The Bed

I think it was at the Henderson’s dinner party that I finally decided that I had to leave Stephen. Mary Henderson was pouring coffee, and when she passed a cup to me, Stephen reached over and took it out of my hand. “Matt doesn’t drink coffee, Mary, so I’ll have that one.”

“Oh, I can manage one cup,” I said brightly, seething with rage. “I don’t drink very much, but one cup won’t do me any harm.” And I took the next cup passed to me, and set it in front of me. When I glanced up again, Stephen was giving me a hard stare, and as he caught my eye, he flexed his palm and I knew what he meant. I held his gaze, rather than dropping my eyes as usual, and I could see his surprise. I smiled at Mary. “Stephen worries too much. I keep telling him that I can look after my own health, but he doesn’t believe me. I’m only a doctor, after all.”

It’s such a small thing to push one into leaving, isn’t it? But it was real Last Straw stuff. Stephen and I had been together for five years, and for the whole of the last one I had known that it was over, and he apparently had not. I just hadn’t had the courage to leave.

When we went home, the coffee incident was not mentioned until we had made it upstairs. I was wondering if I should leave what I had to say until the morning, or say it at once and then go to the spare room to sleep, but Stephen got in first.

“You know how I feel about you drinking coffee, Matt. I won’t have you disobeying me like that. Bring me the slipper.”

I looked him in the eye, and said something that I had never imagined saying to my Top.


I don’t think he actually heard it the way I did. I heard a great knelling refusal, and our relationship cracking and shattering. I don’t think he heard anything other than the usual whining objection of a Bottom about to get a well-deserved spanking and trying to wriggle out of it.

“Matthew, I expect to be obeyed. We talked about you and coffee, and we agreed that it upset your stomach and you were giving it up, and tonight. . .”

“Actually, Stephen, we didn’t. You talked about coffee. When I was ill last month, you decided, on no real evidence, that I couldn’t drink coffee, and you told me that I had to give it up. I’ve since discovered that Carol and David were ill too, which implies that it was something we ate at the surgery, and nothing to do with the coffee at all. I’ve been drinking coffee every day for the past three weeks with absolutely no ill effects. I didn’t agree to anything, and I’m certainly not giving it up.”

He looked as completely startled as I could have wished. But he rallied fast, I’ll give him that. “Oh, no. No. That’s not how it works. I told you that you were forbidden coffee, and you’ve disobeyed me, so fetch the slipper and I’ll spell it out to you.”


This time, even he heard it. “What?”

“I said no. I’m not doing this any more. I’m sorry, Stephen, but this is the end. I can’t live in a relationship in which you make rules which are simply pointless; capricious; stupid. I’m not to drink coffee. I’m not to work overtime. I’m not to wear a green tie. I’m not to go to the rugby club.”

“Sweetheart, that’s the sort of relationship we have. That’s the way it works. I’m Top and you’re Bottom, and what I say goes. I make the decisions and. . .”

“No. It doesn’t have to be that way, and I won’t stand any more of it. It isn’t healthy.”

“Honey, of course it is. You like to get a spanking, and I like to give you one, so what’s wrong or unhealthy about that?”

“What’s unhealthy is the extent to which you want to control me. Just look at the decisions you’ve made in the last week. I’m not allowed any input into the shopping list, for God’s sake. You decide what we’re going to eat, and what we’re going to make it from. I bought three things that weren’t on your shopping list, and you spanked me for it. In the last ten days there have been four meals that I plain didn’t like, and you knew that I didn’t like them, and you made them anyway. Twice you punished me because I wouldn’t eat them. I actually am allergic to shellfish, remember? I wouldn’t eat the crab because it would have made me throw up and left me in bed for two days. I can’t imagine why you served it up, except as a power trip. I bought new shirts and the next day you took two of them back. That’s not your decision to make, Stephen. You could have said that you didn’t want me to wear the grey one when I went out with you, but what I wear to work is my concern, not yours. And then you booked the holiday without reference to me. Had you asked I would have told you that I couldn’t take that week. Cheryl’s baby is due on the first and Tom will want time off then, so I’m not booking time off in the first half of the month because I’ll have to cover for him.” 

“Come on, sweet, you know we need a holiday.”

“I don’t need your choice. Every holiday we’ve had since we got together has been one of your activity holidays. You want to sail, so I have to learn to sail. You like golf, so I have to learn to play golf. You want to abseil, so I have to learn to climb. I don’t want to do it again. I’ve been bored, or scared, or uncomfortable, or all three on every holiday. I want to go to Venice. Or Prague. I want to go to museums and galleries. I want to go to New Orleans and hear some jazz, or to Knossos to see the ruins. I want to go to Scotland and visit Rosslyn Chapel. I don’t want to ski, and I’m damned if I’m going to learn just because it’s your idea of a good time.”

“Matt, you don’t speak to me like that. . .”

“Stephen, I do. I’ve been trying to talk to you for ages, and you won’t listen to me. You don’t know who I am, you just think you do. You don’t let me have any space to be Matt, I’m just half of Matt-and-Stephen, no, not half, just the lesser part, it’s not even a full half, and I can’t do it any more. I’m sorry. I’ve screwed this up for both of us.”

“Let’s go to bed and we’ll talk about it in the morning. You’re tired and you’re not thinking clearly.”

“You see? You’re doing it again. I’m not particularly tired, and I’m thinking perfectly clearly. What you mean is that my opinion doesn’t matter because it isn’t the same as yours. You intend to have your own way. You’re telling me what I feel and what I think as well as what I must do, and you’re wrong often enough that I can’t disguise it from myself any more. No, Stephen. No. Now it’s over.”

He actually tried to force me. I wouldn’t have believed that he would do that. He’s bigger than me, certainly, and there had never before been a time when I refused to go over his knee, even when I thought that I wasn’t in the wrong, but I had never fought to my full extent before. He tried to trap my legs and throw me across his lap, and for once I wouldn’t do it. It ended up as an undignified struggle, and we both landed on the bed, and then he kissed me, and I might, I really might have given in, except that he slid his head round and bit my ear lobe gently. I just froze and then I pulled away.

“Five years we’ve been together, and you still don’t remember that I don’t like that.”

“Oh, come on, Matt, what’s got into you tonight? Everybody likes to have their ears licked.”

“BUT I DON’T! Why don’t you ever listen to me? I hate it. It’s the tactile equivalent to me of squeaky chalk on a blackboard. It’s a complete turn-off. I must have told you that about once a fortnight for the last five years. Now let go of me. I’m going to sleep in the other room.”

“No, Matt. We’ve got to settle this. I’m not having you. . .”

“I’m past caring what you’re having or not having. It is settled. It’s settled that I’m leaving as soon as I can find somewhere else to live.”

There was no going back after that. I moved out within three days, packing my belongings and going without a backward glance. I did feel bad about it; I’m not saying that the breakdown was wholly Stephen’s fault and that I was blameless, because that was patently not true. I don’t suppose it’s ever true that when a relationship goes sour there’s one party in the wrong and one in the right. And that will be particularly true in a relationship like ours. He had been my Top since about a week after we had met, when I had been teasing him about something, and he had quite easily flipped me across his lap and spanked me soundly. I had come up breathless, embarrassed, and helplessly aroused, and he had known it. He was my first Top, neither of us being young, but I was a long way from being his first Bottom. That might have been the root of the later problems. He knew what he wanted to do, and he was accustomed to doing it, and I just fell in with his way of doing everything. Almost everything. He wanted to do the stuff about making me write lines and so on, and I did balk at that, and refuse, but otherwise I didn’t think about what I wanted and whether it was the same as what he did.

And five years on I could see that it wasn’t, that it hadn’t been. I’m afraid that part of the problem was two monogamous men who had some really good sex and didn’t like to admit that there wasn’t any more to their relationship than that. We should have had a fling for three months and then parted on good terms. He wanted to be Top in everything. He wanted to run the whole of our lives, to take on my behalf every decision whether it affected him or not. To begin with, I had happily let him do that, and I had enjoyed the freedom that it carried. It sounds odd to speak of freedom, when that was precisely what I didn’t have, but in an odd way I did. It was liberating in some ways not to have to bother about the daily decisions. I just had to carry them out, not to make any of them. But I moved on past that, and Stephen did not. I’m not saying that I developed and he didn’t – we were both past thirty when we got together and I suppose our characters were mostly fixed - but perhaps just that I changed and he didn’t. I had been in the wrong to let him have such autonomy over me, and not to challenge it earlier, when we might have been able to compromise and decide what was important and what wasn’t, and I had been in the wrong to have let it go on so long when I began to be unhappy about it, and I didn’t end it particularly well. The final break up didn’t even have the dignity of being about something important, just one of those ‘and another thing’ quarrels.

But I don’t believe that I deserved the revenge he took on me. I don’t believe anybody ever deserves that. He talked. He took another lover quickly enough, and I tried to be happy for him, and then I began to notice that I was getting odd looks from some of our friends, and that some of them didn’t seem to want to come round or to talk to me when we met. Several of my patients asked to be transferred to Tom’s list, and some of the others seemed to be unsure of quite how to talk to me. It was Tom who told me in the end.

“They’ve heard the gossip about you and Stephen, and it makes them uneasy. You have to understand, some of them have a certain amount of trouble with an openly gay doctor anyway.”

“I knew that, Tom, but I thought I had been here long enough for that to have settled itself. The ones who mind went to you, and the ones who signed up with me didn’t care or didn’t think it was their business. I’ve always thought that I needed to be out, because people don’t like to be taken by surprise, and it isn’t something that can be hidden in a town as small as this.”

“Yes, well, that seemed to be true. But this thing about. . . well, about you and Stephen, that’s just more than they can stomach.”

What thing, Tom? What are you talking about?”

“Ah. It hasn’t come all the way to you. The gossip is that Stephen used to beat you and that you liked it.”

I love Tom dearly. We’ve been friends since college, I was Best Man when he got married, I’m godfather to his first child, and he is by far the closest of my friends. He had been the greatest help when I left Stephen, letting me store stuff in his garage until I found somewhere new to live, letting me talk, making sure that I didn’t give up my social life completely. Cheryl had rung me up often, just to chat about nothing, and to let me know that there was a little human warmth in the world. I don’t think I could have taken that remark from anybody except Tom. I just sat, gazing at him with my mouth open, while a long slow blush covered me from head to foot.

“He’s been saying that?”

“I’m afraid so. And people have heard it. And Matt, you know what gossip is. I don’t think it’s going to matter whether or not you deny it.”

He very carefully didn’t ask whether or not it was true, but I felt I owed it to him to be honest. “I can’t deny it, Tom. Not truthfully.”

He blinked a bit, and we sat in silence for a moment. “Tom, do you want my resignation? A scandal won’t do the practice any good.”

“No! Of course I don’t. You’re a good doctor, and I don’t want you driven out by gossip.”

I could have hugged him, but he would have hated it. “Tom, that’s sentiment. I do appreciate it, honestly. Your friendship has been more important to me than almost anything. But from a business point of view. . . Do I need to go? If you tell me I do, I will.”

Rather to my surprise, he leaned over and put his hand on mine. “I don’t think you do. Not from a business point of view. It’s not a medical scandal, which would be something else. I think we can afford to wait and see what happens. If you aren’t going to deny it. . . are you going to admit to it?”

I thought about that. “No, I think I’m just going to ignore it. If I can. If I’m pressed, I think I might imply that all sorts of silly stories go about when a long term relationship breaks up. But if it affects the practice. . .”

“We can wait and see. We may very well find that you’re scandal of the month for a month and then it will be someone else and another story. Live it down, Matt. It will be very unpleasant for you, but that’s my advice. Live it down.”

“What about things like morning surgery?” We still had open surgery in the mornings. Afternoons were for seeing the doctor of your choice by appointment, but morning surgery was queue up and wait. You’d see the duty doctor, who might not be the one you’re registered with. It was very popular. “What if people don’t want to see me?”

“Tough. If they feel ill enough, they’ll be willing to see whoever’s on duty. If they aren’t willing to see you, then they don’t feel sick enough to be at morning surgery anyway, and they can damn well make an appointment to see me, and wait for it.”

So that’s what we did. It took a lot longer than a month for me to live it down. Three years later, I was still living it down, and I was miserably unhappy. The surgery wasn’t particularly a problem. As Tom had suggested, anybody who really was unwell didn’t care what their doctor did in his free time, provided his free time wasn’t when they wanted to see him. My list was still full, my surgeries were still well attended. It was my private life that was gone. Somehow, I had not been re-elected to the Rugby Club committee. Somehow, I wasn’t needed for the Christmas Lights Fundraising Group. Somehow, when I offered to do props for the amateur dramatic society, there had been a mix-up and somebody else had been co-opted. I raged, but only to myself, and once or twice to Tom. Nothing could be done about it. My reputation was shot. It seemed that every time I thought the story was dead, something would happen – some politician caught with a call-girl, or some footballer with a waitress – and we would have another round of ‘oh, yes, that’s good, but don’t you remember about Dr. Quentin?’ And, my God, they always did remember. I was approaching forty, my sex life was non-existent, my social life was limited, and I was trembling on the borders of depression. I’m a doctor; I should know.

Then I met Jack Blaise. He arrived one day right at the end of morning surgery, when in fact we had closed up and my nurse had gone. The receptionist was filing the last of the case notes, and I had started on my paperwork, when she called through to me. “Doctor, there’s a gentleman come in who’s been quite badly bitten by a dog. Will you see him?”

She sent him through, and I looked up to see a big man my own age, with a rather grubby and bloodstained handkerchief wrapped around his hand. “Come in, have a seat and tell me what’s happened to you. I’m Dr. Quentin. Let’s have a look.”

“I’m sorry to trouble you, doctor. My name’s Jack Blaise. I’m actually registered with the doctor in Hartley, but as you can see I’ve been bitten.”

He had, too, and severely. “What happened?”

“Dog fight. A child with a spaniel, and a loose Alsatian, and I interfered because the spaniel was getting the worst of it and the child was working up to hysterics. And then, of course, I got bitten, and it won’t stop bleeding, so when I saw the plate outside, I thought I would just ask if someone could. . .”

“Yes. Wise. This is deep. Let’s get it clean, and then I can see what I’m doing.”

It was a big ragged tear, and it oozed blood disturbingly. His hands were calloused, but beautifully shaped. “I don’t think you need stitches, but it wants dressing.”

He sighed with relief. “I’m a cabinet maker – my hands are my livelihood. I didn’t want to wait until I went home to get it looked at.”

“Mmm. When did you last have a tetanus shot?”

“Oh, that’s up to date. I cut myself often enough that I’m careful about it.”

“Good. That should be all right now. Try to keep the dressing clean and dry, and let your own doctor see it tomorrow. I think it will probably need redressing a couple of times. Now, I just need some details from you. . . I’ve got to send a form to your GP showing that I treated you and what for.”

He gave me his full name and address, and I asked for his doctor’s name. “I don’t actually know. It was Dr. Green until he retired, but they haven’t found anybody to replace him yet. Dr. Patel does part time but. . .”

“Well, I’ll put it down as Dr. Green. Get that looked at again. How do you feel otherwise? Not nauseous, shaky?”

“A little. That’s just shock, isn’t it? I’ll go and have something to eat before I go home.”

“You’ve done this before. Yes, and take things easy for a while. But I don’t think there’s real harm there.”

He went, thanking me again, and I returned to my paperwork, but every so often I thought, not about Jack Blaise, but about Dr. Green. I had known he was retiring, but not that he had done it. I knew his surgery; I had acted as his locum a couple of times when he was on leave. It was a small village surgery, with a large flat above it, and the practice supported one full time and one part time doctor, and a nurse. I thought about it for several days, and then I went to see Tom.

“Tom, I think it might be time for me to go. To move on. To find another practice.”

“Ah. I wondered if you were thinking that way.”

“You think so too?”

“From my point of view? No. I would like you to stay. But I’m not sure that it would be good for you. You aren’t thriving here, Matt, are you?”

“No. We both know why not. I hoped it would be different, but. . .”

“I know. So did I. But you can’t fight the small town mentality. Where were you thinking of going? Back to the city? Or into hospital work?”

“I was wondering about Peter Green’s practice. He hasn’t been replaced. That would be far enough to be a new start but not so far that I would lose touch completely.”

“Hartley? No bad idea. Have you called the Regional Office about it?”

I hadn’t, but I did, and six months later I put up my plate in Hartley.

Anything new in the employment line leaves one exhausted in the first month, and the new surgery was no exception. Dr. Patel and I were fast friends almost at once, the nurse was a middle aged Irishwoman with a lively sense of humour, and the patient list was interesting. I saw Jack Blaise in the street a couple of times, and he raised a hand to me and smiled. Then he came over one day to speak to me, and soon we were friends, although I discovered later that he had asked to be moved to Dr. Patel’s list. I asked after the injured hand. “It didn’t even scar. Dr. Patel dressed it for me for about a week, and it cleaned up good as new.”

 Eventually, I found my way to his shop, having decided that the few items of furniture that I had lived with for the previous four years needed to be replaced. He had a workshop in a big barn conversion, with sales space attached, and he was there when I went in. He came to greet me, and seemed pleased to see me. “Were you looking for anything in particular, or just browsing?”

“Browsing, really. I’ve been renting furnished, and now that I have the surgery flat, I thought it was time to see what I could get. Siobhan said you kept a catalogue as well as what you had here.”

“I do. Come and have a look and see if there’s anything you fancy. I can make most things, too, if you have something special in mind. To tell the truth, I don’t make much now other than to order. Come and see.”

He had a workbook with photographs of pieces he had made, showing them all the way from design to completion, sometimes displayed in his customers’ houses. He was obviously a good craftsman, and I kept coming back to one set of pictures of a huge and ornate bed. It was gloriously over the top, quivering on the edge of bad taste, leavened with humour. “I love this, but the bedroom in the flat wouldn’t stand anything half the size.”

He laughed. “Actually, it’s mine. I made it the first year I was in business, when the commissions weren’t coming in as fast as I would have liked, and I wanted to be seen to be busy. I’ve still got it.”

Eventually I decided on a couple of pieces for my sitting room, and we spent an afternoon looking at types of wood and shapes. I called in several times over the next month, and he showed me the progress he was making, and occasionally gave me coffee. I liked him, very much, and he made no secret of his orientation, but I made no play for him. That was all behind me. I wasn’t going there again.

In fact, I was like a jilted teenager. I had been in love and it had gone wrong and I would never be able to love again. Do we ever outgrow that, I wonder?

One evening I went to the pub after an evening surgery that just went on and on. We had a chickenpox epidemic at the school, flu injections newly arrived, and a nasty tummy bug doing the rounds, and my surgery had been full to bursting. By the time I had done my paperwork, I was exhausted and hungry, and past wanting to cook, and inclined to think of a meal which I hadn’t made and wasn’t expected to wash up. It wasn’t my night to be on call, and I wanted a drink, too.

The pub was busy, but I found a table, and about ten minutes later, Jack walked in. He looked round, and caught my eye, and a moment later he came over, carrying his drink. “Hi, Matt, are you waiting for someone? No? Mind if I join you?”

“Provided you aren’t ill. I’ve done all the dealing with ill people I’m doing tonight. If you want to talk about football or the history of the Panama Canal, sit down, and if you’ve got chickenpox, go away.”

He laughed. “I’d heard you were going it some this week. There’s not a spot on me. Want to look?”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

“I was meaning to call you. I’ve finished the bookcase. Come out and have a look at it, and if you like it, I’ll drop it off tomorrow.”

“I’d like that, but I’ve ordered food.”

“There’s no hurry, is there? I’ll keep you company, if you like, and we can go out to the barn afterwards.”

He was good company, funny and clever, and I finished my meal and most of my drink and began to relax, and suddenly a voice in my ear said, “Good God, if it isn’t the sainted Matthew”, and I looked up into Stephen’s face. He had a companion with him, not the one I remembered, who looked faintly embarrassed, and as Stephen leaned closer I realised that he was terribly drunk. “I don’t know you,” he said to Jack. “Are you what he’s got now?”

“Stephen, you’re drunk,” I said despairingly. His companion leaned over and took his arm. “Please, Steve, let’s go. I want to go now.” He caught my eye and gave me the wry grimace of the sober individual whose drunken partner is embarrassing him.

“Has he asked you to spank him yet? He used to love that. Then he got too proud for it. Spanked and fucked, that’s what he liked.”

The companion gave me a horrified look, twisted Stephen’s arm, and hauled him by main force out of the bar and into the car park. I sat, frozen. A moment later, the man came back. “Matthew? I wanted to apologise. Er. . . you don’t know me, but Stephen. . . well, I’m really sorry. Look, you won’t see us again. We live in Bradford now, this was just a holiday for Stephen to show me his old haunts. We’re going home tomorrow. I’m sorry.” He was almost incoherent with embarrassment, and I was beyond speech. Jack rescued me.

“I don’t think anybody heard him. Take him home before he’s sick, I would. Good night.”

That was enough. The man fled. I waited for the ground to open and swallow me. Jack grinned at me. “An ex, I presume. You can always count on them to dump you in it.”

My mouth opened, but I couldn’t speak. I could not go through all this again, I just could not. “Matthew, don’t worry. Nobody heard him but me, and I won’t remember it, not if you want me not to.”

I sat and trembled, and after a moment, I think Jack realised that I couldn’t cope. He finished his drink, took me by the arm and pulled me to my feet. “Come on. Out.” I followed him, unresisting, and he led me out to the road, and along the pavement to the footpath that crossed the common. “This way. We can get to the barn if we turn off at the farmhouse. Come on, Matthew.”

I don’t know why I followed him, except that he told me to. It was dusk, and I couldn’t see any expression on his face, which might have been why suddenly I started to talk. I told him about Stephen, about how much I had loved him. I admitted the sort of relationship we had, and why I had left, and what had happened afterwards, and Jack made soft encouraging noises, and said nothing, and presently we arrived at the barn, and I suddenly realised what I had done. Jack turned on the porch light, and I looked at him and quaked for the end of my career. This had to be the end. Even if he were as discreet as he promised, I couldn’t bear to live here with him knowing.

“I want to show you something,” he said, gravely. “Come through to the workshop.”

My damned bookcase, I thought. I don’t care about the bookcase.

I followed him, mainly because I couldn’t think of anything else to do. He passed the bookcase, and proceeded to lead me to the very back of the workshop where he produced keys, and opened a door which I had always assumed to lead to storage of some sort.

“The front workshop is Jack Blaise: Cabinetry. This one is for my other business. It’s called BlazeAway. I sell mail order and commission pieces.”

I stepped inside. There was a selection of pieces stacked around the walls, and I glanced uncomprehendingly at them. Then one in particular caught my eye, and, like one of those Magic Pictures, resolved itself so that I could identify it. “Stocks?”

“Very popular. Variable height. This thing is the frame for an adjustable swinging harness. Slave cage. Give me dimensions and I’ll make the cage. It’s one of the few pieces where all the smooth joints have to be on the inside, not the outside.”

“You make these?”

“Yup. It’s the main source of my income now. The other work is mainly a front. So now you know my dreadful secret too.”

I looked at him, blankly. He had entrusted me with his secret, apparently without reserve. He looked back at me, and then, quite slowly, he raised his hand and curled his palm round the side of my face. I trembled at his touch, but I didn’t lean away. He leaned in, still slowly, and touched his mouth to mine, and my lips opened, and I reached blindly for him and felt his arms close around my waist. He didn’t pull, he just encouraged me to come closer, and I stepped to him, to the solidity of his body, and wondered, in a tiny corner of my mind, what I was doing. Then he bit my lower lip very gently, and I moaned, and his tongue touched mine and I shook.

He broke away, to look at me, and seemed reassured by what he saw, and came back to kiss me again, and this time I answered him and leaned into his embrace. His hands slid over my back, and round my waist, and then he caught both my hands in his, and his mouth searched for mine again, and then slid along my jaw to my ear and I squeaked and broke away. “No!”

“No?” And I felt him release me and the shift of his weight that meant he was about to step away, and I flung myself back to hold him and said breathlessly “not my ears, I don’t like having my ears touched” and he laughed and said, “fair enough, I don’t like having my feet touched, what about your neck?” and ran his tongue down my throat, and I lifted my head and whispered, “oh, yes!”

And then his hands were past my ribs, at my button and zip, and I felt my waistband slacken and his hands, his hands ease inside to touch me, and I thrust forward into his fingers and cried out with the feel of him. “Ja-ack! Please!”

“More? But not here, I think. Upstairs. This way. Come.”

He led me up from the workshop, up a spiral staircase and into a huge room containing the bed from his catalogue. I glanced at it, but he didn’t lead me to it, he just stood in the glorious half light and drew me back to him, back to his mouth, his hands. He started on my shirt, pulling my tie away, unfastening the buttons one by one while he kissed me, easing his hand inside to touch my chest. I couldn’t reciprocate, I just drowned in the sensations, until he peeled the shirt off my shoulders and eeled round to stand behind me, running his mouth along my shoulders, and his hands over my chest and then lower, back where they had been before, exploring and stroking, and suddenly I clamped both my hands on his, and gasped “No!”

And again, he stopped at once, and questioned “No?”

“It’s too much. For God’s sake, it’s four years since anybody else touched me. I’ll just. . . go off pop like a teenager.”

I heard a snort of amusement. “How hugely flattering, when I won’t see forty again. Do let me. Please. Pleeeeeeease. . .”

He began to ease me towards the bed, and undressed me slowly, and coaxed me down, and touched me again, and this time I couldn’t resist him and didn’t try, just thrust into his palm and cried out with the intensity of it, and let go. He held me until the shuddering stopped, and kissed my eyelids and my throat, and found tissues and tidied up solemnly, and kissed me some more.

I lay in his arms, naked and still trembling, and then recovered myself a little and thought to be embarrassed. “God, Jack, what must you think of me? I whine my problems at you and then I. . .”

“And then you come to my bed. I thought you never would.”

I was amazed. “You wanted me to?”

“Of course. Why do you think I moved from your list to Dr. Patel’s? I knew I couldn’t tempt you here if you were my GP. And don’t think I didn’t pay for it, either – my insurance medical came up last month and I had to see her about it. I’m sure she’s an excellent doctor, but I really didn’t like having her do my prostate check.”

I giggled. “Want me to give you a second opinion?”

He growled at me. “Damn right I do, but not yet. I’ve got other things I want to do first.”

I started to undress him, peeling the T shirt over his head and running my hands over the muscled chest and back. He caught my hands and stopped me as I reached for his belt. “Matt,” he whispered in my ear, “will you let me spank you?”

I froze. “What for?”

“Does it have to be ‘for’ something? What about because I want to? Do you want me to?”

Oh God, I did. But with Stephen it was always ‘for’ something. I reared up to look at him. He turned, switched on a bedside lamp, eased from the bed to close the curtains, came back and took my face between his hands. “I want to spank you. Will you let me?”

I nodded, closing my eyes, unable to think for the closeness of him, the power of his proximity. I would have let him do anything. I just gave up. It was unexpected – I had been so controlled for so long, and suddenly I simply let go, let him take over, felt myself relaxed, boneless, dizzy, and with my head empty of everything except the desire to let him take over. He sat down on the edge of the bed, and reached for me, and I came to him, and let him position me across his lap. I could feel the hard muscle of his thighs and the delicate touch of his hands. I trembled in anticipation.

He started gently, slowly, steady light blows that stung but didn’t really hurt. I could take this easily, I thought, relieved. I had been afraid that after all this time my body would have forgotten. But he went on, regular smacks placed evenly around my bottom and thighs, and I began to shift uncomfortably. That was the sign he had been waiting for, and he steadied me with his left hand, and began to work more sharply, concentrating on one place for a minute until I thought that I would cry out, and then, just when I thought that one more spank would draw a sound from me, moving to another place. His left hand slid, unpredictably, over my back, my neck, my hair, and I found myself trying to anticipate two different touches, one gentle and one painful. A dozen sharp slaps on my sit spot and I gasped, whimpered, and reached convulsively for an armful of bedding to pull to my face. I wouldn’t be able to keep quiet for much longer.

He slowed and the smacks eased again, slower, lighter, and I felt his weight shift as he leaned to his left and worked the fabric away from my face. “Did he expect you to be silent?”

I nodded, eyes shut, jaw set. “I don’t. I don’t want you to be silent. I want to hear you.”

The habits of a love affair aren’t broken as easily as that. I couldn’t cry out, I couldn’t remember how, but I relaxed again and the slaps speeded up and I heard myself begin to make faint sounds, little ‘ahs’, hardly more than a gasp with a note in it.

“Do you know how beautiful you look like this? I’ve dreamed about having you here, over my knee, with your bottom red and wriggling as I spanked you.”

That threw me. That was wholly outside my experience. Stephen had always spanked me as a punishment, and a red bottom was a badge of shame. Now someone was telling me that it was desirable, and I wasn’t sure that I could believe him. His hand stopped, and caressed, and I really did wriggle. My skin was burning and my bottom felt swollen, and every touch was magnified. I felt him lean again, and he pulled open a drawer beside the bed, but I couldn’t see what he was doing, and suddenly I heard a loud crack and felt a blistering pain, and did cry out, with shock and hurt, and he repeated it and I bucked and twisted against his restraining hand.

“It’s a paddle, a leather paddle. Keep still.”

Why should it be easier to bear just because I knew what it was? But his words steadied me, and the paddle fell again, and I squealed. It hurt much more than his palm had done, much more, and I cried out again and again as it descended on my flaming and welted behind. I sobbed helplessly, and bucked, and squirmed, and all my shifting only served to present different places to be punished, and my skin grew hotter and hotter and my head filled with white fire as my bottom was consumed by scarlet flame. Stephen had never beaten me like this; I had never felt this degree of intimacy over his knee. He had shamed me and hurt me by way of chastisement, although never this hard, but I could feel Jack love me. He stopped, and I heard the light thump of the paddle hitting the bed. His hands returned to their slow dance over my body, one between my shaking shoulders and a much gentler one over my agonised bottom.

“I want to use my belt. Can you do that?”

Absolutely not, it was completely out of the question, but my head was nodding. I was blind with pain and tears, but I was agreeing. He lifted me to the floor, gathered me into his arms, kissed my face, tongued away the tears, whispered foolish endearments, stroked my back. “Are you sure?” I nodded again, quivering with fear. Why was I agreeing? He led me round to the end of the bed, snatched up a pillow and dropped it on the footboard, bending me over it. It was just the right height to present me for him, and I ran my hands blindly down the frame, among the curlicues and follies of the decoration, finding a bar to grip.

“I made the bed for you, I just didn’t know it. It’s been waiting for you for years.”

Every sound was magnified. My harsh breathing; the whisper of him sliding his belt free of his waist; the unmistakeable squeak of leather being doubled; the hiss of it in the air; the CRACK against my bottom; my howl. He ran delicate fingers across my cheeks, and I straightened my legs and pushed my bottom up to him. “Beautiful,” he said, hoarsely, and I felt him kiss where the strap had landed. CRACK again, and another wail from me, and another kiss. He drew his tongue along the acid line of pain and I whimpered. CRACK and yell. Caress. Stroke. Kiss. CRACK and this time almost a whisper of hurt, and he bent over me, kissing my spine. “Two more.” CRACK, and I had no breath to cry, but he didn’t touch me, just CRACK again and I yelled, my voice breaking on the sound, and he raised me and enveloped me in his embrace, the belt sliding unheeded between us to the floor. I was sobbing, my voice raw, and he coaxed me back to the bed, lay down, pulled me on top of him and I clung to his body, drowning in sensation, too afraid to let go, but he had me safely and I need not fear. When I could feel anything other than my own body, I could feel the heat of his, and under my thigh he was hard and pulsing, and I pushed a hand down between us and he gasped.

I raised myself, very slowly and carefully, and worked myself down his body to unfasten his jeans, and he arched to help me, and then I pulled his clothing free of him and he rolled to hold me again, turning to get his head against my thigh and to take me in his mouth. I couldn’t lie on my back, and he slipped an arm under my waist and hip to raise my sore flesh from the touch of the bed, and did something wonderful with his tongue, and I cried out, and leaned closer to do the same to him, and felt the heat of him, and the desire, and knew myself loved and not despised for weakness but admired for strength.

I felt him surrender to me as completely as I had surrendered to him, the spasms of his body as complete a capitulation as the squirming of mine, and suddenly I knew where the power lay in this relationship (for it was a long term relationship, I couldn’t doubt it; he had indeed made the bed for me, all unknowing). He was Top, but I was Master.

Idris the Dragon

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© , 2005