William, part 1
I'm having drinks after rehearsal for Rusalka with a big group of friends from the cast when William asks me out. Actually I'm not really sure if it's a date. He's overheard me and Lulu talking about our adventures in the Sub Rosa Society and he's curious. He asks me if I'll go with him to Lollygag on Saturday night.
Even if it isn't a date, I'm flattered and pleased that William wants to spend time with me. William, who was Heinrich der Vogler and Escamillo. The dashing, charismatic bass who does triathlons and has a PhD in computer science. Like Marty, he's in his early forties, but unlike Marty, he hasn't gone gray yet; he still has a thick shock of black hair. His craggy face wrinkles a bit when he smiles but he has flashing dark eyes, brilliant white smile and aristocratic bearing of a romance novel prince. Hell yes I will take him out to a fetish club.
I'm a bit stumped about what to wear. We decide to meet for dinner first, and I don't want to wear my Betty DeLuxe super spy dominatrix red vinyl outfit to a restaurant. I want to look sexy but not trashy, like I fit in with the scene but not too goth. I finally decide on a cheap dress I picked up on a whim and never wore before, stretchy black lace in a v neck and a line skirt, with a beige spandex liner. It's clingy but with a classic cut, not too revealing, or so I thought. I realize as I am walking down the street to meet him that in low light, the beige liner kind of disappears and it looks a little like I'm wearing black lace with nothing underneath. Ok, that's a little more suggestive than I was going for, but it's too late now to change.
William and I live at opposite ends of the city, that is, he lives in a nice neighborhood called Goldmount and I'm in the Iron Triangle, i.e., the ghetto. We each drive ourselves and meet at the restaurant, which only increases my feeling that this is not a date. I spot him loping down the sidewalk and wave, and he greets me with that thousand watt smile. God, he's gorgeous. He's just wearing jeans and a plain black t-shirt but somehow it looks perfect on him.
"How's Sarah?" he asks as we sit down.
I shrug. "She's fine." Oh that's right, I forgot that I set William up on a date with Sarah two months ago. He's been making it very clear that he's single and looking to meet someone, so I introduced them. She probably would have gone on a second date with him if he asked, but he never did, and she wasn't interested enough to pursue him. I feel a sudden flash of guilt. I didn't tell her I was going out with William myself. Would she be mad? Is this even a date?
Over plates of pad thai, we get to know each other better than the casual chit chat that happens during and after rehearsal. We have a lot in common--a shared love of opera, literature, and science fiction. We're both from New England, although he is from an old money WASP family, which explains his aristocratic bearing. The rest of his family is even more high achieving than he is. His sister was in the Seoul Olympics for crew (of course crew). I grew up around people like this, and spent my teen years wishing my family was the Izod and boat shoe set, instead of the uncouth, unathletic Jews that we are.
He also talks about how he's had a few long term girlfriends but never been married or had kids, which is what he really wants. His last relationship ended almost a year ago, but since then he's been so busy with work, the opera, triathlon, international travel, and somehow nothing has worked out.
I tell him about my graduate degree even though I'm kind of stalled out on actually completing it, about my upcoming conference in Hong Kong and my internship in Taiwan because I want him to be impressed with me. I don't mention anything about my messy love life or about SM, and he doesn't ask. Despite wanting to check out Lollygag, I can tell he's more of a tourist than a real kinkster. He just doesn't have that look in his eye that I see in a true submissive.
After dinner, we head over to Lollygag. It's kind of an off night there. There's no special event and the crowd is a bit thin. Except for a higher percentage of people wearing black and the occasional dog collar, it could be almost any dance club. We dance for a little while, then step outside again for a break. As it turns out, we are much more interested in talking than dancing, and the break stretches on for almost an hour.
There are groups of other people also taking a break outside, some smoking, some just talking. The sidewalk becomes like an extension of the club. It feels natural to just hang out.
In a lull in the conversation, he leans down and says in a low voice, "I'd really like to kiss you."
I stretch up towards him and there in the orange glow of the street lights, leaning up against the parked cars, we make out like teenagers. It's incredible.
Like a gentleman, though, he doesn't try to have sex with me right away. It's already past midnight, so we say our goodbyes. I drive back home over the bridge marveling at what just happened. William just kissed me. ME!
I don't have any time to follow up on what this might mean, though, because a few days later I fly out to Hong Kong. My advisor kindly arranged for my department to fund my plane ticket, and one of my fellow panelists puts me up in her apartment. The conference is small but I get in a lot of good networking, and people are friendly. Hong Kong is amazing. The food is so good--I have things I've never tried before like cold roast goose and bamboo pith, as well as of course the most delicious dim sum. I manage to get away from the conference for high tea at the Peninsula Hotel and shopping in Mong Kok. I feel very glamorous and sophisticated, like Betty DeLuxe on an international mission. I don't even throw up on the flight.
By the time I get back, I'm pretty well wrecked. Five minutes after I set foot back in my apartment in Raser City, the phone rings. It's my parents calling to tell me that my grandmother just died.
"Oh no, I'm so sorry I can't be there," I lie, trying my best to sound supportive and sympathetic.
My dad is having none of it. "You're getting on the next plane out here," he insists. I feebly offer excuses--I have no ticket! I'm still jet lagged!
"Call the airline and ask for a special bereavement fare," he says. I had no idea that was even a thing, but he's right. Within an hour I have a ticket and less than twelve hours after getting back from Hong Kong, I'm at the airport again, getting on a flight back east.
I suppose I'm a monster for even suggesting that I couldn't make it back for the funeral, but once I'm there, I know it was the right thing to do.
It's my mother's mother who died. She had been slowly declining but refused to see a doctor so we don't know exactly what it was that got her in the end, and it was a bit of a shock that it happened so fast. She lived on her own in an apartment in New York City. My mother had been trying to get her to move for a while, but she always insisted that she would die in that apartment, and she did. I gently suggest to my mother that it's for the best that she went on her own terms rather than lingering for months in the hospital, but she's still feeling too guilty to believe it.
My brother also comes in from New York with his girlfriend. She's nice enough, but he treats her like shit. I get to lie in my childhood bed and listen to him in the next room harassing and belittling her. And again the next day at breakfast. It gets so bad I'm sorely tempted to take her aside and tell her not to let anyone talk to her like that, but I figure anything I say will only make things worse, so I stay out of their business. My mother excuses his behavior by claiming he's under a lot of stress because he's the one who had to go into our grandmother's apartment and ID the body.
The next day is the funeral, and I have no idea what to wear. In these degenerate modern times, it's not really necessary to wear all black any more, but I want to keep up the tradition. I threw every black item I had in my suitcase, but I realize I don't have much. How things have changed since my goth teen days. The only black dress I have is the lacy one I wore to the fetish club with William. It's hard to believe that was just two weeks ago. Mom says it looks ok so that's what I go with, even though it feels a little weird.
The funeral is just as horrible as I expected, but I'm glad I'm there to support my mother. It's very small, just us and a few of my parents' friends. Most of my grandmother's friends and relatives have died already, or drifted away. Afterwards we all feel strangely calm, even lighter somehow. Over lunch at home we try to remember all the best things about her. She was a tough old broad who did nothing but complain but I always kind of admired her no bullshit attitude.
The day after the funeral is my birthday. My mother gets a cake from the store and my brother and his girlfriend pick up some little presents so we can have a small party at home. It's not the worst birthday. I certainly didn't expect to be celebrating it with my family this year but it's nice to be all together. I'm thirty-one years old.
Somehow, even though what I really want is to get married and have kids, and I broke up with Skip because he wanted an open relationship and I didn't, now instead of dating anyone seriously, I'm seeing five guys at once. I kind of feel like each one is just one facet of the kind of guy I'd ideally like to be with, so that by seeing each of them in rotation I've sort of cobbled together a substitute boyfriend. Anyway, the closer I get to my departure date for my overseas internship, the more I feel like it's futile to start up anything new anyway, so I might as well just have fun before I go.
Atom the Archaeologist asks me out again, and as always I say yes, because he's hot and the sex is fun. We meet for gelato yet again, which I guess has become sort of our thing. I notice that even though his costume party is several months past, he seems to have adopted the 1970s dirtbag look as a permanent fashion choice. It's like he's trying to push the boundaries on how far he can take this persona before people object, but so far he doesn't seem to have found that line yet. I wonder, how long can you claim to be ironically acting as an asshole before you circle back around as just a regular asshole?
I take him back to my place and peg him anyway.
My stock of substitute boyfriends is reduced by one, as Brenno the Baritone leaves for his new job in Italy. I've seen him on and off since our surprise trip to New Orleans, and while we've become closer as friends, the sex has been only ok. He's not into anything kinky at all, and as my gardener poet friend pointed out, Brenno is a nervous guy. He can't let himself go, even during sex. Even when he kisses, his mouth is tight. I'll miss him as a friend but it's really for the best that we're not attempting a more serious relationship.
Even though Brenno has a lot of friends, somehow I'm the only one who helps him move out of his apartment. I know how hard it is to move overseas since I've done it before, and I'm about to do it again. Even if you plan ahead and put things in storage, there's always this scary moment where every last item remaining in your apartment either has to go in your suitcase on the airplane or be thrown away.
I spend a long afternoon helping Brenno pack up his apartment to put things in storage. He doesn't have a car, so he's using the kind of service that parks a plywood shack at your curb, then carts it off to the storage unit once you've filled it up. We finish sealing up cardboard boxes, but the scheduled drop-off time passes, and still no storage unit appears. Brenno thinks maybe they're just stuck in traffic but I have a bad feeling.
At my urging, he calls the storage company, and sure enough they have no record of his order. He puts the phone down with a dazed look in his eye.
"Shit, man! What am I going to do? My flight is tomorrow!"
"Give me the phone." I call them back and let them have it. I have worked at enough crappy retail jobs to learn that screaming and yelling will usually get you what you want. When I first encountered this kind of behavior on the job, I was shocked at how badly people behave, but even more shocked to see how often it worked. I feel a little bad for repeating the cycle of abuse, but dammit, this is a serious situation, and the more I go up the chain of command at the storage company, the more it's clear that they are the ones who screwed up. Thirty minutes later, we finally receive confirmation that a shack is on its way in an hour. Maybe two.
Brenno is so relieved he actually starts to cry. He gives me a bear hug. "Oh my god, thank you! I don't know what I would have done without you. I'd still be sitting here wondering when they were coming!"
"It's nothing. I'm just glad I was here to help you." We order some Chinese delivery then spend the next hour sitting on the floor in his mostly empty apartment, eating out of boxes and just talking. He tells me more about his older brother who died, how devastating it was, how he felt so let down by his parents' refusal to ever talk about it. I feel bad that he has so much sadness in him but maybe at least talking about it is helping him.
At last the storage unit arrives and I help him to fill it up. We hug on the sidewalk and say an emotional goodbye. I wish him well in Italy, and that's that.
The Mantis emails to ask if I'm free over the weekend. I tell him that I have rehearsal in the afternoon on Sunday, but I'll be home by 4 o'clock, and I expect to see him lying on my doorstep when I get back. I receive an enthusiastic affirmative from the wretched, undeserving Mantis.
I can't stop thinking about this upcoming scenario for the rest of the week. Will he really do it? I picture him slowly transferring out of his chair onto the pavement in front of my basement apartment, waiting patiently for my return. Through the entire rehearsal on Sunday, I'm so excited I can barely concentrate. I can't wait to get home.
When I pull up to my house, I see his car parked on the street, so I know he's there, but I can't quite see the doorway, which is along the side of the house. I park my car in the driveway at the front of the house. It's a warm, sunny afternoon. I come around the side of the house, and there he is, huddled on his side on the black rubber mat, staring up at me.
I stare back at him. Neither of us says anything. I pause for a second. On the one hand, he looks so hot lying there. This is what I ordered him to do, and he actually did it. On the other hand, it's so fucking weird. Nothing quite prepares you for the sight of a grown human lying on the ground beside your front door, staring up at you silently. But this is too awesome to ruin by breaking character, so instead of saying anything or helping him up, I just sneer at him, unlock the door, and step over him into the living room.
"Well? What are you waiting for?" I bark at him over my shoulder, swinging the door wide.
He pushes himself up and scoots his butt over the threshold, dragging his chair behind him.
"Impressive," I smirk as he gazes up at me from the floor. "The Mistress is pleased that the wretched slave followed orders so well. I have a reward for you."
I pull out the new set of nipple clamps that I have finally purchased from my local lesbian owned sex positive adult store. His eyes light up as he sees the shiny metal chain dangling from my fingers.
He transfers back to his chair, which I graciously allow, for the short trip to the bedroom. We play again in the same way as before, with some clothespins and scratching with the bamboo skewers, although I don't tie him up this time. The nipple clamps are a big success. Unlike the clothespins, I can adjust the pressure so it's just enough pain, and he's not dying when I take them off. The metal chain looks cool too. As usual we end with him going down on me until I'm ready to let him stop.
As we're laying in bed together after, he fills me in on what transpired before I got home.
"So I got here thirty minutes early because I wanted to make extra sure you wouldn't get back before me," he says. "I pushed up to your door, and I'm like, ok, I can just hang out here on the ground and wait. But like a minute after I got out of my chair and laid on the mat, I hear the neighbor kids playing."
I didn't think anyone would see him because the front door is not visible from the street, but there are two apartment complexes right next to and behind me. I forgot there's always a ton of kids running around between the buildings.
"They were speaking Spanish," he continues, "And I was like, ok, I can practice my Spanish on them. So they come running around the corner and stop dead when they see me--a wheelchair, a guy on the ground, they just freeze and their eyes get huge."
I'm dying laughing. "Oh my god, what did you do?"
"Well I didn't want them to go running for help or anything, so I just said in Spanish, 'I'm playing a game with my friend.' And they were like, ok, we understand, and they left."
"Ha! That's brilliant! And it's true--that's exactly what you were doing!" I gaze at him affectionately then check myself. Don't get too attached.
"Anyway thanks for being understanding about the scratches last time. Sorry I kinda freaked out a little."
"It's ok. Sorry I wasn't more careful."
"It's fine, she didn't notice. I feel guilty sneaking around like this. I mean, don't get me wrong, it's been amazing. But emotionally it's been a little hard."
I snort. "Yeah, well, it's hard on me too."
He doesn't say much after that, just apologizes again and repeats how appreciative he is of the Mistress.
After all this, it's hard to believe it's only been a few weeks since William kissed me outside the club. I'm still not really sure what it meant, but I told Lulu and she told the entire cast, and now for the first time in my life, I find myself the target of envy by other women. It's a strange feeling to be in a group of women, some of whom I think of as much more glamorous and successful than I am, and feel this unspoken undercurrent of jealousy. I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it just the tiniest bit.
The jealousy I get from Sarah is more of a storm than an undercurrent, and it's definitely not unspoken.
"You know I went out with him," she huffs, glaring at me from the opposite end of her couch during one of our frequent late night tv watching sessions.
"But that was just one date, months ago," I protest.
"So what? It's still not cool of you to go out with him now. You're the one who set us up! If you wanted to go out with him yourself, why didn't you just ask him out from the start?"
"I don't know, I didn't think he was interested in me. Come on, I thought you didn't even want a second date."
"No, he didn't ask me out again. There's a difference," she insists, glaring at the tv.
"I'm sorry! I really didn't think it would be such a big deal. Anyway it was just one date, who knows if he'll ask me out again."
He does ask me out again. Since he's a lead and I'm just in the chorus, we aren't always called to rehearsal at the same times. After I get back from my surprise trip home, he goes on vacation for a week, then our schedules don't match up for a while, so it's some time before I see him again. But after the next rehearsal we have together, William corners me as we are all leaving, and asks if I want to get a drink.
"Sure," I say, trying to act casual. "But I carpooled here, so..."
William flashes me a brilliant grin and waves an enormous hand. "No problem. I'll drive you home later, or pay for a taxi, whatever you want."
"Are you sure? You know I live in the Iron Triangle." It's at least a forty minute drive in the opposite direction from where he lives, even at night without traffic.
"It's nothing; don't worry about it," he assures me warmly.
I stare up at his shining dark eyes, feeling like a romance novel heroine. "Ok, let's go."
He takes me to a little hipster place in the Goldmount neighborhood, near his house. His car is surprisingly crappy and uncomfortable, an ancient Honda Civic with holes in the trunk drilled by a thief years ago and a small hand-lettered sign on the window proclaiming "no radio." I really don't care about cars at all, but every time we go over a bump, the hard seat jars right up my spine.
Over glasses of port, we talk and talk about opera, literature, our travels, graduate school, movies, science fiction. Without mentioning anything too specific about Warren, I share my thoughts on having recently viewed Terminator, namely that not only was it kind of boring and too violent for me, but the guy who convinced me to watch it was smugly insistent that this is definitely the near future reality of the robot takeover.
"I know it sounds stupid, but the whole singularity thing really freaks me out, " I say. "And he's a programmer so he seems like he knows what he's talking about."
William snorts derisively. "So he's been reading Ray Kurzweil?"
"Yes! How did you know?"
"Ugh, Kurzweil is really popular with a certain kind of nihilistic IT type who wants to seem like he knows more than anyone else."
"So you don't believe it?"
"Kurzweil is like Nostradamus. He makes all these vague pronouncements then retrofits them later to claim he predicted the future. No, you don't have to worry about it. Or at least it's probably more productive to channel your energies elsewhere."
I find this strangely reassuring. It's so nice to talk to someone intelligent who isn't a smug asshole about it.
Our conversation drifts over to our families, our hopes for the future. William again tells me that he just wants to find the right person to settle down with and have kids. Me too! I want to shout, waving my hand in the air. Yes! Right here! Pick me!
Instead I vaguely murmur something about wanting the same thing myself. I don't want to come off as desperate or crazy. But also I have this barely articulated sense that William likes me not for my potential homemaking skills but for my intellect and career ambitions, so I change the topic to my grad school studies.
I usually try not to talk about school because most people find it boring, but William engages enthusiastically. It's such a relief to talk openly about my grad degree with a guy who doesn't feel threatened by it, like Skip and Rollerboy and Patrick did. Even the guys who think of themselves as intellectual and claim they want a smart girlfriend, like Warren and Buttboy, always engage in this game of conversational one-upmanship, where they constantly have to assert that they are smarter, or know more than I do. It's freaking exhausting. But William doesn't do any of that. He just talks to me like an equal, and seems genuinely interested in what I have to say.
Before we know it, the restaurant is closing and we have to leave.
"So, do you want to come over to my place?" William asks.
I bat my eyelashes at him. "I thought you'd never ask."
Goldmount is an unpretentious neighborhood filled with Russian and Chinese immigrants. William lives in a small but very nice semi-detached house probably built in the 1920s, with gorgeous wood floors, two matching bay windows, and white painted crown molding. Unlike the other single middle aged tech dudes with too much money I have met, William has decorated it nicely with Persian carpets and tasteful, classic furniture. There's nice framed art on the walls and lots of photos, of family and friends, and of William hiking, or traveling in various remote and picturesque locations. It's the kind of place I would have if I could afford it. I feel instantly at home, and more than a little envious.
We chat for a while longer, sitting in his tiny kitchen. He pushes aside a huge pile of junk mail to make a place for me at the narrow counter. There's a photo of his sister tacked to the wall, and he talks more about going to see her in the Seoul Olympics, and I tell him about my time living there. By now it's really late, and I'm starting to wonder where this is all going. Just as I'm considering if I should make the first move, he leans in and kisses me.
Kissing William is a sweet, all-encompassing experience. I'm not the kind of girl who won't date a guy under six feet tall. Like Sarah, who is self-conscious about her height (5'11") and wants a taller guy to make her feel petite. I'm only five foot three, so nearly all guys are taller than I am, and anyway I really don't want to feel tiny and frail. I like to play the Cruel Mistress, towering over the Mantis and making him beg for mercy. I tend to go for a boyish type, and most of the guys I have dated have been under six feet. It feels a little strange to be with someone so much bigger than I am, so much stronger, and so conventionally masculine. But I don't hate it. Actually I enjoy it to a surprising degree. There's something kind of surprisingly enjoyable about leaning into a conventionally girly role.
We retire to the bedroom at last, to his huge fluffy bed with soft white sheets. We kiss and make out for a long time, while I marvel at my incredible good fortune that someone so amazing is interested in me.
I realize too late that I should probably warn him that I'm not on the pill. "Umm...unless you have condoms, we probably can't go any further tonight," I say, hoping he doesn't have any. I'm really not feeling up for going all the way.
"I want to take it slow," he murmurs, to my relief. "What we're doing now is fine for tonight."
I find it charmingly old-fashioned that he wants to wait to have sex. He gets me off using his hand but declines when I offer to do the same for him. By this point, it's well past 2 am, I'm slightly drunk and very exhausted, so I'm happy to just fall into a deep sleep.