It would be a fine challenge, to explain why straight men buy sex. Marc wasn’t sure people other than his deep thinker of a boyfriend would be interested to know. Wouldn’t they just reject it as immoral? People were so quick to judge.
He didn’t have a sweet clue how to write about any of this for his audience. The Gazette was a family newspaper. It didn’t swear. It used asterisks in shit. Sh*t, it spelled. It said things like “the N-word” and “f bombs” as though not fully spelling out words was a clever dodge. Look ma, I’m not swearing. I’m just… swearing with asterisks. But that’s not like swearing-swearing, right? I’m still a fine upstanding writer, if I say so myself.
Pfft. If you meant to say hell or cunt or shit of whatever, why not just say it? And if you really cared about being family-friendly, then why not write that way and never mind the asterisks?
But no. The publisher was a hypocritical prude, and so were all the other newspaper publishers and editors in the whole gosh darn country, never mind all the swearing and drinking and cheating on wives that went on behind all those respectable scenes. Newspapers weren’t better than TV shows that bleeped, come to think of it. The entertainment industry only pretended to be wholesome and family-friendly, just because there was money to be made that way.
And now Marc would have to explain life in his city’s prostitution business in a way that was chaste enough for the flexible compass of his morally wayward bosses but don’t you dare bore your audience.
Unless… yes, maybe he could do that. Write it the way he liked and please his aesthetic sense , which would be a lot more gripping for sure. But.
He didn’t mind pushing boundaries, but he also liked a regular paycheck. If Sophie’s stories were worth it, maybe he could risk his job… then make a name for himself as a champion of free speech against artificially uptight and unwritten publishing rules designed during Queen Victoria’s reign or something and upheld to this day by people who still thought the world was better when the Royal Mail delivered your utility bills.
Hell, maybe he’d get a book deal out of it. One that would change the industry? Or would he be tossed aside and ignored, like a leper you can’t not see but won’t touch?
This assignment wasn’t so much an opportunity as a minefield. And he sucked at navigating those.
He expected Sophie to be thin, tall, with long flowy hair. She was all of 5'2", with shoulder-length bleached hair. She could generously be described as chubby. Or, he supposed, “generous”. She had curves and looked nothing like a model. More like your high school friend’s sister, the one who always tried to hang out with you because she didn’t have friends of her own. Hmmm. Plump, curvy, but with a friendly smile. Straight sex was such a puzzle to Marc. If you were going to pay for a sensational experience, wouldn’t you pick someone with a firm and lean body? That’s certainly what he’d want.
But then, genius, girls aren’t what you want so what do you know.
“Tell me about you,” she said, as they got started on their mugs.
“I thought I was supposed to be asking questions.”
“I could just walk out.”
He knew she was joking. Maybe? Probably. But still.
“I know you didn’t choose to do this story,” she added. “So why did they choose you?”
“I said that to you?”
“No, I just guessed. Well, apparently.”
“Right you are. The quote-unquote official line is they thought I’d be a good fit because I know the city well and I’m already covering the alternative arts scene. And maybe because I’m gay — actually, my editor did say that girls would talk to me more easily because of that. Can you believe it?”
“You used to write about politics? I know a few myself…” there was a wink attached to that sentence.
“Politicians? How come? … Oh,” his voice trailed as he mentally face-palmed himself. “Of course.”
“Do you miss politics?”
“Nope. I’m a theatre guy.”
“Me too. I have a stage, characters, cheesy décor… and the reviews can sometimes be brutal.”
“Do you read books?”
“Nobody’s perfect. Why do you ask?”
“You’re not exactly the kind of sex worker I was expecting.”
“And what were you expecting?”
“Not sure, but my mental description would never have included ‘conversational’. Not that I mind. I’m pretty chatty myself.”
She leaned back on her chair. There were only two other patrons in the café, one drawing something in a sketchbook and the other absorbed in Camus as his empty espresso cup languished in its saucer. “Well, mister gay theatre journalist, that was lesson number one. Never make assumptions about people just because of one tiny thing you know about them.”
“I’ll remember that.”