Stripped Read online

Page 7

I try not to squeal. This has been an unpaid internship so far. If I get paid, I can quit stripping.

  “Thank you, sir! I won’t let you down, I promise. ” I can’t help grinning.

  “I know you won’t, Grey. ” He leans back and slides his phone from his blazer pocket, tapping a message. “I believe Leslie has some paperwork for you to file, and then you may go. ”

  The paperwork for the assignment only takes a few minutes, which is good, since I have to get back to my dorm, finish a paper for my lit class, and then change for work tonight. This internship is a godsend, but it’s kept me busier than ever. I work four nights a week on top of five classes every semester and thirty hours per week at the internship. I barely eat, barely sleep, and haven’t had time to dance for my own enjoyment in weeks.

  It’ll be worth it all if I can get hired full-time by the studio.

  I get back to my dorm and finish the paper as quickly as possible. I start going over the files Kaz emailed me. Fourth Dimension is the primary production studio for the project, along with Orbit Sky Films and Long Acre Productions. Jeremy Allan Erskine is directing, and I spend the rest of my study time going over Kaz’s notes on Mr. Erskine’s body of work and his overall ideas for the project. He’s best known for Red Sky, a post-apocalypse drama that won six Oscars, including Best Picture. He worked with Fourth Dimension and my boss Kaz on The Sun Also Rises, so a film adaptation isn’t new to him. The intent with this remake—according to Mr. Erskine’s notes in my file—is to stay true to the novel and pay homage to the 1939 film, while rejuvenating it with a more modern aesthetic.

  Kaz isn’t just treating me as an assistant because I know it’s not normal for a lowly intern-assistant to a lead actor to have this kind of project file. He genuinely understands my passion for film and hopefully is grooming me to work with him on future projects. Still, he has to answer to the spirit of the internship, which means a low-level assistant assignment to complete the grade.

  I don’t have time to get to the cast list before I have to leave. I peel out of my skirt and blouse, put on a pair of yoga pants and a T-shirt, and head out to catch the bus to the club. Once there, I change into my costume, the booty shorts and flannel shirt. I cake on the makeup, tease out my hair into glossy honey-colored waves, and then check myself in the mirror.

  As always, I barely recognize myself. My hair is huge, hanging down past the middle of my back and brushed out for maximum volume. Makeup turns my gray eyes stormy and, if I’m admitting it, hypnotic. Bright red lipstick, rouge, thick foundation, mascara…

  I’d have expected to lose weight, seeing how infrequently I eat and how much I’m running around, but I’m still me. I’m still thick through the hips and bust. I see my body differently now. I’m not just a woman with clothes on. I see the body beneath the clothes, which I never looked at before. Not really. I’m not just a person, just like anyone else. I’m an object, a thing to be desired. I’m aware of my br**sts and backside and of the fact that men enjoy those parts of me.

  I sigh as I loosen the knot in the shirt a bit, adjust my br**sts and retie the knot so my cle**age is more accentuated. I brush some foundation over my hip where I bumped into the desk in my dorm room. Guys don’t want to see bruises.

  I’m delaying. I always delay. I never want to go out there. I thought I would get used to it, but I never have. My heart still hammers and I still feel ashamed, still feel nauseated. When the moment comes that I have to peel my shirt off and bare my br**sts, I always want to crawl into a hole and pull dirt over me. I hate the lewd gazes and the pawing hands and the whistles and the suggestions.

  I’m about to reach out to open the dressing room door when Timothy barges in. “Grey. Glad you’re here early. ” Excitement gleams in his eyes, which worries me. “Tonight’s your lucky night, Grey. Some bigwig actor rented out the whole club! And guess what? He wants a private dance in the VIP room with just you and him. I told him you don’t do nothing extra, so you don’t have to worry about that. But this is big, Grey. Big, big money. ”

  I nod and try to calm my nerves. It’s just another night. I’ve done celebrity VIP rooms before. We’re a tiny little club way off the beaten path, and most of our clientele are lower-middle-class working men, and sometimes a few Hollywood types out to “slum it up. ” But every once in a while, an actor or sports star will show up, hoping to get a night out away from the paparazzi. One thing Timothy is adamant about is no photographers and no journalists, ever.

  I touch up my makeup a bit, recheck the knot in my shirt, and make sure my cle**age looks right, and then I go out there. Lydia is on the stage at the moment, dancing to a Ludacris song. She is a short, big-breasted Iraqi girl working her way through nursing school. Lydia’s sweet and a good dancer, and like me she refuses to do private parties outside the club, and never does extras of any kind. I walk the club floor, assessing the guys. They’re all Hollywood, sleek and attractive and polished and oozing faux-charm. Most are already drunk, and I do half a dozen lap dances before I’ve even gotten from one side of the club to the other. I haven’t seen the actor who rented the place out yet, but he’s in a VIP room. This is just the hangers-on, the sycophants and the assistants. I do a few tables, then do my turn on stage. Part of my draw is that the only time I’m actually topless is during dances. I do the tables and work the floor in costume. Guys are into it, I guess. They like the mystery. Of course, the flannel shirt is opened far enough that I’m basically topless, so it makes the guys nuts.

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  I do my basic routine, spinning and twisting around the pole, teasing by unbuttoning the shirt but not letting them see anything, then re-buttoning and popping the buttons. The topless part I’ve nearly gotten desensitized to. Nearly. Meaning, I don’t actually start to cry until I have to take off the shorts and they’re next. Since they’re tight, it’s actually quite a feat to get them off gracefully.

  Then I’m dancing in nothing but a skimpy thong. I’m close to tears the whole time. They can see my bottom, all of it. The thong is little more than a minuscule triangle over my privates, and barely covers that much. When I dance and move around the stage, they can see everything.

  I finish my stage set and retreat to the backstage area to re-gather my nerves. The guys in the club are hammered, and they’re tipping like crazy. I pull a hundred and fifty from the first set on stage, and I had another eighty from the lap and table dances. And I haven’t even been to the VIP rooms yet. But the stage number…oh, god. The catcalls and the suggestions were worse than they’ve ever been. The reaching hands, which is technically against the club rules, but really up to the individual dancers to discourage…they grab me and touch me and try to peel the thong off. They ask me to go home with them. They shout in crude detail what they’d do to me. I blush when they shout those things. I can’t help it. I don’t think they can see the blush underneath my makeup, but it’s there. I blush and I cringe and I swat away the hands playfully but firmly, and I avoid their eyes.

  When I’m backstage and Inez is up for her set, I feel my stomach revolting. I hurry into the dressing room and barely make it to the little toilet, where I heave my stomach empty. Tears mingle freely with the sweat on my face. When I’m done heaving, I slump to the cold floor and rest my face against the cool porcelain, and I let myself sob for a moment. I let myself wish I was back home in Macon. I can’t help but picture Mama’s face if she could see what I’m doing to survive.

  A fist pounds on the door, and then it opens. “Grey, goddammit, you don’t have time for this!” Timothy is pulling me away from the toilet and dabbing at my mouth with a paper towel. “They want you in the VIP room. Right now. Room three. Brush your teeth and then go!” He doesn’t cop a feel this time, just shoves me toward the sink and then once I’m done, out of the dressing room and through the doorway leading to the VIP rooms.

  I catch my balance and my breath, and then shoo Timothy away.

  My hea