— this is an excerpt from my first novel, ‘Gloryland’

They pulled off at the next exit. There was a Waffle House advertised on the exit sign along with a McDonald’s, Arby’s and Taco Bell. They parked at the Waffle House and marveled at the heat that enveloped them as they stepped out of the car.

“Hot as balls out here,” commented Lily.

Their waitress was short and chubby and ponytailed and homely. Evan ordered waffles, and Lily got an omelet.

“So you must make a lot of money dancing,” said Evan, tearing open a sweet and low and emptying it into his coffee. He still fought off thoughts of Daddy going down on her, plowing her with sweat dripping off his chin. He still felt like his body was full of sickly white light, like there was a faulty fluorescent tube up his middle that sent bolts of psychic pain through him every time it flickered.

“Fuck yeah, thousands,” said Lily. “I’ve got almost ten grand saved up and I haven’t even been there five months.”

“And you’re going to go to Eastern?”

“Maybe.”

“When?”

“I don’t know. Maybe in another year. I don’t know. Gonna wait and see. I think I need my G.E.D. first or something. Cause I dropped out of high school when Larry killed himself.”

“What year was it?”

“My senior year. I was failing almost everything anyway.”

Lily played with a straw wrapper.

“And anyway, I’m still getting used to, like, having any money to begin with. I still spend it like I don’t have any. I’ve found out I’m actually pretty good at saving.”

“You haven’t gone shopping with any of it or anything yet?”

“No,” said Lily. She sipped her coffee. “I really should. I need a bunch of stuff. I could splurge and get whatever I wanted and still have a shitton left over. I just don’t.”

Evan nodded and surveyed the Waffle House.

There was a big, beer-bellied, white-bearded farmer John-type sitting at the counter, an aged married couple over in a booth on the other side of the diner, and a solitary Middle Eastern-looking guy sitting by himself in the far corner and perusing a USA Today over his toast and jam. Their chubby waitress shared the space behind the counter with a surly looking fry cook. The two occasionally exchanged words with Farmer John, but other than that, the place was silent.

“Do you ever feel…” Evan was about to say ‘dirty’ but restrained himself before the word could get off his tongue. He reconsidered, then said, “…weird about doing what you do?”

Lily looked up from her phone.

“What do you mean?”

“Well…” Evan hesitated, then spat it out, “Technically a lot of what you do is technically, you know… prostitution.”

Lily’s eyes flashed again.

“Uh, no,” she said sharply.

“It’s not?”

No, it isn’t.”

“But — “

“No, it is not. And since I know you didn’t actually mean that, I’m going to let it go.”

Their food came and the waitress mutely passed out their plates. Lily doused her omelet with hot sauce and tucked in without another word. Her always-present phone was next to her plate. She tapped at it, wiped hot sauce off her mouth with her napkin, tapped some more.

“Who are you always texting?”

“Whole bunch of people,” said Lily. “Why do you keep asking me?”

“Cause I’m just wondering. You spend a lot of time on it.”

Lily shrugged.

“Welcome to the 21st century,” she said.

She clicked the phone’s screen off.

She frowned, as if remembering something she’d been meaning to say.

“Why should I feel guilty about something that men want, anyway? I mean, like, what were you looking for when you came in with your friends the other night?”

“I don’t know. Brian was the one who wanted to go. Brian and Rob. I’d never even been to a strip club before.”

“You’re a 21 year old virgin and you’d never even been to a strip club before two nights ago. Wow.”

“Yeah,” Evan said. “Brian wanted to go.”

Lily snorted.

“Brian. Fuck that guy.”

“Yeah, he’s definitely…” Evan searched for the word. “Rambunctious.”

“He’s a drunk asshole is what he is,” Lily said, wrinkling her nose. “Nasty.”

“I can’t believe you wiped your vagina juice on him the other night,” Evan said.

Lily sipped more coffee and smirked.

“He was asking for it.”

“What’s the weirdest thing a…,” he stopped himself from saying ‘john’ at the last second and instead said, “…customer has asked you to do?”

Lily drizzled more Frank’s Red Hot on her dwindling omelet.

“There was this one guy, who used to come in every Friday, and he’d have ketchup and fries with him, like, from McDonald’s or something, or maybe Five Guys, I don’t know, but he’d have me bend over and he’d get the fries all ketchupy and throw them at my ass and legs, and watch them, like, drip down my legs and ass. Then he’d eat them.”

“Oh, God.”

“Yeah, but he spent a lot of money and he never wanted anything else. Just that. I made like two grand just off that one guy on a Friday one time.”

“Weird. What did he do that let him spend that kind of money?”

“I don’t think he was really rich, just an engineer or something. If a guy doesn’t have a family to spend the money on, he can spend it wherever he wants, you know?”

“I guess. Where the hell does a guy get a fetish like that? How does it develop?”

“I know, right? Fuck if I know.”

She rolled her big brown eyes up and to the left, thinking.

“I’m tryin’a think… most guys just want to feel me up… there was this little guy who wanted me to slap him across the face and insult him and stuff. I had a lot of guys that wanted to be dominated, but this guy wanted to be, like, physically assaulted. He’d get the VIP room every time. Every. Fucking. Time.”

“So you’d actually slap him?”

“Yeah, it was kind of fun actually. He had a beard and I’d hit him so hard my hand would tingle after. He wanted me to hit him hard.”

“How would you insult him?”

“I’d just like, strip him naked and make fun of his tiny penis, his fat rolls, his height, his baldness, stuff like that. He would almost always cry, too.”

“Did he actually have a tiny penis?”

“Yeah,” smirked Lily. She held up a crooked pinky finger. “Like this. When it was hard. You could hardly see it when it wasn’t.”

Evan guffawed, spraying wet crumbs of chewed waffle. He clapped his hands over his mouth, embarrassed, and distributed the bits in his napkin.

Lily kept talking.

“He liked me a lot because I’m little. He said he loved being slapped around by littler girls.”

“How old were these guys?”

Lily shrugged.

“In their forties and fifties, probably. I dunno.”

“How does someone get to show their dick in a place like that? Molly wouldn’t even let me touch her even though I said I’d pay her.”

“Well, I’d just make fun of it,” said Lily. “I’d never actually touch it. You can do pretty much whatever you want in VIP provided there’s no actual penetration. Some places do that but you can’t get away with at the Blue cause they have cameras.”

“Oh,” said Evan.

“But you had a dance with Molly? With the glasses?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah, Molly’s not about that. I don’t really know her that well, though. It depends on the dancer you get. She could probably also tell that you didn’t have much money on you anyway. Young guys almost never have any real money.”

“Have you ever given blowjobs?”

“Not that it’s any of your business, but yes. Not the ketchup guy or the dominance guy, ever, but I’ve done it before. If the guy’s not gross and he has the money, I’ll do it. It’s not like attractive guys are, you know, always going to be interested in me. My mom’s a fucking cow, so I know my genes aren’t the best when it comes to aging. But yeah, I only do it if I think the guy’s hot. And if he can pay me.”

“I thought you said no penetration, though.”

“Well, oral is kind of a grey area. As long as you’re not doing it all the time you can get away with it. It depends. People kind of feel it out.”

“How much do you charge for oral?”

“It depends. Like, usually like 300 to 500 minimum. You kind of gauge what they’ll agree to. I’ve done it for 150 before, but that guy was hot. He was a firefighter.”

But you’re still not a prostitute,” thought Evan, watching her swallow the last bite of her omelet.

The waitress brought their check over, set it down.

“You guys need anything else? More coffee?”

“I’m good,” said Evan. “Are you good?”

“Yeah,” said Lily.

“All right, well, no rush,” said the waitress. She sauntered away.

Evan reached for the check but Lily slapped his hand.

“Let me get this,” she said. “You’re paying for, like, everything already.”

Evan was touched.

“Thanks, Lily,” he said. “Thanks a lot, that’s nice of you.”

“My pleasure,” said Lily, smiling sweetly. She gathered her little handbag and phone and headed for the cashier.

After she paid, they waded through the humidity to the car and resumed their journey. Lily put in Radiohead, suggesting they round out the trip by listening to The Bends, OK Computer and Kid A in one successive binge. Then she lit another cigarette.

The GPS read approximately two and a half hours to go.

Everything is a work in progress.

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