I scowl at the pile of letters stacked in front of my dirty, worn-out sneakers, still puffing and sweating profusely from my morning run, wishing I had the power to shoot laser beams from my eyes to incinerate them until nothing but ashes remain. They all have red stamps and capitalized words, of course, because that's what my life has been reduced to in the last year thanks to quarantine and the sudden, but devastating outbreak of the unmentionable virus. There's nothing better to start the day than reading unpaid debt notices and threats of eviction. I haven't even had my first cup of coffee, damn it. I groan, helpless and discouraged, bending down to pick them up and toss them carelessly into my modest dining table, heading up the narrow stairs to my room.
"Spaghetti?" I call, because she's not in her bed, where I left her sleeping peacefully this morning before going for a run.
I'm not surprised when her furry, snow-white head emerges from between the bulge of my dark sheets, blinking sleepily and looking innocent. Even though I've reprimanded her on several occasions for skirting the rules of personal space, I can't help but laugh and deny amused by her boldness and that she has the balls (or ovaries… because female ferrets have them, right?) to not give a damn about the consequences of her shenanigans. It wouldn't hurt me to catch a little of her attitude.
I check that her bowls are full of food and water, clean her trash out of the box and pour in more sand. The bag is almost empty and I do a quick calculation, trying to remember my bank balance to determine if I have enough to buy another one or if I should starve this week too. I close my eyes and focus on happy, positive thoughts, because it's either that or cry and I refuse to give in to the despair that has been breathing down my neck like a pervert when out there, maybe, an opportunity is waiting for me.
«I just have to be patient, that's all,» I repeat for the thousandth time in my mind with fragile optimism.
"We've been over this, missy," I pick her up, stroking her soft, thick fur, placing her gently in her nest built with a soft cushion and a fluffy pink blanket with black polka dots. "This is where you're supposed to sleep, so be a good girl and stay," I point to her, putting on my best stern expression. Her response is to sniff my finger with disinterest, then curl up into a ball and proceed to ignore me.
I sigh, taking defeat, I've never been able to beat her in an argument. I undress, depositing my soaked clothes in the laundry basket and lock myself in the bathroom. The shower is brief, but satisfying, sweeping the dirt and perspiration from my skin and hair. I stand under the crystal clear waterfall for a few extra minutes, analyzing the alternatives of my precarious situation. My previous agency had to "let me go" (that's how the kindly HR manager put it) due to the sudden economic downturn in the country, kicking my poor unsuspecting ass to the curb, without a plan B or life preserver. It was tough, but it got worse as slowly and agonizingly my pockets were being emptied without me being able to do anything about it.
Urgently looking for an instant solution to such a catastrophe, I discovered Internet pages where I could upload my photographs to sell or auction them, but with that pitiful income I barely have just enough to survive and provide for Spaghetti. Who would think that the nice Californian citizens aren't big fans of images with landscapes and natural panoramas? And too bad that's precisely my area of expertise. My parents have assured me that I can move back in with them whenever I want, but just imagining their constant invasions of my privacy and intrusive interrogations, even with the good intentions they claim, gives me chills and a headache for which I have no painkillers.
I love my parents, but physical distance is a much-needed strategy I have used for as long as I can remember so that the relationship between us doesn't die or wither.
I turn off the faucet, disappointed at not having been able to find a fix to this stage that I pray is temporary, and get a towel from the rack on the wall to dry off, tying it around my waist when I'm done. In my closet, I decide on sweatpants and a simple t-shirt, descending to the kitchen to prepare my breakfast. A whole wheat sandwich with turkey and a glass of skim milk later, I sit at my tiny, wobbly desk, turning on my laptop to check my social media and other accounts where I have my artwork on display. I stop the sadness from settling on my shoulders as I spot the zeros on each of them, shaking my arms as if I can bodily rid myself of the harmful and frustrating feelings.
Taking nature shots isn't the only thing I do, as I also receive requests for recreational events, such as weddings or charity celebrations, but I'm always hesitant to get involved. I'm an introvert by birth, preferring calm, quiet and relaxing environments where I can daydream and be myself without the nagging anxiety of fitting in and adapting. My idea of entertainment is not exorbitant clubs, rowdy crowds, excessive alcohol or sex with strangers. Quite the opposite. Give me a book, hot chocolate with marshmallows, hours of solitude and I'm the happiest man on the planet. Now, however, I don't have the luxury of being picky or selective. If I'm asked to film a skydiving launch, I'll have to overlook my terror of heights and get the job done.
I rub my neck with one hand, massaging the knots there produced by stress, determined not to be disappointed, and then I scroll to my email inbox. First, the usual advertising messages pop up. Amazon excels at it, sending me recommendations of new cameras on the market daily, causing envy to reveal its ugly, green face because I don't have money in abundance, much less to splurge on passing whims. I still check out the links because, apparently, I'm a masochist. Upon further inspection, I find three from the bank that I omit to preserve my mental health and one from a sender I don't recognize. It's from one FrostyCream96 (what kind of ridiculous pseudonym or alias is that?) and the subject line reads: "Proposal. Please reply as promptly as possible".
"Huh," I murmur, not at all shocked. Still, a flame of hope and excitement sparks in my chest and I rush to open the e-mail. My initial, superficial perusal offers me no data out of the ordinary. «Oh, thank goodness,» I think happily, the rumble of a slot machine replaying in my brain. However, when I back up and read again, this time carefully, sentence by sentence, letter by letter, my heart executes a triple jump, lodges in my throat and I choke on my own saliva, almost biting my tongue in the process. "What the hell?!" I yell at the screen as I recover, stupefied and embarrassed at the same time.
Why? Because, my God... I don't even know how to describe it.
From: [email protected]
Subject: Proposal. Please reply as promptly as possible.
“Mr. Ashton Walker, my name is Elliot Frost.
I have seen several of the pictures you have posted through your social media and I must admit that I'm impressed. You have a great talent and I would like to hire you, but first, I must warn you that there are certain terms, conditions and issues that I must make clear so that no misunderstandings or inconveniences are generated in the future, if you dare to accept my offer.
You see, I'm a model. Not a... "conventional" one, as many love to categorize. The content I provide to my audience is erotic in nature. Photos and/or videos where I show myself naked, probably using sex toys, ropes, lace, etc., for commission. Specifically: I get paid for sharing explicit adult material. I know you don't specialize in this area, but please don't jump the gun and pay attention to what I can guarantee.
In case this is too much and you choose not to provide your services: Please, send me your refusal so I can continue to explore options and do not disclose the information provided in this email.
In case your reply is 'yes', you should abide by the following:
—Physical contact, under any reason, excuse or justification, is not authorized. Regardless of the line of my profession, it's a job like any other, so you must respect it.
—Denigrating, racist, homophobic, etc. comments are strictly forbidden. If you're a bigoted asshole, please go fuck yourself because I'm not the problem and I won't tolerate such bullshit in my home either.
—I demand punctuality. I have a busy schedule and it annoys me to have to deal with delays.
—If you are unable to attend a session, you must give one or two days' notice. This will allow me to postpone and rearrange my commitments.
—If during a shoot you get an erection, you have permission to relieve yourself in one of the bathrooms that I'll have at your disposal. I will not, I reiterate: I will NOT "take care of it". If you insist, I'll be forced to call the police and press charges for sexual harassment/assault, if my manager doesn't kick your ass first for indecent behavior.
—My phone number and other means of communication are for business purposes only.
—By no means will I tolerate you giving me gifts or merchandise related to my work for me to "try them out". My clients' commissions are online, so, if you want me to do a show for you, you'll have to request it and pay for it like everyone else.
If at any time one of the above requirements is violated or breached, your firing will be immediate. Attached to this email is the contract, which specifies the pay and schedule you must adhere to. Discuss it with your attorney before signing it.
If you need me to clarify anything, I always have my cell phone at hand. Do not hesitate to contact me. And by the way, my OnlyFans user is: FrostyCream.
Sincerely: Elliot Frost.”
"Bigoted asshole?" I gasp in bewilderment. This is so unusual I'm having a hard time believing it. "I have to give him credit, he's not afraid to be direct," I whisper to myself and that's an understatement, clearly this guy doesn't have a functional brain-mouth filter. Despite everything, I can't help but admire him.
I click on the file attached to the message, scanning it to verify the documentation I must provide, as well as the other legal guidelines he didn't lay out in the digital letter. That's when, near the bottom of the last page, the salary appears in bold type and oh, sweet baby Jesus, my eyes almost pop out of their sockets.
"Fifteen hundred bucks per session?!" I yell at my computer screen a second time, stunned and awestruck, opening and closing my mouth like a fish out of water.
I'm petrified in that position, my trembling fingers hovering above the keyboard and mouse, pulse pounding out of control through my veins and, damn, I could have an orgasm right now, in the middle of my living room and without having touched my dick. It's the most spectacular surprise I've gotten in years, but... who the hell is this guy? How the heck does he have so much money? And what exactly prompted him to contact me knowing in advance that photographing naked people performing sexually explicit acts is not my professional activity?
Inundated with curiosity, I investigate. The accounts with his real name are private, so I type FrostyCream in the browser. I enter his Twitter and Instagram first, examining the photos. Most are quite suggestive: bare thighs, the arch of his ankles, chest covered with a shirt so translucent that his chestnut nipples are noticeable. One thing they all have in common? No face to show. Not even a flirtatious hint of his chin or profile. Nothing. I swallow thickly, finally accessing his OnlyFans, only to be disappointed, because all posts are blocked, the system inviting me to subscribe with a thirty-five-bucks monthly membership to unblock content.
The figures I can see are his followers: two point six million.
The number of "likes:" one point eight million.
Photos: two thousand ninety.
Videos: eight hundred and forty.
I feel Spaghetti rubbing against my legs. I carry her and caress with absent air that sensitive place behind her ears that causes her eyelids to droop sleepily and wag her tail with glee.
“Good news, baby," I announce with a knot of nerves twisting my stomach, but smiling so hard my cheeks hurt.
She just snorts and ignores me again.
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