The beginning was good, as beginnings always are — filled with wonder, promise and adventure. Sage met Rob when he came to her town to open a restaurant. She was immediately intrigued by how many places he traveled. He was Jewish, which seemed exotic to her, and was unheard of the small Texas town where she was from. He told her about New York, and Michigan where he grew up, and his home in Arizona. Sage didn’t know if she was falling in love with him, or the opportunity to leave — but it didn’t matter to her.
After a few months of dating, she loaded all of her clothes and memories in totes and duffle bags, and followed him back to Phoenix in her Kia Sephia. She didn’t cry about leaving home. She didn’t think of her family as she pushed the gas harder towards the mountains she saw in the distance. Every mile she drove, she felt a little more free. She was barely 18 when she pulled into Phoenix and moved into Rob’s apartment. Everything was new and exciting, and for the first time she was on her own in a brand new place, and no one could tell her what to do.
Rob worked mostly nights, so she spent a lot of time alone, something that was foreign to her after growing up with five brothers and sisters. She made friends in the apartment complex where they lived. A girl named Tara lived there, and was a freshman at ASU. Sage was jealous of her, and accepted the pity Tara seemed to have for her because it resembled the close friendship she craved so badly. When Rob came home early, they’d all hang out by the pool, drinking with the neighbors. She’d notice Tara and Rob talking. “I don’t think she has a clue,” she heard someone say one evening, feeling a tightening in her gut. Continuing their drinking back in the apartment, the chef from the restaurant Rob worked at walked in.
“Anybody wanna go skiing?” he asked. Not understanding what he meant, she followed Tara into the kitchen with him. As he laid out a few lines of cocaine, she felt a bead of sweat above her lip. Not wanting to rekindle her old habits from home, but not wanting to be the only one not doing it, she leaned down, put the straw to her nose, and inhaled the fine white powder.
She feels a sting, a medicinal drip in the back of her throat, the bitter taste is numbing. She walks out of the kitchen onto the balcony and lights a cigarette. She feels alive watching the sun set behind Camel Back Mountain. Her brain is racing, her skin tingling. Tara joins her and they start talking, having the most magnificent conversation of her life. For the first time in her life, she feels like she belongs somewhere. When the high starts to wear off, she heads to the kitchen for more. The night is filled with laughter and conversation. She notices that it’s three in the morning as she smokes a joint with someone named Chris. She doesn’t think about where Tara and Rob have wandered off to as she heads inside. Their home suddenly feels like a party house that she doesn’t recognize. She peeks into the empty office as she moves down the hall to their bedroom door. She doesn’t wonder why it’s closed. She opens the door, finding Tara on top of Rob. As she stands there in shock, drunk and high, the room starts to spin. She stumbles back down the hallway, and finds a nice spot on the office floor to lay down on.
Her head spun, and she thought about her home in Texas, and her family. “Going back there just isn’t an option,” she thought, as she stared at the blank white wall in front of her. She heard the muffled sounds of the party, still at full swing, through the closed door. She remembered being a little girl, hiding in her closet, strategically setting up her stuffed animals in hopes no one would find her hiding behind them. It always happened on nights like this, at a party her parents had thrown, always in a house filled with family friends, aunts, and uncles. All of them were drinking and laughing while she and her siblings laid in their beds, not allowed to join the party. She remembered not being able to sleep, waiting in fear of who would open that door, and what would happen when they did. She sat up and shook her head.
“No, I can’t go there, I just need to figure out where to go from here.” As she tried to think of options, she drifted off to sleep.
When she opened her eyes the next day, her head was pounding. For a moment she forgot what she had found behind the bedroom door the night before. As she sat up, it came back to her, and suddenly she was aware that Rob never seemed to look her for her that No one looked for her. “Did he even noticed I opened the door?” she says out loud to herself as she stood up, and stumbled into the shower. She had to go to work, to go wait tables. Rob and Tara were passed out in the bed as she dressed. She thought of the difference between the Uncles that came in her room at night and who they were in the light of day at a family bbq. She bit her lip, and pushed back the feelings of betrayal so as not to be touched by them. She got out the door as fast as she could, and sat in her car.
“Fuck, what now?” she thought as she looked in the mirror and gently dabbed the tears from under her eye, fixing her makeup before driving to work. Disconnecting was something she learned from a very young age.
“You don’t look good,” said Rochelle as they walked onto the floor to greet their first tables.
“Well, maybe that’s because my boyfriend is in bed with another girl right now,” she replied.
Getting lost in her shift, she forgot that she needed to find a place to live. When she took an order, she didn’t think about Rob. When she brought a check to a table, she didn’t think about her pounding head. As the night slowed down, Sage began her closing duties. Rochelle found her cutting lemons in the back of the restaurant.
“So, you ok?”
Sage set the knife down and looked at her.
“No, I need to find a place to live.”
Rochelle put her hand on her back. “Come stay with Deb and I. We have a couch and a floor — just until you save some money.”
Sage looked at her with distrust. They’d waited tables together for over three months, and had never really been friendly. Deb walked over.
“Hey did you offer her?” she says to Rochelle, who gives Deb a slight nod.
“I don’t have much stuff, just a few suitcases, but I have no clue how long it will take me to get on my feet,” she said. “Are you sure about this?”
Deb and Rochelle look at each other for a moment, then Deb said, “We’ll go help you pack, and move you in tonight, okay?”
“Okay,” Sage agreed, not knowing if she should be relieved or suspicious.
A few months later, Sage, Deb, and Rochelle had settled into the cramped space quite nicely. They started becoming friends and bonded over smoking weed and watching reality tv together. Deb and Rochelle partied harder than anyone she had met, but she didn’t mind — she was having fun. Being on coke felt like a gift at the time, she was losing weight, and for first time she didn’t feel the pain that had always made her want to run. Rochelle partied hardest, and always seemed to have money with her after disappearing for hours at a time. She had no real explanation as to where she went. Sage wanted to ask her how she could afford designer handbag and clothes, why she never seemed to worry about paying for things like the rest of her friends. She didn’t think about it too much. She brushed it off, and assumed her family had money or something. Sage took a second job as a receptionist to try and save money to get out of the cramped two bedroom apartment. Sleeping on the floor was getting old. She wanted her own place, a place that was just hers, where she could be safe.
Unfortunately, her casual habit of getting high was becoming more of a need, and saving money and having responsibilities was becoming a little bit harder. One night after getting home from both of her jobs, she found Rochelle counting a huge pile of cash on the coffee table.
Sage couldn’t hide her shock, so she finally asked, “Rochelle, how are you getting all this money?” Rochelle guiltily looked down at the floor.
“Sage, I hook sometimes. It’s not as bad as it sounds, just a few guys a week — usually the same ones. You can judge me, but it’s an extra $500 to $1000 a week. Besides, it’s not like we don’t sleep around anyway. The only difference is, I get paid.”
Sage sat down next to her and lit a cigarette, staring out the door while Rochelle over-explained her choices.
“Rochelle, aren’t you scared they will hurt you?” She picked her drink up from the table, and watched Rochelle intently.
“Not really, Jeff keeps us safe, and these guys are paying a lot of money, and it’s not to hurt us,” she replied.
Sage began thinking about all the times sex made things harder for her. Growing up, she was taught sex was an evil, dirty sin — and yet, the men who preached this were always the ones to have their way with the little girls in her family. Throughout high school, boys were always making sexual comments and touching her. She thought of how she couldn’t go back home, and how money was the one thing she needed to get on her feet.
“So, why not get paid for sex?” Sage hears her own voice and doesn’t recognize what is coming out of her mouth. “Can I try?”
Rochelle looks at her.
“Rochelle, will you show me how to do this?”
“Sage, you sure?”
“Well…if its like you say…”
“All right, let me call Jeff!”
Rochelle immediately calls her boss and sets up a time for her to go in and meet him. They stay up all night talking about expectations, and Rochelle gives her tips to stay safe. Sage thinks to herself, “I’ll just try it and if it’s not for me, who can it hurt?”
Sage pulls up to what looks like an abandoned building out by the airport. She walks up to the door, and sees a buzzer. She rings it. A tall, dark-haired girl dressed in lingerie answers the door.
“What you need?” she asks in a Russian accent.
Sage nervously answers, “I have a meeting with Jeff.”
Sage follows her to the back of the building, past leather couches and dark grey walls, up a flight of stairs, past closed doors, all of them numbered. They finally reach a door with a small sign that reads ‘Private’. The Russian knocks on the door.
“New girl is here for you,” she says, walking back past her without another look. Sage stands outside the door feeling nervous and not knowing what to expect. An older man resembling Kenny Rogers opens the door.
“Well, hello there, sweetheart. Come on in,” he says, as he holds the door open for her. She walks in and looks around, thinking that it just looks like a regular old office. “Sit down here, darling.” He pulls a leather chair across from his desk, and gently pats the seat. “Well, aren’t you a pretty thing. Say, Rochelle tells me you’re from Texas. I’m from Dallas, how about you?”
Sage was surprised at how nice and normal he seemed. “I’m from a small town in West Texas.” Jeff laughed, “Well I won’t even ask. I don’t know much about West Texas.” Sage smiled to herself. She looked down at her skirt and starts to pull it down. “Sweetheart, this is not the place to cover up. In fact, let me take a look at you. Do you mind standing up for me?” She stood up, not sure what to do with herself she sucked in her tummy in a little.
“Turn around,” he said, and she felt like a hog up for sale. He made her walk across the room, bend over, and even raise her arms above her head. Jeff smiled at her. “All right, take a seat. How old are you?”
“I’m 19 sir,”
“You got I.D.?”
“Yes, sir.” she responded as she pulled her drivers license out of her purse. He laughed.
“Yes, sir? Well, honey, you are going to do just fine if you keep talking to me like that.”
She laughs, not knowing what to say. She likes him, and can’t tell herself why but he seems so familiar to her. Familiar enough, that when he says “Take off your jacket” she immediately does it. As he suggests that she remove more clothing, the comfortable feeling she had for him becomes far too familiar. Still, she doesn’t think about leaving.
“I gotta give you the once over and make sure you ain’t got no track marks or nothing.” Sage starts to take her sweater off, pulling her tank top down as it lifts. For a brief moment, she realizes she’s is in over her head, but she can’t seem to walk out the door. Jeff encourages her to keep undressing, his tone becoming impatient as she struggles to feel more comfortable, and expose herself to this stranger.
“Now, honey, you are gonna be doing a lot more then getting naked. You’re gonna need to be a little more confident.” She fakes a smile and slides her skirt to the floor, standing there as his eyes make their way up and down her body. She feels dirty, but at the same time a strange appreciation for the truth being so clear — with no question of why she was there, and what was expected of her. “Now, you get dressed,” he tells her sternly, as he opens a notebook and starts writing in it.
Jeff explains how things work. “Here we have several rooms, and we have men who come in here from time to time, but most of the work is at their private homes or hotels room, so being discreet is important. You will always have a driver with you. Once you get in the room, you call me, and tell me you’re okay.”
He looks at her dead in the eye. “Now, listen real good to me, if the guy is no good, or you have a bad feeling, just say ‘he’s a perfect gentleman’ and we will get you out of there as fast as we can.”
She sits back down.
“You understand what I’m saying? This is important to keep you safe. There’s a lot of guys out there who don’t see you as a person, you understand?”
Sage understood this more than anything else, and she accepted that she was just a body and a face, shackled to her past forever.
He introduced her to two girls, April and Monique. They were both in their twenties, and were both his longest-employed girls. “Now, we have a call for a party. They want three girls. You’re gonna ride with Shane, and follow April and Monique over there. We need to give you a new name. How about Fallon? You look like an Irish girl named Fallon I knew once, and the boys will like that. Fallon, make sure you introduce yourself as Fallon. Never give your real name.”
“Yes, sir,” Sage replied. April started to laugh behind her. Her stomach was hurting and she was hot, so incredibly hot.
She got in the car with Shane, and they made their way out to an old airplane hanger up in Scottsdale. She stared out the window, thinking about the name Fallon, how it wasn’t the name she would have chosen for herself. For a moment, she thought being a new person could be amazing, and maybe a new name would make things different.
“I’m not even gonna say that’s my name. I’ll get this over with, and that’s it. I’ll never do this again,” she said to herself, not grasping what she was about to do, just wishing for a different past.
When they arrived, she saw three drunk men standing with goofy smiles on their faces, nervously excited to see them. Sage decided she couldn’t turn back now.
April steps off to the side to call Jeff giving him the go. As the men looked on, Monique started the conversation off. “So boys, what are your thoughts?”
One of the men said, “Well, it’s my birthday, so I’d like to pick first.”
April nudged Sage up in front of him. “She’s our newest girl, if you feel like breaking someone in.”
Sage stumbled forward, and gave a fake smile. The man took his hand out of his pocket, grabbed her hand, and led her to a small office in the back of the hanger. He shut the door behind him.
“Be sexy,” she thought to herself, and then, “Why am I not high for this?”
She realized she did have a little coke left in her purse. She asked if she could wash up somewhere before they start, and he pointed to a door. She walked into a dirty bathroom, pulled the small baggie out of her change purse, and snorted a little courage.
“Get back out there” she says to herself, avoiding the mirror.
She walks out and sees him standing there, naked. At first, she wants to repel, to look the other way. Instead, she takes a deep breath. She thinks about the money, and she being her own. She remembers what Jeff said about talking money before you do anything. “The guy pays the $250 just to get you in the room. The tips are all your money, so make sure you price yourself right.”
Sage looks at the man, and uses her southern accent, “Sweetie, what would you like today?” She leans against his shoulder trying to be exactly what she knows most men always wanted her to be. He looks back at her wide eyed.
“Well what do you have in mind?”
“Sweetie, it’s your birthday” she looks down and notices his wedding ring “What is the one thing you wish your wife would do for you?”
He nervously looks down and Sage feels a smirk come across her face. She thinks to herself “holy fuck he doesn’t know what to say” Feeling a bit more confident she touches his hand he gently says “Well first I have to get the $250 from you and to be fair I need to let you know that I work on tips and each act is going to cost you extra”
“OK, that seems fair” he says as he moves closer to her. She realizes she doesn’t know what dollar amount to give herself she tries to remember what Julie Roberts charged in Pretty Woman was it $300 for the night? As he leans in she turns her head not able to look him in the eye and whispers “So whats the one thing that wife of yours won’t do?” He then puts his hands on her shoulders and she feels the familiar pressure pushing her down. She gives him what he wants, and in only fifteen minutes, it’s over, and she’s getting dressed.
“Well I’m not sure if this is what you were thinking for in lines of a tip?” He hands her a wad of cash. “Count it now, I want you to know how happy you made me on my birthday.” Sage counts the money and looks up at him. “Eight hundred dollars? Are you sure?”
“Oh, yes, and if I can, I’d like to see you again. Would that be okay?”
She looked down at the money, and thought about Rochelle saying it gets easier if you get regulars. She felt the same pit in her stomach she felt when her uncle would leave her room at night.
Sage bites her lip. She doesn’t cry, doesn’t think about home. She doesn’t think of her family as she looks up at him and says, “Yes. My name is Fallon. Please call me anytime.”
She feels a little more free.