"what are you doing?"
"Just lying down on my bed."
"really? What are you wearing?"
"A pair of panties…"
"And nothing else."
"what kind of panties?"
"A lacy thong"
"What color are they?"
Mercedes leaned down to scratch her yoga-pant clad leg while she cradled the phone in between her ear and shoulder, using her other hand to stir the sauce on the stove. She took a quick taste of the spoon she was using, thought for a moment, then reached for the pepper on the counter never losing her place in the conversation. "They're a pretty pink. Soft, sweet…" she paused for effect. "...and a little bit wet."
She heard a heavy groan from the other end of the line. "could they perhaps be hiding something else pink and soft?"
Mercedes rolled her eyes even as she answered in the affirmative. She could tell what was coming next.
"Will you let me see for myself? Just a picture? I want to see how pink and soft and wet you really are."
"I'm sorry, John. Unfortunately, that's against the rules. And your time's almost up." Thank god, she silently said to herself. "We'll have to start again another time."
"Oh please. Just a little longer."
"It'll be another $40. You know the rules." Her rules.
"Ok. I'll call you next week."
"I'll be waiting. Good night, John. I'll dream about you."
"Good night, Mercedes." Mercedes waited until she heard the soft click before she hung up. She disconnected the handset from the wall. As she put it away, she got a twinge of pain in her neck. She really needed to get a hands-free headset.
When I get a bit more money, she promised herself. She glanced at the clock. Good. She had enough time for a shower before he was due to arrive. She turned the sauce on low, checked the water for the lasagna noodles and set the timer. She couldn't stay in the shower for more than 10 minutes. She wanted to make a good impression. It was important that this meal go well. It made all the difference in impressing her date.
As she turned on the shower and began to undress, she ran through his likes and dislikes in her head like a litany.
People who talk at movies
People who move their lips when reading
The color orange
People who pretend to like sports
Too much makeup
Golf (of course)
Stepping inside the shower, she thought about the evening before her. It was important that it went well. Rarely did she get the opportunity to date, especially since her line of work tended to turn guys off. What guy really like the fact that she made her living talking dirty and moaning over the phone to random guys? Coupled with the fact that she is far from model thin, dates have been few and far between longer than she cared to admit. Oh, she got the occasional chubby chasers but nothing that would make a girl swoon with delight.
Uncapping a bottle of Dove body wash, unscented in an effort to cut down on any possible offending odors, Mercedes quickly soaped up a loofah and ran it over her body. Thank god she didn't have to shave her legs. She had just visited her best friend's salon a few days before where she got her ends trimmed and got some much needed waxing done courtesy of Kurt. Just because she was the only who saw her naked didn't mean she should be scared at the sight.
Quickly rinsing off the suds, she pulled back the curtain and stepped out of the shower. She took a towel from the shelf next to the door and dried herself off before wrapping it around her. With an eye on the small clock she kept on the bathroom counter, she grabbed the almost completely empty bottle of lotion and unscrewed the top. With precision and a lot of practice, she whacked the open bottle against her palm. Funds were so scarce that a bottle of Jergens was considered a luxury.
She thought with a flash of guilt about her salon visit. It was brushed off. "That was an investment." She told herself as she rubbed the lotion on her legs and arms. This new client would appreciate the effort.
Looking in the mirror, she reached up and unpinned the bun she had wrapped her hair in before taking her shower. Grabbing her brush in her right hand and her long black hair in the other hand she started to brush it into soft waves. It wasn't quite waist-length but it was full and thick. Her friend Theresa made her promise that if she ever cut it she would donate it to Locks of Love.
"Hair like that deserves to be shared with the world." Her friend said in awe upon her first sight of it hanging down. Unfortunately, Mercedes didn't know how to give it the proper care it needed so bimonthly visits to the salon was a must. The rest of the time, it stayed up in a ponytail. Reaching for a hair tie, she wondered if she should cut it. Then an unbidden memory of her with a "Demi Moore" haircut from 7th grade crept into her head. It had taken 6 months to stop looking like a boy from the neck up. 3 months after that cut, she could have doubled for a member of Hanson, the black cousin in the back, playing the tambourine.
She put down the brush and walked into her bedroom where on the bed lay her previously chosen outfit for tonight. She grabbed her underwear out of the drawer and quickly got dressed. The jeans were old and broken in and the built-in underwire in the tank top provided some much needed support. Her breasts were double-Ds. Always having to wear a bra got very tiresome very quickly.
She pulled the old sweatshirt from Columbia over her head with a rueful chuckle as she walked back out to the kitchen to check the noodles progress. It had seemed like such a good idea getting a business degree from such a prestigious university. Her parents had been so proud to see her graduate. Of course this was before they stopped talking to her. If they only knew where 4 years and a mountain of student loans had got her: a phone-sex operator living in a 1-bedroom apartment in a less than trendy part of town.
She bent down in search for her colander to strain the noodles and preheated the oven. He liked comfort food so she decided to make her world famous lasagna. Ok, it was only famous her own little world but she always got compliments on it. Her motto: when it comes to pasta, you can never have too much meat or too much cheese.
Grabbing a bottle of wine and a cork screw, she opened the bottle of red wine that she had picked up when shopping for dinner. She had gotten a deal on 2 bottles and the sommelier at the local shop had assured her that it would go well with a red sauce. It cost her half a day's pay but again, it was an investment. Letting the wine breathe, she turned on some blues. He hadn't stated a music preference so she was taking a chance but figured it was appropriate for the mood. There were candles on the table and counter, a small fire in her much beloved fireplace, and the faint aroma of wine in the air.
Mercedes turned off the noodles as she heard a knock at the door. "Oh god", she said to herself. He was here. There was no going back now. She did a quick check in the reflective door of the microwave, considered herself presentable and crossed the small apartment to open the door.
"Here we go." She quickly opened the door.
Mercedes had not been sure what to expect from the man she looked at. While there had been emails exchanged along with a picture of her, she had not received a picture from him. In fact, she didn't even know his name. He stated in his emails that he didn't want their arrangement to reach the ears of those who liked to gossip. Although she assured him of complete discretion on her part, he still remained mum. Frankly, the insinuation that she couldn't be trusted rankled her. But she had to concede his point. If he was as important as he thought he was, she could see why he would want to take precautions. So she had no idea who was going to show up at her door.
He was not what she expected.
She stood there for a second, dumbstruck. Luckily she had always been the type to bounce back quick so she plastered a smile on her face and waved him in. He walked in and she shut the door behind him.
Turning around to face him, she offered to take his coat, using the time it took for him to shrug off the cashmere overcoat to do a quick assessment. Only when she turned to hang the coat on the rack did she allow herself a lustful sigh. "There is a god and he made this man in his image," she thought to herself. She suddenly felt self-conscious and underdressed in his presence.
She turned to see him studying her apartment. "Would you like to sit down? Dinner is not quite ready yet."
Without a word, he walked over to her overstuffed couch that she picked up at an estate sale her sophomore year in college and sat down. She grabbed the wine bottle and a glass and showed him the label. Surely, he would be the type of man who would be picky about his wine. The price tag on this particular vintage had definitely impressed her.
He nodded at the label and watched her pour the wine. She handed him the glass and set the bottle down on the coffee table within easy reach. "It's just going to be a little bit longer. I still have to make it up and put it in the oven. I made lasagna. Is that ok?" She looked at him and held her breath, waiting for the gorgeous but mute man to give his approval.
He smiled a little smile and politely nodded his head. Mercedes walked back into the kitchen, which was only 10 feet away in her tiny apartment, and proceeded to check the sauce.
Sam Evans didn't know what he was expecting from this woman who was moving around the tiny kitchen with a practiced ease. When he first thought up this idea of hiring a woman, it seemed like the best solution to his problem. At 6'3" with blond hair and green eyes with a great-paying job, he had no trouble attracting woman. That was the problem. He needed a professional. Someone who wouldn't get attached.
He sipped his wine while he studied Mercedes in her pony-tail and ratty sweatshirt and jeans. She was bigger than he normally dated. He didn't know much about women's clothes sizes but he figured her to be about a 14 or 16, just big enough to be called plus-sized. He had the opportunity to date a few Victoria Secret models on occasion. She was never gonna be one of those girls. When his friend Puck suggested her, he expected her to be an obese woman with nothing but rolls. However, the first picture she submitted held a pleasant face framed by thick dark hair and chocolate eyes lidded by dark lashes. It was a candid photo, obviously taken when she wasn't expecting it but in a moment of pure joy. It wasn't a frozen expression like so many of the pictures he reviewed were. Those pictures were products of a hair stylist, a make-up artist and exceptional lighting. Her picture was a rare novelty. It was that picture that piqued his interest. Standing with her back to him now, he could fully assess her other attributes. Her bare feet revealed a preference for blue nail polish. Her well-worn jeans hugged her curves, accentuating her full hips and rounded bottom. The pony-tail sat high on her head, revealing a long neck leading to a nice shoulder peeking out from under that sweatshirt. He could just seek a hint of a tattoo between her shoulder blades. She stood on one foot as she scratched her leg with the other foot. Good balance. He couldn't get a good look at her breasts but it didn't really matter. He wasn't looking for sex, he wanted companionship. As he had requested, she was girl-next-door, free of pretentions. In his experience, that was a luxury.
This might work out after all. He thought. He stood up with his glass of wine and walked over to the kitchen. There was a stool in the corner. He sat down to watch her assemble the lasagna.
She was stirring the sauce while turning off the noodles she had cooked while he had been watching her. Suddenly, she whirled around to face him.
"You're not a vegetarian, are you?" She asked him with a horrified look on her face.
He broke into a genuine smile and chuckled. "No, I'm not a vegetarian. Definitely a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy." She sagged in relief.
"Good. Because other than the salad in the fridge, you would have been out of luck." She turned back and took a quick taste of the sauce and paused. Snapping her fingers, she turned to the refrigerator and pulled out a container of heavy cream. "Hope you're not on a diet." She said as she poured a few tablespoons into the red sauce.
"Cream in a red sauce?" Sam asked disbelievingly.
She vigorously stirred the sauce and gave it a quick taste. "Let the master work, please." She tossed him a quick grin even as she studied the sauce. "It's still missing something."
She looked around her small kitchen and couldn't figure it out until she looked at him.
"Aah. There it is."
Without a word, she plucked the half empty glass of wine out of his hand and dumped the contents in the sauce. He watched in fascination as she mixed in a little more cream and gave it a taste. "Got it." She proclaimed with a note of satisfaction. She held out the spoon.
"Wanna taste?" She asked the question with a teasing tone.
Sam took it as a dare so she could size him up. Without taking his eyes off of hers, he accepted the challenge and opened his mouth. The second the sauce hit his tongue, he gave a little moan. The spices exploded on his tongue, most of which he couldn't identify. He rolled it around in his mouth, tasting the tomatoes, a little pepper, basil and yes, there was the red wine she added. He was surprised to find virtually no trace of the cream in his sample.
"That's amazing." She laughed and pulled out a pan to start layering her ingredients. "Where did you learn how to do that?"
"My roommate in college was Italian. She had been making red sauce since she was little. I already knew how to make the lasagna but I was using supermarket jar sauce." She used a pair of tongs to grab the noodles out of the hot water and onto the pan. "It was good but I was always experimenting with trying to make it better." She spooned some cooked crumbled hamburger on top of the arranged noodles. "So one day, I begged her to teach me how to make her sauce. She wouldn't give me the recipe. I begged and begged her, but she wouldn't do it."
Sam sat mesmerized by how deftly she added the sauce and cheese. He counted 3 different shredded cheeses not including the ricotta cheese she mixed in with the meat. Then she began the process again with the noodles.
"She kept saying no but at the end of the year, she finally said yes. She showed me the basics: blanching fresh tomatoes, chopping them, thickening the sauce, when to add oil, that type of thing. But when it came to seasoning, she wouldn't tell me what she put in it." Mercedes laughed. "She said the only way I would ever get the full recipe is if I married her brother and her mother gave it to me on her deathbed." She smirked at him. "Her brother's 9 and her mother was a teen mother. She's not kicking for years." She finished the top layer of cheese and fresh spinach and basil, opened the oven and slid the pan in. She then put all of the pots in some soapy water in the sink to let soak for cleanup later. Gesturing towards the couch, she picked up the other wine glass and sat cross legged on the couch. He followed her to the couch, picked up the wine and poured them both a glass and waited for her to continue.
She took a sip of wine. "Wow that is good. I'm glad I listened to that guy." She sighed for a moment then resumed her story.
"Theresa told me that the best way to make a sauce your own is to make it up. All the great cooks have to experiment." She affected a Brooklyn accent. "'Like life, you have to figure out what works for you and make adjustments as needed.'" Mercedes shook her head. "She could be a pain in the butt sometimes. But that didn't make her any less right." She took a sip. "So that summer, I ate nothing but red sauce. Some were sweet, some savory. One had me running to stick my tongue under the kitchen faucet because it was so hot. I tried everything in different combinations. Finally, I decided to keep it simple and only add things if I think about it. That was 6 years ago and I still haven't figured out my ultimate recipe." She took another sip.
"But I think this wine is definitely going on the list."
He agreed. While he was definitely more at home with a beer in his hand, he could appreciate a good wine and this one is of some note.
They sat in silence for a few minutes while watching the fire. It occurred to him that he didn't feel like making small talk. Usually, he didn't like silence. It was one reason he moved off of his grandparent's farm. He liked noise and not the noise of a rooster crowing at the crack of dawn. Street noise was calming to him, like a lullaby, but here he sat with a pleasant woman drinking wine, waiting for dinner to finish. And it didn't bother him.
He glanced at her. Yes, she would do nicely.