Chapter 9: Interlude

Erik glanced over from his driving to see that Melissa was still scrolling through the songs on his phone. The drive back home had settled into a companionable silence. When they were leaving the city, she had asked to see his musical taste and he had handed over his phone. She played bits and pieces over the car’s speakers, occasionally smiling in amusement or nodding in agreement.

Suddenly, she burst out loud laughing, “Neil Diamond!”

“Hey, that’s my uncle’s favorite song. It’s on there because it reminds me of him.”

She stared over at him, assessing. “You’re just a softy, aren’t you?”

“Hah! When it comes to my uncle, always.”

“What’s his name?”

“Jacob. Uncle Jake.” Erik stared out at the dark road ahead, feeling a little uncomfortable talking about his uncle.

Melissa seemed to notice. She fell into a thoughtful silence, and then went back to going through his music.

In the quiet dimness of the car, Erik found himself wondering about his feelings toward Melissa. He hadn’t really considered his own feelings up to now. As usual, he had mostly operated on instinct. When they first met, something had just clicked for him with Melissa, so he had pursued that feeling with the same single-mindedness that had served him well in business.

At first, he thought his attraction to Melissa was the same as his other flings over the past few years, but now he wasn’t so sure. He had shocked himself by casually committing to a full summer, assuming she really stuck it out. He hadn’t had a relationship that long for years. And he was between assignments. They’d both be around each other most of every day. He shook his head, wondering what the hell he’d done.

Stealing another quick glance over at her, he couldn’t say that he regretted his impulsive action, at least not yet. She was very attractive; perhaps not “drop-dead” supermodel gorgeous, but as far as he was was concerned, she was beautiful. Something real and wonderful danced in his heart when he looked at her. He knew, of course, that most of this reaction was hormones at this stage. The rush of an unfolding relationship was always strong in the beginning. But more than that, far more than he had hoped, she seemed to be the sort of sub who resonated completely with him, her yin matching his yang. He was sure there would be places where their interests diverged, but what was in consonance seemed very strong.

Her willingness to throw caution to the winds was amazing. While her willingness to embrace new things was delightful, it also scared him. The responsibility of being her guide into this world felt weighty, and her trust in him was a bit intimidating. He also worried about what he didn’t know. Many of his former partners had turned out to have emotional landmines hidden away. Some of those carefully hidden surprises had been truly unpleasant.

Melissa interrupted his musing to ask a question about what it was like dating Deborah. He had been so lost in thought that it took him a moment to respond.

“Ah yeah, we went out for awhile. Deborah’s, well, she’s awesome. I guess you could probably see that. So we had a nice time. At the end of the day, though, it turned out that we were looking for different things. I still think she’s a special woman. I know Michael feels that way. Plus you two seemed to have hit it off really well.”

She replied wryly, “Yeah, well I guess having you order her to eat me out sort of got us off to a bang, so to speak.”

Erik laughed, a little chagrined. “Hey, it worked out pretty well. Besides, I warned you what your duties would be.”

“True,” she agreed. “All true. But… is that the way it is in this kink world of yours? Just hooking up for awhile, then drifting on. I mean, it seems kind of lonely.”

“To tell you the truth, I’m not sure how it compares to the vanilla world. I didn’t date much before I stumbled into kink, but I do have some kink friends who are in long-term committed relationships. Some of them even have kids and all. I’m just not sure the idea of a soccer mom with a ball gag in her purse works for me. It just seems a little weird, mixing kids and a white picket fence together with kink.”

“What’s wrong with a soccer mom whose got a… ball gag? I mean in her purse.”

“Ah sure… I’ll show you what a ball gag is when we get back home. As for what’s wrong, well, the world I live in doesn’t have much of a place for all those normal suburban expectations. I mean, me personally, I’m away for months at a time. My love life is… somewhat unusual. Plus, the truth is that most of my relationships haven’t been very long-term. Anyway, with all that, I have a hard time seeing myself settling down, going to parent-teacher nights, that sort of thing.”

“Can’t see it? Or won’t?” she asked bluntly. “Are you sure it’s the whole kink thing or is it just that you’re not willing to risk loving?”

He felt an angry jolt stiffen his back. “Sounds like Dr. Phil psychobabble to me.”

She paused for a minute, considering. Then she said, “I know you look like some hard-edged, big-business, dominant macho man, but the Erik that I’ve seen, most of the time, well, you’re obviously thoughtful and… I don’t know, compassionate. That last bit, though, was easily the most jerk-ass thing I’ve ever heard you say, which is kind of telling me that something hit a bit close to home there.”

He froze, wanting to yell at her. Instead, he forced himself to consider what she had just said. He knew there was something in what she said that he didn’t want to see. Giving himself some maneuvering room, he said, “You’re pretty fearless, aren’t you?”

She nodded in agreement. “Sometimes.” Then she looked out her side window. “Other times, the good little Catholic girl in me stays quiet. Then the crap builds up, till I explode.” She turned back to him, “It’s better when I can stay on top of it. Feel it. Say it. Don’t hide it.”

He nodded, agreeing with her, without looking away from the road ahead.

She continued, “If a boyfriend can’t handle it, then to hell with him. Of course, I haven’t had a lot of good long-term relationships either, so what the hell do I know?”

He nodded again, then said softly, “Apparently more than I do.” He stared ahead at the road for awhile more. “Okay, so you’re right. I’m chicken when it comes to risk in a relationship. The thing is, my saying that doesn’t mean that it’ll all magically change, but it also doesn’t mean that you’re wrong. I guess the truth is that I knew, at some level, what Deborah wanted, and it scared me. So I ran. It was a lame-assed thing to do. I owe her an apology.”

The highway exit was coming up. He didn’t talk again until he was on the secondary road that went to his house. “But my being cautious in relationships, that also doesn’t mean that Deborah and I were well matched… in our needs. I mean our kink needs. I’ve been there before – trying to make a relationship work when there just isn’t a good fit between what each person needs. The compromises build up, and it gets really frustrating. It’s like vanilla and kink trying to stay together. Something usually comes off the tracks. People can love each other, but if they don’t coexist sexually, well… I mean, it’s like a woman who finally discovers her husband’s gay, even though he was trying as hard as he could to be straight. They might both really love each other, but it’s not a happy place to be.”

He shook his head sadly and continued, “All that said, I still can’t argue your point. Wanting some distance, some safety in a relationship, that’s part of why I’m a dom – why I like control.” He shook his head. “I don’t know. I’ve got to think about it. You should be warned, though, even if I’mpretty good at figuring out other folks’ needs and motivations, I’m not so good at looking at myself. In truth, I pretty much suck at it.”

She grinned, “Well then it’s a good thing that I’m so bashful about calling you on your shit.”

He snorted and shook his head again. “Dear God,” he gestured imploringly to the night sky racing past the windshield, “what manner of incubus did I invite unknowingly into my home? Please God, what could I have possibly done to deserve such a fate?”

Melissa laughed, “This little incubus will suck your very soul out of the deep recesses where you’ve hidden it away. And then, you dastardly fiend, your naked self will be exposed to the light of day.”

“‘Dastardly?’ That sounds like fun. I can work with that. ‘Naked soul’, ‘light of day’? Not so much. But dastardly is good.”

Melissa paused, then asked, “Wait a second, isn’t “incubus” the masculine form? I’m pretty sure you meant ‘succubus.’”

“Oh no! She cuts me to the quick. You’re right again. Oh you awful, terrible woman. You’re destroying my manhood. Shredding it – I tell you. My self-image of mastery lies in ruins about my feet. You are indeed a cruel and heartless creature.”

“Yep, that’s me. Vicious destroyer of puffed-up and insecure men.”

“Ouch! Now that was just plain mean and nasty. Impolite, even. You’ll pay for that.”

“Promises, promises…“

“We’re nearly home. Then we’ll see.”

Melissa sat back in her seat, slipping her hand up between her legs. “I can’t wait,” she moaned in an exaggerated tone. Then she giggled, breaking the rising sexual tension.

Erik laughed with her. In another quick shift, however, Melissa grew more pensive. Looking over at him, she said, “You may say that you don’t do introspection, but when I called you on your shit, you seemed pretty damn open and honest. I don’t think I’ve ever known a guy who didn’t get all defensive and pissy when I called him on something like that. I’m not sure what I was expecting from you, but wow! You really surprised me.”

Erik felt more off-center than he liked. He was finding it hard to keep up with Melissa’s shifts. He nodded, giving himself some more time.

Finally, he said, “I promised myself a long time ago not to lie, to myself or others. Living with my grandparents felt so… disconnected from reality, never saying what you meant, always searching for the coded meaning behind what others said. What made it really glaring was being around my uncle, who was so completely real. He showed me, by example, how important it is to listen to other people, even if what they are saying is uncomfortable. In fact, when it’s uncomfortable, that’s usually when it’s most important to listen with an open heart. For me, my own angry feeling of resistance is my most important cue that there’s likely a truth somewhere in what the other person’s saying, and it’s really important for me to hear it.”

“The same thing works for me in business too. All of us have these preconceptions, structures for how we understand the world. We tend to latch onto ‘facts’ that agree with our a priori understanding. And we try hard to dismiss anything that threatens our beliefs. That’s a dangerous habit. I’ve seen lots of companies get into trouble because their leaders simply will not acknowledge that the real world isn’t what they want it to be.

“So I work very, very hard not to fall into this trap. I’m still not always good at it, but I’ve mostly learned to recognize when I’m trying to avoid looking at something. I know that’s when I’ve got to force myself to really pay attention, open my eyes wide.”

Erik glanced over at Melissa to gauge her reaction. She seemed quiet, looking at the road ahead. He brought his attention back to the road as well, downshifting to negotiate a curve. Breathing a silent sigh of relief, he was glad to see they were almost home. This conversation had turned far more serious than he had expected. It was not often that a woman confronted him, and certainly never this early in a relationship. He admitted to himself that no one had ever nailed him with such painful accuracy. He tried to squash a fearful protectiveness that he felt coiling around his heart. He didn’t want to let himself hide.

Up ahead, he saw his mailbox. Downshifting again to turn onto his entry road, he worried about what he had gotten himself into. Shaking his head, he redoubled his efforts to push his fears and worries aside, angrily telling himself, “Bullshit. Whatever comes, I can handle it.” He suddenly grinned, “Hell, who knows – might even be good for me.”