Authors: Bec Linder
by Bec Linder
There’s something I’ve noticed about human nature: people don’t like things they don’t understand. Scarlet told me once that primitive man invented religion to explain why the sky got dark at night, and it sounded reasonable to me. If you knew
something happened, it wasn’t as scary anymore. It made sense. It happened for a reason.
So that was why I decided to blame the traffic light for everything that happened that summer.
Okay, obviously it wasn’t really the traffic light’s fault. What happened probably would have happened even if I didn’t trip on the sidewalk on my way to work. But I had to blame it on
, and the traffic light was as good a culprit as any.
That way I could tell myself it was fate. Pre-ordained. That the universe worked in mysterious ways. I could neatly sidestep any uncertainty.
I didn’t like uncertainty.
It was one of those sweltering July days that made everyone in the city feel like dropping dead. What was the cliche? Hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk. I wasn’t
for work—the club didn’t open for another hour—but I was later than I wanted to be. I liked taking my time getting ready, and I didn’t enjoy feeling rushed; and anyway, I didn’t want to be outside any longer than I had to be, as hot as it was. I had chosen my apartment based largely on how close it was to work, but there were some summer days when the half-mile walk seemed endless. And I was too cheap to ever take a cab.
I was almost to the intersection when the light changed. The flashing red hand on the crosswalk sign stopped flashing and shone with a steady light, and the stoplight turned yellow and then red in quick succession. Annoyed, I sighed and slowed to a stop. Traffic was too heavy to ignore the light and dart across the street. I wasn’t about to play chicken with New York City cabbies. They would run me over and not even feel bad about it.
I had lived in New York long enough that I didn’t wait obediently for the walk sign before I crossed. As soon as traffic was more or less clear, I booked it.
I forgot to check the bike lane, though.
The furious ringing of a bell alerted me to the cyclist bearing down on me, and I swore and lunged for the sidewalk. The bike passed behind me, close enough to rustle my skirt, and the cyclist yelled, “Watch where you’re going!” as he continued down Hudson Street.
I stumbled onto the sidewalk, off-balance, and then tripped on my own flip-flop and went down.
So really, if I wanted to assign blame, the cyclist probably deserved a large helping. Maybe even more than the traffic light.
Falling always seemed like it happened in slow motion. I had plenty of time to recognize that I was falling, regret my clumsiness, and hope I didn’t hurt myself too badly. And then I was down, knees and hands burning, and I just knelt there for a few long moments, embarrassed and annoyed.
I lifted my left hand to check the damage. The palm was scraped, but not badly. No blood. The right one was fine, too.
My knees, on the other hand.
I stood up and tottered to a nearby bench. Both of my knees were skinned raw and oozing blood, stuck with bits of dirt and gravel and who knew what.
“That looks bad,” a passing woman said.
Real helpful, lady. I ignored her and started digging through my bag, hoping I had a few spare napkins crammed in there somewhere. I didn’t want to bleed down my shins all the way to work.
“You look like you could use some help,” a deep voice said, and I looked up.
Our eyes met.
Jesus, he was
He was dressed like a businessman, in a dark suit and tie, but he didn’t
like a businessman. His black hair was buzzed so short that I could see his scalp, and it made him look dangerous, like he had just come back from a war. He was handsome in a sort of generic way, nothing special, but there was something about him that kept me looking. He raised one eyebrow at me and said, “That was a nasty fall. Bikes are a menace.”
I realized my mouth was hanging open a little, and hastily closed it. “It was my fault. I should have looked,” I said. “I’m okay, though.”
“You’re dripping blood,” he said. “Stay here. There’s a drugstore right across the street.”
Oh, God, was he offering to bandage my skinned knees for me, like I was a wayward toddler? “I’m really okay,” I said. “That’s totally nice of you, but I have to—work—”
“That can wait,” he said. “Don’t go anywhere.” And he turned and strode off toward the Duane Reade.
I couldn’t have said why I waited. I really
need to get to work, and I really
fine. Mostly fine. Not in any danger of dying, at least. But it wasn’t every day that incredibly handsome strangers not only spoke to me but went out of their way to help me, and I was curious. I wanted to see what would happen.
It didn’t hurt that he was really, really hot.
And that I liked the way he had swooped in and taken charge. Most men in New York were so wishy-washy.
I kind of liked being ordered around.
My mystery man emerged from the drugstore, plastic bag in hand. I watched him approach me with a feeling like I was observing myself from the outside. It was too weird to be real. Things like this didn’t happen to girls like me. Maybe I was on a television show and there were men with cameras hiding in the park behind me.
But nobody jumped out and shouted that I’d been punked, and he crouched on the sidewalk in front of me and drew a small package out of the bag.
“You’re going to ruin your suit,” I said, because the sidewalks were beyond gross.
“Nothing the dry cleaner can’t fix,” he said. He opened the package and pulled out a wet wipe, the kind that you used to clean your hands at a BBQ place. I watched, totally dumbfounded, as he began gently cleaning the blood and grit from my knees.
Get a grip, Sasha. “You don’t have to do that,” I said, wanting to draw my legs away but afraid I would sock him in the face with a kneecap. “Don’t get me wrong, this is really nice of you—like, really, really nice—but I’m sure you have way better things to do this afternoon than, like, mop the blood off some stranger’s legs—”
“You’re babbling,” he said, interrupting my word vomit, and I blushed and shut up.
He dabbed at my knees until they were clean of dirt and congealed blood. It stung, but he was careful, and every time his fingers brushed against my skin, I felt a little spark flare up my spine. Bad idea.
idea. He was way out of my league.
Finished, he glanced up at me, and something in his dark eyes made me blush again and look away.
“Thanks,” I said.
“I’m not finished,” he said. He pulled out a tube of antibiotic ointment and smeared it onto my scrapes, and then he took out a box of Band-Aids and covered basically the entire surface area of my knees, layering each bandage on top of the one beneath it so that no raw skin was exposed. “They didn’t have anything larger,” he said. “This will have to do.”
“It’s, wow,” I said. “Way better than I would have done. I probably would have just taped on some paper towels and called it a day.”
“Extremely unhygienic,” he said, his eyes crinkling up at the corners.
Christ. I had to leave,
, or I was going to do something really stupid, like ask him to marry me. I cleared my throat and rearranged the straps of my bag. “So, thanks,” I said. “I’m really—I owe you. But I’m going to be super late for work, so…”
“Of course,” he said, and climbed to his feet. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small piece of paper, and handed it to me. “Just in case you run into any further emergencies.” He looked down at me for a moment, tall as a statue, and then strode off down Bleecker Street.
I gazed after him, a little wistfully, and then looked down at the paper he had handed me.
It was his business card.
Right in the middle, in tiny black numbers, was phone number. That was it. I turned it over, expecting to see something more informative on the back, but it was blank.
What kind of weird guy had a business card like that? Was he a spy or something? Maybe he was so rich that he didn’t need to work. Maybe he was so famous that he expected everyone to already know who he was.
It didn’t matter. It wasn’t like I was going to call him.
I stood up and slung my bag over my shoulder. My knees hurt, but not too badly. I took a few tentative steps, feeling things out, and decided that walking the rest of the way to work was no big deal.
I tossed the business card into the first trash can I passed.
Dating was a bad idea. Sooner or later, they all found out what I did for a living.
And nobody wanted a stripper for a girlfriend.
* * *
Stepping into the Silver Cross Club transformed me.
I did it five times a week, sometimes six or seven: walked through the door and became someone new.
Outside of the club, I was ordinary Sasha Kilgore, who loved makeup, yoga, parrots, and brunch.
Inside the club, I was Sassy Belle.
I didn’t like Sassy very much. She wasn’t smart, for one thing. Not that I was a genius, but I could string three words together. Sassy mainly giggled.
Men liked her, though. The men at the club liked her. The clients. That was all that mattered.
Maybe someday I wouldn’t need Sassy anymore. I could shed that skin like a snake and leave it behind.
But not yet.
After my eventful commute, the club’s dim, cool lobby was a welcome relief. I took off my sunglasses and smiled at Javier, the doorman.
“You look hot,” he said.
I struck a pose, one hand on my hip, head thrown back. “Thanks!”
He chuckled. “I mean you look sweaty. Hot as the devil’s nutsack, isn’t it?”
“You shouldn’t use language like that around a lady,” I said.
“Sassy Belle, you are no lady,” he said with a wink, and held the door open for me.
I stuck my nose in the air and walked past him into the club, purposefully wiggling my hips as I went. Javier was lucky that I liked him.
The heavy door closed behind me, and I was inside the main room of the club. Things were quiet at this time of day: it was 3:00, and the club didn’t open for another hour. None of the waitresses had arrived yet, and the only other person I spotted was a fellow dancer, perched at the bar eating a sandwich out of a styrofoam container. I waved to her as I headed for the unmarked door at the back of the club that led to the private area for the dancers.
I gave myself a little shake, settling fully into Sassy’s skin.
Sassy’s sticky, clammy skin. I really needed a shower.
Germaine’s office door was open. I slowed as I passed by, peering inside—just being nosy—but she spotted me and flagged me down.
I hesitated, thinking about the glorious shower that was waiting for me, but I couldn’t exactly ignore her. I leaned against the doorframe and said, “What’s up, boss?”
There was a girl sitting at the desk who turned around and looked at me when I spoke. She had long, curly black hair and wide eyes: fresh meat.
“This is Tawny,” Germaine said. “She’s going to be dancing here now.”