Deep Blue Ch. 03byWine_Maker©
Chapter Three: The Circle is Complete
The arrival of the new couple turned the lunch into a celebration. It quickly became apparent that they had played some part in tracking down the man that shot Ted last year. Ted had never had the chance to meet them or thank them, and with charm and a simple sincerity, he quickly introduced himself and convinced them to accept a case of his 2000 Private Reserve as a measure of his gratitude. The Bellers were pre-Gretchen, but that didn't stop her from giving them both a hug and a kiss. I smiled wryly when that left both the Bellers a bit breathless. Gretchen had that effect on people.
I sipped my drink and watched them all, glad for a chance to reflect. Individually and collectively, they seemed like good people, leaving aside the trouble that seemed to be following them. I'd been watching them before the Bellers arrived, and I'd already picked up quite a bit of information, both from body language and comments overheard from Hawk, Ted and Keven. As a doctor, I'd learned to keep my ears open and follow multiple conversations while concentrating on something else. That multitasking ability was now paying off.
Gretchen hadn't said anything about it, but the glances she had been sending Hawk's way had made it clear even before I was told that they were a couple and that she loved Hawk. In fact, she was obviously deeply in love. The conversation and constant casual touches Gretchen and Lisa shared also made me wonder if the two couples were sexually intimate or considering becoming so. You simply couldn't fake that level of subconscious intimacy.
Trish and I sat quietly for a bit as the new couple was hugged, kissed and welcomed in, so I decided to pump the girl for information. I smiled at her and gestured at the chaos with my drink. "So, Trish, you just met Hawk and Gretchen?"
Trish smiled and nodded. "Yeah, just an hour ago." She glanced at Gretchen and I saw something in her eyes that was equal parts confusion, desire and apprehension.
"Gretchen has that effect, doesn't she," I asked quietly.
Her eyes darted to mine, her expression that of a child caught being naughty. "What? What effect?"
It was time to be delicate. It was none of my business, and while I didn't want to offend her, some part of me understood what she was feeling and wanted to reassure her that her reactions were normal. "It's okay, Trish," I said gently, "She has beauty, money, poise and presence. She makes people desire her just by being herself."
"Oh," Trisha laughed with a blush. "Maybe I do feel that way about her, a little, but I wasn't thinking about that. I'm working up the courage to ask her to teach me to be an escort."
I'd heard Gretchen give the basic spiel about what she did for a living, although she had used the past tense as if that part of her life was now over, so Trish's comment wasn't a complete surprise. I honestly did not understand why someone would ever want to do that, though. "Why?" I made sure there was no criticism in my voice.
Trish still looked a little uncomfortable. "A lot of reasons." She looked down into her drink and slumped in her seat. "I want to be like her. She's so confident."
"You don't have to rent yourself out to learn confidence," I said reasonably, my tone still neutral.
"I know, but I could use the money, too," Trish said softly. "My mom tries the best she can but..."
I nodded as she trailed off. "I understand. You don't have to justify yourself to me. I'm simply just trying to help you clarify what you want and maybe help you understand why you want it. What if the job includes more than being arm-candy? You're a very beautiful young woman, at some point, someone will almost certainly ask you to take them to bed and they will offer you money. Maybe even a lot of money. What will you do then?"
"I don't know," Trish said miserably. "That's why I need her to help me figure out what to do."
Her emphasis in that last sentence made me wonder. I leaned forward and asked even more quietly, "Trish, have you ever had sex before?"
Trish swallowed and looked both terrified and mortified. Then she shook her head. "No," she whispered. "The guys that asked me out never raised their eyes higher than my chest, and the nice guys always seemed afraid to ask me out. So I've just been waiting..."
My heart reached out to her and I felt a genuine compassion for this child in a Barbie doll body. Physically, she was everything the flat-chested teenage Sandy had wanted to be; she was tall, beautiful and busty. It was only now that I finally understood that all of those physical gifts would have been as much a curse as a blessing. I didn't know Trish, but in this moment, I decided that I would do what I could to help her. Gretchen might be better suited to helping her with many things, but as a doctor, I knew that there were things I could do to help as well. When the time was right, I would talk to her about a breast reduction, although perhaps I would want to talk with Gretchen first. I nodded to myself, my decision made.
I took her hands in mine. "Then I think you do need to talk to Gretchen and you need to be honest with her. If you really want her to help you, she needs to know that you're inexperienced so that she can guide you. Not that I have a lot of experience, but you can always come and ask me anything, too. It's okay and I would be happy to help you, too, if I can."
Trish looked at me, her eyes bright with unshed tears. "Thank you," she said simply. She took a deep breath and dabbed at the corners of her eyes. I looked away so as not to embarrass her further as she composed herself.
The reunion was drawing to a close and I knew we only had a few minutes more before they sat back down with us. I'd intended just to sit quietly with Trish, but she had one more question. "Sandy, do you, like, think it would only be with guys?" she asked quietly.
I looked at those earnest young eyes and felt another stab of compassion. I shrugged. "I don't know, Trish. You'd have to ask Gretchen, but my guess is that you wouldn't have to do anything you didn't want to do."
"I've never really thought about, you know, women before, but part of me wonders what she..." Trish trailed off into silence and bowed her head with a flush.
"If you want to know, then talk with her," I said quietly. "You don't need to feel embarrassed, Trish. I find her attractive, too."
Her eyes flashed up to mine, widening in shock. "Have you..."
I smiled and nodded. "Not with Gretchen and it's been a long time, but you can ask me about that later if you like."
"Thank you!" she said again, so pathetically grateful I felt myself blushing.
Any chance for further private conversation ended when everyone sat back down. The waiter pulled another table over to give us all room. It was immediately apparent that this was a jolly crowd. The looming trouble with Price had been pushed aside for now and we were having our own little party.
Earl joined Hawk and the guys. Was a lesbian one of the guys? Gretchen wasn't a guy by any stretch of the imagination, but Hawk was kind of masculine in her mannerisms, although not as much as she believed, in my opinion. Her being pregnant muddied the waters, more than a little, but I stood by that impression.
Jo joined us and we five settled in around the girls table.
"I'm Sandy Craig." I introduced myself. I took her small, but not delicate, hand into mine for a moment.
"Jo Beller," she answered in a voice that sounded almost like Michelle Malkin, the conservative commentator. In fact, there was some physical similarly, too. She was a very pretty woman.
Trish introduced herself and I heard her last name for the first time. Walton.
Jo got right to fitting in with a determined grin. "I'm behind the power curve here, girls," she said. "You all know each other, so fill me in."
We all laughed and filled her in on who we were and what we did for a living. She reciprocated and her occupation was certainly not what I expected. She had to explain what exactly a tree farmer actually did. I shouldn't have been surprised that people raised trees to sell, but it had never really occurred to me to wonder where my Christmas tree came from every year. Gretchen was up front about her past as an escort, and Jo nodded, seemingly unsurprised.
"I read an article in the paper about you, after all the trouble with your step-mother," she confirmed. "I suppose I never really understood why you chose that profession. I understood that your family was comfortable." I looked at Jo with a touch of surprise. Working with my clients had taught me that 'comfortable' was the word the rich used to mean 'loaded.' I wondered how lucrative tree farming was.
Gretchen laughed. "I suppose you could say that, but while I have some money now, I made it myself as an escort. My father and I only recently reconciled, and the trust fund he gave us was a surprise to both Hawk and me. Besides, it wasn't ever really about the money. It was about rebellion and doing what I wanted to in spite of what my father and his wife wanted." There was a hint of bitterness as she mentioned her step-mother.
"What does being an escort really mean," Jo asked curiously. "Isn't sex for money illegal?"
"Most places," Gretchen agreed, "but, with the right license, it's not illegal in Nevada. However, being an escort isn't about the sex. Sex is not a given on most engagements and even if the client is interested, it only happens if I feel like it. It's really much more about the social aspects of interpersonal relations." I saw Trish hanging on every word Gretchen said, her eyes so intense that I had to smile.
"If you don't mind my asking, is it just men," Jo asked casually, leaning back, "or are you equal opportunity?" Even with the polite phrasing, Jo was much more direct than I would have been. I was definitely interested in the answer, however.
Gretchen laughed. "It's only been with men to this point, but I've recently had my horizons expanded. Why," she teased, "are you and Earl looking for a night on the town?"
Gretchen might have thought she was joking but I saw a flash of curiosity and desire in Jo's eyes. To the world, Jo just laughed. "I doubt Earl would say no, but this isn't Vegas, and I think I like you too much already to feel comfortable about trading money for your time."
Gretchen nodded. "You helped save the life of the father of my children, so I'd be happy to talk about something without money changing hands."
The entire conversation was a bit unreal to me and a quick look told me that Trish was a bit shell-shocked as well. Gretchen and Jo, however seemed perfectly comfortable talking in front of others about trading money, or 'something,' for sex.
Lisa laughed, seemingly at ease, and swatted Gretchen's arm. "He's my husband!" Her easy familiarity with Gretchen confirmed my earlier hunch. Ted may have been Lisa's wife, but it appeared Lisa was willing to share.
"I'm a professional," Gretchen assured her with a grin. "Don't try this at home."
Jo looked at Gretchen for a moment and then shrugged. "It's a bit sudden. I'll have to think about it and talk with Earl. In any case, you don't need to offer to spend time with us because of what we did. We did what we did because it was the right thing to do."
"That was a bit forward, wasn't it?" Gretchen laughed. "I'm getting out of practice after a year. I apologize if I've offended you. You don't need to feel obligated in any way, but the offer is still on the table. I would gladly share an evening of dining, dancing, and perhaps more, to show you my gratitude."
"I like people who speak their minds, so I'm not offended," Jo said, unable to keep a little of her interest from bleeding through. "I'm actually quite flattered, but I need to think about it and talk to my husband."
Seizing the lull in conversation, Trish bounced to her feet. That caused her chest to bounce in ways that attracted not only all of the ladies attention but the men, too. She really needed to consider a reduction to avoid future back problems. I made a mental note to talk to Gretchen and mention it to her. "Gretchen, can I talk to you for a little while?"
Gretchen stood up and grabbed her purse. "Sure. Let's leave the ladies to talk, and we'll wander the ship."
Trish nodded and looked at me. "Can Sandy come, too?" she asked imploringly.
"Of course," Gretchen said with some surprise, "if she wants to."
I grabbed my purse and stood up. "Sure. Keven can talk sports without me."
We said goodbye to Lisa and Jo, and then Gretchen gave Hawk a hug and a brief explanation while I did the same for Keven. As the three of us walked out of the dining room, Gretchen gave me a curious look. "How did you know they were talking about sports?" They'd been arguing about basketball players and quoting statistics to champion their favorite. Men.
"It's one of the skills I picked up as a doctor," I said with a grin. "My hearing is pretty good, and I keep half an ear tuned in on what other people around me are talking about. Get your hands in a patient and you want to - have to - know everything that's happening around you, even when you're focused on the task at hand. It makes Keven think I have eyes in the back of my head."
"I know some teachers like that!" Trish said enthusiastically. "They know what's going on behind them and everything!"
I walked to the elevators, consulted the options and pushed the button for deck five. "We can walk the promenade while we talk. Just keep your voices down if you want to keep something secret," I said with a grin.
"Secret?" Gretchen asked with a grin of her own as we piled into the elevator. "What is it you wanted to discuss, Trish?" We were alone in the elevator so I figured this would be the best time to get the details out in the open.
"Let me," I said, cutting Trish off. "If I'm wrong you can correct me, but this way you won't feel so embarrassed, and we can say it in privacy." I looked at Gretchen. "Trish wants to become your apprentice." I almost added 'Do you think there's a TV show in the idea?' but one look at Trish and I knew she would think I was making fun of her.
Gretchen laughed and pulled Trish into a hug. "Of course I'll help you, Trish."
Trish sagged with relief. "Thank you." She let go of Gretchen and gave me a hug that raised the temperature in the elevator for me, much to my surprise. "And thank you for helping me to tell her. I almost lost my nerve."
By the time the elevator opened, the hugs were over and we walked out and into the most amazingly fancy looking mall. What made it astonishing was that it was on a ship.
There were dozens of little boutique shops with a wide marble floor stretching the length of the mall in front of them. Above us, in an open-air design were the four decks making up the Promenade. The upper three stories had rooms that looked down over us and a suspended bridge of brass and steel spanned the middle of the public area on the deck above us. The mall before us looked to stretch a good part of the deck, too. The mixture of ultra-modern and rich accents of dark wood was awesome.
I set out at a slow pace down the right side. The throng of people was about half what you'd see at a regular mall, but the ship wasn't due to sail for another hour. Tonight and tomorrow would be a better time to gauge the crowd, I was sure.
I heard Gretchen laughing at something and my thoughts drifted back to the reason why we were here. I couldn't believe that I was helping a young woman to become a woman of the night. It all seemed logical enough now that it was happening, but I was going to have to trace the events back to see why it didn't bother me as much as I thought it should.
"Okay," Gretchen said, slipping around my right side and letting Trish take my left, "let's make sure we're on the same page before we get into details. Trish, do you want to talk about just accompanying guys, or are you thinking about the whole enchilada?"
"I can say 'no' if I don't like it, right?" Trish asked nervously.
Gretchen nodded. "Of course you can and that goes for being arm-candy, too. If you decide you want to back out, you say 'no' and I'll handle any repercussions. That includes with your current client," she said with a glint in her eye.
"Current client?" I asked. "I thought this was a new idea."
They filled me in on Skip Niccio and I disliked him immediately. "You should back out on him, Trish. The man sounds like slime."
"But I can't," she almost wailed. "He paid for this cruise, and I don't have anywhere near enough money to pay him back!"
Gretchen stopped, took Trish's hands in her own and looked her right in the eyes, calming Trish down almost at once. "I said I'd handle him and I will. All you have to do is say the word and I'll take care of him. I'll refund him his money and a fifty percent late cancellation penalty."
"But..." Trish started before Gretchen put her finger to the girl's lips.
"Shhh," Gretchen said. "If you and I come to an agreement, I'll be fronting you enough money to get everything you need anyway. By the time you pay me back, the cost of this cruise will be chump change, and you won't even feel it. With your looks and my connections, I guarantee it."
"By now he's probably searching the ship for me," Trish sighed. "Yeah, okay, I really don't want to work for him. He's a real horse's butt. I'm sure sleeping in the room next to him will be fun after this," she said morosely.
"I'll take care of that," Gretchen said firmly. "You won't have to worry about sleeping in the next room to that creep. Focus on yourself."
Trish nodded. "Okay. Well, if I, like, become your apprentice, what does that mean?"
"I'd rather think of myself as your mentor," Gretchen said warmly. "'Apprentice' makes you sound like you're my slave or something. Let's go back to the first question. Do you want to consider the full or the limited package?"
Trish looked scared and a bit torn about what she wanted, so I pulled the two of them into Ben and Jerry's for some ice cream and we gave Trish time to think while we selected some creamy goodness. The mint chocolate chip made me almost ooze to the floor in delight.
Trish tasted hers and then got back to business. "I want to learn everything," she declared. "And if it's legal, then I want to know all of it. Do all of it." She looked both frightened and elated.
Gretchen nodded and ate her ice cream in small bites. "Then I'll help you with all of it. I know you don't really have any experience with escorting men, but how much experience have you had with simple dating?"
Trish shook her head and blushed. "None. I haven't really dated."
That rocked Gretchen and her eyes widened. "But you're such a pretty girl! What about..." she let it hang.
Trish blushed and shook her head, looking down.
Gretchen took Trish's hands in her own and spoke softly. "That's nothing to be ashamed of. I can talk to you about it and help you understand what's involved. If you like, I can even help you get some 'hands on' experience," she said with a small grin.
Trish looked up and smiled shyly. "Is that all part of my training?"
Gretchen nodded. "It is if you want it to be. I can be there with you every step of the way."
Trish nodded. "Okay."
"The rest of it is pretty straight forward," Gretchen said, leaning back in her seat. "I'll make you the same offer my mentor made me. I'll provide room and board, and I'll front you the money to get all the tools of the trade and set you up. You agree to pay me back in no more than two years. There's no interest, so you just have to pay it back as you can."
Trish nodded. "But what do you get for helping me?"
Gretchen laughed. "That's the next part. I'll train you and mentor you for the next two years. That means I'll also help arrange for you to find clients that are suitable and I'll work on all the mundane details for you. In exchange for all that, I'll get a twenty percent commission for those two years. If either of us decides to break off our arrangement, the front money comes due, but that's all. You can always walk away if you decide that's what's best, and you keep everything you've earned."