Not for those under 18 (or whatever the legal age for this sort of stuff is in your area). If you’re not that old, Boo! Go away now. If you are offended by graphic descriptions of sexual activities, especially non-consensual ones, then don’t read this. All characters and situations are fictional.
Sandra sighed, brushing a loose hair out of her face. The muted sounds of conversations at the other tables drifted past her, mixed with the clink and chatter of cutlery on plates. What was taking him so long? It had been a pleasant meal, made more so by her not having any part in its preparation or the cleaning afterwards. Despite that she couldn’t help irritation gnawing at the happy feelings. How long did it take to pay? Her husband should be back by now. She made herself look at the paintings on the walls of the restaurant, cheap imitations and not to her taste anyway, but anything to suppress her impatience. It didn’t work. Thoughts of the next day’s work drifted through her mind, taking advantage of the lack of anything else holding her attention. Half-hearted fights for dominance between plans and priorities were fought out across her awareness, wafts of ideas forming and disappearing, vague curiosity surfaced, what new disasters might land on her desk, who would argue with whom in the next day’s meetings. She flexed her fingers, fighting off the urge to check her phone, see if any work emails demanded attention. She made herself resist. Work time was work time; private time wasn’t, at least not tonight. She could worry about anything else tomorrow. Her husband still hadn’t returned. She rested her chin on her hand and sighed again, deeper this time, realising that she would simply have to wait.
The sound of a chair being pulled back brought Sandra out of her reverie. Finally she thought. “What?” chin rising from hand the exclamation escaped Sandra’s lips before she could control the surprise. She’d expected to see her husband sitting opposite her. Instead it was a man that she didn’t know. She guessed that he was in his early thirties, perhaps ten years younger than she was.
“I’m sorry, that’s my,” She’d meant to say “my husband’s seat”, but the words didn’t come. The man’s smile cut her off, the words dying on her lips. It was an easy smile, all charm and intimacy, the smile itself a secret shared. He was well dressed. Sandra knew clothes, had some skill at making them, just a hobby, but it helped when making her own purchases. How to tell a well-made dress from one that would fall apart in months. What material wouldn’t attract dust and cat hair, would fall just the right way to make the best of a body on the wrong side of forty. The suit the man wore had to be expensive. It matched his figure in the way that a good suit should. The tailoring subtle, lines and curves meshing around him in a way no off-the-shelf garment could. Not promising what wasn’t there, not drawing too much attention, but hinting at the lithe body underneath.
“Did you drop this?” he asked, his hand stretching out toward her. An odd question. Not what she had expected. Even if Sandra had dropped something, he didn’t need to take her husband’s seat to return it. She blinked, looked at the proffered hand. It held, ..., something? The restaurant wasn’t well lit, in the way such places aspire to the romantic, but there was enough light, dim overheads and the candles on the table, for flickers and flashes to reflect in Sandra’s direction. What was it? A coin? A gem? She frowned, peering at it. She still couldn’t be sure. Whatever it was she didn’t think it was hers.
“No, I, I”. Sandra stopped, shook her head. “No, it’s not mine.” She waited. The man withdrew his hand, pocketed whatever it had held. Sandra assumed that he would leave. Not that she minded the encounter. The man was attractive, she admitted, feeling a little guilty at the thought. She was having dinner with her husband, after all. Well, had just finished dinner, but even so. The man’s features were fine, even, just enough strength in the jaw, enough fire in his eyes, to more than hint at passion, attractive, very attractive, but not over-bearing. It was a face that promised to smile often. A face that you wanted to look at, a face that said it wanted to look at you, not at itself in a mirror. Cheekbones sharp, a face that Sandra could imagine just as easily laughing as demanding acquiescence at the board room tables hinted at by the suit. Her gaze drifted, unbidden, to the man’s eyes. They were blue, dark blue, sapphire shaded with ebony, darker than she had ever seen before. Not black, not quite. Definitely blue. There were depths to those eyes. Secrets there. Like the still water of a mountain lake. Sandra swallowed. She really shouldn’t be looking quite that closely at another man, she told herself. Not tonight, not anytime, but especially not tonight. The man’s steady gaze, that easy smile still there, began to make her feel uncomfortable. Why was he still here? She’d answered his question. There was nothing more between them.
“Umm, that’s my husband’s seat. He’ll be back soon.” Sandra thought that was a polite enough way to ask the man to leave.
“Your husband?” The man’s brows furrowed, the smile gone. He looked genuinely perplexed. “Yes, we were having dinner together. He just went to pay.” Sandra waved vaguely in the direction of the counter. Although for some reason she couldn’t bring herself to turn away from the man.
“Are you sure? He seems to be taking an awfully long time.” A smile was again at the man’s lips, this time speaking more of amusement. Lips just full enough to promise firm, gentle, kisses. The smile faded from his lips but continued to twinkle in his eyes, amusement half-concealed.
“Of course I’m sure,” Sandra snapped, irritation getting the better of her. Why would the man even question that? She indicated the dishes in front of them both. “See? Dinner.”
The man looked at the empty plates between them. As if evaluating the meal he hadn’t shared. “Well, you certainly ate. Two people did, judging from the remains before us. And there are two people sitting here. Perhaps it was you and I that had dinner?”
That was ridiculous. Sandra could clearly remember having dinner with her husb... She stopped. The memories wouldn’t come. That was definitely ridiculous. She’d just eaten. As the man said, the evidence was in front of her. She’d had dinner with, ..., someone. She was sure that it was with her husband. But if that was right, why couldn’t she remember who had sat opposite her? She stared into the candle at the centre of the table, trying to remember. Had she drunk more than she thought she had? She normally didn’t drink much at all. It was her husband who drank. He was a good man, but just sometimes he over-indulged. Became a bit too merry. That wasn’t her. But maybe tonight she had. Even if her memory was playing tricks on her, she was sure that she’d shared the meal with her husband.
“Yes,” she said, through teeth edging towards being gritted, “Now I think it best you leave before he comes back.”
“Before who comes back?” the man asked, innocently.
“My husband,” Sandra looked straight at the man opposite her, hoping a determined look would help persuade him to leave.
“Your husband’s not here.” The man replied, his tone reassuring. Sandra wasn’t sure why she needed reassurance, but it was comforting just the same. Though their gazes were still looked she could feel her determination fraying.
“Yes,” Sandra forced out, not understanding why it was so difficult to say it, “he is.”
“Is he? You’re here. I’m here. I don’t see him.”
“We had dinner. He just went to pay.” Why did she feel as if she was trying to persuade herself as much as the man?
The man raised his palms, shrugged, a gesture of half-resignation, and half-amusement. “Sandra, Sandra,” How did he know her name? “You have to stop worrying so much. No-one here knows us. Your husband isn’t here. He won’t find out.”
Find out? Find out what? Sandra knew that something should worry her, she was worried, concern gnawing at the edges of her thoughts. But she couldn’t remember what it was that she should be worried about.
“That we’ve had dinner, of course.” Was the man reading her thoughts? Or was her worry etched plainly on her face? Sandra supposed that it might be. Why shouldn’t she worry about her husband finding out that she’d had dinner with another man? Wait. No, that wasn’t right. She’d had dinner with her husband. Hadn’t she?
“No.” Sandra shook her head, the movement as feeble as the sound of her voice.
“Sandra,” Her name again. “You have to forget these silly concerns. This time is for us. We had dinner. Quite a good one too, although next time you have to let me treat you to a slightly better establishment.” Next time? For there to be next time there had to be a previous time. And that meant that they had had dinner together. Had they? Sandra knew that she’d had dinner with someone. That was obvious, the empty plates bearing mute testimony. She could remember the food, she felt no hunger. She had eaten. But who had it been with? And why would it be with anyone other than her husband?
“I know this is still new to you.” At some point, Sandra didn’t know when, the man had reached over, taken her hand. He was gently caressing it now, sending shivers through her body. She knew what anyone watching them would think. “Let me guide you.”
That made sense. Sandra felt lost, sinking in confusion. She needed help. Wait, no. Why did she think that made sense? She didn’t need to be led, like some silly little girl. She was a successful woman, with a career, a family, a husband. Her husband, was, ..., where? Shouldn’t he be here? None of it made any sense, who was this man? How could she have had dinner with him if she didn’t know who he was?
“Who, who are you?” she whispered.
“Ah Sandra,” he murmured, between laying gentle kisses on her palm, “I shouldn’t have let you have so many glasses of wine. I did warn you didn’t I?” Was that right? Sandra felt muddled, cloyed. As if she had drunk too much. So perhaps she had. She remembered now. He had warned her to stop. That she might regret it if she didn’t. But she hadn’t listened, wanted to indulge herself. Tonight of all nights was the time for indulgence. Was the man saying something else? She really should pay attention.
“I’m sorry Richard.” Of course his name was Richard. How could she have thought that she had forgotten? She really must have had too much to drink.
“Did you enjoy the meal?” Sandra didn’t want to answer. Richard had stopped kissing her hand. Returned to those slow, gentle caresses. The sensations rippled out from her hand, washing over her. She was happy to sit there, savouring the moment. Struggling with herself, despite the desire to sink in the sensuous feelings coursing through her, she thought that she had better answer.
“Um, yes, it was very nice.”
“I think nice is understating it, don’t you?”
Sandra paused. She really just wanted Richard to keep caressing her hand. Just occasionally his fingers wandered a little further, to the inside of her wrist, making her breath catch in tiny gasps. He was making love to her, through her hand, promising what he could do other, more private, parts of her body. Why all these questions? He was right though. “Nice” didn’t do it justice.
“Yes, it was very good, delicious.”
“I agree,” Richard smiled, “I’m glad to have shared it with you.” Wait, no. That wasn’t right. She hadn’t shared it with Richard, had she? Hadn’t she shared it with somebody else? Her husband? Maybe. But that didn’t make any sense. It was Richard talking to her now. Richard sitting across from her. Richard gently caressing her hand, like a lover. Lover? And hadn’t they been talking for a while now? Sandra could clearly remember that, even if she couldn’t remember everything that they had said. If there had been someone else, wouldn’t they be here? It must have been Richard with whom she had shared the meal.
“Yes, so am I,” Sandra smiled back at Richard, shyly.
“Now, we really should be going.” Richard rose gracefully from his seat, still holding Sandra’s hand. “Wait,” Sandra protested, “Wasn’t someone? Paying?” Memories burnt within her, low and slow, dying embers. She was sure that someone had gone to pay. But who? Her husband? She was sure she remembered her husband going to pay. But that didn’t make any sense. She couldn’t have eaten with both her husband and Richard. There were only two sets of plates. And Richard was here now. Had she and her husband been here some other time? Was she confusing the memories of the two nights?
Sandra hoped that she was mistaken. She didn’t want somebody recognising her. Realising that she’d been here with two different men.
“You still worry about being seen with me, don’t you?” Richard shook his head, a hint of resignation. Why shouldn’t she worry? She was married. Wasn’t she? She was with someone. There was definitely someone else. Anyone looking at her and Richard would realise that there was something between them. He had his arm around her now, and the way he’d been caressing her hand earlier. You didn’t act that way with just a friend. Richard couldn’t be just a friend. That was the way you acted with a lover. But if Richard was her lover, shouldn’t she remember that? It didn’t make any sense.
“Are we?” Sandra began, then stopped, unsure of what to ask.
“Lovers?” Richard asked back, that smile appearing again.
Sandra relaxed, a little. Of course they were lovers, what else could they be? They’d had a romantic dinner together. Richard had caressed her hand, kissed her hand, made love to her hand. Anyone watching them would have no doubt, the way he held her now, protectively, leaving no room for questions. Still, worry gnawed at her. Why shouldn’t she be worried? What had she done to deserve a lover like this? He was younger than her, more attractive than her. Maybe if she was ten, twenty, years younger, then it would be different. She knew that people called her attractive. But at best she was now an attractive forty-something. If she looked as she did twenty years ago maybe then she could imagine holding on to Richard. But now? It couldn’t last. It was a dream. Impossible. Maybe that was why she felt as if she was in a dream, her thoughts moving through a fog. All she could do was enjoy whatever time she had with him.
Not that losing Richard was Sandra’s only worry. Wasn’t there someone that she didn’t want to find out about her and Richard? A husband? Sandra was sure that she had a husband. Well, maybe a boyfriend. No, she was old enough to have a husband. She felt something on her left hand. She looked down, saw a ring. She frowned, certain that the ring meant something. She couldn’t remember what. It didn’t matter. She was certain that there was somebody that she didn’t want finding out about her and Richard. Just as well he wasn’t here, whoever he was. If only she could remember his name.
“Yes,” Sandra said, realising that she hadn’t answered Richard’s question. “Yes, we are.” She smiled at him, drinking in his features. She really was so lucky to have a lover like him, young and handsome.
“Of course we are,” Richard replied, “And now it’s time to go.”
“Wait,” Sandra frowned, “Pay?, paying?” What was the matter with her? Something tugged at her mind. Something about someone paying for the meal. Had Richard paid? She couldn’t remember.
“Don’t worry, it’s all taken care of,” Richard reassured her as he led her out of the restaurant. Sandra glanced in the direction of the counter. Certainly no-one was trying to stop them leaving. She saw a man there, about her age, deep in conversation with a young, pretty, brunette waitress. She was sure that it was the waitress that had served them. For a moment Sandra thought that she recognised the man, but she couldn’t put a name to his face. She watched as the waitress leant over to the man, a finger running along his neck. The girl’s body was arched, chest thrust forward, obviously offering herself to the man’s view.
“I think someone’s going to get lucky tonight,” Richard breathed in her ear, “Don’t you?”
Sparks ran along her nerves. Sandra wasn’t sure if Richard meant the girl or the man or himself. She simply nodded.
“Neither of them is as lucky as me,” Richard added. Warmth flowed through Sandra in response.
Outside a limousine was waiting. The driver, a man, perhaps in his fifties, gave a single nod in response to Richard’s direction of “Take us home please.”
Sandra wasn’t sure where the limousine was taking them. Her head wasn’t clear enough to concentrate on their route. The lights outside formed patterns that she couldn’t understand, the movement of the car making them swing and blur, large gaudy fireflies leaving trails in the night. Had she drunk that much? It wouldn’t have mattered. Richard’s attentions held hers. Nothing too outrageous. Was he worried about the driver observing them in the rear view mirror? Perhaps. But his kisses, his touches, though nothing that couldn’t be seen in public, kept her distracted. Maddeningly so. Every touch set a spark in her nerves. A gentle kiss behind her ear, a firm hand sliding over her hip, a soft brush that almost, but not quite, reached her breasts. The sparks fed a fire burning low within her. Sandra squirmed in her seat, leaning into him, trying to feel him along the entire length of her body.
They kissed. Richard’s firm lips met hers, Sandra’s yielding and wanting. She lost herself in the feel of his mouth, one of his hands running through her hair at the back of head, pressing their lips together.
Then he was leading her out of the limousine, one hand held in his, gravel crunching beneath her shoes, heels making her unsteady. She could see a house rising before her. It was large, a mansion, the outside lights casting an intricate web of shadows across its windows and porches. She heard the car gently pull away from behind them.
The double door, large, dark-wooded, opened before they reached it, barely making a sound. Richard led her inside, one hand still firmly, gently, holding hers. Sandra could see artworks on the walls, expensive furniture. A woman, young, attractive, wearing a maid’s uniform was standing by the door. Had she opened it? The servant curtseyed, her short skirt billowing out, and then she rose and walked away, four inch heels gently clicking across the floor.
“Do you like?” Richard asked, as he indicated the entrance hall with a wave of his hand.
How could she not? The room opened before her, sweeping stairs leading up, the balustrade dark, polished, wood, a match to the door. There were furnishings, beautiful, refined, exactly the right amount to fill the space without being cluttered. Objects, expensive and rare, were displayed on some of the tables. Sandra could imagine some Hollywood beauty of decades past coming down the stairs, slowly, gracefully, gown trailing behind her, elegant as the room in front of her.
Richard led Sandra upstairs, every question silenced with a kiss. She wasn’t sure whether she was trying to ask different questions or the same one every time. Her thoughts were shards of glittering crystal, sent sparkling and tumbling by each brush of his lips.
He led her past paintings and antique vases, past doors that she didn’t have the presence of mind to count. Their journey ended in a bedroom, Richard’s hands guiding her towards the bed, large, silk-sheeted. Sandra realised that they must have passed through one of the doors but she couldn’t remember it. Something caught in her throat. She knew what was going to happen, what they were going to do in that bed. Part of her, most of her, was eager, expectant. Her body was alive, pressing itself against him. Part of her, a small part, was reluctant, resisting. It was urging caution, urging her to stop. Saying that she didn’t want to do this. That she wasn’t the sort of person who would do this. That this house, this room, with its delicate furnishing, embroidered cushions on a chair under the window and expensive bed clothes turned down by someone else’s hand, wasn’t her, wasn’t the place where she made love. That Richard wasn’t the man that she went to bed with.
“I,” she started, “I don’t.”
Richard smiled at her, his face inches away. She had to look up at him. Even with her two inch heels there was still at least five inches difference in height between them, perhaps more.
“I think you do,” he said. Then he leant in to kiss her throat. Sandra was sure that her heart was there, fluttering just under the skin. She could feel her body arch as his lips pressed against her, her movement lifting her neck towards him, offering it.
Sandra thought that perhaps she should pay attention to her doubts. They claimed to be important, necessary. But they slipped and slithered and vanished. Richard was holding her, pressing her to him, his kisses now on her lips, and her doubts had nowhere to go, nowhere to hide, as his hands caressed her. The thoughts whispered across her mind and then were gone, no more important or lasting than the ripples on the surface of a lake.
As she returned Richard’s embrace Sandra realised that her dress was gone. Had she removed it? Had he? What did it matter? He was here and holding her and her body wanted him. It answered to his kisses and caresses and she was pressing herself against him, returning the kisses, her hands running over his strong body. It was both new and familiar. She must have done this before, been with Richard before. It seemed too natural for that not to be so. Yet she couldn’t remember any other time. Every touch, every moment felt new and precious. She never wanted this to end. Other thoughts intruded. Something was telling her to stop. That she should what to stop this. That she wasn’t the sort of woman who would lose herself so easily in an affair. Every sensation that her body felt was trying to tell her that she was. Every kiss, measured down the length of her body, every touch, said that she was. Her arousal, her abandon, said that she was. Something said no. Voices, whispering in her mind, thoughts and feelings struggling to be noticed. Something telling her that the feel of the silk sheets beneath her wasn’t what she wanted. That it shouldn’t be Richard’s body melding with her’s.
Sandra tried to hold onto those thoughts. Or at least some part of Sandra, that wanted to think that it was all of Sandra, tried to hold on to them. With every moment the voices grew quieter. Every touch, every kiss, every thrust, pushed them further away. Parts of her mind seemed to vanish or reshape. She was changing and the feeling frightened her.
“No,” she forced, almost breathless.
“Sandra?” Richard asked, “Is everything all right?”
He’d paused, but Sandra could still feel him. How could she not. He was long and hard and deep within her.
“This, this isn’t, I shouldn’t.”
Richard propped himself on one arm, not withdrawing. With the other hand he stroked her hair “Shh,” he whispered, “you know it is.” Then he kissed her, on the forehead, on both cheeks and on the mouth. With each kiss a worry disappeared, popping like soap bubbles on a sunny day. Parts of her mind vanished with them, or changed into something else. She thought that she should worry about that. But she couldn’t. The part that would worry had been the first to go, drawing down into a little point, then disappearing from her awareness when he kissed her forehead.
Sandra felt free. Free to give herself to him. Inhibitions gone, doubts gone she gave into her feelings, let her arousal take her where he wanted to go. Electric fire ran through her, leaving every part of her body tingling. Orgasms came, beyond her ability to count, until she wasn’t sure when one ended and the next began. Finally, spent, she slept.
To be Concluded
Fading tendrils of daylight were creeping in through her window when Sandra awoke. The sun had some way to go before it reached the horizon, but she realised that she must have slept through most of the day. She thought that that should bother her. Hadn’t there been somewhere she was supposed to be? Work? Yes, she should have been at work. Intellectually she knew that, but there was no care, no guilt. She realised that she was naked. That was no surprise, not after last night, with Richard. Richard? Where was he? Had he left her alone? Her stomach dropped, feelings of panic edging at her. Then she calmed. Richard was here. He was looking out the window at the dying sun.
He turned to her, smiled. She wanted to melt into that smile, as she had melted into his smile and so many other things the night before. He wasn’t in a suit today, he was dressed more casually, but still elegant, still refined, his clothes dark to match the oncoming night. He must have risen before her. Given the time he may have risen hours before her. She wasn’t surprised that she had slept so long, she felt exhausted, lethargic.
“Good afternoon sleepy head,” he walked towards her, his smile broadening.
Sandra sat, pulling the silk sheet with her, some instinct of modesty compelling her.
“Hello,” she replied, not sure what else to add.
He bent down, kissed her gently on the lips. “If you’d like, I have some things to show you.”
Sandra nodded. She wanted to be with him. Perhaps in bed would be better, but any excuse would do. She didn’t care what he had in mind. She looked around for her clothes. She couldn’t remember much about their disrobing, but she imagined that her clothes had to be in the room somewhere. She couldn’t see them.
“Ah,” Richard said, “the servants are efficient. Perhaps this,” he indicated a silken bath robe, white, hanging over the back of a chair near the bed. “I’ll turn around.” An unnecessary consideration, given what they had shared, but she appreciated it nonetheless.
As he turned back to face the window Sandra quickly rose and slipped into the robe. The touch of the material on her skin was like a kiss, soft and hinting of caresses. She frowned as she tied the cord. The robe could be said to come to mid-thigh, if she felt generous, shorter than anything that she would normally wear. Perhaps once her legs would have been good enough for this, but not now. Still, only Richard would see her and it was not as if her legs held any secrets from him.
“I like this time of day, the edge between one thing and another,” Richard said, “What about you?” She walked across the room to stand beside him, her footsteps silent in the soft carpet. She gently placed her hands on one of his arms, leant her cheek into his shoulder. Sandra considered herself a morning person, but something about the shadows of the dying day appealed to her. Perhaps it was that, with Richard here, anything would appeal to her.
As she watched the shadows creep across the lawn of the mansion Sandra was vaguely aware that Richard was talking to her. She thought that she should pay attention. She wanted to pay attention to him. But she knew, even though she couldn’t remember hearing it, that he had said that her awareness could drift. She was happy just to listen to the sound of his voice.
Sandra shook herself. The shadows were longer than she remembered, outside it was almost evening. She wasn’t sure how long she’d spent standing there listening to him. She turned to look at Richard and realised that he had a phone in his hand. Sandra recognised it as hers. He was selecting a number from her contacts, making a call. He handed Sandra the phone. When the call was answered she spoke words into the phone, words that Richard had given her to say. The relief in the voice at the other end of the call was replaced by disbelief and anger as she spoke. Sandra thought that she recognised the voice, but she wasn’t sure. The emotions of whoever it was that had answered the phone meant nothing to her. After she finished speaking the words that she had been given she ended the call and gave the phone back to Richard. She saw him switch it off before putting it down.
“Now,” he said, “let’s go.”
Richard led her through the house, one of her hands held in his. For the most part they were silent, stealing through the building like thieves, or children daring to go where their elders had forbidden them. Sandra knew that wasn’t true, that it was just a game. A game to be enjoyed, savoured, in the way of any time that she could spend with Richard. Sometimes he whispered to her, explaining the origin of a piece of art, or the purpose of a room. Or telling her how much more beautiful she was than any of it. Sandra liked that. Even though she didn’t believe him it was nice to hear him say it. At other times he simply kissed her, and that was best of all.
Inside the library he let go of her hand.
“What books do you like to read?” he asked.
Sandra hesitated. The toes of one bare foot traced a circle in the carpet. The books here looked old, valuable. She couldn’t imagine her own reading, a mix of paperbacks and professional journals, finding a place here. She didn’t want to look shallow in front of him.
Richard smiled, beckoned her over to where he stood in front of one of the bookcases, its height reaching far above him. “Perhaps you might like these.” He said, indicating a row of leather bound volumes. Sandra did, at least, recognise some of the titles. Gold and copper script on the leather spines. Nineteenth century novels. The books looked old, despite their good condition, they couldn’t be modern reprints. “Are they?” she asked.
“Early editions,” Richard replied, then shrugged, “Not all firsts, but what collection is ever complete?”
“Are you a collector?” she asked.
“Yes, of books and other things,” He smiled, mystery glinting in his dark eyes. “You can read these, if you like. What’s the point of a book that you can’t read?”
He led her elsewhere and as the door opened to another room she heard a soft chorus of mechanical ticking. The walls of the room where lined with clocks, their ornate casings glittering in the artificial light. A servant was lightly dusting them. Occasionally she made a slight adjustment to the time one showed. The antique clocks contrasting oddly with the electronic tablet she consulted before making each change, modern technology out of place in the room.
Sandra shrank into Richard. Embarrassment tugged at her. She didn’t want the servant to see her. Barefoot, clad only in a robe, what would the girl think? Sandra realised that she hadn’t fixed her hair or anything when she rose. What must she look like? And dressed like this, hanging onto Richard like this, the girl would have to know what they’d been doing, why Sandra was here. She felt wanton, used-up, wrong. The girl was young, much younger than Sandra. Mid-twenties at most she guessed, the girl’s youth still blooming. In comparison Sandra felt as old and leathery as the books in the library.
Sandra made herself look at the girl. She refused to behave like some wilting ingénue. She was far too old for that. The girl only held her look for a moment before dropping her gaze. What had Sandra seen there? Envy? A hint of resignation? Was she imagining it? Was the girl jealous of her time with Richard? Did the maid harbour her own fantasies about her employer? She was attractive enough, young, thin, black hair streaked with dark blue. An odd affectation in a servant. Yet it was not entirely out of place with the uniform the girl wore. Black, with a hint of white lace, short skirted, stockinged legs, four inch heels. The top tight and low cut, the same uniform as the girl who had opened the door for them the night before. Not quite a fetish French maid, but it was less than practical. Sandra could imagine Richard dallying with his servants. Should she be jealous of that? Perhaps she should, but the feelings wouldn’t come.
“Thank you Leigh, you can finish this later,” Richard’s tone was kind, but the dismissal was clear. The girl curtseyed fluidly, again like the girl who had opened the front door, and left them alone. “I like them to be accurate.” Sandra wasn’t sure whether he meant the clocks or the servants. Probably both, she decided.
Sandra looked at the clocks, admiring the workmanship of their casings, their faces. Then she frowned. They all showed different times. Well, some showed the same time as others, but there were so many times displayed and few, if any, showed a time that seemed correct.
“But they don’t seem right.” She pointed out, frowning.
Richard laughed, unsuppressed amusement. “They don’t show the time here. Each of them shows the time in the place they were made. I don’t need this many clocks all telling me the same thing.”
Now she understood. Each clock was linked to its past, to the place where it was made. And each had its use, showing the time there. She could see the labels, identifying the place of their creation. Not only beautiful but still functional.
“To be honest,” Richard said, “nobody needs this many clocks. I simply like them.” Richard took her hand again and led her back into the hall. He kissed her, deeply, in front of another door. Then stepped back and pulled out a key.
“I think this one will interest you more.”
Sandra wondered what it was. The books had intrigued her. The clocks were at least decorative. What collection would he show her now?
Richard stepped out of her way, smiling. Sandra looked into the room. In rows of cases elegant jewellery looked back. Rings, necklaces, brooches, earrings. Gold and silver. Rubies, diamonds, emeralds. All that and more, Aladdin’s cave, a pirate’s treasure. Her head hurt wondering at the wealth spread out in front of her. She was afraid to enter the room.
Richard showed no such fear. It was, she thought, his home after all. He stopped in front of one of the cases, beckoned her over.
“I think these would suit your colouring. I’d love to see you wearing them someday.” Sandra tiptoed over, irrational fears telling her that any less careful movement might break something or set off an alarm. Looking into the case she saw a pair of earrings and a pendant, all silver and set with sapphires. He was right. The colour would match her eyes, suit her blonde hair.
“I couldn’t,” she breathed.
“You will,” he replied. “It’s made to be worn. I won’t have it just lie here. And what better place for beautiful jewellery than on a beautiful woman?”
Richard shrugged. “Is honesty flattery?”
Sandra had no answer for that. Instead she bent to look more closely at the jewellery. “How old is it?” she asked. Something told her that the jewellery wasn’t new.
“19th century. I don’t collect reproductions.”
“How many collections do you have?”
His brow creased, slightly. “I don’t know, I don’t like to count them.” Then he smiled. “Don’t worry, there’s only one more I want to show you tonight. Another time I’ll show you more, perhaps my cars. There’s no room to keep them here. We’ll take a drive somewhere. You can choose which car.”
“Is that your favourite?” Sandra could imagine what cars he would own, could see Richard racing along in. Expensive, rare, limousines and sports cars. Bugatti, Ferrari, Porsche. European names tripped across her mind. This had to be a dream. Her beautiful lover offering to dress her in exquisite jewels and put her in expensive cars? It didn’t seem right. Yet it was a nice dream, comforting. She didn’t want to wake up just yet. And perhaps after the next collection she could interest him in something else. She put her arms about him, hands meeting across his far hip. Sandra drew him in, reached up for a kiss.
She wasn’t disappointed.
As they separated he said, “No, the cars aren’t my favourite.”
Then Richard led her out of the room and down. Whatever this last collection was, it was housed below ground level. Wine, perhaps? That would need a cellar. Down one corridor they passed Sandra could see racks of wine bottles. But he didn’t lead her that way.
Another door, this one opened by a keypad. Sandra could hear the faint hum of air-conditioning. As the lights came on, automatically, row on row receding away from them, Sandra wondered how large this room was. She could see display cases, much larger than those that had held the jewellery upstairs. Most of them were empty. But inside some, those nearest the door, were figures, life size. At first she thought that this must be a collection of clothing, the room’s environment controlled to preserve the material. But she wasn’t sure. The clothes that the figures wore weren’t special enough. And they were an odd mix, crisp business wear, casual clothes, mostly modern, nothing that seemed to match Richard’s other collections. Her attention switched to the figurines wearing the clothes. She gasped. They looked so life-like. Each one was the image of a beautiful woman, young, all somewhere between late teens and early twenties.
“This isn’t about the clothes is it?” she asked as she touched one of the cases, her fingers inches from the figure within. She marvelled at the exquisite detail of the work. Each hair, the texture of the lips, the skin, all modelled to be indistinguishable from reality.
“No, it isn’t,” Richard answered.
“Are they wax? I’ve seen pictures of models like these but I don’t know what they’re made of.” Sandra couldn’t take her eyes off the figure within. She looked at the girl’s chest. It seemed that any moment it could start to rise and fall with breath. It was so life-like.
“No, they’re not wax. I told you that I don’t collect reproductions.”
Of course he didn’t, Sandra told herself. The jewellery, the books, the clocks. All original. So these would be as well. Original.
Sandra’s breathing stopped. Her chest as still as the image within the case. It, it couldn’t be true. She spun to face him, backed herself up against the case. She swallowed; she had to force the words to come “They’re real?” Fear crawled across her skin. Her dreams turning into nightmares, serpents crawling inside her skull.
“Yes, what else would they be?” Richard smiled at her. Part of her still wanted to lose herself in that smile. Another part started to dread what that meant.
“They’re, they’re dead?” Sandra’s mind was splintering, sluggish. A core, reptilian, felt fear, was trying to energise the rest of her. Fight or flight. She couldn’t decide. She couldn’t react. What was she doing here? Her mind reeled, rejecting the reality of what she’d just been told. The floor threatened to rush up to meet her. Or was it just her balance deserting her, physical as well as mental stability vanishing? Richard shook his head. “Of course not.” He sounded disappointed. Sandra was caught in the unreality. He was so calm. Was he that insane? She looked left and right, desperately trying to decide what to do as he walked towards her. The only door that she could see was the one by which they had entered. And he was between her and it. She doubted her ability to get around him; the door may as well have been a million miles away. She wanted to run, dive past him, make a bid for freedom. What sort of monster was he? How had she become so entrapped? Part of her couldn’t believe it, still wanted to trust him, to hold him. Memories wheeled and spun. When had they met? Didn’t she love him? The past was a kaleidoscope, shining fragments, an ever-changing pattern that never made sense.
“Sandra,” Richard’s voice cut through her confusion, “look at me.” She didn’t want to look at him, couldn’t look at him. She fought her head as it lifted and turned towards him. None of her muscles would obey her. She wanted to scream. She...
As her eyes met his a semblance of calm returned. Sandra could sense the emotions roiling below the surface of her mind. She wanted to surface them. Needed to embrace them. But she couldn’t, there was a wall between them and her conscious mind. She could sense that it was thin. That with just enough effort she could reach through it, embrace those emotions, use them to fuel her desperation, perhaps regain control of her body. She couldn’t do it. She knew that it was important. That she should do it. That she was in danger. But a detached, intellectual, knowledge of it wasn’t enough. Richard’s eyes held her and she calmed. Or, at least, most of her did. In her mind a distant wailing continued, a storm heard through thick walls.
She could think, had enough control to form words. “It’s horrible.” It was, she knew that it was. Or it should be. She wished that her feelings weren’t so muted, that she could feel one way or another. She was caught in a dream, drifting.
“Is it?” He asked.
Well, of course it was, she told herself. Only half-convincingly, and she wondered why. “Y, yes. I mean, trapped, trapped in there, forever.”
“Who said they were trapped forever?”
“But, but, they’re in there and they’re not moving and,” Sandra could feel panic rising in her, feel the wall between her conscious mind and her emotions weakening. She welcomed it, they were so close. She knew that she needed to make that connection. That without it she wouldn’t even try to avoid the trap closing around her. She almost touched the emotions, but her grasp fumbled and they fled away.
“What did I say about the books?” Richard was close to her. Close enough to reach out. But he didn’t. He held her only with her eyes. What had he said about the books?
She had to answer. She didn’t want to, but she had to, “Wha, what’s the point of a book you can’t read?”
Richard smiled. It melted parts of her. Parts that wanted to say no. Parts that wanted to run.
“Yes. They’re not left in there forever. I take them out from time to time. I’m rarely alone.”
Sandra could feel the cold floor beneath her bare feet. Would one of these women feel the chill, when they came out, when Richard let them out? She told herself that it was a silly thought. They had shoes. They wouldn’t feel the floor. Then wondered why she was fixating on something so trivial. Was this what hysteria felt like, when you couldn’t quite grasp your own emotions? When nothing made sense? Did you focus on the trivial when the important was too large, too horrible, to understand? Thoughts whirled in her head. How long were they kept like this? How often were they free? How could they be free at all? Did they agree to this? That was impossible, wasn’t it?
“Why don’t you look at them?” Richard stepped back, giving her room. She didn’t even think of fleeing.
Sandra didn’t want to look. She knew what Richard would do with the women when he took them out. It would have nothing to do with reading. Jealousy flared in her. She wanted Richard to herself. She didn’t want to share. She almost choked on her own thoughts, trying to tell herself that she shouldn’t want him at all. That this was wrong. Yet she couldn’t forget the feel of his hands, the memories of the night before, the kisses they had shared. The thoughts whirled within her, so strong she could almost feel his touch again. Despite everything she still wanted him. Part of her hated herself for that.
Her eyes drifted to the trapped women. Sandra wasn’t sure whether it was her choice or not. She couldn’t deny a fascination. The occupied cases held perhaps twenty figures in all, mostly one or two figures to a case. In one case was a group of four women, all in extravagant black clothes, lace edged, tight corsets and fishnet stockings. Two in long skirts, two in short, all their jewellery in silver. Sandra didn’t need to see the makeup on their faces for the word ‘goth’ to leap to her mind. She’d known a few in her time. Only two had the usual died-black hair. The other two were blondes, one a shade much like hers, the other far lighter. On either side of that group were two cases each with a single figure, in one a tall, long-legged, redhead, in the other a slim dark-haired woman, both wore expensive office suits, the skirts tight about their legs. In another case two girls, a blonde and a redhead, were in school uniform, both wearing crisp white blouses, school ties and short skirts, though the uniforms were obviously those of different schools. A blonde in a tight black dress, short and revealing, had a case to herself. Sandra thought that she couldn’t be much over five feet tall. Close by, a dark haired woman, hardly taller than the blonde, was dressed in a renaissance gown, a rich dark blue with white inlays, the bodice tight, the tops of her breasts swelling. Another blonde, also in a case by herself, was dressed in jeans and a tee-shirt, and wore large glasses. She had the air of a student about her. Two women, a brunette and a blonde shared a case; Sandra thought that their clothes and hair were from the 1930’s. There were other cases behind those. Sandra couldn’t see the occupants clearly, she caught glimpses of casual wear, jeans and tee-shirts, outfits for nightclubbing, professional wear, blondes and brunettes and black-haired.
All the women were young, pretty. No, more than that. Beautiful. Exquisitely beautiful. She couldn’t stop herself imagining them with Richard. Jealousy spiked. She knew that any of them were a better match for him than she was. They were far younger, far more beautiful. Even at their age she couldn’t have competed. She may have been pretty, attractive, still was for her age, but these were far beyond anything she could ever have claimed.
She didn’t fit. She was too old, nowhere near beautiful enough. Why had he shown her this? Was he taunting her? She’d known all along that what they had couldn’t last. Would fade in the light of some harsh morning. That he would tire of someone as old, as worn, as her. He didn’t need to flaunt his younger lovers at her. Sandra felt sick, she could imagine Richard with any of these women. She knew that her revulsion should be at Richard keeping them trapped, but it was all at them having the place that she wanted, by his side, in his bed.
But at least, old and fraying as she was, she’d never be trapped like them.
Sandra tore her attention from the frozen women, turned to look at Richard, her hands still on the cold glass of one of the cases. She tried to use the sensation from her fingers to focus herself. “Why?” She wasn’t sure whether she was asking why the women were here or why he had made her see this. Probably it was both.
He didn’t answer either question. “You don’t have to be jealous.”
Why shouldn’t she be jealous? They were younger than her, prettier than her. How could she compare? Sandra didn’t say anything, but she doubted that her expression hid her feelings.
“Look at yourself.” What did he mean? She knew what she looked like, standing there in just the silk robe. She knew what anyone would think. But Sandra knew, as she reached the end of those thoughts, that that wasn’t what Richard meant. He was being literal. But there was no mirror here. She looked at him, questioningly.
He gestured over her shoulder, at the case she stood in front of. Sandra turned, looked back into it, changed her focus. She could see her reflection in the glass. She could see herself, in the silk robe, her hair was a mess, and...
Sandra blinked. Looked again. Without conscious thought her head inched closer to the glass. She peered at her reflection in the mirror. It couldn’t be right. The glass wasn’t a proper mirror. Was it wishful thinking? It wasn’t her reflection. It wasn’t her image that looked back. It couldn’t be. The face that looked back was young, perhaps twenty-two if she had to guess. But it wasn’t her face, not even her face when she was that age. It was close, someone might even mistake it for her, but it wasn’t her face. Perhaps if she’d had a prettier sister, or at twenty-two appeared how she might have wanted to, then she would have looked like this. But she never had. She glanced at Richard, looked back again. The image hadn’t changed. She stepped back from the case, the image following her movements as any reflection would. The hair in the image was mussed, as she’d expect. But it couldn’t be her. The reflection showed a beautiful woman, as breath-taking as any of the women in the cases. In some way it was still her, just recognisably her, but refined, perfected, her every vain fantasy and wish fulfilled. If she was dreaming she’d become the dream.
“How?” was the only question that she could voice.
“Sometimes I find a book in need of repair, a car in need of restoration and upgrading, jewellery that can be polished and enhanced. Something that can be made better than it ever was. The potential has to be there. Waiting, waiting to be unlocked. For these women, to restore the bloom of youth and refine what nature made.” Sandra could see him looking into the cases, longing etched on his face, mixed with tenderness. It was wrong, she knew it was wrong. But she couldn’t stop it affecting her.
Richard turned to look at her. “I hope you like what I’ve given you.”
Sandra stepped away from Richard, the emotions in his gaze too much for her. She looked at her hands, young again, her legs as they emerged from under the robe, smooth, perfectly shaped. She could feel her body underneath the robe. Young, slim, the jealousy she had seen in Leigh’s eyes now understandable. The servant had been pretty, breath-taking in her own way, but not comparable to what Sandra knew that she now was. She raised her hands to her cheeks, felt the smoothness of her skin.
“Last night. As we made love.”
“But, why didn’t I?” She trailed off. How hadn’t she noticed? She may have been besotted with Richard, but she should have realised.
“I stopped you noticing. I wanted to see you like this without, well, without you being self-conscious.” Sandra reeled. It may have explained how she didn’t notice the changes when she awoke. But if he could do this to her, and stop her realising, what else could he do?
“The others,” nervously she waved one hand at the cases, “did you do the same to them?” Richard nodded, “Oh yes. Don’t worry. You’re not the oldest here. That would be,” he paused, then pointed at the young blonde in the school girl’s uniform, “Leanne. She’s over 50. But we shouldn’t talk about a lady’s age, should we?” The girl in the case looked eighteen, if that. “Doesn’t every woman think there’s something about her that can be improved? I don’t know if I’ve freed them from that, but I hope I’ve come close.”
Thoughts, abandoned almost before they could form, careened around Sandra’s mind. What should she do? Say? How could she escape? How was this possible? How was any of this possible? Yet she had to believe the evidence of her eyes. Her hands rose in front of her eyes, almost of their own accord. She couldn’t stop staring at them. The skin was flawless. The fingers delicate. Her hands had always been fine, but she could see the difference, the improvement. Slowly she turned them over, then stared, absorbed by her own palms. If she could call them her own. She couldn’t deny that something amazing had happened to her. But the price? To live a life frozen, trapped behind glass? Even if she’d been made young again, what did it matter if she’d simply age in this room?
“I don’t want to live my life here.” Sandra said, not sure whether the comment was directed to herself or to Richard. Then she straightened, tore her eyes away from her hands and looked at Richard, “but you’re going to make me, aren’t you?” If he could do this, reshape her body, turn back the years, what couldn’t he do? She knew, much as she wanted to deny it, that she couldn’t fight him. Well, perhaps she could, but she couldn’t defeat him. She made herself look him in the eye, summoning what pride she could find. Richard met her gaze, but there was no harshness in his look. “I won’t make you, but you could join them.”
The image floated in Sandra’s mind. Her face, her new face, frozen, trapped behind the glass, with these women. Sometimes taken out, like a book taken down from the shelf. To spend more time with Richard. To have him make her feel what she’d felt last night. It was a dream, it was a nightmare. It was wrong, it was right and it was oh so tempting and repellent all mixed together and she couldn’t understand.
A voice, hers, screamed through Sandra’s head Oh my God, run. She had to get away. A part of Sandra’s mind was telling her to run, run as far and as fast as she could. She wasn’t bound, Richard wasn’t holding her. She could turn, and run. There had to be a door, a window that wasn’t locked, that she could open, get out of the mansion. Run, and keep running and put as much distance between her and this place, this man, as she could. There was a fear, a wailing, in her head. Sandra ignored it. She didn’t move. All that ran was that part of her mind. In an instant it had run so far away that Sandra thought that she would never see it again.
A temptation she knew that she should ignore was left in its place. If the reflection didn’t lie, then she was now young enough, beautiful enough, to compete with these women. To actually look as if she belonged with Richard. But she wouldn’t be with him, not behind the glass. And she still wanted to be with him, though the thought sickened her. “What’s the point?” Sandra spat, forcing all the roiling emotions she vaguely felt into her voice, “stuck in there, aging again? How much of my life would I actually live?”
Richard smiled, shook his head, “If I’ve made you young once don’t you think I could do it again?”
Sandra blinked, swayed. Had she heard him correctly? Understood? Did he mean, “How long...?” Richard cut her off, her questioned half formed. He reached out an arm to steady her. She glared at him, and then broke away.
“How long could I keep make you young again? It doesn’t matter. You’ll never be older than you are today.”
Sandra leant against the nearest case, unheeding of its occupant. She looked at Richard, standing there. He still appeared elegant and handsome but she knew now some of the secrets hidden in those dark eyes. He was looking at her; she thought she could detect concern on his features. What did he feel for her? Did he really care? She thought he did, she wanted to believe that he did. Were his eyes following her out of some emotion she could comprehend? Did his body move and react to hers? Did he care or was she just an object that he wanted to display? She wanted to believe that he cared, could almost persuade herself that he did. He had chosen her, that had to mean something. “Never? You mean I’ll always be this young? Until, I,”
“Until you die?” Richard interrupted her again, his voice quiet but firm, “You won’t. Die that is. Not if you stay with me.”
Sandra stared, speechless.
“Stay with me and never age. Be young and beautiful, until the end of earth. And beyond. Perhaps, in time, even the end of the universe can be avoided. We have the chance to see what the future will bring. Think of it Sandra. You probably resent having to share me with the other women here. But I’m offering you a life together far longer than you could have otherwise.”
Sandra looked at Richard but didn’t really seem him. Her eyes lost focus, looking into the distance, beyond the walls around them, into the future, stars spinning past her. She could be with him, even if he spent time with the others. So what if there were twenty, a hundred. He was offering her the lifetime of stars. Even just counting the time that she’d be out of the case she’d be with him for longer than any mortal relationship. Forever. Or as good as.
Something gnawed at her. One last little doubt. Hadn’t she once promised forever to someone else? Hadn’t there been someone else? Why couldn’t she remember? What was wrong with her?
“You, you’ve done something to me. My memories. There’s someone I should remember but I can’t. I should hate you for that, worry about it. Why can’t I? What have you done?” Sandra knew her voice should be rising in panic. Instead it was calm, all she felt was a vague curiosity at what had been done to her. She sensed gaps in her memory, suppressed emotions.
Richard shrugged, even looked a little guilty. “You’re right, of course. I’ve blocked off parts of your memory, parts of your emotions. Temporarily. So you can make an objective decision. Stay with me, young, forever. Or go back to what you were, the life you had. It’s your choice.”
“Go back?” Sandra asked, a half-whisper, “You mean?”
“Yes, back to the life you had, the age you were, to live and die in a scant few decades. Or stay with me, young forever, and see what all the future holds.”
How could she choose? She didn’t have all the facts, all the pieces. Richard had hidden important things from her, taken them away. The gaps in her mind yawned, vast and black. How was she supposed to decide? She guessed that there was someone else, lost in the chasms in her mind. It was probably someone that she loved. A husband? Perhaps. She knew that she was old enough to be married. Did they have children? She didn’t know. She should care, she knew that. But the shadow of an impression of a memory? What does that mean? How could she care about someone she didn’t even remember, let alone still feel anything for? Was their love still strong, or wearing out with the years? She knew how old she’d been, how worn she’d felt. She knew how that compared to now. She knew what she’d felt for Richard. But even that was suppressed. She remembered last night. She knew the emotions she’d felt for him. Even that was distant, out of reach. Lost beneath her resentment, the horror at what he’d done to these women, what he wanted to do to her, or him actually allowing her some space to decide? She didn’t know. Didn’t want to ask.
“How am I supposed to decide if I can’t remember the other choice?” She wanted to put venom in her voice, but she couldn’t summon any.
“You haven’t lived the life I’m offering. So you can only imagine both. Isn’t that fair?” Sandra made herself look directly at Richard. She thought she could see worry lurking in his dark eyes. Had there been a note of pleading in his voice? He wanted her to agree, but she needed to think he wanted her. Felt something more for her than he did for his books and clocks. She was certain he never looked at them as he looked at her now. Eyes fixed on her, a tautness to his features, an eagerness barely concealed, and, beyond that, desire. Even with that, could she believe that he was giving her a fair choice?
Yes. No. Sandra didn’t know, couldn’t even decide on that, let alone choose between them. Forever versus a few years? Why couldn’t she simply say yes? His logic seemed inescapable, like a dream. Or did she only want to think that? She grasped for objections.
“What if you stop wanting me?” She didn’t want to be left on the shelf forever, like a book no-one ever wants to read again. Eternity behind the glass held no temptation, however young she’d look.
Richard stepped back, obviously surprised by the question. “I doubt that will ever happen. But if it does, then you can go your own way, and always ageless.” He paused, the expression on his face open, tender.
It was tempting, so tempting. Sandra could remember the night before, what being with Richard was like, what he made her feel. He was offering her forever, literally forever. Against that were a few years with someone that she couldn’t remember. She knew that Richard had stacked the deck, leaving her nothing to make the other choice attractive. She should at least feel some responsibility. If she did have a husband, perhaps children, didn’t she owe them something? Could she just abandon them, cast them aside? She tried to imagine what her life must have been. Tried to imagine what filled the gaps in her memory. She could sense faint images, impressions formed by what would fill those gaps. She couldn’t keep hold of them, couldn’t feel anything for them. It seemed selfish, it was selfish, throwing away everything for just herself. Yet Richard was offering so much, and she didn’t know what everything she would be leaving behind was. Sandra knew that she liked to think of herself as a responsible person, someone who did what she should. Yet, here, that didn’t seem so important. Had she misjudged herself? Was she right to think she could choose the selfish course? Or had Richard done more than just suppress some memories and emotions? Had he changed something more fundamental in her? He’d made the rules of this game, perhaps he was making sure of the outcome as well. Sandra didn’t know. She didn’t want to know. If she couldn’t trust her own decisions then nothing mattered. Desperately she sought for anything that could help her make the decision, some flaw in what he was offering.
“Are they aware, in there?” Forever would be a long time if most of it was spent staring at the inside of a glass cage.
“In a way.”
Sandra frowned, “What do you mean?” This, at least, she had to know.
“I could leave them aware.” He paused, frowning, “That would be cruel. I don’t do that. Sometimes they sleep. Time passes quickly that way, even, they tell me, with dreams. But mostly I end our time together as we make love, just as they achieve orgasm.”
Sandra felt her eyes widen “And they, they?”
“Yes, half a dream, half cumming, as long as they are in there. They tell me it seems like both forever and no time at all.” Then he added, smiling, “They certainly don’t object.”
Sandra looked around the room. Were they all? Right now? As she watched them?
Richard seemed to guess her unspoken questions. It probably wasn’t hard. “Yes, they all are.”
All of them. Cumming. Cumming and cumming and cumming. As she looked at them. As they stood there, frozen. From the last time Richard had made love to each one. Those feelings would stay with them, pouring through them, until he released them again. And they were with him again. Sandra remembered her orgasms from the night before. Sensations she hadn’t dreamt of. He was offering her an eternity of that. She stumbled. The image pulled at her, beckoned, to be caught in those feelings forever. She flailed, looking for some objection, something. She knew that she had to try. Even if she couldn’t remember why.
“You can’t spend all your time with one of them. Even when they’re what? Awake?” Them. She had to say them. She’d almost said ‘us’. Sandra wasn’t ready to go there. Not yet. “What do they do?”
Richard paused, then nodded. “When they’re awake and not with me? Whatever they want. I’m a wealthy man. I can afford to be indulgent.”
Straws she couldn’t grasp seemed to be drifting through Sandra’s fingers. “Where, where would I be?” ‘If I said yes’ went unspoken, but it hung in the air between them. She had to know. If she was going to spend most of her time, here in this room, caught in an endless orgasm, then she had to know. She knew that she shouldn’t want this, but she did. She could have centuries with this man, be forever young, spend the times between lost in erotic bliss, and something that she might persuade herself was love. It wasn’t enough to make her say yes, not yet. But the price seemed almost payable. How could a few decades, aging and failing, with people she couldn’t remember, compare to that?
Richard offered her his hand. She stared at it. Wondered what it would mean if she took it. Would it be a concession? Of defeat? Was it defeat? Sandra shook her head, wrapped her arms around herself, felt them through the thin material of the robe that she wore. She hadn’t rejected his offer. She had to admit that. But she wasn’t ready to give in, not yet, no matter how much of her wanted to. No matter how much of her wanted to lose herself in this man. And she knew, that if she agreed, that she would be losing herself. Or at least the old Sandra. Maybe she was already gone, drifted off or melted away, lost in dreams. Sandra wasn’t sure how much she still had of who she’d been. But she knew that the woman who might stand behind this glass, lost in an erotic dream, wouldn’t be the person that she was yesterday. She didn’t know whether that was good or bad. She couldn’t decide. Didn’t even know what she needed to make that decision. She was still being pulled, the attraction Richard exerted drawing her like metal filings to a magnetic, helpless, shaped into a pattern dictated by nature. She should just accept it? Was it inevitable? The thoughts ran around, was she deciding, or simply following a course he had laid out? How would she know? It was dream logic, when you wanted to wake up but couldn’t.
Richard turned, walked between two of the cases. He looked back over his shoulder at her, waiting. Sandra took a deep breath and followed him. She hadn’t said yes yet, hadn’t decided. Still didn’t know how much freedom he’d left her to genuinely make her own decision. Did it matter? If he’d changed her into a woman that would say yes to what he offered, what could she do but say yes? Or was she just making excuses? The logic looped around her mind. How could she fight if she’d changed into someone who didn’t want to fight? How could she ever know whether it was really her decision or a decision she made because he’d changed her to make it? Unless he told her. But could she ever trust his answer? All she knew was that she had to see the place he had planned for her. She focussed on that.
Sandra caught up to Richard before one of the larger cases, with space for two people. He stepped aside to make room for her. The case was further back in the room, one that she hadn’t seen clearly yet. One figure already occupied it. Sandra gasped as she saw the woman. She knew her. Had known her for years. They were friends. Kirsten. Sandra had last seen her a few weeks back. Months after Kirsten had left her husband and child. Disappeared. No-one had known why. No-one had understood. And when Kirsten had reappeared, she had been so happy. They’d all said how refreshed she’d seemed, blooming. She’d looked so good, so happy, that no-one had the heart to blame her, despite how despondent her husband was. Sandra remembered thinking to herself, as they’d had coffee, how well Kirsten looked, how the years seemed to have fallen off her. And how Kirsten had brushed off any questions about where she had been Of course. Sandra looked, now, looked hard at her friend, looked so hard that her nose was pressed against the glass of Kirsten’s case. The mind often ignores what it doesn’t want to see, what it doesn’t want to understand. Sandra understood now. She hadn’t wanted to see just how changed Kirsten had been, hadn’t been able to comprehend it. So she’d ignored it, pretended it wasn’t the utter transformation that it was. But not now. Now she knew. They’d said how young Kirsten had looked, idle words, telling the truth in an attempt to ignore the truth. Now Sandra could admit what she tried to ignore those months ago. Twenty years had dropped from her friend. And, attractive as she’d been before, now she was gorgeous, a dream given form. Her dark hair cascaded over her shoulders. Sandra had seen Richard’s handiwork, all those months ago, but not wanted to admit that she was seeing something unbelievable.
If she said yes, Sandra would be spending the better part of eternity standing beside her friend. Was that better or worse? Knowing that there would be times she was out, as Kirsten must have had when they met. That there was someone else here that she knew, that she liked. Or was it worse, that they’d be trapped together? Sandra didn’t know. Her eyes, dragged from her friend, looked at the empty space beside Kirsten. Waiting for her. Where she’d be if she said yes. Standing next to her friend, both held in a perpetual orgasm. So close together yet unable to communicate.
Sandra grasped at a thought. What did it matter, being that close if neither could do anything? If only one of the women was free at a time, she’d never speak to her friend again. She didn’t want that. Was that enough? “I’ll never talk to her again.”
“Sorry?” Richard frowned.
“If I say yes to you, Kirsten, I’ll never talk to her again. It’ll be her or me or one of them,” she gestured wildly, indicating the other cases. We’ll both be here, but I won’t be free when she is. I’ll never really see her again, only like this.”
“Ah,’ Richard smiled, “did I say it would only be one of you at a time? It only seems fair that way, but if you want I’m happy to share. The two of you together? Why not? I’m sure the three of us would enjoy that.”
Had he misinterpreted what she’d meant? She only wanted to talk to her friend, have some time with her as the years rolled on. If she said yes, she made herself think, if. But Richard clearly meant something else. Something more. The two them, her and Kirsten, sharing his bed, together. She knew that men in their social circle had had such fantasies. Threesomes, or visions of her and Kirsten together. No-one had ever said anything to either of them, but she knew. She and Kirsten were the most attractive women in their circle of friends. They’d laughed about it, what they guessed and knew of the unvoiced fantasies others held about them, both trying to hide their revulsion. Neither was inclined that way. But now, now, she couldn’t tear her eyes off her friend. She could see how attractive, how beautiful, Kirsten had become. More than that Sandra could feel it. She could understand those fantasies now. Taste them, almost, almost, share them. Her gaze rested on her friend like hands, slowly caressing. Her hands rested on the glass of the case, inches from her friend, inches from touching, from ... . What was wrong with her? She’d never thought of another woman like that, never wanted to.
Angrily she turned her gaze back to Richard, her hands still on the case. “What are you doing to me?” She knew where those feelings were coming from.
“Offering some possibilities.” He leant in so close that she could feel his breath on her neck, his voice almost a whisper, “Really, is it that bad?”
His body was pressing against hers, hard and taut. It was arousing her. Her breath was coming in deep, urgent, gasps. He was moving against her, slow gentle, his hands caressing, running over her hips, promising to edge between them. She could see her friend before her, dressed for a day at work, so professional yet so enticing, the blouse outlining her figure, the skirt tight about her slim legs, heels throwing her calves into sharp relief. Images rolled through Sandra’s mind, the three of them, tangled together, not knowing where one ended and the other began. She could barely stand. She was pressed between Richard and the case. One word, one thought and she would be on the other side of the glass. It would be so easy to say yes, say yes and be swept along.
Sandra looked again at her friend, at lips that she’d known for years but never until now seen as oh so kissable. She thought back to that coffee they’d shared, just weeks ago. How could she not have seen how changed Kirsten was? What tricks did the mind play on itself, even without someone like Richard to mislead it? How had she not known something strange had happened? How had she not have seen? How young Kirsten was, how beautiful, how kissable, how fuckable.
Sandra turned, slowly slipped down the glass until she was sitting, hunched on the floor. She was lost, floating on a storm of half heard and half-felt emotions. Trapped in a bubble as they raged around her, knowing they were there but separated from them. She tried again to think about her husband. She couldn’t remember his name, couldn’t remember his face. Couldn’t remember what she felt for him. Tears ran down her face. What did she owe him? How could she know? If they had children, didn’t she owe them a mother? Yet, how could she walk away from what Richard offered, perverse and wrong as it was, for people she couldn’t remember, only guessed existed? She couldn’t deny how much she wanted him. How much she wanted to say yes to everything he offered. Even what he offered about Kirsten, much as she remembered her past revulsion. Even when they’d met, a few weeks ago, she’d felt nothing physical for her friend, even given how good she’d admitted her friend looked. They laughed and joked, as friends do, and even with how much Kirsten’s husband was hurting Sandra had had to admit how good the separation had seemed for her friend. Would that be her in a few weeks, looking young, joking with a friend whose mind would not let them accept how young she actually was? Probably. At least she had evidence that Richard did let the women out. But the cost. She’d seen how hurt Kirsten’s husband was. He’d been devastated. Even if Sandra couldn’t remember her own husband, could she do that to someone? Hurt them like that? No matter what was being offered to her. Didn’t she owe him something, and if she had children, didn’t she owe them a mother? Yet would they deny her the chance that she was being offered? A little voice, hers? Richards? was telling her that relationships don’t last, marriages fail, children leave their parents. That whatever few years were left there weren’t worth turning down Richard’s offer. But she didn’t know whether she could trust that voice. Didn’t even know whose it was. Even if it was hers, who was she? She didn’t think she was who she was yesterday. Didn’t know how much of who she was today was Richard’s creation, or just herself, with the ties to the world ripped away. Was it sensible to say Richard offered far more than her old life? Was it right? Or was she just making excuses?
Huddled on the floor Sandra felt alone and miserable. No choice seemed right. Or wrong.
“I don’t know what to do.” She didn’t know whether she was talking to herself or speaking to Richard.
“I’m not going to tell you what to do. If I wanted to do that I wouldn’t have even offered a choice.” He reached down, drew her unresisting to her feet. He held her there, gently. Sandra thought that she should try to break away, make at least a show of independence. She couldn’t do it.
“You’ve changed me. Anything I do, anything I think, I don’t know how much is me.”
Richard bent down, left a trail of kisses along her neck, “Does it matter? You are who you are. If that’s not who you were, who do you want to be?”
She could feel her arousal building. He wasn’t being fair, saying yes was far too easy. There, in his arms, all the memories of the night before came flooding back. She melted into his embrace, felt how well their bodies fitted together. She tried to think, tried to find something to put off the inevitable.
“What, what would I wear?” Would she be in there, just in this silk robe?
“I’ll show you later, if you say yes.” If, if. Did she really have a choice? Did she really want one? Wouldn’t it be easier if he would only make it for her? Had he already changed her so much that she would say yes, and this was all a charade? Or was this who she’d always been, if she was free? Would she ever be free? Did it matter? In his arms, his kisses upon her, what did anything else matter? What did it matter if she abandoned the family who were only a hole in her mind? If she said no, how did she know what the future would bring? Perhaps her marriage might fall apart. Or was that only more excuses? Yet she couldn’t escape a last piece of responsibility. A last piece of the old Sandra? Soon to vanish? Or something that would stay hers?
“I can’t just leave them. Dreams end. There’re always responsibilities in the morning.” Richard kissed her. “I knew there was something special about you. Wife and mother. None of the others protested so much.”
She did have children! At least one. She’d known it. Emotions rushed through Sandra. But she realised that they led nowhere, as they disappeared down that hole in her mind. Responsibility remained.
“If you ask me to I could make you say yes.” Richard offered.
Temptation pulled at her. Giving in, abandoning responsibility. It wouldn’t really be her decision then. She’d be pulled along. She’d lose herself in a dream and never wake up. And she knew, she knew then that she wanted to say yes. Lose herself in the eternity that Richard offered. If she wanted him to make her say yes, that was as good as saying it herself. She leant against his chest, looked off to the side, felt his arms about her. Her hands made fists beside her head as she grasped his shirt, balling the material. She looked up at Richard and said the only thing she could.
“Give them someone else. Give them someone better than me.”
“You still feel responsible, don’t you? You want to give them a wife, a mother. It doesn’t have to be you, though, does it?” Richard didn’t wait for her to answer. “How about the waitress? I think she has a kind heart.”
And Sandra knew, she knew. Richard hadn’t taken all the memories of her husband. Whether by oversight or design he’d left her one. Faint and adrift, like the memory of a dream. She hadn’t had dinner with Richard at all. That man she’d seen, as they’d left the restaurant, talking to the waitress, one of them seducing the other, that had been her husband. She still couldn’t remember his name, knew nothing about him, but she knew that it was him. And she knew that she felt nothing for him. Not now. It didn’t matter whether Richard had taken it away, it had died that moment or vanished long ago. Her emotions focussed on Richard and whether that was real or artificial Sandra didn’t care.
She pressed into him, leant her head back against his chest.
“Yes.” It was yes to what Richard offered, yes to the waitress taking her place in her family’s life, yes to everything.
He kissed her then, deep and long. The rest of the world dissolved, narrowed down so that her awareness focussed only on Richard and the sensations flowing through her body. He was kissing her, holding her, caressing her. She sensed movement, he was leading her, somewhere, but she didn’t know how far it was or how long it took to get there.
A bedroom, different to the one from last night. She knew what was coming.
There were clothes there, neatly laid out. Sandra could see lingerie, fine and delicate, white, silk and satin and lace, white silk stockings. A dress, short, white, with a flowing pattern in a blue that matched her eyes. It was beautifully made, would cling to her new figure in just the right way. Delicate high heeled sandals, white again. She knew what those clothes were for, where she’d be wearing them. It seemed right. She wanted it, to be displayed, to be something Richard wanted to display.
“Now?” she asked.
“Yes, your body needs to rest, to adjust, from the changes.”
And Sandra smiled, because rest seemed to be the last thing Richard was giving her body. And he was making love to her, and it was better than the night before and she came, and came again and again and she wondered if each one would be the last. She could feel the exhaustion in her body. She didn’t know if it was from their love-making or the changes Richard had wrought on her. It didn’t matter, she fought through it. Tried to match him, taking him as he was taking her. She no longer cared if the Sandra she was now was his creation or simply what she could always have been. She accepted it, wanted nothing more. She kissed him, hungrily, wanting him, wanting him to remember this time as he looked at her in the case. Wanting him to feel the desire that she felt. Wanting him to burn as she did for the next time and the next that they would be together. When he would choose her.
And then the world exploded into an orgasm that never seemed to end, but would, both all too soon and not soon enough.