The mood around the kitchen counter was sombre.
It was three days after Britney’s payday, and she was already having to mentally calculate the cost of everything she bought.
Rent was the biggest chunk, but it seemed like every month she needed to replace something expensive. Her credit card had been close to tapped out even before she got her job, and she hadn’t dared touch it except when she had to - but clawing money back onto it was proving a nightmare.
She gave vent to a low groan, shut off the banking app on her phone, dropped it on the countertop and leaned forward, pressing her head against the cool faux-marble wrap.
“So it’s bad?” her roommate asked. Taylor was about four years younger, barely out of college, and had told Britney she’d move in “about long enough to get my deposit ready on a house.” Which was fine; Britney would hold her hands up to having done some stupid shit with money when she first got a job and moved away from her parents. Between that and a car that seemed to be flat-out cursed, she’d had a lot of extra costs to make up that Taylor didn’t.
It was just that sometimes, Britney felt like Taylor was spending as much as she had, and somehow still coming out of it fine. Without even having support from a rich family, and the few rumblings she’d made about her job didn’t make it sound much different to a typical office job with all the pettiness and politics that always pointed to.
“I need there to be, like, fifteen new flavours of instant ramen,” Britney said. “I am so sick of the taste.”
“It’s not super good for you, either,” Taylor agreed. It was the sort of comment that from anyone else would be infuriating, but Taylor had a way of saying things that told you she absolutely understood, and absolutely was here for you. Britney let her get away with things she probably shouldn’t.
“Tell me something I don’t know,” she said ruefully. She lifted her head and exhaled slowly. “Maybe I should just buy a giant sack of pasta and the cheapest sauce packs I can find.”
Taylor set her milk carton on the counter and closed the fridge. She set her Keurig running and opened the cupboard, taking down a second mug. “Look,” she said, “if I’m being sympathetic here, a lot of it is that I want you to have a better time than this. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t being selfish at all.
“The shittier the position you’re in, the worse your days suck, the worse the atmosphere here gets. We both benefit when I support you.”
That got, at the least, a grudging smile and a nod from Britney. “It means a lot that you’re willing to stand by me,” she said, “even this much. I know I don’t often say that…”
Taylor waved it off. She took her mug out of the Keurig, put the next in, loaded another pod, another mug, poured milk into her own. “A lot of things have to go without saying when you share an apartment,” she said. Like a lot of Taylor-isms, it sounded like something she’d heard from someone more experienced, that she was cheerfully stealing for herself. Taylor was still new enough to proper day-job adulthood that she wanted to seem older and wiser. Britney, in contrast, had embraced ‘disaster’ as a concept for life after the first couple of waves of shattered illusions.
Britney sat back at the kitchen counter and exhaled slowly. “OK,” she said. “I mean, at least I’m clearing debts. A couple more years and I’ll be in a better place. Faster if the promotion comes through.”
Taylor set her coffee mug down on the other side of the countertop, then took out the fresh-made mug and her milk and put them close to Britney as an invitation. She took a seat of her own. “I thought you hated the place?”
“I don’t hate it, I…” Britney broke off with an exasperated sigh. “OK, I kind of do. But mostly I hate that it’s not enough.”
“Finding one that fits around my schedule is hell. I’m doing thirty hours a week, and it’s not enough pay but it’s too many to fit something else round easily.” She shrugged.
“End result is I’m stuck with all these patches of time through the week where I’m not working and I’m not earning enough to do new things with them and I just wind up staring at the TV or scrolling Twitter on my phone. And that’s not good.” After a long moment, Britney added a splash of milk to her own coffee and took the mug in both hands for comfort.
“Well, you’re not wrong - that’s pretty crappy,” Taylor said after a few moments. “On the other hand…” She trailed off, her expression distant, like she was weighing up what she wanted to say.
From just about anyone, that would have got Britney’s attention. From someone like Taylor who Britney considered more someone who couldn’t shut up, it had even more weight. “What?”
“I… might have a solution,” she said after another few moments. “To both problems.”
“Oh, God, anything.”
“Don’t say that just yet. But I could maybe rent your time, to get some things done.”
Britney looked at Taylor for a few seconds. “OK, if you’re going to ask me to take some money and go back to cleaning your part of the apartment like when you first got here, I’m-”
“Nothing like that,” Taylor said quickly. “And nothing you’d find boring. Actually… huh. Yeah. Thinking about it? I can guarantee you won’t be bored. You won’t even notice the time you’re using. But the time you have left, you’ll have extra money for. Cash, off the books. No tax.”
“This sounds… extremely skeevy.”
Taylor shrugged. “Maybe I should begin at the beginning. How about that?
“I made the deposit to move in here at Hot Topic, same as I helped pay my way through college. But even a year or two past college that was getting old, and I quit when I started looking to move.” She shrugged. “It was basically fine while I was still in the target market, but it gets a lot harder once you’ve aged out.”
Britney nodded in sympathy, and Taylor continued. “So I was basically taking whatever jobs I could find on Craigslist. Short term stuff, but do enough of them with enough hustle and you make a living. And then a couple of people started calling me back, and I actually realised I had as much work as I wanted to handle. So I, uh… I persuaded a friend to join in.”
“And this is what you’re asking me to sign up to?”
“More like the evolved version. I’ve got six or seven people helping me now. I take twenty percent and I guarantee nothing that pisses you off or upsets you. In fact, you’ll always have a warm, fuzzy glow as you finish a task.”
Britney rolled her eyes. “You can’t possibly guarantee that.”
“Sure I can. Same way I can guarantee you won’t notice your lost time. Because that’s basically what this is; a chance to rent some of that time you’re not using anyway.” She met Britney’s eyes, and the older woman shifted slightly; the intensity of Taylor’s eye contact here had been almost electric, almost felt like a spark passing between them.
“That’s not possible,” Britney repeated, though she didn’t feel nearly so sure.
Taylor stood abruptly. “Alright. Let me demonstrate. Two hours, thirty bucks.”
Britney sat back, startled how quickly this was happening. She had no good argument for it, but she had a definite sense that Taylor had been looking for an opening like this for a while and wasn’t going to waste the one she’d found. “N-now?”
Taylor was rounding the countertop, walking with a purpose, moving with a speed Britney just didn’t associate with her roommate - although the level of purpose seemed right; as long as she’d known the younger woman, Taylor had behaved like someone primed for greatness and determined to achieve it.
If it came down to that, the main reason Britney wrote off Taylor’s potential was her own disgruntled dissatisfaction that her own seemed to have been squandered. But here and now, she wasn’t convinced that Taylor would fail…
She started to get up, but Taylor was reaching out to her already; a leading hand that caught Britney’s shoulder and gently but firmly pushed her back down onto the high stool at the counter.
“Hush!” Taylor said crisply, cutting her off. She’d moved to stand behind Britney now, and took Britney’s head in her hands, holding it steady with a thumb behind each ear, a ring finger on each cheekbone, and two fingers resting on her temples.
Britney wasn’t sure what to make of this at all, but as Taylor’s fingers began to work at her temples she blinked twice and her eyes widened as the tension and frustration in her head began to break up.
“How is this a job?”
“It’s not, it’s preparation. Shhh.” She continued massaging away at Britney’s temples and Britney sat, for a time, silent and stunned, wondering what was going on. Then Taylor spoke again.
“What I’m trying to do here is just put you in the right frame of mind. I bet when you go to work you wait outside as long as you can, putting it off, don’t you?”
“Sure,” Britney agreed, wondering what the point was here.
“Well, I know you used to be happier going in there. I recognise the job sucks. But when you go in unhappy, or stressed, or whatever, even good work won’t be fun. So the first thing I want to do is change how you feel at the start.”
Her fingers shifted position slightly, moving from one stressed area to another, keeping Britney’s head in place but finding each knot of frustration and attacking it. Every time she moved her hands from one spot to another, there was a light tingle down the back of Britney’s neck, a frisson of something that left her scalp feeling somehow tantalised, left her head feeling somehow lighter.
“You’re good at this,” Britney said, a little embarrassed that she seemed to be slurring her ‘r’ a little. Taylor gave a coo of delight at her words, possibly the most ‘natural’ thing she’d done in Britney’s hearing. Unlike many of her mannerisms, no part of it seemed staged.
“Thank you,” she purred. “So what I want is to get you a little happier and a little more relaxed…” Her voice had completely changed. There was a friendly, confiding authority to her tone, as if she were excited to introduce Britney to her secret, but knew that it was still her secret.
“I want you to feel really good, Britney. And that sounds good, right?” Her touch was skilled, but her voice was a constant drip of honey. So sweet that Britney felt there must be some trick to it, but at the same time, just wanted to listen. If it could keep her scalp fizzing with easy delight, if her worry and stress could melt under those strong, talented fingers, she wasn’t going to do anything that might interrupt it.
“Oh yeah,” she agreed dreamily.
“So we want the same thing. That’s nice, that’s always nice. So I’m just going to show you my trick that helps with relaxation, and helps you feel so good, and maybe there’s something I can learn from you later. But right now all you have to do is sit there and… relax.”
Something about the way she said that last word sent shivers down Britney’s spine. She felt so good, and she closed her eyes to feel it even more clearly.
“There, see, that’s good. You’re very good at this. And you’re going to find that the more you relax, the easier it is to relax, and the more you do, the less you need to…” Taylor kept talking, but honestly Britney had stopped paying attention. The sound of her voice was enough; the actual words didn’t matter nearly so much.
And paying attention was getting in the way of her efforts to relax.
Taylor’s touch and the sound of her voice filled Britney’s head to the exclusion of all else, and then there was nothing.
Britney opened her eyes. Her back was protesting, just a little, as if she’d sat in one place a little too long. Taylor’s laptop was open in front of her, with an email written and ready to send. The quality of light in the kitchen was different, as if time had passed and shadows had lengthened.
She didn’t recognise the email address the email was for.
The first half of your essay is attached! Second half is complete and will be sent on receipt of your Venmo payment. Sorry I didn’t send it until today, but there was research that had to be done.
Only after she’d finished reading the email did she notice that Taylor was watching Netflix in the lounge with the door open.
“What happened?” she called.
“Are you awake?” Taylor answered. Britney frowned. What kind of question was that?
“What do I do with this email?” she tried.
“Oooh.” There was the sound of the sofa scraping back as Taylor shot to her feet, then hurried through. “Already? That was quick.”
“What do you mean?”
But Taylor was ignoring Britney’s question, instead peering over her shoulder studying the email. Her arm went around Britney’s shoulder, which seemed rude, then her hand came up to brush against Britney’s cheek, and Britney found herself melting into a happy puddle inside. It was like she’d been starved for contact for months.
“Now, tell the truth,” Taylor said softly. “You did your best with this, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” Britney said, then blinked. “Wait, with what?”
“You can hit Send, then,” Taylor said, and Britney did. Taylor promptly straightened up, reached for her purse on the counter, and passed Britney three tens. “Less than two hours, but thirty bucks, because results,” she said. “Better wages when I give you a job from someone who’s paying more. Sound good?”
Britney held up a hand with one warning finger raised. “Hang on,” she said. “I need some explanations. What did I just do?”
Taylor took a seat next to her and beamed. “You just edited and expanded someone’s half-assed second-year college essay.”
“That’s against college rules.”
A shrug. “For them, not you. They were happy to pay enough to make it worthwhile. You spent, let’s see…” She looked at the laptop clock. “One hour twenty-five editing and adding. And I’m now paying you thirty dollars.”
Britney blinked. “And doing this is how you always have money?”
“Oh, no. I hustle all kinds of things. This is on the cheap end, but I really didn’t want to do it and it’s in your old major so it was perfect for you to handle for me.”
“…Why don’t I remember?”
“Because you did it while hypnotised, and because part of the deal is not having to remember. Do you want another boring essay taking up memory?”
“I… guess not,” Britney conceded. She had a sense she was being carried along by something other than Taylor’s enthusiasm.
Taylor grinned. “So… can I rent more of your time?”
Britney wanted to say no. She really did. Especially when she looked at that grin. But her phone was nearby; she picked it up, opened her bank app again, looked at her balance…
She sighed. “I guess. But nothing, you know, weird.”
“Cross my heart,” Taylor said.
Britney opened her eyes. Behind her, a car - an Uber, she somehow knew - was pulling away, headed to its next destination. She rated the driver five stars - why not? She hadn’t noticed a single problem with the ride; in fact, she hadn’t noticed the ride, which arguably made it the best Uber she’d ever had.
She took stock of her situation. She was wearing some worn-out old trainers, ones she would’ve sworn she’d thrown away, an old concert T-shirt from a band she’d gone off, and dungarees, now in some wear and tear and spattered with paint. She didn’t own dungarees, and she and Taylor were not the same size, yet these fitted her. Surprisingly closely, actually - tight enough around the ass and the chest to be showing her off as much as anything.
Then she headed back into the apartment. Taylor would be there - now her secret was out, she stayed in instead of pretending to work 9-5 while actually hanging out in a Starbucks, as she’d confessed once Britney began working for her.
“So what was I just doing?” she asked, dropping into an armchair near the TV where Taylor was half-watching The Good Place while she checked her emails and ran her ‘company’.
“Does it matter?” Taylor asked. By this time this exchange had become pretty much a ritual. “And please change before you sit for too long. I’m not gonna be the one getting paint out of the chair.”
Britney shrugged. The Uber driver hadn’t complained about paint on the seat, so she had to have been pretty well sorted.
“It doesn’t matter,” she acknowledged, “but I like confirmation.”
“Like to be told what you spent your effort on?” Taylor asked. “Or just like being sure you’ve been a good girl?”
This was a new tactic from Taylor, and one that stopped Britney’s thought processes in their tracks.
On the screen, Ted Danson snapped his fingers and Kristen Bell forgot the last year of her life.
Britney had to admit that hearing someone click their fingers was much more distracting than it had been before.
“Both,” she managed, after a few moments. Taylor smiled, got up, and put her hand against Britney’s cheek. The older woman melted into the caress, as always. Her thoughts swam in and out of focus. Had they changed in the process? Sometimes it felt like they must have done, even if that didn’t make any sense.
“You painted someone’s garage,” Taylor told her. “You’re going back tomorrow for the second coat, unless you’ve got any complaints?”
Britney shook her head. Taylor’s eyes sparkled when she smiled, and whenever Britney saw her smile she wanted her to keep smiling, no matter what.
“Good girl,” Taylor said, and Britney instantly felt that strange, wonderful tingle across her scalp and down her spine. It felt so good. So much better than made any sense.
“I’m going to change,” Britney said, and Taylor nodded. “Of course you are.”
Britney opened her eyes, standing in pajama shorts and a halter top. She’d definitely just changed out of the boots she thought she’d thrown away and the dungarees she definitely didn’t own. But where she’d put them, she had no idea. They weren’t in the laundry hamper, they weren’t on the floor, and they weren’t in her wardrobe.
Which was something she needed to have words with Taylor about at some point. There used to be two wardrobes in that wall, and now there was just an empty space of wall where a door should be.
She walked back out into the kitchen, made a coffee in the Keurig, got it just how Taylor liked it then took it over to her. Taylor accepted it, beaming, and Britney smiled.
She began giving her roommate a backrub. Taylor sighed in blissful approval, and Britney preened. It really was the least she could do to pamper her boss, given how much more money Britney had to play with now. And she spent so much time working on new jobs that she wasn’t driven to spend nearly as much on distractions, either.
“This is nice,” Taylor smiled. “I’ve been wondering whether or not to send you on a massage course. You’re very good with your hands, and it could be quite a nice little earner. What do you think?” She tilted her head back, those smiling eyes meeting Britney’s.
Still, Britney wasn’t sure she felt tremendously comfortable with that idea. “I don’t know,” she said. “I mean, this is fine. We’re friends. But as a job? Touching strangers? And aren’t massage people meant to be, you know… slutty?”
Taylor reached up and put her hand against Britney’s cheek. “Trust me,” she said.
“You’re the boss,” Britney said. “I’m willing to go with what you think’s best.”
Britney opened her eyes. An enthusiastic young blonde was driving the car she was in the passenger seat of, and as Britney became aware of her surroundings, she realised the woman was mid-sentence - probably mid-monologue, to be honest; Britney wasn’t sure how she behaved while under hypnosis, but she imagined someone empty-headed, silent, still. Something out of a movie.
It was a good job, really, that none of that stayed with her when she woke up. And it was nice to be wearing jeans and a baggy hoodie again; much more her preferred style.
“…thanks again,” the blonde said, having finally finished whatever her story had been - something about how Britney had made her comfortable? “And this is your place, right?”
“Right,” Britney agreed. “Thanks for the ride.”
She got out and headed up to the apartment.
“So what was I just doing?” she asked as she opened the fridge for a soda. Taylor looked up from her emails.
“Does it matter?”
“I’m just curious.”
Taylor rose and stepped over to Britney, put her hand on her cheek. “You’ve been life modelling,” she said. “For the art class, same as last week.” Britney, melting internally as always from Taylor’s caress, smiled.
“Well, that’s fine,” she said.
“This week was nude modelling,” Taylor added, and Britney had a sense that she was being watched, scrutinised, as Taylor tried to read her reaction.
She shrugged. “That’s fine too,” she said. “No funny business.”
Britney opened her eyes. She was on foot, rounding the corner to see the apartment block she and Taylor lived in, and she was sweaty, but feeling high as anything on endorphins. She was wearing what she’d bought to be running shorts but which, over the past couple of years, had been repurposed as booty shorts, and she was wearing a low-cut top she hadn’t worn since the nightclubs at college. Sturdy trainers were on her feet, but she had a pair of heels in one hand.
She’d been pretty sure she’d got rid of the shorts and the top, but apparently not.
She was confident this one had been a high-paying rental, though, so she was pretty cheerful as she walked through the door.
“So what was I just doing?” she asked, though the fact Taylor had been loitering near the doorway told her it was something new, about which Taylor might be anxious.
Nonetheless she replied “Does it matter?”
Britney shrugged. “I guess not,” she said, and was surprised when Taylor reached out to caress her cheek -much earlier than she usually expected from the ritual - and simply smiled.
“I think you’re nearly ready,” she said. Britney, not clear on what she might mean, just smiled, and stood waiting to be told to change. That too seemed to have become part of the ritual.
Taylor didn’t, though. She turned around and headed back into the lounge, where Britney was by this time not surprised to see another of Taylor’s team was present.
Louise, Taylor had explained, joined the team about a month before Britney, and for much the same reason. Since Taylor had started working from home more often, Louise had spent more time in the apartment too, and Britney had wondered for some time whether Louise just liked pampering Taylor as much as Britney did or whether the two were lovers.
Clad in a shirt left unbuttoned and instead tied just below her breasts along with a scandalously short skirt, Louise was posed deferentially on her knees to one side of Taylor’s recliner. In front of her was a stool with all the equipment needed for a pedicure, which Britney suddenly realised that Taylor must have interrupted to wait for her and check she was OK.
Taylor settled back onto the recliner and offered Louise a foot, which the redhead cradled against her breasts, almost in them, as she got back to work.
“…Is she on rental right now?” Britney asked.
“Oh, yes,” Taylor said cheerfully. “I do pay my way when I want pampering. Well, any pampering people aren’t happy to offer anyway. Isn’t that right, Louise?”
The redhead didn’t answer, and Taylor smiled. Britney’s mouth was suddenly dry. Was she, too, that intensely devoted, that curiously absent, when she was under hypnosis?
“OK, well, I’m gonna go change,” she said, because if nobody said anything the atmosphere was going to get very awkward very quickly.
“Just before you do,” Taylor called, “one thing?”
Britney paused at the door. Found herself smiling, rather than having to force a smile as she’d kind of expected she might. “Sure?”
“I’m renting you for the next two hours,” Taylor said, and grinned a full on Bugs Bunny ain’t-I-a-stinker grin. Which was the thing Britney’s vision faded out on.
Britney opened her eyes. Unusually for the sense of sudden, sharp consciousness, she was lying down, not standing or sitting (or, on one memorable occasion, kneeling, with a very strange taste in her mouth - she was still not entirely sure but she thought it might taste like leather, as if she’d been licking some, but by now she’d stopped asking Miss Taylor what she was being rented for). In fact, she was in her own bed, which was a very odd place to have had rental work.
The curtains were closed but the quality of the light around their edges told her it had been day for some time now.
For a few moments she came alive with explosive panic. It was Monday. It was well past time she headed to work-
Suddenly, her brain caught up with her situation a little more fully. Miss Taylor’s rentals had been bringing in better money at better rates for a couple of months now. Today was the day after her notice finished.
No more wearing the uniform. No more customer service. No more unpleasant moments at work that stayed with her long after she’d got home. No more putting on a fake smile for her employer - her smiles for Miss Taylor were always completely genuine.
She got out of bed and saw her computer’s lights were on, though the screen was black. Checking, it turned out the monitor had been turned off - and once she turned it back on, she saw that she’d evidently been playing Miss Taylor’s Personal Program for Britney on audio as she went to sleep.
It was so good of Miss Taylor to record that. It meant she didn’t lose more of her valuable free waking hours being trained; instead, she could devote her sleep to becoming a better rental.
Britney walked into the kitchen and was rewarded by a warm smile from Miss Taylor, the kind which showed how proud Miss Taylor was to have such a good rental under her charge.
She glanced at the countertop and saw Miss Taylor already had a coffee. This being the case, she didn’t need to prepare one. Instead, she moved on to her own breakfast.
It was when she opened the fridge and felt the chill coming from it that she realised she’d been sleeping naked, and that dressing in front of Miss Taylor was no longer necessary.
Britney took out the eggs and started making an omelette. “Do you need me today, Miss Taylor?”
“I haven’t got any jobs for you right now,” she replied. “But I’m at a fairly loose end today, and you could play into that, if you want.”
Britney realised her roommate had come closer. She turned to face her and found Miss Taylor’s hand on her cheek. Immediately she melted inside - and almost outside, too; Miss Taylor had to catch her and steady her as her knees gave way.
She guided Britney down to her knees, where things immediately felt much, much better. It just seemed like a good place to be.
“You’re a good girl, Britney,” said Miss Taylor, her hand still against Britney’s cheek. “I’ve decided to take you with me when I move into my house.”
There was only one thing Britney could think to say to that. “Yes, Miss Taylor.”
“Of course, at that point, you’ll be renting from me. So I think we’ll need to work out a new rental agreement. What do you think about that?”
Britney had started processing the idea before it was made into a question. The question, though, was one of Miss Taylor’s ritual questions, and a favourite, though it felt like Britney had only realised that recently. All the same, she knew the answer as well as she knew anything else.
“I don’t know what I think until you tell me, Miss Taylor.”
Miss Taylor cooed at that, then turned to put her back against the countertop, bracing herself. She lifted her skirt and Britney’s face was, suddenly, just inches away from beautiful bare flesh, suddenly smelling arousal on the air, not knowing if it was hers or her Miss’s.
“Miss Taylor,” she said slowly, choosing her words with care and respect, “I know I’m not on rental, and I know your free time is ever so valuable…”
“Well, it’s just… would you object at all if I were to take up some of your free time by worshipping you with my lips?”
“Oh, I think a good girl like you needs a reward, every so often,” Miss Taylor laughed. She took her hand away so both hands could grip the countertop, and she parted her legs.
Britney leaned in, eager and happy, kissing her gently before admiring her reactions and that soft little purr of delight and ownership her kiss provoked.
She was, it had to be said, so happy to be one of Miss Taylor’s rentals, because that meant Miss Taylor had to own her.
As she leaned in again and started to pepper her owner’s thighs with kisses, having to build up the nerve to perform for her as she’d asked, Britney decided she’d try to get the right to pleasure Miss Taylor whenever she asked in their new agreement.