Harrison stepped through the glass doors and entered the waiting room of Sleeping Beauty Inc. With pink metallic chairs and faux snakeskin seats, it was obviously not his regular hangout. He sat down anyway, close to the door. From the least obtrusive seat in the room, he could see three monitors showing Sleeping Beauty Inc. success stories.
“She changed my life,” an immaculate businessman pronounced. “This was me before I hired Cynthia.” They showed a picture of a pudgy, freckled post-grad. Naturally, he looked pathetic and desperately in need of the makeover Cynthia gave him. “As soon as we were in the car, she started working out my new regime. She put me on an exercise program, changed my diet, and coached me on success. I have always been talented in business, but she brought me to the next level with her style and grace,” he beamed. “I’ve had Cynthia for six years now. She doesn’t cost me money. She makes me money.”
He disappeared from the screen as they displayed Sleeping Beauty Inc.’s business number over clips from last year’s fashion show.
Harrison’s discomfort was palpable. He came to the office exactly on time for his appointment so he wouldn’t have to wait around. He didn’t want to see the other men stewing in the waiting room, and he certainly didn’t want them to see him. They were all staring at him, bug-eyed. One was chewing something with his mouth half-open. He looked several pegs below the success story they showed on the monitor, even before the transformation with Cynthia. Harrison hoped the gum chewer didn’t have his hopes up too high.
The next testimonial piped up on the monitor closest to Harrison. “My business life has always been exceptional. It was my home life that was lacking. I’ve had butlers, housekeepers, maids, gardeners, personal assistants, and everything else. You name it, I’ve had it. I didn’t have time to supervise my home. Now Roxanne takes care of all of that for me. She knows me inside and out, so everything is always done exactly to my taste. And she’s a stunning date on the fly,” the man confessed with a vomit-inducing wink.
They proceeded to show a clip of the beautiful Roxanne coming down a grand white staircase in an evening gown. She was every man’s deepest fantasy.
Harrison smirked. The ads were making him feel more out of place. It wasn’t like he was going to be able to afford a model who looked like Roxanne.
A moment later, a woman in a buff-colored suit popped into the room. She recognized him from his application and approached him. “Hi, Harrison? Thank you for waiting,” she said shrilly. “I’m Vivian, a client coordinator. My last meeting ran long. That client has visited our showroom five times and he still can’t make up his mind. There are so many excellent models to choose from.”
Harrison smiled and pretended he didn’t mind waiting. He had to be patient since he couldn’t afford the rates anywhere else.
The client coordinator made friendly chit-chat as she ushered him past the reception desk and into a private office. She wasn’t a bad-looking woman, except that she was probably old enough to be his mother—like a lot of the other women he knew.
“Alright,” she said, seating him and taking her place on the other side of the desk. “Let’s go over your specifications, shall we?”
Harrison nodded and tried to relax. After all, he wasn’t in the absurd waiting room mixing with the fishbowl of strange buyers anymore.
The client coordinator reminded him that their consultation was completely confidential and got started. “Let’s go over each category starting at the top.” She lit up her desk and displayed a copy of his application form on the surface. Then she pointed to the first category: beauty. “I noticed you didn’t mark down a preference. Let me fill you in about each style. First, there’s Snow White—”
“I get it,” Harrison interrupted. “I didn’t put anything down, because I don’t care about what she looks like. All the girls have to be presentable to qualify for a contract with you, don’t they?”
“Of course,” the coordinator said without skipping a beat. “I can set your selection to be random. Your answers to our other questions might narrow the field a bit. Usually, it’s the most important feature for our clients.”
“The girls aren’t robots, are they? I was under the impression that they were real girls you chose to describe with fairytale names depending on their coloring.”
She laughed. “Robots? This isn’t the twenty-fourth century. We still get girls the old-fashioned way. Then let’s move onto the second category: function.”
Harrison’s eyes ran down the list: Diva, Creative Princess, Domestic Goddess, Queen Rose, and Enchantress. His mouth was figuratively filled with tar as he read the titles. Why couldn’t he have afforded a less cheesy agency?
“I wondered if you didn’t understand the titles.”
“Because I chose the Domestic Goddess category?”
“Y-yes,” the coordinator stammered. “In the past, we’ve experienced miscommunications with that classification. The client thinks he’s ordering something he’s not. Due to misunderstandings, I’m obligated to explain each title.” She launched into an explanation. “The Diva is the kind of woman who looks great on any man’s arm. She’s always the pinnacle of fashion and style—”
Harrison interrupted again. “I read the small print. I don’t need a woman who is the pinnacle of fashion. I don’t want an artist, or a gardener, or a five-star chef. I need someone who can be a personal assistant and do a little of everything.”
“I see what you mean. Technically, the Domestic Goddess is our classification for women who are jacks-of-all-trades,” she said with a wink. “Now age? You marked under twenty-five and that seems perfect for you. You are?”
“Twenty-six,” Harrison supplied.
“Gorgeous. Lastly, if there are any special skills you’d like in a model, you can choose from this list.”
Harrison just about lost it. As if it wasn’t already embarrassing enough. “Can we skip all that and just get to the price?”
“Certainly,” she said, moving the file off the screen. At that second, Harrison knew she understood that he wasn’t going to be able to afford a nice model, but that didn’t seem to bother her and her attitude toward him didn’t sour. “Our lowest price bracket is between $250,000 and $280,000. Let me just check to see how many Domestic Goddesses we have in that price range.”
Harrison scratched his forearm. Even at this over-the-top, corn-ball agency, he couldn’t really afford it. Most of the models were leased out for only a year and Sleeping Beauty Inc. had not been very forthcoming about the price until he attended this meeting with Vivian. He hadn’t known exactly what to expect and the prices she was telling him were too high, even at this low-end dump. The price tag did not include the model’s room and board, her clothes, or anything else. It only secured him one year of companionship. He clenched his jaw and tried to look like it didn’t matter to him how the search ended.
Vivian searched on the screen on her desk and showed him the results. “There are three, but if you’re willing to go up to age 28, I can offer you two more to look at. Do you want to do that?”
“Don’t you have more girls available than that?”
“Not in that price range. If you were willing to go up to age 40, I’d have two dozen more for you to see. Or if you were willing to go up to $350,000, I could offer you six more under 25.”
“That’s okay. I’ll see the ones under 28.”
The client coordinator got up from her chair and led Harrison back through the offices to a showroom that looked exactly like a warehouse, except that the metal brackets were painted pink.
“The first one is part of our Thumbelina line.”
“They’re girls under five feet tall.”
Harrison didn’t know how to answer that. He was not a tall man, but he didn’t have a complex about his height. That wasn’t why he was pathetic.
The client coordinator stopped at one pink crate and with a click on her remote control, she selected a long rectangular box. Enormous metal arms lowered it so that they could see inside. The lid was clear glass and a girl was asleep inside. Harrison peered in—taking note of the tubes keeping her alive that entered the box on the other side. She was in cryostasis.
“She looks like she’s twelve.”
“She’s actually twenty-six. Some men enjoy being with a woman who is definitely shorter. I didn’t think the Thumbelina line was for you, but I thought I’d better offer her anyway—just in case it was love-at-first-sight,” she beamed.
Harrison didn’t believe her. She was trying to make a sale and his slightly shorter build and his lack of communication made her think a Thumbelina model might be his best match.
She moved the box back into place and started them off down the aisle. “The next one is a Repunzel.”
“Does that mean she has hair from here to oblivion?”
“Yes. Rapunzels pride themselves on their hair. The price for this one is actually below the price bracket I mentioned.”
The woman pulled out the box and Harrison saw why.
“She has beautiful hair,” Harrison remarked timidly and the coordinator slammed it shut with a bang.
“The next one is a Rose Red.”
“You don’t sound very enthusiastic,” Harrison remarked.
“Well, I’m not. This one is twenty-seven. She costs less than the minimum fee.”
“Her memory has been tampered with. She doesn’t remember anything since 2209—five years ago. She signed a contract with us and then she got her memory wiped before she went into cryostasis. She lost two years in the memory wipe and she’s been here for three years. Experience-wise, she’s 22. In looks, she’s 24. In fact, she’s 27.”
“How does that work?”
The coordinator sighed. “Time stops once we put the girls in cryostasis, so they don’t age. Good models are in cryostasis for under a month before they’re picked up. This girl has been here for three years. The price keeps dropping. With that kind of time behind her, she’s going to have a hard time fulfilling her duties. She’s not up on the trends, new technology, or even current events.”
“How much are you charging for her?”
Vivian almost refused to answer his question. “After this model, I have two models left to show you that are in perfectly good condition. I’m sure one of them will suit you.”
“I’ll look at them, but how much for this one?”
“Two hundred thousand.”
Harrison nearly choked. “For a year?”
“No. For a lifetime investment.”
Harrison couldn’t believe his ears. No woman was sold for that little. There had to be more wrong with her than memory loss. “Why are you selling a lifetime investment? Isn’t selling her whole life instead of one year considered slavery?”
Vivian breathed through her nose impatiently. “She broke the contract. She damaged her brain after she signed with us. That’s a breach of contract. This might surprise you, but lifetime investments are not as difficult to come by as all that. I have sixteen models that are up for sale that will be sold for life. That is not my fault.”
Harrison forgot his indignation and said, “Forget I said anything.”
The coordinator pulled down the box and showed him the Rose Red. Harrison was pleasantly surprised. She had shiny light hair as long as the Repunzel.
“Is her hair so long because she’s been in there for three years?”
“No. They don’t age or grow at all after they’re frozen.”
“Why not switch her category? She has beautiful hair. She might sell faster.”
“It wouldn’t make any difference. Her memory is bad.”
Vivian moved to return the container, but Harrison stopped her so he could look at the model a little longer. Like the other girls, her makeup was flawless and her lips painted a perfect raspberry. She had a red rose over her left ear and a pearl necklace around her neck.
“She’s lovely. What else is wrong with her?”
The coordinator discreetly rolled her eyes and sighed. “You shouldn’t do this just because she’s a good price. She could have been involved in anything in those two years she doesn’t remember—crime, drug wars, anything.”
“What’s going to happen to her if she isn’t bought?” Harrison asked.
“We don’t keep anyone longer than three years and in three weeks, it’ll be her anniversary. It’s not cheap to keep these girls frozen like this. When she wakes up, she’ll have to work here until she pays off the cost of keeping her asleep for all that time.”
“So, she’ll be doing makeup?”
“Probably not. The staff members who do makeup are highly paid professionals who are worth every cent. Let me show you the other two.” She pushed the box in and took him down another stretch.
Harrison turned around to get the serial number on the Rose Red’s box. It was 85001.
When they arrived at the next box, the coordinator said, “This one is a genuine Sleeping Beauty.”
Harrison stared at the girl in the glass coffin. “How old is she?”
“Seventeen, but gorgeous, isn’t she?”
She was, but something didn’t sit right. She was nine years younger than him.
“Show me the last one.”
“It’s a Snow White.”
Down another aisle, Harrison stared at the Snow White. There was nothing wrong with her. She was twenty-two and pretty. The chart said she was excellent at housekeeping, cooking, cleaning, and hostessing. She looked competent and poised even when she was unconscious. The only downside was that she was the most expensive model he’d been shown. Vivian took him to the only reasonable choice last.
“I’ll let you think about it,” she said, as she left him to look at the sleeping girl.
Harrison didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t actually afford the Snow White. She was perfect, but if he bought her, he wouldn’t be able to even buy food without taking out loans and driving himself crazy. Besides, all that money only bought her for a year. After that, he wouldn’t be able to buy another girl for two more years… if he was lucky.
He turned away from the box and the client coordinator rushed up to join him.
“Can I do up the agreement?”
“Sure,” he said, trying to sound cool about his choice. “I’ll take the Rose Red.”
The woman frowned. “You shouldn’t do that. There’s a no-return policy attached to her.”
“Don’t worry. I like lost causes.” His voice sounded cool, but inside he knew he was a loser. He just couldn’t stand to live alone anymore.
The look the client coordinator gave him was unusual. He couldn’t tell if she was pleased with his choice or disgusted. She led him back to her office with a quick step and displayed the purchase papers on her desk for him to sign.
Sleeping Beauty Inc. disclosed all of the Rose Red’s personal information since he was buying a lifetime investment in her. Of course, her name wasn’t really Rose Red. That was just from the fairytale. Her real name was Paige Norfolk. He signed for her to be delivered to his home in two days. That wasn’t the normal chain of events after a purchase. This fairytale place liked their customers to wake their product with a kiss, but Harrison asked her to be delivered. He was not kissing an unconscious stranger.
Just before he signed the final releases, the coordinator put her hand over the dotted line to stop him. “Are you sure you want to do this? You’re a good-looking man. You’re only twenty-six. Can’t we talk about this? I’m sure lots of normal girls would love to be with you and give you the help our girls give, but for free. Girls who have had their memories wiped may have been involved in anything. Our bracelet will stop her from hurting you, but she will probably be more trouble than she’s worth.”
He answered by pointing to the address Paige was being shipped to.
The coordinator looked at it and frowned deeply. “Then I guess it can’t be helped.”
They both knew that no woman would go there voluntarily.
“I’m only raising these concerns because you seem like a nice guy. You have honest eyes and a gentle expression. You even seem embarrassed to be in a place like this. It’s a shame you won’t go with the Snow White.”
“She’d come back screaming after the year was up. Not everyone can live up there happily. The weather’s bad half the year, and the isolation drives everybody nuts.”
“Now I understand why none of our qualities were as important to you as other men. The only thing that mattered to you was the price. You said you didn’t want a woman who was the pinnacle of style. Just between you and me—you aren’t getting one.”
“It’s fine. That kind of woman wouldn’t last long where we’re going.”
Author's Notes: Thanks for reading! This is coming up here a little earlier than other spots because of the approval process. I don't usually start a book from the man's perspective. Kind of fun, eh? This is a weird story. I hope you all enjoy it!