Summer unwrapped her lanky leg from the sticky pole and descended from the stage. "Fucking gross," she hissed.
Minutes earlier, she had give a lap dance to a man who reeked of salami and cheap cologne. While the men were never allowed to touch her, many had. Salami man managed to lick her face while she grinded into his round rubber belly.
In the dimly lit bathroom, she washed her cheeks forcefully but somehow, his smell had permeated her skin. No soap could reach it now. She slipped on her old dress, pulled back her damp hair into a ponytail and put the experience in a small box somewhere.
Summer needed cash to pay off old debts and prepare for her child's arrival in December. And while nights like this repulsed her, she occasionally basked in the ritual of dancing and getting naked. Both came quite naturally to her free-roaming spirit. She felt a certain freedom in the act - a kind of "fuck you, fuck me" to the world.
On a good night, high from the music and movement, she descended upon the men and polished up her rusty seduction skills. Summer hadn't been in love for years; her rough-edge life didn't allow for such a luxury. So intimacy was found on the lap of a stranger. So what? It was better than nothing, she reminded herself.
Summer possessed what she considered "broken beauty." Her body was lithe and lean, here eyes, saucer wide and hazel, sandy blonde hair that framed her simple face. But her hard existence had an effect on her look. The pain showed through, making her appear tilted and strained. Summer didn't mind it. Just like a man who embraces a well-earned scar, her face read her life and her life wasn't easy.
Summer slipped onto a bar stool. No one recognized her after her shift. Her look had suddenly become basic, ordinary. She learned this technique early on. Too much attention could lead to trouble. Blend in, if necessary.
Teddy sat down next to her. Construction worker, shiny blue eyes, big and strapping, built to work and sweat. Summer trusted Teddy. Quietly, she was attracted to him. She wanted to be crushed by those big arms, in a hug so tight it would squeeze out all the old hardship and disgust.
"Bourbon and a beer, Summer?"
Teddy always bought Summer's drinks, for years now.
"How's the kid?"
"He's alright. Still with my mom. Going to see him this weekend. Might stay a while this time, if she lets me."
By Christmas, she'd have custody of her boy once again. She'd quit this job and have a real life finally. The thought of her life returning to normal made her move closer to Teddy. He was normalcy, after all. If she sat close enough, he'd rub off on her like a good luck charm. He responded by inching his bar stool closer to her.
Their new proximity surprised them both. Finding romance in a sleazy strip club is no easy feat. It feels tainted and bleak, before it begins. But love, like weeds, finds a way of growing in the most improbable places.
After a second round of drinks, Summer began telling Teddy about the new two-bedroom apartment she planned on renting, the park nearby for her boy, the classes she'd take in the evening, the healthy meals she'd make. Summer had hope.
"Teddy, do you think we'll still talk after I leave?"
"I'd like to. I mean...we can always...do something. Go out to eat. I mean, you and your kid. I like kids."
"I know you do. And I'm sure he'd love you, too."
Yes, she was sure of it. Teddy was paternal by nature - something that triggered a strange sexual urge in Summer, when she let it. She wanted him to father her and fuck her. She wanted him to beat up the bad guys and spank her when she spoke out of turn. She wanted to be a good little girl for him. Finally, she'd be taken care of.
As these fantasies floated through her inebriated mind, she allowed herself to look at Teddy, like a woman does a man. She turned slowly toward him and his eyes were ablaze, as if he'd climbed in her mind and fingered her thoughts already. Amidst the blare of bad music, the smell of cheap desire and stale beer, amidst flashing lights and drunken ramblings, they stared at one another deeply.
"I'm glad you're here, Teddy. You've helped me here. Thank you."
Teddy smiled, his tanned face warming pink. He laughed awkwardly. Summer smiled just enough.
They returned to their drinks and stared straight ahead, as they normally did. But nothing would be the same. Summer and Teddy exchanged very few words the rest of the night.
As Teddy walked Summer to the car, she grabbed his arm - an act she performed occasionally out of a need for physical contact. But tonight, the drinks had gotten the better of her.
"Teddy steadies me", she thought, over and over again. "Teddy steadies me."
The sidewalk began to give way, to bend, to melt beneath her feet. The city lights seemed to bleed into one another. Life seemed so perfect suddenly; an acid dream, worlds melting, like heaven must seem.
Too perfect, too perfect, she heard herself saying out loud, surprising ever herself.
As they entered the parking garage, Summer decided she would kiss Teddy tonite. She'd let him know with her lips what her mouth couldn't say. They could be together. This sticky, foul-smelling life would be behind them. Blue skies and sparkling homes and happy children and contented lovers would be the new way. Thriving, not surviving. A perfect design of her making, finally.
She teetered at her car door, keys in hand, trying to muster up the courage. She felt Teddy close behind her, breathing into her ear. Summer tried to steady herself. She wanted to turn around, to face him, but suddenly it became hard to move, to breathe.
"Turn around", she kept telling herself. "Before it's too late. Before you lose your nerve."
She tried to speak but it was impossible. Teddy's fingers around her neck were like a vice grip.
"Why don't you fuck me? You fucked all those other guys, didn't you? Why don't you fuck me? Why? You fucking cunt!"
The words drifted casually in and out of Summer's head as she dangled like a rag doll from Teddy's bear claws.
New curtains, Summer thought. She hadn't bought new curtains in years. The ones in her living room weren't right for her new life. Too dingy. Too yellow. From cigarettes. She'd quit smoking by Christmas, too. Yes.
Her keys dropped to the pavement.
Curtains, white curtains. We'll open them in the morning and close them in the...
Then Summer ended quietly, as summers do, with little fanfare.