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Author's Note: This is a response to the "Night Life" challenge posted to Mickey's challenges group a few weeks back. For some reason, my name came up as a possible candidate to run with this one. (I really can't imagine why.) The crux of the challenge is that if Jarod were to become a male stripper for a pretend, what would Parker's, Syd's and Broots's reactions be? While Syd's and Broots's reactions will factor in later on, I am, of coursocusocusing primarily on Miss Parker's reaction...;-)

Author's Warning: This is a two-part fic. Part 1 is rated PG-13, primarily for language and some darned amusing imagery. (Poor Jarod, I think this may be the cruelest thing I've done to him yet!) However, Part 2 will rate NC-17 for the type of thing that two incredibly attractive people who make each other crazy might be inclined to get up to if left to their own devices for a few hours. For the faint of heart, it actually works to stop at the end of this part.

Disclaimer: Don't own 'em and, even though I actually work my butt off on this stuff, I ain't earning a penny so don't sue me. Incidentally, the horrendous song referred to herein is "I Wanna Be a Cowboy" by the one-hit-wonder band from the Eighties, Boys Don't Cry. I cannot and will not take credit for the idea of using that dreadful tune. Credit must go to D. I had successfully blocked out that particular low point in the history of American popular music and it never would have occurred to me to use it had she not mentioned it. So, thanks, D!

One Final Warning: Among the folks who may be offended byt fot follows are: people who eat at the Olive Garden, fans of the actress Julianne Moore, fans of Oprah, fans of and practitioners of trick roping, and petite blondes. This is just a story after all, and I don't actually have anything against any of the above (and actually think Ms. Moore is a fine actress), so please don't send the folks from "People for the Ethical Treatment of Petite Blondes" after me.

Girls' Night Out, Part 1 of 2

by Ginger

Officially it's nobody's fault because it never happened. Unofficially, I blamd. Ad. After all, he's the one who *insisted* that I meet a group of women - who, incidentally, barely qualified as acquaintances a hundred years ago when we were in boarding school together - in D.C. for a *Girls' Night Out.* He said it would do me good to socialize with women with whom I might share something in common. Who was he kidding? I have more in common with the seventeen year old girl who waited on me at the Dairy Queen than I do with these women, but he just wouldn't leave it alone. He finally wore me down. And, well, I didn't have any plans for the weekend.

I suppose it could have been worse - dinner at the Olive Garden followed by a chick flick. Julianne Moore having a mid-life crisis. Julianne Moore battling depression. Julianne Moore trapped in a loveless marriage. I shudder just thinking about it. I guess I'm lucky the ladies decided to do something special in honor of my joining them. They resolved to make a real night of it; we were going clubbing.

I was cautiously optimistic as I donned a black halter top, tight, hip hugging black pants, and a pair of killer high heel boots. On a whim, I pulled my hair up in a high ponytail, achieving a sof ref retro, cool sixties look. I figured on bagging a sweet young thing - preferably with lots of muscles, plenty of staminnd vnd very little to say - and ditching the ladies before anyone had an opportunity to raise the topic of Oprah.

That was the plan anyway. What actually transpired was that I found myself completely surrounded by women - drunken, screaming women - and the only men in sight were up onstage dressed like the Village People. Yup, you guessed it, our big night out featured a visit to a strip club. The only opportunity for contact with the opposite sex would involve stuffing dollar bills into the g-string of an oiled up pretty boy who, in reality, would rather fuck the guy on stage next to him than fuck me. Perfect.

My earlier optimism drained away as I stood in the shadows at the back of the room, watching my former classmates make fools of themselves and nursing my criminally overpriced scotch. I briefly entertained myself by calculating how much C4 explosive it would take to bring down the building then muttered "damn" when I concluded that amount would have easily fit into my evening bag, and with plenty of room to spare for my lipstick and credit card.

My thoughts then turned to Sydney and his *sage* advice, and I began to contemplate the ways in which I would make him pay. When I think of all the shit I've let him get away with over the years, the stunts he's pulled - he thinks behind my back - to assist his little trained monkey. One word to the right people and his face would have ended up on a milk carton.

Then again, I didn't *have* to listen to him, did I? Hell if I know what I was thinking. Maybe I wasn't thinking. Okay, I definitely wasn't thinking. In fact, if I were to ascribe a moral to this unholy little tale, it would be that the most ridiculous things happen when I'm NOT thinking. Things like the room going dark, growing silent and heavy with anticipation as the sound system boomed,

*Riding on the range,
I've got my hat - on,
I've got my boots - dusty.*

Well, I guess that was inevitable. I was in a strip club, after all, so I was destined to hear that Eighties song from HELL. I do confess to being somewhat less prepared for what happened next, when the spotlight hit the stage to illuminate a cowboy dressed all in white with his back to the audience. Actually, at first glance I simply rolled my eyes at the cliche. Then I shrugged, figuring that without cliches there really wouldn't be much point to any of this.

*I've got my saddle
On my horse.
He's called... T-t-t-t-trigger
Of course.*

A second glance was a bit unsettling and I found myself squinting to get a better look at "Roy Rogers." With a quick shake of the head, I attributed my momentary lapse in sanity to fatigue (it had been a long week), sensory deprivation, and acute boredom then lifted my glass for a fortifying swig of my insipid drink.

*I wanna be a cowboy
and you can be my cowgirl*

You know, scotch burns like a son-of-a-bitch when inhaled into the lungs and sinus cavity. I don't make a habit of asphyxiating myself but I did suffer one hell of a shock when the man on stage spun around and, flashing a million dollar grin, tipped his hat and winked at the crowd, which went absolutely berserk. Then, as though it were something he got up there and did every day of his life, he started to dance.

Meanwhile, after several unpleasant moments attempting to catch my breath, I was finally able to focus on devising a course of action. It wasn't easy to think amidst the racket. Man, those women were loud. Hey, whatever else can be said of me, I *always* give credit where credit is due, and I had to give the "cowboy" credit because...

He sure knew how to work the crowd.

There he was - my quarry, bane of my existence, carbuncle on the backside of my life - flashing that maddening smile and shaking his booty. And there I was - his huntress, the Ice Queen - instinctively retreating further into the shadows (not that he would have been able to see me with those lights shining in his eyes) as I weighed an interesting set of options. One voice in my head advised that a local sweeper team could be there in minutes. Another counseled that it was the weekend, damn it, so I could simply call it a night, slip quietly away, and forget the whole thing. The third voice was much softer - barely above a whisper - and much more succinct. It said,

*We're here so, what the hell, let's watch!*

Well, it *was* the most viable option. Imagine explaining to the ladies the sudden appearance of large men in suits brandishing lethal weapons and, more to the point, why these men happen to be taking orders from me. Besides, Jarod has often relied on the intervention of bystanders to help him elude capture. He engenders goodwill wherever he goes and it has served him well. And the way he was up there on stage *engendering* his little heart out, I just knew that an army of sweepers wouldn't have stood a chance in that room. The evening would have ended in humiliating disaster... for me. As for slipping out quietly, well, for the record, I wasn't one of the designated drivers so my car was back at the hotel.

Yeah, I know there are such things as taxis. In truth, I could have had a fleet of vehicles at my disposal and I still wouldn't have moved a muscle. Okay, so I was curious. My secret little stash of DSAs - from Jarod's quarters at the Centre - was terribly out of date and I was dying to see how the lab rat was holding up after years out here in the land of PEZ and ice cream.

Just fine by the looks of it.

The crowd got even louder as "Cowboy Jarod" removed his shirt and, hips swaying in time to the music, swung it over his head before tossing it aside. One would think that any man - even a pretender - deprived of even a shred of privacy for most of his life might find this gig a little uncomfortable. And, yet, he seemed to be having one heck of a time in that quintessential the-world-is-Jarod's-oyster way. While that attitude is one of a thousand things about him that tends to annoy the living crap out of me, on this particular evening I found myself unable to keep a smile from forming.

I imagined his initial puzzlement at the concept of being paid to appear beforroomroomful of strangers and remove a ludicrous costume in time to a dreadful song. I also pictured him just shrugging his shoulders and going with it then thinking, *Hey, this isn't half bad.* Even when he doesn't quite get it, Jarod is accepting. This I know from hund of of hours of interviews with people he's encountered and, well, because I just know him.

When the tearaway pants came off (a pretty neat little trick, actually, sort of akin to pulling the table cloth off of a fully set table without anything hitting the floor), leaving him in a cowboy hat, chaps, a g-string and boots, I downed the remainder of my drink. When he turned around to wiggle his bare fanny at the crowd, I became desperate for another, but there wasn't a wa in in sight. They were probably all off in a quiet corner, salivating. The din had become deafening but the crowd would grow even more frenzied by the time *this* cowboy rode off into the sunset.

Given the environment in which I was raised, I figured I'd seen just about everything. In other words, it takes quite a bit to make my jaw drop. When someone offstage tossed Jarod a shiny silver rope, which he proceeded to deftly knot into a perfect lasso, I shook my head in disbelief. Somehow I just *knew* what he planned to do next, and he didn't disappoint.

Wonderboy treated the crowd to a flawless demonstration of trick roping.

I don't think there are words to adequately convey what I witnessed that evening. The image of an extremely well-built grown man wearing very little clothing hop in and out of a spinning lasso, all the while keeping perfect time to a bad dance tune, truly crosses into the sublime. But "Hop-a-Long Jarod" wasn't through yet.

He stopped abruptly and, with a wink and a grin, made quick work of the chaps. (For those of you not keeping score, that left the boy in a cowboy hat, boots, and g-string.) Then, like a flash, he had the lasso going again, spinning it up and down his nearly naked, gyrating body while he rotated 360 degrees to give the audienclooklook from every perspective. It was at once a supremely bizarre and oddly impressive show of balance... or aerodynamics... or something. His hat didn't move once.

By that point, I considered the possibility of a riot breaking out to be very real and was glad to be standing close to an exit. As I watched him literally bring down the house, I was suddenly overcome by a wave of emotion that I never would have anticipated.

I felt intense gratitude. Whatever the future held, that image of Wonderboy was forever burned into my psyche, available to conjur whenever I wanted. From now on, I figured it would be much easier to keep those feelings of inferiority at bay while enduring my father's looks of disappointment and Syd's "character building" lectures.

With that gratitude came other, more dangerous, feelings. Warmth welled up in me and began to spread to my extremities. Perhaps it was the play of the silver rope against his tawny skin that caused a long suppressed notion to work its way into the forefront of my consciousness. I suddenly recalled the gentleness of his touch even as he tightly bound me in order to secure his escape when we were trapped together in the Keys years earlier. I remembered seeing something flicker in his eyes, beneath that look of righteous determination, as he wound the rope around my body. He had been so close that I could smell him, feel his breath tickle my skin and humid heat emanate from his body. I also remembered hating myself for the way it made me feel, and wondered if he'd seen something flicker in my eyes thightight.

My reverie was broken by the conclusion of Jarod's act. He removed his hat and held it high above his head, turning from side to side to give the crowd a wave. Then after a long, slow bow, he bid his adieu and sauntered off the stage. In his wake appeared two men wearing only bowties and tight black shorts, who proceeded to dutifully collect the piles of green bills that had been tossed onstage during the performance. The applause continued and grew louder still when the emcee announced that, if the ladies promised to behave themselves, not only would "Cowboy Jarod" be right back but he would join the audience to "press the flesh."

I felt myself grinning, having apparently arrived at an unconscious decision.

* * * *

While they appeared formidible as a group, individually these women were remarkably easy to intimidate, so I found myself moving swiftly to the front of the pack. When I reached it, Jarod was engaged in some idle chit-chat with an annoyingly tiny, giggling blonde who was wearing his hat. He had put on a pair of jeans, but had ingeniously left the button at the waist undone to highlight that pretty little belly of his, and was casually leaning against the stage with his arms crossed at his chest, smiling away.

*Damn,* I thought. *He's good.*

Although his demeanor did change slightly when he looked up to find me approaching. I hadn't waited my turn, of course, and the blonde started to squawk in protest until I shot her a glare that shut her up. She didn't move a muscle, but remained where she was wearing Jarod's hat to dumbly witness the entire exchange.

He was now standing up straight, and I could sense the wheels turning as his eyes scanned the room for any sign of sweepers. Then he turned his attention to me, his eyes narrowing as he took in my appearance. When he'd looked his fill he met my eyes, casting me a vaguely questioning look.

"Well done, Hoss," I purred.

"Why, thank you... Miss..." he replied coolly then made my evening by tacking on, "But the name's Jarod."

"That's quite an..." I let my eyes sweep lasciviously over his bare torso before continuing, "ACT you've got there. Throw in 'Topo Gigio' and you're ready for the 'Ed Sullivan Show.'"

I know that tossing obscure cultural references at the lab rat was a cruel thing to do, but I just couldn't help myself. Besides, I was rewarded with a smoldering glare, the kind that spoke of a desire to either choke the life out of me or fuck me witless, probably both. It was a look I had seen before but didn't fully appreciate until that moment.

I casually extracted a hundred dollar bill from my evening bag then took a step closer. Even though I knew he wanted to back away, he held his ground as I grasped the waistband of his jeans with one hand and slipped the bill between the rough fabric and his soft skin with the other. Only I detected the slight hitch in his breathing, and only I sensed his small shudder as I made contact. Leaning in, I brought my lips to his ear and whispered,

"Catch you later, cowboy."

With a graceful pivot, thanks to all those dance classes I'd endured as a child, I strode confidently away from him. The faces of the women I passed - full of resentment and envy - said it all. I wasn't one of them. I was special... special to him. I practically floated out of the room.

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