After I was ready, I stared at the clock until six and then locked up my apartment and drove to the Mad Hatter.
Just my luck, the place was packed.
I parked in the very back of the lot and sat there for a few minutes, feeling nervous sweat drip down my back. Before I could talk myself into peeling rubber out of the lot, I climbed out of the car and made my way to the entrance.
The door swung open and the bouncer from last night opened the door.
“Hey, Ty,” I said, giving him a smile.
“Miss Harlow, you came back.”
“You didn’t think I’d get the job?”
“Nah, girl, I knew you would get the job. I just wasn’t sure if you wanted it.”
Well, neither was I, but I didn’t say it out loud.
“Got any advice for me, Ty? I’m sure as the bouncer you know all the inside information and tricks.”
He grinned and regarded me with pursed lips. “Don’t be trashy.”
“Well, that might be hard considering I’m about to shake what my momma gave me.”
He threw back his head and laughed. “I’ve seen a lot of girls come through here. Some of them are good and some of them aren’t. The ones who do the best are the ones who realize there is a fine line between sexy and sleazy. Catch my drift?”
I nodded slowly. “I think so. Kind of a less-is-more approach?”
“There you go,” he said, inclining his head. Then he held the door wide and stepped back. “Good luck.”
“Thanks,” I said and stepped inside.
The entire place was full. People standing around the bar, filling up the tables, and talking over the music. There was already a girl on stage. The pole that stood in the center was spotlighted in hot pink, and I watched as she wrapped her toned legs around it and then draped her body upside down. Her dark hair fell in a cascade and was so long it actually brushed the ground.
As I watched, she moved fluidly, sensually, sliding down the pole and then touching her body in a way that made everyone think touching her would be the most exciting moment of their entire life.
I averted my eyes because I was slightly embarrassed to be watching her turn people on.
“So you showed up,” called a voice from behind the bar.
He wasn’t wearing a shirt, again.
And the hat he wore last night wasn’t on his head. He had blond hair. Very blond and so very messy that it looked like he spent time running his fingers through it all day long.
“Here I am,” I said, stepping a little closer to the bar.
“So,” he began, giving me a knowing grin. “On a scale from one to ten, how nervous are you?”
“Oh well, that’s better than twenty-five.”
“Ha,” I said, feeling my stomach do this weird flippy thing every time he smiled.
Adam stepped up beside me. “Come on, we need you backstage.”
That flippy feeling in my belly quickly turned to a nauseous rumble as he turned and walked toward the back, expecting me to follow.
“Hey,” the hot bartender said.
I glanced over my shoulder.
“Don’t screw up.”
He was laughing when I walked away, weaving through the crowded tables and the boisterous laughter.
Backstage was quieter and I found I was able to let out the breath I held. The back room was lined with dressing tables, all with those big mirrors rimmed in lights. There were little velvet stools pushed under each table and makeup and cans of hairspray were scattered everywhere. In the back of the room, there were several racks of what looked like lingerie and a few mannequin heads lining a shelf that had various wigs in every style and color. High heels scattered the floor and there was a small ladies’ room off to the left with the light off.
There were several girls back here, all of them in various states of undress. It was clear no one used the bathroom as a dressing room. Of course when you were stripping down in front of a room full of people, I guess doing it in the back was considered sort of private.
“Ladies, this is Harlow,” Adam said in a voice that carried through the room. “She’s auditioning tonight. Show her the ropes.”
All eyes turned to me. I could feel them assessing me, judging me, deciding if they would like me before I even spoke a word. It was like being back in high school where all the girls were catty and cliquish.
I didn’t let people push me around in high school, and I wasn’t about to start now.
I lifted my chin and went to a dressing table that looked like it was never used. “Can I use this one?”
The girl next to me, a redhead with gigantic boobs, nodded.
I set down my bag and then looked around nervously for something to do. Adam approached; he was wearing a suit with no tie and a pair of sporty-looking dress shoes. In his hand he carried a clipboard that he hadn’t even looked at once since we’d been back here.
“You go on at seven. Your routine ends when your song ends. Be sure to tell the DJ what you want him to play.”
Oh, shit. I was supposed to have a song?
“After your routine, you can collect your money and then make your way back here. You can walk around in your outfit or change into something from back there.” He pointed at the racks of clothes. “Then go to the bar and get a tray. You can serve drinks until your next routine.”
My next routine? I swallowed. “How many routines do I do during a shift?”
“For now, one an hour. If you’re good, then that will increase.”
I didn’t even know how long a shift was. I was in way over my head here. Maybe I should just bail now and save myself the embarrassment of getting fired.
I opened my mouth to announce my departure, but Adam cut me off to yell, “Roxie! Get your ass over here!”
The dark-haired girl I’d just watched on stage appeared beside us. “Yeah, boss?”
“Show Harlow the ropes.”
Then he left, my eyes following him desperately. I felt like a child who was being dropped off at kindergarten for the very first time. Adam definitely wasn’t my parent or even a parental type, but at least when he was telling me what to do I didn’t feel so freaked out.
“You’ve never done this before, have you?” Roxie said. She had purple eyes and hair so dark it was almost black. She wore it sleek and straight and it hung all the way down to her hips. The heavy, straight bangs across her forehead accentuated the odd color of her eyes.
“Never,” I said, giving a nervous giggle.