Chapter One: Hardships

Unlike the other girls who danced on stage at Club Moonlight to the latest hip hop songs as they did the usual routines that all strippers did, Kayla chose a different type of music using a contradistinctive dance style that added to the mystique. The song was “Don’t explain” by Nina Simone. A smoky jazz tune that was too classy for for a club that one would think could not appreciate the delicate words, the silky voice that sang, and the beautiful cued instruments. That was contrary. In fact the change in music and dance was what made her so popular at Club Moonlight. The introduction of the piano continued followed by Nina Simone’s voice drawing in the crowd, Kayla stood there her back still to the audience who had moments before screamed and hollered sexual profanities at the previous stripper, the men seemed to lose all sense of their humanity before tossing money upon the stage. And now they fell silent, transfixed their eyes were on Kayla patiently waiting. There were no howls or yelling of sexual innuendos, the audience was tamed by her magic. Kayla always danced to the classic jazz masters, Kenny the manager of the club almost made the mistake of telling her that she could not do such a thing. Club Moonlight was best known for raunchy dancers who danced to suggestive rap songs that drove the audience mad causing them to toss away their money. Six months ago when Kayla auditioned for the club he was about to turn her down. She was pretty enough, but her choice of music was comical at best to him, it didn’t fit. He did not understand the old classical jazz that Kayla danced to, and he was about to cut the routine short until the owner of Club Moonlight, Black Pearl said otherwise. Black Pearl was transgender, no one in The Bottoms could peg her, and The Bottoms was the roughest ghetto in Junction City; but no thug or any man dared to question Black Pearl or her sexual identity. She was the driving force of The Bottoms. If it was illegal, she knew about it and controlled it. Kenny was no fool, he gave Kayla the job as Black Pearl kindly requested and the rest is history. In a world of unrest, Club Moonlight was the place where all could go to unwind. Criminal and honest citizen alike would rub elbows, even enemies who had beef would call truce inside the club; but that was due to Black Pearl making it so. Thirty seconds into the song Kayla began to sway bringing her arms around her curvaceous figure, loosely she held herself at the shoulders. Her head turned just slightly catching Quan who sat in the front, it was his first show and she had hoped and warned him not to come to Club Moonlight for fear he would become jealous seeing her on stage. And there he sat mesmerized along with everyone else, but unlike the rest his heart belonged to her, and hers to him. She closed her eyes not wanting to be distracted and allowed the music to take away again, her hands slid slowly down the outside of her shoulders to the arms tracing all the way down her hips stopping at the top of her buttocks. She wore a thin G string that showed how round the shape of her buttocks was, but with the blend of the music and the pure moment, all eyes were somehow fixed on her face. They all waited for her to move, to breath life into them for at least a moment. She was the Muse of The Bottoms, her fans were devoted, they had all come to the club for this moment when she would dance onstage. The song continued, she moved about slowly with such artistic grace. Not once did she ever touch the dance pole, instead she moved about gracefully sometimes even dipping low to the ground before rising back up without skipping a beat. This was also an all nude strip club, but she never went fully nude and not once was there ever a complaint. 

Quan watched his girlfriend not being able to look away. He thought for sure this place would somehow evoke anger from him. He saw how the men reached out to the dancer before Kayla calling out to her, wanting her to perform sexual acts on them as they tossed money at her. But once Kayla was introduced and she came on stage everyone quieted. There were no cat calls, or belittling sexual suggestions. Quan was glad. He listened to the song and felt it was Kayla singing it to him. They had struggled a few times when she felt he had cheated on her, but really he struggled. She knew him, she saw his silent war that he thought he kept to himself, she knew he jad cheated. She knew he was losing his war with society, she only wanted to uplift him. Kayla was no fool, she was not one to be toyed with or used, but there was something special between her and Quan. She did not see Quan’s indiscretions deliberate although it could be seen as such. Quan had only been out of prison for close to nine months. He was caught selling drugs at seventeen. Mayor Barnes was hard on inner city youths when it came to crime, it was ashamed that the same crimes committed in wealthy areas by youths did not receive equal punishment. Quan had been caught two other times, the three strikes law in Junction City was very explicit. Quan must be tried as an adult, and as he awaited trial he turned eighteen which then made it possible to try him as an adult, it was an open and shut case. He was thrown in prison until he turned twenty years old. He always had a good heart, but his surroundings always dictated bad outcomes. Quan and Kayla had a child together, their son Bo was born a few months into Quan’s sentence, Bo was a little over three years old now. Kayla and Quan had lived with his Grandma Bessie, she was truly a pillar to them both. Her wisdom was always inside his mind, the advice she gave, it was all there. But The Bottoms had a way of pulling you down even when you fought to make your way upward. The Bottoms was made up of black and Hispanic people, they all lived together without conflict until ones would choose sides in the drug wars, there was no legal way to make good money save for strip clubs and those were all over the place in the Bottoms. There was a total of eight strip clubs Moonlight was a step above them all being considered more classy, it was also more expensive to get into the club. Kayla decided to work at Club Moonlight when she lost her job at the corner store as a cashier. The owner of the store thought she was skimming from the register, but had he watched his wife closer he would have seen that it was she who was taking the money. Grandma Bessie’s retirement money helped, but Kayla wanted to do more. She refused to apply for welfare, she just didn’t want to do it, she was too proud. When Quan was released they both thought things were looking up, Quan applied for any job her could find, even jobs outside of The Bottoms. He went to department stores in Junction City, gas stations, warehouses, but because of his criminal record he never got a call back. The timing was bad. Kayla had lost her job as a cashier, and now Quan was back living with them. When Kayla first suggested that she be a dancer Quan was furious. He would not allow his woman to work at such places, The Down Low was notorious for strippers having sex with their clients, and so was Club Paradise. And even though Quan knew Kayla had been faithful to him during his prison term he was worried that the temptation of money would lure her into prostitution at one of the clubs. Club Moonlight was the only club where everyone knew the dancers would not have sex with the patrons, Black Pearl made this law. If one wanted sex Black Pearl had whore houses for such business, but Club Moonlight was for entertainment without the sexual intercourse and it was strictly enforced. A few girls that tried to have sex on the job for money were let go without question, sure they could go work at one of the other clubs; but at a drastic pay cut. So when Kayla told Quan that Club Moonlight was the place she wanted to dance he felt a little better about it, but the idea of other men looking at his woman and thinking sexual thoughts about her, it didn’t set well with him. But now sitting her seeing her dance, seeing the reaction of the crowd, he knew she had full control of what was going on. His mind trailed being pulled in by the songs words, he regretted his insecurities that caused him to cheat, Kayla was a good woman and deserved better than that. He promised to give her that. The song ended with Kayla cross legged on the ground her hands ending back in the same place they started up on the outside of her shoulders. Her arms were crossed, she started with her back turned to the crowd. She ended with facing them. When she opened her eyes she hadn’t realized that she had been crying. There was a black hat turned upright at the edge of the stage, men silently began walking up to it tossing money inside of it. Smiles of adoration as they passed her with their donations. It was then Quan felt jealous. Kenny walked up to the side of the stage.

“Private dance room three.” He said, she stood up nodding her head. Quan heard the managers request, he stood up walking over to where she was collecting the money from the hat. There were other smaller stages placed around the club, the hip hop music returned as the women leapt up on the smaller stages and caught the attention of the patrons who rushed to them. The quiet that was there as Kayla danced was now gone. The loud boisterous energy of the club returned. 

“Private dance?” Quan said raising his voice over the loud music. He reached out grabbing her wrist as she collected the last of her tips. She looked up at him with endearment. 

“Go home now.” She said. Quan looked down at her hand that was full of money. 

“Looks like you have enough, let’s both go home!” 

She jerked her wrist away from his grip. “If I decline this private dance it will look bad on me. Private dances pay really good, even better than what I just made!” She saw Kenny glaring, if she sat there arguing she knew that he would kick Quan out. 

“My girl ain’t going to be no man’s ho!” Quan protested. 

“And I’m not! Please…” She reached out touching the side of his face softly. “Go home. I’ll call you when I’m done, you can come back up and walk me home.” 

The two stared at one another briefly, words did not need be spoken. Kenny walked up, he eyed Quan. “Is there a problem?” He asked. Kayla shook her head.

“No, I’m headed back to room three as we speak.” She gave a concerned glance at Quan who was starting a staring contest with Kenny, what saved the moment was Red, Quan’s best friend. Red had light skin and red hair, it was a stark contrast to Quan’s darker skin. Back in the day in elementary the black kids called him yellow boy, Red which was the name his Grandmother gave him at birth was a nice change from yellow boy. No one believed that Red was his real name, but it finally stuck in middle school and high school. Red was always trying to fit in, his father was black, his mother Puerto Rican. He always complained to Quan how neither black or Puerto Ricans fully accepted him, but when it came time to claim one or the other both sides felt it was his responsibility to do so. All of those years trying to prove himself to both blacks and Puerto Ricans made him grow into a twenty year old man who was still trying to prove himself and fit in. He wanted to belong, but he always found negative ways to do so. He joined a violent gang that was mixed with black and Puerto Ricans, this only caused his police record to grow. The only thing positive to come out of his gang affiliation was that in a gang there was brotherhood by both groups of people, he belonged. But like most kids growing up in The Bottoms he grew up without his father. Quan’s father was killed, shot by police before he was even born after a failed robbery attempt at a gas station, his mother became addicted to crack cocaine. To help her habit she started prostitution at age 18. She was killed by a John for attempting to steal his wallet during sex. Devastated by the loss of her daughter and of her daughters life choices Grandma Bessie swore that Quan would grow up to do better, that he would leave The Bottoms and do great things. The ghetto however has a way of holding onto its inhabitants, or maybe the world outside had a better way of keeping people inside the ghetto. 

“Yo Kenny!” Red said with a smile extending his hand, Kenny knew Red, but really wanted to know his sister Anais better so he tolerated him. Kenny’s face lightened and the two slapped palms with a quick lock of the fingers before sliding the hand back. 

“How’s lovely Anais?” Kenny said trying to sound kind, something that he was not, and Red knew it but did not show that he did. There was no way he was going to hook Kenny up with his sister, but he allowed Kenny to think so. 

“She good man. But I’ll tell her you asked.” Red said with a wink. He quickly put his arm around Quan. “Let’s go brother, I have to talk to you.” He pulled Quan away, Kayla lipped thank you before walking off to the back of the stage, Red acknowledged with a quick nod but kept on moving. Quan was annoyed though, and he showed it to Red by slapping his arm off his shoulder. “Keep on walking nigga, I saved your ass back there. Kenny ain’t no joke!” Red retorted. Quan looked back at the stage seeing that Kayla had gone. He stormed off toward the exit frustrated, Red was walking quickly behind him. Once outside Quan kept walking quickly, Red was shouting behind him. Quan knew that Red was right, everyone was aware that Kenny was a seriously fucked up criminal, only Black Pearl was able to keep him in check. He calmed down slightly, but he was still agitated by his situation. Red caught up to him, Quan turn unloading his burden.

“I can’t find a good job, hell man; I can’t even find a job at all! What kind of man can’t take care of his family? My girl is a stripper bruh! She’s back there sitting on some niggas lap while he gets his fucking rocks off! You don’t see that as wrong?” 

Red looked at his best friends perplexed face, he saw the conflict. “I know man, but…” he stopped and looked around cautiously before continuing. “What if I told you I knew a way for us all to get the fuck out of The Bottoms for good! We can be sipping rum on a damn beach someplace!” 

Quan laughed darkly. “Your way always has some illegal path, I’m trying to stay clean! I already missed three years of my sons life, three years away from Kayla! That’s what got her working in that fucking place!” He pointed to Club Moonlight. “That’s all my fault bruh! I let Grandma Bessie down, I let them all down! Now look what I have to show for all of that!” 

“I get it, but even if you hadn’t gotten caught, where would you be now? Maybe dead?”

“So you taking credit for saving my life since I took the fall for you?”

“Come on man, that’s not fair. I didn’t ask you to.” Red was visibly upset, his guilt carried with him all of those years for Quan getting caught and not him. They both were out that night selling drugs, it was Red’s idea in the first place. He knew it was him who should’ve been in prison. He fought through iall of the guilt to speak and continue his thought. “Look I can’t take that back, but what I have going on up here.” He tapped his head with his index finger. “We could be set for life!” 

Quan stared at Red for a moment. “Nah man. I think I’ve crushed enough lives.” He turned walking away down the street heading home.