The Celebration Series
Raffles to Rattles
Chapter 1 – Sophia
The bass thumped so intensely in the small room that everything vibrated, including me. The cold metal under my hands was a prop while the mirrored wall reflected my image as I dispassionately watched my body do the routine.
I lowered my four-inch heels to the ground and placed my hands on my hips as I tried to calm my breathing—I should not be huffing and puffing from this routine.
I grabbed a small hand towel and mopped my brow. I was so out of shape. I turned to the mirror and studied my waistline. It was trim, supple, without any extra fat, just as it always had been. My breasts were still pert and full, and my thighs were smooth and muscular. I looked damned good for being thirty, especially since I’d stopped dancing when I was twenty-four.
I’d retired from dancing when I’d graduated from college and taken the nursing job at Celebration Hospital, but recently, I’d applied for a part-time job at an exclusive gentlemen’s club to earn some extra cash. My school loans were a bitch, and my house needed repairs that I was not capable of doing on the cheap, like, by myself.
I was awesome with medical equipment and could assist with the best of them when it came to anything medically-related, but ask me to fix a leaky pipe or a hole in a wall, and I was clueless. I even paid a neighborhood boy to cut my lawn because I just didn’t do machines like that—so with my house in need of repair, and the bank harping on me to catch up on my payments, I needed money—quick.
As much as I hated to, I reached out to a few of my old contacts and found a place in Middletown that was looking for a dancer. My friend, Ivy, vouched for me, and I sent pictures to the owner along with a couple of videos of previous shows. Tonight, I had an audition, and it was live.
I threw my hand towel onto a chair in the corner and hit the replay button on the stereo in the corner. Even though I’d quit working as a dancer years ago, I had installed a studio in the basement. I used to dance here every day for hours, but lately, I’d only used it a couple of times a week to stay active.
As the next song began to thump, I wished that I had kept up my workouts. If I had, maybe I wouldn’t feel so wiped out. I ran through the routine three more times before I figured that it was as good as it was going to get and went upstairs to take a shower.
I glanced at the clock. Maybe I would forgo the shower and take a nap instead. If I lay down, I could get a two-hour nap before I had to shower, dress, and drive out to the far side of Middletown. I promptly talked myself out of the nap and decided on a shower and a run to the grocery store. I had nothing in the fridge, and the constant buying of quick meals was not good for my bank account balance.
I stared at the shower for a long moment and then glanced at the mirror. I had circles under my eyes. Forget the grocery store. I walked into my bedroom, collapsed on the bed, sweat and all, and passed out.
When I woke up, I glanced at my wristwatch and freaked. I’d been asleep for practically three hours. I scrambled off the bed and ran to the shower.
“Great, Sophia! Oversleep on your audition day! Why didn’t you set the alarm?” I yelled at myself as I peeled my clothes off as quickly as I could and flung them haphazardly around the small bathroom.
I took the fastest shower I could and brushed out my long chocolate brown hair to let it dry on the way to Middletown. Normally, I’d dry it straight, but I didn’t have time. I tossed my hair straightener into my duffle along with my cosmetic bag and a half dozen other things that I might need. I yanked on yoga pants, a t-shirt, and flip-flops, grabbed my two bags, and ran out to my Jeep.
If I didn’t hit any strange traffic, I’d be there a few minutes early and could get my hair and makeup done with time to spare.
My stomach rumbled, but it wasn’t from hunger, although I was hungry. This rumble was more of a queasy feeling that wiggled in my belly like a lump of Jell-O. Could I possibly be nervous? I’d never been nervous for an audition before, so why would I be now?
“Oh, maybe because you might run into people you actually know, and you could lose your job,” I muttered to myself.
I hoped that my makeup and hairstyle would be different enough that it would throw people off. The last thing I needed was for someone to tell my boss that I was dancing on the side. I didn’t know if it would get me fired or not, but I didn’t want to take the chance.
Maybe I should visit the legal department at the hospital and pose a hypothetical question. I could just see it: Hey, so I’m a nurse in ICU, and I dance for men on my nights off. Is that a problem? They would probably laugh their asses off as they escorted me from the building.
If only I knew of a different way to make the money, but it was all I knew. I had started dancing when I was seventeen to survive. My parents had died, and I had hidden from social services to avoid being put into a home. For a while, I lived on the streets until a woman by the name of Cinnamon found me and brought me into the world of exotic dancing. Cinnamon obviously wasn’t her real name, but Sassy Pants wasn’t my real name either.
I cringed as the stage names always reminded me that working this job was barely a step above being a hired escort. In my early years of dancing, it had seemed to be a glamourous life, well kind of. I’d had plenty of money for food and clothes. I could pretty much date any man I wanted, and I only worked four nights a week. It was great until I finished college, and then I was ready to leave the life behind.
I sighed deeply as I got on the highway that would lead to Middletown. I thought that my Sassy Pants persona was long gone. Who knew six years after she’d hung up her heels, she’d have to pull them down, dust them off, and start strutting her body to pay the bills.
I really didn’t want to do this, but I didn’t have any other choice. It wasn’t that I thought it was wrong, it just had to be right for the right person. Once upon a time, I had loved dancing, loved the power I had over men as they watched my seductive moves on the stage, and how a pouty look could have them reaching into their wallets for more cash.
Now, I much preferred to wear my scrubs and kick my swollen feet up at the end of the night with a pint of ice cream. My seductive moves were few and far between and reserved for special occasions, like a date.
My shoulders drooped further as I thought of the last man I’d dated, Scott Allen. He was one of the local paramedics, and I’d had the hots for him for a few years. Earlier this year, I’d decided I’d had enough of waiting to see if he would notice me, and I had taken the bull by the horns and bid on him at the Valentine’s Day Bachelor Auction.
It was ironic that I had paid for his attention, when in the past, men had paid for mine, but it was the only way I could think of to get his attention—and boy did I get it.
Scott had been shocked that I, and not my friend Rebecca who was bidding on my behalf, was the winner. I’d been trying to make Riayn jealous for Jason Hayes, and had been bidding on Jason just to get her attention, while my friend had bid on Scott on my behalf.
I’d spent a nice chunk of change, twenty-five hundred to be exact, to get that date with Scott, something that I regretted now that I needed to fix a leak in my roof and the water heater was probably about to die.
Unfortunately, our schedules kept conflicting. He needed to take some extra shifts, and then his rotation got changed so it was opposite mine. We saw each other maybe once a week, and it always seemed rushed. It was a mutual decision that we stop dating for the time being and wait and see what happened in the future; nevertheless, our breakup hadn’t stopped us from being together recently.
On Mother’s Day, after the fiasco of little Tommy falling into the sinkhole, Scott and I had found ourselves hot and heavy in a room reserved for doctors and nurses to get some sleep between shifts. When the two of us came together, the passion always took over, and words were never needed.
I wondered what he would think if he knew I was dancing again. I’d given him a few private shows, and he’d loved them. I never really asked him what his opinion was of an exotic dancer. If we were still dating, would he be upset that I was doing this?
Why did I care? It wasn’t like I was taking it up as a longtime gig. I’d already told Mr. Monroe, the owner, that I was only able to do a maximum of two nights a week, and that I was only staying a couple of months. He understood, and since I was covering for one of his girls who had gotten pregnant, he didn’t have a problem with it. His girl was expected to return as soon as the baby was born and her body was back in shape.
I was looking at maybe six to seven months max here. A few hundred a week, and maybe I could bring in a grand a month. That would make a huge dent in my loans and get some things fixed around the house.
I had my fingers crossed that I’d get a pay raise at the hospital soon. I was due for my review in a month, and I’d been keeping my eye open for another shift where I might earn a little more. If I could get into the ER or the operating room, I’d be on a higher pay scale.
I would have had a shot at the ER position, but Corrine Wagner had gotten it. I was happy for her, but a little frustrated that she got it because her future sister-in-law, Casey Lowe, was the head of nursing for the ER. I didn’t want to think Casey was playing favorites, but how could I not? Most new nurses did floor work, not ER, as soon as they received their licenses. You had to prove yourself before you could get into a coveted ER position.
My stomach gurgled again, and I had the crazy feeling I was going to barf—which I never did. I had to be really sick to throw up. I unscrewed the cap on my water bottle and sipped from it, hoping to ease the nausea.
I turned into the parking lot of Pleasure Your Fantasies and pulled around to the rear, and my stomach began to revolt against the water I’d consumed. I had barely parked when I whipped off my seatbelt and threw open my door, heaving every drop of tepid water I’d swallowed onto the dusty gravel.
When I was finished, I leaned back in my seat and wiped my mouth on the back of my arm. I squeezed my eyes shut while I prayed I had a toothbrush in my bag. Maybe I was coming down with something because the only thing I was nervous about was barfing again while I was on stage.