Author: Stephanie Brother

As Jessie climbs into my car, I glance down at her slim legs and think about a button she has that I’d like to press very much. Maybe we’ll get to that tonight. Or maybe I’ll make her wait. Tonight it might feel too much like coercion, but I know once she’s been in my space for a day or two it’ll feel more natural. I want her to want it. I need to know that even though I’m paying her, she’s enjoying everything that happens. I’m an arrogant fucker and I have no qualms in using money to get what I want, even when it would seem unethical to others, but I’m not a monster.

I really want this to be a good month for her too. It won’t serve my purpose well enough if it isn’t. I turn to her as I start the car. She’s gazing out of the window, her hands clasped primly in her lap. I’d give fifty thousand bucks to know what she’s thinking right now. The thing is, buying someone’s physical presence is one thing, but buying their mind is impossible. She may give me what I want but I’ll never truly know what’s going on behind her eyes.

“I’ll take you home so you can collect some things,” I say.

She nods, glancing across at me quickly before she turns back to the window. In the club she’d disappeared to get changed and talk to her boss about needing some time off. She sounded worried about getting fired but then she remembered the money and seemed to relax. I have a feeling she’s not going to be returning to this job when the month is over. I really hope she’ll find something else.

We drive in silence, me lost in thoughts of what the next month is going to hold in store, and Jessie… well, I have no idea.

In her neighborhood, I get a clenching feeling in my gut. This place is rough. I wouldn’t want to walk these streets without security, let alone a tiny fragile woman like Jessie. I pull up outside but before she gets out I tell her to wait. I want her to understand what kind of man I am so I walk around to her side and open the door for her. She blinks up at me as though nobody has ever treated her like a lady and my gut clenches again.

“You don’t need to walk me to my door,” she says, her cheeks turning a little pink. Is she embarrassed about where she lives?

“You don’t want me to help you carry your things? I can wait outside the door while you pack.”

She goes to shake her head but I slam the car door and rest my hand on the small of her back to gently steer her forward. It seems to be enough for her to acquiesce and she leads the way to a door into an apartment building.

“You can come up,” she says and we work our way up to the second floor. The stairwell reeks of cooking and garbage but when we get to Jessie’s front door I can already smell something clean and fresh before she’s even opened up. The entrance hall is narrow but the room opens into a space that’s bright. It’s tiny by my standards. I estimate that her whole apartment would fit into my smallest guest bathroom, but she’s made the best of it and I like that. A twin bed is pressed up against the wall underneath the window, and the kitchen comprises a few cupboards with a sink and microwave on top, but it’s the personal touches and the care she’s taken to make it a home that show me a little about the kind of person she is.

“It’s nothing,” she says waving her arm around. “But you know… I couldn’t get anything bigger.”

“You’ve made it nice,” I say and she grimaces, embarrassed.

“I’ll just get some things.” She disappears into what I’m assuming is the bathroom while I take a seat on her futon and glance at the pictures on the table beside me. Jessie is with a girl I assume is her sister. They look so alike they could be twins, but there is one of them as children and I can see the age gap there. There’s a picture on the wall of a woman dancing on the beach. It looks like Jessie and I wonder who might have painted her. Maybe an ex-boyfriend. Maybe her husband. The thought of other men in her life flairs jealousy in me that I have no business feeling. Stupid to feel territorial over a woman who you haven’t even marked yet.

Jessie returns from the bathroom with a large white bag that seems heavy. “Give me a moment,” she says, heading to a closet in the corner. She disappears and I hear drawers opening and closing and then the sound of a zipper. Hangers clink as she pulls clothes off the rack. I can’t imagine what she’s packing but she won’t need any of it. I have a closet of clothes waiting for her at my place, the kind of things she has likely never worn before. Again, I choose not to tell her too much. Let her bring along the things that will make her feel at home, and then she can forget about them when she slips into her new life. For a second I feel a pang of guilt. It doesn’t feel kind to take a person from the life that Jessie has found herself living to the kind of life she could live by my side, only to let her return in four weeks’ time, but I can’t be thinking about that now. I have a plan and the plans I make are always executed perfectly. Even this one which feels so final will be handled the same. I promise myself this even as I know that circumstances may be beyond my control.

Jessie returns to the room with a small backpack. I was expecting something larger but in a way this is better. “You ready?” I ask and she nods.

“I just need to take out the trash and empty out the refrigerator.”

“I’ll deal with the trash,” I say. I can’t remember the last time I dealt with my own trashcans. We handle the practicalities of Jessie leaving her place for an extended period and I keep glancing across at her to make sure she’s not having second thoughts. She seems very preoccupied but I imagine she’s processing. If the situation was reversed I’m not sure what I’d be thinking. “You’re going to like it at my place,” I say. She’s clutching half a cucumber and looks confused for a moment. “You’ll feel right at home.” I feel my cheeks heating because I don’t sound like myself, but that’s understandable. My fingers tingle as I take hold of the trash bag and lift it out of the plastic can and I squeeze my fists tight in response.

“Can I put this in the bag?” she asks and I hold it open so she can throw out all the perishables. When we’re done, I head towards the door. “The chutes down the hall,” she says, so I make my way. Jessie follows me out and when I’m done, she hands me a baby wipe to clean up.

Every ordinary action feels sharp and strange in the presence of this girl, and it’s not because of anything she’s doing, but because we are strangers and I’ve set us on a fast-track to more. I take hold of her bag and follow her out of the building.

“Have you lived here long?”

She shakes her head as we descend the stairs. “I had to move when my husband…” she doesn’t finish her sentence and I feel the pain of her memories in my own heart.

“That’s a shame,” I say. Being forced to leave a home because of a tragedy can only have made everything so much worse for her.

“Not really,” she says. “I couldn’t have stayed there. Every inch of space had him in it. I would never have grieved.”

“And you did here?” I ask. Maybe that’s been my problem all along; holding onto things from the past, never letting it go enough to get past it.

“As much as it was possible to,” she says.

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