Don't judge me. I don't need judgment. Don't give me that knowing glance. Don't mock me openly; don't talk about me in screamed whispers; don't nudge the people around you when you see me. We are all the same on the inside, are we not? Or maybe we aren't. Maybe there's just a deep gaping void where your heart should be; a canyon instead of a soul. Maybe you're just a shell with nothing on the inside; a shell with a cruel face and a pointed stare and eavesdropping ears.

I am a prostitute. There. I said it. Go ahead. Go. Stare at me, whisper to your friends.

I am not the prostitute that one connotes with this word. I am not one of those girls who saunters down dimly-lit streets in the evening, wearing a tight skirt and a stained camisole with a ragged bra peeking out. I am not the prostitute who cakes on makeup to hide her nicotine-stained skin, missing teeth, and wrinkles. I am not the prostitute that turns tricks merely to get enough money for her next fix, whether it is meth, coke, ecstasy, or even simply pot. I don't even have a pimp.

My technical job title is an "escort." I belong to an agency called Lorna's Lovelies. I work what the girls call "Four In, Three Out," since I work four days in a row, on-call 24 hours, and then I get three days off from work, after which I begin again. I carry a cellphone that never leaves my side, and the receptionist at the Agency calls me every time there's an appointment or somebody requests me. The interesting part of being an escort is that sometimes that is all the man wants. Simply an escort. Sometimes the man doesn't want to have sex with me; he just wants a female to accompany him to an important dinner, and sometimes, the man just wants somebody to lend a sympathetic ear. All of which I do…for a fee, of course. My rates are high, but Lorna tells me that I'm one of the three most requested girls at the Agency so that's to be expected. The Agency takes 40 of what I make, and I get to keep the rest, plus any tips that the man gives. It's really a fair arrangement, I would say.

I walked into the Agency on a Sunday afternoon in late May. I hadn't received a single call all day, which was fairly odd, considering it was a weekend. Jackie, the receptionist, was languidly typing at her keyboard while twirling her gum with her pinky. She looked up as I entered, and the gum fell against the side of her mouth, stretching across her lips and giving her an almost clown-like appearance.

"Hey, Penny," Jackie said, giving me a slow smile. She sucked the gum back into her mouth. Penny is my escort name; I didn't pick it—Lorna did.

I set my purse down on the counter and leaned forward. "What's the deal, Jackie?"

"What do you mean?" she asked, confused. Her blonde hair was pulled back into a tidy bun, as if she was trying to emulate a professional secretary. However, when she became confused, which happened frequently, she would start pulling at the bun, resulting in a messy, disorganized looking hairstyle.

"Come on. It's Sunday and I haven't gotten a single call all day," I said.

She stopped pulling at the bun. "Penny. It's Mother's Day. The men are all spending the day with their mothers and their wives. Their families." She narrowed her eyes at me and added, "Don't tell me you forgot."

I racked my brain. How could I have forgotten? Mother's Day! Of course. "No, I didn't forget," I lied. "I just thought that there were more single, motherless men in this city."

She shrugged and turned back to her computer. "Sorry."

Sighing, I got up and went to the tiny kitchenette across the room to put a kettle of water on the stove. "Jackie, where'd the Earl Gray go?" I called across the room.

She looked up again. "I think Lorna pushed it up into the cabinet up there—" The phone rang, interrupting her. She picked it up. "Hello, this is Lorna's Lovelies. May I help you today?"

"Who is it?" I asked. "Can I take it?"

Jackie held up a hand to shush me. "Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Half an hour. Westfield Center. That's right. I'm going to need your credit card information. All right. Uh-huh. Thank you." She hung up the phone and pointed to me. "It's yours, sweetheart!"

I abandoned the tea. "Where?"

"Half an hour at Westfield Center. He's in Room 315." Jackie finished typing his information in the computer and starting scanning his information. It's her job to do this part, to make sure that he's not a convicted criminal and that he can pay for everything. "Everything checks out. He's good to go."

I nodded at her. "Thanks, Jackie." I swung my purse off the counter and headed into the dressing room. It was a large, well-lit room with a greenhouse-style roof, letting in the late afternoon sunlight. Each of the girls had her own vanity, complete with an oval mirror and an upholstered chair, along with a narrow wardrobe next to each of the vanities. I stripped off my jeans and T-shirt and exchanged my faded bra and mismatched underwear with a sexy black pair. I hurriedly slid into a black skirt. I rummaged through my wardrobe and emerged with a soft white angora sweater, which I slipped on. Turning to the mirror, I shook my hair loose of its clip, and let it fall in dark waves against my shoulders.

I tucked my bag over my shoulder. It contained a change of lingerie, a change of clothes, makeup, lube, toys, my cell phone, and about fifty little perforated packets of condoms. Jackie was checking her email when I came out of the dressing room. "Ready, sweetheart?" she asked me. "Manny's got the car out in front."

Manny is the driver for the Agency; it's his job to drive each girl to the place where the men will met her and he has to wait in the car until the session is over. Manny is number one on every girl's speed dial on her cell phone, so if we run into trouble, all we have to do is dial his number and he'll run up to rescue us. Manny used to be a bouncer at a nightclub, and he works out constantly, and with his bulging muscles, he can take care of any guy who threatens us.

I blew Jackie a kiss as I hurried out the door to the curb, where Manny was already idling the town car. I slid into the front seat, folded the mirror down and began applying my makeup.

"Hey, kid," Manny said. He maneuvered the car out into traffic and began heading downtown to Westfield Center.

I carefully smudged a dark rim of eyeliner around my lower eye. "Why aren't you with your mother, Manny?"

He sighed and swore as a car cut us off. "Oh, I already took my Mama out to breakfast and brought her flowers. She's probably having a nap right now." He laughed and added, "She thinks I'm working out."

None of our mothers—the girls', Manny's, Lorna's—know what we do for a living. And we'd like to keep it that way.

We reached Westfield Center in less than ten minutes, just as I finished layering a dark red lipstick onto my lips. "Go knock 'em dead, kid," Manny told me. I shot him a smile as I opened the door and let myself out. I watched as he slowly slid the town car back into the traffic, where I knew he would circle the block sixty or seventy times, until I was done upstairs.

Inside the lobby of Westfield Center, I unfolded the piece of paper that I had grabbed from Jackie's desk on the way out. "I'm here to see a Mr. William Peters in Room 315," I said to the clerk at the front desk. He raised an eyebrow at me, taking in my skirt, dark lipstick and the large bag I was clutching.

"Just a moment, Miss," he sneered at me. I could see him rolling his eyes as he dialed up to the room and spoke softly on the phone. He hung up quickly. "All right. He's expecting you."

I nodded silently and got onto the elevator, which I rode up to the third floor, making my way down the hall to Room 315. I knocked softly. "Come in," a voice called from inside.

I tried the door and it was unlocked. I entered the room and shut the door behind me. A thirty-something man was lounging on the bed, watching the news. He wore boxers and a graying undershirt. He wasn't balding, but his dark hair was tousled and it looked as if he had been recently napping. I dropped my bag onto a nearby armchair and sat down on the bed next to the bed. "I'm Penny," I said.

He looked me over. "Nice." He looked unsure of what to do next, so I deftly pulled my sweater over my head, revealing my bra underneath. He hesitantly reached for my skirt, and I let him unzip it and we both watched as it fell to the floor. I carefully positioned myself in his lap and pressed my back against his chest, letting my hair cover his nose and mouth. That was one of the tricks Lorna had shown me—the scent and texture of a woman's hair to a man is often more erotic than seeing a pair of breasts. I could feel him breathe in deeply. He groaned, and it was then that I knew I had him. Reaching behind me, I pulled his hand up and maneuvered it over the clasp on my bra. He fumbled nervously and blindly, and I moved my fingers over his and together we unclasped my bra. It fell into my lap and I tossed it aside, where it landed on the knob of the bathroom door. I felt his lips against my neck and I leaned back. It began.


Later that night, when I unlocked the door to my apartment, I could hear my roommate, Denise, gushing to her boyfriend on the phone, and I could smell the chicken parmesan she was cooking in the kitchen.

"Yoo hoo! Catherine, is that you?" Denise called from the kitchen.

Smiling, I set my bag down on the small mail table next to the front door. "It's me," I said.

"Dinner's going to be ready in ten minutes. Shit, make that five. The chicken's burning!" Denise said.

"All right, I'm going to take a really quick shower," I said, heading into the bathroom. I turned on the water, as scalding hot as it would go, as I began to wash the dirt off me—the dirt of tonight; of the Agency; of Mr. William Peters; of Room 315.

After my shower, I dressed in a pair of sweatpants and an old T-shirt. With my hair wrapped in a towel, I went into the kitchen, where Denise was serving the chicken at the table.

"Ah, she arrives," Denise said grandly, pulling my chair out for me.

I gave her a wry smile, and took a forkful of the chicken in front of me. "Mmm…to die for Denise, to die for."

"Well, please don't die on me," she said, but I could tell she was pleased by the way her cheeks flared pink and then a deep red—the color of my lipstick in Westfield Center tonight. Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath and pushed Westfield Center and my lipstick out of my head. My two lives never met…and they never would.