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Jewels

Updated: May 28, 2023

From Chapter Two - Blue Monday

 

Despite the less than four hours of sleep I got last night, my body jerked into motion when I heard Frank’s voice. He was checking on the girls on the other side of the house. I sprung out of bed, heading to the bathroom, dragging my blankets halfway across the floor.

Jodie had folded her futon bed from the bottom to the top. Her bedspread, identical to everyone else’s in the house, was laid over it and tucked underneath the edges. She was twenty years older than me and one of the few women who didn’t work at the club.

The rest of us were new to dancing. We used to work as house cleaners, massage therapists, personal assistants, just about anything for cash. That all changed when Frank discovered how much money we could make being strippers.

Our room was a rectangle-shaped en-suite. A make-up vanity sat between our bathroom and closet. Everyone here had a futon bed and a small shelf with doors. You could have a lamp, approved books, and an alarm clock visible. Knickknacks, memorabilia, or personal photographs had to go inside.

“We keep our house void of unnecessary clutter,” Frank had told me the first night I moved in. “Clutter clogs the brain and fosters an anxious mind.”

Clicking on the bathroom light, I looked for the note Jodie often left me. Today’s purple post-it read, “Keep on the Sunny Side,” a song she used to sing while we cleaned windows together.

After I plucked it from the mirror, I sat down to pee.

Frank’s voice boomed through our room. “Where’s my Jewels?”

I forced a cheerful attitude out of my exhausted body and said, “I’m in here.”

“Come downstairs when you get done. I want to talk to you.”

“Okay, be right there.” I couldn’t tell if he was in a good mood or upset. Why would he want to see me? Had I left any of my chores undone? Was I keeping up with my daily affirmations?

I peed as fast as possible and put on one of the house dresses he liked us to wear. It was a simplistic tank-styled dress with a full-length panel skirt on the bottom. The fabric was washable thin, smooth-flowing silk; it was like wearing a whisper. We purchased them in bulk in several sizes, in the only three colors Frank allowed in the house: fuchsia, purple, and the occasional aqua blue.

Usually, I took these stairs two at a time when Frank wanted to talk to me, but today I was hiding an attraction to a customer I’d met last night, so I used the extra seconds to go over the key components to centering myself. I needed to be prompt but not rushed, precise but not rigid, and thoughtful without being in my head.

I willed myself to look innocent and opened the door. Frank’s six-foot-tall wide-shouldered frame took up most of the recliner he was sitting in. There were several other chairs and a love seat in the room, but he asked me to join him and pointed at the floor. I did as he asked and sat with my legs crossed beside his chair.

This house was set up as a new-age adult learning and therapy school; Frank was our teacher, our guru, who’d helped me through one of the lowest parts of my life. His teaching style could best be described as tough-love; he believed the biggest hindrance to personal growth was the ego. “People would rather be right and stuck in their pain than change their perception and feel better,” he often reproved. Embarrassing or yelling at you in front of your peers was a tactic he used often. He’d do anything in his power to get your ego to submit; our group and individual therapy sessions could get quite intense.

His fingers were loosely entwined on his lap, making him look approachable, but I’d seen dogs quietly lick their paws right before biting someone.

This was Frank’s personal living quarters. It had a large bedroom, bath, and this living area. The only television in the house was down there. He allowed us to watch it with him on special occasions. The aroma of patchouli, sandalwood, and dragon’s blood from the Nag Champa incense hung in the air.

I had been Frank’s girlfriend for three years and used to live down here with him. But not too long ago, I was moved upstairs, and Dylan took my place. Frank treated her like a princess. He bought her nice things, talked to her for hours, and took her to lunch, all the things he did with me before they met.

At first I hated her. But Frank helped me see that jealousy was the problem, not Dylan. I was projecting my low self-esteem and fear of being replaced onto her. It took a lot of individual therapy sessions with him to integrate the change and accept the new situation.

I was running my newest mantra through my head. All is well, all is well, when he finally tipped his chair back up, looked me square in the eye, and said, “You’ve been working a lot, Jewels.”

Crap, he was going to ask about work. I felt guilty as my pulse quickened as a split-second flash of the cute bartender shot through my brain. I was so busted.

“Are you trying to avoid being at home?” Frank continued, his voice an octave deeper.

I did my best to swallow without making a sound. Concentrate, I told myself. You’re in his crosshairs. I gave him my best Mona Lisa smile, the one that was hopefully the hardest to read. “I’m not avoiding being here. I think I’m just in a routine and hadn’t noticed the number of days adding up.”

Hadn’t noticed. Had I said that out loud? What a rookie thing to blurt out. I gave him all the ammunition he needed if he intended to bust me for something.

He leaned toward me. “Do you think it’s a good practice to be rolling through life, not noticing what you’re doing?”

It almost looked like he enjoyed watching me calculate the landmines around our conversation. He had me, and he knew it; if this were a game of chess, I’d already be out.

My mind flipped through all the responses I could have given him to get out of this situation, something from one of the many new age books he had us read or an affirmation he had us write.

I steadied my expression, and as I opened my mouth to answer, several lines of sweat ran down the side of my body. He knew I was thinking about that guy. All is well. All is well.

“No, that would be a bad idea,” I began. “Right now, the universe is blessing me with abundance, so I thought I’d show my appreciation by being available to receive it.”

I focused all my energy on keeping my face calm and my eyes neutral while waiting to see if my answer was good enough. Another drop of traitorous sweat rolled down my side.

“How much did you make last night?”

He was looking for another angle to apply pressure, testing for places I had gone astray.

“Four hundred and ninety dollars,” I replied while smoothing the front of my dress. A small ripple of excitement stirred my stomach. He couldn’t have asked me a better question. I exceeded my usual two to three hundred dollars a night, thanks to Brad’s birthday party. I danced for several people at that table, everyone except the one I kept thinking about, the only one I’d wanted to dance for.

“How much have you made this month?” He was still testing me. We were to know our finances down to the penny. Frank often asked us, “How can you expect money to flow into your lives if you’re not giving it the respect and attention it deserves?”

We had to keep meticulous track of our finances to tithe adequately. Ten percent of everything we made went directly to Frank. He also collected cash for other things, but this percentage was what he called our anointed portion. Our offerings supported Frank; we became his full-time job. With this system, he could give us therapy around the clock whenever we needed it.

I forced my face to relax. “Six thousand, three hundred dollars.” That sounded like a lot of money. But it was only an average of two hundred and twenty-five dollars a day, and since I had worked twenty-eight days in a row, it was right on track.

Being a stripper was different from other industries where your income came from tips. The more you worked, the more you made was true across the board, but for a dancer, it compounded exponentially. The more you worked, the more people wanted a dance from you. Even guys who didn’t like you would eventually get a dance just to see what the fuss was about.

Frank lifted his hand. “Six thousand dollars! That’s my girl!”

Nothing made Frank happier than money.

I wanted to smile all the way to my eyes; I knew I was in the clear. But that big of a smile would have shown I was relieved. He would know I was hiding something, and the questioning would continue. Instead, I allowed my mouth to curl up just a touch on the sides.

“Okay,” he said, his tone lighter, “you’re doing very well, Jewels. You’re going to be a great teacher someday. You’ll find your to-do list over on the table.”

These niblets of praise gave me hope and kept me going. If Frank thought I was doing well, someday I’d be able to help people the way he had helped me.

I stood up and did my best to keep my right arm close to my body so he couldn’t see the sweat lines that had soaked through my dress. I grabbed the list and headed for the door.

“Ah, yes,” he said, “One more thing. I want Dylan to start working at the club. I’m putting you in charge of training and keeping her safe.”

I willed my mouth not to drop open. “When would you like her to start?”

He leaned back in his Lazy-Boy. “As soon as you finish that list.”

Checkmate. Frank won again. Nodding, I hurried away.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like Dylan; I didn’t know her very well. But she was one degree of separation from Frank, which made her the second most powerful person in the house. Something I knew well, from three years of experience.

Fuck.

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