Big Brother Billionaire (Part Three) (5 page)

BOOK: Big Brother Billionaire (Part Three)
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My money was dwindling at this point, but when my bruises had faded to a yellow that wouldn’t earn me second glances in public, I bought a bus ticket to New York City. I’d never been there, and I decided it was going to be the first place I’d travel to on a long list of destinations I wanted to see.

I’d traveled across the country alone, looking to escape my reality. Now, I traveled again, by myself, looking to get in touch with the person I was inside, the person I’d buried beneath costumes and makeup and troubling self-esteem. A lot of people didn’t like to travel alone, I was sure, but I was my own best company. With the intensity that Ron had shadowed me in the twilight of our relationship, it was good to be alone again.

New York was beautiful. It was more than I expected, bigger than what I’d always seen in movies, and breathtaking with its high energy. I saw everything I wanted, refusing to take direction from anyone. I didn’t care if it was a tourist trap like Times Square or something truly magnificent, like the Statue of Liberty, I did only what I wanted to do, experienced only what I wanted to experience.

I ate my way across the Big Apple, trying things I’d never dreamed of eating. I went to places that weren’t recommended for a single woman walking alone to go, and it reminded me of my ramshackle neighborhood back in Los Angeles. I wandered through the entirety of Central Park, taking my time, drinking in the experience of the city.

I even jotted off a quick, friendly postcard to Marcus.

The part of my heart that was used to denying itself of the things it wanted tried to rebel, tried to remind me that I was taking time alone to get my affairs in order, and that contacting Marcus would only upset that balance. But I was done denying myself. That process hadn’t worked for me. If I wanted to send Marcus a cheap, cheesy postcard of Manhattan just to check in, I’d do so. I knew he was worried about me. The least I could do for the man who’d saved my life was to keep him apprised of my mental state.

Returning to Miami was surprisingly poignant. The first glimpse of that turquoise sea—so different from New York’s cobalt waters—was like seeing home.

Miami was my home. It was the place that steadied me.

The fact that I felt so strongly about this city was another interesting revelation in my journey inward. I’d struggled mightily here, slept on the streets, scrabbled to be able to afford food and shelter. By all rights, I could declare Miami a complete mistake, cut my losses, and go.

But it was a place where I had grown, where I had lived these past years, where I had tasted the faint foreshadowing of success. Ron wasn’t Miami’s fault, and he wasn’t my fault either. I was young and lonely, sure, but I didn’t ask to be abused by a man I thought I loved. This city had the tools I needed to rebuild my life—brick by brick, if necessary.

The most stunning realization of all was that I was going to be all right. Bad things had happened to me, and I still hadn’t divined my path forward, yet, but no matter where I found myself in the future near and far, I was going to be all right.

As soon as my injuries had completely healed, I returned to the club, showing up a little bit early to the shift I used to work.

Part of me expected some kind of cringing meltdown at seeing the site where everything terrible had happened. I eyed the stage coolly, imagining what it had been like for customers to witness such an ugly brawl. But when I searched my heart, listening for palpitations, for the telltale sign of a coming breakdown, I felt nothing. Tears didn’t prick my eyes, and my breathing remained even and slow.

Was this normal? Shouldn’t I feel something? I watched the afternoon dancer for a few more moments before walking to Jake’s office.

I caught him in the midst of inhaling an enormously line of cocaine.

“Parker!” he exclaimed, jerking up quickly, then sneezing, a white puff of cloud expanding into the air. “Goddammit! I’m sorry, you just surprised me, that’s all. I wasn’t cursing at you. It’s goddamn good to see you. That’s why I’m cursing. You caught me at…uh…kind of a personal time.”

“I don’t care what you do in your own time,” I said, hesitating only a moment when I realized he was working, after all, and doing cocaine at work wasn’t the same as doing it on his own time. “I just wanted to know if I still had my job here.”

I knew, as I examined my soul and my situation, that it was more than a tiny possibility that Jake might not want me to work at the club anymore. The altercation between Marcus and Ron had been over me, and it had probably cost the club some business. If Jake decided he didn’t want that kind of drama around his establishment, I just needed to accept it.

“Why wouldn’t you have your job here?” he asked, his pupils dilated, a smudge of white powder on his upper lip. “Darling, everyone has been asking for you. You’re more popular here than I think either of us realized. Of course you still have your job here. When are you starting again? I should have someone make fliers, or something. It would be a huge event. Everyone would want to see you.”

“Like a freak show?” I asked, dubiously. “Should I give myself black eyes again with some makeup?”

Jake giggled. “You terrible thing,” he admonished. “No. This is your triumphant return. When people asked about you, they weren’t asking if your face was broken. Well, maybe a few customers asked that, but only because they were curious. They wanted to know if you were all right, if that asshole got what was coming to him, if you found true love with the man who saved you. You’re something of a celebrity.”

“I don’t want to be a celebrity because I got beaten by some jerk while I was dancing,” I muttered. Maybe it was a mistake to try and come back. I needed the money, though, and I still hadn’t figured out what I wanted to do with my life. It had seemed logical to try and dance again, but I hadn’t anticipated this level of infamy.

“You’re missing the whole point, Parker,” Jake sighed. “You’re not a celebrity because of that. You’re a celebrity in spite of it. People come here to see you dance. You’re attractive; you’re good at what you do; and you always leave them wanting more. It’s the magical formula that makes both of us money, darling. People want to see you again, and not because your boyfriend beat you up on the stage. They want to see you dance, treat them like shit, and let them think they can have you for just one song. That’s the Parker they miss.”

I didn’t know what to say. Jake’s pep talk had been exactly what I needed to hear, the affirmation that told me coming back to dance at the club was the right decision. How could I have known, walking into this place, the day I decided to get a job here, that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life?

Of course, I knew my time front and center on the stage was limited. Before I’d taken my hiatus, Babs had been coming to work less and less, complaining that her knees and ankles hurt, and that her corset was beginning to be more unbearable than usual. When you worked in an industry based on looks, everyone had limited shelf life. It was just the nature of the beast.

No, I would dance for as long as it would take me to save up enough money, and then I’d buy the club.

It was a plan that struck me, out of the blue. Audacious and risky, I didn’t even know if Jake would one day be willing to sell the place to me. But something about having a clear, possibly attainable goal to guide me forward was the most important thing of all. I’d seen it. I’d seen the path I was supposed to walk.

“Parker?” Jake was still looking at me. “I was asking when you thought you’d be back.”

“Tonight,” I said, turning on me heel and leaving my stunned boss in my wake, just the same as when I first got the job here. It felt good, like I had recovered a shadow of myself, the confident Parker before Ron had wrecked my life.

I was ready to make a comeback.

My first night back on stage was something of a revelation. I’d always been focused on making money since I’d started working, and I’d somewhat overlooked the power of community.

In the dressing room, my fellow dancers were dispensing hugs like it was nobody’s business, even if I couldn’t quite call myself the hugging type.

“Good to see you back, Parker,” Sally said, beaming at me as she held me out at arm’s length. Her hug was the tightest. “I’m so glad that creep is out of your life. And who was that other man? He was so hot!”

“Maybe another time,” I said, slipping out of her arms as the DJ called my name. “I have to go.”

Customers were already lining the stage as I took the stairs, eager to take a gander at me, the tragic girl. However, I misread them. Even over the loud music I’d picked for my performance, I could hear shouts of support from the customers, as they laid down enough dollars to pave my way down the stage.

“We love you, Parker!” one shouted.

“We missed you, sweetheart!” another yelled.

They didn’t want to see the tragic girl. They wanted to see the triumphant one, the one who didn’t get defeated by one bad night. They’d been waiting for this phoenix of a Parker to come strutting down the stage, to spread her wings and fly again.

To be honest, I’d been waiting for that, too. I just hadn’t suspected that the club would be the place I’d find myself again.

The money I raked in that night alone got me well on my way to getting back on track to save money. It was nice not to have to support an extra person, especially when that person had been Ron, a career leech.

I was saving more and more money than ever before, especially now that I had a goal in mind. And I noticed a change in myself that was making all the difference in the world.

Earlier in my career, I was only pretending to be the Parker persona, the one I’d created to mask my own insecurities. Now, however, I was coming into my own understanding of myself. I could be collected and self-assured without pretending that I was. I could own my confidence now instead of falling back on the character I was playing.

The Parker who shimmied and raked in the cash was wholly me for the first time—and not just an act.

The first letter I received from Marcus after I sent him my short letter and the postcard from New York was surprisingly easy to read. I didn’t inwardly cringe or skip whole paragraphs the second he started talking about his feelings. He owned those feelings, not me. If he wanted to tell me about them, he could. I wanted to be supportive, but honest. It was easier to be Marcus’ friend than it was to be something forbidden and unrequited.

I’m glad to hear that you’re doing well,
he wrote,
happier than you can imagine. I understand your need to explore yourself for a while, and I understand that you want to take time to not have romantic attachments to anyone. I’m thankful, of course, that you want to continue to be friends. I’ll always be your friend, Parker, and will be by your side to support you whenever you ask me to. I’ll respect your space and your independence. You know I will. I think this is really good for you.

I hadn’t needed Marcus’ approval for my grand experiment, but it was good all the same to know he was supportive. I didn’t want the burden of him pouting or pining away for me on my shoulders.

We continued corresponding, chatting about goals, about common likes, about anything under the sun. It was like I was talking to that boy again, then getting to know the man he had become.

I squirreled away his letters in a shoebox, the same place I’d hidden his earlier correspondences when Ron had rampaged through my life. But when the box got too full, I upgraded, purchasing a large, smooth black box that spoke to me when I saw it. It seemed like just the place to keep the love letters of a man so important to my life.

Marcus didn’t visit Miami again until I had established my current life. I didn’t want him helping me or seeing me struggle as I poured all of my hard-earned cash into buying and renovating the club, shaping it to the future I wanted for myself. It wasn’t until the club was lucrative, that I was renting my condo, and well on my way to buying it outright, just as I had the club, that I broached the topic.

Would it be too forward to ask you to come visit?
I wrote, hesitating as I formed the words, hoping it wouldn’t mean something that it didn’t to either of us. I genuinely missed him as a person—not romantically. It was as easy as breathing to appreciate Marcus’ friendship and support without having to worry about anything more.

The last time you saw me, I was in a pretty bad place,
I added.
But now, things are so much better. I’ve completely turned it around. I want you to be proud of me, to not worry about me, to see that I can more than just make it on my own; I can thrive.

I don’t feel like I properly thanked you after what you did for me last time, so think of this as a show of my gratitude. Be my guest in Miami. I want you to see my new home, and what I’ve done with the club.

Marcus agreed quickly, and within a couple of weeks—he had some business things he had to attend to—I was sitting him in the posh VIP section of the club that I had created to serve a more upscale clientele.

“Tell me what you want to drink,” I said, smiling at him. It was so good to see him again—and better, still, that he could see me, could see just how well I was doing with all of this.

“I can tell the waitress, and you can get back to running your club,” he said, grinning back, those dark eyes shining. He was impossibly handsome, weathering the years in excellent form. We were in our mid-thirties by that point, fine and not-so-fine lines showing.

BOOK: Big Brother Billionaire (Part Three)
6.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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