I wake up in a cold sweat. My muscles are tense and my back feels like someone pinched me. Hard. Maybe it feels more like a screwdriver digging into my back. I don’t scream, though—I don’t want to wake the baby.
My nightmare had been a variation on the usual theme that a man had come to get my baby. I was helpless to resist him. He cast a spell on me just by smiling, paralyzing me, and took my son.
MY SON. Not his. He isn’t worthy of the title of “father.”
I shudder. Sitting up, I look over to the crib across the small bedroom. Jack sleeps peacefully, sweetly. Glancing at the clock, I judge that he should be asleep for at least another hour. I slip out of bed and go to take a quick shower. If he does wake up while I am in the bathroom, he’ll be safe in his crib.
I look in the mirror. A 20-year-old woman stares back at me, with long brown hair. Her face is a little too thin, too long. Her breasts look cartoonishly large on her thin. Her clear green eyes are strained and worried.
Tearing my eyes away, I rush through my morning routine. After I am ready, I get the baby ready and make breakfast for both of us: cereal and coffee for me; milk for him.
All the while, my nightmare clings to the edges of my thoughts like oil on water. I smile at baby Jack and make faces at him; he laughs and babbles back. At 4 months old, he doesn’t do much more. Rolling over is an accomplishment for him, but he already struggles to sit up. He is my raison d’etre and I love him deeply.
That love is tempered with a deep fear. Would I ever feel safe? Would I ever be able to just enjoy spending time with my child?
We leave the apartment and I drive to my parent’s house, a middle class house in a suburban neighborhood on the edge of Austin, Texas.
“Good morning!” I sing, letting myself into the house with a key.
“Good morning!” Mom returns with a big smile directed at Jack, ignoring me. “How are you today? Huh? Did you sleep well? Get a good breakfast?” Her goofy smile widens when she sees him brighten up at her voice.
“He’s good, yes, yes,” I say, kissing her cheek, then his. “I work 7 to 3. Should be back here by 3:30. Love you!”
“Wait!” Mom says, finally looking up from the baby to me. “Bring back some milk and bread.”
Mom often sends me to work with a shopping list, so I am not surprised at that, but I am surprised at the items on the list. “Already? I just picked up some up two days ago,” I reply.
“Your daddy likes to eat,” she says. “And I think it was closer to a week ago.”
Considering that Mom doesn’t ask for a dime for keeping the baby, a few groceries are the least that I can give her in return. “Ok. Happy to help,” I say with a smile, and leave.
First Job: Cashier
My day job is cashier at Albertson’s grocery store. It is easy, brainless work. Between 7 and 9 a.m., customers are sporadic, so I grab a spray bottle of cleaner and wipe down every surface I can. It is less about getting rid of the dirt, and more about staying busy. If I am busy, then the oily nightmare can’t cover my thoughts. Or at least, I won’t worry so much about whether my ex might show up any minute and demand to see my baby.
MY child. Not his.
“Hey, wow, look at you cleaning everything in sight! I’m going to switch you to another register so that you can clean more, ha ha ha,” Brenda says. She is a tired-looking, average-sized woman in her 50’s with bleached and teased hair, who may have been pretty once, but years of working in customer service in a navy blue polyester uniform made her less attractive.
“Sure, happy to do it,” I say brightly. “Just point the way!”
Surprised by my energetic and positive response, Brenda stares at me for a moment before smiling and moving me to another register. “Now, don’t tire yourself out too much, you still have to work until 3 p.m.!” she advises.
I greet customers with smiles and scan their groceries energetically. Between customers, I straighten the magazines and wipe down already-clean counters. At three, I close out my register and go shopping.
Back at my parents’ house, I deliver the food. “Here, Mom, 2% milk and round-top bread,” I say as I place the bags on the table.
“No! Whole milk and square bread! Your daddy doesn’t like the watered-down milk, and the bread needs to be square so that the lunch meat fits on it right!” Mom says, exasperated.
I smile; teasing her is fun. “I know, Mom,” I say, holding up the items she’d described. “I know.”
Baby Jack and I go home to our small apartment for a few hours of napping and playing. Then we are back, as I drop him for the second time in one day.
Second Job: Cocktail Waitress
I drive to my second job with less pep than I had that morning. Even after a nap, it was going to be a long night. My shift at the strip club is from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. Surprisingly, my mother was the one that had found me the job. The ad in the paper had said $150 or more in tips a night, which was true. I make $200 on average.
“You’re here to serve drinks, not distract from the talent on stage,” my manager had told me on the first day. “Stick to the dress code and keep your clothes on.”
The dress code for waitresses includes a button up white shirt, bow tie, and black pants/skirt. Some of the girls wear short skirts and thigh-high stockings, pushing the envelope on our “uniform.” I go to the opposite extreme, wearing loose pants and button-up with my shiny silver bow tie, and pull my hair back in a ponytail. I am too broke to afford contact lens, so I wear glasses with thick brown frames.
A guy stops me and says, “You have the sexy librarian look going on.”
Stunned, I say, “Really?”
“Oh ya,” he replies. “Surely that’s your gimmick. I mean, I can’t help but picture what you’d look like without those glasses.” His eyes run up and down me, making me think that he must be picturing me without my clothes, as well. “Did you ever think about dancing?”
“Uh, no, uh, I gotta get back to work. Do you want a beer or something?” I mutter.
Later that night, a couple calls me over. After a little chit chat, they say, “We’ll pay you $20 to show us your tits.”
Flabbergasted, I point out the obvious. “But there are bare breasts all around you.”
“True,” the man says, “but we want to see yours. The fact that they’re covered, makes them something of a mystery. My imagination is running wild, picturing them. I simply must know if they are everything that I imagine them to be.”
“I’m sorry, but my manager has strict rules that the waitresses must remain in uniform,” I mutter, and hurry off.
I see a man at the door and smile. He is 5’6” tall, with shoulder-length dirty blonde hair, scruffy beard, and average weight. About 26 years old, he isn’t handsome, but he isn’t exactly ugly, either. Maybe his nose is a little too large for his face and his eyes are a little too small; whatever the case, it doesn’t matter, seeing him cheers me up. “Darrell!” I say, “So glad to see you! It’s been a weird night.”
“Well, now it’s time to party!” he says with a smile and a hug; his brown eyes sparkle behind his round, gold-rimmed glasses. “Get us a couple of shots, would you? Make that three—a friend of mine is right behind me. I want you to meet him.”
Darrell is a regular customer and a big spender, who buys me shots and chats with me during my breaks. Though we haven’t known each other long, I consider him a friend. Realizing that he might be my only friend in town, and how pathetic that might be, I blush as I walk to the bar.
I need to get out more, socially, and make friends. But how? When? I work and take care of my baby, which doesn’t leave any time for me. It wouldn’t be fair to ask Mom to watch the baby while I go out; she already spends most of the day with him.
Delivering the shots to Darrell, I realize that he has another man with him. The other guy is taller, approximately 5’10”, with black hair: long, but not quite as long as Darrell’s, and so dark that it stands out on his pale skin. The most notable part of this man are the dark eyes and their vacant stare behind his large, silver-rimmed glasses. I shiver, though I’m not cold; I can sense this man’s demons.
“Lana, meet Logan,” Darrell says. “Lana is my favorite waitress. She’s easy on the eyes and quick with the drinks. Logan is the friend from college that I told you about.” He looks at me meaningfully, and I struggle to remember what he had said previously.
Oh. This is the guy whose wife had cheated on him. No wonder Logan looks so…haunted. He is in shock and seems oblivious to the party going on around him; he barely looks at me when introduced. I donn’t know what to say. My ex is a terrible person, but as far as I know, he never cheated on me. I can’t imagine what Logan is going through, to know that the person that he trusted most in the world, had hurt him so deeply.
“Hi, Logan,” I say with a forced smile. “Have a shot! Let me know if you need anything.” I sip on my shot, giving me an excuse to linger a little while longer. “How have you been, Darrell?”
“Good! My girlfriend Mandy is coming back from Florida in a couple of weeks. Can’t wait to see her!” he says. Mandy is studying oceanography in Florida, and he stays faithful to her. Though he visits the strip club often, he is always respectful to the girls and never takes any of them home. He simply admires them, buys them drinks, and chats with them. The dancers like his type: generous and undemanding. I like him, too, for his company and the big tips that he leaves me.
“Great! I’m so happy for you!” I say. Ok, I was jealous that he has someone; I can still be happy for him, right?
“We should double date,” he says.
I stare him at blankly. “We?” I ask stupidly.
He thinks that I hadn’t heard him correctly because of the noise in the club. He leans in, and speaks louder, “You, me, Mandy, and Logan should go bowling.”
I laugh. Bowling?! The big spender wants to go bowling?! “Sure,” I say. “I’d love to meet her.” The thought of spending time with the zombie sitting at the table is unappealing, truthfully, but the thought of making another friend (Mandy) cheers me up.
I wonder if I had looked like a zombie, the first few days after I left my husband Tommy. I wonder: if I had been a guy, would my friends back in Dallas have taken me to a strip club? Then I remember that my friend Tori had taken me to a male strip club, La Bare’s, and I smiled. I make a mental note to call her when I have time.
The rest of night is busy. A bachelor party comes in, with a drunk philosopher who kept trying to engage me in debates about religion and the ethics of stripping.
I donn’t have much time to do shots with Darrell and Logan, or wonder whether Logan would be attractive if he would just smile. But I think that maybe, just maybe, he would be.
This is my experiment with righting a Romance Novel, see chapter 2 here. New chapters will be posted every Monday night by 9 p.m. Regular blog posts will be sporadic throughout the week. Since this is an experiment, please leave me a comment to let me know what you think – good or bad. I appreciate your thoughts and the time that you take to leave them. Thanks in advance!
Cheers! Happy New Year!