What happens when you start falling for your sugar daddy? Find out in “Stranger Love,” an upcoming book by Isabella Vaccaro.
Stella ran her fingertips along the smooth edges of her new purse. The leather felt so strong, yet so supple. What it really felt like was expensive. She quickly typed into Google: “cherry print YSL bag” to find out how much Louis had spent on her this time.
“Okay, woah,” she thought, taking a breath. This was more than usual.
Over the years, Louis had spoiled Stella with tons of cash, gifts, the occasional edible and even some books he’d thought she’d enjoy. The first year, Stella had kept count of her monetary gain and had cashed out around $1,000 from Louis, not including the fun, little extras he’d throw in every now and then. But, by year three of their relationship, she simply felt it wrong to keep counting.
He’d sent her Gucci perfumes and designer clothes worth a few hundred in the past, but nothing as pricy as this purse. She wondered if it meant something more to him. Was it a pre-cursor to some grand gesture of love that would ultimately catch her off-guard and force her to give in? Or was it truly just a “reward for getting such good grades this semester,” as Louis had written on the little gift card that came with the package?
She’d be lying if she said she didn’t feel something—anything—for Louis. Stella knew from the first moment they matched on Tinder, after Louis had Super-Liked her and she’d finished the lyrics to a Tupac song referenced in his profile, that they’d at least get along. She didn’t know how close they would become, though, and after all, she had logged onto Tinder that day in her first year of college to find money, not a man.
But, there was something about Louis. They liked the same music, had the same political views and even majored in the same subject in college. The 23 years between them seemed almost nonexistent compared to the dozens of things they had in common.
“I’m going up to Naples to visit my family, but I feel like shit. I think I have a cold,” Stella texted him a few days after they’d matched.
“Poor thing,” Louis responded, almost immediately. “Just stay in bed all weekend.”
“Yeah I guess, ugh,” Stella said. It had only been three days but it felt like she was already texting one of her best friends.
Twenty minutes later, a little ping! distracted her from her misery. It was Cash App. It was $20 from Louis—”For Soup,” he had written. Stella raised her eyebrows, but let them droop back down in that all-knowing way. She smiled and texted Louis immediately. “You’re sweet. Thank you.”
And so it began.
Louis played a role in Stella’s life that no one ever had before. He wasn’t a boyfriend, nor was he just a friend. He wasn’t her father, but he certainly treated her with the love and admiration of one. Rarely was Louis the second or third name listed on her Messages; he was usually the first. If Stella ever mentioned she was getting her nails done—ping!—$50 from Louis. “For Nails.” When she said she was out of weed—bam—bundles of edibles, carts or straight up grass were in the mail the next day. Stella appreciated the generosity, she really did. And she never asked for anything; Louis always offered, without expecting anything in return.
But Louis did want one thing. He wanted to meet Stella—take her out for dinner or on vacation to Costa Rica or Bali. Stella declined every time. It became a sort of running joke that half of her allure came from the fact that she’d never let Louis meet her. Texting was their sole method of communication—no Snapchat, FaceTime, or even a phone call, ever—and Louis didn’t have social media, either. So, the only times he was able to lay eyes on the girl he was investing in was on her terms. Anytime Stella posted on her Instagram, she’d send him a copy of the selfie, or mirror pics of her outfits before going out.
“You’re so beautiful” or “My little goddess” were typical responses from Louis. And, usually, he’d add a little zinger at the end like “and smart, too.” Those compliments made Stella feel like a real lady, like she knew that someone really saw her and adored every bit of her. And she certainly wasn’t getting those type of compliments from the childish college boys she entertained on a regular basis. But, with every near-perfect scenario, there’s usually a catch. Louis was a drinker. And sometimes, it got bad. Sometimes she’d catch him in a weak moment with a pretty photo of her face and he’d utter more sexual compliments, sometimes over voice memos, which made Stella uncomfortable, to say the least. It was usually only when he was drunk, from what she could tell, but she still didn’t like how the harsh shift in his comments made her feel.
“If this is what the conversations are gonna be, we should just stop talking. I’m not really interested in that stuff,” Stella wrote out one day after Louis said something sexual, feeling vindicated for standing up for herself.
A few days went by with no response from Louis. Stella, for fear of losing her new friend and financial sponsor, almost began to regret the message she’d sent. Couldn’t she have just put up with a few crude messages when he got hammered? Did she really have to go and open her mouth like that?
And then the package arrived at her dorm. They were chocolates—sheep-shaped chocolates, because she’d told Louis that sheep were her favorite animal, and two books he’d recommended she read. “I’m sorry,” was written in pen on a fancy piece of card stock inside the package.
Louis was a complex man. And in three years, Stella had come to understand the ins and outs of how his brain worked, as well as the struggles he faced. At 44, he’d never married or had kids and, save for a few serious girlfriends from his past, certainly hadn’t dated anyone in the time Stella knew him. Neither had Stella. She’d engaged in her fair share of hook-ups and even got close to dating this one guy, who, in the end, disappointed her. She’d tell Louis about the boys who circulated her apartment, and he’d commiserate with her about how ‘clueless and ignorant’ they were.
“I can never date anyone who doesn’t treat me as well as you do,” Stella said to Louis after a long conversation about her love life.
“Then date me,” Louis replied. “Come on, let me take you to dinner.”
Stella seriously considered it for a half second. She even went to her roommates, her state of distress apparent on her paled face.
“Am I in love with Louis?” she blurted in her friends’ faces.
“No,” said one.
“NO!” said the other.
“Okay, okay,” Stella said, sighing a long breath of relief.
But she knew it wasn’t true. She did love Louis, in a way. Maybe she wasn’t in love with him. Not like that. But, she talked to him every day, about every little thing. He knew more about her life than some of her closest girlfriends. And he made her feel like the most important girl in the world. She did have love for him, she decided, for sure. But, not in the way he did for her.
“No,” she replied assertively after a few minutes of contemplation. “I’m not going out with you! You know that silly.”
“I know,” he answered. “I gotta take a step back for a few days. We’re getting in a dangerous area, okay?”
“Okay,” she replied.
Stella knew exactly what “we’re getting in a dangerous area” meant. Louis was in love with her, in whatever capacity you can love a person with whom you only share text messages, and he knew it was unrequited. He did this every so often, after she’d send him a pretty photo or they fell into some deep conversation about life. He’d retreat from her, maybe to grab hold of some stability—some sanity—before gravitating back to her company. Stella wondered how much longer he’d be able to keep up this act—if it were her on his end, it probably would’ve killed her by now. Every time he took a little longer to answer or sent her a one-word response, she worried it might be his last. It was only a matter of time before her sweet, sweet sugar daddy simply ran out of sugar.
“Sorry, I’m back. I love you, you know,” he’d say when returning from a hiatus.
“I know,” she’d say, never offering those three little words back.
She showed her love in other ways: by comforting him when his mother died and by offering him her undivided attention, never letting a text go unanswered for more than a few minutes. And in return, he acted as a father-figure, sending her thoughtful gifts and spurts of cash when he felt she could use it. It was only in his moments of weakness that the father-facade came down to reveal the love-deprived benefactor he was.
So, unsure of what else to do, Stella simply accepted the love when it came and forgave the outbursts, too. And every time she felt the taut leather of her cherry print clutch in her hand, it was almost as if Louis was there, pumping her up and reminding her how much she was adored by her devoted sugar daddy, or whatever you want to call him.
words_isabella vaccaro. photo_nailah anderson. design_avani choudhary.
This article was published in Distraction’s spring 2021 print issue.