01 | Weakness
The squeak of the bed and the salacious moans of Mr. Wilson, I am sure can be heard from the hallway of the Aria.
I open my eyes and scan the one-bedroom suite. Scattered on the hardwood floor is an open bottle of Viagra that has slipped out of the pocket of Mr. Wilson’s slacks. His once crisp shirt is thrown on the floor along with his wrinkled tie. Neatly folded on the TV stand are my clothes—a blood-red colored dress and lace panties. The color and fabric were specifically requested by Mr. Wilson in honor of Valentine’s Day. My compact purse carefully rests against my high heels—the second request made by my suitor. Where Mr. Wilson would take minutes to get ready, I will be able to leave in a rush if I needed to.
I learned my lesson early on in my apprenticeship when an old suitor, Mr. Hawkins, had suggested we try something new. At the sight of the whips and chains atop the bed, I refused profoundly. Displeased by my rejection, Mr. Hawkins insisted with force. I tried to fight him off, but it only resulted in him slapping me hard across the face, leaving behind a black eye and a mild concussion. Sexually satisfied by his sickening power-play, he hopped into the shower, and that was when I made my escape.
With my clothes scattered across the floor, I couldn’t find them all in time. In desperation and panic, I ran out of the door in only my panties. Fortunately for me, Luke was there. He removed his jacket, wrapped it around my indecent body, and handed me the keys to the car that was waiting for us outside. The last thing I saw before the elevator closed was Luke stepping inside the hotel room. He returned ten minutes later with scathed knuckles. I didn’t feel the urge to ask him what he’d done to Mr. Hawkins because I knew what he went in there to do. After that day, I have kept my belongings neatly tucked in a place I can quickly access them.
I stare out into the city, thankful Mr. Wilson doesn’t have the strength he once had to support the weight of his own body. I enjoy the nights where I am on top. It gives me a sense of power over the men that buy me. The only downside is that it leaves me to do all the work, but when my dates rent the penthouse suite with breathtaking views of the Strip, riding them isn’t much of a nuisance. This high off the ground, I can focus on the shimmering Eiffel Tower and the magenta High Roller rather than the man beneath me. I am able to remind myself that there is life beyond the one I am living and an opportunity to create a better one for myself and Ben.
“Oh, yeah, baby. You’re so fucking sexy, Belle,” Mr. Wilson moans, tragically attempting to slap my ass.
I refrain the impulse to roll my eyes and instead, plaster my most lust-filled smile as I peer down at his creased face. A bead of sweat collects near his receding hairline. I remember a time where I would care. A time where I would have cleaned his sweat with my bare hands. A time where I would feel pity for the men who although had a mountain of money, had no one to share it with. But time and time again, every date came with the same story just a different face. The sympathy I once showed was never reciprocated. I was a measly sex toy, simply there for their amusement to be moved and fucked however they pleased. They show up horny and discard me lonely.
These men were fed with silver spoons as children and everything they have has been given to them simply because of their surname. They didn’t have to break a sweat or sell their bodies to get to where they are. A flash of their checkbook or mention of Zelle is their measure of a woman’s worth. They don’t even need to woo a woman to get them into bed. Imagine the effort in such an attempt. God forbid.
Under all the Gucci and Italian moccasins, there lies an insecure man beneath me whose money could not buy him love. His self-doubt runs so deeply throughout his blood that he easily feeds into everything I tell him. I say he’s an excellent dancer and he’d dislocate a hip dancing the night away. I tell him he’s a great kisser—the best I’ve ever had, and his cheeks blush bashfully. Where he traps me with his money, I fool him with my words.
I moan my reply and contract my inner muscles, squeezing him further inside me in an attempt to make the process go faster. “Please, I am so close.” I rotate my hips and splay my hands on his hairy chest.
His eyes quickly become hooded as he prepares to climax. He grasps onto my waist as he gives his all in the final moment before he explodes. The comedown from his orgasm is immediate. He stills under me instantly. His body goes slack as he lets out a guttural groan and I collapse next to him. If it weren’t for his stomach moving up and down with his breathing, I’d be checking for a pulse.
I place a hand on his pec and prop on an elbow as I peck his lips with mine. “That was amazing, baby. It’s too bad I have to leave soon.”
“Can’t you stay for a quick shower? It won’t go down for another hour.” He raises a brow and directs his gaze to his penis.
“Oh, I wish, but I don’t want to get on Andrews bad side. I must leave soon but—” I draw circles around his small nipple with the tip of my nail “—if you’d like another date, all you have to do is request me again.”
He grabs my wrist harshly, using a strength he hadn’t shown before, and places my hand on his erect penis. “I’m still hard, sweetheart.”
See, they’re all the same.
I narrow my eyes and widen my smile as I get back into position and prepare for round two.
The high, grating sound that emits from Mr. Wilson’s vibrating lips, lets me know he has finally fallen asleep. I slowly pick up his limp arm from my chest as I slip off the bed and tiptoe to the TV stand where I dress in a hast. As I walk out of the bedroom and enter the living space, I notice five one-hundred-dollar bills on the coffee table. I take them and quickly place them in my purse. I let out a sigh of relief once the bottom of my Louboutin’s meet with the carpeted hallway. Hitting the elevator button, I shoot Andrews a message.
A second later, I get a notification from my bank saying one thousand dollars has been deposited into my account.
[Andrews] Luke is waiting for you at the CVS parking lot.
As soon as the elevator doors open, I am met by a drunken couple. The woman holds her heels in her hand and her purse hangs loosely from her forearm. Her hair is tussled, surprisingly in a very sultry way. The man is clearly past the point of no return. His body sways on unbalanced feet. His tie hangs freely around his neck and his eyes are slowly closing behind hooded lids. I watch as they laugh hysterically, jumbling their words together. I can’t make out a word of what they are saying, and it makes me feel like maybe they’re speaking their own language—the carefree-no-worries kind of language.
How I wish to live in that world. A world where I get to be selfish and worry just about myself, my needs, and my wants. A world where I am not confined by the schedule of others. Where I’d finally know the feeling of leaving home sober with my significant other and coming home drunk and in love with that same person. Somewhere in that charming world, I’d live in a two-bedroom apartment with Ben, and I’d own a small boutique where I’d sell my one-of-a-kind dresses.
As the drunken couple disappears down the hallway, I wipe a rebellious tear that has slid out of that fantasy. That world, that beautiful, carefree world will never be for me. Girls like me don’t get happy endings. We live in this twisted Cinderella story until death do us part. Some people are born with silver spoons, others must use their hands to scoop up the crumbs that have fallen to the ground.
Once the couple turns at the end of the hall, I shift my focus back to the elevator and step in. As it descends to the lobby floor, I close my eyes and compose my emotions. It is only on rare occasions that my fantasy takes control and overwhelms me. I refer to it as my moment of weakness. The tears I shed aren’t for joy, they are because I am reminded of the fact that my future is but a farfetched dream. Even with all the money this profession gives me, Andrews has a tight hold of me, and he wouldn’t let me go that easily. My mother and stepfather will never allow for happiness to come so close as a thought. And Ben, well, regardless of what happens he will come before everyone in my life. Before me.
I reach into my purse and pull out the compact mirror I carry with me at all times. Applying powder under my welled eyes, I smack my lips with lipstick and walk out of the elevator with straight shoulders and a false sense of confidence, just enough to make my way through the lobby. I can feel the concierge’s judgmental gaze and can small the repulsion that emits from her fake smile. I know what her glares mean, but I don’t coward. Enduring her heinous stare, I keep walking with my head held high.
She might have her theories as to what a girl like me is doing here, but she doesn’t know me, and I’m certain she never will. She can sprinkle holy water along my path out of the golden automatic doors for all I care. I will not allow the nasty treatment of others to poison my self-worth simply because they feel they are above me.
The disapproving stares are the reason why Andrews makes it a point to rotate hotels. He doesn’t schedule more than one date at the same place. This way, no questions arise. No stares will follow my steps. No security will linger behind me. But with the number of clients I have, it’s becoming harder and harder to schedule them at different hotels. With the requests my suitors make, it makes it even harder not to stand out. Some want me as decorated as a Christmas tree with extravagant jewels from head to toe. Others want the skimpiest outfits to show me off to their foreign business partners. Then there are the ones who will only see me in their hotel room. The cheaters. The frauds. The politicians who speak of adultery being a sin but hire a hooker to fuck their brains out while their wives and kids sleep in their million-dollar mansions.
Outside the Aria, a gray Bentley limousine is parked on the cul-de-sac of the hotel. A middle-aged couple sits on a bench next to the entrance, probably waiting for their Uber. A man wearing a three-piece suit paces in circles while on the phone, stopping occasionally to take a puff of his cigarette. Crowds of people, young and old, enter and exit the Aria. The one thing they all have in common at two in the morning is their smiles and laughter, speaking the carefree language I only wish I knew.
As the last breeze of winter flows through my loose hair, I start on my walk away from the hotel. Turning left on South Las Vegas Boulevard, I rub my hands over my arms as a chilled breeze turns my skin into bumps. I hurry my steps, not wanting to catch a cold this late in the winter. When I make it to the CVS parking lot, I squint my eyes and look for Luke’s SUV. Seeing the lights of a black Cadillac flash twice, I make my way to it, watching my step as I jump onto the backseat.
Before strapping on my seatbelt, I lean forward to hand Luke his portion of the five hundred dollar tip. He separates each bill and counts the three hundred dollars out loud, making sure it is all there. Then, he turns to me and proceeds to ask his routine question, “How was it?”
I tilt my head as I lock gaze with him, wondering why he always asks that question. Does he expect a five-page essay? A list recounting every detail? Is he trying to book a date for himself? Or maybe this is just his idea of small talk. Either way, I can’t figure out the meaning behind his irritating question.
I do what I always tend to do when men are around me. I smile and lie, “It was good, Luke. What were you up to while you waited?”
Starting into traffic, Luke recounts his time as a bodyguard for “Las Vegas’s most elite escort.” His words, definitely not mine. After seeing me go up the elevator with Mr. Wilson, Luke followed his nightly routine of spending his cash tips gambling at the casino. He goes on and on about his night, but I doubt it was as eventful as mine. I stop listening after he mentions his distaste for tourists and check out of the conversation.
As I lean my head on the headrest, I let out a slow breath and stare out into the city. Whoever named Paris the City of Lights must have never been to Las Vegas. This city shines from east to west and extends across the high mountain deserts. It is the only place in the United States where one comes to escape reality and indulge in all of their sinful fantasies. Sin City, that name they got right. No matter how crazy the fantasy, it can be done in Vegas. I am walking proof of that.
“We’re here, Anna,” Luke’s voice takes me out of my fog.
I raise my head and look out the window to where an orange sign blinks with the words: Self Storage. I’ve been renting a unit here ever since I was able to afford one. If I were to keep my things at home, Mom would either sell them or break them. It’s better this way.
“Thank you, Luke,” I say, unbuckling my seatbelt and opening the door.
“I’ll wait for you.”
“You don’t have to. It’s really late. Go home.”
“I know I don’t have to, but I want to. Plus, it’s too late to leave such a beautiful woman at night by herself.”
It will never happen, Luke.
I smile and give up any bout of argument, jumping out of the car. Walking a couple of steps to the storage unit at the end of the lot, I slide the orange garage door up. With a flick of the light switch, the ten-by-ten room comes alive. This is where I morph from sultry Belle to meek Annabelle.
Ten mannequins line the back of the unit. All are dressed in evening gowns to avoid hanger marks near the shoulders. On the right side are my heels, aligned toe to toe along the shoe racks. There are separate racks for all of my outfits, including a drawer with all of my expensive lingerie. Everything is in its place, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. To be honest, it makes me feel like even though I may not always be in control of my own life, at least I still have this unit at the end of the day.
On the left side, I have a large desk that holds my thrifted sewing machine. There is a clear container with drawers sitting next to it that is filled with my threads and sewing tools. Directly above the desk is what I refer to as my mural. A collection of all of my designs and drawings are pinned on the white wall. It reminds me that I am in a time of temporary and everything I am doing now is for our benefit in the future.
Not wasting any more time, I slip off my heels and carefully take off my red dress. I place it in a plastic zipped bag and make a mental note to send it to the dry cleaners tomorrow. I wiggle into my jeans and shrug on a sweatshirt. After tying my tennis shoes, I pull my hair back into a ponytail and switch out my purse. Turning off the lights, I close down the unit and shout a “goodnight” to Luke as I unlock my car and put it on reverse.
The twenty-minute drive to my house is the part I look forward to the most at the end of every night because this is where I let my guard down and I finally get to relax my shoulders. I don’t have to worry about the words that come out of my mouth. I don’t have to twist them to provoke or tease any man. I don’t have to impress others or check my face in the mirror to make sure my makeup is intact. And I certainly don’t have to pretend to be someone I am not.
As the Vegas’s lights start to dwindle into suburban territory, I turn right on Stanley Avenue, never quite reaching working-class suburbia as my tires scrape along the gravel road that leads to Meadow Manors. This late at night, or early in the morning, the roads are so dark that it makes it hard to tell the houses apart. The overgrown grass covering most of the yellow wooden slat makes the difference between my home and all of the others. I turn off the headlights before going up the driveway, not wanting to give anyone an excuse to wake up.
Once inside the house, I tiptoe to my bedroom and unlock the door with a key. I’m relieved when I see Ben wrapped in a blanket of sheets. Needing to have him close my body, I hurry into the bathroom and wash Mr. Wilson off my body. As I get into bed, I kiss Ben on the forehead and inhale his unique scent. He still smells like he did the very first time I held him in my arms. I wipe my tears away, not realizing I’ve been crying until I taste salt.
There goes another moment of weakness.
He is the reason why I am doing this and although it makes me sick to my stomach—the lies, the dresses, the makeup, the hair, the pretending—I will not stop until his life is better than mine will ever be. At the end of the day, I see this as a job and no one truly enjoys their job, but we must all have one in order to survive. I don’t do it for my survival. I could care less if my corpse washes off on the shore of Lake Tahoe. But I do it for Ben. I survive for him, and I always will.