WARNING: This chapter contains nudity and strong language.
The music pounds in my head and from all the surrounding speakers lining the walls. Men of all different shapes, sizes, and ages gawk at me like I’m a trophy worth fighting over.
I feel much worse than a trophy. I feel like a cheap whore. I guess that’s to be expected if you’re making your living as a stripper. But there’s literally nothing else I can do right now. I was in school, but I dropped out after the accident.
Except I’m convinced that it was no accident. It’s too coincidental, too well-timed, and too painful to be anything else.
But I don’t have time to think about that now. Right now, I have to concentrate on not falling on my ass in front of these perverts ogling me like a slab of beef, and making sure not to trip over the ridiculous giant cherry on the stage that some dumbass thought was a good idea to add extra sex appeal if one of the dancers started grinding it.
I swear to God, if these damn stickers fall off my boobs, I’m going to lose more than my dignity. I can’t believe I’ve stooped this low; that I’m following in my mother’s footsteps.
She was a stripper too, until she resorted to drinking to help ease the guilt and pain. She turned into a raging alcoholic and Ebony and I were at our wits’ end trying to hide her stash somewhere besides where she’d already hidden it.
Ebony. Just the thought of my dead sister makes me nearly lose my balance, which would cause me to plummet face-first into the crotch of some college kid who’s rubbing his genital area like it will turn me on. Either that or he’s turned on and enjoying it. Ugh.
“Shake it baby!” someone yells in the background. I shake it all right, but not because I want to – because I need the tip money that’s being thrown at me. I slide down the pole seductively, which causes wolf whistles to ensue.
The one thing I hate more than this job is the name of the strip club that is my employer – The Poppin’ Cherry. Seriously? As if any person in here has a cherry ripe for the taking. Yes, I’m among that group of people, but I don’t just give it away like some of these girls do. Hell, my last roommate worked here too, but she was battling anorexia and bulimia – just when I thought she’d beaten one, another battle surfaced. Plus, in this business, looks are everything. I finally had to move out, because I wasn’t going to kick her sorry ass to the curb. I should have thought that through more considering the predicament I’m in now.
Finally, the music stops. I brush off the advances of some guy at least in his forties begging for a lap dance. It’s almost time for my shift to end and I can go back to my crappy apartment here in Hillridge. Or, as I call it, Hellridge.
Back in the dim dressing room behind the stage, I splash water on my face to get the caked on makeup off of me, then throw my clothes back on. I take my hair out of the stupid pigtails (when I started the dance, I was to be dressed as a sexy cowgirl) and run a brush through it. Finally, I look presentable.
I must admit that the face I see looking back at me is pretty, even void of makeup. In this town, that could be a dangerous thing. But, unbeknownst to any potential predators, I literally have the power to thwart them off.
I’m hoping that with that power, I’ll be able to bring my sister back to me. Ebony and I were always very close, and we rarely had sibling rivalry (though when it did transpire, it wasn’t pretty).
As I climb into my car, avoiding more catcalls on the way, I reminisce about Ebony’s death.
It happened two years ago. Ebony had just turned twenty-one years old. She was celebrating like any normal person at that age would. I was her older sister. It was my duty to protect her. God forbid our parents do that – by that time, our mother’s drinking habit was so out of control that she’d been enrolled in AA. Ebony was better than me when it came to visiting her. I don’t believe that alcoholism is a disease. A disease implies that something can’t be cured or fixed. Alcoholics can stop drinking at any time if they just put their mind to it. And that doesn’t require magic.
Our father, during this time, decided to explore his “other” side. He ended up divorcing Mom and moving in with his boyfriend. Yeah, my mother turned my father gay. Quite the life I had.
In the end, the house had somehow caught fire when Ebony was celebrating with some friends. They’d already gotten kicked out of the bar, and being the good big sister that I was supposed to be, I’d volunteered to be that evening’s designated driver. I drove her home, but I had to return to campus for classes the next day.
The fire began abruptly and investigators determined that the cause of the fire was accidental, ignited by burning candles left unattended due to my sister being incapacitated and inebriated. She died before she even knew she was burning.
That’s when I left Cedar Grove. I was a coward, ashamed of how I’d let my sister down. I had nothing left to tie me to Cedar Grove. I wanted to start a new life in Hillridge, but right now, it doesn’t look promising.
I park my car in the apartment complex’s garage and clamber into the shaky elevator. The motion reminds me of how badly I was shaking upon hearing the news that night. Had I not possessed such self-control, another fire would have ignited due to the wrath I’d felt. Sometimes my magic consumes me when my emotions run high. I’ve become more cautious with that, but my sister was like my best friend. I’d do anything to bring her back.
Finally, the elevator stops on my floor. I climb out of it and fumble in my pocket for my key. Withdrawing it and inserting it into the lock, I glance around, hoping not to run into the landlord’s creepy son, Abel.
Abel’s had a very conspicuous crush on me since I first moved in. This apartment building belongs to his father, but he’s about as technologically savvy and handy with a wrench as a chimp. Actually, I think a chimp could do better. As a result, Abel is always the one to come to a tenant’s rescue if something breaks down. Which, in this building, is very often. And to my dismay, I learned early on to use magic to fix broken things rather than rely on Abel and his advances. I want to live as normally as I can, but in that regard, I much prefer to use magic.
I collapse onto my couch, exhausted. My feet are killing me from the Stilettos I’m forced to wear, and no amount of magic can make that go away. Nor can it get rid of any cellulite I may ingest. And of course, I can’t magically conjure money, either. Just my luck. If I could do that, I’d never have to work. Then I'd have more time to focus on bringing Ebony back, and other important things.
As I curl up into a ball and close my eyes, I know I should get off my ass and go take a bath. I’m hot, sore, and smell like beer and smoke. I just want to wash the entire memory of even agreeing to take that job, not to mention renting this shitty apartment (even though it’s the only one I can afford), out of my head.
Unfortunately, just as I start to get up, there’s a knock at the door. I groan, not caring if the person on the other side hears me. I don’t feel like socializing.
But alas, I saunter over to the door and pull it open...
...immediately wishing I hadn’t. Staring at me with an unconcealed look of lust is Abel, the landlord’s son. I am definitely not in the mood for this.
This is going to be a long night...