It wasn't a dramatic story, or anything.
Things involving Alice usually weren't dramatic.
In day-to-day life, she carried herself with nonchalance; most things were shrugged off and rarely warranted even a single grunt. You could've made excuses for it and said that she'd had her heart broken too many times by too many dicks. You could've said that years of slurs and names being hurled at her from every direction had toughened her up some. You could've even argued, as her parents did, that kicking her out at sixteen had given her some character.
All of that would've been true.
The truth was, she liked to think of it as a healthy approach to her situation. A lady could only stay so positive, after all. Strapped for cash 'cuz most places wouldn't hire her, and the places that did hire her were sleazy. Could count the amount of clubs with desperate neon signs she'd been to in the past six months on both hands and feet. Greasy burger joints were becoming a frequent haunt, but she was always chided every time she couldn't greet them with a Million Watt Smile and act like fast food was gonna solve all their problems. Plus, she was lousy on roller skates.
Fact of the matter was, it was difficult for a girl these days to go out into the world without feeling harassed. Fact of the matter was that she got to this certain point of serving people and noticing they looked at her the same way they looked at the slabs of meat she brought to the car, and it was getting old. Helping sexually confused boys get off and coming home to an empty apartment wasn't doing her any favors.
It was dingy, too. Same annoying dance music they played at the clubs seeping through the walls. Real shithole. Only thing she'd ever spent real money on had been this computer, 'cuz everyone had one these days. If nothing else, it was a comfort to come home to that. Sorta empty knowledge that even if men around here weren't biting, she always had the internet.
Always something to do.
When this particular opportunity knocked, she was lounging around. A depressingly boring and rainy Friday night, and she couldn't afford to go out. In-between jobs, in-between men. Waiting for the fresh coat of red paint on her toenails to dry and popping discounted Valentine's chocolates into her mouth.
Knew she had to buckle down and pay rent soon, so she was back to job-hunting. Scanning through all the usual ads with a bored eye. That place would never accept her; they were too highbrow. That was just the same old shit she'd been slogging through for months. Jesus Christ, she'd sink low but not that low.
HEY — ARE YOU IN NEED OF SOME GOOD, QUICK CASH?
The ad practically assaulted her eyeballs with balloony, turquoise letters and she rolled her eyes. Typically, the offers that came after this weren't nearly as incredible as they were desperate to appear. They were all the same sort of shit, sexual favors, one-night stands, horny fucks, scam artists. She popped another chocolate into her mouth, almost spitefully.
WELL THEN DO I HAVE A JOB FOR YOU!
As the ad rambled on, trying to convince her that this was the Job of a Lifetime, she nearly hit the back button; this kind of shit was so stale. Stopped when she scrolled and saw his face beaming alongside his words.
Grimaced. Yep, that's about right.
Unfortunately, she knew that face. Almost everyone knew that face. Saw it on the way to work every morning, pasted to the side of buses. Smiled and winked at her emphatically from the billboards. It was an annoying face, that was for sure, and her fists almost instinctively balled up upon seeing it.
But it was a wealthy face.
A wealthy face and a shitty, unprofessional ad. This guy needed to start paying people to help him get a web presence. Or pay better people, anyway.
Still, what came after the usual noxious bullshit was interesting. Wading through all the sensationalism, Alice eventually arrived at the conclusion that this was maybe a number she could call. Something different. Something that could give her enough money to pay rent and afford a membership at the local gym was enticing.
She kept the insults tucked away, just in case, and dialed.
"Uh, howdy," The voice on the phone was young and feminine. "You've reached—"
"I know." It was probably best to be polite in this situation, but fuck it. Alice never was one for wasting time. The girl on the other end was clearly caught off-guard by how abrupt she was.
"I'm Amber," she still informed Alice in the most polite, squeaky clean voice possible. "How may I be of assistance?"
"I'm calling about the ad."
"If you could be more specific—"
"Online. Big balloon letters."
"Uh." Jesus, the guy couldn't have an abundance of ads like that, could he? Realization seemed to dawn upon the girl, though. "Oh. Um, hold on a sec, lemme transfer your call."
"Thanks." She examined her toenails as some Pink Floyd tune played on a loop in her ear.
Just when it was about to get annoying enough for her to hang up, a voice made it worse. "Well hey there, this is Darryl 'the Dime' Diamond! Remember, no other station provides such spiritual crystallization; before you consult Metatron, expel your negatons. How are you today, fiiiiine listener?"
She could see how he won over suckers, but god, he was annoying. "Yeah, great, whatever. I just called some chick about that ad you put out and she put me through to you."
"Sure thing, Amber told me all 'bout you. You're interested in the babysitting gig, right?"
Hearing those words coming from a mouth like his was so surreal; if it weren't for all the official, annoying stuff Alice might worry that someone was yanking her chain. Imagine radio personality D.L. Diamond with a fucking child that needed looking after. Imagine extremely aggravating radio personality and charlatan D.L. Diamond putting a shitty ad like that out in the first place.
"I guess," she said. "It's something to do."
"Yuh-hum, sure is," he drawled, and he sounded just about as interested as she did over the phone. "Look, I'll level with you: not a lot of people have responded to that ad."
"You don't say." She wasn't surprised.
"I know, right? You'd think a man with my level of charm, charisma, and enlightenment would be bringin' all these nurturin' chicks right to my doorstep! But no one's bitin', and D.L.'s gotta get help quick."
Underneath all the swagger, he sounded kinda desperate. Same as always, she figured. She just stayed quiet and let him enjoy the sound of his own voice, since it was a miracle anyone did.
"Now, ordinarily I'd ask about your qualifications and experience."
She held her breath.
"But not even I have those! If you're willin' to tolerate the little thing, I'll pawn 'im off for a bit."
It struck even Alice as such a callous way to speak of a kid. Every hair on the end of her neck stood straight up and she nearly bristled, thinking about this scumbag who was so willing to just hand their kid to someone else. Bit her tongue, swallowed her daddy and mommy issues whole, and kept her voice as even and aloof as it had ever been. "Sure. For how long?"
"Eh…" Over the phone, his whole voice just reeked of Just Take This Responsibility to Which I Can't Commit Off My Hands, Okay. It was enough to make her hate him even more than she already did, and she held plenty of hate for almost everybody. "Three times a week to start, how's that sound?"
"You willin' to work 'em?"
Hell, just give me anything to do with these godawful nights. "Sure, no big deal."
"Mmkay. Thursday, Friday, Saturday then. We got business on Sundays."
Right. This guy was a zealous nut; he was bound to be dragging his kid off somewhere to worship something. Probably crystals or those weird alien entities he was always babbling about or some other mystical high-level grade A bull. "Mm. Fine by me."
"Well, all riiiiight then," he yowled right in her ear. "Let's meet soon to finalize this fine opportunity."
He hung up on her without giving her any personal details about where to go; with tried patience, she called back. When Amber heard how irritated she seemed, she was more than happy to oblige, and soon she at least had plans clinched for tomorrow. Felt a little weird about it, but eh. Even at her worst, Alice had to be better with children than that perverted prophet had proved himself to be on the phone.
She passed out at around midnight hoping she was right, arm draped off the couch, a few beers in her stomach.
The next day was restless.
Alice had risen bright and early, much brighter and earlier than her usual anyway. Unfortunately, the morning wasn't kind to her; confidence had given way to guilt, and now she was rethinking this whole plan. She tried not to think about it too much as she kept herself busy by trying to select an outfit from her closet that wouldn't completely turn those rich snobs off.
Nothing too revealing, 'cuz this wasn't the usual job interview. She was going to interview for a job involving a child, after all, so she couldn't afford to even look sophisticated and slutty. Nothing that showed her cleavage, or drew attention to her killer muscles or ass, 'cuz nobody cared about that today. Something strictly professional, or warm maybe, or…
…well, whatever would do.
Settled on a simple blue t-shirt and denim skirt. There was nothing too controversial about that. Wasn't as liberal with the make-up today, either; she wanted to look nice, but not flashy. Not that she usually looked flashy, but today she especially couldn't afford to be pulling out any stops and…
"Urgh," she growled at herself in the mirror.
Wasn't even seven yet and she was already getting dressed and ready to head out the door.
This was going to be a long day.
Managed to apply a decent coating of lipstick, despite her shaking hands. Washed her pills down with water, slipped her pink glasses on, and things felt a little more manageable. The slight pink tint to everything usually made things a little better, even when they'd gone to complete shit. Something about it, she guessed.
"If this rich jerk doesn't accept you, so what," she told her reflection.
She decided to be confident, straightened her blue tie, and walked out the door.
Once she found her way there, it wouldn't be so bad. The trick was getting there, and though she was decent at following her own written directions, she resented the incredulous looks she'd get from others when they heard of her destination. Still, Alice supposed she couldn't fault them too much for that; she didn't exactly look the part of someone charged with this kind of task.
Saw his face beaming down at her from various signs all across town and thought it must've been some kind of sick joke. It was a good thing she'd always gone through life with the determination of a mountain goat, because she needed that now, lips pressed into a fine line and teeth gritting themselves. Today, at least, she could endure the odd looks and street harassment with purpose.
She'd get there on time even if it killed her.
It didn't, and when she finally found the place, it was instantly recognizable. Not only was it one of the nicest places she'd ever seen, but D.L.'s face was everywhere, manic with make-up and miracles. Bastard had L.E.D. advertisements glowing from his roof, crystals covering almost every inch of the place. It was ridiculous and huge and painted bright robin's egg blue, and there were even more palm trees than she could've expected. Psychedelic music blared from a hidden speaker somewhere.
As Alice pressed the buzzer at the gate, she felt like she was entering another world.
"Uh," she tried, awkwardly. "I'm Alice. I'm here about the babysitting gig?"
Despite her uncertainty and the absurdity of the whole goddamn situation, she got invited inside. She was even more compelled to turn back when she saw how vibrant everything indoors was, crystals everywhere, spiritual paintings and posters so colorful they hurt her eyes. Some voice from far off was telling her to"RELAX" and she wanted to punch its lights out for even suggesting she could.
The floor was so shiny she could see her distorted face. Peering down, it occurred to her to pity this child even more than she already had on the whole way over here. What kind of a kid had to live in this environment?
The girl who'd invited her in looked burnt out, skin covered in make-up and cheekbones sunken. "Howdy."
She was dressed in mostly white; it wasn't difficult for Alice to recognize it as the "Galactoid uniform" Diamond sported so often. "Welcome to the Casa de Diamond," she recited hollowly, as if she'd done it a million times. "Where your inner peace is our inner peace. I'm Chloe."
"Uh, hey, Chloe." To her credit, she waved. "Where do I—"
"If you'll just take a seat," Chloe interrupted, "D.L. will be with you shortly."
None of these chicks seemed to be that great at going off-script. She found a couch and parked herself there, waiting uncomfortably and listening to ambient noise. Right then, she would've preferred even the shitty Top 40 Dance Hits pulsing through her walls at home.
It took an eternity, but he finally emerged, glam rock glitter and good vibes oozing from every pore. He slid down the banister like he was born to do it and landed gracefully, like he was putting on some kind of show just for her. Slid onto the couch right next to her like he was born to do it, too, getting right into her personal space.
"Well hey, darlin'," he crooned. "What's someone like you doin' somewhere like here?"
Ugh. Well, at least this was something she was used to.
"Babysitting gig," she repeated. It was best to be brief with pricks.
His eyes widened with recognition, but he didn't give her any room. "Whoa, yeah." Even in person everything about him seemed phony, from the make-up to the bright yellow hair. Even in his voice seemed wrong, artificial and manufactured in a way that didn't impress her. "That's right!"
Had he already forgotten? She refrained from rolling her eyes.
"Didn't recognize you at first. You just seemed so different over the phone."
It was a lazy, casual statement, but he tried to backtrack once he felt her eyes boring into him. "I mean, I guess I just wasn't expectin' someone so… You're even more beautiful in person, trust me."
"You thought I was a guy."
"No, no!" He was flailing his hands back and forth so emphatically she nearly hoped he'd smack himself in the face. Was nice to watch him squirm and get so uncomfortable, though. She never minded that. "You're obviously a chick, gender don't matter in the eyes of the Galactoids and negatons anyhow, I swear—"
"Eh. It happens."
Transphobia didn't pay, but neither did getting all bent out of shape over it. Being this desperate for money meant that she had to be willing to climb over all kinds of assholes to get to where she needed to be, and a lot of these fancy rich fucks were so out of touch they didn't even know people like her existed most of the time. She resolved to just let it roll off her back in this instance, as he was making a note of staring at her breasts. Kept her fists clenched, though.
"Whoo, yeah, I'll bet," he babbled. "Anyway. We oughta discuss business, huh?"
At least he'd given her room to breathe. She grunted in agreement.
They got down to it, and he told her that she'd be paid handsomely while wiggling his eyebrows. She'd expected that much, but hearing it straight from his sleazy mouth was a relief; it was easier to endure all this bright, hippie-dippy stuff if she knew there was going to be a reward at the end, and it kept her going.
They discussed her hours. She'd tend to the little runt after school 'til bedtime, mostly, 'cept for Saturdays when she'd take him the full day. D.L. didn't seem to care what the fuck they did during that time as long as the boy was out of his hair, and for probably the seventh time today Alice found herself feeling strangely grateful that she was the one to take this job on, and not a sketchier character. If by some unspoken miracle she took to the little guy, they'd probably add more days on to her schedule, but for now this was fine. Sure beat the hell out of weird club hours and taking the night shift.
Some practical part of her told her she had to know if he had any allergies, or if there was anyone she should contact in an emergency, but she could tell from the way he handled it that the man next to her had no fuckin' clue.
"Jesus," she murmured.
"What's that, doll?"
Shit. She hadn't meant to say that out loud. Now she had to pull something out of her ass. "Uh, I said, how the hell does someone like D.L. Diamond wind up having a kid, anyhow?"
"Publicity stunt," he answered almost automatically, putting both feet up on the couch now as if he had no regard for anyone but himself. "Y'know P.R., always tellin' me if I were any hotter I'd be on fire, baby, but adoptin' an actual baby brings out my sensitive side. Paints me in a positive light, 'specially after the drug addiction an' sex scandals. All that jazz."
Admittedly, it wasn't a surprising answer, but it still made Alice's stomach churn to think of some asshole adopting a child just to make themselves look better. She'd thought of it, occasionally, being a mommy or godmommy to some kid, but even she knew to treat the idea with reverence. For all of his claims, this guy didn't seem to treat anything reverently at all. As if kids were just something you could acquire and then put down whenever you felt like it.
It wasn't a total lie. She remembered his brief slide into the tabloids and more questionable news. Everyone had been ranting and raving, back then, about what he'd been caught doing in Burger King bathrooms and how he'd been trashing hotels. Caught sexually harassing several of his employees, something about pushing seniors around, she didn't know or care. He was just strung out as fuck and of course that wasn't good publicity for a radio personality whose whole claim to fame was some illusion of wholeness and tranquility.
Remembered those awful pictures of him without any make-up or wigs on, how he'd looked so disfigured and ugly and gross. Remembered that brief period of time before his comeback, when the only time you brought Diamond up was to laugh at his downward slide, and could almost relate to the reasoning behind it. Didn't excuse it, but she knew how hard it had been for him to get back on his feet.
She couldn't imagine why there hadn't been more uproar about this, though. It was obvious he wasn't fit to raise a child, just from meeting him once. Humans rights groups, family groups, real charities should've been all over this one, but of course D.L. had helped so many people on the path to enlightenment that his shady past had probably already been swept under the rug. He was annoying, sure, but he was magnetic to a lot of people, and if they could trust him with their every bad thought and action then they could trust him with this.
Some people truly fell for his act. It was disgusting, actually.
"Yeah, see, you feel me," he claimed nonetheless, almost ribbing her. "I had a feeling you would. Problem is, of course, that ol' D.L. just doesn't have the time for kids anymore, y'know? So many people to save."
"What about him? You saved him." It was difficult not to be angry.
He laughed like the question was hysterical. "Why, sure I did! But he's only one piece of a much larger cosmic puzzle. Gotta busy myself with dispelling the negatons of a whole nation, not just one kid. Big picture thinkin', see."
All a bunch of shit that meant he didn't feel like taking responsibility. She tried to bite her tongue.
"'Sides, W.'s good for it! When he gets older, he'll be a real help."
This made her nervous, and his inability to refer to the kid as anything more than just one measly letter of the alphabet didn't settle her stomach much.
"Well, think about it. What's more adorable and effective than a young boy who's been saved from his own negatons? What other proof are people gonna need after he comes out and shares his spiritual journey with the whole world?" He had a point there, and he knew it too, as his eyes lit up with something calculating. "He was real out of sorts when I found 'im, this kid. Dead parents, abusive father, born in prison, whole big thing."
For the first time, Alice felt a true pang of something she recognized as pity. She tried to ignore it, but it was just so fucked up, the idea that some kid would have to go from all that to a tool like this. The nonchalant delivery didn't help.
"So I figure, what's a better explanation for his recovery? What better to further him in his recovery? He's bein' raised with all the right values and vibes, and a few years down the line the public'll get to see it."
There was a merciful pause, but he wasted it by looking into the distance. What a douche.
"Truly inspiring, am I right?"
Yeah, in all the wrong ways. Maybe she was feeling inspired, now, to pound his face into the floor. "Mm. So am I ever going to actually meet this kid, or what?"
Of course she was nervous, but it had to happen eventually. Besides, after meeting his legal guardian, Alice had to at least figure out how badly this boy had been fucked up. The least she could do was try to meet him; maybe, if his brain hadn't been entirely pumped full of outrageous shit about alien lifeforms, she could stand him.
"Sure thing, sugarplum," D.L. said, and with one fluid motion he was on his feet.
Her apprehension must have been somewhat obvious on her face, because he misinterpreted it entirely and took it upon himself to reassure her. "Listen, I don't feel like goin' up all those stairs to his room, either. If you want, I can ask my girl Chloe over there to—"
"No, that's okay. Let's just get this over with." That last part was meant to be quiet, a sort of afterthought, but he was a perceptive bastard and picked up on it.
"Ha, my thoughts exactly! Y'know, Alice, I think this is gonna work out great for the both of us. Call it my intuition or third eye, whatever, but D.L.'s got a good feelin' about this one, baby. Pickin' up good vibrations."
"Don't call me baby." She nearly spat the word out like venom.
Thankfully, he was giving her space again, holding up his hands in a defensive gesture. "Sure, sure! I'm just sayin' you seem like one funky chick, is all."
It took all she had not to sock him in the nose.
Instead, they started to climb the stairs.