It was now almost two o’clock in the morning and as she climbed the stairs to Sherry’s apartment her thoughts turned back to Lourdes. Her teenage friend was lying on the couch in white bikini panties and her little bikini top. She was facing sideways on a pillow as she watched Spanish music videos, the sound turned on low, Elly being asleep in the bedroom.
Dareen kicked off her shoes and sat on the coffee table right in front of Lourdes. Being the youngest child herself, Dareen had never had to straighten out a little sister, but now it was time. She leaned over and turned off the TV then looked at Lourdes with as stern an expression as she could manage. She looked down at her own stockinged feet and fought her feelings of pity and guilt, sitting there fully clothed as she confronted the shy teenager who was confined to such skimpy scraps.
“Lourdes, this is crazy and stupid. You shouldn’t be working at that place. It’s not for you.”
Lourdes had apparently thought this out. “I want to be useful. Now we are a little family. You take good care of me. I am 18 now. I am adult, I should work like you all of you do.”
“You should be in school and get your diploma.”
“I can’t go to school.”
“Didn’t you go with Elly?”
“Yes and the principal he say no. Then Elly talk to him and he say he will decide. But is not possible. I no can walk around in that school with not enough clothes.”
“You’ve got to try. How can you dance like that? Show yourself like that?” Dancing in a topless place was so degrading that only desperate or screwed-up women would do it. Not good girls like Lourdes!
“They have merengue music on the machine. I dance my three songs and I close my eyes and pretend I’m in Santo Domingo at a birthday party. I was always a good dancer. And with the other girls dancing I am not lonely. It is not so bad.”
Dareen looked at Lourdes’s big, earnest eyes and thought of her as a four-year-old dancing in a pink party dress for her adoring relatives. And now to come to this. The sadness was almost too much to bear.
Then Lourdes looked down. “I need to get more, how do you say, used to in front of the guys with my legs. And showing my . . . cuca.”
“My cuca.” The teenager’s hand made a motion to her white panties.
Dareen’s mouth fell open and her face went slack. “You dance naked??”
“Sí, for the last song we take off even the panties. That is the rule there. They say a lot more money they give that way.”
“Oh, Lourdes . . . you don’t have to do this.” Dareen felt her eyes getting wet and she leaned over to hug her young friend. Lourdes sat up and they held each other, Dareen imagining the longing that the feel of her sweatshirt must produce in the mind of the teenager.
“I want to, I have to,” Lourdes said, her voice quivering. “I have to work, and there is no other job for me now. But I think of you, I think of you helping people and saving people, desnuda. NakedGirl, you proud of your body. During the last song I close my eyes and I think of that and then I am more strong.”
Dareen sighed a ragged sigh through her tears and looked out the window into the night sky. Then she hugged Lourdes a little tighter as if to protect her from the world outside.