The thing is, underneath it all, underneath the anger and the betrayal and the humiliation and the grief, when it’s all dredged from the riverbanks of her consciousness, the hardened earth of her bones, all that’s left is relief.
Which is strange, she thinks, because so much is left uncertain. All her plans unmade, the map she’d set for her life re-routed, and if she’s honest, she’s not sure her future has ever been so vague, so malformed, but where there should be panic and desperation, anxiousness and loss, Beth packs up the last box of her husband’s things and thinks good.
At least, she does until the reality sets in.
“And may the door hit him on the way out,” Annie says with a grin, throwing back her tequila and slamming the shot glass down hard on the table, smacking her lips in show. Beth rolls her eyes, downing her own a little more gracefully.
“We’re trying to keep it civil for the kids,” she reminds her, but Annie scoffs, waves a hand at her before gesturing the bartender over for another round.
“Still think you should lawyer up, B,” Ruby tells her across the table. “I wouldn’t put it past Deansy to try and wriggle out of paying child support.”
“And how am I paying for this lawyer?” Beth asks, her throat burning from tequila as the bartender sets them up with another round. God, how’s she paying for any of it? It’s not like Dean’s got money to spare right now, not after spending it all on lingerie and expensive dates for one of his many girlfriends. She inhales sharply, shifts back in her seat.
“I can talk to Tony at the diner,” Ruby offers. “I mean, the money’s not great, and the customers are awful, but occasionally you get someone who actually tips.”
“And I could definitely get Boomer to hire you at Fine and Frugal,” Annie adds. “But I don’t think there’s any way he wouldn’t dial his creep factor up to eight billion and he’s already at a solid 6.”
The sounds of the bar suddenly takes up too much room in Beth’s head – the slightly too-loud thrum of bass-heavy music she’s never heard of, the drunken woos of a bachelorette party, the sound of a glass smashing, a door slamming, a man’s braying laugh. And Beth smiles at them as best she can, grateful, because she is, of course she is, only Ruby’s got Stan’s income to boost her own, and Annie’s able to scrape by in her tiny apartment with her one child on her Fine and Frugal salary and Greg’s support, but Beth can’t even begin to imagine it. Not in her house (three mortgages, she thinks bleakly, on the one house), not with the four kids too, not with them so little still and so hungry. She’d have to hire babysitters, or pay for afterschool care to work, and that would eat up her paycheck faster than she could earn it.
“Thanks,” Beth says still, painting on the best grin she can manage. “That’d be amazing.”
And right, she thinks, watching Ruby and Annie see straight through her. She needs newer friends, she thinks, self-deprecating. Newer friends who can’t read her like an open book, who don’t know exactly how far up shit’s creek she really is. Her hand reaches up, fiddling with her necklace, turning the warm gold-plated bar in her fingers and has another drink.
“Welp, great,” Annie says suddenly, breaking up the quiet with a loud, forced-lightness to her voice. “Now that we’re all thoroughly depressed, we have more important matters to discuss. Like getting you back on the horse. The sex horse.”
It’s enough to make Beth flush and for Ruby to close her eyes in the sort of horror only Annie can really inspire.
“Please never say sex horse again,” she says, and Annie laughs, opening her mouth to reply, which Beth takes as her own opportunity to promptly interrupt.
“I am not even remotely ready for sex, on a horse or otherwise,” Beth tells her, because god, is she not. She hasn’t even had sex with Dean in years, and it’s not like she’s about to tell Annie and Ruby that, but still. She opens her mouth to say something, to justify it somehow, when Annie continues:
“Doesn’t have to be with anybody else,” she says with a shrug. “I mean, not to be crass or whatever, but when was the last time you jacked off?”
“Annie,” Ruby groans as Beth flushes fuchsia
“What? It’s healthy,” Annie insists, waving her drink at them. “An orgasm a day has like, proven health benefits, and I refuse to believe that Dean is even remotely capable of giving anyone an orgasm, so.”
And - - well, it’s not like she’s exactly wrong on that count. Still, Beth has a long drink of her cocktail, muddling the lime at the bottom of her glass with the straw.
“Maybe it’s been a while. I don’t know. I’m not good at that sort of thing,” Beth says flippantly, fiddling with her straw, and Annie squints back at her across the table.
Beth blushes to the roots of her hair.
“Trust me, I’m fine with the - -” Beth tries to find the word. “Mechanics. It’s - - I don’t know. I can never really think of anything, so then I just feel stupid and - -”
“You don’t have any fantasies?” Ruby asks, interjecting, her forehead furrowed. She pauses, and it almost seems to cause her physical pain when she asks: “Nothing to call back on at all with Dean?”
And well, Beth thinks, there probably is, maybe, just all her Dean memories feel tainted now, and it’s not like he was ever the sexiest man in the world. Or even the room.
Even rooms with like, just him in them.
She snorts a little to herself.
That’s not to say that they didn’t have fun sometimes, but that’s what sex was with Dean. At best – cute, sweet, affectionate, at worst – well.
“You could try a romance novel or something. Try a little 50 Shades,” Ruby says sympathetically, and Annie scoffs.
“Please. Try porn.”
“Annie!” Ruby hisses again, and Beth practically melts back in her seat to get herself out of the conversation. Annie just rolls her eyes at Ruby.
“What, like you’ve never watched porn. You’ve told me about yours and Stan’s movie nights.”
Which is certainly news to Beth. She blinks wildly over at Ruby, who’s giving Annie a supremely unimpressed look.
“Remind me never to get high with you again.”
Annie makes a mouth with her hand, moving it in a blah blah blah gesture which has Ruby rolling her eyes, and Beth just - - she reels around before she can help it, a slightly betrayed lilt to her voice when she asks:
“You and Stan watch porn?”
Thing is, Ruby doesn’t even look bashful, let alone embarrassed. She takes a sip of her drink, just sort of shrugs as she does it, and there must be a look on Beth’s face, because suddenly Ruby’s dropping her drink and sitting up a little straighter.
“We’re very selective about what we watch,” she says defensively. “Not like this one.”
She jerks her head over at Annie who fake gasps.
“But sure,” Ruby continues, easing up a bit again. “Gets us in the mood sometimes, and it’s certainly inspired us once or twice. To try something new, I mean.”
Leaning back into the booth, Beth turns the thought over in her head, considering it. Thing is, she can kind of see it maybe, for Ruby and Stan. They’ve always been easy with each other, enough she can see them joking about it, enjoying it, touching each other gently, tenderly, in that way that they do.
Dean had suggested it once too, but Beth had adamantly declined. After all, she’d seen the sort that he’d watched more times than she’d ever wanted to (he’s never been particularly good at clearing his browsing history) and it had often made her feel a little ill. It had all just been so - - aggressive.
She doesn’t even have to say it for Ruby to seem to pick up on it. She puts down her drink.
“There’s a lot out there, B, and a lot of different types. Some of it is totally foul, but some of it…” she shrugs. “You’ve just got to find what feels right.”
“I don’t know,” Beth says, scrunching up her nose, and Annie shakes her head, grabbing her phone out of the back pocket of her jeans.
“I’m gonna send you some,” she decides, and Beth and Ruby both scoff. “No, seriously. I’ve got some thoughts, y’know? I’m very well-read. Well-watched? Well-porned? Whatever. I’ve got you, sis.”
“Okay, I’m getting another drink.” Beth says loudly, scooting out of the booth, and Ruby makes an agreeable noise in the back of her throat, gesturing to her own glass and saying please.
And okay, so maybe Beth’s a little drunk by the time she’s stumbling in through the front door of her house, shushing herself breathlessly, giggling and then groaning when she rolls her ankle trying to kick off her pumps. She’s more than a little glad Dean’s mom had insisted on taking the kids for a special weekend to the lake while her and Dean got things settled this week, meaning Beth doesn’t feel too badly about pouring herself a bourbon and stumbling around the stairs towards bed.
She falls back into it, awkwardly shoving down her stockings, wriggling back on the mattress as she grabs her cell and checks her phones for any messages, rolling her eyes when she sees the one from Annie that just says ‘Home safe. Check your emails’ and then features the splashing water emoji about a hundred times.
Tossing her phone down her bed, Beth looks at her glass of bourbon, looks at herself, lying down in bed, and tries to pour some into her mouth only to get it all over her chin and neck. Spluttering, she sits up quickly, wiping at her face, looking around the room for a tissue, only - -
Her laptop is on the top of her dresser.
Beth blinks, looking at her phone, squinting at it, like Annie has somehow magicked up the ability to put her laptop directly into her line of sight, and then rolls to her feet. She stumbles over to her laptop, grabs it, stumbles straight back to bed, dropping onto the mattress and loading up the screen.
The email from Annie has the subject line INCOGNITO MODE, HONEY B, and the body of the email is nothing but links, maybe ten of them, a couple from different websites, but most of them from the same one – Thank You Ma’am, which is kinda funny, Beth thinks, clicking on one only to promptly slam her laptop shut at the image of a large, hairy man eating out a woman in a flower crown while a skinny blonde woman in a strap-on lines up against his ass.
Right, she thinks, grabbing her bourbon off her bedside table, polishing it off and inhaling sharply.
She opens her laptop again, quickly x’ing out of the video, and glancing back through the links, biting her lip, and clicking on the one that looks safest titled ‘Sensual Massage’.
And, okay, it’s just a woman, sitting on the edge of a massage table, dressed in short, floaty sundress, her legs dangling off the table. She brushes her hair back behind her ears, staring around the room, fiddling with the strap on her dress when suddenly the door opens and a man walks in and Beth just - - blinks.
He’s just - - not what she expected. Lean and handsome, all sharp cheekbones and pouting lips, big dark eyes, and Beth finds herself shifting forwards a little, slightly closer to the screen. He’s dressed in a what almost looks like scrubs, white, the pants a little tight, showing off a pretty intimidating bulge.
“Oh! There you are,” the woman says. “I was starting to wonder if I had the wrong room.”
“Sorry, just finishin’ up with another client.”
It’s the sound of him, she thinks, that makes something in her lurch, that makes her tongue dart out, wet her lips, before she can help herself. Deep, gravelly, the sort of rolling purr that Beth doesn’t think she’s ever heard in real life – a million miles away from Dean’s nasal stutter, and Beth just - -
She likes it.
“You know, it’s been years since I’ve done anything like this,” the woman says, biting her lip, and the guy steps towards her, unthreatening, gentle almost, as he says:
“That’s okay. We can take it slow, if you want.”
It only makes the woman giggle, a little sultry, her tone veering into an obviously put-upon shyness.
“Maybe just to start.”
With that, she promptly pulls off her dress, revealing nothing underneath but small, perky breasts and a shaved - - well, everything, and Beth blinks, fumbles forwards almost in shock, blinking rapidly as the woman turns slowly on the table, sliding her nude body face down, exposing what has to be one of the best asses Beth has ever seen.
The man moves almost like liquid behind her, just pouring into her space, before stroking one large hand down her back, gently gliding over her ass, before down to her thighs, her calves, and then back up again before - - suddenly, sharp as anything, slapping her ass. The woman gasps and Beth’s thighs clench, her eyes blinking rapidly, as she watches the man step away, grabbing some massage oil, pouring some generously onto her hands and starting to slowly knead her back.
Moaning, the woman leans forwards into the table, spreading her legs as the man works his way down her back.
“You’ve got a beautiful body,” he says. “Gotta say, can’t really believe you havin’ to come in here to pay to unwind, darlin’.”
“My husband does try,” she titters breathlessly as his hands start to knead her ass, his long fingers starting to stroke between her legs. “But he just can’t quite get to those hard to reach spots. I was told that wouldn’t be a problem with you.”
“Can’t say I’ve ever had any complaints,” he replies, slipping a finger inside her, starting to pump in and out of her, adding a second, and it’s not long before the woman is writhing against the massage table, keening, and the man is purring over her, moving gracefully, and Beth’s cheeks are so red, her arms stiff, eyes wide as she watches him fuck her with his fingers, and then the woman’s coming, and quick as anything, he’s flipping her over and pulling what has to be the biggest - - biggest penis - - Beth has ever seen out of his thin pants, and she has to resist the urge to slam the laptop screen shut again.
“You weren’t kidding,” the woman says hungrily, and the guy, he just laughs, yanking her to the edge of the massage table and then he’s sitting her up, dropping his head to suck at her breasts before he pushes into her in one smooth motion.
The woman cries out, long and loud, and Beth’s almost jittery with energy, her lips wet but her mouth dry, heat coursing through her in a way she can’t quite explain.
“You’re so big!”
“You can take it though, can’t you, baby? Ain’t your pussy hungry for it?”
“Been a while since she been full, huh?”
And Beth’s suddenly shifting back in the bed – can’t take it anymore, her fingers pulling up her dress before pushing into her panties, and god, she can’t remember a time she’s ever been this wet. Her thighs are trembling by the time she finds her clit, rubbing a wobbly circle with her fingers, her body shuddering awake beneath her own touch. She watches him fuck this woman on the massage table, bending her back over it, hiking her legs up almost to his armpits, driving into her.
“You feelin’ me in those hard to reach places?” he purrs, and the woman’s almost sobbing when his hand comes to roughly rub her clit, his other hand groping at her small breast. Beth’s free hand reaches up to find her own, squeezing it before she even knows what she’s doing. “Ain’t right, a woman like you goin’ without. That husband o’ yours ever fuck you this good?”
“No,” she cries out, and Beth’s eyelashes flutter shut, moving her hand, pushing a finger inside herself, leaving her thumb to rub at her own clit, making an awkward, unpracticed motion of fucking herself.
“Ain’t no one ever gonna fuck you this good,” he says, and Beth’s toes curl in the sheets. “I’m sorry, baby. I know that ain’t fair.”
The woman’s moaning non-stop now, scrambling at his back as he fucks her onto him. The liquid lines of his body on hers like watching a wave crash against the shore.
“But we got right now, huh? And your cunt is so fuckin’ tight, so fuckin’ slick. She takes my cock so well.”
Beth’s fingers are working faster, more erratically, and it’s not long before she’s toppled over the edge, so hard she almost collapses back against the bedhead. When her eyes flutter back open, the man is swapping open mouthed kisses with the woman, his hands tugging at her nipples, his cum dripping out of her, her hands on his flaccid cock, slowly getting him hard again, and right Beth thinks, biting her lip, starting to move her fingers again, feeling her too-sensitive walls clench around them, and right she thinks, pulling her fingers out and slamming her laptop shut.
(Maybe she finishes it in the morning before she has to pick the kids up from Judith’s.
“Danny, be careful!”
It’s at least enough to make him stop, his blue eyes bright and impossibly big, his mouth turned down.
“I was,” he calls back, hopping off his little scooter like he wasn’t trying to do jumps on it off the patio, and Beth gives him her best Mom Stare through the backdoor window. He frowns, but at least looks reprimanded enough to drop his scooter to the grass and dart across to the back of the yard where Emma’s playing tea party with her stuffed animals, no doubt to cause mayhem there instead.
“Jeez, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to this,” Annie says somewhere down the hall, and Beth spins around to see Annie hovering in the doorway of Dean’s old study, taking in the now empty room. “What are you going to do with it?”
Beth just sighs, because isn’t that the million dollar question at the moment?
“Maybe try and rent it out to a student or something?” Beth says. “Or I don’t know. I was thinking I could turn it into an office for me? The girls’ ballet teacher has offered to waive their tuition fees if I make the costumes for the fall recital. She said she could put in a word for me with some of the other classes too, see if they might be willing to pay me to make theirs too.”
“That’s great,” Ruby enthuses, leaning over the kitchen island, taking a sip on her coffee, and Beth tentatively smiles. Thing is, it does sort of feel great. Feels like something that might work, if she could branch it out big enough to schools and clubs in the neighbourhood. She could work from home, still look after the kids, but maybe start making some money too.
“That would be bomb,” Annie agrees, finally turning on her heel and heading towards Beth and Ruby. She takes the coffee Beth offers her. “Speaking of the exact opposite of bomb, have you heard from Deansy about child support?”
“Not yet,” Beth says with a sigh. “He says he’s getting the accountant at work to help him draft something up.”
“Do we believe him?” Ruby asks tentatively, and Beth bites the inside of her cheek.
“We kind of have to,” she replies. “I’m not exactly overwhelmed with options. Actually, it’s pretty much the exact opposite of that right now.”
Annie and Ruby both look at each other, and Beth looks away, runs her hand around the rim of the mug in her hands, listening to the kids play outside. They both know she’s applied for the only jobs that might have been workable around the kids, but it turns out she didn’t even qualify for those – not for drive-thru windows at fast food restaurants or basic administration at daytime clinics. She’d even looked up being a teacher aid, one of the ones who helped with reading and homework, but even that required a college degree these days.
“Sounds like you’ve been needing to de-stress,” Annie says suddenly, and Ruby rolls her eyes.
“Come on, I’ve been dying over here! Sis, I need to know if you’ve been getting back in touch with yourself.”
Beth flushes to the roots of her hair, stutters briefly, and Annie’s face brightens instantly.
“You did watch something,” Annie says gleefully, and Beth’s blush only deepens. “Okay, which one? Please tell me it was on the freaky list.”
And the thing is, it’s been more than one now.
After all, there was only so many times she could watch that massage video in a week, and she’d clicked on the account name and just sort of sucked it up. And she’d tried other guys, but none of them quite did it for her. It was always his she’d come back to, and so far she’s seen him as the masseuse, a doctor, a mechanic, a pool boy (that one seems to be one of his earlier works, if the baby face and substantially less tattoos have anything to say about it) and in one particularly creative one, a demon of some sort who had sex with at least four different women in fluffy angel wings and body glitter.
And god, it’s embarrassing, how quickly he’s come to dominate her bedtime thoughts. Like as soon as she’s put the kids to bed, he’s there, waiting for her, pressing her into the shower wall or against the kitchen counters or most of all just in bed, her fingers working furiously at herself, her body writhing back against the sheets.
“Not freaky. Just this like - -” Beth waves her hand out, avoiding eye contact. “Latin guy? He has a neck tattoo?”
“Rio,” Annie says instantly, then promptly brings her fingers to her mouth and kisses them. “Good choice.”
Ruby hums in agreement, taking a healthy sip of her coffee, before smacking her lips and saying:
“Now that’s a man who knows his way around a woman’s body.”
And just - -
Beth blinks between them, something strange tightening in her belly, almost like - - jealousy? Which makes approximately zero sense. It’s not like she doesn’t know other people are watching his videos, but - - she shakes her head.
“You both know who I’m talking about?”
Annie just looks at her, like she can hear something in her tone, but doesn’t comment on it, instead she just throws out an arm.
“Kinda skinny, but like. Fit skinny? Bird on his neck? Eyes that can penetrate your soul? Huge cock?”
Beth flushes, which is apparently as much of a confirmation as Annie and Ruby need.
“Yeah, B. He’s kind of a big deal. Even Stan’s got a crush on the guy.”
“Huge deal,” Annie corrects. “Rio. He’s only got one name, like Beyoncé. And I mean like, he’s kind of the Beyoncé of porn. Universally loved, huge, international superstar, like, a million hit songs, doesn’t do interviews, sweeps up awards. Well, I mean, he used to. He’s way slowed down his output.”
“He only released like, one thing last year,” Ruby adds, scrunching up her nose. “And I don’t know. Wasn’t as good. Scenario was cute. New neighbours gettin’ down, but - -”
She shrugs, and Annie nods in agreement.
“Kinda felt like he was just going through the motions? Agreed. It was a bit of a bust.”
Beth pauses, looking between the two of them as they sort of just - - stare forlornly at the loss of the guy’s – Rio’s – regular movies, and the thought alone makes her feel sort of weird.
“Why did he slow down?” she asks, once her curiosity gets the better of her, and Annie just shrugs, taking a sip of her coffee.
“Maybe just burnt out? It’s hard to say. The production company he’s signed to must be pissed though. I mean, they have a few other porn stars who are like, pretty good, but he was their meal ticket. God, I haven’t watched his stuff in ages. You’re making me wanna date night myself. Buy a bottle of wine, pull out the ol’ vibe. Watch his greatest hits.”
Beth rolls her eyes, but feels that weird spike of almost jealousy again, which is so absurd she almost breaks her neck shaking her head, trying to swallow it down. She doesn’t even know the guy, she reminds herself, just masturbated to him at least once a day for the last two weeks, which - - god. Both Annie and Ruby look at her curiously, and Beth stands up straighter.
“I should probably go and check on the kids.”
Beth’s still pulling Emma’s arms through her hoodie when the girls’ ballet teacher, Michaela, pops her head out of the classroom, grinning widely over at her.
“Ms. Boland, do you have a minute?”
Beth blinks, takes in Michaela’s enthused expression, and feels something in her chest lurch hopefully. She nods quickly, crouching down to the girls and asking them to wait, before stepping up behind Michaela, letting her walk her back into the now-empty ballet studio.
“It’s good news,” she hums, delighted, wandering into the corner towards her own things. “I spoke to Madame Bousset, and she’s totally keen to have you make the costumes for all the classes for the fall recital.”
It takes her a minute to process it, but when she does, she’s almost awash with relief, with excitement, with hope, the prospect of any sort of income like a salve to the open wound of her right now. Her face almost hurts, with how widely she’s grinning.
“Oh my god, you have no idea how great that is,” Beth says, and Michaela smiles warmly at her, propping her arm against the wall and undoing the ribbons on her ballet slippers.
“I really do, trust me. We hired Mrs. Paull last year, and god, that woman does not know the difference between a snap fastener and an eyelet. Totally embarrassing. We had to pay somebody else to fix half the costumes.”
“That will not be a problem with me,” Beth says quickly, earnestly, clutching the strap on her handbag a little tighter in excitement, and Michaela grins, stretching out her feet.
“Of course not. I saw your girls’ costumes trick or treating last year. Out of this world.”
Beth preens happily, opens her mouth to say thanks, when Michaela continues:
“Money-wise, Madame Bousset has said $40 per costume, on top of all the materials of course, does that sound alright?”
And god, Beth thinks, cheeks flushing, delighted.
“Sounds more than alright,” she replies, voice high and light, already starting to do the math in her head – that’ll get her close to $5,000 she thinks, and should give her enough looks to start a website, and - -
“Well, don’t tell Madame Bousset that, she might think she’s highballed you,” Michaela says with a laugh, pulling off her ballet slipper. She starts on the second one. “She said to send the invoice after the performance, so itemise it for the costumes, and for all the fabrics and stuff – oh, you’ll need to provide the receipts for anything you buy to make them, just for accounts, so don’t forget that.”
Which - - Beth pauses. She clears her throat, stands up a little straighter, excitement stifling in her belly like someone’s dropped a weight on it, and she tries to keep her voice light, easy, breezy, as she says:
“Oh, you’re not going to pay up front?”
Down the hall, a mother calls out for her daughter, her voice loud, braying in the afternoon, the bustle of the next class swallowing up all the other sounds, little girls chattering, giggling, playing each other TikTok videos on their cells. Beth wants to glance back, check on her own girls, but she can’t take her eyes off Michaela, who’s focused now on pulling on her socks, her sneakers, to go home.
“Not really how we do things, Ms. Boland.”
“I don’t mean all of it,” Beth says quickly. “I just mean for the materials I have to buy to make the costumes. Not - - not the costumes themselves.”
Michaela blinks at her, crouching down to tie up her laces.
“You’ll get fully reimbursed at the end of it all.”
“Right,” Beth says. “But I mean - - you have over a hundred students here, that’s going to be a lot of materials.”
Hundreds of dollars worth at least, Beth thinks, a weight suddenly sitting heavy on her chest. She shifts sideways, awkward, and Michaela looks up at Beth a little uncertainly, and god. She’s so young, Beth thinks. Teaching ballet classes while she’s at college. A hobby. Like this was always supposed to be for Beth.
“Is that going to be a problem?”
Beth exhales, ums, pushes her hair behind her ears, a flush creeping up her neck. She has two hundred dollars in her bank account right now, and groceries and petrol and school field trip fees to pay, and just - -
“Mrs Paull has offered again anyway,” Michaela says sympathetically. “Maybe you guys could do it together. Go halves? Her husband’s like, a big deal lawyer, so I’m sure she could cover the costs of the fabric and stuff.”
And she could, Beth thinks.
But it would mean half the money at the end of it too.
She shakes her head, paints on the best smile she can manage.
“No, I’ve got this, don’t even worry about it. Can you email me the themes for the dances and I’ll start drawing up some sketches? Thank you, again, seriously. This is going to be just great.”
Thing about Dean is that he’s pretty impossible to miss, Beth thinks, folding her arms across her chest, watching him stride across the showroom floor, laughing loudly at something somebody has said. The dealership is quieter than it should be – more staff than customers taking up space, but Dean seems unbothered, rapping his fingers along the bonnet of his prized yellow corvette as he walks to god knows where.
Probably straight into the vagina of one of his office floozy’s, a voice in her head that sounds suspiciously like Annie says, and Beth bites the inside of her cheek, pulling her handbag tighter against her side, embarrassment staining her cheeks.
Did everyone here know? Did they - -
“Mrs. Boland,” the receptionist – Sharon – chimes suddenly, loudly, only just having seen her, and Beth smiles stiffly at her. She’s said it loud enough that Dean spins suddenly on his heels, staring gormless at her across the showroom floor. He paints on a forced, goofy grin, makes a comment to a guy near him about the old ball and chain, before striding across the lot towards her.
“Hey, honey, what are you doing here?” he asks, and Beth stands up a little straighter, tilts her chin up at him, and says:
“We need to talk about money.”
It’s enough to make Dean glare at her, shushing her quickly, grabbing her by the elbow and steering her away from the floor of the lot and into his office. He pulls down the blinds, quick as he can, before spinning on his heel to face her.
“I’m doing fine, thanks for asking,” he snaps. “Can’t say it’s been easy, sleeping in my mom’s spare room, but you know, I’m making it work.”
Beth resists the urge to roll her eyes, sucking in a breath. They need to talk about the mortgage. They need to talk about child support. And god, Beth hates even the prospect of it, but she’s spent three days doing the math, and she needs him to lend her the money for the materials for the ballet costumes too.
“You said you were going to your accountant to work out the money situation,” she tells him firmly, and Dean stares at her for a second, before he plants his hands on his hips, sniffs, looks away.
“Yeah, and I will,” he replies, kicking at the carpet with the toe of his shoe, and Beth frowns.
“Well, let’s go now together,” she suggests. “Get it done.”
With that, she spins on her heel, trying to remember where Larry’s office is when suddenly Dean darts in front of her, blocking the exit from his office.
“Jesus, Beth, these things are like - - you know, they take - - take time, and nuance. I mean Larry works for the business, not for us. He’d be doing us a favour even looking at it.”
And just - - god, Beth thinks with a sigh, exhausted, exasperated. She looks up at him desperately, at his big, block head and his water eyes and his thinning hair, and she hates him and she just so desperately wishes she didn’t need him still for this.
“Dean, the mortgage is due in two weeks,” she says. “I’ve been making a budget for everything too – Kenny’s tutoring and Danny’s karate and the clothes for the kids, and I just - - we really need to talk about it, we - - ”
Scoffing loudly, Dean surges up to his full height, towering over her as he looks down at her, waving a hand out flippantly between them.
“Yeah, well, maybe it wouldn’t slip my mind so much if I was, y’know, living in my house.”
It’s enough to set Beth’s teeth on edge, to make her glower up at him, her fury like a pulled-tight strap of elastic, close to the tearing point.
“Sure, and maybe if you’d been home more when you lived there, your marital vows might not have slipped your mind,” Beth bites, furious, and Dean scowls down at her.
“You know what?” he says. “Why don’t you get a job, Bethie, instead of hanging around mine. Earn your own damn money for a change.”
And god, isn’t she trying, she thinks, sucking in a wet breath, and he looks almost sympathetic at that, almost regretful, and god, the last thing she wants is his pity. She tugs her purse tighter into her side, shoving past him and out the door.
“Talk to Larry, Dean,” Beth calls behind her, before storming out of the dealership. She climbs into the driver’s seat of her minivan and slams her hands down on the steering wheel, frustrated tears building at the corners of her eyes, and just - -
She’ll figure it out, she promises herself.
God, she hopes she figures it out.
A car alarm goes off.
The sound braying through the quiet of the night, and Beth finds herself holding her breath, despite herself, praying it’s not enough to wake the kids up. It had taken her too long to get them to bed tonight, Jane in particular racing down the hall every time Beth wandered three feet away from her and Emma’s bedroom, and it was enough to leave her feeling ragged. Or, well, more ragged.
She hasn’t slept well all week, has spent almost every hour of the day cooking, cleaning and trying to work out if she has anything of value to sell on Craigslist. Her jewellery, her favourite casserole dish, her dryer. At least it had given her an excuse to clean out the garage of the kids baby things too, she thinks – their highchairs and cribs, clothes and toys, and things she’d once thought she’d have passed down to them when they had their own children, but - -
This was more important, she reminds herself.
Having a roof over their heads is more important than any sentimentality.
Beth sighs, tosses over in bed, glancing out the window at the clear night. It’s a strange feeling – to be this bone tired and yet to have sleep seem so evasive, to have her head just so full of all there is to do, the terrible, paralysing fear of not being able to pay her way next month having stretched out in her head, and just, god, Beth thinks, clenching her eyes shut.
She sits up in bed and grabs her laptop.
It’s almost second nature these days to open up an incognito tab in her browser, type in the Thank You Ma’am website, to click on the porn stars tag and then Rio’s face, and she settles back against the headboard, biting her lip as she scrolls down his video catalogue. A lot of his newer ones are behind a paywall, and she frowns, toes curling a little, weirdly embarrassed at the prospect of not being able to afford to see them, and then somehow even more embarrassed that she’s embarrassed at all.
She shakes her head, groans at herself, runs a hand back through her hair and is about to click on one she knows she likes – the one with him as a mechanic, and really, she doesn’t have the time or energy to think about what that means given Dean – only to suddenly have a bright pink box pop-up onto the screen.
She blinks, eyes adjusting to the sudden flare of light.
WANTED: Girls! Girls! Girls!
Dying to get in front of the Thank You Ma’am cameras? For a limited time, we’re opening our doors to any woman who’s ever dreamt of being a porn star. Whether you’re a petite or a BBW, MILF or barely legal, whether you give killer BJs or are an expert with anal beads, rock missionary or kill the crab walk, we want to get to know YOU (potentially REAL well).
If you think you’ve got what it takes to take it, apply today!
(All Thank You Ma’am performers are paid industry award rates. Speak to your union representative today for more info).
Beth slams her laptop shut, eyes wide, chest heaving, and just - -
“How much do you think porn pays?” Beth slurs, a little tipsy, rocking sideways on her barstool, and Ruby shoots her an amused look, her eyes a little glassy herself.
“God, B, if I’d known you’d get this into it, I’d have - - “
“Have what?” Beth asks, and Ruby bursts out laughing.
“I have no idea.”
And then Beth’s giggling too, dropping her head heavily forwards and watching as Annie stumbles back towards their corner of the bar, another round of drinks in her hands.
“Annie, how much do you think porn pays?” Ruby asks her, pinching one of the cocktails, and Annie blinks up at her.
“Your sister’s curious,” Ruby says slyly, tilting her head towards Beth, who flushes a little, sucking on the straw of her cocktail. “Clearly brushing up for trivia night.”
And that makes all of them giggle drunkenly. They haven’t been to this bar before, but Beth thinks she likes it. Annie had met the bartender on Tinder and after what Annie told them was a night of above-average sex, he’d promised a night on the house at the bar he worked at for her and a couple of friends.
He was pretty cute too, smiling at her down the bar, waving every now and then. It was a nice vibe, Beth thinks, wobbling a little on her barstool.
“I mean, it’s gotta be a bit, right?” Annie contemplates. “Some of it is like, fucking weird. I once accidentally clicked on this video where a woman in a ski mask put a full pineapple up her vagina.”
Beth spits out her drink, and Ruby just looks totally horrified.
“She’d taken the skin off,” Annie says, laughing at their reactions, and Ruby shakes her head.
“Wouldn’t it still sting? Like, that’s citrusy as fuck.”
Beth’s cringing, trying to mop up the drink she’d just half spat out everywhere as Ruby suddenly pulls out her phone, typing something in.
“What are you doing?”
“What do you think? I’m looking it up.”
“Oh my god,” Beth says, blushing, and Annie just starts laughing, taking a sip of her own drink and sitting close enough to Ruby that she can peer over her shoulder at her phone screen. At least, she does until Ruby bats her away, muttering something about personal space. After a minute, Ruby pops an eyebrow at her phone screen, and Annie bounces in her seat.
“Okay, lay it on us, Rubes.”
“Minimum $700 for a girl-on-girl scene, $900 for girl-on-guy. It looks like it’s a sliding scale? You get more the more you do, or who you do it with. More money per sex act, more money for more people, more again for interracial, more if it’s your debut. Stars obviously get the most. They like, match salary to what they think the star will make them.”
“Makes sense,” Annie says, sipping on her drink. “God, Rio must get like, a bajillion dollars.”
Ruby makes a noise of agreement, and Beth sits there, considering it, and Ruby clocks it, eyes suddenly widening in shock.
Beth glances up at her.
“You have a look.”
“On your face right now,” she tells her, and Annie blinks over at her, reels back, because she must see it too.
“What the fuck?” she says, laughing, and Beth goes bright red, feeling totally sprung as she waves a hand out and tries to just - - swallow her embarrassment.
“I don’t know, I’m not really - - it’s just - - that website you sent me has like, a callout? For people - - I mean. Women, not people. I mean women are people obviously, but - -”
Ruby just stares at her, waiting for her to wrap it up, while Annie stares at her in shock, and Beth just keeps babbling until finally she just - -
She looks at them both, then down at her drink, exhaling shakily, a little drunkenly.
“I don’t think Dean’s going to pay me anything.”
It’s immediate then, the furious ranting that practically bursts from Annie’s lips, and Beth looks sideways, out across the bar, at people younger than them, happier than them, with so many less problems than them, and - - she finally glances back at Ruby, who doesn’t look at all surprised.
“The ballet studio - - ” Ruby tries anyway, and Beth promptly cuts her off.
“Will pay me,” Beth agrees. “But I’ve got to buy the materials up front, and I won’t see that money for at least a month.”
“Me and Stan can lend you something,” Ruby says quickly, and Beth looks at her.
And that’s immediate too. The way Ruby closes her mouth, and it’s not a jab, it’s not, Beth’s just - - she wants to be realistic. She’s done pretending that there’s any sort of get out of jail free card for her in life, and besides, she doesn’t want to leave Ruby without anyway. She bites her lip, shaking her head.
“And that’ll only pay for this month’s mortgage and the fabric,” Beth says. “I don’t have any other skills, I didn’t go to college, I haven’t worked since highschool. And…I’m tired of relying on people for money.”
Because she is. Because it’s humiliating, talking to Dean, humiliating telling a college-aged ballet teacher she can’t front a few hundred dollars to make a few thousand, humiliating to have to count every penny at the grocery store to make sure her card won’t be declined at the checkout, and - -
Since she saw the ad, she just…hasn’t been able to unsee it.
“They’ll probably take one look at my application and throw it out anyway,” Beth says, lighter this time, laughing a little, because they probably will, but at least this way she can say that she tried.
“Maybe,” Ruby says quietly, shrugging. “I mean, maybe not too. Beth, you’d be having sex with strangers.”
“Yeah,” Beth agrees, shrugging, because she’d thought of that too, but – “I mean. Kind of turned out I’d been doing that for twenty years, didn’t it?”
It’s enough to silence both Annie and Ruby briefly, to leave them looking at her, unreadable expressions on both their faces, and Beth quickly turns back to her drink, polishing it off in a long gulp, and it’s Annie who breaks the quiet.
“Well,” she says, voice lightening up. “I can’t imagine anyone being worse at sex than Dean.”
Which - - Beth giggles, wrinkling her nose, grateful, and she looks at Annie, hoping that it conveys that, and the way Annie smiles softly back at her, she thinks she did. Annie’s grin widens suddenly, punching Beth lightly on the arm.
“And who knows, right? Maybe you’ll get to bone Rio.”
She waggles her eyebrows dramatically, and then her face suddenly shifts into one of abject horror.
“Oh my god, if you do, does that mean I can’t watch it? No, I’ll definitely still watch it, but - - hmmm. Truly a moral dilemma of our time. Does that count as incest if I watch your porno?”
“Annie,” Beth groans, and Ruby just laughs, ordering them another round.
And okay, she thinks, stumbling back into her bedroom, it’s not like it could hurt.
They’ll probably take one look at her and laugh her out of the - - studio? Theater? Beth giggles, where do they even make porn? She suddenly conjures up an image in her head of the girls’ ballet school stage – red velvet curtains and all, pulled apart to reveal a porno set. The thought alone makes her wrinkle her nose, kicking off her pumps and flopping heavily onto her belly on the bed.
She bounces a few times, wriggling up the mattress, moving slow, like her brain’s bobbing like a ship on the sea of alcohol she’s drunk tonight, and that thought makes her laugh too. Finally wriggling enough up the bed, she grabs her laptop off her bedside table, pulling up the Thank You Ma’am website, clicking through to Rio’s tag, scrolling to find one she hasn’t watched yet and hovering the mouse over a thumbnail of him and his enormous penis in a pair of tight red speedos and ooooo, lifeguard, Beth grins, biting her lip, already feeling herself getting warm and - -
She frowns at herself, sits up. That’s not what she’s doing.
Before she can think anything more of it, she clicks on the ad.
The page opens up to a portal with a range of basic questions – name, age, why you want to be in porn. Beth briefly contemplates lying about all of it, but she feels a little wobbly, and the site says she’ll need to present ID if she’s brought in anyway, so instead she just fills it out accurately.
Looking for money to start my real business.
Huh, she thinks, frowning a little at the screen, the words swimming a bit in front of her. Maybe that’s a little too accurate.
She deletes it.
Recently divorced. Looking to take control of my destiny!
Beth grins, happy, hits next.
After that, the questions get a little more specific, asking for details about her body – measurements to tattoos and piercings to cup sizes to - - pubic hair style, and she has to stimmy the urge to throw her laptop across the room, because right, she thinks. Right. She lurches off the bed, grabbing a measuring tape out of her sewing kit and making wobbly work of measuring herself up, filling in the details, and when she’s done with that, she hits the button to the next page too.
The photo package.
Beth wets her lips, reading through the instructions. They don’t want anything racy, nothing salacious (We work in porn already, the caption says. We don’t need to see your thirst traps. Just what you really look like). Just - - nudes. Almost clinical ones. A full frontal, one from the side, one from the back, then three close-ups – face, breasts, ass.
Which is - - that’s okay, she thinks, maybe? Yes. God, if she’s even remotely serious about this, it’s not like she won’t be showing all of that off anyway. Maybe she should give it another few weeks – try and lose a few pounds before - -
No, Beth reminds herself.
A few weeks her mortgage will be overdue.
A few weeks and Michaela might find somebody else for the costumes.
She grabs her cell off the bed, ducks into her en suite, makes quick work of fixing her hair, touching up her make-up, and then takes a few awkward selfies which are - - awkward, to say the least. Okay, maybe she’ll come back to the headshot.
Unzipping her dress and wriggling out of it, she pulls off her stockings too, her panties, unclips her bra and then she just - - looks at herself in the mirror, and god, she can see it on herself like this, how far down her chest her flush goes. She blinks, inhales sharply.
She looks - -
Soft, mostly. Probably her age. Her big, full breasts not sagging exactly, but just - - a far cry from the small, perky breasts of the girls she’s seen Rio sleep with on the Thank You Ma’am website, which is silly, she tells herself. It’s not like it’ll be him. He barely makes anything anyway anymore, and besides, they’ll probably want to put her with somebody her age or something, or - - maybe not? It’s just a stark reminder of how much she doesn’t know how this works, and god, is this a huge mistake?
She looks at herself in the mirror, sucks in her belly a bit, runs her hands down the hourglass shape of her body, where she’s narrowest at her waist, where her hips widen, and she could just leave it, could wait for Dean, she could - - she could be homeless.
She sucks in a breath and she grabs her phone.