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A Better Place to Be, part 1 (1680 words) March 15, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — leamari @ 1:52 am
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Note: This is the first time I’ve read most of this since I wrote it in November.  Literally.  A lot of it was typed with my eyes closed, so I could crank out the required number of words.  Like I said, NaNoWriMo is all about finishing a novel in 30 days, turning off your “internal editor” and just writing.  I definitely finished the novel, and I definitely didn’t edit it (think third-rate dime store romance novel), so I guess I was successful?  Anyway, here’s what came out, pretty much unaltered.  Please, be nice, and enjoy!  -LeaMari

Prologue: Annika

A few withered brown leaves tumbled down the deserted alley on the first truly chilly wind of autumn. Suddenly, a door burst open, flooding the quiet alley with a harsh yellow light and the thumping of fast paced bass music. A pretty young woman wearing a short dress and a lightweight denim jacket emerged, slamming the door behind her with a force that belied her slender frame. She strode purposefully to her nearby car, neatly manicured brows furrowed and eyes flashing with anger. She roughly yanked open the door, hurled herself onto the driver’s seat, and slammed the door shut with a frustrated grunt. Her hands grabbed the steering wheel with a death grip as she took a deep breath and thought about screaming obscenities into the comforting silence of the car. Then, suddenly, the anger seemed to flow out of her and she sagged back against the seat. She closed her eyes and sat in the silent car, at a loss for what to do next.

Part 1

I don’t want to go home, I thought as I almost reluctantly turned the key in the ignition. It’s so cold and empty and… A sappy love song was playing when the radio came to life.

…and lonely, I thought. I hit the station change button with slightly more force than was strictly necessary. Another perky young singer came over the speakers, rambling about true love and soul mates, love and loss, yadda yadda yadda. Annoyed with the stupid love songs, and annoyed at myself for letting them get on my nerves, I turned the radio off.

I sighed. I wasn’t in the mood to be alone tonight, but I didn’t really have anyone to be with, either. I knew a bunch of the other dancers would go to the bar down the street after the club closed to gossip and complain about work, their customers, and life in general. While I usually joined them, I didn’t feel like seeing the girls and explaining what had happened tonight. Besides, one drink would probably push me over the edge into sobbing depression. I needed to be somewhere with lights and noise and other people, but not somewhere I would be expected to actually engage in conversation. I considered and rejected a few options before settling on an old stand by. I shifted the car into drive and slowly pulled away, leaving the cold alley and its back entrance to the strip club behind. I hoped it was for the last time.

*****

As I drove, I found myself thinking about how my life had come to this unexpected point. I don’t really know how I ended up here, in this life. I had a decent, normal enough childhood. We never had a huge amount of money, but as a child, I never really noticed that. My sister and I had plenty of toys to play with. My parents, unlike the parents of many of my generation, were happily married and stayed that way as we grew up. They were both hard workers that enjoyed their jobs, as much as anyone can enjoy the thing they do for forty hours a week, fifty two weeks a year. We never went to the Caribbean or Europe, like some of the more wealthy kids in my classes at school, but we took weekend and day trips that my sister and I loved. Basically, I was a happy kid in a happy family when I was growing up.

Then came middle school.

Yanked out of the familiar setting of my elementary school, I started to hang out with a different crowd. Since I was too shy and too geeky-looking to hang out with the “popular kids,” I ended up at the cafeteria table with the more outcast kids. These were the kids that dressed in fashions whose sole purpose was to annoy any adult within a half mile radius. Despite their off beat looks and proclaimed desire to not conform to society’s standards, they were actually a pretty nice group of people. Unfortunately, my parents didn’t see these qualities. They couldn’t see past the scary clothes and dramatic makeup. They started trying to pressure me to hang out with other kids. Of course, since I was thirteen, this only succeeded in making me want to hang out with the misfits even more. I started to dress more like them, which drove my parents crazy. We started hanging out more, and in high school, friendship and having fun became more important than school work. School has always come pretty easily to me; I managed to skate by in average level classes with average grades without doing too much work. Of course, my parents nagged me about this, too. I had so much potential, they told me, why didn’t I just apply myself and get better grades? All this nagging and stress drove us further apart. My main motivation for getting passing grades in school was that I saw college as a great way to escape my parents and the town I was in.

I got accepted to a small state school a few towns away. It was no Harvard or Yale, or even a huge party school like I would have preferred, but it was enough to get me out from under my parents’ roof.

I started school with an undeclared major. Pretty much ignoring my advisor’s recommendations, I took any intro-level class that sounded interesting. I figured, eventually, I would stumble upon what I was meant to do. Until then, there was no sense in loosing sleep worrying about the future.

I did end up loosing a lot of sleep that first semester, but not from worrying over school work. I quickly found that any school can be a party school, if you want it to be. I was going out with friends almost every night, and doing just enough school work to pass my classes. No one in the real world looked at grades anyway, right? A C average got you the same diploma as an A average.

When my parents found out how low my grade point average was, they threatened to stop sending me spending money. Since I was still the young, rebellious teenager I was in high school, I called them on their bluff. At least, I thought it was a bluff. They actually followed through on the threat. They stopped depositing money into my bank account for me, and refused to pay for me to live off campus during my sophomore year.

Going out and drinking four nights a week is expensive, and the money in my account ran out fast. As the end of my freshman year drew closer, I had to think of a way to support myself and pay for an off campus apartment or house, and quickly.

I went home for the summer, since taking summer classes on an empty campus didn’t appeal to me, and I had no other (free) place to stay. I spent most of the summer avoiding my parents and trying to think of ways to make money. I got a job at the mall, folding clothes and working the cash register in some mega store retail chain. The hours were long, and the pay was definitely not enough to make me want to stay in that business. I did some math in my head, and I knew that working at a place like this part time while I went to school wouldn’t pay for room, board, and fun time, at least, not in the manner I had become accustomed.

Driving back from the mall late one night, I was contemplating this problem. I stopped at a red traffic light in one of the seedier parts of town. Staring blankly out the window, I noticed all the neon lights around one particular building. Bringing my mind back to the present, I focused on the signs outside my window. They all had some combination of the words “girls,” “dancing,” or “nude!” on them. Idly, my mind began to wander again. I had always heard that strippers mad a lot of money… I knew I wasn’t bad looking. I had long, dark brown hair that most guys seemed to like a lot. I was naturally on the thin side of average build, and my face was pretty enough, I knew. Plus, I liked to dance. Would it really matter if there were other people watching, and I was getting paid for it?

No, said a small part of my mind, the defiant and rebellious part. Then a second later, the more reasonable part of my mind admitted, Well, yes, it would be really awkward.

Still, as the light turned green and I drove away, I couldn’t seem to get the idea of dancing at a strip club out of my mind. I needed a way to make a decent amount of money while only working a few hours a week. The more I thought about it, the more the rebellious side of my mind seemed to make more sense, and the reasonable side just seemed like a prude.

I went back to school in the fall with my meager savings from the summer spent slaving away at the mall. Within the first few weeks of the semester my bank account was dangerously low again. I stood by the ATM one day, staring at the pitifully small number at the bottom of my receipt for a long minute. Finally, the frat boy behind me cleared his throat a little more loudly than necessary and “accidentally” bumped my shoulder with his as he stepped forward to use the machine. Still in a daze, I wandered away from the bank back toward my car. I needed some way to fix this financial crisis, or else I’d end up kicked out of school and back at my parents’ place. I’d have no money, no education, and nowhere to go. I’d be proving them right, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to stand living with them after that.

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