“Show those titties!” some drunken shithead yells from the crowd.
I can’t tell who said it in the dim, crowded atmosphere. Honestly, I don’t really care to know. As long as the customers behave, there is no reason for me to get up close and personal with my fists.
Looking around After Midnight, I see the club is packed. Drinks are being served, clothes are coming off, and tips are being dropped. Business is good. When business is good, the club’s payouts are good.
Fuck the phrase “happy wife, happy life.” It is all about “wallet happy, dick happy, then Hammer’s happy.”
Taking in the girls working the floor, flirting with customers to entice them into lap dances, I notice one of the vibrant, purple neon lights over a corner table is out.
I turn at the waist, catching Big Jim’s attention from where he stands back at the bar, and point to the problem. Seeing what the issue is, he immediately heads off to get a new bulb.
The man understands the importance of fixing shit right away. We can’t have any dark corners where a customer could take advantage of one of our girls. And since the club is designed and decorated to ooze sex appeal, it means the aesthetics are not always practical for safety measures, which is okay as long as the brothers who work as security stay vigilant.
The strip club’s walls are a soft gray, the flooring a sinful black, and the only bright lighting in the whole place is on the main stage with a few smaller ones above the bar. The rest of the lighting throughout the club are blue and purple neon lights, which allows us to adequately watch for problems.
Although the Regulators MC has done a damn good job of letting everyone know we won’t put up with any bullshit from our patrons, there is always some jackass who tries to test our boundaries. It is best to nip those little problems in the bud before they become big problems.
Not to mention, replacing a neon light is a hell of a lot easier than getting rid of bloody clothes or burying a jackass who harasses one of the strippers. Make no mistake; I will end anybody who tries to hurt one of our girls.
Women come to work here because they want the protection we provide that seedier clubs do not. They all know that one of the reasons After Midnight is considered a premiere gentleman’s club in this state—hell, even the East Coast—is due to the security. Money and manpower aside, that doesn’t mean a few angry, entitled idiots with mommy issues don’t slip in every once in a while, trying to get more from our hardworking girls. Hence, the need to burn bloody clothes once in a blue moon.
A voice rings out above the noise of the crowd, asking the woman on stage if her carpet matches her curtains. I don’t bother to stop the laugh that escapes when she yells back that it would if she didn’t have hardwood floors before giving the big spender a wink.
I shake my head as the inebriated catcalls continue.
“Hey, man, shake your head all you want. It’s better than the marriage proposals I get while doing my routine at Alibi,” my younger brother Evan says as he walks toward me.
Glancing at him out of the corner of my eye, I’m reminded that life is not exactly how I expected it to be. Then again, the dreams of adolescence rarely do turn into the realities of our future.
“You know you don’t have to strip, man.”
“You gave me a place to stay. You gave me another chance. You didn’t need me behind the bar as much as I don’t need to be back there. What you did need was another headliner, and I needed to replace one high with another,” he replies honestly.
“Evan, it’s been three years. You’re solid. You’ve got your own place, and you’re clean. Anytime you wanna quit, you can.”
My baby brother, the headlining stripper at a women’s entertainment club. Oh, Dad would be so proud, wouldn’t he? I think sarcastically. Then again, it’s better than being the addict he was.
The whole situation is still fucked to this day. If I hadn’t left, Evan wouldn’t have gotten into his mess in the first place. Then again, if I hadn’t joined the Army, Mom would have lost everything.
My dad died in a training accident when his parachute failed during his jump master requalification. It was supposed to be cut and dry: show up, qualify, train, jump, and go home. Only, he didn’t make it home.
College became another loss. I had a football scholarship waiting. However, after watching my mother struggle, I couldn’t follow through with it. I gave my dad my word, and my father had instilled into my brother and me that our word was our bond. People in this world did not respect you for making promises, but for keeping them. My word was solid.
At the time of Dad’s death, we lived on base. However, when you are no longer the dependents of an active duty soldier, you have to relocate. We had time, but Mom wasn’t comfortable with the everyday reminders of what we had. Her soldier was never coming home again. Sure, there was life insurance money from the government, but that only went so far after relocation and paying off old debts.
With Dad’s job, Mom easily financed two car loans, a boat payment, and furniture on credit. Then she was left with all of that, rent, and two teen boys with no family to help her and no job. Eventually, she sold some of the items we didn’t need, like the boat, but it was hard to let go. For us, she wanted to hold on to everything that was a tangible reminder of the memories made with my dad. Only, as the bills piled up and with the survivors benefits only going so far, some things had to go, and the boat and an extra car were the first of many.
My graduation day came at a new school off the military base. I walked, got my diploma, and then went home to stew in thoughts of my dad not seeing me walk across the stage and how my mom was struggling.
Our family wasn’t prepared to lose the sole provider. I thought maybe I could move out, crash on a friend’s couch, and get a job to be less of a financial burden to my mom, but that still left her with my brother. At the time, I had no idea how my mother was going to take care of Evan even if I left. I remember seeing her bank account and the bills. Fact were facts; Mom needed help.
“Just remember, son, actions speak louder than words.” My father’s advice played over and over again that night until I knew what I had to do. I only knew of one place that could give me a guaranteed paycheck and a roof over my head. The following morning, I went to the recruiters.
I didn’t think; I reacted. The facts for me then seemed so simple. Mom needed money, and I felt a need to serve, to be close to my father in the only way I saw possible. Since my dad had supported us all by joining the Army, I would, too. Simple enough. Only, it wasn’t so simple when selection came, and the opportunity to be one of the elite presented itself.
I had been forced to let go of my dreams of college and a football scholarship, so there was no way I was going to give up any new opportunities that came my way.
I made the wash. I earned my green beret. I joined my Special Forces team.
I also left my mother to deal with my brother on her own.
I hang my head in shame now, thinking of how that led to Evan’s addiction.
I forgot about Evan. He lost his dad, too, and then his brother left for the Army. In a lot of ways, his mother left, too. She went from a stay-at-home mom to a sole provider overnight. My brother was getting into trouble, yet it wasn’t anything Mom couldn’t handle. Well, that was what I told myself. As long as I kept sending the checks home, they would be okay. Right?
“Stop it, Ethan,” Evan says. “Don’t go there. You’re not responsible for my actions.”
He can say that all day and night, but I can’t help wondering how different things would be if I hadn’t left them behind. How disappointed my father would be if he knew I failed our family when they needed me the most.
“Push through it,” I yell out at the badass, tattooed biker in front of me as he grunts and continues to pull himself up on the bar.
I continue my own chin-ups as the sweat rolls down his face. “Drive over it!”
His workout is almost done. Cool down is just around the corner. Three more reps and I will ease up. Until then, charge on.
“They call you Tank! Show me!”
Boom. Boom. Boom. He pumps out his final reps then drops from the bar as he lets out a war cry of success.
“Damn, Des, I thought physical therapy was torture enough,” Frank ‘Tank’ Oleander states as he wipes his face with a hand towel.
I smile over at him as he begins his stretches for cool down. “PT was for healing. Exercise now is for well-being.”
“My being is well, babe. No need to bust my ass.”
“Nah, I don’t wanna bust your ass. I do remember you calling me Drill Sergeant Bust Your Balls, so I wanna bust your balls, buddy.”
We both laugh at the memory as his ol’ lady comes in, carrying ‘Red,’ their son.
“Don’t bust the jewels too much, Des. I might wanna play with them later, girlie.” She winks at her man, and the beast of a biker immediately smiles at her.
I met Tank when he was a patient at the rehabilitation facility I used to work at. After getting shot six times and pulling out of a coma, his road to recovery was a long process. When he was released to come home, the Hellions Motorcycle Club hired me full-time as his personal physical therapist. Now that he is back to one hundred percent, I work as a personal trainer for all the boys who want it.
Life is good for me here with the Haywood’s Landing charter of the Hellions. I never imagined becoming a personal physical therapist turned trainer for a group of broody bikers. However, life has this way of throwing curve balls at you when you least expect it. Not to mention, the perk that I was now paid more with the Hellions as my only clients than at my last few jobs. As Roundman, the Hellions’ president, bluntly informed me in a meeting, “You have to deal with a bunch of knuckleheads, and I’m afraid you’ll quit if the pay isn’t good enough.”
Snorting at the memory, I can’t help thinking that “knuckleheads” isn’t exactly how I would refer to the rowdy men who work hard and play harder.
After Tank’s session, I have a quick workout with two other club members before going home for the day. With plans to go out, I head straight to the shower to wash off the ick of gym life.
“Let’s go, hooker!” my sister Suzie calls out as soon as I shut the shower off.
“Hold your horses, woman.” Damn, impatient, little thing. Then again, she always has been.
My baby sister is visiting for a week. We don’t see each other often, so having her here means the world to me. I wish she would have told me she was coming, though. Oh, well, count my blessings and don’t question.
She showed up late last night. After sleeping in this morning while I trained with the boys, she is now rip-roaring ready to go out on the town. I, on the other hand, am more than willing to snuggle in my bed with a good book. Baby girl gets what baby girl wants, though, so we are going out.
The joke’s on her. Coastal North Carolina doesn’t have much for a night life. Definitely not what she’s used to in Chicago.
We grew up in the Sandhill region of central North Carolina. I went off to East Carolina University in Greenville where I managed to earn a degree in physical therapy. After passing my state boards and getting licensed, I locked in a job at a rehabilitation facility where I met Tank and the Hellions MC. This all worked to land me where I am today.
Suzie has done well for herself. She got a full scholarship to Duke University. After years of studying and dedication, she achieved her PhD. Then, leaving the small town life of Carolina in the rearview, she took a job with a pharmaceutical company in Chicago.
I couldn’t be prouder of her. Given our parental figures aren’t shining examples or upstanding citizens, we both have overcome tremendous obstacles to be where we are today. Of course, my sister and I could have worked at a grocery store for the rest of our lives and still been better than them. Mom worked at the local diner that paid jack shit because she thought it was “groovy,” and our father was a long-haul trucker because he couldn’t get any other decent paying job due to his record, and both of them couldn’t have cared less about the kids they left home alone.
My sister pops her head around my bedroom door, her dirty blonde hair hanging like a waterfall. “Aren’t you ready yet? I’m itchin’ to go!”
Rolling my eyes at her impatience, I keep one hand on the towel wrapped around my body and use my other hand to grab one of the pillows on my bed to throw at her. She dodges the fluffy missile, continuing to walk into my room with her hands on her hips.
With a big smile, she jokes, “You’re gettin’ ornery in your old age.”
Giving her the stink eye, I look over her outfit. Tonight, she’s wearing a shimmery black, spaghetti strap tank top; tight red pants; and four–inch, shiny, black, snakeskin heels. Total class and sass.
If we weren’t only a year apart in age, I would seriously wonder if she wasn’t joking. Suzie lives her life at a hundred mile per hour pace. One could easily figure that out about my sister after being in her presence for a few minutes. She’s so full of energy that she practically bounces on her toes. Her brown eyes are super expressive, and she usually has a bright, easy going smile on her face. Her wardrobe often matches her no-holds-barred attitude.
I huff and shoo her out of my room so I can dry off and get dressed. I wouldn’t say I’m the opposite of Suzie, but I would say I like to live in the slow lane. I also don’t stand out as much as my brightly shining younger sister. It is okay, though, because I’m good with who I am, inside and out.
Physically, Suzie and I only have two things in common: lush, curvy bodies and our warm, espresso-colored eyes. She is tall to my somewhat short five-foot-four height, and her curves are more hourglass to my pear. The years of running make my bottom half stronger than my top, but daily activities keep me toned throughout.
Unlike my sister, I keep my rich brown, curly hair short in a messy bob. It is easy to style yet still sexy. I also dress a bit more low-key with my own kind of flare. Tonight, I have pulled out my favorite black dress pants and paired them with a white, short-sleeved blouse that has a black lace overlay. Slipping my feet into a pair of black leather peep-toe booties, my outfit is done, and I’m headed back to the bathroom to do my makeup and hair.
Quickly, I glam up, and then we head out for the night. First stop, Sparky’s. It is a small hole in the wall joint with dollar drafts and karaoke.
Two beers in, I smile as my sister dances on her bar stool. She has been glancing around since we got inside, making me wonder if she’s expecting someone. Curiosity fills me.
“What brought on the surprise visit?”
She seems caught off guard by my question and almost stumbles off her stool. Gingerly sitting back down because of her heels, she starts peeling the label off her beer. “I missed ya. Plus, I wanted a change in scenery.”
Raising an eyebrow at her, I smile. “Long-term change?” I can’t hide the hope in my voice.
She gives the same carefree laugh she always has. “Coastal life isn’t for me, Desirae.”
“You’re here now. That should say something.”
“Yeah, it says, occasionally, I need to clear my lungs and breathe fresh air to funnel some of the smog out of my system.”
The music changes, and the mood around us shifts as the eighties beat blares through the speakers. My sister and I both hop off our bar stools and hit the dance floor like two girls who just wanna have fun.
Childhood memories flash in my mind of hair brush microphones, big hair, and high-top sneakers. Then, we had our high school days and those nineties alternative years of vintage T-shirts and our grunge look before going to college where we both found ourselves. I’m still more of a vintage rock T-shirt and jeans kind of girl, while Suzie is more flare and frills.
Even dancing, she seems distracted or on edge. Something most definitely is off. We have never had a relationship where we held back from each other, and I’m not about to let us start now.
“Are you scared of your shadow tonight or something?”
She jumps at my question, confirming my suspicions that there is some sort of problem or that she’s waiting for someone. Either way, sweet Suzie is hiding something.
She doesn’t answer me. Instead, she grabs my hand, and we head back to the bar for another drink.
Avoidance doesn’t work with me, baby girl, but I will let her have this play … for now.