“Quit squirming, will you?”
“Sorry, your bed is so comfortable.” Ash twisted under the sheets like a wriggling newborn. It felt too fantastic to just lie there.
“Yeah, well, don’t mess it up,” Ivy said and rolled over. “Don’t you have to go to work or something?”
Ash sighed. “Yeah, I should.” He rolled off the bed and went into the adjacent bathroom, picking up his clothes along the way.
He splashed some water on his face and arms, scrubbing off the dried sweat and saliva. He only needed to look presentable–no need to smell like a rose, especially since the bathroom was saturated with perfume.
After the sponge bath, he opened the medicine cabinet for more pain reliever. The combination of alcohol and stress last night had done a number on his brain.
The first two rows were lined with pill bottles, both prescription and over-the-counter. Most he didn’t recognize at a glance. It reminded him of Squirrel’s bathroom. “You got a lot of pills in here,” he said.
“Yeah, so what?” Ivy said from the bedroom.
“So nothing. I’m just commenting.”
“Hey, don’t judge me. Everyone’s got medications, everyone needs something. What, are you perfect?”
Ash gritted his teeth, grabbed some Trexler, and slammed the cabinet door. “God, what’s your problem? Are you always this defensive?”
“Are you always this nosy?”
Touché. Ash cupped his hands under the running water and swallowed back four pills. As he put his clothes back on, he said, “What are you gonna do?”
“I don’t know. I’m not working today.”
“You don’t work a normal week?”
“No. Do you?”
“Uh, yes. Most of society does.”
“Yeah, and most of society doesn’t make three hundred bucks in a night. Besides tonight’s gonna be tight. Sometimes you’re lucky if you can even get on stage.”
“What do you do when you’re not working?”
She shrugged. “Watch TV. Do some sit-ups. Do my hair.”
“You stay at home? I thought you were going to go to school.”
“Yeah, not until I have some money saved up,” she sneered. “This house ain’t cheap, you know. Food ain’t cheap. Meds aren’t cheap.”
“But don’t you have any hobbies? Stuff you do in the meantime?” Goals? Ambition? Ash added in his mind.
“I do whatever I want to do. I can afford it. I make three hundred a night. That’s more than you make in a week, I’m sure.”
Ash shrugged. “It is. But I’m trying to save it up.”
Ivy slid out of bed, and picked up her orange bra. “Well, don’t expect me to be picking up your tab in the meantime. I am not one of those stripper girlfriends. You’re not gonna ‘borrow’ all the money I make.”
Girlfriend? Girlfriend? Is she my girlfriend now? We spent one night together and we’re going out? Ash was both delighted and confused. He would have asked what she meant, but he needed to get out to the door.
“Again, I didn’t ask you for money,” he said.
“Good,” she said.
“But can I get a ride to work?” Ash hated to sack his newly-gained pride like that, but responsibilities took precedence.
Ivy raised a porcelain hand and went ‘pfft’.
“Come on, I saved your life. The least you can do is drive me to my job–the one I’m working so I don’t have to sponge off you.”
She grabbed a pair of tight jeans, embroidered with butterflies on the legs, from the dresser. “Fine.”
Ash extricated himself from Ivy’s tiny car and turned around to wave goodbye. “Thanks,” he said. “Hey, I’ll make it up to you. I’ll take you out to dinner tonight.”
“Sure.” She raised her hand in a half-wave and sped away.
Ash frowned. She could have been a bit more civil, even if he had asked this much of her. But still, the thought that he would get to see her after work delighted him.
The library had a wide marble landing leading up. One guy sat opposite the door with a picket sign across his lap. A family with kids that couldn’t look more unhappy to be there stood on the edge of the landing. Planters stood guard at the entrance, along with Jamal, Anfernee, Squirrel, and the fearless leader.
“Where the hell have you been?” Ivan asked.
Ash adjusted his sash. “Sorry, I had prior engagements,” he said.
“Prior engagements?” Ivan said.
“Yes.” Several times.
Ivan glowered at him.
Ash spread out his hands. “Aren’t you going to search me?”
Ivan sighed hard, and patted Ash down without much zeal. “What the hell? You’ve got glitter all over you.”
“Oh, do I?” Ash said, examining his hand.
He finished up and walked to the street corner, presumably to scope the area. Ash leaned against the plants with the others.
Squirrel said, “Glitter? You didn’t go back to a certain club to see a certain girl, did you?”
“Hell, who do you think dropped me off?” Ash smirked.
Three mouths dropped open.
“No, you didn’t,” Anfernee said.
The three of them jumped around like their team had scored a touchdown.
Jamal said, “Aw, yeah, stripper pussy. Way to go.”
Anfernee patted him on the back. Squirrel grabbed Ash’s hand. “Dude, let me smell your fingers.”
“Eww,” Ash said and yanked his hand back. “Get off, it’s not like that. I helped her out. That’s how-“
“Do you think she could get me backstage? Does she know Sugar?” Jamal said.
“Sugar, that fine black piece of ass.”
Squirrel said, “No, no, man, you gotta go for Honey. She’s-“
“Guys, they’re not trading cards,” Ash said. “Stripping’s a job. They provide a service, an illusion. And there’s a reason it’s dark on stage.”
“Hey, look alive, you rejects,” Ivan interjected. “Two more coming in.”
Two more protestors were coming towards them. One held up a sign that read ‘SAVE OUR CHILDREN’.
“We’ve got a job to do here, so look professional. Capiche?” Ivan said.
The others nodded and returned to their ‘post’, which consisted of standing by the wall and looking tough. Ash asked Ivan, “Refresh me on what we’re doing here again?”
“We’re acting as a security enforcement presence for this protest.”
“And… we’re expecting an outbreak of violence at this protest… at a library?”
“We’re getting paid for it so don’t knock it. A gig’s a gig.”
“And afterward, why don’t we go down to the playground and make sure all the kids stop picking on each other?”
“Violence can happen anywhere. We stop street violence, that’s what we do. That’s what we’re being paid for, so keep your ears and eyes open.”
“Oh, come on. Are you serious?” Ash pointed to the four slovenly picketers milling around. “None of these people are going to start anything. The first sign that the cops would turn the hoses on them, they’d run like little girls.”
Ivan leaned down. “Ash, what you’re doing now is called ‘profiling’. You heard of that word?”
“Once or twice.”
“Well, it’s wrong, especially in our business. You can’t say that one person’s more likely to commit a crime because of his upbringing, or background, or skin color. That’s discrimination. That’s one of the basic laws of America.”
“Just cause it’s the law doesn’t mean it’s practical. I never see a Lowenstein on the news getting arrested for a convenience store hold-up.”
“Look.” Ivan stood nose-to-nose with Ash. “I’m sick of you always harping on my rules. This is the way the White Knights do things, got it? We are peace-keepers. Not cops. If you don’t like it, leave.”
Ash stared back, but didn’t say anything.
Ivan continued, “I can make this easy for you or hard for you. If you sass back to me anymore, I’m gonna send you home. Without pay. Got it?”
A thousand insults sat poised on the tip of Ash’s tongue, but he held them all back. Even if he didn’t feel especially loyal to Ivan, he felt loyal to the job. And he couldn’t get sent home without pay. He’d never hear the end of it from Ivy if he did. She might even break up with him.
“Good, now get back to work,” Ivan said. He crossed his arms and turned toward the street.
Ash stood beside him. “So what are they protesting?”
Ivan glared at Ash. He held up his hands in defense. “I didn’t sass you. I’m asking a question about the job. Is that okay?”
Ivan looked out at the milling protestors. “I guess there’s a new book on the shelves. Got some controversial content or something.”
“What sort of content?”
“Don’t know. Didn’t need to find out.”
“And our job is?”
“Stand guard. Keep an eye out for anyone making trouble. Just like patrol.”
“Except we stay in one spot.”
“There you go. Now let me get back to work.” He pulled his cell phone out and walked back down to the corner.
Ash sighed. At least on patrol he could walk around and see some scenery. But no, today, they were going to stand in one place and babysit a bunch of kids who wouldn’t know how to make trouble if someone gave them a recipe.
He walked over to three people standing near the library door. “Excuse me,” Ash said. “Just out of curiosity, have any of you read this book that you’re protesting?”
They looked at each other, not knowing what to say. A fat woman with colored hair said, “We’re concerned parents. The book is nothing but filth that our children-“
Ash held up his hand. “Right, right, I’m not talking about that. I’m just asking if you’ve read the book.”
“I don’t- That’s not important.”
Ash said calmly, “Have you read the book?”
“Not all of it, no. But I read enough of it to-“
“Any of you got a library card for this library?”
Again, blank stares.
Ash smiled and nodded. “Okay, thanks,” he said, and went back to the other White Knights.