PART III

August 2003
seven years earlier…

You can do this. You have to do this. … I can’t believe I’m about to do this.

A barrage of doubts constantly assaulted Jade’s mind. She had to keep reminding herself that she was here for one purpose. She couldn’t think about it. She had to just do it. Action was always the hard part though. She stood backstage, futilely attempting to adjust the immodest reflection staring back at her through the makeup-stained mirror.

Who was this woman?

This was a woman on the verge of a breakdown.

“Joy, ready in five. Don’t be nervous. ” Big Time stuck his head in the doorway and held up five thick fingers, a platinum band encircling the last. Him and that damn pinky ring.

Big Time was so … Hollywood. Standing there with his dark aviator shades on and Pharell-esque outfit, you would think him more an LA boy who liked to surf and brag about his role as extra #4 in Gone in Sixty Seconds than the seedy owner of a strip club called Daddy’s House.

“I don’t know about this, Big.” She said uncertainly, almost convinced that she would not be able to go on stage.

“Sweetheart, you look edible. You are edible. They’re gonna love you. Get out there and make it happen. Trust Big on this, okay?” He said as he walked over and pressed his hand on the light purple sweater hugging his bird chest.

That ‘Big’ would be any part of his name was simply amusing.

She sighed deeply at the turn her life had taken.

Looking at her reflection one last time, she resolved to do this. She had to do this. “Alright, I’m ready.”

***

The woman on the stage was entertaining enough, but definitely not living up the the club’s reputation of having ‘The finest women you’ll ever see up close in person’. That adage had gotten a laugh out of Nigel when he originally read it, but when he found himself driving around aimlessly tonight, that line kept popping up in his mind.

Now, he wanted them to hold true to their promise. So far, they’d fared okay. But this one on stage was not doing it justice.

“Drink, honey?” The sexy Latina waitress smiled down at him, offering a tray of assorted alcoholic beverages.

“No, I’m cool. Thanks.” He said, returning the smile and placing a ten dollar bill on her tray anway.

When the tall, brunette woman known as Lexstasy exited the stage to a chorus of whooping and clapping from the table of drunken men in the corner, Nigel was ready to go. Driving around had helped him clear his head, think about the life-changing decision he was about to make. When he didn’t know what else to do, he drove.

He stood up and prepared to make his exit, glancing back at the main stage as the DJ announced the next pole-twirler. Her name was ‘Bliss’.

His glance turned into a double take. And that turned into an all out stare. She was perfection.

Perfection stood fifty feet in front of him, wearing the hell out of a white and … rhinestone? bra and thong fringed get-up. She was focused on what appeared to be him as she slid to the floor and wrapped her legs around the silver pole.

He took a seat. Ten more minutes couldn’t hurt.

***

She couldn’t believe she was doing this. Couldn’t believe that she was actually dancing around a pole in a room full of people. More so, she couldn’t believe how good she was. Her body moved with a fluidity she never knew she had. Looking at the amount of tips she was collecting almost made her feel better. Almost.

Then there was the man in the back. He was devilishly handsome, with dark eyes and strong features. And he was staring. Intensely. She wondered if she would need to get Slam to handle him. She’d heard the horror stories from many a girl about the men who didn’t think a dance was enough. The men that wanted to get personal.

She finished her routine and collected her tips, glad that it was over. Her mind was a blur, her spirits low, and her feet hurt from the four-inch heels she’d just stepped out of.

“See, nice and easy. You’re a natural, babygirl.” Big Time smiled and gave her a wink as she went back into the dressing room, already over this whole thing.

“It’s gets better girl, you did good for your first time. Soon you’ll just learn to tune everybody out and focus on your money.” Candy, a longtime dancer at Daddy’s House whose ethnicity no one knew, offered her words.

The self-proclaimed go-to girl for all things related to the House, Candy appeared to be the most confident and surprisingly comical one of the girls: “It just ain’t a strip club if there isn’t at least one Candy. I make this biyotch official.”

She offered Candy a smile, but all she wanted to do was exit as quickly as possible. She stuffed the money in her purse haphazardly. She didn’t even want to count it before she left. She just had to … get out and get away.

***

“Nigel, where are you?” Toni’s voice was no less severe than it had been earlier when he left her place.

“I’m out. What do you want Toni? You’ve already said enough.” Nigel just wanted to go home, rest, and forget about the heated discussion that had transpired earlier between he and his drama-queen girlfriend of one year.

“Nigel, we need to talk. You can’t just up and leave out while we’re arguing like that! Where are you?”

This was not what he needed right now. This, was something he could do without.

He opened his mouth to respond but the words were stolen when he saw Ms. Bliss herself walking hurriedly down the sidewalk on the side of the club. One of the giant bouncers he had seen inside stood in the doorway, watching. She turned back one last time before she reached the parking lot, waving at the huge man.

“I’m fine Slam. Thanks. I’ll see you later.” She called out.

The giant now known as Slam nodded and waved “Alright Joy, have a good one baby.” He said as he turned and went back into the club, closing the door behind him.

Nigel stood where he was, abruptly brought back to the moment by Toni’s squealing voice. “Nigel? Nigel! I know this fool didn’t hang up on me.” He heard her mumbling.

“Toni, let me call you back, okay? I’ll call you back in a minute.” He hung up before she could protest, and walked back towards his car. His eyes were still on the new ivory-colored Honda Civic that the woman he only knew as Bliss had gotten into. It sat there, idling, beckoning him.

Despite his strong desire to, he wasn’t going to approach that woman. Nigel Richardson did not stalk strippers outside of nightclubs. He wasn’t that desperate, no matter how fine she was. And strippers were definitely not his kind of woman. Men with Master’s degrees from Columbia didn’t holler at strippers.

Toni was his kind of woman. Toni was his woman. Smart, educated, and sophisticated. Lately though, she’d become a headache, now applying unbelievable pressure on him to marry her and start a family after only one year. He was only twenty-seven. He he had three more years to enjoy before he would even begin to think about being someone’s husband. If he was really supposed to marry this woman, wouldn’t he feel it? Wouldn’t the stars and sky light up with her name every time he looked up? Shouldn’t something be different about this relationship than the previous ones if it was truly worthy of nuptials?

He just wasn’t convinced yet. And no amount of nagging, rationalizing or sweet talk on her part could change that.

He had a lot of thinking to do. The ride to her house would be a slow one, full of every detour he could possibly think of.

He pulled off slowly, his thoughts still consumed with his rapidly-declining relationship with Toni. When he looked up, he slammed on his brakes just in time to avoid hitting the speeding, ivory-colored Civic on its passenger side.

He sat there, waited to see what she would do. In that instant he decided that he didn’t need anymore aggravation tonight. Even though he wouldn’t have minded meeting her, he hoped she would just go on about her way. The appearance of two jean-covered legs and sandaled feet swinging out of the driver’s side affirmed that his trip to Toni’s house would be delayed once more. He reluctantly got out of the car.

“Oh my goodness I’m so sorry! I didn’t even see you! I was all off in my own world !Are you okay? I’m so glad we didn’t hit each other!” The beautiful woman was frantic with run-on sentences.

Nigel put his hand up in assurance. “It’s okay, it’s okay. Calm down. No one was hurt. I wasn’t looking, so I should be apologizing to you.” He said, his irritation immediately dissolving upon seeing her loveliness up close.

Jade stopped suddenly, realizing this was the same man from earlier. Trying not to panic, she took a step back.

“Oh okay, well… I better go. Sorry again.” she said, wishing she had never gotten out of her car. In her naivety, she kept forgetting she was in New York now, not the safe suburbs of Cali that she was used to. She scolded herself silently.

“No problem. And your dance, it was uh, nice.” He said, offering her a smile.

“Thanks.” She said, placing her hand on her door handle.

He lingered as if he wanted to say more, his hands resting on his car door. His eyes didn’t look so menacing anymore now that he was smiling. Maybe he wasn’t so dangerous. He was fine, that was for sure.

Seemingly deciding against it, he opened his car door.

“Hey!” Jade said loudly, walking over to him. Now that she had deemed him harmless, she couldn’t let all this gorgeousness just walk away. “By the way, my name is Jade.” She extended her hand.

“I thought it was Joy? … I heard the big dude call you that.” He looked confused, remembering the bouncer calling her name.

“A girl’s gotta have secrets, doesn’t she?” She responded coyly.

He nodded in understanding. “I suppose. Well Jade, you want my stage name or my real name?”

A slight laugh escaped her lips. “Either one will do, as long as it comes with your phone number.” She said flirtatiously, proud of herself for being so bold.

“Ha. Well, since you asked so nicely.” Nigel smiled, reached into his car and got a business card. “I’m Nigel.” He said handing it to her.

“Oh you’re a lawyer? Impressive. You can’t be single then.” She said, her eyebrow raised suspiciously.

“A man can have secrets too you know.” Nigel said mischievously.

A big smile pulled from the corners of Jade’s full lips. “Touché.”

She glanced over his card. Looked him up and down. Decided right then that she would be calling this Nigel character. “I’ll be in touch.” She said with a wink, turning to get in her car.

“I hope so.” he said, laughing to himself as he returned to his car. He could never date a stripper, but he wouldn’t turn down a fun evening or two with one.

He headed to Toni’s, his head full of the vision of sweet, sweet Bliss.

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