Stripped Read online

Page 16

Dawson wraps his arms around me, and I sink into him, absorb his scent, the feel of his skin against my cheek. I’m losing myself in him, bit by bit.

  I push away. “I need to go home,” I say, wiping tears from my eyes. “I can’t deal with all this. ”


  “I’m not running from you, Dawson. I just…I’m overwhelmed. ” I am running, though, and he knows it.

  “Okay. Fine. Whatever. ” Dawson rubs at his jaw with his knuckles. “Greg brought the Rover back for you. It’s in the driveway. In fact, hold on. ”

  He disappears, and I sit on the bed and sip at the now lukewarm coffee. He comes back after a few minutes with a piece of paper, a pen, and my purse.

  “What’s that?” I ask.

  “Do you have any cash?” he asks, apropos of nothing.

  “Um, yeah. Why?” I reach for my purse and dig out a roll of bills.

  “Give me a five. ” I hand him a $5 bill, and he turns the piece of paper around to face me. It’s the title to the Range Rover. “Sign here, and date it. ” He points at a line.


  “Just do it. Please. ” He’s not looking at me.

  I sigh. “I’m not taking your car. It’s worth, like, $140,000. ”

  “Grey, money means nothing to me. It never has. You want the Bugatti? I’ll give you the Bugatti. Fuck it. I can buy another one. ”

  “I don’t want any of your cars. I don’t want your charity. ”

  He throws the pen and title on the bed next to me. “Goddamn it, Grey. It’s not f**king charity. ”

  “You don’t have to swear at me. ”

  He slumps, rubbing the back of his neck. “I’m sorry, I just…God, Grey. Just sign the title. Take the car. Do it for me. ” I stare at him, and then I cave. I sign the title where he pointed, date it. “Thank you. Take it to the DMV on Monday. I’ll add you to my insurance policy. ”

  “Dawson, you’re not adding—”

  “Have you won any of these arguments yet?” He looks at me with a quirked eyebrow. I shake my head and sigh, then fold the title and put it in my purse and start to leave the bedroom. I feel Dawson’s hand close around my wrist. “I don’t want you to go. ”

  “I’m just going home for a little bit. I need a shower. I need clothes. I have to do homework. ”

  “But you’re not going to work. ” This is not a request, judging by his tone of voice.

  “I have to. ”

  “No. You. Don’t. ”

  “I have tuition due. I have—”

  “How much would you have made this weekend? Tonight and Sunday night? On average. ”

  “You’re not gonna try—”

  He glares at me, speaking over me. “How…much?”

  “A thousand, maybe?”

  Dawson whirls in place, stalks to his closet, and opens a safe built into the wall. He pulls out an envelope and counts out some bills, returns the envelope, and closes the safe. His expression is grim and hard. “Here. Five thousand dollars. Take the week off. ”

  “You can’t buy me off, Dawson. ” I’m both touched and insulted.

  “Fuck, you’re stubborn,” he growls. “I’m not buying you off. I’m giving you a chance to have some time off. ”

  “If I take time off, I’ll never go back. ”

  “Good. ”

  “No! Not good! You can’t be my sugar daddy, Dawson. I’m a stripper, not a whore. ”

  “And I don’t want you to be either! I’m not asking you to do anything for the money, goddamn it!” He’s shouting, and I cringe away. He winces at my obvious fear and immediately quiets. “I’m sorry. God, I’m sorry. You’re just making me so crazy. I’m not…I get how you would think that. I do. But. . . it’s a gift. The Rover is a gift. You won’t be with me, and that’s okay. Or no, it’s not. It f**king sucks. But at least let me help you. It’s not much, but it’ll make me feel better. ”

  “Feel better? About what?”

  “You don’t get it? Really? You don’t see how I’m feeling? What you’re doing to me? How hard this is for me?” I don’t answer, and he tosses the sheaf of $100 bills on the bed beside me. He stands over me, staring into the middle distance. “Just go, then. Take it, don’t take it. What the f**k ever. ” He moves past me, around the bed, and shoves open the door to his balcony.

  I watch him stand with his hands on the ornate stone railing, staring out over Los Angeles. His posture reflects conflict, defeat, coiled anger. His shoulders are slumped, his head hanging low, his breathing slow and even. He looks like he’s trying to crush the railing into stone dust by sheer brute force. He looks capable of it.

  I want to say something, to comfort him, but I can’t. I have no answers for myself, let alone him. I stand slowly, and then stop and stare at the thick pile of money, and I consider. In the end, I can’t take it. I want to. I want to not have to work, to not have to take my clothes off. But I can’t take anything else from Dawson. It makes me even more his, and I’m already losing myself in him, losing track of who I was and who I am and where that stops and he begins.

  Page 45


  I get home, and I shower and put on clean clothes. I fumble my way through an essay on the use of lighting in Schindler’s List. It’s a poor essay, as my thoughts are scattered at best. Finally, I give up and close the cheap, refurbished laptop. I should have taken the money. I’m honestly terrified of going back to the club now. I’ll jump at every shadow, see a ra**st in every customer. The horror of what I experienced was drowned and buried by the raw intensity that is Dawson, but now that I’m alone, it’s rushing back.

  I put on a movie and try to watch it, try to distract myself, but even stupidly brilliant comedy like Black Sheep can’t keep my thoughts away from the hiss of that awful voice, the cruel steel of hands stripping me, crushing the air from my lungs. Panic becomes hysteria, which in turn becomes hyperventilation. I duck my head between my knees and try to focus on long, deep breaths. I’m on the floor, sweating, shaking and sobbing.

  Lizzie finds me like this. “You okay, Grey?”

  As questions go, it’s kind of stupid. I mean, I’m clearly not okay. But this is Lizzie, and she’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

  But her presence forces a layer of calm over my panic, and I’m able to work my way back up onto the couch, wiping at my face and sniffling. “Yeah. I’m fine. ”

  She frowns briefly, then notices the movie playing on the TV, the medium-sized flat-screen Lizzie got for Christmas last year. “Oh, cool. I love this movie. Chris Farley is hysterical. ” She plops down next to me, oblivious.

  We watch the rest of the movie in awkward silence. Well, awkward for me. Lizzie spends most of it watching while texting. I should be getting ready for work right now. But yet, I’m not. I’ve never been late, never missed a day, never called in sick, even when I had the flu. When the movie is over, Lizzie half-heartedly works on some kind of science homework, and I finish my essay. Lizzie doesn’t notice that I’m not going to work. I feel like Timothy is going to burst through my door any moment and demand to know where I am. Or someone from the university is going to knock on my door and demand that I go back to Georgia.

  Nighttime slowly rolls around, and I’m a mess. I’m jumpy, hungry, confused. I miss Dawson. I’m worried I’ve alienated him forever. I’m worried he’ll never give up on me and something will happen that I won’t be able to undo.

  Eventually, I go to bed earlier than I have ever before in my teen and adult life. I lie in bed, dressed in a long USC T-shirt and underwear, and fail to sleep. I fail, because I think of Dawson. I don’t think of his anguished eyes when I refused his help, or his angry pose on the balcony. I don’t think of his rage-fueled driving. I don’t think of his nearly naked form as he changed into a pair of shorts.

  I think of his hands, roaming my body. I think of his fingers inside me, creating pleasure I didn’t even know existed. Under th