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I was tempted to grab her hand and hold it as we walked down the streets; there were men leering at her from all directions and it was quite obvious I wasn’t her boyfriend. I hated that. It happened all the time.

Instead I walked by her side, the chilly November breeze whistling in between us. I tried not to notice the way it turned her breasts into headlights. We couldn’t get to the dark, anonymous club fast enough.

“What the hell is this?” she asked, eyeing the door to The Cecil. The strip club down-at-it’s heels, nowhere near as classy as Brandi’s Showgirls but Brandi’s cost a lot of dough and I wasn’t about to spend that much on Perry, who looked like she was going to start running over the Granville Street Bridge any second and all the way home to Portland.

“It’s our fun for the night,” I told her, motioning her to go inside.

“I thought the hockey game was our fun for the night,” she said and crossed her arms.

Oy, convincing her to partake in naked ladies might be harder than I thought.

I decided to turn on the charm. It was always tactic number one.

I leaned in closer to her. “Kiddo, the fun never ends when you’re with me.”

She narrowed her eyes into two rather seductive looking slits. “If you think I’m going into a strip club...”

“Oh, don’t be such a pussy,” I sniped. Tactic number two. Call her a pussy.

Her eyes widened for a second, then she brought an equally amusing sneer to her face. “I am not a...pussy. I just don’t have any desire to see some tonight.”

“But I do,” I whined. “Please, Perry?”

Tactic number three. Beg.

“Seriously?”

I smacked her lightly on the arm. “You’re no fun.”

“I’m more fun than you can handle,” she said and wagged her finger at me. Then she turned on her heel, flung open the door and marched into the club. She was extra hot when she was angry.

And there I was getting turned on again.

I sighed and followed her.

After the doorman collected our cover money (which I paid for, because I’m a gentleman), I led Perry straight toward the stage. I recognized the girl up there, wriggling her ass away. I didn’t remember her name but I’d had a lap dance from her before. Not the best, not the worst.

I snuck a peek at Perry. She was putting on a brave face but I knew she was feeling as awkward as all fuck. You can always tell with her. Her shoulders hunch over a bit, like she’s shielding herself from the world and though her mouth is set in a “don’t mess with me” line, her eyes are sad, like she’s about to be found out at any moment. She’s vulnerable and she hates it.

I thought bringing her to the stage where the leerers and jeerers were would have been a good idea. Fun. I immediately knew it wasn’t. I didn’t like her like that. I liked her with her chin high and her chest out.

I put my hand on her shoulder, just for a moment, just for comfort, and pointed at an empty booth in a dark corner. I could only imagine how dirty it was (it’s not like they sanitized the seats every hour) but I knew it was out of the way and hidden.

Once there, being careful not to wince at the sticky seat, I ordered us two Jack and Cokes and tried to put Perry at ease.

“Just pretend you’re in Disneyland,” I told her.

She managed to snort and look scared at the same time. “Yeah, a Disneyland where Ariel walks around topless.”

“Hey, either way it smells like fish.” I smiled.

She gave me a disgusted look. “You can be really gross sometimes.”

I took that as a compliment. It meant I was getting under her skin.

We watched the dancer do her thing for a few moments, Perry trying to look and not look. Our drinks came and I told her, “Look at it this way. You pay cover going into any other bar nowadays. Might as well get a show to go with it.”

I held up my drink to her. She did the same.

“Even though these drinks are probably ten dollars each?” she pointed out. I noticed her eyes moved away from mine. She probably didn’t believe in that whole ten years of bad sex thing. Not that bad sex could ever happen if I was in her bed.

Jesus, Dex, I thought. Get back on track.

“Oh, it’s worth it.” Our glasses clinked. I watched her intently for any signs of loosening up. So far it wasn’t going very well. She was looking all over the place, taking everything in in nervous little spurts. Her eyes eventually settled where everyone else’s eyes were settled: the stage.

And why not? It was Marla up there. I didn’t try and memorize the names of the strippers here but Marla was a gorgeous creature and gorgeous creatures deserved some of my respect. Unlike some of the snaggle-toothed dancers who could barely waddle out a song, Marla had this old Hollywood vibe to her. She was still a bit of a whore, but at least one you could take out for dinner.

“Marla always has the best moves here, doesn’t she,” I found myself saying out loud, hypnotized by her movements. I’m sorry, but when there’s a stripping naked woman nearby, you can’t help but watch. Especially when it’s Marla.

“You know her name?” Perry sounded incredulous. And a bit pissed off. If I had known any better I would have thought she was jealous. But the idea of that was ludicrous. It was probably her fuckload of insecurities coming into play again.

“You always remember the best ones,” I explained. “That’s not saying much.”

I watched her squirm in her seat and wrestle with something in her head.

“Is this making you uncomfortable?” I asked her.

She gave me a brief but nasty look. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

She was kind of right. That was part of the plan.

I put a hurt look on my face. “You think less of me now.”

The funny thing was, I almost wanted her to think less of me. I sometimes caught this starry-eyed gaze on her face, like she was looking at me with...I don’t know, adoration. It was unwarranted. And dangerous. Yet, I still wanted to push her buttons, prod her over the edge. I wanted to challenge her, make her live beyond her bounds. And a major part of me wanted that adoration from her. But that was the part I let out only when I was jerking off. It was safer that way. Just a sore wrist to show for it.

I don’t know if anything I was thinking had shown up on my face because Perry suddenly flushed even deeper. Then she laughed. “If anything, I think more of you.”

I grinned.

“Good,” I told her and tipped her cup so the drink was going faster into her mouth. Fuck. Talk about another turn on. She could hold a lot in her throat. “You’re learning.”

I held her eyes for a moment before we both looked away. We watched Marla grind until there was nothing left to her but pale skin and moody lights. We drank.

The waitress came by and I ordered two more doubles for us. She eyed Perry. I couldn’t blame her. Perry had taken off her jersey because of the dirty sweat and heat in the room and her little black tank top did nothing but show off her breasts. I wasn’t even sure how they were staying so high and perky. Young age, I guess. I had been trying not to stare at them for the last five minutes but now that the waitress was, I could too. And I couldn’t have gotten harder if I tried. Thank god for the table.

The waitress gave me an appreciate look. “This your girlfriend? She’s cute.”

Perry was more than cute and no, she wasn’t my girlfriend but I nodded anyway. I looked at Perry slyly. “She is cute, isn’t she?”

Cute, pretty, so completely fuckable.

The ever present red of her cheeks deepened. Then the waitress leaned in closer and dear god, I could have shot a load right through the top of the table.

“Honey,” she purred in Perry’s ear. “With your eyes and those breasts, you should be up there too.”

Then she left to get our drinks. Poor Perry, she looked like she wanted to climb under the table and die.

“Guess it doesn’t matter what sex you are,” she managed to get out, her eyes wide and innocent.

“Don’t be so modest,” I chided her. I looked at the stage where another stripper was grinding. Perry was better any of these girls, better in so many ways, yet here she was feeling like she wasn’t worthy. I didn’t understand her problem at all. How could she have gone through life so far without noticing the looks she got from men?

The looks she got from me.

I watched her, taking in her unguarded features

“You’ve got a beautiful face,” I found myself explaining to her. The Jack was quickly making its way through my system but I didn’t care. I turned my focus to the stage and watched the stripper absently. “Gorgeous eyes. I mean I’ve rarely seen eyes like yours. Fuck, it’s like looking out at the ocean and trying to read it as the weather’s changing.” OK, I wasn’t making sense anymore. I continued anyway, “Perfect lips. The most adorable freckles and the tiniest little nose. You’re like a sexy...bunny.”

That settled it. I wasn’t allowed to talk anymore. I couldn’t believe I just called her a bunny rabbit. A sexy one at that. Real smooth, Dex.

I shot her a quick look. I would have thought she’d have some snappy one-liner to refute the bunny remark, but her mouth was slightly agape and she had nothing.

“Speechless? That’s a start.” I couldn’t help but feel victorious.

The waitress chose that moment to hand us our drinks. After I paid her ($25!), Perry still hadn’t said anything.

“Has no one ever complimented you before?” I asked, trying to get her to talk. I pushed her new drink into her hands, hoping she’d suck her current one back faster. I was feeling buzzed as shit and I needed her to get on board with me. The more sober and serious we got, the more I’d have to deal with that other bomb from earlier.

She shook her head. I still couldn’t believe it. Were guys in Portland just fucking idiots or what the hell was going on here? Sure she wasn’t model skinny like some people I knew, but she was all woman and what guy didn’t want that? More to play with, in my opinion.

I sighed. She wasn’t going to get it any time soon. I could sit here and tell her how gorgeous I thought she was but until she believed it, whatever I said was falling on deaf ears. And yes, I went on to tell her she was beautiful and had a devastating ass and whatever else I threw in to sweeten the pot, but really, why the hell should she care what I thought anyway?

I wasn’t her boyfriend. I was just her partner.

Her partner with a raging, seam-splitting hard on.

And I couldn’t take it anymore.

I shot her quick look, trying to convey nonchalance. “I’ll be right back.”

Then I left her alone in the club.

There’s no pride or shame in where I went. Yes, I went to the bathroom. Yes, I went there to jack off. No, most men don’t actually jack off in the bathroom of a strip club. Believe it or not, it’s not really a very sexual place. It’s a place for frat boys and lonely old men, not a wankfest. It’s rare for a stripper to get you so worked up that you have to escape for a few moments.

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