At an annual party, Peter runs in to a friend from High School. She's in a rather interesting position, and Pete can't help but ask how things got that way.
This night, it was particularly cold out, so the warmth of the bar created the perfect setting. The guests came from the harsh winter, into the warmth, to get the party going. The girls were all in place, already wearing very little, and the alcohol was being consumed faster than water after a forty year walk in the desert. This was going to be a great night.
Pete was attending to the guests when he took a good look at the girls working the poles. After years of doing this, he knew a couple of them because they came back every other year or so. He was probably one of the few in the room who looked at them as more than naked girls. Patrick did, as well, considering these parties were the reason he met his girlfriend, Callie. She was a stripper for their parties and he got up the nerve to ask her out. He was surprised to find a real living, breathing girl behind all the pole tricks, and never doubted another stripper again.
Pete, however, just knew that they were people. He didn't need to date one to confirm it. He'd spoken to a good deal of the girls at this party in the past. There was one girl named Lauren, who was really great to talk to. She was gorgeous and wasn't shy in the least about it, but she had a brain in her head. When asked why she stripped, she replied that it was what she wanted to do. It wasn't a matter of not being able to get a better job, or anything else. She just enjoyed dancing and had no qualms about taking her clothes off in the process. She compared it to his band. He had to respect that, even if it wasn't what most girls dreamed of.
He couldn't keep his eyes off one of the girls, and realized he must have looked like such a sleaze. He couldn't help it, though. Even though she was exceptionally beautiful, that wasn't the reason. He knew her. She was new to the parties, but he knew her. Pete sat at the bar, drinking from a glass of soda, just watching her. He tried to mentally absorb ever curve and every feature, just to try to imagine her in a different time. That was it. He did know her and he knew from where. It couldn't be.
"Lilah!" He yelled, trying to get her attention. She was upside down on the pole, with bills sticking out of her g-string and bra. She continued dancing, not really registering that she was being called, "Lilah!" He called again. He had to talk to her. She slid down, resting on her knees in front of the eagerly awaiting guys. Pete motioned for her to follow him and she left the pole, another girl taking her place.
"Hello." Lilah said, a little confused that they walked out into the lobby, instead of another room.
"Lilah..." He looked at her, shaking his head, "We went to High School together. I mean..." He frowned and took in the image that stood before him. She certainly had filled out a lot since then, in all the right places. He felt dirty staring at her in such a way, but he couldn't help but remember her as the shy girl who could never bring herself to ask a guy out. Now, she danced naked in front of them, "How long have you been doing this?"
"A few months, I guess." She said awkwardly. She started collecting the bills, not wanting to just be standing there doing nothing. If she looked busy, maybe this conversation would end.
"I can't even believe this is you. What happened?"
"What?" She asked him, raising an eyebrow.
"That came out wrong, but the girl I knew in High School would never have it in her to do something like this."
"Yeah, well, it's funny the kind of stuff you find yourself doing when you need to. I heard the money was good at these parties of yours, so I decided to give it a try. I need the money." She said, holding up the money she had accumulated from such a short amount of time. It was impressive, to be honest.
"What do you mean? You were going to be a doctor. What's this? Are you still with Troy?"
"I don't know. He's in jail. You can go talk to him. I haven't spoken to him in a while."
"He's in jail? What for?"
"Smoking rock. Which left me alone with our son, James. Babysitters are expensive, you know."
"Okay, granted, but what happened to college? What happened to being a doctor. You could hire three babysitters on what a doctor makes."
"Things happen, you know? I don't have my parents to put me through college and never saved up. So, I couldn't be a doctor. It doesn't matter."
"It does matter. I can't believe this, seriously. You're standing in front of me, wearing basically nothing. I mean, how did this happen? What happened with your parents?"
"I don't want to talk about it."
"I had to run away, alright? That's why I told you I moved and switched high schools. I didn't switch. I dropped out. I had to get the hell out of that house, because my step father wouldn't keep his hands of me."
"He beat you?" Pete asked softly, frowning.
"He raped me, Pete. Repeatedly. I couldn't stay there."
"Where did you go?"
"With Troy." She said vaguely, shaking her head. He knew better than to press her any further.
"So, why stripping? Why not get a job or something and make money that way?"
"You don't understand. No one wants to hire a high school drop out with next to no skills and a baby. No one wants to be involved in that."
"But, is this the life you want for James? His mother is stripping her clothes in front of hundreds of men she doesn't even know, just to make some money?"
"Peter, you don't understand so don't pretend to."
"No, I don't understand it. I don't understand how you can let your son grow up like this. You tell me it's for money, but you know what? My mom didn't have much, but she didn't go stripping for every guy who'd give her a buck. And, look where I am."
"Not everyone is you, Peter. Some of us have to do things we don't want to do, every day. You're living your dream, and I'm living my hell. So, don't start with me about this."
"This is something you created, Lilah. You started this and you can get yourself out of it. And, yet, you don't. I don't think you mind it all that much."
"Shut up!" She yelled fiercely, "Shut up about you don't understand. Since I met you, you always thought you had it so bad off and you thought that you knew everything there was to know about every hardship in the world. I kept my mouth shut, not wanting to bring up what I really knew about how sick the world can be. You have no idea what I've gone through. What I had already overcome before my thirteenth birthday rolled around. Do you know what it feels like? Do you have any idea? I wake up every morning, wishing I was dead. James is crying and Troy is in jail and I just want it all to stop. I've tried and I heard you have, too. Peter, what is so bad about your life? What could you be trying to leave behind?"
She fell silent, asking him genuine questions. Her anger saturated her words, but it was something she had been wondering. She knew all about his suicide attempt. Looking at the world around her, things were bleak. No one was surprised when she tried to take her life the first time, or the second, or the third. But, he was a rock star. He had the life. Money by the truck load, and all he had to do what play an instrument. She would kill to trade places with him any day of the year.
"That's not important." He said, shaking his head, not wanting to deal with the memories of what went on, "What is important is that you are screwing with your own future and the future of your child."
"I don't need you here telling me this." She said, starting to walk away from him.
"Where are you going?" He asked. She was headed towards the door, in December, wearing nothing but a bra and panties, "You're leaving like that?"
"I am naked in front of hundreds of men I don't know on a regular basis, remember? A few more won't kill me."
"I meant that it's cold outside."
"I'm getting a cab. I've gotten enough money here, tonight."
"Good bye." He said, shaking his head.
"Bye." She had stopped, but started walking again. Pete fished in his pocket and pulled out the money that it contained. He wasn't sure how much it was, but it was a nice sum of money. He walked forward and stuck it in the strap of her bra. He took off his hoodie and handed it to her, "Thank you." She said quietly, not sure what else to say." He shook his head again, doing he only did what anyone else would have. That wasn't completely true, but it was what anyone else should have done.
"Good luck." He said, sighing and watching her walk out of the bar.
He had a feeling this would be the last time he'd ever see her, and was filled with very little comfort, knowing that he gave her at least a thousand dollars. Not to mention one of his nicest hoodies, that'd probably sell for a decent amount on Ebay, if she chose to do so. He walked back into the warmth of the bar, realizing how chilly the lobby really was. Pete looked around at everyone having a good time and indulging in the pleasures that money had brought them. Somehow, the feeling of happiness he felt in this setting, now seemed very tainted.