The sickeningly loud bass reverberates into your bones as you struggle with the insanely tall heels that are pinching your feet. You brush a lock of hair out of the way, your heart thumping along to the beat. Already, your provocatively revealing outfit makes your skin crawl, as it does every time you have to put it on.
“Come on, time to go!” your boss barks out. You bite back a scathing retort, knowing that he already hates you enough as it is. Sighing, you put on your brave face and strut out to the cheap lights shining on you, taking your place by your designated pole. You flash a smirk and a wink to the horny, almost feral-looking man below you. You’ve been here long enough to know which ones are the more… generous type. His eyes rake up and down your body as if you’re no more than a piece of meat. A familiar feeling of bile rises up your throat, but you swallow it down as you begin your dance for this low-life degenerate.
You hate it. All of it. You hate the fact that you’re selling your body and being objectified by strangers. You know women that don’t mind it – women that you work with – but this is something that makes you physically sick, that makes you shudder every time a customer runs his sweaty hands up your thighs.
But if this job feeds your son back home, you’ll do it. Every night, all night, you’ll do it. For him.
And so the dance continues.
You see a group of new guys enter, their raucous laughter making your skin crawl. You turn away from them, knowing that they’ll come, sooner or later.
It’s not until one says, “Check out that one,” that you turn back. You feel your breath catch and your heart skip a beat, time seemingly slowing down as you stare at the group of men.
Because tagging along, in the back, is your high school sweetheart.
Tagging along is Chris “Woody” Wood.
Your mind flashes through those untapped memories with him that you’ve kept carefully hidden in the back of your mind. Sneaking out at night. Getting drunk with him at the park. Woody’s sweet smile as he looked down at you and whispered kind and loving words to you, holding you in his strong, sturdy arms. Quite honestly, they were the best moments of your life.
And then university happened, and everyone moved away when you were left back home. The two of you grew distant, and finally lost contact entirely.
Woody stares back at you, a look of disbelief growing on his face as he openly gawks at you. You suddenly feel the urge to cover yourself up, to hide away from the world. No. Not him, not him. Why does he have to see what you’ve become?
One of the guys laughs and claps a hand on Woody’s shoulder, startling him out of his stare. “Looks like Woody’s found one he likes!” the guy laughs.
Woody flashes his friend a nervous smile, barking back an unconvincing laugh. “Yeah, she seems like my type.”
You tear your gaze away from him, the feeling in your gut making you want to vomit as you shake your hair forward to hide your face. You squeeze your eyes shut before you hear Woody move closer, taking a seat in front of you.
Seeing no route of escape, you finally look back to him, forcing a brilliant smile on your face. “What can I do for you?”
Woody doesn’t smile back, staring up at you. You shake your head biting your lip and trying again. “What would you like, babe?”
Woody, to your disgust, tightens his lips and continues to stare in that pitiful way. After another pause, he finally replies, “What are you doing here?”
You scowl. “If you want a dance, you better pay up.”
Woody glances at his friends before looking back at you. Slowly, he reaches down into his pocket and pulls out his wallet, and you feel your stomach drop. A part of you didn’t want Woody to follow through with your request.
Woody pulls out a hundred-pound note, quirking an eyebrow at you. “That gets me a private room, right?”
You look down at Woody with a gaze of contempt, setting your jaw. Is he really going to humiliate you like this? “Of course.”
You look down as you take Woody’s hand, the same hand that gently cradled your face after your father got a little too drunk, a little too violent, all those years ago.
But instead, Woody tugs you away, leading you outside. The cool air is a nice reprieve from the stale, sweaty air of the club.
Woody assesses you, looking you up and down like countless men before him, but lacking that hungry look. You fight the urge to cover yourself up.
“What… happened to you?” he finally whispers out again.
You scowl. “I became a stripper. What does it look like?”
Woody breaks his gaze from you, choosing to look down instead. “I guess a whole lot’s changed since I’ve seen you last…”
You sigh, running a shaking hand through your hair. “Woody…”
Woody looks back at you.
“What else would you do if your son was at home by himself, crying, because you can’t feed him?”
Woody visibly flinches at your words, and you continue, spilling out your story. “And the only thing you can do is sleep with a man, to sell your body, to a man?”
Woody bites his bottom lip, glancing at you for a moment before looking down again. “You’re not the only one with a kid. That’s no excuse to be living a life like this.”
You laugh mirthlessly, feeling all the pent-up rage, frustration, and hopelessness well up in your eyes, spilling over as you say, “Woody, you remember my father, right?”
Woody’s eyes quickly grow steely at the mention of your abusive dad. “Yeah, I remember a thing or two about him.”
“I ran away, with my sister. We ran out before he killed us, or worse. And since then, I’ve been barely keeping up with my life. I wake up every morning wanting to kill myself, to just end it all, like my sister did a couple years ago. But I can’t, because I can’t leave my child. I can’t leave him alone. So don’t tell me about my life. You have no idea the shit I had to go through.”
Woody purses his lips before tentatively reaching out toward your face. You don’t move, your heart thumping heavily, as he wipes the tears from your cheeks with a gentleness and care that you can’t even remember the last time you’ve felt from someone else. The slight dropping of your eyes and lean toward his hand is all the incentive Woody needs to pull you close to him and hug you tightly. You clutch onto him like a lifeline, your heart aching at the feeling of security and sturdiness only your Woody could give you.
“I’m sorry,” Woody whispers into your hair. “I didn’t know…”
You shake your head as you press your nose into Woody’s chest, losing yourself in his familiar scent. Even after all these years, he still feels the same. A part of you yearns for the innocent callousness of your youth.
After another minute, frozen in the moment, you lean back, careful not to smudge your makeup as you wipe the tears away. “I… I have to go back,” you mutter back.
Woody merely nods at your words. After a moment, he takes out his wallet and empties it out, handing it to you.
You step away from the money, shaking your head. “I don’t need–”
“It’s not for you, it’s for me,” Woody cuts in, pressing the money against your chest. “Buy something nice for your son. Take some time off. Take care of yourself.” Woody hesitates for a moment before sticking his hand back into his pocket and pulling out a pen. He takes your hand and scrawls a series of numbers on the palm of it. “And next time you need help, call me, please.”
You take your hand away and cradle it gingerly against your chest, your other hand holding the wad of cash he gave you in an iron grip. Now, it’s your turn to gawk at him at a loss for words. “I–”
Woody leans forward and places a soft kiss on your head, pulling back and gazing at you with soft eyes. “You don’t have to thank me.”
You merely watch as Woody steps back and gives you another nod before spinning in his heel and disappearing down the street, abandoning his friends back in the club.
You look down at his number, mouthing them to yourself until they’re engrained in your mind. You think back to the moments when you had prayed for any god in the universe to help you, to send an angel to you.
It looks like one of them had heard you.
~~~~~ What Would You Do ~~~~~