Collect your scattered thoughts.
Gather up your skirt.
Step out of the cab, onto the red carpet and sway your hips up the shallow steps. Breathe in and catch your own perfume: Pure Poison. Savour the slide of silk-soft layers. Check your satin sheen in the glass revolving doors.
Think your way into this.
Clip your heels across the marbled foyer. Nod to the barman then cast your eyes along the line-up of high stools to seek out the man, leaning forward over the sparkled granite. Check the carnation in his lapel, blooming red.
‘Simon?’ Say his name, knowing it’s unlikely to be real. Watch him swivel his head and meet his look. Flick your gaze demurely down.
‘Chantrelle?’ Listen as he applies a French rolling to the r, so it sounds seductive, which was, of course, the point in choosing it.
Smile as he gestures the stool beside him. Accept his offer of a drink: ‘Margarita.’
Continue smiling as his eyes move down then up in appraisal, and hope he won’t exercise his right to bail out and demand a refund.
Block the return appraisal. Don’t notice that he’s older than your father, with wisps of hair receded from a creasing face, and body crumpling in heavy folds within the sharp lines of his designer suit.
‘So…’ Pause to let the tang of lime wet your lips through the edge of salt. ‘What brings you here?’
Listen as he talks about his work, straining out the key words – restructuring, mergers, acquisitions – that all speak money. Return your own words – really, fascinating, how interesting. Act as if he’s the most amazing person you have ever met. Smile when he tells you that his job means he is often away from home.
Reel out your well practised line: ‘Lucky for me.’
‘I thought we could eat here?’ Accept it as a question, though both of you know that this is prearranged: never stray from the prescribed locations.
Study the menu that you know by heart. Does he like oysters? And his steak rare? Better to avoid anything overly laced with garlic, doesn’t he think?
Order expensively – don’t let him think that you come cheap. Note that he chooses a pricey bottle of wine. Reflect how the night is going smoothly.
Do no more than push the food around because chewing mixes badly with seduction. Avoid noticing the saliva pooling at the corners of his mouth as his custard lips part to reveal a masticated mess.
Allow the conversation to flow like an oiled river. Provide the prompts and leads. Choose the perfect width of smile. Finely tune the laughter. Parry flirt with flirt. Ease in a little closer. Pick the moment to drop your napkin and choreograph the two-fold bending down to pick it up, so you bump against one another and the silk of your blouse separates from your skin, revealing a tease of Janet Reger carmine. Allow his leg to press the length yours and count – one, two, three – before shifting it away.
Don’t ask yourself why he’s here.
Hope he won’t tell you anyway, that he won’t pitch towards you in confession. I don’t usually do this sort of thing. My girlfriend died. My wife left me for another woman. Don’t think I usually have to pay.
Acknowledging it would unsettle the whole balance of the evening.
Order an exotic fruit spumoni then watch it melt down to a puddle. Say, ‘that would be lovely,’ to coffee, because delaying gratification is supposed to be part of the pleasure.
Look away as he settles the bill. Picture how he’ll have transferred money to the agency. Think how outrageous their mark-up is and that the more he pays, the more you are a thing to value. Don’t think how the more he pays, the more he owns you. Recall the list of what he can demand, set out in a quasi-legal agreement. Nothing that will visibly bruise, or cut. Pretty much anything oral. Anal only by pre-arrangement and for an extra fee.
Convince yourself that agreement means adherence. Remind yourself how the whole rigmarole is geared towards setting a civilised expectation of food, wine and company, as a prelude to civilised sex. Escort not hooker. Distinctions are important.
‘My room? For a digestif?’ See how his smile mocks the question.
Hesitate, maintaining the fiction that you might – on a whim – say no, before inclining your head for yes.
In his room, accept his offer of a drink. Let the liqueur touch your lips, allowing a taste of sweetness. Feel your nerve-ends blossom into edginess as you shift to cat-sprung alertness. Check for your mobile in your pocket, remembering an emergency number is programmed on a one-push button. Mentally review how to scream full-lunged as taught in your self-defence class.
Not that you expect you’ll need to scream tonight.
First rule: never let your guard down, always expect the unexpected.
Second rule: never forget the rules.
Because at some point in the proceedings, no matter how carefully you construct it, the whole façade dissolves in layers of smoke. He’ll figure that he’s paying for this and that you’re going to give him what he wants. And because he’s paying, he wants something beyond the give and take and compromise negotiated wordlessly with a wife, girlfriend, or even just a pick-up. He wants to go the extra distance, do the things he wouldn’t normally, though he’s always wanted to. His electronic transfer buys him freedom from constraint. Freedom from asking: does this work for you?
When it comes down to it, desire is never civilised, and money buys.
Block thoughts of all the above. Refuse to let your fear and loathing show as his lips crush yours and his hands talon over your breasts.
Remember how all you want is for this to be over with as quickly and painlessly as possible. And that the agency will forward your share of the cash tomorrow.
That’s the plan.
Sarah Evans has had dozens of stories published in magazines and competition anthologies, including: the Bridport Prize, Momaya Press, Earlyworks Press, Tonto Press and Writers’ Forum. Most recently, her story “Stuck” was published in Unthology no. 2, “The Tipping Point” won the 2011 Rubery short story competition, and “Loving someone else” won the Glass Woman Prize, and can be read here: http://www.sigriddaughter.com/GlassWomanPrize.htm.