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In a city where Natalie was a stranger, in a part of town crowded with bars and nightclubs and all-night liquor stores, halfway along a street of touts and drunks and bouncers, there was a stretch of road with four strip clubs almost in a row.
Natalie had noticed it before. Noticed, and remembered, and decided to come back.
She was in town for work, and knew very few people here, and knowing very few people was entirely the point. Tonight, on her own, with her meetings finished, she finally had time for herself. Her time to do this.
It wasn’t the first time she had been into these places, and it wouldn’t be the last, and she was never completely sure whether she ought to be ashamed of what she was doing. She was embarrassed, and worried about being caught or recognized, but embarrassment wasn’t quite the same as shame. She felt guilty too, sometimes, felt bad for the women who worked in these places. She felt that, but went inside anyway. It was wrong, she thought, but then made herself not care. Not until the morning, she told herself. In the morning, then she’d feel bad. Tonight, now, this was for her. This was her time for herself, her chance to do this, before she went back home to her sensible proper life.
She walked through the crowd, past loud groups of young men and disdainful groups of young women, past noise flooding out of bars and groups of smokers next to doorways. It was still early. It was just past the end of dinner, and people were moving about. The street was almost busier than the bars were, as Natalie walked past.
She had a way to do this, a way that made her feel safe. She went down the block quickly, her attention on the strip-clubs, looking, but not actually looking. Not making eye contact with the touts outside, not obviously peering into the doorways. She was trying to guess which place was best out the corner of her eye, without actually seeming to care. She kept her coat done up, and walked fast, and didn’t look around. Just someone, slightly nervous, on her way to dinner, or a drink, or on her way home.
No-one noticed her, and that was good. She wove through the groups of the louder drunks, without attracting attention. The touts and bouncers outside the strip-clubs didn’t notice her either, even as she glanced inside their clubs. Outside one, the third Natalie passed, two women were standing, talking, wearing tiny dresses. They were calling out to passing men, but they ignored Natalie as she walked past. Natalie was glad. It didn’t quite make sense, but she wanted those women once she was inside the club, not out here, on the street. Outside was still her real life, and she didn’t want these places or these women to be part of it. Outside she was still herself, not an anonymous customer. If anything she was a little shocked they weren’t hiding away inside, ashamed, like she was.
Natalie walked to the end of the block, then turned around and came back.
In a way, despite her nervousness, this part was exciting. Like the thrill of trying a new restaurant, or waiting outside a shop for a sale to start. A murmur of anticipation, mixed with a whisper of uncertainty. Anything could happen, since Natalie didn’t know this city. She didn’t know any of these strip-clubs, and had to guess which she’d like based on just their doorways. She needed something particular. Privacy, and the right kind of women, and the right kind of strip-club too, one that wasn’t too sleazy. Tonight could be wonderful, or it could be awful, and it all depended on the next few minutes, and which place she picked. At least half the times Natalie had done this, something had gone wrong. She’d picked the wrong club, with the wrong people, and everything had just been awkward and a little embarrassing. It had been getting better recently, as she got better at picking, and the recession forced some kind of open-mindedness on these places too. They had become more welcoming for Natalie, but it still wasn’t always that way. A dull night was unfortunately common, a good night fairly rare. It all depended on which club Natalie picked, so she was trying to choose well.
She walked back up the street, slower now, deciding.
One club had a recessed doorway. Natalie could see a woman in a silver dress just inside it, at a counter, but out of direct sight of the road. It was main road, with a lot of traffic, and that hidden counter decided Natalie. Discretion mattered almost as much as having a good time inside. She timed her walk carefully. Walking slowly, then speeding up, making sure there was no-one right in front the club’s doorway at the precise moment she reached it. No-one she had to step past, or bump into and apologise, as she went inside. No-one to notice her, no-one to care. Especially, no cars going past. No cars, with passengers who might recognize her at exactly the wrong moment. That was why she only did this in cities away from home.
She reached the club’s doorway, and timed it exactly right. She stepped inside, and no-one was there to see her.
She stepped inside, and stepped forward right güvenilir canlı bahis siteleri away, stood close up against the counter, where she was out of sight of the street. Then stopped, and swallowed, and didn’t know what to say.
There would be a cover charge, because there always was. The amount varied, and Natalie was never sure how to ask. She hardly liked to speak at all.
The woman behind the counter, in the silver dress, was looking at Natalie. She was older, Natalie’s age, and probably a retired dancer. She was looking at Natalie like she didn’t think Natalie understood where she was. She seemed sympathetic, but she obviously thought Natalie was lost. Oddly, that made Natalie feel worse. It wasn’t welcoming. It was everything she didn’t want from a place like this.
Natalie almost turned around and left. She would have left, except that she didn’t want to go back out into the street, and risk being seen, and have to do this all over again at the next place. She stood where she was, uncertain, waiting, and nothing happened. The woman in the silver dress just looked at her.
“I’d like to come in,” Natalie said, in the end, embarrassed. This part was always uncomfortable. She felt like she was asking permission. Asking as an unwanted guest, to intrude somewhere she shouldn’t be. Like going into a pub had been a hundred years ago, when a pub had been a place only for men. This felt like a place just for men, too, even though it wasn’t. At least, no-one had ever told Natalie it was. No-one had ever told her to go away. It was a place for her too, if she wanted it to be, and was paying, it just sometimes didn’t feel like it, because everyone assumed it wasn’t. They assumed that how a strip-club worked was that women danced, and served drinks, and didn’t wear clothes, and probably resented being there, and men watched them do those things, and everything was nicely tidy. Those assumptions made Natalie feel guilty, in a very odd way, as if she was letting someone down, and taking the wrong side, and they were all too nice to actually tell her that she wasn’t where she ought to be.
“I’d like to come in,” Natalie said, and the woman in the silver dress just nodded.
“Yeah, love,” she said. “Of course. There’s a twenty dollar cover.”
Natalie nodded, and held out the money. She had guessed the price, and was holding a twenty in her hand. And another twenty in the other hand in case she was wrong and it was more. The woman in the silver dress took her money, and didn’t seem to care. She seemed quite disinterested, and Natalie was glad. Once, someone had taken her money and said they were glad to see her, that it was good women could have fun too, these days. It had been meant to be nice, and supportive, but Natalie had just flushed, and left. She never wanted that to happen again.
The woman in the silver dress held up a stamp.
“I’d rather not,” Natalie said.
“You’ll be right. It’s invisible.”
“Can I not? Please?”
After a moment, a shrug. “If you’d rather.”
“Thank you,” Natalie said.
“Yeah, no worries. Have fun.”
Natalie said thank you again, and went inside.
She was relieved. She was excited, and turned on, and glad she was here, and most of all, for the first few moments, she was just glad no-one seemed disgusted with her. For being here. For helping exploit other women. For wanting to look. For all sorts of things, and she didn’t really even know what.
She worried a lot, she knew. She worried about this too much. She knew no-one cared, that she was just a customer, but she worried all the same.
She went through a second doorway, and into the main part of the strip-club. It was almost like a small nightclub inside. A dim, noisy room, half full of men, with a stage and undressed women moving around. There were tables, and booths along the far wall, and a DJ in one corner. There was a bar that started beside the door, beside Natalie, and ran back along the room.
Natalie had one more thing to organize. She went and stood at the end of the bar, trying to obviously hover. There were a couple of women working there, but both were serving customers. Natalie stood where she was, and waited her turn.
It was warm inside. Warm enough for a naked work-force, Natalie supposed, but she kept her coat on and done up. A couple of men sitting nearby were looking at her. Maybe assuming, in very dim light and with her coat, that she was starting or ending a shift. She looked away, and avoided their eyes. She still didn’t want to be noticed. One of the bouncers was watching her too, and she wasn’t quite sure why.
After a moment, one of the bartenders came over to Natalie. Natalie leaned forward, across the bar, and said, “Do you have private rooms?”
“Yeah. You need to see Angela. Down the back.”
“Could you organize it? Or ask her to come over here.”
The bartender hesitated, but seemed to understand. “Yeah, sure. I’ll get her.”
She went down the bar, and waved to someone, and pointed to Natalie, which güvenilir illegal bahis siteleri was a little more attention than Natalie had wanted, but it worked. Angela the organizer came over to Natalie.
“The bartender,” Natalie said, and then swallowed. Her mouth was dry. “The woman at the bar said…”
Angela waited. She seemed nice, and approachable, and terrifying because she just waited, looking at Natalie, not trying to guess. She probably shouldn’t guess, Natalie thought, not with a job like hers. She probably just ended up offending people if she did. Even though that didn’t help Natalie right now.
“I wanted a private room,” Natalie said, as quietly as she could.
“That’s fine, love,” Angela said. “Who with?”
“I don’t mind.”
Angela seemed surprised.
“Anyone,” Natalie said. “I really don’t care.”
Angela kept looking at her.
“Someone nice,” Natalie said. “Someone kind. But could I please not keep standing here where everyone can see me?”
Angela seemed to understand. She started talking. They had a VIP room for dances, she said. She talked about prices and whether Natalie could touch. Natalie took money out her pocket. Four hundred dollars in fifties folded together. She held it out. “Is that enough?”
Angela looked for a moment, then took it. She suddenly seemed a lot more willing to put up with Natalie being difficult. “That’s fine,” she said. “Right this way.”
They went past the bar, and a few people looked, but not many. There was a hallway out the back, and a door with another bouncer, and then a big open room.
Natalie stopped, and looked at Angela. “I want to be on my own.”
“There’s no-one here at the moment.”
“The whole time,” Natalie said. She looked back at the main room, at the men watching the dancers. “If anyone else is around, I’m part of the act. Does that make sense? I’m part of it, and I don’t want to be. I want to be on my own.”
“There’s a booth,” Angela said. “If anyone else needs the room, we’ll pull a curtain across.”
Natalie nodded, relieved. “Thank you.”
Angela showed Natalie where it was. Off to the side, out of sight of the main room. A couch, a smaller space, kind of an anteroom.
“Sit down,” Angela said. “Do you want a drink or anything?”
Natalie shook her head.
“What’s your name?” Angela said.
“So the girl knows what to call you.”
Natalie nodded, but didn’t actually speak.
“Any name,” Angela said. “It doesn’t matter.”
After a moment, Angela grinned. “Jane?”
“I’ll get one of the girls.”
“Um,” Natalie said. “You mentioned touching…”
“Yes to that. I mean, if I could touch her, that would be good.”
Angela nodded and left, and pulled the curtain closed, and Natalie said in a small dim room, listening to bass thump through the wall, and wondered if she ought to feel more ashamed.
The couch was sticky. She moved, tried not to be leaning on it with too much bare skin. She’d need to get the coat cleaned when she was done.
Someone opened the curtain. A woman, a dancer, in a bra and undies and kind of a robe thing. What Natalie’s fluffy robe at home would be if it was see-through and only went down to her thighs.
“Jane?” the dancer said.
Jasmine came in, and pulled the curtain closed.
“Um,” Natalie said. “Could you make sure that’s…”
Jasmine looked up, looked at the curtain for a moment, and then said, “Yeah, sure.” She reached up, and straightened it, and made sure it was closed. “Is that good?”
Natalie nodded. “Thank you.”
“So I’m Jasmine,” Jasmine said. “Hi. Do you want a drink or anything?”
“You’re sure? There’s a bar. I can get you whatever you’d like?”
Natalie shook her head.
“Fair enough,” Jasmine said. She was swaying a little, half-dancing without realizing. She fiddled with a switch on the wall. Suddenly the booth wasn’t quite so dim, although the light was redder, and the music was louder too.
“So,” Jasmine said. “There’s rules.”
Natalie nodded. She’d heard rules before, but they seemed to differ in each place, so she listened politely while Jasmine explained. The rules here were that Natalie could touch anywhere except Jasmine’s vagina. Jasmine actually said vagina, to Natalie’s surprise. Natalie almost asked, just to make sure. She almost said what, she could touch Jasmine’s mound, her pussy lips too, but only if she was very careful not to put a finger inside. Natalie thought it, but didn’t actually ask. She just nodded, instead. She understood what Jasmine meant, and this was already embarrassing enough without trying to be funny. No touching between Jasmine’s legs, which was a lot more generous than some places were.
“Yes,” Natalie said. “Of course. I won’t, don’t worry.”
Jasmine smiled, and started to dance. Dance deliberately, Natalie güvenilir bahis şirketleri thought, not just swaying to the music. Natalie watched her, and wanted to touch. She made herself not, just because she could. Drawing this out, anticipating touches later.
Jasmine was still talking, as she began to dance. They had as long as Natalie wanted, she said. An hour and a half, even two, if Natalie liked.
Natalie was surprised. “That long?”
Jasmine grinned. “You kind of overpaid.”
“Oh,” Natalie said. She guessed she had, but hadn’t realized by how much. Maybe this club was cheaper than some were, she thought.
“I might need a break, though,” Jasmine said. “Partway through. If that’s okay?”
“Of course,” Natalie said. “Whenever you want.”
Jasmine nodded, and danced a little more.
Natalie watched, half looking at her, half not, uncomfortably. She didn’t want to meet Jasmine’s eyes, because she felt terrible about doing this to her. About being part of exploiting her, even as she was.
It was tricky, not making eye contact in a small booth, with Jasmine right in front of her, and moving around as she danced. Jasmine seemed to notice. “You should look at me,” she said. “I don’t mind.”
“I know,” Natalie said. Her mouth was dry again. She swallowed.
“Look at me,” Jasmine said. “Really. It’s fine.”
Natalie nodded, but still didn’t, not especially, because she didn’t necessarily want to look. She wanted to hold and touch and stroke, as much as she did to look.
She wanted a lot of things, she thought. She wanted beauty and she wanted squalid paid lust and she wanted to have what other people had, for a moment, someone she desired in her hands. She wanted all that, and she wanted to be spoiled, too, spoiled like she was at a hairdresser or a spa. She wanted to be spoiled, except by naked people. Naked women, like Jasmine, and she wanted someone to flirt with her a little bit as well. Someone to take off all her clothes, and be there for Natalie, making Natalie feel special. She wanted a lot of different, complicated things, and she didn’t really understand a lot of them. She wanted this, and she didn’t really know why. She just wanted it, she supposed. She wanted it, and at the same time she felt guilty, too. Guilty, and part of a problem she couldn’t even really describe. She didn’t know what to do, so she sat, staring at Jasmine, avoiding her eyes.
Jasmine was watching her, watching and thinking as she danced.
“Hey,” Jasmine said, and sat on the couch beside Natalie. “You don’t seem completely relaxed. If you don’t mind me saying so.”
“Maybe not completely.”
“I don’t know.”
“Yeah you do. You think you’re exploiting me.”
“Don’t you care?” Natalie said.
Jasmine shrugged again.
“I am,” Natalie said. “I must be. And you’re…”
“Not arguing about it, so it must be true?”
Jasmine didn’t answer. Natalie looked at her, and suddenly saw her as a person, and wasn’t sure she liked that, not really, not right now.
“Maybe we should stop,” Natalie said. “I don’t know this is a completely fair thing to be doing to you.”
“Don’t worry about me.”
“I ought to, though, oughtn’t I?”
Jasmine shrugged, and seemed to be thinking. As if she didn’t know how to react to Natalie’s reluctance. That wasn’t unreasonable, Natalie thought. She knew she was being ridiculous, sitting in a strip-club, with a half-naked dancer she’d paid, having her crisis of conscience and morality a little too late to actually be useful. She knew, but she was having it anyway, and Jasmine didn’t seem to mind. She was going to get paid either way, Natalie supposed.
“Are you worried because you’re not sure you want to be here?” Jasmine said.
“Because I don’t know whether you are, I think.”
“I’m sure. I’m good. It’s a job.”
“It’s a better job than some. And dancing for you is a better way to spend a couple of hours than probably anyone else I’ll meet all week.”
“You don’t mind I’m not a man?”
“Nah. You’re fine.”
Natalie sat there.
“It’s really fine,” Jasmine said, and suddenly seemed to decide something. Decide how to deal with Natalie. “Look at me,” she said. “Pretend I’ll get offended if you don’t like me dancing.”
Jasmine shrugged again, carefully ambivalent. “Well I practice a lot, so I’d like to think I’m good at it.”
“So watch me. In fact, undo the coat. Take it off. Relax a bit.”
Natalie didn’t move, so Jasmine reached over and undid the top button of her coat. Natalie kept sitting, unmoving, just watching, so Jasmine undid the rest as well. Natalie had a suit on underneath. She’d been in meetings, for work, and had decided to do this at the last minute.
“That’s nice,” Jasmine said, although Natalie had a feeling she would have said that no matter what Natalie was wearing.
“I came from work.”
“Oh. What do you do?”
Natalie didn’t answer. Jasmine looked at her, waiting, and Natalie still didn’t answer.
Jasmine seemed to understand, after a moment. “Yeah, fair enough,” she said, and grinned. “No worries. So how about you tell me a name that isn’t quite so completely fake, and we leave it at that.”
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