“I’m sorry,” I said feebly. “I’m just worried about you.”
He shrugged. “It’s fine.
“Was it Jenn? Is she OK?”
I could tell he didn’t want to talk about it. And after all, why should he discuss personal problems with me? I didn’t discuss personal things with him.
“Now, are you OK?” he asked, taking a step closer.
I quickly nodded. If that’s how he was going to be, I didn’t have to share my fears either. My fears that I might be going insane.
“Then we’re all good,” he stated. “Do you want to come with me to a strip club?”
“Come on.” He took my arm and led me towards the doors just as the buzzer from inside went off, signaling the end of the game. “Game’s done. The rest of the night awaits.”
* * *
It probably won’t come as much of a surprise to you but I had never been in a strip club before. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, yet it still met my expectations. I’ve never blushed so hard before in my life.
After we left the hockey arena, beating the throngs of excited and drunk fans by milliseconds, we walked quickly through the brisk night air until we got to a strip club/hotel past our hotel, just at the foot of the Granville St. Bridge.
It was apparent that Dex had been here many times before. It wasn’t like the barely–dressed waitresses knew him by name or anything, but he knew his way around the place all right. For a minute I was certain he was going to make us sit at the foot of the stage where the bare–breasted strippers danced but I think he could tell I was feeling as awkward as anything and led me to a dark, small booth in the corner. We still had a nice view of the stage anyway. Well, nice for him.
“Look at it this way,” he said to me as the waitress gave us our drinks (he ordered us both Jack and Coke, big surprise). “You pay cover going into any other bar nowadays. Might as well get a show with it as well.”
He raised his glass at me. I held up mine.
“Even though these drinks are probably $10 each?” I mused.
“Oh, it’s worth it.” And then we clinked glasses.
I looked around us warily. The place was half full. The creepier guys were as close to the dancers as possible, as were your usual Ed Hardy–wearing douchebags. On the stage the last stripper was just stepping off and another one was coming on. She was dressed in a flurry of sequins and sheer clothing. Having just seen the previous girl exit bare–ass naked, I knew it wouldn’t be long before this one would be as well. She was tall, beautifully crafted (by God and her plastic surgeon) and had a thick wave of ravishingly red hair.
“I guess we’ll find out soon if the carpet matches the drapes,” I said underneath my breath.
“Ha,” he remarked, leaning back in his seat. “There’s not a carpet in this place. All hardwood.”
The music came on and the stripper started her artful grinding.
“Marla always has the best moves here, doesn’t she?” he said, his eyes enraptured with her, as if I’d know. I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy at the way he was looking at her.
“You know her name?”
“You always remember the best ones. That’s not saying much,” he said. I never really took Dex for a stripper sort of guy. In fact, I never really thought of Dex as much of a guy in many respects. But why not? He played video games. He liked rock music. He probably watched a lot of porn as well. And like most guys, it didn’t seem to matter that his own girlfriend was a million times hotter than any of these girls.
I remember finding out my boyfriend in college, Mason, had a nasty porn habit. It wasn’t even that nasty; I was just so shocked. Why did he need porn when he had me? Looking back, I don’t blame him one bit for it. Maybe it’s because now that I was older, I kind of understood. And maybe it would have disappointed the old me to learn that Dex was a frequent customer of strip clubs, but now it didn’t at all. If it hadn’t made me feel deathly insecure about my own appearance, it would have been a turn on. Not that I needed another reason to find my partner attractive.
He shot me a sly look, and asked, “Is this making you uncomfortable?”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
“You think less of me now.”
I laughed at the mock hurt look on his face. “If anything I think more of you.”
He smiled and reached over for my glass, lifting it up to my face for me to drink. “Good,” he said. “You’re learning.”
I raised my brow but slurped back on the drink. I didn’t need all that much encouragement, though my tiny voice of reason piped up that getting drunk around Dex, at a strip club, was not the best idea. It was only a matter of time before my insecurities starting spilling out of me, leaving me as exposed as Marla, who, at this point, had no hair down there to verify that she was a redhead. Dex was right. All hardwood.
“You need to relax a bit, kiddo,” he said. “Enjoy it. Enjoy the naked ladies and the pervy weirdos and the free booze.”
“I’m sitting with a pervy weirdo.”
“So you should be used to it. And you know what? I need to relax too. This place helps. You just feel things. No need for thoughts here.”
“Except perverted thoughts.”
“That’s not really thinking. That’s instinct.”
He waved over the waitress, this time a different one dressed in a simple black dress. Her hair was cut short, which showed off her cute, minxy face and pouty lips.
“Two more Jack and Coke doubles, sweetheart,” he said to her. He was sleazy about it, which would have bothered me, but I detected that level of amusement that always sat beneath Dex’s surface. In the end, everything was still a bit of a joke.
The waitress eyed me up and down. I had already taken off the Canucks jersey and was just wearing my black top from underneath. “This your girlfriend? She’s cute.”
I fidgeted while Dex said, “She is cute, isn’t she.”
I blushed at what Dex said (and at the fact that he didn’t correct her – it’s the little things). She eyed me again and came in closer to me, smelling like overtly flowery body lotion. “Honey, with your eyes and those breasts, you should be up there too.” And like that, she left, leaving Dex and I saddled with that comment.
My cheeks grew hot, hotter than they had been all night, and I gave Dex an incredulous look.
“Guess it doesn’t matter what sex you are,” I squeaked.
“Don’t be so modest,” he said, turning his attention back to the next dancer, a black girl with a butt that rivaled mine. Maybe I could be a stripper…if I lost a million pounds and wore 10–inch heels.
“I’m not modest…” I trailed off. I really didn’t need to get into it. Once again the booze was just begging for me to open up like a book.
“You know, kiddo…you’re way better than any of these women,” he said seriously, his eyes still on the stage. “You just need some confidence.”
That I knew. And I was getting better. But confidence didn’t come out of nowhere.
“You’ve got a beautiful face,” he continued, his voice a register lower. The roughness of it made the hairs on my arms stand up. “Gorgeous eyes. I mean I’ve rarely seen eyes like yours. Fuck. It’s like looking out at the ocean, trying to read it as the weather’s changing. Perfect lips. The most adorable freckles and the tiniest little nose. You’re like a sexy…bunny.”
I was so confused. Dex was laying on the compliments like I’ve never heard him do before, all the while watching a naked chick gyrate on a pole. The absurdity levels were overflowing tonight.
I didn’t know what to say…did he just say I was gorgeous? Did he just compare me to a rabbit? But he ended up turning his face to meet mine, looking surprised at my dumb expression.
“Speechless? That’s a start.”
At that, the waitress came by and plunked our drinks down. Dex slipped her $25 bucks with a wink. In turn, she winked at me and sauntered off.
“Has no one ever complimented you before?” he asked honestly, once she had left. He pushed my drink into my hands even though I wasn’t done with the other one.
I shook my head. I mean, I’ve heard I was cute. And I knew I wasn’t as bad as my ego wanted me to believe. When I called myself fat, I knew I wasn’t actually fat anymore (though I definitely was back in the day), I just knew I was miles from perfect. And if I wasn’t perfect, like Jenn, like these girls stripping, like the women on TV, then what was the point? I might as well give up.
He was watching me closely. I focused my eyes on his.
“Can you see the ocean now?” I challenged.
The corner of his mouth twitched. “You don’t believe me. But you want to. You still think you’re fat. Or something. You think those fucktards on the internet are on to something.”
That actually is what I was about to think next. His insightfulness was crazy. Was I really that easy to read?
“I really hate you sometimes,” I blurted out.
He shrugged. “I don’t blame you. I hate myself too sometimes. Often. Look, I brought my partner to a strip club while on assignment, and not a very good strip club at that. We might as well be at Hooters. I guess I am just a pervert with rapist facial hair.”
“Well, you’re my kind of pervert,” I said. And then immediately regretted it. You’re my kind of pervert? What the hell was that? So, I covered it up with, “And I probably don’t need this drink.”
“Yeah you do. So do I.” He downed his drink and moved on to the next one. He stared down at the fizzy bubbles for a beat, taking in a deep breath.
“Honestly kiddo? You’re beautiful. You use your weight as an excuse but you’re just all woman. Not every woman has to look like a stripper. Or a model. Or Megan Fox. You’re petite, have a tiny waist, a fantastic rack, a devastating ass…what the hell more do you want? You should know it. Everyone else knows it…that’s why you’re getting all these asinine comments. Can’t you just see that it’s just jealously that’s ripping these people apart?”
I swallowed hard, my cheeks still burning, my heart pounding hard against my ribcage. I felt tingly, dizzy, awkward. The man I loved just told me how beautiful I was. I could barely explain it. How could he just say these things to me? Didn’t he know?
“And now I’ve embarrassed you. Which was my plan.”
I eyed him suspiciously. “So you didn’t mean any of that?”
He grinned at me. His eyes looked a bit sloppy. He was feeling the bourbon as well.
“I’ll be right back,” he said, slapping the table with his palm and heading off towards what I assumed were the bathrooms. Probably to jerk off. Though at this point, I wasn’t exactly sure who he would be jerking off about. I could pretty much guarantee it wasn’t Jenn for once. I’d be lying if I didn’t have a sick, twisted little thrill about that. That was fantasy fodder for later.