“You’ve got a job.”
Those are words I’ve been praying to hear. So why do I suddenly feel as though my stomach has sunk through my knees?
“Darcy? Are you there?” Rina, the agency director, calls my name through the line. I’m clutching the phone to my ear, but I haven’t said anything.
“I—I’m here. I’m here!” I make myself perk up, so Rina won’t hear the fear in my voice. “That’s so great! So great!” And then I sink my nails into my palm, so I’ll stop repeating myself like an idiot.
I hear a faintly amused exhale on the other end of the line. “Oh, to be starting out again. I know this is your first job, but you are going to love this. Remember everything we talked about.”
My “first” job. Right. This is definitely a first, but I’ve been working my butt off at various jobs since I was sixteen years old. Just nothing like this. Not even close.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, isn’t that how the saying goes? And what’s more desperate than turning to high-end hooking to help pay your baby brother’s hospital bills? Your baby brother Denny, who almost died from shock and exposure on the side of a mountain when his car skidded off a half-frozen switchback. Who had to be kept in a medical-induced coma for almost a year while his fractured skull knitted itself back together, only to wake up paralyzed. Denny’s only prayer of walking again depends on intense, round-the-clock nursing and physical therapy, on top of the bills we still have to pay from his coma care. I’m thankful every damn day that my brother is alive and fully mentally functioning, but Denny doesn’t always feel the same way. Especially as his hopes of walking again dwindle as we struggle to find a way to pay for the physical therapy he needs.
I had to quit school so I could work to pay Denny’s hospital bills, and now I can’t work very much at all because even a full-time job can’t pay for a fraction of what the nurse’s bills would cost so I could be out of the house to do said job. It’s a mess. A very big, bad mess. And there are people all over the world who suffer in this same way, but not very many of them have a chance to pull the kind of money Rina is promising me if I can just get over this sex-for-money squeamishness. I can’t let Denny down—I’m the only family he has—and now? I. Have. A. Job.
“Escort” is not something I think I would have considered. “High-end escort,” though, had enough mystery and fantasy in my mind to at least soften any knee-jerk resistance. Rina Delaney’s agency has a reputation for high-end clientele. I found the discretely worded ad for her agency, looking for “educated, fit companions for elite and discerning clientele” while I was job hunting. I worried I might be too old for it—I’m almost twenty-six—but when I called Rina she met with me right away to “assess my marketability.” And Rina was smart, sending me home with different books on the subject of famous courtesans and the long tradition of the oldest profession’s connection to wealthy clientele seeking companionship.
“And it is companionship, Darcy, make no mistake. Sex is part of it, but you must be poised, be able to keep a conversation going. Smooth over all their awkwardness and make them feel they are the center of your attention. And of course, let them show you off like a prize.”
Rina upsold the idea to me from the very beginning. And ultimately, I was too desperate for a way out of Denny’s mess to refuse to at least consider the idea. If only she could find a job for me.
“Listen to me, sweetheart. You need to pack your bags and be ready tonight. And nothing from your closet. Toiletries, but then only wear and bring from the boxes I send you, which will arrive in…oh, an hour. And remember to dress warm. Bring moisturizer, all of it. You’re going to be spending a little time in the snow.” Rina goes on. I’m contracted for the whole week. And when she tells me the exact sum I’ll get, I about fall off the edge of my bed. Damn this ridiculous, prudish guilt leftover from Catholic school. I’m not exactly a virgin. I can do this.
My confidence takes a runner when I realize I have no clue what I should tell Denny or his nurse about where I’m going. There’s no way I can tell him the truth.
* * *
“You won a ski and spa week?”
“Won it? Like, you don’t have to pay for any hidden fees or tourist taxes or some shit? They’re not going to make you buy a timeshare?”
“Won it. Free. All expenses paid.”
Denny doesn’t believe me. He’s rolled his wheelchair right into the doorway of my bedroom in the house our parents left us, and for a moment I can almost see him as a red-faced little boy, demanding I play with him or take him along while I packed up my dollies to go to the neighbor’s house.
We face off over my bulging suitcase. Our eyes meet and hold, two matching deep green glares. But then, without meaning to, I feel myself soften and silently plead with him to stop asking questions I can’t answer. Denny, I’m doing this for you. I want to say the words. I mean it with my whole heart. Den, I’d do anything for you.
And I will. I promise myself I will.
Whether he senses that I need him to back down on this one, or for once he’s not being my annoying little brother just for kicks, Denny rolls back a foot or two, and I take this as his acquiescence. He smiles then, and I realize he’s still an extremely good-looking young man when his face isn’t drained and haggard with depression.
“Well, if anyone’s earned a little break from taking care of my ass, it’s definitely you. Enjoy yourself.”
I try to smile and think of what the money is going to mean for us: a fair amount of badly-needed daylight after months of struggle and worry.
“Hey, you’re not so bad. Besides, you put up with me. I’ll check this place out and let you know if it’s worth bringing you.”
Denny shakes his head and rolls down the hall, calling out over his shoulder. “Don’t sell yourself short, Darcy. You’re doing everything you can.”
Worst possible choice of words, but he can’t know that. “Selling myself” is exactly what I’m about to do.