It’s funny how one small decision can change your whole damn life.
Most people hate having to cover a shift for a coworker, but most people don’t work at a place where your chance of getting your ass grabbed is “part of the job.” If it hadn’t been for the fact that I already owed my friend Roxy for covering my last shift I would’ve been home in bed and not working at a strip club from six p.m. to two-in-the-morning on my day off—on a day when I’d have to come back in and work the afternoon on top of everything else. In summary, this blew, but at least I was going to get paid.
At least, that was what I thought.
I slipped in as nonchalantly as I could, trying to avoid the draconian gaze of the manager—a fat, greasy man by the name of Gary. He was the reason Roxy was so desperate for me to “be her” today, since this would be her third strike for missing a shift, and Gary was not the kind of guy who was afraid to fire someone over something so insignificant. He treated running a strip joint like it was some big deal—which I guess made him feel better about where that bachelor’s in business management got him.
I logged into the computerized attendance system using Roxy’s card that I picked up on my way to work—which meant an extra hour on the bus just to get here on time. I learned a while ago not to change into my “uniform” until I got to work—and that the bus was the last place I wanted to look “appetizing.”
“Chrissy!” came a shout from somewhere behind me just as I slipped Roxy’s card through the reader, making me jump and drop it onto the ground. I couldn’t shake the fear that someone knew I wasn’t supposed to be working today and that Gary would be breathing down my neck at any minute. “What’re you doing here?”
I turned, and to my relief saw one of the dancers walking up to me, still in her street clothes. I marveled at how different she would look once she got through with putting her makeup and outfit on for the stage. I envied her in a way, dancing at all would be better that waiting tables, but I wasn’t sure I was the kind of girl who’d ever cut it as a stripper.
I had auditioned for Juilliard, for Chrissakes, and even I didn’t think I’d last a minute on that pole.
“Can you keep a secret, Melody?” I asked, glancing around conspiratorially. “I’m not really here.”
“Right,” she said, eyebrows raised. “I must still be buzzed out of my mind, then.”
“I’m covering for Roxy,” I said, giving her a soft shove on the shoulder. “She can’t make it, and—”
“And Gary will kick her ass if he finds out she isn’t here. Got it.” Melody nodded. “In that case, you’d better get changed and out on the floor before he starts prowling around. He’s on the phone with ‘the Boss,’ and he’s never in a good mood after those calls.”
“Thanks for the heads-up,” I said before heading to the changing room and then out onto the floor.
Out “uniform” was a pair of high-waisted short-shorts with a faux corseted top that did wonders for my cleavage—not that it needed any help. It was trashy, but I could only cling to the small comfort that I wouldn’t have to take it off in order to earn my keep. I might love to dance, but doing it naked was probably not something I’d ever be able to live down.
Once I was dressed and out on the floor, I actually managed to keep my head down—the one good thing about working in a dark dining room was that that it was easy to stay hidden while everyone’s eyes were trained on the naked woman performing acrobatics up on stage. I was starting to think I wouldn’t run into any problems at all, until another waitress grabbed my arm.
“Hey, I need another girl to help me serve the V.I.P. room,” she said, already tugging me in that direction.
I hated working in the V.I.P. room, mostly because of all the handsy people who thought that the darkness gave them the right to get a handful of whatever body part they fancied. Even with the bouncers watching, they still managed to sneak a pinch here or a grope there, and I was not in the mood for anything like that—especially when I wasn’t even supposed to be there.
Luckily for me, the lights were on when we got there, and whoever had booked the room hadn’t arrived yet—which meant if I was lucky, I’d be able to get the hell out of there after the other waitress and I set up the platter management had arranged for whatever rube had paid good money to have a woman rub themselves all over their junk with their clothes still on.
“This seems a little pricey for someone’s bachelor party,” I said, noting the rather expensive bottle of champagne—the kind my dad used to drink whenever he had “guests” over. The sight of it brought back bittersweet memories of my childhood—ones I wasn’t entirely comfortable thinking about while two dancers got their poles ready for their performance for the VIPs.
“It’s not a bachelor party tonight,” the other waitress said. “Gary told us this was some big meeting for a friend of the owner.”
“The mysterious owner, huh?” I said, rolling my eyes. It was no secret that whoever actually owned Earthly Delights didn’t want their name attached to it. Gossip being what it was, there were rumors about who it might be, and that maybe the place was actually owned by someone famous—or someone infamous.
I couldn’t have given less of a damn, honestly, so long as I got my check at the end of the week.
“I’m convinced whoever does own this shithole is just some douchebag in a polo shirt who thought owning a strip joint would be a good investment,” I snorted. “Wonder how he feels about his investment now. This place is dead more often than not.”
“Well, I think—” one of the dancers was about to chime in before we heard the sound of the VIP room door opening.
“They’re here,” Gary called out. “Make sure he’s got everything that was on the list. I don’t need Mr. Santorini seeing this place at anything but its best.”
I felt the blood in my veins run cold at the sound of that name—a name I’d known since I was a little girl. Mr. Santorini. Tony Santorini—or as I’d known him for most of my life, Uncle Tony.
My heart raced and my brain went into full-on panic mode. One of the girls flicked the lights off, the ethereal blue under-lighting kicking on, casting everything in an oddly spectral hue.
“I need to get out of here,” I whispered to the other waitress, grabbing her arm. “I can’t be in here right now.”
“Oh, come on, Chrissy! I need the help!” she pleaded. “I need someone to watch my back to that those fucking creeps don’t try to cop a feel.”
“I know, and I’ll find someone to take my place, I just… I know the VIP, but he doesn’t know that I work here. And if he finds out, then it’s only a matter of time before my dad…”
“Just go,” she sighed, shaking her head. “But I want someone in here to replace you as soon as possible.”
“I owe you my life,” I said, pulling her into a quick hug before I slipped out of the VIP room through the kitchen access door, back out onto the dining room, and hoped like hell I could recount tonight’s events as a close call rather than a full-on disaster.
Had I known how things would go down, I wouldn’t have wasted time looking for some poor girl to take my place in the VIP room. I would’ve gotten myself and everyone else out of there.
But I didn’t know. And not knowing cost me so much that night.
Funny how one small decision can change your whole damn life.