"Mommy, I'm hungry." I look up from the help wanted ads and try to smile at my son. I hope I'm successful. I hope he doesn't see the anxiety I feel from hearing his simple request. "Okay, baby. Grilled cheese sandwich?" Please, say yes. My sweet boy does exactly that and I'm able to relax just a little as I rise and begin assembling the stuff I need: dry bread, the last two slices of the cheese and a stick of butter. The empty cavern of my fridge stares back at me as I take out the few items and quickly make Seth a meager dinner. I know it must taste stale but he starts eating enthusiastically despite this fact. "What about you, Mommy?" "I'm not hungry," I lie. The truth is that I'm starving, but not just for food. I'm starving for more than this—for more than this rundown apartment, for more than this life. It wasn't supposed to be like this. In high school, I was the golden girl—the cheerleader, the prom queen, the most popular student. I was supposed to go to college, graduate and live a wonderful life without any worries. A positive pregnancy test at the end of my senior year changed all that. I refused to get rid of "it", as my religious parents had demanded. So, while the rest of my high school friends went on to pursue their educations, my then-boyfriend and I moved to the city. I was intent on making a good life for my little family. Now, five years later, my boyfriend is gone and an eviction notice is hidden underneath the pile of bills on my kitchen table. I think it's safe to say I've hit rock bottom. I've even considered contacting my parents for help, knowing that they'll probably hang up on me anyway. I haven't talked to them since Seth was born. I had called to let them know and my mother started crying—not happy tears, but tears of shame. My father intercepted the call and ended it promptly, telling me goodbye in a tone that left little room for misinterpretation. I'm not welcome inside their perfect life, and neither is my bastard son. I look at my sweet boy, munching on his sandwich, and wonder how anyone could reject him. I've never once regretted having him. Not during the thirty-two hours of labor, not when he cried every night for two months because of colic, and not even when Mike left six months ago, never to return. Seth is my whole world and I'll do anything for him. "Finish up, hon," I say. "You're spending the night at Mrs. Cope's." His face drops, but he nods. I know he doesn't want to go, but I have no choice. I have to find work and there aren't a lot of options for me—a twenty-two year old with little job experience and no marketable skills to speak of. In the bathroom, I put on too much makeup and tease my long hair before changing. My nice outfits won't do tonight. I've tried every diner, restaurant and shop I can think of with no luck. I have to go elsewhere tonight and with a small sigh, I pull out a short, tight skirt and a low-cut top, pairing the outfit with stilettos. I hide myself underneath a coat before going back into the kitchen because I don't want Seth to see me dressed this way. Ten minutes later, I knock on Mrs. Cope's door, which is just down the hall from our apartment. She's always home. "Bella," she greets me, looking me over with a frown. "Hi, Mrs. Cope, I have to go out. Would you mind . . .?" Seth is hiding behind me, clutching the hem of my coat in silent protest. "Come on in," she sighs, reaching out her hand to my son. "Mommy," he whispers, looking up at me with wide eyes. I kneel down as best as I can in my restrictive outfit until I'm at eye level with him. "I'm coming back, baby. I promise. It's just for a few hours." He's terrified of me leaving and no amount of reassurance on my part seems to help. I understand why he's scared, though. Fucking Mike and his promise to come back soon—it's been six months and Seth's still waiting; each day his heart breaks a bit more when his Daddy doesn't show up. Seth wraps his little arms around my neck and squeezes until I can hardly breathe. "Listen," I whisper. "I love you, baby, and I swear I'm coming back. I'll never leave you, not ever." "Not ever?" "Not ever," I promise, and I mean it with my whole heart. "I'll be back before you know it." "Okay," he sniffs. Mrs. Cope huffs impatiently above us. She's a no-nonsense kind of lady and I'm sure she thinks I'm coddling Seth, but I honestly don't give a shit what she thinks. I'm grateful for her help, though. Her apartment smells like stale cigarette smoke and her cat, Buster, scares Seth, but tonight she's all we've got. "Come on, young man," she says, as Seth reluctantly releases me. "Did you have dinner?" "Yes, Ma'am." "You have room for dessert? I bought pie. It's in the kitchen." "Yes, please." Seth wanders into her hallway, giving me one last look before getting his dessert. "Thank you, Mrs. Cope," I say, hobbling to my feet in those stupid heels. She looks me over. "Where're you off to?" "I have to get a job. Any job." She nods slowly, taking a drag of her cigarette. "You be careful," she warns, waving it at me. "I will. I'll be back in a few hours. If he falls asleep, don't wake him, okay? I'll just carry him home." She closes the door with a small shake of her head. I know she doesn't approve, but what else can I do at this point? Steeling myself, I pull the strap of my nearly-empty purse over my shoulder and walk out of the building into the night. Two hours later, I'm walking down the sidewalk, trying to keep myself from crying. I'm humiliated and defeated. I went to the club. I crossed that line and ending up taking my clothes off in the manager's office. I fucking did it and what did it get me? Nothing! "You're not hot enough to dance on stage," he told me. My tits are too small—meaning they're real—and the rest of me too skinny. "Quit starving yourself, and maybe we can work something out," he said. I nearly screamed. I'm fucking broke and in order for my child to eat, I skip meals. "I'm sorry, baby," I whisper into the cold night air, blinking back tears. "I tried." I don't know what to do now. There's no more money, and there's food for maybe two more days. The rent is long overdue, and if we get kicked out on the street, they'll take Seth away from me! My heart grips with fear and I have to stop walking and concentrate on breathing. "How much?" I startle and nearly trip as I lose my balance. A dark car has pulled over and the passenger side window is lowered. "W-what?" "How much?" How much for what? Then, the proverbial ton of bricks hits me. He thinks I'm a hooker! Well, I guess I do look like one, sort of. Shit. "I'm not a—" "I don't care," the voice interrupts. "How. Much?" "Look!" I say sharply. "I'm not a hooker, okay? I'm just trying to get home." "Three hundred dollars." Whoa! I don't know the going rate, but I'm pretty sure it's less than that. Three hundred dollars! To me, that's a lot of money. I can almost taste the food I'd be able to buy with it, feel the heaviness of the grocery bags in my hands, and practically see the brimming shelves in my fridge as I put it all in there. And Seth, my darling boy, could have a real hot breakfast in the morning! "F-for what?" I ask, stepping closer to the car. The door opens and I catch a glimpse of a suit sleeve and a large hand. I know I shouldn't do this. It's dangerous. But I can't lose Seth! Quickly, I bury my right hand in my coat pocket, gripping the can of mace I'd put there earlier as if it's my lifeline, which I suppose isn't an exaggeration in this case. Climbing into the car with my heart in my throat, I don't know if I'm about to make a huge mistake, but I have no choice. I'm desperate. I'm crossing another line.