It was a good night, you decide. You drank, but didn't get drunk, you heard good music and laughed with strangers, and you even got a story out of Chris. He's surprisingly a pretty private person, so it's really a treat when he opens up about something real. Now things are winding down, and Chris's shift is ending. It's Friday, one of his busiest nights of the week, and so you walked back to the cashier at the front and asked to hire him earlier, before he got booked up. He has one client lined up, but after that, he's yours.

You wait at the DR, watching the other dancers with only mild interest. You're so bored you consider leaving and coming back for Chris, but you're not sure what time he'll be finished. They won't disclose anything about the other clients because they don't want to get sued, even though you only want to know so you can gauge how long your wait will be. If it's a woman, he'll be hours. You've heard him describe himself as gay, never bi, but you wonder, because surely he could get it over with faster if it was just business. If it's a man, it depends on what he's been hired for. If he's just giving head, he could be back in half an hour. If it's more elaborate, it could be an hour, two hours tops. God, you hope it's not a woman, you think as you look again at your watch.

While you wait, you think about the story Chris told. You never knew he got into this business at fifteen years old. You tried not to show it, but you're really sad for him. You know he would be offended if you told him so. You're curious about the rest, but now you're afraid to ask at the risk of sounding overly sympathetic. You wonder, too, if it might make him sad, but you doubt it. If things like that do, then he's an expert at hiding it. He really looks like he loves every minute of his job. You wish you didn't constantly have to wonder these things because it definitely makes you sad, but you know Chris wouldn't respond well if you offered to get him another job.

You've heard him talk often enough about clients who think he's some kind of charity case, and heard him bitterly grumble that he probably makes more money than they do. He's very possibly right. You know he makes quite a bit, certainly enough that he could take time off to look for another job if he wanted. It's not as if he looks blatantly like a whore, either, if that's his fear. Any reputable company would hire him without a second thought; the only way a stranger could tell just by looking at him what he does would be if they recognized him personally. That might be a legitimate concern, since he's about as well known as The Desert Rain itself is.

Finally he comes in, relieving you of thinking these things and nodding toward the door inquiringly when he sees you. You get up and accompany him out to your car, where he opens his own door as soon as he hears the two quick beeps that mean you've unlocked it with the accessory on your keychain. You wish he'd let you open his door like you used to, but he's so damn independent. You guess that's part of his charm, though.

You start to drive, and notice something else that's changed in the time you've known Chris. Both of you used to make polite small talk as you drove him to your house, but now you're comfortable enough with each other that you usually don't say much. Of course, you remind yourself, some things have changed for the better, too. You used to call him Snow like everyone else, but he trusts you enough that he told you his first name the fourth time you hired him. Christian Snow. It's not The Desert Rain's biggest secret, but it's not exactly common knowledge, either. You don't think you're the only one of his clients to know it, but deep down you sort of hope you are, against your better judgment.

"So, are you going to finish your story?" You find yourself asking in the silence of your vehicle. You had planned to drop it, but it's too late. He doesn't sound put out when he agrees, just sort of surprised, like he didn't expect you to remember.

"Where was I?" He asks, charismatically, recovering from his momentary start and not letting the conversation lose its flow. You briefly wonder if he was trained to do that, because you've never seen him ruffled at an unexpected turn of events or conversation. Remembering what you've heard of the story so far, though, you doubt he received much training at all.

"They wanted you to come back at midnight," you supply, and he picks his story back up.

I was in the basement of the church sitting on the cot where I'd been sleeping for the past few days, staring down at all my worldly possessions. My backpack was in the corner with undone homework collecting dust since earlier that afternoon, but I had more immediate concerns. Of the three changes of clothes I owned, I'd worn one to my audition and pretty much ruined them for tonight because of the rain. The other two were significantly less promising. I'd chosen my best outfit for the interview, not even considering what I'd wear once I got the job. My second-best clothes, a tee shirt and slightly ripped jeans, would have to do for tonight, but what about next time? What would they think of my worst clothes? What would they think when I kept wearing the same ones?

I took a deep breath. There was nothing to be done about any of it right now. I'd just have to do my best. When I got my first check, I could buy something better, assuming I could last that long. Maybe I'd get enough tips before then, but I couldn't count on that. Once again, I scolded myself for worrying about it.

I had no other choice. The only things I'd brought with me besides my clothes were my school books, a toothbrush, and a few dollars for food and bus fare. None of that would help. I resigned myself to wear my pathetic white tee shirt and jeans with the hole above the knee. It didn't look bad on me, and it wasn't as if I hadn't worn this very combination of items to school before, but this wasn't school. True, they hadn't told me to wear anything specific, but what if not knowing on my own exposed me for the underage liar I was? Still, I reflected, even if I did know what to wear, it wouldn't help if I didn't own it.

I set my clothes aside, wanting to keep them at least clean and fresh as long as I could, and went to get something to eat. The church had a closet full of canned goods they collected to give to homeless people, and since I was basically homeless, they'd told me I could have what I needed. I got a can and took it to the little kitchen the youth group used for its get-togethers, which I had a standing invitation to attend. None had actually taken place yet in the few days I'd been there, but if I wasn't gone by the time one did, I'd go out of pure guilt for freeloading. I didn't know where else to go; my mom had always said churches were the best places to go when you were lost. She said that a lot at the end; I think she knew she wouldn't last much longer. She knew I wasn't as big on that stuff as she was, but she wanted me to have somewhere to go, I guess. Maybe she knew foster care wouldn't exactly work out. So she sent me somewhere she knew would take care of me.

So I went to the kitchen thing with my can of corn and poked around for a bowl. I didn't want to use up three or four cans and end up wasting most of all of them just to make a regular meal, so I ate whole cans of one thing. This time it was corn, sometimes beans, sometimes fruit. I stuck my corn in the microwave and waited impatiently, chewing my bottom lip and trying not to look at the clock on the wall. I failed. It was 9:05. I'd managed to waste an entire hour mourning over my wardrobe, but I had two more to waste before I even needed to think about leaving.

"Why didn't you just do your homework? You said you had some," you reason, finding yourself hoping Chris will prioritize his studies, even though you know it can't matter now.

"I tried," he answers, looking down at his hands, "I was too nervous to concentrate."

"So what did you do?" You ask, glancing at him only briefly as you drive.

"Anything I thought would get my mind off work."

It was 11:00, finally. It had only taken me about a half hour to get home, half walking and half riding buses, and since I'd already picked my clothes, it wouldn't take the other half hour to get dressed, but I though I should give myself plenty of time. If I got there early, I reasoned, maybe I could change, or maybe watch the dancer before me to see if I'd done it right. Really, though, I'd say I just didn't want to sit in the basement being nervous anymore.

I put on my fresh clothes, unfortunately with the same waterlogged shoes, since I didn't have another pair, and searched for a coat that would keep me as dry as humanly possible; the church people had given me several and I'd hoped not to wear any of them or take them with me when I went, but if I didn't make a good impression at the DR, I wouldn't have anywhere to go. It wasn't raining as much now, but I wanted to be careful. When I was as ready as I could get, it was 11:10 and I started up the carpeted stairs to the hallway that housed the Sunday school rooms. A Sunday morning hadn't passed while I was here, and I sincerely hoped I'd be gone before one did, because I'd almost certainly feel guilty enough by then to attend the services, which would only make me feel guiltier for dirtying this place up with my presence.

I passed through that hallway and out to the open area in the front, where I ended up between the doors to the outside and the doors to the big room where they had the services… they had a special name for the room, I knew, but couldn't remember it. I went out the other doors, trying to forget my guilt about staying here when I was so much the opposite of everything this building represented.

I walked through the light rain to the bus stop across the street and waited for the 11:15 bus, fortunately under a small shelter. On that bus and the other two I had to take to get close to the DR, it felt like everyone was staring at me, but I'm sure they weren't. I was just suffering from an excess of guilt and embarrassment. Still, I found myself remarkably happy to walk in the rain the last part of the journey rather than face all those people I imagined were judging me.

I arrived much drier than I had earlier, due in part to my extra precautions and partly to the fact that there was less rain this time. I walked over the uneven, cracked pavement on the sidewalks and in the parking lot to the doors, and stopped to take a deep breath before I went in. I didn't stall long, though, and went in with as much confidence as I could muster, fairly nondescript popular music drifting out as I opened the door and then surrounding me as I went in.

I was a little worried when the cashier finished with a customer and looked at me expectantly, waiting for me to present my ID and pay. "I'm Chris," I began, "Gavin hired me today."

"Oh, hi Chris," he greeted, offering his hand. I shook it and looked up, for the first time taking notice of his thin, pierced face as he continued, "I'm Tom. Do you know where to go?"

"Not really," I answered, looking past him as if to figure it out. He turned to follow my lost gaze, and light glinted over the rings in his eyebrow and lip with the movement. He also had one of those things in his ear that made a big enough hole that I could see his neck through it.

"Through that door," he said as he pointed, "there'll be someone back there that can tell you the rest."

"Thanks," I finished and went toward the door he'd indicated. I had to walk through the seating area with tables, chairs, and lots of strangers in it to get to the mentioned door, which turned out to be the same place I'd gone when I'd auditioned. That made sense, I guessed, and there was indeed someone there.

"Hello," a tall man with spiky red hair greeted me, drawling it in a kind of hushed, breathy tone before I'd had a chance to speak. He was seated facing away from me, but looking into a mirror out of which I now saw his heavily made-up brown eyes staring intensely at me. He held a tube of… dear God… fire-engine red lipstick hovering between the small table before him and his face, as if he'd frozen mid-movement and forgotten it was there.

"Hi," I replied, barely loud enough to hear, shutting the door behind me and trying to shrink into it. I didn't know what I'd expected the other dancers to be like, but this was most certainly not it. He looked like some kind of… drag queen, or something, except he was wearing pants- red leather pants, to be exact, and that was all except shoes and probably several pounds of makeup and hair gel.

"You must be Chris," he continued when I didn't. "Gavin told me about you." At least there was a name I recognized; this place was starting to feel so foreign and scary that that one bit of familiarity helped. I calmed down a little, remembering how informal things had been with Gavin. "I'm Ivan," he said after a short pause, "I'll help you get ready in a bit. I'm up next, but I'll be back shortly. You can wait in here if you want, Sean's up after me and he'll be coming in here for a minute too, but he'll probably wait till the last minute. I don't know how he manages to get ready so fast," Ivan chattered as much to himself as to me as he went back to applying the garish red stuff to his face. I just waited, not sure what to do but watch, since I'd probably have to undergo a similar procedure... I winced internally thinking about it.

It wasn't long before the song, muted by the closed door to the little dressing room, ended, and in the few seconds of tuneless chatter and noise following it, another man entered the cramped room from a different door, the one I remembered led to the stage. This man, I shouldn't have been shocked to note, was stark naked carrying a wad of bills discreetly covered by his hand and, thankfully, a pair of pants draped over one arm, concealing the parts of him I didn't exactly care to see at the moment. At least he wasn't wearing any makeup I could see, either. He was shorter than me and slightly more muscular, and looked vaguely Latino with dark hair and sort of carmel-colored skin.

"That's my cue," Ivan said, actually looking over his shoulder at me for the first time as he exited through the door where the newcomer had entered.

"Um, hi," I extended a hand toward my nude coworker, "I'm Chris, I just got hired today." The man smiled and turned toward me to shake my hand, unfortunately displacing the pants he carried from their convenient, concealing position. My expression and my hand faltered, and he looked down to see what had bothered me.

"If you're not comfortable with nudity, you might've picked the wrong line of work," he said, straightening to look me in the eye again. I was adamantly focused on his tanned face once more, and despite his words, I did not plan on looking down anymore.

"I-I'm okay," I replied, and he relaxed and shook my hand.

"I'm Mark," he finished and moved away from me. I averted my eyes while he tossed the pants he'd been carrying aside and collected other, more normal looking garments from a corner of the room. "Have you met Gavin yet?" He continued while turned away from me.

"He's the one who hired me this afternoon. Is he a manager, or what?" I asked, just to make conversation and distract myself from having to watch Mark get dressed.

"He owns the place," Mark answered, buckling a belt around his middle before bending down again to get his shirt. I was impressed that I'd already met the owner without realizing it, but a little embarrassed that my boss had seen me naked. "Hey, Sean," Mark greeted abruptly as the door opened behind me and I scrambled out of the way.

"Hey," a voice replied behind me, and I turned to see Sean, a muscular, light-skinned black man who, seeing me, offered his hand as well, saying only "I'm Sean."

I shook his hand as I had many others that day, and replied with what probably sounded rehearsed by now, "I'm Chris. Gavin just hired me today." He nodded once to acknowledge me and went to the same mirror Ivan had been using earlier. Unlike Ivan, though, all Sean did was glance at himself quickly and leave it, standing by the stage door to wait. Ivan would be disappointed that that was how Sean managed to get ready so fast, I thought. The three of us didn't speak anymore, except that when Mark finished dressing, he said quick goodbyes to Sean and me and we replied the same. I remembered that I'd meant to watch Ivan, but had stayed back here chatting with Mark and forgotten about it. He wasn't finished yet, but I didn't open the door. I didn't want Sean to think it was weird of me, but I also thought the audience might see me just standing there watching. I waited in a sort of awkward silence with Sean until Ivan walked back in, naked and carrying his pants and a fistful of money like Mark had a few minutes ago. Sean went out with only a small nod to acknowledge our presence, and then the door closed and he was gone.

"So, what to do with the newbie?" Ivan drawled quietly as he began to walk in a circle around me, and I looked up to find him already back in his red pants. I resisted the impulse to turn with him so we'd still be facing one another; if he didn't see my ass now, he'd be seeing it soon enough anyway. I just nervously tucked my hair behind my ear on one side, trying not to fidget too much. I didn't think I'd ever get used to having people examine me like that.

Ivan only made a contemplative noise and walked through a doorframe that had no door, where I could see rows of clothes hanging. I followed him without talking, relieved that he looked like he was picking something out for me. He touched the hangers one by one with his finger, appearing to reject each possibility. Occasionally he looked back at me, but usually shook his head at whatever he'd been considering. I noticed he walked in a deliberately seductive and mildly predatory way, crossing his feet over one another and shifting his hips a lot. Surely he didn't want me to ogle him as a result, so I concluded it must be habit from doing it to please the customers. I covertly tried to imitate it a little while he was absorbed in finding me the perfect outfit.

"This," he said abruptly, spinning to face me and pressing a hanger with something see through and filmy hanging from it against my chest, and I had to stop clumsily to avoid bumping into him. "Yeah, keep that, it'll look great on you," he continued distractedly, already looking for pants to go with it. "Oh," he breathed, pulling at a white pant leg and staring at it longer than he had anything else so far. "Oh, please let them fit," he crossed his fingers on one hand, using the other to pull the fabric from the hanger and hold it out to me. I took the pants, unsurprised that he'd chosen white for me. I always got comments about my hair, and it was only logical to emphasize it, I supposed. Remembering Mark's comment, I didn't ask Ivan to leave before starting to change, and he didn't do so voluntarily. He didn't watch, either, which would have been kind of creepy, but instead just kept hunting in the piles of shoes on the floor as if nothing was happening. That was comforting; at least it seemed like I didn't have to be so self conscious around the other dancers.

"What size shoe do you wear?" He asked without looking up, still tossing aside shoes and staring at the pile in front of him.

"Um, a ten," I answered, also without taking my attention from buttoning the gauzy thing that passed for a shirt.

Ivan set a pair of short boots next to me, and I put them on too when I finished with the rest. He surveyed me briefly, and I followed him back out to the dressing room, eager to look at myself in the mirror out there. What I saw was… far too beautiful to be me. It felt like I'd somehow blossomed into something better than I had been, even though I'd only changed clothes. I saw Ivan's reflection behind mine, pulling pieces of my hair into different configurations and letting them fall again, obsessively trying to decide on something. I hardly cared. I kept looking at the image in the mirror that could not be the simple Christian Eric Snow I'd always been and known up until then.

"How should we introduce you?" Ivan inquired, still fussing with my hair.

"What do you mean?" I asked his reflection in the mirror.

"Have you thought about a stage name?" He asked mine.

"Oh, um… not really…"

"We'll have to think fast then, you're on in like, two minutes."

I felt suddenly weak. Two minutes. I'd be out there, in front of all those people, in two minutes, and I didn't even have time to sit and worry about it because I had to think of a stage name. "Is it too weird to just use my real name?"

"Can't. Some kind of insurance thing, they're afraid you'll get stalked or something if customers know your real name," he explained.

"Oh. Well, what's yours?"

"Queen," he answered kind of sheepishly. That explained the makeup and flamboyant style. I didn't laugh, but I wanted to.

Just as I was trying not to snort, Gavin came in through the same door I had used. "How you doing, Chris? Ivan?"

"We're just trying to figure out what to call him," Ivan answered, scrutinizing my appearance in the mirror. I looked better than I ever had before.

"Oh? You haven't told him your full name yet?" Gavin wondered aloud, reaching past Ivan to pull out a clip I hadn't even noticed the redhead putting in my hair. I shook my head no, unsure what difference it made. "His last name is Snow," he said with a look to Ivan.

"You're kidding," Ivan stated it as if it were a fact, not a question.


"Well, damn. That would have made a perfect nickname," Ivan cursed matter-of-factly.

"No, you can use it," Gavin said unexpectedly. "It fits him so well, no one will even guess we didn't just make it up. Besides, it's a common enough last name that they wouldn't find much even if they did Google it."

"You sure?" Ivan asked Gavin, and when he nodded, Ivan turned to me. "Are you okay with that?"

I shrugged and said "Yeah, it's fine with me." I would've been fine with almost anything, though, because despite my nervousness, I really, really wanted this. The music outside ended and both men looked at me.

"Ok, kid, are you ready?" Ivan asked, putting his hand on my shoulder. I nodded and smiled the best I could amid the awakening of every bit of nervousness that had waited until now to spring on me, and went toward the door. Thankfully, Ivan didn't abandon me, but instead told me to wait there. "I'll go out first and introduce you," he offered, so when Sean came back through the door, Ivan went out instead of me. I didn't listen very closely as he said some cheesy thing about The Desert Rain's newest something or other, because I was too busy being more nervous than I'd ever been in my life, but when I heard him say "Snooow!" loudly enough to break me out of the spell, I knew he was finished and tried to calm myself down enough to go out. He began walking back toward the door, and I took that as my cue. I stepped out, and as Ivan passed me, he whispered "Good luck!" so only I could hear.

"Sounds really surreal," you comment when Chris pauses. The two of you are getting out of the car now, so he doesn't respond for a minute while he unbuckles his seatbelt and disembarks.

"It kind of was," he replies once you are both out of the car and walking into the house. He follows a little bit behind you as always, even though he knows the way as well as you do. You lead him into your living room, and he stays there while you continue into the small, little-used kitchen and start coffee. You don't like to serve him alcohol unless he asks for it, and he never does. You think he must have enough people trying to get him drunk each evening. You prefer for him to be able to be himself and relax, if he'll allow himself. You wash two cups while the water is boiling and then you pour, adding milk and sugar to yours. You know from many times before that Chris takes his coffee black, so you take it to him the way it is.

"Thank you," he accepts his cup with a smile and you sit down beside him on your couch.

"My pleasure," you reply, and think a second before you continue. You want to hear more of the story, but don't want Chris to feel obligated. The trouble is that he's so good at acting as if he wants to do everything he's told, because he can't or won't say no to a client. You decide upon "Are you finished with your story?" You don't think that sounds like a demand for more.

"I can stop there if it's boring you," he replies. You are about to sigh, but know he'll probably interpret it as a sign that you are indeed tired of hearing him talk.

"No, no, I love it," you say, "I just didn't know if there was more or not."

"I can go on," he answers, and he does.

I was walking out to the middle of the stage, afraid of a million little things. What if I wasn't good? What if this afternoon was a fluke? What if the bigger crowd got to me and I choked? What if the music didn't start? What if I tripped?

The music did start, and it was a song I didn't know. I went straight to the pole like this afternoon, because I was nervous again. I felt unprepared, but didn't know what more I could have done. I pressed on, and began pretty much how I'd begun before. I found it remarkably, unexpectedly easy to push my nerves aside and slip into a whole different, serene frame of mind. I got caught up in what I was doing, like I was in a world by myself there for a minute, and then this sharp whistle woke me out of it. I wasn't in a world by myself, I was performing for a crowd, and suddenly, the thought excited me instead of frightening me.

"Sort of like meditation of some kind?" You ask, contemplating this odd development.

"Maybe," Chris answers thoughtfully, "but I've only felt it when I was performing, never any other time. I guess it's just the love of the game."

"It's a game to you then?" You laugh. He tilts his head, making some of his silvery hair fall over his shoulder, and considers.

"I guess that's the best way to describe it to someone who hasn't done it," he answers in all seriousness before going on.

It didn't bother me that time. None of it. I loved every second, took pleasure in seeing what kinds of reactions I could get. I was actually disappointed for a second when the song ended, but then remembered I'd seen the other guys wandering through the crowd when I'd come in. Could I do more out there among them? Did they do that here?

I woke out of my thoughts enough to collect the scattered bills, and enough to notice there were quite a lot of them. I went back into the little side room just as the three others before me had, clothes slung over one arm and one dollar bills filling one hand. As I went in, a spiky haired boy with a tattoo on his shoulder went out; there wasn't time for introductions. I was alone in the dressing room then, and I wondered for a second what and how much I should put on before leaving it. Mark had donned a full, normal outfit and I'd seen him leave from the stage, but Ivan had put his loud, red pants on again and gone out to mingle. I didn't know how late this place stayed open, but surely I wasn't done. I'd only been here probably half an hour, so I settled on the white outfit Ivan had picked out. It'd been so successful, it seemed like a pity to cast it aside.

When I got back out into the crowded main room, Ivan waved and came over to me. "You were awesome!" He congratulated me loudly over the general din of the crowd and continued, "They're already clamoring for a dance," pointing to the customers gathered nearest the stage.

"Ok!" I agreed and nodded, smiling and walking with him to the group he'd indicated.

"You don't have to do this, you know, you can wait a little bit and get used to everything first," Ivan said, looking concerned and stopping for a second.

"No, I want to, I promise!" I answered.

"If you're sure," he answered, shrugging, and we went to the knot of excited patrons.

I found myself in the opposite predicament as I'd been in earlier, with the three sad customers and my questions about how much money I'd be making. Now, I was surrounded by excited men, many of whom were physically waving green dollar bills at me. Obviously all of them wanted to be first, and I didn't know how to choose. I was flustered for a second, and almost glanced back around to Ivan for guidance, but an idea hit me. I pulled myself up onto their table in what I hoped was at least a graceful, if not seductive, manner. Their hoots and whistles got louder, so I supposed I'd made a good choice and began doing much the same thing as I'd done on the stage, only closer to them. They didn't seem to mind the repetitiveness, and soon the small, round table was cluttered with bills like the stage had been. Some of them even put their money on me and watched it tumble down to the table as I moved. Some shoved their contributions directly into my pockets and waistband. By the time I finished, I was literally rolling in it.

"Guess you got what you wanted, huh?" You reply, amused at his tone. You've never known him to be overly concerned with money, but you suppose as a teenager, he might have thought differently.

"Yeah, as a matter of fact, I did," he answers with a smile, and you realize you were expecting something more melancholy in the vein of "I guess you could say that," or "In a way, yeah."

"So it was a good haul?" You ask, directing him back into the story.

"Yeah, I made more than I'd ever had all at once before, I was pretty excited," he explains.

"Look, Ivan, look how much they gave me!" I showed him the pile of cash I'd neatened up somewhat, not even combined yet with what I'd made onstage.

"Congratulations," Ivan laughed at my youthful excitement over it and seemed happy for me, even if he wasn't as impressed by the amount as I was.

By the time we closed I had a few more piles to put together into what was a small fortune to me at the time. Ivan had disappeared right as we closed, so I had no one to show, but I was sure I'd be out of that church basement in no time if this kept up.

"You stayed all the way until it closed? You had school!" You reply, once again mysteriously concerned about the past. Thinking of Chris as a kid is doing strange things to you.

"Yeah, I actually didn't go the next day," he replies a little guiltily. You regret your words; you didn't mean to make him feel bad.

"Well, skipping school once never killed anybody, right?" This comes out forced, but you're trying. You hope that counts for something.

"No, I guess not," he replies carefully, still hiding something you're not sure it's a good idea to try to guess.

"Hey, look, we can talk about something else…" you trail off uncomfortably, aware that something is wrong, but unsure what it could be. He looks somehow tense.

"Yeah, you probably don't want to hear about that anyway," he laughs wryly. "I didn't mean to kill the mood."

"You're very attractive when you open up," you say, trying to lighten the mood by walking into a joke, but more serious than you sound.

"How many ways do you mean that?" He asks, just as you'd hoped. You were afraid for a minute that you'd ruined his night completely.

"Oh, a lot," you answer, "but you knew that already." The two of you laugh together and sip your coffee, and he gives you a smoldering look over his cup, tracing invisible patterns on it with his fingers. You regret prodding him into telling that particular joke, now that you see where it has led him. Truth be told, the story did kind of kill the mood, but you weren't really in that mood in the first place. You wanted to hear the story because… well, because it's Chris.

He scoots closer to you and somehow maintains eye contact while he sets his cup aside. He's pressing close to you now, and you're pretty sure it's the first time you've ever scooted away. Not too far or too overtly, since you don't want Chris to be insulted, but covered by the motion of laying down your coffee cup and just far enough that he knows not to press further. He probably just thinks you need more time to get in the mood and will thus probably try again later, but you'll cross that bridge when you come to it.

"I'm glad you told the story, I like getting to know you better," you try to steer the conversation away from sex, but know that will be difficult with Chris intent on seducing you.

"Do you?" He smiles, but not a calm, glad smile- more like he thinks what you said is mildly funny.

"Yes, I do. I like spending time with you," you continue, trying to make him understand.

"I like spending time with you, too," he replies, but you think he would probably say that whether or not it was true. You don't ask him if he means it, because the same problem applies.

You begin to massage his shoulders, and say "I care about you a lot, Chris," realizing you have never articulated this to him before.

"Shouldn't I be doing this for you?" He asks with a small nervous laugh, but turns to give you better access.

"I like doing things for you," you explain, a little hurt that he doesn't seem to know this.

"Whatever gets you through the night," he says, shrugging under your hands and letting you continue. He relaxes some, and there is silence for awhile. Before long, he's rolling his shoulders and pressing against your hands, making the little sighing noises he knows you like. He'll keep doing this, you know, because after all, it's part of what you hired him to do. You've almost resigned yourself to tell him never mind when an idea hits you.

"Hey, Chris?" You ask, "Want to switch places this time?"

"How do you mean?" He asks, although you can't imagine that he really doesn't know.

"You know, switch. I'll go down on you," you suggest, biting your lip anxiously.

"Sure," he says, shrugging like you should have known he would. He turns around to face you and obligingly lies back against the arm of your couch with one leg bent and leaning against the back cushions and the other hanging off into the floor. You move to a position above him, but instead of stopping with your face near his fly, you continue moving up his body until you are tasting his mouth, which he opens just as readily as he opened his legs. You let yourself fall farther into your desire, eager and curious.

He reluctantly lets your mouth go as you move back down, divesting him of garment by garment as you get closer to your goal. He helps, reaching down to the button and zipper at his waist while you pull on his shirt. When the part you have promised your services to appears, you pause to enjoy the anticipation. Maybe you're a little nervous, too, since you've only done this a few times, none of them with Chris. Besides, he makes his living this way, and you know from personal experience that he's very good at what he does. Hopefully he won't be too disappointed with your level of expertise, but, you conclude sadly, he probably won't say so even if he is. You forge ahead, praying this experiment turns out like you hope.

First you breathe on it like you've seen him do when he's taking the time to be seductive. You notice it hardening slowly as you begin to nuzzle it, enjoying the smooth warmth on your face. You trail your lips over it, resisting the urge to let your tongue creep out. You don't want this to be over too fast. You begin placing less than chaste little kisses up and down the length, and you start to hear breathy "Mmmm" sounds issuing from somewhere above your head. Your fingers tighten on his hips in answer, your mouth being elsewhere occupied as you begin to make out with the tip of his organ, opening your mouth gradually and letting your tongue graze the object of your ministrations. You taste nothing, but try not to read too much into it. You have just started, after all, and your skills aren't exactly up to par with his, which usually have you dripping with clear, salty liquid by this point.

You take in more and more of the thing you have so often enjoyed, beginning to move your head up and down and suck the way you have seen and felt Chris do. He becomes noisier, and you are relieved that you don't seem to be doing so badly. When you find your rhythm, he even begins to thrust in time with you, although you still taste nothing but your own saliva. You've never known him to take this long; usually he's leaking fluid before you even enter him. Sometimes he doesn't produce a lot if he's already gotten off with someone else that night, but you thought he'd been with a woman this time…

You stop yourself, realizing you've gotten completely distracted, and you try to focus, because worrying while you're doing this probably isn't helping your performance. It doesn't matter anyway, he's clearly enjoying it. You can tell by his face and all the moaning and sighing and thrusting… why else would he do those things, unless…

You stop dead as a horrible thought occurs to you. Chris pauses too, looking down at you questioningly. His erection is already starting to diminish after that brief second, and this only confirms your suspicions. "Sam, are you okay?" He asks, growing more concerned at the look of shock that must be on your face. You're not as good at hiding your real feelings as he is.

"Chris, were you… just now, was that… were you…" you sputter and give up. You can't say it.

"Was I what? I'm fine, Sam, what's the matter?" He's shifting to sit more normally so he can stare intently at you and ask questions, the blow job forgotten.

"Were you just… faking it with me?" You ask, unable to believe your own words. Chris, faking it with you.

Now he looks even more confused, if that's possible. "No, of course not, Sam, is that what's got you so upset?" He asks, relaxed somewhat.

"You swear you weren't?" You ask, but you remember what folly it is to ask Chris such questions. Of course he will swear, whether he means it or not.

"I swear," he replies, "you were doing great." He doesn't want you to feel bad about yourself, how touching. Or maybe he just doesn't want to lose your business.

"Let's just call it a night, OK?" You ask, stopping yourself before you call him by his first name.

"OK," he replies, but doesn't get up. He's waiting for some kind of signal from you, to see whether that means you want to go to sleep, whether you want him to leave, or whatever you might mean.

"Your car's at the DR, right? I'll drive you back there. I don't really feel like it tonight. You can go on home and get some sleep," you say, and while he nods and begins to get dressed, he speaks.

"I can get back there on my own, there's a bus stop nearby," he offers, pulling on all his white garments.

"No, it's the least I can do after I made you come all the way out here. I'm sorry, I'll just take you back and you can have the night off," you say, waiting for him and then leading him back out to your car.

He follows you and gets into the car silently, letting you drive him back to his workplace. He doesn't say anything the whole ride, and he looks at his hands a lot. Occasionally he looks at you, but he always looks away without words, and you don't speak either. He spends a lot of time looking out the window while you force yourself to look straight ahead, constantly adjusting your tight grip on the steering wheel.

"Here we are," you say when you park next to his modest vehicle, which, it used to amuse you to note, is black. "Look," you begin haltingly, and he stops outside your door to listen. "You didn't do anything wrong. I did. Don't feel bad, okay?"

He nods, but a little too solemnly. You don't think he believes you, but what is he supposed to say? You give up, holding yourself back from saying more, knowing you will only make him feel worse if you tell him everything. Everything here means how stupid you were to let yourself fall for him, and how you knew deep down he didn't feel the same, but told yourself you didn't. After all, what is he supposed to do about it? Fall in love with all his clients? You never really realized how much you had asked of him before.

There are no more words, and you just pull away, hoping he'll forget soon, hoping he won't feel too bad thinking he let you down. He waits until you're out in traffic before moving away from his car to re-enter his place of business, and you try to take that as a good sign.

AN: In case you didn't pick up on it, the "You" is someone different this chapter.