and says something to his companion; they both laugh. Sarah waits another minute, and then walks out, waving shyly to Sally, the waitress. Busy with another table, Sally nods crossly.