is probably going to ruin our friendship,” Ryder says. He
reminds himself his name is now Nathaniel. He sits at the end
of the sleigh bed, slouched yet stiff.
“Maybe,” Darby says. Her codename is Pichornay. She
sits cross-legged on the shaggy white carpet in front of him,
her hands idly running through it.
“You think we’ll get fired if we don’t?”
he asks. He tries not to look at her cleavage and instead focuses
on the bust of Pallas in the corner, its eyes watching both of
“Probably.” Pichornay looks up at Nathaniel. The lighting
is dim but she can still make out his five o’clock shadow
and the brown mole quivering on his neck. She wants to get up
and touch it, make it stop, but she doesn’t. She massages
the back of her neck instead.
Nathaniel tugs on the sleeves of his black argyle sweater. “I
think…” He pauses, stares at her hands, repetitively
circling her neck. “I could-”
A loud thud comes from the mahogany wall behind the bed. Both
of them jump. There’s a faint sound of a laughing girl followed
by several more thuds.
Nathaniel ignores the sounds; scrunches his nose to keep his broken
glasses from sliding. Irritated, he takes them off, throws them
onto the nightstand.
Pichornay watches him. “You should try contacts sometime.”
She brings her legs up, wraps her arms around them.
“Why, do I look better without them?”
Moans from the laughing girl pass through the wall. Pichornay
recognizes the voice is Beth whose cubicle sits right next to
hers. She remembers Beth being paired with a guy named Ben who
works down the hall from them. Pichornay forgets what Ben’s
title is. She turns her attention back to Nathaniel, his coffee
brown eyes staring back, unblinking. “Yes,” she responds.
He glances at the wall. “You think she’s having fun?”
Nathaniel turns back to watch Pichornay get off the floor and
crawl onto the red velvet comforter beside him. He stares at her
legs and torso as she settles in bed, a caramel chocolate enveloped
in raspberry sorbet. He reaches over and rubs her leg. She jumps.
He chuckles. He moves and lays beside her, nestles his body beside
her. “Lisa did not list this in the job requirements,”
he whispers, watching Pichornay’s chest heave. Up, down,
“Actually, the Madame listed it as ‘practicing great
customer service skills.’” She whispers into his ear.
She backs away, grazing her lips accidently against his cheek.
She brushes her hand through his sandy blond hair.
Nathaniel takes a deep breath, swallows. He thinks of grabbing
Pichornay by the shoulders and laying his lips wherever he wants.
He shakes the thought from his head. This was his co-worker, his
friend. “This has nothing to do with phone orders or fruit
baskets,” he says. His eyes focus and refocus on the stucco
ceiling. He tries not to think about her, wanting to go back to
taking phone orders from people with gifts on their minds. He
wonders if he should send Pichornay an anonymous fruit basket.
Maybe flowers. Swirls of black dots fly then disappear from his
“No.” Pichornay sighs. She thinks about when she applied
– just an ad in the paper for a customer service representative
for a fruit basket company. She did not expect their boss Lisa
to have a secondary job running a brothel. She watches Nathaniel
blink several times at the ceiling and starts to massage his neck.
Madame wanted her reps to understand what it meant to give “quality
service.” She took them all down here to practice on each
other; then when they were comfortable, move to her own clients.
She feels Nathaniel’s neck muscles tense and moves her arm
away. She stares at the ceiling and notices a plain stucco white
wall. She can’t block out the falsetto clamor and thunderous
bangs coming from all directions.
They were paired with each other.
Pichornay sits up and crosses her legs, places her torso against
the headboard, crushed. Nathaniel made no moves, no hint to do
anything with her, to her. “We can make a list,” she
says. “It’s easy to bullshit.”
Nathaniel frowns. “We could.”
“Or listen. Steal some ideas.”
“We don’t know what they’re physically doing
They sit in silence as the walls tremor around them. The chandelier
dances in place near the small red loveseat nearby.
Nathaniel shifts his weight, his arm lightly touching Pichornay’s
thigh. He quickly crosses his arms. “We can watch TV if
Pichornay nods at the chandelier. “Sure. I’ll get
started on the list.” She hurries off the bed to the loveseat,
takes the small notepad and pen off the table and starts writing.
Nathaniel shrugs, gets off the bed and grabs the remote next to
the television. He turns back to her. A small crease forms between
her brows as she furiously slides the pen across the pad. “Do
you need any suggestions?”
“Maybe later.” The crease disappears as she smiles
at him. “I have a good imagination.”
“I know Darby,” Ryder smiles back. He stares at the
floor, their shadows intertwined into one oily black puddle. He
returns to the bed, stretches out his legs, and starts flipping
A beeping noise comes from the pager on the bedside table by Ryder.
He checks it and looks at Darby. “It’s for us,”
he says, somewhat sadly.
* * * * *
“From what I hear you two have had some fun, no?”
The Madame sits behind a grand desk of glass and wood in a huge
leather chair. She wears a black velvet coat, her feet in dangerously
Darby and Ryder glance at each other, then nod at the Madame.
“Both of you have always been my top performers,”
the Madame says. “It should have been one hell of a time
in that room.”
“Absolutely,” they agree.
“Wonderful.” The Madame claps her hands together twice.
A man appears out of nowhere with a piece of paper. The Madame
puts her glasses on and examines it. “Yes, yes,” she
comments. “I say you both did very well. Excellent note-taking.”
She scans further down the list, folds her glasses and puts the
paper away. “I think it’s time for you to move on
to our more serious clients,” she says. She looks at Ryder.
“You can go home. It seems as if all the females have been
taken today. Is that fine with you Ryder?”
Ryder tries not to blow out air or show any sign of relief. “That
would be great Lisa.”
“Darby, I'd like to offer the same-”
“Excuse me Madame!” The same man who delivered the
paper to the Madame earlier is in the door, a panicked expression
on his face. “Joseph is here!”
The Madame’s eyes widen. “Joseph?”
“Yes,” he replies.
The Madame looks over at Darby. “Perfect timing. My favorite
customer is here. Tell him I have someone special for him. Tell
him Pichornay will be his for today.”
Darby looks at Ryder then back at the Madame. “But Madame-”
Madame shakes her head. “I’m sorry Darby,” she
whispers. “He’s the best client I have.”
Ryder quickly grabs Darby’s hand under the desk. His heart
races, but a sense of calm overcomes him.
Darby takes it with shock. She looks at him and he gives her a
small smirk; her hand a squeeze.
“If you don’t mind Pichornay,” Madame says loudly,
her voice booming, “I’ll have Andre here take you
to the room. Nathaniel, you’re excused.”
Ryder presses his lips against Darby’s. He feels her lips
relax and her hand squeezes his. Ryder hugs Darby and whispers
in her ear, “I’ll wait for you at my place. You’ll
be okay.” He could only feel Darby nodding.
“Alright,” the Madame says. Ryder and Darby jump apart.
“Pichornay, follow Andre now please.”
Darby gets up, looks at Ryder one last time before following Andre
to another room.
* * * * *
“It would be nice if you blew me.” A smirk breaks
over Joseph’s five o’clock shadow and a tiny black
strand of hair connects with the curve of his brow.
“We’re done,” Pichornay says. She tugs a loose
strand of hair off the top of the comforter.
He rubs a hand through his hair idly; taps his other fingers idly
on his plaid boxers. “I’m not done yet.”
“It’ll be extra.”
Joseph presses his chest against hers and pulls her against the
headboard. “I don’t care.” His hot breath reminds
Pichornay of back alleys.
She tries to reach for his boxer shorts but his hand cuts her
off. His leathery grip pulls both her arms up, extends her hands
above her head. “That’s not the way you speak to me.”
thought you wanted a blowjob.”
“Changed my mind.” Joseph’s hair crawls over
his forehead like oil-covered tentacles. The orange glow from
the streetlight casts an eerie tan over his chest and turns his
eyes a forest green. “When was your last relationship?”
Pichornay focuses on his gold chain. She thinks of Ryder's sad
smile in Madame's office, probably home by now, waiting. “This
was not in our agreement.”
He stays silent; closes in on her neck, holding her hand in place.
“What’s his name?"
She stares at the desk in the back of the room. It’s a bit
dilapidated with the wood edges warping and a similar chandelier
hangs over it. There’s a hardcover copy of The Scarlet Letter
propping up the left table leg. “Nathaniel.” She smiles
at the irony and wonders if the Madame had anything to do with
it. She thought so.
Joseph’s other hand strokes her side, making its way up
her back. “Nathaniel, huh?”
“How was the sex?” Joseph begins grinding against
Pichornay’s leg and pressing his head into her chest.
“Can you picture him now?” he says to her nipple.
Pichornay stares at the ceiling, frowning. “Yes.”
“What would you say to him?”
“What do you mean?”
would you say to him right now?”
A good question, she thought. Why couldn't you stand up for me?
Why couldn't I stand up for myself? It came to her unabashedly,
and she could feel the tears coming. I'll wait for you at my place.
A tear fell from Pichornay’s eye and landed on the pillow.
“Fuck you Nathaniel.”
“Say it like you mean it.”
“Fuck you, Nathaniel!”
“That’s right,” he grabs her breast hard and
shifts his weight on top of her.
Pichornay feels Joseph’s weigh crushing her further down
into the mattress. “No.”
“Can’t fucking stand him, right?”
“Who’s on top of you right now?”
She rubs her tears onto her arm. “Joseph.”
He shows a yellow grin. “Fuck me like you fucked him.”
Pichornay stares straight in his eyes. “If the price is
He laughs. “The price is just right.”
“No,” Pichornay says. “The price doubles now.”
Joseph stops laughing and begins to smile. “Fine.”
Darby tries to think of Ryder the whole time.
Joseph stops. “Act like you’re enjoying it.”
“I will when I see the money.”
Joseph gets up suddenly. He goes across the room to his clothes,
hanging on the back of a chair, and gets out his wallet. He stretches
his hand out, money in it as he walks back towards her. “Here,”
he says. “Here’s the money. Now stop bitching and
do what I say.”
Pichornay takes the money with a smile. She wonders if he’ll
tell the Madame. She doesn't care. She will quit tomorrow and
couldn't help but think Ryder most likely will too. She gets up,
takes the money from his hands and walks it toward her little
black satchel on the table. After she places the roll inside it,
twisting the ties to secure it, she turns around and faces Joseph.
“I’m yours now,” she says and walks proudly
towards the bed.
from University of California Riveside's Creative Writing MFA
program. Her work has been published in The Whistling Fire and
Short, Fast and Deadly. She resides in Los Angeles, California.
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