Stella and I were at Tao Nightclub dancing to a dope EDM set by DJ Asia. Out of nowhere, a middle-aged man emerged onto the dance floor. He wasn’t interested in the scantily-clad go-go dancers on raised platforms, shaking their butts around us. Instead, he ogled DJ Asia as she cupped headphones against her ears, her long hair and curvy silhouette hovering behind a laptop in the elevated DJ booth. When his view was blocked by a crowd of party-goers, he looked in our direction. He approached us, his musty scent forcing me to hold my breath. I turned away.
"Hey there,” he said in a raspy voice.
Stella nudged me, a signal it was my turn to take the lead. She’d done the honors last night at Club Lavo in the Palazzo Casino.
I reluctantly turned back. “Hello,” I replied, hating that my voice sounded more polite than intended.
"So you two alone?”
"Our boyfriends went to get us drinks.”
The man shifted closer. “Your boyfriends are idiots for leaving you two by yourselves.”
Stella gave me a get-rid-of-him look before disappearing into the crowd by the bar. I tried to think of any reason to get out of the conversation. “They’ll be back, but thanks.”
The man reached for my arm. “I guess it’s you and me. Your friend left.”
He somehow wrapped his arm around my waist and twisted me into him.
"What do you think you’re doing?” I said in a rising voice.
"Come on now,” he breathed in my ear. “Let’s make this a night you’ll never forget.”
"Frickin’ let go of me! You’re like fifty years old. I could be your daughter!”
The man reached for my arms. “You can’t believe I’m old enough to be your daddy, can you?”
A crescendo of sharp energy rose through me once I heard the word daddy. Perhaps being abandoned by my father at a young age had actually affected me, or maybe it was because of this guy’s creepy demeanor. Whatever it was made me twist his hand and pin his neck against the wall with my forearm.
"I’m only eighteen!” I yelled. The look of shock on his face gave me a moment of satisfaction as I fought off a sudden urge to lick and bite his neck. Why did I want anything to do with his neck?
"Feisty,” the man replied hoarsely, my arm still pressed against his Adam’s apple. The color drained from his face, and I almost smiled at that, but the scent of his skin overcame me.
"Who are you!” I growled. And why did my throat feel like it was starting to burn?
The man strained for a breath. “I’ve never seen you before in my life!”
"Why did you walk up to me?”
"You were staring at me! And it’s hard not to notice girls who look like twins!”
It was a bullshit response, even if Stella and I did look like twins, at least on this night. We had decided to wear matching black halter tops and skirts, while I added three inches thanks to my only pair of wedges. Stella soared like a model and her skin had a golden radiance; I was never in her league, but tagged along when she begged me to go out on the strip. And because I had given in, I had to confront this creepy guy who had noticed us in the Tao Nightclub’s strobe lights.
"You shouldn’t even be looking at girls our age!” I yelled.
My hold on his neck loosened when my stomach inexplicably convulsed in a split second of pain. I cursed the impeccable timing of female cramps as the man staggered away. A blue vein spiraled from his neck into his shoulder blade. I leaned closer to touch his skin until two powerful arms grabbed the guy’s collar.
Harvey, a bouncer at the club, looked at me with a shocked expression. I backpedaled, suddenly aware an altercation had started because of me. Smoke seemed to rise from Harvey’s face and over his bald head. There was absolutely no way the guy had a chance now. I took a deep breath, the burn in my throat quickly extinguished. What. The. Heck.
"What’s going on here?” Harvey yelled in the man’s face.
The man pointed in my direction. “She attacked me!”
Harvey tugged the man’s collar and pulled him towards an exit sign. “You got to be kidding! She’s barely over a hundred pounds!”
The stranger tried to push him, but his arms caught air against Harvey’s six-foot frame. Once they disappeared down a dark corridor, chills ran through me.
Stella emerged and held my hands. “What was that about?”
Exactly. Why did I growl and jump on the guy? I leaned towards Stella’s ear. “I’m not sure what just happened!”
Stella held my shoulders. “Oh my God! I ran to get Harvey when he reached for your arm. But that’s before you pinned him against the wall!”
"I had to defend myself!”
"Shit! Maybe it’s time for me to take martial arts like my girl Dorothy Dizon! You kicked his sorry ass!”
I could still smell the trail of the man’s scent. “I feel…gross!” I absolutely wanted to take a shower to make the ickiness go away.
"Don’t let that loser ruin our night! Come on!” Stella pulled me to the dance floor where she attempted an exaggerated running man in her flats, which somehow made me laugh. I tried not to get into the cheesiness of classic dance moves, but Stella’s enthusiasm broke me down. Harvey emerged and motioned us to the bar in the middle of my halfhearted Roger Rabbit. He asked if I was okay. My insides squirmed at the reminder of the man’s arm around my waist, but I assured him I wasn’t hurt. Then a fight broke out.
Harvey sprinted up the stairs to the second level. He pushed a drunk and pointed at another guy to stay at the end of the bar. There were verbal threats between two guys with high-pitched yells from their girlfriends, making the scene even more dramatic. By the time Harvey and his crew had handled the situation, Stella and I had agreed to call it a night.
After a pit stop in the ladies’ room, we waved bye to DJ Asia in the booth and accepted Harvey’s offer to escort us to my car in case the creepy guy was loitering in the casino. Once we found my Mercedes in the self-parking garage, we thanked him for kicking the guy out. He said it was nothing and watched us drive off before he went back in the Palazzo.
After hitting all the greens on the strip, I accelerated into traffic and started to feel normal, especially when our favorite Cardi B. song played on the radio. But after dropping Stella off and promising to text her from home, my hands quivered on the steering wheel as I swallowed a strange craving at the back of my throat. I focused on keeping my trembling hands from driving me off the road as the image of the guy’s creepy smile made me nauseous.
Who the fuck did he think he was?
I pressed my forehead against the steering wheel and took long breaths after parking in the driveway, trying to settle the queasy feeling inside me. I texted Stella that I was home and walked in the house.
I checked on my mom upstairs. She was snoring. Loudly. Which meant she would be knocked out until late morning. I closed her door quietly and threw my smoky halter top and skirt in the hamper. I took a long-ass shower, making sure my entire body was slathered with body soap. After toweling off and brushing my teeth, I changed into my favorite Golden State Warriors jersey and shorts and plopped on my bed, cringing at almost licking the sleazy man’s neck. No girl should ever want to lick that man’s neck! After a half-hour of tossing and turning, I fell asleep listening to Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” on repeat in my earbuds, hoping I wasn’t losing my mind.