Radha giggles into her Appletini as my cheeks flush bright pink. “His roommate just walked in?” I ask. “While you were… doing it?”
“Yeah,” Radha replies, waving to the bartender for another round. “Like it wasn’t even a big deal. We could have been watching TV or… oh, I don’t know. Playing Scrabble?”
“It would have been pretty loud for a game of Scrabble.”
Radha’s been my roommate through college, and I’ve heard about every one of her sexual conquests — in some cases literally, through our apartment’s wafer thin walls.
Long, luscious ombré hair, transitioning from black to neon pink, rests on her exposed shoulders. With most of her golden brown skin and full chest displayed by her tight, green dress, she’s had men eying her all night. She’s already shaken off a dozen.
Sooner or later she’ll find one she likes, though, leaving me with my phone and another night of studying until I pass out.
Radha orders another Appletini and I change my drink to Chardonnay. “So what happened then?” I ask after taking a sip. I’m almost afraid of what Radha will say, but I need to know how it ended.
“Tim, the guy I’m with, doesn’t even stop, you know? He just gives me this look.” Radha mimics throwing her head in the direction of the imaginary intruder. “I know what he’s asking, so I look over at his roommate. He’s handsome too, so I just nodded.” She bites her lip, and her eyes drift upward, as if she’s reliving the story.
“That was it?” I ask.
“That was it.”
“Geez.” I gulp the rest of my wine down, trying to ignore my own ache. I’m not sure I’d really want a total stranger showing up in the middle of bedding someone else, but I still fidget on the bar stool, trying to relieve the smoking embers of need.
“Oh, shit,” Radha says. “I’m sorry, Wendy. I didn’t mean to-”
“It’s fine,” I interrupt. “I wanted to hear it. Even if…”
I don’t have to finish the rest. Radha knows what I’m going to say.
Even if I am still a virgin.
“It’ll happen soon,” Radha reassures. “It could happen tonight!”
I laugh at the absurdity. “Tonight? I don’t think so. I’d settle for this year.”
Once I finish finals. For months, I’ve been telling myself this. Studying has taken up too much of my time to date during the year, and work has been non-stop every summer. But Radha and I graduate this year, and then I’ll find a real boyfriend.
“Nonsense, Wendy. You could make time to find a man. Look around, it will take you five minutes.”
“I know, I know,” she says. “You want your first to be special, yadda yadda yadda.”
“No, it’s not like that,” I argue. “I mean, yeah, I’d like it to be with someone I really care about, but mostly I just want to get it out of the way before our trip. Assuming I can find a way to go.”
“Ahh.” Rhada nods. “How’s that looking?”
Sighing deeply, I shake my head. “Not good. The new tires for my car really set me back. Again…” That was this month. Last month, I had to have two impacted wisdom teeth extracted. Then before that, my laptop broke. It’s all added up to a three-digit balance in the savings account.
“Wendy, we’ve been through this. You know about my family. I can cover our trip. I want us to go.”
“No, no, no,” I say, arms folded across my body. “I don’t care how loaded your parents are, I can’t let them buy me an entire European vacation. I’m not a charity case.”
Radha groans in frustration. “Yeah, I know. Wendy Hart has her pride. I understand. But this trip will suck without you.”
“No, it won’t,” I reply, a little glumly. “Hot, foreign guys showing you all the nicest places tourists don’t know about… sexy accents calling you mon amour…”
“Well, it’ll still suck not having you there,” Radha insists.
“Uh huh. Now, if you knew of a way for me to make a few grand in a few weeks…” I mutter. “And can maybe find me a boyfriend…”
Radha laughs. “If you want to punch that V-card, you can. Seriously, look at you.” She points to me in the reflection of a mirror hanging over the bar. “You’re a knockout, Wendy.”
She’s exaggerating, but I take in my reflection. I have nice, blonde hair pulled back in a long ponytail, and I guess I look alright when I smile. High cheekbones and a pointed jaw give my face a pleasant heart shape. My bright blue eyes stand out against my slightly pale complexion, and my skin is clear.
“Eh,” I say, shrugging.
“Don’t ‘eh’ me!” Radha replies. “You’re stunning. You could get any man in this place, except for one.”
I turn to her. “Huh? Which one?”
Radha grins. “Whichever one I pick, silly.”
Rolling my eyes, I wave at the bartender now for another Chardonnay. He’s a little handsome, in a young, hip way: short, spiky platinum hair, a wicked smile and a lean, hard body. He’s good looking, but not my exact type: brawnier, with thick muscles and a towering frame, and I don’t mind a man a bit older than me. As Radha’s pointed out, men with a few years on you know what they’re doing.
Of course, the bartender’s chatting up another girl, ignoring my obvious attempt to get his attention.
“You know, I wasn’t even going to mention it as a joke,” starts Radha.
“What?” I ask, giving up on getting more wine.
“I heard about this thing the other day and thought of you, but it’s actually pretty sad.”
Does she even realize this is just making me more curious? “Come on, just tell me.”
“Fine, fine.” Radha picks up her glass to take another drink, but finds hers empty as well. “Dammit. Okay, screw it. Wendy, I was reading about weird stuff going on in the city and came across something ridiculous: virgin auctions.”
The music in the club is pretty loud, and I’m not sure I heard her correctly. “Virgin whats?”
As I say this, the bartender steps in front of us. “Sorry, I can come back,” he says, trying to suppress a grin.
“Hey, DJ Droppin’ Eaves, get us another round, okay?” snaps Radha.
“Sure, one second,” he says, cheeks mottling.
“Auctions, Wendy,” Radha continues, turning back to me. “Women sell off their virginity. They apparently make a lot of money from rich guys who don’t care about being total sleazebuckets.”
Returning quickly, the bartender sets our drinks down on bar napkins. Seeing Radha’s glare, he nods quickly, then scrambles away without a word.
“Seriously? Do they-”
“Yeah, they actually sleep with these guys,” says Radha, cutting me off.
“I was going to say, do they pay cash?”
Choking on her Appletini, Radha wags a finger at me until she’s coughed most of the drink from her lungs. “I’m glad you think this is funny,” she wheezes. “I-”
“Excuse me,” a man says, coming up behind Radha. “I heard you coughing. Are you okay?”
“I am, thank you,” she replies, checking him out. Tall and hunky, with bulging biceps and a brilliant smile, he looks into Radha’s eyes as he speaks.
“What’s your name?” she asks.
“You like to dance, Paulo?”
Here we go. Radha’s locked on like a heat-seeking missile.
“Sure,” he replies.
Radha turns to me. “See you tomorrow, honey. Think about what I said.”
And just like that, my friend leaves. She was probably referring to her offer for the trip to Europe, but instead I pull out my phone and look up whether or not the virgin auction is actually real.
Glasses of Chardonnay keep filling and emptying as I read articles on the subject. Radha was right: there’s an auction here in New York, and it’s called The Virgin Exchange. I can hardly believe it’s real.
Kim G. was 18 when she decided a college education was essential to her future, but that she didn’t want to begin her adult life mired in debt, read one story.
“I don’t regret a thing,” said Ann L., reflecting on her auction four years ago. “I made more money in one night than I would throughout the next couple years. And Wesley was very gentle…”
I read a dozen more stories like these: women like me who needed fast cash. The skeptical side of me asks, What about the women who hated the experience? Where are those stories?
Yet, most go into great detail about the fun they had, or how it affected their lives in many great ways, or that they would do it again, if it were possible.
What’s more, apparently nobody gets forced into sex at this thing: Organizers of the Exchange make it clear that the participating women can back out at any time, as long as they’re willing to forgo the money.
Feeling an electric frisson, I have an epiphany: I’m doing this. There’s no point in arguing with myself about it further. I clearly want to sign up, or I wouldn’t have kept reading.
So, following links from the news stories, I find The Virgin Exchange’s website. Impatient, I skim the legal disclaimers, rules, and testimonies, and move onto the sign up page. To my surprise, it doesn’t ask for any personal information. For the sake of my privacy, they’ll only collect it at the conclusion of the auction. All I need to do now is send the basics: my age, education level, occupation, a short biography and a series of pictures: candid, outdoors, formal, and beach.
Scanning through my online photo albums, I wonder if I’m who they really want. I pick the best ones and upload them, and then it’s done. The application is finished. After drinking up the rest of my wine and paying my tab, I decide to go home, walking the few blocks back to the apartment. By now Radha’s likely left with Paulo, hopefully to his place.
Thankfully, the lights in my apartment are off when I get in: our code that Radha’s not here. Changing into shorts and a t-shirt, I open up the textbook for my psych class. For fifteen minutes I attempt to study, but I don’t make it past the first page of the chapter. I’m still thinking about the auction.
The excitement has fizzled away, drained by my doubt they’ll choose me. It’s like playing the lottery: you know you’re probably not going to win, but the fantasy is fun while it lasts.
In this case, it’s about a handsome, powerful man willing to sacrifice a small fortune for the thrill of claiming me for the first time. An experienced man, a gentleman, who can show me gentle love-making first, and then hard, relentless fucking, the kind Radha goes on about every morning while I make waffles.
My eyes close, picturing it in my mind.
“Strip,” he says. I do what he tells me to, trusting him completely. As I remove the last of my clothes, I’m not self-conscious. The look on his face tells me he likes what he sees. As I stand there, he stands up and slowly unbuttons his shirt, now that it’s my turn to watch.
I dream about running my hands up and down his rock-hard pecs, feeling my nipples hardening to pebbles. Then he unzips his trousers and I’m about to see his-
My phone pings an alert, drawing me out of the fantasy. Blushing, I realize my hand had found its way down between my thighs; in my panties I feel warmth and wetness. I want to relieve the ache left in the wake of my little reverie, but instead, I decide to answer the phone.
It’s only as I open the message that I realize no one ever texts or calls me this late. The sender’s number isn’t in my contacts either.
It can’t be…
My heart starts to race so loud I can feel it in my skull. The message reads:
Your application has been accepted. Welcome to The Virgin Exchange.