“Crap!” I pulled the casserole from the oven and studied the appearance. It didn’t look too bad.
“Alexa, you suck. I told you thirty minutes.”
The lights lit up, and I just knew she was going to have a witty comeback. I shut her down before she could. I grabbed the box of aluminum foil and covered the casserole to keep it warm. My parents would be arriving anytime. This was my chance to cook for them. I was looking forward to spending some time with them before I left for the Caribbean.
The fancy private school I’d gone to was having our reunion on a little tropical island. I wouldn’t normally spend so much money just to attend a reunion, but my best friend from high school had decided to have her wedding there as well since so many old friends would be around.
Even then, the expense would be too much for me, but I’d managed to line up a job while I would be on the island.
A job I couldn’t tell my parents about.
While I waited for them to show up, I grabbed the shopping bags and carried them into my room. I didn’t want my parents to know I had treated myself to a little shopping spree.
It wasn’t really a want but a need. A necessity for the job. And it wasn’t like I’d spent my money. I had been given a wardrobe budget as part of the job. I still needed to buy a couple more dresses, but I was dreading it.
As a real-sized thirty-three-year-old woman, it wasn’t always easy to find cute, yet sexy dresses that didn’t make me feel uncomfortable. I wanted to look good, but I wasn’t trying to show off the extra love I carried on my hips and thighs. And boobs. If I was going to wear spaghetti-strap anything, there better be some support for my girls.
Della Fontenot, my boss but not my boss, told me her clients liked upscale. They wanted their dates in designer clothing. As it turned out, most designers looked at the runway models as the normal body size. I might have looked like that at twelve, but not anymore.
Therefore, I was going back to the boutique Della recommended. The saleswoman was super nice and promised she would have some outfits for me tomorrow. I hoped so because I had to be in the Caribbean the day after tomorrow.
That was when I would meet my client. Was he my client or Della’s client? I didn’t know. It was all new to me.
When I was growing up and busting ass in my privileged high school, I never imagined me becoming an escort at thirty-three. Things changed. Shit happened. I needed money.
My fourth-grade schoolteacher salary was never going to get me out of debt. I could get a second and third job to try and make it happen, but even then, it was unlikely.
Which brought me to Faux’s.
It was a dating agency. Not anything like Tinder but an actual escort service. I was going to be an escort. I had to say that over and over because I still didn’t quite believe it.
I had signed up on a whim. I truly never expected to get a call about a job. I wasn’t exactly supermodel hot, and if someone was going to buy a woman for the night, it would make sense they would want a woman they could never dream of actually dating in real life.
At least, that had been my opinion. Della almost laughed in my face. She explained men, and occasionally women paid for dates for a number of reasons. She also reassured me I was beautiful, and she just knew I would get hired.
And here I was. I had a date. A gig. I was going to be paid to be some rich dude’s date while I was on the island. That meant I could go to the reunion and Norah’s wedding and come out with more money than I’d started with. Two birds, one stone.
I was going to see all the snobs I went to school with and get paid to do it. Paid a lot! The money would pay off my student loans and give me some breathing room. I wanted a house someday, and this job would be a step in the right direction.
This was my chance to be free from the stress of being weighed down by debt I didn’t feel like I should have had to begin with. That wasn’t the thoughts of a spoiled, entitled person. Those were the facts. My life was not supposed to be riddled with debt. I understood I had taken on the responsibility of the student loans and credit card debt, but dammit, it didn’t have to be that way.
The doorbell rang, pulling me from my thoughts. I went to answer the door. “Hi, guys,” I said.
“Something smells good,” Mom exclaimed.
“I hope it tastes as good as it smells,” I said. “Hi, Dad.”
“Hi, Claire,” he said and gave me a weak hug.
“Come in, come in,” I said. “Dinner is done.”
Mom picked up the information about the Caribbean island I was going to. She made a tsking sound. “This looks very extravagant. Are you sure you can afford something like that?”
“Yes, Mom,” I said with a tight smile.
“It looks very expensive,” she commented.
“We got a discount for the class reunion,” I answered. “Plus, I’m going for a wedding.”
“We took you to the Bahamas when you were little,” Dad said. “Do you remember?”
“Nope,” I replied.
“I told you she was too young,” Mom said.
I probably could remember if I wanted to, but I chose not to. I tried not to remember most of my childhood. “Why don’t you guys have a seat?” I said. “Dad, do you want a beer? I got that kind you like.”
“Sure,” he said.
“Please,” she said.
“So, how much is this trip going to cost you?” Dad asked.
“Why?” I had already set the table. I handed them their drinks and carried over the casserole.
“Didn’t you tell us you were close to maxing out your credit cards?” he asked. I grabbed the basket of bread and delivered it to the table. “You don’t have any savings to speak of.”
I sat down and reached for my own glass of wine. “I did, but this trip is important.”
“Maybe you should wait until next year,” Mom suggested. “Wait until you can save a little money. I don’t want you to find yourself on the verge of bankruptcy.”
I slapped a hunk of casserole on my plate. “I’m not on the verge of bankruptcy,” I said. It was taking everything I had not to snap at them. They had no business giving anyone any financial advice. My dad especially. “And I can’t believe I have to explain this, but the reunion and the wedding won’t be happening next year. They’re happening now.”
“I just want you to make sure this trip is worth the financial hardship it’s going to cost you,” Mom said. “You’ve been talking about trying to buy a home. It’s a long process that requires excellent credit.”
“I know,” I said. “I’m working on it.”
“High school reunions are overrated,” Dad said. “Everyone is trying see who got fat and who got rich.”
“Well, I guess we know which category I fall in,” I muttered. “Mystery solved.”
“Will you and Norah be flying down together?” Mom asked. She was ignoring the comment. That was what she did. She did not like to acknowledge my weight gain. I wasn’t ashamed of it. My doctor said I was healthy, and that was all I cared about.
“Yes,” I answered.
“They must be doing very well for themselves if they are able to afford a wedding in the Caribbean,” Dad said.
“Her parents put money aside for her wedding when she was little,” I said with just a hint of bitterness. My own wedding fund had been gambled away. If I ever wanted to get married, I would be paying for every penny of it.
“It seems wasteful,” Mom said. “I’m sure her friends and family would like to attend, but how are they supposed to afford the trip there? Quite frankly, it seems a little selfish to me.”
“Can we not talk about money?” I snapped. “Their money. My money. The cost of the trip. I invited you guys here so we can spend some time together before I leave.”
“You don’t have to be rude about it.” Mom’s voice was haughty.
“I’m not being rude, but you guys are acting like this is a frivolous trip,” I said. “I have never taken a vacation. I have buckled down for the last fifteen years. This trip isn’t just the class reunion. It’s Norah’s wedding. She’s my best friend. I’m going. I’ve done enough to make sure I can afford it.”
“Will you be wearing a swimsuit?” Mom asked.
“I didn’t plan on swimming in my jeans,” I retorted.
“I was just wondering if you found one,” she said. “You said you were having a hard time finding one that flattered your figure.”
“You know,” I said and gestured with my fork. “I learned something about trying to flatter my figure. I’ve been looking for suits that hid my figure. Suits that made me look svelte like I’m going to suddenly look like I’m a size six. I decided to buy a couple of suits that I like. I don’t care if they flatter my figure. That’s just code for making me look less fat.”
That got them both to shut up for a few minutes. I took a healthy bite of the casserole.
“This is really good,” Mom said.
“Are you hoping to see anyone in particular while you’re there?” Dad asked.
I shrugged and played it off. “Not really. I haven’t talked to most of the people from school since I graduated. There are a few people I hope to see, and I’m not going there just for that. I’m going for Norah’s wedding.”
“I hope it’s a good time,” Mom said.
“How could it not be?” I said. “It’s the Caribbean. White sandy beaches and warm water. I’m so looking forward to it.”
We finished our dinner, and they left. I hated that we weren’t close. It was like we were all trying to be close again, but we just couldn’t seem to find the way back. After everything that happened fifteen years ago, it was hard to look at my father the same way.
It wasn’t because we went from living a luxurious lifestyle with all the finer things in life to being dirt poor. It wasn’t about the money at all for me. It was the betrayal. My father betrayed his family for the most selfish reason. He gambled. He gambled away every penny. The house, the vacation home, and my college fund. He said it was an addiction. Maybe it was, but it still stung. He lied and didn’t tell us until we were on the verge of being homeless.
Dad had yet to admit what happened. He was embarrassed by his choices. I wanted to understand why he did what he did, but it was impossible. He had never apologized. Maybe he didn’t owe me an apology. It wasn’t my money. But it was still something that weighed heavily on me, and it affected my relationship with my parents. We were all on edge with one another.
But not for long.
Soon, I was going to be out of debt. I was going to get to pick up where my life went off the rails. I supposed my irritation with my father tonight may not have been all him. I was feeling a little angry with him for what I was about to do. Being an escort wasn’t exactly my dream job. I was going to be going on a date for money. I just hoped the guy wasn’t a total dick. Then again, it didn’t matter. I didn’t have to like the guy. I just had to get through the date and then collect the money.
It was money I desperately needed. Having a drink and dinner with a guy was not going to kill me. Della mentioned the single date might turn into more than one. Apparently, the man wanted to essentially take me for a test drive. If things went well, there would be more dates and more money. That was why I had to make sure I had the perfect outfits. I wanted to impress him.
I spent the next hour carefully packing my toiletries. I could not afford an uncaring baggage guy tossing my suitcase and exploding my shampoo all over my clothes. Unlike my former classmates that would be at the reunion, I didn’t have the kind of disposable income to buy new stuff on a tropical island with inflated prices to gouge tourists.
I was excited for my trip. It wasn’t just the money I was excited to get my hands on. It was seeing my best friend married in the wedding of her dreams. And getting to spend some time in one of the most beautiful places on earth.