The text came all in caps: WE HAVE TO TALK
Monica never wrote all in caps, so it had to be important. Caps were more Amanda’s speed. Seth’s sister, Amanda, and her BFF balanced each other out in that regard, at least most of the time.
Seth Uttley threw his phone down on his bed and looked in the mirror. Something he’d been doing a lot of lately. He picked up the dumbbell from beside his dresser and did a few curls with each hand to the beat of the Def Leppard song playing on his wireless speakers, trying to go through his moves for tonight in his head. It was no use—he couldn’t concentrate. He went back to his phone.
What about? he texted back.
I just talked to Amanda about your new JOB.
“Great,” Seth muttered. Everyone, including his parents, would know what he’d be doing tonight. When he’d landed a lousy job stripping in a sleazy bar on the wrong end of town thanks to being goaded into it by a woman he no longer even wanted to think about, he’d been able to keep it quiet. The place didn’t advertise, and no one he knew ventured that far out. But Woody O’Flanagan’s Pub—that was a classy place. And they actually paid. Real paychecks. Not just fifty bucks plus tips and the occasional beer and a sandwich thrown in after closing time.
A pounding on his bedroom door was followed by Amanda’s voice. “Seth, we’ve gotta talk.”
“Not you too,” he groaned. He opened the door wearing only a pair of gray sweatpants.
“Ew, put a shirt on,” his sister said with her nose turned up.
For siblings, they didn’t look much alike. Amanda was five-foot nothing with dark hair and freckles, whereas Seth was dark blond and had to duck under the occasional door frame.
He sighed as though he didn’t care what she had to say, but inside he was a bundle of nerves.
“You’re not actually going through with working at that place, right?” she asked.
She was talking about O’Flanagan’s, of course. He couldn’t exactly say it was a step up from his last job. If she knew about that, she’d really freak.
“I thought we went over this already.” He shrugged. “It’s just a job.”
“It’s— It’s not just a job! You’re planning to take your clothes off in front of people.” She gagged dramatically. “It’s not the way the world is supposed to work.”
“So I guess you’re not going to come and watch then.”
“Ewww!!” she said as she ran down the hall and into the bathroom. She slammed the door and he heard retching.
He didn’t want her to watch. He just enjoyed teasing her. And I may as well get all the enjoyment out of this family while I can, he thought. When his mom and dad found out, they’d understandably give him the boot, considering the clean public image they had to keep up.
To that end, talking to Amanda probably was a good idea. If she’d told Monica, she might be on a roll, and Seth needed time. He padded down the hall in bare feet and stood outside the bathroom door. “Manda-bear,” he said.
“Don’t call me that. You don’t get to call me that anymore if you’re going to do something disgusting with your body,” she called through the door.
“Okay, Amanda. Could you just keep this to yourself for a couple more weeks? I’m going to wear a mask at work to cover my identity—”
“You need to cover more than your identity,” she yelled.
“… and I’m planning to move out. I just want to earn enough for a deposit on a place.” He hesitated, not knowing whether she’d care one way or another, but he figured it couldn’t hurt to try for a bit of sympathy. “If Mom and Dad kick me out now, I’ll have nowhere to go.”
“Tough,” she said. “You should consider having a place to hang your clothes before you do something icky. Oh wait. You don’t need any clothes.”
Ugh. So much for sympathy. Oh well. “Of course I need clothes. I’ve gotta have something to take off.”
“Ew, ew, ewww!”
He walked back into his room so he wouldn’t have to listen to her pretend to throw up.
The phone on the bed was alight with a bunch of new text messages. A few more from Monica and one from Shaun O’Flanagan, one of the owners of the bar. Seth checked that one first.
Rehearsal at 3, party of 2.
WTF? There wasn’t supposed to be a rehearsal.
Another text came in. JK. But be here by 7:30 to start warming up.
The O’Flanagan brothers’ sense of humor was going to take some getting used to. Them and Michael Thorne, aka Saddle McFleshbomb. He’d retired his thong when he got a new job and a new girlfriend, but he was a partner in the bar, so he wasn’t going anywhere. Which was great. Seth liked the guy. Being straight himself, he seemed to understand what Seth was going through, having to dance tonight for a roomful of men. Cal, who was behind the bar most nights, was okay. But Shaun—he was a different story. Seth often had a hard time knowing whether his jokes were serious or just jokes.
Seth was just about to text back “OK” to Shaun’s last message when another one came in. Monica again.
Where the hell are you?
Why she couldn’t just call, Seth had no idea. He sent the text to Shaun and then dialed Monica’s number.
She picked up with, “What the hell are you doing?”
“Well, hello to you too,” he said mildly. “I’m surprised Amanda took so long to tell you about it.”
“She told me yesterday when she got home from yelling at you at the pub. She’s afraid you’re going to ruin your dad’s career.”
“I know my parents aren’t going to like it. But I’ll have enough money to get my own place finally.”
“Is that why you’re doing it? You’re going to move out? Because your parents are the nicest, kindest, most wonderful people I know, and if you hurt them—”
“Yes! Yes, I’m moving out. At least that’s the plan.”
He heard her sigh and imagined her with her pink phone to her ear under her blond hair and her frown of disappointment in him.
“Come on, Monica. You know me better than that. I’m not out to hurt my dad, but it’s a way for me to rock.”
“What happened to the guitar lessons?”
“Guitar. Drums,” Joe Elliott sang. Seth glanced across the room at the instrument in question, gathering dust, one string broken.
“Turns out passion doesn’t equal talent. But there is one thing I have a talent for.”
“Taking your clothes off in public?” She sounded slightly less disgusted than Amanda had.
“Since when? I’ve never seen you dance.”
“Ya wanna?” he said with a smile. He picked up the dumbbell again and started curling with his free hand, down between his spread legs and up to his collarbone.
“No! What the hell, Seth. You kiss your mother with that mouth?”
He was surprised that her comment stung. He respected Monica’s opinion: she was the most fiercely independent person he knew.
“Not when I’m dancing,” he said, soothing his hurt with a joke.
Seth laughed, hoping she was really laughing with him. The next thing that came out of her mouth held zero humor, though.
“Whatever. For God’s sake, reconsider the job. Because it’s only a matter of time before your parents find out, even if Manda doesn’t tell them.”
“The job is a done deal. And the money is incredible. But I promise I’ll be careful not to be recognized until I can at least move out.” He hesitated. “Can I ask a favor?”
“If you’re going to request that I get Amanda off your ass, you know that’s a big ask. She’s only doing it because she cares about your dad. And, well, you know your sister.”
“I know. But—” Seth sighed and switched hands to exercise his other arm. Up and down to the beat. He put the phone to his other ear and said, “This means a lot to me for a lot of different reasons. And I’m fucking good at it.”
“Okay, fine. What time do you perform tonight?”
A sound came out of his mouth that sounded like a cross between a cough and a croak.
“What?” Monica said. “If you’re that good at it, I need to tell Amanda, don’t I? And the only way to do that is to come and watch you tonight. What’s wrong with that?”
Other than the fact that I’ll be taking all my clothes off and showing my boner to a pub full of horny gay men? “It’s my first night. I might be nervous,” he said out loud. It wasn’t technically true—his debut had been last week. But this was the first performance that mattered.
He heard her snort.
“Are you laughing at me?”
“No, of course not,” she said in a higher-than-normal pitch. She totally was laughing.
“Please tell me you’re kidding.”
“Of course I’m kidding. I’m not going to watch you … Ugh, I can’t even say it. But I think I made my point. If you’re so ashamed that you don’t want me watching, do you think maybe it’s just not a good idea?”
He couldn’t tell her he already had experience and that he was already addicted to the rush of stripping for women. Tonight—gentlemen’s night—would probably be a one-off.
“Amanda put you up to this, didn’t she. She asked you to call me.” He knew the answer, but he had to change the subject.
“Of course she did. But I’m calling you for your own sake. Because I’m invested in the happiness of your family because of all they’ve done for me. And I care about you, too.”
News to him. They’d had very few private conversations—Seth could recall only one in the past, in fact. Sure, they talked all the time when she was with Amanda, but up to now, all he’d received from Monica was the same sort of brotherly recognition he got from his sister. Which mostly meant teasing and gagging when they weren’t ignoring him.
“We’ll be fine, Mon. Thanks. As long as you can help me keep Amanda from telling Mom and Dad until it either becomes necessary or until I move out.”
Monica sighed into the phone. “I’ll hold her off as long as I can.”
They hung up and he switched his dumbbell back to the other hand.
He could do this and not get caught. He had to. For his dad’s sake.