Amber’s arm reached skyward. With a smooth flick of her thumb, the phone’s shutter snapped, framing her practiced desire while eliminating any trace of broken bottles. Things weren’t so bad in the shabby trailer park 20 miles east of Guthrie. Mom’s latest boyfriend had given Amber a broken collarbone and a taste for meth, but at least he’d never tried to get into her pants.
Until, of course, he did.
The morning after, Amber left Oklahoma for good. She’d never said a word about any of the fucked-up things Mom’s boyfriends had done to her over the years, and she wasn’t about to start now. If she forced the issue, she knew exactly who her mother would choose. People don’t change, Amber thought as she boarded the musty coach bus.
Las Vegas was a shock to her system. The blazing kaleidoscope of neon and halogen helped her bleach out the rotten memories of the past 16 years. This was a city fueled by imagination and vice and the promise of something better. It demanded reinvention. After four months struggling for tips, Amber decided to take to the stage.
The Armenian club owner had agreed to look the other way where paperwork was concerned, in return for a blowjob in the cramped supply closet. Beats waitressing, Amber thought. All those years of posing in front of bathroom mirrors, discovering the best angles to accentuate her curves — it all led to this.
Her only dance experience was the three weeks of jazz and tap her mother had been able to afford before addiction ate up their savings. Amber was 8 at the time. Her childhood dance lessons did not help her much onstage, but the audience was extremely forgiving.
Amber’s arm reached skyward. It was long and tan, perfumed with moisturizers and sparkling with glitter. Her hand gripped the cold metal pole as her body twisted along the length of it, her foot gently hooking the bottom. She spun slowly, eyes closed, mind numb.
“Let’s give it up for HONEY…” boomed the jackass with the microphone. There was a light smattering of applause as Amber collected her dollar bills and bikini. At least the money was good. She dreamt of buying a house of her own someday, something cute but solid out in the desert, maybe with a pool.
But the cash was too easy to spend in Vegas, the meth too easy to find. Amber felt herself slipping away. People don’t change, she worried. But that was years ago.
Amber’s arm reached skyward. The enormous gold belt dangled, heavy in her fist. The fans were on their feet, electric, chanting her name. Except it wasn’t her name at all. When Sal had first approached her about wrestling, he shot down the name Amber Williams instantly. “It’s got no style to it,” he explained. “You gotta stick with this Honey Girl gimmick — it’s guaranteed gold!”
Caramel-colored hair. Tanned skin. Severe gold eyeshadow. Pale, honeysuckle lips. All pulled together with a shimmering, tawny bodysuit that hugged her athletic form. Amber understood the theater of it all, of playing an exaggerated version of her own narcissism for the crowd to loathe or adore. She embraced the rush of performing, the camaraderie of the locker room — for the first time in her life, she felt she was where she truly belonged.
Amber’s arm reached skyward, desperately clawing at the body that pinned her to the mat. His hairless, oiled muscles stiffened at her attack, then overpowered her. He ripped her honey-colored bathing suit, exposing her bronzed implants. Amber gasped loudly as she instinctively rotated her torso towards the camera. On top of her, the greasy bodybuilder continued his assault, grinning madly as he removed the championship belt from Amber’s waist.
“Who’s the champ now, Honey Girl?!” he cackled.
When the day’s work was through, Amber toweled herself off and slipped into a comfortable white bathrobe. Sal congratulated her on another fantastic shoot. As the crew packed up the lighting equipment and began stacking the blue practice mats against the wall, Amber strolled outside to the patio.
All her life, Amber had studied how to use her looks and her body to maximum effect. But the result was always the same: all that effort to please the men around her, without much benefit for her. All she’d ever wanted was an adorable little home in the desert. And that’s exactly what her webcam business gave her. She settled into the sunny yellow beach chair next to her pool, smiling.
Amber’s arm reached down to her terrycloth pocket and removed a small glass pipe and lighter. As she inhaled the methamphetamine deeply into her system, Amber laughed.
People don’t change, she thought. They just find new and exciting ways to make the same mistakes.