Her high-heeled shoe, black and pointed as a raven's beak, came down slowly onto his naked scrotum. Bound and gagged, he moaned as the sharp spike of pain lanced up through him, making his cock harder than ever. It bobbed in the air above her nylon-clad instep as she pressed her heel between his balls, finding the floor through the two layers of skin. The pain was intense, but he...
Philip jerked his eyes away from the magazine as Julia came in. She leaned over the desk to grab the stack of mail and his vision was suddenly a wall of orange and green printed fabric. Julia was not a small woman. He tried to slide the magazine deftly under the table so that his business partner wouldn't notice it, but her sharp dark eyes caught it anyway. "You at it again?" she asked, but the sarcasm was faint; she was more interested in today's deliveries. "Oh, excellent, the papers from the liability insurance. Took them long enough. Told your wife yet?"
"What?" He was still flushing and caught off guard from being jerked out of the porn story.
"About your little hobby. The dominatrices."
He jerked the desk drawer open and shoved the magazine inside. "Obviously not. I still have a home to go to after hours." His tone was sharp, but she only raised an eyebrow.
"Phone bill. File this." She tossed it on the desk in front of him and he did it automatically. "You'll have to sooner or later, you know. She'll find out."
"She won't find out." He realized that he'd said that a little too quickly and looked away. "Not unless you tell her. Besides, maybe I'll just stop."
Julia moved away and sat down on the futon couch in the corner, flopping down and continuing to squint at the mail. "Money begging, money begging, money begging. Sorry, guys, no dice. Business isn't that good. Too bad, they're good causes." Her belly was like an orange-and-green-flowered hill against the blue of the futon cover. Her dress rode up on her thigh, a little, and Philip turned his eyes away. No ogling Julia. First, he liked and respected his business partner too much, and didn't want to screw up a good thing. This office was the best work he'd had in years, and he knew that she could have had any massage therapist in the lesbian community if she'd wanted them. He still figured that she'd asked him more out of pity than anything else.
Second, if she caught him she'd give him a look that would make him feel two inches tall. Not a how-dare-you look, not an I'm-violated look. Julia wasn't like other women. Like Tanya. No, it would be a what-the-fuck-is-wrong-with-you look. Like the look she'd given him when she found out that he was using the office phone and the office credit card to arrange for his sessions. To be fair, she hadn't batted an eye when he confessed to her about his secret sexual perversions, and she'd only raised an eyebrow when she'd realized that Tanya didn't know. But she'd given him the edge of her tongue over involving it in the business accounts without her knowledge. "I was up half the night trying to figure out what these charges were, you dipshit! What if I'd called Larry the accountant before I talked to you?" she'd said, nailing him with that stare that made him feel like the biggest retard on the short bus.
She tossed the pile of shredded mail onto the floor, picked up the latest copy of Asian Bodywork, and stretched her legs, ignoring the skirt hiking up over her sturdy thigh. "You know, it's possible that you and Tanya could come to some kind of an accord. I mean, maybe she'd be willing to indulge you with--"
"Never." He shook his head. "You don't know her like I do, Jules. She'll freak. She'll think I'm some kind of ... of sicko. And she would never be able to..." He thought of thin, wistful Tanya with her fantasy novels and her floaty Galadriel-princess dresses and her job in the bookstore, where she didn't have to make eye contact with too many customers. She fled to the back room when there was a problem, leaving her burly boss to deal with it. Well, so do I, he thought to himself. When the landlord comes down to complain, I make myself scarce and let my own burly boss take care of it. Not that she's willing to call herself my boss; she keeps kindly reminding me that I've invested a piddling sum in this business and that makes me a junior partner, but still. In all the ways that count, she's my boss, and I'm a coward. And, truth to tell, that doesn't really bother me at all. But the idea of confronting Tanya about his sexual desires and what he'd been doing about them for the last two years ... now, that was terrifying. Too bad that he couldn't get Julia to handle that as well. One part of his mind idly imagined it, as he began to put away the liability insurance papers. Tanya, sit down, I have something to tell you that your husband is too cowardly to open his mouth about...
As if she'd read his mind, Julia said from behind the magazine pages, "Would it go easier for you if you had moral support?"
"What?" Damn, I am not on my game today. Is that all I can say? he wondered irritably.
"For talking to Tanya. I could come along, fill in when you freeze up, try to keep her calm, that sort of thing. Remind her that you love her." She sat up and brushed back her unruly frizzed mane of dark hair. "That is, assuming that you do still love her."
Philip let his breath out in a sigh. "I do. I love her." A different image came to his mind: Tanya in his arms, giggling like a child; both of them giggling like children, then the gentle, deep kiss. How can I love that and still want this? He lowered his eyes and looked at the pencils on the desk, began to arrange them in a square. What's wrong with me, that she isn't enough?
"Yeah," said Julia. Philip looked up into her dark eyes. "When you said that, your eyes softened. I didn't really doubt you. I know you love her, I just had to ask. And if you love someone enough, it can all be worked out." Then she smiled wryly. "I know, I know, that's coming from the woman who just broke up with two girlfriends in eighteen months. But they weren't like you and Tanya. You guys are family to me. I want to see you happy and honest with each other."
He looked down again. "And if those last two qualities aren't possible together?" He looked back up at Julia. Her eyes were serious, but she nodded.
"Then it's better to know," she said. "Living a lie is never the answer." There was a long pause, but then she pursued him. "Look, I'll help, all right? I'll be right there. I'll -- I'll let you sleep in the office if she kicks you out." At his snort, she added, "And I'll call a good marriage counselor and make you both an appointment and drive you both there and back again if it comes to that. If you guys don't make it, who the hell am I gonna spend Thanksgiving with?" Her tone was light, but her eyes were doing that penetrating thing again, that thing that said, I'm being completely reasonable and you know it, and if you hold out you're just proving what an idiot you are.
The bell on the treatment room door jangled, and Philip shook himself and got up. "That's my three o'clock client. Look, I'll think about it." He sighed. "I'll think about it, Jules, I promise." Then he fled his boss's raised eyebrow and went to rub the kinks out of a construction worker's back.
The ride to Philip's house was fraught with traffic. Julia glanced over at him periodically, but he just had the same expression each time: a man going to his own execution who has consigned himself to death. She wondered, lips twisting, if he was thanking every large bus that blocked traffic for the few minutes it gave him before his confrontation. Maybe I was wrong, skittered across her mental screen like a blowing leaf. Maybe I shouldn't have pushed him into this. Maybe he would have told her himself eventually, or stopped. She slammed on the brake, swearing, as an SUV fishtailed on the new snow and cut them off. Philip sank down further into his jacket collar. Yeah, right. Fat chance of that. He'd keep going until he managed to do something really stupid, and she caught him. I know what that road looks like, I've seen enough friends go down it. Hell, didn't Pamela go down it with that affair with Deirdre? And me too Pollyanna-blind to notice. Until some not-friend had taken pity on her and told her. No, not pity. The avid voyeuristic gleam in those eyes had been anything but pity.
She'd had to do a bit of bullying to get Philip to agree to this, and even now she knew that if she told him never mind, let's forget it, he'd respond with pathetic relief. Julia was not surprised at his secret sexual proclivities, not in the least. If anyone was made to avoid conflict and take orders, it was Philip. Except perhaps Tanya, who was even worse. The two of them were a pair. That's why he'd fallen in love with her, he'd told Julia. She was so much like him.
Philip's face was almost greenish as they pulled up to the apartment complex. Julia parked the car and put a hand on his leg for a moment. "It'll be OK," she said in her best confidence-building voice. "It'll be all right." He nodded, but didn't look at all convinced. She sighed and got out of the car, and he trudged along behind her, staring at the trodden slush. She wanted to give him a hug, but feared that it would be received only with resentment, so she pressed her lips together and found the right door, and doorbell.
"Julia! How are you!" Tanya was apron-clad and flour-smudged and smelled of nutmeg when she hugged her. "I just got the pie out of the oven, but it has to cool and set for at least half an hour. Are you staying for dinner?"
She glanced at Philip, who was not making eye contact with anyone. "I ... don't know. It depends. Tanya, Phil has something to tell you. It's important, and you should probably be sitting down when you hear it."
Tanya looked at her husband, slowly untying her apron. "What's ... what's the matter, sweetie? Philip?" He didn't answer. By the time Julia got him uncoated and planted on the couch, Tanya was looking almost as white around the lips as him. She sat opposite them, her slim form graceful in its swirling skirts, and tried again. "Philip? What's wrong?"
Philip looked at her, made a strangled sound, and looked as if he was going to cry. No words came out for a minute, then he finally croaked, "I've ... I've disrespected you, love. I've ... been with..." His words ran out and his head dropped again, and Julia realized that he'd gotten stuck again. Someone needs to teach this man how to talk, she thought irritably, but before she managed to do more than open her mouth, Tanya got herself unstuck.
"Oh my god. You're -- you're having a--" she choked out, then managed to croak further, "Are you leaving me?" Then she jammed up again too. Strike that. Someone needs to teach both of them to talk. Somehow I doubt there's been much communication going on in this marriage. Julia jumped in before the two of them could make things worse.
"No, Tanya. He doesn't want to leave you. And he hasn't been having any romantic affair, either. It's not that simple, and I need you to listen closely and hear this out to the end." Tanya nodded, tears streaming down her face. With an annoyed glance at the silent, head-bowed Philip, Julia continued. "Phil's got sexual desires that he's never told anyone about. Special desires -- not for a person, but for specific activities. He thinks that if he tells you about those desires, you'll think less of him, so he kept it secret. But--" she glanced at him again, her mouth twisting wryly, "-he couldn't keep denying himself forever, so he's been going to see some ... professionals on the side, to get that itch scratched."
Tanya's hand flew to her mouth. "Pro ... you mean, like prostitutes?" Her other hand clenched in her skirt. "Are ... is he ... am I going to have to get tested for diseases?"
That was one that Julia hadn't expected, and she floundered for a second, but fortunately Philip was galvanized into speaking up. "No! I didn't ... have sex with them."
Julia glared at him. "Don't tell me that it wasn't sexual. You know it was. I know it was. You weren't doing it for the exercise."
"Well, uh, no, it was sexual," he admitted, "but it wasn't sex. You know. No..." He trailed off again. Could he not say anything about bodily functions in front of his own wife? Julia wondered.
"No fucking? Is that what you're trying to say? No penises in vaginas?" she asked him.
He turned red and nodded. "In ... any orifices. They didn't allow that."
"Oh my god," said Tanya again. "Are you gay? Is that what you're trying to -- is that why she's here?" she choked.
Philip seemed unable to speak to this and just shook his head violently. "No, I think they were all women, unless there was some forced bi going on," said Julia, looking at him, and then realized that the last statement probably wasn't helpful. She turned quickly back to Tanya. "And I'm here for moral support for Phil. And to make sure he doesn't chicken out. I've been after him for months, trying to get him to talk to you about this. I could have just told you, but I really felt that it would be better for both of you if he was the one."
Tanya managed to nod. Philip got himself unstuck long enough to say, "I love you, honey. There's no one else I love. This was just about sex, I promise you." His eyes sought Julia's, though, instead of his wife. Make her understand, they pleaded.
Julia nodded and turned back to Tanya. "I'm going to be graphic, Tanya. Or at least clinical. Phil likes submissive sex. Really submissive sex. Like, being tied up and forced to do things. I don't know the details, but I know that the professionals he was seeing were dominatrices. They don't usually allow clients near their genitals. The paying slaveboys are lucky if they get to do more than lick their boots. They usually just get abused and humiliated, and then they're allowed to jerk off afterwards." She spread her hands apologetically. "I did Internet research on the subject all week. I figured that if we were going to talk about it, I ought to know what I was talking about."
Surprisingly, Philip said in a very small voice, "It wasn't humiliating. The most humiliating part was having to sneak around and do it, that I couldn't stop myself."
"So..." Tanya's voice was a squeak. "He paid women to do ... that to him?"
Philip suddenly burst out, "I didn't use any of our money. I had that extra cash that my grandparents had given me ... and I did extra work down the hall to afford it. I wouldn't have taken food out of our mouths for this--" He was gesturing wildly, distraught. Julia put a hand on his shoulder and cut him off.
"Phil, I don't think that the money is the biggest problem here," she said as gently as she could. "Or the sex, either." Although I doubt Tanya will see it that way. "It's the dishonesty. And now you're coming clean, and there won't be any of that. Tanya?" She turned back to the slender woman, who was sniffling --damn, how does she manage to look pretty while sniffling, if I were crying I'd look like a cross between Medusa and a fried potato -- and said, "Can you see that Phil still loves you? That he doesn't want to leave you, but he has these desires, and he needs a place to get them met? Is there any way you can work out a compromise? Maybe if he talked about what he wants, maybe you'd find it sexy. Maybe you could..."
Next to her, Philip took a deep breath and cut her off, for the first time. "No. I know you, Tanya." He met his wife's eyes for the first time. "You couldn't find it in yourself to beat me, or to ... to fuck me up the ass, or torture my balls..." He swallowed, but seemed to have gotten himself unstuck, so Julia squeezed his shoulder encouragingly. "You can't even find it in yourself to tell me what to do in everyday life, though god knows I've encouraged you to do it. And even if I pushed you into doing it, which wouldn't be fair to you, you'd only be doing it to please me. And I don't want that. I need it to come from someone who ... enjoys it as much as I do. I need it to come from someone who likes making men do ... things." His ability to speak plainly had clearly run out, and he sagged forward again.
Julia nodded, sighing. "You're right. That wouldn't be fair to her. And you would try, wouldn't you, Tanya, even though you wouldn't enjoy it? You're too nice a person." She looked at Tanya's stricken face, which was still frozen from Philip's comments about assfucking and ball torture. Probably more sex talk than they've ever had together, and it had to be something this extreme, Julia thought. "Well then, the other option is to find an outlet for him to do this that doesn't threaten your marriage. Because I don't think he's going to be able to give this all up and be anything but miserable and resentful. He could keep seeing dominatrices -- there's no threat there, it's not like any of them are going to want to run away with him -- or he could find someone else, someone you both trust who isn't a pro but who would respect your marriage."
"Or you could dump me," Philip said glumly. "I don't want to lose you, honey -- god knows I don't -- but if you just don't want me any more after all this, I understand, and I'll support you in whatever you choose."
It was in Tanya's lap now. Please, say something, Julia wished. Don't walk away from your marriage. You guys are my friends, my family. I want you to stay together. You're the stable foundation in my life, the only family I had left after my blood kin found out that I was bisexual and dating women. Don't take that away. Don't be stupid and throw away a good thing. The slender woman slowly uncurled her fists from her skirt. "I ... I just don't like the idea of prostitutes," she said primly. "It's so cold, and impersonal, and--"
"You wouldn't prefer it that way? Something more personal wouldn't feel threatening to you?" Julia asked in surprise.
Tanya shook her head. "You'd think so, wouldn't you? But I just ... I don't like the idea of Phil being in such a ... vulnerable position with someone who didn't care about him. Or us. How could you do anything, with someone who looked at you as a piece of meat? But you're right, I can't do what you're asking. I can't even imagine doing what you're asking. I couldn't hurt you, love, even if you ... if you liked it." Her eyes found his across the room, asking forgiveness. Even now, she's afraid it's her fault for not being able to give that to him. Boy, you have so underestimated your poor wife. All this comes out and she's worried about you being vulnerable to cold heartless mercenary bitches
"Maybe he can find someone who does this for fun, who enjoys it like he does," Julia suggested carefully. "You could help him look -- hell, you could do the vetting yourself and pick someone out for him, someone you trust and feel safe with. Maybe someone already married, like him -- someone who wouldn't mind having a part-time slaveboy and doesn't need any more than that. Someone you felt safe with. It could all be worked out, like a regular arrangement." Maybe.
"You mean, like a personal ad?" Philip said, his brow furrowing. "Like, 'Looking for a domme for my husband?' Something like that?"
Tanya cringed. "I couldn't. How could I talk to a stranger about this? I ... no. I can't."
"I'll help you," Julia offered. "I'll help vet them, you can just be there and let me know what you think. Let me help, I'm not scared of--"
Tanya suddenly turned to Julia, cutting her off. Her eyes were wild, bloodshot, desperate. "Would you do it?"
Julia ground to a halt in midsentence. "What?"
"You know us, you're an old friend, you wouldn't do anything to break us up, you're not going to run off with him," Tanya cried. "I'd feel more safe with you than any stranger. And you're his boss anyway, it wouldn't be ... you could..." She trailed off, but her eyes held Julia's, intensely.
For once Julia broke eye contact and looked at the floor. "Dammit," she said wryly. "And here I promised myself that I was just going to facilitate things here. I wasn't going to jump in and try to run everything, to dominate you two into getting through this. And yet, I couldn't help myself, I did just that. I'm so sorry, both of you." She glanced at Philip, who was staring at Tanya, thunderstruck. "And you called me on it, didn't you, Tanya? You want to run things, Jules, put your money where your mouth is."
"Well?" After her initial outburst, Tanya's voice was quieter, trembling. "Could you do it?"
Julia made a sound that was somewhere between a snort and a laugh. "I'm not exactly dominatrix material. I mean, look at me. I can't walk around in high heels and corsets. I'd look like..." ...a potato dressed in fetish gear, topped with a frizzy black mop. I'd be a joke.
"It's not about the clothes," Philip said. "I know that's important to some men, but not to me. It's about ... the attitude. I ... just want to be told what to do, and maybe get a little bit of fetish activity out of it. And..." He looked sideways at her, face red. "I've always thought you're attractive. If that's any help."
She lifted her head and stared at him, found herself taken aback. "I ... figured that if Tanya was your type -- you're so pretty, Tanya -- I mean..." She found herself trailing off. This is not the direction I wanted this to go
"I know that you like women," he said. "I wouldn't expect you to be sexually interested in me. And if the idea of doing any of the ... sexual activities ... with me makes you sick to your stomach, it could just be ... me doing it to myself at your word. I could clean your apartment or something, you could just give me orders and ... I wouldn't expect you to touch me."
"I know you like women, too," said Tanya. "That's one of the reasons I trust you."
Julia was silent for a moment. Put your money where your mouth is, pushy bitch. You wanted to help, to preserve your family. Well, they're asking you for help; are you ready? "Give me till Monday," she said. "Let me ... do some research. I need to find out more about this, to see if I can handle the job. And if I say no," she rushed on, "I promise that I'll still help with any interviewing. I won't leave you guys alone with this. Speaking of which," she turned to Philip, "will you be OK here until Monday? Do you guys want to be together to talk things out further?" Which you probably won't. "Or do you need to crash at the office?"
He looked at Tanya, who looked down and said, "It would probably be better if ... I need some time."
"OK. Office it is." There was the futon couch and the kitchenette and the shower; their rented space had once been part of an efficiency apartment that the new zoning had declared unlivable due to lack of fire exits. "Come on, Phil, I'll drop you off on my way home."
He sighed. "Thanks, Jules." Tanya did not move or look at him as he put on his coat, although his eyes sought hers repeatedly. Julia had the urge to bully them into hugging, but decided against it. Some things were better left alone.