Zoey In Distress

BY : tooshoes
Category: G through L > Gotham
Dragon prints: 778
Disclaimer: I do not own Gotham, nor the characters from it. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.

Frank asks for a glass of wine, so I reach under the bar for the half-filled bottle and pour him a glass.

Usually, I'm serving him white wine, but today it is red. That's all I know about the wine because Frank brings it to the bar himself and pays me to serve it to him. I never even look at the label. We don't usually serve wine, red or white, being that the Kindling Club is a strip bar where beer and hard stuff rules, but wine is what Frank likes, and he's a big spender, so if he wants to pay me to serve him wine that he bought from somewhere else, that's the least I can do.

I pour another glass for Marilyn, who is the stripper sitting beside him, and he slides ten dollars towards me as a tip. I smile my cutest smile and push his tip to the side, but not out of his reach. That would be rude, in case he changes his mind.

Now Frank laughs unexpectedly, and he turns towards Marilyn. "That's wonderful! She got that smile from you!"

I hesitate before I turn away, and I know Marilyn does the same.

You see, Marilyn is my mother. She's so young that people usually think we are sisters. She had me when she was 15 years old, so she's only 31 now. We pretend that we aren't related at all. She dyes her hair blonde instead of her natural red, and I wear cute glasses today with no lenses, just for the look. Now we don't look quite so alike. Of course, we both dress sexily in the strip club, but with very different styles. Marilyn dresses dark, wearing a shiny black spaghetti-strap dress with matching fuck-me shoes. I go light with a colorful mesh crochet tunic screening a white string bikini underneath. Nobody can see my plain work shoes from behind the counter.

I know what you are thinking. Why is a sixteen-year-old girl serving alcohol to her mother at a strip club?

I know that sounds weird, but it feels very natural to me. In fact, I feel like my whole life had been leading to this.

You see, I grew up in this strip club.

Literally, right here.

Seriously!

Ok, that requires some explanation.

***

It all started almost seventeen years ago when my mom was living a very different life with wealthy parents and a nice suburban home. Her name back then was Jean. She lived in a fancy suburb of Gotham and attended a super-expensive middle school.

Jean had a crush on a much older guy, and she got knocked up. She pretended like nothing was wrong until she couldn't hide it anymore, and finally, she confessed to my grandmother that she was pregnant. My grandmother was a bitch about it, and she promptly ordered Jean to have an abortion, but Jean refused. When I was finally born, my grandmother then insisted that Jean give me up for adoption. Again, she refused, and eventually, after a string of fights, Jean swooped me up with one hand and flipped the bird as she went out the door, never looking back. I never did meet my grandparents. I hope I never do.

Now homeless, Jean was a junior high drop-out with no special skills, so raising me would be a huge challenge. Fortunately, though, she was smoking hot with a dancer's body even after having a baby, and she had a sultry voice that reduced men to jello.

Joe Caruso, who I always called Boss back then, hired her on the spot at the Kindling Club. He saved my mom from the streets. He gave her a fake ID so she could strip, though she was only sixteen at the time, then he rented her some space above the club to use as a studio apartment. It wasn't large enough for a mother to raise a child in, but we only slept there. The club was always my real home. In fact, when I was very young, Boss said that all of the men who hung around the club were my uncles, and all of the strippers were my sisters. It seems childish now, maybe even a little creepy to some people, but I still feel that way even today. Many strippers say that the Kindling Club is the best strip club around, so I felt privileged to live there.

Like most strippers, Jean chose a new name for the stage: Marilyn. After trying the name out for a while, she decided she liked it, and then Marilyn wouldn't let anyone call her anything else, including me. She wouldn't even let me call her "mom," especially in front of customers. She was Marilyn, and I knew her as just one of my many sisters – but the sister I felt closest to. She was the only sister that was always there, day and night, and who never moved away.

So, as you can see, my life and my family, if I can call them that, were anything but normal. A lot of people called it inappropriate. I just called it home.

When I was a toddler, I spent all of my time in the back area watching Sesame Street on a small TV while "my sisters" dressed and undressed around me.

By the time I was five, everyone tells me that I was turning into a brat, running around the club and yelling before the doors opened, and once I allegedly disrupted a bachelor party when everyone thought I was asleep. I don't remember that.

But Boss took me in the back and gave me a serious spanking! I do remember the spanking.

Boss and Marilyn felt guilty that I wasn't meeting other kids or getting an education, so they enrolled me in a public school. I started in the first grade, and I got only A's and B's until the third grade. But teachers were getting concerned. They noticed how I walked, like a tiny stripper parading on stage. They noticed how I flirted with everyone I met. When my classmates discovered where I lived, and all hell broke loose.

After that, Marilyn decided to homeschool me – except that she didn't have enough education for that job. So after only a couple of months, she just stopped trying and let me spend all of my time in the club, and that was where I was happiest, anyway. She provided me with many books and magazines to educate myself, and I proved that I could read them all, so I think I came out pretty smart.

But I was only eight or nine, and I was stuck in the club all day, every day. So I got restless, and I pulled some pranks, like setting off the fire alarm or telling customers that I was a stripper. Boss didn't have much patience for that, and he would take me in the back and spank me harder because I wasn't learning the lessons. Then, one day, when "Uncle" Jervis was very rude to me, I flipped him the finger. Boss didn't listen to my side of the story; instead, he bent me over and slapped me right in front of Uncle Jervis and everyone else at the bar. I was crying loudly, and it was very embarrassing, especially because I wasn't wearing underwear.

The next day, Boss apologized to me, saying that he lost his temper.

He never hit me again, but he also wouldn't talk to me or even look at me, to the point that I began wishing for a spanking.

Marilyn always worried that some government people would come to take me away, and one social worker did stop by a few times, asking me a lot of questions. I was coached about how to answer, but when the social worker asked me if I'd like to live anywhere else, I adamantly said, "No, they love me here!" The social worker came back again a couple of times, but then Boss paid some kind of fee, and finally they left me alone.

Boss smiled and said, "You don't need to worry about them again," and I cried because now I knew he cared about me.

I know that to most people this life sounds very inappropriate for a child of any age, but I felt I was luckier than those kids who had to go to school every day in that hell-hole Gotham. During those few years I attended school, I only remember being bullied, betrayed and bored, and all my sisters told me that school doesn't get any better. Whenever I left the club and traveled to Gotham City, I felt lucky if people ignored me.

But I was never bored when I was in the club, and whenever a bully got out of line there, bouncers simply threw them out. A lot of interesting people talked to me in the club, and I felt like I learned more than I would had I continued with public schooling.

People who've heard about my life automatically assume that I'm traumatized or somehow damaged by what they see as an amoral environment, but they don't understand how much love I experience at the club, and just about any home can be a happy place if there is love.

Most of the regulars were super-nice to me, treating me like a princess. A few jokingly talked about how pretty I was, and how they looked forward to seeing me on stage one day. Such anticipation did not go over well with Boss, but it excited me. I idolized my big sisters and admired what they did, and I saw how beautiful and confident they were while they worked. I really couldn't imagine myself doing anything else with my life.

I dreamed of joining my sisters on stage one day, but Marilyn kept pushing me in other directions. She wanted for me to have the opportunities that she never had. Sometimes she cried, saying that she was so sorry that I couldn't keep my innocence for longer.

She always thought of me as a little girl, even now at sixteen years old. She was buying me childish toys as recently as last year, and she raised me on Disney movies, which I would watch in the back whenever I was alone, sometimes even now. I got some strange ideas from those movies. Of course, I always imagined myself as a Disney princess, and whenever a new man visited the bar, I imagined he was a prince. Who else would I fantasize about? I almost never saw boys my own age, and the only courtships I witnessed were men paying money for attention, table dances and stripteases. They were all older men looking for the company of young women. I saw myself as merely younger than the rest. Men were always the lovers, and girls were the love objects, so that's what I wanted to be.

I was a cheerful and loving child, so long as people thought I was beautiful.

Being called beautiful was like oxygen to me, because if I weren't beautiful, then I wouldn't belong in the Kindling Club, and I could never be a stripper. Being a stripper was more than just a dream of mine – it was who I was born to be. I seriously thought that if I couldn't be a stripper, I couldn't do anything and would eventually die on the streets. So, I watched my weight like a hawk and fretted over any imperfection. I desperately needed reassurances of my appearance, because, without that, my life was worthless.

When I was only ten, there was a middle-aged man in the club who liked talking to me and giving me gifts.

Let me start by saying that every time I tell people this story, they automatically think they know where this is going, and they aren't wrong, but the experience never bothers me as much as it bothers them.

I called this man Mr. Bob, because he didn't like it when I referred to him as "uncle." He talked with a few of the strippers, but only with the youngest ones, and he talked with me the most. Marilyn was wary of him right away, seeing that wrong hunger in his eyes. She let me talk with Mr. Bob, but she always asked me later what we talked about. She never forbade me to hang around with him at the bar, because we were always sitting out in the open, and she didn't think he would try anything there. Besides, in a strip club it doesn't pay to be judgmental.

Mr. Bob was always nice to me, at first. He was fun to talk to because he knew all about Disney movies.

But then he started complaining about things. For example, one of my chores was cleaning the bar, and he would often show me dirty spots I missed. Sometimes he complained that I didn't appreciate him. When I laughed, he sometimes cringed and said my voice wasn't attractive. I almost cried and stopped laughing when he was nearby.

But everything changed when he told me that his favorite Disney movie was The Little Mermaid, and that I looked just like Ariel with my red hair. I watched that movie maybe a dozen times after that, looking in the mirror, wanting to see whatever he saw.

Then, during Halloween, he bought me a Little Mermaid costume. Marilyn didn't like the idea of a club regular giving presents to a ten-year-old, but after a little begging, she relented, and I danced around the club on Halloween. My sisters danced on stage behind me completely naked, but Mr. Bob only had eyes for me, and I loved that.

Suddenly, Mr. Bob was nice to me all of the time, and I was afraid of disappointing him, again.

He said I looked so beautiful in the costume but bemoaned that he couldn't take any photographs in the bar. Club rules. A few days later, he gave me a cute Polaroid camera as a gift, saying that he hoped my mom would let me keep it – or just maybe it could be our little secret. I agreed, of course, feeling a little naughty, but I also got a thrill from having a secret. I took some selfies of myself in the costume and gave them to Mr. Bob the next time he visited.

He thanked me so much, even though it was obvious from the poorly framed and blurry photos that I had never used a camera before. Then he laughed cruelly at the only good photo, mentioning that the shell bikini-top looked so fake.

I pouted, feeling that he was mocking my appearance and was turning mean again, but then he raised my spirits, telling me that the problem was with the costume, not with me. "It's really silly, isn't it, that Ariel wears those ridiculous clamshells," he said as he brushed his hand over my tit. "Those Disney cartoons are so square; if mermaids were real, they wouldn't be wearing any tops at all."

He gave me a few tips for using the camera, and the next time we met, I gave him photos of me in the costume – but topless this time. I was self-conscious about the tiny buds that were my breasts, but again he told me how beautiful I looked. He compared me to the girls that were dancing on the stage, saying that I was more beautiful than any of them, so I kissed him on the cheek. "But Halloween is over," he added, "and that fin looks silly now, doesn't it?"

Even at ten, I knew where this was going, but I played along.

I said that I wished I was a real mermaid with a real fin.

"Nonsense," he replied, "even Ariel knows it's better to have legs. When she sprouts legs, I feel like cheering, because she is so beautiful when she swims up to the beach, leaving those fins behind," he added.

I knew what he wanted, and I didn't want to disappoint him, yet I hesitated. The secrets I was keeping from my sisters didn't feel like white lies, anymore. But Mr. Bob saw my reluctance, and he didn't get angry; instead, he switched gears. He led me from the bar to seats near the stage, and we watched Samantha, who was dancing on the stage, lay down spread eagle for her tippers to see. "Look at her," Mr. Bob said with a hint of disgust. "Whenever I see hair down there, I think it looks gross. I'm sure when Ariel got her legs, she was smooth all over."

I was excited because I didn't have any body hair at all. I was still too young. The next day, I came back with the pictures he desired. I had mastered the camera now, learning how to use the remote shutter and even how to use the tiny tripod he gave me. I had fun practicing the poses and smiles that I had watched my sisters perform every day.

When he saw the new photos, I could see the excitement in his eyes, greater than the excitement I ever saw in any man for a stripper. He was looking at me differently, now, and I know I was looking at him differently, too. I sensed danger, but he had me hooked, and, like an expert fisherman, he would not let me get loose. "You are so beautiful," he said, "it's a shame they keep you hidden away, like Cinderella. You could be a real star if you only learned how to feel passion."

"Really?" I asked excitedly. "How do I learn that?"

He gave me a Cinderella video and told me to study it, but only do it when nobody was around. He also gave me the smallest movie camera I had ever seen, then he said "Merry Christmas," even though Christmas was still two weeks away.

Later, when I played the innocent looking VHS tape, about halfway into the cartoon the feature switched to an amateur video of a pretty girl masturbating and playing with children's toys.

I can do that, I thought, and so I made my first movie.

These exchanges went on for three more weeks. He kept flattering me, giving me toys and ever more graphic videos hidden within Disney trappings. Each gift challenged me, daring me to do more, to show more. I proudly proved I was up to the challenge.

Finally, my mom got suspicious when she found one of the photos I had discarded. Then she found one of the videos and a cassette that was still inside the movie camera.

Marilyn was furious. I don't know what she planned to do about it, but everyone in the bar was on the lookout for when Mr. Bob next returned, but he must have gotten wind that he was found out, because he never showed his face again.

Marilyn and my adoptive family scolded me for keeping secrets, and I apologized, but I didn't understand what the big deal was. What I did for Mr. Bob didn't seem very different from what my sisters did every day. Besides, I got two cool cameras, a lot of gifts, and an education, just for having some fun.

"You should have held out for more," Samantha joked, but nobody laughed.

Marilyn took me aside and read me a story about a naïve little girl named Little Red Riding Hood. In this version, the wolf eats the little girl. "That man only wanted you for one thing," she told me.

I rolled my eyes. I was not that naïve, I thought. I knew Mr. Bob was no prince charming. I thought he was my first fan. He was fun to be around. He was giving me things, and I was showing him things in return. He would compliment me and tell me things that would make me want to take my clothes off, without ever asking me directly. He desired me, and I enjoyed that. I was playing adult games.

I had no idea that Mr. Bob had manipulated me to feel that way.

After the Mr. Bob incident, everyone in the bar treated me like I was some delicate thing. Most of the sisters were afraid to talk to me about it, and a few thought I needed therapy, but Boss shot them down. "Who isn't a little fucked up in this city?" he said. "She's safe here, and we can handle this on our own."

A few months later, it was all over the news that Mr. Bob was arrested not only for possessing child pornography but also for statutory rape of multiple girls. I learned the difference between having a fan and a predator. A few years after that, I would find out that the selfies I had taken for his viewing pleasure were distributed around the child porn underworld under the pseudonym Ariel. Fortunately, nobody recognized me from those photos and videos. At least, nobody said anything to me. That would have been awkward for them.

But not for me. Sure, I was upset to find out that Mr. Bob didn't care at all about me, but I was quite proud of those photos. People are usually shocked when I say that, but it makes perfect sense to me. I know kids beyond these windowless walls dream very different dreams from me. They dream of being doctors and lawyers and tradesmen, and their parents congratulate them when they learn and practice appropriate skills. But for me, my dream was to be a stripper, just like all of my sisters. What outsiders saw as child pornography, I saw as me practicing my art.

Nobody saw it my way, insisting that because I was only ten, my judgment sucked. My sisters wanted to protect me from making bad decisions, so they took control of my access to the television. It felt very unfair to me. They would only let me watch TV in the dressing room, and they checked out all of the VHS films before giving them to me. Somehow, they thought they were sheltering me, but that was crazy.

They were relieved when they saw me watching Beauty and the Beast and Labyrinth. They didn't know that I was imagining the pornographic potential while I watched.

When they weren't paying attention, I snuck onto one of my sisters' computers. I watched a gang-bang porno, and I imagined the pretty girl was Snow White doing it with the dwarfs. To me, it didn't matter whether a movie was a porno or from Disney, every story between boys and girls and men and women were the same. Everyone was sweet and innocent with hearts of gold, but everyone also had hungers and played games trying to get what they wanted. It was both thrilling and educational.

One day, Boss sat down beside me in the dressing room before the club opened. He was holding a half-eaten hamburger, and we watched cartoons side-by-side. "Wow, Bugs Bunny. That brings back memories," he said.

"It's funny, right?" I said politely, but I felt anxious because Boss never visits the dressing room.

After watching a silly scene between Bugs and Elmer, he laughed, then I laughed, sympathetically.

Then, out of the blue, he started asking me questions that scared me. Questions like: "Do you like living here?" "Don't you want to hang around with other kids?" "Do you want to go back to school?"

I started crying, saying, "I love it here, and I don't care about other kids. Everyone in school was mean. I don't ever want to leave here. Please don't make me!"

He was surprised by my outburst, and I cowered for a moment, thinking he might slap me. But he just looked sad and wiped a tear from my eyes. I grabbed him, forcing him to hug me. He patted my back gently and said, "Don't worry kid. You'll always have a home here."

The next day, after the club shut down for the night, he invited me to watch TV with him in the bar area. We had a huge TV there for sporting events, but he liked to watch other shows when the club was closed. Just about everyone else had gone home, and Marilyn went out partying, so it was just him and me at 1:30 AM. I usually went to bed after closing time, but he never asked me to watch TV with him before, so I curiously slunk onto a chair beside him.

"Do you want to watch that Mermaid flic?" he asked. "That's your favorite, right?"

I shook my head.

He picked up another Disney film, and I just rolled my eyes.

He shrugged then started surfing through channels, asking me what I thought, and I kept shaking my head. Then he settled on the Sopranos, and I could see he was into that, so that's what I wanted to watch, too.

We watched quietly for a few minutes, and then he thought he'd better explain the drama that was unfolding in the show. There was a lot of complicated relationship stuff, and I wasn't interested in that, but I was interested in him. I didn't say anything. I just looked at him. He was talking to me like I was a grown-up. Eventually, he stopped talking about the show altogether and started complaining about the cops and how the gangs were so much worse in Gotham than on the show.

At one point, he looked so stressed, I thought he might have a heart attack.

I stood up and walked behind him and started rubbing his shoulders.

"What are you doing?" he spat out suspiciously.

"This is what Marilyn does when her men feel bad," I replied.

He laughed a little, then relaxed and talked more calmly.

Now he seemed happier. It seemed like when I touched him, he calmed down, and he started talking about some of the funnier things that happened that day.

He didn't notice that I was taking off my clothes when I wasn't rubbing his shoulders.

Then when I walked back in front of him, his mouth dropped.

"Do you want me to dance?" I asked nervously, as I moved closer, wondering how I could straddle him like I saw my sisters do to their customers in the private areas.

He looked away and whispered, "Put your clothes on, Zoey."

"I'm sorry," I said while covering myself shyly and sitting down again. "I don't want you to get in trouble."

He looked at me sympathetically. "Do you think that's why I stopped you?"

I shrugged. "Maybe when I'm a little older," I suggested.

He shook his head. "Listen, Zoey, I've seen you skipping around here since you were in diapers. You are growing up quickly now, and I can already tell you are going to be a real hottie in a few years," he said, intending to be sweet. "You've heard me tell everyone that all of my girls are like my daughters, but I really mean it with you. I will never want you that way, not even when you are older."

I was disappointed at first, because if he didn't desire me, what else was there for him to like? But the more I thought about it, the happier his words made me. He was telling me that he loved me as a person, as a daughter, and I didn't know that a man could love me without asking for something in return.

I had thought that only happened in fairy tales.

If he saw me as his daughter, then I wanted him to be my daddy, and I was excited to know what that meant.

We watched the Sopranos again the next day. Then the day after. It became a thing that would last for weeks, and when we talked, I would call him Daddy. He felt uncomfortable at first, but he never complained. After each episode ended, he would tussle my hair around affectionately and say, "Ok, time to hit the sack," and I would never get tired of those moments.

Eventually, I would call him Daddy all the time. He even began introducing me to regulars as his daughter – not merely LIKE his daughter, as before. When one guy challenged him on this, he laughed and said, "Well, I'm claiming her on my tax returns; doesn't that make it official?"

The rest of the club seemed to think our relationship was weird, especially Marilyn, but Daddy was making me so happy. It had always felt like nobody wanted to be my parent. Even Marilyn called me her sister. I couldn't pick a better father, I thought. Joe was a powerful man. He had money. He had important friends. He looked as strong as the bouncers. And he loved me. Like real love, not the kind the regulars talked about all of the time.

I worried that he would get tired of pretending, but then Daddy showed me some papers that said my name was Zoey Caruso – his last name! I hugged him with tears in my eyes, thinking that he had adopted me. Later I found out that he had someone create a fake identity for me, but it still meant that he loved me.

Over the next few years, my body changed fast.

First, a patch of wispy hairs appeared on my pussy, which freaked me out. Body hair had always freaked me out even before Mr. Bob put his two cents into my head. I couldn't have it, so I started shaving down there every day. Then twice a day. Then hairs were growing in new places, and I was so afraid that I had missed some that I asked my sisters to help me shave. Eventually, Marilyn told Daddy that I had an obsession with body hair and he paid for laser hair removal. The pain was so worth it! I couldn't thank him enough, even before I knew how much it cost him.

By that time, I had already started my period, and my breasts were well past A cup size. The men in the Kindling Club stopped looking at me like I was a little girl. Daddy gave me small jobs to do around the club, and I was beginning to distract the customers. One time a barfly grabbed me and pulled me onto his lap. The bouncers were all over him, and that was the last time anyone saw that creep's face. I laughed it off; I even felt a little tickled that he found me so attractive. But a few months later, another man tried to pull me into the men's room, which was scary.

I was at an awkward age. Calling customers "uncle" wasn't so cute anymore, but I was still too young to flirt with them.

Marilyn thought it was dangerous for me to be walking about the bar at this age, but Daddy said, "Nah, she's tough enough. She just needs to know how to defend herself."

Daddy hired a tutor for me, to teach me karate. Soon I was going to a dojo to get better. Before the club opened, I would practice with the bouncers, and they pretended to let me win. I have no illusions about that. Still, within a few months, I felt much more confident dealing with the grabbier patrons in the club.

While I was learning to fight, I met a twenty-year-old stripper named Kitty, and she popped my cherry. I thought for barely a moment that I was in love, and then suddenly she quit the club and never came back. I wondered for weeks what had happened. We had been so intimate at first, telling each other everything about our fucked up lives, but then the attraction disappeared so quickly. We couldn't make each other come. We were too much alike. We were like two magicians, each watching the other's magic show, both unable to enjoy it because they know how the tricks work. Even worse, we both got off on being watched. Watching other girls perform never got me hot. Men liked to watch me, and I liked their attention, so I thought that made me straight.

So I decided to act straight, though I wasn't sure how straight girls acted.

My sisters noticed that I began acting differently with my "uncles", laughing awkwardly at their stupid jokes and even gushing to my sisters in the dressing room how attractive I found a few of the patrons. They laughed at me, saying that I had a lot of wising up to do.

By the time I was fifteen, many visitors to the club already thought I was a stripper. I wondered if I looked old for my age, but Marilyn told me that men were more convinced by my movements than my appearance. My whole life had taught me how to walk and talk and act like a stripper. My habits were so ingrained that I didn't even realize that strippers behaved differently from regular girls.

Marilyn thought I should start working in the back, away from the sex-starved customers, but I loved how they looked at me, and Daddy thought my presence was good for business. He let me sit at the bar, drink soda, and hang around with the men. I wasn't trying to flirt, but it didn't matter; most of the men acted like I was licking my lips and rubbing my thighs. I laughed with them and smiled with amusement at how silly I was making them. Everything I said seemed to fascinate them, and their hunger turned me on, so I treated them like princes. If I ran out of Diet Coke, they would immediately purchase another even at the crazy prices at the bar, until my body was shaking from all of the caffeine. If I complimented them about anything, it was like I made their day. If I dared touch one of their hands, I could see them swallow their saliva. I didn't dare tell them how old I was, or a few of them might slink out of the bar in shame. I would respect them more, but I would miss the fun.

I longed for the day when I didn't have to hold back.

But now I'm eighteen. At least my ID says so. Daddy had me lie about my age for the past few years, and it is finally paying off because now I can serve drinks at the bar, even if I can't drink any alcohol for myself. I was much more excited for my fake eighteenth birthday because now I thought I could strip as well, but Daddy and Marilyn both said no. They said I should learn a more secure job first, like bartending, but I think they really wanted to prevent me from stripping for as long as possible.

It feels unfair. Even at my real age, I am already old enough to strip in Providence, and I'm no younger than Marilyn was when she started working here, but when I reminded them of that, they countered that my mom needed the job at the time to survive and that I don't.

So, I've been stuck serving drinks for the past month. I had more fun when Daddy let me mingle with the customers, but Daddy let me keep most of the tips I made at the bar, so that was nice.

***

A few regulars go back many years at the club, but none of the newer ones know that Marilyn is my mother. That is how she likes it. So, she was upset when Frank mentioned that I got my smile from her.

"Shh," she whispered. "Think you could say that any louder?"

I smile as I walk away. I don't care who knows that Marilyn is my mother. To me, she is one of my many sisters. The distinction doesn't mean much to me.

"Want another, Uncle Sam?" I ask the lonely looking old man rooted to his seat on the opposite side of the bar. I don't call many men Uncle anymore, especially gawkers, but he's been sitting in that seat for as long as I can remember.

He nods with a little glint in his eye. If he's looking me over, I don't want to know. I twist the cap off of a Bud and hand it to him with a flirty smile. Good for him if a smile from a pretty girl is all it takes to make him happy.

When I turn back around, I catch something I'm not supposed to see. Marilyn is reaching over to pick up her purse, which has somehow fallen to the floor, and as she does, Frank quickly slips something into her wine.

I'm about to call him out, but Frank was clumsy, and Marilyn catches him in the act.

She pushes the glass away on the bar, nearly over the edge, and gives Frank the evil eye.

"What the fuck, Frank?" Marilyn blasts. "What is your plan? Knock me out in the club? Then what?"

"Oh, no, no, no," Frank apologizes awkwardly, struggling with his English suddenly. "It's just to ... how do you say it? Make you less uptight?"

Marilyn stares at him for a moment, then asks, "Were you slipping me ecstasy?"

He shrugs. "Kind of. It's my own mix."

Marilyn digests that.

I need to explain that Frank's name is not really Frank. It's something Chinese, I think. But the strippers sometimes give their regulars fake names. Frank loves to talk about his job involving DNA splicing and drugs on Indian Hill. He often sounds like a mad scientist, so we started calling him Frankenstein, which evolved into the name Frank. Anyway, if Frank says he made something, we can be sure he didn't merely mix two pills together. It is something special.

Marilyn is clearly upset with Frank, but he just got a promotion and is throwing cash around like confetti, so she sucks it up and says, "Well, don't ever try that again. If a bouncer saw that, he'd toss you out of here on your head and they'd never let you back in."

"Oh, of course not, I'm sorry," Frank says as if his intentions were misunderstood.

I notice that Marilyn's attention is being pulled elsewhere, so I follow her eyes.

Several bouncers are gathering near the entrance of the club along with a few other big men I've never seen before. They are huddled close with Daddy, discussing something important.

"What's going on?" I ask Marilyn.

She shrugs, telling me this is not normal, then she stands up to check it out.

I pretend to clean up a little, but actually I'm watching what is going on. Now, Daddy and Marilyn are alone in a corner, arguing, but after a long moment, they walk up to me at the bar.

"What's going on?" I ask nervously.

"We've caught a whale," Daddy says. "It's Bruce Wayne's 18th birthday, and someone decided it was a good time to show him our fine establishment. Fucking bad luck that I sent Candy and Heather home. Looked like a slow night, but now we're shorthanded. Sandy is the youngest at twenty-four, but with the kind of cash Wayne has been throwing away at Sirens, we need someone younger."

"Zoey doesn't have any experience," Marilyn quickly responds, preempting my excitement. "I've watched her practice, and her dancing looks mechanical. This is no time to be learning on the job."

Daddy shakes his head emphatically. "No, this is no time for one of you 'experienced' girls to zone out like robots. Kids cue in on real enthusiasm, and nobody beats Zoey on enthusiasm, and she's been practicing for this moment her whole life. Besides, rumor is that the Wayne kid likes redheads."

They both look at me to determine if I'm ready, and I'm simultaneously bursting and terrified.

"Just go with it kid," Daddy says calmly. "Don't pretend with him. Let him see how you feel, and you'll sweep him away."

I bite my lip as I look back at Marilyn, nearly begging her with my eyes.

She sighs and advises. "Don't let your feelings get away with you, Zoey. If you feel nervous, he'll sense it."

I frown. They gave me contradictory advice, and telling me not to be nervous was the worst kind of encouragement.

Daddy sees my anxiety and reaches for a bottle of whiskey. "Here, honey, maybe now is a good time for your first real drink."

I recoil. I've sampled some of the drinks I've served, and that whiskey is terrible. I have a much better idea: I grab the glass of wine Frank had spiked with ecstasy, and I down it in two gulps. Just what the doctor ordered for anxiety.

Then I lean forward and kiss Daddy on the cheek. "Thanks, Daddy. I won't let you down," I say effervescently.

"I know you won't," he says with affection, then he looks across the room at his assistant and barks out, "Hey, get a note from the city. We won't make shit if the prima donna can't drink."

I skip across the club and toss my fake glasses in the air, not caring where they land. I feel like I'm playing a game while everyone else is hard at work around me.

***

I whisk into the dressing room to find Samantha touching up her make-up, getting ready for her next set in the rotation on stage. She glimpses me through the mirror and asks, "Hi Zoey, what's up?"

I smile and bounce a little on my toes, like a little girl being told she is getting a pony, and I say, "Daddy's letting me dance!"

Samantha's eyes pop wide open in surprise. She looks uneasy, and I think she's upset, but then she reaches out to hug me, saying, "Congratulations! I know you've wanted this since ... well, just congratulations."

"Thank you," I reply sincerely.

"Are you starting after my set?" She asks.

I hesitate because frankly, I haven't a clue. I don't know when Wayne will arrive, and I don't know if I'm supposed to go out after that or wait a bit. I only know that it happens soon.

I don't need to answer Samantha's question, because Sandy barges through the door and stares at me with barely disguised venom. "Congratulations," she says, except her tone is dripping with resentment. "You'd better not screw this up because we're all expecting our part of the kitty."

"What are you talking about?" Samantha asks.

"The biggest whale in town is parking outside right now, and Joe wants to catch him with this guppy for bait," Sandy spits out, then glares at me. "It's so fucking unfair. We all deserve a piece of this catch."

I back away from Sandy until my ass bumps into the counter. Sandy was always so nice to me that I can't believe she's talking to me like this. I stupidly mutter, "Of course... I know girls always share some of our tips."

Now Samantha jumps on me from the other side, suddenly looking as intense as Sandy. "No, not like you give a little here and there. Everyone gets the same share today."

I'm feeling really small and frightened, now. I forget everything I learned about confrontations at the dojo. I never expected to need to use those skills against my sisters. "Oh, OK," I say desperately. "I don't even care about the money. I just want to get out there and strip."

My sisters look at each other with amused expressions, as though what I said made no sense. Or maybe it was the single most naïve thing ever spoken in a strip club. But they quickly calm down and back away.

Sandy looks like she's going to apologize, but instead simply says, "Well, OK, then. Let's make sure you are ready for this, then. You can't go out there dressed like that." She rifles through a pile of clothes, but there is not much to find. Most girls only bring one or two costumes per night, and they were not going to give me one of theirs. After a quick fruitless search, her resentment starts to seep in again, and she simply says, "I'm sure you can find something usable in here." Then she storms out of the room.

Samantha is more willing to help. "If you have any music, you should give it to Peter, or just tell him if you want a fast or slow set. He's got good taste. I've got to get ready myself, though, because I think I'm still supposed to go on stage."

I nod and thank her. She smiles back, no longer upset, as she steps out of the door and backstage to the dance floor.

I was feeling really good until this confrontation, but now I feel nervous as hell, realizing suddenly that so many in the club are relying on me – and resenting me. I had always thought of the other girls as my sisters, and I guess now I know what sibling rivalry feels like.

I want to call the whole thing off. Maybe Marilyn is right, and I'm not ready for this.

I need to calm down.

When is that shit Frank spiked the wine with supposed to kick in? Or at least the alcohol?

I peek out of the dressing room, and I see a very young man enter the club with a much older man. A bouncer is checking his ID, and they appear to be joking around. If that is Bruce Wayne, he looks like a boy, not a man. He doesn't look much older than me.

I close the door and take a deep breath, trying to relax. This is Mr. Wayne's first time in a strip club, I remind myself. He's probably feeling as anxious and excited as me, and he probably won't even notice if I screw something up.

I hear the loudspeaker introducing Samantha to the stage. I wonder how long before Mr. Wayne sits down. I am sure that Samantha will get first crack at him.

I peek out again and see that Daddy and Marilyn are leading Mr. Wayne to the bar and I sigh. Are they saving him for me?

I close the door yet again and promise myself, no more peeking. I need to prepare for my first set, ever. I check the pile of clothes that Cindy was searching through and see why she gave up so quickly; there are two broken bikini tops, a plus-sized skirt and the ugliest shoes I might ever see. I think for a moment about running to my apartment upstairs and raiding Marilyn's wardrobe, since we are nearly the same size, but I imagine myself suddenly being called to the stage before I can find anything. I don't need that kind of stress.

I look at myself in the mirror, expecting to see a hopelessly unready girl. But I relax because I actually look pretty good. I think about adding some eyeshadow and maybe some brighter lipstick, but I stop. I never wore much makeup, and nobody commented on that before. Why gamble?

Cindy said that I could never dance with what I was wearing, but why not? It looks really cute to me, and I only see one problem with it: If I strip in the usual way, I'd be removing the cutest part of my outfit first. The mesh tunic was like a colorful fishnet covering me from my shoulders to the bottom of my bikini. To take my bikini top off, I'd need to remove the tunic first, and dance the second song with the full boring white bikini, no nudity. Where was the fun in that?

Samantha starts her third and final song on stage before I finally consider the obvious solution: Simply discard the bikini top, and do everything in reverse! I pull the tunic over my head, careful not to mess up my hair. I slip out of the bikini top and shimmy the tunic back into place. Now, when I look in the mirror, it's like a revelation. The tunic stretches out over my perky boobs. My nipples are barely visible in dim light, unless I stretch out my arms, and then my nipples look like they are going to burst between the gaps. It feels sexy, the way it rubs against my skin. It looks sexy, too, but the best part is that I know Mr. Wayne won't be satisfied until the tunic comes completely off. It's perfect!

Of course, my work shoes have to go, and I don't have any decent heels in the club, but that's not a problem at all: I'll just go barefoot. Plenty of girls have done that before, and my outfit doesn't look sleek enough for high heels, anyway.

Before I forget, I rush out of the dressing room and into the kitchen area, where our DJ hangs out between songs. I quickly tell him that I am going on stage, and ask him to please play something slow, romantic and new. No oldies. "I trust you," I say and smile, because I can see by his face that my outfit excites him. That's saying a lot for a man who sees strippers every day!

His excitement excites me, and I don't need the extra heat, which seems to be growing really fast.

Now, I'm ready to go! If Mr. Wayne is not into this, then he'd never be into me, anyway.

***

I only wait about a minute backstage for Samantha to wrap up her set, but it feels like much longer. Time seems to move so slowly, now.

I'm not feeling at all like I expected to. My body is aching, burning, and I can't stand still. Just imagining all of those eyes watching me strip is turning me into one horny bitch! Is that the drug taking over, or am I a bigger exhibitionist than I even thought? I never felt this hot before, not even after watching porn. The truth is that while I've always been fascinated by sex games, I was never a girl who was easily aroused. But now, anticipating all of these men drooling over my naked body, I have a strong urge to lie down and masturbate, but I don't have any time left.

Samantha finishes her set and hurries off the stage, looking frustrated. "Good luck with that one," she says as she walks past. "I wonder if he even likes girls."

That's not a good sign, but surprisingly I don't care because I urgently need to get out there.

I hear a few quiet musical notes that I don't recognize immediately, and then I hear Peter's generic DJ voice blast throughout the club, saying, "Now for the first time here or on any stage, please welcome the sweet young thing, Zoey!"

That's my cue, and it's a thrill just to hear my name being called out, but I have to wait a moment before making my entrance. I need to know what song I'm dancing to.

Finally, I recognize it. "Black Magic Woman."

What is Peter thinking? This is about as old a song as we ever play in the club, and my first impression is that it doesn't suit me. But it is slow. And sexy.

Very sexy.

I start moving my legs and arms until I get the rhythm, then I step onto the stage in an almost ballet dance that would have been impossible in heels. Now that I'm in the groove, I think this song is perfect, because it lets me dance and gyrate like a liquid as I take in everything. I stretch my arms, feeling the crochet thread rub over my hardening nipples which bounce from one gap to another.

Maybe drinking that wine was a bad idea. I'm so caught up in the sensations saturating my body, I almost forget why I was sent on the stage in the first place.

When I look around, I'm surprised to see eager faces at every seat around the tip rail, and other patrons are pulling up chairs to form a second row. I didn't realize that the club was this full today. Dollar bills are tumbling over the edge as more bills pile on.

All of this attention for my first show! A few of these men have been waiting years for this moment, and I won't think badly of them for that.

But conspicuously in one corner sat Bruce, looking miserable by himself. Either some space had been cleared out for him, or nobody felt comfortable sitting next him, so amidst the rambunctious crowd of voyeurs, drunkards and partiers, he sat alone, and he hadn't anteed up anything for the game. Still, I saunter by him first, displaying my goods like a runway model, hoping to coax a little interest, but he seems distant, so I move onto other men who have evident interest, as any good stripper would do. I know this rich boy is the reason I got to dance in the first place, but I'm not going to squander my one chance to prove I belong on stage.

Eyes lock on me from every other direction, and it disturbs my equilibrium. I'm losing my rhythm with Santana's flowing seduction song, as my heart synchronizes with the hearts around me.

I don't know where all of this heat is coming from. My pussy feels smothered, and I want to undress now, but I hold back. It's not time, yet. I must respect the rules of the seduction.

The first song is foreplay.

I should go to the pole. I should climb it. I should play with it.

But then nobody would see how hard my nipples are, erupting through the tunic.

None of these men would see that I wanted their heart as much as they wanted mine.

I decide to get personal. I crawl around the cross-shaped stage like a stalking cat. I ignore the money offered up to me and gaze into each man's eyes in turn. Big Ed is a kind soul, but he looks carnivorous tonight. Jack clearly has a kink for my tunic. For the first time ever, Ozzy looks interested in me. Slim has a big fatty for my face, so I blow him a kiss. Kevin brought his girlfriend, and they both seem totally into me; I crawl past them quickly, in case they are planning to propose a three-way. They have to share me with everyone.

But when I get back to Bruce, I don't sense any interest at all. In fact, he looks angry at me, as though he's wishing I was someone else. His anger makes me feel unbalanced and defensive, so I take a step back, but then he raises an eyebrow and inches forward. A hint of interest? Maybe he regrets frightening me. I realize that he is a bad bet and that I should move on, but I'm feeling very unprofessional right now. I reach over the rail to touch Bruce's hand, pausing for permission. Surprisingly, he reaches forward and lets me touch him.

I whisper, "You look sad. Can I help?"

He glances down and says, "I don't think so."

"I'm sorry, I won't bother you, anymore," I say with a practiced pout. My instinct is to stay with him and charm his sob story out of him, like I did every day with sad men at the bar, but my responsibility on stage is to attend to everyone. More to the point, I needed to attend to the carnal appetite building inside of me.

Finally, the first song of my set fades to an end, and I can stop playing around.

Before the second song even starts, I trot to the middle of the stage and abruptly drop to my knees, pushing my bikini bottom down as I fall. A few seconds of silence follows, and I close my eyes, relishing this moment.

But I don't feel relief. Momentum is picking up, as the song "Sex and Candy" tells my body how to move.

The hem of my tunic partially covers my pussy and ass, as I grab the pole and walk around for two orbits, smiling when I see the row of men ducking down for a better view.

But I don't tease them for long.

Uncle Jervis tosses a twenty onto the stage, demanding some special attention. He has known me since I was five and can be a little creepy with his intense eyes, which are all over me now. As of this moment, I am stripping him of his "uncle" status.

But I don't begrudge him his perversions. Who am I to judge? If I'm not ashamed, why should he be? I meet his gaze with an impassioned gaze of my own, as I move in close. I drop to my knees, looking him in the eyes, but he won't look back, anymore. He wants to see my body, so I turn about, showing him my ass up close. Then I roll onto my back and spread my legs. Still, he won't look in my eyes. Maybe that's for the best. Instead, he stares like a laser at my pussy, hypnotized by how wet I am. He is surrounded by friends who all appear impressed by the moment he has purchased. I let them all get their fill, but I look away in disappointment. I have known many of these men for years, and I'm not sure I can't look at them the same way again.

I feel like the drug is fading from my system. Time is speeding up.

I look across the bar towards Bruce. Then I blink. What am I seeing?

On the tip rail he has folded a single bill, but on that bill I think I see four digits in the corner. That's impossible! I blink again, but the bill still looks the same.

Abruptly, I turn away from the swarm of regulars and crawl my way over to Bruce. I sit on the floor a few inches away and pick up the strange bill, which indicates $1000, and it looks quite old.

"Is this real?" I ask while shifting my position so he can see whatever turns him on, but he's still looking in my eyes.

He nods. "It's very old, but still real currency."

I smile, and he smiles back, looking much more friendly now. I strike a few poses, but he's still looking me in the eyes, and I blush. Did he really just pay $1000 to look into a pretty girl's eyes?

I feel I must remind him that I'm his fantasy, not his lover. I spread my legs and close my eyes to break his focus. Then I sweep my hands down my body to guide his eyes to what he should be thinking of as his prize.

When I open my eyes again, sure enough, he regards my pussy like it's the one thing he's been searching for his whole life. I smile and feel that heat rush through my body again. I haven't solved anything. An ache fills my heart. He looks cute in his black suit and sharp haircut. Our perversions feel like romance. The lust in his eyes and the wetness between my legs feel like a kind of love. I don't know how much I can blame these delusions on the mysterious elixir.

Sex and Candy changes to Closer by Nine-Inch Nails.

Oh, Peter, you're a genius!

I rise to my knees and slowly pull my tunic up my body. My tits rise and fall with a delicious bounce, and now I'm completely naked. I spread my arms and gaze up at the red overhead lights, and I smile, feeling liberated, not just from my clothing but also from everything that has kept me from my dreams until now.

Mr. Wayne reaches towards me and drops several more of those old bills onto the stage.

I frown slightly, feeling that I let this go too far. "I don't know what you want from me, Mr. Wayne."

He shakes his head and talks over the music. "Nothing, you just made me feel better, and that's worth a lot to me."

I smile again and say, "Well, sir, if you want me, I'm all yours for the rest of the night."

He nods and says magically, "You are beautiful."

I pause for a moment because those words wrap around my heart, and my emotions are changing from a river to a waterfall. In an instant, I am in love with Bruce Wayne, and I want to share everything with him.

I let my fingers roam between my legs, and his eyes wander back and forth from my eyes to my sex.

I want to come for him, right here, on stage. He's paying more than anyone has ever paid for a stripper in the Kindling Club, I'm sure of it. I want for him to get his money's worth, if that is even possible, and so much more.

I slide my fingers over my clit. Up and down.

I feel so aware of everything. I can hear my heartbeat, which seems to have slowed down dangerously.

When I dip my finger inside, I can see a drop of Bruce's sweat fall from his face in slow motion. I never knew I could feel this desperately hot!

Then when I stretch my hole, my chest convulses, because I have arrived. I never knew I could come this hard!

I try to keep eye contact with Bruce, with my prince, as jolts reverberate through my body and my eyes shrink into wet slits. Before the sensation subsides, I'm coming again.

Out of the corner of my eye, I catch Daddy and Marilyn watching on from fifteen feet away. They smile with a sense of pride that no normal family would ever understand, watching their daughter orgasming for the sake of a stranger—a rich stranger whose desire for me could make up for a week of poor profits.

Any anxieties I might have had are now gone, and I could not feel happier.

Time nearly stops as I come again and again in waves. Pleasure sweeps over my body as though it had been injected into my veins. It feels too good to be true.

I see explosions of light. I feel an earthquake shaking my ass. I hear a roar in my ears. This is an orgasm more intense than I ever even dreamed of having.

But it is also something else.

The shaking under my ass is real.

Time is accelerating, and like still frames in a movie, I see Daddy and Marilyn flying through the air, and I wonder if somehow I have lost my senses and am now dreaming. When I see Bruce falling off of his seat and a section of the wall crumbling, I begin to understand.

Something is ACTUALLY exploding, yet I can't think. Spasms of pleasure are still reverberating through my body. Even as alarm bells go off in my head, I'm still caught in this intense orgasm.

I try to sit up, but I'm moving so slowly that I can duck under a brick that is flying straight towards me.

I manage to climb from my hands and knees to my feet, only to see bullets now flying into the club, with shadows approaching from behind them.

It's dawning on me that a horrible attack is occurring right now, but I'm just standing here, coming down from one orgasm, and just beginning a third. I look around for Daddy and Marilyn, and now my feelings explode in impossible directions when I see the two people I love the most lying on the floor in a horribly shaped heap.

The feeling of frustration now overwhelms my other feelings, as I try to scream but feel nothing coming out.

Amidst this suffering, those shadows are getting closer, and I see one of the bullets coming at me in slow motion but too quickly for me to avoid getting hit in the arm. My body is still so overwhelmed with sexual confusion that my arm explodes in pleasure instead of pain as the bullet passes through.

The approaching shadows have now morphed into two large men rushing into the club, looking for someone to shoot. Both men wear smiley face masks.

All of my mounting grief and pleasure and frustration merge into a new emotion: anger. I step off the stage, landing beside Bruce, who lays prone on the floor.

Time is starting to speed up now, and I see the invaders raise their guns and press down on the triggers, apparently to fire indiscriminately into the club.

I jump in front of them and nail one of them with a karate chop to the throat, and I hit the other with an elbow to the cheek. Everything feels like it's happening in slow motion, but when I hit them, the impact is so hard, I feel a sharp pain in the hand and in the elbow that I struck them with. Both men crumple as if hit by a heavyweight boxer instead of a girl barely topping 100 pounds.

The wall near the entrance to the club is completely demolished now. Beyond this hole, I can see a third man standing by a car under the lights of the parking lot. He is wearing the same smiley face mask and holding a spent rocket launcher. When he sees his conspirators fall, he jumps in his car and starts the engine.

I want to stop him, but I feel time speeding up, and the reality of what has happened is sinking in. All of the fear and pain come at once. I let out a loud scream and fall to my knees, crying.

I feel like I'm there, alone, for a long time.

Then I feel a coat being wrapped around my naked body, followed by an embrace. I look up into Bruce's kind eyes. Behind Bruce stands the same old guy who stood behind him in the club.

"Are you hurt?" Bruce asks while opening the coat to shamelessly examine my body.

I lift my arm out of the coat, to show him where I was shot, but I'm confused to see a nearly healed scar where the wound should be. The pain in my hand and elbow are strangely gone now, too.

A few of my sisters and some regulars are now climbing from the rubble, and then I remember how I saw Daddy and Marilyn being thrown to the ground by the explosion.

I stumble away from Bruce and look into the shadows inside of the building. I find a few bodies in a pile. I push Frank's body aside and put my hand over my mouth when I see that a brick has completely crushed the side of Daddy's head, and Marilyn is not moving.

I can't breathe.

Bruce's hands grab at me, trying to calm me, but I fall out of his arms. My muscles give up, and my vision fades. Then all is black.



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