I quit my job. That was the first and the most pleasant thing I did. There is always a silver lining in every dark cloud that tries to fog you in. My bosses and co-workers were shocked. I gave no reason (Pity doesn’t appeal to me.) when I departed. I left them with the image I was chasing my dreams. There were meetings where they offered to raise my pay. They demanded to know who had bought me away. I just smiled and signed a non-compete contract for a tidy sum. It’s strange when you see your true dollar value on paper. It is way too large and, at the same time, way too small.

Some things were easier for me than would be for most in my situation. I had no close family, which was a blessing. My friends were more like acquaintances. I would meet them for cards or movies, but never really shared any intense bonding moments. They could call me to jump their car or collect the mail when they went on vacation. They knew better than to expect a shoulder to cry on when real problems occurred. I didn’t share mine so I expected not to share theirs. Needless to say, no one was particularly upset when I picked up and moved three states away.

I bought an old house. One of those money pits in need of a ton of work. I had often spent Sunday mornings watching home repair and remodeling shows. I wasted years dreaming of becoming a rehab master. Buy them, fix them and flip them. That was what I really wanted to do for a living, and that is how I would spend the rest of my life.

The real estate agent thought I was insane. She tried to steer me to less-stressed properties. She just couldn’t wrap her head around my dream. Of course, I got the place for a song so her commission may have been her impetus to try to sell me something a bit more pricey. I was the proud owner of a home in need of everything redone. I moved in without electricity and only one working bathroom. It was simply heaven.

A new roof and upgrading the electrical were the first things on my to-do list. I would have to contract out both. I would help with the labor, but I needed professionals to guide me through the critical steps. The roofer could come out immediately. The electrical was a different story. The contractors were backed up and didn’t expect to get to me for two weeks. I sweetened the bid price and suddenly someone else’s electricity was on the back burner. I really didn’t care how much it cost, I just knew I needed twenty amp service as soon as possible. The electrician would arrive in two days with an estimated three days of installation.

Without power, I couldn’t cook and refrigeration lasted as long as ice cubes in the cooler. You can only eat so many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before your tongue revolts. I decided eating at least one meal a day in town would suffice. Junction City was a small town lying outside the normal world as I knew it. Far enough from the city so it couldn’t be considered a suburb, but close enough it wasn’t the outback. A basically rural population with a four-block downtown. It would have been considered quaint if you didn’t have to drive past the Pleasure Palace on the way into town.

Just on the outskirts, well before any of the residential streets, lay a rectangular metal building. It, in and of itself, was unappealing with its surrounding chain link fence and bright lights. Only the sign, with ‘Pleasure Palace’ in large letters, was welcoming. A pair of stockinged legs was artfully placed, underlining the words. At night, the sign could be seen for a mile. During the day, you could drive right past and miss it.

The first night I drove past. I hadn’t been to a strip club in years. The last time was a bachelor party for an acquaintance of mine, some twenty years ago. I remember getting stinking drunk and parting with four hundred dollars. All that cash, and I left as unsatisfied as the law would allow. It was still a somewhat fond memory. I had always assumed the memory was better than the night.

I ate at a burger joint named Rusty’s that first night. It was a family-owned place with all the ambiance of a country kitchen, down to the red and white checkered table clothes. The waitress, a high school girl with way too many freckles, quizzed me about what I was doing in Junction City. It was a small town and I guessed good gossip was worth its weight in gold. I decided there was only one secret worth keeping any more and dished out the rest to her. It got me a free slice of apple pie for dessert – a welcome-to-the-town slice. I graciously accepted and really began to enjoy the down home atmosphere they fostered. The pie was excellent. Most people tend to spare the sugar and cinnamon when they make an apple pie. Not Rusty’s. It was sinfully good with tart apples offset by proper amounts of diet-busting sugar and plenty of cinnamon.

Sleep was comfortable since the weather had held. I knew I couldn’t be lucky for long and prayed for nature to cooperate until the power was up. I already had a new furnace in the basement, waiting patiently for energy and duct work. I spent the next day cutting holes in the first floor and installing the necessary duct work. I would have to put another unit in the attic for the second floor. I would worry about that as soon as the power was pulled. It was an old house that seemed to resent modern conveniences. I would merge it with the future as best I could.

I was exhausted by 3:00. It had been a while since I had done much physical labor. Working with your hands above your head is pretty exhausting when you’re not used to it. I showered and decided to have an early dinner.

I was greeted by name when I entered Rusty’s. I had the same waitress, the same meal and, this time, I paid for my slice of pie. I received a strong helping of knowledge about the upcoming harvest festival. Since I was now a regular, I guess the waitress thought it was necessary to keep me informed. I smiled and I read her name tag, ‘Diana.’ I tried to set that to memory. I liked the food and intended to return. Remembering names seemed to be a pastime in town, so I felt I needed to participate.

On the way back, while driving into the blazing sun, I didn’t pass up the Pleasure Palace. It was early and I wasn’t tired. Without power, there was little to keep me entertained at home. I figured a few hours at a strip club would be less boring. I don’t know what I expected, but the reality was quite different. I entered from the bright sunny day into an almost pitch-black dungeon. I removed my glasses, thinking my lenses had darkened during the walk from the car. Sadly, the view was no better. A flash from behind me ruined my slowly adjusting eyes.

“Hello.” It was a pleasant voice from an equally pleasant woman who had just entered behind me. I wondered if she was a dancer at first, but her bearing indicated more authority. The door quickly closed and I was blind again. From what I could tell, was her name was Maddy. It was illuminated on her ass, lettered in white, on black boy shorts. The black lights, that made it so hard to see, gave me a beacon to follow. It was wonderful watching the M and Y changing elevations as she headed to the only brightly lit space in the building. I almost looked away shyly, but I caught myself. You’re in a strip club, you idiot, you’re supposed to look. I enjoyed the view as it pulled ahead smartly. She obviously had better eyes than mine.

I was just beginning to make out the bottles on glowing shelves, as I ran into a dark, cloth chair. I scooted around it and continued to the brightest location in the long room, the bar. As I neared, my vision improved dramatically. I looked around and saw a basically empty place. There were chairs for about fifty people surrounding a long stage stretching to the center of the room. There was another set of empty chairs on the other side of the aisle that ran around the stage chairs but up against the wall.

I knew it was early, but I wasn’t expecting to be the only guy in the place. Center stage was never a place for me. I thought about skipping the whole thing, and leaving before I got uncomfortable. I tossed those thoughts aside, and figured I knew how to drink without making a total ass of myself. I grabbed a stool at the bar and was pleasantly surprised to see Maddy behind it.

“Can I get you a drink?” She slid right up, not that there was anyone else to serve. Her blond hair was pulled back and tied with something invisible. She had a cute face and a fuller figure than you would expect to see dancing on a pole. Little did she know I would have tipped well to see her dance. She had a flow about her that just leaked sexiness. I looked at the wall of bottles, thinking that might help me decide what to drink. I fell back to something I drank years ago.

“I think I will just have a rum and coke.” I don’t think I was looking at her when I spoke. I knew I had a tendency to do that when I’m uncomfortable, and I chastised myself.

At the end of the bar was an extremely good looking, tall blonde with a perfect figure. I knew it was perfect because she was encased in a bikini she couldn’t wear on most beaches. I didn’t like her immediately, and tried not to attract her attention. Women like her belonged on a shelf – encased in plastic. I rarely found them warm, even when they would give me the time of day. Just eye candy as far as I was concerned. She was taller than I was anyway. Luckily, Ms. Perfect was flirting with what looked like the manager of the establishment.

Maddy returned with my rum and coke, and grabbed the twenty I left on the bar. “That will be seven dollars.” She made eye contact during the exchange, and I barely remembered that I meant to do that too. She returned with change and I made an effort to say thank you to establish contact. She returned my smile and returned to the corner with Ms. Perfect. I realized I was interrupting dinner as I saw the Styrofoam containers open, and forks go to work.

I whirled my comfy bar stool around to look down the long stage. Little had changed. The place was dead, but I could now see I wasn’t the only customer. A couple of men were seated in the comfortable velvet chairs sipping drinks. There were a couple of flat panel TVs, at bad angles, displaying what looked like a little league game. The summer was nearing the end, so I suspected it was some kind of regional or national championship. I wasn’t sure if watching that was worth the seven bucks I just spent on the drink. If Ms. Perfect was the only dancer here, I would have more fun trying to pole dance myself.

A DJ, hidden somewhere, announced that the beautiful Rebecca would be on stage. Ms. Perfect dropped her fork and closed her Styrofoam dinner container and walked, uncaring, to the stage. She wasn’t my type, but she was built well. I rotated my bar seat and watched.

The girl could move as well as she looked. She had perfect silicone breasts that defied gravity. Her hips undulated in a very seductive manner. If I were still a teenager, I would have killed for her. At my age, she remained eye candy. Very nice to look at, but definitely to be kept at arm’s length. The other two patrons had other ideas. They both moved to the stage seats and began tipping dollar bills. I watched as she encouraged them to run their hands along her body and breasts. I wondered, briefly, if her breasts were as hard to the touch as they looked. I decided it wasn’t worth the dollar to find out. I would just be satisfied with the free view.

I turned back to the bar and raised my empty glass to the Maddy. She smiled and started making me a fresh drink. The bar had a mirror behind the bottles that allowed me to watch the stage without turning around. Ms. Perfect was playing with her crotch, trying to coax more dollars out of her admirers. It seemed to be working.

“Are you having fun?” Maddy asked as she placed the fresh drink in front of me, collecting the empty one and taking seven dollars from what I had left in front of me.

“Well, I’m not bored,” I admitted. I wasn’t thrilled with my decision to stop in, but I wasn’t ready to walk out yet. “Is it always this quiet?”

“We pick up when the sun goes down,” Maddy replied. She didn’t immediately return to the corner of the bar. I assumed that meant she was willing to talk.

“Are there other girls dancing today or do I have to wait for the vampires?” I said humorously. I don’t think she cared for the humor.

“Most of the guys like Rebecca,” Maddy answered and pointed to the stage with the bar rag in her hand. I let my eyes follow the rag back to the stage. Rebecca was pulling her bikini bottoms to the side, trying to urge more dollars her way. I looked back with sardonic grin.

“I know I don’t look like a guy who should be picky, but she is a bit too Barbie for me,” I said. Maddy laughed. I didn’t think she expected anyone with a dick to make that comment. I smiled and took another sip of my drink. I noticed Maddy was making the drinks pretty stiff. I guess that helped loosen the customers’ wallets.

“I have never heard Rebecca described that way,” Maddy said happily, “she’s a nice girl though – not like you would expect.” I smelled a sales pitch. I just shook my head.

“Nah, I’d rather talk to you,” I stated. I saw her cringe at the comment. Only I could overstep in a strip club.

“I don’t dance and my clothes stay on when you tip,” Maddy informed me very clearly. I was a little surprised by the venom I sensed at the end of her statement. I raised my hand in surrender.

“I meant nothing by it. I should have kept my mouth shut,” I said. I swung my chair around and looked blankly at the stage. I figured I would finish my drink and get the hell out of there. It was a stupid idea in the first place. This is a perfect example why I have acquaintances instead of friends. My mouth always moved faster than my brain and people always misinterpreted my comments.

It took me about half a minute to down the rest of my drink. I was thankful it wouldn’t be a long ride home. I decided I had outgrown strip clubs. I placed my glass on the bar and left the six dollars on the bar as a tip – my way of apologizing for the unintended slight. Life was too short to let a situation grow bigger than needed.

I almost made it to the door when a large man, linebacker large, stepped out from behind a dark counter. I guessed he doubled as the DJ and bouncer. At first, I thought he was just leaving his booth, but he blocked my way out.

“Excuse me,” I said politely, and made a move to pass him. He grabbed my arm, not strongly like he obviously could, but carefully, just to stop me.

“Maddy wants to have a word with you,” he said, nodding toward the bar. I looked back to the bar and Maddy was waving for me to come back. I looked back at the mountain before me and sighed.

“Look, I am just trying to leave – I left a good tip, she’ll just have to accept that as my apology,” I said. I was hoping this wasn’t going to get blown out of proportion. I was surprised when he let go of my arm.

“Okay, but I think she wants to apologize to you,” he said, stepping aside to let me pass. I looked back at the bar and Maddy waved me in again. ‘Shit,’ I thought. Now I had to go back. I took a deep breath and took the long walk back to the bar.

“I think I misunderstood you,” Maddy apologized, “I was wrong and I’d like buy you a drink. I certainly don’t want you to leave angry with us.” She was giving me a fake smile. I could tell she wasn’t used to apologizing. The six dollars was still on the bar and a fresh drink was waiting. I thought about just accepting her apology and leaving. There was nothing here that really appealed to me. Maddy wasn’t even appealing any more. The math was easier when I added in the dark house I would return to.

“Okay, I guess we did get off on the wrong foot.” I smiled and sat back down. “I do thank you for the drink. It’s a nice gesture.” Maddy’s smile became real. She just nodded and headed back to the end of the bar. Business was business and I am sure they had me sized up for more than twenty bucks.

Ms. Perfect finished her set and collected the money off the stage. I was watching in the mirror as she reassembled her clothing and carefully walked off the stage in her heels. She was making a beeline for me and I would really prefer she didn’t. I saw Maddy out of the corner of my eye wave her off. Rebecca caught the signal and switched directions. I guess Maddy and I now understood each other.

I was feeling no pain when the DJ announced a new dancer, Lucia. I swiveled in my chair, a little too far, and looked to the stage. An olive-skinned woman with rich black hair cascading down her back climbed the stairs. She was dressed in flowing, translucent silks in different shades of pink. Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Gypsy’ began to play over the sound system. Lucia began twirling, letting the silk spread out in some kind of Stevie Nicks impression. Her face was more mature than Ms. Perfect’s and her curves were more womanly, at least what I could see as the silken wings flew about.

“She’s not a Barbie doll,” Maddy said from behind me. I looked back and Maddy pushed my six dollars at me and gestured to the stage. I smiled and pushed the money back at her. ‘Can’t spend it in the grave,’ I thought. I winked at Maddy and moved to a seat by the stage. Lucia had already lost some of her silken coverings. Lucia moved toward me as I sat down and she gave me a little private show. My eyes were even with her feet. A small patch of four leaf clovers was tattooed on her right ankle. When I looked up into her eyes, I didn’t see one ounce of Irish. I guessed Hispanic.

Lucia wrapped one of her silken wings around my neck and it just stayed there, as she stepped back, disrobing a tantalizing bit more. I was alone at the stage, the others probably blew their wads on Ms Perfect. Lucia took a quick spin around the poll in the center, leaving the rest of her silks behind. She returned to me in a dark pink bikini, the top holding what looked like real breasts. I was basically lost in her beauty when she leaned over, her lips close to my ear.

“It’s usually customary to tip,” she whispered with a slight accent and reinforced it with a smile. The smile was deadly cute. I chuckled, a bit buzzed, and remembered where I was. I withdrew a twenty and placed it on the stage. That got me a bigger smile. She lay on her side, ass to me and grabbed my hand. She caressed herself, running my hand up her thigh, along her hip, up her stomach. She guided my hand to her breast and helped me squeeze it through the fabric. It was real, not a hard silicone facsimile.

“Untie me,” Lucia whispered and released my hand. I pulled the strands of the two bow knots that held her top on. She rolled her body and teased me by holding the cups to her breasts, the strings snaking away on their own. She raised to her knees, her thighs far apart, threw the bikini top behind her with one hand and covered her breasts with the other arm. I enjoyed the private show and smiled as I watched her midriff undulate to the music. This woman had muscles motivating her curves.

Some asshole sat down on the other side of the stage and I saw Lucia’s eyes glance in his direction. I knew where I was, but unfounded jealousy crept into my consciousness. I kind of wanted Lucia to myself, but my illusion of being special was beginning to fade. Her eyes returned to mine and she dropped her arm. Her breasts were full and soft looking with a just a little healthy sag. She took my hands in hers and ran them up her sides, along the sides of her breasts and then had me fully cup them. The nipples were taut as I ran my fingers lightly across the tips, almost tickling them. She cooed on cue which excited me, even though I knew it was all an illusion.