“Blow their minds.” She says, biting my earlobe.

She makes that mmm sound as she breathes in my freshly-shaven skin and I push my groin against her hip to show my appreciation. I can’t work without taking a bath first, but she indulges me. “Victor Hugo would only write nude,” she teases.

She winks at me over her shoulder as she ushers the kids to bed, and I pop a cough drop in my mouth, staring at her ass as she climbs the stairs. Patricia is and always has been a knockout—smart, too. She was really bookish in college, but that didn’t stop jocks like Jer from trying to get a piece. That’s how we met; Pat was my brother’s girlfriend first, but it didn’t last long.

That idiot dumped Patricia for a bleached-blonde party girl, and Pat dealt with the rejection through some pretty dark poetry she submitted to the university paper that I edited. I have no idea how it happened, but it wasn’t long before we were fucking on the poems she had written for my twin. It should have felt stranger than it did, but, then, most things should.

We’re not identical twins, Jerry and me. Jer’s brawny shoulders carried cheerleaders two at a time at only fifteen years old, whereas my weak frame still barely supports my kids’ book-filled backpacks. It was hard in school, having a twin twice my size and infinitely more popular. There was nothing Jer and his friends enjoyed more than pushing me up against locker room walls and telling me how pretty I was before tossing me naked into crowded hallways.

I mean, I could have bulked up a bit, but it’s more than just my stature. All my life guys have made fun of my high-pitched voice. It deepened during puberty, but not enough to prevent Jer from telling everyone in eleventh grade that my voice box had been scratched sucking dick. Whateve. He ruled high school, but I’m the one who ended up with the gorgeous wife. She doesn’t care how I sound.

Pat wrote her second-year midterms the day before we found out she was pregnant. She always knew she wanted to stay home with her kids, so she quit school and got a job while I finished the last year of my degree. I guess I was a little distracted, because I failed three courses.

“Don’t go back,” Pat said, when I told her I wouldn’t graduate on time, “We’ve got to figure something out before the baby’s here. Work for my dad; you know he’ll pay well.”

But I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be the dropout working for his father-in-law. Despite Pat’s disappointment, I reregistered for the fall semester soon after our daughter was born, and Pat worked until I started teaching 18 months later.

I take a glass of water to my new basement office and lock the door. I can’t stop thinking about her bite, her wink, her ass. I never imagined me being a writer would get her so hot. I mean, she had a thing for the creative kick I was on in college, but she never used to rub my shoulders and push her breasts against the back of my head when I made up lesson plans. She makes it easy to forget what I’m doing down here.

Just the sight of this room makes me stand taller, puff out my chest. The chair’s polished wood gleams, its seat and backrest padded with soft leather. The walls are dark brown, mahogany wainscoting covering their lower halves to match the desk. There’s a small dry bar in the corner, and Pat hung some pretty amazing local prints to inspire my work. (And inspire they have: I reviewed this collection of erotic nudes in my first column, dedicating the piece to my wife. Truth be told, the exceptionally creative portrait of leg-around-neck-kissed-by-the-clit-of-a-nude-with-the-largest-nipples-I’ve-ever-seen has served as inspiration, otherwise, as well.)

She did all this in the three days after I got the writing job. She clips my column every week, too, and files it in a large scrapbook. She knows every word I’ve written.

What she doesn’t know is a lot. She doesn’t know that the column pays fuck-all. She doesn’t know that despite the eight hours I spend in here each night, the column takes only an hour to write, and no, I’m not actually working on a novel. She doesn’t know that I can’t stand the burn of throat lozenges, that her name is my pseudonym, or how many men know about the beauty mark under her right nipple.

The night’s slow to start. I log onto the EarJoy site and write for a full twenty minutes until the phone rings.

“Patricia?” A women’s voice says on the other end of the line, “Meredith here. Hot to trot?”

I save my work and pitch my voice, “Can’t wait!”

If I really had my wife’s long red hair, I’d twirl it around my fingers right now.

The calls come to me through Meredith; she’s one of the site dispatchers. She takes the caller’s credit card info, preferences, and reminds them of my rules: no incest, kid talk, snuff, rape, or torture. My specialty is the horny good girl routine.

Once I’ve logged on, the site alerts dispatch that I’m available, and an EarJoy employee jumps on my line to record the minutes. I’ve got to keep callers listening for at least two or I don’t get paid, and there’s a fifty-five minute max, although a lot of callers forced off call back immediately. I make thirty-five cents a minute—fifteen cents more than EarJoy’s Lonely Housewives, ’cause I’m putting in the late hours, 7pm-3am. The money I earn is sent to my private PayPal account, and I empty that into our family checking account bi-weekly—no difficult-to-answer “what’s EarJoy Live mean?” questions on our bank statements.

My early callers are mostly from the east coast; it’s later there than it is here. This time of night I’ll probably get a boyfriend or two: socially awkward guys who want 10% sex, 90% handholding. These guys are usually youngish and try to send me gifts, but that’s a big no-no. Around 9pm, I’ll talk to a few workaholics coming down after a long day and a few lines of coke. If I’m still working, these guys might call back minutes after their alarms wake them, and I’ll help them get ready for work.

It gets real weird after midnight: lots of pedophiles and woman-haters. Those calls get flagged, and I don’t know what happens next. I usually get a frat house around that time, too, and they’re fun. They just want me to tell them about “my friends” on speaker phone while their drunken buddies holler in the background. Sexy slumber parties, naughty carwashes, steamy saunas: Patricia’s done it all. And, of course, a shift isn’t complete without a token lesbian caller—they’re my favorite. If the chick’s not too shy I can gather inspiration for the next caller, and have a little fun myself.

Within seconds, Meredith hooks me up. The line clicks and the guy on the other end is already breathing heavy. I can tell instantly its Henry. He’s a regular: middle-aged, white, upper income bracket—eager and easy to please. These guys usually have grown kids, frigid wives, spare time, and enough money to call a few times a week. They’re loyal to their phone actresses and they always want to hear about their own cocks. Their calls are the most lucrative, too, lasting between twenty-five and thirty minutes—a perfectly respectable payout that gives me plenty of time to take other calls, potentially meeting new regulars.

“Hi, Henry,” I breathe back. “Baby, I’m soaked. I need it so bad.”

It’s pretty standard: he asks me what I’m wearing, asks me to grab my tits, tells me to take my panties off. This part’s pretty easy, actually; I just describe Pat, I imitate the way she moans. If Henry isn’t too chatty, I usually get hard myself.

He ruins the mood by asking how his cock feels in my mouth. Typical Henry. I tell him he tastes like success—nice one, right? —but the line goes quiet.

“I lost my job today,” he says, “I worked there for thirty-three years. I don’t know why I called; I’m not even horny. I haven’t even told my wife yet.”

His voice breaks and it reminds me of Patricia’s when I told her I’d been laid off. It takes me right back to the sting of her palm on my face when I refused, again, to work for her father. I think of how Pat cried when our preschooler blocked the door, trying to keep her from going to work.

Once I watched her close the diner from the car while our kids slept in the back seat. Having sold our second vehicle for extra cash, I came to pick her up and I saw her manager grab her ass as she stacked chairs. When she got into the vehicle I acted like I hadn’t seen anything, but she knew I had. Early the next morning I found her topless in the baby’s room. Her milk had dried up from not being able nurse as often as she needed to.

The voice of the man I’m having paid phone sex with makes me think of the days I spent lying on top of crushed Cheerios and soured formula on the living room floor, and the suffocating stink of my own unwashed body, and the incessant demands of the kids. His voice reminds me of how Pat slept as far away from me as possible and how desperately I needed her to look at me and how badly I just wanted to not wake up at all if it meant going back to sleep unwanted.

I think of how my jaw ached after it set in response to the way she looked at Jerry last Easter. He announced his promotion just minutes after I told everyone I’d been fired.

“Don’t worry, Pipsqueak,” he said, “I know a guy looking for an arts columnist. Let me see what I can do.” He smiled and winked at Patricia across my parent’s kitchen table and she blushed, “Didn’t I say I’d always take care of you, Pattycake?” And they just looked at one another—not smiling, but not angry either. Remembering.

Smug Fuck. I looked to Jer’s wife, Carrie, but she was too busy filling her fat mouth with mashed potatoes to notice Jer’s obvious come-on. Oil stains were already forming dark rings around the splattered gravy on her blouse.

Still, the column saved my life. I was going to tell Patricia that it didn’t pay, but how could I after she interrupted me, jumping into my arms like that, pressing her lips so hard against mine? How could I after she led me to the basement and knelt on the unfinished floor, showing me the love I’d missed for so long? The way her eyes gazed up, searching mine; her lips open, finally smiling, pulling me in; the way her hands clenched the back of my thighs, claiming me, choosing me again—OK, maybe that was what saved my life.

Afterwards, she grabbed a blanket off of the upstairs couch and we leaned together against exposed beams. I watched her lips as she talked about textures and color schemes and how she’d make this space the perfect study for me. I told her I’d make enough for her to quit waitressing and was shocked when she believed me. I don’t know why I said it, I just wanted to feel like a big shot, I guess.

“Do you know what this means, Al?” She asked, “We’ll be together, home. I can take care of the kids and you can work; we’re free now. Do you understand? We’re free.”

She looked so damn beautiful I almost believed her. It was easy to laugh, to pull her close, to kiss her, again and again. At least that’s something: the first love I made in this room was real, 100%.

I spent the next week glued to muted pornos, unable to sleep. One night, a chat-line commercial advertised “We’re always looking for new voices!” and I realized how I’d make up the money.

“Patricia?” Henry asks, interrupting my thoughts.

“Sorry, Baby.” I stammer, resuming my character, “It’ll be ok. Don’t worry, Baby. Really, I’m not worried about a thing. I know you’ll figure it all out. Don’t you know no one can take care of me like you? You’re incredible. You’re a hero.”

Henry coughs, choking back a sob. If we were face-to-face I’d buy us a six pack and we’d drink it in my garage. We’d talk about asshole bosses and bullshit politicians and gorgeous girls, but instead, I tell him to relax, that I’m wiping away his tears, that I’m kissing his neck, his chest, that I’m wrapping my legs around him. I tell him he’s on top and I feel so safe because he’s so big and so strong. I tell him how hard he is and how tight I am and he grunts and moans while I describe my wife’s talents until I hear him come.

He hangs up and my clammy skin prickles as my stomach turns. I’m Patricia to as many men as I need to be to hit my $130 quota, and then I log off, call Meredith, and tell her I’m done for the night.

I look in on the kids before crawling into bed, trying my best not to disturb Patricia. Naked, she throws a thigh over mine, her hand reaching for my dick. She kisses my neck, trying to make me hard, but her tongue reminds me of the way the phone slips on the sweat of my skin during long calls. Give it to me, she teases, so I clear my throat: “Tell me what you want.”