Part One

Experiences that profoundly affect your life don’t always feel very profound at the time. Mine began in the spring of my junior year of college, sitting in a hotel in a low-cut little black dance dress, nursing a glass of champagne and slowly but steadily losing money at blackjack.

I was supposed to be there with Allan. He was the guy I had dated since the fall. A week before, he got into his first-choice law school, and I took him out for a fancy dinner. I also told him I had bought us tickets to Casino Night, a dress-up charity fundraiser run by a campus group and held at a hotel just off campus. Two days later, he dumped me. “I’ll be going to school next year 500 miles away,” he said. “That just won’t work. We should start seeing other people.” (About 18 hours later, he started seeing someone named Carole.)

That was the first time I’d ever been dumped. I was upset. Not so much because of him; I had sensed for a while that things weren’t going well. But my vanity was very wounded. I felt unattractive and undesirable.

My roommate Nina stayed up late talking with me. I thanked her and offered her the casino tickets, saying I couldn’t go. “Nope, Tara,” she said. “You and I are gonna go to Casino Night together. We’ll dress to the nines, drink, dance and and flirt with every guy there. You’ll feel better in no time.”

Well, it seemed like a good plan. We dressed our sexiest and spent forever doing our hair and makeup. Unfortunately, Nina immediately found a guy and went off dancing, and I was left alone. It turned out Casino Night was mostly a couples affair, so there weren’t many single guys to flirt with or even talk to. The only upside was that I was finally old enough to drink legally, so I repeatedly took advantage of this fact.

Toward the end of the night I wandered into the poker room. “Hey, Tara!” I heard a voice call. It was Brian, my ex-boyfriend. He was taking a shift as a dealer. At his table were his two roommates and their dates. “Join us!” he said.

I did. I had been feeling even more depressed than before Nina came up with her great plan to get me feeling better in no time. I was desperate for some company, some affirmation of my existence. Brian’s roommates weren’t much – they were future Wall Street types, cocky and obnoxious – but they were all I had. Oh, and their dates: can you say “bimbo”?

So I played poker. I won a few hands, although I was suspicious that Brian was cheating in my favor. Regardless, I felt better. At least I’d break even for the night. Brian got me another drink, and I started to laugh. It was better than wandering around aimlessly watching the happy couples dance.

I should have wondered why Brian was so nice to me. I should, perhaps, have suspected a trap. But how was I to know what would be at stake before the night was over?

Brian’s shift ended, and he proposed that we all go back to the guys’ suite. I agreed. I didn’t want to stay at the “casino,” and I didn’t want to go home. Going home early would be admitting defeat; I’d feel even worse than I already did.

I had met Brian toward the end of my freshman year, when he was a sophomore. He was, I’m told, a great poker player and probably funded much of his tuition from his winnings. I do know he loved all kinds of games. He was funny, too, and always upbeat. He made me laugh. One night we danced at a party and went back to his frat. We talked about poker. He humorously dared me to play strip poker. I told him I would, but only if he was the only one who had to strip. To my surprise, he agreed. Well, I couldn’t say no to that, right? Gradually I undressed him, wondering how far he’d go. By the time he was down to his shorts, I was having a lot of fun, and wondering where the game would lead. A couple hands later, it led into bed.

During our brief relationship, we played strip poker quite a few times. It became a regular thing after a date, to the point where I planned my outfit accordingly. Sometimes I won; sometimes I lost; sometimes there was a small dare attached. He always made it fun. It wasn’t just an excuse to undress; he really seemed to care about the game, and wanted me to care about it and enjoy it. It was always carefree and amusing.

On the other hand, we didn’t have much of a relationship otherwise. He was funny but hard to have a serious conversation with. We didn’t have many common interests; he liked poker and math and economics and talked about game theory. He did teach me a little about jazz, his other love. But most of the time I didn’t really feel like we were “involved.” At the end of the year he traveled and then went on junior year abroad. We never really broke up; we just drifted apart. I guess I wanted some sort of closure or explanation, but it never happened.

The guys’ suite had a big common room and four separate bedrooms. (There was a fourth roommate, but he was away.) Brian asked if I wanted a drink, and I was amused to see that he had a pretty well-stocked bar. I had a vodka tonic, which he made strong. Brian put on some jazz and we sat in the common room, the lights low. I was feeling happy just to be around people and not walking home alone. I guess I was also feeling happy from the drinks; I’d lost count at that point.

Not surprisingly, a poker game broke out. The six of us sat in a circle on the floor and began playing with Brian’s chips. Again, I did well. At some point another large vodka tonic appeared. I remember sitting back and closing my eyes and feeling at one with the music. I was starting to feel at peace over Allan and better about myself.

My reverie was broken by one of the roommates saying, “Of course, I’d play, but what about the girls?” (I don’t remember the roommates’ names. I think of them as the blond one and the dark one.)

“We’d beat the pants off you,” one of the bimbos replied.

“What about Tara?” asked the blond one.

Brian laughed. “Oh, Tara is an EXPERT strip poker player,” he said. “She’ll sandbag you all.”

The dark one laughed. So you’re in, Tara?” he asked.

Jeez. They wanted to play STRIP poker? My head swam and I tried to focus.

No, of course I didn’t want to play with them. Brian’s games were one thing, but his roommates were obnoxious.

But it was hard to say no. Everyone else was eager to play. They were going to play, no matter what. If I said no, they’d make fun of me. They’d make me leave and go home. I could tell. “You can’t stay if you don’t play, Tara.” And if I went home, I’d be a loser all over again. It would be another awful night.

It was warm and pleasant in the suite, the music was great, and I was tipsy. Quite tipsy. It would be so easy just to say yes, not to have to confront everyone and have them ridicule me and kick me out.

I began to rationalize. The games with Brian were fun and harmless. This would be too. Maybe the game would end with no one actually undressing. Maybe I’d win – how great would it be to make the Wall Street wizards take it all off?

I hesitated. “Well, Tara?” the dark one asked.

Then I thought of Brian. I always had this sense that he drifted away because he thought I wasn’t enough of a game-player. I didn’t take chances. I was cautious about dares. I felt at that moment that if I refused to play, then I was admitting that I was the reason we drifted apart. I wasn’t fun enough. I wasn’t daring enough. I wasn’t good enough for Brian, just like I wasn’t good enough for Allan. I had dressed to the nines and made myself up tonight to prove that I was good enough, and here I was blowing it, and being the loser in yet another relationship.

Hell, I thought, no way. I had worked hard to look good. I had sensed all night that Brian liked the way I looked. I wasn’t going to let him win that easily. I’d play. I’d surprise him. I’d be the girl he wanted. I’d show him that drifting away from me was his loss, not mine.

“I’m in,” I said. I looked at Brian, but his face was inscrutable. Damn poker face! The rest of the group began discussing the rules. I took a big sip of my drink. The room seemed a little unsteady. “It’ll be fun, like it always was with Brian,” I told myself.

But somehow I didn’t quite believe myself.


Part Two

I always knew that Brian was good at games. I knew he was better than me. But I never understood, until that night, how much better than me. I never understood what being good at games was really all about. It was about playing the game, but it was also about playing the players. I was about to have a valuable but expensive lesson.

I don’t remember much about the beginning of the game. I remember that Brian dealt most all the hands, which in retrospect was obviously a suspect idea. I remember most people lost their shoes, and there was some good-natured teasing. One of the bimbos tried to “get away with” taking off her necklace, but she was firmly informed that “jewelry doesn’t count.” So off came her shoes.

This rule – jewelry doesn’t count – seems to be universally understood. Perhaps it’s written somewhere in an official strip poker rulebook. Guys always quote it as authoritative. It was the rule when Brian and I played, and I never questioned it. I guess in the scheme of things it’s fair, or girls would often have a terrific advantage. But is that so bad? It’s usually not the girls who propose the game. And why should I suffer just because guys don’t like to accessorize?

Anyway, I wasn’t going to argue on behalf of the bimbo, even though it meant my own necklace and earrings were off the table. My mind was elsewhere. I was still trying to steady myself after too many drinks, and make sense of what I had done in agreeing to the game, and why I had done it.

But nothing focuses the mind like bad cards, and soon I had the losing hand. The roommates teased me. “Oh, now TARA has to take something off,” they said, and they hooted and applauded as I took off my strappy heels. They acted like it was nice if the bimbos lost, but a much bigger deal if I did. Which flattered me, I’ll be honest. It was always fun when I lost to Brian and he made a big deal of my taking something off. Now that feeling was coming back to me. I smiled. Another vodka tonic appeared. I looked at Brian: still a poker face.

The game in general started coming back to me, or maybe I just started paying attention to it. One thing I learned with Brian is that your clothes are your stakes, so it matters how many you have. In my freshman year, I became good at quickly calculating how many items he was wearing and how many I had. Once, before a date, I went to a vintage clothing store and bought a camisole, a half-slip, and a garter belt, which I wore with stockings under a dress. That night I was the one who challenged Brian to strip poker. I still remember his face when I took off my dress and he saw what a complex of lingerie I had on underneath it. He gave me a look of approval: NOW you’re getting it! Now you’re playing the game! I loved that look. I rarely got it. I still felt that we wouldn’t have drifted apart if I could have earned that look more often. I guess that’s why I agreed to play the game with Brian and the roommates: I wanted that look. Or at least I didn’t want to slink home, tail between my legs, without it.

My mind started to work. I certainly didn’t have a complex of lingerie tonight. Under my dress I had a skimpy little black bra and panties and black thigh-high stockings. Oh, and my heels, but I had already lost those. That was it. That was the extent of my “stakes.” I was ill-prepared.

Across from me, Brian and his roommates were in suits. They had…damn it…jackets, ties, shirts, probably t-shirts, belts, shoes, socks, trousers…

I was screwed.

I had wondered why the guys hadn’t taken their jackets and ties off when they got back to their room. Maybe they were just trying to look nice. Maybe.

One step behind Brian again, I thought. I had no doubt that he had calculated what the bimbos and I were wearing before the game even came up. You haven’t earned your look of approval yet, I told myself.

My mind strained to focus despite the vodka. Before I could worry about one-upping Brian, my more immediate concern was what to do if I lost again. I didn’t want to take off my dress. That night I had “dressed to the nines” in my sexiest, skimpiest undies. (Thanks again, Nina.) I decided I could take off my stockings. In fact, I could do that with flair. Once I had done so with Brian, and he was quite entertained. I still doubted somehow that the game would go much further. The bimbos might well refuse to undress. And I figured that if the roommates seemed attracted to me (which, for whatever reason, they now did), the bimbos might get jealous and call off the game. So, all the more reason to put on a relatively harmless show.

As luck (or Brian’s dealing) would have it, I soon got a chance. The roommates hooted with delight when I lost again. “What comes off now, Tara?” they teased. I stood up. There was a sultry jazz number on then, and I swayed a little to it. Slowly I slid the hem of my dress up to my thighs and began slowly working one of my thigh-highs down my leg. The roommates cheered. Brian smiled, although it wasn’t the approval-smile I had hoped for. I did my best to imitate a stripper. When I took off the second stocking, I gave the guys more of a peek up my dress than absolutely necessary. I was re-enacting my freshman year. I kind of enjoyed it. I sat down, adjusted my dress over my legs, and took a large sip of my drink.

Yes, I was re-enacting my freshman year. But that was a different, simpler game. I was about to find out that this was a more complex game, with different stakes. And I would quickly have to learn a new set of rules.

The roommates applauded, then one of them reached over, picked up my stockings, and set them down next to him. I looked at him quizzically. “You lost them, Tara,” he said. “And they’ll look good on the Wall of Shame.”

The what?

Gradually it came out, with the other five explaining in bits, that there was a Wall of Shame in the basement of the roommates’ frat, and that it contained stories about girls on campus, and sometimes “souvenirs.” My stockings were to be a souvenir.

“Don’t take it seriously,” one of the bimbos advised me in a sisterly way. “They’re just trying to tease you. Their bark is worse than their bite,” she said, exchanging smirks with her date.

Quickly another hand was dealt, and I had to pay attention, because I had bad cards. I narrowly escaped. Another sip. Again I felt unsteady, but it wasn’t just the alcohol. I had thought for a moment that I was playing the game well, but with the “Wall” I’d been thrown a curve ball.

The next hand, one of the bimbos lost. She was down to her blouse and skirt. This was a moment of truth. I was hoping she would announce that she wanted to stop the game there.

No such luck. She took her blouse off, revealing a beige bra and a far more ample chest than mine. I had miscalculated the bimbos. My sense had been that the roommates liked the bimbos, but they seemed more interested in “getting” the smart girl, in embarrassing someone in their living room who could embarrass them in the classroom. I don’t think I was wrong about the roommates. But I had assumed that the bimbos would be jealous. I was wrong. The bimbos weren’t jealous because they understood exactly what the roommates’ interest in me consisted of. And they shared it. They also wanted to “get” the smart girl.

So it was four against one…or five, counting Brian. It was, in effect, a trap. And Brian had laid it for me. I hadn’t expected this. I had misplayed the players. He was playing at a much higher level, and I was way behind the curve.

I had no time to recover, though, because I immediately lost again. That meant my dress. The roommates’ teasing began again.

What could I do? I knew in the back of my mind that I could still escape. I could refuse to take my dress off. I could go home. They’d ridicule me, but I could. And…I could never look at Brian again. He’d have beaten me…easily…and it would be clear that I was no “match” for him, in games or in romance. It would be clear that I was the reason he drifted away. I wasn’t fun enough; I wasn’t daring enough; I wasn’t good enough. I couldn’t play. I’d have my dignity, but at that moment, for some reason…maybe the booze, maybe the music, maybe the atmosphere…something snapped. Dignity didn’t seem so important. I’d lost that when Allan dumped me. I wanted to WIN. I felt ridiculous and like a fool when Allan took up with Carole. I didn’t want to be ridiculed again. I wanted to be like Brian. I wanted to be a player.

I stood up, trembling. The room swayed. I reached for the zipper of my dress. It seemed to slide down on its own, without my doing anything. It didn’t feel like I was making a decision to take my dress off. I was, but it didn’t feel like it. The music, the teasing, the cheers all ran together. The next thing I knew, my dress was on the floor. I sat down. I took a long drink. Another hand was dealt. It was a couple minutes later that I realized my dress had disappeared. While I was distracted and drinking and a little dizzy and fending off everyone’s comments, one of the roommates had hidden it in one of the bedrooms.

Which meant…I slowly realized…that I couldn’t, after that point, leave the game. If I tried, I was certain that no one in the room would give me my dress back. And I couldn’t exactly get up and walk home all the way across campus in nothing but my skimpy little black bra and panties.

I was trapped. I would have to play the game out, wherever it led.

Obviously, I realized, I was still WAY behind the curve.

Part Three

Losing my dress – and having the roommates hide it from me – was the turning point in the game. It was the point of no return. Without my dress, I couldn’t walk away from the game. I could no longer leave. I was committed. And the roommates knew it.

I can’t say that the room got literally darker after that…although it was dark…but the mood got noticeably darker. Before, there was generally lighthearted teasing; after, there was something closer to taunting. Before, people smiled and laughed; after, people were more serious about the game. Before, no one talked about the elephant in the room – the fact that the girls were destined to lose simply because they had so many fewer clothes to begin with. After, the roommates gloated as they took off their belts or ties or socks, while the girls had far more at stake in each hand.

My one consolation was that I had a run of good luck with the cards. I watched the guys take off some of their endless clothes. I watched the bimbo with the ample chest lose her skirt, so she was, like me, in bra and panties. The other bimbo had a dress on, but she elected to slip her bra off under her dress. She did it easily, like she had often practiced the maneuver before.

But although I was getting good cards, the roommates kept focusing their teasing on me. They pointed out that it was only a matter of time until my luck ended. They asked me my bra size, and when I refused to say, they said they would find out soon enough, and began to guess and make a side bet about it. And they talked about how my bra and panties would look on the Wall of Shame.

I looked sideways at Brian, trying to read him. His expression was impossible to read. But one thing I did know is that the entire game, he was looking at me.

I had been sitting in as modest a position as I could manage, my legs together and my arms covering my chest as best I could. The roommates hounded me about this until I moved my arms and shifted to a slightly more revealing position.

Why had Brian done this to me? Apparently he saw me at the Casino Night, saw an opportunity for his roommates to “get” me, and served me up to them on a platter. Perhaps he owed them a favor, or perhaps he wanted a favor from them. I suspect he thought I would bail out of the evening at the suggestion of strip poker, and his roommates would have the chance to make fun of me and tell stories about me. It would be a joke. He had no idea of the mental state I was in after Allan, or the effect of too many vodka tonics. When I agreed to play, though, he betrayed no surprise – always a poker face! But his little joke for his roommates at my expense was turning into a much bigger present for them than he or they had anticipated.

I wanted to win the game, at least in some sense. I wanted to beat Brian. Obviously I wasn’t going to beat him at poker that night, but I wanted to beat him in some way or other. It was a small victory that I had agreed to play the game instead of walking away. It had to have surprised him, I knew. And I had to admit, in spite of how badly the game was going, there was something exciting in it. The tension, and the attention. Just like on our first “date,” Brian had drawn me in again. Drawn me into a game. Only this time, a more complex game. More players, higher stakes. All along tonight, I’d been in over my head. But if I had to play, I wanted to play well. I wanted to beat Brian, somehow. I wanted to win.

However, so far I was doing very little winning; I was mostly just trying not to lose too miserably. My one hope at that point of avoiding total humiliation was that one of the bimbos would lose before me, and would refuse to go topless, which would effectively end the game. I kept hoping for one of them to lose. It was them or me, and I was seeing them as my opponents. It was interesting that a game that was supposedly boys-vs.-girls was in reality entirely girls-vs.-girls, with the boys winning no matter what.

Finally the bimbo with the dress lost again, but to my disappointment she avoided the issue by taking her panties off under her dress. She was now down to one item, but she was still fully covered.

My whole focus now was on beating the bimbos. I guess the roommates had wanted to see me lower myself to the bimbos’ level, and they had succeeded.

I survived a close call, and was delighted when the bimbo in bra and panties lost again. I took a big drink. Hopefully she’d be embarrassed and end the game.

But of course, I had misplayed my opponent once again. The bimbo smiled at me and slipped off her bra, revealing a chest even I had to admire. It was quite obvious that the guys admired it, including Brian.

Screwed again. If I lost another hand, I’d have no way out of following suit.

Two hands later, my luck ended. The taunting began. “Let’s see ‘em, Tara!” I took a long sip and a deep breath. Then I reached behind my back and undid my bra. Off it came, and the roommates grabbed it from me. They hooted and made lewd comments, then they checked the size and settled their bet, and confiscated it for the Wall. I tried to cover my chest with my arms, but everyone said that was illegal and the bimbo with the dress grabbed my arms to hold them down. I pulled them away and stopped covering myself. Everyone laughed.

“One hand to go, Tara,” the blond roommate said, staring pointedly at my little black panties.

Over the course of the evening, the roommates’ teasing had become more vulgar. Now they held nothing back. They deliberately used the most degrading terms they could to describe my anatomy, trying to embarrass me as much as possible. They made a side bet on whether I was trimmed or shaved. They admonished Brian not to reveal “the secret” so they could bet on it. With some prodding, they got the bimbos to guess as well. I smirked at everyone, but inside I writhed.

Brian shuffled and dealt. He had been largely silent during the game, but now he spoke. “Actually,” he said, “I think whichever girl loses next is going to have to reveal her ‘secret.’”

He was right. Each girl now had on one item of clothing. Whoever lost next lost everything. And of course, the guys still had lots of clothes on. Talk about a girls-vs.-girls game! It was me against the bimbos. One more poker hand for all the marbles.

I’m not very religious, but I prayed that one of the other girls would lose.

I took another drink and picked up my cards. They weren’t horrible, but they weren’t good. I was in danger.

My heart beat like mad, and I barely breathed. I lay down my cards, and the roommates giggled. “Gotta do better than that, Tara,” they taunted, and they immediately put down better hands.

I turned to the bimbos, feeling something like panic. The one in the dress laughed and lay down a much better hand. My chances were running out. I looked at the one with the large chest. I must have betrayed considerable fear. She smiled at me. “I’m sorry, Tara,” she said, completely insincerely if not sarcastically. She had me beat. She lay down her cards, obviously savoring her victory.

That left Brian.

Brian hesitated a long time. “Tara,” he said, and he looked at me. I looked at him. For the first time since the game started, I directly met his gaze. Slowly he laid down his cards.

“You lose,” he said.

Cheers went up all around.

I closed my eyes. I quickly finished my drink, momentarily fighting back tears. I had no choice, no way out. The roommates started clapping, and the bimbos joined in. “Take it OFF,” they chanted. “Take it OFF!”

The bimbos were enjoying it as much as the guys. They had wanted to “get” me, and I suspect they were also relieved that it was me who lost and not them. Girls vs. girls. The guys had successfully played the players.

I stood up, shakily. I reached down to my little black panties. I steeled myself. Finally I slid them down, wriggling out of them, and let them fall to the floor. I stepped out of them. They were confiscated immediately.

I sat down.

I don’t know how long the teasing went on, probably several minutes, but it seemed forever. Finally the bimbos grew tired of it. They took the roommates’ hands and led them off to their respective rooms, and shut the doors. All my underwear disappeared with them.

Brian and I sat on the floor, silently, not moving, for a long time. You could cut the tension with a knife. Finally, I said, “Let me have my dress back now.” Brian paused, then he slowly got up, went into the fourth roommate’s bedroom, and came back with my dress. I stood up and put it on. Neither of us spoke. I walked toward the door, and Brian did too. We met at the door.

I looked at him for a long time. I could feel that he was attracted to me then. I could feel that he wanted me. I looked in his eyes. There it was! There was the look. There was the approval. I had done it! I had played the game, through to the end. He hadn’t expected that I would, but I did. I had surprised him. And he liked it. A lot.

Suddenly, impulsively, I kissed him. He kissed me back, hard. I think it was the longest, most passionate kiss I’d ever had. I could feel in his lips and in his breath how much he wanted me.

Then I smiled, opened the door, said “Good night, Brian,” and left.

On the way home I could barely walk. But oddly enough, I felt great. I wasn’t a loser any more. I had lost the poker game – and I had been humiliated beyond words – but I had won the game with Brian. He hadn’t rejected me; I had rejected him. He hadn’t drifted away from me; I had drifted away from him. I had my closure. He had tricked me into the game with his roommates, but I had gotten something else from him. In the end, I’d beaten him at his own game.

I practically fell into my room, then I lay on my bed and thought about the evening, touching myself under my dress. The poker game was incredibly embarrassing, and yet I couldn’t deny that I was extremely excited thinking about it. I had discovered something new within myself. Humiliated as I was, I had to admit that I had enjoyed being the center of attention. I liked the risk, the uncertainty, the manipulation, the strategy. I felt like I finally understood it all. I had played badly tonight, but in the end, I had learned from the master. Now I wanted another challenge. I wanted to keep exploring this feeling. I wanted to keep playing.

I loved the game.


Early in my senior year, through a long set of circumstances, I wound up at a party at the roommates’ frat. The roommates and Brian had graduated, and the party was for the new members in the house.

Over time I had obliquely asked several people about the Wall of Shame; I was curious if it was real. I was told it was supposedly in a locked basement room to which only members had keys. Allegedly there were stories on the wall about various girls on campus, with photos and any “memorabilia.” During the party I slipped downstairs and searched for it. (I had a vague idea of getting my lingerie back.) I found a number of locked doors, but no other clues.

When I went back upstairs I ran into a frat member I knew slightly from a couple classes. He offered me a drink and we talked for a couple minutes. Then a guy who was apparently a new member walked up. This guy reminded me of Brian’s roommates: cocky and kind of obnoxious. My friend introduced me. “Ray,” he said, “this is Tara.”

Ray looked at me for a few moments like he recognized my face and was trying to place it. I could see the wheels turning inside his head. Then a look of recognition dawned, and he grinned.

“Strip poker girl!” he exclaimed.

Apparently I was not only on the Wall, but I had been given my own official nickname.