When You Wake

She picked me up from the airport on a scorching Friday afternoon. My flight was delayed by a day returning from a work trip and when she offered for a second time to come and pick me up at the airport, I’d accepted.

She threw her arms around me and I  wrapped mine around her waist, burying my face into her neck as I squeezed just a little too tightly. I breathed her in and she smelled like summer and happiness and a little bit of longing. Cars passed all around us and people rushed past us at the end of their own trips, but none of that mattered when I  held her in my arms and kissed her the kiss I’d been waiting for days for.

The ride back to the city was one that I’d taken plenty of times, but I can’t recall a detail about anything that we passed that day because I was too caught up in the happiness of just being close to her. We talked while she drove and I ran my fingers over her legs as I looked at her and reveled in how fortunate I was to be with her. I  watched the effect of my touch as my fingers ran across her pale skin, up under the edge of her shorts, touching the fabric of her panties.She had me in a perpetual state of wanting and I had to slow my hands, my mouth, my words from raging like a wildfire when I was near her because I wanted her, again and again and always.

We hadn’t known each other for very long then, but I’d felt that longing viscerally the moment that I laid eyes on her. It caught me off guard and I didn’t know what to do with it at first because I remembered suddenly what it was like to want and it felt like suddenly catching ahold of a piece of a dream that you’d forgotten you had.

The first time that I met her, she’d come to the apartment that I was staying in with the friend that I was renting it from. I opened the door to greet Quinn expecting him to be alone, but when he stepped aside I saw her framed in the doorway with the midday sun shining behind her. He introduced me to her as his girlfriend Maeve as she glided into the apartment and melted into the couch, peeking up at us every now and then over her phone as we talked.

I  can picture the angle of her legs as she sat there and remember vividly how differently the room felt with the two of them in it.

Just a moment before it had been a quiet, sleepy place and now every time either of them moved I felt a rumble run through me like thunder rolling in from a distance on a hot August afternoon.

Quinn had lived there with his wife Fiona and now the lot of them lived together with one other person in a blissfully open home. They’d all shared time together in the apartment we were standing in and while they were all ever present there, but I’d never felt it as acutely as I did just then. I felt for a moment like I was trespassing in Quinn’s life; sleeping in his bed at night and then this immediate and intense attraction to Maeve. 

I’d known Quinn for years and we’d shared enough between us that perhaps it was foolish to feel that way, but as it stood it would take some time of thinking about it carefully (and seeing her with him again) before I asked for his blessing to see her. He stopped by to get the mail one day and as he walked down the steps to go, I  pulled the trigger and asked hesitantly if he would be ok with it, ready to respect his wishes if he said no. He came back up and gave me a hug and said yes, laying those fears to rest. Still, I thought about it for almost a week before I reached out to her.

I added her on Facebook and sent her a message, feeling like I was asking for a first date a second time after having asked Quinn’s permission to do so. She responded a few hours later and by the end of the week, we met for dinner for the first time.

She met me at Quinn’s old apartment and we took a car service from there to one of her favorite places, which was on the other side of town. When I    opened the car door to let Maeve in, we noticed the beadwork that covered nearly ever inch of the interior and the drivers pride in it set an instantly fun tone to the ride over. He drove erratically, looking back over his shoulder at us as he raced us toward our destination and complained about how no one in this state knows how to drive. All the chaos was somehow all very amusing with Maeve beside me.

 
The sun was still high in the summer sky when we took our seat inside the restaurant: it still felt a little surreal to be there with her. Looking across the table at her I felt incredibly fortunate to be with her; I looked into her bright, shiny eyes and I felt like I could get lost in them for the rest of my life. When she smiled her warm smile her eyes smiled too and again she was almost too beautiful for me to look at.
The conversation over dinner took all kinds of twists and turns and the more I got to see of her, the more fascinated I was by her. She’s smart and thoughtful and caring, but there is a dirty side to her that’s hard to see through her shine, but in those moments that she showed it to me, it made me want her even more.
She has a kind of innocent shine about her that she sometimes likes to smudge by saying fantastically filthy things. She can look at you with a sweet smile and tell you things that she wants you to do to her and even if you’ve never considered those things before, you want to do every single one of them to her, for her, with her.
 
We talked about sex parties and movies and what it was like growing up and every story brought me closer to the picture of who she was. The way that she looked at me made me want to kiss her and as we paid the bill, I really hoped that when the moment came she would let me.
 
We took another car back to my apartment and I  considered just how to ask her to come inside but when we arrived she climbed the steps to the door without a word. 
We sat on the couch and talked for a while before I asked her what she wanted to do. She smiled at me with and I knew what she would say before she said it, but I wanted to hear it.
 
“I was hoping you would tie me up”, she said.
 
This is something that we’d talked about late at night at a party, the second time that I ever met her. She sat on the floor next to me, wearing knee high white wool socks and I kept wanting to touch her legs as I  buzzed from champagne and the hum of sex happening all around us. We were feet away from where people were piled into the bathtub when she asked me what my thing was, what I was into.
 
“Rope” I said as she smiled at me. “Doing the tying, more specifically“.
 
“You should bring some the next time we have a party. There is always a line for a good rope top” she said and I had the feeling then that I would get my chance with her and that night of our first date was when it presented itself.
 
I  undressed her in the bedroom, taking in the site of her soft slender body, noting the curve of her hips and the proportion of them to her tiny waist. Her tiny pink nipples were hard and her lips parted as I wrapped the rope around her wrists. I traced my fingers over her collar bones and breasts, down across her hips and between her legs where I could feel the slickness forming even through the fabric. Turning her around, I bent her over the bed and pulled her panties down slowly. My eyes ran over the curve of her ass, down to her legs, loving the way she looked as she flexed up on to her toes so that I could pull her panties the rest of the way off.
 
The little moans that she made as I ran my hand between her legs were beautiful, as were the gasps when I  brought a hand down on her ass. I    loved leaving my print on her pale skin while alternating between making her focus on the fingers sliding inside of her and the firm hand coming down on her ass. I  waited until I  saw her knees begin to go weak and I  turned her around and pushed her up onto the bed, watching her as she slipped into that headspace where all you can do is wait for what comes next and want.
 

Kissing my way down her inner thighs I breathed in the smell of her skin and her sex. I teased her with the gentle trace of my mouth across the soft, fine hair that covered her pussy before pressing a kiss that sent a shudder through her body. I  pressed deep into her as I  lifted her up and buried my mouth into her, losing myself in the taste of her, in the smell of her, in the sounds she made as I ran my tongue over her again and again. She arched her back and pressed herself into me as she gushed into my mouth and then slowly collapsed down onto my bed, on his bed, on their bed. I kissed her deeply, cradling her against me as she tasted herself on my lips.

That night she fell asleep curled up in my arms and we woke later in the night to fuck for the first time. We drifted in an out of a dreamlike state of touching and kissing and fucking all night long and in the in-between we slept soundly, tangled up in one another. In the morning, I was drunk on the taste of her and high on the smell of her and I wanted nothing more than to stay in bed with her all day. This is the first time that I realized she was an addiction and that I would have a hard time breaking myself of it, if I could ever even see fit to try. When she finally had to leave I was already thinking of when I might be able to see her again; it’s safe to say that she was already under my skin.

When she offered to pick me up from the airport, I hesitated at first. Not because I didn’t want her to, but because I really did and I needed to consider what that meant.

‘Be careful’ I thought, but I didn’t listen to myself.

‘Go slow’ I said to myself, but I didn’t know how to with her.

When we got back to my apartment, I unloaded my bag from the trunk and she sheepishly said goodbye.

Aren’t you coming inside?” I asked.

I didn’t want to assume…” she replied, but we both knew exactly where we wanted to be.

Amidst the Flowers

 That night the flowers bloomed.

The landlord told me they were called ‘night blooming ceres’ (Queen of the Night) and he’d been waiting patiently for the night to come in which they would open. They grew in the courtyard behind my apartment on Esplanade and opened in the early days of October; true to their name, they were there one brief moment and gone the next day. I can vividly recall the way that they smell and the way the petals felt when I held one flower delicately in my hand.

I was out that evening with friends and I’d gravitated toward Veda, who I always had a bit of a crush on (and felt she was out of my league). She was in the same band I was in and one of the reasons I stayed with it so long is because it meant that I got to spend time with her. We talked before practice and sometimes we caught a ride home together afterwords

Veda made me feel like the mistakes that I’d made in life were the most interesting thing about me and I found myself about some of my darkest corners because of it. Our friendship was strange, mixed with brutal honesty and warmth: she devastated me with her smile which she was just as likely to be wearing when she gave me a compliment as when she told me to go to hell. She could speak the truth and convince me that it wouldn’t kill me to hear it, giving me advice that was hard to swallow with just enough sugar in it to help it go down. To this day there are things that happen in my life that make me want to know what Veda would have said about them.

My landlord called that evening and told me the flowers had opened and I wish I would have asked her to come see them with me. I came so close, telling her where I was going and why when I left the bar. I hesitated though, because I thought it might be silly or cliché to ask her to leave our friends and walk the fifteen or so blocks with me to my place at midnight just to look at the flowers, no matter how remarkable they might be.

I missed out on something that night and I could feel it when we talked later. Veda had written a play and she left to tour with it shortly after that night, so we wouldn’t see each other again for some time. She sent me a postcard once from the road and it made me smile and ache at the same time when I  turned over the middle-of-nowhere photo and read her writing on the back of it, signed off with just one letter.

Somewhere in the middle of it all she started seeing someone and so did I but that sheepish bittersweet tinge that you can see on peoples faces was on both of ours when we crossed paths.  and that seemed to me that what we missed that night in the garden might have been more than just the flowers.

I had dreams of being in that garden with her and of conversations that we never had, of moments that never happened and of words that I’d never got the chance to say to her. In my dreams it was always just after dusk and we were waiting for the flowers to open, but they never did. Once I dreamt that we were in the garden the day after they blossomed and all the blooms littered the ground around our feet and the smell of them hung in the air like a memory of something that had happened only a moment ago. Those were just dreams though and we both moved in different directions; I    never did have a chance to show her that garden.

Veda passed away a few short years later, taken swiftly and quietly by cancer. To this day, I can’t think of ‘night blooming ceres’ without picturing her and if I walk past them while they are in bloom my heart aches. Like that rare and beautiful flower she owned the night that she lived in and was gone all too soon. Fittingly, on her shoulder Veda had a tattoo of a fleur of her own and the word ‘tojour’, which is just how long she’ll be missed.

Blue

I was barely 18 when I lived in that tiny city; I’d moved there with no plan and little money to live with my high school best friend who didn’t want to live in the dorms any more after being repeatedly harassed for being openly gay. He found the place all on his own and called me one day to propose the idea to me. The rent was cheap because the house needed a lot of work, but we didn’t mind the state of things, because it seemed full of potential and more importantly; it offered freedom. I wasn’t planning on enrolling in school because I couldn’t afford it, but it did meet my criteria of being anywhere other than where I was from.

I figured I’d find work of some sort, but it was a broke town full of college students fighting for jobs that they could work around their studies, which meant that wages were low and most places were only looking for part timers. The gig that I finally managed to land painting and sanding decks wasn’t enough to keep me afloat and if it rained, we didn’t work and I didn’t get paid.

When money got tight, we took in two more roommates, including someone who took up residence in our attic. We made spaghetti in big pots because it was cheap and would feed us for  for a couple of days: we plotted between mouthfuls on how we could dig ourselves out of poverty. Loans, get money fast schemes like pay at the door parties all were discussed, but we were lacking the life’s experience to pull most of these ideas off properly.

The only one of us who was steadily employed mopped up come at the adult movie theater across the street from our house.  I’d go sit inside the store with him after they closed because I  was waiting for something, anything interesting to happen to meOne night while I waited for him to finish work I spotted an ad on the dirty cork board nailed to the pink walls near the rack of impossible large dildosIt said ‘Adult Male Performers Wanted’ and I tore one of the perforated phone numbers from the sheet, stuffing it in my pocket quickly. I knew if my roommate spotted me and would give me all kinds of grief about it.

I waited a few days before calling, not certain what the ad meant I’d be doing and I was both a little reluctant and little turned on about what it could entail. Dialing the number from a payphone made my heart thump loudly and when the voice on the other end of the line told me I’d reached a hair salon, I almost hung up, thinking it was a mistake.

“I’m calling about the ad for performers?” I managed to say quietly, still unsure I’d dialed correctly.

The woman on the other end of the phone asked how old I was and I added a year to my age for no good reason, because you only need to be 18 to strip in bars in that city, even if you aren’t old enough to drink in them. She asked me if I was ok dancing for both men and women and I said yes without thinking it through and then wondered for a moment if I really would be.

She invited me to come to her salon the next day, which was outside of the city proper and I hopped in my car not sure what to expect. I used a map and took dirt roads to the address she’d given and when I pulled up in front of the little free-standing building I had second thoughts. I sat in my car listening to the radio before working up the courage to head inside.

The woman cutting hair was in her late forties, with darkly lined eyes and a low cut sweater.  She looked up at me, knowing already who I  was and said she’d be right with me. She finished the client whose hair she was cutting and after seeing him out the door, she told me to take a seat in her chair. She trimmed my hair while we talked, asking me questions about myself as she circled me. I could smell her perfume, which was familiar to me, but I couldn’t remember the name of it; to this day if I smell it, I think of her.

She was careful not to put too much emphasis on the fact that I’d be dancing in front of men more often than women, but I was more worried that she’d ask me to pay for the haircut and I wouldn’t have enough money in to cover it and eat that day.  Thinking back on it now I realize she knew exactly what she was doing; she had my number in a way that I didn’t see then. She was sizing me up from the moment that she answered the phone.

When I was done she took me out behind the building and had me pose for a few Polaroids against the brick building. She got me to lift my shirt up a little, showing off the trim, androgynous body that I had back then and that was the photo that she put on all the posters that she had printed. She was subtle about all of it and managed to get exactly what she wanted without ever having to press because I wanted her to want me to be a part of this all. I can remember the way she looked at me, smiling at me, narrowing her eyes as she told me she’d let me audition that weekend when we both already knew that I was in.

I was young and hadn’t had many sexual experiences, but the ones that I had were complicated and intense in a way that was far beyond my years. I’d lost my virginity to a woman who was 10 years older, had a threesome with a married couple and I knew without a doubt that I was kinky. I wasn’t afraid of what I might not like, I was afraid of what I might be missing out on. That eagerness was exactly what Dee smelled on me and she knew that it would make us both money.

Dee added me to the lineup of the next gig she’d booked and put me on the poster with the name ‘Angel’ written beneath it. I  liked it, but I told her that I liked ‘Phantasm’ better because it sounded dark and somehow untouchable to me. I picked a Nine Inch Nails track for my first song and when they called ‘Angel’ to stage, I shot her a look. Her expression told me that she was putting me in my place just a little and I sort of liked it, but eventually I got my way and the name that I wanted.

The bar we were in the first night was a gay bar and most of the dancers were straight, just there for the money. Some of the guys just collected their nightly guarantee, which was about $30 and worked for tips on stage, but they wouldn’t give a lap dance. I learned right away that if you worked with guys with the wrong attitude and went on right after them, the money wasn’t as goodI hustled the crowd for every dollar I could make and was proud of myself for bringing home the most money that night, not letting some weird sense of heteronormative masculinity stand in my way

I danced to music that was sexual and a little angsty and I drew a crowd to the stage when I was on it. I made eye contact with every person in the audience, seeing who I could draw in and figuring out who I’d go see when I was offstage.

During lap dances people constantly asked me if I stuffed and I knew that it was just a cheap ploy to touch me. Sometimes they would take the liberty to check for themselves and if they were tipping well enough they got away with more before I moved, changed position, put some distance between myself and whatever part of me they were pawing at. If they think they’ll never get it they’ll give you nothing and If they think they’ll get it no matter what, it’s almost the same. People are typically the most willing to give you what you want when they are at the very line of getting or losing what they want.

“Baby Blue” was one of the guys that I worked with and like the rest of us, he had a handful of jobs to keep him paid between shows. His eyes were his namesake and his blonde hair and strong jaw made him look Scandinavian. He was a well-built Marine reserve who was quiet and kept a low profile. He worked the door at a club called ‘The Zoo’ on weekends too; after we worked together a few times he would let me into the club and stamp me over 21, even though I wasn’t. He knew I wouldn’t abuse the privilege and more than anything he probably thought it would help with talking to women, or at lest be less of a ‘scarlet letter’ than the giant ‘X’ they drew on under 21’s in black sharpie.

“Ice” was another one of the dancers that worked at The Zoo with Blue.  He was a tall handsome African-American guy, also a marine, and was into customizing motorcycles. He and Baby Blue were friends, and used to race together they told me.  They always worked the same shows and where you’d see one, you’d see the other. On the weekends they were building faster bikes, they said.

Blue and Ice were always trying to get me to talk to women. I was quiet and observant and most of the time just as happy to watch the room or dance by myself than I was to strike up conversation. Blue introduced me to a friend of his named Cassidy one night while we happened to be performing at The Zoo.  Cassidy didn’t seem interested in meeting one of his ‘dancer friends’ and I’m not sure she even really looked at me that night. She was a stripper too, so I took her seeming lack of interest at face value and I wasn’t sure why Blue thought we should get to know each other, but he kept trying to get us to talk. I left without saying goodbye to anyone that night.

The next night she and I crossed paths again on the dance floor at The Zoo where I’d come as a civilian this time. I noticed her Pulp Fiction-esque haircut and the fact that she was a good dancer right away but it took me a bit longer to realize that she was the girl from the night before. Despite how it’d gone when we met, we gravitated toward one another and ended up dancing together until they turned off the music. When the bar closed, we left together.

We went to a diner she’d worked at once upon a time and over late night food she told me that she was leaving very soon. She already had a place down in North Carolina where she was headed and her departure was only a few days away. I looked into her pale green eyes as she stared at me over the rim of the coffee cup she was sipping from and I knew that she was going to come home with me that night.

I’d never done anything like that before; met a girl while at a bar and taken her home with me. My sex life had consisted mostly of encounters from personal ads and leather shop bulletin boards and never with anyone my own age. This wholly normal situation was in fact a first for me.

We fucked the night away and well into the next day, and every time we tried to say goodbye, we kissed until we couldn’t help ourselves and ended up fucking again. We knew that time wasn’t on our side and we bargained against every goodbye with ‘just a little bit longer’.  I vividly recall standing in my living room, having lifted her on top of the giant ancient console television, kissing her as she put her hand back into my pants when we realized the mailman was looking at us through the front window as he dropped off the mail.

We saw a lot of each other over the next few days, but we did not having any illusion about how or when it would end. It was still a little bittersweet to say goodbye when it was time for her to go though. I remember looking at her sitting in the van when she said I should come with her and her friend, but I wasn’t sure if she meant it and I said goodbye. Maybe she’d meant it when she’d said ‘let’s make the most of it’, or maybe she’d just been hoping to change the outcome one way or another. Maybe I should have asked her to stay.

I wandered around the little beat-up town after Cassidy left, hoping to find a bit of comfort, but all I found was uneasiness. Things with my roommates had gotten a little tense since they’d started sleeping with each other and I felt like a third wheel. I had no shows booked anytime soon and the work painting and sanding was drying up.  I packed up my car and headed back to my hometown instead of paying to stay another month.

I took a job working in an automotive factory, learning how to laser weld. I    stood in front of a machine on the afternoon shift, zapping parts and testing them, feeling as out-of-place as you can in the ‘normal’ world after the life I’d been living. When you look at your paycheck at the end of the week and realize that you could make that in two nights dancing, it makes it really to appreciate the money or the work. There wasn’t any sense of satisfaction in it, other than knowing I  could count on that same amount every week; no more, no less…exactly the same.

I called the salon from time to time and asked about bookings and I’d make the three-hour drive there when the money was going to be good enough.  I always asked who else would be working with me because it needed to be with losing my weekend over . When I was offered a show for the following day, I asked if Blue would be there. There was a silence for a moment on the other end of the line.

“Oh honey, haven’t you heard? He’s dead.” Dee said, gently, trying to break it to me easily.

I figured it had to have been a motorcycle accident but when I asked about that I was shocked to hear that the news had said that the reason Blue and Ice had been working so hard on those bikes was so they could outrun police cars, which they did, after a bank robbery. After getting away, they ditched the bikes before going to Blue’s girlfriends apartment. Ice walked in last, shot Blue in the head, and left with all the money.

I only went back once after that, but that’s a story for another time. It wasn’t the same and I  knew it never would be again. Baby Blue was gone and so was Cassidy. It was the end of my time as a dancer.

Something had shifted in me though and try as I might, I couldn’t work in a factory any more. I tried conventional jobs and I used them to get by, but I       needed something that I  was never going to find working in retail or in a restaurant. I tried phone sex and webcamming and they added money and excitement to my life on top of the straight jobs that I worked. Eventually I  moved on to performing and eventually directing and producing and I left the nine to five behind entirely. I couldn’t imagine a life where sex work wasn’t a part of it, some way, some how and I still can’t all these years later.

It’s strange and it’s colorful and sometimes it’s hard and even sad, but it’s never been dull. I wouldn’t be who I am now without that time I spent as a stripper all the years ago or the people who I met along the way. Dee taught me to recognize opportunity and Cassidy taught me to take chances. Baby Blue taught me how to work the room that’s in front of me and Ice taught me to look over my shoulder. I’m where I am today because of that summer and I’m who I am today because of the people that I lived it with.

Wren

We hadn’t intended to go to the party, but a last-minute decision followed by a rallying of spirits saw us taking an uber out onto the highway and away from the Las Vegas strip. I    was the one who was initially reluctant and I was the one that decided later that we would go, changing my tune when the others seemed to be giving up on going without me. I sat in the front seat and watched the lights from the strip fade in the mirror as we pulled away from them. Athena and Frankie sat in the back, chatting about the night as we coasted along the empty roads. It was 20 minutes before the driver turned down the dark private street where the house sat and we knew as soon as we pulled up that we were at the right place because of the people gathered around outside.

A quick check by the woman sitting at the door confirmed that we were on the list and we were invited to go inside, through the inconspicuous house, past the pool and across a gravel yard to the separate building where the party was being held. We could hear the music before we even reached the building and when I turned the handle on the door, sound and light poured out into the night. It enveloped us like a mist, swallowing us as we walked through the doorway and seemingly into another world.

The room that we entered into was open like a warehouse; it had a cavernous feel to it with high ceiling and metal walls. The red lights that bled through the darkness painted everyone in a lustful tone and all around us people were engaged in acts that were befitting of it. Crossing through the room toward our host, we didn’t have time to take it all in before being led upstairs to the private part of the party. We stopped in the first room to grab a few drinks and were shown other rooms in which we could indulge if we felt so inclined. Finally we came to the main room of the upstairs floor where people were starting to gather to tie one another up. We spoke to friends who watched the show, but I sipped my drink and was distracted by the knowledge that Wren was somewhere close by. I watched lips move, but most of the words never made it through the waiting for her to appear and my contributions to the conversation consisted mostly of polite nods.

Wren and I had spent a lot of time together over the previous few days while attending the same conference, though we’d met a few months before and texted each other every now and again. I’m very good at anticipating what people will say or do, so the fact that she often catches me off guard is fascinating to me. I don’t know what to make of what’s happening between us sometimes because of that, but there is certain kind of happiness that can come from not having all the answers when you are accustomed to.

I felt her coming down the hallway through the dark, I knew it was her before I could make out her face. Her long dark hair was split into two braids and she wore a black dress with a white collar. She gave me a hug before being beckoned over to the lap of the man she was there with. She made eye contact with me as she sat on his knee and I    drifted away to join my friends who were watching the scene that was starting to take shape in front of us.

We sat quietly and watched as a man worked rope around a woman, whispering into her ear as he inflicted both pleasure and pain. He took out a knife and dragged it lightly across her skin as conflict crept across the faces of those in the room and a smile crawled across the woman’s face. Athena seemed anxious at the sight of the knife and she wanted to leave; Edgeplay isn’t for everyone and we headed back downstairs hoping she would be more comfortable. I turned to see if Wren was still there, but she’d already slipped away.

Downstairs there were many different things to draw your attention: people fucking in a cage, a woman dominating a cis man and a transgerendered woman, people in various states of dress and undress and we drifted from one show to the next as we made our way through the room.

I stole glances at Frankie and Athena to be certain that it wasn’t too much; too strange for us to watch together or too intense for people who work in the adult industry but who usually have a screen between themselves and the sex.

‘This is a very unique team building exercise.” Frankie said to me through a smile. Later that night he would tell me he was glad that I’d dragged them out.

It was getting late and the two of them wanted to head back,  so we made our way slowly back toward the street. The other two having gotten a head start on me as I moved slowly, searching for a glimpse of Wren, hoping for a chance to say goodbye. Athena and Frankie told me I had a few minutes before our ride would get there, so I   told them I’d be back and I headed back into the fray.

I  stepped through the door and stopped to look around the room, feeling her presence as I  had before; the crowd parted and there she was, standing looking back at me. She gave me the smallest little wave and a smile that matched it and it made me happy, and it made me ache. I don’t remember what song was playing, but in my memory it’s Kavinsky’s ‘Nightcall’ that runs through my mind when I think of the last time that I saw her.

I slipped out into the night and rejoined my friends as they made their way toward the street. The music faded into the background, broken up by the sound of crunching gravel under our feet. The stars shined over head, throwing a little light onto the barren yard and empty road. During the winter you can smell the earth a little more crisply in the desert and breathed it in deeply so that I could use that part of the memory to help find my way back to that night when I wanted to.

When our car arrived we stepped into it and I closed my eyes after shutting the door behind me. I listened to Frankie and Athena talk, the sound of their voices helping me break the orbit of the party, of the night, of the ache that her smile left.

The Marks We Leave

“Grand Central, by the information booth in the center of the station at 6pm.”

“See you there” she responded.

I arrived at Central Station early, finding a post on the balcony that gave me the best view of the grand hall. I looked for her, knowing I’d be able to spot her even from a distance. I sent one short message telling her which side of the information booth to wait for me at and then I watched. So many people flowed through the terminal that it made me think of the water of a shallow, rocky river, but when I saw I knew without hesitation that it was her. She looked down at her phone at my incoming message and I made my way to where she was standing.

We hadn’t met yet; we’d only exchanged messages and emails after she’d written to me with a very blunt introduction:

I’m attracted to experience, so I’m attracted to you. I’m still really new to this world, but learning from someone as honest and mature as you seem is something I would definitely appreciate. I’d love to get to know you more.

She was traveling the week before and had just returned to New York that morning; I was leaving the next day. We had one day to meet because she would be in Paris when I returned and we’d agreed that we didn’t want to wait for over a month; we needed to at least say hello face to face. In the few hours between her coming and my going, we made time for one another.

I descended the stairs into the grand hall, studying her body language as I drew nearer. She was eyeing the terminal nervously and checked her phone for further instructions, not noticing me as I approached. The crowd closed and opened and with each parting, I took in another detail about her.

Rowan is small and fair-skinned, with a bright smile, expressive eyes and Venetian blond hair (I liked the way that it framed her face). She wore a purple dress printed with flowers and it had small buttons that ran almost the length of it. Her shoulders were bare and the moment I saw them, I wanted to place my lips on them. She seemed both resilient and fragile at the same time and I felt from the moment that we met that she wanted me to leave a mark on her so that she could prove that she could take it. She didn’t seem inherently submissive, but rather; like someone who wanted to be dominated.

I came to stop behind her, waiting for her to turn toward me, but she didn’t right away. When she finally faced me, I said hello, startling her and she gave a nervous little laugh. We left the station together, less concerned about where we were going than we were about being able to talk openly regarding the things we’d corresponded about before agreeing to meet. Where does one take a pretty young woman in the middle of the day to publicly discuss the things you want to do to each other in private?

Choosing a general direction we headed away from Central Station, walking close together. We didn’t have any particular destination but we both needed to move so we let the moment carry us, untouched by the chaos swirling around us. Plumes of smoke billowed from food trucks and people leaving their nine-to-fives scurried across intersections as tourists halted and stared up at buildings that can touch low-hanging clouds. Her hand brushed mine once, twice and then I took it.

Coming to the library and it’s vast open lawn, it felt like the place to stop, sit, talk. We picked a spot and sat down in the grass, looking up at the sky; it looked like it might rain. The clouds were thick and heavy and grey, but they didn’t dampen our mood at all. She kicked off her sandals and we spoke as she let blades of green grass poke up between her toes. I pulled a piece of it out of the ground and rubbed it between my two fingers as I glanced at her, taking in everything about her as we talked. We laid back in the thick grass and looked up past the trees and skyscrapers while we talked about who and what and when until they closed the lawn of the library and asked us twice to leave.

I took her hand and we left the library, joking about how having just graduated college one of her goals had been to have sex in the stacks. She said it out loud and blushed when she did, giving the impression that she’d thought about it before and was picturing the two of us behind the rows of books in that very moment.

I let her lead me in the direction of Central Park and we talked along the way. The handful of conversations that we’d had online prior to that left lots to discuss. We held hands almost the entire time and walked quickly, coming to the center entrance to the park as the sun was fading. I studied her face, which made her nervous and I liked the fact that it did.

“You are looking at me!” Rowan said.

“I like to look at you” I responded, refusing to look away until I was satisfied.

We stopped and let a family pass us and it was then that I pulled her close and kissed her for the first time. Her lips were full and I’d been thinking about kissing them from the moment I’d seen them in photo. She made me promise to at least kiss her if we were to meet and it’d been easy to give my word. My hand slipped around her waist and she trembled but pressed herself against me as though to steady herself. She felt like trepidation that was plated with resolve.

I took her hand again and we continued to walk through the winding paths of the park. We passed beneath one of it’s bridges and just then a man started to play the saxophone. We smiled at each other and rolled our eyes just a little because it seemed so cliché but I think that it made us both secretly a little bit happy . We found a bench that was as as alone as you can hope to be in Central Park and sat down closely next to one another. Just as we did a cool breeze came along, picking up the may buds, sending them swirling across the paved path. People ran, pushed strollers, skated past us; when we were alone, I kissed her again.

She laid her head on my shoulder and we toyed with the idea of where we’d go next, but it seemed like we both already knew and were just waiting to say it. We alluded to where we’d hoped the night would take us but had attempted to curb expectations. It was obvious though that parting ways wasn’t something that either of us was seriously considering.

“Where do you want to go?” I asked.

“Where do you want to take me?” she answered.

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