Trying Something New 001

Nina should’ve known better than to accept Tabby’s invitation, but she supposed desperation could turn someone into an idiot. Though, it wasn’t like Nina had asked directly for the help. When you’re having an awkward conversation about tumblr porn with your cousin and his weird ex girlfriend that always seemed to still be around, you don’t really think it’s going to lead anywhere. Nina mentioned her interest in a few of the BDSM blogs and now two weeks later she and Tabby were at a club in the middle of downtown.

Or it was her and Tabby. As soon as they’re ordered drinks from the bar, Tabby disappeared, leaving Nina sipping on something called an Old Fashioned and completely lost about what to do. Were there like, introductory classes in the building? Did you introduce yourself to various people and ask if they liked getting spanked or preference getting chained up to walls? Was it better if she just wandered around observing people?

Voyeurism was a thing. Nina just didn’t know if it was even a part of this scene.

Which left her drifting away from the bar and wandering in the dim light until she found a pillar that looked safe enough out of the way to spy from. What she should’ve done was hang out on a message forum for a few weeks asking questions. Going out with Tabby was like jumping right into a lion pit. At least she didn’t feel like she stood out. The tight dress she found in the back of her closet had a nice mix of elegance and oh damn, so at least she looked the part of a mysterious sexy stranger, even if she felt more like lion food.

“Hello, what do we have here?” a voice sent Nina nearly jumping out of her skin. “You lost, kitten?”

The man who’d sidled up nest to the pillar was tall and dark-haired and devastatingly handsome, like the star of some gothic romance. He was wearing a long black coat over his form-fitting button-down and leather biker pants, his thumbs resting lazily against a large belt buckle, and it should have looked ridiculous on a man who wasn’t in high school but Nina suspected he’d make anything look good.

It wasn’t as if he was the only one wearing something different from the kind of clubwear Nina was used to. There was an awful lot of latex and leather in the crowd, with more than a few actual collars and some people in outfits that didn’t look like they should be worn in public.

“Who left you unsupervised?” The handsome stranger stepped closer and planted a hand against the pillar by Nina’s head. “No one smart, isn’t that right?”

Immediately she burst into a short, loud nervous laugh and had to cover her mouth with her hand. Back in high school and college meeting new people was a breeze, but somewhere along the way she lost that skill to not be awkward. Although, if she gave herself some credit, she didn’t exactly hang out in places where people were wearing leather masks with zippers over their mouths and fishnet shirts.

“Hm, definitely no one smart.” Nina agreed. Tabby deserved it, so she didn’t feel too bad.

Nina didn’t move or shirk away, though she was a little intimidated to have someone in her space after five minutes of being there. She wasn’t even weird about her personal space, it was just taking her some time to get used to flirting again. It was also hard to take the man seriously when he called her kitten and was dressed like that, but this was part of the style and culture, wasn’t it? Nina was going to have to see past all that if she was really going to dive in.

“I- Hm. I guess you are a regular here?” she finally asked. How did you start up conversations and get to know people in a club like this? The same ‘what’s your sign’ as in the singles bars? Jesus, maybe she was never good at this.

“That’s right.” He gave her a slow smile and raked his gaze over her. “Don’t worry, I’ll show you around. I’ve been looking for a girl to train. What’s your name?”

Looking for a girl to train? Why did that sound like a line out of one of Tabby’s sleazy novels? Nina supposed it just came with the territory though, and she didn’t want to run screaming out the door just because she got a little weirded out.

“It’s Nina. I’m not sure I’m looking to be trained,” she answered honestly. “But I would definitely appreciate an actual tour? My friend doesn’t seem to be the guiding type.”

“Not knowing what you want is fine. I’ll handle that part.” Straightening up, he grabbed her by the hand and tugged her closer. “You’re just lucky I found you. Come on, Nina, the play area is this way.”

There was a door hung with a heavy black curtain on the opposite side of the bar, towards the back of the club. Nina hadn’t even realized it was there until this guy said something, it blended in so well with the wall.

“You’re new to the scene, right? That’s good. You won’t have picked up any bad habits.”

Okay, a secret backroom. That was kind of cool in a being led to the backdoor of hell sort of way. Nina glanced around to see if she could catch Tabby’s eye and let her know where she was headed (never go to a second location at a club without your girls knowing and all that jazz), but the woman was nowhere to be seen. Nina tossed back the last of her drink and abandoned the glass on a nearby table.

“Is asking what your name is part of those bad habits? Or do we not do names here?” she asked, noticing he hadn’t given his and was eager to get the party started. Nina didn’t mind being straight forward, but she kinda thought there would at least be some getting-to-know-you stuff first.

It was just a tour anyway, she didn’t know why she was getting so skittish! It’s not like she hadn’t seen plenty on the internet.

“We do names. But right now all you need to call me is Sir.”

The back room was less of a bedroom, it turned out, than some sort of VIP lounge. Except no VIP lounge she’d ever been to allowed the kind of activity that was going on in the “play area”, as her tour guide had called it. Half of the people back here were in various states of undress; Nina saw one woman who was fully nude other than a red, silky-looking rope that was wound artfully around her torso, outlining her bare breasts and binding her wrists and ankles together behind her back. She sat placidly on a small cushion while a small group conversed over her head like she was nothing more than a decorative centerpiece. Another man in nothing but a thick dog collar and a scrap of leather that barely passed for briefs was suspended from the ceiling from a two-by-four, his wrists and ankles spread apart into wide Vs by chains at either end. The woman standing next to him had her hand between his legs, and Nina couldn’t see what she was doing but her imagination could fill in the blanks.

Her new friend pulled her past the crowd to a display rack on the far wall. It seemed to be filled with what she’d seen called “floggers” in her googling, along with paddles, more coils of rope in every shade of the rainbow, and other things she couldn’t even begin to identify. He skimmed the selection until he found what he was looking for: a metal bar with cuffs at either end, not unlike the larger contraption that the man she’d seen earlier was hanging from.

“Have you ever seen a spreader bar before, Nina?”

He’d lost her at call me sir, but Nina found herself a bit flabbergasted by the “play room”. Seeing it in real life compared to pictures was an entirely different experience and sent a wave of flustered heat up the back of her neck. Now it was all very real and not just something she’d sit back and fantasize about. Not all of it was to her liking (being a show pretzel for one), but Nina didn’t not like it either. There were things that piqued her interest.

Then she found herself looking down at the spreader he held in his hands and remembered what had irked her. He had this whole presumptuous air about talking to her, as if it were a done deal. He didn’t ask her, he told her, and Nina might’ve been new to this, but she did know that the whole reason she was attractive to this stuff in the first place was because of the rules of consent, safety, and actually talking to partners about it. She’d been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt since she wasn’t sure what the flirting customs were like here, but it turned out a creep was a creep no matter what kind of club she was in.

Nina leaned in close.

“I don’t need to call you anything, kitten.” she stated simply, then smiled wide and straightened back up, already walking backwards in her heels. “I have actually seen one before, but I don’t think I’m interested in trying that with you. Thank you for the brief dungeon tour, though. I’m going back for another drink.”

“Excuse me?” The warmth had left his voice. “You will not mouth off to me like that.”

Making a grab for her arm, he gripped it painfully tight. He still had that same superior air about him, but his eyes were sparking angrily and his mouth had twisted into a scowl. “Kneel and take off your panties. I’ll teach you to show proper respect.”

As if to punctuate his words, he wrenched his hold. A flare shot up the back of her elbow to her shoulder, radiating out along her limb.

“Like hell you are!” Her answer was shrill, and though it matched her sudden terror it didn’t suit the pure anger that came with it. Was this his thing? Picking up lost girls and scaring them into sex? Tabby could’ve ended up back here, and though Nina wasn’t exactly fond of the girl, she didn’t wish any ill on her either.

Nina, though, could take care of herself.

Before he could yank her arm any harder, Nina popped him right in the nose with the heel of her palm and kneed him in the balls.

“Ow, fuck! What the hell is your problem, lady?!” the guy wheezed, doubling over and clutching at his nose. “You bitch!

“Alright, what happened?” a new voice cut in.

Nina looked up just as a man stepped in between her and her attacker. He had his hands on his hips as he looked between the two of them, one eyebrow raised. Behind him, Nina noticed that pretty much anyone who was nearby had stopped what they were doing to watch.

“She went psycho on me!” hissed the douchebag in the leather pants. “I just–“

“I wasn’t asking you, Tony.”

“It’s Anton,” he sputtered.

“Right.” Blue eyes fixed Nina with a piercing stare, his expression expectant. It was odd, because she was fairly sure Anton was taller by a bit, but Nina hadn’t felt so small next to him as she did when this man looked at her. “Well? Do you have a good reason for breaking our No Violence rule?”

“Someone should’ve told him about the no violence rule,” she shot back while gesturing at the jerk behind him. Everyone was basically staring at her now, which had her flushing red and wishing she had thought to scream for help first, even though the ass likely had it coming for a long time and she was just the lucky person to hit him.

Nina took in a slow breath and tucked her hands under her arms where no one was going to see them shaking.

“I told him I wasn’t interested, then he grabbed me– hard enough to bruise, mind you– and basically ordered me to my knees and threatened to teach me how to show proper respect. So I showed him the respect he actually deserves.”

It was a lot more politely said than what was going on in her head, and Nina was already resigned to getting thrown out, but like hell was she going to let this weasel get away with assaulting girls.

“See! She’s a total brat! I don’t know who invited her–“

“Enough.” The man pinched the bridge of his nose. “This is exactly why you can’t just show up to a scene and try to act like you’re a Dom. You were told to get mentored. I don’t care who invited you but if you have one more incident I’ll make sure you’re blacklisted from every play party and munch in the city.

“And you.” His gaze settled on Nina again. “You come with me. We need to talk.”

He pointed back to the curtain that separated the play area from the main club. Behind him, a red-faced and furious Anton slunk off like a scolded cat.

Anton, Tony, whatever, was lucky she was in trouble and not looking to cause any more. A stern warning didn’t feel like quite enough punishment, but this wasn’t her establishment and what would she have done anyway besides kick him again? She left him with one last scathing glare before turning on her heels.

Even after she’d stepped out back into the main club she didn’t uncross her arms. This was mortifyingly embarrassing, especially in a place she wasn’t familiar with.

“I’m sorry,” she finally dug up the courage to say. “I’m not here to be a problem.”

“Glad to hear it. Keep walking.” The guy indicated an empty booth that was tucked next to the small stage Nina had noticed when she first walked in. Before the raised platform had been empty, but now there was a chair set up and someone was actually getting a tattoo.

He gestured for her to sit, and then slid into the seat across from her. He reached down under the table and picked up a six-pack of bottled water, breaking one free of the plastic rings and setting it down in front of her.

“Drink that and let me see your arm,” he told her, his palm laying open and supine on the table.

How many things could one place do, Nina wondered. She was willing to bet they also did piercings. Might as well do everything all in one place, right?

Nina accepted the water, though she would’ve preferred a good stiff drink to settle down her nerves after all that. She was glad to find her hands weren’t shaking anymore as she twisted the cap off and took a sip and gave the man’s outreached palm a dubious stare. Finally she just sighed and held out her arm.

“It’s not that bad- I mean, it hurts but it’s relatively nothing. I’m just mad more than anything and I didn’t mean to be disruptive. I don’t regret it, mind you, but I won’t do it again. Here, anyway. If I see that jerk outside I might break his nose.”

“Outside is your business, but we have enough trouble with the cops, so make sure you’re at least a block away,” he said, and for the first time since she’d seen him, he cracked a grin. His smile was nice, Nina realized suddenly.

She’d been so worried about being in trouble that she hadn’t really been paying attention to what he looked like before now. Unlike Anton/Tony, he’d opted for a much simpler outfit: a fitted black v-neck and dark jeans. It was the kind of thing you could wear anywhere and fit in, really, no matter the venue. His hair was a bit on the longer slide and had some wave to it, but not full-on curls, nor was it long enough to put up in one of those manbuns or topknots that were starting to be all the rage.

He turned her arm over in his hands, his calloused fingers prodding purposefully but gently. “He might have pulled your muscle a little, but I don’t think you’ll bruise.

“I’m Jay,” he added, letting go of her in favor of offering her his hand, propping his elbow against the table. “The DM tonight. What’s your name?”

As far as Nina was concerned, that was permission and might just have to get herself a tazer if she ever ran into the dude again. She didn’t want to admit she was all shaken up and rattled, but Nina was never the one who got into scary situations. Normally she was overly cautious and avoided anything that looked even remotely like a risk. Now that she was out and about, trying to live a different kind of life, she was getting into all kinds of things.

“Nina.” Once she ran her hand up and down her arm to rub some of the soreness out, she shook his hand. Jay was considerably more pleasant than the other guy, but she supposed he needed to be if he were the one in charge of supervising the place.

“I’ve never been to a place like this before, but I’m guessing that’s painfully obvious to anyone that looks at me,” she grumbled softly.

“Pretty much,” he replied without even the slightest hesitation. At least he didn’t sound judgmental about it. Jay leaned back in the booth and tilted his head. “Which is the only reason you’re getting away with breaking about a dozen rules yourself. Why exactly are you debuting at a party instead of something more casual? Are you by yourself? How did you even get in?”

“You say debuting like it’s some kind of debutante ball,” she marveled. Maybe it kind of was, in a way. Instead of a blushing virgin being introduce to society, she was a twenty-nine year old divorcee looking for a good time. How many rules did she actually break by kicking a guy in the balls, she wondered?

That embarrassment was back again and Nina found herself anxiously fussing with the cuffs of her long sleeves.

“My cousin’s ex, Tabby, brought me. We don’t really have a lot in common, I think she just got really excited to share something she’s into when she found out I was interested. She’s around here somewhere, or she’s joined a crew for a bar crawl, I don’t actually know.”

Nina gave the club another quick once over just to see if she could spot Tabby yet, but with her luck the girl might’ve just dropped her off and bounced as soon as she got a drink in her. Tabby’s attention span wasn’t always the greatest.

“Tabby. Short, blond, poly Tabby?” Jay nodded. “Right. Seems like she skipped a few things, so let me catch you up to speed. First, I’m assuming you’re single?”

Usually when she got that question in a bar or club, it was a come-on, but Jay sounded strictly professional. He didn’t wait for her to answer though, continuing on, “Being single gives you a little more leeway, but play parties like this one have etiquette you’re supposed to follow. And some basic stuff you should always know, like who the host and the DM are, for your own safety. Believe it or not, you’re safer from creeps here than in your average club. We take security very seriously. I wasn’t kidding; calling the cops isn’t an option here. Most of what happens between consenting adults at our parties is chargeable as assault or rape no matter what we say. So we have to be on top of these things, and we have a lot of incentive to get rid of anyone who puts the community at risk.”

“So that means my new friend Tony is already on very thin ice.” Nina was kind of glad now that she didn’t default to threatening people with the cops. There would have been a lot of collateral damage just over one weasel. Knowing that a guy like skulking about wasn’t something that was tolerated for long was comforting.

“Okay, so… what are the rules?” she asked, forcing herself to stop her fiddling to splay her hands on the table. “What if my main goal is dating, but I specifically want to meet someone that wants to explore all this and more with me? Do you do classes for things like rope binding the same way they do pole dancing? Or is it more like mentor partners or is it bring your own buddy. I don’t- I don’t really have someone right now, but I’d like to and preferably someone who already knows all about this.”

All of her questions were completely in earnest, and Nina hadn’t even touch on the really salacious stuff yet. Mostly because it was so awkward talking face to face with a complete stranger. Nina didn’t even know which part was more embarrassing; the fact she wanted to spice up her sex life, or the fact she wanted to spice up her romantic life too.

“Well, the rules tonight mostly don’t apply to you, since you’re not attached to anyone. But as we’ve covered, No Violence. No interrupting or talking over a scene. Do not talk to the participants in a scene unless invited. No touching anyone or anything you don’t own without permission. No talking to a sub without making sure you have their Dom’s permission or they’re not attached to a Dom. Be polite and respectful. That means addressing Dominants as Sir or Madam or whatever they prefer to be addressed by,” he rattled off, counting on his fingers. “Think of it like respecting pronouns, but sexier.”

Jay paused as she tried to absorb all of that. As if reading her mind, he chuckled. “Yeah. And this is actually on the chill side for party protocol, because there’s no dress code or standard behavior code. The rules aren’t always the same from party to party either. But look.”

His eyes flicked down to her water, still mostly untouched, and then back to her face. He slid a finger forward to scoot the bottle closer to her, tapping the side as if to remind her it was there.

“If you mess up and it was an honest mistake, you just have to apologize. As far as figuring things out… There a lot of options out there. What kind of learner are you?”

“It’s a lot,” she admitted, grasping the bottle and rolling it between her hands before she finally took another drink. Nina thought about the last time she actually put her mind to learning something new. That had to be all the way back in college when she spent every free day and night cramming book knowledge into her head. She had a feeling that wasn’t going to be as applicable here.

“I don’t know,” she answered honestly. “I’m great with flashcards? Coming directly to a club wasn’t actually part of my plan. Usually I read everything I can get my hands on and then I would’ve talked to someone and from there, I don’t know. I guess I do like to see what I’m getting into before trying it myself? I liked the way all of this sounded because I could do something risky and exciting but there’s boundaries and I wouldn’t end up murdered by accident.”

Nina took another drink, frowning and scrunching her nose up at nothing in particular.

“Is it weird that I don’t actually know what I’m looking for? I’m not even sure if I’ll like any of this, I just want to test it out and see if it’s me.”

“Nope. Not weird.” Jay flashed her another smile and folded his arms on the table. “So, maybe you’re vanilla with a few sprinkles. Maybe you just haven’t ever found what you really like. You wouldn’t be the first late bloomer I’ve met. Either way, as long as you mind your manners, you’re welcome to stay and figure things out. I don’t think you’ll have any trouble finding someone interested in mentoring you. Someone who actually knows what they’re doing, I mean. More importantly though, you need someone you can trust to make sure you know what you’re doing.”

Fishing his phone out of his pocket, he swiped the screen a few times and then placed it in Nina’s palm.

“A really good place to start is eliminating what you know you don’t want versus what you are interested or even iffy about. Take a look.”

The form he’d brought up on his phone was a fairly long list of activities, categorized by type and including everything from kissing to fisting and gang rape roleplay. Nina didn’t even recognize some of the terms. (What was edgeplay? Or figging?) Beside each line were boxes headed as Experience, Interest, and Limits.

“Pretty much everyone fills a list like this out at some point or another. Sometimes every time they get a new partner. The thing is, you have to be really honest with yourself–and you have to take your time on it. Text yourself the link so you can fill it out later.”

“This is a lot of stuff,” she muttered under her breath. A lot.. Nina hadn’t even known half this stuff existed, and that was just the things she could recognize. Jesus, her google search history was going to look insane later.

She texted herself the link and once her phone buzzed in her little clutch purse, she slid his phone back across the table to him and retrieved her own. Nina made sure to save his number to her phone before she resumed looking over the list. A comprehensive list was incredibly helpful. With it she had a starting point and an idea of what she might want to try or avoid, and things seemed a lot less overwhelming.

For the first time Nina genuinely smiled and laughed, all hints of anxious energy gone.

“Thank you. You just made this a million times easier and way less intimidating! I promise the next time I show up, I won’t be breaking anyone’s nose.”

“I’m not worried. Happy to help though.” His lips twitched. “Taking care of people is what I do.”

He glanced out at the room. Nina wasn’t sure if he was just scanning in general or looking for something in particular, but he seemed satisfied with whatever he found because he turned back to her.

“So. Now that we’ve sorted out business. If you stick with me until we find your friend, you might get a feel for things. I’ll be just keeping an eye on everyone and stepping in like I did with you if a scene gets out of hand. Usually that’s an unsafe knot or a sub forgetting their safe word; you made tonight exciting.”

Nina laughed again, this time with just a hint of flush to her cheeks. No one had ever called Nina exciting– she never even thought of herself as exciting– and the thought tickled her to death. This was good though. She loved the thought of being someone that could shake things up out of the routine, and exactly what she was hoping to grow into.

“Sounds like there’s no better way to learn than shadowing the DM,” she agreed. “I’m guessing you have to be pretty perceptive to keep track of everything going on and still be able to see the difference between real and pretend. That can’t be easy.”

“It’s not all that different from the responsibilities of a Dom, if a bit less intimate. I’ve been in the scene a long time now, and that plus first aid training means you’re asked to supervise a lot.” He stood up, pushing himself up off the table, and Nina caught a glimpse of a tattoo peeking out from under the short sleeve of his V-neck. “You’re fine to have another drink. What do you like?”

“I like trying new drinks with weird names. It turns out testing different kinds of alcohol is also on the Nina Discovery list along with spicy sex stuff. …and now first aid! That’s a useful one to go on the list if I keep this up.”

She wasn’t kidding about a list either, as she made a few swipes on her phone to bring something up and thumb out first aid classes. Nina also noted down tattoo? just as a reminder to think more about it later.

While she was fussing with her phone, Jay was flagging down the bartender. Nina didn’t hear what he ordered, just that he’d slipped the woman his card and pointed over his shoulder at her.

“Never order the Amsterdam Blackout,” he warned her with a grin, while the bartender fussed with a bottle of blue curacao and a shaker. “The name is tempting but very honest. You’ll like this one better anyway.”

“Alcohol induced blackouts are definitely on the Don’t Try list,” she agreed.

Nina put her phone away and smoothed her hands down over her dress as she took another look around. She’d finally hit a baseline of relaxed, where she didn’t feel like a lost duckling in a gator pond, and could now look around without feeling the need to look away quickly. Some stuff still made her a little flustered (like the man walking by in full on ass out chaps) but others were inspiring ideas of things she might like. Clandestine public snogging in a corner booth? Something that she’d balk at ten years ago, but from this distance looked pretty fun.

“How do I find the right person for me?” she asked. “Are there interviews? Do we hang out and meet people and see what clicks? Do you test drive people?”

“You can if you want and you find someone willing.” He was watching her with his arms folded across his chest, a little smile playing on his lips. “A lot of us date just like anyone else, Nina. There’s also people who hook up via Fetlife–social media site–or at munches–meetups in vanilla settings. A lot of people just hook up at the parties. If you find someone you like, compare notes and then go with whatever feels right. But always ask around about someone before you play. Most of the community is fine but there are always those few.”

A lowball glass filled with pale turquoise liquid landed on the bar top with a clink. A basil leaf and a whole orchid blossom sat on the rim as the garnish.

“This is called Chasing the Green Dragon,” Jay told her, crooking a finger at Nina and raising the cocktail to her lips once she stepped within range. A sweet, spicy aroma with a citrus kick wafted from the glass, and her mouth tingled where there was a trace of moisture on the rim. “Bottoms up.”

Nina took the first swallow when he offered, then immediately her hand went up to her mouth.

“Oh dang, that is good,” she muttered from behind her fingers, amused with the fact now her mouth kind of tingled. The bright color and pretty garnish did not match the sweet, tangy, spicy taste. “I can see where the dragon comes in.” She couldn’t pinpoint the kind of sweet but the drink definitely landed better than the Old Fashioned she tried earlier.

Nina plucked the glass from his fingers, claiming it as hers and quite happily took another drink.

“Hm! Did you know you can eat orchids? Ancient Greeks thought eating orchids made them more virile. I’m not sure I that’s actually true, but most of their mythology seems to involve a ridiculous amount of sex. Like an obscene amount.”

Orchis is Ancient Greek for ‘testicle’, in fact.” Jay plucked the blossom from her glass, showing her the twin structures near the base. “Because of these things here.”

He twirled the flower between his finger and thumb, tilting his head. “What do you do for a living?”

Her ridiculous grinning about filthy orchid origins turned into a sheepish look and a scrunched up nose. Nina even took a longer swallow just to delay answering the question.

“It’s not very interesting,” she lamented. “I’m an archivist at the university. Just reading, researching and cataloging all day. Sometimes I help students find unusual things, but it’s usually just me inputting things to the online database. Not that I mind it! I learn all kinds of fun things, but it’s also not the most exciting job to have.”

“Oh no. Your job is too boring, I’m afraid I’ll have to walk away now before everyone thinks I’m uncool.” He gave her a look, fighting a smile. “Relax, Nina. Everyone here has to pay the bills. It sounds like you enjoy it, which is more than most can say.”

He carefully placed the orchid back on the rim of her glass, then checked his phone.

“I do need to go back to the playspace, though. Is that going to be uncomfortable for you?”

Nina decided she liked Jay, which was great because now she had a familiar face the next time she came back. Even if she decided later that this wasn’t the kind of scene for her, he had a way of making things feel nice and chill. She could leave her anxiety behind, and just work through her leftover awkwardness.

Because it was definitely going to be awkward taking a stroll through the playroom again and Nina needed to get over it so she could have a little fun too.

“No, not uncomfortable,” she responded with a shake of her head. “I’d love to know more about what’s going on in scenes and what they are? They sound a lot like stage plays, just… spicier.”

He didn’t answer her at first, his blue eyes lingering on her face. Eventually, he nodded.

“Tap my shoulder if you want to leave,” he told her. “Like this–May I?”

Once she’d given her assent, his long forefingers tapped three times in gentle, but firm and steady succession where the top of her arm began.

“That way, no matter what, I’ll know you need to step away.” Jay let his hand drop, motioning for her to keep walking. “A public scene is a bit like a stage play, yes, but a scene is just what you call any play session. The ones people plan for play parties tend to be on the showier side, but not always.”

As they made their way back towards the curtain wall, she could feel his eyes on her.

“So tell me, what made you think all this might be for you?” he asked. “Don’t say Fifty Shades of Grey, please.”

“That movie was terrible, and I like Jamie Dornan,” she exclaimed scrunching up her nose again. Belated, she remembered it was a popular book series first, but it wasn’t a genre Nina typically read. It wasn’t the kind of movies she watched either, but sometimes her cousin let Tabby have first pick on movie nights and now Nina had a head full of terrible movies she’d be haunted by forever.

Nina stuck close to Jay as close as was comfortable, crossing her arms again and tapping her fingers against her elbows. She wasn’t actually scared or nervous per say, but there must’ve been a subconscious part of her warily keeping an eye out for Tony. Even though she knew he wasn’t anything to be concerned about, she supposed being in a vulnerable place already had her naturally unsettled.

“One morning I woke up and I realized I was miserable,” she finally answered. “I married the second guy I hooked up with at nineteen and then spent my entire twenties doing the exact same thing everyday. My husband’s idea of spicy was me being on top.” There was that flush in her face again, but she explain with an air of humor and almost even laughed about it.

“I’ve been dating again and- um- I don’t-” she paused, heaving a heavy sigh before tilting towards him with a lowered voice. “I want to feel things that are exciting and scary and different. I couldn’t ask my dates and end up with some creep trying to strangle me in a bathtub. This place has rules and I like that.”

“If you like rules, you might be in the right place. It’s definitely safer to try things here than with random strangers off Tinder who don’t know what they’re doing or have people to keep them in check.” He glanced at her askance. “Not that the community is perfect, either. But I’m glad you listened to your instincts on that one.”

They’d reached the curtain again. Jay pulled it aside and waited for Nina to step through ahead of him. It was much the same as she remembered, but the suspension bar on the ceiling was empty now, the occupant from earlier nowhere to be seen.

“Jay,” a voice called, and Nina glanced around to find a stocky older man dressed all in leather pace towards them across the floor. He had warm eyes and a short but very thick beard that was more grey than strawberry blond. “Good to see you! You’re actually on duty tonight?”

“Yes, but looks like Layton and Dahlia aren’t ready for her collaring yet.” Jay grasped the man’s hand. “How’s Mal?”

“He’s home sick, but it’s just a cold. He told me to go have my fun. It was a good show, but I think he just wants me out of the house so he can play with the puppy.”

“Sounds about right.” Nina felt Jay’s hand at the small of her back, guiding her forward. It was just the slightest bit of contact, almost no pressure at all. “Tom, this is Nina. She’s new.”

“Hello, Nina.” Tom’s round-faced smile was infectious. “I see Jay’s snatched you up for himself, eh?”

This older gentleman in leather had the sort of cherub face that made her want to pinch his cheeks. She supposed he wasn’t supposed to look cute any more than a leather-clad biker in a bar, but the way he talked was so endearing, she couldn’t help but think it. Immediately she was grinning and her folded arms shifted to clasping her hands loosely in front of her.

“Did he?” she asked, shooting Jay a glance before she was grinning back at Tom. “I haven’t decided if I’m ready to be snatched yet, but he’s welcome to try. Tonight I’m exploring.”

“Oh, well don’t let me keep you. There’s a new swing in, but it’s being used right now. You could go see Sebastian and his sub over at the St. Andrew’s Cross instead. I was just over there and it’s quite something!” His eyes crinkled up at the corners. “Although Jay might prefer to show you the spanking bench. I mentored him, you know, I know what this boy gets up to.”

“Is this your version of pulling out the baby pictures?” Jay’s voice was laced with amusement and rather obvious affection. “I’m just showing her around.”

“Right, right.” Tom chuckled. “Well in that case…”

He held out his hand to Nina. She expected a handshake, but instead his fingers closed around hers and lifted her knuckles to his lips, his beard fuzz softly scratching at her skin as his smile ghosted the back of her hand. “Enjoy the party, my dear. It was wonderful to meet you.”

Nina’s delighted laugh was probably louder than it needed to be, but she wasn’t expecting to meet such an enchanting older man in a place like this. A Tony or two for sure, but Tom was wonderful. If the place was filled with Toms and Jays, she’d definitely be down for hanging out just for the company alone.

“Thank you. I hope we can meet again soon!”

Once she had the opportunity, she leaned towards Jay and whispered.

“What’s a St. Andrew’s Cross?”

“You’re here to explore. Let’s go see.” He nodded to the right and began to lead the way along the wall and further into the playspace, skirting the throngs of fetishists. Now and then he’d slow his pace to eye something happening in the crowd, but he only stopped once, holding up a hand to Nina.

“Everything alright?” he asked as he approached a couple occupying one of the small couches placed around the room. The girl was on her stomach and still locked into a spreader bar with her hands cuffed behind her back, attempting to wriggle closer to the man who was holding his head in his hands at the other end of the sofa. As Nina got closer, she could see his shoulders were shaking. There was a riding crop laying on the floor by his feet, visible only thanks to a red stripe along the side.

“I think it’s just the guilts,” the girl answered, her eyes wide and still fixed on her partner. “Babe, please, it’s okay. I asked you to do this, remember? God, I shouldn’t have asked right now, I’m so sorry.”

“I’ve got him.” Jay knelt down, having a hushed conversation. After a quick exchange, he looked away from the young man and back at Nina. “Get her cuffs off.”

She didn’t hesitate and scooted over quickly to the girl to undo the cuffs. It wasn’t hard to understand how someone might have ‘the guilts’ as the girl put it, even if she didn’t know the details. Nina herself had no problem popping someone in the nose to defend herself, but she wasn’t sure she could handle hitting someone for fun even if they asked for it. She’d never even did the play fighting or swatting when she was younger.

“There we go, all loose now,” she said, once she’d undone all the cuffs. Nina almost wanted to ask a few questions of her own, but Jay probably had it all in hand.

As soon as she was free, the girl tried to wrap herself around her partner’s neck, but stopped when Jay shook his head at her. Pulling a chocolate bar from his jeans pocket, he peeled the wrapper open and pressed it into the younger man’s hand.

“You guys are done for tonight,” he told them. “Got it?”

“Yes,” Nina heard the kid croak in reply. Jay waited until he took a bite of the chocolate, then guided him into putting his arms around the girl and scooting her into his lap.

“Sit here like this until you finish eating that. I’ll be back by in a few minutes, and we can see about getting you a cab home.”

Thank you! mouthed the girl, hugging her partner’s head against her chest as Jay pushed himself back up onto his feet and looked around for Nina. Once he spotted her, he led her a few feet away and lowered his voice. His blue eyes scanned her carefully.

“You still good?”

Nina must’ve had that wide-eyed worried look on her face or had been fretting with the cuffs of her sleeves again to earn that examining stare of his. She ceased her fidgeting to nod.

I’m alright. Three shoulder taps if I’m not, I remember.” she affirmed quickly, not realizing she was demonstrating the taps on the back of her hand until it was too late. Nina tucked her fidgety fingers behind her back.

“But is he okay? He looked like he was having a panic attack.”

“He will be. They just need to communicate better.” Jay shook his head. “It’s easy to forget that you can’t take care of your sub if you don’t take care of yourself first, and it’s also hard sometimes to ignore how society sees what we get up to. It’s getting a little better lately, but pretty much everyone was still raised with the POV that our relationships are unhealthy, that we’re mentally ill, that Dominants in particular are just abusers trying to justify their actions. It can crop up when you least expect it, and that’s why it’s so important to discuss anything that might be a limit or trigger, or even just if you might already be too emotional for play on a given day. Sucking it up or hiding how you feel about your scene is a bad idea.”

He glanced back over his shoulder at the couple, the corner of his mouth turning down, and then back to Nina. “They’re going to need a little time. Still want to check out the cross?”

“So it’s basically what a good marriage should be,” Nina mumbled the thought out loud. Her relationship with her husband had never been abusive, and Nina was thankful for that, but talking about things? Being honest about feelings? Never. Granted, Nina was just as guilty and for the first few years just swallowed all those moments where she was upset, unhappy or unfulfilled. By the time she started trying to talk about it, the man didn’t belief her or didn’t care.

Nina definitely wasn’t going to repeat the mistake. She was going to be good to herself this time.

“Hm, I worry a little bit,” she cast a glance back at the couple, but finally smile. “But you know what you’re doing, so yes please, I’d like to continue the tour.”

“They’re not going to move until I’m back.” It was a statement of fact, the way he made it sound. “And we’re not going far. It’s okay.”

True to Jay’s word, Nina could see a small crowd gathered by the wall up ahead. As people made way for them, she got a good look at the show–the scene, she guessed she should call it.

The wooden frame nailed to the wall was shaped like an X. A saltire cross, or crux decussata, rather than the more typical Latin cross shape. The girl strapped onto it was wearing nothing but shiny black latex panties and a matching bra, the thick leather restraints circling her feet and ankles and fixing her in a spreadeagled position. There was a brightly-colored shape that somewhat resembled a butterfly pressed against the place between her thighs, held up by a simple harness; Nina could see the little wings on the sides vibrating madly. Her bare toes pointed like a ballerina’s against the floor.

In front of her, a large man in a sharp-looking vest, fatigue pants, and long black boots paced, trailing a flogger across her skin. It brushed up the inside of her thigh, dangerously close to the crotch of her panties. One of the butterfly wings caught and made a clipping noise against the head.

She squirmed.

In response, the leather strips twitched and struck like a snake, leaving red stripes across the girl’s flesh. The moan she made, though, didn’t sound like one of pain.

“I told you to stay still.” The man teased the braided fringe across the marks they’d left only a moment before.

“I’m sorry, Sir,” she panted.

“How many licks do you think you can take?

“Five, Sir.”

“Ten it is.”

“So,” Jay asked quietly in Nina’s ear, as the first sharp crack sounded out. “Do you have any questions?”

Nina flinched at the first snap, mostly because the sound surprised her more than anything else. This whole setup was the first thing anyone thought of when BDSM came up, Nina herself included. Ancient torture devices and pain dungeons. The woman certainly looked like she was being tortured, only it was the sort that had Nina flushing far behind just her cheeks.

“Why is always black leather and latex,” was the first thing to slip out of her mouth. It wasn’t an actual question, just the first thought of nonsense to come to her mind. Once she’d wrangled her thoughts, she turned her head to glance at Jay.

“It takes a lot of endurance to build up to something like that, doesn’t it? Do people stretch first?”

Nina crossed her arms looking back at the scene with a tilt of her head and a squint of her eyes.

“I’m going to have to start doing yoga,” she muttered under her breath to herself.

“Normally the cross is the easiest to use, actually. Most people stand flatfooted.” Jay looked like he was fighting a smile. “Sebastian’s just showing off.”

They were up to the fourth crack of the flogger. The girl was covered in a thin sheen of sweat. Her Dom–Sebastian–teased the butterfly with the flogger, then pressed something that made the wings grow still. She made a mewling sound.

“Please, Sir. Please turn it back on,” the girl begged. Sebastian responded with another strike.

“No. I think you’ve had enough of this,” he said. He set down the flogger and began to untie the harness slowly. “Tell everyone why.”

“Because I’m a filthy girl and I’m dripping on Sir’s toys,” she answered breathlessly, the words obviously ones she knew well. In the next moment she gasped; the butterfly had come away from her with a soft pop, revealing a small slit in the latex where pink skin peeked through.

One of Nina’s hands came up slowly, her fingers covering her mouth to prevent any nervous laughter from slipping out. She wasn’t exactly uncomfortable, but she also hadn’t ever just casually watched someone getting their jollies before either. Oh, she’d sat in the front seat of a car with her headphones on while her high school friends got it on in the back and shared college dorms with exhibitionist roommates, but this was on an entirely different level. She even kind of liked it, which wasn’t too much of a surprise. Nina had always enjoyed seeing the joy in people, this was just a much more salacious version.

“This is a lot,” Nina admitted, “For me, right now, anyway. But I wonder, do you ever get desensitized? Do you ever have moments where it doesn’t feel fun and exciting anymore?”

“Close your eyes. You know stoplights?” Jay asked, shifting to partially block her view of the scene. “Is this red, yellow, or green?”

A moment later, he answered her question with one of his own. “Do you ever feel too tired for sex? Lost the spark in a relationship? There are ups and downs just like with vanilla. I’m not out at play parties every week, you know.”

Nina closed her eyes, scrunching her nose and twisted her mouth as she considered.

“Yellowish green? It’s like… being on a roller coaster and before you take the first dip it’s terrifying, but then after the loop you kind of like it.”

After a beat, she opened one eye, a wicked sort of grin having snuck it’s way out.

“So you’re not the daily dungeon father looking after all his dirty ducklings.”

He let out a quiet bark of laughter. “Is that what you’ve been thinking?”

Stepping back out of the way again so she had a clear view of Sebastian administering another slap of leather–this time across the fronts of both the girl’s shaking thighs–Jay cocked his head to one side.

“I’m a physical therapist, actually. But you’re not exactly far off about me.” That considering look had crept into his eyes again. “Speaking of ducklings, I’m going to get those kids upstairs now. Can you wait here for a few minutes?”

Nina definitely hadn’t thought of him having a normal job, but then she had a hard time imagining any of these people in normal jobs, doing normal things, which was admittedly ridiculous. Even for the ones who lived it as an entire lifestyle had to go to work and buy groceries and put gas in the car.

“I’ll be fine here. I’m just gonna,” she gestured subtly at the scene, “watch that and think about all kinds of things.”

“Have fun,” he told her, cracking a knowing grin.

Jay had been gone less than five minutes when a familiar voice hissed in her ear.

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