“I’m telling you dude, this one’s different,” Mack pleaded.
“They always are. Everyone is different. How have you not learned that yet, man?” Manny waved him off.
He leaned back in the plush couch and shook his head. He had known Mack for years now. At first, he only saw the young star as an investment, but now he could truly call him a friend.
“I’m serious. She’s it,” Mack continued to insist.
“Oh, the one? The stripper you met at the club is the one that you want to bring home to meet your family and wife-up? And I bet you think she doesn’t like you for your money.”
“She doesn’t. You should have seen the stacks of paper she made last night. She doesn’t need me. She made that perfectly clear. She’s got her own car, her own crib, and pays all her bills. It ain’t about the money.”
“She is a stripper. It is always about the money. That is her job,” Manny spoke slowly as if he was talking to a stupid person, which is exactly how he thought his friend was acting.
He himself had developed a soft spot for dancers over the years that went beyond simply enjoying their entertainment. Manny had flashbacks to Charity, the stripper from two years ago that had accidentally become mother of his first born daughter. Charity destroyed his relationship with his woman and then left him, taking their baby girl with her. She was currently cleaning him out for a painful child support every month. After Charity it was Jasmine, then Sofie. They were always the same. Even if Mack couldn’t see it himself, Manny knew this one was just like all the rest.
“But she’s different. This isn’t even something she wants to do forever. She told me she’s just saving up,” Mack protested.
“To go through college?” he mocked.
It was something nearly every dancer said. It had become such a cliché that it was more of a punch-line than anything else.
“She wants a better life for herself. Is that so bad?”
“And what? You are going to give her that ‘better life?’”
Mack paused. He knew what his friend was hinting at but he said it anyway, “I could.”
“You can’t save every stripper you meet. You are so dumb sometimes.”
“I’m not trying to save her. I’m just…you know what? Forget it. I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Let’s just record the damn thing.”
Mack made his way into the booth and put on the headphones. In truth, saving her was exactly what he wanted to do.
Mack leaned back in his chair, pleasantly full from the evening’s offerings. It was the best meal he had had in months. He’d have to thank Manny for forcing him out of the house. He had almost forgotten about how good real food tastes verse the take out he had been living off of. It didn’t hurt either that the chef prepared feast was accompanied by equally as pleasing conversation. He watched as Amber took another swig of the full bodied red wine the sommelier had recommended. She licked the lingering drops off her lips as she stared at him.
“What is a Virginia girl like yourself doing in Miami anyway?” Mack asked.
“You want to know the truth?” she asked with raised eyebrows. “You are going to make fun of me.”
“No, I won’t. Promise.”
“Did you really just say ‘pinky promise’? You are a grown ass woman,” Mack taunted.
Amber sat back and crossed her arms. She squeezed her lips tightly together indicating she wasn’t going to talk until he gave in to her childish demands.
“Fine. Fine. Pinky promise.” He finally gave in, reached across the table, and offered her his little finger.
“A singer,” she admitted.
“You said you wouldn’t laugh!” Amber threw her napkin across the table, hitting him in the face. He put up his hands in mock defense. “I know it’s cliché, but ever since I was a little girl, I’ve just wanted to be on the stage. I want to hear crowds of people cheering my name, to walk the red carpet, wear all those fancy gowns…” she trailed off wistfully.
“Then how did you end up at the Diamond Palace?” Mack was curious to know.
She shrugged. “It’s not a cheap dream. There are the basics like vocal lessons and studio time. Then you have to drive to auditions and gas is ridiculous. On top of it all, I have to maintain all of this. And honey, this shit really ain’t cheap. It’s hair, nails, makeup, clothing. You can’t show up looking like a bum and expect anyone to take you seriously. Needless to say the $500 I left home with didn’t get me too far. And well, dancing at least pays the bills. Or at least most of them. After rent and my car, you know, I don’t walk away with as much as you think.”
“But you’re hustling. You are making it on your own. That’s pretty damn cool.” Mack was impressed by her drive.
“Why thank you,” she said genuinely pleased with herself. “Hey weren’t you telling me that you have a video shoot coming up soon?”
Mack pinched his eyebrows together. “Yeah…the studio wants something for the new single. It’s just going to be dumb like in a mansion or somethin’.”
“Why haven’t you asked me to be in it?” She put him on the spot.
“Ah…I didn’t…I mean, if you want to of course you can be in it. But…” Mack trailed off. The conversation felt like it had taken a hard left and he wasn’t sure he liked where it was going. It felt familiar but he hoped he was wrong.
“That would be so dope! AH! I’d love to.” Amber clapped and squealed. “I’m going to need to get a new outfit. My nails done. Oh and of course some new weave because this ain’t video worthy.”
Amber let her words hang in the air and at once, Mack knew what was happening. He sighed in a way that sounded like a half laugh and closed his eyes slightly. Amber hardly noticed his irritated expression. She was too busy planning her debut. Mack managed to smile tightly as he reached for the wad of cash in his front pocket.
“Of course. Here ya go,” he said as he peeled off a few bills from the outside of the roll. Amber paused for a half a second, prompting Mack to dole out three more. When she was satisfied with the total, she took the cash, thanked him profusely, and went on to explain in great detail where she was going to go shopping and how awesome the video shoot was going to be.
Mack tuned it all out. Manny had been right. It was always about the money.