Author’s Note: I can’t seem to write short stories. I really appreciate all you who have taken the time read my scribbles. Thank you Tim413413 for the hours of editing.
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.