Sure enough, one of Lilah’s four kids was sick again and they needed her in at five-thirty for the night shift. Taren breathed a little sigh of relief. Friday nights were good at the bar, the best night of the week by far, and with her wages from tonight surely she’d be able to pay her weekly rent and have a place to stay for at least another seven nights. Taren put the phone back down on the scratched side table by the broken-down old bed and let her towel drop. She looked at herself in the slightly warped full-length mirror on the outside of the bathroom door. Everything about Taren was small. Back in California where she grew up her family used to call her Tiny and the name stuck all the way through high school and followed her into her first couple of years of adulthood. Hardly anyone called her by her name. It was always Tiny Brown.
Taren had deep brown eyes and straight, waist-length brown hair in a shade that she’d always thought was plain and boring, so whenever she could afford it she dyed it a darker for added drama. Her skin was pale and sensitive, burning easily, so even in the idyllic California summers she preferred to stay out of the sun. Taren used to be proud of the contrast of her dark hair and pale skin, fancying herself as an old-fashioned Hollywood starlet and donning a bright shade of expensive red lipstick and wearing well-cut but simple clothing that brought out her slim figure. She had boyish hips and small breasts but she always liked her legs: they were toned and strong, even for being so small. She’d been dressed in a tiny black cocktail dress with sky-high heels the night she’d met Aiden. Every time she thought of him, Taren’s heart hardened in rage. She turned around in the mirror and lifted up her hair. She could still see the bruises on the back of her neck from where Aiden had choked her, and her ribs still ached a bit whenever she had to carry a heavy tray or took an especially deep breath.
Fucking Aiden. It had been three weeks and she was still marked up by his brutish hands. No man had ever put his hands on her in anger before, and the first time Taren had been shocked. She believed him when he said it wouldn’t happen again, that his jealousy had gotten the best of him. He blamed it on her job at the bar. If she didn’t work there, he explained, those guys wouldn’t be hitting on her all the time and he wouldn’t have to be so jealous. That manipulated bastard always turned it around so that it was Taren’s fault. How had she been so stupid? But the next time his jealousy got the best of him Taren ended up with a black eye. By then she was living with him. Again she’d forgiven him. He’d cried into her bosom and stroked her arm gently as he sobbed, swearing again and again that it was the last time. They’d made it three months until the last incident: the incident that’d changed everything, that’d made Taren a fugitive, hiding out in this tiny shit town in the middle of nowhere New Mexico. She’d been working and the bar was packed. There’d been a big biker gang in town to meet with Aiden’s gang, the Wreckers. Aiden and his crew had been seated in the back of the bar, waiting for the leader of the rival gang to enter. As usual, Taren was working on the floor of the bar, handing out bottles of beer and round after round of shots to the thirsty bikers. They’d been friendly, some flirting with her harmlessly, and Taren was smiling, trying to work it as best she could to get the generous tips from the men. At first Aiden had been in a great mood: they were about to strike a deal with the biker gang from out of town on moving marijuana from across the Mexican border into Arizona. They were all going to make a lot of money. There was a bottle of Jameson Whiskey on the table next to him and he and his friends were passing it around. Taren dropped some beers off at the pool table and went over to give him a kiss.