CHAPTERONE

POPPY

Present Day . . .

“You fucking thieving bitch!”

“Who the fuck are you calling a bitch, slut!”

Savannah and a new dancer I don’t know push through to get into each other’s faces. I force myself to focus on my reflection in the mirror and not get involved in the drama.

I duck right before a round hairbrush comes flying in my direction.

“Hey! Watch it!” I snap at the two of them, but I doubt either of them heard me. They’re too busy shoving each other to realize that I’m standing in the line of fire.

I used to love working at the Diamond Dancers club, but lately, it’s become more of a high school fight club than an actual place of work. I take a deep breath and reach over for my outfit for the night, doing my best to ignore the two dancers that are arguing and fighting back and forth.

I snatch my light pink feather props from the display right before the new dancer pushes Savannah into it. I lay the props down in front of me and softly run my hand over the fabric.

I know some of the dancers may not put much effort into the things that they wear for the night, but that’s never been me. I want the customer to be entranced not only with my body but also with what’s covering the most important bits. The guys like to rub their hands over the soft fabric of one of my many costumes.

As I get dressed and put on a second coating of makeup, I watch a few of the girls give me the stink eye through the mirror. That’s been happening a lot lately. The dynamic of Diamond Dancers has shifted, I recently got a promotion, and even though I know that I’ve been doing everything right, I still feel a little guilty. I’m moving up when some of the other girls that have been here a bit longer than I still haven’t had the opportunity. The crazy part is I didn’t even ask for the promotion. In actuality, it was all because of Corentina that Madelaine even decided to give me the promotion. I should take her out to dinner or something like that but maybe a little later. Maybe when people aren’t still in mourning.

The other reason why there was such a severe dynamic shift is because of Tristan’s death. He really made sure that everything was going right in here, and none of the dancers would dare act how they were acting. Now there’s hardly any structure to anything that we have going on here. Instead of the sexy, feel-good environment that we should be giving the customers, the place has started to feel more like a rundown strip joint instead of the up-class burlesque strip club that we truly are. Tristan would be so upset by the mess that’s been going on lately in here. Madeline is doing her best to keep everything under control, but Tristan was truly the one that kept everything running smoothly in here. Tristan was more than just a boss, and he didn’t deserve to go out like that.

I take another deep breath and put on the last bits of my costume. I have to stand back when two of the strippers tackle each other and fall to the ground rolling around and trying to claw each other’s faces off.

“What the hell is this? Why can’t you just fucking behave yourselves for one damn night? I should have the both of you sent home for this, enough!” Madeline yells as she comes in and pulls the two women apart.

“She’s trying to swipe my shit!” says Savannah, one of our newer dancers.

Madeline pokes her in the chest, making her take a step back.” I don’t give a damn what she took. That doesn’t give you a fucking excuse to act a damn fool,” Madeline hisses, her body tense and her tone sounding very annoyed. “The both of you get over to Julian and get this shit sorted out.”

I avert my glare when the both of them look over in my direction. I don’t want them to think I see myself as superior when it’s not the case. It seems like since I got this promotion, I really can’t do anything right by the other dancers anymore.

Madeline turns to look me over and smiles when she sees my pink number.

“Are those gemstones on your tits?” She pulls open the sheer robe and turns her head to see my pink and white jeweled breasts.

“Yeah, you know these guys get distracted by anything shiny.” I giggle softly, and so does she.

“Well, I’m sure you’re going to turn all the heads tonight. Have a good show.” Madeline nods once before she turns and walks out of the dressing room, probably to go find Julian and ask him to get the dancers under control.

This is the only time that I can say for certain that nothing but dancing is on my mind, I love to perform, and the Diamond Dancers is a great way for me to do so.

The minute the lights hit my body, I get into character. It’s not long before every eye in the house is on me, and they watch with childlike astoundment. When I finish my set, I pick up my tips and go back to the dressing room. This time there are no fights, and most of the women are either out on the floor, or they are lounging on one of the couches in the back of the room.

I do a quick count of my money and realize that from just that one dance, I made a little more than five hundred dollars. The tips are really flowing tonight. I look up into the mirror, and the door behind me swings open. For a second, just one moment, I thought it could be Tristan walking in.

It’s not. It’s never going to be Tristan again. My eyes burn, and no matter how much I try to swallow back my emotions, they overflow. Warm tears stream down my face streaking my makeup and leaving dark rivers of mascara on my cheeks.

I was so stupid. I had every chance in the world to let Tristan know how I felt about him, but I never took the chance. In my mind, there always was another day or a better time. If I knew then what I know now, I’d have told him right away. Now all I can do is cry like the pathetic little girl pining over someone that was never truly mine. I open the bottom drawer of my vanity and pull out the small pint of vodka. I don’t usually need liquor to get me through the night, but today I feel like I’m going to need more than just the smiles and money of the clients outside.

Once I take a shot and get myself to stop crying, I get on with washing my face and reapplying my makeup. It’s no time to have an emotional breakdown. I have money to make and shows to do. I go to my clothes rack and pull out another costume I’m sure will be a hit tonight. I was in the light pink number only minutes ago, but now, I’m thinking something a little tighter, bright red, and slightly more risqué is befitting my mood. I’m praying that the shot and my new outfit will help dull the pain.

Going back to my mirror, I give myself a once over. I’m not surprised to find my makeup a mess. The only bright side is my eyes aren’t puff and it doesn’t look like anyone will be able to figure out I’ve been back here crying. That is after I touch up my face and clean up the streaks of mascara. No one needs to know just how sad I am now that Tristan isn’t here. I’ll keep that small bit of information to myself.

I never have to tell anyone.

A loud crack of thunder sounds so loud I jump, and the flash of the lightning is so bright that it fills the entire dressing room through the windows. It must have hit near here. Talk about a bad omen.

I shake off the bit of fear, lift my chin, and stroll out into the crowd. It’s showtime.


Tags: E.C. Land Crime
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