Offensive Behavior (Sidelined #1)(6)

By: Ainslie Paton

“A sex god,” said Lizabeth.

Kathryn laughed. Melinda giggled.

“I was going to say, he respected me.” Because there’d been an indecent share of men, but precious little appreciation for anything other than the athletics of her body.

“Hot damn, Zar, is that even a real thing?” said Kathryn. She dangled a flashing shoe from her finger and a wry expression from her lips.

Melinda looked up from stuffing gear in her bag and met their eyes in the mirror. “Yes, it is.”

Zarley sighed. “Seriously Mel, if Gerry respected you he’d be the one with the second job.” It was Gerry’s mother’s hospital bill the couple was burdened with.

“He works har—”

“And you don’t. I know you love him, but the least he could do is come pick you up at the end of your shift so you didn’t have to run the gauntlet getting home on your own.”

Melinda zipped her bag. It was the sound of cats hissing before the fur flew, and hearing it that way Zarley should’ve known to back off.

“There’s no point both of us being sleep deprived,” Melinda snapped.

Backing off had never been Zarley’s thing. “I think since—”

“I don’t need to know what you think.” Melinda picked up her bag and slung it over her shoulder, glaring at Zarley.

“I’m sorry, but I—” The door to the dressing room slammed. Melinda was gone. Zarley grunted. She wasn’t sorry at all. “Her husband is a lazy son of a bitch.”

Lizabeth took Melinda’s place at the mirror and began unclipping the feathers from the thick bun made from her cornrows. “Don’t sweat it, honey. Each to their own, right?”

Zarley removed her tongue from between her teeth. Who was she to judge Melinda? The woman was a hero, two jobs and ambition to burn. “I wish Jasmina was still here.”

Jasmina didn’t brook any arguing between the girls. They were sisters as far as she’d been concerned, and sisters supported each other, no matter what. Zarley had liked that version of family, it was one she’d once known well.

“Jas was such a great dancer.” Lizabeth gave up on a stuck feather and Kathryn stepped in behind her to remove it. “Damn that woman had moves to groove.”

“She got the fairy tale,” said Kathryn. “The whole Pretty Woman thing.”

Except Jasmina’s Edward was a woman called Eva and she didn’t just take Jasmina shopping, she paid for her surgery and now Jasmina was on billboards and bus sides and had a whole new career as a model.

It was Jasmina who’d told Zarley about Madame Amour. The world’s most exclusive burlesque club, owned and run by an exotic dancer who’d stripped to fund her medical degree and gone on to become a famous surgeon.

Anything is possible for a girl with ambition who was willing to work hard, Jasmina had said. The poster for the annual Madame Amour Scholarship she’d stuck to the dressing room wall was still there. Zarley pressed a curling corner of it back into a blob of Blu Tack. In her experience, all the hard work in the world didn’t make up for poor decision-making, bad timing and worse luck. Madam Amour was a legend, and her scholarship a gold medal and Zarley wasn’t a golden girl anymore.

She left the club by the rear alleyway with the others, but when Zarley remembered she’d left her book behind, she waved them off and went back for it. It took all of five minutes to return to the dressing room, say goodnight to Lou for the second time and exit alone by the alley door.

The alley wasn’t empty.

He was big in a too much drink and fast food, lifted cars for a living way that’d stretched his arms so his hands hung near his shins, gorilla style. There was very little chance he was here for a selfie.

“Heya, sexy.”

After her initial inventory, Zarley didn’t make eye contact. He was probably high on something from the way he bounced on the balls of his feet.

“I’m speaking to you,” he said.

He was blocking the exit to the street.

“I like you better when you’re not wearing jeans, baby.”

He was a whole shelf of pepper spray, even if she could get it near his eyes before he had her against the wall.

He didn’t deserve the benefit of doubt but she gave it to him anyway. You could take the girl out of Nice, Lake County, California, population two thousand, nine hundred and four, but try as she might, she’d never been entirely able to shake it out of the girl.

“Please let me pass.” She should go inside and hang out with Ahmed while he cleared up, till big wheels here got bored and left, but she was desperately tired and wanted her bed and he pissed her off.

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