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The Never King: Chapter 8

WINNIE

I spent the summer of my thirteenth year living with Mom in a rundown house that was crammed between two warring neighbors, one a prude and the other a prostitute.

Starla was the prostitute, an acquaintance of Mom’s who helped us get the rental.

Beth Anne was the prude and she hated Starla. “That vile woman,” she used to say when she looked down the stretch of cracked sidewalk to Starla’s cute yellow cottage. “She’s a blight on this neighborhood.”

The most ironic part about that was that Starla’s house was easily the nicest on the block.

It didn’t take me long to realize that Starla was rich and her body her currency and she knew better than Mom how to use it.

Beth Anne was secretly envious of Starla, as much as she pretended otherwise.

I don’t think it was the freewheeling sex so much as it was the freedom.

Beth Anne’s husband ignored her and probably hated her. She was trapped and she hated that Starla wasn’t.

I loved Starla. I loved listening to her and watching her and learning from her.

“I want to be a millionaire,” she told me one afternoon while she babysat me for Mom. “I’m close. Just a few more years and I’ll be worth seven figures.”

The money was hard to imagine, but really, it was Starla’s confidence that I couldn’t wrap my head around.

How did she do it?

How did she exist in her skin and love being there?

I studied her that entire summer, tried to learn her secrets. I’d always loved watching people. I found they were much easier to read when they didn’t realize they were being watched.

Starla was always quick to start a conversation with people and she had a habit of touching them, even complete strangers. A hand on the shoulder, a squeeze of an arm. Men loved this. And it didn’t matter where we were or what Starla was asking, the men would bend.

One afternoon she somehow talked a man, a stranger, into buying us lunch. At the end of the summer, she pulled into her driveway in a brand-new SUV that some guy bought her off the lot.

“Is he your boyfriend?” I asked her.

She laughed. “Baby girl, I don’t do boyfriends. Men are my toys and I play with them regularly.”

I wanted her to be my mother.

When we lost that rental house because Mom got behind on the rent, I was devastated. Starla told me I could come visit her whenever I wanted, but Mom could only find an apartment two counties away.

I never saw Starla again.

Sometimes I think about her and wonder whether or not she made it to seven figures.

I’m sure she did.

As I lay chained to a bed in a place I don’t recognize, I can’t help but ask myself what Starla would do.

She wouldn’t be worried. She wouldn’t be afraid. Starla would come up with a plan and she’d take action.

Before Pan, before Neverland, I thought my fate was to go mad just like my mother and that nothing could stop it from happening. I thought crazy was in my blood but now I think it happens here. In Neverland.

So I need to figure out how to stop it from happening. And the fact that I have the opportunity to stop it is more than I ever thought I’d get.

I’d never been a prude, not like Beth Anne. I didn’t have the luxury of it.

It was why I went through half the basketball team freshman year of high school. They all gave me things I wanted and needed. Sometimes a ride to school. Sometimes food. Other times it was just the sensation of being in my own skin.

That was the year I got the nickname Winnie Whore.

I didn’t care then. I still don’t care now.

And if Starla were here, she’d be telling me to use what I have.

“Most men don’t realize this,” she said once, “but us girls, we have toolboxes too. Ours aren’t stuffed with hammers and wrenches and screwdrivers. We have these.” She gave her boobs a squeeze. “And this.” Then tapped at her temple. “And there’s no greater power than tits and brains, baby girl.”

The way Kas’s gaze lingered on me…

If any of them are a weak link, it’s him.

Can he take me home? Does he know how to leave the island? I’m sure I can get him on my side.

In the darkness of my room, an idea takes hold.

I sit up, clear my throat and call out for Kas. And within minutes, his footsteps sound outside my bedroom door and my heart leaps into my throat.

I’m going to fuck a Lost Boy.


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