A Promise of a Different Sort
It was an already terrible day when the door opened and the group of laughing men came in over the clang of the bell on top of the door. She recognized them. Everyone knew who Nicholas, Thomas and Michael Flynn were and Thomas' pocket marked face and large nose was immediately identifiable among the group of men.
They settled down at their table without waiting to be seated. That table was always saved for one of the Flynn boys. She hurried over with a bottle of whiskey and put it in the center of the table. Tom Flynn looked her over, leaning back in his chair and digging into his pocket to retrieve a cigarette.
"You're new here," he observed. She hesitated. Normally, she would wait a few minutes for them to look over the menu.
"Yes, Mr. Flynn, I started Thursday."
He nodded and brought the cigarette to his lips to light. She hurried off when he made no attempt to speak with her further. The men were not a difficult group. They shared a bottle and a half of whiskey between the six of them, but none got fresh. At the end of the night, around ten o'clock, the men all got their feet, tossing down bills at the table. She was anxious. She might get five whole dollars out of them. They were drunk and wealthy. The best kind of tippers.
She was waiting anxiously by the kitchen doors, when the men all began to leave. All save Tom Flynn, who strode toward her with a small smile on his face.
"What's your name?" he asked.
"Ruth," she answered. He reached out and grabbed her hand.
"Ruth," he greeted. He stepped passed her, hand still in hers, and lead her into the kitchen. "Do you know who I am?"
He gave a nod to the cook. Thomas Flynn owned the restaurant, or so they said. At the very least, the true owner owed him quite a bit of money.
"Obviously," she answered. She was not a stupid girl, and though she had never slept with a man, she was not wholly innocent either. When he led her into the back closet and closed the door, she was very well aware of what was going to happen.
"You're very beautiful," he told her. She nodded dumbly and he tilted her face upward. He kissed her then. His hands groped at her. A small gasp of fear did burst from her lips when he pulled back and a spun her around. She grabbed onto the shelving as he forced her skirts up. He made some effort not to hurt her, but the entire experience was, at best, uncomfortable. When he was finished, he tugged her skirt back down for her.
"Thanks for that," he said. He was counting out some bills, breathing heavy, scarred cheeks flushed red. He put ten dollars in her hand and her mouth opened wide. Well worth the loss of her virginity in a supply closet in the back of a restaurant. She'd be able to buy Dickie new shoes, books, and even a new church suit. Plus, fresh milk for the next week! And some left over to pay the bank.
"Thank you," she breathed out in excitement. "Wow. Thank you."
"Anytime," he winked at her, tapping a knuckle against her chin. He opened the door and walked out.
He came back a week later. Saturday night, same time, same table, and once finished, as everyone filed out, he took her by the hand and brought her out back. He had her turned away from him again, hands on her hips, hard, fast, no conversation. He counted out another ten and was gone without a word.
The next week, he made her face him. He picked up by the legs and slammed her into the shelves with more force than was probably intended. She didn't mind. It felt quite good and Dickie had a new suit, new clothes, school books, and she had paid up her rent for the next two months!
She wrapped her arms around his neck, her legs around his hips, and simply tried to keep her moans quiet enough so that no one else would hear. For such an ugly man, he was well endowed.
He gave her another ten. As they walked out, she heard the chef say something to another server. Something crude, something she was really glad she had not heard. Tom turned and snapped his fingers at him, and with very little emotion, he said, "You're fired."
She whirled around to look at the cook and then at Tom Flynn.
"What?" the man asked in disbelief.
"You. Your fucking fired."
He had a cigarette to his lips, match cupped in his hand. He swung the match around and tossed it into the soapy sink.
"But sir - I- she - she IS!"
"Get your shit and get out. Now."
"Mr. Flynn –" Ruth started, hoping to come to the chef's aid. She understood how frightening it was not knowing where your next meal might come from. She'd never do anything that would cost a man his job.
"I don't want to hear anything from you," he told her quite curtly. Her skin flushed in embarrassment. It seemed so odd, that he'd fire a man over disrespecting her, and then treat her like she was the very thing she had been accused of being.
He walked out of the door and left, leaving everyone on the kitchen stunned. She intervened on the cook's behalf the next time he came in. He relented and allowed the cook to stay, but only because she said so. It was quite clear to everyone, if he caught wind of another word like that being used to describe her, even Ruth herself wouldn't be able to save them. He wouldn't tolerate it. After that, the kitchen staff was quite kind to her.
It remained this way until early spring. She had made a comment afterward, that he came every Saturday night. Did he have a girl for every night of the week?
"Are you jealous," he asked her, buckling his belt once again.
"How can I be?" she answered honestly. "I don't know you."
He said nothing to that, but the next week, when he approached her after dinner and took her by the hand, he did not lead her to the back of the restaurant but the front.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"I'm going to make you jealous of me," he answered simply. He put her in his car and they drove around town. He told her about himself. He was thirty-four, he had gotten all the way up to the tenth grade, he was born in Ireland, fought briefly in the Great War, but was medically discharged after getting some shrapnel to the head, and he worked for his brother, Nick. He liked beer more than whiskey, but he'd never admit that to anyone else.
His younger brother, Micky, had been injured in the war. He came back briefly before returning to Ireland to fight. He'd never been the same after the war, Tom confided. He came back angry, violent, uncontrollable. Nick worried about him all the way over there in Ireland, but Micky was smart, he was capable, cunning.
They parked at a river and he directed her into the back seat. Little time was spent before he had her on her back with her shorts pulled down past her ankles and her skirts lifted up around her hips. His mouth was on hers for the most of it.
The next week, it was her turn to talk. She told him about herself. She was seventeen. Her parents had died, leaving her to care for her brother Dickie. They lived in a tiny place. Her father owed the bank a lot of money. Almost two thousand dollars! When he died, they took everything. But she was determined to keep Dickie in school. He was so smart. He'd do great things. He'd get the hell out of here.
She was born in Dorchester. She wasn't Irish and she wasn't Catholic. She wasn't all that smart and she didn't much care for convention. She liked to drink and smoke but she couldn't afford it, so she didn't.
He offered her a cigarette and a shot of whiskey, and then they crawled into the back seat. He sat up this time and had her straddle him. He kissed her again, hand on the back of her head, buried in her hair. They shared another cigarette after and he drove her home.
"You have your own room?" he asked her one night, handing her a cigarette from the driver's seat of the car.
"Yes. Dickie has a room on the bottom floor and I'm just up the stairs."
The next week, he brought her up to her room with a bottle of whiskey. They both took some shots and smoked, talking about little things that had happened through the week. He began kissing her neck as she told a story. Slowly she trailed off, enjoying the feel of his lips.
For the first time, he had her strip down. He peeled off her stockings, slipped her out of her under clothes. He left her completely nude, running her hands over her greedily. She was self-conscious as she lay there. She hoped he was pleased. Her body was pale and thin, maybe even a bit boyish in figure.
She wished she knew what his other girls looked like. It might make her feel better, to know she was the prettiest of them.
She felt a sudden stab of jealously as she thought of them. She wondered bitterly, if he thought of her at all when he was with them, or if he thought of them when he was with her. She realized with horror that he had succeeded. How cruel that was, to make an effort to entangle her emotions, when he had no intention to return them.
She blinked rapidly and he gave her a queer look.
"Alright, Ruth?" he asked her.
"I'm fine," she answered. He didn't seem concerned. His head lowered to a small breast and sucked her nipple into his mouth. He moved to the other. He spent some time here before lowering his head between her legs.
"Mr. Flynn!" she cried when she realized what he was doing. He flashed a smile.
"Call me, Tom," he answered and disappeared to the mass of black curls between her legs. That night, after he left with his normal thanks, plopping down the money on the dresser, she cried herself to sleep.
By mid-summer, they would spend their Saturday nights in her bedroom. She never asked him what he did the other six days of the week. She chose not to dwell on it. He paid her bills with his generous tips, and that was all that mattered.
Then one Saturday, he simply didn't show up. She waited. She waited until midnight, after the restaurant had closed, sitting on the front step of the restaurant. She walked home slowly, swinging her purse, head hung low. Dickie asked where Tom was. He'd started to like Tom. Ruth told her she hadn't seen him and went up to her room and slammed the door. The land lady did not appreciate that and came from her room to shout at her. Ruth got onto her bed, ignoring her. She got herself to sleep with a few shots of vodka and zero tears.
It was the money she would miss, but she had been smart. She had rent settled for the year. She'd paid off all her tabs and nearly the bank. It was well worth it, even if the town did think she was a whore now.
Well, they didn't think it; she was a whore. Or had been. He must have found a new girl for his Saturday nights. She decided he was not worth the turmoil she felt. To purposefully inspire these feelings and then leave. No man that cruel could make a good husband.
Husband. How funny that was. She'd let him fuck her the first night they met, in a supply closet. He had no reason to have ever viewed her as anything other than a whore.
She was surprised when he came in the next week and acted as if nothing happened. She hoped to show her disinterest and detachment, but as he was leaving, she snapped, "don't I get twenty? It's not my fault you didn't show up last week."
He looked surprised. "You didn't earn it; you don't get it."
She pressed her lips together and pulled her blankets up around her neck. He tossed his wallet back onto the dresser and came back to the bed. He crawled back over to her and murmured softly, "Did you miss me?"
She could not speak, but shot him a cold glare. He leaned down and kissed her neck. He brought the blankets lower.
"I think you did," he breathed against her. He gave a little breathy laugh. "You missed me."
"Tom –" he pressed a finger to her lips.
"Be quiet," he ordered. He kissed her again, tossing back the covers and sinking into her. He stayed in bed and they shared a cigarette. She fell asleep with him there. When she woke up, he was gone. Twenty dollars rested on the dresser.
He returned the next week. The week after that. She enjoyed the moments after sex, before she would fall asleep. She'd press her face to his chest and listen to his heart beat. He had a fine smattering of dark hair on his chest, a little around his belly button bottom. His hand would move up and down her side, stroking her gently.
One day, in the middle of the week, not knowing what possessed her, she walked down to the pub that Nick had just bought from Flanagan. She had heard that the Flynn's were often there. She entered, glanced around, and then took her seat at the bar. She ordered a drink and waited.
"Looking for someone?" The barkeep asked after a couple of hours. She had been looking around anxiously.
"Oh... no," she answered, a bit downtrodden. She pulled out her money and paid her bill. She finished her gin and slid off the stool.
"I know you," someone stopped her. She recognized him as one of Tom's friends that joined him at the pub. "Your Tom's girl, eh?"
"One of them," she answered cagily. His brow nearly touched his hairline he lifted it so high.
"Oh?" he asked.
"Excuse me," she said and began to brush passed him.
"Tom's on a quick run to Rhode Island. He'll be back soon if you want to wait for him."
"I didn't come to see, Tom," she snapped. "I came for a drink."
She left the pub and let the door clamor shut behind her.
She did not expect Tom to show up that night, but he weaved through the tables to where she was standing in the back.
"You came to you see me?" he asked.
"I went out for a drink," she answered. He nodded, glancing around with a neutral expression. He jerked his head toward the door.
"Come on, let's go for a ride."
"I have work," she answered. He reached into his pocket.
"I have ten bucks says you don't."
She looked up at the bill. She almost had the loan paid. She was so close. She let out a defeated sign. He called to her boss and took her by the hand.
He took her home and they spent the evening in her room. They didn't speak much. She didn't trust herself to. He lay on his side, gently trailing his fingertips along her creamy skin.
"I work six days a week," he finally told her. "Spend a lot of my evenings driving. Saturday is my only night off."
She stared at him, brow knitted. He was tracing circles on her belly.
"I begged Nick to give me tonight. When Charles told me, you came looking for me, I thought you were in trouble."
His hand flattened on her stomach. "And he told me what you said. About you being only one of my girls. I thought you were joking when you first said it."
He looked up at her. "You're my only girl."
"Really?" She asked.
"Really," he answered and then laughed. He pointed to his face. "With this mug?"
She smiled and reached up. She trailed her fingers over the uneven skin. She said affectionately, "I don't think it's so bad."
"I like you, Ruth," he told her. "Paying a fortune to fuck you."
"You don't –" she started and then stopped. Should she say that? Whatever power she had just gained, she'd lose it. She bit her bottom lip.
"What is it?" he asked.
"I don't need any money for tonight," she settled on. She couldn't give up the money. Not if she was going to take care of Dickie the way she wanted.
"No?" he asked, a small smile on his lips. She shook her head. He crawled on top of her again and placed his mouth on hers.
When she woke up in the morning, he was still in bed beside her. Fearful he had overslept, she shook him awake. He woke with a start and looked around with groggy eyes.
"It's 8:20," she told him. He signed and leaned back in his pillow.
"Do you want me to go?" he asked.
"I don't, no."
"Just didn't want to let me sleep in?" he asked with a smile. He tugged her back down by the elbow.
She helped him get ready afterward. She tied his tie and fastened the buttons of his vest. He used Dickie's straight razor to shave.
"I'm going to get back late tonight," he said, putting the aftershave in his cheeks. "Won't have an early night again until Saturday."
He took hold of her wrists. "Don't go thinking I'm running around on you."
She nodded. What did that mean? Were they going steady? Surely not. Not after all those payments. He kissed her cheek and readied to leave. She hurried after him, pausing in the doorway and calling, "you can come here to sleep."
He turned at the car, staring silently at her.
She offered weakly, "If you wanted to."
"I don't have a key," he said.
"I'll leave the door open," she offered.
"No, you won't," he said sternly. "You'll keep it locked up tight."
She was a bit embarrassed, but she looked off down the street with a convincing aloofness. He walked back to the door. He took her hands.
"I'll see you Saturday."
She nodded again. She almost offered to have a key made for him, but her pride would not allow it. He bent down and placed a kiss to her cheek.
He came in Saturday with his normal crew. They were all in a pleasant mood. Micky was home for a short while. He'd be back off to Ireland in just a few days.
"This is my girl, Ruth," Tom introduced her. They were all already drunk. His hands groped at her. He pulled her down for a kiss.
"How much you paying her?" Micky asked. "Ugly fucking thing like you getting such a pretty woman."
"He's better looking than you," she snapped with such force and venom that she almost believed it herself. Micky looked surprised and then started laughing with everyone else. Tom kept an arm wrapped around her middle, holding her close to his seated frame.
"Keep a tight hold of that one," Micky said. He winked at her. It was not licentious. The Flynn brothers were close. No one would doubt any ill intention. She put her hand around Tom's shoulder and let him hold her a few moments longer. Micky added contritely, "of course, I didn't mean to offend the lady."
"We're going out dancing tonight," Tom told her. "Come with me?"
"In this?" she asked him.
"I think you look grand."
He stood from his chair and turned his back to his friends. He murmured, "I'll give you an extra tenner."
There was a very slight tremor of desperation in his voice. She looked up in surprise, shaking her head.
Crestfallen, he nodded. His eyes shot to the side, readying himself for the humiliation in front of his friends.
"No, I mean," she stepped closer and murmured. "I mean you don't have to pay me. I want to come."
A bright smile spread over his face. For a moment, he almost looked handsome.
Dancing was great fun. Tom was an excellent dancer, she quite liked his friends, and after a couple of drinks, she felt quite comfortable with them.
Tom brought her back to his place. She wasn't worried about Dickie. He'd be fine. His place was small. A bedroom, a bathroom, a kitchen. But the smell of him in his bedroom was intoxicating. She loved it. As he fell down on top of her at the end of the night, she was in ecstasy.
She made sure to wake up early and cook him a nice breakfast. She'd make a fine wife if that was what he was after. He was pleased with the meal and said as such. She was a little disappointed when he finished eating and told her he'd pay for her bus fare home. He was impossible to read. One moment she believed he truly cared for her, the next, he made her feel like nothing more than a whore.
She did not seem him again until the following Saturday. He came in alone and walked right up to her.
"Take off your apron," he ordered. "Let's go."
"Not anymore. Let's go."
"Tom..." she hurried after him and caught him by the wrist when he was half way to the door. "I need this job. I need the money."
"I pay you more than you get paid in three months," he answered. "Let's go."
She pulled her hand free. "No," she said firmly. "When - when you move on, I'm going to keep working an honest job. I'm not... I'm not a whore," she demanded as firmly as she could without allowing the others to hear her.
"Took my money," he pointed out with unnecessarily cruelty. "You want to keep getting it, you come with me right now."
She felt very close to crying. She thought about the bank, her loans, the rent, Dickie staying in school. She removed her apron and followed him out to his car.
"I know you're not a whore," he said, before turning the ignition. "That's not what I think of you."
She only nodded. Her face was neutral, but underneath the taut skin, was a torrent of tears.
He drove on down the road, just a few minutes, and stopped the car. She gazed up at the foreign, large brick building before them. Silently, she followed him in as he opened the door. He led her up the stairs and then let her into an apartment. It was only partially furnished. The front door opened up into a large living space, a connected kitchen and dining room. She saw a long hallway, down which she assumed was a bathroom and a bedroom or two.
"What do you think?" he asked her.
"About what?" she asked in confusion.
"About the place," he said. "About living here."
"Living here?" She asked in surprise. She shook her head. "No. I could never afford this."
"You're not paying for it, Ruth. I am," he said. "I'll keep paying for your place now. Dickie can stay there. We'll live here."
Her wandering gaze snapped back to his. "We?"
"Us," he answered. "I bought this place for us."
He took a few steps closer. "As long as you say your mine, I'll pay for everything. I'll pay off the bank. I'll get Dickie everything he needs. I'll buy you dresses and jewelry and anything else you want. I'll give you an allowance. Do whatever you want with it. But you gotta be my girl."
"I –" she was too hesitant for his liking.
"I'll pay for whatever you want," he snapped. He sounded suddenly angry.
"No other girls," she said suddenly. He blinked.
"No other girls," she said again. "Not even dancing. Not even a one-time thing drunk. If I find out I'm gone. I mean it. Because I - I care about you, and I won't do that to myself - no matter the money. Any other girls and I'm gone."
He took a few menacing steps closer. His brow was furrowed deeply. "That's what you care about? Other women?"
Her resolve wavered slightly. Was that foolish? Making such a demand when she had nothing to barter with. She knitted her brow together and gave a curt nod. A little smile came to his lips.
"Alright then," he said. He placed his right hand over his head. "As long as I call you mine, I won't even think about touching another woman."
"Then yes," she answered.
"Yes," she said again. "I'm yours."
He grinned widely and rushed her, scooping her up around the middle and twirling her around. She laughed and smiled, welcoming his kiss, but a very small part of her could not quite swallow down the bitter disappointment that this gift of a home had not come with a ring and a promise of a different sort.