Welcome to chapter three of Bump and Grind. If you’d like to listen, rather than read, CLICK HERE.
My nearest and dearest gathered at my best friend Samantha’s condo to watch the E Prime Time special, where my win would be announced to the nation. Sam had the biggest TV I’d ever seen, and her place was much better suited to hosting than mine, even though it wasn’t a large crowd.
Other than Samantha, my best friend since college, the guest list included Malcolm and their new baby Darnell, and my mother, who had insisted she make the drive into the city.
This was the tiny fan club that had nominated me for the “Dare to Live Your Dream” contest, and I was completely oblivious. I mean, you go through your days, fretting over the usual bullshit like paying bills and awkward home bikini waxes, and meanwhile all of your loved ones are conspiring to save you from yourself. Exactly how far was my head up my own ass that I didn’t even suspect something?
“So Mrs. Peters, are you excited to see Karen on TV?” Malcolm asked.
I turned from where I stood, gazing out at the twinkling lights of the city skyline. Mom pressed her thin lips into a line, as excited as she could get. She was a Eureykah fan, so I knew my rubbing elbows with the celebrity had earned me a few brownie points. Despite this, she was as unreadable as ever. Except, of course, for her obvious discomfort with Samantha and Malcolm’s alternative family arrangement. She’d been outraged when Sam had chosen to raise a baby with Malcolm instead of finding a “nice husband.” I guess mom thought it was okay for Eureykah to be queer, because she didn’t have to see her in real life.
“It’s nice to finally see her education pay off,” Mom said.
Malcolm tried to hand her a glass of wine, but she raised her hand.
“Thank you, but I only drink at weddings.”
I could feel her pointed look, but wasn’t sure if it was because I was already on my second glass, or because we both knew there wouldn’t be any wedding bells in my future.
Mom attempted to return to her seat, but it had been stolen by Sam and Malcolm’s enormous Dane, Theo Huxtable. Theo had backed his rear into the chair and was now half sitting and half standing on the floor.
“Dogs. On the furniture,” Mom muttered, shaking her head.
Malcolm retreated from the polar vortex that was Jeanette Peters and headed over to Sam and I instead. I gladly accepted a refill, thinking I should probably just hang on to the entire bottle.
“So, how are you?” Sam said quietly. “This is…a lot.”
I sipped the wine. “I don’t feel like I’m really here.”
“How was Eureykah?” Malcolm asked. “Was she as nice as she seems?”
Sam passed me a tray of cheese cubes and red grapes. I grabbed a napkin and a pile of cheese.
“She was actually lovely,” I said. “It made me feel bad for actively resisting her brand of self-help for so long.”
“So, what’s the dream they’ve lined up for you?” Malcolm asked.
“You can’t wait half an hour?” Sam gave him a playful slap.
Baby Darnell chose that moment to wake with a cry from his bassinet. I was grateful for the distraction because I hadn’t quite figured out how to tell them what Eureykah wanted me to do for my dare.
“Someone’s hungry,” Samantha cooed, popping out a boob. My mother cringed.
“Are you nervous?” Sam asked.
“Yeah, I feel ill,” I said quietly.
“You’ve got this. It’s going to be amazing.” She’d helped me down off the ledge a thousand times before, but this time I knew even Sam would be speechless.
Darnell rolled off Sam’s breast with a happy gurgle.
“Why can’t you just eat all at once like a normal baby?” she sighed.
Sam had barely tucked herself back together when my mother reached for Darnell.
“I’ll take him for a bit, so you can cover up properly,” she said, averting her eyes so she wouldn’t have to look at Sam’s tits.
“Don’t you want to burp him first?” I asked Sam.
“I can do it Karen. I’ve done it before you know,” Mom said with a frown.
I willed Darnell to puke all over her.
Mom sat back down on the sofa, cooing over the baby. It was hard to imagine she’d ever fussed over me like that. I’d now achieved expert status in my ability to disappoint her.
“Well, I guess we know what it’s going to take to melt the Ice Queen,” Sam whispered.
“Yeah, hell will have to freeze first, so she’s out of luck.”
Malcolm gasped and ran for the remote. “Quiet! It’s starting!”
He clicked the volume up and the familiar theme for E Prime Time filled the room. There was a spatter of excited applause. A surge of fear took my belly hostage, and I tried to negotiate its release with a gulp of the wine I was supposed to be sipping.
Eureykah’s smooth voice underscored a montage of backstage photos from my past: dance recitals, me singing the anthem at local ball games. It was unbearably cheesy, but I felt a pang of longing.
“Three years ago, Karen Peters was a triple-threat; a singer, actor and dancer on her way to realizing her dreams when tragedy struck. The up-and-coming actress had just been cast in a career-making role. She was on her way home from an evening of celebrating with her new cast mates, driving alone on a dark stretch of country road, when her car suddenly veered off the shoulder and into a tree.
“The car was totaled. A team of doctors brought her back from the brink. Karen lived, but she was in a coma for nearly two weeks.”
Samantha put her arm around me. I kept my eyes fixed on the screen, willing the sick feeling away. Everyone in the room knew about the accident, of course, but it was never up for discussion. The images before me were a chapter of my life that I’d tried to erase; photos of the car wreck, newspaper clippings, pictures of me in the hospital.
“When she finally came out of the coma, Karen’s road to recovery would be long.”
The program cut to Eureykah and me sitting across from each other.
“Karen, what a miracle that you’re alive! They say driving when tired is just as dangerous as driving while under the influence,” Eureykah said.
It was, especially after one too many drinks. I shouldn’t have been driving, but I’d really wanted to wake up in my own bed.
“I’m grateful nobody else was involved.”
I wasn’t a train-wreck back then. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’d gotten caught up in the excitement of meeting some of my idols, and had one more glass of wine than usual.
“When your heart stopped, did you see the white light? Did you have what they call a near-death experience?”
“I don’t remember,” I answered, too quickly.
Sam gave my hand a little squeeze. I’d barely talked to her about the accident, even though she’d been at the hospital nearly every day. Nobody knew I was probably over the legal limit that night.
“Tell us about how your injuries affected you.”
“Well, you have no idea how hard it is to learn to brush your teeth again.”
Eureykah laughed with me.
“Seriously though, it took months before I was anywhere near normal. I had to learn to speak, to walk, to do all those things. I’m still not back to the way I used to be. I get headaches, insomnia. I’m not allowed to drive because sometimes it’s confusing to do too many things at once.”
“Karen, what was the impact of the accident on your career?”
There it was. The question I knew everyone in the room had been asking. I took another swig of my wine. Not even Eureykah Johnson could coax the truth out of me; that I panicked every single time I had an audition.
“I don’t know, exactly. I guess being alive was more important than chasing a silly dream.”
The guilt felt like it could crush me. My recklessness could have killed somebody. What right did I have to go off and pursue my frivolous acting career? I didn’t deserve to succeed after being so careless and stupid.
Fat tears surged down my TV cheeks. How the hell was this woman able to pull so much emotion out of me? Eureykah passed me a tissue box, branded with her logo.
“You say you didn’t want to be on stage anymore, but how do you really feel?” she asked.
The question had stunned me with its simplicity.
“I feel calm,” I said. It was the second time in years I’d felt that way in front of an audience. The first was with Bruce, at the library in front of the students.
The cameras cut to Bruce, casually gorgeous next to Eureykah.
“Bruce, this wasn’t the first time you’d met Karen, was it?”
“No, it was not. Three years ago I directed a production of Romeo and Juliet at the National Shakespeare Festival. Not many people realize this, but Karen Peters was supposed to have been my Juliet.”
My Juliet. Like I’d belonged to him. The idea made me warm all over.
“And then the accident happened?”
“I tried everything I could to delay the production, but too much money was at stake. We had to carry on and recast the role.”
“Did you reach out to Karen?”
“Oh God, yes. I tried to call, to visit. She wouldn’t see me or speak to me. I never heard from her again.”
“And why did you want to get in touch?”
“I wanted to give her another chance. Have her audition for my next production.”
Eureykah leaned forward and took my hand.
“Bruce Thompson wants to give you another chance at realizing your dreams, Karen, and everyone wants you to take it because they believe in you. I believe in you too.”
I drained my glass. The frequency in the room seemed to have been dialed up.
“We’re not here to give you a free ride,” Eureykah said. “’Dare to Live Your Dream’ is about opportunity, Karen, and we have a big opportunity in store. Take a look.”
Euryekah shifted into newscaster voice:
“For thousands of years, the power of women has been celebrated through art the world over. In November, E-Media will host an exclusive gala kick off to my upcoming Inanna Summit. The Summit is the culmination of my life’s work — an opportunity to address the women’s health crisis on a global scale and unite female leaders and dignitaries from all over the world. As such, we thought it fitting that this gala be a celebration of female sensuality.”
A montage began, featuring nearly-nude women whirling from trapeze, dangling from the air, contorting, singing, and high-kicking. The only thing covering their spectacular bodies were strategically-placed sequins. Amidst all the round asses and sweaty female limbs, was the occasional flash of naked man flesh, rippling with muscle.
My lifetime of performing had prepared me for Broadway or Shakespeare. Thank God I’d scraped together enough to keep paying for yoga classes — I was definitely going to need that strength and flexibility. I stole a glance at Sam, who had a hand clasped over her mouth. Mom’s fists were clenched into tight balls.
“Karen, here is our challenge: Bruce Thompson will direct an explosive burlesque cabaret for our gala, and we’d like to offer you a role. The eyes of the world will be on this high-profile event, and if you can pull off your performance, you’ll earn a year-long contract with a professional cabaret company. Do you accept our ‘Dare to Live Your Dream’?”
This was a chance to appear in front of the entertainment heavy-weights who ran in Eureykah’s circle. It was a better opportunity than I would have dreamed of at this stage in my career, complete with a Tony Award-winning director. So what if it required a great deal of tits and ass?
A ferocious hunger raged inside of me. Every second of my life came down to this moment right here, with none other than Eureykah Johnson.
“I do,” I pronounced.
Sam and Malcolm erupted into cheers, causing poor Darnell to startle awake with a squawk. Mom sat stiffly in her chair, still staring at the television. Malcolm killed the volume as the credits started to roll and Sam uncorked a bottle of bubbly. I was surprised when Mom motioned for Sam to pour for her, too.
“Congratulations, Karen,” Mom said, raising her glass. “I knew it was only a matter of time before you used the education I paid for to become a stripper.”
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Bump and Grind is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.