Well...Maybe One Power by Chaos

1. Prologue by Chaos

2. The Road to Oxnard is Paved With Good Intentions by Chaos

3. For Every Door That Closes?There's a Guy Trying to Get Out by Chaos

4. All Are Not Merry that Dance Lightly Off the Stage by Chaos

5. Epilogue by Chaos

Prologue by Chaos
"Humiliated?!" I gape at her. "You call that humiliation?!" That's really not what I intended to say. It certainly wouldn't help my case by questioning the fact that she'd been embarrassed. Besides, bringing up embarrassment was opening a door I really didn't want open. My life's just one humiliation after another, so maybe my frame of reference isn't the best for this sort of thing. For someone as perfect as Buffy, it probably is up there on the humiliation scale.

"Humiliation barely covers this, Xander," she shoots back, glaring at me. "Mortification is more like it."

My mind races. I have to fix this. I didn't mean to hurt her. I really didn't. My chronic case of footinmouthitis just flared at the wrong moment.

And it's not like it had been that bad. I mean no real damage was done. Riley already knew about vampires. Of course he didn't know that I knew he knew…I don't think. Not that that matters.

And it's not like the subject of Deadboy wouldn't have come up sooner or later, anyway. Okay, it probably would have come up in a much better way, but it's not like he wouldn't have ever found out about Buffy's undead ex-boyfriend. I know that's no excuse. "Hey man. Heard you were dating Buffy. Do you have a pulse?" was probably not the opening line for that conversation that Buffy would have used. Okay, I can see how she ended up being humiliated. And it was my fault.

"Buff…" I try to start over, formulating an apology in my mind. "I really didn't mean-"

"You never mean it, Xander, but you have to stop doing stuff like that. I like Riley. I don't know if I love him yet or not, but I want the chance to find out."

She leaves out the line about my thoughtless remarks possibly screwing up her chances to find out, but it's obvious that's exactly what she's thinking. I have to fix this. I can't stand it when Buffy's mad at me. Okay, think fast, think fast, think fast. I humiliated Buffy. She's mad. When someone humiliates me, I always feel better if I can return the favor. But Buffy's not the type who would purposely humiliate me, even if it is for revenge. Which means…

This is a job for Humiliation Boy.

I can't believe I'm about to do this. I take a deep breath.

"Buff…let me tell you a little story…"
The Road to Oxnard is Paved With Good Intentions by Chaos
I'd never really been out of Sunnydale before, so I'd really been looking forward to getting out and seeing the world. I vowed not to go back until I'd set foot in every single state in the US. Maybe that goal was a little unrealistic, but not once did it occur to me that I wouldn't even make it out of the state. In fact, I didn't even make it two hours out of my hometown before my trip encountered its first disaster.

So, there I was, out in the middle of nowhere and the engine of my car was lying in the middle of the highway. My first instinct was to call it a trip, walk to town, and phone my dad to ask him to come get me. But I really didn't want to admit to him or anyone else that he was right about the fact that I couldn't even make it on my own for 24 hours. No, I was going to prove that I could handle things on my own. I'd get the car towed to the nearest town, find a job and work until I could pay for a car that didn't suffer from rust-induced leprosy.

Sounds simple enough, right?

And at first things just fell right in place.

My first break came as I was hauling the engine out of the road. It was obviously too big and heavy to just pick up, so I was trying to just push it. All I wanted was to get it out of the road so that no one would hit it. If I was lucky some auto salvager would buy it or something. Not that there would likely be too many people out there who would want an engine that had been dropped and run over, but maybe they could salvage something out of it. Besides, I could just imagine some idiot hitting the hunk of metal and then suing me for damages or something.

"Havin' some car trouble?" a man called to me as he pulled his truck over to the side of the road.

"Nah, I just figured I'd give the auto wreckers a hand," I replied, looking up as I heard him chuckling. I smiled as I spotted the fact that his wasn't just an ordinary truck. A tow-truck. The wheel of fortune was spinning my way for a change.

"Looks like yer the one who could use a hand," he smiled back at me, a wide toothy…rather *toothless** grin. I tried not to let it faze me as I saw that he was missing several teeth and the rest looked like they were on the verge of committing suicide.

The next several minutes were spent by the two of us doing back-breaking labor, but we managed to get the engine onto the back of the truck, and he got to work hooking up the rusty carcass to drag it back to town.

"Thanks," I extended my hand to him. "Mister…"

"Don't mention it," he replied, shaking my hand. "Now let's getcha into town and see what we can do fer ya."

I hopped into the cab of the truck, ignoring the fact that he hadn't taken the bait and told me his name. Then again, I hadn't told him mine, either. "Thanks for stopping, by the way," I tried again as he slid behind the wheel. "I'm Xander."

"James Robert Perkins," he replied. "Folks call me Jim-Bob." I stifled a grin. He certainly did look like a "Jim-Bob" if ever I'd seen one.

As it turned out, he was a stereotypical Jim-Bob in other respects as well. I think it's a prerequisite for Jim-Bobs to come from large close-knit families. As it turned out, this Jim-Bob was no exception to that rule.

"My brother owns a dealership just down the road a spot," he informed me as we pulled into Jim-Bob's Service Station. "I think you'll have better luck findin' a newer car than tryin' to fix this one." He smiled at me again. "I could give ya a lift if ya want."

I shook my head. "I don't think I can afford a new car yet. I don't have a whole lot of money." I had a few hundred, but I wanted to get something that would last a little longer than the sort of car one could purchase for a few hundred. I'd planned on working odd-jobs here and there on my trip so that I could stretch the money I had a bit farther, but that didn't help me right now. "I'm going to have to find a job or something to pay for it."

Jim-Bob nodded as he sized me up. "I just might be able to help ya there, too," he smiled.

"Really? That'd be great." Jim-Bob certainly was turning out to be the best thing that could have happened to me under the circumstances. "What do you want me to do? I don't really know a whole lot about cars, but I can certainly pump ga--"

"No, I'm afraid I don't really have any openin's here at the garage, but I do know that my brother is looking for some help right now."

A car salesman? Oh, Lord. On one hand it'd possibly get me a good discount, but…it just didn't really seem like the sort of job I'd be good at. I couldn't really imagine myself out there schmoozing for dollars. Besides, Oxnard didn't seem like a particularly huge town and I figured that I'd probably be working on commissions. Not exactly a high-paying job if there weren't enough car-buyers around. "Thanks again, but I don't think I'd be a very good car salesman…"

Jim-Bob laughed. "No, no, my other brother. He runs a club in town and he's looking for some kitchen help. Bussing tables and washing dishes. That sorta thing." He sized me up. "Yer 18, right?"

I nodded.

"Maybe you could even do some bartending then. Or he's always looking for talent."

Talent? I tried not to laugh thinking about the talent show that Snyder had forced me to be in my sophomore year. My acting debut as Oedipus hardly would earn me any stars on the walk of fame.

"It pays pertty good. I'm sure I could get him to take you on for a couple months. Pay's good and ya should be able to afford something reasonable by the end of the summer."

"Sounds great," I returned. "Where do I find your brother?"

"Why'n't you go get yerself a room and stop by a little later. I'll get somethin' set up fer ya."

I thanked him for what seemed like the hundredth time in the past hour.

"There's a hotel just up the street that should have a spot fer ya." He pointed up the road. "Take the second left and it's just down the block. Ya can see it from the corner."

I wondered briefly if another of his brothers might run that as well, but decided it would probably sound rude to ask, so I bit my tongue.




The hotel wasn't exactly the sort of place I wanted to spend the summer in, but it was cheap, and cheap was good. Well, cheap was good except for the roaches involved. Besides, the woman who ran the place was willing to give me a pretty good discount to pay for a month in advance. If miracles occurred and I managed to get enough money to get out of town before the month was up she would pro-rate me and refund the rest. But, I figured that probably wasn't going to be an issue anyway.

My room was kind of small and it was pretty dirty. On the other hand, my room at home was hardly immaculate, or huge, either. It would definitely do for a few months. Anything was better than going home and facing up to everyone that my summer excursion was a complete failure.

I unpacked my suitcase and went into the bathroom to wash up a little before heading back to the service station. My clothes were grimy and I was covered with grease and dirt. A little showering would probably help my chances of landing a job at the club.

It could be kind of fun working at a club. Music, dancing. Probably lots of ladies…it could end up being a really profitable summer after all. After all, it wasn't Sunnydale, so odds were a lot better that any women I hooked up with would be 100% human and would have a pulse.



Interlude One




"Does this story have a point?" Buffy breaks in to my tale of woe and horror. Okay, so the story is nowhere near the real woe and horror yet, but somehow I can't seem to get myself worked up enough to tell about that part.

"I'll get to that. I just…"

"You're just stalling for time."

"True. But there is a point."

"Does the point have anything whatsoever to do with you making me humiliate myself in front of Riley?"

I shrug. "Not really, but--"

Buffy turns and starts walking away from me, obviously still angry with me. I should have let her leave, but I really can't stand it when she's so upset.

"But it is a story that will humiliate me completely."

Buffy turns around, a slight smile tugging at the corner of her lips. She's trying not to let me know that she's starting to warm up to the idea of forgiving me already. "Okay, I'll give you ten more minutes."

Ten minutes. Okay, I'd have to work my way to that part of the story quickly. I just wasn't ready to skip to that yet. The best way to do it would be to tell one of the less embarrassing things first and work my way to the big one.

"I showered quickly and then tried to go out and get some clean clothes. The door had kind of swelled from the steam from the shower and it didn't want to open."

Buffy grins. "I can see the humiliation factor coming into this story."

"Oh no, not yet," I admit. "But it comes into play a little later."

"I get it," she rolls her eyes. "Foreshadowing, right? Skip it and just get on with the humiliation."

I roll my eyes. "Fine, don't let me tell my story." She held up her hands in mock surrender. "Okay, after a few minutes of panicking," I note her smirk at the thought, "and pulling at the door I managed to get it open and get out on my own."

"Talented guy."

"Are you going to let me get to the humiliation or not?"

"When you put it that way…"

"So, I finished getting dressed and headed back to the service station…"
For Every Door That Closes?There's a Guy Trying to Get Out by Chaos

So, I finished getting dressed and headed back to the service station.

By the time I got there, Jim-Bob had managed to get in touch with his brother and they were both sitting in his office waiting for me to show up.

"You must be Xander," the man acknowledged me, rising to shake my hand. "William Joseph Perkins," he introduced as we shook hands. I saw it coming even before he continued. "People around here call me Billy-Joe." He was a lot more refined than his brother, but there were enough little things in his mannerisms that told me that he and his brother had the same small-town-back-woods-or-whatever background.

"Alexander Harris," I replied, keeping my suspicion of hillbilly-ism to myself. "Call me Xander."

"Jim-Bob tells me you're looking for a job for a few months?" he asked, sizing me up.

I nod, slightly nervous from the visual scrutiny he was giving me. "Really just until I can afford to replace my car," I admitted.

Billy-Joe smiled. "Well, Xander, I could definitely use your help in the kitchen at the club. We're really short handed these days. Our last bus-boy decided to start dancing and we haven't had any luck replacing him yet."

Dancing? What did that have to do with him not washing dishes? Unless of course he headed off to New York or something to get into the shows or something. Or maybe he worried that dish-pan hands would hurt his chances at hooking up with a partner. Didn't really matter, I supposed.

"Do you have any experience?"

I flushed. Somehow I didn't think that I could count being an assistant-to-the-Slayer on my resume. "Not really," I admitted. "I wash the dishes at home and everything…"

Billy-Joe waved his hand to silence me. "No matter. It's not a difficult job. You'll be fine, I'm sure."

"Sounds good. When can I start?"

"Well, we can head over there now and start filling out some paper work. I can start getting things processed this evening and you could start as early as tomorrow night if you'd like."

"Sign me up."

"I was hoping you'd say that. Let's go over and get you started."

A few minutes later I was highly regretting my decision to take the job without getting a few more details about the place. I stared at the name on the door of the club. The Fabulous Ladies' Night Club. A strip club. For ladies. Somehow that just wasn't as appealing as the sort of club I had in mind. Maybe I'd spend tomorrow during the day looking for something a little different...but I decided that I may as well fill out the paperwork just in case. It wouldn't hurt to have this place as a backup.


After I finished with the paperwork, Billy-Joe handed me a paper bag. Peeking inside revealed a pair of black pants and a bow-tie-ish sort of elasticy thing. "Uh…Billy-Joe?" I queried. "What sort of shirt do I wear?"

His eyes gleamed as he grinned. "Actually, son, when you're out in the club that's your uniform. In the kitchen you'll have an apron."

Oh good. I was so going to go right out and search for a different job as soon as I left.

"You are okay with that, aren't you son?"

I forced myself to smile. "Sure. No problem." Why hadn't I spent more time at the gym lately?

"Terrific. I'll see you here tomorrow afternoon at 4 to get you acquainted with the place and help set things up, then."

I shook his hand again and headed out to find a job that was a little more my style.

As luck would have it there were two other places in walking distance that were hiring. A restaurant looking for a fully-dressed bus-boy and way better yet, a comic book shop. Now there's a dream job for me. I mean if there's anything I know a lot about it's comics. I could do that job in my sleep. As luck would further have it, I was able to get appointments for interviews for both places the following morning.

But as you know, my luck has never been that good.

I had a lot of trouble getting to sleep that night. I was just too restless. My first night out of Sunnydale, my first real job-hunting experience, two job interviews in the morning…I was too pumped up to sleep. Of course going to job interviews after having gotten no sleep was not exactly a good idea. So I went out and ran a few miles to work off some of my extra energy. By the time I got home it was nearly three in the morning and I was exhausted. I pretty much collapsed into bed and was asleep before my head even hit the pillow.

Which led to the fact that I forgot to set the alarm.

When I woke up, I saw that I only had about twenty minutes to get up, take a shower, get dressed, and get to the restaurant for my interview. There was little chance that I was going to make it. Great. One job blown before I can even interview for it. I could have skipped the shower and probably gotten there in time, but I hadn't showered after my midnight run and I suspected that if I showed up as is, that I probably wouldn't make a terribly good impression. Not exactly the sort of hygiene that was desired in someone working around food. Besides, I really wanted the job at the comic shop, not the one bussing tables. That would be so much better. I decided to blow off the restaurant interview and take my time getting ready for the second appointment.

Besides, a nice long hot shower sounded really nice.

And it was. At least it was right up until I remembered that the door had swollen during my quick shower the afternoon before.

I bolted from the shower and lunged for the door. To my horror it was completely stuck. It wouldn't budge even a little. I pulled at it for several minutes, trying to get the door open, but it wasn't making any bit of difference. It was just as stuck as it had been when I'd first gotten out of the shower. Of course, it probably didn't help that the hot water was still running and filling the room with still more steam.

The damage was already done, but I dove for the knobs and tried to shut the water off. Except the knob for the hot water came off in my hand.

Damn! I tried to snap it back into place, but the pin had actually broken off. I hadn't even pulled it that hard! I had to find a way to shut off the water. And quick. I didn't have my watch on as I'd left it out in the other room, but by my estimation I had only about an hour to get to my interview at the comic shop.

I had to think. Just a little problem solving. What do I do when I have a problem that needs solving? I stop and think what anyone with half-a-brain would think. What would Willow do? She was always good at coming up with ingenious plans with limited resources. Okay, the trick would be to think like Willow.

I quickly scoured the room for something that could help me. Soap. Two towels. Complementary packets of shampoo and conditioner. Little plastic drinking cups. Nothing!

I tried to grab the pin to turn it using my bare hands, but it was too hot and I couldn't get a grasp. I grabbed the towel off the rack and wrapped my hand so that maybe could get a hold if I could use the towel to absorb the heat. Unfortunately it was no good. When I was able to get the towel thick enough to absorb the heat, it became too thick to get a hold of the small pin.

I stared at the pin, hoping that it would somehow give me another idea. There was a very slight notch in the side of the pin. Maybe there was something that I could wedge into the notch and use as kind of a lever or something to turn the pin and shut the water off. But what could I possibly use?

I stepped back and looked around again. It was getting really hot in the room. It didn't help that the lights were those high-wattage ones that let off a lot of heat. And the switch was on the other side of the door. I threw the wet towel into the tub and grabbed the dry one. Using that, I unscrewed the bulbs. It didn't help with the steam, but at least it wasn't quite as hot. One small problem solved. Two major problems to go.

I pulled open the drawer in hopes that someone may have left behind something useful. Fingernail clippers! I snatched them up and hurried back over to the shower. I snapped the fingernail file arm out of the clippers and slid it into the notch. It fit snugly. I was really getting somewhere! Now all I had to do was turn it…

I screamed in frustration as the fingernail file bent. It was too weak to budge the pin. Damn it! Wait. There was merit in screaming. "HEEEEELLLLLPPPP!" I screamed, hoping that the walls of the hotel were thin enough that someone would be able to hear me. I began pounding on the walls and on the door and bellowing.

Unfortunately, it seemed that someone had spared no expense in the hotel walls. I spent a good twenty minutes screaming myself silly before I finally accepted that either no one could hear me or no one was willing to help me. And I'd pre-paid for an entire month's rent. At which point the woman had indicated that if I requested maid service I should call the front desk. There was absolutely no one who would come looking for me. Maybe Jim-Bob or Billy-Joe, but somehow I suspected that they would probably just assume that I'd found a way to get out of town or something.

I still had half an hour to get out and still make it to my interview. It wasn't a total write off…yet.

There had to be something I could do! If I could find something to use to pry the door open…obviously the fingernail file would be way too weak. I glanced around the room again. The towel rack. Metal. I grabbed hold of the rack and pulled as hard as I could, yanking it off the wall. HAH! Take that!

Okay, so now I had a broken towel rack.

Okay, I had a broken towel rack, a wet towel, a dry towel, soap, shampoo…wait a moment. It was a long shot, but it was worth a try. I slid the metal bar out of the brackets of the towel rack. Then I just needed to flatten the end of it somehow. I tested the strength of it. It didn't feel like it would be too hard to bend. I needed something to help me do so I looked around the small bathroom again. Perfect!

I held the bar upright with the tip at the edge of the open drawer. Okay, one…two…SLAM! The end of the bar crumpled. HA! Now I had a pry bar!

I tried to wedge the pry bar between the frame and the door. I just wasn't going to happen. There was absolutely no leeway. And trying was only bending the tip of the bar.

I flattened it in the drawer again. Maybe I could use it to pop the pins out of the hinges and just take the door off.

After about fifteen minutes attempting to do that I realized that it was futile. On closer inspection I noticed that the bolts were actually welded to the door. Apparently the hotel didn't want anyone stealing their doors.

There had to be a way out and I needed to find it soon. I was still roasting even with the lights out. Maybe I'd luck out and the hotel would run out of hot water. It had been running full blast for over forty minutes. Of course I could imagine that it being a hotel, they'd have to have a pretty big reserve. Please let the reserve run out soon! Of course even then I'd still have to wait for the swelling to go down before I'd be able to budge the door. At this rate there was absolutely no way I would get to the interview on time even if I were able to just walk out of the bathroom. Damn it! Maybe they wouldn't be mad if I were only a couple minutes late. There had to be a way to get the door to open!

My mind began racing again. There had to be something I hadn't thought of yet. I've had to get out of tight spots before…That was it! Once when we were little I'd gotten my head stuck between two rungs of the Rosenberg's staircase. They'd used soap to make the banister rungs slick. Okay, so maybe I could make the door a little bit slick. Except there was no way to get at it at all with soap.

I grabbed the packet of shampoo. Perfect. I ripped open the packet and began pouring the contents down the edge of the door and watched as it rolled down, collecting in a puddle on the floor.

I slid to the ground, laughing and not really knowing why. I should be crying and tearing my hair out.

I could imagine the headline already: Naked Man Wrecks Hotel Bathroom, Starves to Death.

"HEEELLLLLPPPPP!!"

Screaming wasn't helping. I had to calm down.

"Sir?"

Great. And now I had voices ringing in my head.

"Sir, are you okay in there?"

No, that was distinctly a voice coming from the other side of the door!

"Help?" I asked whoever it was.

"What's going on in there, Honey?" a woman with a gravelly voice called from the other side. She sounded like she'd been smoking about six packs a day for the past 20 years.

"The door's stuck. I can't open it!" I informed her.

"Well, Honey, the doors swell when the room steams up. You should leave the door open when you take a shower. Just turn off the hot water and let the room cool down, okay, Doll?"

"I can't turn off the water. The knob fell off."

"Okay I'll try and open it from this side." After a few moments listening to her pounding on the door I heard her curse. "Well, I'll be damned. That door just don't want to open." I heard her laughing. Oh sure, it's probably funny if it's not you. "You hang in there, Honey, I'll go get some help…"

It was about twenty minutes after that that I heard several more people in the next room. Oh great. An audience. And nudity!

I grabbed the dry towel and wrapped it around myself and waited for them to break through to my side of the door.

"We're going to try and force the door open," the gravel lady called. "You should probably stand in the shower, Sugar." I obeyed not even thinking about the fact that I was now getting the only dry towel sopping wet until it was too late. Great.

It took about fifteen minutes of them working, but finally they managed to get the door open. Two rather large men burst into the room and turned to look at me. And then they burst out laughing.

"Tough day, kid?" one of them asked, as he looked around the tiny bathroom.

"You have no idea."

The men turned and left the room, allowing me to get out of the tub and head into the main room.

The gravel lady smiled as I emerged from the bathroom relatively unscathed. "You okay, Sugar?" she asked.

"Nothing hurt but my pride." She laughed appreciatively, then looked me over again. I became fully aware of the fact that I was now standing before her wearing only soaking wet towel that was clinging to my skin. "If you'll excuse me I have to…get dressed now." I grabbed a clean shirt and my jeans.

"You don't by chance dance do you, Dollface?" she asked.

I turned and stared at her for a moment. "Your last name wouldn't be Perkins, would it?"

She extended her hand. "Elizabeth Jean Starkey." Betty-Jean. Fitting. "Maiden name, Perkins."


Interlude II

By now Buffy is laughing. "That really happened?"

"No. I made it up to humble myself to you," I lie.

Buffy frowns, but her eyes are still sparkling. "Thank you, Xander. I feel a little better now."

"I'm off the hook? I hadn't even gotten to the really humiliating part yet!" Me and my big mouth.

"Oh, really," Buffy eyes me. "I never said you were forgiven."

Heh. Okay, she has me there. "But I am, right?"

Her frown deepens. "You could have really ruined things with Riley."

"Does the fact that I didn't score me any points?"

"A few, but not enough. Now spill."

"Okay, fine. So, I shooed Betty-Jean out of my room and got dressed. Unfortunately by then I was late for my interview at the comic shop. I went anyway, but the manager wouldn't talk to me. He said that he needed someone who would be responsible, and he wasn't convinced that I was that man.

"So I went over to the restaurant, but they'd hired someone else after I'd missed my appointment there, too."

"So, you got stuck working at the Fabulous Ladies' Night," Buffy finishes, her mouth forming that same slight smile again.

"Oh, but it doesn't end there…"

Buffy grins. "The night the dancer called in sick?"

"Uh-huh."

"I thought you said no power on this earth would ever make you tell what happened."

And I really hadn't thought there was one. Until I'd seen her so upset with me. So maybe there was one I'd overlooked. "Well…maybe one power," look at her in total seriousness. "But you have to promise me that what I tell you does not leave this room."

She nods, still grinning. "No power on this earth will ever make me tell."

I roll my eyes. "Okay, so I'd been working there about a week and a half and it--"

"A week and a half? I thought you told me it was a couple months!" She laughs. "You were a dancer the whole summer?"

"Yet again, do you want me to tell this not?"

She forces the grin off her face and apologizes. "I'll be quiet."

"Thank you. Now where was I…? Oh yes. I'd been working there about a week and a half…"

All Are Not Merry that Dance Lightly Off the Stage by Chaos
I'd been working there about a week and a half and was still getting used to being ogled every time I went out into the club to get more dirty glasses. I had kept pretty much to myself all week and was getting the hang of everything pretty well. Except, of course, for the time I dropped an entire tray of glasses as I was attempting to carry a few too many at one time. Due to that little fiasco, I currently owed more than I was going to make for the week. I was really glad that I'd paid for the hotel in advance, but now I was going to be scraping by to get enough food until my next paycheck. So, I was at first really receptive to the idea when Billy-Joe called me to his office and asked me how I'd like to make a little more money.

I sat forward in the chair, perking up a bit. More money would be a very good thing. Food is good. Money buys food. Natural. Besides, the more money I made, the faster I could buy a car and get the heck out of Dodge…or Oxnard, or whatever. I could get out. And I'd never have to spend any more time on the inside of a ladies' strip club. That would be a big bonus. Besides, being a bartender would probably be a lot more fun than washing dishes. "Sounds great, when do I start?"

Billy-Joe smiled. "Terrific. I'm really in a bind here. Wasn't sure where I was going to find another dancer on such short notice. Then Betty-Jean suggested that I ask you and--"

Tunnel vision. Lots of little black dots. Everything hazy. Must. Remember. To. Breathe. "Um…dancer?" I manage to get out.

Billy-Joe's smile fades slightly. "Gregory called and said that he'd come down with mono, and we really need someone to fill in for him. You think you could do that?"

I blinked. No. I really didn't think I could do that. I opened my mouth to respond, but before I could, Billy-Joe continued speaking.

"Betty-Jean thought you looked just right for the job. It's an opportunity to make a whole lot more than washing dishes. Most of the guys average several hundred in tips each night…"

Several hundred in tips? Every night? A whole heck of a lot better than minimum wage. I'd be out of here a whole lot faster. But…nudity? I started shaking my head.

"…you could fill in until Gregory gets back and then you should have more than enough to buy yourself a new car and be on your way. Still have some time to travel before you go home at the end of the summer."

He had a point there. I could do this for a few weeks then go out and finish the trip I had planned, then I wouldn't have to admit to anyone that I spent my summer vacation holed up in Oxnard at a strip club. Besides, how bad could dancing really be? It's not like after this I'll ever have to see any of these people again. I could do this. And suddenly I realize that my head is nodding and I'm speaking. "Okay, I guess I'll give it a try." Did I really say that?

"Terrific! I'll have one of the guys help you pick out a costume and kind of show you the ropes…"

Costume. Good God, what have I gotten myself into?

Half an hour later I found myself muttering that mantra over and over again as I listened to the crowd on the other side of the curtain. What was I thinking?! I couldn't do it. No way was I going out on that stage. Huh-uh, no way. Not in the ridiculous getup I was wearing. And definitely not *without** the ridiculous getup I was wearing. What on earth was I thinking when I said I'd do this? Nope, mask or no mask, Zorro was not going to be making an onstage appearance tonight.

"You okay kid?" Marcus, the guy who'd given me the run down on the costume and how to…remove it…asked, looking at me with slight amusement on his face. "You look like you're about to lose your lunch."

If I'd eaten any, that would have been a distinct possibility. "I can't do this."

Marcus grinned. "Don't worry, we all went through that the first time."

I shook my head. He wasn't understanding. "No, I mean I really can't do it. What was I thinking? I'm like the worst dancer that ever existed!"

"C'mon, kid, anyone can dance. The 'ladies' here don't even care how well you dance as long as you look good." He still wasn't following me. Then again, he'd never seen me in action at The Bronze. I started to shake my head again, but he only smiled. "It's like this, kid. Just go out there; schmooze with the ladies. Get right up close. Make each one feel like you're there, dancing just for her. You'll get so you can tell which ones to milk for money. When you spot those, just take off one of the tossable pieces of the costume and toss it her direction. If you do your job right, the money will just come flowing to you."

Okay. I can do this.

"First you get the women. Then you get the money," he summarized.

*First you get the women. Then you get the money. First you get the women…then you get the money…I think I can remember that one.*

"Okay. Now, remember what I told you about the costume. You can use the sword as a prop for a while, then set it down some place. Don't drop it, it makes a really loud noise. Then, the gloves off first. That makes it easier to find the catches on the rest of the stuff. Then take off the belt. Drop that, don't throw it. It's cheap, but could hurt someone if it hits them. Then the shirt. Make sure you unhook the cuffs before you release the clasp of that one, it'll make it a lot easier. Then the pants, there are clasps on both sides and then just pull the velcro. Don't throw those either, they're expensive to replace if they don't throw them back. Hat next, throw that. If it doesn't come back, it's only a couple bucks. And last, the cape. It's up to you if you want to take off the mask or not. The ladies love it if you do that last thing. Or you can just leave it on. Remember all that?"

First you get the women. Then you get the money. Yep, I remember that.

"Good luck, kid, you're up."

I took a deep breath and started through the curtain.



Interlude III




"Can this be the part I don't hear about?" Buffy cuts me off.

I grin. "You don't want to hear about Xander the masked stripper?"

Buffy gives me a look that is full of distaste. More distaste than I would have appreciated, but hey.

"Okay. Fast forward…So Billy-Joe gave me a check from the insurance money-"

"Whoa. Rewind that after all."

I knew I wasn't going to get off that easily. "I thought you didn't want to hear this part," I return innocently.

"Just how did insurance become involved?"

I sigh. "Fine. Okay, I took a deep breath and started through the curtain…and there were like a hundred women staring at me. I just about died."

Buffy laughs. "I can just imagine."

I shake my head. "I so don't think so."

"Hey, I've been surrounded by vampires before, and they weren't waiting to give me money."

"Yeah, but they weren't expecting you to take off your clothes, either."

"Good point. So what happened? Did you pass out or something?"

"I wish. But, no. So, they've got the cheesy music going and I know that I can't just stand there, so I figure that either I have to just go for it or I have to get the hell off the stage and get out of there, never to show my face again."

"Hey, you were wearing a mask anyway." I glare at her, but she just grins. "The Mask of Xander. You could have spent the summer as Xander, the masked busboy…"

"Okay, I get the point. But as it so happened, I decided to just go for it."

Buffy's grin widens.

"So, I started dancing. Of course, you know I never claim to be a good dancer. And normally I wouldn't be terribly concerned about that, except that this time I'm in front of a hundred women, who are all staring at me."

Buffy seems to be trying really hard not to laugh at the imagery that I'm presenting.

"Thank you very much," I try to sound indignant, but know that I can't blame her. "So, anyway, I kind of stalled for time for a while, using the sword thing until one of the women kind of started bellowing something about taking it off…"

Now Buffy does laugh.

"And so, I set the sword down and started with the rest of the act…"

"Oh, God…"

"Oooooooh, yeeeeeeeeeeaaaah. So, there I was trying to remember what Marcus had told me about the costume. All I could remember was 'First you get the women…'"



End Interlude



Then you get the money. Of course to get the money, you have to remove clothing. They weren't going to pay me for dancing like a spazz. Otherwise I'd have already been a rich man from all those nights at The
Bronze. Okay. Removing costume, step one. Gloves.

That I could do. I peeled off the first glove and tossed it into the crowd, trying really hard to ignore the catcalls. The second glove was sort of sticking to me, but I managed to get it off without anyone really noticing.

The belt was next. I let it drop to the ground and cringed as the sound of the buckle hitting the stage floor echoed. Oops. Guess that was kind of like the sword. Live and learn.

What came next? Gloves. Then belt. Then shirt. Okay, easy enough.

I looked down and noticed that several of the women were waving bills at me. I had the women. Time to get the money. I moved closer to them as my hands searched for the clasp that would release the shirt. I couldn't seem to find it. Of course I got ten times more nervous as I felt bills being stuffed into my waistband. I considered pulling the shirt off over my head but then realized that I was still wearing the hat. That wouldn't work. Well…there was no law that said that the hat had to be last. Right? So I pulled off the hat and sent it soaring into the audience.

And back to the shirt. I still couldn't find the clasp. Okay, skip that. After the shirt was supposed to be the pants. Which meant, the boots had to come off. Wait. Marcus hadn't mentioned anything about the boots. How was I supposed to get the boots off? Duh. Okay, I can take off boots. I've done it before. Granted not while dancing, and not while in front of a hundred people. But it couldn't be that hard…

I nearly toppled over on my first attempt to remove one of the boots. I was kind of hopping on one leg while trying to pull the boot off, and my balance wasn't exactly stable. This was going to be harder than I thought.

Attempt two and I did topple over. I quickly bounded back to my feet and hoped that nobody realized that wasn't supposed to happen. I could feel blood rushing to my face as I realized that I could hear a few snickers from the ladies near the front. So much for no one figuring it out. How the hell was I supposed to get the stupid boots off without killing myself?

Skip the boots. Back to the shirt. Where the hell was the clasp?! I really should have practiced before going onstage. Why hadn't I practiced? Because it sounded simple enough. Release the clasps, clothing comes right off. Yeah right.

Wait. Release the clasps and the clothing comes right off. The pants didn't have to go off over the boots. I could get those off without much trouble. I found the clasps for each side, pulled and sure enough with the sound of velcro tearing, away went the pants. Great, one more thing done…Of course then I was standing on stage without pants on. Okay, maybe that wasn't such a great thing. Not like I was totally bared or anything, but…pants are generally good. Then again, the ladies didn't seem to have a problem with me not wearing them. Eeks.

There had to be a clasp for the shirt somewhere. I couldn't just stand there like an idiot with no pants on. Oh help. There had to be a way to get out of this gracefully. Yeah, right. It was a bit late for that. Nothing to do now but finish the act. Okay, off with the shirt. I start to drag it up over my head…

And in theory, that should have worked. Of course I forgot about one major thing.

The cape.

The first point I realized I was in trouble was when I found that I couldn't seem to pull my hands through the cuffs. I could suddenly hear Marcus mentioning something about the cuffs. Oops. Well, how bad could it be? I'd just get my head out of the shirt and then I'd be able to see what I was doing and…I couldn't seem to get my head out of the shirt. I tried pulling it back down the other way, but the shirt seemed to be caught on something. The cape. Damn, it was caught on the cape.

I tried futilely to free at least one of my arms, but I only seemed to succeed in getting myself further tangled. Not to mention that something was pulling tight across my neck. Damn cape. Okay, must calm down. Don't strangle yourself, just calm down and…and just imagine how all the ladies must be laughing at you as you stand there in *extremely* brief briefs, and boots with a shirt pulled up over your head and strangling yourself with your cape. Oooh yeah. I couldn't really hear them, but then again, I really couldn't hear anything any more except for my heavy breathing, and the pounding of my heart.

I've imagined myself dying before, but somehow this version of death had just never occurred to me. Forget the Naked Man Wrecks Bathroom, Starves to Death headline, this one would be far more humiliating. Inexperienced Stripper Chokes Self on Cape.

I began to struggle harder. Going to get out of this. Going to…oh jeez, my feet were caught on something. The discarded pants. Okay, just kick those away and…suddenly I felt like I was losing my balance. I tried to steady myself, but found that in my struggles, I must have gotten even closer to the edge of the stage because my left foot was not finding solid ground beneath it. I was going over. Oh, Hell no. That's not going to happen. I can still save face.

I thrashed my body, trying to topple myself back the other direction, but it was too late. I was going over. I couldn't breathe as I flailed my arms, attempting to lessen the blow when I hit the ground. It didn't soften it nearly enough. Pain roared through my body as I landed on the arm I'd broken last year and I knew instantly that I had just rebroken the same damn bone. Okay, of all my fears of 'dancing' at the club, breaking my arm had never been one of them.

Black dots began to cloud my vision and I suddenly realized that I wasn't really breathing. I tried to suck in some air and discovered that the cape was pulled too tight and was cutting off my air supply. I suddenly imagined my family and friends back home learning of my death. Please, please tell them I died heroically…I thought inanely as I passed out.
Epilogue by Chaos
By now Buffy is in complete hysterics.

"Yeah, ha, ha. Laugh at my demise." I can't help but smile anyway. If only this had actually happened to someone else…someone like Riley, or…Angel. Okay, now that would be funny.

It takes Buffy a good five minutes to get her laughing back under control. I guess I can count that as a favor, because at least while she's laughing she can't make little snide comments about it.

"So…are we even now?"

Buffy raises her eyebrows and pretends to be considering. "Well…I don't know…"

She's already forgiven me, I can tell. But I play her game anyway.

"So, if you broke your arm only a couple weeks into the summer, how is it that you still managed to make enough money to get the car and pay for your hotel and stuff?" she asks. "Oh wait, you said something about insurance money? Geez, how much did they give you?"

"About two thousand."

I can see Buffy working the math in her head and realizing that after doctor bills, hotel and food costs, there probably wouldn't have been enough to get home on. "Uh…Xand? How exactly did you buy a car…?"

What's one last humiliation? "Nothing says love like money in the waistband," I echo the same thing I'd told her before.

Buffy eyes me strangely. "Don't tell me you made that much in tips in one night."

I grin. Let her believe that. It's a lot less embarrassing than admitting the truth. All I can say is that Jim-Bob, Billy-Joe, Betty-Jean, and all the patrons of the Fabulous Ladies Night Club recognized me everywhere I went the rest of the summer.

And pity tips are still good money.


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