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Next to Naked (All Parts So Far)

Kylie waited in her parked Honda and gripped the steering wheel to keep her hands from shaking. Her heart pounded.

The concert had ended around 10 o’clock as usual, and she knew the cleanup and tech crews wouldn’t break down the stage until the next morning. When she’d whispered into Maestro Barrett’s ear to wait for her in the rehearsal room, he’d actually gasped with excitement. At the time, it made her feel powerful and alluring, but now the adrenaline of the fantasy had given way to the anxiety of reality. Was this the kind of impulsive thing that put her on the path to being a crazy person?

The excitement of a possible romance had livened up her life for the last few months. It always made her feel guilty to think that there were hundreds if not thousands of other people who would kill to be principal violist in a world-class symphony, while she was just going through the motions.  If Kylie was honest about her study of the viola, she knew she had mostly played to make her parents happy. She pushed her uncomfortable self-examination out of her mind and focused her thoughts on the conductor. He was either waiting for her or he wasn’t. She’d never done anything like this before so she had no point of reference.

As her high heels clicked against the asphalt of the parking lot, she could feel her anxiety grow. When she’d put on the slinky lingerie and stockings under her concert black dress, she’d felt sexy, but now she wondered if she just looked desperate. She told herself to stop being negative. It was too late to turn back.

She entered the backstage rehearsal room and saw him at the piano. His tall, lean body looked fantastic in his tuxedo. His bow tie was undone and his shirt was unbuttoned at the top. Kylie always found men in slightly undone tuxedos extra sexy. That was one of the perks of being a classical musician—her life had a higher number of men in tuxedos than someone who worked in an office or meat packing plant or what not. She filed that thought in her brain under ‘job pro.’ It might come in handy with some life decisions she figured she should probably be making soon.

When the door click closed behind her, he turned from the piano and looked up. His eyes filled with lust, and his mouth opened slightly with surprise. She screwed up her courage and returned his gaze. She walked toward him as she unbuttoned her black, silk blouse revealing her ample breasts clad in a black, lacy bra. Kylie’s long, dark hair fell onto her nearly bare shoulders. She let the shirt drop to the floor. She had rehearsed in this room with the rest of the orchestra for the last year, and it felt so naughty to be partially undressed in what felt like a very public space.

This moment was just like her fantasies. She imagined him commanding her with that firm tone he used when yelling at a tardy percussionist. Her excitement grew. The thought of him treating her like a sexy slut cut through her ennui and quickened her as she crossed the room. She wanted him to make her beg for it. She wanted to be tortured on the verge of release and held in his power. She wanted the kind of passionate affair that she’d seen in movies, but had never felt in real life.

When she reached him at the piano, the commanding presence that he possessed as a conductor totally disappeared. Instead he acted frightened, which wasn’t at all sexy. She forged on.

“Robert,” she whispered into his ear as she wrapped her arms around his neck. He pulled her closer, and she felt his erection press against her. This was more like it. The sexy feelings started to grow again. He put his hands on her shoulders. His hands were cold.

He started to kiss her neck, but he did this weird lick thing with his tongue. She moved his head lower, and guided him toward her breasts. He eagerly grabbed them. It tickled a little, but felt mostly good. She imagined him grabbing her hair and kissing her roughly. Maybe if she took off her bra it would entice him to be more aggressive.

She undid her bra. She tried to be sexy about it, but she had to maneuver around him to take it off fully. She had hoped that he would be more “take charge” than this, but she decided to tell herself that it was flattering how he seemed so befuddled. She tried to set the tone by talking dirty.

“Do you want to fuck me?” she asked in an attempt to be bold and sexy, which hit the mark a little too hard.

“Ahhh!” he grunted out.

* * * * *

Last night she’d been too depressed to take off her clothes, but now Kylie felt hot and confined by her concert attire and sexy undergarments. Without getting out of bed, she pulled off her clothes and kicked them onto her bedroom floor.  Maestro’s passions had came as quickly as his temper. Flattering almost, but it felt totally lame.  Of course, Jeff, the hottest guy in the symphony walked in them. Of all nights for him to leave his car keys in the rehearsal room.
Kylie rolled over in bed and thought about how a normal person would be concerned about her future. A normal person should be worried about what people would think, but every time her mind went down that path she just got sleepy. Besides, she’d never been normal.

Kylie’s parents had noticed that she was different from other kids when she learned to read at three. Her folks had enjoyed her gifts then. But in the third grade, when Kylie had developed an obsession with the things she saw on the local news, her lack of normal-ness became a problem that needed to be fixed.

Kylie somehow became convinced that she would be a victim of the crimes and disasters she saw on the news and had decided she should be prepared. This had involved the avoidance of select individuals and carrying several items with her at all times. She avoided most grown-ups, especially those who wore expensive-looking suits (men in expensive suits seem to be around when bad things happened on the news). She also carried with her a sharpened pencil to use as a weapon (her parents had taken away the steak knife). Her safety kit was completed with a small, inflatable, pool pillow. The pool pillow was to be used as a flotation device in case of flash floods, water landings (a phrase she had picked up when she took a trip to see Aunt Marie), and accidental ocean, pool or bathtub drownings. It also came in handy for spontaneous naps.

It was very distressing to her parents, but her reasoning had made perfect sense to young Kylie. She knew that local meant “close by”, and “the news” was a TV show that told people what really happened—not pretend stuff like on other shows. She had noticed that a lot of the same things kept happening over and over again except the places and people changed. So to Kylie, it was just a matter of time before she was one of those people that bad things happened to. Her parents disagreed and took her to see psychologists, many of whom wore expensive looking suits, which only made Kylie more anxious and make her weirdness seem even more unstable.

After a flurry of tests, her psychologist had reported that Kylie had the IQ of a genius and that her headaches, nervousness, and gloomy outlook might be early signs of a mental illness. Several different types of mental illnesses had been mentioned by random adults, but Kylie’s kid mind had latched onto the phrase ‘borderline personality disorder.’ It sounded very grown-up, and she imagined that it made her a very important person undergoing something incredibly dramatic—something that might be mentioned on the news.

During that time of being carted off to doctor after doctor, Kylie heard her mom playing the Madonna song, “Borderline”. Kylie loved it, adopted it as her personal anthem, and decided to meet her psychologist regularly to talk to him about being “borderline” even if he did wear an expensive suit. She packed an extra sharp pencil, and was careful to keep it away from the inflatable pillow, when she went to his office.

The sessions didn’t last long. Once Kylie’s psychologist started digging into the Morris family home life to see if it was the source of some of Kylie’s problems, her parents forgot the mental illness half of the doctor’s diagnosis and focused on her genius. That’s when the music lessons had started. Her parents removed every television set in the house.
Even without TV, young Kylie found it strange that everyone else was so sure that nothing bad would happen to them. Didn’t they notice that bad stuff happened all the time? Even now, at the age of 23, Kylie wondered what made everybody seem so reassured. Did she lack positive thinking or were they all just in denial?

She glanced at her viola case propped in the corner of her bedroom. It had been a year since she graduated from the conservatory. Like her teachers and parents had hoped, she’d gotten a great seat in a reputable orchestra. She should be happy, but she didn’t feel much of anything. It was why the affair had seemed like a good idea. She let out a sigh and looked around her bedroom.

She had cleaned the entire apartment in case they ended up here last night. Now, all the elaborate preparations, from the candles to the high thread count sheets, amplified the depressing state of her life. She rolled over again and stared at the clock on her nightstand: 2:25 in the afternoon. She should be rushing to shower and get dressed for rehearsal, but she just couldn’t get out of bed.

Someone knocked on the door. Her need to please whoever it was trumped her depression.

“One minute!” she called out trying to not sound depressed as she pulled on sweatpants and a t-shirt, and headed for the door. She checked the peephole to make sure it wasn’t anyone from the orchestra and saw that it was Anna, her neighbor from down the hall. She opened the door.

“Hey Anna,” Kylie said, and then immediately realized something was up. “What’s wrong?”

“Joe,” her friend answered, “again.”

It turned out that Anna’s ex-husband was supposed to pick up their daughter from kindergarten, but he texted at the last minute that he couldn’t. He was always bailing at the last minute. Anna’s kid was probably already standing out in front of the school waiting, and Anna was frantic. She needed to get her daughter over to her Mom’s house and then dash off to work.

“Can I borrow your car one more time?” Anna asked.

Kylie knew that if she went to rehearsal the odds were that she would keep her job, and everything would be back to normal after whatever gossip died down. She also knew that if she skipped another rehearsal, she would definitely be fired. Bob was strict and likely to be even stricter now. Kylie didn’t feel any urgency about saving her job, but she totally felt for her friend in need. In that moment, Kylie realized how amazingly simple it was to light the fuse on the bomb that would blow up her entire, carefully-planned life. She felt a twinge of panic thinking about her parents, but she was so numb and exhausted, too. Something was wrong with her life. All she had to do was hand over her keys. So she did, and went back to bed.

* * * * *

Benjamin slammed the drawer closed and fought the urge to kick the filing cabinet. He always kept his camera in the top drawer. Where the fuck was it?

“Alexis!” he yelled. No response.

He knew that most of his small staff was out in the field or at lunch, but Alexis was supposed to be here. He needed to hire more people, but being short-handed and doing tasks, like this photo shoot, just set him back. It was just so hard to hire new employees. The smart workers didn’t stick around in this industry, and most of the ones that wanted to stay were weirdos.

He tried to calm himself by focusing on the scene outside his window. The ocean view was one of the reasons he’d chosen this office, but today, it wasn’t doing the trick. His mind shifted from ruminating on his rage to trying to remember another technique from that damn class. He was supposed to imagine some bubble and then put those thoughts in it. Or was it the other way around?Just trying to figure that out brought his rage down a few notches. Maybe that was the real benefit he got out of taking those classes—that and memories of boning angry women. Remembering the hot sex with his classmates curbed his temper a little more, but it reminded him of his ex. Maybe he shouldn’t have dumped her. No. Dealing with Meaghan’s insanity and constant threats was not going to help him. What he needed was more staff and his camera.

Benjamin exited his private office to search the premises. Stripped Media occupied the entire East wing of the 17th floor of 317 East Los Olas in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Actully he’d rented the East Wing, but half of the wing was still walled off. There was plenty of room to grow.

The other tenants in the building were law firms, corporate retail offices, and other high end businesses. As a publishing company they were welcomed, but the folks in the leasing office were not as pleased when they found out what Stripped Media published. Benjamin didn’t care. He was locked into his lease, and the impressive address was the first step in making his business appear more reputable.

Benjamin searched “the pit”, the open-plan interior part of the office where the production staff put together the magazines and websites. He didn’t bother searching the reception area or the empty offices that occupied the right wall. Until he hired more people those areas remained mostly unoccupied.

The lights in the pit were low. The graphic artists kept it that way to cut down on the glare on their monitors. He was used to the low lighting, but right now it infuriated him. Benjamin flicked the lights on.

“You sure you want to do that?” Mistress Alexis asked.

Benjamin was startled, but he didn’t show it.

“You’re here,” he said. “You didn’t answer when I called  you.”

“I know you’re not growling at me,” Alexis answered.

Unlike most people, Mistress Alexis was not at all intimidated by Benjamin. She had known him for over 20 years. They’d met when Mistress Alexis was known to the world as Alex. Alex and Benjamin had played little league baseball together and had known each other ever since. Alexis was 5’11”, which had seemed pretty normal to Benjamin when Alexis was a man. She was pretty with a thin, slender waist and, courtesy of the hormones, now had small perky breasts and a nice curve to her hips. Only her broad shoulders and adam’s apple hinted at her masculine origins. Interestingly, those two traits were an asset in Mistress Alexis’s profession.

“I wasn’t growling. I was just looking for my camera in this disaster,” Benjamin motioned to the table that was filled with scattered paper and take out containers. The office was located in the prime restaurant district of Fort Lauderdale, and yet, his guys would drive twenty minutes to get burgers and fries. “We finally move into a nice building, and they still act like we’re still running the place out of a warehouse.”

“You sound like my mom,” teased Alexis. “Why don’t you just go ahead and say, ‘we can’t have nice things’?’”

Benjamin cracked a smile, and the Alexis turned to leave and he frowned again. “Where the hell are you going?” Benjamin asked.

“It’s time for my shot,” Alexis answered ignoring his grumpy tone again. Without turning around or breaking her stride she added, “The building’s receptionist will put all the calls into voicemail for the next twenty minutes. And your camera is already set up in the photography studio.” Then she was gone.

Benjamin headed to the studio, which occupied the entire back section of the office. He opened the door and found his camera on the tripod. He felt a tad ridiculous for getting so angry, but he shook it off as he set up the lighting. He changed the sheets on the prop bed. God knows what his photographer, Paul, had done on those sheets.

Benjamin heard someone opening the glass doors in the lobby followed by unusually quiet footsteps on the reception area tile. He glanced at his watch. She was two-and-a-half hours late.

He found her sitting on one of reception area couches as if she had all the time in the world. Benjamin opted to not even discuss how late she was. He didn’t want to risk his temper getting out of control and listening to her lame excuse would not help his cause at all. Even though he wasn’t going to yell at her, he was determined to not be overly nice either. His experience had taught him that the girls responded better when he acted cold and less than impressed with their looks.

Although, he couldn’t say that he wasn’t impressed with the looks of the young lady on the couch. Her cute face and curvy figure would definitely make for a nice set of photos. Lately, too many of the girls were bone thin, which worked in fashion magazines, but not for publications like his. The few not-bone-thin girls that had shown up lately had all seemed, skanky. This girl had a fresh, youthful look. Benjamin made a mental note to scrutinize her ID extra carefully. She looked almost innocent, but the kind of innocent where you would imagine she was hiding a sexy secret or was up for a bit of mischief with the right encouragement.

She had straight, thick dark hair and beautiful, dark brown eyes. She wasn’t dressed slutty.  She was dressed in … What the fuck was she wearing? A pantsuit? Benjamin, until this moment, had not been a fan of pantsuits. Who was? But she was so cute, he thought maybe he could work up a Hillary Clinton fantasy thing. Or maybe not. Thank God they were shooting nude, but just in case he would take a snap or two of her in this odd outfit. Her beauty was natural and untainted by tanner and plastic surgery. She almost looked smart.

“Glad you’re here, at last,” Benjamin said.

She looked at him as if she didn’t know what he was talking about. So much for her being smart, but at least she was quiet. It was probably for the best as far as his fantasy was concerned. The Hillary fantasy just might work. He could imagine taking her from behind and telling her they had some treaties to negotiate. He’d give her something to sanction.

“Follow me,” he ordered.

Without at word, his young Hillary jumped out of her chair to follow him. The way she obeyed without hesitation caused a slight pang below his waist. As they walked, he noticed that she was about 5’6” tall and wearing flats. He found it odd that she hadn’t worn heels. He figured she was new to the industry. He’d seen fresh-faced young women come into his studio and watched how they all-too-eagerly adapted to the fake hair, fake nails, and fake lipped look that was in vogue. The thought that this girl would be like them made him sad for a moment, but once he walked inside the studio, he went into his standard spiel.

“The release is on the table. You’ll sign that before we get started, and I’ll need to make a copy of your ID,” he said as he walked to the camera.

The girl looked at the piece of paper on the desk, and then looked at him strangely. He really wasn’t in the mood for this. Stripped was a national magazine now. She’d already booked the session, taken half of her fee in advance, and now, after being late, she was going to be shy about getting naked. Benjamin decided to let a little of his temper show.
“You’re lucky to even have this booking. Just sign the last page, give me your ID and take off your clothes,” he ordered. She was in the middle of taking out her ID, and then she froze.

“Take off my clothes! Are you crazy?” she said as she shoved her photo ID into her pocket.

Benjamin was surprised by the sound of her voice. It was definitely panicked, but it was devoid of that annoying habit that most girls had these days where every statement sounded like a question. Hadn’t Tom, explained to her this was a fully nude session when he arranged the booking? It’d been ages since Benjamin had to talk a girl into posing nude.
“No, I’m not crazy,” Benjamin said. He kept his voice even and slightly stern. It had the desired effect. She paused long enough for him to quickly close the distance between them. He stood a few inches from her so that she had to look up at him in order to maintain eye contact. She looked shocked and excited. Just the sight of her mouth hanging slightly open aroused him, and he could sense he was having a similar effect on her. He had her just where he wanted her. He could feel the heat between them. Then, with his jaw clenched and his voice held to a low rumble, he repeated his order, “Do as I say and take off your clothes.”

* * * * *

Kylie knew she should get the hell out of this place, but like a stupid woman in a horror film, she didn’t run. In just one sentence, this complete stranger and obvious pervert had excited her more than any man in her life. It was impressive and depressing at the same time. Plus it didn’t say much for the state of her mental health these days. Maybe her parents were right.

“Don’t worry,” the man said in a firm, baritone, “You will be fine. Just leave everything to me.”

His commanding tone was almost hypnotic. The man had an incredibly sexy voice and was handsome, but not in a typical way. His high cheekbones gave him a classical, old world type of good looks. With an exception to his clothes, which were definitely modern, he had the looks of a man who could’ve been a Lord or a Duke in a bygone era. If Dukes and Lords were perverts who lured women into indecent situations by placing office job ads on Craigslist.
As he came closer, she felt like she might actually pass out. This might be why women in the Victorian era were constantly fainting. The high-cheekboned men made them dizzy. He stared down at her and spoke some more, but she couldn’t focus on what he was saying. She knew she should leave. This was not the setting for a legitimate job interview.  Then she remembered that her interview was supposed to be with a woman, not some dukey-looking man.
She must have mixed up the directions. She was always doing stuff like that—getting lost or losing her place at the very last minute. It’s like her brain got bored and lost focused before she could finish up what she was doing. Her mom had always told her she lacked follow through. Kylie stepped back from him to give herself more space to think.

“I’m in the wrong place,” she stammered. “You’re not…” Her voice trailed off as she made eye contact again. When she looked right at him, she couldn’t focus on her thoughts. Even though she had taken a step back, he still felt too close. It was as if his presence imprinted itself on the air, and the idea that the air around him was touching the air near her, made her excited. Kylie glanced around the room and spotted the bed and the camera. It didn’t matter that he was hot.

“Are you looking for the Law Offices of Reiter and Selznick? They’re in the opposite wing,” he said. His tone changed from its former sexy commands to a polite and nearly formal tone. Kylie felt as if they had broken up somehow.

“I’m not sure,” she answered. She realized that she didn’t really know much about the job she was interviewing for. She hadn’t even gotten the name of the company. She’d just jotted down the address and knew the name of the woman she was supposed to meet. She might even be in the wrong building. All the buildings were so closed together down here. The man seemed to grow impatient now, and started to lead her out by her elbow.

“I’m sorry for the misunderstanding. I thought you were someone else. The security guard downstairs will be able to help you I’m sure,” he said. His voice was cold.

He led her out of the room with the bed and camera and back through the open, main room. Even with him trying to block her view, Kylie could see pictures of naked women strewn across the long table and stacks of magazines on the floor. The covers weren’t disgustingly explicit, but they were definitely the type of magazines that were kept behind the counter at the mini mart. Suddenly Kylie was very interested in what they did there. It was obviously porn, but the office was in such a nice section of town, it confused her. She attempted to slow down and look around some more, but the man, who, at this close range looked entirely too respectable in his light gray suit and crisp yellow shirt to have just tried to get her naked, continued to guide her back toward the reception area.

When they reached the exit doors in the reception area, he let go of her and opened the door for her. It was a polite way of saying, “get the hell out,” but now she didn’t want to go. Someone who wanted her to leave so much couldn’t be a rapist. She felt strangely rejected.

“I hope I didn’t interrupt your day too much,” she said and smiled up at him. She was stalling. He returned her smile, but it was a polite, uninterested smile.

“It was no trouble,” he said. “I hope you find your appointment.”

Her interview! She chastised herself for dawdling. Living back at her parent’s house these last few days had been driving Kylie crazy. She needed a job. She glanced at her watch. She still had five minutes to get to her interview.
“I’m supposed to meet a woman about an office manager job,” Kylie said to the man as she dug into her purse for the Craigslist ad printout for the job. She found it. “Do you know if there’s a woman named Mistress at that law office you mentioned?”

“Mistress?” he asked. He had a strange look on his face.

* * * * *

The elevator doors opened, and Mistress Alexis emerged with Jack Browner, Stripped Media’s ad sales manager, and a bleached blonde woman. Jack was a burly man in his late fifties of average height and hair loss, who had become amost a father figure to Benjamin.

“Alexis, this young lady is looking for you,” Benjamin said. Alexis shot Benjamin a questioning look.

The young girl looked confused for a moment, and then Benjamin thought he saw a pleased smile on her face.

“I’m here for the job interview,” the girl said extending her hand to Alexis.

“Kylie?” Alexis asked as she shook her hand and scooted past Benjamin into the reception area. The girl nodded yes. “I wasn’t expecting you for another hour or so.”

“I thought our appointment was at 2:30,” Kylie answered as she looked at her watch. It was just turning 2:30. Benjamin laughed. The girl really knew nothing about working in the adult industry.

“So you’re right on time. I like that,” Alexis said as she flashed Benjamin a quick grin.

“Actually,” Benjamin said looking at Kylie, “she was early. I thought she was the model.”

The blonde snorted at the idea that Kylie had been mistaken for a model. Benjamin had forgotten that Jack and his the model were even in the room.

“Let’s go down to the cafe downstairs for our interview. They have a photo shoot to do,” Alexis said. Benjamin realized that, for reasons unknown to him, Jack had brought the model to the photo shoot and instantly knew why they were so late. He’d have to have a talk with Jack.

“It was nice meeting you all,” Kylie said. Her eyes locked on Benjamin. Jack didn’t notice and interrupted.

“I’m Jack Browner, head of advertising sales here. I hope we’ll be seeing a lot of you around here,” he said and reached out to shake her hand. As he shook her hand, Jack cupped his other hand over hers and let it linger a little while longer than necessary. Benjamin felt an urge to push Jack aside and introduce himself as the CEO of the company, but he didn’t. She would know who he was soon enough.

The model who had the standard tangerine skin-tone and silicon-enhanced lips let out another snort.  She obviously did not appreciate Kylie stealing the attention from her.

“I’m Platinum—the real model,” the model said.

Benjamin hid his distaste. Of course she was named Platinum.

Alexis led Kylie to the elevators without even looking in Platinum’s direction. He watched Kylie walk to the elevator. For the first time he was glad the office had a glass front. It’s a shame he wouldn’t be able to take photos of that tight body. Her butt looked great in that pantsuit. He wondered what it would be like to have a girl like that work here.
His hopeful reverie was interrupted by the clack of Platinum’s clear, whore-heeled shoes clanking on the tiles. Despite the fact that she didn’t have anything in her mouth, Platinum had the aura of a person who was constantly smacking her gum. Benjamin turned and walked to the photo studio. Normally, he would be annoyed that someone else was coming to the shoot, but the time he was glad Jack was there. Benjamin’s mood had turned dark again, and he knew he couldn’t stand interacting with Platinum on his own. Just the sound of her snort screamed idiot. He needed Jack as a buffer.

“I can’t believe she was mistaken for a model,” Platinum babbled to Jack. “She’s not even cute.”

“Well she’s not hot like you, sweetheart, but–” Jack raised his voice to call out to Benjamin, “she looks cute enough to be thoroughly corruptible to me. Right Benny?” Then Jack laughed at his own joke. Platinum snorted again, which Benjamin surmised was her primary method of communicating.

As he walked through the pit and looked at the women in the ads and on the covers of his magazines, he realized Kylie didn’t belong here. He’d seen the culture of the adult industry corrupt so many people, especially the women. It didn’t matter if they worked as a model or not. It started with the way they dressed, and then moved into the way they saw themselves. A person needed to be strong to not lose themselves, and she looked so lost, adorably so. Benjamin envisioned her sweet face distorted with silicon lips and over-tweezed eyebrows. Her beautiful skin ruined by tanner, and her hair over-processed with dye and highlights. Her shy demeanor morphed into something haughty and aggressive. No. She didn’t belong here. He snatched his cell phone out of his pocket and sent a text to Alexis: Don’t hire that girl.

* * * * *

Her parents had told her that she needed professional help. Kylie didn’t think they were right, but, then again, she’d barely gotten out of bed for nearly a week-ever since the day of the job interview. She had thought the interview had gone really well. Alexis seemed really friendly and apparently showing up on time had been extraordinary. Kylie, well when she could actually bring herself to get out of bed, had always been a punctual person. If she was five minutes late, the odds were she wasn’t going to be there at all.  She hated everyone looking at her if she walked in late. It was just too embarrassing.

Alexis had liked Kylie’s resume even though it had very little to do with office work, but then, at the end of the interview, Mistress Alexis had checked her cell phone, and everything changed. After that Mistress said she would call if they were interested. Just seconds before that, they had been talking about work hours and pay. Heck Mistress Alexis  even mentioned that they had a nice health insurance plan and were working on getting a 401(k) for employees. What had happened? Did she get a text from a previous applicant letting her know that he or she would take the job?

The idea that she couldn’t even get a job at some shady porn company depressed Kylie. Or maybe she was bummed, because she knew she would never see the high-cheek-boned man again. Kylie hated herself for thinking like that. She was too smart to be the kind of girl who pined over someone she didn’t even know. It was undeniably ridiculous to be so depressingly heartbroken over some skeezy dude no matter how duke-ish he looked. She should know better. Maybe her parents were right. She needed professional help. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea that her dad had made an appointment with a psychiatrist today without even consulting her.

She was mad at her dad for making the appointment, but Kylie figured she might as well go to it. She didn’t want to hear a lecture from her father again about how she had wasted her potential. She was allegedly a genius, but maybe that had just been a phase. She’d gone to the best music conservatory in the country and graduated with honors. She landed a job with the Boston Philharmonic as principal violist just a few years ago. There was even talk of her touring as a soloist for a while, but it never materialized. It was rare for violists anyhow. Then, she’d blown it all on affair with the conductor. At least that’s what her parents thought.

She didn’t want to tell them the truth, which was that the affair wasn’t what had cost her the job. It wasn’t even an affair truly; Maestro Barrett had been legally separated from his wife for over six years.  She was shacking up with some bassoon player in Slovenia. The real reason why Kylie had lost her job was because she stopped going to rehearsals and answering her phone. Maybe she was depressed. Maybe she did need therapy. Maybe she had that borderline personality disorder after all. That could be something. With that hopeful thought in mind, Kylie got out of bed and went to the kitchen.
Her parents’ place was pretty nice. It was in the city of Parkland, which was a far suburb of Fort Lauderdale. The sun was shining, at least until the afternoon thunderstorms began, and Kylie knew she had nothing to be depressed about. She had a nice place to live with tolerant parents who were willing to pay to have her mental health monitored and possibly medicated enough to function in society. She should be grateful, and on some level she was, or she hoped she would be. Perhaps after a cup of coffee she would have the energy for gratitude. Thank God both her parents were at work. She always loved that they worked long hours. Even as a kid, she liked to be alone.

Kylie went to the kitchen and saw the address of her therapy appointment on the refrigerator. Her mom had hung it up like she used to hang Kylie’s awards and “A” papers from school. Kylie recognized the address. It was only a few blocks from the Stripped office. She caught herself feeling almost interested in living, and suddenly, therapy seemed like a great idea.

* * * * *

Kylie browsed the magazine rack while she waited for her prescription to be filled. She looked behind the register for magazines that had those black boxes covering up the naughty parts, but there wasn’t anything. It was a respectable national chain drugstore. She had never even thought about buying a dirty magazine before her interview last week. It was nice to be interested in something for a change. Maybe porn would be good for her depression, but she thought that her new psychiatrist would probably disagree. She laughed quietly to herself at the idea of asking someone on the street for directions to the nearest pornography store.

Therapy hadn’t been bad at all. Her psychiatrist had thought the idea of getting a job outside of music while she sorted her feelings about her career was a good plan. Of course, she needed to get out of bed in order to do that, hence the prescription. Kylie had mixed feelings about being on medication, but if it made it easier for her to get out of bed and get a job so she could move out of her parents’ house, it might be worth it.

It was tough living with her parents again. Although, according to the copy of Newsweek that she was flipping through, her generation was apparently “boomeranging” home in large numbers. Kylie felt like she finally had something in common with other people in her generation. Except, according to the article, her peers were back home because they couldn’t find jobs and were sidled with crippling student loan debt. Her education had always been paid for by contest money and scholarships. She hadn’t lost her job; she just stopped going to it. A pang of guilt mixed with a bit of shame gurgled in her stomach.

Dr. Long, her new psychiatrist, had suggested that she may have had some sort of stress-induced breakdown. He suggested that the pressure of being in such a demanding profession had gotten to her, but Kylie couldn’t honestly say she felt all that pressured. The reality was that she didn’t feel much of anything. Most days she felt like she was living underwater just floating by everything, but being touched by nothing. It was as if she experienced the world filtered through a liquid-gray haze. Sometimes spikes of adrenaline or anxiety would cut through the grayness, but it wouldn’t last. To Kylie, it felt like more of a boredom breakdown. She’d been intimate with nervousness and anxiety since she was a kid, and frankly, a person had to give a damn about what was happening to be nervous about it. She was numb. When she’d explained this to Dr. Long, he’d whipped out his prescription pad.

After her appointment, Kylie had stayed downtown to fill her prescription. She told herself it was because she got an amazing parking spot, but the truth is she just liked that she was close to the Stripped offices. The pharmacy counter called her number, and she paid for her meds. She wandered the streets of Fort Lauderdale for a while. She thought she might go to lunch or grab a latte somewhere, but before she knew it, she was on the sidewalk outside of Stripped. Without even thinking, she got into the elevator and pressed the button to the 17th floor.