“Excuse me miss,” a voice interrupted my thoughts as I returned clothing to the racks from the change rooms.
“Can I help you?” I asked and turned to the customer to find the ‘client’ I’d seen Toby with.
“Do you have this in a size ten?” She held a figure hugging black designer dress in her hand. It cost the same as my monthly salary. Please don’t recognise me.
“I’ll check for you. We may have one at our other store if there isn’t one out the back. I’ll be a few moments.”
“Take your time, dear.”
I winced. The use of the slight condescending tone only added salt to the fresh wound she’d re-opened by appearing before me. She followed me to the counter as I checked the computer for stock. Thankfully we had the size she wanted and I would be able to complete the purchase with speed.
“I’m attending a party this evening and I thought I would like to wear this dress. I’m hoping to impress my date.” She giggled, which took me by surprise. This sophisticated, filthy-rich lady before me was excited about a date, and was sharing it with me as though we were girlfriends.
“Well you’re in luck,” I said. “I have one out the back.”
“Fabulous. Could you bring it to the change room?”
I located the dress and passed it through the curtain to her. “Is there anything else you would like to try? A new stock of stilettos has just arrived and there's a red pair that would look great with the dress.” At least I could still summon my selling charm. “I would also love to see how they look on.”
“I’ll try a size eight then.”
When I returned with the shoes, she had stepped out of the change room and my heart sank to my shoes. She looked stunning. Now I had a chance to study her close-up I could see she was more beautiful than I remembered. The brief glance from weeks ago had been enough to place her face but not long enough to garnish the full extent. Her flawless honey complexion made it difficult to distinguish her exact age and her figure showed the hours she must put in with a personal trainer. The dreaded envy returned. Were all the women he escorted this beautiful? They were all certainly rich. Doubt crept over my skin like a blanket. Toby had reassured me, told me they were simply a job and that he didn’t sleep with them. Looking at this woman standing in front of me now, I suddenly didn’t believe him.
Keeping my face impartial, I charmed my way through the rest of the sale. Not only did she buy the shoes but a matching handbag, jewellery and jacket. The total came close to three months of my salary. At least the commission would be worth it or would it?
“Thank you, dear,” she said as she took her packages. “Toby is not going to be able to resist me.” Oh god!
“I’m sure he won’t. You looked stunning.” I somehow managed to cough out with mock sincerity. Toby!
“Thank you. You’ve been a darling. I know you probably receive a commission but I would like you to take this as an extra thank you.” In her hand she held a fifty. I took it reluctantly and gushed with the right words.
Several minutes after she left, I stood at the counter in complete shock. Toby had made plans with me that evening and his ‘client’ seemed to think he was escorting her to a party. Remembering my phone on silent, I dived into my bag and pulled it out. Sure enough I had a couple of missed calls and a message. Ensuring the shop was customer free I ducked out to the store room to listen. The message contained Toby apologising for cancelling at the last minute, but an important client had asked for him. This was the first time he’d put off our plans for a client. He had also broken his promise. He usually knew in advance his schedule and we would make plans around it. It seemed this was all about to change. An ache filled my chest when the image of her sprang into my mind. I had helped create her stunning look so she could try and impress my boyfriend. I dialled Toby’s number and he answered on the first ring.
“I’ve been waiting for you to ring me,” he said. “I’m sorry about tonight. Marilyn insisted I take Stella to this party tonight. I tried to get out of it but she's one of the agency’s best clients.”
“Can’t somebody else take her?” I knew I sounded like a sulking child but I didn’t care. I knew exactly what Stella had in mind.
“No, she asked for me. It will only be for a few hours. I can come over after if you want.”
“Don’t do me any favours.”
“Maddie, I want to see you.”
“I want to see you too.”
“Then I’ll come over after the party.”
“I know you’re worried and you don’t like what I do, but I want you to remember that I love you.”
“I know. I love you too.”
“See you tonight.”
I struggled through the rest of the day with fake enthusiasm. Being a Friday it was busy and this helped to occupy my mind. I somehow managed to convince myself it was just his job and there was absolutely nothing to worry about. He loves me and I trusted him. No matter how hard I tried though, I couldn’t erase the image of her, of Stella, from my mind. It seemed to have seared into my memory bank. Most of all I couldn’t stop the doubt clawing at my heart.
I was thankful to find the house empty when I got home. The last thing I wanted to do was talk about what had just happened. The secret life of Toby sat heavy on my tongue and I longed to unload my burden on my friends, but I couldn’t find the right words. I couldn’t admit it to myself at the time, but it was more than that. I didn’t want them to judge him or nurture my already festering doubts. I remembered that Julia and Sam were going out for our usual Friday night drinks, and it was the first time in weeks that I hadn’t joined them. Friday nights were busy for Toby. We compromised by spending most Saturday nights together.
I reheated leftovers but simply pushed them around with my fork as I flicked through the TV channels. I finally settled on a movie I’d seen a thousand times because I knew I wouldn’t be able to concentrate until Toby turned up.
This movie then another came and went and no Toby. I began to worry that something may have happened to him. I sent him a text and received no reply. Panic gripped my chest. I paced frantically about the house, forcing my thoughts away from him lying in a gutter somewhere. This only brought forward the other explanation, Stella. Thoughts of little black dresses and toned legs flashed in my mind and I shook them off. No, Toby wouldn’t do that to me.
I sent another hasty text and after another anxious half an hour passed, I received a reply. Running late, see u later at ur place xx. So he wasn’t dead. Where was he then? Midnight came and went, then one. Anger and dread surged through my blood which enticed more pacing. There was no doubt in my mind what was going on at that moment. Images of naked limbs entwined, hot kisses and writhing bodies built my angst into a crescendo of crazed jealousy. Had he been lying to me the entire time? Finally at nearly two, I gave into exhaustion, went to bed and dreamt about my prince saving the beautiful queen from the tower. The queen had Stella’s face.
A distant knocking shattered my dream and I woke with a start. The knocking sounded again. I glanced at the time to find it was almost nine, so much for turning up the previous night. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps the evening had run late and he was being considerate. A text message would have been nice though. Before I went to answer the door, I checked my phone and sure enough no text. Doubt overshadowed my relief that he was safe.
Something about his appearance, his hangdog expression, like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar, said it all, and my worst fears were realised. Without letting him past the front entranceway I went to ask but he spoke first.
“I’m so sor—”
“Do you sleep with them?” I interrupted him, not wanting to hear his apology.
His shocked expression faded to guilt and my stomach lurched. “Sometimes, if they pay extra.” He said it so quietly I almost thought I’d misheard. My heart beat like a jackhammer.
“Isn’t that illegal or something?”
“Probably.” A wry grin.
“You lied to me.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I didn’t want to hurt you. I know this is hard enough for you without you knowing this.”
Could it be anymore cliché? It’s just like in the movies or a romance novel. The gorgeous, well mannered man works as a prostitute to help his sick mother. Perhaps I'm still dreaming. Maybe it all is. But for the first time since setting eyes on the handsome prince I want to wake up.
“Why do I do it?” I nodded as devastation overwhelmed me.
“The money. You know why.”
“I know you need the money, Toby, but surely there’s another way.” My voice has that high pitched shrill sound to it that I detest. I'm annoyed at him for making me sound like a fishwife. “You don’t do it because you want to have sex with them?” I barely managed the words. Did I really want to know?
“That is a pleasant bonus.” His smile was meant to be consoling and indicate his little joke. I wasn’t amused.
“I...you...while we have been...?”
This time he almost looked remorseful and his eyes searched the carpet as though he could find the courage there to face me.
“Yeah,” he answered without looking at me.
When I slapped him I surprised more than myself. Those deep blue eyes met mine filled with shock and the sting of more than my palm. Feisty, he liked to call my usual outbursts, but even this went beyond what we were both used to. His red hand-marked cheek was the same colour I could see flashing in my eyes as envy and anger materialised. Underneath this, deep down, I knew I would find the hurt there but for some reason it remained hiding like a turtle in its shell. Hurt would help me here not anger and most definitely not envy.
“How could you do this? To me? To your family? There has to be another way.” I wass repeating myself but my head couldn’t form any new words. “How could you...”
“I’m sorry. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just sex, a job”
“Do...do you do it the same as you do with me?”
“What does that mean?”
“It’s different with you...I—”
“I don’t want to hear anymore...I can’t believe this...”
“It doesn’t change the way I—”
“I don’t want to hear it, Toby. Leave. Now!” My illusion shattered to the floor like an enchanted mirror. Damn those Disney movies! What is wrong with me?
“Don’t you Maddie me! Your charm and manners aren’t going to help you now. Save it for your clients.”
I shoved him as hard as I could from my entry and slammed the door in his face. Angry tears started first, the kind that has you sobbing in frustration until the images came. His hands on other women, caressing them sending their blood boiling like mine. Making love to them like he did me, hot, passionate and loving all at once. Envy scorched my chest before the hurt forced out a pained sob. Burying my face in the couch cushions, I moaned out my pain.
“Maddie?” It was Julia. “What is it?”
The floodgate opened and the whole story tumbled out in the midst of tears and sobs. How she could make sense of it I will never know.
“I can’t believe it,” she said.
“You can’t,” I mumbled as I swiped angrily at the tears I wish I could stop shedding.
“What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. How can I...knowing this. I can’t stop thinking about him with them.”
Julia said nothing and pulled me in close. I allowed the pain to take over and cried out my despair.