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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

In any other circumstance, she would have pounced on the chance to spend a weekend at Hotel Duval, one of Tallahassee’s most luxurious.

She would have paused to admire the lobby’s contemporary decor, with its low-slung leather lounge chairs and cascading chandeliers. She would have casually scanned the crowded bar, locking eyes with one of the younger, clean-shaven and crisp-collared professionals sipping after-work cocktails.

But tonight, her steps are quick. She ducks her head and silently prays nobody sees her.

She’s working this weekend, her first time. She’s nervous.

Her name is Mel. She met this man on the Internet. He’s older than her dad. He told his wife and two children that he was going on a business trip. I’ll be back Sunday night, he told them.

She’s spoken to him on the phone a few times. His name is Tom. She sensed he was distracted, not much interested in deep conversation. So she clucked enthusiastically about hollow topics, like the weather, or her minimal knowledge of football.

He sent her some photos. Professional photographs taken from when he was featured in a magazine article. He is bald, and not in a muscular, Mr. Clean kind of way.

She’s in the lobby, laden with two matching pink duffel bags, one for shoes.

It’s not too late, she can turn around, march back to the parking lot and drive away.

Now she’s in the elevator, crammed between serious men in suits with briefcases and BlackBerries. Her lower back puddles a nervous sweat.

It’s not too late. She could be at her apartment in 15 minutes.  The apartment with her second-floor bedroom painted pale yellow, decorated in picture frames of her with friends, her parents and yellow lab, Caesar, when he was a puppy.  Her room, just how she left it, textbooks piled on a desk next to empty coffee mugs, clothes scattered on the floor, this weekend’s reject pile.

Now she’s on the top floor in the hallway. She moves past closed doors and double-checks the number scribbled on a crumpled scrap paper.  She’s here.

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It’s not too late. If she hurries, she can make it to the end of happy hour. Her girlfriends seated at their usual table near the bar, surrounded by empty margarita pitchers, frequent bursts of laughter interrupting the table’s chatter.

Her palms are clammy and tense, heart thumping like a frightened hare within her ribs.

She knocks.

She met him in an online dating site. The site didn’t broadcast promises of love or soul mates. It didn’t crow about a commitment to compatibility matching. It wasn’t adorned in pictures of doting couples or flushed brides.

The site is SeekingArrangement.com, where older, affluent men meet women who are young, fresh-faced and sometimes, quietly desperate.

It’s a trade-off. His gifts can include monthly allowances, posh vacations, spa visits, jewelry and designer-clothing shopping sprees. In return, he’ll get a stroked ego, doting attention and the arm candy of a younger woman, whose winsome, youthful beauty requires little artifice or cosmetic enhancement.

He’ll also get sex.

On Monday, Mel will be a 22-year-old student at Florida State University, a social science major with a 4.0 GPA. Tuesday, she’ll be a babysitter. The kids, 3 and 6, are pictured on her cell phone.

But this weekend, Mel is a sugar baby.

There are thousands like Mel. On the surface they are normal college girls, with internships, Facebook profiles, boyfriends and career goals. But they are more defiant, daring, restless, promiscuous. Or it’s a last resort.

The benefits of becoming a sugar baby are attractive: paid bills, fancy clothes, new jewelry, expensive haircuts, monthly allowances, luxurious vacations, the consummate feeling of financial security.

There is one prerequisite. A sugar baby must be sexually willing; maybe not on the first date but probably by the second and almost definitely by the third. Sooner or later, sex is almost always a must.

Read Part 2 here

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