You enter through giant glass doors, part of a small but lively crowd that never seems to leave this place, The Desert Rain. It's a club a little too far from where you live to frequent, but close enough that you go when you're in the mood. Tonight, you're just going to people-watch.

You let your eyes wander over the crowd, which almost seems to sparkle with life tonight. You see the occasional shirtless- or nearly so- young, attractive male and know he is an employee. They carry drinks in and out of an intricate set of double doors, taking them to the clients who've paid so well for their range of services, expertly meandering over and around the figures sitting or half-lying on cushions on the floor and the drinks miraculously maintaining vertical positions in spite of all the careless feet. There are no tables or chairs near the stage, so it looks charmingly like a harem one might've found in a Middle Eastern desert hundreds of years ago, but for the modern music and other such anachronisms. Your table and about eight others are in the back, but you don't mind as long as your drink doesn't end up on the carpet.

Before long, you find one performer you especially enjoy watching, known to you only as 'Snow.' You love his unique appearance: he is tall and poised, almost regal, with the palest skin you've ever seen except for pictures of albinos in books, and you aren't entirely sure he isn't one. He has white hair, although you're sure he can't be more than twenty-five, and very light gray or blue eyes which almost look white from far away, and always wears white to match.

As much as you love his looks, you've grown quite interested in his seeming relationship with one of the patrons. You see them together here all the time, after Snow finishes his routine for the evening and comes back out to mingle with the audience. He has to walk away and chat with other customers, too, because it's his job, but you know that he always comes back to Sam, whom you've spoken with a time or two. You like to listen to them talk, but you prefer not to think of it as eavesdropping. After all, you're not going to use the things they say for some dark ulterior motive. You're just admiring an unattainable catch. Strictly speaking, of course, he's not unattainable, since if you were so inclined, you could spend two hundred dollars and he'd be yours for the evening, for the whole night if you paid even more, but that's not what you want, even though you can afford it. You want to be Sam, someone he comes back to after all the paying customers. Someone he cares for.

You would never want to stand in the way of whatever they have, or what you imagine they have, so you content yourself with watching and admiring. Right now, Sam's wide, genuine smile is greeting Snow, who stops with a smile of his own. For a bit, you don't pay a lot of attention to their words. You just like watching them interact and looking into their eyes, sure you can see more than the casual flirtation Snow uses to make his living. Sam's light, sandy curls bob a little as he nods and laughs, Snow apparently having made a great joke. You see Snow tap an empty glass on the table with his finger and say something you assume is an offer for a refill.

"Scotch on the rocks, please?" Sam, the dapper, smiling thirtysomething asks of the striking, white-haired dancer. The fair-haired one acknowledges him and turns to fulfill the request, weaving his way through the Friday night crowd. You turn your attention to a large crowd gathered around two of the club's paid denizens, a redhead who somehow reminds you of a stable boy and another youth with electric green hair and eyes. It appears to be a bachelorette party, one of the giggling, inebriated women sporting the word "bride" inscribed on her forehead with a marker. You aren't even aware that Snow has returned to the table closest to yours until you hear a question you would very much like to hear answered.

"So how does one come to work here?" Sam asks, laughing. "Do they interview you just like with a regular job?"

"Sort of," is the answer. You and Sam are both disappointed.

"Come on, I want the story!"

You settle in, anxious to hear it as well, and Snow obligingly begins speaking.

It rained that day. I took the bus part of the way, but I had to walk the last little stretch, and my shoes had soaked up all the puddles from the street by the time I got there. My hair was all wet and sticking to my face and neck, and my clothes were just as bad. I felt dirty and unattractive, but maybe that was what Gavin liked about me. I was shy back then... or shyer, if that's a word. I needed the money, though, and this was one job I knew I could be good at if they gave me the chance. I pulled the grimy, wadded up paper with the address on it out of my pocket and made sure it was the place before I went in.

It was the middle of the day, so there weren't many customers around. The DR opened at three according to the sign on the door, but didn't get much business until after dark. There were only about three guys there, no women. I'd come straight from school, so I could audition without too much pressure and the boss wouldn't be too busy.

"I'm here to talk to Gavin?" I said in the form of a question to the cashier. I got a bored look and a wave toward a door, so I went in assuming it was Gavin's office or something. It led to the area behind the bar, I discovered when I got there and saw the three pathetic customers again. There was an empty stage and some ambient music, but the whole place looked pretty sad. I hoped it wasn't like this all the time, because I definitely needed more money than these three would provide.

"Chris Snow?" Gavin asked when he looked up from some papers and saw me looking around the place like I was lost. I guessed it was a good sign that he knew my name; apparently J.B. was telling the truth about having some kind of connection here.

"Yeah," I answered and stuffed my hands in my pockets to keep from fidgeting. It didn't quite work.

"Have you ever worked in a sex club before?" His eyebrows went up, creating all these little lines on his face that told me he was the boss, and far too busy for rookie entertainers.

"No, but I know I'll learn fast. I got girls chasing me all the time," I tried to brag, but I didn't actually care about girls chasing me.

"Most of your clients here will be men," he warned, "are you okay with that?" I must have been visibly surprised, because he started to say something else, but I got there first.

"Yeah, I'm fine with that," I answered hastily before he could tell me to go home.

"Honestly?" Gavin asked, searching my face to see if I was telling the truth. I could tell he was serious because he stared me down even though he was looking up at me.

"Honest," I nodded to emphasize my point.

"How old are you?" He asked. I was a little nervous about this part, because even though J.B. had said they'd hire me, I wasn't so sure, and I really didn't want another run-in with the police.

"Eighteen," I answered, knowing I had to say this even if we both knew it wasn't true, but afraid Gavin would turn out to be a little more law-abiding than expected.

"How old are you really?" He stared me down again, either testing to see if I was serious or preparing to send me packing.

"Eighteen," I repeated, determined to pass this test if at all possible.

"Of course I'll need your license and all that before I sign your first paycheck," he replied, and I sighed internally with relief. He was giving me time to get a fake I.D. if I didn't have one already, but he couldn't say that out loud. Or so I've always assumed; maybe he really did believe me. "Want to show me what you can do?" He gestured toward the stage, and the butterflies erupted.

"S-sure, is there… a room where I can…" I gestured toward myself, not wanting to go onstage in my wet, muddy school clothes even if there were only three people and Gavin watching.

"That door right there," he said as he pointed, and I headed to my next test, trying to brace myself up with the assurance that I'd done well enough so far.

"You lied about your age?" Sam interrupts. "And they just let you?"

"Sure," Snow replies. "I'm tall, so they could say they believed me. Maybe they actually did, who knows? I really did look like I could be eighteen."

"How old were you really?" Sam asks the most logical question of all, but you cringe and brace for impact. He must not realize the sensitive territory that question embarks upon. You wait for whatever is coming, but Snow just answers nonchalantly.

"Fifteen." You sigh with relief. He doesn't seem offended or even ruffled despite Sam's start.

You remember the time they weren't so strict about these things, too, even though Sam is surprised. You remember for a long time being the only woman in the room, before the clubs became reputable, clean, well-lit places that women could go without being considered whores, and apparently more respectable on the business end as well, since you're sure they're more careful not to let minors within miles of the place now. You wonder if you should feel sorry for Snow because he started in this business so young, and you don't think he would appreciate your sympathy. Though you return to listening, perhaps you feel some sorrow for him anyway.

I went in the room nervous and wet, and after some minor preparations, emerged onto the stage more nervous and still slightly wet, since there wasn't a blow dryer handy and even after I squeezed some water out, shoulder-length hair just doesn't dry in two minutes. Fortunately my jacket had kept my shirt fairly dry, even though there were big dark spots where the rain had marred my jeans and they were a little muddy at the bottom. I tried to clean my shoes some, but in the end decided not to wear them. I wasn't actually old enough to get into a club like this- they actually did card customers- so I wasn't sure what the procedure was anyway. My socks were pretty gross too, from rain and mud, and decidedly unsexy, so I took them off too and went out in just my jeans and shirt.

The light was really bright after being in the dark bar area, so I had to squint a little, but I tried not to let it make me hesitate and lose my rhythm. I went to the pole- there was only one before they remodeled the place a few years ago- and it made me a little less nervous, but I still felt kind of awkward. I probably wasn't very good, and I stumbled a bit, but the three men did start showing interest. The two farthest from the stage actually moved closer while I was there on the pole, and I distinctly remember a whistle. I liked the attention, and they seemed to like whatever it was I was doing, so I started milking it and actually having fun. I looked at Gavin, but couldn't read his expression in the almost-darkness of the club.

I got bolder as the customers started to make noise, so I left the pole, my security blanket, and knelt on the edge of the stage in front of one of the guys. I started unbuttoning my shirt while I moved in the most seductive ways I could think of, and from the guy's face, I figured I was doing pretty well. I kept looking at Gavin, trying to figure out what he thought of me, but he was still in the dark area behind the bar and my eyes were adjusted to the lights of the stage, so I couldn't see much more than a silhouette. I was brought roughly back to my surroundings when I got my first dollar shoved down my pants, and it was shocking, but in kind of a good way. I stayed there until I got my shirt all the way unbuttoned mainly because I didn't want to appear ungrateful, and that seemed to be the right decision because the guy gave me a few more dollars before I stood up. I slinked across the stage, by now not depending on the pole at all, and let my shirt fall slowly off my shoulders, down my arms, and finally down to the floor. I had a great time showing off, but eventually the jeans had to go too. It's not that big a deal for a guy to go around without a shirt, but I got really nervous again when I started to hear promptings to take it all off.

I guess I was just stalling when I started to pull at my belt loops and waistband, but they ate it up. I teased them a little bit, probably not even as much as I would now because I felt pressured to deliver. I undid the button, but was still too nervous to unzip. I wasn't wearing anything under the jeans, after all. I stalled and teased some more, and even pulled them down some, but I had a hard time working up the nerve to shuck them completely. I wouldn't have applied for this kind of job if I didn't think I was at least a little well-endowed, but everyone has body issues. I could only stall so long, though.

I discovered that, in the absence of a button holding them together, my jeans had unzipped a little on their own as I moved. The white hairs just above my shaft were visible. I panicked just a little, and calmed myself down as much as I could. There were only four people watching; what would I do when it was a crowd? That thought proved not to be as comforting as I'd hoped. I only became more nervous the closer my hand got to that tiny piece of metal that would expose me to the world, or the world as represented by three drunks and Gavin. I took the plunge despite my pounding heart and slick palms. I unzipped and threw my jeans to the floor in one motion, refusing to give myself more chances to stall and work up into a nervous wreck. That would be the opposite of sexy, and I would remain unemployed, which would be bad. I didn't want to keep crashing in the basement of that church downtown if I could help it, no matter how nice the people there were. I was a big enough hypocrite for mooching off them without telling them I was gay or that I was angling for a job here.

So my last stitch of clothing was gone. I wasn't even wearing shoes. The only thing on me that wasn't attached was my little silver necklace, my only keepsake from my mom. It occurred to me just then that it might make some of the customers uncomfortable, because it was a cross. My mom had been religious. It didn't bother me, because I saw it as a reminder of my mom, not of her religion, but these strangers didn't know that. They might feel guilty for being here if they were reminded of any religious beliefs they might hold. It would just be distracting if I took it off now, though, so I just figured I wouldn't wear it next time, assuming there was a next time.

My feet and lower legs were still damp from my rain-sodden jeans, and I noticed this was visible when the light hit them. For the first time, I was kind of afraid I'd slip, but I wasn't soaking wet, so it wasn't really likely. My hair was starting to dry, but it still left little wet streaks on my skin wherever it touched.

I was fully naked, but I still found myself trying to hide a little. I couldn't, really, because no matter which direction I turned there was someone there. I think it was mostly subconscious, though, and not too obvious. In any case, the three men were quite excited, and I lost my reasons for hiding pretty quickly once I saw their reactions. I've always been such a sucker for attention. Before long, I was wallowing in their hoots and whistles, lapping it up like milk. I think I enjoyed it just as much as they did, even though I was nervous.

It caught me by surprise when the song ended; it had felt so much longer than the three or four minutes of a single song. I did my best to appear graceful and still sexy while I picked up my clothes and, to my surprise, a good number of wadded up bills from the stage, and I looked back over my shoulder as I left as if to flirt with the three who'd initiated me into this lifestyle. I left the stage feeling good about how things had gone, and when Gavin told me I'd gotten the job, the only thing that surprised me was how soon he wanted me back.

"Can you come in tonight?" He asked. "We've got a spot to fill around midnight."

"Yeah, I'll be here!" I had what must've been the goofiest happy grin on my face, because he laughed a little when he confirmed it and then dismissed me. I couldn't restrain myself from punching the air with a quiet "Yessssss!" after I got outside.

"You were that excited? About this place?" Sam asks, laughing at Snow's impersonation of how his younger self had reacted to the news of his employment.

"It's the best job I've ever had," Snow replies with a smirk, and you realize that in light of his story about getting it at age fifteen, it's probably the only job he's ever had. You wonder if Sam gets the joke, and then you wonder if you're being arrogant to think he wouldn't.

"So you went back in at midnight, and…?" Sam prompts, enjoying the story quite a bit if the anticipation in his eyes is genuine.

"Mmm, maybe another time," Snow declines. "I'd love to stay and chat, but I have other customers," he points out, indicating the surrounding multitudes with a nod in their vague direction. You're disappointed, since you were in fact looking forward to more of his life story as well, but know he has a point. His use of "other" is interesting, as if Sam were a customer like all the rest. You know it's none of your business, but you wonder if Sam pays for the honor of taking Snow home, or if Snow simply goes there by default any night he isn't hired.

As the two part, you notice Snow's glance back over his shoulder and think they must have something genuine, but you also know he is an artist who has made his living by deceiving people in this way. Is Sam convinced? You wonder. Certainly no one will ever crack the code to Snow's true thoughts, so you guess Sam's view is the closest thing to reality you can hope to discover, and probably the closest thing Sam can hope for as well. If Sam pays for Snow's company and gets such treatment, you think, perhaps you ought to try it yourself, but no, you decide you were right not to hire him. The Desert Rain is a bit like a real desert in that way: full of beautiful, false mirages.