I toss my hair back over my shoulders once more and paint my lips with gloss in the mirror.
“Aye shawty, keep throwing that head back all hard, see if you don’t snap your neck.” I laugh off his comment, and I notice my giggle sounds high pitched and tight. I’m nervous.
I am not sure exactly what to expect from this little outing. Granted, I have lived in the capital of its consumerism all my life, driven by them for years, heard about them during conversations I wasn’t supposed to overhear, seen them in movies and on TV. And while most of me is fairly sexually liberated, there are still vestiges of a plaid and pig tailed Catholic girl in me that wants to run to confessional with a rosary in hand, threading it through my fingers as I say ten Hail Marys and an Our Father in contrition. I flip my hair again.
“Shut the fuck up,” I say, cutting him off and sliding out of the car door. I stand beside the car, trying to steady the sharp end of my heel on the gravel and adjust my bra, smooth my hands down my hips, and lick my lips one more time. I’m ready.
When we step onto the red carpet outside the heavy doors that protect the entrance of the club, we are stopped by a bouncer at least three times my size named Spike. I know this because it’s tattooed across the back of his bald head.
This is not a good sign.
He spots me, a tiny, fidgeting thing in five inch heels hiding in the middle of a big group of big men and smiles warmly at me.
“Hey gorgeous,” he says betraying a heavy Jersey accent. “All these guys with you?”
“Yeah,” I say, kinda unsure.
“A bet I don’t intend to lose.” His smile widens.
“My kinda girl.”
My friend steps forward from behind me, talking in low tones and passing the bouncer more money than I can count before he presses it into his hand. With a quick nod, Spike lifts the rope, allowing us to move en masse towards the entrance.
“You’ll have bottle service. But you’re still welcome to go to the bar if you like. The blond at the main bar is Caitlin. She’ll take care of you, gorgeous.” He winks at me and motions for me to follow behind the group that has already moved past me and through the doors.
I’m hanging back still unsure and gnawing on my bottom lip. One of my favorite guys in the world turns around to look back me, a crooked bemused smile playing on his lips.
“Aye, La. Don’t be a good girl all your life.”
I adjust my boobs in my bra again, lick my lips, flip my hair.
The room is mostly dark, save for the lights focused on the stage and a couple of ambient lights scattered throughout the space, just enough to light our path. I hold his hand while he weaves us through the smattering of tables. A pretty waitress with deep chestnut hair steps into our path.
“Hi,” she purrs in my ear. “Let me show you to your section.” She walks us to a cluster of tables to the right of the stage. Before she walks away she grabs my hand and leans in close. She smells like cinnamon.
“I’m Violet by the way.” I lean closer to hear her over the thumping music and I can see why. Her eyes are so deep blue they almost look violet.
“Let me know if you need… anything.” I catch her eyes on my lips and turn my head quickly. “I will be taking care of you guys tonight, but you’re free to head to the bar if you need anything else.” She’s addressing the group but she hasn’t dropped my hand. Her words slide across my bare neck.
I leave the boys at the table and head towards the bar. There are bottles spread across our booth, but I need a minute to myself. I’m am trying mightily to hold my head high and give my best strut across the length of the floor, but I am measuring myself up against a girl in black lace shorts with legs that seem to go all the way up to her ears. Her skin is a pretty shade of toasted auburn. She looks Samoan, maybe. When she throws her head back and laughs at something a customer said that I’m sure wasn’t all that funny, her shiny black hair shimmies all the way down to her ass. I swallow and avert my eyes. I may as well weigh 300 pounds and be wearing a fanny pack. I feel vastly inferior next to the genetic and plastic female perfection in the room. It’s a Benetton ad of flawless, heart stopping women, and I feel barely worth doing their laundry. My last little bit of swagger falters at the sight of the toffee skinned waitress floating across the room, perfect ass peeking out from underneath a pair of hot pink shorts. I hang my head and half run to the bar.
Once I get there, I see a lone blond standing at one end. She’s that all American pretty; curly blond hair the color of blanched wheat, ocean blue eyes, round baby face.
“Are you Caitlin?”
“Yeah,” she replies, her smoky voice a start contrast to the innocence her looks imply. “Are you the chick that came in with all the guys?” I look at her guiltily. “So, lemme guess: it’s your first time, and you’re probably only here because your friends dared you to come cause you’re always bitchin’ about how degrading strip clubs are?”
“You’re good at this.” She laughs at me.
“And you probably need the biggest drink we’ve got.”
“Oh, GOD YES. How did you know?”
“I been doing this a long time.”
She pours me a healthy shot of Patron and makes me a pretty Cosmopolitan.
“Wanna do a body shot?” She asks me.
“A body shot. Off me. With the tequila.” She leans in. She smells like apples. I wonder if these women bathe at the grocery store.
“Maybe some other time,” I mumble and I turn around so hastily I spill some of my drink across my hand. Without thinking, I lick it off my fingers. I look up to find the waitress in the black boy shorts watching me. She smiles at me. I damn near sprint back to our table.
I scoot into the middle of the booth, heavily protected by all the big men that have accompanied me here. We drink, talk and laugh, get a little looser. We watch a couple dances go by. First, a Latina girl who dances to some random rap song with bass so loud it shakes the walls. A white girl with flaming red hair who dances to a 80s power ballad. The Samoan chick in the black lace shorts. After seeing her set I realize that she does, in fact, have a nicer ass than any woman I’ve ever seen with my own eyes. I order another shot.
A few more faceless girls go by, and by now we’re all far past sobriety to varying degrees. The DJ announces to the club that it’s someone birthday. His name spills out over the speakers as his friends holler and clap while the redhead pulls a timid white boy in a blue short-sleeve button down on stage.
“We’ve got something very special for you,” the DJ tells him.
The lights on the stage dim even more, leaving only a single red light concentrated on the scared birthday boy sitting in a chair.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is China.”
The room goes still.
I see her leg first. It’s smooth, flawless, the color of a vanilla latte. She’s shaped like an hourglass, perfectly round hips, thick legs, enough ass to make Jennifer Lopez look prepubescent. Her breasts are perky and perfect, lush and full and seemingly real. She’s wearing a red g string, ridiculously tall matching heels. She has a small, bowed mouth. High cheek bones. Slanted eyes the color of milky, melted chocolate. Thick black hair that hangs to the middle of her back. She sets her sights on the poor birthday boy. Every single eye in the room is on her.
We watch her while she dances for him, fluid, effortless. It’s so sensual the way she moves around him, pouring herself over him as if she were water, feeding off the things that make him especially squirmy.
It isn’t at all what I expected. It’s not dirty or raunchy; she hasn’t done any ‘G String Diva’ tricks with beer bottles or projectile objects. She slithers around the birthday boy, her eyes never leaving his. His mouth is wide open. I don’t think he’s breathing. No one in the audience either. Every single person is dead silent when she slips her straps over her shoulders very slowly, first one, then the other. The room is transfixed. Gone is the playful yelling, the undercurrent of chatter present through the other acts. She’s hypnotized all of us. I squirm in my seat.
After a few more minutes, she leaves birthday boy onstage and it takes him a minute to come to himself. All of us really. We all stutter start back to life, slowly ratcheting up the volume on our collective laughter and chatter. Even the air in the room is charged. I excuse myself to the bathroom.
When I come back I drape myself across his lap.
“You wanna pay up now or are you gone actually go through with this, lil’ mama?” I was hoping we’d get here, get drunk, and this part, the crux of our bet, would be forgotten. I should have known better. If I were smart, I would cut my loses and demure, but I am both prideful and drunk, and I don’t back down from dares.
“Nope. I’m doing it.”
“Okay. You get to pick the girl.”
“No, no you pick her for me,” I say, afraid that who I choose and how I choose will say more about me than I care to admit.
By now, many of the dancers from the last set have come out and are mingling with the patrons. China catches my eye from across the room and smiles. I smile for a second then avert my gaze. I study the table as though it were interesting. The guys are discussing among themselves which girl they’d most like to see me with. It does not escape me that they are all building their own little fantasy in their head about me and whatever girl they’re casting their vote for.
Anyone but her, anyone but her, I’m repeating to myself in my mind.
“Come with me,” he finally says, offering his hand to help me out of the booth. I hesitate.
“Who?” I ask with a sinking feeling.
We walk down a dark hallway and through heavy velvet curtains at the end. All around me there are chairs against the walls with mostly naked women dancing above them, the men below them a rapt audience. He sits me in a plush purple chair near the back.
“Like a hooker taking an AIDS test.”
I realize my heart is running a marathon in my chest. I close my eyes and take a couple deep breaths. I open my eyes and there she is. China. Staring at me. I shiver a little.
She comes towards me slowly, tossing her hair over her shoulder, the movement making her breasts bounce slightly.
“Hey,” she coos mere inches from my lips, “I’m China.”
I mumble something that might kinda be a hello. She stands in front of me, her eyes on my face, winding her hips slowly. With her knees, she opens my own slightly so she can settle herself in my lap. Her ass grinds slow circles while I grip the arms of the chair. At one point she leans back into me, whispering something in my ear and letting her hair fall down over me. It smells like peppermint. She turns deftly on one foot and looks at me curiously, sweeping me over head to toe. I’m suddenly very aware of my skin. She straddles me, once again slipping her bra straps down over tiny shoulders and she frees them from the lace. She leans in even closer and runs her fingers through my hair, bringing her hand to rest on the side of my cheek.
“You have such beautiful skin,” she says in a hoarse whisper, again inches from my face. She bites her lips and she watches me watch her. I know it’s an unspoken rule that she can touch me all she wants but I can’t touch her.
And touch me she does.
She runs her hands down my face again, lightly over the sides of my breasts, down my stomach and hips, coming to rest on my thighs. She moves fluidly, alternating between fast and slow, whispering in my ear, giggling, creating an air of intimacy around us that I know is false but is still strangely intoxicating. She plays with me, teases me, moving back and forth between things that make me slightly uncomfortable and actions that arouse me. She ends the dance with a soft kiss on my collar bone, a lingering look at me. I barely notice my friend pay her before she sways away, only once giving me her eyes over her shoulder. She smiles, I smile. She saunters off. I look over at him. He is absolutely pale.
He takes my hand and we walk down the long corridor back to the main floor of the club.
“So, how do you feel?”
I pause and weigh my words carefully. I could say so much; describe so much of how I’m feeling. But, honestly, I’m still a little speechless.
“I guess I was wrong about what strip clubs are like,” I say.
I flip my hair, adjust my clothes that smell of peppermint and then walk back towards our booth, head held high, shoulders back, a little more swing to my step.