Kathy was always stubborn and a pushover. If she wanted something, she made sure she got it. She had curly, flaming red hair, bright green eyes, and freckles over her nose. She reminded me a lot of the girl from Brave. Her smile was easy and magnetic. That was one reason she managed to get more tips than me in the restaurant even though she always argued I was better looking than her.
My dad’s loan sharks were here yesterday, asking him to pay up, and there was a lot of screaming and fighting. I’d seen how one of their men had leered at me. Dad promised that he’d pay up within a week, but I didn’t see that happening anytime soon, not when he was hell-bent on spending the money on gambling. He was under the impression that gambling could get him a ton of money that he could pay the loan sharks and solve our problem.
At that moment, I’d packed my stuff and decided to leave the place. I didn’t care if I had to live on the streets at that point; I wasn’t going to be responsible for my father’s miserable life. Watching me pack, my mother had gotten teary-eyed and begged me not to leave. She said she would figure out about the money and that Dad would change eventually.
She was reciting the same old story again. Mom had been the only person who supported me growing up. And I respected her for that.
I hated how she manipulated me.
I hated how much I loved her.
And most of all, I hated how weak that made me.
When I asked Kathy if I could borrow some money, she told me she was tight financially; what with paying the rent and supporting her kid brother, it was hard to spare even a few bucks. Instead, she’d come up with an idea. Kathy worked part-time in a strip club during weekends, and that got her tons of money. She suggested I could do part-time for a few weeks as well.
The strip club was farther away from town. It was a high-class, posh strip club called Devil’s Girl, the Gentlemen Club which was accessible only to rich men who were bored with their wives and have far too much money to be spend on pretty girls. That meant bumping into townies and being recognized was an unlikely possibility. The deal wasn’t so bad for fast money, but I didn’t think I could dance on the pole half-naked with pervy old men leering at me. I’d debated the idea but eventually decided I could try for one night.
So here I was, dressing up in a silky cream camisole over lacy panties, making me the most overdressed compared to the other dancers. The neckline of the garment was deep, and that made my cleavage stand out even more, though I didn’t have big ones. I covered my chest with both of my hands, and the manager of the strip club laughed and said it just needed some getting used to. Once I got the taste of the money, I would also leave out the camisole and move freely. Heat rose up my cheeks as I wondered if I could do that. The other girls were professional strippers; they took off every bit of garment from their body on stage. I was an exception; I was the only dancer who got to keep some clothes on. All I had to do was dance in a sexy way.
Backstage, inside the makeup room, I had second thoughts. I panicked when I saw the other girls prepping for the show and heard the sound of men cheering. Kathy applied a coat of harlot red lipstick on my lips and then fixed my makeup. When I looked in the mirror, I saw how changed I looked.
The cream camisole made me look sexy as it hugged my curves. My legs were clad in fishnet stockings matched with high heels. My long dark hair cascaded down my shoulders. I looked every bit sexy; someone that men wouldn’t keep their eyes off, someone that wives would specifically despise seeing in their respective neighborhoods.
I looked like the dirty little secret.
Tears began threatening to blur my vision. I looked towards the ceiling and willed the tears to go back where they came from as if my eyes could suck them in. I grabbed a few Kleenex and dabbed at the corner of my eyes.
Kathy had suggested that dancing topless could get me more money, but I couldn’t do that. My body was very private, and I didn’t want to be there showing it off like that to just anyone. It was something only my boyfriend, or my future husband would see.
This wasn’t the kind of life I wanted. All I’d ever asked from life was a nice home and just enough money to survive on, but life threw me a curve-ball, and now I was stuck with this because of the bad decisions of my father. My mom couldn’t leave my dad, and I couldn’t leave her. I wiped at my tears and thought, only this one time, I would help him, and then I would leave the house regardless.
I felt a hand on my arm. It was Kathy. “Hey, what’s wrong?”
She probably noticed I was getting emotional. “Nothing,” I said.
“It’s okay, Kiara. There’s nothing to be ashamed about,” she assured me. “We all need money at some point in our lives, and this is the fastest way. Trust me. You’ll just feel awkward at first, and then you’ll get used to it. Ignore the men; just concentrate on your goal.”
I nodded. She was right. I’d just have to ignore the people.
“If you’re not comfortable after tonight, you can discontinue, alright? No pressure,” she said with a smile.
“Thanks, Kathy,” I said.
“No problem.” She started fixing my hair again and pulled at my camisole, trying to show more of my cleavage.
Kathy threw her hands up as if saying ′are you kidding me?′
“Babe, you’re going to dance with at least some clothes on, so cheer up. It will be fun, trust me. And your stage name is Barbie; just how I’m called Diamond. So never tell those perverts your real name, okay?”
“Okay,” I said.
I wanted to believe her on the fun part, but as the time started to tick and my turn came closer, I began dreading the idea.
* * *
It was a round stage, looking rather like a polished tabletop, wide enough to accommodate three girls. Plush sofa chairs surrounded the stage, as well as the other side of the club. The room was lit with neon lights; the stage having the brightest lights illuminated.
When I entered the stage, two girls were already dancing and twerking, clinging to the poles. There was one pole that wasn’t taken, and I knew I had to be the one dancing there. The club was packed; men clad in business suits were seated in every corner of the room. Waitresses were serving drinks around, and I noticed a bouncer leading a man out.
To say I was nervous would be an understatement.
I walked onto the stage, making sure I didn’t trip in my high heels and began dancing at the pole. I tried to ignore men as much as I could. I wasn’t great at dancing as compared to the other girls who practically knew gymnastics as they swung upside down from the pole in a sexy dance. These were professionals, I was not. I’d learned dancing only by watching videos.
Two minutes into the dance, someone in the crowd screamed at me to take off my cami. I stiffened. I was still wearing my undergarments so it wouldn’t be that bad if I took it off, right?
The song “Sexy Back” by Justin Timberlake was blasting through the speakers. I tried to dance as naturally as I could. I noticed Kathy going all out with her dance. She looked sexy from every angle. No awkwardness whatsoever. She was smiling and having fun like dancing was what she was born for. One man stood up and sent a thick wad of cash flying towards her.
I continued to do my amateur dancing. Without thinking, I reached for the hem of my cami and took it off. I threw it at the audience and hoped I looked sexy doing it. Maybe I’d started doing it right because someone from the audience cheered, and I heard someone yell, “Yeah baby!” I glanced at the club manager, standing on the other side of the stage. He gave me a smile of approval. I continued to dance, and a few minutes later, another girl came up to me and told me to go backstage. Something was up. I picked up the lacy camisole and rushed backstage.
What had I done? Was I dancing wrong? Had they decided to fire me on the first night?
If that was the case, I was going to lose the opportunity to earn a ton of money, and then the loan sharks would be here. When I walked into the backstage, the manager, Ronnie, was seated in a chair with a black stash bag on the floor. I saw the cash spilling out of the bag. He was counting it but his focus turned once he noticed me.
Ronnie was probably in his mid-thirties with spiky hair, tattoos covering his body, and a few piercings over his face. He smiled at me. “You did a good job there, sweetheart, and guess what? You’re in demand.”
He handed me some cash which I took from him.
“This is your advance payment. If you keep this up, babe, you’re gonna be rolling in money before you know it.”
I looked at the cash. Eight Hundred dollars! What?!
“So that’s it? My job’s done?” I asked him, relieved and already wanting to go home. If dancing for a few minutes was going to get me such a huge tip, then I may have to come back again.
But what Ronnie said next brought me back to reality.
“Oh no, honey. Someone from the VIP lounge saw you dancing there and made a request to send you in for a private dance. He was generous enough to make an extra payment to get you in the lounge,” he explained. “You’re lucky because you would only have to dance for a couple of men. They are here for a birthday party, so you better show them a good time. If you manage to entertain them, you’ll probably walk out with one grand for a tip because these mofos are fuckin’ rich.”
“But Ronnie, I’m just a dancer. I don’t want to strip and get naked,” I protested.
Ronnie turned his cold gaze towards me. “Don’t be such a spoiltsport, Kiara. Tell you what: just take off your cami and bra. You can leave the panties on. You’ve got a nice sexy body; not really curvy or anything, but you’re cute, and that’s what they liked you for—being small and cute. Plus, they aren’t allowed to touch you; they are just going to be sitting there watching. Just ignore it and think of the money you’re gonna make by the end of the night.“7
Like leaving only the panties on made it any better.
I shook my head. “Ronnie, I can’t.”
But before I could protest any further, Ronnie had already walked out of the room and someone was fixing my makeup and hair while dousing me with expensive perfume and body lotion. The smell was literally stuck to me like second skin, and I was pretty sure it wouldn’t come out for days. I was asked to change into another lingerie; a red satin one with lace. The center of the bra had a bow on it.
Reluctantly, I wore the matching heels and made my way towards the VIP lounge, half expecting to see middle-aged men celebrating their fortieth or fiftieth birthday and hoping they weren’t a creepy lot, but when I walked inside the dimly lit private lounge, I saw young men. In fact, they didn’t seem much older than me. They seemed to be in their late twenties or early thirties, all dressed smartly in casual wear. There were five of them exactly: a black male who was dressed in a blazer, an auburn-haired man, two blonds, and a dark-haired man sitting in the corner farther away from the small round stage.
A stripper was already dancing on one pole and literally baring her ass at the black male. He was getting the most attention, so I assumed it was his birthday party.
I walked carefully to the pole and began dancing. There was a slow song playing, “Call Out My Name” by The Weeknd. It was slow and sensuous, perfect for a slow sexy dance. I moved my hips seductively and danced with grace, taking my time to build up the atmosphere. The cash began rolling in, like a fountain of money. The auburn-haired man leered at me with interest. There were tears at the corner of my eyes, but I had to put up with this.
I touched the hem of my cami to take it off when an arm reached out and stopped me. It was one of the seated men. I hadn’t even noticed him walk towards the stage until he grasped my wrist.
I flinched. They weren’t allowed to touch the dancers. Weren’t they aware of that?
The light was dim, so it was hard to see who it was at first, but then it was clear as day. Same dark hair, blue eyes, and roughish handsome exterior.
“Oh come on, Lockhart. Get your ass off the stage!”