She had a choice to make. Would she take Mr. Montgomery at his word or continue to do this? She looked around the dressing room. She was due for another set on the stage in a few minutes. What is she going to do? Sitting down on the metal folding chair in front of the long mirror, she weighed her options. It isn’t like Mr. Montgomery came unto her. He could have and she couldn’t have done anything about. It was a strip club and after hours. Damn he really could have made her beg back there. Marise looked at the crumpled fifty in her hand. He didn’t but that didn’t that he wouldn’t, or won’t tomorrow, if there was a tomorrow. Fatima came clicking into the dressing room again.
“What did I tell your stuck up ass last month? You can’t come down here hiding all the time, you aren’t making any money that way. Get your arrogant flat ass up there and mingle!”
Marise sighed as she realized the decision had been made for her. She couldn’t take any more of Fatima calling her stuck up or telling her that she didn’t have an ass.
“You know what Fati, I may be stuck up, but at least I have some damn manners.” Marise took off the high heels and slammed them into the one of the lockers. She pulled the wig off her head and rubbed the lipstick and beauty mark from her face. Marise threw on her sweatpants and a t-shirt and walked up to the prideful pimp and shoved a twenty down the front of her bra.
“There is the house money for tonight. I got a headache, I am out.” Marise hissed and walked out of the smoky club. She could hear Fatima scream one last thing before the door closed behind her.
“Whatever you aren’t that good or that pretty, that man is going to use you!”
As Marise hailed a cab, she prayed that Fatima wasn’t right and that Mr. Montgomery wouldn’t force her to quit. In the back seat, she closed her eyes and tried not to think. Tomorrow is tomorrow, she thought.
* * * * *
Kasen was in his office the next morning, pacing the floor. He could not believe what he saw last night. What could he do to help Marise? She needed his help, obviously, but he knew she would be too proud to take it outright. He’d thought of a myriad of possibilities, most he dismissed because they seemed more demeaning than stripping. An idea had finally smacked him at two a.m. what he would do.
Marise appeared in the adjoining office, right on time. Kasen let out a pent-up breath he didn’t realize he was holding for the past eight hours. He had been afraid that she would not come to work.
She looked nervous, and he would be too if he was in her shoes. At least she looked like his Marise again. Her hair was pulled back into a loose ponytail with a few spiraling curls framing her heart-shaped face. Her eyes were weary behind her thin wire framed glasses. She was dressed in an all black skirt that touched the floor. Kasen got up from his desk and opened the door a crack.
“Marise, can I see you please,” Kasen said softly. He did not want to scare her. Although he saw her shoulders slump, he was not deterred. She probably thought she would face the firing squad.
She walked in with her head bowed and sat down heavily in one of his high-backed leather chairs. Marise sat straight, feet crossed at the ankles. She stared ahead even when he resumed his seat behind his desk. She looked like she was facing an executioner. He leaned back into a reclining position and tried to offer her his smile. Marise told him once when he was nervous about a meeting that he had a great smile. Kasen’s teeth were white, even and appeared strong. It was the only compliment she had given him. He tried to use the information to his benefit.
“Marise, do you want to talk about it?” Kasen said, still speaking softly.
“Not really Mr. Montgomery. It is my problem. I can take care of it.”
Marise had thought about it all last night, sitting in her bed alone, again. She would not take Kasen’s money, no matter what. From the men she was exposed to during her life, they always wanted something in return. Nothing was ever done for charity.
“Does your husband know?” Her eyes flew to his face and she shook her head no. Darryl would kill her if he stumbled upon how she was paying off his debt. Would Mr. Montgomery tell?
“Please, Mr. Montgomery, this is none of your concern.”
“How is it not my concern? I watch your face drop and your dimples disappear when the clock strikes five. I want to help.” Since when did he notice that she had dimples? Marise thought as she stared at him.
“I only have to do it for a little while longer. There is only three thousand left. I can be done in a few months.”
Kasen shook his head and clinched his fist in his lap, almost breaking the skin of his palm with his nails. The hell she would go back to that place.
“No. You aren’t going back.”
Marise’s eyes grew cold, who in the hell was he to tell her what to do? She stared at him.
“You can’t make that decision for me, Mr. Montgomery.”
Kasen sighed. He knew he sounded like a dictator, but he couldn’t allow her to go back to the Harem. “You are right. I can’t order you, but I can make you a better counteroffer.” Marise looked at him and rolled her eyes. Here it comes. He is going to ask you to sleep with him. He is going to blackmail you. Remain strong, Marise, you are no one’s plaything. Marise steeled herself and got ready to tell him to go to hell. Her jaw dropped at his actual proposal. “I want you to dance with me.”
“What? Dance with you?”
“Yes, dance with me. I have a small dance studio at my loft. I am learning to waltz and do classical dances for my family reunion this summer in France. I need a partner. I have not done these dances since boarding school, but my mother expects me to dance them perfectly.”
“Mr. Montgomery, surely you can find someone else, I don’t know how to do those dances.” Marise shook her head. She had not waltzed since her physical education class in seventh grade. Being the tallest girl in the class had made that moment even more awkward.
“I will teach you. I have about five months to learn for the reunion in August. I think me teaching you will refresh my memory. I will pay you for your time, five hundred dollars a week.”