The thought of taking my clothes off in front of strangers seemed like a horrible idea. I imagined the men waiting for me in there, their hands roaming my body, running over my breasts, my hips, my ass.
I hesitated, not sure I should go into Loose Cannons after all.
It didn’t look like a strip club.
But that was probably how they lured you in. They made it look like any other bar or restaurant, innocent and unassuming, so that when you walked in, you wouldn’t feel like you were doing anything wrong.
I swallowed hard and looked down at the paper in my hand, the one I’d printed out that morning. I was clutching it so hard it was wrinkled around the edges, and I smoothed it out against my thigh. My palms were sweaty, and I wiped them off on the denim skirt I was wearing.
“DANCERS WANTED,” the ad said. “EARN UP TO 1,000 DOLLARS A NIGHT, GUARANTEED. NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY. APPLY IN PERSON, LOOSE CANNONS, 1800 NORTH MAIN STREET.”
There were no hours given, which I’d thought was strange. What was I supposed to do? Just show up whenever? I’d called the club that morning to ask, and the girl who’d answered the phone hadn’t been all that friendly. She instructed me to come down whenever I wanted and then she’d hung up on me.
I could have – probably should have -- taken it as a sign not to pursue this crazy idea any further. But I was desperate. And desperation could make a person do crazy things.
I took a deep breath and caught sight of my reflection in the mirrored front door. It was bizarre, the way the front door was a mirror -- it was almost like they wanted you to have to look at yourself, to confront exactly what it was you were about to do.
Are you sure you want to do this? a voice in my whispered. Do you know what they might make you do in there? Take off your clothes. For strange men. You’ve never even kissed a boy, how are you going to do that?
I adjusted the denim skirt I was wearing. It was fringed on the bottom and hit just above the knee. It wasn’t exactly sexy – you could find the same exact skirt in every Old Navy or Gap in the world, and it was completely appropriate for everyday wear.
But it was the only thing I had that showed a little skin. It was one of the only things I had, period. After aging out of foster care and then being kicked out of my group home last week (which, trust me, I wasn’t sad to leave), all my possessions fit into one garbage bag.
The sheer white top I was wearing was a button-up, and I wore a black push-up bra under it, so that the outline of the bra was visible under the shirt. Was that sexy? I wasn’t really sure. But I figured anything that allowed your underwear to show was a step in the right direction.
I flipped my head over and shook out my long blonde hair. It was the one thing I wasn’t self-conscious about. Everything else – my body, my smile, my skin – I could find flaws with. But I liked my hair. As I flipped back over, my eyes locked on my reflection again.
What the hell are you doing, Olivia?
I pushed my hair off my face and took a deep breath.
Just relax, I told myself. You’re twenty years old, stop acting like a baby. This is just a way to make a little money. A temporary way.
But I could hear the voice of Karl, my foster father, whispering in my head. This is where white trash girls like you end up.
I squared my shoulders, and as I did, the sleeve of my shirt slid up and I caught sight of the scars on my wrist. Twisted and red, tangled with a fresh red cut from last night. Last night, when I was missing Declan so bad I couldn’t take it anymore. I’d ended up in the bathroom of the shelter, quietly unwrapping one of the disposable razors they gave you as part of the welcome kit.
I quickly pulled my sleeve down. I needed to hide the scars. At least for now– I knew I couldn’t hide them forever. I couldn’t hide anything forever if I was going to be naked.
Anxiety welled up in my chest and the urge to cut, to take the edge off, welled up with it. My feet took a step away from the door, almost like they wanted to run away. But I forced myself to turn back.
And then I opened the door and walked into the club.
There was no one inside.
Actually, that wasn’t true.
There was a girl behind the bar, drying beer glasses with a cloth.
The girl glanced at me as I walked in, and then immediately ignored me.
I looked around, taking the place in. Long red velvet couches lined the huge, oval shaped room. There was a stage in the center, with an aisle that led out from behind a black and white leopard print curtain. A spotlight moved in a lazy pattern over the shiny black stage.
Even in here, it didn’t look like a strip club. It looked like a really fancy bar, or one of those big tents where they did fashion shows on America’s Next Top Model.