It wasn't something she was ashamed of, exactly, but still, Joy's occupation was certainly one she couldn't announce at the dinner table in front of her grandma- or even her own son. It wasn't something she would have ever dreamed of herself doing at any point in her life, let alone at her age. But when it came down to it, it paid good money, and as a 42 year old divorced single mom with only a high school diploma to back her up, there were only so many jobs she could do that would assure her that all her bills plus her eighteen-year-old son's freshman year of college would be taken care of. For that alone, she was more than willing to do some work that was somewhat embarrassing, if she would ever have to come clean about it, work that she was more than willing to stretch the truth or even outright lie about.
After all, how many other women her age, at least those who were willing to admit to it, were phone sex operators?
When she thought about it in a more objective way, Joy could tell herself that it was a pretty good job that did require some level of skill in many ways. She had to think on her feet, always adjusting and adapting herself to respond to the person on the other line, and that showed that she had adept social skills and a flexible mind. She had to attempt to predict the emotions and behaviors of strangers based upon limited information given and tone of voice, and that too required having a decent understanding of others. There was acting involved, of course, and you had to have at least average talent with that, because who would continue to call back and hand over their credit card information if the people they were talking to didn't sound like they actually wanted to be talking to them?
Well, maybe that was sort of a stretch, because from Joy's experience, most men didn't really seem to notice whether she was doing a good job faking or not, as long as she was saying something along the lines of what they wanted her to. But she could tell herself, at any rate, that she must possess a decent talent for acting…but then again, maybe that particular skill came along with being a wife and mother, or even simply a woman. One thing Joy had learned long before this particular occupation was that if a woman wanted to get by with any man in her life, whether he was her husband or her boyfriend, her employer or even her child, she was going to have to learn how to lie, and to do so with a smile.
It wasn't that she was bitter, really, or even particularly jaded. Or maybe that was something she simply told herself. Most of the time, Joy felt fairly content with her life, if not a shining example of her name. She might not have a perfect life, but she had a roof over her head and clothes on her back, a son to be proud of and a steady job. So maybe the job wasn't one she was exactly proud of, but neither was it particularly horrible. And it certainly beat working retail.
There were days, of course, where customers were particularly strange or demanding, disrespectful or even downright disturbing, days where Joy wondered how in the world she had ever managed to raise her own child in a world that seemed to consistently breed men that would find it acceptable to talk to any woman like that, even a woman they were paying for. Those days she was grateful for her particular employer's policy that allowed for her to hang up without refunding the customer any of their money if she ever grew too uncomfortable with the conversation, and for the fact that the customer was blind to her full name, true appearance, and address. What would those sort of men do if they ever found out that the large-breasted blonde 20-year-old they were imagining themselves talking to was actually middle-aged, slightly overweight, and had short, reddish brown hair that was far from the sleek sheen of shampoo commercials?
But other days, when the men were simply enjoying themselves and their own imaginations, when they stayed within the bounds of acceptable "discussion" and did not cross Joy's own personal boundaries, it wasn't such a bad job, though Joy could not have explained to others why this was so. There were the benefits of being able to work from home, for the particular company she worked for, Fone Fantasies, allowed some employees to set up hours to have calls directed straight to their personal phone line from the physical location of the business. Joy was one of those employees, and she enjoyed the freedom of being able to go about her business at home in her working hours doing as she pleased until she received a call. It did involve some juggling, of course, of having to make sure that her work hours did not coincide with her son's weekend visits home, and there was always the possibility of unannounced visitors coming by. But if she were to ever miss a call, it would simply be redirected to another working in that particular hour, and so even that factor was no big deal.
The money was a large incentive as well, but even more than this, as strange as it was to her, speaking with men about sex, knowing that she was turning them on, was something gratifying to Joy. It wasn't that she herself became sexually aroused by the interactions- hardly. Sex was the last thing on her mind, as it was much more important during the calls to figure out what to say and how to say it rather than to genuinely envision what she was talking about in her mind. Depending on the client, she often felt amused or disgusted rather than aroused or even interested in the picture they were painting together.
But at the same time, even if she didn't feel sexy for her own self, sometimes just having this secret knowledge of her occupation, of the fact that she, Joy Becker, was daily the subject of men's fantasies, that her words alone could sexually arouse them, was something of a self-esteem boost. Of course, she knew that it wasn't actually Joy Becker, divorced mother of Tucker, that they were envisioning, but it was nevertheless she who was capable of creating their fantasies. To think that she could still be sexy somehow, to someone, was very satisfying at times to know.
All in all, it was a pretty good job. But that still didn't mean it was one she could talk about…other people just wouldn't understand.
She was working on a Thursday night when she received the call, sitting on her couch in her pajamas with a bowl of cereal as she watched TLC channel on TV. As Joy checked the caller ID, seeing that it was indeed Fone Fantasies calling in, she answered, knowing that it would be one of the operators filling her in first, as always, before the customer.
"Joy speaking, who do we have here?"
She had decided to keep her first name as her "stage" name as well, figuring that it sounded rather appropriate. It was, after all, rather along the same lines of names like Destiny or Bliss, all which were rather common chosen names for her occupation. And calling herself something like Princess or Bambi would just make her feel stupid.
"Got you a customer, this one's a first timer…sounds pretty young," replied Keith, the operator for that night, with a derisiveness to his tone that told Joy that this particular customer must have seemed more strange or awkward than usual. And for their particular clientele, that was saying something. "He doesn't have a particular fantasy, he says he just wants someone "hot" to talk to. Whatever the hell that means. No particular deeds, no particular looks, he just about stammered himself into a heart attack asking in the first place. No name either. You know the drill, click over when you're ready."
He had already aroused her curiosity, and so when Joy switched her phone line over to the customer's, she was steeling herself for her newest client of the night. If anything, he might be a decent source of amusement.
"Hello," she said into the receiver as she curled her feet beneath her on the couch, allowing her voice to slip slightly lower than her normal speaking voice into what was generally her "work" voice. Joy had been told by her ex-husband, years ago, that she could have a very "sensual" voice when she spoke, and if he was right, well, then she had at last found a way to make some money off it, put it to good use. "Who do I have the pleasure of speaking with, sexy?"
The first time she had uttered a sentence somewhere along those lines, Joy had felt ridiculous, cheap, as though her words would clearly be seen as being as false and insincere as they were by the customer. But time and practice had allowed her to utter such a sentence now with such ease that it almost didn't seem strange or like much of a stretch at all to call a man whom she had never seen before, whose voice she hadn't yet heard, who would actually want or require the services of a phone sex company to get himself off. The words rolled off her tongue as if they were exactly what was on her mind, even if in actuality she was very much emotionally disengaged.
"Uh…" the young man on the other line started, clearing his throat. "Uh, I'm, uh…Tanner. "
Well, one thing she could be sure of was this guy's birth certificate didn't bear the name Tanner. Nevertheless, Joy smiled, because she had learned from experience that if she did smile in person, it seemed to carry through to her voice where the other person could hear and sense it. That usually translated to a stronger response from the client, and longer time on the phone, which equaled more pay for both her and Fone Fantasies in general.
"Well, Tanner, my name is Joy, and I'm sooo happy to be alone with you tonight."
She didn't have to see the man to know that he was blushing from the nervous throat clearing that crackled through the receiver again from that comment. It seemed to her that thinking of the customer-Tanner, or so he said- as a "man" was probably a bit of a stretch. "Boy" or "kid" was probably closer. It sounded to her like the customer was trying to deepen his voice, as though to sound older, so his words were hoarse and somewhat unclear when he spoke again.
"So, uh…um, thank you. I'm not really…I mean…what do we do? I'm not really sure how this works…"
Ah, yes, it was going to be one of THOSE kind of nights. These sort of customers, they could go one way or the other- become so embarrassed and uncomfortable that they ended the call early and didn't seem to be satisfied by the outcome of the "talk" at all, or else the sort that were determined to get their money's worth and stayed on for considerably longer than average, trying to psyche themselves up into becoming comfortable with and aroused by their discussion. She wondered which one of the categories "Tanner" would fit into.
It was a sorry world, Joy thought to herself somewhat wearily, when a kid who from the sounds of it, was about her own son's age, would feel driven to call up a company like this for sex, or to feel sexy or like a man, or whatever it was that this boy was trying to get out of this. It was pretty sad when a young boy like this would need to envision himself with a woman a good thirty years older than him- or rather, talk to a woman her age who was pretending to be a woman considerably younger.
It all came down to parenting in the end, in her opinion. What else but a lack of boundaries, a lack of strong adult role models, could make a kid as clearly awkward as this one seek out THIS? Joy was lucky that her own son had turned out as well as he was. Her son was in college now, and he was still the good-hearted, serious-minded boy he had been as a child. It was almost disturbing that some of her clients, and maybe even this one she was talking to now, were young enough to be in her son's classes. For all she knew, this Tanner could be one of his classmates, maybe even a childhood friend of his.
Yes, it was a sorry world at times.
"How would you like it to work?" Joy asked in response to Tanner's muttered statement, absently pushing back a strand of hair from her face as she sat up a little straighter on the couch, shifting the receiver to her other ear. She was careful to keep her voice the same intonation as she gently prodded him.
"I'm here for you, Tanner…I'm all ears…and other parts too."
This seemed to further embarrass or tongue-tie him, and Joy waited patiently, even with a pang of pity, as the boy struggled to voice his thoughts coherently.
"Uh….I guess…well…um, you can tell me, like, what you look like, I guess…"
He was still muttering, obviously trying to make his voice as deep and manly as it would go, and so Joy chose to compliment him on this as encouragement before she acquiesced with her readymade, often recycled lie.
"Wow, Tanner, your voice is so dark and deep…sounds like you're a man with a dangerous side. Joy likes a man who can be a bad boy," she told him with the same smile as before, even as inside she rolled her eyes at her own statement made considerably more out of kindness and a keen desire to keep him on the line, up the money she would get from him, rather than anything remotely resembling believing her own words. "Well let's see…I'm about 5'7, 110 pounds, blonde hair, blue eyes…I'm a 34D. And right now I'm feeling a little warm, so I'm going to take off all these hot, itchy clothes pretty soon…"
She could hear him sucking in his breath on the other end of the line and knew this particular description had him hooked. It was a rare man who was immune to it.
"Um…you sound…nice," Tanner managed, and Joy encouraged him further with a practiced yet modest-sounding chuckle.
"Oh thank you, Tanner! I bet you're pretty hot yourself…I bet you have nice muscles, good abs to go with that sexy voice…"
"Um, yes," Tanner agreed, another transparent lie, Joy was sure. She giggled again, then stretched her legs out in front of her, settling herself in for a long, patience-requiring effort.
"Let's start out with you telling me where you are and what you're doing, and then I can tell you what I'm doing, and what I'm thinking about…and here's a hint for you, it might be a sexy man named Tanner…"
"I'm, uh…I'm in my bedroom," Tanner cleared his throat again, his voice dropping even lower in volume. By this point, Joy had a suspicion that the extent of this kid's sexual activity had probably been watching porn online and reading his dad's playboys. Was Keith SURE he was eighteen?
"Good place to be," she told him suggestively. "I bet you have a VERY nice bed…soft…comfortable…"
"It's a futon, it kind of sucks actually…the bars hurt your back," Tanner told her as Joy restrained herself from rolling her eyes. It could not have been more blatantly obvious that this kid didn't have the faintest clue how these conversations were supposed to go.
"Let me get a better picture of your sexy self…how old are you, Tanner?" she asked, framing the question as nicely as she could without conveying to him that it was obvious she thought he was hardly more than a child.
She expected him to say something like 25 of 30, but maybe for this kid even those ages were old, because the age he gave her sounded like it was possibly the truth. "Um, eighteen…just turned last week."
Yes, this kid WAS her son's age. Practically his twin, in fact…one week ago, this would have made her some kind of child molester. Funny how the government seemed to think one week could make all the difference between what made a child and a man.
"Oooh, a birthday? Am I your celebration? That's so sweet," she cooed, shoving away any other thoughts. "Joy LOVES to celebrate…why don't you tell me what I can do to make all your birthday wishes come true?"
But it appeared that this was hardly encouraging for Tanner, because he cleared his throat again, sounding more awkward and unclear in his speech than ever.
"Um…can you not call yourself that?"
"Joy?" Joy asked, blinking. Was he finally about to let her in on whatever fantasy he had in mind? "What would you like to call me?"
"Well…I don't know…it's just…" Tanner hesitated, muttering the rest of his sentence in a mortified rush. "Joy's my mom's name, so…it's kinda weird…so can I just call you…something else…"
Joy's face stilled at this. Eighteen…as of last week…young, disguising voice…sleeping on a hard futon…Tanner…and his mother's name is Joy. Surely it wasn't…it couldn't be…
"You can call me whatever you want, sexy man," she said, having to struggle to keep her voice from showing any of the dread now rising within her chest. "Why don't you start by telling me more about how you look, where you are…describe your bed for me, so I can really feel myself laying down there with you. You said it was a futon…"
"Oh…you're…you would laugh," the kid muttered, and Joy's heart sank. She could think of a definite reason why describing her son's college bed of choice might make someone of her occupation laugh.
"Oh baby, I would never laugh at a man like you," she promised, even as she dug her nails into the arm of the couch, hard. "Just tell me, baby, put me there with you…"
Tanner hemmed and hawed for a few more moments, clearing his throat, and she knew even before he said it what words were about to come out of his mouth. "It's…it's a futon with a vintage Star Wars sheets and blanket set…I'm…sort of a fan, I guess… it's worth money though. It's-"
Joy's finger jerked with spastic panic, immediately ending the call. Jumping to her feet, her heart pounding wildly, she headed straight for the bathroom, wanting, NEEDING to shower immediately.
She knew that Keith would be calling her back in a few moments, checking to see the reasoning behind her ending the call. She had no intention of answering him, now, or any time in the future. She had half a mind to throw the phone and anything surrounding it in the trash and to never own one again.
She had been speaking to Tucker, her own son. She had nearly had phone sex with her child. Was there a law against that? Was there such a thing as accidental incest? How could she ever look him in the eye again?
In the shower she turned the water as hot as it would go and scrubbed herself with vigor, feeling disgust and horror almost as a physical filthy sheen over her. She couldn't even work up shock or anger towards Tucker actually doing such a thing, Tucker, who minutes ago she had been priding herself on raising so well. Because after all, if she ever confronted Tucker, that would mean that she herself would have to admit how, exactly, it was that she had gained her knowledge of his own activities.
Well, there was one thing for certain, her days on that particular job were over. Because if there was ever an omen that it was time to quit your job, it was the fact that you'd almost slept with your own son while carrying out your daily routine.