We take John’s car to the strip club (actually called an “adult entertainment club”). I offered to drive, mostly because I’m sort of frightened of John’s reckless driving, but he insisted on taking his car, saying, “We get the good parking this way.”
John swings by the bakery at the end of my shift. I see him park in front of the store from behind the glass windows, but before I can get outside, he’s already unloaded his wheelchair from the car. I watch him popping the wheels into place, then he pulls his legs out of the car. In a swift movement that’s much more practiced than when he was trying to get on and off my sofa, he shifts his body from the drivers’ seat to his wheelchair cushion. I watch as he pulls his legs onto the footplate and adjusts them.
“You didn’t have to get out of the car,” I say apologetically.
“Well, I wanted to see the bakery,” he says. He looks up at the pink lettering on the front. “Minnie’s Bakery. Who’s Minnie?”
“That’s my aunt.”
“So basically,” he says, “you got this job through nepotism.”
“Look, are we going to a strip club or what?”
John grins at me. “I want to see the bakery. Come on.”
Sighing, I hold the door open for him so that he can wheel through. There’s no doorknob, but the door weighs about a million pounds and I just can’t see him being able to open it. When he gets inside, he looks around at the displays of cookies, cakes, muffins, and scones.
“Kirby’s Kupcakes?” He starts to laugh. “Oh man, it was worth getting out of the car just for that.”
I slug him in the shoulder. Hard. John rubs his arm with the back of his hand and gets this mock wounded expression on his face. “Hey,” he says. “I thought you said you weren’t strong…”
It would be too much to hope for to usher John out of here with a free muffin before Minnie could come out. She emerges from the back room in a puff of flour. Sometimes it seems like Minnie sort of becomes one with her cakes.
“Kirby!” Minnie says, brushing strands of hair from her face with a hand so covered in flour that it makes her hair white. “I can take care of this customer. You said you had to head out.”
“Actually,” I sigh, “this is John, Ted’s best friend. He’s the one I’m heading out with.”
“Oh!” Minnie’s eyes widen as she takes in John’s appearance. I wish she’d do a better job hiding her surprise than I did. “Hello, John. Welcome to my bakery.”
“Thanks,” he says. “My mom is sort of a health nut so I was a little bakery deprived growing up. So I really wanted to see this place.”
“Can I offer you something to eat?” Minnie asks.
Baked goods are basically how Minnie interacts with the world. Any time she is uncomfortable, upset, happy, excited, nervous… she bakes something. Even though she wasn’t a huge fan of Ted, the first time she met him, she offered him a cookie.
Which he declined, unfortunately.
“Sure,” John says, scoring a few more points than Ted did. “What’s good?”
“Everything,” I say defensively.
“Well, not everything,” Minnie says quickly.
“How about what’s fresh out of the oven?” John suggests.
Minnie’s face brightens. “I know. What about a scone?”
He hesitates. “I don’t know. I’ve never liked scones. They’re usually of dry.”
“You’ll like these,” she assures him.
Before John can protest, Minnie dances away to retrieve him a scone. The same way I am about cupcakes, Minnie is about scones. She’s so picky about them that she won’t even bake them during the summer, because she says the ingredients must be cold to come out right. Her biggest trick is to put the scone batter on the tray so that they’re practically touching. Scones like to cuddle, Minnie always says.
A minute later, she returns with a white chocolate and raspberry scone wrapped in wax paper. John manages to take it from her grasp, and he doesn’t waste a second before he takes a bite.
“Holy shit, this is good!” he gasps.
Damn, he didn’t have that reaction to my cupcakes.
“This is incredible,” he says around a mouthful of scone as he chews his second bite. “How come you guys aren’t packed with nonstop customers?”
Minnie and I look at each other and shrug. We wish more than anything that the bakery were packed with customers. We’re making a living here, but barely. Minnie’s Bakery is hardly a sensation. That’s why I haven’t gotten a raise in three years and we can’t replace any of our old equipment.
There is, luckily, a ramp to get inside the club, allowing equal access to all who want to see girls strip for money. I’m shaking a little as I open the door to the club, where I have to go down a brief hallway before we go through a curtain to the main area.
It’s pretty much what I expected—dark, with loud music and multiple women in various stages of being scantily clad. There’s a stage where a woman is actively stripping off her clothing, and one is humping a pole. The only positive thing I could say is that there are no women in cages. At the moment.
I look over at John, who has the biggest grin ever on his face. Except he isn’t looking at the women—he’s looking at me. “The look on your face is priceless,” he says. “I wish I had a camera.”
“I’ve never been in a strip club before…”
“Really. You don’t say.”
I notice that a few people are staring at John as he wheels himself to a table near the entrance. I follow him and slide into a seat next to him. I look around at the women, and truthfully, they’re not all that attractive. Well, one of them is—that one giving a lap dance to the bald guy two tables over, but other than that, I think I may actually be above average in this crowd.
“Oh God,” I say. “What if one of them comes over and talks to us?”
“I wouldn’t worry,” John replies. “Between the two of us, I’m pretty sure the girls are going to keep their distance.”
I look at him with curiosity. “Why do you say that?”
“Because you’re a woman and I’m in a wheelchair.”
“So,” he says, “obviously, you’re not interested. Unless you’re gay, I guess. And they’re afraid that if they touch me, I’ll drop dead. Or maybe they’ll catch whatever’s wrong with me.”
“Have you ever had a lap dance?”
John nods. “Unfortunately. The two times I’ve been to strip clubs, the guys I went with were pretty much tripping over themselves to get me lap dances, because they figure I haven’t gotten any in like a decade.”
I grin. “How was it?”
“Awful.” John shrugs. “Aside from the fact that the girls treated me like I was made of glass, a lap dance doesn’t do much for you if you can’t feel your, you know, lap.”
I let that one hang between us. John can’t feel his lap. Does that mean he can’t feel his…?
A peppy, scantily clad woman interrupts my thoughts by asking us if we’d like anything to drink. John gets a beer, declaring that he’s going to allow himself only one because he’ll be driving home, but that I’m welcome to get anything I want. So I order a double shot of vodka. I think I need it.
“Did you notice,” I say to John, “that the waitress has a C-section scar on her belly?”
“Is that not allowed?” John asks.
“I’m just wondering where her baby is…”
“Presumably, the baby is with its father.”
I snort. “Seriously? So the dad is watching their kid so the mom can go out and strip?”
John shrugs. “Sure. Why not?”
“Would you allow the mother of your child to go out and take her clothes off for money while your baby cried for her?”
John stares at me. “I don’t even know how to begin to answer that question.”
“I think it’s a reasonable question!”
John smiles. “Maybe she’s stripping in order to go to nursing school to make a better life for her baby.”
“Oh please,” I say, except then I have to stop talking because the waitress comes back with our drinks.
As a “tip,” I awkwardly stuff a dollar bill in her G-string. Which falls out so that I have to pick it up, and make a second attempt. By the time I manage to secure the bill in place, John can’t manage to suppress his laughter.
“Shut up,” I say, shaking my head.
I know we’re supposed to be checking out the club for Ted’s bachelor party, but we spend much of the next hour making up back stories for most of the strippers and several of the customers. Aside from the stripper/nursing student, the girl who is hanging upside down from a poll has a rare disease where she must be upside-down for at least two hours of the day; the seedy-looking guy in the corner is a mob boss who is waiting around to do a drug deal; and the one incredibly hot girl in the place is actually a Finnish supermodel who ran away from her homeland because it’s just too cold up there.
“Oh my God!” I cry, gripping John’s arm. “That girl over there has a swastika tattooed on her thigh! I saw it.”
John squints in the direction I’m pointing. “That’s not a swastika. That’s a Star of David. That’s literally the exact opposite of a swastika.”
“Oh no!” I gasp. “You’re right! I’m completely blind. How did I think that was a swastika? I swear, it looked like one.”
“Sure it did.” John grins at me.
Christ, I need new contacts. Now he’s going to think I don’t know the difference between a Star of David and a swastika. He must think I’m the biggest idiot on the planet. Oh well.
“Do you find these women attractive?” I ask him.
John raises his eyebrows. “Are you asking me if I find this room full of mostly naked women attractive? Is that the question you’re posing to me?”
“What I mean,” I clarify, “is that if they weren’t naked, would you find them attractive?”
“Sure, why not.”
“That was non-committal,” I comment. “Like, what’s your type?”
“You know,” I say. “Like, do you prefer blonds or brunettes?”
“Short or tall?”
“Short, I guess.”
“Fat or skinny?”
John shakes his head at me. “Fat, definitely. The fatter the better. I want one of those women who can’t get out of bed without a forklift, if possible.”
I can’t help but think of my friend Amy. Not that she’s forklift-worthy by any means, but his wry sense of humor sort of reminds me of hers. And she’s a short brunette. I know she didn’t seem to be interested in getting set up with John, but I feel certain that if the two of them met, they’d hit it off.
“Hey,” I say, poking him in the arm. “I think I have a friend you’d really like.”
John looks away from me and focuses his attention back on the current pole-dancer. “Yeah, not interested.”
“I don’t like being set up.”
“But this is different,” I say. “She’d be so perfect for you.”
“Yeah, but no.”
“Why not?” I pout. “I mean, don’t you want to have a girlfriend?”
John whips his head around to glare at me. “Of course I want a girlfriend!” he snaps. “What kind of stupid question is that?”
For a moment, there’s silence between us, aside from the loud sexy dance music playing in the club. I feel awful. John was right—that was an obnoxious thing to say to him. Just when I thought we were really starting to get along.
The anger fades from John’s face. “Sorry,” he mumbles. “I shouldn’t have—”
“No,” I interrupt him, “I’m sorry.”
“Would you let me fucking finish?” he says, his voice raising a notch. He sighs and his shoulders sag. “It’s a sensitive topic, okay? I shouldn’t have snapped at you. I was being a jerk.”
“Well, I appreciate your apology,” I say. “Even though you did it in kind of a jerky way.”
John smiles crookedly. “Well, it’s just sort of been a while. You know, in the girls department. But I’d rather be patient and wait for the right girl to come along than to force something to happen.” He takes a breath. “And if it doesn’t happen, then… well, I’m fine on my own.”
“You’ll find the right girl,” I say.
Except part of me wonders if he ever will.
Strip clubs aren’t my favorite.
They never were. Even before. Not that I’ve been to a lot of strip clubs or anything. But the few times I’ve been to them has been a pretty crappy experience. It’s one thing to go with your friends to have a few drinks and ogle girls and get a few laughs by buying your buddy a lap dance. But it’s different when you’re in a wheelchair.
When you’re in a chair, everyone is thinking you’re there because this is the only chance you’ve got to get close to a girl. I hate that. I mean, it’s technically true, I guess, but it’s not why I’m here. I’m here for Ted.
Kirby is enjoying herself—I can tell. She finds the whole thing fascinating. She can’t stop giggling, especially after she has a drink. Especially after her second drink.
“Do you think I could work here?” she asks me.
Kirby is twice is pretty as the hottest girl here. “Sure. Why not?”
“Could be some good money,” she muses. “I mean, the bakery pays practically nothing. I’m starving to death. Or I would be, if I didn’t work in a bakery.”
I frown at her. “Wait, are you serious?”
She grins. “What do you think?”
“I think…” I study her freckled face. “You’d be an awesome cage dancer.”
“Then it’s settled.” She rises slightly unsteadily to her feet. “I’m going to pee, then I’m going to ask for a job application.”
She’s joking. I’m like ninety-nine percent sure.
I watch her walk in the direction of the bathroom, trying to hard not to stare at her ass. Trying not to look at her at all in a way that’s not appropriate for a woman who’s my friend’s fiancée. It’s not easy.
“Hey there, handsome.” I feel a hand rest on my shoulder. I look up and see a scantily clad woman who is wearing more make-up than a clown. Blond hair falls around her shoulders and my eyes are drawn to a pair of silicone tits barely squeezed into a bikini top.
“Hi,” I say.
Her hand on my shoulder slides up my neck. It’s been so long since a girl has touched me this way. So goddamn long. My heart starts racing. “Can I interest you in a lap dance?”
Now her hand is in my hair and I’m finding it a little hard to breathe. Actually, I really do want this lap dance. I’m surprised how much.
“No, thank you,” I manage.
“You look like you do want it,” she says with a knowing smile. She nods at the back. “If you want privacy, there are some private rooms back there. We can have a little fun.”
I shake my head. “I don’t…”
“You’re paralyzed, right?” Her question takes me by surprise and I nod. She smiles and I feel her fingers in my hair. “I can still make it fun for you. I promise.”
I don’t get hard from looking at a cute girl the way I used to. Back before I got hurt, I would probably have had a huge hard-on right now. Now only direct stimulation does it to me. But that doesn’t mean what she’s doing isn’t turning me on in a really different way. I can’t help but think how nice it would be to have her touch me more.
“I can’t right now,” I manage. “I’ve got… I mean, my friend is…”
She grins at me with yellowed teeth. “I got it. How about you come back some other time and ask for Lily?”
I glance at the bathroom, to make sure Kirby isn’t coming out. “How much?”
“A hundred and fifty dollars.”
More than Allison’s fifty bucks. But at least Lily is willing to touch me.
“Maybe,” I say as I see Kirby emerge from the back. Lily gets the hint and takes off.
For the rest of the time we’re at the club, Lily is all I can think about. I watch her give a lap dance to another guy, imagining her lithe body pressed against mine. The thought of having to pay a woman just to be touched makes me feel a little sick, but what’s even worse is how badly I want it. I know I’m not coming back here, that I won’t take Lily up on her offer, but I still wish I didn’t want it so bad.