Intention to repossess.
I don't know how many times I read those words on the notification letter from the bank. A hundred? Repossess. To take back. Take away. I didn't care as much about the wording as I did about what it implied. Here I was, twenty years old, sitting in the waiting room of TC Corp. Financial, trying to figure out what I was going to say, what I could say, to convince the bank to give my family more time to catch up with our mortgage payments.
We weren't the first and I knew we wouldn't be the last to face a potential foreclosure due to nonpayment. It's not like we weren't trying. My dad worked hard, and I could vouch for that. The problem was, he'd been laid off a couple of years ago from his job as an architect, and since then, he'd been struggling to find a company willing to take on a fifty-six-year-old man full time, with full insurance benefits. In today's erratic economy and with healthcare and insurance issues, and of course, more employers wanting to hire only part timers, that made it tough. Anything to not have to pay insurance premiums for their employees. He'd finally found a job, as a shift manager at a food processing company of all places. Not nearly the pay scale he was used to, even though he worked full time and every extra shift he could get, and with a pretty lousy health plan that covered himself but not my mom.
My mom… she needed the health coverage the most. She'd been wheelchair-bound due to a stroke she had when I was twelve years old and had never fully recovered. My parents had thought that maybe Medicaid would help with Mom, but the assets stipulation pissed both of them off. Neither one was willing to sell the house or curtail Dad's ability to work – or mine since I was still living at home – so we could meet the threshold on earnings for her to qualify. So, we still had to pay so much out-of-pocket; meds, occasional hospitalizations, medical equipment, all supported by my dad and my meager earnings as a waitress. Until, that is, my dad was arrested a week ago and charged with suspicion of fraud at the company where he worked.
Had he done it? Would my dad really stoop to such a level? I didn't want to go there. The letter I held in my hand was enough emotional and mental distress for me to handle right now. I liked to consider myself levelheaded, meticulous, and resourceful, but I felt off-kilter. Numb. Confused. I wasn't a slouch either. I had worked part-time since my freshman year in high school and during my first year of college until I had to drop out and go to full time work when the bills started catching up with us. It's not like we lived in a rich part of town. No, we lived in a lower blue-collar class neighborhood in the south side of St. Petersburg. Yes, it was the gloriously sunny state of Florida, but that's about all we had going for us at the moment. We'd been going through an extended period of plain bad luck and we had fallen further and further behind with the medical bills and mortgage payments. I had no idea how we were going to get caught up, but I was determined that we would. Somehow.
Dad's arrest had come last week, and to say that it couldn't have come at a worse time was the understatement of the year. I had no idea how we could possibly catch up on the mortgage payments with him in jail. Again, I forced my thoughts away from the cost of lawyers, of my inability to make Dad's bail, no matter what amount, leaving him with the possibility of his having to remain in jail until he went to trial. The arrest and charges already had me in shock and left me numb with confusion. There had to be a mistake. There had to be!
At any rate, right now, I had to deal with the mortgage problem. If the house was taken, what would happen to my mom? Where would she live? She wasn't on public assistance, we were unable to pay for assisted living, even if any of us would even consider such a thing… she was my mom, she was my dad's wife. We could take care of her and loved her with all we had… but if we lost the house, then what? I couldn't afford an apartment anywhere around here. Every penny I made went to help paying the bills. I had no savings account. I couldn't come up with an apartment out of thin air. Still, I knew that if my parents ever found out what I was planning to do, they would probably disown me. No, not probably, but definitely. So they couldn’t find out. Not now, not ever.
So, even though I abhorred the very idea, desperate times called for desperate measures. If this situation we were in didn't classify as desperate, I didn't know what would. So as horrible as the idea was, I felt I had no other options.
I sat in a comfortable lobby chair near the entrance to the bank, though I couldn't make myself comfortable no matter how I sat. I tried to ignore my racing pulse as I idly watched people go about their business, the tellers smiling at the customers, some of whom pulled out large amounts of money, others depositing paychecks, to the point that I began to struggle with feelings of jealousy. Not just jealousy. I coveted the ease in which they handed money back and forth. Why was it that everybody seemed to have an easier time getting through life than me? What had I or my family done to deserve all this bad luck? My dad struggled to put a roof over her head, and before my mom had a stroke, she had worked hard too as a bank loan officer. We lived simply, in a small bungalow in a rundown yet family-oriented and friendly neighborhood. A simple stucco house with a postage-stamp-sized front yard, a little bit larger in the back. The rusty swing set my dad had bought when I was a little girl still sat on the back-yard lawn, long since having lost any hint of green, more straw like now than it had ever been. When you were trying to save money on utilities, the thought of having a green lawn just didn't seem that important anymore.
My thoughts drifted back to our troubles. Our never-ending troubles. It was up to me. With my dad in jail – and I didn't even want to consider his guilt - I knew I had to do something. I brought in just under minimum wage in my so-called occupation as a waitress at a fifties-style diner. Sure, tips helped, but not even close to pay all the bills; the mortgage, food, utilities, and of course, co-pays for mom's doctor visits and most of the costs of her prescription meds. Just her anti-seizure medication alone cost several hundred dollars a month. I shook my head and closed my eyes, trying not to think about what was coming.
With a sigh, I opened my eyes and glanced down at my watch and frowned. Five minutes past my appointment time. I had done my homework, researched the bank, and, much to my surprise, found that this branch was owned by a billionaire. A rather young billionaire. A playboy-type billionaire who lived the rich life, again an understatement. Wyatt Cross was only twenty-eight years old, but he had it made as owner of his private bank, TC Corp. Financial. He'd taken over running it as owner and CEO after his father's death. I had googled him, read articles, accessed social media pages covering St. Pete and its nightlife, its societies, its hot and trendy topics. Wyatt Cross happened to be one of those hot topics. Of course, he had to be tall, handsome, and masculine, with a body that was hard not to admire, dark brown hair cut in a trendy style - short on the back and sides style with texture on top. Round that out with a strong jaw line, olive-toned skin, a squarish face and most of all, those chestnut brown eyes, what was not to admire? Though I don't usually judge a book by its cover, I have to admit that his looks and his knowing it – of course he knew it - were what prompted my idea in the first place.
I cringed even thinking about what I proposed but I told myself I didn't have any other choice. I was an only child. My parents had struggled over the years to conceive and it wasn't until my mom turned forty that she had actually gotten pregnant. I was the blessing she always wanted. Things were great for a while, more than a decade, when tragedy struck. Then came the stroke, the loss of one income, the mounting medical bills, and the plain, hard fact that neither my dad nor I working together could do much more than just hang on. We squeaked by every month, living paycheck to paycheck. Every time we got a little ahead, managed to tuck a few hundred dollars into their meager savings account, something happened and we'd needed to use it. Life was a constant grind. A never-ending grind. I felt like a hamster forever running on the wheel. Never getting anywhere but just plain tuckering myself out.
Dad worked as many overtime hours as he could, but still, the bills kept coming. It only took the slightest thing for Mom to need another appointment, another hospitalization, more medications. A simple cold could put her in the hospital with pneumonia. Flu season was the worst. The minute we got inside the house, we took a shower and put on paper face masks. We ran the dishwasher through twice, just to make sure the dishes were clean and sterilized. My mom cried at our dedication, which only made me more determined to keep her well.
I picked up extra shifts at the diner too, sometimes working sixteen hours straight, crashing at home for a few hours, before I got up and did it again. Of course, the more desperate I became, the angrier I grew. Not with my parents; they were doing the best they could. Some of my customers, even though I knew they were well off, were lousy tippers, especially during the breakfast shift, which, due to rotating scheduling, I caught at least two or three times a week. It was a diner, after all. A good majority of my customers were regulars on fixed retirement incomes, so it's not like they had money to blow either.
And then there were people like Wyatt Cross. They had money to burn. They didn't have to worry about putting gas in their car, or paying the electric bill or purchasing hundreds of dollars of medications every month, let alone making rent or mortgage payments…
Thou shalt not covet! Thou shalt not covet! When I got steamed, when I railed against the unfairness of life, I tried to ground myself. We didn't go to church much anymore, but I do remember the commandments. Number ten was always the hardest for me.
My idea had begun to take form when I recognized Wyatt's profile picture on social media sites covering the local nightlife hotspots. Of course, I didn't have the opportunity to go to those hotspots, the clubs, the high-end bars, and even if I had the money, I didn't have the time. If I had the time, I didn't have the money. A never-ending cycle that often thrust me into funks that were hard to crawl out of.
At any rate, when I saw the photos of different women hanging on to Wyatt's arms on what appeared to be an almost nightly basis, I had begun to think about it. I tried to think about it in terms that weren't offensive, that were socially acceptable, that removed some of the guilt and shame I felt even thinking it.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Even though it went against everything my parents raised me to believe in, and even though it went against everything I believed in myself, irrespective of my upbringing, I intended to make Wyatt Cross an offer that he couldn't refuse. At least I hoped not. I wasn't bad to look at, with a petite figure, plumped out in all the right places, of average height with long blonde hair, my sideswiped bangs curving around my heart-shaped face. I often was complimented on my nearly aqua blue eyes, my so-called button nose, and my almost always rosy cheeks. So, without sounding stuck-up, I knew I wasn't hard to look at.
Nevertheless, I worried. What if he laughed me out of his office? What if he stamped the notification letter with those big red letters that proclaimed Foreclosure… or would he agree to one of the most preposterous propositions he'd probably ever heard in his life? I swallowed.
How did one offer their virginity in exchange for financial support?
I groaned just thinking about it. Not even really financial support, as I wasn't asking for ongoing payment, I wasn't asking to be a kept woman. No, all I needed was a hopefully large, zero-interest loan. That would do, at least enough money for me to be able to bail my dad out of jail and get perhaps a six-month extension on our mortgage repayments. Maybe a little more that would help cover my mom's medical bills until we could get back on our feet.
My heart pounded in my chest and my palms grew clammy, my hands clasped together in my lap so nobody saw them trembling. It was audacious, unheard of, embarrassing, and—
"Miss Hunt? Mister Cross will see you now."
I swallowed, nearly choking because my mouth was so dry I could barely make enough spit to do so. My face flushed with heat, my heart pounding even harder now, so much so that I glanced toward the front lobby doors. Should I run for it? I wanted to, desperately, but I had to see this through, ludicrous though it was. Ridiculous. Unheard of, but that's what I was counting on.
One of two things would happen. He'd either laugh me out of his office or he'd take me up on my proposition.
I nodded, stood, smoothed down my whimsical, free-flow skirt, white with pink hibiscus flowers – so St. Pete. A white, sleeveless blouse that I hoped showed my slim, ever so slightly muscular arms off to my advantage, my slim waist, and, if I do say so myself, my perky breasts. I felt a slight wave of dizziness and knew it was caused by anxiety. I took another deep breath. I had to get oxygen to my brain before I passed out right in front of his office door.
His assistant or secretary or whatever she was gestured me to step inside his office, then closed the door softly behind her. The office wasn't like one of those cubicles that the loan officers at banks sit in. No, the owner's office was down a very short hallway, a corner office, of course, with the vertical shades partially drawn, blocking out the harsh Florida afternoon sun. After one quick glance, I realized it looked more like a suite in a fancy hotel than an office. The air in his office felt pleasantly cool, not cold, and then— I turned toward him, half-rising from behind his desk to shake my hand.
Oh my God, he was more intimidating, more handsome, more impressive in real life than I imagined from his photos. His chocolate brown hair reminded me of a Hershey bar and photographs didn't do justice to his perfect nose or those chestnut brown eyes. His skin looked a little darker than olive tone, almost Mediterranean although it could have been the drawn shades, or maybe he'd been out on his yacht in the past couple of days, picked up a little bit of that Florida sunshine.
"Good afternoon, Miss Hunt," he said, leaning over his desk and offering his hand.
I took it, hoping that my clammy palm didn't put him off, which wouldn't do me and my bid a bit of good. If it was, his expression didn't give away anything. At least he didn't surreptitiously yank his hand from mine and wipe his hand on his trousers… a good sign. That hand of his, so large, strong, and to my surprise, slightly calloused. No stranger to hands-on work, but what kind? My curiosity piqued, I offered a weak smile and sat down in the chair in front of his desk. He returned to his seat as well, hands peaked under his strong, square chin.
"What can I do for you, Miss Hunt?"
He leaned forward and planted his elbows on his pristine desk blotter. His mahogany or some dark island wood desk held a computer, wireless keyboard and mouse, a landline phone, and that was it.
I took a deep breath, steeled my nerves, and handed him the notification letter. He took the paper, glanced up at me, scanned it, then looked at me again. His eyes piercing, one eyebrow slightly lifted in question. I almost lost it right there, desperate to stand up, flee the room, the bank, and St. Petersburg all at the same time. I couldn't deny how good-looking he was, nor the sex appeal that literally oozed from his pores. He had a supreme look of confidence about him, but also curiosity.
"I… as you can see, my father has unfortunately fallen behind on our house payments." I stated.
"I can see that," he said. "Almost ten months behind."
"We're doing our best, really we are, and my dad and I pick up all the extra shifts we can, working overtime, on weekends and holidays, and—"
"I see that you've been trying to make payments, but half payments spread out sporadically…"
His eyes locked onto mine. I shifted nervously. This wasn't going to work. This wasn't going to work!
"You can understand my position, can't you Miss Hunt? I don't mean to sound hardhearted or callous, but I'm not running a charity here. Bank loans come with responsibilities and obligations. If I let every sad story sway me, my bank wouldn't be able to carry those loans. Surely you can understand that while we've been exceedingly patient, and we've already giving you one extension, we can't continue to—"
"I'm prepared to make a proposal," I interrupted, rushing forward before I lost my nerve completely. "Just hear me out, all right?" I swallowed, nearly choking again. I lifted a hand to my throat only to feel my pulse pounding erratically beneath my fingertips.
He frowned. "You want to make me a proposal?"
He leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms, and then gestured with his hand, eyebrows raised higher now, a half-amused lilt to his lips. What was I doing? What made me think I could convince this man to—
"By all means. Propose away."
Here it was. The moment. The moment I would either abjectly humiliate myself or save the family home, my dad, my mom, and give us a lifeline. "I propose…" my voice cracked and I paused, worked up a swallow, then sat upright, my back ramrod straight, my chin lifted slightly as I looked directly into Wyatt Cross' gorgeous brown eyes and spit it out.
"I'm offering you my virginity."
The words were out. I couldn't take them back. Never.
He stared at me, those lifted eyebrows frowning now. The lowered eyebrows came with a forthright stare the only indication that he had actually heard my words, that I had actually voiced it aloud, had thrown the proposal out there. I felt the heat of a flush rise into my neck and up into my cheeks as he leisurely eyed me from top to toe and then back again.
Still, he said nothing. I blinked back hot tears of abject humiliation. What was I thinking? How could I possibly have thought that propositioning him, offering myself to him like I was nothing more than a prostitute, a high-class call girl, an escort, whatever polite way I could put it to make it sound less… shameful, crossed my mind.
He slowly stood, then stepped around his desk toward his door. He didn't approach me, didn't look at me. That was that. Well, nobody could ever say that I didn't give it the old college try, could they? I stood, trying desperately to hang onto the thin thread of dignity that I could still maintain as I smoothed my skirt. He opened the door a bit wider and I silently made my way toward him, my chin still lifted. I walked slowly though I wanted to run like hell. Just as I passed him and inhaled a whiff of his sexy aftershave, he spoke softly, under his breath.
"I'll be in contact with you in a couple of days. Good day, Miss Hunt."
With that, I scurried from his office and heard the door close softly behind me. It was all I could do not to run, but to walk calmly down that hallway and through the lobby like any other customer who'd gone to see the president and owner of a private bank, no hint that I had just offered him my body in exchange for financial gain. Only when I pushed through the thick glass doors of the lobby and stepped outside did I inhale a shaky breath. I barely made it to my car, parked along the curb maybe fifty feet away from the bank before my knees began to buckle. I fumbled with my key, finally shoved it into my door lock, opened my door, and slid inside, slamming the door shut behind me. My hands trembled so badly I couldn't even insert the key into the ignition, but they fell into my lap as I clutched at the steering wheel, my fingers white as I lowered my forehead to its hard surface and cried.