Today I am featuring my crit sister's latest release - I Can't Get Next To You by Chicki Brown. This is a 'different' book for Chicki, in that it is a Christian inspirational story.
I'm not really into reading religious-inclined stories, but I did read this one and loved it. Chicki writes it like it is, and does not preach. Religion, faith, beliefs - they're all just part and parcel of the characters, what makes them who they are. Chicki treads a fine line but treads it well - this is also a feel-good story, an encompassing romance, with the positioning towards faith as a pivotal part of the story.
Here's the blurb:
Rick Gardner never intended to visit one of Atlanta’s premiere strip clubs, but his fellow attorneys choose that venue to celebrate his latest courtroom victory. A born again Christian, Rick knows Dreamland is the last place he belongs. Still, he’s confident he can withstand the temptation. Until the beautiful woman sent to entertain them walks in …
And here's an excerpt:
No matter how many times I calculated, the number fell far short of what I expected or needed. The Small Business Administration required twenty thousand collateral. At this rate, it would take forever to see my venture fulfilled. My goal for the New Year was to put away half of my salary and try to live on the remaining half, not an easy proposition considering most retail sales associates barely squeak by making just above minimum wage. Three quarters of the year already were gone, and I’d only managed to save a little over three thousand.
Frustrated, I stuffed the calculator into the backpack I used for school. For years I’d dreamed of opening my store, visualized every available spot filled with unique handmade items and household décor items. My store. Every time I thought about it, a tingle ran down my spine. There was no doubt in my mind it would happen. All I needed to do was convince the SBA I was loan worthy.
To meet my financial and educational goals at the same time, I attended classes at Georgia State during the day then worked every night. I functioned in a constant state of exhaustion. It wasn’t physically possible to work more hours.
The motivational books I’d read always included some variation of the phrase, “Anything of value requires sacrifice.” From the day I started school three years ago, I’d set a goal of opening the store right after graduation. Since then I’d made every possible sacrifice in order to reach that goal. What else could I give up?
But, any black woman worth her salt will tell you, no matter what dire financial circumstances she finds herself in; she’ll never slash hair salon visits from her budget. Even though I kept my hair short, keeping it trimmed and conditioned held the same importance as buying groceries — so at least twice a month I visited the crowded salon and waited my turn.
“What do you think of this do?” the woman next to me asked, holding up a copy of Black Hair magazine while I thumbed through a battered copy of Upscale one Saturday afternoon.
The photo showed a partially upswept style. Black hair cascaded across the model’s shoulders, while platinum strands swooped down over one eye.
What could I say? “Going to a party?” I asked, trying hard to imagine an event other than a Halloween bash where the extreme style would be appropriate.
She giggled. “No, girl. I dance at Dreamland.”
I knew nothing about the latest Atlanta party spots and hadn’t been to a club in years. My whole existence consisted of working, sitting in class or studying. If I wasn’t doing one of those, I tried to catch up on much needed sleep. “I’m in school, and I don’t get out much. What do you wear with a style like that?”
“Nothing much.” She folded a corner of the page down and closed the magazine.
When it finally dawned on me what kind of dancing she meant, my expression must have betrayed me, because she laughed.
“I’m not going for the two-tone, but I think the style is sexy. Men love that peek-a-boo look. What’s your name?” she asked, eyeing me up and down like she was a mall security guard.
“Tamyra Allen. Yours?”
“Shanice Jackson. What’re you going to school for?”
“Business. I want to open a specialty store. Eventually a chain of stores.”
“And the specialty is?”
“Handmade items — jewelry, clothes, home décor items, art. I love that stuff.”
“Hmm, interesting. It must take some serious coin to finance a place like that.”
“Twenty thousand minimum down payment.”
She blew out a loud whistle that drew glances from a couple of women. “What kind of work do you do?”
“I work nights at Sears so I can go to school during the day.”
Shanice wrinkled up her nose. “Ugh! Retail sucks. Been there, done that. With what they pay, you should have that twenty grand saved up in … about twenty years.”
“Tell me about it.” I got up to get another magazine chuckling at the truthfulness of her words. “That’s why I’m trying to get an SBA loan.”
“You have a great body,” she said with a smile as I returned to my seat. “You ever thought about dancing?”
“Thanks for the compliment, but that’s not exactly my cup of tea.”
She continued to study me. “Really? I bet you could sip some of that tea for two grand a week.” She locked her gaze on my face and let the words hang in the air.
“Two grand!” I yelped then covered my mouth. “Are you serious?”
“A good dancer can make five hundred a night easy. The men would love your beautiful skin. We don’t have any really dark-skinned girls working right now, so you’d be the specialty, so to speak.” Shanice shook her head. “Listen, Tamyra don’t get me wrong. I’m not a recruiter for Dreamland or nothin’. I just think you’d be great on stage, if you can work that body. Why don’t you stop by the club to check me out? I’m working every night this week from six to midnight.”
Five hundred a night? That’s all I made in a week at the store. “Thanks. I can’t promise you’ll see me there. Just the thought of taking my clothes off in public gives me hives.”
“Shanice Jackson,” the stylist called her name.
Shanice stood. “This is the last thing I’m going to say, because I don’t want you to think I’m some kind of exotic dance cult leader or anything. All of us don’t strip, and all of us don’t do personal favors for customers. You feel me? The manager is clear about letting the girls draw the line wherever they want. Do like me. Just dance. The paper is there. You could be stacking it in a couple of weeks.” With a wink she turned on her heel and headed toward the back. “By the way,” she called over her shoulder. “Ask for Luscious. That’s my stage name.”
After Shanice left, I sat for a few minutes thinking about how fitting her moniker was. Her big breasts, thick thighs, generous behind, and long auburn hair were just what most black men loved. She probably had them drooling in their drinks.
After our conversation, my conscience dueled with a little angel sitting on one shoulder and a little devil on the other, both of them whispering in my ear.
“You could make five times what you’re making at the store.”
“But think of the kind of people you’ll have to deal with.”
“Think about how long it will take you to save up the money, though.”
“What will people say?”
“What’s more important, your image or opening your business?”
“What if you’re no good at it?”
My mental turmoil lasted all of three days before I shushed the voices and decided to visit Dreamland to see exactly how Shanice earned such a lucrative income.
Naively expecting a seedy-looking building tucked away in an industrial area, I was surprised when a valet greeted me as I pulled up to the club. He parked my car in a fenced-in lot behind the building. A handsome man in a business suit addressed me when I entered the glitzy lobby. “Welcome to Dreamland. How many will there be in your party?”
“Ah, just one. Luscious invited me.”
He extended his hand. “I’m Deion, the manager. And you are?”
I gave his hand a reluctant shake. “Tamyra.” He didn’t need to know my last name.
“All right, Tamyra. Let me show you to a table, then I’ll tell Luscious you’re here.”
I trailed him through the darkened club filled with mirrors, neon lights and a long bar with a small stage at each end anchoring the room. The sight of the floor-to-ceiling silver poles suddenly made me cringe, although I didn’t know why. Wasn’t that standard equipment in one of these places? What had I expected?
Deion escorted me to a table. “If you’d like a drink, I can send a waitress over.” He pulled out the chair for me.
“I would. Thank you.”
“Make yourself comfortable. I’ll go get Luscious.”
He had to be joking. Comfortable was the farthest thing from what I felt. In my twenty-seven years, I’d never been in a place where nearly naked women jiggled and swung their physical assets around while people were eating. The two women on stage definitely had a lot to jiggle and swing. The shorter one’s breasts had to be a DD. The taller one possessed a behind that rivaled Deputy Raineesha Williams on Reno 911. Fascinated, I couldn’t help but stare.
The waitress took my drink order. While waiting for her to return with my screwdriver, I examined the club’s flashy black and purple interior. With the exception of the poles, the interior looked much like any nightclub, a lot of chrome and swirling lights.
Since it wasn’t even eight o’clock, several men were seated at the bar. A popular hip-hop tune played through an awesome sound system. I willed myself to relax. My purpose in being there was simply to observe. No pressure. No commitment.
“Tamyra? Girl, I didn’t think you’d show up.”
My gaze went first to the silver gladiator stilettos that laced all the way up to her thick thighs then to the red kimono-style robe wrapped around her ample body. She seemed so comfortable. I wondered what she was wearing underneath.
Shanice took a seat. “You stirred up my curiosity, so I had to drop by.”
“Perfect timing. You met Deion, right?”
“Yes, he introduced himself. Does he personally greet all the customers?”
“No, just the women. I wish I could chat with you right now, but I’m fittin’ to hit the stage. The set is thirty minutes long. You can ask me questions when I take my break, okay?” She stood. “It’s show time.”
Several minutes later, I jumped when a voice from out of nowhere announced two dancers about to take the twin stages. The song changed, and the volume increased several decibels. As soon as the bass started thumping, Shanice removed the kimono and revealed a two-piece bikini that strategically covered the important parts. As she started to move, several of the men switched from their bar stools to tables located closer to the stage. Way more curvaceous without her clothes than she had appeared fully dressed, Shanice knew how to appeal to her audience. I was enthralled by the power she seemed to have over the men. Mesmerized, they took out their wallets and waved bills in her direction as she crawled toward them in a slow, cat-like move. One by one they used their only legal opportunity to touch her by tucking the bills into her top or bottom. My eyes immediately went to the wedding bands two of them wore, and I wondered if their wives knew where they were or had any idea how much of the household money they were giving away.
The instant her set ended, Shanice stepped off the stage. She returned to my table, picked up the kimono from the back of the chair, tied it at the waist then signaled the bartender. “So, what’d you think?”
“You didn’t take anything off.”
She laughed. “Ain’t nothing to take off. This is a bikini-club. There’s no actual stripping. The uniform can’t get much smaller than this. It ain’t about removing stuff. It’s all about the fantasy. The men want to see how you move your body.”
The fantasy? So I would have to do more than just dance. Shanice laughed again when I frowned. A waitress brought her a bottle of spring water. “You know, they’re imagining what you’re doing to them or they’re doing to you. I’m not responsible for their thoughts.”
“But you’re enticing them.”
“You got that right! And they know ain’t nothing happening. Tree is here to make sure of that.”
“See that brother over by the bar standing like a big ol’ California redwood?” She pointed a long, elaborately painted fingernail toward a fierce-looking man wearing a tight black t-shirt. “Tree is six feet six inches tall and weighs two hundred seventy-five pounds. He can drag most guys out of here by their collar without even breaking a sweat. Tree’s rescued me a coupla times.”
“Do you get a lot of crazies in here?
“Not a lot, but I ain’t gonna lie to you. There are a few who need a little psychological counseling. You ever danced in public before?”
“I was a cheerleader at Banneker High back in the day. Does that count?”
“A little. Back when we were in school the squads didn’t really work their stuff on the field.”
“Yeah, we had rules back then.”
“At least you know what it’s like to perform in front of a crowd. That’ll help when you audition for Deion.” She settled her gaze on my face as if waiting for a response.
I hadn’t thought about auditioning, but I guess if a woman couldn’t get past the audition, she’d never dance in front of a crowd. “What is Deion looking for?”
“A different look, and you got that. Of course, you need to be able to move. If you’re gonna do this for real, let me make a suggestion. Take a pole class first. Polelateaz or Dance 411 always have hot classes. Buy a couple of videos so you can study them.” Shanice talked smoothly with no expression on her face. The idea sounded comical, only she was dead serious.
The idea of putting myself on display scared me. What Shanice said about the no touching rule eased my fears a little. In spite of what I had seen tonight, visions of drunk, sweaty men pawing at me made me want to throw up. Yet, I was still considering the opportunity to increase my loan collateral.
Doubts about my ability to turn myself into a sexy vixen warred against my desire to be an independent business owner. Granted, I loved to dance, but never had I performed for a man with the intention of turning him on. Even the idea of learning the skill in front of other women freaked me out. The thought of Deion laughing uncontrollably as I convulsed around the platform like Elaine on Seinfeld put knots in my stomach.
“One more thing. Deion ain’t crazy about short hair. He’ll probably tell you to wear a wig or get a weave.”
“Are you kidding? I don’t do fake hair. No offense.”
She shrugged good-naturedly. “It ain’t a rule or nothin’, but he has mentioned to some of the other girls that their hair was too short. That’s why everyone has long hair. Yours is different though. It goes with your look.”
“My look?” I’d never considered that I had a “look.”
“It’s just my opinion. You semi-sweet girls look better with short hair. It seems more natural.”
What? Was she saying she considered me halfway nice. “Semi-sweet? Why would you say that?”
“Don’t tell me you’ve never heard that before. I’m talking ‘bout your complexion, girl. You know, like dark chocolate.”
The analogy was new to me, but I liked it. “When was the last time you met a dark-skinned person born with naturally long, straight hair?”
“Good point. I’ve been through braids, naturals, and extensions. I love my hair short.” Massaging some gel into my damp hair and running my fingers through it every morning to give it that spiky look was all I needed to hit the road. “Do you think Deion will hire me if I refuse to change it?”
She shrugged again. “Who knows? I just wanted to give you a heads up.”
“Thanks, Shanice. I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet. I appreciate your honesty though.”
“Do you have a man, Tamyra?”
“Not at the moment. Why do you ask?”
“’Cause he might not understand you wanting to do this. A lot of them don’t. It can cause big-time problems.”
Well, that was one thing I didn’t have to worry about. It had been over a year since I’d been in a relationship. Men took time and attention. I was just too busy working to be bothered.
The idea of being able to triple my savings pushed me to start searching for the help I needed. One thing I was sure of though – I needed help fast if I was going to do this. Deion wasn’t going to wait forever to fill the vacancy.
The book is available at the following links:
From Mauritius with love,