Goodbye to Warren, William and The Mantis
As the performance of Rusalka approaches, Ariel invites us all over to her house again for another fairy sleepover party. The wigs are finished now, but we all had so much fun the last time we want to do it again.
On the last Friday night we have free before dress rehearsals begin, the ladies of the chorus plus one lead, Suzanna, gather in Ariel's living room. Even Lulu is there. She's still weighed down with grief about the loss of her brother, but she says she still wants to keep doing normal things to distract herself. Except for the ongoing drama with her on again off again loser boyfriend, she's holding up amazingly well.
The movie this time is Barbarella, a longtime dev favorite of mine. How amazing is it that the hot love interest, the prize at the end for the kick-ass female lead, is a blind guy? And not just any guy, but a literal angel who hangs around mostly naked. It's like they looked into my dev heart and put it on screen. I just wish he had a bigger role.
Ariel and I are the only ones who have seen the movie before--for all the others it's brand new. They laugh along at the gonzo insane story and groovy outfits. When the blind angel appears, I nudge Lulu in the ribs and give her a meaningful look.
"What?" she says obliviously.
"You know!" I whisper.
"Oh right, whatever." She rolls her eyes. I'm always half disappointed and half relieved when my friends react to my dev interests as no big deal. Lulu is the only one in the opera company I have told. I'm not as close to the others, and they haven't seen me dating any disabled guys. None of them, not even Lulu, knows that I'm sticking needles in a hot para dude on the weekends.
"Hey, you guys, you know what we should do?" Lulu exclaims as the credits roll. "We should get together and do a group costume for Halloween, and each wear one of Barbarella's outfits!"
That sounds amazing, and I join in the enthusiastic if hypothetical plans for who gets which costume and how to make them. But the truth is I know I won't be here for Halloween. I'm leaving for Taipei on the first of October. Anyway Lulu is the only one of us who has the long blonde hair and the figure to pull off a young Jane Fonda look.
Once again we all sleep like puppies in a big pile on the floor of Ariel's living room. This time the gossipy lights-off talk is a lot more explicit. Even without divulging all the details, it's clear that I'm a lot more adventurous than most of them, except for Lulu and maybe Ariel. The talk gets more and more specific about positions and moves and sex toys, and several of the girls decide that they have been missing out.
The next morning after a late breakfast, I take five of them down the street to the local lesbian owned sex positive sex toy store, where we check out vibrators. I show them my favorites, a battery operated in hard plastic shaped like a dolphin, and the always reliable pocket rocket. We each go home with something new.
As happy as I am to finally be bonding with a big group of friends, it's frustrating that this is happening now, just as I'm about to leave town. But anyway I'm going to enjoy myself as much as possible for the next few weeks.
All the sets and costumes and wigs are loaded into the theater, and dress rehearsals begin. In addition to our fairy wings and massive curly wigs festooned with fake flowers, all the women of the chorus have to wear fairy makeup. This means using beard wax slathered over with many layers of foundation to hide half our eyebrows, then painting on steep diagonal brows that go halfway up the forehead, also extra long fake eyelashes and a ton of glittery gold eye shadow. The first time this is explained to us, I think there is no way any amount of makeup can hide my thick Groucho-Marx-like brows, but amazingly it works well enough. Anyway stage makeup is meant to be seen from a distance; up close it always looks a little weird.
The frantic rush leading up to opening night is exciting as ever. For the first time I get to see the entire show and hear all the leads do their solos with full orchestra. William is fetching in his Hunter costume, in a white shirt and leather vest, looking even more like he stepped off the cover of a romance novel.
We fairies have been drilled into military-like precision in our dancing, but we still find ways to goof around on stage. According to the staging, I'm often standing next to Gretchen, always amusing as she likes to whisper fake gossip about the characters into my ear. During one of the dances, my hand slips and I goose her by accident. She shivers and giggles, and encourages me to do it again. Pretty soon we are all trying to pinch each others' butts on stage without being noticed by the audience.
When we're not on stage, we're lounging in the green room, eating chips and chatting. There are no costume changes to rush through, and the fairy outfits are lightweight and comfortable. I was so nervous when rehearsals started about singing and dancing at the same time, but now I've never been so relaxed in a show. I'm at the theater every night until midnight then working all day and rushing back to the theater the minute work ends, but I couldn't be happier.
Rehearsals in the theater go on every day for a week, then it's opening night. As usual, I give one of my comp tickets to Sarah, and she brings along her ex-boyfriend because she still can't stop hanging around him all the time. After the show they come along with all of us in the cast for drinks.
"You dropped your wand, didn't you?" It's the first thing Sarah says to me when I come out of the stage door.
"At the top of Act II? Yeah, that was me." At the end of a frenetic number, we all are supposed to wave our wands up in the air in a big flourish, and somehow mine slipped out of my fingers.
"I knew it!" Sarah crows, turning to her ex, who just shrugs. She turns back to me. "I heard a clatter at the end of that number and when I looked, you were the only one with your hand up in the air but no wand." She giggles triumphantly.
"Yeah, yeah, I blew it," I mutter.
It feels like Sarah is always criticizing me for something, but she's my best friend, so I let it go and don't say anything. Anyway it's not like I ruined the show. I laugh it off and forget about it.
At the bar the whole cast is exuberant over how well the opening night went. I meet Gretchen's partner Jen for the first time, a shy butch with short blonde hair, totally the opposite of us loud theater types. It's sweet to see them together. They're so obviously in love.
I sit down next to them, and Gretchen shares some gossip with me about the woman who sings the title role of Rusalka, a tall soprano named Emmeline with a face like a Greek statue.
"Have you met Emmeline's partner, Justine?" Gretchen asks, nodding at the next table over, where Emmeline sits with her arm around a woman with short curly hair, wearing a man's button-down shirt and trousers. I haven't, but I know that like Emmeline, Justine is aiming for a professional opera career.
"Justine has been considering transitioning to male, only she's worried that if she takes testosterone it will wreck her voice. But Emmeline is pushing her to do it anyway because she's quote, 'not a lesbian.' Can you believe that?"
"What, so Emmeline is straight?"
"Yeah, she only wants to be with her if Justine acts more masculine, even if it destroys her career."
" 'S a bunch of bullshit," Jen mutters, and I have to agree with her. I guess this means that Gretchen considers herself a lesbian now, regardless of her path to loving ladies.
Being around all these lesbians is making me feel like it's been too long since I was with a girl myself. I stare across the bar at William, who is talking to the conductor. God he's gorgeous but it feels like things with him are going nowhere. Maybe I should start looking for a female partner instead.
This is not just idle wondering. I've been with girls before, but somehow always keep defaulting back to men. Now that I'm moving overseas, I have the perfect opportunity to reset my love life, without the baggage of the expectations of everyone around me. Still, it feels a bit shady to suddenly remake my identity. I decide that I need to consult a gold-star lesbian, and I know just who to ask: Stephanie, from my graduate program.
When I first met Stephanie, she was dating a girl who looked exactly like her. They both had buzzcuts, but hers was bright pink. Now her spiky short hair is jet black, she has a bunch more tattoos and she's gone through four or five different girlfriends, always starting the next one before ending the previous one.
"They all know I'm cheating on my girlfriend with them, but they never suspect I'll eventually cheat on them," she laughs. Yeah, she's a stone cold bitch, but I love her shriveled, cynical little heart. I feel like I can tell her anything and she won't judge me. Stephanie is the only person I have told about my contract with The Mantis. She thinks it's awesome.
"So when I go to Taipei, can I say I'm a lesbian?" I ask.
"Sure, why not?" she shrugs.
"It's not, like, appropriating queer identity?" I still feel like I'm being a little dishonest.
"Please. If you're cruising for pussy in a lesbian bar, you're not appropriating anything. Anyway I've heard the girl love in Taiwan is hot. Have fun and send me pictures."
I start to think of this trip as more than just something I have to do for work. My love life here is such a mess. Maybe this is my opportunity to start over. But anyway I still have another few weeks to go, and nothing is going to change before I leave.
The show goes on for three weeks, with shows Wednesdays through Sundays, and two shows on Saturdays. My amateur opera performance schedule is severely cutting into my time in the BDSM scene, but I'm not going to wait until after the show is over to see The Mantis again because by then I'll be gone.
I arrange to meet The Mantis at my place after the show on a Wednesday night. I rush out of the theater as fast as I can, not even taking time to wash off my makeup or take my hair down from the pin curls. I just take off my costume and wig, throw on jeans and a t-shirt and run for my car. Even so, I don't make it home until past eleven. He's waiting for me in his pickup truck when I drive up. As enjoyable as it was to make him lie on my doormat that one time, it's not a stunt I can replicate. I don't want to cause problems with my neighbors or have someone call the police because they think the "poor cripple" needs help.
He transfers out of the truck when he sees me pull up, and wheels behind me up the driveway to the door. As soon as I let us both in, I collapse on the sofa with a sigh. He pulls up next to me.
"So how was the show?"
"It was really good! I didn't drop my wand this time. So what do you think of the fairy makeup?" I tilt my head to the side, showing off my drawn-on eyebrows. "Creepy, huh?"
He smiles. "No, it's kinda cute. You look like a sexy Vulcan."
"You must be tired."
"No, I always feel wired for a few hours after a show. I'm starving though. I had dinner at five thirty."
"Let me make you dinner."
"Aw, that's sweet, but I don't really have any food in the house. All I have is ramen noodles."
"Good, because that's about all I can cook. Come on, let me make you some." He gives me a kind of self-deprecating little grin. "It's very generous of the Mistress to allow the humble Mantis to visit when she is so busy."
"Very well," I reply with an exaggerated sigh. "I will allow you to serve me. Get going!" I give his chair a playful nudge with my foot.
The Mantis pushes into my narrow little kitchen as I stretch out on the sofa and put my feet up. I watch as he opens a cupboard, takes out a pot and fills it with water, then sets it on the stove. Luckily the pot and the pack of ramen noodles are both in a cabinet under the counter, so he can reach them. Everything in a kitchen is oriented to someone standing up; watching how he moves sitting down is fascinating to me. The way he has to reach up to turn on the faucet, the way he sets the pot of water between his legs so he can push from the sink to the stove, I stare at all of it. He knows too, and stares back at me like he's doing a striptease.
It feels so luxurious to lie there on the sofa after a long day while he makes dinner for me. I think back to when the roles were reversed, and I was making dinner in that same kitchen while Rollerboy sat on my sofa watching TV, and how he had the gall to stick his fingers in his ears while I washed up. It's hard to believe that was only like a year and a half ago. It feels like a different lifetime. What the hell was I thinking? No matter how weird and unsettled things are right now, my life is still a thousand times better now than it was with him.
After dinner, The Mantis and I retire to the bedroom for more needle play. He's totally addicted. The minute we get to the bed, he's unbuttoning his shirt and begging for it. I'm happy to oblige. We've moved up to the medium gauge needles, which I insert in symmetrical rows along his chest, down to the Interzone, the band of messed up sensation at the line of his injury. He moans and groans about how much it hurts, but he has a look of pure bliss on his Mantis face.
By the time we're done, it's nearly two in the morning, and I have to kick him out so I can get at least a few hours' sleep before work and the show tomorrow.
"Thank you Mistress for allowing the unworthy Mantis to serve you even when you're so busy," he says with mock seriousness as he's putting his clothes back on.
"Well I suppose if you can make yourself useful by cooking me dinner I can allow it," I reply.
"Even though I'm just a lowly para," he continues. "Not even your preferred type."
Aha, another offhand comment I made that he found erotically humiliating. "It's true," I laugh. "You know I prefer blind guys."
"Yes, the humble para is barely even attractive at all." Now he's just goading me to insult him more.
Of course I'm happy to oblige him. "Yes! In fact paras are number three, behind blind guys and amputees." I narrow my eyes at him. "FAR behind." He grins. "You should be thanking the Mistress for her generosity in deigning to entertain the unworthy Mantis, when she would rather be with a blind guy or amputee instead."
"Thank you, thank you, Mistress," he says in character as his submissive self. But then as we're saying goodbye at the door, he repeats it in a more serious way, not just role-playing.
"I really do appreciate everything you've done for me," he says, looking up at me a bit shyly from behind his wire framed glasses. "I know you said, uh, that it's been hard on you as well. I'm sorry I wasn't thinking about, you know, things, from your perspective. I really am grateful."
"Aw, that's very sweet. You're welcome," I say, and give him a kiss on the cheek. Earlier on I had avoided showing him that kind of affection but it feels ok now. I like him a lot but I don't feel that kind of crazy, gravitational pull that I did with K. I'm not pining for a serious relationship with The Mantis. What we have now is fine with me. I'll miss him but it will be ok to say goodbye.
The one I'm seriously falling for is William, even though he's AB and not my type at all. I'm not sure what it is. Whenever I'm around him I just feel swept up in his charisma and confidence, and even when we're not together I find myself thinking about him. I see him every day at the theater, and it's a struggle not to throw myself at him. I keep looking at photos taken of us together at the bar after opening night. I'm sitting next to him, with my arm around his shoulder, grinning like an idiot. He's smiling too but in a more guarded way.
It's not like he's avoiding me though, just the opposite, he keeps asking me out whenever we have free time, which is not often. One afternoon he offers to show me around his work, Very Famous IT Company. He gives me a ride in his ancient Honda Civic and we rattle down the coast in those rock hard seats, every crack in the freeway jarring up my spine, but I don't care. I'm just so happy to be with him. The scenery is gorgeous, all rolling hills and deep green pines. I rarely get this far south of the city.
William shows me around his office, and I'm suitably impressed. There's on-site yoga and massage, and a cafeteria serving amazing gourmet food, all free. The pantry by his cubicle is stocked with bins of granola, chips and a huge assortment of candy. I had no idea jobs with these kind of perks even existed.
Of course, there are downsides, as William points out. All that stuff is there to keep the employees working around the clock and to discourage them from leaving for any reason. Also having all that food right next to your desk is a form of torture. He asked management to remove the peanut butter cups because he couldn't stop eating them. They were gone for a while but I notice they are back now. Now I want some too.
William seems less excited about his job that I expected. I thought he was a big deal, having been lured away from a top university to work here. But he doesn't even have his own office, just a cubicle crammed in a windowless room with a dozen other people. I guess I pictured him as a boss in a corner office, dropping by now and then to take an important meeting in between opera and triathlon. But really he's grinding away long hours at his desk, eating junk food and feeling guilty about it. It's kind of endearing to realize we're more similar than I realized.
As the run of the show goes on, there is an endless round of cast parties. After the shows we go out for drinks, and nights or weekends when there is no show, people with the biggest houses host huge parties for all the cast, crew, and orchestra. One Saturday afternoon, I'm at one such cast party at the sprawling suburban home of one of the board members, someone I barely know. William and I have wandered off to a small den that's less crowded than the living room and are sitting on the sofa together chatting. A guy I have never met before comes in holding a baby, and adorable little roly-poly girl probably about six months old.
William and I both coo and fuss over the baby, he even more than I. Seeing babies always reminds me how much I want one of my own. I've always felt this way, since I was a kid, although I never was around babies that often and didn't even do much babysitting. Now that I'm in my early thirties, I feel like it's a bit unseemly to make too big a deal over other people's babies. I've seen childless women fighting to hold other people's babies and I really don't want to be that stereotype, so I try to restrain myself.
But William clearly feels no such constraint. He babbles to the baby and tickles her and holds her hand, while I hang back a bit. Finally I get the courage to ask what I'm longing to do.
"Can I hold her?"
The father looks doubtful. "She's pretty fussy."
But I'm sure it will be fine. He hands her over to me as I'm sitting on the sofa. I have this image in my mind of sitting here peacefully holding a baby, asleep like a little angel, while William stares adoringly at us. That is not what happens. The minute the baby lands in my arms, she starts screaming. Nervously, I rock and bounce her a bit, but she just keeps howling.
The father looks at me scornfully. "I told you she's fussy. You can't just sit there."
William swoops in and takes her, swinging her around as he strides about the room. Instantly the baby stops crying and even smiles.
"You see?" the father says. I'm mortified that my mothering instincts were so totally lacking. But watching William holding the baby makes my heart just melt. He really, really wants kids, as much as I do. I'm in love.
Even after the show ends, there are still more cast parties. Marty hosts a big one at his big tech bro pad, and of course Warren is there. I haven't seen much of Warren lately. We haven't played together since I locked him in the cage.
"I had to give the cage back, but we should still get togethah agin to play," he says, sitting Marty's kitchen and drinking beer out of a red Solo cup. There are a ton of people around, but I guess he's not closeted about being in the SM scene.
"Uh, I can't, I'm leaving for Taiwan in two weeks," I explain.
"Really? I'll come visit you there," he offers. I'm floored. None of my other friends have offered to visit, even though I have asked repeatedly. They could even stay with me for free. But no, they just scoff and say, "Taiwan? Why would I want to go there?" Seriously, Raser City is on the West Coast--Asia is just on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, but people here treat it like going to the freaking moon.
"Are you sure? You seriously want to come visit me?"
"Yes! I've always wanted to go. I'll come visit in Novembah."
"Ok, great! Just email me when you get your tickets." I can hardly believe it, but Warren seems very certain about wanting to go. Well, that's another thing to look forward to. It'll be fun to show him around.
I see Warren one last time before I leave town. The last weekend before I go is the Raser City Freak Fair, a huge adults-only street fair with a big BDSM contingent. I go with Lulu and Ariel. It's a surreal experience to walk down the middle of a packed street and see so many people naked or in leather gear. A huge hairy dude wearing nothing but tube socks and a gimp mask stands on a corner masturbating. A statuesque woman with a sleek bond ponytail prances by dressed as a pony. As she walks by, Ariel points out that she's a guy.
"You can tell by the ass," she says. Sure enough, her butt has chiseled glutes.
We wander about happily under the blazing sun, eating corn dogs and cotton candy. This feels like the perfect send-off from Raser City, a last debauched, crazy outing.
Warren is there dressed as a dog, in a full body furry outfit with leathery pads on his hands and knees so he can crawl around on the ground. Holding his leash is a forty-ish Japanese woman in a leather corset and choker. This must be Keiko. We say hello and she stares at me frostily. We don't get a chance to say more because apparently she and Warren have volunteered to help out at the Sub Rosa Society booth and they have to go right away.
"Ok, well, see you in Taipei," I say.
"Yes! See you there," he says, hugging me. I can't take him seriously with those floppy dog ears.
The final week before my departure is a whirl of frantic packing and last minute errands, as I prepare to move out of my shitty basement apartment at last. I can't believe I stayed here so long. William and the gardener poet come over to help me move my boxes into storage.
As usual I'm dithering about, making small tasks into Olympic sized efforts, but William descends like a force of nature. Within one hour, he has all the remaining odds and ends packed up and loaded in the U-Haul. As he strides about, he belts out some lines from The Marriage of Figaro, the aria by Count Almaviva as he's packing off the boy Cherubino to the army: "Cherubino la vittoria! A la gloria militar!" His big bass voice echoes around my tiny apartment. I'm so happy to have an opera-singing strongman to help me move. Damn but I'm going to miss him.
The Mantis is the last to come say goodbye, two days before I go. We have one final session with the needles. I go all out, and stick him with as many as I can fit, lined up in rows along his chest, and down to the Interzone at the base of his ribs. I use the biggest gauge too, then take a bunch of photos as I run the pinwheel all over him. Even so I haven't come close to using up the box of needles, so I give him the rest as a farewell present. I feel sad that I never managed to give him a nipple orgasm as I promised, but he doesn't seem to mind.
He has a present for me too. After we've finished and gotten dressed again, he pulls it out from the backpack slung on the back of his chair. It's a little handmade book, held together with metal grommets. The cover is silvery paperboard, with a hand-lettered title that says, "The Mantis and The Mistress."
Inside is the story of our relationship, told in pictures taken from Space Ghost Coast to Coast, of the character Zorak, who is a cartoon mantis.
Ever since he was little, The Mantis knew he was different, the book begins, with a picture of a baby mantis wearing a diaper.
Even after he grew into an adult Mantis, he couldn't tell anyone his secret. Then one day, he met The Mistress. The picture shows a male mantis with a thought balloon of hearts, staring at a female mantis. Her thought balloon shows her biting his head off.
The Mistress showed The Mantis things he never thought were possible. His life has been changed forever. He is very grateful. The pictures show the male and female mantis together.
THANK YOU MISTRESS.
I tear up as I'm reading it. This little book is the sweetest thing any guy has ever given me. Also the funniest. I love the cartoon mantis pictures. It's kind of amazing how well they fit. I'm so touched that he took the time to make this for me.
I give him a big hug, leaning over his chair as he reaches his long arms up around me. I'm going to miss him too, but at least I can know that our relationship, such as it was, has been good for both of us. It's kind of amazing that of all the relationships I've been in lately, the best was the one with the guy who is cheating on his wife. If this were a novel, there would have to be some sort of moral where things turn out badly, but that's not what happens. Our contract ends and we part ways as friends.