by Rachel Woe (2017, All Rights Reserved)
I am on the Red Line leaving Porter Square when I receive Ian’s text: You’re sure you remember your safe word?
My stomach is a quarrel of sparrows in a steel-boned cage. I’m starting to regret the corset, a waist-training brocade underbust in white. He always preferred me in white, said it made it easier to tell when I was thinking of him.
I haven’t been back to Boston in years, not since Ian and I split up. But the anticipation I feel, like the ache between my thighs, is instinctive. I can tell he’s anxious, too, because this is the third time he’s asked about my safe word since I landed.
The conductor’s voice crackles over the PA system. Next stop, Davis Station.
I’m probably making a mistake, returning to the house I once called home, to the man who taught me how much pleasure my pain was worth. I wasn’t a virgin when we met, and I had seen and read enough to know I wasn’t vanilla either. I was butter and sugar waiting to be whipped. Waiting to become Devil’s food, he said, the first time he cuffed me to the Saint Andrew’s Cross by his bed. Seems like a lifetime ago.
We reconnected on an online BDSM forum over a mutual affinity for Japanese rope bondage. Straightaway, I recognized his handle and propensity for short, clipped sentences. I was still debating whether I should say something when he messaged me. And it was only a matter of time before flirtatious emails led to sexting at the office.
I’m officially in town for a job interview at a publishing house, smaller than the one I currently work for, but better aligned with my values. There is the work you do for money, to shelter, clothe, and feed yourself, and then there’s the work you do to feed your soul. If you’re lucky, they’re one and the same. It’s been a while since I’ve felt lucky.
The train lurches. I brace my heel against the scuffed floor and inhale, testing the give of my lacing ribbons. Over the corset, I have on an ivory blouse and a black, high-waisted skirt. Clean lines and classic hues; sensible garments for a respectable applicant. I imagine they’ll look even more dignified strewn across Ian’s floor.
I bite back a smile. The decision to spend my final night in Boston with Ian was an easy one: I am nothing if not a masochist. For three years, I served at his feet, watching him lay the groundwork that would eventually earn him the unofficial title of Northeastern University’s Professor of Kink. Like a tenure-tracked Rapunzel locked in an ivory tower, Ian only let his hair down under select circumstances, such as the promise of pain or pleasure, or the occasion to exhibit his mastery of both. Dating was off the table, but when he offered to let me serve as his live-in sub, I abandoned my lease, threw my couch into storage, and gladly assumed the position.
Even now, twelve years later, I still flinch when someone asks if I have read his books or attended his lectures. I have subbed for Dommes and other Doms in the years since I moved out, but in that time, no one has ever fucked me, beat me, or kept me as well or absolutely as Ian.
Nevertheless, I cannot afford to get sentimental. This isn’t about picking a scab so much as scratching an itch, though the skin around those scabs has felt a tad itchy of late. This is about indulgence, plain and simple.
Once I reenter his home, I’ll be subject to all the old rules and expectations. If I want to turn back, now is the time.
I thumb my reply: She remembers.
The train slows to a halt. I shoulder my bag, enjoying the slight compression my clothes give as I step into the aisle and onto the platform. While exiting the station, I spy a pair of teenagers kissing on a bench like they’ve forgotten they’re in public. My own mouth slackens. I cross the street and don’t stop walking until I reach my old address. He’s had the three-story house re-sided from blue to earthen brown. I step up onto the porch and the front door opens before I have a chance to knock.
The man in the doorway appraises me soberly. Time has had its way with both of us, but he’s still Ian: fair and well-kept, features carving themselves into a look of brutal resolve. Somehow, the wrinkles around his eyes have made him even more attractive.
“Hello, Ayla,” he says.
“Hello—” My voice is compliant. “—Sir.”
I haven’t the slightest clue as to his thinking, whether he’s glad to see me, or plagued with regret.
He moves to let me pass. “Come in.”
My chest hums like a hive, my limbs made sluggish by veins thick with blood like warm honey. I take a steadying breath and head inside.
The walls in the stamp-sized foyer are pastel gray where they once were gold. Abandoning my boots, I follow Ian upstairs to the living room where I’m struck by a torrent of familiar sights and aromas. There’s his grandmother’s old Remington typewriter on the desk, his floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, the scent of dried eucalyptus and cowhide. I lean against the brown suede sofa, overwhelmed. If I squint hard enough, perhaps I can make out the indents of my knees amid the patterns in the Persian rug.
He takes my overnight bag, sets it on the divan, then offers his hand, which I accept, letting him steer me into the kitchen. He’s had the floors stripped and the appliances updated to stainless steel, but I can still see us in here, cooking together; washing and drying the dishes by hand; me bent over the table with a brandy snifter on my back, trying not to spill while he languidly fingers my ass.
“She’s blushing,” Ian says, beckoning me to the present, his expression equal parts menace and amusement. I touch my cheek, not surprised to find my skin hot and a little clammy.
Ian comes toward me, bullying my feet until my back is flush against cold steel. I can smell his soap and aftershave, a hint of his sweat. Eau de nostalgie.
My head swims.
“She looks exactly the same,” he says. Not true, though I’m in no position to argue. He shuts his eyes, breathes me in, then out. “Smells the same, too. But I wonder…” He smooths a hand down my belly to the crux of my thighs. “Does she taste different?”
My gorilla-fisted heart thrashes as he makes slow, careful work of the buttons on my blouse. I let the garment slip from my shoulders. The underwire digs at my ribs as he forces my bra cups down. Heat gushes from his mouth with an audible whoosh.
“Still perfect,” he says. His thumbs graze my nipples, and everything inside me goes taut. “I want her eyes on me at all times.” He palms my breasts. “Tell me she understands.”
“She does.” My words are froth.