Esther never really thought much of her feet until people started paying her for pictures of them. Only then did she notice their delicate beauty. The freckle punctuating the concavity beneath her right ankle. The bones that fanned from leg to foot-knuckles when her toes were spread. The sensual curve of her arch and the virgin skin hiding coyly beneath it.
Even though she considered herself smart enough, Esther opted out of college, citing it as “America’s greatest scam.” Besides, she didn’t know what she’d study even if she did go. She envied people who had passion or drive or even a vague sense of direction for what kind of job they wanted. All Esther knew was that she wanted to make money and do as little work as possible. After a gap-year of living with her parents, Esther’s aunt and uncle in Los Angeles offered for her to be a live-in nanny to her two young cousins, so she took them up on it.
Having grown up in the suburbs of Chicago, Esther was excited to live somewhere warm and new. She hoped her life would figure itself out if she changed scenery. She knew she would never be an actor because she was quite plain looking and had features too soft and round for film. Just opening her phone and seeing herself caught off-guard through the front-facing camera could send her into a spiral of self-loathing. However, for the first two weeks in L.A., every time Esther went to the grocery store, she wore her best fashion-casual ensemble just in case someone were to insist she be their muse.
Yet it was when lounging by her aunt’s pool one hot September afternoon that Esther happened upon what she figured must be her calling. She had casually posted a photo of her feet stretching skyward in the foreground of a palm tree when @rckjms369 DM’ed her: “I would pay anything for another look at these feet.”
Esther screenshot the message and sent it to her best friend, Meg, saying, “lol,” followed by, “but should I do it?” She figured she had some time to mull it over, which she did while babysitting her cousins Amalie and Arthur and managing their online learning schedules as their parents worked in their makeshift bedroom office. Arthur had turned six that July, entering first grade through the comfort of his living room. Amalie, at three and a half, had her own set of online classes curated by groups that cater to the parents who sign their kids up for kindergarten shortly after conception. Esther could barely stand babysitting because she found kids boring and trite, and online classes posed an even bigger challenge. She’d mastered the art of whisper-yelling with an emphasis on angry eyes so neither the teachers nor her aunt and uncle could hear her scolding the kids.
In the midst of a particularly taxing argument with Arthur, where Esther insisted she would not draw a tiger for him because he could do it himself, she messaged @rckjms369 that she was down. After exchanging five photos of her feet for $100, Esther figured it would be quick money and she’d be able to move into her own apartment sooner than she’d planned. Under the guidance of @rckjms369, Esther created a finsta for her feet, using hashtags like #feetlovers #prettytoes and #footporn to build a fan base she could later monetize.
Babysitting her cousins became easier as Esther now had a prospect for making money while barely doing anything. She could watch them without taking every strange thing they did so personally. In the evenings, she would lock the door of her guest room and find new angles at which to take pictures of her feet. By the end of September, dozens of men were begging her to fulfill their personal requests, so she consulted @rckjms369, who agreed it was time for her to take the next step and start an OnlyFans.
“OnlyFans is no joke,” she said to Meg over FaceTime. “I had to take a picture of myself with my license, and now I’m waiting for them to approve me or whatever.”
“Guess they don’t take kindly to catfishing,” Meg said as she brushed her teeth with her phone camera capturing the ceiling of her bathroom and the occasional brush stroke.
“Then I have to fill out a W-2 and connect my bank and like keep track of taxes or something.” Esther paused. “Or at least that’s what @rckjms369 told me.”
“Who the eff is that?” Meg immediately shot into frame with toothpaste on her lips.
“Like my mentor or whatnot.”
“Mentors don’t jack off to pictures of their mentees’ feet.”
“Actually, Meg, they probably do. We just don’t think about it. Like your mentor from that children’s literacy group?”
Meg gasped. “Mrs. Valazquez would never.”
“Oh my god, they approved me,” Esther said looking at her notification.
And so Esther set up her OnlyFans for $20 per month or a bundle of three months at 10% off. She considered doing a six-month bundle, but that seemed like too much of a commitment on her part. After uploading a picture of the tops of her feet as a profile photo and the bottoms of her feet as the banner photo, Esther screenshot her page and uploaded it to her foot finsta, writing, “Want more of these little piggies? Subscribe to me on OnlyFans for exclusive content and VIP offers,” followed by the drooling emoji and a haphazard amount of water squirts.
Suddenly, Esther felt the weight of her new career and had no idea what to do next. She DM’ed @rckjms369, who said, “I’ll send you pages for inspo.” Esther clicked on one of his links that led to an account called “jannakahnfeet” and read through her detailed VIP and Skype packages and her bio that said, “My kind of job is a footjob.”
Esther scrolled down to the caption of Janna’s most recent photo that said, “This one features some soft, wrinkled arch cleavage.” Esther took a deep breath and typed in her debit card number from memory to subscribe to Janna’s page and see her content. The photo was exactly as described, the bottom of Janna’s toes scrunched and wrinkled, only Janna was fully nude behind her strategically placed feet. Esther slammed her laptop shut and FaceTimed Meg, who answered after one ring.
“I’m a simp,” Esther cried.
“Why?” Meg said, distracted by something off-screen.
“Because I am now a paying customer of this random woman’s foot pics,” Esther said, taking a deep breath and opening her laptop back up, once again scrolling through Janna’s page. On the other end of the call, gunshots sounded, and Meg’s breath quickened.
“Meg, are you listening to me?”
“I’m watching The Sopranos,” Meg said.
“Cool. Wanna know what I’m watching? A forty-five-year-old woman jack a man off with her feet.”
Esther spent the next few days coming up with her boundaries. She decided on suggestive VIP content, but no nudity. However, she did come up with a price in her mind that she might find persuasive. She would accept socks and shoes as gifts, and her photos would feature no men or dildos. That would be left up to the subscriber’s imagination.
She was up to about two dozen subscribers by the end of the week, but the payments were still pending. On her phone’s calculator she typed, “20 x 24 =” and got “480,” but then remembered OnlyFans would take 20%. She’d only been out of high school for a year but already struggled to remember how to do percentages. After shutting her eyes and thinking really hard, she put “480 x .8 =” into her calculator and got “384.” Then she remembered taxes, so she googled, “How much are taxes?” and entered “384 x .75” to get “288.”
Her phone began to ring with a FaceTime call from Meg. Esther posed with her hand on her forehead and answered,
“Yeah, I’m aware,” Meg said. “Did you take my long-sleeve black shirt with you when you moved?”
“Maybe,” Esther said.
“Bring it back next time you’re home,” Meg said.
“Meg, how am I supposed to buy my own long-sleeve black shirt when I’m being robbed blind by the IRS?”
“Not my problem. K bye,” Meg said, hanging up.
That night, Esther lay awake in bed, unable to sleep as she reconsidered her boundaries. She knew the blue light of her phone would make sleeping even harder, but she had pressing questions to resolve. She typed into the search bar, “when did nudity become problematic” and read articles about how complete nudity in public became associated with lower status in some cultures, sin and shame in others, and the perfection of the gods in others.
Esther got out of bed, took off her pajamas, and sat in front of the closet door mirrors in her room, tastefully positioning herself with one knee in front of her chest and the other knee in front of her crotch. Steadily, she held her phone up and took a picture in the mirror, being sure to make eye contact with the mirror reflection of the camera lens. She looked at her shot and immediately zoomed in on the rolls between her hips and her waist before hitting the trash can button to delete the photo and going to the folder of recently deleted photos to delete it again, this time for good. She turned off the light in her room and got into bed, putting her pajamas back on in the dark.
“You’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen,” sat at the top of her DMs when she woke up the next morning. Esther read over it several times, words she comprehended but had never read or thought to be true. Acutely alarmed, she realized this was her regular page and not the finsta dedicated to her feet. This man was referring to her face and, perhaps, her body.
“tysm,” she wrote back, and immediately his text bubbles appeared and disappeared. Noting the gray hair in his profile image, she expanded, “(thank u so much).”
“My name is Tate,” he wrote. “I have a lot of money and no one to spoil with it.”
Esther didn’t know what to say back to that, but she knew the message would be marked as “seen” on his end. After a few moments, he continued, “I’ll pay you $200 to have ice cream in the park with me. We can sit at a safe distance, just as long as I can be in your breathtaking presence.”
“r u looking for sex???” Esther wrote back, “cuz thats not what i’m about…”
“No, baby,” Tate wrote, “I’m just a lonely old man looking for some company is all.”
“$250,” Esther wrote.
“I love a girl who knows her worth. You’ve got yourself a deal Miss Esther.”
At first, Esther thought it might be strange to have an ice cream date with Tate, who was somewhere between the age of her dad and grandfather, but then she figured it would be nice to hang out with someone besides Amalie and Arthur. It hadn’t really occurred to her that it’s hard to make friends in a new place without something like school to facilitate bonding.
That Sunday, as Esther walked up to a cluster of tables and chairs in the park by the reservoir, she found Tate with a bouquet of tulips on the chair opposite him. Esther approached from the side, not wanting to assume the flowers were for her.
“Miss Esther,” Tate greeted her with a tinge of surprise that she’d shown up. He gestured towards the chair with the bouquet. “Take a seat.”
“What do I do with these?” Esther said.
“Well, you take them home and put them in water, but try to cut the stems with a knife instead of scissors. The scissors sort of close off the opening.”
Esther remained still.
“Or,” Tate continued, “you could just sit on them.”
“So they’re for me?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Is that ok?”
“Oh, yeah, sorry, I just haven’t gotten flowers since like my middle-school dance recitals,” Esther said, picking up the tulips and smelling them. “Thank you. For real.”
“I saw them at the market, and the tulips reminded me of your pillow cheeks, so I had to get them for you,” Tate said, then course-corrected with, “Anyway, I’m Tate. Interacting with anyone feels foreign to me at this point, let alone a beautiful girl like you.”
“You’re doing ok,” Esther said with a slight smile intended to make him relax. After chatting about the weather and eating ice cream as promised, Tate sent her $250 and she went on her way. They made these dates a weekly event, essentially doubling Esther’s income while halving the work. Sometimes, she thought she’d still go to the park with Tate even if he stopped paying her, but she did want to save enough to move out of her aunt and uncle’s house.
For Thanksgiving, Esther’s aunt and uncle decided to take Amalie and Arthur out of town for some variety and maybe a little culture. They invited Esther to come with them, but she was excited to have the place to herself for the week so she could pretend she owned a house in L.A.
“Come to my house for Thanksgiving,” Tate suggested. “My kids won’t be coming home this year, and it’s a bit pathetic to make a turkey for one.”
Esther accepted, figuring she could always bail if she changed her mind or leave if she got uncomfortable, since she was pretty sure by this point he wasn’t going to murder her.
“Why don’t you just come home for Thanksgiving?” Meg said with a mouth full of cereal over FaceTime.
“Because I’m not a superspreader, Meg,” Esther said.
“Well, make sure your location is turned on, and text me his full name and address and any other identifying details before you go,” Meg said. “Like what does he even look like?”
“I don’t know,” Esther said. “Honestly, he looks like he probably used to be hot. His eyes are green and shiny, and his hair is gray but, like, dark gray. And he smiles a lot, but when he smiles it’s like his wrinkles are pulled in the opposite direction, which makes me think he didn’t smile much in his life before me.”
“Oh my god, you have feelings for him,” Meg said, dropping her spoon.
“No, I don’t,” Esther said. “Our situation is super, like, problematic. I just like spending time with him.”
“That’s feelings, honey.”
Esther decided Meg was wrong, but then also maybe not because day-of she was nervous getting dressed to go to Tate’s for Thanksgiving. Surely, she didn’t have feelings for him, she decided, and surely, she would be keeping all of her clothes on, but she shaved her legs just in case she changed her mind. She had known Tate for two months, and it was always easy and comfortable, but as Esther walked up the steps to his house for the first time, she began to wonder if she should have just worn jeans instead of her brown velvet co-ords or if she should have brought something more to contribute than just the wine her aunt had in the cabinet above the fridge.
“Hey, darling,” Tate said opening the door for her, “you look great.”
“You, too,” Esther said, smiling at his oven mitts and the apron over his button-up.
“I should warn you that I’ve gone all out,” he said. “Quite an undertaking when you cook for a girl for the first time on Thanksgiving.”
“Well, I’d have been happy with microwave mac and cheese.” She smiled. The nerves she had felt that morning began to subside as she fell into the comfort of Tate’s presence. He ushered her in to the table covered with food for the two of them.
Esther took a bit from each dish Tate had made, not having the heart to tell him she hated vegetables and would prefer if her plate were entirely beige. She took two dinner rolls smothered in butter, a large heaping of white turkey meat, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and about two carrots, three green beans, and a dollop of some yellow mash he called turnips.
As they ate, Esther looked around the dining room, seeing for the first time that Tate had a life outside of their dates in the park. The walls were decorated like a man making an earnest attempt to replicate what he understood about interior design from visiting his aunts growing up.
“I never even asked,” Esther said, flour from her dinner roll caking her lips. “You married?”
Tate held up a bare ring finger, one with an indentation suggesting the ghost of a ring. “Divorced,” he said. “Years ago.”
“I’ve never really understood marriage,” Esther said.
Tate smiled and took another bite, so Esther went on.
“Like my phone updates every few months, yet we cling to these archaic traditions.”
“I think people like tradition.”
“Right,” Esther said, filling her mouth with potatoes. “I forgot my audience.”
Tate refilled Esther’s glass of wine. “You’re spritely. I like that about you.”
When the plates were cleared, Esther lounged on the couch balancing her glass of wine on her full stomach. Tate insisted that he wasn’t doing the dishes, he just had to soak them, but Esther heard some scrubbing. She didn’t want to interrupt him or for him to hear her pee in the kitchen bathroom, so she figured she’d find the upstairs one.
Glass of wine in hand, she made her way up the stairs and noticed the blank staircase wall. Even though she didn’t believe in the traditional conceits of marriage, she wanted her own staircase to be filled one day with photos of family and the people she loved. So maybe she would get married after all. For a moment, she entertained what it would be like to marry Tate, but they hadn’t even kissed yet, and suddenly she wasn’t sure if he was even interested in her romantically.
In the bathroom, Esther caught her own gaze in the mirror above the sink as she washed her hands. She backed up to catch more of her figure in the reflection. Her cinched waist, and how her velvet skirt accentuated the curve of her hips. The fragility of her collar bones peeking out from her neckline. The flush of life that the wine brought to her face. Surely, Tate must be attracted to her.
Sauntering out of the bathroom, Esther lingered in each doorway exploring the upstairs of Tate’s house. An office. A guest bedroom. And finally, the master. Esther slid off her shoes at the bedroom door and ran her feet through the shag carpeting. After checking to make sure Tate wasn’t behind her, she took a picture of the shag protruding between her toes and sent it off to some of her VIP clients. In response, she received a slew of emojis that could vaguely be interpreted as graphic. Hearing footsteps on the stairs, she put her phone down and attempted to lounge casually as Tate neared the door.
“Oh, please do make yourself at home,” Tate said leaning against the doorframe.
“So this is where the magic happens?” Esther said.
“Yes, these walls have witnessed many times the miracle of sleep,” Tate said moving towards the foot of his bed.
“Yeah?” Esther said, inching closer. “What else?”
“Well, this is also the sight of where I lie awake at night and go over everything I’ve done wrong in the past fifty-seven years.”
Tate slid back on the bed from where Esther stood before him. She crawled to sit on his lap, face to face. He inhaled her scent and looked into her eyes. She took this as a sign to go for it, so she kissed him, remembering briefly that she was insecure about the size of her lips but then remembering again that she was hot.
He began kissing her neck, which had never felt so good for her. She took off her brown velvet blouse and threw it to the floor so there was more surface area for his lips to linger.
“Esther—” Tate said, sitting back, this time to get distance and look Esther in the eyes.
“Oh, god,” Esther said, seeing his face. She climbed off of him.
“That’s just not—” As he searched for words, Esther grabbed her shirt and rushed to put her shoes on where they lay at the door. “Esther, wait,” Tate said, but Esther did not wait.
She hustled down the stairs and out the door, pausing briefly to text him, “thanks for dinner,” because even though she was mortified, she didn’t want to also be rude.
Back at her aunt and uncle’s empty house the next day, Esther did all the activities she’d planned to do while they were gone, like bury herself in bags of chips on the couch and watch reality show re-runs until her eyes hurt. She FaceTimed Meg, who answered, “Yes?”
“Just seeing how it’s going.”
“Well,” Meg started, “not much has changed since you called me twenty minutes ago.”
“Sorry I care so much.”
“You’re the one who wanted to be alone,” Meg said.
“I wanted to be alone, yes,” Esther said, leaning into the melodrama, “but I never asked to be lonely.”
“I don’t know what to tell ya, but I gotta go. My mom’s taking me shopping,” Meg said.
“K love you bye,” Esther said.
As soon as the call ended with Meg, Esther tried her own mom.
“How’s my baby doing?” her mom asked.
“I’m good,” Esther said. “Things are good here.”
“I’m so glad. We miss you, but we’ll see you soon, right?”
“Yeah,” Esther said.
“Anything you want to talk about?” Esther’s mom fished.
“No, just calling to say hi,” Esther said.
“Well, hi, baby.”
Esther got a text notification from Tate. She tried her best to ignore it, but it became unbearable. His text read, “Miss Esther. Hope to see you for ice cream on Sunday. Would be nice to talk xx Tate.”
“What about you?” Esther’s mom asked.
“What about me what?”
“Did you go home with leftovers?”
“Um,” Esther said, processing a wave of stress at the memory of running out Tate’s door without the Tupperware of mashed potatoes. “I forgot to grab some.”
After hanging up with her mom, Esther went back to her chips and endless hours of reality TV but was able to enjoy it a little more now that she had heard from Tate. She definitely couldn’t handle seeing him again, because her cheeks flushed with shame at the thought of mounting him much to his displeasure. Not seeing him would be boring, though, so she closed the chips and responded by liking his message.
That Sunday, Esther dressed aggressively casual in jeans and a t-shirt but still straightened her hair and applied a full contour to her face. She stopped for an iced coffee on the way so she’d have something to do with her hands when she saw him. He was there first, like usual, with ice cream on the table and tulips on the chair for her. Esther picked them up and sat down.
“I’m afraid I’ve offended you,” Tate said.
“No, I was being stupid,” Esther said.
“No, it’s me,” Tate insisted. “I wasn’t clear.”
“You’re not into me. It’s fine.”
“Esther, I thought our arrangement didn’t involve, um—” Tate said. “Well, one of the first things you told me was that it was off the table.”
“Yeah, when you were a stranger paying me, that was definitely a no-go,” Esther said. “Like no shame in sex work, of course, but I don’t know, I thought maybe you liked me.”
“Oh, Esther, I do.” Tate shuffled in his seat. “I guess I owe you an explanation.”
Esther thought about telling him he didn’t have to explain anything, but she hoped maybe he’d change his mind or at least throw in a compliment or two.
“Sometimes men over a certain age have a hard time performing,” he said. “And sometimes men over a certain age can’t perform at all…anatomically.”
“Can’t get it up?” Esther asked.
Tate shrugged. Esther sensed he was done confessing and that it would be her turn to comfort him, but she couldn’t. Even if he couldn’t get it up at all, it stung that he couldn’t get it up for her.
“That’s cool,” she said, “Thank you for the flowers. Tulips are my favorite now.”
“Esther,” Tate said as if pleading with her to stay.
Esther stood up, not sure what to do. She took a sip of her iced coffee to buy a bit more time. She thought she wanted to leave, but also she didn’t want to hurt Tate’s feelings, but also her own feelings were too confusing for her to understand.
Glancing toward the parking lot, she thought maybe she’d see some kind of sign that would tell her what to do. All she saw was a bunch of cars, though, and she remembered that you see the signs you look for, and she didn’t know what she was looking for.
Still scanning for something, anything, she froze seeing Amalie and Arthur run towards a grassy field by the reservoir. Her aunt had said they’d be back today, but she must have just missed them at the house. Even though it had only been five days since she’d seen her cousins, they both looked older.
She watched her cousins chase each other around and wondered if she should go join them or if she should maybe hide because she hadn’t mentioned Tate’s age to her aunt. If so much had changed for Amalie and Arthur in five days, she considered what they would look like at her age or at Tate’s, and who they might grow up to be.
Esther turned back to Tate, who sat slumped in his chair looking down at his hands. The hands that had made her a turkey and carried her flowers from the market and that had sent her a few thousand dollars of his hard-earned money for a few hours of companionship.
Her breath shallowed, and she felt a wave of overwhelming dread that she had spent so long waiting for things to happen to her that she had no idea what she wanted. To steady herself, she looked down at her own feet. The ones she hadn’t seen or appreciated until someone else did. The ones that carried her everywhere she’d been up to that point. Esther had never really thought much about her future, but now she got to decide where her feet carried her next.