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Jinora was feeling on top of the world. She had an easy day at school, aced a test on Advanced Physics, and her homework was a cakewalk. She was supposed to cook dinner for her and her siblings, as Pema was working a nightshift in the restaurant, but that wasn't a problem. Her mother had a good month, and since she was drawing close to her next paycheck, she had told Jinora she could make it a little more expensive than usual. That meant a good dinner, because Jinora could actually cook a fairly decent meal. Not even Meelo can ruin this day for me.
The supermarket she went to was the same one Pema worked at. It was halfway between school and their small apartment, and it was a good way to take a few minutes to catch up with her mother. They would time Pema's break and Jinora coming home from school so that they could talk a bit. It was always nice for them to sit down and just drink a cup of tea together.
There was one downside: Pema's manager, Toza. It certainly didn't help that he was a grump, always telling them to get on with it so that her mother could get back to work. Jinora might have been able to forgive him that, if it was for the facts that he was also very rude, and worst of all, he smelled.
She got the groceries first, almost skipping through store as she gathered the ingredients and went to the register. Opal was working on that, and they had always been on good terms. "Hey Jin. Cooking again tonight?"
"Yeah, Mom's working a nightshift at the diner, so I'm kind of obliged to. You know, eldest child and all. But I don't mind, not today at least."
Opal stoically continued scanning the products, doing it all on muscle memory. "That's always good to hear. But cooking is always a useful skill to have, so might as well get some practice, right?"
"I guess so." Jinora handed Opal the money, while packing the groceries into her backpack. "Say Opal, could you do me a favor?" she asked, once she was done packing. "Could you let me into the break room? I haven't seen my mom in the shop, and I should at least say 'hi'."
-"Good point. Hold on for a minute, will you?"
There was one lady in line behind Jinora, who only had a handful of items, so Opal quickly helped her and walked Jinora over to the door, which had a keypad-combination lock on it. After punching it in, she let Jinora in, and went back to her register. Much to Jinora's surprise, her mother was not in the main room. She knew there was a small office on the right, in which Pema sometimes did some administrative work.
But when Jinora stepped inside, she got the shock of her life.
Sitting on his deskchair was Toza, quite comfortably leaning back, as her mother was on her knees, with his dick in her mouth. Jinora's had to fight back the urge to throw up on the spot, while her jaw nearly dropped to the floor.
Pema immediately pulled back, looking like she felt caught red-handed. "J-Jinora..." she stammered, while trying to get back on her feet. But as she was walking over to Jinora, Toza grabbed her arm. "You're not going anywhere, you finish me first."
Jinora was stunned. She wanted to yell at the bastard. To call him a pervert and an asshole. But she couldn't. Not with her mother looking at her like this. Tears were appearing in the corners of Pema's eyes, and Jinora could only slowly shake her head in disbelief. She backed away, before bolting back out the door, and far away from that disgusting place.
She didn't really take in how she went back to the apartment. Ikki, Meelo and Rohan were there, doing whatever it is they did. She put the bag of groceries on the table, and went to her room, in which Ikki fortunately wasn't. She kicked the door shut behind her, and dropped on her bed.
This was not good. No way in hell her mother was in any kind of relationship with Toza. If she was, yeah, it would have been awkward for Jinora to walk in or them like that, but Pema wasn't just embarrassed about it, it was shame. Not to mention, she had agreed with her on multiple occasions that Toza was, simply put, a pig. One way or another, she wasn't doing it out of volition.
But that did leave a question hanging: why was she doing it? If she was doing it for the money, there were better guys to do it to than Toza. Both richer and better smelling, even in this part of town.
Jinora wanted to talk about it with someone. She couldn't tell Ikki or Meelo or Rohan about it, it would crush them. They still had an innocent perception of their mother, and it should stay that way. But she wasn't about to bury this. At some point in time, she would have to confront her mother, and at least get her side of the story. She figured she might as well make it a quick and painless death, as opposed to a long and drawn out one.
She steeled herself, regaining her composure before stepping out into the living room. When she went back outside, Ikki did take notice. "Hey sis, are you still cooking tonight? Me and Meelo are hungry."
Jinora sighed. "Yeah. I guess I am." She silently made dinner, and only half cared what she threw in. Fortunately, Ikki stopped her when she was about to garnish it with a dash of soap, so it was still edible, but Ikki was very suspicious of course. But Jinora wasn't hungry anymore. She only ate a few bites, before declaring she was done and putting Ikki and Meelo on dish duty.
Pema had to work late at the diner, and Jinora decided to wait up for her. It would be late, especially given that Pema wasn't looking forward to facing her daughter either.
Jinora looked up from her book when the door creaked. Her mother looked utterly defeated, and like she probably had been crying. It almost felt like the rolls had been reversed, where Jinora was the stern parent about to berate her child for coming home late.
With a sigh, she threw her bag in the corner and sat down on the opposite side of Jinora on the dining table. "Look, Jinora..." she hesitantly began, but her daughter immediately interrupted her.
"Spare me the details and the excuses. All I want to know is why you did it."
Pema was silent for a while. "Because he made me do it. Toza knows that he has a position of power over us, and he abuses that. He makes all the girls at the supermarket do it, he cuts our pay if we don't."
Another urge to throw up was building inside Jinora. "All of them?"
She nodded. "Yes. The one thing we find comfort in, is that we're all in the same boat. It's not a nice thing to do, Jinora."
"Not a nice... Understatement of the fucking century!" Jinora was not one to usually swear, but this one slipped away from her anyway. What was strangest to her was that her mother didn't even berate her for it. "We always agreed on Toza! Why didn't you tell anyone? Why didn't you go to the police, get him for sexual harassment?"
-"What good would it do me?" Pema countered. "Say I do that. Yes, I'd easily get a conviction from it, but it wouldn't gain me anything. He would go to jail, his store would close and me and the other girls would be out of a job. That is why I do it, Jinora. Because I don't have a choice. None of us do. If we did, all of us would have been out of there a long time ago. But if I were to walk away from there, I would only end up in a place that would probably be even worse, if I could get a job at all." She fell silent for a moment. "I'm doing it for you, Jinora. No, I don't like it, but I'm doing it because I need to take care of you, and your brothers and sister. We are barely coping while I have this, and it's better than nothing."
Jinora sighed. Pema was probably right in her analysis of what would happen if she would open her mouth. She balled her fists, feeling more helpless than she had ever done. "How often?" she eventually asked.
-"What do you mean?"
"How often has he been making you do it?"
Her mother hesitated. "You don't want to know," she eventually said.
"No, I'm pretty sure I do. You have told me this much, I want to know the rest," Jinora said, even though she wasn't entirely certain of it. On the one hand, she really didn't want to know, but on the other, she wanted to know the extent of the situation.
"Every few weeks," she managed to say. Jinora felt like throwing up again, which was far too often for one night. "It started a few weeks after I started working there."
Jinora looks up at this. "But that was... F-four years ago!"
-"Yeah," Pema softly said. It fell silent between them, while Jinora let it all wash over her. Her mother, the person she looked up to more than anyone, was being degraded to nothing but a whore. And for pennies. By one of the most disgusting men she knew of.
Even when they had nothing, her mother had always been a beacon for Jinora and her siblings. She was working two jobs in order to provide for them all. It was tight every month, but they always made it. They never had to skip a meal, or go to school underdressed. She had still raised four children on her own, without any resources, and did a damn fine job so far. Jinora was always on top of her class, partly because of her sheer intelligence, but mostly because her mother always motivated her to make the most of that.
But now... Now her good nature was being exploited by a pervert. A horrid bastard who dared to use her. Jinora cringed at the thought of Toza. She never liked the man, but now, she felt something awful boil up inside her. Something she had never felt before.
Jinora was not a vindictive person. She always found it easier to forgive than to seek vengeance. But now, that was what she wanted to do. She felt the hate for Toza rush through her. But she knew there was nothing she could do. Not without ending up with the exact scenario her mother described.
The only thing she could do was take away the reason for her mother to submit herself to Toza. But for that, she was going to need a lot of money, and fast.
A job at a Narook's wasn't going to cut it. Jinora's face hardened as she realized what she needed to do. She needed to sit down for a talk with Korra.
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