Truth Be Told

By: Holly Ryan

“There,” she says. She offers the razor back to me.

Instead of taking it, I say, “You can put it in my bag.”

“What would I do without you. Oh–” She stops, removing something from my purse’s depths.

I freeze.

“Ohh my. What is this, Stella?”

It’s a condom. She flicks it between her fingers.

“Hey.” I reach and miss and end up grasping at air. “What the hell do you think it is?”

“I know what it is. Why do you have this, missy? You know what Mama May said last week. This isn’t a special services club, and we’re not even supposed to have this kind of thing.”

The condom isn’t for me. Really, it’s not. My love life is lackluster, to say the least. And yeah, Mama May doesn’t want us to bring any of our own “sexual paraphernalia,” as she calls it, because according to her, if we’re not doing anything illegal, we shouldn’t need it. Which is pretty ridiculous if you ask me, because what if we want to do something perfectly legal after our shift? Not that that’s something I anticipate. The quality of men here is, as I said before, sorely lacking.

I grab it from her, laughing. “Since when are you one to be so into rules?” Maybe the switchblade wouldn’t go over so well with her, after all. “It’s for Simone. She asked me to bring her one. God knows I don’t use any condoms these days, so I had some laying around.”

Lorelei slams her locker and gives me a sideward glance. “I thought Simone was trying to conceive.”

I slam my locker, too. “Nope. I guess not. How do I look?” I do a little twist.

“Smokin’. Come on.”

By the time we start, the club is packed. It’s going to be a long night. I prepare to replace a dancer named Tracy as the end of her shift approaches, and she comes down off the pole out of breath and sweating, but only after gathering up her fair share of tips off the platform floor. Most of the men around her don’t want her to leave, but a few seem to change their minds when they see me approach. They’re looking at me like I’m the next piece of meat to be evaluated on the auction block. I divert my gaze, refusing to make eye contact. Tips be damned.

A flash of lights set to the beat of the music draws my attention. Lorelei is already working a stage opposite me. She’s past a large divider in the main room, and I have to strain to see her. I can only catch streaks of her hair being tossed and glimpses of her legs over the top of the divider as she twists and twirls her money out of her viewer’s pockets. She’s giving them what they want. They won’t be left impatient, that’s for sure.

“Come on, girl,” a man taunts, shaking a wad of cash up and down from his seat.

Tracy has since disappeared, and I’m up. The men are waiting for me, almost-empty drinks in hand. I take the stage, taking extra care with my tall heels to not fall flat on my face on the way – it’s always been a fear of mine, although I’m lucky that as of today it hasn’t yet happened – and swing myself around the pole in one swift motion, sticking that very heel into the air. This pleases my small crowd, and the man who’d been calling to me now starts to fork over some of that cash as I continue to dance. He thumbs through the bills, the motions more for show than anything else. He’s drunk. I can see it in his eyes and the way his movements are just a little slowed. Of course, that should be a given. They all get drunk here. That’s what this place is for. It’s what I’m for. For a bunch of lonely, single (hopefully) guys to come and watch me wrap my half-naked body around a pole for a couple of minutes. I want to puke.

But I won’t. I don’t want them to notice my slight tinge of nausea, so I try to mask it with a smile.

I can be prone to nausea at the most inconvenient times. Ever since I was a kid, my mom used to complain about having to rush me out of the store, forfeiting her huge pile of groceries, holding my little body straight out in front of her in an attempt to avoid getting puke on her just-dry-cleaned cashmere sweater. For a while she thought it had to be some kind of medical condition, but it never amounted to anything except annoyance and inconvenience. And now is certainly one of those times of inconvenience.

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