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Chapter I

Midnight. The stars above are clouded by the luminous glow of the street lamps and neon signs of the city’s core. Bars and clubs hum with summer’s youthful activity as the corporate workhorses look down longingly. The mass excitement of Friday night stretches with the city in all directions.

Music pounds from inside of West Hollywood’s hottest club. Strobe lights and laser shows flash dimly lit images of its occupants through the exteriors immense tinted windows every couple seconds to a repetitive beat. It reverberates through the humid July air and into her lungs as Kiliki takes a deep breath. The doorman, a stout musclebound black man, nods at her, and unhinges the rope, waving a massive jeweled hand toward the door.

As she steps inside a sickly cloud of tobacco and marijuana smoke swirls around her. The atmosphere is thick with the skunk of alcohol and sweat. Kiliki sighs, trying to force the stench from her lungs as the door clangs shut behind her.

The sounds of big brass horns blare in harmonic chorus and the steady thud-thud thud-thud that follows pervades the swirled metal floor into the spiked heels of her vintage Valentino stilettos, the kind of shoes called for in such an occasion as tonight. They click soundlessly down the steps of the lobby, absorbed into the crowd except for the throbbing in her feet. A Harlow blonde in a skimpy stewardess uniform saunters past Kiliki, a full tray of drinks balanced on both hands, the glow-light glasses and white uniform glowing under the black light.

Blinking to focus her eyes she painstakingly makes her way to the crowded bar, a sleek artists interpretation of a cockpit complete with plush airplane seat bar stools. Kiliki chooses the one on the right edge and uses the chrome armrests to pull herself up. Why couldn’t I have just worn flats? Pretty just does not justify a lack of comfort. She groans and slowly rests back against the seat. The bartender glances her way. Of course, wearing them for twelve hours probably didn’t help. He tips his pilots hat and hesitates for her order. Kiliki shakes her head and waves him off, then swivels to survey the crowd.

The neon glows of brightly colored outfits mingle in the darkness and little by little the bodies surrounding them flicker into their actual forms. Laughter echoes throughout the room as friends and hopeful singles make their way to the dance floor. A pale leather-clad girl with spiked hair exhausts herself busing the tables ahead.

I can’t believe I ever agreed to this in the first place. Why am I here again? Of course, she knew the answer to that. Solara. Her best friend, her only friend, had finally decided to bury the hatchet. I hope she means it this time. How long can a person hold a grudge? She knew the answer to that too.

It had started almost a year ago on graduation night. Just like this night Solara had dragged Kiliki into her world. A few months before graduation, Solaras father bailed, leaving his family almost penniless. After getting turned down for every job she applied for that paid enough to support them, she dropped a few pounds that Kiliki was never convinced she had in the first place and started dancing at Outer Limits, a strip club just down the block.

That night the other dancers decided to throw Solara a “graduation party” of her own. They invited everyone, including a talent scout from MGM. Solara was a dreamer, gullible in every sense of the word. She saw it as her chance, maybe her only chance to leave the club life behind once and for all.

Kiliki hated seeing her best friend subject herself every night to scum-bags who probably running out on their own families. So she came, for support, for friendship, and because it was the first time she had seen a genuine smile on her best friends face in longer than she cared to remember. She came for every reason except what happened.

Mr. Bennett, a plump, balding, middle-aged man who could’ve been any of the regulars there, was recognizable only by the Rolex on his wrist and expertly-tailored suit. He looked over Solara and the other girls with the same regard one gives to used cars when they’re in the market for a Cadillac. Giving them his time for the sake of courtesy, but not leading them on either, at least not in his mind. Ask any one of the girls there, whose hopes and dreams were being held in the palm of his well-manicured hand and they would have given a different story.

Solara fawned over Mr. Bennett all night, liquoring him up and privileging him with free dances. He was wasn’t as attentive to her as she would have hoped for. She kept going at it, but he only had eyes for Kiliki. Kiliki refused, but a few hours and martinis later she had agreed to go to the studio and audition.

Poor Solara was heartbroken. She slapped Kiliki harder than she imagined her slender body was capable of and spat that she never wanted to see her again. It was a wound that had never closed.

Not the only one. She winced, twisting to adjust her back which was now becoming very uncomfortable in the seat. Another memory for another time.

“A-loha. How ‘bout an orgasm babe?” A slightly effeminate voice slurs in her ear.

Kiliki recoils at the heat of vodka-ridden breath that has intruded her solitude. “Excuse me?”

A lanky surfer-type drowning in musk plunks a glass down on the table, the white liquid sloshing, and slides into the neighboring seat. He swipes a hand through his stringy blonde hair, releasing a whiff of salty ocean air and scattering sand on the table. “I said,” He strains to raise his voice, “Have a drink with me. But you can take it any way you want.” A crooked smile attempts to light up his face. His cold blue eyes gleam.

She forces a stiff smile at the tan stranger. “I don’t really drink.” She shakes her head, a still surviving piece of waved hair falling around her face. She tucks it behind her ear, feeling his gaze penetrate her.

“C’mon. I won’t bite. Here, I’ll have one with ya.” He takes her hand and cups the glass in it, lingering his pruned fingers on hers. A quick wave to the bartender with his free hand and a second drink slides their way. He picks it up and taps it against hers.

The club air was making everything feel heavier. Where is Solara? Shouldn’t she be here by now? He was still staring at her body. She tried not to meet his eyes, tugging the top of her ivory dress further up, smoothing down the folds that clung to her curves with a soft luster . She had worn it for her audition that morning and the time had made her dewy.

“Just one little drink won’t kill ya.” A corner of his lip raises into an obnoxious smile. “Look, let’s start over. Aloha. I’m Greg.”

“Aloha? I didn’t think people really used that anymore. After what happened.”

“Ouch! Put away the claws kitten.” He cocks his head and props his chin on his knuckles.

Kitten? Kitten! Just once. Just one time could a guy hit on me and not be a total sleezeball? I mean, whatever happened to a little creativity? A little chivalry? She raises the glass and takes a swig, tipping her head back and giving a little shudder. Oh hell, it’s one drink. I can ditch this creep in a few minutes anyways. If Solara ever shows up.

“See now, not so bad was it?”

“I suppose not.”

“So, did you come here alone?”

“I’m meeting someone.” Taking a glance around the room, she couldn’t help wondering if that was even the case anymore.

The music comes to a stop as the DJ loads another mix. The voices become a roar, no less deafening before it’s swallowed by the techno pulse. She checks the watch dangling from her wrist making out 12:15. Damn. It seems like I’ve been here for at least an hour. 15 minutes. She always has to be late. Why does she always have to be late?

“Wanna hit the floor?”

“Ladies first!” A pair of lean arms wrap around Kiliki from behind, bracelets tinkling against buttery skin. A sweet halo of honeysuckle and with citrus slips down around her.

“Solara! You made it!” Kiliki grins and jumps off the stool, and hugs her tight. Just as excited as she is relieved.

“Of course I did! God Kiki it’s been, like, forever!” Solara pops the gum in her mouth and pulls back, her glitter-manicured hands hanging on to Kilikis shoulders. “All right Miss Big Shot, let me get a look at you!” She spins her around and giggles. “Nope,” she shakes, “don’t see it. Sorry.”

Kiliki gives her a playful push on the shoulder. “Well, I guess we can’t all be as beautiful as you.” She half meant it. Not much had changed since she’d last seen her. Solara was tan, tall and almost all legs with a perfectly rounded butt. Her shiny blond hair swam down past her big perky breasts in natural waves. She had pouty raspberry lips and her big blue eyes were like a clear pool in a forest of thick, long lashes. But she wasn’t that different from any other California blonde. Not enough to count, and nothing that money couldn’t buy if you had a good surgeon. That’s what she envied about her the most; she was normal.

“So who’s the hunk?”

“No one says ‘hunk’ anymore. This is Dick.”

“Greg.” He corrects.

Yeah, right.

“They call me Candy.”

“Sweet. How ‘bout a drink babe?” He raises his hand and holds up three fingers at the bartender.

“Great. Now that you two have met why don’t you get to know each other. I’ll be right back.” Kiliki grabs her purse and takes a few steps back.

“He’s cute. Better hurry back.” Solara whispers in her ear. A kiss on the cheek leaves a smear of lip gloss. “Happy Birthday Kiki.”

“Gee, thanks- Candy.” Kiliki rolls her eyes.

“Hey, you know my philosophy. Never give a guy your real name unless you want him to show up at your house at two in the morning with a dozen roses and end up being some like, crazed stalker and taking a baseball bat to your uncles car because he thought you were cheating on him and-“

”-I get the picture. Besides, I don’t really think that’s so much of a philosophy as it is a track record.”

Solara reaches over the barstool and grabs another round of drinks. “Very funny Kiki. When’s the last time you went out anyways? On a date, I mean. Wait-don’t answer that.”

Solara shoves a drink into Kilikis hand. They toast. “Kiliki. It is your 19th birthday and you just landed your first major role! We are here to celebrate.”

“Yeah, okay...But I still think could have just gone and seen a movie.”

“ We haven’t seen each other in soo long, seriously, the movies are no place to celebrate! And once you’re a big star you won’t have time for me anymore. C’mon Kiki, for me?” Solara sticks her bottom lip out and bats her lashes.

“ I’ll make time for you.”

“Besides, all the girls said this place was a real blast.” Solara smiles with the I’m-going-to-win-and-I-know-it look, ignoring the last statement.

“Solara you work at a strip club! Everything is a real blast to those girls.” She laughs, although she meant it more as a serious statement. “You’re a party girl. I’ Not exactly the Coors Poster girl.”

“Everyone’s gonna love you. You know, when you’re famous. And you promised you’d have a good time with me tonight!”

“Fine. You win, but I really have to go use the restroom.” Solara shrugs and takes Kilikis seat.

Ok...maybe she’s right. I’m going to at least try to have fun. I deserve this. She’s never had to deal with life like I have. She cares more about fun, but that’s what tonight is about I guess. A knot forms itself in the bottom of her stomach. No, that’s not fair, we’ve been through pretty much everything together. She excuses herself, but Solara’s already scooted up to the bar with Dick and choking back drinks.

“Big surprise.” She mumbles under her breath as she walks towards the restrooms. The music pounds insistently, shivering with warmth as it runs its course through her body. The satin of her dress swims against her skin. The breath of the crowd thrills her skin as the crowd whirlpools around her. She flings herself inside the bathroom and splashes her face. The cool water feels thicker somehow.

By the time she emerges from the bathroom she’s managed to get her breath under control and chalked the rest up to nerves. The drinks had come out hotter than they and gone in, and had taken longer too. She did feel better though. She watches them dancing, they all look so strange, the whole scene entrances her. The mens room door swings open and with a loud smack she’s on the ground, feeling like a gong that has just been struck.

“Shit. I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you there.”

She couldn’t respond. One look into this electric green eyes and she was gone.

“Here.” He says. “Let me help you up.” His hand is calloused and yet smooth. She delights in the feel of it.

“Thank you.” She mumbles. Something about the way his skin feels against hers, the way her hand fits inside his like Cinderellas’ slipper. Suddenly she’s back on her feet. She can feel his muscles twitch under her skin as she runs her hand along his and up his arm. She can’t describe it, but it feels wonderful.

He takes her hand and leads her to the dance floor. “I’m Popi.” His voice is black magic.

“Kiliki.” She whispers.

The neon around her was dazzling, fusing with the sounds in a pulsing blur. His hand finds its way to the small of her back and in one quick motion he presses her tightly against him. She gasps in pleasure; no touch has ever felt so good on her back. He dips her with expert finesse and on the way back up their lips brush. The sensation is only enough to leave her hungry for more. The crowd is in full throttle. Someone grinds against her back. She shivers in response.

This night is definitely getting better. Even the lights are brighter. It’s all so alive; and so am I. Everyone is so beautiful. She yearned to reach out to them. Popi twirls her. He’s like something out of a dream, but better. He brings her close back to him again, wrapping his tawny arms around her. She felt protected in his arms, as if the whole world were about to melt away. She presses her hips against him, his clothes feel like velvet against her skin. Their bodies meld together. There’s something about him, a vulnerability behind his captious smile that made her want to take care of him.

She pulls him to her. The kiss is electric. It sends shockwaves through her body. She grasps him, holding on for support. Her heart throbs, stronger than the music, becoming the music. His tongue parts her lips, heightening her urgency. Jellyfish. She thinks. Beautiful and deadly. She can even hear the echo of the ocean. A smaller, more delicate hand slips around her waist, beckoning her.

“I said, come on.” Solara looks distressed. “I’m really sorry, but I’ve got like, three guys over here and I need your help!”

“I’ve, um... This is-”

“-Kiki, please? You can always come back!”

Kiliki protests, shaking her head as Solara carts her off back toward the bar. Her legs wobble, the floor under her is floating. I’ve definitely never felt like this before! She giggles.

The lasers are rainbows on fire. She squints as the pass her by. Her whole body is vibrating. She’s not sure what’s playing but it’s the best song she’s ever heard. Solara helps her up onto the barstool. “Oh my God.” Kiliki cries, “This chair feels amazing!”

“Okay silly, I think you need another drink!”

“I’m buying.” Greg insists, sliding between them. Solara winks at her; Kiliki just shrugs. Greg orders a round of tequila shots.

The golden liquid stings her throat. She bites down hard on the tangiest lime she’s ever tasted. “I think I forgot something.” Kiliki slurs, her tongue a little numb.

“Salt.” Solara states, in the middle of having the grimy surfer lick some off of her chest.

He starts to move down but Solara pushes him off. He stumbles backward into Kilikis’ seat. The screech pierces her ears as metal and metal scrape against each other. She yelps. Her back twinges. The bass explodes inside her head with every beat; her head swells with every pulse. The room bursts with stars, spinning around her in violent, inconsistent circles. She can hear Solara calling to her from somewhere far away, but the words are foreign. The stars are all sucked into a black hole sun.

There’s a loud crash as Kilikis’ body crumples. The heel of her stiletto catches the leg of the chair, bringing it down with her. A few people nearby glance, some stare. A couple of them laugh. No one comes to help.

“God. How much did she drink?” Solara’s eyes are locked on Greg.

“I dunno. A couple.” He shrugs. “What do you want me to do?”

“Help me!” She flops Kilikis arms over her shoulders, slowly lifting her most of the way upright.

Greg takes over, tossing her over his shoulder with ease.

“Can you drive?”

He nods. “Yeah. You babes can crash at my place tonight.”

The early morning crowd is thin. They exit the club with little more than a friendly smile at the doorman.

Chapter 2 ->
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