a collection of short stories
roadtrip2.2purple.jpg

Road Trip

Chris and Jack are aspiring comedians who take a trip to Las Vegas for two very different reasons—Jack’s been scouted and Chris wants to lose his virginity, once and for all.

Road Trip.

When I was a kid, I was fascinated with looking into the windows of tall buildings.  I would be in the back seat of the car while my parents argued over the radio station in the front, and I would stare out the window, tuning them out. We would pass by office buildings, warehouses, apartments; each window told a different story.  Sometimes I could see right inside and would pick out some plants hanging in the window, or newspapers covering them to block the light. Sometimes, I could see the fridge inside an apartment covered in magnets and notes. I would imagine they said things like  buy milk  and  call dentist.   Whatever things my parents had been talking about that week, I imposed into the lives of the strangers living and working in these buildings. Sometimes, I would just count how many lights were on in each building, wondering how many people were working late while their families ate dinner without them.  That was how I discovered I needed glasses. I started seeing fewer and fewer details inside the windows, and found myself squinting, pressing my nose and hands against the back-seat window until my mom yelled at me to stop leaving my fingerprints all over the glass.  Now, years later, I still sometimes found myself distracted while walking down the street, staring up at windows. My imagination didn’t run as wild as it used to, and the stories I made up were less PG. Most times, I just imagined a beautiful woman undressing in her bedroom, getting ready for bed, unaware that strangers on the street like me could see directly into her window.  One day, when I was walking to work, there actually was a woman who appeared in one of the windows I was looking at, and she paused in front of it, looking down towards the street. I stopped walking, nearly crashing into someone, and stared at her. Could she see me?  Suddenly, a woman’s voice shouted, “pervert!” as she walked by, and I snapped back to reality, embarrassed. When I got to work that day, I took off my jacket and shook the snow off of it before hanging it in the staff room.  “Hey, man,” I heard Jack call from behind me.  I turned around and saw him walking towards me.  “Hey, how’s it going?” I asked.  “Great, man, Russ said I could do a couple minutes tonight.” He was beaming.  “No shit? That’s amazing, man, you nervous?” I tried to push away the feeling of jealousy that was flushing my face with warmth.  “Yeah, I mean, of course. But I’m mostly excited.”  “How did that happen?” I asked as I started pinning my nametag onto my shirt that was wrinkled from when I tossed it onto my floor after my last shift.  Jack rubbed his forehead. “I don’t even know, man,” he said, laughing. “I came in, Russ came running up to me, all fucking flustered, and said one of his comics dropped out and he needed to fill a few minutes. I said I’d do it and he didn’t even flinch or like, laugh in my face.”  “Wow, that’s nuts.” I looked past him at the stage where the stool and mic were already set up.  “Yeah, wish me luck, man. I still gotta work the floor until my time, but I don’t know how useful I’ll be, so I apologize in advance.” He laughed and started walking away, but turned back on his heel.  “Oh! Hey, Russ told me about your mom. Sorry, man, that shit sucks.”  I just nodded with pursed lips in a half-hearted smile until he clapped me on the shoulder and walked away.  I was setting a table when Erica walked up to me, hands clasped behind her back.  “Hey, Chris,” she squeaked. She looked down at her feet when I turned to face her.  “Oh, hey Erica,” I said, blushing.  “I, uh, just wanted to say I’m so sorry about your mom and I hope you’re not mad at me.” She spoke so fast and high-pitched that I almost didn’t understand her.  “Why would I be mad at you?” I asked.  “Well because of how… because of what happened with us the other night…” she trailed off, her face turning redder and redder.  “Oh, it wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t the first time that happened, so it’s definitely me, not you,” I said.  She looked at me, eyes wide, and opened her mouth to say something but shut it.  “Oh, okay well… I’m still sorry,” she said finally and hurried away.  I kicked myself internally, wishing I’d said something else, while I finished setting the tables. I spent the rest of my shift going over that interaction in my mind, forcing myself to say something different each time—but even in my imagination, she was disgusted by everything I said, no matter what.  After the show, we all stayed for a few beers to celebrate Jack’s set.  “Cheers, man,” I said, clanking my beer bottle into his glass.  “I am seriously buzzing right now, I feel high,” he laughed.  “I can’t believe how great you did. I mean, I can believe it, but it’s just crazy,” I said, fumbling over my words.  He nodded, taking a sip of his drink. He swallowed loudly and set his drink on the bar. “Some guy wants me to be in his show in Vegas,” he said, lowering his voice so that he was just speaking to me.  “What?!”  “Shh!” He looked around, making sure none of the other guys or Erica—who was sitting as far away as possible from me—heard him.  “What?” I said again, quieter.  “Some guy came up to me after my set, said he’s looking for comics to be in this special up-and-comers show he’s putting on in Vegas, asked me if I want to do it. I have to get myself there, and it doesn’t pay anything—but it would be great exposure for me,” he said, pulling a business card out of his pocket and sliding it towards me.  I picked it up and inspected it.  “It looks legit,” I said, turning it over once more.  “It is, man! It totally is.” He downed his drink. “Wanna go for a smoke?”    Outside the comedy club, Jack and I smoked in silence.  “So, what’s the deal with you and Erica?” Jack asked.  “What?”  “She’s been giving you this weird look from across the bar all night.”  “What kind of look?”  “I don’t know, some kind of like, knowing look. Is it cause of your mom?”  I cleared my throat. “Uh, kinda. We… sorta hooked up the other night after work.”  His eyes widened as he took another drag. “Get out!”  I nodded, looking at my feet.  “You fuck her, or what?”  I shook my head.  “Then what? A blowie?”  “Nah, we didn’t really get around to anything, we kinda got interrupted.”  “By who?”  “Uh…my mom.”  Jack stared at me. I stared back, feeling the alcohol forcing out the story I so badly wanted to be fake.  “Okay, I’m going to tell you this story, Jack, but you have to promise it goes nowhere. I know we aren’t like, best friends or anything, but I’m going to tell you because I actually never talk about this, but it’s pretty fucked up.”  Jack continued to stare at me, saying nothing.  I took a deep breath.  “So… Erica and I had been flirting for a while, you know, harmless workplace stuff. But then the other night, when she was kinda drunk, she said she wanted to hook up. So, I went to her place and we started fooling around, you know, pretty innocent stuff. But then, just when we were about to…really do it, my phone rang. I ignored it and kept trying to get back to it but it rang again. It kept ringing and wouldn’t shut the fuck up, so I told her to hang on a sec and saw that it was my brother. He never calls me, we actually don’t really talk that much, so I thought it was weird and answered it. He told me my mom had died, so I left, and we didn’t have sex.”  Jack blinked, stubbed out his cigarette, and immediately lit up another one.  I took another deep breath. “That’s not the first time that’s happened though.”  “Being interrupted during sex?”  I shook my head, sticking my hand out to him for another smoke.  “No, I mean someone dying when I was about to finally do it.”  “Finally do what?”  “Have sex.”  “What the fuck are you talking about, man?”  “Every time I’m about to lose my virginity, someone dies.”  Jack started coughing and I watched him, waiting. My hands were shaking, and I finished my cigarette before he finally stopped coughing. He threw his smoke on the ground and started walking.  “C’mon, let’s go get a drink somewhere else.”    “So, you’re a virgin?” Jack asked, after taking a big swig of his drink.  “Yes.”  “And people… die when you try to lose it?”  I nodded.  “What were the other times?”  “When I was 17, this chick I met at summer camp came over one day and we were about to do it, but she got a bloody nose and it wouldn’t stop and she got all freaked out and didn’t want to do it anymore. Then I found out that my aunt had died during the  exact time we were hooking up.”  “Okay, well that sounds like a coincidence.”  “That’s exactly what I thought. So then, the next time was about a year later-”  “Chris, do you want to come to Vegas with me?” Jack interrupted.  I paused. “What about the club?”  Jack shrugged. “I was going to quit, since I doubt Russ will give me a week off.”  My stomach did a flip. “I don’t know, I can’t really afford to be jobless right now.”  “There’s this place, just outside of Vegas. It’s called the Kitty Ranch or something. It’s like this high-class brothel I read about it in this Vice article. I wouldn’t go by myself, but this is the perfect opportunity to get you laid, once and for all.”  I laughed. “I don’t know, man.” I took a swig of beer.  Jack looked at me. “Chris.”  “What?”  “How old are you?”  I laughed nervously. “Thirty-two.”  “Exactly. It’s time for you to lose your virginity.”    “Okay, so I think I’m ready for attempt number two,” Jack said, snapping me back to reality. I had been staring out the window at the cacti whizzing by for what felt like an hour.  “What?” I said, turning toward Jack, whose seat was leaned far back. He had taken his sweater off to reveal skinny white arms in a muscle tank.  “The second time you tried to lose your virginity,” he said, keeping his eyes on the road.  “Oh,” I said, sitting up straighter and rubbing my eyes. “It was about a year after the first time,” I said turned down the air conditioner that was drying out my eyes.  “It was with uh, this girl from my D&D group and we—”  “D&D?” he interrupted.  “Dungeons and Dragons,” I said.  He boomed a laugh. “No fucking wonder you’re a virgin man.”  I looked at him, scowling.  “Sorry, sorry. That’s just too perfect. Go on.”  I paused another moment before continuing. “Anyway… so she and I were about to hook up, but she was pretty drunk, and she started puking. So, we obviously didn’t do it, and then I woke up in the middle of the night to cops knocking on my door, telling me my dad was in a car accident.”  “Jesus, Chris, that’s so fucked up, I’m sorry.”  I turned back toward the window. “Yeah.”  We sat in silence for a while, until Jack turned the radio on low.  The robotic voice on my phone piped up then, startling us both. “In one mile, take exit 4A for Las Vegas.”  I turned to look at Jack, who did the same to me.  “Vegas, baby!” he yelled.    “Okay, we better hit the road soon,” Jack said from the bathroom of our tiny motel room at the edge of the strip. I was looking out the patio window to the pool area where three girls were swimming and splashing each other.  “Hey, quit staring,” Jack said, suddenly behind me.  I jumped and turned around, blushing.  “Don’t worry, man. It’s happening tonight.” He clapped me on the shoulder and gave me a soulful look until I laughed and ducked out from under his arm.    It was darker on the highway to the Kitty Ranch than I expected. It was late when we left, but the bright lights of the strip were deceiving. Jack was gripping the wheel tight, leaning forward and squinting to see the road signs.  “Okay, I think it’s coming up soon,” Jack said, slowing down.  “This place is really in the middle of fucking nowhere,” I said, starting to feel nervous.  “Yeah, it’s so they can’t easily get raided by the cops,” Jack said, turning onto a small road.  “What? It’s not even legal?” I asked.  “No, no, it’s totally legal, man, they’re just a target for cops to make sure their shit is up to code.”  I felt like Jack had no idea what he was talking about, but we had already pulled up to the mansion, so I pushed the worries from my mind and focused on what I was about to do.  Jack pulled up to the valet station and rolled down his window. “Hey, man, we don’t need a valet, I can park it.”  “Mandatory valet, sir,” the man said.  Jack turned to me. “This place is even fancier than I thought.” He turned off the car, hopped out, and tossed the man his keys. I followed Jack towards the front door. We entered, and there was a dark foyer with a crystal chandelier, and a man wearing a headpiece behind a desk.  “Gentlemen,” he said in a deep voice, and nodded at each of us. “Identification, please.”  I looked at Jack, but he was already reaching for his wallet. He passed the man his driver’s license and I followed his lead. The man gave Jack back his card and kept looking at him.  “It’s $100 to enter,” the man finally said.  “Oh, shit, sorry,” Jack reached back for his wallet and the man snatched my ID.  “$100 just to get inside?” I asked Jack, incredulous.  “It’s worth it, Chris, I swear.”  Once we were inside, I looked around at the room. It was huge, the lighting was dim and purple-hued. Loud, bass-heavy music was blaring from the speakers. There was a long, clear bar at the far end lit up with changing-coloured lights and, surprisingly, a man working behind it.  We walked up to the bar and grabbed two empty seats next to each other. There was one other man at the bar at the far end, hunched over something.  “Hey guys, what can I get you?” the bartender asked, tossing down two Kitty Ranch branded coasters in front of us.  “Rye and coke, please,” Jack said, looking around the room.  “Uh, I’ll just grab a Budweiser,” I said.  The man nodded and turned around to get our drinks.  “What did I tell you, man? Isn’t this place crazy?” Jack asked, turning to face me.  I nodded. “Where are the girls, though?” I asked, looking around.  “They’re around, they’re coming,” Jack said, sounding unsure.  The bartender placed our drinks in front of us. “That’ll be $20.”  “Twenty dollars? For a beer and a rye?” I asked, looking at the bartender and then Jack.  “It’s fine, Chris, I’ll get them,” he said, handing the bartender a 20 and a couple singles. The bartender took the money and walked away without a word.  “Jack, you didn’t tell me how expensive this was going to be. I literally don’t have a job to go back to. Neither do you!” I was sweating and my stomach was doing flips.  Before Jack could answer, the bartender came back and dropped down a big black binder on the bar in front of us.  I looked at it, at Jack and then at the bartender. “What—”  “The girls. Flag me down when you’ve decided.” He walked away again.  “What…” I opened the binder to find a picture of a naked girl.  “Woah,” I said, staring at the photo.  “Oh shit,” Jack said, leaning in closer to see.  I was reading one of the write-ups next to a photo of a blonde girl wearing cowboy boots, a cowboy hat and chaps with nothing else, when Jack started flipping the pages for me.  “Hey!” I said, fighting his hands that were tugging at the laminated pages.  “You’re going too slow, there are like, 50 more pages!”  “I was reading the bio!”  “Why?!”  “I-I don’t know…”  “Dude, you’re thinking about it too much. You just have to pick one you like and go for it.”  I looked at the book. I knew he was right, I needed to just get it over with. It didn’t matter which girl I picked, really. I sighed.  “Okay, fine, but go a bit slower so I can at least look at their faces,” I said.  He let go, rolling his eyes, and I continued flipping, moving a little faster now. I stopped when I got to a page with a curvy girl with long, straight black hair, black thick-rimmed glasses and red lipstick. She was biting her lip in the picture and the bio read:   I’m Trixie. I love video games and nerding out over movies and music! I’m very adventurous and love trying new things, and I’m looking for someone who can teach me something new.   My heart sped up.  “How much of this do you think is bullshit?” I asked Jack, pointing to the bio.  “Who cares? You like her?”  I nodded.  “Then go for it!” He turned to the bartender again. “Hey man, how do we do this?”  I blushed, embarrassed that he was yelling so loudly and brazenly.  “Shh,” I said, hiding my face with my hand.  “Chris. Everyone is here for the same reason, there’s no shame,” he said, turning back to the bartender as he walked over to us.  “Tell me the number on the photo of the girl you want, I’ll make a call, and if she’s available she’ll come down here to meet you,” he said, leaning with both hands on the bar. I saw the muscles in his arms flex as he stretched and felt very self-conscious of my own flabby arms.  “Okay, he wants number 32 and I’ll take—” he flipped to the next page—"number 33.” He shut the book dramatically and turned to me, beaming.  The bartender hesitated for a moment, eyes shifting from me to Jack as if to say,  is this guy for real?  but then he turned around to the phone that was mounted to the wall and picked it up.  “Nervous?” Jack asked me, downing his drink.  I shrugged. “Not for the sex part, really,” I said.  “You’re not worried about the dying thing, are you? There’s no way in hell that’s going to happen again. It just can’t,” Jack said, confident.  I shrugged again. “We’ll see, I guess. There’s no one left that I really care about so at least there’s that,” I said, laughing awkwardly.  I felt a hand on my back, and I turned to see the girl, Trixie, standing there in real life.  “Hi,” she said.  “H-hey,” I stuttered, clearing my throat.  “I’m Trixie,"she said, smiling. “Can I sit here?” She hopped up onto the chair next to me without waiting for my answer.  “Sure,” I said anyway. I looked over at Jack who was talking to a girl, too. They were already laughing. I frowned and looked back at Trixie, who was chewing her nail.  “Do you want to get a drink?” she asked, eyes darting to the bartender.  “Uh, if you want to sure, but we could just get out of here if you prefer,” I said, wanting her to stop looking at the bartender, and not wanting to pay $20 for drinks.  “Oh, okay. Yeah, let’s go,” she said, hopping down from the bar stool. She took my hand and led me around the corner and up a staircase. The stairs were made of dark, shiny wood and were lined with purple velvet carpet. We climbed in silence for what felt like an eternity, the creaking of the stairs cutting through the silence every so often. A shirtless man came bounding down the other side of the stairs and we had to move out of the way, my shoulder getting bumped by his as he passed.  “Are you okay?” I asked, even though I was the one who was hit.  “Oh, yeah, that happens a lot,” she said, leading me around another corner and into a room with a sparkly pink “T” on the door.  The room was small, with a large four-poster bed taking up most of it. She closed the door behind me and sauntered inside.  I looked at her, then at the bed, and then back at her, my heart picking up speed. I could already feel myself getting excited with the idea of what was about to happen.  “So, what do you want to do?” she asked me, sitting on the edge of the bed.  “Uh,” I said, rubbing the back of my neck, unsure how to answer.  “Like, regular sex, I guess?” I said, blushing.  “What’s regular to you?” she asked, biting her black-painted nail again.  I was silent for a moment.  “Maybe…can we just start and then go from there?” I asked.  She smiled again. “Sure, that’s fine. What’s your name?” she asked.  “Oh, Chris. Sorry I didn’t say that before.”  “That’s okay, Chris. Okay, so it’s $1000 per half hour. And you have to go down to the bar and pay Marty before we can start,” she said.  “Oh,” I said. That was a lot more than I had expected it to be. “Okay, I’ll be right back,” I said, turning to leave.  “Oh! And the clock is already starting,” she said.  My stomach did a flip.  I went down to the bar and leaned up against it.  “Hey,” I said, trying to get Marty’s attention. He turned to look at me and nodded in acknowledgement.  “Is there an ATM in here?” I asked, whispering.  “Yeah, just through that curtain over there,” he said, pointing behind me.  I thanked him and hurried towards it. I pushed back the purple velvet curtain and stuck my card into the machine. I punched in my pin and tapped my fingers on the side of the ATM.  “C’mon…” I said to the slow machine. When it prompted me to enter the amount I wanted to take out, I punched in 1,000, and hit OK and confirmed the $5 surcharge, rolling my eyes at the price. An error screen popped up:   Error: amount exceeds daily withdrawal limit.   “What? No!” I said, pulling my card out. I ran a hand through my hair which was damp with sweat. I pulled my cellphone out of my pocket and searched through my contacts until I found my bank. I hit “call” and put the phone to my ear, pacing.  “First National Bank, how may I help you?” a man’s voice greeted me.  “Hi, uh, I need my daily limit increased,” I said.  “Okay, I can certainly look into that for you sir, how much of an increase would you like?”  “I don’t know, what’s my limit now?”  “It looks like it’s a $500 withdrawal and $1000 transaction limit.”  “Okay, uh, can you double it?”  “You’d like a $1000 withdrawal limit and a $2000 transaction limit?”  “No, don’t worry about the transaction, just the withdrawal. I’m traveling, and I need cash.” I pulled my phone away from my ear for a moment to look at the time. It was quarter-to midnight. I squeezed my eyes shut, certain this stranger knew what I was up to.  “If you’d like, I can just place a temporary lift on your limit, so you have unlimited access to your funds for 24 hours.”  I let out a sigh of relief. “Yes, thank you, that’s perfect.”  “Okay, it will just take a few minutes to take effect, but you will be able to take it out shortly. Is there anything else I can he—”  “No, no that’s it thanks,” I interrupted, hanging up. I shoved my card back into the slot and tried again. Still nothing.  “Oh, come on ! ” I yelled, too loudly. “Shit,” I mumbled, embarrassed. I tried again.  “Hey, man, I need the machine!” a voice from the other side of the curtain said.  “One second!” I yelled back.  “For real man, hurry up!” the voice yelled back, suddenly sounding familiar. I turned, brows furrowed and looked at the feet peeking out below the curtain. A pair of dirty, ripped checkered vans with the backs squished down to be worn like slippers. Jack. I ripped the curtain open and Jack looked at me, wide-eyed.  “Chris? What the fuck is taking so long in there?” he asked, letting himself into the tiny space and closing the curtain behind him.  “I had to call the bank to increase my limit. This place is fucking insane, this girl is charging me $2,000 an hour!” I turned back to the machine and tried again.  “I know, it’s crazy. But you know it’ll be worth it,” he said.  “Will it?” I asked, finally getting my money. “The clock is running already, and I just wasted half of my time down here!” I pushed past Jack and headed out.  “Good luck!” he called after me.  I paid Marty at the bar as quickly as possible, and raced back up the stairs and into the room.  “I thought you weren’t coming back,” Trixie said. She had shed the black dress she had been wearing and was standing next to the bed in black leather lingerie. I nearly choked as I tried to respond, out of breath from running up the stairs.  “Yeah, I had an, uh, issue with my bank,” I managed to say, swatting the hair that had fallen into my eyes away from my face.  “But it’s okay?” she asked, slowly walking towards me.  “Uh,” I wiped my sweaty hands on my pants. “Yeah, I paid Marty.”  She nodded, “I know, he told me.” She gestured to a phone, identical to the one behind the bar that Marty had used to summon Trixie.  “Okay, Chris,” she said. She walked toward me, took my head in her hands and kissed my neck. She led me over to the bed, and I flopped down awkwardly, half my body hanging off the edge. She climbed on top of me and I tried to readjust myself. I was trying to focus on slowing my breathing. I fumbled to take off my glasses and place them on the nightstand.  “Are you okay?” she asked, sitting up, straddling me.  “Oh, yeah this is great, I think I just maybe need a minute,” I said, immediately kicking myself for saying that. I pictured Jack’s disapproving face staring at me, telling me to man up.  “Maybe we could just talk a bit first?” I asked, sitting up.  “Oh…sure,” she said, removing herself from me and sitting on the edge of the bed.  I ran a hand through my hair and took a deep breath.  “So…where are you from?” she asked.  “Uh, I’m from Chicago,” I said.  Her eyes lit up. “No way! I’m from Chicago too!” she said, placing a hand on my leg.  “Really?” I asked, pretty sure she was bullshitting.  “Yeah! I just moved here a few weeks ago,” she said, beaming.  I smiled too. “Wow, that’s a weird coincidence.”  “Totally! What do you do there?” she asked.  “Well, I work in this comedy club, but I want to do stand-up.”  “That’s so cool! I love comedy.”  “Really? Who are your favourite comics?”  “Well I love the classics, you know, like Dave Chappelle, Eddie Murphy, George Carlin, all those guys—but for newer comics, Bill Burr and Jim Jeffries are hilarious.”  “Oh yeah they’re all great. What about female comedians?”  She blushed. “Oh, there are some great ones for sure, but I just kinda have this thing for funny guys, you know? Like the funnier a guy is the more attracted to him I am.”  I felt my face light up. “Really? But you’re so…hot,” I said.  She laughed. “Thank you, but you know looks just really aren’t that important to me. I much prefer a guy who’s funny and sweet to one that’s all muscular and tough with no personality.”  I nodded and smiled, thinking of Marty behind the bar downstairs.  Ha, take that, macho man. I sat up a little more and angled my body towards her.  “Okay, so I have a question for you,” I said.  “Sure.”  “In your little bio, it says you like video games and movies and stuff—is that true?”  “Yeah, it’s true.” She bowed her head, a curtain of black hair falling in front of her face. “It’s totally embarrassing, but I really just wanted to be honest, you know? I think it’s like, more genuine and stuff.”  “Oh yeah, I think that’s the right way to go, for sure,” I said, taking the chance to really look at her while she wasn’t looking at me. I scanned her body top to bottom, noticing a cluster of freckles on her right upper thigh. She looked back up at me but didn’t say anything. We looked at each other for a few moments until I finally cleared my throat.  “So, why did you decide to come here from Chicago?”  “Mostly to get away from my parents. I had a really shitty home life. And then a friend of mine had come here and she told me about the Ranch, so I sent in my application and was approved pretty much instantly and left about a week later. I barely even took any of my stuff from home, I just wanted to get here as fast as I could.”  “And you like it?”  “Yeah, it’s been really great. There are a lot of strict rules that I’m still learning but it’s like a big family. It’s been a bit different the last few days, though, because of Stan dying.”  My heart felt like it stopped. My vision went blurry and I had to take a deep breath.  “Who?” I finally managed to ask.  “Oh, Stan…he was like the Hugh Hefner of the Kitty Ranch. He died the other day and the girls have been really sad about it.”  I shook my head in disbelief.  “Yeah, it’s like super sad and stuff, but like, I only got here a few weeks ago and I probably only met him like, twice, so like…for me it’s not as sad as it is for the other girls,” she said, shrugging.  It was silent for a while again, and I tried to think of something else to ask her.  “How old are you?” I finally asked.  “Nineteen,” she answered.  “Oh,” I said. I wasn’t expecting her to be that young, but it made sense now that I knew.  “How old are you?” she asked.  I laughed. “I’m thirty-two.”  She just nodded. “So, do you want to like…do anything? You’re at an hour now, so if you want to keep going you have to pay again.”  I felt my heart sink. I looked at her young face, eager and nervous at the same time.  “You know what, Trixie, I think I’m okay.”  Her eyes widened.  “It was really nice talking to you, though.” I started getting up from the bed, grabbing my glasses and shoving them back onto my face. She followed me to the door.  “My real name is Tracy, by the way,” she said. I looked into her deep brown eyes.  “It was nice to meet you, Tracy.” I said, smiling awkwardly and fumbling for the door handle.  I went downstairs and walked into the main room. I saw Jack hunched over the bar, sipping a drink. I sat next to him.  “Hey! How was it man?” he asked, clapping me on the shoulder.  “Uh, great, it was great,” I said.  “Was it everything you dreamed of?” “Better.”  He laughed loudly, slamming the bar top. “That’s what I like to hear!”  “Are you drunk?” I asked.  “A little,” he said, looking at me with hooded eyes.  “How?” I asked.  “Well, it was over pretty quick with my girl…you know what that’s like.” He nudged me with his elbow. “And then when I came back down here, I called the guy that scouted me back home.”  I waited for him to take a long sip of his drink and then continue.  “Turns out, it’s some kind of scam, and there is no show.”  “What? What do you mean a scam?”  “Well, he just scouts struggling comedians, gets them to pay him and promises them a sold-out show in Vegas, and then fucks off.”  I shook my head, confused. “Wait, you paid him?” I asked.  Jack nodded, finishing his drink and shaking the empty glass until Marty came and refilled it. Jack nodded at me.  Instead of lecturing him and telling him he deserved it for being so dumb, I clapped him on the shoulder and ordered myself a drink.

When I was a kid, I was fascinated with looking into the windows of tall buildings.

I would be in the back seat of the car while my parents argued over the radio station in the front, and I would stare out the window, tuning them out. We would pass by office buildings, warehouses, apartments; each window told a different story.

Sometimes I could see right inside and would pick out some plants hanging in the window, or newspapers covering them to block the light. Sometimes, I could see the fridge inside an apartment covered in magnets and notes. I would imagine they said things like buy milk and call dentist.

Whatever things my parents had been talking about that week, I imposed into the lives of the strangers living and working in these buildings. Sometimes, I would just count how many lights were on in each building, wondering how many people were working late while their families ate dinner without them.

That was how I discovered I needed glasses. I started seeing fewer and fewer details inside the windows, and found myself squinting, pressing my nose and hands against the back-seat window until my mom yelled at me to stop leaving my fingerprints all over the glass.

Now, years later, I still sometimes found myself distracted while walking down the street, staring up at windows. My imagination didn’t run as wild as it used to, and the stories I made up were less PG. Most times, I just imagined a beautiful woman undressing in her bedroom, getting ready for bed, unaware that strangers on the street like me could see directly into her window.

One day, when I was walking to work, there actually was a woman who appeared in one of the windows I was looking at, and she paused in front of it, looking down towards the street. I stopped walking, nearly crashing into someone, and stared at her. Could she see me?

Suddenly, a woman’s voice shouted, “pervert!” as she walked by, and I snapped back to reality, embarrassed. When I got to work that day, I took off my jacket and shook the snow off of it before hanging it in the staff room.

“Hey, man,” I heard Jack call from behind me.

I turned around and saw him walking towards me.

“Hey, how’s it going?” I asked.

“Great, man, Russ said I could do a couple minutes tonight.” He was beaming.

“No shit? That’s amazing, man, you nervous?” I tried to push away the feeling of jealousy that was flushing my face with warmth.

“Yeah, I mean, of course. But I’m mostly excited.”

“How did that happen?” I asked as I started pinning my nametag onto my shirt that was wrinkled from when I tossed it onto my floor after my last shift.

Jack rubbed his forehead. “I don’t even know, man,” he said, laughing. “I came in, Russ came running up to me, all fucking flustered, and said one of his comics dropped out and he needed to fill a few minutes. I said I’d do it and he didn’t even flinch or like, laugh in my face.”

“Wow, that’s nuts.” I looked past him at the stage where the stool and mic were already set up.

“Yeah, wish me luck, man. I still gotta work the floor until my time, but I don’t know how useful I’ll be, so I apologize in advance.” He laughed and started walking away, but turned back on his heel.

“Oh! Hey, Russ told me about your mom. Sorry, man, that shit sucks.”

I just nodded with pursed lips in a half-hearted smile until he clapped me on the shoulder and walked away.

I was setting a table when Erica walked up to me, hands clasped behind her back.

“Hey, Chris,” she squeaked. She looked down at her feet when I turned to face her.

“Oh, hey Erica,” I said, blushing.

“I, uh, just wanted to say I’m so sorry about your mom and I hope you’re not mad at me.” She spoke so fast and high-pitched that I almost didn’t understand her.

“Why would I be mad at you?” I asked.

“Well because of how… because of what happened with us the other night…” she trailed off, her face turning redder and redder.

“Oh, it wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t the first time that happened, so it’s definitely me, not you,” I said.

She looked at me, eyes wide, and opened her mouth to say something but shut it.

“Oh, okay well… I’m still sorry,” she said finally and hurried away.

I kicked myself internally, wishing I’d said something else, while I finished setting the tables. I spent the rest of my shift going over that interaction in my mind, forcing myself to say something different each time—but even in my imagination, she was disgusted by everything I said, no matter what.

After the show, we all stayed for a few beers to celebrate Jack’s set.

“Cheers, man,” I said, clanking my beer bottle into his glass.

“I am seriously buzzing right now, I feel high,” he laughed.

“I can’t believe how great you did. I mean, I can believe it, but it’s just crazy,” I said, fumbling over my words.

He nodded, taking a sip of his drink. He swallowed loudly and set his drink on the bar. “Some guy wants me to be in his show in Vegas,” he said, lowering his voice so that he was just speaking to me.

“What?!”

“Shh!” He looked around, making sure none of the other guys or Erica—who was sitting as far away as possible from me—heard him.

“What?” I said again, quieter.

“Some guy came up to me after my set, said he’s looking for comics to be in this special up-and-comers show he’s putting on in Vegas, asked me if I want to do it. I have to get myself there, and it doesn’t pay anything—but it would be great exposure for me,” he said, pulling a business card out of his pocket and sliding it towards me.

I picked it up and inspected it.

“It looks legit,” I said, turning it over once more.

“It is, man! It totally is.” He downed his drink. “Wanna go for a smoke?”

Outside the comedy club, Jack and I smoked in silence.

“So, what’s the deal with you and Erica?” Jack asked.

“What?”

“She’s been giving you this weird look from across the bar all night.”

“What kind of look?”

“I don’t know, some kind of like, knowing look. Is it cause of your mom?”

I cleared my throat. “Uh, kinda. We… sorta hooked up the other night after work.”

His eyes widened as he took another drag. “Get out!”

I nodded, looking at my feet.

“You fuck her, or what?”

I shook my head.

“Then what? A blowie?”

“Nah, we didn’t really get around to anything, we kinda got interrupted.”

“By who?”

“Uh…my mom.”

Jack stared at me. I stared back, feeling the alcohol forcing out the story I so badly wanted to be fake.

“Okay, I’m going to tell you this story, Jack, but you have to promise it goes nowhere. I know we aren’t like, best friends or anything, but I’m going to tell you because I actually never talk about this, but it’s pretty fucked up.”

Jack continued to stare at me, saying nothing.

I took a deep breath.

“So… Erica and I had been flirting for a while, you know, harmless workplace stuff. But then the other night, when she was kinda drunk, she said she wanted to hook up. So, I went to her place and we started fooling around, you know, pretty innocent stuff. But then, just when we were about to…really do it, my phone rang. I ignored it and kept trying to get back to it but it rang again. It kept ringing and wouldn’t shut the fuck up, so I told her to hang on a sec and saw that it was my brother. He never calls me, we actually don’t really talk that much, so I thought it was weird and answered it. He told me my mom had died, so I left, and we didn’t have sex.”

Jack blinked, stubbed out his cigarette, and immediately lit up another one.

I took another deep breath. “That’s not the first time that’s happened though.”

“Being interrupted during sex?”

I shook my head, sticking my hand out to him for another smoke.

“No, I mean someone dying when I was about to finally do it.”

“Finally do what?”

“Have sex.”

“What the fuck are you talking about, man?”

“Every time I’m about to lose my virginity, someone dies.”

Jack started coughing and I watched him, waiting. My hands were shaking, and I finished my cigarette before he finally stopped coughing. He threw his smoke on the ground and started walking.

“C’mon, let’s go get a drink somewhere else.”

“So, you’re a virgin?” Jack asked, after taking a big swig of his drink.

“Yes.”

“And people… die when you try to lose it?”

I nodded.

“What were the other times?”

“When I was 17, this chick I met at summer camp came over one day and we were about to do it, but she got a bloody nose and it wouldn’t stop and she got all freaked out and didn’t want to do it anymore. Then I found out that my aunt had died during the exacttime we were hooking up.”

“Okay, well that sounds like a coincidence.”

“That’s exactly what I thought. So then, the next time was about a year later-”

“Chris, do you want to come to Vegas with me?” Jack interrupted.

I paused. “What about the club?”

Jack shrugged. “I was going to quit, since I doubt Russ will give me a week off.”

My stomach did a flip. “I don’t know, I can’t really afford to be jobless right now.”

“There’s this place, just outside of Vegas. It’s called the Kitty Ranch or something. It’s like this high-class brothel I read about it in this Vice article. I wouldn’t go by myself, but this is the perfect opportunity to get you laid, once and for all.”

I laughed. “I don’t know, man.” I took a swig of beer.

Jack looked at me. “Chris.”

“What?”

“How old are you?”

I laughed nervously. “Thirty-two.”

“Exactly. It’s time for you to lose your virginity.”

“Okay, so I think I’m ready for attempt number two,” Jack said, snapping me back to reality. I had been staring out the window at the cacti whizzing by for what felt like an hour.

“What?” I said, turning toward Jack, whose seat was leaned far back. He had taken his sweater off to reveal skinny white arms in a muscle tank.

“The second time you tried to lose your virginity,” he said, keeping his eyes on the road.

“Oh,” I said, sitting up straighter and rubbing my eyes. “It was about a year after the first time,” I said turned down the air conditioner that was drying out my eyes.

“It was with uh, this girl from my D&D group and we—”

“D&D?” he interrupted.

“Dungeons and Dragons,” I said.

He boomed a laugh. “No fucking wonder you’re a virgin man.”

I looked at him, scowling.

“Sorry, sorry. That’s just too perfect. Go on.”

I paused another moment before continuing. “Anyway… so she and I were about to hook up, but she was pretty drunk, and she started puking. So, we obviously didn’t do it, and then I woke up in the middle of the night to cops knocking on my door, telling me my dad was in a car accident.”

“Jesus, Chris, that’s so fucked up, I’m sorry.”
I turned back toward the window. “Yeah.”

We sat in silence for a while, until Jack turned the radio on low.

The robotic voice on my phone piped up then, startling us both. “In one mile, take exit 4A for Las Vegas.”

I turned to look at Jack, who did the same to me.

“Vegas, baby!” he yelled.

“Okay, we better hit the road soon,” Jack said from the bathroom of our tiny motel room at the edge of the strip. I was looking out the patio window to the pool area where three girls were swimming and splashing each other.

“Hey, quit staring,” Jack said, suddenly behind me.

I jumped and turned around, blushing.

“Don’t worry, man. It’s happening tonight.” He clapped me on the shoulder and gave me a soulful look until I laughed and ducked out from under his arm.

It was darker on the highway to the Kitty Ranch than I expected. It was late when we left, but the bright lights of the strip were deceiving. Jack was gripping the wheel tight, leaning forward and squinting to see the road signs.

“Okay, I think it’s coming up soon,” Jack said, slowing down.

“This place is really in the middle of fucking nowhere,” I said, starting to feel nervous.

“Yeah, it’s so they can’t easily get raided by the cops,” Jack said, turning onto a small road.

“What? It’s not even legal?” I asked.

“No, no, it’s totally legal, man, they’re just a target for cops to make sure their shit is up to code.”

I felt like Jack had no idea what he was talking about, but we had already pulled up to the mansion, so I pushed the worries from my mind and focused on what I was about to do.

Jack pulled up to the valet station and rolled down his window. “Hey, man, we don’t need a valet, I can park it.”

“Mandatory valet, sir,” the man said.

Jack turned to me. “This place is even fancier than I thought.” He turned off the car, hopped out, and tossed the man his keys. I followed Jack towards the front door. We entered, and there was a dark foyer with a crystal chandelier, and a man wearing a headpiece behind a desk.

“Gentlemen,” he said in a deep voice, and nodded at each of us. “Identification, please.”

I looked at Jack, but he was already reaching for his wallet. He passed the man his driver’s license and I followed his lead. The man gave Jack back his card and kept looking at him.

“It’s $100 to enter,” the man finally said.

“Oh, shit, sorry,” Jack reached back for his wallet and the man snatched my ID.

“$100 just to get inside?” I asked Jack, incredulous.

“It’s worth it, Chris, I swear.”

Once we were inside, I looked around at the room. It was huge, the lighting was dim and purple-hued. Loud, bass-heavy music was blaring from the speakers. There was a long, clear bar at the far end lit up with changing-coloured lights and, surprisingly, a man working behind it.

We walked up to the bar and grabbed two empty seats next to each other. There was one other man at the bar at the far end, hunched over something.

“Hey guys, what can I get you?” the bartender asked, tossing down two Kitty Ranch branded coasters in front of us.

“Rye and coke, please,” Jack said, looking around the room.

“Uh, I’ll just grab a Budweiser,” I said.

The man nodded and turned around to get our drinks.

“What did I tell you, man? Isn’t this place crazy?” Jack asked, turning to face me.

I nodded. “Where are the girls, though?” I asked, looking around.

“They’re around, they’re coming,” Jack said, sounding unsure.

The bartender placed our drinks in front of us. “That’ll be $20.”

“Twenty dollars? For a beer and a rye?” I asked, looking at the bartender and then Jack.

“It’s fine, Chris, I’ll get them,” he said, handing the bartender a 20 and a couple singles. The bartender took the money and walked away without a word.

“Jack, you didn’t tell me how expensive this was going to be. I literally don’t have a job to go back to. Neither do you!” I was sweating and my stomach was doing flips.

Before Jack could answer, the bartender came back and dropped down a big black binder on the bar in front of us.

I looked at it, at Jack and then at the bartender. “What—”

“The girls. Flag me down when you’ve decided.” He walked away again.

“What…” I opened the binder to find a picture of a naked girl.

“Woah,” I said, staring at the photo.

“Oh shit,” Jack said, leaning in closer to see.

I was reading one of the write-ups next to a photo of a blonde girl wearing cowboy boots, a cowboy hat and chaps with nothing else, when Jack started flipping the pages for me.

“Hey!” I said, fighting his hands that were tugging at the laminated pages.

“You’re going too slow, there are like, 50 more pages!”

“I was reading the bio!”

“Why?!”

“I-I don’t know…”

“Dude, you’re thinking about it too much. You just have to pick one you like and go for it.”

I looked at the book. I knew he was right, I needed to just get it over with. It didn’t matter which girl I picked, really. I sighed.

“Okay, fine, but go a bit slower so I can at least look at their faces,” I said.

He let go, rolling his eyes, and I continued flipping, moving a little faster now. I stopped when I got to a page with a curvy girl with long, straight black hair, black thick-rimmed glasses and red lipstick. She was biting her lip in the picture and the bio read:

I’m Trixie. I love video games and nerding out over movies and music! I’m very adventurous and love trying new things, and I’m looking for someone who can teach me something new.

My heart sped up.

“How much of this do you think is bullshit?” I asked Jack, pointing to the bio.

“Who cares? You like her?”

I nodded.

“Then go for it!” He turned to the bartender again. “Hey man, how do we do this?”

I blushed, embarrassed that he was yelling so loudly and brazenly.

“Shh,” I said, hiding my face with my hand.

“Chris. Everyone is here for the same reason, there’s no shame,” he said, turning back to the bartender as he walked over to us.

“Tell me the number on the photo of the girl you want, I’ll make a call, and if she’s available she’ll come down here to meet you,” he said, leaning with both hands on the bar. I saw the muscles in his arms flex as he stretched and felt very self-conscious of my own flabby arms.

“Okay, he wants number 32 and I’ll take—” he flipped to the next page—"number 33.” He shut the book dramatically and turned to me, beaming.

The bartender hesitated for a moment, eyes shifting from me to Jack as if to say, is this guy for real? but then he turned around to the phone that was mounted to the wall and picked it up.

“Nervous?” Jack asked me, downing his drink.

I shrugged. “Not for the sex part, really,” I said.

“You’re not worried about the dying thing, are you? There’s no way in hell that’s going to happen again. It just can’t,” Jack said, confident.

I shrugged again. “We’ll see, I guess. There’s no one left that I really care about so at least there’s that,” I said, laughing awkwardly.

I felt a hand on my back, and I turned to see the girl, Trixie, standing there in real life.

“Hi,” she said.

“H-hey,” I stuttered, clearing my throat.

“I’m Trixie,"she said, smiling. “Can I sit here?” She hopped up onto the chair next to me without waiting for my answer.

“Sure,” I said anyway. I looked over at Jack who was talking to a girl, too. They were already laughing. I frowned and looked back at Trixie, who was chewing her nail.

“Do you want to get a drink?” she asked, eyes darting to the bartender.

“Uh, if you want to sure, but we could just get out of here if you prefer,” I said, wanting her to stop looking at the bartender, and not wanting to pay $20 for drinks.

“Oh, okay. Yeah, let’s go,” she said, hopping down from the bar stool. She took my hand and led me around the corner and up a staircase. The stairs were made of dark, shiny wood and were lined with purple velvet carpet. We climbed in silence for what felt like an eternity, the creaking of the stairs cutting through the silence every so often. A shirtless man came bounding down the other side of the stairs and we had to move out of the way, my shoulder getting bumped by his as he passed.

“Are you okay?” I asked, even though I was the one who was hit.

“Oh, yeah, that happens a lot,” she said, leading me around another corner and into a room with a sparkly pink “T” on the door.

The room was small, with a large four-poster bed taking up most of it. She closed the door behind me and sauntered inside.

I looked at her, then at the bed, and then back at her, my heart picking up speed. I could already feel myself getting excited with the idea of what was about to happen.

“So, what do you want to do?” she asked me, sitting on the edge of the bed.

“Uh,” I said, rubbing the back of my neck, unsure how to answer.

“Like, regular sex, I guess?” I said, blushing.

“What’s regular to you?” she asked, biting her black-painted nail again.

I was silent for a moment.

“Maybe…can we just start and then go from there?” I asked.

She smiled again. “Sure, that’s fine. What’s your name?” she asked.

“Oh, Chris. Sorry I didn’t say that before.”

“That’s okay, Chris. Okay, so it’s $1000 per half hour. And you have to go down to the bar and pay Marty before we can start,” she said.

“Oh,” I said. That was a lot more than I had expected it to be. “Okay, I’ll be right back,” I said, turning to leave.

“Oh! And the clock is already starting,” she said.

My stomach did a flip.

I went down to the bar and leaned up against it.

“Hey,” I said, trying to get Marty’s attention. He turned to look at me and nodded in acknowledgement.

“Is there an ATM in here?” I asked, whispering.

“Yeah, just through that curtain over there,” he said, pointing behind me.

I thanked him and hurried towards it. I pushed back the purple velvet curtain and stuck my card into the machine. I punched in my pin and tapped my fingers on the side of the ATM.

“C’mon…” I said to the slow machine. When it prompted me to enter the amount I wanted to take out, I punched in 1,000, and hit OK and confirmed the $5 surcharge, rolling my eyes at the price. An error screen popped up:

Error: amount exceeds daily withdrawal limit.

“What? No!” I said, pulling my card out. I ran a hand through my hair which was damp with sweat. I pulled my cellphone out of my pocket and searched through my contacts until I found my bank. I hit “call” and put the phone to my ear, pacing.

“First National Bank, how may I help you?” a man’s voice greeted me.

“Hi, uh, I need my daily limit increased,” I said.

“Okay, I can certainly look into that for you sir, how much of an increase would you like?”

“I don’t know, what’s my limit now?”

“It looks like it’s a $500 withdrawal and $1000 transaction limit.”

“Okay, uh, can you double it?”

“You’d like a $1000 withdrawal limit and a $2000 transaction limit?”

“No, don’t worry about the transaction, just the withdrawal. I’m traveling, and I need cash.” I pulled my phone away from my ear for a moment to look at the time. It was quarter-to midnight. I squeezed my eyes shut, certain this stranger knew what I was up to.

“If you’d like, I can just place a temporary lift on your limit, so you have unlimited access to your funds for 24 hours.”

I let out a sigh of relief. “Yes, thank you, that’s perfect.”

“Okay, it will just take a few minutes to take effect, but you will be able to take it out shortly. Is there anything else I can he—”

“No, no that’s it thanks,” I interrupted, hanging up. I shoved my card back into the slot and tried again. Still nothing.

“Oh, come on!” I yelled, too loudly. “Shit,” I mumbled, embarrassed. I tried again.

“Hey, man, I need the machine!” a voice from the other side of the curtain said.

“One second!” I yelled back.

“For real man, hurry up!” the voice yelled back, suddenly sounding familiar. I turned, brows furrowed and looked at the feet peeking out below the curtain. A pair of dirty, ripped checkered vans with the backs squished down to be worn like slippers. Jack. I ripped the curtain open and Jack looked at me, wide-eyed.

“Chris? What the fuck is taking so long in there?” he asked, letting himself into the tiny space and closing the curtain behind him.

“I had to call the bank to increase my limit. This place is fucking insane, this girl is charging me $2,000 an hour!” I turned back to the machine and tried again.

“I know, it’s crazy. But you know it’ll be worth it,” he said.

“Will it?” I asked, finally getting my money. “The clock is running already, and I just wasted half of my time down here!” I pushed past Jack and headed out.

“Good luck!” he called after me.

I paid Marty at the bar as quickly as possible, and raced back up the stairs and into the room.

“I thought you weren’t coming back,” Trixie said. She had shed the black dress she had been wearing and was standing next to the bed in black leather lingerie. I nearly choked as I tried to respond, out of breath from running up the stairs.

“Yeah, I had an, uh, issue with my bank,” I managed to say, swatting the hair that had fallen into my eyes away from my face.

“But it’s okay?” she asked, slowly walking towards me.

“Uh,” I wiped my sweaty hands on my pants. “Yeah, I paid Marty.”

She nodded, “I know, he told me.” She gestured to a phone, identical to the one behind the bar that Marty had used to summon Trixie.

“Okay, Chris,” she said. She walked toward me, took my head in her hands and kissed my neck. She led me over to the bed, and I flopped down awkwardly, half my body hanging off the edge. She climbed on top of me and I tried to readjust myself. I was trying to focus on slowing my breathing. I fumbled to take off my glasses and place them on the nightstand.

“Are you okay?” she asked, sitting up, straddling me.

“Oh, yeah this is great, I think I just maybe need a minute,” I said, immediately kicking myself for saying that. I pictured Jack’s disapproving face staring at me, telling me to man up.

“Maybe we could just talk a bit first?” I asked, sitting up.

“Oh…sure,” she said, removing herself from me and sitting on the edge of the bed.

I ran a hand through my hair and took a deep breath.

“So…where are you from?” she asked.

“Uh, I’m from Chicago,” I said.

Her eyes lit up. “No way! I’m from Chicago too!” she said, placing a hand on my leg.

“Really?” I asked, pretty sure she was bullshitting.

“Yeah! I just moved here a few weeks ago,” she said, beaming.

I smiled too. “Wow, that’s a weird coincidence.”

“Totally! What do you do there?” she asked.

“Well, I work in this comedy club, but I want to do stand-up.”

“That’s so cool! I love comedy.”

“Really? Who are your favourite comics?”

“Well I love the classics, you know, like Dave Chappelle, Eddie Murphy, George Carlin, all those guys—but for newer comics, Bill Burr and Jim Jeffries are hilarious.”

“Oh yeah they’re all great. What about female comedians?”

She blushed. “Oh, there are some great ones for sure, but I just kinda have this thing for funny guys, you know? Like the funnier a guy is the more attracted to him I am.”

I felt my face light up. “Really? But you’re so…hot,” I said.

She laughed. “Thank you, but you know looks just really aren’t that important to me. I much prefer a guy who’s funny and sweet to one that’s all muscular and tough with no personality.”

I nodded and smiled, thinking of Marty behind the bar downstairs. Ha, take that, macho man.I sat up a little more and angled my body towards her.

“Okay, so I have a question for you,” I said.

“Sure.”

“In your little bio, it says you like video games and movies and stuff—is that true?”

“Yeah, it’s true.” She bowed her head, a curtain of black hair falling in front of her face. “It’s totally embarrassing, but I really just wanted to be honest, you know? I think it’s like, more genuine and stuff.”

“Oh yeah, I think that’s the right way to go, for sure,” I said, taking the chance to really look at her while she wasn’t looking at me. I scanned her body top to bottom, noticing a cluster of freckles on her right upper thigh. She looked back up at me but didn’t say anything. We looked at each other for a few moments until I finally cleared my throat.

“So, why did you decide to come here from Chicago?”

“Mostly to get away from my parents. I had a really shitty home life. And then a friend of mine had come here and she told me about the Ranch, so I sent in my application and was approved pretty much instantly and left about a week later. I barely even took any of my stuff from home, I just wanted to get here as fast as I could.”

“And you like it?”

“Yeah, it’s been really great. There are a lot of strict rules that I’m still learning but it’s like a big family. It’s been a bit different the last few days, though, because of Stan dying.”

My heart felt like it stopped. My vision went blurry and I had to take a deep breath.

“Who?” I finally managed to ask.

“Oh, Stan…he was like the Hugh Hefner of the Kitty Ranch. He died the other day and the girls have been really sad about it.”

I shook my head in disbelief.

“Yeah, it’s like super sad and stuff, but like, I only got here a few weeks ago and I probably only met him like, twice, so like…for me it’s not as sad as it is for the other girls,” she said, shrugging.

It was silent for a while again, and I tried to think of something else to ask her.

“How old are you?” I finally asked.

“Nineteen,” she answered.

“Oh,” I said. I wasn’t expecting her to be that young, but it made sense now that I knew.

“How old are you?” she asked.

I laughed. “I’m thirty-two.”

She just nodded. “So, do you want to like…do anything? You’re at an hour now, so if you want to keep going you have to pay again.”

I felt my heart sink. I looked at her young face, eager and nervous at the same time.

“You know what, Trixie, I think I’m okay.”

Her eyes widened.

“It was really nice talking to you, though.” I started getting up from the bed, grabbing my glasses and shoving them back onto my face. She followed me to the door.

“My real name is Tracy, by the way,” she said. I looked into her deep brown eyes.

“It was nice to meet you, Tracy.” I said, smiling awkwardly and fumbling for the door handle.

I went downstairs and walked into the main room. I saw Jack hunched over the bar, sipping a drink. I sat next to him.

“Hey! How was it man?” he asked, clapping me on the shoulder.

“Uh, great, it was great,” I said.

“Was it everything you dreamed of?”
“Better.”

He laughed loudly, slamming the bar top. “That’s what I like to hear!”

“Are you drunk?” I asked.

“A little,” he said, looking at me with hooded eyes.

“How?” I asked.

“Well, it was over pretty quick with my girl…you know what that’s like.” He nudged me with his elbow. “And then when I came back down here, I called the guy that scouted me back home.”

I waited for him to take a long sip of his drink and then continue.

“Turns out, it’s some kind of scam, and there is no show.”

“What? What do you mean a scam?”

“Well, he just scouts struggling comedians, gets them to pay him and promises them a sold-out show in Vegas, and then fucks off.”

I shook my head, confused. “Wait, you paid him?” I asked.

Jack nodded, finishing his drink and shaking the empty glass until Marty came and refilled it. Jack nodded at me.

Instead of lecturing him and telling him he deserved it for being so dumb, I clapped him on the shoulder and ordered myself a drink.