The first time I’d felt his clammy hand on my tits, I’d chalked it up as a slip since he’d been putting a dollar bill into my almost sheer bra. The second time, however, the bastard actually squeezed one of my boobs.
“Ricky!” I yelled over the music.
A massive man with no neck and arms the size of my thighs lumbered over. I never knew how he heard us over the pounding bass, but Ricky never missed one of us girls calling for help.
“All right, buddy.” He grabbed the guy by the scruff of the neck and gave me a nod as he dragged the drunk away.
I made a mental note to thank Ricky after my set was done and then went back to shaking my tits and ass. That’s what this was, after all. It wasn’t dancing, not for real. It was getting away with pasties and g-string instead of full nudity just so I could call it exotic dancing rather than stripping.
As I peeled off the last item of my clothing to go – my barely-there bra – I heard the familiar cat-calls as my breasts came into view. I wasn’t as big as most of the other girls since at least seventy-five percent of them had gotten their busts enhanced to reach the in-demand double D’s, but I was natural. I had an athlete’s body with just enough extra on top to be annoying. Fortunately, it also meant that I had big enough boobs to work as a stripper when I hadn’t been able to find anything else.
I bent down and gave the room a view of my breasts swaying, my basically bare ass, and then flipped my hair up, letting the spot light make the bright red waves look like dancing flames. Most everyone thought I dyed it to get that color, but it was all natural. I’d inherited it from my mother.
The music ended as I reached my final pose and the men cheered, some simply yelling while others shouted propositions and what I supposed they considered compliments.
“How much to fuck that ass?”
“Damn, baby, you got me so hard.”
“Shake it some more!”
“Come give me a lap dance!”
“I got a pole for you to dance on.”
I rolled my eyes as I walked off stage. Once I was out of sight, I pulled the tight blouse back on just to give me coverage until I got to the locker where I’d left my real clothes. Aurora shook her head as she walked past me towards the stage. None of the others understood why I didn’t just walk around half-naked like they did. I wasn’t mean enough to tell them it was because I wasn’t like them.
“Good set.” A tall blonde dressed like a naughty nurse called over as I stopped by my locker.
“Thanks, Tammy.” I started taking off what little was left of my costume. It had taken me two months to get used to changing in front of the others.
“Heard you had a problem with one of the audience,” Tammy said.
I nodded, grimacing as I pulled off the daffodil pasties I’d been wearing. I appreciated not having to bare all, but those things chafed the hell out of my nipples. I almost laughed. How pathetic was I that a couple half-dollar-sized stickers and a piece of material the approximate size of dental floss made me feel like I wasn’t like every other girl who’d come to Vegas with a dream and ended up taking her clothes off instead?
“That’s the third time this week Ricky’s had to throw someone out for getting handsy.”
“Really?” That was a bit surprising. The Twilight Room had a reputation as being one of the safest places for a girl to work. That had been my main reasoning for choosing it when it had become painfully obvious that my dream of becoming a real dancer wasn’t going to happen.
Tammy came over to stand next to me as I pulled on my jeans. “There are some rumors going around that one of the other club owners is sending in people to stir things up.”
“Who’d do that?” I asked as I pulled my t-shirt over my head.
“Danny Whitehall, for one,” Tammy said.
“Right.” I scowled. Danny owned a club a bit further down the strip and even though his girls did everything including the audience, he struggled to keep his doors open. Everyone knew he blamed The Twilight Room for ruining his business. Apparently, there was some history between him and Gino, the man who owned this club.
“You coming out with us tonight?” Tammy asked.
“Not tonight. Thanks.” At the end of every shift, she asked the same thing, and I always said the same thing back. I felt bad for never taking her up on her offer, but I wasn’t exactly friends with any of the other girls, not enough to want to go get drinks.
“Be safe,” she said as I walked away. I could feel her eyes on me and wondered, not for the first time, if Tammy had a crush on me. I knew she was a lesbian, but so were Faye and Deedee, but they never stared at me like they were wondering what I tasted like.
I grimaced as I stepped outside. We were in the middle of a heat wave that made the Nevada night unbearably oppressive. I probably would’ve been more comfortable in shorts or a skirt rather than jeans, but I’d learned early on that coming out of a strip club wearing something even the slightest bit revealing invited more comments from the men going in and out. With my hair in a sloppy ponytail, wearing regular clothes, they rarely noticed me, too intent on whatever they wanted to see or had already seen.
I walked briskly down the brightly lit street, heading towards the apartment I called home. Home. Until two years ago, home had been Philadelphia, the city where I’d been born and raised. The city where I’d buried my mother after four years of illness. I’d waited tables for seven years, four during high school, three after, saving every penny I could to pay for dance school, but two years into my mom’s illness, the job that had provided her health insurance finally figured out a way to fire her and my savings had been all we’d had to live on.
I rubbed my hands on my cheeks even though there weren’t any tears there. I still missed her, but I didn’t cry over her anymore. She wouldn’t have wanted that. I doubted she would’ve wanted me to be living in Vegas and taking my clothes off for money either, but some things couldn’t be helped. I’d moved out here after she’d died and I could barely make my rent, much less get enough money to move back, even if I’d wanted to.
And I didn’t want to. Philadelphia may have held a lot of great memories, but it also held painful ones.
I was almost to my place when my phone rang. I sighed, hoping it wasn’t the club calling me to work a double. Maybe it was just my roommate, Rosa, letting me know she wouldn’t be home tonight. It wasn’t either one.
“Anastascia?” I didn’t try to hide my surprise. Anastascia Galaway had been my best friend in Philadelphia. My only school friend, and also the only person from back East who bothered to keep in touch since I moved. She’d also been the one who’d given me strength during those four terrible years and the last few even worse weeks.
“Hey there, stranger!” Chipper as always. “I just got back from Paris and had to give you a call.”
If it had been anyone else casually dropping that they’d been in Paris, I’d have said they were bragging. Anastascia wasn’t like that though. She’d never been like that. My first day at St. George’s, a very expensive private high school in the Chestnut Hill district, had been miserable up to my last class when I’d met her. My mother had worked two jobs and fought to get me a scholarship so I could go to St. George’s. I’d loved her for what she’d done and why she’d done it, but I’d hated the school. Everyone had known I was a scholarship kid in a hand-me-down and patched uniform and scuffed shoes. I wasn’t from the Hill or Fishtown. I was from the part of the city that still had graffiti on almost every inch of concrete, the part that the people who rode the train into the city would look at and think how fortunate they were not to live there. I’d endured the whispers and the not-so-subtle stares, refusing to give any of them the satisfaction of seeing me cry, but by the end of the day, I’d been ready to crack. Then, just as this stuck-up blonde bitch made some comment about taking out the trash, this tall girl with carmel-colored skin and wild black curls came over and saved my life.
“You sound like you enjoyed your trip,” I said.
“It was amazing. You really have to let me take you to Europe sometime.”
“Sure, as soon as pigs fly and hell freezes over,” I replied. “I can barely afford my rent.” I changed the subject before she could offer to pay for it herself. I loved that she was generous, but I hated feeling like I owed anyone anything. “What are you doing up this late?”
“Still on French time, darling,” she said. “I’m a combined seven hours ahead, which means it’s almost eight in the morning for me.”
I laughed. “All right then. What are you doing calling me at eight in the morning?”
“I just wanted to know if you were planning on going to our five year reunion this weekend.”
I sighed. I’d completely forgotten about it. No, that was a lie. I’d made myself forget about it. “Why would I want to go back to a place where no one wanted me in the first place?”
“Come on, Piper, it’ll be fun,” she begged. I could almost see the pouty look she’d be trying to use to guilt me into coming. “We can see who didn’t lose the freshman fifteen and who’s already divorced.”
“You can do that reading the society section,” I reminded her.
“Well, you don’t have a choice,” she said.
“I’ve already bought you a ticket. You leave Friday evening and I’ll pick you up at the airport.”
I stopped in front of my apartment building. “I don’t really have a choice, do I?”
Even as much as I hated the idea of seeing all those people again, I couldn’t help but smile at the thought of seeing Anastascia. It wouldn’t be hard to get a few days off. Before I could think too much about it, I agreed, “I’ll be there.”
Anastascia was still squealing when I hung up. As I trudged up the stairs, I wondered what I had gotten myself into.