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Page 6

“Plus,” Tim continues, “you’ve got that sexy southern accent. You’ll draw a hell of a crowd. ”

  “So do I get the job?” There’s no elation, no excitement. Only disgust mixed with horror and relief.

  “You’ve got the job. ”

  “How…how much does it pay?”

  Timothy shrugs. “It depends. I’ve got a feeling you’ll have a huge desirability factor, which works in your favor. If you do private rooms, you’ll make a killing. Here’s the way it works, basically. The club itself don’t pay you directly. You get paid in tips, and you give the club a percentage out of that. Not much, just fifteen percent, which is industry average. You do two or three song sets on stage. Most girls make anywhere between fifty and a hundred per set. If the guys like you, you could do three, four, or five sets in a night. In between sets onstage you’ll work tables, which are ten bucks each table, and guys will tip you on top of that. Then there are VIP rooms in the back, four of them. Most girls will get, like, two or three hundred per VIP room visit. You’d work three nights minimum, but we’re open seven days a week. Obviously, weekends are biggest money. ” He lifts an eyebrow. “Since you’ve never done this before, I’ll tell you this. Most girls supplement what they make here in the club by doing private parties, birthdays and bachelor parties, shit like that. They don’t have to tip us out, so they keep it all. ”

  “What—” My voice breaks, and I have to try again. “What do you mean by doing private parties?”

  Timothy laughs. “It just means you do what you do here, but for a private party. Look, you set the rules for private parties. Minimum, you do lap dances and stuff, maybe a striptease for the group. ” He winks at me. “I know what you’re thinking, and it’s not like that. Unless you want to, of course. But that’s up to you. That’s got nothing to do with the club. Guys’ll ask you if you do private parties, and you need to decide if you do or not. ”

  I have to take a few deep breaths. “Okay. Okay. I can do this. ”

  Timothy laughs again, a low, amused chuckle. “You convincing me or yourself?”

  “Both, I guess,” I admit.

  “Why don’t you come in tomorrow evening, maybe seven or eight, and we’ll work up a dance for you. My best dancer, Candy, will be here, and she’ll help you. Give you some pointers and shit. ” He stands up, tosses back the whiskey or whatever it is, and then extends his hand toward me, and we shake. “Welcome to Exotic Nights, Grey. Oh, and you may want a stage name. ”

  He walks me out, and in the act of reaching past me to open the door, his hand grazes my bottom. It’s not accidental, because I feel his hand squeeze along the way. I scoot forward out of his reach and turn back to glare at him. He just waves at me.

  I officially have a job. The relief is tempered by my nauseating horror at what the job is. I haven’t done anything yet, which means it’s not too late to back out. I can just not show up and hope something else comes up.

  I button my shirt back up as soon as I’m out of the club and make my way back to the bus stop. Once I hit campus, I’m more aware than ever of guys checking me out as I head back to the dorm. I’m not a girl who won’t admit she’s pretty. I’m used to getting looks and glances wherever I go; I just tune them out. But now…after enduring Timothy’s lusty perusal and crotch adjusting, I don’t want men’s eyes on me yet every pair I pass seems to be looking at me. My jeans feel tighter than they did when I put them on this morning, and suddenly my blouse is more revealing than I’d imagined. I wish I had a pair of sweatpants and a hoodie on now.

  I make it to my dorm room and into my bed on the top bunk before I let myself cry. The tears come in a hot flood along with embarrassment, guilt, horror, nausea, and doubt. Daddy was right. He said I’d fall into a sinful life, and I have. I just got a job as a stripper. I’m not going to glorify it by calling it “exotic dancer. ”

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  I don’t even want to know what Mama would say.

  I’m going to do it, though. I won’t go crawling back to Macon, Georgia. I just won’t. I’m going to finish my degree.

  I’ve been working my ass off to get an internship with Fourth Dimension Films, so I edited the piece on my mom and showed it to Mrs. Adams, my film program advisor. She saw real potential in my work, and Fourth Dimension is one of the biggest private production studios in L. A. Getting an internship there would be a huge foot in the door. But for that, I can’t be homeless. I have to stay in school and have somewhere to live. I need a professional wardrobe.

  In short, I need a job, and this is the only opportunity I’ve found in months of looking.

  Still, I cry myself to sleep. Lizzie doesn’t come back until after three, and she’s got a guy with her. They roll into her bunk, and I hear noises that keep me awake for hours—moans, grunts and giggles.

  Chapter 6

  I squeeze my eyes shut and pray, but then feel guilty about it; God wouldn’t approve of what I’m about to do, that’s for darn sure. I clench my hands into fists to stop them from trembling, but they shake like leaves in a Georgia thunderstorm.

  “Gracie, you’re on in five. ” Timothy pokes his head into the door of the dressing room, and I certainly don’t miss the way his beady little eyes rake over me.

  My flesh crawls and I want to tell him off, but I can’t. After all, I’m about to get a whole heck of a lot more perused in about five minutes. I’m barely clothed, at least as far as I’m used to. I grew up wearing ankle-length dresses and skirts with loose T-shirts. Nothing low-cut, nothing above the knee. Nothing revealing or immodest. Nothing sexy or sensual. Nothing ungodly or irreverent.

  Right now, I’ve got on a pair of cut-off jean shorts, the hems frayed into white threads. Back in Macon, they would’ve called these shorts Daisy Dukes, since they’re cut so short the bottom of my backside is hanging out. I mean that quite literally. My butt is actually hanging out the bottom of the shorts. They’re tight, too, squeezing my thick dancer’s thighs like spandex. I’m wearing a flannel shirt, but it ain’t—I mean, it isn’t—much better as far as modesty goes. It’s unbuttoned down to my cle**age, which isn’t contained by anything at all. There’s only four buttons done up, and my boobs strain those four buttons fit to burst. That’s the point, after all. The buttons are supposed to pop. There’s a whole row of shirts similar to this one in the corner of the dressing room, since part of the act is to pop the buttons as I rip the shirt open.

  It’s supposed to be sexy, Timothy says. “It’ll drive ’em wild. ” He’s the expert, I guess. The rest of the flannel shirt is tied up in the front just beneath my boobs, so most of my midriff is bare. The last bit of the outfit—the costume—is a thick leather belt with a big sparkly buckle, and a pair of knee-high boots. Hooker boots, I’ve heard them called. Seems appropriate, I guess, since Daddy would call what I’m about to do whoring myself out. They’re suede boots, the material loose and bunching, with a spindly three-inch stiletto heel that makes me stand a full six feet tall, since I’m five-nine in my stocking feet.

  My blonde hair is brushed to a shine so glossy Candy asked me if I was wearing a wig. My face is caked with a garish amount of makeup. Whore paint, Granddaddy would call it. I never wore more than a bit of lip gloss and some eye shadow growing up, so all the foundation and the lipstick and the mascara and all that feels like a mask. Which helps, in a way, as if the mask of makeup could hide me.

  I take a deep breath and force myself out of the chair, swaying on the unfamiliar heels. Timothy shoves the door open and holds it for me, but it isn’t for the sake of being a gentleman. He stands in the door so that I have to squeeze past him on my way out. I stifle the urge to deck him when he “accidentally” palms my backside.

  “Don’t do that, Tim,” I say, proud of how steady and calm my voice is. It’s not the first time I’ve asked him not to touch me.

  “Do what?”

  I fix him with the glare I learned from Daddy, the one that makes