I sat back in the booth and carefully sipped my new drink. It was much stronger than the other one. Bartender probably poured me a triple. I didn’t drink all that often and tonight I think I drank more than I had all year. But I did feel relaxed…despite everything that had been going on. Despite the comments and my parents and Creepy Clown Lady telling me people would be coming to take me away…
OK, I probably shouldn’t have thought of that last one. Suddenly her face was all I saw. I shut my eyes hard, hoping to will it away, hoping her disembodied, foreign voice wouldn’t infiltrate my senses and barge into a place I had protected. I was at a strip club with Dex. That alone was enough for me to focus on.
When I opened my eyes again I was shocked to see a woman standing in front of me. But it wasn’t Creepy Clown Lady – far from it. It was Marla, the redhaired ravisher. She was clothed again, this time in tight club gear. She smiled at me with perfect teeth, which had me calculating how much they would have cost and how much she made a night.
I stared at her teeth for so long that she stepped forward and put her hand on the table, leaning forward.
“So, how about this?” she purred, her voice somewhere between cat and lion.
“Uhhh,” I stuttered, not sure what she meant.
“It’s your call. Want to do it here?”
“Your boyfriend bought me, silly. For you.”
I looked over her shoulder and saw Dex slowly making his way over, another drink in his hand. He stopped a yard away, leaned against the wall and just watched us. It was…weird. Unnerving. Perverted.
I gave the girl, Marla, an innocent look. “I don’t think he meant to buy you…least not for me.”
She chuckled, rich and throaty. “It’s just a lap dance, sweetie.”
She grabbed my arms and pulled me out so I was sitting at the edge of the booth. And she started moving, slowly, up and down like a silk–skinned snake. Ironically it was to a song called “Stripsearch.”
I wanted to laugh. Badly. But I kept it in and watched it all unfold. After all, I didn’t have to do anything. I just had to sit and watch.
Marla had some smooth moves (and smooth skin) with some intense eye contact action. It was enough that I had to look away half the time, especially when her clothes started coming off. Was that even part of the lap dance? Or did the rules not count because I was a girl?
I brought my eyes over to Dex, who still stood behind Marla, watching the whole thing go down with a strange look on his face. It was conflicted. Maybe he wasn’t sure what he should be staring at. His quivering nervous partner or the quivering naked Marla with the excellent taste in music?
He took a few steps forward and finally met my own eyes. He was chewing away on his lip, ignoring the underwear that she just discarded on the floor, ignoring the fact that she was stroking my knees and bending over in front of him.
I don’t think I ever felt so awkward in my life. Keeping my attention on Dex instead of Marla was only helping marginally. Both felt off.
There’s something wrong with him.
The thought flashed through my brain, distracting me from Marla’s buoyant bosom that was waving in my face. She noticed this look. She reached for my head and slipped her hands into my hair. She brought her lips up to mine and I thought she was going to kiss me. All I could think about was how her red lipstick was going to make a mess of my face.
But she just whispered, “Relax. This is really all for him. He wants to see you loosen up. Enjoy it.” She pulled away and winked at me.
She danced for a few beats more to the driving guitar at the end of the tune. And then the song was over. She picked up a robe that had come from out of nowhere and walked past Dex without any acknowledgement. He followed her walk with his leering eyes. Then came back to the booth and plopped down in his seat.
I stared at him, not amused. I know Dex was just being like any other guy, getting off on the idea of two chicks getting it on, or something close to that. But there was something off about him tonight. When I thought there was something wrong with him, there was a reason. He was being strange; I could see it in his eyes when he didn’t know I was looking. I wondered if it had anything to do with the phone call from earlier.
Then another thought flashed through my head. One that made me perk up a bit and then feel guilty for doing so. What if Jenn broke up with him? Or visa versa? What if Dex was a single man now? I mean, the strip club is usually the first place they go after a breakup…
“What?” he asked lazily.
“Nothing,” I said. I pulled out my phone and looked at the time. It was getting late and we did have a ferry to catch in the morning. I could do well on little sleep, but not when combined with a hangover.
“You want to go?”
I nodded. “I had fun though.” I didn’t want him to think I was ungrateful. It was my own idea that we hang out outside of work…although I didn’t in a million years expect that we’d go to a hockey game and a strip club in another country. “Obviously you had more fun than me. Though you weren’t in the bathroom all that long.”
I expected him to laugh at that or protest. He was watching me closely instead. I took my sight off him and watched the stripper on the stage. I didn’t want him to read me anymore. It didn’t seem fair.
“I hope you remember what I’ve said,” he said earnestly. He finished the rest of his drink in a few gulps, got out of his seat and walked around to my end. He held out his hand for me.
“Everytime I think of strip clubs, I will think of you,” I joked, taking his hand and letting him pull me up.
He pulled me up so I was right up into his chest. I was expecting him to take a step back but he didn’t. I could feel the bottom of his scruffy chin grazing the top of my head. He put his hands on my shoulders and pushed me back just enough to get a better look at me.
“I hope next time you feel – well, retarded – about yourself, you’ll remember that I think you’re…”
I looked up into his eyes. They were drunk, yes, but still absolutely mesmerizing.
He didn’t finish his sentence. Instead he said, “Sorry I licked your face.”
He turned and started to make his way out of the club. I followed in a hurry, feeling the eyes of the patrons and waitresses staring at me. We must have seemed like quite an odd pair.
We went back to the hotel but I didn’t fall asleep for at least two hours. My mind kept going over the events of the night. Creepy Clown Lady was a definite cause for alarm (or panic, or madness) but it was Dex’s words that kept resonating throughout, digging deeper at my heart and causing it to flutter with random palpitations. Did he really mean what he said? And if he did…what were we doing? I didn’t want him to go back to his hotel room, I wanted him in this big empty bed, beside me. I wanted to put more dirty and obscene thoughts in his head. I wanted to feel that he wanted me, not to just hear it.
Did I see a glimpse of the real Dex tonight? Or was that someone else, just a mask to cover up what was really going on, what he really wanted to hide.
I didn’t even think about checking my phone once.
“Oh, by the way, if Jimmy asks about those porn charges, just say it was you,” Dex said with a sly grin while sticking a cigarette in his mouth.
I shook my head, not willing to go to bat for him over that and not at all surprised that he had racked up quite the adult movie bill after last night.
It was 10 a.m. and we were on the upper deck of the ferry that was taking us from the mainland to Vancouver Island, where we had to pick up the boat.
The morning had started out in a perpetual raincloud. I eventually fell asleep last night and woke up to a wake–up call and the overall fuzziness of “what the hell did I do last night?” Of course, I didn’t do much of anything. It was more of what I saw and that all came flooding back to me in a haze of stale Jack Daniels and Coke. I think I saw enough boobs to last me a lifetime.
We got in his car and headed south out of the raincloud. As soon as we reached the farmlands that led to the ferry terminal, the clouds broke open and a fairy tale ray of sunshine flowed down from above and enveloped the ocean. I took it as a good omen.
We had gone straight up to the upper deck of the nearly–empty boat because he wanted to have a cigarette. At least I thought it was just one. He leaned against the railing, looking down at the waves that flowed past the ferry in a foam–filled rage and lit up one cigarette after the other.
The wind cleared the cobwebs from my face and messed the hair off of his head. He was only wearing a black hoodie with his camouflage pants below, but he didn’t seem the slightest bit cold even though the breeze was a lot sharper than I had expected. Actually, I was borderline freezing and knew my nose was an acute shade of red.
But I stayed up there with him, soaking in the ocean air and enjoying the glaring sunshine and his quiet company. Dex did seem a little more pensive than usual but that was coupled with bags under his eyes and an ashy complexion. I kept it to myself, but it was obvious he hadn’t slept all that much. Perhaps the stripper giving me a lap dance was a powerful stimulant. At least, I kind of hoped it was. Still, there was something off about him last night too.
“How’s your new medication doing?” I asked. I was probably overstepping my boundaries but I was curious.
He didn’t bite. He just shrugged. “It works.”
He took a long drag of his cigarette, the ashes flying off into the wind and flowing down the length of the ferry deck. His hands were shaking slightly.
“I didn’t see you smoke a single cigarette yesterday,” I said, eyeing his trembling fingers.
He shrugged, again. “It comes and goes.”
I wanted to say that constantly eating Nicorette like it was candy wasn’t helping his quitting case but who was he kidding? He wasn’t trying to quit; this was just what he did. Sometimes there really was no reason – it was a hard concept for me to accept.
Maybe he knew what I was thinking because his eyes darted over to me. “What now?”
“Nothing,” I said quickly and turned my attention to the sharp mountains of Vancouver Island that rose in the incoming distance. “At least the day is turning out nice.”
“Are you worried about me?” he asked, his voice noncommittal. It caught me a bit off guard, enough so that I had to look at him.
The line between his brows deepened, from thought and from the glare. We both were without sunglasses. It was one of those things you forgot about needing in the Pacific Northwest. He didn’t seem angry or upset, or even really curious. I had to think about whether I wanted to tell the truth or not. The truth was so…iffy.
“Well,” I said, drawing it out. “I think I always worry about you. And I think you know that by now.”
“No, I mean, are you worried about being with me,” he said, straightening up and flicking the cigarette overboard, even though there was a cigarette disposal unit behind us. “On this island. Alone. With me.”
“Why would that worry me? Also, it’s a park, there will be people there.” I wasn’t sure what he was getting at.