Uncaged Love The Boxed Set #1-5By: JJ Knight
The Boxed Set
An MMA Fighter Romance Serial
I do not want to walk into this pawn shop.
The front of it is crammed with bicycles linked together with a chain. Some are pink with faded streamers. One has a tiny license plate that reads “Princess.”
The door to the shop is covered in iron bars. My reflection in the glass makes me look like a prisoner. My pale face has no makeup, and my hair is pulled back tight. An oversized hoodie hides any suggestion of a female figure.
I like it that way.
I reach for the door handle, then pull back. My fingers snake inside my front pocket to touch the necklace one more time.
It’s my last tie to my family, to my father. But I have to let it go.
The chain slips around my fingers. I can picture every link, the circle of the clasp. I graze the pendant, then have to stop. Enough. Just get this done.
A sensor beeps when I push through the door. The room is stifling despite the cool outside, like it’s never known fresh air. It smells of dirt and neglect.
Piled in one corner is a stack of red wagons. I wonder about these kids whose parents sold their toys. I clutch my fist a little tighter around the gold chain. What I’m doing isn’t any better.
I try to make solid eye contact with the beefy man leaning over the glass counter. Light from the jewelry case sparkles across his head like a disco ball.
I know I need to show some moxie. I have to prove I’m not going to be taken advantage of. Still, I start to shrink as I walk up to him. He watches me with one squinty eye.
The leg of a table saw snags my toe, and I barely catch myself before I fall against the jagged edge of the broken safety shield. My face flushes hot with embarrassment.
“You need something?” he asks. He knows I’m not there to buy. Girls like me never are.
I extend a shaky arm. The gold chain drips from my fingers.
His fat hand lifts the charm. When he barks out a number, I feel shock. He can’t be asking that little.
“It’s worth more than that,” I insist.
He lets go. I feel the weight of the pendant, but I can’t look at it. I’ll want to keep it if I do.
The man settles back on his stool to wait on my decision. He’s got rings on every finger. A huge gold necklace that reads “Playah” floats on a snarl of chest hair.
I hate him.
He sniffs like I’m ragweed that he needs to sneeze out of his shop. “Nobody’s gonna buy a charm that ugly,” he says.
I steal a glance at the gold frog with a diamond-tipped crown. My grandfather gave it to my grandmother before leaving for Vietnam. He told her, “When I make it back, I might not look like much of a prince anymore.” He hadn’t made it back at all, leaving her to raise my father alone.
It isn’t much of an heirloom, but it’s all I have.
I need the money. Bad. I’m embarrassed that I’m getting so little for it. But it’s this or be homeless. I counter with an offer that will cover what I’m short on rent, and a little for food.
“All right,” he says, shaking his head. “Because you look like you haven’t eaten in a week.”
I drop the necklace on the counter. I’ll buy it back. I’ll get a job and march right to the shop. Like he said, nobody else is going to want it. Hopefully he won’t melt it down for the gold.
He pays me cash, and I shove the money in my pocket. I can’t get out of there fast enough.
I’ve been out of a job two weeks, since the pizzeria caught fire. I haven’t found anything else, even though my standards are low. It’s fall, and all the crap jobs just got filled by the influx of college kids.
At least I’ve pushed off being homeless for another month.
I’ve got nobody to fall back on. No family I want to talk to again, not ever. I’d rather sleep in a cardboard box. All the friends in my meager collection aren’t any better off than I am. Not that I’d ask for help.
I scurry down the sidewalk, head down. People pass, ignoring me like I’m invisible. That’s just the way I like it.
A group of guys my age are clustered in front of Sac ’n’ Pac. They’re standing around a Harley, admiring the ride.
Every muscle in my body tenses up. A punk in a red jacket thumps another guy on the arm. He points at me.
Damn. I pull my hood over my head and speed up. If I’m lucky, they’ll just insult me. If I’m not, they’ll decide to walk alongside me for a while.
“Hey, girl, whatcha got under that hood?” The red-jacket guy laughs like he’s the funniest thing since Jack Black.
I’d cross the street, but there’s too much traffic. I hunker down and walk faster, staying close to the curb. The parking lot’s small, though, just a car length of space to the door.
“I SAID, whatcha got under that hood?” His voice is raised now, pissed off. He can’t believe I’d ignore him.
They’re moving away from the bike. I’m screwed. I’ve got a vacant lot, then a shut-down strip of shops ahead. Nobody is walking my direction.
There’s plenty of time to catch me. If I can just get to the light at Cesar Chavez, I’ll be home free. Lots of people walk on that street. I won’t be so alone with them. I consider whether or not I should run.