The last place Tom Smith ever thought he’d be sent as a public school teacher was Las Vegas Yet, here he was, packing his bags for an educator’s conference there.
Not that he was complaining.
Especially since he’d be spending his birthday there as a newly single man. Well, not single in the legal sense, but certainly single by Las Vegas standards. The timing for an all-expenses paid trip couldn’t be more perfect. He needed a getaway, but was too broke to afford one. Though he would have to attend the conference during the day, the evenings were his to do as he wished.
“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” his principal warned.
“What happens in Vegas…” Eddie joked.
“Can get you disciplinary action,” he said.
Though his principal was sort of joking…he also sort of wasn’t.
Then again, as long as he attended the conference, what he did on his down time was his business. And yes, he was representing his school district, but it wasn’t like students would be there. Everything was fair game, within legal limits, of course, short of showing up to the conference drunk and dropping his pants.
Who was he kidding, anyway? He would most likely end up crashing early and falling asleep with his dick in his hand. He had no real interest in gambling, so his plan was to simply wander around the playground that was Sin City. But as predicted, jet lag caught up to him on his first night and he was back at his hotel room shortly by ten, flipping through the channels, munching on pizza, and sipping cheap whiskey. Just as he began to doze off, he got a text from his ex.
“The mediator wants to meet with us on Monday at noon. What time do you get home?”
“My flight doesn’t get in until 3:45. You knew this.”
“On your terms as usual.”
“What?! I had nothing to do with my itinerary.”
He waits for a response, but doesn’t get one. The last thing he wanted was to have an argument, especially since she was probably within earshot of the kids.
“Can I Facetime with the kids?”
He called. No answer.
He grabbed another slice of pizza, turned the TV off, and watched some porn on his phone, only to be interrupted by his daughter’s face popping up on Facetime.
“Oh, hey, sweetheart!”
“What are you doing?”
“Um, just watching some TV. And eating pizza. You?”
“Talking to you!”
“Are you being good for mommy?”
“Are you being good, Daddy?”
“Are you at your hotel?”
“Yes. And I miss you so much.”
He began to lose the signal.
The call is disconnected. He called back to no avail.
“Love you,” he said to himself.
He stared blankly ahead and noticed a pop-up ad for an escort service called Name Your Desire, Inc. He debated for a while, then finally took the leap.
“Name Your Desire, Inc. How may I help you?” asked the receptionist.
Tom hung up, then dialed again.
“Name Your Desire, Inc. How may I help you?”
“Sorry for hanging up.”
“Happens all the time. How may I help you?”
“I would like to place an order.”
“For what in particular?”
“For one night.”
“Okay. But I mean, what are you looking for? Female? Male? Male to female? Female to male? White? Black? Asian? Latino?”
“Thinking something vintage.”
“Like someone Frank or Dean would be parading around town with. A young model with a throwback look.”
“Hmmm….I may have someone in mind that will do the trick. We’ll throw a fur coat on her and Sinatra will be getting a boner in his grave.”
Tom headed into the bathroom to brush his teeth, then washed up in the tub, giving extra attention to his “special” parts.
He then got dressed again, put on some Rat Pack tunes, then sat on the edge of the bed, waiting for his vintage call girl to show up.
What in the hell are you doing?
He considered canceling, but someone was already knocking at his door.
He opened it and was shocked beyond belief at the unexpected, familiar sight of the fur coat-adorned escort standing at his door.
Both are too shocked to speak another word.
“How did you find me?”
“Luck of the draw?”
“Mr. Smith…God. I can’t even. “
“What are you doing here?”
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“I can’t believe this.”
“My teacher hired a hooker…” she said with shocked disbelief.
“Former teacher. And yeah, um, I can…”
“Do you have any idea how much you’re missed back home?!”
“Do you have any idea how much I don’t care?”
“Do you want to come in?”.
“I should probably go…”
“Please. Don’t go.”
“This is just too weird.”
“For you and me both.”
“Then let’s just pretend…”
“What happens in—”
“Don’t go there.”
“Look, I am not going to have sex with you, if that is what you’re worried about.”
“Honestly, that is the least I am worried about. Please, don’t tell anybody.”
“Trust me, do you think I want people to know how I found you?
This calmed her down. They were obviously both in this together.
Yes, she was his former student.
Yes, she was a hooker.
Yes, he had agreed to meet with her.
But putting it all in perspective, he didn’t ask for any of this. He never once tried hooking up with a former student – nor, ever really fantasized it. And he certainly had no interest in doing so now. All he was looking for was anonymous sex. This couldn’t be any further from that.
Of all the hookers in Vegas…
Violet finally entered and took a seat in a corner chair, filling the room with the aroma of her sweet perfume.
“Do you want to take your coat off?” he asked.
She did so, albeit reluctantly, revealing skimpy, vintage lingerie underneath. Clearly, she was just as uncomfortable as he was. Which was actually a relief. She put the coat over her shoulders for modesty sake.
Violet Summers wasn’t just any student – or, runaway for that matter. She was girl next door who ran away from home at the age of 16, never to be heard from again. In case she didn’t know, he informed her that she the subject of multiple candlelit vigils, social media campaigns, the subject of at least one song, three poetry chapbooks, and plenty of articles locally, as well as nationally. Everybody refused to believe she was dead, remaining forever hopeful that she would be back.
“Where is Violet?”
A question as much as a hash tag.
“Can I get you a drink?” Tom asked.
“I don’t drink. I’ll take some water, though.”
He fetched her a bottle of water, then sat on the edge of his bed, taking a sip of his drink.
“I’m trying to quit myself.”
Violet raised an eyebrow.
“You’ve been gone almost two years. And they are still doing candlelight vigils. Everybody misses you.”
“Again, ask me if I give a fuck.”
“I think it’s clear. But just know that nobody has given up hope. That has to mean something to you.”
She doesn’t respond, but he senses he has reached her to some small degree. They both sit in silence, accompanied by Ol’ Blue Eyes until she finally said:
“Did I what?”
“Of course. You’re like my favorite student of all time.”
“And you never gave up hope?”
“Honestly, I figured there was a higher chance you would be dead, or maybe kidnapped, rather than being a runaway. It just made more sense in my mind.”
“Sorry if that sounded morbid.”
“Well, it makes sense. Honestly, I was kind of hoping everyone just assumed I was dead. Like suicide with benefits.”
“Glad you find it so funny.”
“I really don’t. But I’m glad you still have your sense of humor. That was always my favorite thing about you.”
“How do I know you’re not a spy?”
“Oh, come on! A spy?!”
“Sent on a mission to bring me back home.”
“I can’t really prove that I’m not, can I?”
“No. You can’t. I guess I just have to trust you. But it is too big of a coincidence for me to not be at least a little suspicious!”
“That’s an understatement. I still can’t believe any of this.”
“Please don’t tell anybody.”
“Do you have any idea how much you are missed back home?”
She tears up.
“You can’t tell anyone. Please.”
He can tell she’s beginning to panic. Tears well up in her eyes.
She still isn’t convinced.
“I will give you a freebie if it helps.”
“I don’t want a freebie…or, anything like that. I could never…”
“Fuck a former student.”
“Well, yes. Especially you.”
“Please…as though teachers don’t fuck their former students all the time.”
“God, I hope not.”
“I’ve heard stories.”
“No, not you.”
“Well, I certainly don’t.”
“Not innocent Mr. Smith.”
“Sorry to disappoint you.”
“Trust me, I am not disappointed. But I would do whatever it takes to keep my secret safe.”
“Your secret is safe with me. I promise. Look, if I told everyone back home, it would, it would essentially mean admitting I hired a hooker. Do you realize how damaging it would be to my career – not to mention my pending divorce?”
“Yeah, it probably wouldn’t go over very well, would it?”
“And even if I didn’t explain specifically how I found you, I know damn well – and you would have every right – that would tell everyone I was your client to exact revenge.”
“That’s assuming I would want people to know what I was up to.”
“I guess we’re just gonna have to trust one another. I trust you. Can you trust me?”
He offered his hand. She shook it. It was now his secret to keep. To protect her. To project himself. He truly wanted to believe that he wouldn’t tell anyone. But could he really hold himself to that promise? How did he know she wasn’t in any sort of trouble? A slave to an abusive pimp? If he could somehow get assurance that wasn’t the case, he could perhaps keep it a secret. But didn’t he have a moral obligation to report this. She was his student after all. Was. Almost two years ago. He didn’t have a legal obligation. Moral, maybe? But she was an adult now. She has every right to do what she wants. And speaking of moral obligation, one thing was clear: he could ever have sex with her. He would pay her for time, of course. But it would not include sex, no matter how legal it was. In fact, having sex with a former student would probably be seen as worse than having sex with a prostitute. And here he was with both.
“Has it really been almost two years since you left?” he asked.
She nodded. “Seems like both a lifetime ago…and nothing at all.”
“How have you managed to stay in hiding for long?”
“It’s easier than you think. Are you sure you’re not going to tell anyone?”
“We shook on it, remember? But under one condition…”
“I thought you didn’t want a freebie?”
“I don’t! I just want to know what happened!”
“That is all you’re going to give me?”
“I ran away to Vegas. And here I am.”
“Okay, that much is obvious. But what happened in the middle of all that?”
“You don’t really want to know.”
“Actually, I do. And I promise I won’t judge you.”
“Why do you want to know so bad?”
“Can you blame me?”
She looked away.
“Because I care about you.”
“You don’t believe me?”
“Look, I don’t owe you any explanation. And if you think you’re going to be a knight riding in on his high horse to rescue me…”
“I don’t think that at all. We’re just two old acquaintances who just happened to run into one another.”
“Then let’s just leave it at that and go back to our separate ways. It’s what we do in Vegas.”
“Okay, okay. But I just want you to know you have a friend in me. Sure, the circumstances that brought us together tonight are unorthodox, but now that I’m here—”
“Do you know how hard I tried to hide myself from my past? And then you show up.”
“Well, technically you showed up.”
“You know what I mean.”
“I understand why you would be paranoid. But do you really think I would want it know that I hired a hooker on a work trip to Vegas. Sorry, legal courtesan.”
“This isn’t Moulin Rouge.”
They laughed. She finally seemed to be more at ease now.
“Are you hungry? I got a few pieces of pizza left. And some Animal Crackers.”
She laughed. “Animal Crackers?”
“Let’s not get into the judgement zone here.”
“I’ll take a couple of Animal Crackers.”
Tom retrieves her some Animal Crackers.
“You can have more than a couple.”
“I know, I know. Word choice.”
“Oh, you remember?”
“How could I forget? Your classic line: ‘Can I go the bathroom? I don’t know, can you?’”
“You don’t have to sound pissed off about it, smart ass.”
“At least I was listening.”
She eats an animal cracker.
“God, I can’t remember the last time I had these. They’re good!”
“Aren’t they? When you have a kid, you get to try all of your favorite childhood foods again and it’s like discovering it for the first time. Like grilled cheese! And Goldfish crackers, which complements red wine like nobody’s business!”
She laughs at his goofy sincerity.
“So, are you ready to tell me?”
“Why do you care so much.? You’re so nosey!”
“You don’t understand. Everybody cares.”
“It’s not bullshit.”
“Then why haven’t they found me?”
“How could they have? And I thought you didn’t want to be found?”
Her look suggests otherwise, taking him by surprise.
“You weren’t just my favorite student, you know. You were everybody’s. You weren’t a typical student. Not by any means. You were in the elite. I have had thousands of students over the years, and the ones who make the Hall of Fame are such a small handful. Anyone who knew you knew you were destined for greatness. This was not what any of us had in mind.”
“I thought you promised not to judge.”
“I’m not judging. I’m just trying to figure things out.”
“But that’s just it. You are. I’ve been judged my whole life. And expected to be something that I didn’t want to be. I was tired of being seen as something I’m not.”
“True. But some of us are expected to be more perfect that others. In fact, as far as my mother was concerned, not even perfection was good enough. I was just so tired of being something everyone wanted me to be. Do you know what it’s like when everybody claims to know your future? When you have no wiggle room for surprise?”
“Maybe not in the same way as you, but yes, actually. I do.”
“It isn’t the same.”
“Now who’s judging who?”
“But on second thought, you’re right. Nobody ever really had any serious expectations. For me. But I’d imagine it’s a lot of pressure.”
“I’m not saying I wanted to end up as a hooker in Vegas. It is what it is. Because at least it wasn’t what they expected. I finally proved that I’m not the perfect little girl they thought I was.”
“I think you are confusing potential and expectations with perfection.”
“Is there really any difference?”
“Definitely. But I also see where you’re coming from.”
“You were always different than other teachers,” she said, catching him by surprise.
“I always got the sense that I could just be me. Like right now. And back then, with my writing. I didn’t feel I had to conform to succeed in your class. I liked that.”
“You should have come talk to me. Before you left.”
“I didn’t want to let you down.”
“You wouldn’t have…”
“I doubt that. Tell me you weren’t disappointed with me tonight.”
“Surprised, yes. But not disappointed.”
“I don’t believe that. And the fact you were surprised proves my point.”
“How could I not be surprised?” he said, catching her off guard. “Something would be wrong with me if you weren’t. The only thing that would disappoint me would be if you told me you don’t write anymore.’
She bows her head in shame.
“God, were such a great writer.”
“You were. And you knew it.”
“Why’s that funny?”
“I can’t remember the last time I wrote anything.”
“Maybe someday you can turn all of this into a book.”
“I’m trying to hide from the world, remember?”
“Write under a pseudonym. Disguise it as fiction.”
She seemed consider it for a moment.
“I was actually jealous of you, to be honest,” he added.
“What? No way. You were jealous of a student?”
“Of your talent. And like I said, you weren’t just any student.”
She rolled her eyes.
“I was also a bit disturbed. There were times I thought about reporting it to your counselor.”
“Why would you do that?”
“You wrote some pretty disturbing shit! But then I remembered some of the crazy shit I have written – especially at that age – and reminded myself that fiction is fiction.”
“And real life is real life.”
“Of course. You were my favorite teacher, after all.”
“It was all fiction, right?”
“A magician never reveals her tricks. Besides, aren’t the lines sometimes blurred? I believe you once taught me that, too.”
“Deep down, I had my doubts.”
“Yet, you never reported it?”
He shook his head.
The truth is, he secretly enjoyed the power of knowing this dark secret. But after she disappeared, he thought about shedding light to this side of her. It was quite possible he was the only adult who knew. Would it have made difference? The town was so devoted to making her a saint, he didn’t want to mar her reputation. Besides, what good would it have done? No matter what, she was missing.
“You could have saved me from myself, Mr. Smith.”
“Now you’re patronizing me.”
“Aren’t you the patron in this case?”
“I see what you did there.”
They both laughed, taking in the full absurdity of the situation.
“So why Vegas?”
“There are many reasons why not.”
“It all started with online stuff. Mostly innocent. Light flirtation at first. Then pictures. I felt empowered and got off on the thrill of it because it was the exact opposite of what I was expected to be. I felt empowered. And then I realized I could turn it into cash. And that’s when I met someone who promised me the world.”
“And did he?”
“For awhile at least. He got me set up. Paid for my apartment. And got me work. And so here I am.”
“Well, at least it makes more sense now. Thank you.”
“For sharing your story. I know it wasn’t easy.”
“And in case you’re wondering: I’m not ashamed. I don’t regret any of it.”
“I’m happy to hear that. And I know how hard it was to open up. But can you assure me of one thing?”
“That you’re safe.”
“You’re not being held against your will, or with an abusive pimp or anything like that.”
“It’s not funny. I’m serious!”
“I’ll admit, I’m so flattered that my former teacher cares about me so much.”
“I promise you that I’m safe. In fact, the guy who brought me is out of the picture. I am my own free agent.”
Tom was satisfied with her answer. Now that he was convinced she wasn’t kidnapped, or held against her will, he could focus on the fact that she’s not only an adult, but that he should respect her wishes and privacy, no matter how overwhelming the urge was to save her.
“And you don’t think you will ever reach out to your parents? They must really miss you. Why deprive your family of someone they love and miss so much? Especially your sister. She was never the same after you left.”
“If I have one regret, it’s that.”
She began to cry.
“She was my best friend.”
“I’m sorry to bring it up.”
“It’s okay. It’s nothing I haven’t cried about before. All the time, actually. Maybe someday I will be ready to reach out to her. But not now. My family would never understand. And I couldn’t live with that. I would spiral back into the depression I fought so hard to climb out of. If I returned to that place, I don’t know if I could go on living.”
Tom realized how much she meant it. And though he still couldn’t fully understand it, it was beginning to make more sense in his mind.
And then an unexpected reveal:
“God, I had the biggest crush on you.”
He pretended to be more surprised than he was.
“Oh, don’t act so surprised. And I’m willing to bet you had a crush on me. But you were too good to do anything about it.”
“Whoa, whoa, don’t go projecting your school girl fantasy on me.”
“I wouldn’t quite call it a crush,” he finally said. “More like deep admiration. The way a father beams with pride over a daughter. In fact, I often hoped that my daughter would turn out to be just like you. Well, maybe not exactly…”
He couldn’t tell from her expression how she felt about anything he was saying.
“Sorry if any of that seems weird or offensive.”
She smiled devilishly. And then Dean Martin’s sultry “Sway” comes on.
Violet stood up and began to dance seductively, removing her fur coat. Tom doesn’t know if he should watch or look away.
“Dance with me,” she said with a seductive glint.
“I’m your teacher.”
“You were my teacher. And I didn’t ask you to fuck my ass.”
Tom was shocked. Was he really having this conversation with his former prized pupil?
“Trust me. You might think this is weird…but compared to some of the shit I’ve done…”
“I can only imagine – but I’m not. I don’t want you to think I am imagining any of that.”
“Shut up and dance with me. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen someone from home. Where I’m not putting on a show.”
She grabbed his hand, causing his drink to spill. He gives in and they dance to Deano’s sultry vocals.
As the song comes to an end, they hugged without saying a word for what felt like a full minute.
“I should probably go,” Violet finally said, pulling off him.
Tom reached for his wallet.
“You don’t have to pay me.”
“I also insist.”
“Here,” she said, writing something down on a piece of hotel stationary before handing it to him.
“I know you won’t share this with anyone,” she said. It was a plea as much as a threat.
“You have my word.”
She nodded, assured.
“Text me so I have your number,” she said. “I might want to send you some writing some time.”
“I certainly hope you do.”
“Goodbye, Mr. Smith.”
And with that, his former prized pupil gone. Only the scent of her perfume lingered.