Side Hustling, Chapter 4: The Final Hours

Presenting the final chapter of our March serial, “Side Hustling.”

“If you need any more work, let me know,” Roy tells me after he hands me the face cream. “I’ll be inside.” 

“Inside where?” I ask. When I turn back around, he’s gone. 

Huh. At least I have the face cream now, and at least I can finally leave.

My phone buzzes, interrupting my thoughts. I take it out. Emily. 

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Sh-t. 

“Hi, Val. Are you home? I just realized I don’t have my keys.” 

“Uhhh … no, I am not home at the moment, but I’ll be back soon!” I try to suppress the panic in my voice. “When will you need to get in?” 

“No rush, I’m getting on the next train so I should be back in a couple of hours. Sorry for calling, but I figured you might be asleep since it’s so late.”

“Mhm!” I reply. “Totally get it!”

“But you’re not even home yet!” Emily cheers. “Finally becoming the party animal you were always destined to be, huh? You go girl!” 

“Yep! That’s me, busy, uh, dancing the night away!” I cringe internally at this, but continue on. “I’ll see you in a couple hours Emily!” 

I hang up before she can say anything else. It’s time to head back to the city. 

I’m about to go to the bus stop when I get an alert from the MTA app: all F trains are out of service. 

Maybe I can hitch a ride from Roy, as ill-advised as that sounds. As I get closer to the corner of the park where Roy’s van is parked, I hear the loud thump of intense bass from somewhere nearby, accompanied by the usual collection of screaming and laughter that typically signifies nightlife. 

I turn a corner to find a huge nightclub. This has to be where Roy went. I sneak around the side and scan the entrance. No bouncer. 

When I go inside, I’m immediately overwhelmed; it feels like there are about five million people here, dancing and making out and screaming at each other, stopping only to drink messily. The air is smokey, and a strange, low bass shakes the walls with rhythmic thumps. I’m also pretty sure I spot money changing hands between patrons as I make my way through the crowd. Maybe there’s an opportunity here? Although I feel some wariness about what those opportunities might be. I refocus on finding Roy. 

I go up to the first person I see who seems to be alone: a stocky guy who looks pretty normal except for the black dog collar around his neck.

“Hey,” I say. “Do you happen to know someone named Roy?” 

He frowns. “What do you want with Roy?” 

“Uhh …” I trail off. He’s definitely the type to laugh at me if I ask for a ride to the city. “I just don’t really know anyone here except for him, and he disappeared on me earlier.” 

He chuckles. There’s something sleazy about his laugh. “I think he left, but he should be back in a couple of hours. Maybe I can keep you company until he gets back.” 

I ignore that last part. 

“I don’t exactly have that kind of time,” I tell him. “I broke my roommate’s laptop while she was away for the weekend, and I’m completely broke. Now I have about two hours to make enough money to buy her a new one before she gets back from her boyfriend’s house.” 

“Well that’s no good,” He pauses, looking at me for a moment. “I think I can help you out, sweetheart.” 

I narrow my eyes. “You can?”  

He nods, and leads me to a secluded corner of the club. He sits on the couch in front of me. 

“Don’t worry. All clothes stay on. Nothing weird.” 

I … didn’t realize that was in question. I swallow uneasily. Maybe it’s time to just go home. But then again, how else am I going to deal with this whole laptop situation? At this hour, my options for a quick buck are only getting seedier. At least we’re in public, so he can’t murder me or anything. Right?

“What do I need to do?” I ask. 

“Just slap me for an hour and I’ll pay you 600 dollars.” 

Jeez. 

***

I leave the club an hour later, 600 dollars richer, and a bit traumatized. I feel unnerved, but try to remind myself that in just a few hours I’ll be at home in bed and if everything goes according to plan, this will all have been worth it. What does carrying around the oddly violating sensation of slapping a stranger matter when you’ve got a ticket into Emily’s circle?

I pause and shudder at the thought of it. But I resolve to continue on. I can shower this feeling off after Emily’s laptop is replaced.

When I get outside, my phone beeps as the service returns, and I see a missed call notification from Richard. I tap the icon and listen to it ring. 

“Hello?” 

“Hey Richard! It’s Valerie. Did you call me?” 

“Yes,” he says. “I was wondering what was taking so long with the face cream.” 

Shoot. How do I keep forgetting to look at the time? 

“Oh, sorry,” I respond. “The train stopped running, and I’m not sure I can get an Uber.” 

“Just get a cab. I’ll Venmo you.” 

***

When I get to the dorm, I place the laptop gently on the corner of Emily’s desk in the exact same position as its predecessor, and cram the box and bag under my bed.

I throw myself onto my bed and try to forget about the whole slapping incident as the lock clicks. 

“Hey, Val,” Emily says. She slumps in her chair. 

“Hi,” I say carefully, watching her to see if she’s caught sight of the new laptop yet. “Is everything okay?” 

“This weekend has been a disaster,”  Emily sighs. “I think I’m gonna break up with Richard.” 

I frown. “What happened?” 

“We just had this huge fight because his son is an asshole and keeps setting things on fire. And it’s like, sorry, you’re 45. You should be able to discipline an 8-year-old boy!” 

Wait a second. Her boyfriend, whose name happens to be Richard, has a pyromaniac son? 

“He left kind of abruptly afterwards, and I thought he was gonna come back, but he said he had to stay in the city tonight, so I decided I might as well come back too,” Emily says. “I just tried to FaceTime him to make up, but he gave me some bullshit excuse about how his idiot babysitter gave him defective face cream, and now he’s covered in acid burns! Val, what is this?” 

She’s pointing at the laptop. 

I steel myself as I respond. “Uh, your laptop?” 

“It’s working pretty well. What happened to the bug?” 

“I fixed it! Finally put that, uh, engineering degree to good use!” I joke. 

“You’re about four years away from actually getting that degree. And none of my stuff is on here anymore.” 

Oh boy. She sounds pissed. 

“I … was trying to fix it, and I accidentally broke it beyond repair, so I spent all weekend working to make enough money to buy you a new one,” I confess. “This is the new one. I’m sorry about all of your files and your data, but I’m sure we can recover whatever is in the Cloud! And if you actually think about it I was trying to do a good thing. I really did my best to fix it. I actually don’t feel that bad.”

I realize that that’s actually true. 

“You… bought me a new computer?” she asks. 

I nod. “Yep.” 

“My old one was already broken! Before you messed with it!” 

“I know. But I really, really ruined it beyond repair,” I tell her. 

She walks over and hugs me. “Thank you so much. But seriously, there was no need to do all of this. I will absolutely pay you back.” 

“Oh, wow,” I say. “Okay!” 

“I hope you’re not too tired from overworking yourself for absolutely no reason all weekend,” Emily says. “I’m sorry you wasted so much time!”

I shrug. “I don’t really regret it at all, actually. I have some really, really interesting stories now.” 

Emily sits on her bed and crosses her legs, looking at me eagerly. “Tell me everything.” 

I sit back down on my bed. “Okay, well, it started with a bunch of dogs …” 

Email Amelie Brooks at [email protected]

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