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TJ spent most days trying to keep his mouth shut. It was easy out on the line because grunts and hand gestures sufficed.

It was harder on Fridays, when there wasn't anywhere to go but the Tap. None of the guys wanted to hear about writer's block or the way that he was running out of spots for rejection notices. Even Dex quit listening after the fourth round, and TJ usually spent the rest of the evening staring into his beer and trying not to compare himself to that dancer in Flashdance.

Strippers made a lot of money. They didn't have grease under their fingernails, dirt and a growing collection of nicks and scars that showed how he spent his days. It distracted him, made him itchy for something better, something bigger. He didn't want to end up like his dad, drinking with the guys and going home to reheated casserole and the television.

He didn't want his life to be the line, the bar and the union hall. He didn't want to brag about his seats at the Joe like that was some accomplishment.

There had to be more than this. Had to be. College hadn't worked out, but that didn't mean everything. He could write, everybody said so but the editors who turned down envelopes full of pages and hopes.

He could do something else, he just wasn't sure what. Didn't know how to break loose, didn't want to be alone. He had family, he had friends and he had Dex. People who knew him. People who were part of him.

He wondered what it would feel like to wake up in an empty apartment.

The day they offered him shift supervisor, tried to promote him right out of the union, he decided it was time to leave.