Before the world went on lockdown – almost a *year* ago, which, ugh, so depressing – my family had plans to visit family in New Mexico. The Land of Enchantment cast a spell over me as a kid, and I wanted to share it with my own children.
Alas, like so many other people, we were forced to cancel the trip. While eagerly awaiting the time when travel is safe again, I was able to visit the southwest in my imagination by writing this story.
You can take a tour of property that inspired The Black Diamond Ranch, the setting for Sadie’s story, here. It’s just a *wee* bit out of my budget at almost $2 million list – but looking is free, right?
Speaking of looking…the inspiration for Dakota’s character is Star Wars actor John Boyega. An intrepid Twitter user captured stills from his recent film project last October. I took one look and knew I had to write about them!
Sadie and Beau took a little longer to come together, figuratively and literally. Once Sadie started talking to me, I knew this story had to take place in New Mexico.
I can’t wait for you to meet these three on 2/3/21. Make sure you preorder CONFINED WITH THE CEO AND THE BODYGUARD: SADIE to get the special release-week price of just .99c/.99p (all local currencies converted).
Without further ado, meet our heroine, Sadie.
Chapter One: Sadie
“Damn it!” I kick a pebble against the curb. It promptly bounces back to hit me in the shin. “Double damn,” I mutter, rubbing it through my jeans. Ain’t that some kind of metaphor.
My stomach growls. It’s been six hours since I ate my last stale protein bar.
I’m used to hardship. But this pandemic has kicked away every bit of hard-won progress I’ve made as surely as if a malevolent god had chopped down a ladder I was climbing. If I don’t find a way to get out of this spiral…Well, it’s not like things could get much worse. I can always—
Not going to happen.
My mind shuts down the thought before I can even finish it. I won’t go back to stripping. I’ve left that behind, now. I just need to find a perch, a ledge, any toehold to latch onto so I can survive the next few weeks.
At least, I hope the pandemic shutdown will only last a few weeks. I don’t know what I’ll do if we can’t get it under control. I can’t afford not to work, and I also can’t catch this thing. It’s not like I have health insurance. Getting sick would be a calamity for me.
Sunlight on silver metal spears me in the eyes. I wince and blink. My sunglasses are scratched but I pull them down over my face. The mask steams the lenses. I snatch them off again and scowl.
“Face it, Sadie Banes. You’re up Schitt Creek without a paddle,” I say to myself.
Ten minutes ago, I had an appointment with the benefits office in which a harried, masked clerk behind a plexiglass barrier informed me that because I worked part-time as a contractor, I am ineligible for unemployment. All I have to get through this out-of-control pandemic is one beat-up, gas-guzzling van that doubles as my home, nineteen crumpled dollar bills in my pocket, and a freshly-printed massage therapist’s license that I suddenly can’t use.
Who in their right mind wants to get a massage in the midst of a pandemic? Nobody, that’s who.
Which means everything I’ve worked toward for the past two years has gone poof.
The license I trained to obtain? Worthless.
The table I bought new, even though I couldn’t afford my own studio to set up in? Useless.
My ambition to rent a live-work space so I can stop living out of my van? On hold—permanently.
I’d cry if I had any tears left, but hardship wrung those out of me years ago. I’ve been kicked around New Mexico’s foster care system since I was a baby. My mother was estranged from her family due to her spiraling drug addiction. When I was twelve, her sister finally agreed to let me live with them—but by then I’d already been kicked around the foster care system for a decade.
Still, they gave me a taste of a life I want so badly. One with stability, where I am not constantly scrambling to pay bills and my stomach is never hollow with hunger.
I tried; I really did. I had goals. Dreams. I wanted to be a nurse, because I like helping people and staying healthy is important to me.
But when I was seventeen, I made a mistake. A big one.
On some level, I can’t really blame my aunt and uncle for throwing me out when they discovered I was working as a teen cam girl—though I still think they could have held a little closer to their religious convictions, especially the part about forgiveness. But I can see why they didn’t want me corrupting their real kids.
Yes, that’s what they called my cousins. To my face.
When they showed me the door, I was determined to prove that they’d been wrong about me by pure force of will. I graduated early from high school and enrolled in college, but even though I worked two and three jobs, tuition kept going up, while my grades started going down.
I did the sensible thing and gave up cam work for stripping. Dancing paid better, and I’d rather gyrate on a stage wearing nothing but heels and a thong than juggle a bunch of minimum-wage jobs.
But then, my boyfriend found out how I was paying half of the rent and he, too, threw me out. Hence, the van. It’s not much of a home, but no one can take it away from me.
I always intended to go back to school. I needed a quick degree, and settled on massage therapy. It’s not nursing, but it’s still health-related, and the training was fast and relatively affordable.
Then I graduated into a pandemic—ain’t that just my luck.
Now, I can’t even rely on my fallback career.
I kick another rock at the curb. “Triple damn it.”
There has to be an option. My mind races. Dancing is out of the question. While there are men who would absolutely pay to watch a woman in a mask dance next to naked on a stage, I am not willing to contract a deadly disease for the sake of a few bucks. I can’t exactly go back to cam work, either—not while living in a van with no internet access apart from a battered cell phone.
I need a job—any job.
My stomach rumbles. I am light-headed. I’ll think better with a bit of food in me.
I’m parked across the street from a funky-looking café, the kind that looks like it’s frequented by students from the University of New Mexico. I quickly decide this is the likeliest opportunity for me in a bleak employment landscape. Maybe the fact that I found a parking spot with another forty minutes on the meter right across the street from it is a sign.
I dodge cars to cross the street with my black hair flying behind me like a wind-ripped pirate’s flag. Even before the pandemic started, I didn’t like spending money to have it cut. Before I set foot inside, I pull it back into a bun. My mask is a bandana secured over my nose and mouth with a hair tie.
I refuse to let this situation grind me down. There is always a path forward. I just have to keep trying until I find it.
“What can I get you?” asks the barista. He’s about my age, with a scruffy beard sticking out around his mask and a black band T-shirt covered by a gray apron. I could fit in here, I think.
“Do you have any day-old pastries?” I ask. I’m not sure I can deal with another rejection on an empty stomach, so I pay for my stale croissant and small cup of coffee and take them into the courtyard. I eat in small bites, trying to make a snack into a meal. I have no weight to lose. I am five-foot-seven and a hundred and ten pounds. My breasts and hips have become suggestions with skin over them. The coffee helps to quell my hunger.
Now that I’ve eaten, my financial wherewithal is down to $16.32. I toss my paper bag and empty cup into the trash and return to the counter, where I drop the thirty-two cents into the tip jar. It isn’t much but, I know I’m not the only person suffering financially. Even small amounts add up over the course of a shift, so I contribute what little I can.
“Excuse me,” I ask the guy working there. “Are you hiring?”
He looks me up and down. I am wearing a black tank top and cutoff jeans. A tattoo is visible on my exposed arm. On my feet are secondhand black boots that are a half-size too large. I stand straight and try to look reliable.
“Hang on.” He gives me a form to fill out. I stick it inside a printed circular to keep the breeze from bending it and take it out to my vehicle, where I know I have a pen. I fish one out of my backpack and start writing.
In the address line, I put the street number of the local community center. It’s where I bathe and get water every day—close enough. Hopefully they won’t recognize it until I have a chance to get hired and impress them.
Under references, I list my last employer. The owner of an upscale salon claimed she was doing me a service by giving me a “paid” internship—one that required me to spend eight hours a day on-site. She charged clients a hundred and twenty dollars an hour for each massage, paid me a dollar more than minimum wage plus tips, and still expected me to fold towels or wash people’s hair without compensation during my so-called downtime. On a good day, I’d go home to my van, exhausted, with a whopping ninety bucks in my pocket.
When the pandemic hit, she fired me immediately. That bitch had the nerve to tell me about how she was terrified she wouldn’t be able to keep her vacation home if she didn’t cut costs.
As a homeless person, I was not exactly sympathetic.
But she didn’t know that about me. She didn’t know about my plans, nor would she have cared if I’d bothered to tell her anything about my struggles. I kept quiet and tried to file for unemployment, only to find that she’d screwed me that way, too, by classifying me as a contractor.
Lesson learned—dreaming big is for people with things like families and houses and college degrees. Not for me.
I return the neatly completed, uncreased application to the counter and stand there flipping through the circular while he takes it to the manager in the back. I know there’s almost no chance that I’ll be offered an interview on the spot, but I wait anyway. Hope is a persistent little weed, and hard to root out no matter how many times you’re disappointed. Besides, I don’t mind taking the opportunity to juice up my phone and sit in the air conditioning.
I spend several minutes circling potential jobs before I spot one that stops me cold.
Live-in massage therapist wanted. Must be certified & provide own supplies. Housing and stipend paid. 555-555-5555.
It’s a better deal than the rich bitch offered me at her spa. Maybe it isn’t much to hope for, but like I said—hope is hard to kill.
I compose a message on my cracked phone, hoping I don’t misspell anything. I can’t see half the words through the spider web of broken glass. At least it still works, mostly.
“Thanks,” the counter clerk says. “The manager will give you a call if there’s any jobs.”
If there’s any jobs. Of course, there won’t be an opening. The state is going into lockdown at midnight. He must have thought I was a complete fool.
I want my thirty-two cents back.
“Could’ve saved me the trouble of filling it out,” I mutter to myself. I unplug my phone and head back to my van. There’s a bench seat that folds flat so I can sleep at night and a sunroof for ventilation. I have a camp stove, matches, and a five-gallon stash of water. It’s gotten me through four months of homelessness while working full-time, but it’s no way to quarantine. I rip off my bandana mask and toss it on the console.
My butt vibrates before I can sit down.
If you’re interested in the job, send me your resume and a copy of your license.
Hm. It’s probably another scam like the place I just got fired by. Pays less than minimum wage, keeps the profits as “overhead.” I don’t know how it’s legal, but it is, and I refuse to get caught in that arrangement again.
I work on commission, I write back. From now on, I want a proper cut of the pay.
There’s no clients right now. Pandemic, remember? Right now, the only assignment is daily massages for two. We’re offering three hundred bucks a week and you’ll have your own room. We expect you to quarantine before you start—IF we hire you.
I stare at the barely legible message in disbelief.
I can interview today, if you tell me where to go.
There’s a long pause before the person on the other end texts me an address. I punch it into my phone and roar out of the parking spot, pumping my fist.
I’m halfway to The Black Diamond Ranch before I realize that I don’t even know who I’m on my way to meet with. All I know is that by the end of today, I’m either going to be dead or sleeping in a proper bed for once—and to me, a night in a bed is worth the risk.
My name is Sadie Banes. I have the world’s worst luck, but I am no fool. I have just enough money to get enough gas to drive out to the address he texts to me next. I had better get this job, because I won’t have enough cash or fuel to get back to Albuquerque if they don’t.
Preorder CONFINED WITH THE CEO AND THE BODYGUARD: SADIE – available wherever eBooks are sold.