Days moulded into each other, and summer love surrounded me. Before I realised it two more weeks of Toby bliss had passed. I was floating on air. My prince had come. Sam continued to roll her eyes, and Julia begged to hear every detail. The one thing I didn’t tell them both, the one thing playing on my mind and causing suspicion to crawl into my heart, his odd working hours. A Saturday night, a Sunday, all day, and sudden text messages that would arrive, and he would have to leave. It all seemed strange. I decided not to read into the sudden departure after texts because of his mum. And working odd or shift work type hours wasn’t that unusual, but it still bothered me.
Although we had grown close after that night on the beach, when we had both shared everything about our lives with each other, along with our wonderful day and evening, something still continued to be omitted. His occupation. He didn’t elaborate and for some reason unbeknownst to me I didn’t ask. Instead, I basked in the glow of our growing love, and savoured our hot steamy nights. So even though his hours of working were odd, and he had yet to elaborate, I continued not to ask. Fear of the unknown kept my mouth firmly closed. I didn’t want to shatter my illusion, but I also thought what could be so bad that it could be shattered. The whimsical prince seeking part of me allowed me to walk around with blinkers on, and simply enjoy the rest. Was it really such a big deal that it was unspoken? Even though it lay like a big canyon between us.
When a second Friday without any plans for Saturday night surfaced again I didn’t allow my suspicion to grow. He had a life. He had other plans. He had friends. Yet the doubt crept in. Why was he working on a Saturday night? Of course there were loads of jobs which entailed night time hours, but who sold anything at night?
To stop my wayward thoughts from taking control I spent the day with Emily. I’d promised to take her to the new fairy shop which had opened in the mall near my sister’s house, so this seemed like the perfect way to occupy my mind. This was followed by another Disney movie marathon. Lizzy hovered around, probably hoping to lure juicy details from me as Julia did, but I didn’t feel like divulging. I didn’t want there to be any questions. My prince had come that is all that mattered right now.
After our three favourite movies and numerous yawns from Emily, Lizzy decided bedtime had arrived. Once the sufficient cuddles had been exchanged, Emily fell into that instant, innocent sleep of youth that I missed. The biggest worries of her world being which doll to play with or movie to watch just as it should be. I envied her being carefree. Then I remembered I was in love and I didn’t mind quite so much that I was grown-up. I had something Emily didn’t have – a prince. The silly grin which caused Sam to eye roll and Julia to feel the envy I just experienced for lost innocence, sprang onto my face as I walked into the living room to say good bye to my sister and her husband Rob.
“Do you want to stay for coffee?” Lizzy asked with a hopeful expression, the need to extract details still strong.
“No, thanks. It’s really nice outside. I thought I might walk home while there's still some light.”
“Will you make it home before it gets dark? Maybe you should stay a bit then I can take you home.”
“Nice try, Lizzy, but I want to enjoy the summer while it’s still here.”
Lizzy gave me a mock pout for spoiling her chance for gossiping but I didn’t budge. I really did want to enjoy the short stroll home in the summer dusk.
“You’re no fun,” she mumbled half heartedly.
“I know. I’ll call when I get home if you want.”
“I guess that will have to do.”
Rob and I laughed at her petulant tone before I waved and strolled out into the twilight.
The walk home usually took me about fifteen minutes but I judged I would have double that time in light so I decided to take the scenic route past the shop fronts and theatres in a neighbouring suburb. Being a balmy Saturday night, the roads were busy with hotted up cars playing loud thumping music, and couples or groups meandering past shop fronts.
At the end of the busy street stood a theatre where the current stage plays, ballet or opera showed. As I approached I saw a couple leaning against the wall near the entrance. The lady appeared elegant and looked as though she wore a designer dress straight out of the expensive shops I’d just browsed at through the windows or something we might sell at Blaze. This was one of the reasons I liked this street; it oozed with expensive brands and people.
I slowed down my pace so I could watch them together as they shared what appeared to be a secret, intimate moment regardless of their public location. Her back rested against a poster advertising an upcoming show while he leant casually against the wall beside her. His body was turned towards me, so he was side on to her, but inclined towards her face as he brushed his hand along her jaw. The gesture reminded me of...
“Toby?” I squeaked.
The dark head lifted and his eyes met mine. Shock crossed his face before he grimaced, and he dropped the hand touching her face. This is when I noticed that his shoulder rested near hers against the wall, and the hand attached to it rested on the small of her back. He stepped forward as though to speak while the woman gave me a curious stare. My eyes flicked from her to him and no-one said a word for endless seconds, minutes. Something constricted my chest and ceased hold of my heart. What I also hadn’t failed to notice was her age, which I guessed to be her late forties. Her elegant and expensive appearance didn’t hide it.
“Maddie, it’s not what you think?”
Great, another cliché, but not the good kind this time.
“Then tell me how it is then.”
“Toby, who is this girl?”
“Yes, Toby, tell her who I am.”
Without waiting for a reply I turned and ran in the opposite direction. I ran from their intimacy, from the images still burning in my mind, from my heartbreak. I heard him call out but I ignored him and ran all the way home. My lungs burned for breath and tears stung my eyes, but I kept running until I slammed into my apartment. Anger, envy and pain fought for control of my senses as I threw myself down on the couch and let the tears flow.
The sudden knock on the door startled me before the voice I didn’t want to hear followed it.
“Maddie, it’s me, please let me in.”
“Please let me explain.”
Explain what? That I am not the only girl – or in this case a much older woman – you are...whatever it is he was doing with her. Suddenly I wanted to know exactly what she was to him. What I was to him. I also wanted to hit him, hard.
With heavy limbs I answered the door with a questioning look, not game enough to speak in case my voice betrayed my emotions.
“It isn’t what you think,” he said again.
I said nothing waiting for more. He cleared his throat and lowered his gaze to the floor. Was he feeling shame? So he should be.
“Can I come in?”
With reluctance I gesture for him to come in. When he sat down I followed suit on the chair opposite, and waited.
His throat cleared again before he spoke. “I’m an escort.”
“A what?” This, I hadn’t been expecting.
“I told you I was working, well that was the truth.”
“Get paid to escort wealthy, single women to functions, the theatre, and stuff like that.”
“But you were...touching her...like...”
“They want it to feel special, like a real date. These women sometimes find it difficult to find a companion. They're worried that they're being seduced for money.”
“Isn’t that what you're doing?”
“No, there are no false pretences. They're getting what they pay for without worrying about being conned.”
“So you take them out on dates for money?”
“This is your only job?”
“Why do I do it?”
I nod, not sure if I really want to know.
“The money. My mum’s medical expenses...”
“Couldn’t you do something else, like a normal job?”
“I was studying engineering and modelling to pay for uni when she got sick. Hannah and Jacob were working and offered to cover my share of the costs but I didn’t want them to. Modelling made me enough to cover my tuition, and to live on, but not enough to look after her properly. A friend referred me to Marilyn who runs the agency.”
The guilt over being angry at him didn’t dissipate the envy tearing stripes off my soul. The nobility of the reasoning behind his need to do this only made it so much harder. He did it for his mum, yet, I couldn’t get the image of the intimate way he leaned into her out of my mind. The same way he had me. Then the other images came, the ones which were far worse. Did he do the same things to them as he did to me? Did I want to know? The envy surged up from its attack on my insides and burned my throat.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked instead of the other questions blazing in my mind.
“I didn’t know how. I’m embarrassed. I didn’t know what you would think and that really matters to me.” He paused and his eyes, full of shame, searched mine. “I’m falling in love with you, Maddie and I didn’t want you to...”
“You are?” His sudden declaration caused the jealousy to slip away.
“Yes.” He stood and then knelt on the floor in front of me. “I’m sorry you had to find out this way. I wanted to tell you but I didn’t want to ruin what was happening between us. Everything else about me is real and true.”
“It was just the way you...touched her,” I whispered staring into his eyes so full of sincerity and what I thought, hoped, was love.
“I know...they like it to seem real. They liked to be seduced. It doesn’t mean anything. I have questioned so many times why I keep doing it, but the money...it isn’t just that now. These ladies, they’re happy when they’re escorted out, and even though they know they are paying me, they enjoy my company.”
“Do you...sleep with them?”
“No.” His answer came too quickly and I wanted to believe him.
“I understand why you do this, and it just makes you nobler...”
His hand caressed my face. I almost flinched when in my mind’s eye, I remembered the same gesture, on someone else’s face.
“I’m not noble, Maddie, I just don’t know any other way.”
Right then and there I decided I could live with it. He only took these lonely women out on dates. There was no real romance or love. Love...he was falling in love with me, these were the only words that matter now.
“I don’t want to lose you,” he said.
“Then you won’t.”
I kissed him. Kissed away the image I had seen along with the imaginings from my mind, and melted into his arms. He was with me and that was all that mattered. He did something he wasn’t proud of for his mum, and this just made him more of a prince in my eyes.