When Gabriel came out into the audience-wings again apparent, sporting only a white monokini-Kennedy seized him when he happened by our table. Kennedy was losing what few inhibitions she had as her drinks kept vanishing. The angel gazed at Kennedy with glowing golden eyes-at least, that was what I saw. Kennedy gave him her business card and a lopsided leer, running her palm down his abs. As he turned away from her, I gently inserted a five-dollar bill in his fingers, taking Kennedy’s card away as I did so. The golden eyes met mine.
"Sister," he said. Even through the noise of the next performer’s entrance, I could hear his voice.
He smiled and drifted away, to my great relief. I hastily concealed Kennedy’s card in my purse. I gave a mental eye-roll at the concept of a part-time bartender having a business card; that was so Kennedy.
Tara had at least not been having a horrible time during the evening, but as the moment approached when JB would certainly be taking the stage, the tension inevitably ratcheted up at our table. From the moment he leaped to center stage and began dancing to "Nail-Gun Ned," it was obvious that he didn’t know his wife was in the audience. (JB’s mind is like an open book with maybe two words per page.) His dance routine was surprisingly polished. I sure hadn’t known how flexible JB could be. We Bon Temps ladies tried hard not to let our eyes meet.
"Randy" was simply having a great time. By the time he stripped down to his man-thong, everyone-almost everyone-was sharing his elation, as the number of bills he collected bore witness. I could read directly from JB’s head that this adulation was feeding a great need. His wife, tired and pregnant, no longer glowed with pleasure every time she saw him naked. JB was so used to receiving approval that he craved it-however he could get it.
Tara had muttered something and left the table just as her husband came on, so he didn’t see her when he danced across the stage close to us. The moment he was near enough to realize who we were, a shade of concern passed over his handsome face. He was entertainer enough to keep on going, to my relief. I actually felt a bit proud of JB. Even in the arctic air-conditioning, he was sweating with his gyrations. He was vigorous, athletic, and sexy. We all watched anxiously to make sure he was getting just as many tips as the other performers, though we felt a bit delicate about contributing ourselves.
After JB left the stage, Tara returned to the table. She sat down and looked at us with the strangest expression on her face. "I was watching from the back of the room," she admitted, as we all waited in suspense. "He did pretty good."
We exhaled, practically in unison.
"Honey, he was really, really good," Kennedy said, nodding emphatically enough to make her chestnut hair swing back and forth.
"You’re a lucky woman," Michele chimed in. "And your babies are going to be so gorgeous and coordinated."
We didn’t know how much was too much to say, and we were all relieved when a loud chorus of "Born to Ride Rough" announced the performance of the guy in leather. He was at least part demon, of a stock I hadn’t encountered before; his skin was reddish, which my companions interpreted as Native American. (It didn’t look anything like that to my eyes, but I wasn’t going to say any different.) He did have black, straight hair and dark eyes, and he knew how to shake his tomahawk. His ni**les were pierced, which was not my special turn-on, but it was a popular touch with many members of the audience.
I clapped and I smiled, but in truth I was beginning to feel a little bored. Though Eric had I had not been on the same emotional wavelength lately, we had been operating very well with regard to sex (don’t ask me how this could be so). I began to think I was spoiled. There was no such thing as boring sex with Eric.
I wondered if he’d dance for me, if I asked him nicely. I was having a very pleasant fantasy about that when Claude reemerged on the stage, still in his spangled tights and boots.
Claude was completely confident that the whole room could hardly wait to see more of him, and that kind of confidence pays off. He was also incredibly limber and flexible.
"Oh my God!" Michele said, her husky voice almost breaking. "Well! He hardly needs a partner, does he?"
"Wow." Holly’s mouth was hanging open.
Even I, who had already seen the whole package and knew how disagreeable Claude could be-even I was feeling a little jolt of excitement down where I shouldn’t. Claude’s pleasure in receiving all this attention and admiration was almost blissful in its purity.
For the grand finale of the evening, Claude leaped off the stage and danced through the crowd in his man-thong. Everyone seemed determined to unload all their remaining dollar bills-and their fives and a few tens. Claude distributed kisses with abandon, but he dodged more personal touches with an agility that almost betrayed him as other-than-human. When he approached our table, Michele tucked a five under his G-string, saying, "You earned this, buddy," and Claude’s smile glinted back at hers. Then Claude paused beside me and bent to kiss me on the cheek. I jumped. The women at the surrounding tables shrieked and demanded their own kisses. I was left with the glow in his dark eyes and the unexpected chill left by the touch of his lips.
I was ready to leave a big tip for Gift and get out of there.
Tara drove back, since Michele said she was too tipsy. I knew Tara was glad to have an excuse to be silent. The other women were providing cover chatter about the fun they’d had, trying to give Tara space to come to terms with the events of the evening.
"I hope I didn’t enjoy it too much," Holly was saying. "I’d hate it if Hoyt went to a strip club all the time."
"Would you mind it if he went once?" I asked.
"Well, I wouldn’t like it," she said honestly. "But if he was going because he was invited to a stag party or something, I wouldn’t kick up a fuss about it."
"I would hate it if Jason went," Michele said.
"Do you think he’d cheat on you with a stripper?" Kennedy asked. I was sure it was the liquor talking.
"If he did, he’d be out the door with a black eye," Michele said with a derisive snort. After a moment she said in a milder voice, "I’m a little older than Jason, and maybe my body isn’t quite what it used to be. I look great naked, don’t get me wrong. But probably not as great as the younger strippers."
"Men are never happy with what they’ve got, no matter how good it is," Kennedy muttered.
"What’s up with you, girl? You and Danny have a fight over another woman?" Tara asked bluntly.
Kennedy turned a bright, hard look on Tara, and for a minute I thought she’d say something cutting. Then we’d have an open quarrel. But Kennedy said, "He’s doing something secret, and he won’t tell me what. He says he’s gonna be gone on Monday/Wednesday/Friday mornings and evenings. He won’t say where he’s going or why."