"Come on, wake up." I shook the man harshly, nothing. My hand hit his face, and he bolted upright.
"What the hell?" He screamed, and his bloodshot eyes squinted in pain. "Fuck!" he clamped his hands over his ears and put his head between his knees.
I held out a cup, expecting this. "Would this help?"
He looked up, carrot red hair falling across his eyes. He stared at the mug for a while, then snatched it out of my hands. "What is it?" he asked, sniffing the contents.
"Soot and warm milk."
The man took a sip. "Tastes like shit." He obviously didn't mind it too much, in a few seconds he had drained it.
"May I ask you your name?" I said, taking the cup from him and placing it on the nightstand.
"Uh, Hex." When he saw my bewildered expression, he started to explain. "My mother thought that I was a curse. One minute she had everything going for her, and the next I came out. Superstitious bitch."
"Sir," I said. Hex looked up at me, green eyes slightly glassy. "Would you refrain from cursing? Ms. Nettie's only rule is not to swear."
"Who's Ms. Nettie, the owner of this joint?"
"Yes, you'll meet her at breakfast." I pushed a pile of clothes into his arms. "Now if you just excuse me, I'll leave you to get dressed."
I was halfway to the door when Hex said, "Wait, what's your name?"
"Jessimir Vander. Do call me Jesse, though," I said as I shut the door behind me.
Ms. Nettie was waiting in the hallway. She hooked her arm into mine as we walked down the long corridor. I almost blushed at the feel of her fancy silk dress, of her soft skin next to mine. "How is our guest?" she asked, pushing her yellow hair behind her ears.
"Hungover," I said, directing her over to the dining room. Pulling out a chair, I said, "But I gave him the cure my mother used. He ought to be fine."
Helen came over, her face wrinkling even more as she smiled. She carefully sat a plate down on the table, then sat down beside us. Nettie picked up a pastry daintily, "What is his name?"
"Hex, odd I know."
She nodded. "I do hope he gets better. With a name like Hex he ought to have some good stories to tell." Nettie absolutely loved hearing the guest's stories, some were interesting, some were drop-dead boring, yet she craved them like a child craves sweets.
"I don't know," Helen said through a mouthful of pastry. "He seemed like a regular vagabond last night."
"Who knows," I said.
"Who knows what?" Hex's rough voice came from the doorway, where he nonchalantly lounged, his long figure stretched diagonally across the frame. He stalked over and pulled out the chair on Helen's left. Helen scooted away, obviously disgusted by his presence.
"Who knows what stories you'll bring," Nettie said, breaking the silence. She demurely smoothed the fabric of her dress, running her hands over her corseted bodice, then down to the embroidered hem.
Hex nodded. He picked up a pastry and popped it in his mouth. Helen abruptly got up, "Why don't I fix breakfast." She walked off, only too happy to leave.
Hex wasn't upset by this. He turned to Nettie, "I've had a rather colorful past. Nothing to exciting."
"Please do tell, we would love to hear, wouldn't we Jesse?"
I nodded in agreement, and Hex reached his hand into his pocket. He threw something onto the table. I picked it up, then threw it down just as quickly. The gold band on the object gleamed as I said, "Dear Creator! Is that a bone?" I half- asked, half-screamed.
"Yep. I was a pirate for a few years. This fat bastard couldn't get his ring off, so I just lopped off his finger and threw it in my pocket."
Nettie stared at the horrific trophy in wonder, "You're a pirate?"
"Was a pirate, miss. I got tired of the sea." He took the bone off the table and rolled it between his thumb and forefinger; admiring the way the gold ring glinted in the light. Shoving it back in his pocket, Hex said, "Been rovin' for about two years now. Can't seem to find a place to stay."
Helen came back in, her arms balancing a large silver tray. I got up and helped her, setting the tray down on the table as Nettie spoke. "Can't you stay here? We wouldn't mind a full time guest." Helen and I exchanged a look. We could barely stand another second with Hex, let alone another month.
"I'll stay for a night." Hex grabbed some food and quickly stuffed his mouth.
I winced. Did every single piece of scum Ms. Nettie let in have to stay? Did everyone have to take advantage of her? This one will probably be just like the others, doing nothing while we work, eating all of the food, finally leaving only after they had stole something of value. And yet she still let them stay.
'The stories are payment enough' Nettie always said. 'Each bring a taste of adventure with them.'
I knew that Nettie had a full out lust for adventure and action. It was only the stories that kept her from running away and following this ludicrous dream. For that, the stories were a blessing, but the tellers were a curse.
Nettie had noticed my expression. "Why don't we go downtown after breakfast? Pick up a few items, and, uh, show Hex around?" she said, fervently trying to change the subject.
Her blue eyes, filled with some distant longing, caught my brown. "Sure, I need some air," I said, giving into her sad stare.
The corners of her rosebud mouth pulled up, and I grinned, only too happy to see smile once more.