Stripped Read online

Page 2


Mom rubs at her forehead again with her knuckle, then holds out her hand, shaking it as if it’s asleep. “I don’t want to get into this right now, Grey. He’s your father. He loves you, and he’s just doing what he thinks is right. You need to be respectful. ”

  “He’s not respectful to me. ”

  She shoots me a sharp, warning glare. “Don’t, Grey. ” She winces, and then turns her eyes back to the road, blinking hard. “Goodness, this is the worst one yet,” she mutters, more to herself than out loud.

  “Worst one?” I stare at her in worry. “You’ve been having a lot of these headaches?”

  “Here and there. Nothing too bad. They hit me in the morning, and they usually go away on their own. ” She clenches her hand into a fist and releases it, shakes it again.

  I’m not sure what to say. Mom is tough. She’s never sick, and the few times she is, she rarely complains and never takes the time to rest. She just powers through it until she’s better. For her to visibly be in pain isn’t a good sign. She must really be hurting.

  Page 4

 

  “Should you see a doctor?” I ask.

  She waves her hand in dismissal. “It’s just a headache. ”

  “What’s wrong with your hand, then?”

  “I don’t know. It just…it feels numb. It’s fine now. ”

  We’re home at this point, and she pulls the BMW into the garage and is out her door and into the house before I’ve even hauled my bag out of the back seat. I wave at Daddy as I pass his study on my way up the stairs. After I’ve showered, I head down to the kitchen, expecting to find Mom making dinner, but the kitchen is empty.

  Daddy is still in his study, typing away at his computer, preparing for Sunday’s sermon.

  “Where’s Mom?” I ask.

  He looks up over the rim of his narrow reading glasses. “She’s lying down. She’s got a migraine, I guess. ”

  “Is she okay? She said she’s been having headaches. ”

  He leans back in his chair. “I know. If they don’t stop soon, I’m going to take her in to see a doctor whether she wants to or not. ”

  “I’ll make dinner then. ”

  “Thank you, Grey. When you’re finished, see if Mom wants something. She may not. ” He turns back to the computer. “I’ll eat in here. ”

  I retreat to the kitchen and start making dinner. I’m not as fancy a cook as Mom, but I can make a few good dishes. I rummage in the fridge and see that she’d gathered the ingredients to make chicken cordon bleu, so I make that, bringing Daddy his plate and can of Diet Coke. I head upstairs to check on Mom but she is asleep with the curtains drawn against the evening light. Even in sleep, her forehead is wrinkled and tight with pain.

  Worry shoots through me, but I dismiss it. I leave the plate of food in case Mom wants it later, taking my plate and Coke into my room to eat as I finish my homework. Except for Mom’s headaches, life is good.

  So why do I feel a gnawing sense of unease?

  Chapter 2

  The last of the school year passes without incident. Mom’s headaches have subsided or she hides them. I’ve danced in several recitals, with Mom and Daddy in attendance. Daddy still doesn’t quite approve, and he definitely glares during the other girls’ more overtly sensual solos. He knows I’m talented, though, and this pleases him. I dance over the summer, and I get to know Devin and Lisa and a few other girls from the studio. Daddy lets me go out with them as long as I check in regularly. For the most part, we don’t do anything except hang out at the mall and watch girly TV at Devin’s house. Boys come over a few times, but none of us says anything to the adults. Devin is a pixie, barely five-one and not even a hundred pounds soaking wet. She’s got auburn hair and brown eyes and she’s a spitfire, energetic and fiery and outspoken. She pretty much has the run of her house since her parents work all the time. As far as Daddy knows, it’s just me and Devin and Lisa and cheesy ’80s movies like Flashdance and Footloose and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.

  He doesn’t know about the occasional party Devin throws on the weekends while her parents are in Atlanta or elsewhere for business. Compared to the stories I hear at Central High School, these parties are usually pretty tame, It’s mostly the same twenty or so people, a few girls from Mrs. LeRoux’s studio, some guys from the football team, and some girls from the dance program at Central. The others sip beer and do shots of whiskey someone brings, but I don’t. Daddy would smell alcohol on me before I even got into the house. I tried beer once, but it’s nasty. I took a tiny sip of whiskey and nearly choked. I stick to Coke and have fun watching the others act like idiots.

  At one of these parties, near the end of the summer, I find myself sitting on the deck behind Devin’s house, watching as six or seven drunk boys play a rowdy pickup game of football, girls cheering and getting in the way. One of the Central dance girls has her shirt off, her pink bra bright in the late evening darkness. I’m embarrassed for her. How she could be okay like that, half-naked, knowing every single guy at the party is watching her? I want to cover her. Several guys hit on her, try to get her to go inside with them, but she seems to effortlessly fend them off without hurting any feelings. She’s clearly intoxicated, dancing to the music playing from Devin’s portable iPod speakers. She’s got her hands in her hair, bunching it up at the back of her head. She’s writhing her hips to the beat of the music, turning in place slowly, hips gyrating, skin flashing tan under the light of the moon and the pale yellow glow from the house. Everyone is watching her. Everyone. She’s a dancer; she knows what she’s doing. She knows she’s got their attention. She glides her hands over her belly, over her hips, pushing at the waistband of her skintight blue jeans. Her dance has taken on a life of its own, spinning in place, flinging her hair around, pushing out and shaking her hips. Each move is provocative. The guys are frozen, and I watch as one affected guy adjusts himself. Even though I’m in the darkness of the deck, I blush hard.

  A low, husky voice comes from my left. “Can you dance like that?”

  I jump, startled. I peer into the shadows and see a boy frequently at Devin’s parties, a football player named Craig. “No,” I say, shaking my head. “Definitely not. ”

  He laughs, leaning on the railing of the deck. “Sure you can. ” His finger brushes over my shoulder, and I shiver, edge away. “You should try. You’d be hot. She’s okay-looking, but you? You’re fine as hell, girl. ”

  I blush so hard my face is hot. I giggle nervously. “You’re crazy. ”

  “No, I’m not. I just know what I like. ” His tone indicates he’s referring to me.

  I still can’t quite see him. He’s in the shadows, on the grass beyond the deck. I’ve seen him before. He’s tall and blond, the kind of guy most girls go gaga for. He’s wearing a red tank top that shows off his burly arms and a pair of low-hanging tan shorts. He’s good-looking, that’s for sure. My stomach flip-flops. He likes me. He’s leaning forward to see me better, his eyes pale and wide in the darkness.

  Abruptly, he plants his hands on the railing of the deck and vaults over so he’s right in front of me. I give a quiet shriek of surprise and move back away from him. He swaggers toward me. He’s so tall, and I’m afraid of what I see in his eyes. Desire. Hunger.

  I don’t know how to deal with it, with him. This is new territory. I know I’m pretty so boys are always interested. I’m tall for a girl, standing five-nine in bare feet. I’ve got honey-blonde hair that’s long and fine and straight. My eyes are gray, the dark iron color of an approaching storm, or so Devin says. I’ve got a dancer’s body: thick, powerful thighs, hips wider than I’d like, a fairly slim waist, and a generous bust line. By “generous,” I mean I’ve got huge boobs, even for my height and build, which is kind of a challenge when I’m dancing. I usually wear sports bras just because I bounce too much without them, even when I’m not dancing.

  Page 5

 

  It’s there that Craig’s eyes are glu