Dancer for Money

Chapter 1 - Deluge in a Paper Cup

by Dice


Chapter 1. A Deluge in a Paper Cup

We sit across from each other, coffee cups empty. I've passed this place almost every day for the last two years and never gone inside. He shakes another cigarette out of its case. It's a small silver case; a gift from the missing and yet practically tangible participant in our conversation. He lights it and I pretend not to choke on the sharp smell as he blows the smoke across the table and it drifts into my face. I could never stand the brand he uses.

I've run out of things to say. He's quiet too. It's been so long since we talked and we never really had anything in common, except for him. Neither of us has brought up his name.

I look out at the rain. It hasn't shown any signs of letting up since we came in here. I fiddle with my coffee cup and I study him in the grey afternoon light coming through the window. He's smartly dressed as always, neat grey dress shirt underneath a blue pullover, expensive like the coat hanging from his chair. But there're lines on his face now that weren't there before and a strained smile tugs at the corner of his mouth as if he wants to reassure me but can't really force his heart into it.

"So… that's what you do now, is it, dance?" he asks to break the silence. It's a minor modification of a question he's posed twice already.

"I guess," I reply, still shirking the issue, he doesn't have to know what kind of dancing.

"Pays well?" he continues, I shrug slightly.

"Covers the bills... and you… I heard you quit…" I stop talking, his face grows dark and he looks out at the rain, away from me. He wouldn't want to talk about that I guess. It's history, their history.

A passing car sends a wave from the gutter up over the pavement. Muddy droplets trail down the window. I fiddle with my cup again, but keep my eyes on the road outside. God, I'm so late, I shouldn't have taken him up on the coffee, should've gone straight to the club.

"Damn rain won't let up, will it?" I laugh nervously, my stomach filling with ice at the thought of having to face Guy. "I should get going…" I make to stand up and he pushes his chair back.

"Do you have some place to be? We can share a taxi…" he says quietly, I watch him as he stands, giving me another of those strained, would be friendly smiles while shrugging into his coat and against my better judgement I smile weakly and nod.

I decide, as we get into the taxi, that I'll ask him to let me off at the park, the club's not far and if I run…

"Waterby Road," he states before I have time to speak. I stare blankly ahead as I sink into the seat, wishing it would swallow me up, my throat is dry - the club's on Waterby Road.

I don't have to ask how he knew. I never took him for the type to set foot in a dive like Guy's, but he's obviously seen me there. He knew all the time while he watched me avoid his questions. I can't look at him.

I don't want to feel ashamed. I rarely do. I rarely let myself dwell on it to be honest and most men I find myself with has had their convictions well soaked in alcohol and wallow in their own degradation deep enough to reserve judgement. But it's different with him. His opinion always worried me, not that he ever explicitly expressed any views on me back then. Back then it was all about Alex.

Alex… something begins to stir inside as his name rises to the forefront of my mind… Alex… lucky, carefree, gorgeous Alex, dazzling, enchanting, dangerous, dumb, crazy…

"He always did say I looked best with my clothes off…" I say, no I snap, angry. I push back against a swell of emotion from inside.

"He said many things…" he agrees with me. I wish he had reacted more, become angry, thrown me out of the car… anything but the quiet sadness I see when glancing at him. "He wasn't often right," he adds quietly.

I can't reply. I don't know where to go with that. I grit my teeth, working the anger into its own entity, trying to turn my shame into resentment of him. He has no right to do this to me. I glare at the car floor, feeling my eyes glaze over, I blink the heat away and focus my gaze on a faded candy wrapper, shrivelled and torn.

We sit there, the air thick with unspeakable words. Neither of us brave enough to delve into the chasm that awaits us beyond the one thing that brings us together.

He doesn't drop me off, he walks me in. I can't bring myself to stop him and Sam just grins a little and nods us through. The brawny, dark skinned man is used to seeing me with older men, he teases me about it in his taciturn way in the afterhours when we have a smoke together, waiting for the bus, says I should go home with him sometime.

I give Nick a shrug when he asks where the hell I've been and then there's Guy. There's no shrugging him off, he sticks his face up close to mine and spews a garlic stinking lecture all over me. I take it, bowing my head, inserting a few grumbling apologies when he lets me have a word in edgewise, but can't forget about my silent shadow waiting close by, melting into the assembled regulars and sticking out like a sore thumb with his well mannered request for a whiskey. Guy looks him over from over my shoulder and sneers at me.

"I told you, no boyfriends!" he snarls, but leaves it at that, only a last sarcastic smirk my way and an order to get ready, before he stalks off towards the bar. I let out a breath I didn't realise I was holding.

My eyes go to the stage, there's always someone up there, shaking his ass to the music. The smoke in the darkened room blurs the edges of the two boys who're on right now, not two of the more popular. Besides, it's Nick and I who do the proper shows, bringing in the cash. I'm guessing Nick's covered for me, but the crowd is restless, hungry. I listen to them jeering, and someone's throwing bottle caps; Dean doesn't bother going over there, he's chewing on an unlit cigarette and waiting for Guy's order that doesn't come.

I cringe inwardly, I don't want to do this tonight.

Nick is waving frantically for me, his face telling me exactly how sick of my shit he is, but I can't go yet. I walk up to the table in the back where my uninvited guest sits, a tumbler of whiskey untouched on the sticky table top.

"You staying?" I ask quietly, my voice more challenging than I expect.

"Do you mind?" he returns, a warning in his voice as well.

"You know I do…" I whisper.

"Why?" he raises an eyebrow.

"Why?"

"Yes, why? I've obviously seen you before, hell I've seen you dancing on my living room table…" he seems to be getting me back for my snide remark in the car.

I pick up the glass and throw the whiskey in his face. He jumps back, the chair clattering to the floor behind him. He wipes his face with his hand, giving me a look that's a mix of anger and disbelief.

"Get out!" I growl and he shakes his head beginning to say something, I feel more than see Guy heading our way. "Just leave! I don't know what the fuck you want?! I don't need this!!" I shout at him and his jaw sets.

"Do you really think this is what Alex would've wanted for you?" he asks heatedly and I physically flinch back, a burning like an acid at the back of my throat. I throw the tumbler at the wall behind him and it explodes against the bricks, glittering glass showering us both.

He grabs my arm and though I see it coming I can't escape the painful smack he lands on the back of my thigh. I gasp, it hurts, but the pain is nothing. I stare at him, feeling the anger and resentment break apart, letting through a deluge of raw emotion as I'm overwhelmed by memories.

We were running away together… just for a night, just the two of us… no one telling us what to do, no cares, no worries… Blinding lights, stars twirling in a distant sky… we were so drunk… and high… high on life and stolen freedom as much as on whatever those pills were that Alex kept popping like candy… They'd had a fight, another fight and Alex was plotting his revenge. Walking on the ledge…

'I'm immortal, Jamie, look at me!'

Guy is screaming at me, but I'm lost. There's no turning back now, the floodgates are opened and I can't even catch my breath. My voice is hollow and it frightens me, I can't hold back. Then strong hands on my arms, someone is picking me up from the floor, I struggle before I realise it's Sam. He helps me up and I turn my face into his tight black t-shirt. I don't want him to let me go but he wrests my clinging hands from his shirt and pushes me towards Guy who grabs me and drags me into the back.

He shoves me down on the sofa; if he says anything I'm beyond hearing it, I barely notice him leaving and then Nick is beside me, stroking my hair from my face. He kneels by the coffee table, handing me a glass of water, then quietly makes a thin, white line on the coaster.

I try to drink the water, but cough most of it up again. I look at the table, eyes fixed on the white line calling to me to take the easy way out. I know I shouldn't, know Nick's already waiting for me to pay him… know how easy it would be…

"No… Nick…" I hear my plaintive voice and he gives me a hard look.

"I ain't covering for you anymore tonight! Want Guy to fuck you up for that mess out there? For fuck's sake, you whinging cunt! Just get over yourself!"

He gets up, holding the straw out towards me, I take it from his hand before the doubts win out.

"Oi," Sam gives a nod as I sit down beside him on the bench at the bus stop. A corner of the plastic seat has been broken off for so long the frayed edge is nearly smooth and the rest is covered in faded tags and rude shapes. The streetlight gutters.

"Got any?" I drive my hands into my armpits and shiver; there's a chill in the air. The hood of my sweater is pulled down low over my face. I don't look at him.

He takes a crumpled pack from his jean pocket and sticks out a cigarette for me. It hangs limp between my fingers as he lights it for me. I take a token drag and then I just hold it in my hand. I'm coming down and fast.

I stare at the stacks of wet, brown leaves on the pavement, the rain's let up at last. Predictably depression's setting in. I rock slowly and take another drag. I have to get home and sleep it off. I have to pretend I'm stronger than this, but I'm swirling into a black cesspit of despair and I won't make it home.

"All right there, mate?" Sam's voice is a quiet rumble next to me.

"I'm good," I lie and put out the cigarette, handing him back the remains.

"You're not," he shrugs.

I nod. Slowly my head falls down on his shoulder and after a moment his arm comes up around me. He smells of sweat and smoke and vaguely of liquor and vomit. We sit there until the bus arrives and when it does, he stands, shrugging out of his jacket and placing it around my shoulders.

I go home with him.

It's rushed and feverish; neither of us in a mood for subtlety. He tears his t-shirt off and pushes me down on his narrow bed, ripping my jeans off me in one quick pull while I fight to be free of my shirt. Every muscle on his body is defined and bulging, mine is lithe and sinewy.

There's a moment of complete still while his trembling hands work the rubber onto his straining cock. He bends over me and I wrap my arms around his shoulders. It's a little bit awkward, but intense. He fucks me hard and deep; there's pain, but I relish in it, drink it down and let him own me.

I fall asleep with my arm resting on his chest.

The morning outside his small window is bleak and wet when I wake up, promising another rainy day. I'm alone. My jeans and my sweater lie folded on the swivel chair by his desk; the computer screen is black, but the hard drive is humming slightly.

I slip into the outer room. I make no sound and for a moment I watch him move in the small kitchen, unaware of me. He is wearing an unbuttoned, short sleeved shirt and my stomach jolts when I get a glimpse of his muscular abdomen as he takes the pot from the boiler and pours water into two mugs. Then he snatches the hot toast from the toaster, juggling it slightly and blowing on his fingers; I catch myself smiling.

"Oi," I say and he looks over at me, a funny little half smile on his lips.

"Toast?" he asks, holding a slice up as evidence, I shrug and nod.

Slipping into a kitchen chair I watch him pop a couple of more slices into the toaster before he sits down opposite to me, handing me my mug. He smiles at me as he butters his toast, the melting butter drips onto his fingers and he licks it off absently sending another jolt through me. My face flushes and I look away, sipping at the tea. Hot and sweet. I rarely stay for breakfast, part of me always wary of seeing my actions exposed in the stark daylight. But this is nice. I could get used to this.

I shake the thought, but there's already a sense of unease building inside me, a formless disquiet I can't quell. I set the mug down rubbing my eyes.

"Tired?" he says and I give a vague nod. "That shit ain't you, you know?"

I put the mug down and take another slice of toast, not responding, pretending that he didn't bring it up. I look out into his flat, it's bigger than mine, but older and slightly more worn, the wallpaper dating it a few decades. His bookshelf is brimming with books, knickknacks and framed photos, there's a blanket tossed onto the sofa in a rumpled pile and a bowl of left over popcorn tucked into it. It feels lived in, comfortable… safe…

"Right!" he says when he gets no response. He rises abruptly from his seat.

He makes too much noise washing his mug; his movements are hastened and rough, muscles flexing under the tight sleeves of his shirt. He seems suddenly as intimidating to me as he might to the unlucky bastards who get on the wrong side of him at the club.

I get up and head for the door. I don't say anything and he doesn't look up.

As my hand closes on the door handle another closes over mine. His breath is on my neck and I feel him press against my back. A tremble runs through me.

"Always clear off when you get uncomfortable, eh?" he says, his voice a soft rumble against my skin and I let my hand drop slowly, his stays on the handle. It's quiet for a moment my breathing short and his heavy, then he sighs, straightening slightly. "You worry me, all right?"

"Ain't yours to worry about," I bite out.

"Fuck you, Jamie. God, fuck you!" the muscles in his arm bunch as his fist clenches in front of me and I wonder absently if maybe he will hit me. I wonder how it might feel.

"You already did!" I push.

"Go to hell, you little shit!" he sounds more weary than angry and I nod my head slightly and then rest my forehead against the door in front of me.

"Sorry…" my voice is dull, distant. "The sex was good though…" I hear him snort behind me and then chuckle in a slightly cynical tone.

I turn around, still slumped against the door with him still leaning over me, his breath smells of toast and jam. I give him a half smile and trail a hand up to the collar of his shirt, holding on, he shakes his head, but his eyes light up.

"That guy…?" I give my head a sharp shake and feel my face harden, my hand drops from his shirt, he rolls his eyes. "OK, I won't ask, you're not seeing him again though… right?"

"Never saw him in the first place, he's…" I begin, then shake my head again and shrug. "I should…" I nod at the door behind me; for the longest moment he just watches me, eyes soft and searching.

"Later," he says finally and steps back. I swallow and just stand there wanting to speak, but there's nothing to say. He reaches out a hand and nudges my chin up giving me a grin, one that strikes a chord in me and I straighten up and kiss his cheek, just brush against it with my lips before I turn and leave.

*****

The car's too new. I watch it absently as I walk the street up to my block of flats. Silver, spotless, windows intact… it's out of place. From the alley ahead some familiar faces are eyeing it with keen interest; local troublemakers, teenagers only a bit younger than myself.

I turn my back to it and walk up the steps; the car door slams.

"James!"

The voice shoots ice into my stomach. As I turn around I feel myself shaking, my body feels out of my control and for a moment I have a sense of vertigo that I fear will send me crashing down the steps. I grit my teeth and force my eyes up to the face of the man standing on the street below me.

He has his car key in hand and locks the doors with a beep as he moves towards me, stopping just below the stone steps, watching me with a stranger's eyes.

"Tel…?" my mouth is dry and I don't know if he hears me.

"God, look at you…" the disapproval fills his voice with a familiar undertone. "I didn't half believe Bolton…"

"What the fuck did he tell you?!" I feel the panic rise, but try to keep it out of my voice, try to find an edge.

"Enough," he says, looking at me hard and I shudder, but the anger is there now, smouldering and I give him a bitter smile that he meets with a deadpan glare which will not budge. "Are you going to invite me in?"

I look him over, letting my smirk grow and shake my head.

"I wouldn't leave my car if I were you…" I say opening the door behind me, knowing he would never bother to wait for an invitation and wouldn't care if I told him no.

"It's insured," he replies while following me inside.

I ignore him as we come into the stairwell. It's not a very old building, but the upkeep is lacking and the landlord rarely around. While I fumble with the lock I hear the rattle of the chain as the door across the hall his pushed ajar. I don't need to look to know the pinched face, pale and wrinkled that appears in the gap, eyes squinting, suspicious.

"How are you, Mrs. Dreher?" I say loudly as I've gotten in the habit of doing and the door closes swiftly with nothing but a whisper.

As we enter my flat I step deliberately on a big cockroach that scuttles past my bathroom door and kick a beer can across the floor; it clatters against the wall and leaves a trace of beer on the hard carpet.

My place is small, one room and a kitchen you can barely turn around in. If not for the mess of old magazines and cans, you'd think it was abandoned. I don't own much; there's the foldaway bed, as always unmade, an old worn arm chair that the previous tenant left behind - I think he died in it - and an empty bookshelf.

I bend and pull out a duffel bag from under the bed, whipping out a t-shirt. I look it over and smell it - it'll do.

"This is where you live?"

There's no need to look at him to know the level of disgust that must be on his face, his voice is unmistakable. I shrug into the t-shirt and drag my hand through my hair, it's still stiff from yesterday's hair gel.

"Home sweet home," I say in a mockingly cheerful tone. "What's it to you?"

"It's little better than a cardboard box!" he insists, his eyes sweeping our surroundings, I bristle, but his criticism hits me like a punch in the stomach all the same. "When did you last clean this place?"

"Well, I'm sorry! I gave the housekeeper the day off," I counter scathingly, "I wasn't expecting such discerning company."

He levels me with a glare that I can't believe I'm able to meet and as our eyes stay locked he raises an eyebrow. Then his stance shift, a slight motion that sends ripples of fear through me, but I don't look down, I don't yield.

"It's been awhile," he offers, tone suddenly pleasant, conversational, but I know what it means. "Your manners have deteriorated," he points out and I feel my face flush.

"Piss off!" I snarl. "The fuck did you come here for?"

"Bolton told me you needed help," he says, half rolling his eyes and for a moment I can only look at him, torn between objection and disbelief. "Seems he wasn't wrong," he adds with another dismayed look around the room.

"Why the fuck would you give a shit if I did?" I ask quietly, sounding bitter more than anything, he pins me with a sceptical glare.

"Why wouldn't I?" he counters, I shrug and I try not to seem as if I'm avoiding his gaze.

The room is quiet again.

I wish he'd take a hint and leave, but he's on a mission it seems. I wonder if he thought I'd be happy to see him, grateful that he came all this way to save me from myself.

I wonder if I am.

All this time, so many reasons to stay away and yet here he is, standing in my shabby flat in his crisp grey suit, because he thought I needed him. Bolton must've lain it on thick about my miserable state of existence for him to come running to my rescue.

"I don't need anything from you!" I say, stressing the last word enough to be insulting.

"Bolton told me about yesterday," he says, ignoring my attempt at rejecting him. "He was afraid you'd hurt yourself."

"That's…" I don't know how to respond, don't know what the truth would've been without the drugs… without Sam… "I was fine!" I look away, out at the bricks of the building across the alley, the faint filter of car fumes covering my window panes are specked with rain.

"That's not his version," he disagrees with that annoying calm, he can tell I'm straddling honesty like it's a knife's edge.

I don't ask what his version is, I don't want to know, but he's not waiting for me to ask. He circles me with an affected air of indifference that I've long since caught on to. I know he's about to let me have it; I used to hold my breath, waiting for him utter those first cutting words that'd set the tone of yet another stinging lecture.

But I'm not his to lecture anymore.

"All right! So I bawled like a girl when he brought up Alex!" his name catches in my throat, I feel like I've swallowed a piece of glass. I shake the feeling back in the dark where it belongs and sneer at him. "But I'm not a fucking baby, I can wipe my nose and get on with it!"

He isn't expecting me to take the offensive and he has to take a moment to regroup, I can see it in the tilt of his head as he watches me quietly, the tiny purse of his lips lets me know when he has formed a response and I attack before he can speak.

"I told you, I don't need your help! I'm not about to slit my wrists because Stephen Bolton shows up and reminds me my best mate died and if I did, you'd be the last person on earth I'd go to!" I've rattled him and I feel a small jolt of satisfaction when the barb hits the mark.

He shakes himself, a look of a man sobering up crossing his face. He looks around and tugs idly at his cuff. I see insecurity in him that I've never seen before, that he either never allowed me to see or that I was too blinded by his presence to ever notice. I feel uneasy.

"I deserved that," he says coolly, catching me off guard. I watch him suspiciously and he shrugs a little. "I should've been there for you, I…" he tastes the words he was planning to say and discards them, "…I didn't know what to do. I was blind and…" he catches my eye and I want to turn away, I don't want to hear those empty words, I don't want to have to react to them, but they drop into the silence and hang there like little pins of guilt piercing my conscience. "…I'm sorry…"

I feel my lip tilt into a sarcastic little grin and shrug, shaking my head. I want to hurt him, but know it isn't fair. Maybe he doesn't deserve for me to turn my bitterness on him; arrogant, self-righteous bastard though he is, it's not him I despise it's what it made me into, trying to be what he wanted.

He never understood, couldn't have then and I watch him now, knowing he still has no idea.

"I'm not," I try to keep my voice steady.

"I suppose I've wasted my time," he says and I look up at him, feeling suddenly sad that I'll never have him as I once did, that everything we had really was a waste of his time because it was never what I wanted.

"I didn't ask you to come!" I return and grasp the edge in my tone with both hands and fan the flame. "Really, why did you?!"

He looks at me, steely eyes cutting straight to my core, I rarely riled him to a point where he showed me genuine anger, but now I have, it makes me take an involuntary step back and I braze to attack before he can have a go at me, but it's him who cuts me off this time, spite in his tone.

"Isn't that rather obvious, James? I came to see you hadn't jumped off a bridge last night!"

I stare at him. He chose to say that, every word a deliberate cut and I swallow, tears forming in my eyes. Then I hit him, fist clenched tight; I strike at his shoulder and then his chest, I clench both fists and pound on his pristine lapels with both hands, the tears burning lines down my face. He lets me for a moment and then he grabs me by the arms and gives me one rough shake.

"Stop it!" he snaps.

"Bastard!" I snarl back, heat forming at the back of my throat, I struggle and he lets go immediately. "You've no fucking right!"

He backs off, turning a little away, refusing to look at me. He straightens his clothes with studied care, as if every crease is a problem to be solved. I slowly regain my composure, such as it ever was and wipe my nose with my hand. I feel as if I've been beaten raw, my whole body hurts.

Neither of us can meet the other's eyes again, but at length I finally manage to stop myself from choking on my own voice and ask him to leave.

"You need to go," I whisper and he nods.

"I know," he says without turning towards me. "I…" he falls silent, he doesn't offer an apology, no more meaningless words.

I don't watch him leave, couldn't if I'd wanted to, my eyes are too clouded by tears that I won't let myself shed. I'm stronger than this. I can fight it, I will not fall to pieces again. My stomach turns and I can't hold it back, I head for the bathroom and barely manage to crash to my knees on the tile before I sacrifice Sam's toast to the porcelain god.

Chapter 2 - A Fool's Game

~ Dice

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