She was standing on her balcony when Ethan first saw her. He’d been on his own balcony, watching for the pizza delivery driver, when he looked up and noticed her. It wasn’t so much that she was pretty, although she was. It was more the way she stood there, motionless.
As Ethan watched, she suddenly climbed up on the metal rail of the balcony. What the hell? She was going to jump! Ethan rushed out of his apartment and down three flights of stairs, his feet pounding as he ran. When he got all the way down, he looked up. The girl was standing on the edge of the balcony, looking down. Ethan moved as fast as he could and was soon directly beneath her.
‘Hey!’ he shouted. She ignored him and stared straight ahead. He shouted again. Finally she looked down.
‘Go away! Get out of here!’ she called.
‘Look, don’t do this! It’ll be OK. You’ll be OK.’
‘What the hell do you know about it?’
‘I know this isn’t the way to solve anything.’
‘You got a better idea?’ she snapped. Just then, the pizza delivery car pulled up. Ethan glanced at the car, then up at the girl.
‘There’s nothing that can’t be made better with a slice of pizza,’ he countered. The girl wavered for a minute. That was just the opening he needed. ‘Come on down. I’ll share it with you,’ he promised, pointing at the delivery driver.
Finally, she nodded once, climbed back over the balcony rail, and disappeared inside. Ethan drew a couple of deep breaths as he waited for her.
By the time she got outside, Ethan had paid the driver and was holding the pizza. ‘I hope you like chicken barbecue,’ he said.
‘Yeah, that’s fine.’
Ethan guessed she wouldn’t be willing to go up to his apartment with him. That would have to wait. For now, they found seats at a picnic table not far from his building. He opened the box and pushed it slightly towards her. She chose a slice and nibbled at the pointy end, watching him carefully. After she’d taken a bite, she asked, ‘So why did you do it?’
‘You know, talk me down.’
Ethan shrugged He wasn’t sure yet what approach would work best with her, but the atmosphere needed lightening up. ‘I didn’t want all the news vans and camera crews taking up all the parking spaces,’ he joked. It seemed to work, too. The girl smiled a little and took another bite of her pizza. For the next few minutes, neither said anything as they ate.
‘What’s your name?’ Ethan broke the silence. ‘Mine’s Ethan.’
‘Gina.’ The name suited her, he thought.
She had dark, wavy hair down to her shoulders, and deep brown eyes. They were a little red and swollen right now from crying, but he could tell they were show-stoppers. And that was just what he was looking for. Once he got her to trust him, she would make a nice source of income. He’d be able to charge top dollar for her.
For the next three weeks, Ethan devoted himself to Gina. It helped that he was a good listener; it was part of how he hooked his girls. She told him about her bad relationship with her parents, and that she’d just gotten out of a bad romance. She’d lost her job, too. She was sick of it all, and that worked for him. He bought her a few presents, took her out to nice places, and texted and called her. She was beginning to trust him, too. She even asked him for money so she could buy some clothes. He didn’t mind; the thousand bucks was an investment. Finally he figured she was ready and one evening, he invited her to his apartment (‘I make a great chicken marsala.’).
When she got there, Gina looked around, smiled, and said, ‘This is beautiful!’ She touched the edge of the soft leather couch, glanced at the high-end flat-screen TV, and admired the artwork on the walls. Ethan was definitely well set up. He offered her a glass of wine, and she thanked him and took a sip. She was no expert, but it certainly wasn’t the cheap stuff. Yes, he’d been a good choice. She’d probably do quite well, and if it meant staying the night, well, there were worse places.
Ethan was actually decent company, although he seemed just a little too smooth to Gina. Whatever his game was, it didn’t really matter. She wouldn’t be around long enough to find out. After dinner (it wasn’t an idle boast: Ethan was a good cook), she helped him put the dishes in the dishwasher. Then, as if on cue, he made his move. That was fine with Gina. She thought about backing off; after all, her story was that she’d been hurt in a relationship. But she didn’t want to drag this whole thing out.
The next morning, Ethan had coffee ready before Gina woke up. After they had breakfast, he’d take her to meet Davey, who would get her ready to start earning some money. Davey was quite persuasive. In no time, she’d be profitable. He smiled to himself as he heard her come towards the kitchen. This would be a piece of cake. ‘Good morning,’ he hugged her as she came in. She smiled and kissed him.
‘That coffee smells good,’ she answered. He handed her a cup.
‘Listen, I’ve got a friend I’d like you to meet,’ Ethan said. ‘He’s got a line on a good job, and you might be right for it.’
‘OK. Thing is, I wanted to talk to you about something else.’
‘It’s just – they’re about to raise the rent where I am, and I’m not going to be able to make it if I have to wait long. Do you think… well… do you think you could lend me some until I start working? I’ll pay you back – promise.’
‘Sure, no problem. We’ll stop at the bank on the way to meet my friend.’ Might as well make the story believable.
‘That’s great! Thank you. Now, let me get dressed. I’ll be ready in a few minutes.’
It was only a ten-minute drive to the bank. Gina sat quietly as Ethan went inside. He came out a few minutes later holding an envelope. He slid into the driver’s seat and handed the envelope to her. “Here you go.” Gina kissed him and took the money. Then she said. ‘I’m sorry – I need the restroom. Can we stop?’
Ethan waited outside the Starbucks for ten minutes. How the hell long did it take to go to the bathroom, anyway? After five more minutes, he went inside. There was no-one in either of the restrooms. That bitch! She’d left with $3,000 of his money! Furious, he stormed back to his car. He’d find her and make her pay.
She smiled to herself. She’d already signed a lease on the new place, and Ethan’s money would buy a few things for it. She’d done pretty well, and there were plenty of other guys out there. She’d have to pick a new name, though. Brooke sounded good.