Chapter 4 Now - Scene Party
Club Yearn was a group of like minded enthusiasts rather than a physical space. They munched, met, partied, or scened at various locations around town. Such was the life of a kink club in a small American city. Membership waxed and waned, depending on squabbles, drama, and the myriad other issues that beset any group of strong willed folks determined to have it their way.
The club was in an uptick at the moment, thanks in large part to Anna, or Mistress Anna, as she was known in Yearn circles.
"Any excuse for a party," Anna said to the newcomers. "Autumnal equinox doesn't have quite the same ring as winter solstice, but at least the weather is milder."
"Good thing it is," the man said. His name tag introduced him as Mark, and the woman with him wore one with Sara written on it. Anna would have bet her last dollar that Sara's London Fog coat covered an outfit that would agree with a warm evening.
She collected the entry fee and waved them through the makeshift vestibule. "Enjoy," she said. Anna was pulling hostess duty because the club was basically a co-op. Their space tonight was rented, a defunct country and western dance club, and had needed a lot of cleaning and set up that she had not been able to assist with because of work. Fortunately, the party was no protocol, which meant she was casually and comfortably dressed, more or less, in a red leather tank top and black a-line skirt with black calf high boots. Her straight, dark, shoulder-length hair was pulled back in a pony tail.
Her feet told her the boots had been a bad idea, but her shift was over in ten minutes, so she toughed it out.
A shadow fell over her as someone stepped between her and the too harsh overhead bulbs. At five feet and six inches barefoot, she was not a small woman. Add the heels and she pushed five feet ten easily.
"Either there's an eclipse tonight, or Rachel and Bob just walked in behind me," she said before turning around.
"Hi, Anna," Rachel said. She towered over Anna in height, but also loomed larger in every other dimension as well. She was not fat, just big. In another age she might have been busting sod in Iowa or tending a family of coal miners in West Virginia. In these less physically demanding times, she worked as a photographer, mainly of pets.
She only attended the no or low protocol events, mainly for her husband. Rachel was near enough to vanilla, but Bob had a deep need for corporal correction. Anna had never heard the entire story, but somehow the two had arrived at a compromise. A select few women were trusted to see to Bob's discipline, and heaven help the woman who tried to horn in on Rachel's marital territory. Their arrangement also meant that Rachel didn't play a domme role to Bob's submissive, but her perverse sense of humor about the whole affair led her to unconventional displays, such as tonight's.
Rachel wore a pale blue dress with matching jacket of the sort seen on the handlers at dog shows. Instead of sensible flats, she wore black nylons and black high heel loafers adding four or more inches to her already stratospheric height.
Anna took this in and looked up at Rachel's grin.
"I'm owning my size tonight," she said. Rachel proffered the party's entry fee as she chuckled. Her other hand held a leash and collar. "Can I put this on him now that we're inside?"
"Sure. You know the drill." The club tried not to draw attention to itself with overt fetish displays. Even in the post "Fifty Shades of Gray" age, attracting notice could be problematic.
"Though I'm not sure anyone would have noticed a collar and leash with the rest of that outfit," Anna said, nodding at Bob as she spoke.
Bob was a tall man, but for her shoes, he was taller than Rachel. He sported a leaner frame, a runner's frame, all bone and sinew beneath hairy skin. Tonight, he wore a blaze orange t-shirt decorated front, back, and on both sleeves with the warning 'Do Not Pet.' The leash Rachel clipped to his collar had at least four yellow flags marked with same instructions tied to its long length. As soon as the leash clicked, he pulled off his breakaway warm-up pants revealing a pair of shorts with cutouts for his ass cheeks.
Rachel insisted, and Bob didn't mind, that the rest of his private flesh belonged to her, not the public eye, and required decent coverage, and in the case of his family jewels, protection in the form of a hard cup worn beneath his shorts.
For a man of at least 45, Anna thought he had a nice butt. As one of Rachel's trusted disciplinarians, Anna had appreciated Bob's musculature up close and personal.
"Do you want this now, or should I hold on to it?" Rachel asked, holding an old style canvas duffel bag out as though it weighed nothing. "Did you get any of my messages? Bob really hopes that you would do the honors tonight."
"Oh! No. I mean yes! No, I didn't get any messages, but my phone is in my purse in a locker in the admin's room. Yes, I would be happy to warm Bob's backside for him." She reached for the duffel bag and held on as it fell to the floor. "You know I don't like to use chains, right?"
"Except for the impact items, it's all rope," Rachel smiled. "I know you like to play bondage games with your victims."
"Guests? Students? Honorees? You know I never learned the proper vocabulary for being a member of your club," Rachel said. Anna knew Rachel's vanilla-ish perspective from their many past encounters, but for some reason, Rachel liked to point it out as frequently as she could.
"I'll go with supplicant tonight," Anna said. She saw her relief approaching and got ready to cash out. "9:30 work for you guys?"
"Sure," Rachel said. She led Bob towards an area of tables where she could get a drink.
Her obligation to the club discharged, Anna carried the bag to the admin's room, formerly the dance club manager's office, and secured it in a locker. She checked her own attire and decided not to change anything. The surge of anticipation at getting to put on a show tonight washed the fatigue and soreness from her body.
Returning to the main floor of the party, Anna made a few circuits of the room, chatting with old friends and snacking from the trays carried about by scantily dressed subs. Anna scanned the crowd, searching through the attendees. She invited Kevin to every event she attended, in case he wanted to observe first hand. He usually demurred. This time he had been non-committal with his answer, making her wonder if he might surprise her, even if that would be completely out of character for him
Her search yielded nothing. Dropping the notion, she sought other familiar faces for conversation.
At the appointed time, Anna found Rachel and Bob, leading them to one of the alcoves set aside for play. Bob didn't mind being a public spectacle, as long as the play got nowhere near his limits. Since Rachel's limits for her husband were far tighter than his own, Bob was actually fairly comfortable at the Yearn events they attended.
Anna deposited the bag near the play space she had chosen. The space met the only two criteria she had for this scene, an overhead beam and decent lighting. As a bonus, it had a small table and a padded sawhorse that she thought she could use.
She returned to the entrance of the space and paused before approaching Rachel. Anna scanned the crowd. The usual groups had formed, talking at tables or around various play spaces. Her gaze lingered on a few guests. Eventually she shrugged and turned to Rachel.
Rachel nodded, a faint expression of sympathy crossed her face. "Not tonight?"
"I guess not." Anna's mouth twitched sideways into a funny smirk, trying to hide her disappointment. "It's only been two years. I can wait," she said as she held her hand out for Bob's leash, then pulled it back.
"Oh, wait. I need to fix my hair," Anna said.
"Turn around. I'll get it for you," Rachel said. Anna turned, handing a red leather thong to Rachel as she did. She felt Rachel gather her long, shiny brown hair and pull it back. Her friend's large hands were surprisingly gentle and nimble. In moments, the perfectly centered ponytail was bound up in the red leather.
"There. Ready now?" Rachel asked.
"Ready," Anna nodded, holding her hand out to receive Bob's leash. "What's under his shorts?"
"A cup and a g-string," Rachel said. "Does he really need to lose the shorts?"
"I'll have him turned away from the crowd," Anna said. "But yes, it would be a big help if he could lose the shorts once we're up there."
"Okay," Rachel said. She handed the leash to Anna.
"On my honor, until returned, safe and sound," Anna said, repeating the pledge Rachel insisted on hearing from the few she trusted with her husband.
"We thank you," Rachel answered. She walked backward several steps, eyes never leaving Anna. Bob waited, quiet if not solemn at the only display of ritual Rachel ever made.
"Shoes, Bob," Anna said. Bob peeled out of the beat up running shoes to reveal low cut runner's socks in still more blaze orange. "Good enough," Anna said, gently pulling the leash.
Anna stepped into her chosen space and positioned Bob underneath the beam. Then, she emptied the duffel bag onto the table. A smaller bag containing whatever Rachel thought might be useful for punishing Bob's backside fell out first, followed by a massive pile of coiled ropes. All the ropes were conveniently marked with tape on the end, a color coded length tag that Anna had taught Rachel.
"I feel a little challenged tonight," Anna said to the growing circle of spectators. "If I use all this rope, poor Bob's butt will be hidden!" She went to work, quickly and confidently, but gently. If anyone wanted to call her out on her easy going technique, they kept it to themselves.
Bob's left bicep received the first rope, a single column tie that then wrapped around his right side and back to the arm, securing the arm behind him. The process repeated on the right side, followed by Anna carefully bending Bob's forearms up. He was not flexible enough to get to reverse prayer, but she had no trouble getting his wrists crossed behind his back and then bound. Ropes from his wrists went over his shoulders on each side and were tied into the growing harness.
"Total overkill," she said, taking in her work. Picking up more coils, she threaded them into the existing bondage and secured Bob's forearms to their adjacent biceps. She circled his waist with multiple loops, forming a thick belt, then dropped short lengths of rope from his arms down to the belt.
Finally finished above the belt, Anna moved lower. She pulled the sawhorse into place with the top rail up against Bob's thighs. With one quick move, she pulled the shorts down to his ankles.
"Well, we have to fix that, don't we?" she said to the observers. "Step wide, Bob." She toed the shorts aside as he moved.
Bob didn't step wide enough, so Anna pushed his ankles with the toe of her boot until his stance matched the length of the sawhorse. More rope went from the pile to Bob's body. This time, Anna tied each ankle to the sawhorse, then tied the knees, above and below, to the legs of the sawhorse.
"The last part before the ass warming starts," Anna said. She tossed one end of a particularly long rope over the beam. In a few minutes, it was securely fastened to the harness encompassing Bob's upper body.
"Lean over and let the rope support your weight," she told Bob. He complied, and Anna added one more rope. She threaded it into the front of the rope harness and secured it to the sawhorse on both sides of Bob.
"There. Now he can't pop up. I only want to strain his butt cheeks, not his low back," she said with a wink.
Chapter 5 Then - Costume Collusion
Anna's phone rang at exactly 10:00 on Saturday morning. She had been up since her typical 7:00, so she felt no inconvenience, except that she did not recognize the number and almost let voice mail pick it up.
"Hello, Anna. This is Kevin Littman."
For a moment, Anna had no words. Kevin was the last person she expected to hear from today.
"I'm sorry, Anna. Is this a bad time?"
"No," she answered, thinking quickly. "I'm doing my grocery list. I was going to call you later anyway. What's up?" For a moment she thought he might have reconsidered the Halloween party, or maybe after last night, reconsidered her involvement in his life. The thought did not bother her, except that it unnerved her to suddenly care so little.
"Are you free for dinner this evening?" he asked.
For the second time in as many minutes, she was speechless. This time, he let her work it out unprompted.
"Ah, sure. What are you thinking?"
"First National," he said, naming a restaurant that now occupied an old bank building. "May I pick you up, or would you rather meet there at 7:00?"
"Please pick me up," she answered, falling into his pattern of formality. She shook her head. "I'm glad you called. I want to coordinate costumes with you for the party."
"Coordinate? I have some scrubs and a stethoscope. I was just going to wear them."
Anna chuckled. "When you go with someone, it is customary to do something where you both match a theme."
"Oh. I suppose there's a rule against us both being doctors?" Kevin asked.
"Not exactly, but it's the one occasion of the year where you get to let your hair down, so let's see what else we can come up with. See you around 6:30?"
"Yes. Have a good day, Anna."
He waited just long enough to hear her reply before hanging up.
She sat down. Her phone switched back to her list and she stared at it for a minute, lost in thought and conflicting emotions.
"What is going on in your head, girl?" The question hung in the air. Her kitchen did not respond.
"What do I want?" Anna finally asked herself. The question had simmered, unvoiced, for weeks. It continued to simmer, even as she got ready for dinner later that evening.
The costume discussion was lively and educational, at least for Anna. Kevin simply could not be budged far. He accepted, grudgingly, that he should go for the sake of his continued employment. That the party and all the preparations for it could be fun did not compute.
"I'm not wearing scrubs," she said. "I want something that requires a little effort, is original, and shows my better qualities."
He frowned. Anna knew from work and their recent personal interactions that this meant serious concentration and not bad mood. That might have been part of the disconnect they currently experienced. He approached the entire situation as a math problem with an optimum solution that would maximize output while remaining constrained by boundary conditions.
"Something period, maybe? Civil war? Frontier? China Beach?" He threw the suggestions out and watched her face. After a long silence, he said, "What would you wear if you went alone?"
Now it was her turn to frown. "I never go alone to things like this. I either have a date or go with friends."
"What would you wear with a date you barely knew?" Kevin asked.
"Okay. I see your point. Still, I'd like to have some fun with this and not just phone it in."
"What would be fun with these constraints? No more skin than would ordinarily show at work, at least for me. No impediment to mobility. And nothing that encourages people to touch or crowd us," Kevin said.
"Hmmm." Anna sat back in her chair. "I'm not trying to make a spectacle out of us, you know. Let me think about it for a few minutes, maybe over a nice dessert?"
"You could do Wonder Woman," Kevin said.
"There won't be a hundred of those running around."
"Bonnie and Clyde?" he suggested. She made a face.
"I imagine zombie anything is out along with vampire anything too," Kevin said.
"Yeah. Unless we come up with something totally off the wall," she said.
Kevin smiled. "I know a guy that does theatrical makeup and effects. How about this," he said and proceeded to explain his idea.
Chapter 6 Now - Mistress Anna and The Extras
"Now, let's see what Rachel gave us to work with." She unwrapped the items Rachel had given her.
First, she held up a long, heavy, suede glove. "Is this a welder's glove?" she asked, spinning the thing by its middle finger. The glove would easily reach past her elbow, and she tried to imagine wearing it for a spanking. Her hand would swim in it.
"I know Bob's got a hard, tight, butt, but I think I can warm him up with my bare hands." She put the glove down, thinking there might be more uses for it than a hand covering.
She revealed the next item, a flogger, also of unfinished hide, maybe deer. The falls were wide and heavy, and would create more thud than sting, or so she thought. She had used floggers, but not so much and sometimes on the back instead of the butt.
"Has Bob been a bad boy? Or is he just in the mood?" She strolled around to his head, making certain he got a good look at the flogger. She thought he might have gulped.
The last item puzzled her, though she tried not to show it. A leather wrapped piece of something springy, possibly a cane or even a piece of metal. Only about eighteen inches long and not very heavy, the piece was wrapped in the same unfinished hide that the flogger was made of. She tapped it against the palm of her hand. It connected with a solid thwap and she knew she would have to be extraordinarily careful with it, if she used it at all.
Which is when she had a thought.
"Can I get two pain slut volunteers in here with me?"
Mark and Sara immediately raised their hands. Or maybe Mark raised his hand and Sara had no choice. Another man she didn't recognize put his hand up at some prodding from a blonde that Anna thought she recognized.
"Just the subs, or do you all four want to come here? Bob is still off limits to all of you," she said, glancing at Rachel. "I just want your opinions on these toys before I get started on him."
Mark and Sara practically raced over to join Anna. As Anna had expected, Sara wore a short dress comprised of straps and a few scraps of fabric and the classic four inch black ankle-strap pump. The other two conversed for a few seconds before they both joined Anna as well, introducing themselves as Shauna and Jake.
Jake wore black chaps, boots, and a pouch to keep his privates private, and out of the way.
Anna then spent a few moments explaining her plan to the four, collecting safe words, and making sure no limits were likely to come into play in the next ten minutes or so. This conversation happened quietly and quickly, and was over before the audience got restless.
"Positions," Anna said. Sara and Jake faced each other where the audience and Bob could see them, and bent, leaning into each others shoulders, arms wrapped around each others backs. Anna picked up the glove, but instead of putting it on, she held it by the cuff and gave first Jake, then Sara, a firm swat on their exposed asses. Then she passed the glove to Shauna, who also delivered one swat each. Mark took the glove next, but held it by the fingers, using the solid cuff to deliver his two blows.
"Are we getting warmer?" Anna asked.
"Yes, Mistress," the two submissives answered in near unison.
"Good. Mark, would you even them out while Shauna and I look at this flogger?"
Mark smiled and walked around. There was just no way to do the deed without turning his back to the assembly, but he tried to ham it up a little to give the two women time to talk. When all was done Jake and Sara's bottoms were a faint shade of pink.
"The glove makes a nice toy, though we're divided on which end strikes the best. We'd go around again, but I know Bob is getting antsy over there, so I don't want to leave him unattended for too long," Anna said. She took the flogger and stood facing Jake's backside, adjusting her position, and stance a few times. Finally, she spun her wrist backhanded and watched the falls land on Jake's ass and slide down, she repeated the motion on the other cheek, and got a little jump out of Jake this time.
She moved to Sara, who looked nervous and excited at the same time. Anna gave her two twirling strokes as well. Sara's mouth opened into a surprised O and she gasped a little.
"Do you want the rest of them?" Anna asked. To their credit as the pain sluts Anna requested, Jake and Sara both nodded vigorously. By the time Mark and Shauna had their turns, both sub's bottoms were edging toward red.
While Mark had his go, Anna picked up the last implement, the leather wrapped something. She turned to Rachel.
"What the hell is this?"
"Ask Bob. He made it," Rachel answered.
"Well, Bob. We're waiting."
"It's a strip of spring steel with a lot of leather wrapped around it. I call it Bad Dog." This caused a stir in the audience.
"Bob. What the fuck were you thinking?" Anna asked.
"You're no rookie at this. I know you'll be careful," Bob answered. "Mistress," he added, belatedly.
Shaking her head, Anna walked around to face Jake, looking over Sara's shoulder. She tapped Bad Dog against her hand.
"What do you think, Jake. Should I give Sara a little love tap?"
"Yes, Mistress Anna," he answered. Anna stared at him, almost losing herself in his dark brown eyes. Eyes which suddenly widened. "Oooh. There it is. Jake just realized that Sara might not get the same question." Anna smiled wickedly and rested Bob's homemade toy against Sara's right ass cheek.
Holding it between thumb and forefinger, Anna rapped the tool three times on her target. Each tap was progressively harder, with the final one being hard enough to draw a squeak from the sub. Anna looked over to Mark and Shauna. They shook their heads and held up their hands.
Anna delivered the same three blows to Sara's left side, then walked around to face her.
"I'm glad you didn't rare back and cut me with that thing, Mistress," the woman answered.
"Should I show Jake how this feels on his balls?" Anna asked.
More than one gasp sounded in the room. Jake shifted, but Anna touched Bad Dog to his ass, warning him to hold his position.
"Oh, come on, Jake. Did you really think I'd let you off the hook that easy?" Anna turned to Shauna and shook her head with a wink. "Your fate now rests in Sara's hands, or should I say, her heart."
She gave the suspense another few seconds to build.
"Sara. Your answer now!"
"No, Mistress. Please don't," Sara said.
Jake visibly relaxed against Sara. "Thank you," he whispered. Anna heard him anyway, and she thought about making mention of it, but she wanted to get to the Bob spanking and also it might annoy Shauna.
"Aww, aren't they sweet. Please acknowledge Mark and Shauna for their participation in tonight's fun. Subs are dismissed." The assembled observers applauded and Anna was quickly left alone with Bob.
"Well, Bob. I hope you are enjoying all this attention being lavished on you," Anna said.
"Yes, Mistress Anna."
"Remind our guests what your safeword is," she ordered.
"My safeword is 'uncle', Mistress Anna."
A few chuckles sounded as members of the audience got the joke.
Chapter 7 Then - Halloween
The car, another of Kevin's ideas, let her out at the club's front door. Renting space for the party was easier on everyone. Anna sauntered to the door, using the slow slinky walk she had practiced all week.
Thomas from legal held the door for her.
"Put your eyes back in your head, Tom," Anna said. She paused to stretch, the sinuous movement working perfectly with her cat costume. When Kevin had suggested it, she had balked, but his friends had worked magic.
Instead of a slutty cat costume with fur trimmed stockings, or something equally ridiculous, she looked as if she had just stepped off the stage of a Broadway show.
Marti and Phil had added some claws to her flat boots and gloves, giving her a more dangerous appearance to go with Kevin's couples theme. A hint of blood and a scrap of blue cloth decorated one claw.
"Anna, holy..." Thomas stopped short of swearing. "I guess I know who's winning best female costume tonight."
"You are too sweet," Anna said. She brushed by him as close as she could without touching him, and continued her slink into the entry way.
A few minutes later, Thomas received another shock as a man in torn, bloodied scrubs, with cuts and scratches on his face and arms stumbled into view.
"Do you need help?" Thomas asked, believing the blood to be real.
"Have you seen my cat? She won't take her pills and then she jumped out the window, and now I can't find her..."
Thomas stood still for a moment, completely off balance. "Holy shit, Kevin. You had me going there." He shook his head. "I saw a cat go this way. If that's your cat, well, good luck."
Thomas opened the door for Kevin and gestured grandly for him to enter.
For the next fifteen minutes, 'Dr. Littman' pursued his cat around the party venue, making certain everyone had a chance to get the joke.
"I guess I know who's winning the best couple's prize tonight," Kim said. "Anna, you might be in the running for best lady's costume, though I think the rules forbid double dipping."
They sat at a table in the corner. Kevin tipped his chair back until it touched the wall. His eyes roved over the party and all its guests while his hands twitched.
"I must give Kevin the credit. It was his idea and his connections that made this all work," Anna said. She slid her hand along the table and let it rest within Kevin's reach.
"I can't wait to see what you come up with for the Christmas party," Kim said as she pushed back from the table and left.
Warm skin brushed Anna's hand, tentatively, then withdrew. She turned.
Kevin now sat forward in the chair, hunched over the table with his right hand palm down a few inches from Anna's. His eyes still moved without pause, tracking everything in the room. Anna noted that her hand received quick periodic glances too.
"I'd like it if you held my hand," she said. She could have added more. She wanted the room to know Kevin was with her, however long that would last. She wanted Kevin to know she was not a monster or a freak. They had made plenty of small talk preparing for the evening, but her admitted kink preference had not come up.
From past experience she knew that men, those that didn't run away, were usually curious about B&D and S&M even if they had no intention of letting their own kink flag fly. Naturally, Kevin defied those expectations by showing no curiosity at all.
Just as she looked away, trying to rein in her runaway mind, his hand closed over hers. The grip was warm and strong, but not crushing. She imagined she felt tension in the grip, a hand ready to dart away without warning.
Anna turned back. Kevin's hand twitched and he sought her gaze, perhaps to gauge her response. She smiled and turned her arm so her palm was up. Her fingers curled up slightly, though she resisted the temptation to grasp Kevin's hand and say 'gotcha' which would no doubt provoke the opposite response than usual.
Time crawled by as the party around them seemed to just stop. Anna felt Kevin's hand twitch and shift, practically vibrating with nervous tension. She brought her other hand around and looked Kevin in the eye.
His head moved, tilted down and then up almost imperceptibly. Anna wondered if that was an actual nod. Instead of worrying about having permission, she decided to go for it. She placed her free hand over his. His pulse accelerated and she watched his breathing speed up as well. Slowly, almost painfully, he relaxed and let her left hand rest atop his while his fingers clutched gently at her right.
They sat still, silent, looking at each other for a moment, then looking away at the crowd.
"Your ninety minutes are up," Anna said. "Lets go."
"You have to be present to win," Kevin said. "You're going to win best female costume and all the valuable prizes that come with."
"I've already won," she said. "But if you really must stay." She stopped talking. Kevin stared right through her, as if gazing on some distant horizon.
"This is crazy," he said, more to himself than to her.
"Life is crazy, Kevin." She watched his eyes as he turned that idea over in his head.
He nodded. "Yes. It is. If the crush continues to leave us alone, I'd like to stay so you can collect your prize."
With any other man who interested her, she would have said something meant to be charming yet provocative. If she had learned anything in the last few months, it was the futility of such efforts.
"What shall we do while we wait?" she asked, ready to supply some options of her own.
"Sit here. Hold your hand. Have a Pepsi, if a waiter ever comes this way."
"I can fix that." Anna turned her head toward the bar. A waiter hurried to their table.
"I'd like a ginger ale, and my friend here," she turned to Kevin.
"Right away. Sir. Ma'am," the waiter said. He hurried away with a quick look at their tangled hands.
"What's on your mind?" Kevin asked.
His question caught Anna completely by surprise.
"Several things, but mainly, I was wondering what we would talk about until the winners are announced," Anna said, managing to tell the truth and conceal her thoughts at the same time.
Kevin took so long to answer that Anna thought he hadn't heard her. Their drinks arrived, delivered by a cheerful young woman who wished them a happy Halloween.
"You can tell me about yourself, if you want. All those little details that must be visited and filed away for future reference," Kevin said.
"Have you decided you'll need those details?" Anna asked.
"Life is crazy, or so I've been told."
The party faded into the background as the couple talked. Kevin learned that Anna was the oldest of two children, and that her middle name was Rene, her favorite color, and many other little bits of information that new couples exchange.
"Like you're going to remember that," Anna said after revealing her birthday.
"July 17th," Kevin said. "I'm good for a card at the least."
Anna chose her next words carefully. "What about you, Kevin? What will you tell me?" She considered the possibility that he would clam up entirely, but was pleasantly surprised when he replied.
"Youngest of three, by ten years. I was an unexpected blessing, to use my mother's words. They're both dead. My siblings are both married with kids of their own. I never see them. I don't have a middle name and my birthday is October 20th. I went to college at the University of Kentucky, then left without a backwards glance," Kevin said.
Anna stared at him.
"What?" he said.
"Your birthday was last week? You could have said something."
"It was never that important to me, and I feel weird when people make a big deal about it," Kevin said.
"What about a smaller deal. Pizza out, or burgers. A cupcake instead of a whole cake?"
Kevin stared at Anna's face. The seconds ticked by, and she stared back, smiling just a little. She realized she was seeing a glimpse of the true Kevin, not the facade he wore at work to make it through the day. She also understood now how truly the normal rules of social interaction did not apply to the man sitting across from her.
"It must be exhausting," she said, squeezing his hand lightly for emphasis. "Going through life with two sets of rules."
"Lots of people do it. You do it too."
Anna heard as much of an invitation as she was ever likely to get.
"I was thinking about that myself. You haven't asked me anything about what I told you the other night. Most people do, if I hear from them again at all," Anna said.
"It's none of my business," he said without hesitation.
Well of course, Anna thought. Trust Kevin to have a new spin.
"What makes you say that, Kevin?"
"It was a secret revealed, traded for my own. You promised not to pry. I respect that promise by reciprocation," he said.
She looked at the faintly quizzical expression on his face. It told her she was asking about the obvious, another rule of life for Kevin Littman.
"You may pry on that subject, Kevin. It is a part of me that you might encounter, even if not directly," she said.
"Ah," she continued. "Maybe you were just assuming we wouldn't see each other long enough for it to matter?" She smiled and winked at him, meaning to tease gently, but she saw she was not far from the mark.
"That is the trend, historically and statistically speaking," he said.
"And it may be the case for us, but think about this. I have a lot of married friends. Most of them had eight or ten or more relationships that failed before they found one that worked. Now, I'm not asking for your hand in marriage, but consider that their historical trends were not good predictors of future results."
She watched him absorb this new perspective, rolling it around in his head, like it was a new flavor of ice cream tried for the first time.
"Why are we doing this? Am I a project for you? A little bird with a broken wing? I don't even understand why and how I haven't chased you away." Kevin paused. "And why am I still here?"
The matter of fact voice stating what should have been a plaintive call of misery startled Anna. In a few sentences Kevin had revealed his fundamental humanity and how it had been warped by something dark and horrible in his past.
"Do you dance?" she asked, certain the answer was no.
"You mean do I put myself in a place where everyone can see me, and people are all around me, and I'm supposed to welcome intimate contact with total strangers?" Kevin replied. He added a hint of laughter that softened his delivery
"Would you meet me halfway on this? Or even a quarter way? We'll go over to the corner opposite the bar, you can face looking at the room, and all we need to do is shift our weight back and forth while a slow song is playing?" Anna said.
Kevin frowned, clearly considering her suggestion.
"Kevin, what do you mean by intimate contact?"
"Touching," he answered immediately.
She looked at their hands, which had been in various degrees of contact through the evening.
"Yes," he said. "That counts. And, honestly, I'm confused. I'm not usually so forward or comfortable. To answer your previous question though, yes, I think I'd like to meet you partway, but I make no promises that I can stay long."
"Okay," Anna said. She was still struggling with the concept of casual touch as a personal boundary. "Let's give it a try."
In the corner Anna suggested, they started out standing apart, just swaying. Kevin's eyes watched the room, ceaselessly moving and observing. Gradually, they drew closer.
"Will you hold me?" Anna asked. "If you can. I'm not trying to make you uncomfortable."
Without speaking, Kevin held his arms out, inviting her toward him. Anna settled her chest against his and rested her head against his shoulder. His movements turned tense and metronomic. She could feel the quivering of his muscles through the layers of their costumes.
"Kevin," she started, but he interrupted.
"I'm okay. Give me some time."
Time did not cooperate. Only two more songs played before the awards were announced.
Anna graciously accepted her best female costume prize. Sensing that Kevin would appreciate not having a big deal made, she simply thanked everyone who helped. The prize included dinner at a fine downtown restaurant.
The night over, Kevin drove to her house in silence, but held her hand as he walked her to the door.
"I had a nice time, Anna."
"I wouldn't say it if I didn't mean it," he replied.
"That's not what I meant," she laughed. "I would very much like to lean up and kiss you goodnight, but I don't want to impose."
"Thank you for both of those sentiments," he said. "Can we get together again soon? Dinner, maybe?"
"Of course. Call me tomorrow around lunch." Anna unlocked her door and stepped into her home. "Goodnight, Kevin."
"Goodnight, Anna," he said softly. The smile that came with his words almost made up for the lack of a kiss.
continued in part three