6 Months Later

The days came and went one right after the other. Angel hardly noticed. All her senses had been numbed to the point where she thought she had lost the ability to feel anything at all. Angel still worked at Loreley's. She returned the night after her assault, went up on that stage, and danced the night away. She could not understand why, but there was some part of her that was absolutely refusing to let her quit. Her stubbornness perhaps or maybe her refusal to let Aaron beat her into submission. But he already had. Aaron had gone to that extreme because he probably knew that she would come back. He knew the way her mind worked.

One evening, Angel awoke from her nightmares after one of her now frequent hangovers. She stared absentmindedly at her clock and hardly reacted when she realized that work started in ten minutes. Angel robotically stuffed her costume into her bag and headed downstairs to pick up her mail. She didn't have time to look at it and, as she hurried out of the building, she stuffed the envelopes into her bag.

Backstage at Loreley's, Angel sat at her mirror and was applying heavy amounts of eye shadow to her face. Her shift was about to start, but Angel felt sick as she stared at that slut in the mirror staring back at her. She had never hated herself as much as she did now. Then, Aaron appeared in the mirror behind her. "You've seemed really depressed lately," he told her smiling. Angel said nothing. "I should have punished Jewel for that little . . . incident a few months ago," he continued. "But I wanted to push you two farther." Angel slowly turned around to stare at Aaron. "Do you really think there was no purpose in putting you and her on that stage together?" he asked her as he hardened his expression. "What about the times I gave you each other's stage time? I set you two up as rivals from the very beginning."

"Why?" Angel whispered weakly. "What does that do for you?"

"You know there is nothing sexier to customers than two sluts fighting over their pedestal," Aaron said as the grin returned to his face. "You know that. But you should thank me. I pulled you back to reality. I made you realize . . ." He leaned forward slightly. "You aren't built for love. That's why I brought you into my club. I knew you would never leave." There was silence for a few seconds before Angel finally responded.

"You're really sick," she said softly as she got up. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have customers to entertain." With that, she walked out of the dressing room and headed out onto the floor.

The night was almost over before Angel was able to take a break backstage and prepare for her stage show. She was digging in her bag trying to find her mascara when the letters fell out and floated to the ground. Angel had almost forgotten about them. She went to pick them up. Electric bill . . . water bill and . . . a letter . . . not from Los Angeles City College, but from UCLA! Her eyes widened with shock at the sight of it. She took a huge breath and opened the letter with trembling fingers. It read:

Dear Ms. Montgomery,

We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted to Los Angeles City College. However, at the request of the admissions board, your resume was forwarded to the University of California, Los Angeles. Our Department of Dance is extremely interested in having you as a student and we hope that you will greatly consider accepting this offer. Financial aid and scholarships can be easily arranged at a later time . . .

Angel stopped reading. Breathing heavily, she read it again and again absolutely refusing to believe the words that the letters this real? She didn't even know what to think. This was so much more than she expected. Angel had hardly started to contemplate what had just been offered when her dressing room door suddenly burst open. Ruby came running in and she was holding what looked like the radio that Cid kept in his light box. She rapidly set it on the dresser and plugged it in. "Turn on the radio! Turn on the radio!" she kept saying with anxious excitement. Angel looked at her in surprise, but decided to humor her. She flipped the switch. The radio was set to a station that was broadcasting some show that must have been the radio equivalent of MTV because they were talking about music. The female host was in midsentence when Angel had tuned in.

"The biggest news in rock this week," the host was saying. "Is, of course, the release of Metal Heat's newest album. It's called Wings of Steel and it's been climbing the charts all week and tonight it has finally reached #1. So, here joining us in our New York studio tonight are Seth Connelly and Zach Steel. Fresh out of rehab! Congratulations."

"For going to rehab or for the album?" someone asked. It must have been Seth.

"Both I guess," the hostess said with a laugh. "How does it feel to finally have a number one album? I mean the entire album was done clean, right?"

"Yeah," Seth responded eagerly. "We left L.A for a while to finish it. This was probably the first album that we really put all our energy into making. We wanted something new and different. It was time to forge our own sound, but it's amazing. It finally happened."

"Of course, the big surprise for everyone," the hostess continued. "Was the power ballad on the album. Your first power ballad I believe."

"Our very first power ballad." Angel's stomach lurched. That was Zach's voice!

"Zach," the hostess said now directing him specifically. "In past interviews, you've voiced your dislike of power ballads, but you wrote this one. Why the change of heart?" There was a slight pause.

"I think," Zach responded. "In the past few months, I've really changed as a musician and after finally canning heroin for good, I needed some . . . outlet for what I was feeling at the time . . . and still feeling now."

"Do you think rehab helped with that?" The hostess asked curiously. There was a murmur of agreement from both Seth and Zach. "What made you guys decide to go to rehab in the first place?"

"After Zach's overdose," Seth responded seriously. "We all started to question our life choices, but it wasn't until a couple weeks later when Zach called us all together that we finally agreed it was time to start over and we all checked ourselves into a rehab center."

"I got some outside help too though," Zach added. "A friend of mine really convinced me that I needed to turn myself around. She changed my life."

"Is this the same friend that you wrote the ballad about?" asked the hostess good-naturedly. There was a very long pause.

"Yes," Zach answered quietly.

"And we're going to play Angel of the Night here in just a few moments," the hostess continued professionally. "But first I'd like to thank you guys for coming down to the studio. Good luck tomorrow night. Metal Heat will be kicking off their tour here in New York City at Madison Square Garden. Sold out—" Angel turned off the radio. Her head was throbbing. For a few minutes, there was only silence, but then Ruby spoke quietly.

"I think you should go." Angel looked up at her in surprise.

"Go where?" she asked her.

"New York," Ruby said with a passionate gaze. "Go to New York. Zach's not going to be in one place for very long. So, you need to go tonight!" Angel looked at Ruby in shock.

"I can't just take off!" she retorted. "Besides he doesn't want me there."

"You don't know that!" Ruby snapped. "That friend he was talking about . . . he was talking about you! He wrote the song for you! Maybe he didn't really abandon you." Angel sighed in dismay.

"Please, don't torture me that way Ruby," she whispered softly as she headed towards the stage.

"You're only torturing yourself," Ruby called after her.

Angel moved confidently onto the stage, but Ruby's words still echoed her mind. She waited quietly on the dark stage for the music to start to play. The song that came on over the amps was different, but Angel recognized the band. It was Metal Heat. Ruby must have bribed Cid to play it. Instinct took over and Angel started to dance. She twirled around the pole, but this was the power ballad that they had just talked about on the radio. Angel of the Night. She listened carefully as she danced. There was something in the lyrics. It told the story of a beautiful angel who came out only at night, but she saved his life. She kept him alive. Was this real? Zach had called her the angel of the night once a long time ago. Could this be the song he had been writing in her apartment? She lifted her feet off the ground spun faster and faster. Something awakened deep inside her. It was something that she had not felt for a long time. A desire. A passion. For freedom. What was she doing on this pole? Her stage time was only halfway done, but slowly Angel lowered her heels back onto the ground. Gripping the pole with both hands, she laid her forehead against its cold metal. Fire burning inside of her, she turned around and walked off stage without collecting any garments that were on the floor. There were moans from the audience, but Angel couldn't care less. Ruby was back there and Angel grabbed her by the arm and pulled her into her dressing room.

"Here," she said bluntly handing Ruby the letter she got from UCLA. While Ruby read, Angel hastily pulled her money out of her garter and counted it out. "It's enough for a flight out," she said aloud. "But not enough for a return flight." She quickly started to pull on her clothes.

"You're really going, aren't you?" Ruby murmured quietly. Angel looked at her with silent affection.

"What about you?" Angel asked her with a look of concern. "Will you be alright?" Ruby smiled softly.

"Yeah," she said. "I'll be okay." She paused and added with sincerity, "I know I haven't been very . . . supportive of your relationship with Zach, but that was only because I wanted to protect you like the way you protected me."

"I know," Angel responded in understanding as she reached over and embraced Ruby. "I know." While they were locked in embrace, Ruby murmured softly.

"I think Zach loves you." Angel smiled as she took the letter from Ruby and headed for the door. She unlocked it and came face to face with Aaron.

"What the hell are you doing?" he snarled viciously at her, but she held her ground.

"I'm out of here," Angel informed him as she tried to push past him, but he held her back.

"You're not going anywhere," he said angrily. "You don't have anywhere to go."

"You're wrong about that," she snapped at him. "And I'm not your bitch anymore."

"Get on that stage!" he commanded her.

"Or what?"

"Get on that stage!" Aaron yelled angrily. "Or I swear to God—"

"FUCK YOU, AARON! FUCK YOU!" Angel had no idea where that power came from, but it came out of her like six years worth of emotion that she had had bottled up. The entire backstage area went silent and even Aaron looked shocked. Angel smiled.

"I can't do this anymore," she told him confidently. "I've had enough. Tonight, I'm taking my future back and it's about time too. Goodbye, Aaron." With that, Angel strode right past him and straight out the back door. Her burden was now lifted and she vowed that she would never return to that place again.