Beth doesn't think she's ever been so nervous in her whole life.
She told Maggie as soon as she saw the door: No. No way in hell was she spending her birthday—her 18th birthday, her birthday that officially ended the worst year of her life—at a male stripper club.
But Maggie insisted. And she was dragged inside. And before she knew it she was having ginger ales and dollar bills shoved in her hands and being told to go to town.
She has to admit. It wasn't as bad as she expected it to be. The place was nice, for starters—polished surfaces, bright corners, and an A health code rating all centered on what amounted to a cabaret show. Yes, the dancers wore a little less clothing than they would in most establishments, and yes, Beth walked around with singles sticking to her shoes; but all in all it wasn't more than she could handle. She was perfectly content with doing her time and going home.
That was before the owner found out it was her birthday. That was before he offered her a private dance, on the house. That was before Maggie accepted for her.
And now Beth is sitting in a straight-backed wooden chair in the center of a velvet-lined room, waiting for some half-dressed man to come in and give her the time of her life.
At least she doesn't have to wait long.
The door opens less than two minutes after she comes inside. She holds her breath as the handle turns, part of her praying it will be Maggie on the other side—hell, even her father would do—telling her what a horrible mistake this was, and that they're ready to bring her home. She is not the right girl for this. She and Jimmy had barely even kissed when they were dating, let alone did anything sexual. And here she is about to be grinded against by some man in a thong—
Then the man enters, and the air in her lungs spills out in one long gust.
He isn't what she expected, that's for sure.
Most of the men in the club remind her of Ken dolls. Waxed up the wazoo, clean-shaven, delicate features; plump, smiling lips revealing straight white teeth. Most of them had been blending into each other in one beefy parade of manflesh.
This one. This one is different. He's wearing clothes, for one—a button down sleeveless flannel and leather vest above, loose, ripped jeans below. His hair is unkempt, beard scruffy. His bare feet are all that tell her that he is indeed the man she's been sent in here to await.
His eyes go right to her as he opens the door. And that is why her breath leaves her—a piercing blue gaze that makes the breadth of his shoulders seem so, so much wider.
She might enjoy this after all.
She can feel her heart pounding in her throat as he looks her over. He seems wary—not as easy with a grin as his colleagues, definitely, and far more stoic. He waits until she finds herself able to blink again before speaking.
His voice is gravelly and deep and makes her heart flutter like a butterfly.
“Yeah,” she says, far more high-pitched than she intends to. He continues to look her over and she can feel herself going beet red, from her forehead to her chest. “Um... how do we do this, then?”
The man shrugs, leaning against the door and crossing his arms—arms the size of tree trunks, she thinks, taking them in as they bulge against his abdomen.
“You tell me,” he says. “You're the client.”
“Thought we're 'guests.' Ain't client a little impersonal?”
Beth doesn't know where the sass comes from, and he seems as surprised as she is; his eyes narrow and continue to flick over her, head to toe.
“Guess so,” he says. He brings a hand up to his mouth and begins chewing on a thumbnail. “Merle didn't force you in here, did he?”
“What, the owner? No, no, he didn't force me. Just said it was free, and my sister didn't think I should waste it, is all.”
“So you don't want to be here,” he says flatly.
“No, I mean... I'm sure you're very good—“
He smirks, then; just a twitch of his lips, a slight jerk of his eyes, but it's there, and it stops Beth in her tracks. He looks younger when he smiles.
“It ain't gonna break my heart if you leave, girl. Ain't making money for this anyhow.”
“Why are you doing it then?”
“Owner's my brother,” he says, looking away from her. He shrugs. “Don't got nothing better to do.”
Beth shifts in the chair, accidentally dragging up the hem of her dress in the process. Her hand flies up to tug it back down, but not before she sees his eyes flick to the white of her leg. It didn't go nearly high enough to reveal her panties, but just the thought of him seeing her inner thighs— enjoying them , says the thick tongue he slides across his lips—leaves something in her feeling broken and shaky.
He squints at her a little longer, then says, “You're a virgin, ain't you?”
Beth's jaw drops halfway to China.
“What... excuse me?”
“No, I, you... you can't just ask people that!”
“You don't think it's something I should know?” His voice gentles, somehow, losing some of its rough quality. “I know more'n one dance. Don't wanna do nothing you ain't ready for.”
Beth blinks. “I didn't know strippers were so considerate.”
His lips quirk again. She thinks she handles it marginally better this time. “Don't let Shane hear you saying that word. Fucking male entertainers is what we are.”
Beth raises her eyebrows. “And it don't matter to you?”
The man shrugs. “Do the same thing, either way. Word don't matter much.” He ducks his chin, looking at her carefully. “You are a virgin, then?”
Beth feels her blush deepen, but she's able to keep a straight face when she answers. “Yeah.”
The man nods once. “A'right.” With a sinuous roll of his muscles he pushes off from the door, walking to a small stereo set up in the corner. He picks up a battered old iPod, clicking through it until he finds what he wants. The music that goes on is some sort of slow, instrumental jazz beat; not at all the sexpot tune she would have expected.
He presses another button, and the lights go down. Beth can still feel her heart pounding in her chest, but it doesn't feel life-threatening anymore; and when he walks towards her until he stands a mere foot from where she sits, she is able to meet his eyes without trembling.
“You lemme know if you want me to stop, alright?” he asks, voice a rumble, barely loud enough for her to hear. “One word from you and it's over.”
“I mean it.” His gaze intensifies into something closer to a glare, and she feels it like a knife in her stomach. “You want this dance or not?”
Instead of giving him the answer she thinks he wants— yes, of course she does, she does this kind of thing all the time, ya silly —she waits. And thinks. Because she doesn't know if that's the answer he's looking for.
He isn't looking for any answer; not really. Not one or the other. He looks at her with his narrow eyes and set jaw and strong chin and he asks her what she wants.
What she wants.
And when she gives it, it's no one's answer but hers.
“I want it.”
He nods. And rolls his shoulders. And begins to dance.
She knows it should look ridiculous; a grown man undulating his hips like a belly dancer, raising his arms above his head, swaying with the music in rough clothes and bare feet. It's what she had thought about the men outside—it was fun to watch them, but they were hamming it. Joking around. It would never be worth anything more than pure aesthetic pleasure.
That isn't this. It so isn't this.
He's serious. Dead serious, in every motion he makes. Head tilted back, eyes narrowed slits, arms glistening in the low light as he moves to make them flex. Beth feels her discomfort bleeding out of her bit by bit, her back slumping, knees dropping open a few inches, lips parting to let the air tickle her tongue and teeth as he grips the hem of his shirt, gives it a tug, and yanks it free.
It must have been attached to his vest by some kind of velcro, for it falls away easily, fluttering to the floor. Beth gulps at the sight of his naked torso, framed by the leather—not waxed, she sees in the droplets of sweat shimmering off his chest hair, and not chiseled like so many of the men on the dance floor. But she can tell he does work with his body—real work, work that's sculpted his pecs into one solid board, his abs into a staircase she longs to climb. And she longs for it, she realizes, she does; and it's just as she becomes aware of the wetness seeping into her panties that he drops to his knees and urges her legs apart.
She doesn't think to resist until they've already dropped open and he's ducking his head down, rubbing his scruff up her calf to her knee while he holds her loosely by the ankles.
It isn't any sort of discomfort that makes her knees knock closed, but the spike of pleasure she gets at the rough texture on her skin; the realization that even with her panties on full display, he hasn't looked away from her eyes once.
He freezes the moment her knees close around his head, and she forces them open a little, blushing. He licks his lips and ducks his chin, eyes boring into hers.
“No... no. Just surprised me.”
His eyebrows twitch, as if asking if she's sure—and she realizes she is. She is.
And she lets her legs fall.
He doesn't do anything for a few moments—just feathers his hands up and down her ankles, holding her gaze as he begins to sway again. By the time her breath has fallen back into its slow, deep rhythm, he's running his hands up her legs—barely skimming the skin, but sending electricity through her veins all the same. He continues until he reaches her thighs, then in one smooth movement digs his fingers in and levers his weight and surges up her body.
Her breath catches as his chin skims the fabric between her breasts, his face passing so near to hers that she feels his hot breath on her lips, and then he's there, in front of her, his chest and his abs and the bulge in his pants and her palms suddenly feel like they want to crawl off her body.
She looks up at him looking down. Something new seems to come into his eyes at her question, a deeper sort of darkness that makes her long to push her open legs forward to wrap around his hips. His voice, when it comes out, seems deeper, too, more throaty and uncontrolled.
“Above the belt,” he says.
She blushes fiercely at the intimation of what else she could mean—she hadn't even considered that until he mentioned it, and now, now that idea doesn't sound too bad—but still, she nods. Nods and brings her shaking hands up from where they had been gripping the chair to press slowly to his pulsing abdomen.
For several long moments she is so overwhelmed by the heat and the hardness that she doesn't realize he's started moving again—rolling his hips until he's practically thrusting into her face. She feels the rough of his jeans brush her forearms several times and it takes all she has not to press herself back.
She focuses on his stomach instead. The way the muscles roll, and clench, and shimmer in the low light as she runs her hands across them, her own paleness seemingly translucent against his darker skin. A fine layer of hair covers most of his stomach, roughening around his belly button into a thatch that leads down into his pants, already low-slung and sliding down his hips as he moves, revealing the strong V of his pelvis and the thickening of hair down below.
“My God,” she whispers before she even thinks to not, and her head jerks up at the snort from above. “What?” she asks, pretending to be cross, but unable to keep the breathiness from her voice.
He's smirking again, but when he speaks he sounds breathless too. “Like what you see, huh?”
“Yeah,” Beth says, without a moment of hesitation.
He knows. From her flushed face and trembling hands he knows, and that thrills her almost as much as the movement of his body does.
“More where that comes from,” he says, and before she can stop him he's stepping out of her reach. Her eyes flicker from his hips to his eyes. When he speaks, his voice is rough. “Want them off?”
It takes her a moment to realize—from the way his stomach rolls, the next inch of skin revealed as his jeans slide down—that he's talking about his pants.
She assumes he's wearing underwear. That's a policy here, isn't it?
She finds herself—her blushing, virginal self—hoping against hope that there isn't.
“Yes. Yeah. Take them off, please.”
He doesn't make the show of it she expects; just undoes the button, unzips the fly, works the loose material slowly down his hips until he can step out of them. He isn't wearing spangled underwear, but plain black boxer briefs, and he's—
He's big. She knows enough about male anatomy to know he's big. She could have guessed it anyway, from his hands, his bare feet standing long on the carpet.
But it isn't just that. It could never be just that.
He isn't just big. He's hard too.
And that's when Beth feels a spike of lust in her gut so acute she nearly groans.
This is real.
This is something real and it's something she wants .
She trails off, and looks up at him. Wonders if this is part of the game. Wonders if Merle Dixon sent her here for more than a free dance.
Wonders if she's expected to give him something that Jimmy'd only dreamed of.
But she looks at his face. At his face—dark, sharp, intense. Staring down at her with the same consideration he'd given her since he walked in.
But there's lust too. She sees it, feels it, rolling off of him. Lust, and something soft. Something shy. Something ashamed. This wasn’t supposed to happen.
He didn't expect this either, and that makes her brave.
“C'mon then,” she breathes, sitting back in the chair, letting her legs drop open once more. “Show me what you got, Mr. Dixon.”
His eyes drill into her as he steps forward, the wings of his pelvis framing the hard thing between his legs as he continues to dance. She doesn't stare at it—lets herself take in all of him, from his broad shoulders to his shapely calves, stopping on his crotch only as an afterthought. Because he's beautiful. All of him is beautiful, not least of all the eyes that refuse to leave hers.
He's straddling her lap when the song comes to an end—rolling his hips up against her, barely holding his weight with his hands on the chair back, touching her only in glancing brushes that feel like grinding drags all the same.
They're both panting by the end of it, and it takes him several moments to climb off of her. He's shining with sweat, the leather of his vest sticking visibly to his body. He's still hard—achingly hard, it looks like, and she wonders if she should offer to do something about that—but it's clear their dance is done.
He pulls his pants up, wincing a little as he drags them over his tender flesh, and stoops to grab the strip of fabric meant to represent his shirt. He doesn’t look at her as he does it, not once, and the closer he comes to finishing the higher the anxiety ratchets up in her gut.
He's at the door before she finds the voice to speak.
He pauses, hand on the doorknob. He doesn't turn around.
“I... What's your name?”
He looks down, and sideways, just enough that he might see her out the corner of his eye. He might not, of course. But she's willing to hope.
“Daryl,” he says.
Beth's hands twitch at her sides, then reach down to grab her purse where it sits under the chair. She has about 50 singles left, and she pulls out all of them. She stands on wobbly legs.
“You don't gotta—“
“I want to,” she says. When he still doesn't move, she walks forward, barely tottering on her heels. She comes to within a foot of him, and holds out the money. “You deserve it,” she says.
“I told you,” he says softly, sounding unaccountably young. “Don't do it for that.”
“Why do it then?”
“Cause...” He does look at her, now; side-on, and then head-on, seeming strangely close now that their height difference has lessened. “Y'all need me. Ain't been needed for nothing before.”
“I don't need you,” Beth says softly. She holds out the money again. “I do want you, though. A lot.”
He shakes his head, looking at the ground. “Ain't real, girl. In here, ain't none of it real.”
“I know,” she says.
Steeling her breath, she steps forward, boldness in her heart when she sees his own breath has stopped. Reaching out, she takes his hand, and presses the bills into his palm.
He looks at her, gaze hesitant, soft. For the first time all night—for the first time all year, it feels—she smiles.
“Who knows. What'll happen out there.”