Chapter Summary: Sarah's Escort Service. You won't find it in the Yellow Pages, alongside other escort service, because we're an exclusive club, by referral only, catering to ... select tastes and needs. It's a service run by women, ... for women. And I got the call from Sarah today. Three weeks after I quit on her, and on life.

I got the call earlier today.

I stared a my phone a long time as it rang, stared at the caller id, bound and determined not to answer it. Promising myself I'd let the call drop to voice mail so I could just delete it.

Somehow, my promise just ... broke. Like my non-existent heart.

"Hello, Sarah," I said, my voice tightly controlled.

"Mel," she said. "Hi."

Silence on the line.

Then, "Look, Mel," Sarah said quickly, "I hate to ask this of you, but we have a client scheduled for today and Emily, her escort, fell through, ... and ..." she paused, then quickly continued, "could you ..."

"I don't do that anymore, Sarah," I said cutting her off. "Not since the last guy I escorted nearly beat me to death. I'm not in the business anymore, ask somebody else."

That was low, I know. Sarah's service wasn't like other places, places that treated me like a piece of meat. No. Sarah's was different. I had friends there. Sarah was one of them, and I missed them. Missed them badly.

Sarah's escort service catered to a very special clientele: they were well-to-do and they were all women, and if any of them had any special needs or preferences, that had to be stated well in advance of the requested escort, and if a girl on call didn't want to do anything, anything at all, she had a right to back out, no questions asked, with a full refund to the client, of course.

And 'preferences' didn't always mean kink. Sometimes it was something like 'I'm in a wheelchair, and I want to be treated like a human being for a while, and not an object of pity,' or 'My husband is away three weeks every month. I just want somebody to talk with.'

But the life...

I couldn't do this anymore.

"Mel," Sarah pleaded. "I know. I'm sorry. I'm really, really sorry about that, but ... please, Mel, we're not like that. We've screened her, she's ... she's okay, okay, Mel? It's just a one-time thing, I'm sure, and she's ..."

"She's what?" I asked impatiently.

Then I grimaced. Shit! I wasn't supposed to care what 'she' was, because there was no 'she' in my life nor on my calendar, and there wasn't going to be.

Sarah was quiet.

Shit! Fuck, and shit!

I sighed.

"What happened with Emily?" I asked.

Emily was very dependable: a sweet girl, and yes, there are sweet girls in the business, okay, we're all not jaded hard-hearted fucks, grubbing after money.

Not all of us.

"She got in a car accident this morning driving to her job," Sarah said quietly.

"Oh, my God!" I exclaimed, "Emily! Is she okay?"

"Yeah," Sarah said. "I mean, well, yeah, she's in physical therapy. She got rear-ended at a stop light and has pretty bad whiplash. But she can walk, and sit, and stand, thank God! She can go to her job on a limited basis but ..."

"But she can't escort this ... person." I finished for Sarah.

Some of us had day-time jobs and 'normal' lives, and also escorted. Like Emily. Sweet, girl-next-door Emily.

Not that I crushed on her at all, ever, what with her plain, open face, covered in freckles and red hair that made me just wanna ... ooh!

Red heads. My kryptonite.

Right, Julia?

I sighed again. And tried not to think of my high-school sweetie, and how happily married-with-kid she is now. Married to the man of her dreams.

Jeff is a really, really sweet guy. And Annie is the sweetest little girl Julia could ever have.

Just not with me.

I'm happy for them. Really. I am.

"And you can't get anybody else?" I tried helplessly.

I could've said Sarah's next words for her. "Mel, if I could have, I would have, but ..."

We knew each other that well. And we're both women. We were like, ... almost, ... sisters. Or an old married couple.

Well, Sarah was old. In her early fifties. And I was old, too.

Twenty-three years old.

Yeah. That's me, a twenty-three year old ... 'escort.' Dad'd be so proud if he ever found out.

Yeah. 'But.'

"Yeah," I said, "but here you are calling me."

"Mel, please," Sarah entreated.

"And you can't reschedule?" I pressed.

"She's in town this weekend only on a business trip," Sarah explained apologetically.

"And you screened her?" I asked incredulously. "After she, what? Looks you up in the yellow pages and calls for an escort for a nice night out after her business conference or whatever?"

"Come on, Mel," Sarah said, hurt and exasperated. "You know we don't operate that way. She was referred by a friend, and she called well in advance."

A 'friend:' one of our dear clients. All of them rich, nice ladies, very discreet and very well-behaved.

They had to be. Sarah has no problem whatsoever dismissing a client who got out of hand.

'Thank you for your business, but we don't cater to these particular tastes. Might I suggest one of these other services in the enclosed attached document? Again, thank you for your business, but please do not request our services again.'

I've seen her sign these letters she printed on her ivory stationery and send them off by certified mail.

Sarah could be fiercely protective of her girls and as cold as ice to anyone who tried to take one step over the line of the agreed-upon behaviors.

Now if a client wanted to get ... 'frisky' and a girl wanted to play along, then Sarah was fine turning a blind eye to a girl and a client having some ... 'fun.' That was none of Sarah's business.

Sarah's business was her girls, and her clients: women who wanted to be happy, needed to be, paid for it and got paid for sharing something these women so desperately needed and the world so did not give them: intimacy, privacy, a quiet moment, a listening ear, some goddamn sympathy. Love. Just for a little while, someone there who understood, and cared.

Yes, we weren't an escort service, not really: we were a caring service.

We cared for women in a world that didn't care.

And that was something money couldn't buy: care.

And you look at me with that look when I say that. I'm aware of the irony, but you aren't. Sarah was, too. That's why she started her business. Anybody could set up an 'on-call' service and have girls service to particular (physical) needs, and we could do that with the best of them.

No, better than the best of them, because what money bought from them, it didn't buy from us, because we gave it to them. We cared, when nobody else would.

Our repeat customers? Our referrals? Through the roof and gold-plated. Sarah's word was a guarantee of satisfaction, when a woman called, she was cared for and the worse moment for her was the end of the special time alone with the girl she was with, because ...

Well, you know why 'because.' Because she had to go back out into that cold, hard, callous, careless world, and keep doing what she did: a doctor's wife or a corporate C.E.O. or whatever she did and never, ever got a word of thanks for all the hard work everyone took for granted from her.

And we were there for her when she needed a respite from the grind. We were there to push away the world with its relentless demands and to ... relent, relent to her for just a brief moment in time, to love her and to be loved by her, how ever she needed, how ever we needed.

That, and nothing else.

Money could buy sex, but it couldn't buy us and it couldn't buy her that stillness, warmth, and love.

Money couldn't. We had to do that, we had to make that moment for her, we had to create that space where she could just be, just fucking be without the world trying to tear her apart.

Yes, the worst moment was for her to leave our embrace ... my embrace ... and go back into the world.

We had a very high repeat business.

And we had girls who did their job because they liked to do their job.

I mean, think about it. Wouldn't you like to be with a woman, a high-power executive, or a wife and mother of three or four or one or none, be with her, and watch her unwind and watch the tension just fall away, and watch her become a human being, again, or for the first time in a long, long time, and talk with her and listen to what she had to say, to hear the problems she's dealing with, at work or at home, and watch her worry and nerve or power through those problems, but then, set them aside, and not worry about problems, and not worry how she could make it all fit into her schedule, to not even have a schedule, just be with you, and finally, finally, relax into your arms, and breathe out a sigh nigh onto a death rattle, and cry about how hard it all is and how unfair it is, or just throw her head back and laugh and laugh and laugh and realize she's laughing with you, laughing because she finally gets to be silly without anybody judging her, and ...

Yeah. It wasn't a job for us. Maybe at first, and maybe we needed the money to pay the rent. New York City, no matter where you lived, can be rather ... expensive for a girl not holding a C.E.O. seat or not married to a stock broker (like, how many women stock brokers you know? They don't have a glass ceiling, because they have a 'no-admittance' into that exclusive gentlemen's club. Not that you'd catch me saying that, or thinking that, when I was with some of my gentlemen clients). And we need money, too. Shocker.

But ...

It may have been the pay, and the exclusivity, that drew us in at first.

But it was Sarah the kept us in. The respect she showed for us as human beings, not as human traffic. And the respect of the clientele. They needed us, and they appreciated us and respected us, our time, and what we did for them, just as we respected them.

A hooker? She wants the wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am. Why? Get in and get out, please, so I can get back to my pointless life, and you can get back to yours.

We took our time. You want sex? Fine. You want it right now? Fine. No problem. I'm a healthy young woman, and I can take whatever you can dish out.

Most of the time, with most of my clients.

But what about afterwards? Do you want to lounge in bed and talk? Or quiet time to think? Or some cuddle-time to not think?

That's what most of these women needed more than a quick release. Some didn't want the sex at all, or not right away, or not on the first date, even. They really did want an escort, a companion, a friend to go shopping with, or somebody to share a drink at the bar or a night club, and when a man got too friendly, she could say, 'I'm with her,' or, if she were timid (some of them were, not many), we could step forward and tell the jock to get the fuck out, or he'd be holding his dick in his hand on the way to the ER so the doctors could sew it back on.

Not that I ever carried out the threat, but I've got an arsenal in my purse, and have been taking aikido for how long? Since through high school?

Ten years? Has it really been ten years? Wow.

Aikido wasn't a way to fuck a guy up, but it sure could move him around and introduce the word 'pain' to him in ways and in joints that he didn't know he had.

I got a lot of new respect from some of my clients when I whipped out my badass with a guy who couldn't take 'no' for a hint.

Hilarious, that one time when one dude brought back two friends, so I just had to kick all three of their asses.

I love it when a guy screams like the little bitch he is, his face pressed into the snow and mud, and me riding on his back, a cowgirl, and that made him the cow. I just love that.

Made me cocksure. Heh. 'cock'...sure.

But then there was that one time, when I was with a (male) client, not on-call for Sarah, and ...

And I let my guard down, and I didn't read the vib, or I ignored it: I needed the money. I mean, I really needed the money, as the modeling (my legit work) had been dry for months, and so...

And so, today I'm lucky to be alive. Can you rape an escort girl on-call? Sure you can, but that was the least that guy did to me, after he blackjacked the back of my head, and I woke up in agony to a nightmare that just didn't go away, even after he did when he ... 'finished' with me.

That little visit to the hospital was unpleasant, after the cleaning lady found what was left of me.

They could heal my wounds, but they couldn't heal ... me.

At least he didn't go to work on my face, so I have that to be thankful for. Facial reconstructive surgery can be very expensive, I hear, and I don't know if my health insurance covers that.

Bastard. If I ever see him again, I won't touch his face, either. But he'll wish I did after I stuff his family jewels down his throat.

And now that badass girl I used to know packed up her bags and left me, and all that was left of me was ... was this, an empty shell, unable to give anymore because shattered girl can't give. A shattered girl can only close herself off from the world, curl up under the quilt her mom's friend gave her on her futon and just pray it would all end.

And be disappointed, again, the next morning when she woke up not dead ... on the outside, that is.

So I was out. I told Sarah this. I checked out of the business, I checked out of modeling, I checked out from life.

But I didn't flush my cell phone down the toilet. My one mistake.

At least Sarah gave me a few weeks to mope. A few weeks to live with myself and my misery, and a few weeks to realize that misery didn't pay the bills.

And there were bills, even on East Houston street (and that's pronounced 'how-stun' not 'hyou-stun,' This is New York City, not Texas, for goodness sake) ... not precisely a ghetto, but Spanish was heard more than English was outside my studio apartment's window.

Yeah, the bills.

Isn't life grand? To know that everything you do is to pay the Man.

I sighed.

Sarah knew what my sigh meant.

"So, you'll take it?" she asked, dimming the brightness and relief in her voice. Barely.

"Just gimme the info, Sarah, okay? And, oh, you own me, big-time," I growled.

A pause from her. "Sweetie, did you mean to say I 'owe' you?"

"Huh?" I asked, confused, and angry that I caved in, caved in to going out into the world again, just with one fucking phone call.

"Never mind," Sarah said in a conciliatory voice. "I'll email you her dossier and the rendezvous."

I love Sarah. She's, like, Old World.

Classy women wanted to be treated with class, and Sarah was all class.

"'Kay," I said, tiredly.

My bones groaned with tiredness, not because I hadn't slept, but because that's all I had been doing these last few weeks out of the hospital, sleeping and hiding, and now I had to put my backbone back into my spineless body, and woman-up, and face the world, and be brave and in control and strong, and attentive and caring, when, fuck, I wanted somebody to do that for me.

But all my relationships had been nightmares, and I found being alone heartbreaking, but that was way, way better than breaking another girl's heart.

And, every relationship, that's what I did. I broke Julia's heart, I broke Saga's heart, I broke ...

You don't want the list, do you? I don't want it either, but that's what I live with: my list.

So, these rendezvous, as Sarah called them, were much, much better for a girl like me. I could be attentive and caring and smart in small doses and then when that was done, I could break away, run away, and hide in myself, a shell of a person, hiding in her shell, all alone, just the way I needed it to be now.

And ... but it also served the woman's needs and made her happy for that time.

And I needed that more than she did. Seeing somebody else happy?

It gave me a reason to draw breath, when I had no reason otherwise.

"Mel-mel," Sarah said softly, and my chest squeezed so tightly over my heart I thought it would come out in pieces through my rib cage, "I really do owe you, big-time," she said.

"Yeah, you do," I said coldly, but then relented, "but you always do pay what you owe, and that's why I lo-..."

My voice stuck in my throat. I couldn't go on, and I couldn't breathe, so I wondered who was making these panting-gasping sounds into my phone.

I felt Sarah smile, even though we weren't on Facetime.

"'Kay, sweetie," she said sweetly, understandingly. "Knock 'er dead, killer. Love you."

And she rung off.

"I..." I whispered into the dead connection. "I love you, too, Sarah."

Shit, and fuck my face, I said the L-word.

And I couldn't be angry at Sarah for dropping the L-bomb first.

She said it. She meant it. She said it off-the-cuff, so I could laugh it off with a 'luv you, too, babes,' if I wanted to, or ... I could take what she meant.

I stared at my phone a long, long time.

A/N: So, there's this movie: "A Perfect Ending" and I've never seen it, just saw the fantastic preview, and said, 'Ooh! I have to watch that sometime!' and never thought I'd write to it. And I didn't plan to now, either, but then I got a review in Medea about me writing a story from even the yellow pages that would be smart and smexy (shout out to my lovely number09: thank you, sweetie!), and I got to ... thinking.

Now, `phfina thinking is a very, very bad thing.

So, a woman looks up a service in the Yellow Pages, and then all this happened, and it's not a Perfect Ending (because I didn't see the movie), but I do acknowledge, and thank it as an inspiration that I only realized after I was half-way through writing this chapter.

I was like, writing away, then I realized the girl was reluctant to take the job, and that the house mommy was scared, too, and then I had the Holy Fuck! This happened in that movie, too! moment.

Again, this story is not the movie (after reading its synopsis on wikipedia) (oh, and donate to them, like I did ... you know you want to) ('cause if wikipedia shuts down, I'll be pissed, and you do not want a pissed-off `phfina in your hands, I tell you what!) ... (A pissed-off `phfina 'in' your hands, or 'on' your hands? Depends on what we're doing, to each other, at the time, I guess ... hehehe! ;) ... and we're going to go places in this story the movie didn't go to, and the movie went places I'm not planning on stopping by, either, so, read my story, watch the movie, enjoy both! :)

Oh, and p.s. if you're wondering if Mel-mel is going to fuck Anne's brains out (Anne is the scaredy widdle mousy-housy wifey in this story), then my answer to you is: eh, that might happen, ... maybe.

`phfina scampers off, giggling at your enraged look at her so-the-subtle teasingly dropped hints.