I sat before the computer monitor transfixed until the message of the screen saver scrolled across the display. Vague and general in a Chinese fortune cookie way, applying to everyone and no one simultaneously. One quote covers all: Today is the first day of the rest of my life. How pathetic I thought rereading the line. What was my mindset when I added the tired adage? To stop dwelling on the past, grab a hold of the present and embrace the future? It was to have served as a persistent reminder that life is for participants, not spectators. I had hardly heeded the advice.
It was half past three on Friday. The last half workday of the summer and I sit at my PC passing time. A half day of school in my childhood became hours of extra play; seemingly the sun dared not approach the horizon so long as I remained in perpetual motion. And here in the latter stages of my middle age, (not yet a crisis but nudging close) I had lost my thirst. I had become a spectator and the most depressing of sorts—I no longer missed participating.
I avoided the southern onslaught of beach lovers crawling bumper to bumper on the Garden State Parkway, filling the treasury coffers of New Jersey thirty-five cents at a time. Hell, I could simply stay home this weekend, be just as frustrated and still have some money in my wallet come Monday morning. Forget the half full/half empty argument, the damn drinking glass was dirty, cracked and wasn’t glass at all but some plastic derivative.
Earlier, I had dropped into an Internet chat room and had become a statue. Offering no opinions, adding nothing to the discussions, listening with a jaded ear. The chat room was filled to capacity and certainly my presence there precluded someone with precious little to say and an unquenchable willingness to voice it over and over from entering. It had been months since I dropped by this particular room but like daytime soap operas, it appeared I’d missed only a sentence or two. Spelled out clearly or in its acronym form, a chat room title painted its occupants with a collective mindset. Their individual profiles may beg otherwise but if they were there longer than forty seconds, they either belonged or at minimum had a closet interest. The rules of checkers applied—entry into a chat room wasn’t final until the finger came off the checker or in this case the mouse. Some of the screen names seemed vaguely familiar but most tended to be variations on a theme—some clever, many less than.
An instant message popped onto the screen from someone named Goldie. It read, “If you’re half as intriguing as your profile, you’re twice as interesting as anyone in that room.” It was eye catching by online’s marginal standards—a good opening line. The screen name wasn’t familiar and emanated from outside the chat room. As was my custom I checked the profile before responding. Like that was some set of standards.
“Not everything one reads is truthful,” I typed.
“Very little is. Yours?”
“If I said yes, would you buy it.”
“I tend to allow enough slack for someone to hang themselves.”
“Good, I’d hate to be disappointed.”
Disappointed? She must be new to online. It was disappointment delivered at cyber speed. The level of disenchantment it took our parents a lifetime to amass we experienced in seconds. Surely technology had dangled promise along with its drawbacks. I saved the entire private conversation for later review. Typed words minus vocal inflection, body language and nuance begged misinterpretation. I know having found myself on the embarrassing end of a few conversations. So explained the several months absence.
Three hours of typed conversation that flowed like minutes. I was delightful online, wittier and more engaging than I’d ever been at work, at dinner or a bar. As if I didn’t have enough to fret over, I now worried whether the flesh and bones me could rise to the online version. My doubts had doubts. I knew how Walter Mitty felt. We shared conversation too intimate to be discussed in person. Things we wouldn’t share with a psychiatrist or therapist, with a drunken best friend or a lawyer and certainly not our clergyman. Shared with the safety of anonymity. And yet that anonymity was to be short lived as we selected a meeting place and time.
Was I being set up? Could she be a co-worker with suspicions? An inkling of a darker side, perhaps one she shared. I didn’t need to find a new job during tough economic times, didn’t want to find a new set of unsuspecting friends or neighborhood. Would I be exposed during a work softball game? At the company picnic? Had I given off signals? Was anyone at work that intuitive? Did I offer in jest what someone misread as an invitation? Was she in fact a she? That was a sobering thought. Why hadn’t I gone to the shore? I needed sleep. I needed a shrink. I needed my anonymity back. I had provided my cell phone number in case of any changes. Goldie stated there would be none—no need for calls. I turned on the Yankees game and zoned out only to wake up to Saturday morning cartoons—Sponge Bob. Things were simpler in Bob’s underwater world.
The rendezvous—yes that was the apropos description—was set for later this evening. A mere twenty-four hours since our paths first crossed. Anecdotal experience shared by friends indicated most onliners sought to delay face-to-face contact. Those not afforded good looks postponed meeting; needing time to achieve a comfort zone. Strangers could be ugly and friends were rarely rated. The first Volkswagen Beetle that rolled off the assembly line wasn’t beautiful. It took years for it to achieve beloved status. Some of the flesh and blood variety personally clung to that same hope.
In cyber space anyone could be Cindy Crawford or Brad Pitt, Sartre or Gandhi. It is when the realms of fantasy and reality collided that disappointment or worse occurred. Hearts were broken, egos deflated, frustrations that seemed to forever compound.
* * *
Goldie (I still haven’t determined if it’s her real name) selected the restaurant. She had the home field advantage. Why did I always assimilate situations into sports metaphors? Why were the battles always perceived as epic? She opted for an intimate Italian bistro in the East Village, deceptive in both size and décor amid its neighbors. Secluded enough for private conversations and further exploration, sufficiently busy to alleviate any safety concerns. It was mutually agreed should any part of the evening not pan out, either could walk away and no further contact was necessary.
Unsure of the bistro’s location, I arrived early and waited at an undersized and cramped bar. I had to check a map for the location. What the hell kind of New Yorker was I? Not a recent arrival, not some Midwesterner—I had charter status. My birth certificate wasn’t issued in Kings or Richmond or even the Bronx; it was stamped New York county, aka Manhattan. While New York was comprised of five boroughs, Manhattan was synonymous with the city; it was the headliner, the outer boroughs relegated to non-speaking roles. I sported the typical New Yawker attitude, befitting a foreigner’s stereotype of us and fostered by the guardians of our fair city’s reputation.
I ordered a shot and chased it with a glass of merlot—pure liquid confidence—to soothe restless stomach butterflies. Or maybe I needed them drunk and cooperative. My conscience protected me well but at the most inopportune times proved far too intrusive. Their house wine was truly unique the bartender related, pressed and fermented right in the restaurant’s basement. It was enough to give my stomach butterflies, butterflies.
We hadn’t discussed any specific signal to identify one another. No color or style clothing, no yellow roses, no pictures had been exchanged. The bistro was crowded with patrons this evening; many who fit my imagined expectations and a few who exceeded them. Maybe that was part of the appeal; the mind games, an added element of mystery. Would I fixate on an individual and assign to her a mindset? Envision as the night progressed just how it would play out. We had danced around issues and scenarios without being specific, without taking sides. There were certain aspects undisclosed and others glossed over—areas ripe for misinterpretation. Two might express a love of the sea. One’s passion skippering a sailboat off the Hamptons; the other’s relaxing on pristine talcum soft sand as gentle waves caressed the shoreline.
How would I broach a subject many considered intimate and others would certainly consider a flavor well beyond vanilla? I imagined opening lines and yet they all seemed stilted. I figured my best prospect was to look confused and out of place, a fish out of water. Maybe then she would rescue me. I checked my watch for the fourth or fifth time. She might have been detained in traffic or strategically seated nearby analyzing my every move and expression, selfishly enjoying my self-imposed predicament.
I engaged in small talk with nearby bar patrons but there was little hint of familiarity. It eased my mind from racing though. Each time the front door opened, sunlight filled the bar and bathed the new arrival in a brilliant halo. But these newcomers greeted others. At half past seven, the door again opened and idle chatter ceased. It was as though golf tournament officials held up a ‘quiet’ sign and the galleries of spectators hushed in reverence. I listened to her footsteps on the bar’s hardwood floor, a sound I would recognize much as a forensics expert would fingerprints. A language no one spoke yet most recognized. It was the sound of utter confidence. Had I the courage to check my watch, I expected to find the second hand frozen. I fixed on a spot among the staggered liquor bottles across the bar and locked my gaze. I knew it was Goldie and in that game little boys and girls play, I couldn’t permit her to see my longings. I listened to the staccato rhythm of her heels approach and fought the urge to turn. She covered my eyes from behind.
“Describe me,” she said.
Was she wearing gloves in summer or could anyone’s hands be so soft?
“Intriguing scent,” I offered.
“My own perfume. I had it designed while in Paris.”
“What’s it called?”
“Nine-tenths?” I asked.
“Possession is….” Her voice trailed off allowing me to complete the phrase.
“Confident. I could tell the way you walked across the floor.”
“Perceptive. Without a clue, you walked right to me.”
“You were the only one who didn’t turn around.”
If she only knew how difficult that was. The inner struggle every time the door swung open.
“I’d say about five-ten?” I sensed where her throaty words resonated.
“In heels. You’d make a good spy.”
“After our online discussion, if I were seated here in a dark trench coat and sunglasses, you’d have gone back out the door.”
“Probably,” she snickered.
“Witty, engaging, mysterious.”
“Whoa, lets not rush these qualities.”
We shared a chuckle. It was my first relaxed moment in thirty hours.
“I’m very impressed.” She paused before dangling, “and I’m a woman who rarely is.”
“I’m right on?”
“Lets just say I’m pleased you didn’t cite my legs, or body or face.”
“You’ve seen to it I couldn’t comment on those aspects.”
“The homeless could describe those. I wanted to see how perceptive you were without your eyes.”
“I’ll get my eyesight back at some point?”
“Hmmm, there’s a thought,” she purred. “Maybe, maybe not.”
“You suggesting everyone is beautiful when the lights are out.”
Goldie released her hands, slid closer to the bar and tossed a quarter in the air. “Flip you for the stool.”
In the chat room yesterday we had discussed tossing a coin to make the final determination. It had seemed so democratic.
“Rolling over already?” she asked coyly. “A sign of weakness.”
“Touché.” I smiled but in my defense added, “I prefer to call it chivalry.”
“Sir Galahad in a city of me firsts.”
“Yeah, a regular dinosaur.”
“No, it’s endearing.”
The patron occupying the adjacent stool settled his tab and parted. He’d either been bored by the conversation or turned on and neither prospect pleased him.
“More than adequate for my plans.”
It was an answer. Not to the question I had intended before she cut me off mid-sentence but an answer nonetheless. “You have plans?” I asked.
“I don’t recall any input.”
“You had none.”
“When I mentioned confident earlier, perhaps…perhaps that was too weak a description.”
“Touché back,” Goldie conceded.
She was a bulldozer clad in haute couture apparel. A designer tornado. She defined beauty and elegance. Attired in a black French tailored jacket over white silk blouse, open enough to hint raw sensuality but suitable for a work environment. Matching ankle length skirt with an enticing slit revealed only when seated with her legs crossed. Polished black calfskin mid-heel boots that spoke Bloomingdales. Blonde tresses drawn up high exposing a slim neck, muted makeup and tasteful eyeglasses that seemed to simultaneously accentuate and tame raw beauty. Eyes of aqua that seemed both omniscient and accepting. I felt stirrings before even envisioning what might occur later. The stirrings actually began a day earlier and occupied both my dreams and waking thoughts. I wanted to glance away but it was impossible. As though she cast a spell and in my genetic weaknesses, I was ensnared.
I had learned much about Goldie from our online conversation and more from her profile. Internet profiles were similar to the signboards worn during the Second World War emblazoned with slogans like ‘Uncle Sam Wants You’. We showcased our turn-ons and turn-offs, or to those discerning enough, areas we were a little apprehensive of exploring. Limits that begged examination. Enticements to the select few perceptive enough to discern that what went unsaid spoke volumes above those expressed. What did my profile reveal? My limits were absolute stop signs when I initially created the profile; somehow they had become yield signs over the past few months.
A bartender queried what she would like. She answered but her eyes never left mine.
“I’ll have whatever my companion had and he’ll have another round.”
She appeared surprised when a shot of Tequila arrived along with the glass of wine.
“Nervous I see.” She downed the shot and studied my eyes. “Nervous is good.”
“A little bit,” I admitted. “Need I be?”
“What could you possibly fear from me?”
Although offered in question form, it had the impact of a challenge.
“I think its apprehension about what might occur…things I might learn about myself.”
“In the words of a former president, seems you have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
While delivering the reply, she fingered her necklace. It was of thick gold with a unique pendant design. Fashionable enough to not raise comments but an indicator nonetheless.
“It was a gift.”
“He has exquisite taste.”
“Making assumptions.” She wiggled a finger. “Dangerous. Actually it was a gift to myself, a subtle reminder. It took the jeweler three tries. I rejected his first two efforts and had to sketch the design step by step on paper, then show him first hand.”
“No,” she smirked, “he hadn’t a clue.”
“That’s a…something bend.” I recognized the design but the name escaped me.
“I see you’re an expert.”
“Ah, but the word expert implies a person is unwilling or has nothing left to learn.”
“Interesting view. But then again, you’ve been quite interesting from the onset.”
“I feared somewhere along the line, I’d lose yours,” I admitted.
“Just be yourself. It’s worked so far.” She sipped the wine. “I usually get a little nervous before meeting but tonight its different.”
“Yeah, it’s contagious. You gave it to me.”
Her boot ran along my leg as she uncrossed her legs. Purely coincidental although I had come to suspect that nothing about Goldie was unintended. She reached for a maraschino cherry and said nothing. Played with the stem before placing it her mouth and tied the stem in a knot. It was a feat no man could resist.
“Incredible.” It’s all I could offer.
She held her hands up like a surgeon who had just finished scrubbing and boasted, “Imagine what I can do with these.”
This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be. Dreams had always exceeded reality and here I’d never imagined anything close to what played out before my eyes.
She leaned forward and kissed me. It was a short kiss, a friendly one but totally unexpected. Everything about her was unexpected. Every word delivered with a hint of a double entendre’. She appeared four dimensional in a three dimensional world filled with one dimensional people. An artist interested in the subtler aspects of our shared interests—one who didn’t see accoutrements as a means to an end but an extension of the person. She had expressed a desire to unravel the layers of inner safeguards—to liberate fears, misgivings and doubts. A way to cut through the nonsense of everyday defenses and expose the inner person.
“Earth to Brent.”
She snapped me back from the moment.
“Sorry, I was thinking.”
“They’ll be plenty of time for that later.”
With the emotions that rocked me, it seemed little would ensure patience.
A hostess led us to a quiet, dimly lit booth segregated from the main dining area. A romantic nook undoubtedly Goldie had arranged. This evening had been carefully orchestrated, nothing left to chance and apparently only I remained in the dark.
“It is indeed. You’ve dined here before?” I asked.
“I have. That’s why I chose it.”
A waiter took our order and sensing the moment, quickly departed.
“I’m enjoying myself intensely. It’s cute you were nervous,” she added. “Actually it’s quite endearing.”
“Taking pleasure in one’s predicament. Is that an enviable quality?”
“Pleasure comes in so many ways. Surely you agree. Predicaments offer,” she paused in reflection before continuing, “such possibilities.”
“It’s rare meeting someone who understands that much of what we enjoy resides between the ears, not just between the legs.”
She reached over and took hold of my hands. Examined them although I wasn’t sure what she looked for.
“Strong. Nimble. The hands of a craftsman.”
“Is that good?” I joked.
“The nimble part means I’ll have to be a little more careful.”
I held my hands up in a ‘T’ like an athlete calling for a time-out. “Whoa, we’ve decided who is who?” I added incredulously, recalling that humorous line. ‘Its been so long, I forget who….”
Her response cut the thought short. “I have.” She nibbled at a piece of bread allowing her statement to resonate. “You can still eat and split.” It was a challenge.
“What about the coin toss?” Online, we had agreed the toss of a coin would be the determining factor.
“A stickler for rules?”
“Some rules were meant to be broken but this one?” I paused.
“You worry too much.”
“It got me to the age I’m at.”
A medley of delectable appetizers arrived, providing a respite for thought.
“Lets skip dinner,” she suggested.
“Patience is a virtue,” I whispered. It was selfish on my part. I needed the delay. I needed time to compose my raging emotions.
“A ridiculous one,” she shot back.
She blushed, obviously enjoying her current state or contemplating what lay ahead. The evening thus far had been like two chess masters contemplating four moves in advance although I felt severely overmatched. Maybe it was more aptly compared to fencers rattling their foils, maneuvering for the dominant position. Parrying and retreating, drawing an opponent in, catching them off guard and lunging in for the ‘kill’. Life existed in the nuances. It was negotiation. It was compromise.
A few quiet moments ensued, both lost in the moment. The decisions had individually been made, a connection already forged. Whatever doubts existed melted away as did the remaining restaurant patrons. We dined alone, at least in our minds. Dinner proved exquisite but we weren’t here for a restaurant review. The meal had served its purpose: acting as an interlude between a race official yelling ‘Runners ready’ and the firing of the starter’s pistol. We skipped dessert. It awaited us elsewhere.
I escorted Goldie to the parking lot and tailed her BMW Z-4 through the Holland Tunnel, over some busy highways and then onto to quiet unlit lanes meant to be navigated by locals, not impostors. We arrived at a large and foreboding Victorian estate. Nestled dark against stately, old growth oaks—secluded from inquisitive eyes. It was a house Edgar Allen Poe would have written about, one in which Vincent Price might have resided and one in which those very parallels raised the hairs along the nape of my neck.
She exited the car and strutted to the front porch. I locked my vehicle and followed. Her boots echoing along the slate sidewalk like a mythical siren’s song reminded me of her self-assurance while mine betrayed me. Whatever confidence I had mustered at the restaurant now swept aloft by gusts that whistled through the sturdy oaks—winds that again exposed my insecurities. Imagination led me here and now had run amuck. Common sense screamed cautions but my feet kept pressing forward. I might be the unnamed spider soon to meet the Black Widow and my fate. Once satisfied, she would bend over and bite the head…and although I was genetically endowed with two, neither I considered surplus. The thought sent shivers coursing my soon to be sacrificial body.
At the front door Goldie turned, tossed a coin and baited me, “Call it.”
She caught the coin on its downward cycle, slapped it over her wrist and smiled. As I tentatively stepped over the threshold into a darkened front foyer, I realized she never looked at the coin.…Chapter Two
Stepping across the entry threshold was a more difficult proposition than I would ever have imagined. There was more to it than a sense of trepidation of the unknown. It was more the speed at which I arrived at her or any doorstep. Surely not of Puritan stock but hours after initially meeting was weeks ahead of any prior experiences. That the large Victorian was reminiscent of a residence that might have been Home Sweet Home to the Addam’s Family added a little to my jitters but that wasn’t it either. Stepping across the threshold was an acquiescence of a sort, of crossing a line I’d neither established nor could I erase. The threshold wasn’t an all or nothing decision but edged a little closer to that fine line.
I imagined myself crouching paralyzed at the open hatch of a skydiving plane, questioning whether I had the balls to jump or whether I’d bury my head in my crotch and touchdown on a runway nursing them. I still had time to chicken out later. Chicken out? Why? It’s what I wanted or what I thought I wanted. What I needed. What I’d romanticized since childhood television shows such as the Avengers and other secret agent programs. What I’d envisioned since reading cheap paperbacks and comic books that might soon become a reality. And in the privacy of my unshared thoughts the fantasy was truly exquisite; it was the reality that lay on the other side of the door that triggered doubts. She was so confident and assertive, in control of her own destiny and apparently ready to exercise a measure of that over mine.
“You’re coming in?” Goldie queried. Much as her conversation hinted of double entendres, the tone of her question was both supportive and challenging all at once.
I hadn’t realized how long I stood there. Apparently she had. “This is all happening so fast,” I offered. Was I ready? Was I capable of trusting someone I just met with such latitude?
“Would being honest here be politically incorrect?”
“Number one, you’ve answered a question with a question but you’ve answered nonetheless. Two, I’d expect you’d be nervous but I assure you there’s no reason to be,” she whispered.
Her voice sounded reassuring, comforting. She felt like a friend, not a competitor in a game of one-upmanship. I finally stepped inside and closed the door.
Goldie turned the lights on and motioned me into a room. “Make yourself comfortable. I’ll get us drinks.”
Comfortable? Easier said than done. She turned and headed toward the rear of the house. I entered a large library one was more accustomed to seeing in a law office. Floor to ceiling mahogany shelving filled with hardbound literary classics—Melville, Emerson, Faulkner, Dickens, Joyce and Hemingway most prominent. Tolstoy, Shakespeare and the early Greek philosophers anchored another bookcase. A hardwood floor stained deep cherry was accented by the muted tones of an oriental area rug. Leather wingback chairs that felt like butter to my inquisitive fingers. They looked as though they belonged in an old-monied, all-male fraternal club; occupied by stodgy cigar smoking industrialists that fostered an unwritten caste system.
“Great place,” I called down the hall.
“Thanks, its home.”
Home? This wasn’t a home. It looked like the restored homestead of some former notable.
“Are you allergic to anything?” she asked from the kitchen.
Death, injury, pain, blackmail, I contemplated. “No,” is how I answered.
“Good, I don’t make it often but certain guests receive the special concoction.”
“That’s the best name you could conjure up?”
“In my mind it has a name but not worthy of Madison Avenue.”
There was a hint of embarrassment as the words left her lips, “The Inhibition Eraser.”
I was standing next to a closet door, quietly opened and then slammed it shut—a little humor to break the rising tension.
“Such a comedian,” she chuckled. Again her tone was friendly. It seemed she enjoyed the banter and for the first time in hours, so did I.
“I have no state secrets, no valuable information. Name, rank and serial number is all you get,” I called back down the hall before asking.
“Oh I’m sure I’ll get more out of you than that.”
I was sure she would also. “May I join you?”
“Sure, but no peeking. I haven’t yet received a patent.”
“Does it work?” I asked while sliding alongside her. Her perfume alone had erased certain inhibitions and her body erased most others. The few remaining—those primal survival instincts genetically embedded in human DNA—would surely be overwhelmed by the alcoholic libation.
“You can answer that in the morning.”
“Is Goldie your real name?” It was a question that probably should have been asked earlier but I hadn’t thought to probe. As intimate the details we’d shared, at times truly personal items were meant to stay that way.
“Such a beautiful name.”
“I love it now,” she confided. “Growing up I detested it. I was teased unmercifully in school.”
“So you learned from the best and now you tease unmercifully,” I kidded.
Her smile was part warmth, part smirk. It was the smirk that concerned me. I wanted to share what I was feeling. I needed to unburden myself but opted for reflection. And as soon as I decided to remain quiet the words flowed. “I’ve never done this before.” Annabeth turned and held my gaze. “I mean in my mind certainly. It’s been a fantasy since before I knew what the word fantasy meant. Since before imagining or seeing an image that evoked cold sweats and wet dreams.”
It seemed she sensed my admissions were awkward to share. She placed her finger to my lips, an indication for me to pause. “Thank you.”
“For being honest. For not posturing all sorts of macho crap. Listen, lets relax in the library, sip our drinks and chat,” she suggested.
We returned to the library and took seats across from one another. Annabeth flicked a switch dimming the indirect lighting hidden behind crown molding. She clicked a remote control and a gas-fed fireplace came alive casting dancing shadows upon the walls. I imagined there were other switches that revealed secret bookcase doors leading to darkened passages—labyrinth like corridors that many entered and less returned. Surely, a first edition of Somerset Maugham’s novel Of Human Bondage was the book that needed to be tilted to release the secret door. It seemed only apropos.
My first sip was considerably larger than a sip. In for a nickel, in for a buck, I mulled. “Not bad. Dare I ask what’s in it?”
“It’s a secret.”
There was a pause in the discussion before I segued, “The mechanics are simple, right?” Annabeth remained expressionless as I continued. “I mean, put a wood plank on the floor and ask someone to walk across it, no problem. Place it between the roof of two skyscrapers and ask someone to walk across, another story.”
“I see where you’re headed,” she acknowledged, “but there’s one crucial distinction.”
“And that is?”
“Not being able to walk across the higher plank is not trusting thyself.” She paused for dramatic effect. “The passion we share requires trusting another.”
In a nutshell, she nailed it. What I’d been trying to politely broach, Annabeth had in a single comparison—issues of trust. To engage in a behavior many considered a flavor other than vanilla and still more joked about required a substantial level of trust. Would pre-established limits be exceeded? Would the night head in a direction contrary to that discussed? Was she psychotic and I to end up her current lab rat? Seemingly she trusted me completely. Why didn’t I yet share that feeling?
“I won the coin toss but you can choose,” she offered.
She dangled an olive branch. This evening, it was tantamount to an olive tree. I sipped more of the inhibition eraser and prayed for its quick therapeutic effect. Annabeth removed her suit jacket and slowly curled one booted leg atop the armchair. Her full and luscious breasts strained against the soft white silk blouse and her eyes locked on mine. I was content with just the view, everything else that might or might not occur was icing.
“You realize I never saw how the coin landed?”
“Questioning my integrity?”
“Never your integrity,” I teased, “maybe your motives.”
“I think considering our interests.” She smiled to indicate no offense was taken. “That would be inadvisable.”
“How did we opt for the coin toss anyway? It so grammar school-ish.”
“We rambled in that private chat room and each expressed interests in trying both sides. It seemed a fair method of deciding,” she reminded.
“So I can select my own destiny?” I said with an upturned smirk.
“Mighty benevolent of me.”
“Perhaps too benevolent,” I replied suspiciously. “Maybe I’ll go second.”
“You might not get a chance.” She played with a few locks of her hair, twirling and teasing. Casting a spell that was long since necessary. “Maybe I won’t release you.”
“I could think of worse things than remaining your captive.”
“Perhaps by the light of day, you’ll think of nothing better.”
Again she nailed it. She might even be a writer: the extensive library, her way with words, the extraordinary way she galvanized what I couldn’t say into exactly what I felt. I hadn’t asked what she did for a living but whatever it was, based on the house, the car, the wardrobe, she was very successful at it.
I was transfixed as she undid another blouse button, her finger lingering for a moment. In fact, I couldn’t look away. The room’s dimmed lighting and flickering fireplace cast shadows on cleavage so perfect I’d never again be satisfied with another woman. It was like experiencing caviar and lobster before spending the remaining days of a life with the prospect of only canned tuna fish. How philosophical and simultaneously depressing a thought.
“How about a refill?”
“Will you be joining me?” I countered, noticing her hands were empty.
“I have no inhibitions but sure. Although lets drink upstairs.”
There it was—the gauntlet. In my mind, I again stood at the metaphorical open airplane hatch door ten thousand feet above the earth, nylon parachute at the ready. It was but another moment of truth in an evening of hurdling imaginary lines in the sand. To my credit, I unhesitatingly ascended the staircase like a young puppy. Much to my embarrassment, I hadn’t awaited my host. Hopefully there wasn’t a rolled up newspaper nearby.
“Anxious I see,” she commented on reaching the second floor landing. She handed me a crystal wine glass with more of her special brew. All the second floor foyer doors were closed and I expected her to lead off to the master suite but she didn’t. She leaned close, kissed my neck and whispered, “Relax, I don’t bite. Nibble, tug, gnaw, tease and other assorted things but no need for band-aids.”
She undid the remaining buttons but left her blouse on. The foyer light was dim but my earlier suspicions of perfection were confirmed. To most males, perfection was proximity. Perfection was the woman nearby—any woman with a beating heart—but tonight was different. I thought I’d met my match but instead encountered my superior. Witty, experienced, intelligent, engaging, successful, and with all that going for her, understanding.
“Band-aids are fine. No crutches or wheelchairs,” I answered.
“See, limits I can live with. Now get your butt in there and finish that drink,” she instructed, pointing to one of the doors.
“I’ll go first,” I whispered so softly that she might not have heard. I barely heard the words sneak past my lips. Maybe they hadn’t?
“Lovely,” she replied. “Shall I remain dressed?”
“Sit on the bed and let me explore.”
“Please don’t look in that closet,” she whispered and fixed her gaze on a double closet door.
“I protest madam that I’m being manipulated.” I stepped inside a walk-in closet the size of many Manhattan apartments. Filled with the most exquisite clothing. Row after row of shoes lined the shelves. Imelda Marcos would have been jealous. The musky scent of leather permeated the room, evocative of a primal aphrodisiac.
“Don’t check in the drawers,” she protested weakly.
Oh my, she is providing a road map. I opened a few drawers and noticed items that baffled me. I’d been an avid fan since replacing G.I. Joe figures with adult interests but even with that history, I was metaphorically shaking my head. I’d even considered myself a respectable collector but apparently no match for her assortment. A lower drawer was filled with dyed ropes. Stick with the basic I reminded myself. Anyone can click a handcuff—few possess a mastery of exquisite knots. I exited the closet and Annabeth feigned fright. I tossed the ropes on the bedspread and walked to the edge of the bed.
“I want you to dance for me, Chippendales style. Nice and slow.”
“Your wish is my command.” Her voice echoed the sincerity of the words.
The room’s most prominent feature—the bed—was of heavy maple with four massive posts and matching head and footboards. Matching dressers and night tables complimented the décor. Bleached hardwood floors accented by a Persian carpet, heavy linen drapes sure to deny prying eyes and walls painted cream belied the dangerous side of this room. I curled up atop the bed comforter and propped two pillows under my head ready for a show. As she stood, her blouse fell open exposing a sheer black lace demi-bra that seemed more an afterthought than garment.
I circled my finger indicating she should do a three-sixty. She eagerly obeyed pausing for effect at some of her finer features. It seemed somewhere along the line the distinctions blurred between who directed and who was directed. Like a pencil that appeared to bend in glass of water, it was the illusion of control substituting for any actual control.
“Lose the skirt Sweet Buns,” I purred. Recalling she despised her name in her youth, I instantly regretted suggesting a nickname.
She slid a thin leather belt from its loops, unbuttoned the skirt and slowly, deliberately unzipped. She nudged her thumbs along the waist and lingered before dropping and stepping out of the skirt. Wearing silk boxers was a mistake. My continuing desire thrust against silk that did little to disguise lust. I possessed neither a poker face nor a poker pelvis—no pun intended.
“The thong and while you’re at it, I’ll take the belt,” I instructed.
The lacy panties hit the floor and she kicked them at me.
“Frisky I see.”
I moved alongside Annabeth but every step provided a caress. Every movement a gentle touch.
“Quite beguiling,” I complimented. The words were a delaying tactic. There was no way I could wait. I wanted to lock her lips to mine and forget about tomorrow.
She moved alongside the edge of the bed, bowed her head and waited.
“Turn around Mi’lady.”
She complied without hesitation. I ran my fingernails along the nape of her neck and down along her back, along her exquisite lips and traced her facial features. Squeezed her butt and then smacked one of the cheeks in a playful manner. I pulled her elbows together behind her back to check flexibility. “Any injuries I should know about?” I queried. It was paramount to determine whether she had ever broken any bones, suffered from poor circulation or any of the naggings of human frailty. Tonight’s experience was intended to heighten the senses, not harm the individual. Few considered the long or short-term consequences—still fewer cared. I didn’t need a ménage a trois that required an orthopedic specialist. An unwritten contract existed, akin to a physician’s Hippocratic oath—first do no harm.
“Very healthy,” she responded.
There was hesitation in her voice, barely perceptible but I caught it nonetheless. She appeared to have embarked on a voyage where the imagination precedes the actual journey. Envisioning what was to occur and how and when, and whether the reality that awaited could ever match the fantasy imagined. And if she was exhilarated and a tad apprehensive, so too was I. I looped a length of cotton rope about her wrists and tightened. Annabeth’s breathing mirrored the binding. Her trussed wrists were simply a pit stop though—not the final destination.
Yes, indeed, there was pleasure for each. And what a turn-on—not power per se, but its effect. Not the rope itself but its rendering insignificant the inhibitions that seemingly constrain our very lives. I was an artisan sculpting both mind and body—Annabeth unformed clay and I a self-doubting Michelangelo. And yet I seemed on autopilot. My hands worked as though they traveled this path a thousand times, and perhaps in my dreams, I had.
Annabeth turned and inspected my handiwork. She struggled a bit before adding, “Very effective.”
“I want you to undress.” All that remained was her open blouse, the bra that was barely a bra and the boots.
“But my hands,” she countered.
“Use your imagination.”
She turned sideways and wiggled to slide both sides of her blouse over the shoulder. That was the easy part—the bra and boots remained. Her breasts were both intoxicating and distracting. The contrast between deeply tanned skin and lace bra was almost too much to take. Again I questioned my willpower yet understood that was as important as what would occur later. She struggled with her hands to reach high enough up her back to unfasten the bra, proving more flexible than I’d imagined.
“Forget the bra, c’mon over here,” I whispered.
She moved close and I could feel her heart pounding. It was body language at its most primal. I unfastened her wrists, removed the blouse and motioned her to the bed. “Spread eagle please.”
“The bra and boots?”
“We’ll leave the boots on, they provide a nice contrast with the rope.”
In fact they did, counted among a fetishist’s cherished checklist of requisite accessories. If all went well, she would be writhing in pleasure. The boots at least would prevent rope marks on the skin. “Do you have any gloves?”
“Top dresser, left side.”
I found an elbow length pair in exquisite black calfskin and handed them to Annabeth. They were easier donned with assistance but she managed. I wound several loops around one of her wrists, knotted it so that it wouldn’t tighten and restrict blood flow and lashed the loose end to one bedpost. Annabeth purred as I repeated the procedure on her other wrist, rendering her a willing captive.
“You’d think with everything in that closet, I do this two, three times a week,” she offered in words that echoed vaguely apologetic. “Its not the case.”
“It is quite an assortment. I have to admit, I’m jealous and a more than a little curious.”
“Don’t be curious. Curiosity did something to someone. Forget what you think you might have seen,” she suggested.
“I tend to collect things I desire,” she explained. Although when referring to collecting, it wasn’t immediately clear whether she meant her toys or lovers. Annabeth continued, “But issues of or a lack of trust ensure I’m the one doing the tying. Never like this,” she struggled against the ropes to indicate just what ‘this’ meant. “It’s a side of me I do miss though.”
What should I say? What could I say? I’d been given a gift—albeit one with responsibilities. I’d been allowed to chart her course, if but for a few hours. Whether this evening would become the beginning of something magical or the night I would compare every future disappoint against, only time would tell.
“You’re so quiet.”
She noticed my drifting away in deep thought.
“Sorry, I’m bouncing between being honored that you’d allow me to be the one and the responsibilities that come with that.”
“Oh god no. I feel so comfortable with you. Please don’t worry.”
I leaned over and kissed her forehead. It may not have been right, it was certainly out of character but I needed to do it. Her expression indicated it was the proper move. I repositioned her body, began to wrap rope around each boot, looped it beneath the heels, cinched it at the ankle and fastened each to opposing bedposts. She had maybe an inch of slack but that slack would be short-lived. She tested the bindings and knew them to be unforgiving.
I retrieved two pillows and using my body as a weight, shoved them between the mattress and the small of her back. Her pelvis was thrust upwards; unprotected, available, inviting. The slack that once was was no longer. The effect was both stunning and effective. I had always viewed restraint as visually compelling rather than simply a means to an end. Properly applied, it could accentuate the female form and create an intangible allure—bondage as fine art. Some artists worked in watercolor, others in oil or charcoal. I preferred cotton. How many shared a similar opinion I’m unsure of, but I cling to these romantic leaning notions nonetheless.
I started tracing along her body, exploring with fingers that which intoxicated the eye. I was Magellan without a destination—the journey was fulfillment itself. As if in Braille, I read her body and reacted and Annabeth reacted in return. We were in unison, bound as it were by a shared mindset. I searched her night table, apprehensive at what I might find. A single woman’s—arguably any woman’s—night table was akin to her purse; off limits, deemed too personal. Thankfully I found what I was seeking and not much more —nail scissors, the ones with a curved point.
Ever so slightly, I began to trace along her body, hoping to visit every skin cell and leaving no spot uncaressed. It was a mission of discovery. I studied her lips, the heaving of her chest. Anticipation. Longing. I no longer heard Annabeth’s heart; it was drowned out by my own.
“Forget the damn scissors,” she begged, straining at the ropes, “I want you inside me now.”
I wanted to be there also but the time was not yet right. I placed a single finger to her quivering lips and whispered, “There is something delightful about denying a woman accustomed to getting whatever she wants, whenever she wants it.”
To this Annabeth added nothing. She knew the rules of the game and had probably denied others as well.
“Where do you keep your scarves?”
“Right drawer, next to where the gloves were.”
I selected a deep burgundy one, doubled it over and knotted it around her eyes. “Comfortable?” I queried. She nodded. “I’ll be back in a few. Would you like a drink?” I asked, again needing distance.
“No thank you. I might have to…to…ah.”
“Yeah I can venture a guess,” I chuckled.
“Don’t be long,” she beckoned.
“Just gonna watch the game. I’ll be back in a half hour or so.”
“Remember the coin toss. Payback is a…”
I again placed my finger to her lips. “I know darn well what payback can be. With the coin toss and all, don’t think it hasn’t crossed my mind already. I’ll be back shortly.” My lips met hers in a passionate embrace, in part empathy for when our roles reversed and in part because I desperately needed to. Her lips betrayed her longings and those emotions matched my own—we hungered for one another.
I stepped away from the bed and toward the hall before pausing. The image before me was one I’d never imagined. Annabeth stretched tautly, exposed, uneven breathing, deeply tanned skin glistening with perspiration, her nerves awaiting any touch, her tongue tasting where our lips just met. I wanted this moment seared into my psyche, forever recallable just by closing my eyes. In the immaturity that might have existed only days earlier, I’d have snapped a few pictures to prove to buddies the night occurred. Tonight I might have snapped a few never to be shared—an exclusive reminder. What did that say when I had never fantasied anywhere close to this evening’s reality? It was usually the opposite, reality falling well short of fantasy.
I headed to the kitchen in search of a simple household item with alternate possibilities. The kitchen was well appointed but didn’t look as though many meals were prepared there. Beneath the sink I found the sought after item—a spray bottle for watering plants. I filled it with several ice cubes and water, placed a few more ice cubes in a bowl and two scoops of Rocky Road ice cream in another. The refrigerator was another story. Stocked with fresh fruit, I sliced nuggets of cantaloupe and fresh melon, enjoying a taste of each. Thankfully a serving tray was handy. I rinsed and filled a salad bowl with a few strawberries topped with whipped cream and washed my hands before returning upstairs.
Despite tiptoeing she sensed my presence. It was her bedroom—she had the home field advantage. She knew the sound of every creak and exactly where it originated.
“Anna,” I countered, “the game’s just begun.”
At one point did I start calling her Anna? When did it all become so comfortable? It seemed to coincide with my initial apprehension melting away. With a new found confidence that felt innate? With no longer fearing disappointing her?
She playfully retested the ropes but they remained taut. I placed the tray on a night table, dispensed with my silk boxers, snuggled alongside her warm, inviting body and spooned ice cream along her lips.
“Thank you,” Anna murmured.
“I think I’ll have some also if that’s alright with you?” I asked.
She nodded although she had little choice. I layered ice cream along her chest, drizzled it over her nipples and selfishly feasted on a late dessert. Her reaction was a symphony to my ears. I spritzed the spray bottle and awaited her expression. The sound of the spray trigger must have reached her ears before the icy mist cascaded slowly onto already stimulated nerve cells. In those one or two seconds, her mind raced to conclusions before gasping from the cold. Finally, something she wasn’t expecting. I covered her with an icy mist from head to toe before tracing with an ice cube. Anna’s body was heaving, and then shuddered uncontrollably. Success. Although I needed to slow things down. It was all about pacing and intensity or so I convinced myself. Even a roller coaster needed anti-climatic lulls, the zeniths always felt more pronounced measured against valleys.
I stabbed a piece of cantaloupe and ran it along her inviting lips, allowing it to flirt with her tongue before playfully pulling it away. Then dangled a whipped cream drenched strawberry just out of reach before sliding it half way into Anna’s mouth for a bite. Juice drizzled all over her lips and cheeks. I kissed her passionately and enjoyed some of the fruit along with her. It was mesmerizing to watch her lick her lips. If an individual could eat and exude sensuality, Anna captured it.
I had plans yet to come and started untying her ankles. Once free, I massaged her thighs and worked the joints. It was one of the little things—oft forfeited to overwhelming lust—but aren’t they all. I loosened her wrists and she reached to embrace me.
“Take me right now,” she begged, endeavoring to slide her body beneath mine.
I was tempted—sorely tempted—but instead continued to massage her shoulders. “Not yet my dear…in due time.”
“I can’t take anymore, please.”
I almost succumbed to her pleadings and my own weakness. But it was that very weakness I sought to conquer. Yes meant yes, and no meant no.
“This you’ll enjoy. Is that hook in the ceiling strong?”
“Hook? What hook?” Anna feigned naiveté although the words lacked conviction. She wanted to say nothing but the lips conceded defeat. I removed the blindfold and kissed her for what seemed a lifetime—mere minutes I would have traded years for. I helped her to her feet at the base of the bed. The warmth of her neck against my lips was perfection, her whimpers a heavenly concerto. With my chest against Anna’s back, I explored her body, running hands along her thighs and up her chest, tweaking her nipples. I ran my hand down her torso and buried a finger and explored deeper, thirsting for a taste of her pleasure.
I removed her bra, wrapped several loops of braided rope around her torso below the breasts and several more above, crossed it several times over the shoulders before cinching around the two ropes between her breasts, creating a tight harness. I knotted her wrists together behind her back and ran the loose end through the hook in the ceiling and slowly tugged on the cord until Anna’s arms were pulled well above her back before tying it off. The positioning forced her body to bend at the waist while her face hovered inches above the bed linens. Her weight rested on her toes with the stiletto heel on each boot barely gracing the floor. It might be uncomfortable in the short term but it would focus all of her attentions. I ran the rope that secured each ankle around the base of each bedpost before tugging. In turn, her legs were pulled outward and only her toes touched the floor. Not once did she complain. I wouldn’t torture her much longer, nor would I deny myself.
How many had expressed the conflicting opinion? I’d heard it so many times and from so many sources. Until this evening, it seemed speculation: in bondage one experiences unparalleled freedom. Tonight, the hypothesis became theory. I discerned it in Annabeth’s body language—an unspoken language rarely betrayed by modesty or pride.
I stood awestruck much as an art aficionado might savor an undiscovered Renoir. If there were a perfect derriere—perfection by its very nature purely subjective—it existed before me. Toned as that of a long distance runner, the outlines of bikini tanned a deep Caribbean bronze, unblemished, a natural blonde no less. I slapped her ass several times with my bare hand to keep the blood flowing. A small reminder I was still there as if there were the slightest possibility she might have forgotten. I noted a large riding crop on my earlier visit to her closet and quickly retrieved it. Playfully slapping it between her inner thighs just high enough that every swat resonated up, and flitting the crop across her ass, teasing her breasts with slaps varying in intensity. Like army reinforcements commanded by a four star general, red blood cells swarmed to the cherry red ‘hot zones’.
I slid the handle of the crop back and forth between her legs rhythmically, deliberately. Fashioning myself an orchestra conductor, baton in hand, controlling the tempo and fervor—a maestro feeding off Anna’s melodic rhapsody. Glistening like dewdrops, tiny sparkling diamonds of desire dangled between her thighs, betraying how intensely she enjoyed the performance. With tongue I explored and probed and considered her mindset, and considered mine, and considered our future, and fretted that the word ‘our’ might not accompany the word future. Tonight was an indentation in a timeline that measured out a life. It was an experience—albeit exhilarating—but I wanted more, much more. Was it too much to crave the whole package? Sharing the Sunday Times in bathrobes, vacationing in Aspen, walking deserted beaches, dancing to the wee hours, screening foreign films, strolling museums, flying a kite in Central Park. Was it too much to want conversation and debate, banter and playfulness? Was it too rash to want children, to grow old together? Of course it was. I knew her real name less than an hour or so, and precious little beyond that. We were strangers with a single shared interest and while the moment was magical, it was but a moment. I cursed an intellect that evaluated every thought. I needed to revel in the present; forget the past, and whatever future arrived, so be it.
It was time though. She had to be uncomfortable.I loosened the knots holding her ankles apart and slowly entered her from behind, cradling her body against the strain. It felt right. No, it felt wonderful and although her body was contorted, it had to feel magnificent for her. She became the center of the universe, both her own and mine. She could barely move, and barely assist but it wasn’t about two working in unison, it was about one delivering intense passions to another. I intensified the assault and slowed, resolved to make the moment last as long as possible. Alas, I could fight overwhelming desire no longer. I thrust with purpose and determination—a determination that perhaps nights like these might occur two or three times a week. It couldn’t have lasted more than a few moments. I doubt either of us could have taken much more. I was emotionally exhausted and physically spent, barely able to raise my arms to unknot the rope hanging from the ceiling hook. Anna collapsed into my arms. I lifted her limp body atop the bed and started to untie her wrists.
“Not yet,” she interrupted, “I missed them more than I knew, more than I care to admit. Just lay beside me and hold me.”
I snuggled beside her, tracing fingernails along her skin until the quivering slowed and exhausted, Anna drifted off to sleep. We were individuals with individual tendencies. She drifted off and my heart still pounded. It would be hours before the adrenaline dissipated and allowed me some rest. I thought to explore her walk-in closet at my leisure—learning, devising, and scheming. It was Labor Day weekend with three whole days before work beckoned. I needed to scavenge pants pockets and beneath couch cushions for any spare change; no coins, no coin toss.
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