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Enthusiast

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After she gets off stage, she touches up her makeup and goes out on the floor. The DJ puts on the next girl's music as she scans the tables for someone she likes.

She likes the nervous men, the ones who hopefully meet her eyes and then look back at their drinks as she comes near, her proximity overwhelming. She's bored by the men who call attention to themselves and flash their wallets and their smiles at her. There's nothing to them but money.

She spots D in a table by the corner of the stage, sitting by a man who's sneaking looks at her. She walks across the floor, her heels clicking.

"Someone's got a crush," D sing-songs. "He couldn't take his eyes off you the whole time you were onstage, isn't that right, Slim? You should treat him nicely."

She ignores him. D's a loudmouth; always has been. The man is playing with the straw in his drink. She leans down and says, "Hello, handsome."

He smiles at her hesitantly and it touches her heart. His shirt doesn't fit him correctly. She says, "Would you like a dance?"

"He'd like more than that," D says. "He'll take you home and marry you if you give him the chance."

The guy says, "I…I haven't…"

She says, "I'm very reasonable."

"She's expensive as hell," D says. "She'll make you mortgage your house."

"Come and have a dance with me," she says. "Come on, cutie. We'll have a good time."

He looks at her. She offers a hand. He takes it and allows her to lead him upstairs to one of the private rooms. D trails along after them, and she doesn't mind. No one can see or hear D but her.

Upstairs, she gets the music ready while he settles down in the chair and takes out his wallet. D sprawls out to the side, watching.

Her act starts as soon as the music does. She sways her hips as she comes closer and closer, preening her hair, bringing her hands down to stroke along her sides. He finally meets her eyes and she sees something like fear and something like need in them.

"Motherfucker acts like he's never seen a girl before," D says idly. "Bet his job's real boring. This is the most excitement he's ever had."

She smiles and peels off her shirt, tossing it in his general direction. He doesn't even move to raise his hands.

"Think he's got sisters?" D asks. "Because I know he's got no wife. He's got no ring and he's got no game."

She moves between the guy's legs and snaps her back. Her nipples drag against the rough cotton of his shirt.

He blinks. She turns and shimmies her hips, sliding out of her skirt and brushing it to the side. He says, "So, did you ever take ballet classes? Other dance classes?"

"Oh, dude," D says and puts his face in his hand.

"Few things here and there," she says, and turns around. She lets him get a good look at her ass. Over her shoulder, fluttering her lashes, she tells him, "But I'm really more of an enthusiast than anything else."

"Well, you sure are good at it. Dancing, I mean."

"Thank you," she says and takes off her thong. She runs her hand along her abdomen. He swallows. Just to see what he'll do, she says, "You know you're not allowed to touch me."

"Sorry," he says obediently, though he hasn't so much as raised an eyebrow. D laughs.

When the music ends she gathers up her clothes and gets dressed while he counts out bills from his wallet and puts them on the table. She takes the money and says, "You know, I'm not supposed to do this, but I'd love to take you home with me."

He looks panicked. "I'm on a budget."

She stares at him. "Are you telling me that you think I'm a hooker?"

"I – no!"

"You know, even if I were, I wouldn't charge you."

"Oh." He looks around. "I don't understand."

"Because you're just a sweet little baby," she says.

He smiles, blushes. She says, "Why don't you wait for me after my shift's over? We'll go home and open a bottle of wine. I've been saving it."

"Well, I can't say no to that."

She smiles. "Go and have a drink and wait for me. I'll meet you in a little while. Just don't say anything, I'm not supposed to do this."

He nods eagerly and heads out. D says, "You always pick the dumb ones."

"Oh, shut your mouth," she says. "He's cute. Didn't you notice how cute he was?"

"You just like him because you can boss him around."

"There's nothing wrong with a guy who lets you do what you want."

"You think these assholes ever guess how high-maintenance you are?"

"Maintenance has nothing to do with it."

"Oh, c'mon. Even back when we were kids, you were always needing something. Even before they said I died -"

"You disappeared. No one said you died. They just couldn't find you."

"But you found me. In your head, I was right there, huh, sis?" He smiles conspiratorially at her.

She smiles back. "That's right."

After her shift is over, she gets her purse and heads out. She spots him standing by the bar, face a little flushed, eyes a little blurry. She pauses in his general direction and pretends to fix her hair. She makes sure he sees her before inclining her head and cutting her eyes to the door. She doesn't even have to check to know that he's following her out.

He catches up to her at her car. D is already in the back seat, running his mouth about how it takes her an hour to do everything and how he wishes she didn't make such a production out of it all. She ignores him. Years ago she used to answer him back when he started acting up, but she got tired of other people giving her funny looks so she stopped. The guy says, "I waited like you told me."

She says, "Get in and I'll drive you home."

The liquor kicks in on the drive home; at times he almost seems to be falling asleep. D says, "Lightweight."

She rolls her eyes at D in the rearview mirror. She pulls into her garage and tells him, "Come into my parlor, like the poem says."

He tries to pretend he's not yawning. "This is a huge house."

"Cost a fortune," she says. "Eh, I worked for it, it's fine."

She brings him into the living room and allows him a minute to take in the design that she's carefully cultivated – the dark red carpet and the ceiling chandelier throwing pretty bone-shaped lights across the walls. When she decides he's had enough she says, "Glass of wine?"

"Yes, please," he says hopefully, and D snickers.

She goes into the kitchen to open the wine. He stays in the living room and looks around. He calls, "Who are these kids here on the wall?"

She assumes he's found the picture of her and D when they were younger. All her other photographs are in the basement. "That's me and my brother," she says.

"I'd never have guessed. You don't really look alike."

"Don't say anything," D shouts from the living room, and she thinks that's the best idea. She doesn't really feel like explaining the whole story of her and D to this guy and she really doesn't want to explain the intricacies of the foster care system. "That's right," she says. She finds two Phenergan and crushes them into the bottom of his wine glass before pouring the wine over it. She swirls the glass to help them dissolve. Then she pours herself a glass and goes back out.

D is appraising the guy, looking like he's about to make a wiseass comment. Before D can say anything, she hands the guy his glass and says, "Cheers."

They clink glasses. She sips the wine, while he gulps it greedily. "Slow down," she scolds. "No one's going to take it away from you."

"I always get told off for that," he says.

"Have you ever heard of nuru massage?" she asks.

"What's that?"

"It's a full-body massage. Full contact. It's pretty cool."

"I haven't - " he starts to say, then sways on his feet and looks at her, eyes full of dull panic. "What was –"

"What is it?" she asks. She opens her eyes wide. "Has the wine gone bad?" She sniffs her glass, leans over and sniffs his. "Sometimes it turns, you know. Turns to vinegar. Doesn't taste very nice."

"I'm not sure. I feel weird."

She presses the back of her hand to his forehead, touches the soft skin under his jaw. "You look a little sick."

"I think I drank too much."

"Poor thing," she says. "Want to just take a shower and then go lie down? I'm not in a hurry."

"Yeah, okay."

"Mind if I join you?"

"I don't know if I'm up for anything."

"Doesn't matter to me," she says truthfully.

She helps him to the bathroom and strips him of his clothes. In the harsh light, leaning against the sink, he looks very frail and soft. She says, "I'll get the hot water started."

"Make sure you've got everything ready," D says, sitting on top of the closed toilet seat. She ignores him and takes off her shirt before turning on the shower. The shower caddy in the bathroom is always well stocked, bubble bath and body wash and shampoos and conditioners and straight razors. The guy coughs.

"I'll scrub your back," she says, gets out of the rest of her clothes and steps into the steaming water. She stands behind him and looks at the wide expanse of his back, freckles and moles and shoulder blades. "Feeling better?"

"A little."

"Good." She squeezes shampoo into the palm of her hand and begins rubbing it through his hair. He's holding onto the shower railing.

"That smells like…soap."

"That's because it is."

"I'm getting bored with this asshole," D yells. She sighs.

"What?"

"Nothing, honey," she says and rinses out the shampoo with gentle hands. He says, "You should have been a hairstylist. Missed your calling."

"I don't think I did," she says and tilts his head back slightly. Then she takes the straight razor from the caddy and slices his throat open.

She feels hot blood on her hands, shooting through her fingers to splatter on the shower walls. He gasps and thrashes away from her, slipping on the wet tile and going down hard. The blood turns to pink in the water. It swirls down his chest and sides and puddles around her feet. He stares up at her, panicked, confused, lost. She thinks, Poor little thing.

She lies down next to him and cuddles up close, stroking his wet hair and crooning, "Shh, baby, it's okay, you're okay, lie still for me now." He tries to fight her but he's too drug-dazed and already going into shock. The water drums on her skin in fat drops. She nestles into his shoulder and waits for him to die.

"Man, he was a bleeder, wasn't he?" D says afterwards, staring down at the scene. "That'll take forever to clean up."

"Just needs a little scrub," she says. She turns the water off and watches the pink swirl away. "Guess I'll have to take him downstairs."

She gives herself a cursory dry, grabs the old stained bed sheet from the linen closet, wraps him up in it and drags him down to the basement. Cleanup always takes a long time, but it's a necessary evil.

She keeps all her tools in the basement, all her lyes and acids and alkalines. She feels comfortable in the basement. There's nothing soft or pretty down there.

"Melt him down for tallow," D says as she's heaving the guy up onto the table. "Make candles out of him. Let him shine that little light of his. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. But in the end you're just going to do whatever the fuck you want, right, sis?"

"That's right," she says. She grabs her Polaroid camera and snaps a photo of the guy, his head tilted back and the meat showing red and raw in his neck. She lies the developing square aside to put it with the other ones later. She picks up a saw from the rack.

She takes another shower when she's finished working. She should probably rest up for tomorrow, but she's hungry, so she and D go out to the sushi place.

She puts a scarf over her still-damp hair before she goes in. The man behind the counter says, "Another late night?"

"You got it," she says.

D looks at the koi swimming in the fountain while she orders. He says, "They have little tufts on their mouths. Like little mustaches. They're adorable. Can we get some?"

The man behind the counter hands over her miso and salmon sashimi. He says, "Be careful out there. It's dangerous for a pretty girl when she's alone."

"I'm careful," she says, and heads out with D.

Outside, D says gleefully, "He didn't see me!" and they giggle together for a minute over the secret. Then he goes back to pretending to be cool and says, "You better share some of that salmon stuff with me, kiddo."

"Always," she says, and they head back home, matching their steps together.