The excellent food tasted like cardboard in Jan’s mouth. A one-man kind of woman. He remembered those first emails they had shared. Before they had both decided, there could be no future for them. It had been a point of contention for them. She wanted monogamy, while he favored poly, though not her reverse harem.
All those years ago, back in his innocence, he had, like many men, thought polygamy, a couple of women, would be ideal. The years, of course, had shown him how hard it was to find a single woman you connected with. Let alone form any type of deep poly relationship where everyone gave and received something in exchange. But what surprised him was how desperately he still wanted to be this woman’s one man.
“Yes, I can empathize with you there, dearie. It may make for a hot fantasy or even a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but two men at once is one too many for this old girl. At least long term.”
Jan found himself stifling a giggle at Maggie’s bluntness. He had always liked the woman. When he saw her name on the manifest, it had almost seemed like Fate was aiding his course.
“But the BDSM? Is that something you have a bit more experience with, dearie?”
He held his breath; he knew that Heather had never been one to hid her kinks. She was out of the closet. She made no apologies, gave few explanations, and defended her lifestyle to no one. Should it matter so much to him what she replied? ‘Oh, yes, that’s how I met Jan. On a kinky chat board,’ was not exactly something that would be career-enhancing. Then again, did he care anymore? And why did that idea of her admitting their ties appeal so damned much to him?
And why was his mind stuck on another time this woman had sat at the Captain’s table? They had finished their scene early. He had suggested that she join him for lunch before he took her back to shore to catch her train. She was dressed, except for her panties. He had kept those. He still had them, in fact.
He had escorted her proudly to his table before a room of almost fifty somewhat rough seamen. They had sat there, eating and laughing, Heather without her underwear and wearing his rope burns around her neck and wrists. Never in his whole life had he felt prouder, more a man or a Dom.
She laughed, and it was like pouring oil on rough waters, “Oh, yes, most definitely. For a few years between my second husband and Geoffrey, I explored most of that scene. Some of it I would not recommend to anyone. Others felt right at the time. I am certainly not ashamed of or regret anything I have done. But it was not until I met Geoffrey that I understood any of it.”
“He taught me that it is not so much what you do but with whom. That love and trust are the only things that matter in a Dom/sub relationship. Hell, many of the people in the lifestyle would have considered us vanillas. We certainly did not rely upon whips and chains as I once had with others. But Dom and sub underlaid everything we were and did in our life. It was who we were, not what we did. I’m not sure I can even explain.”
Jan’s jealousy grew at the way she glowed when she spoke of the man. He had lived with that jealousy for twelve long years, but it was some vague thing, some unknown Dom, that had stolen her from him. But her words and that glow brought home just how real it was. As she said, perhaps more real than anything they had shared, as intense as that had been for him. But now was not the time to process those emotions.
“Yes, but weren’t you worried about what people would think?” interrupted a man across the table. Jan tried to remember his name. “I’m sorry I was eavesdropping. David McAllister, Dr. David McAllister. And I must say I am fascinated with the subject. Do you realize that the DSM-V still lists such deviations as a disorder?”
Heather sat taller in her chair. Jan smiled and waited, and she did not disappoint. “Yes, Dr. McAllister, I am well aware of the DSM-V, not only for its inaccuracy in terms of what it calls deviant behavior, but its complete bollocks regarding autism.”
She did not even pause for a breath before continuing, “Not only am I proud to call myself a submissive, I am also honored to be the mother of a multiply-neurodivergent young woman. If I had listened to half the bullshit that you and your colleagues had to say on autism, she would not be the confident, independent, and caring human being she is today. Might I also point out that your illustrious DSM once listed homosexuality as a mental health condition?”
The man had the dignity to blush, “I’m sorry if I sounded judgmental. I did not mean to be. It is more curiosity, actually. It is, as you must be aware of, something that most people do not discuss around the dinner table.”
She interrupted him, “And maybe they should. One thing about being the parent of an autistic person, and actually autistic myself, is that you see society and its rules differently. Notice, I did not say, polite society. In my experience, it is anything but. Whether you are sexually ‘deviant’ or autistic.”
“I am truly sorry I am botching this terribly. What I am trying to say is that I would love to hear more. About your experiences with both. Autism and this BDSM stuff. As for my colleagues, yes, we do not always get things perfect, but no science does. Perhaps I might point out that accepted science once ostracized Gallo for believing the Earth was round.”
She laughed, “Yes, that is undoubtedly true, but I would hardly consider that good defense. It sounds much more like an argument for the prosecution if you ask me. I am always happy to share my experiences. The good goddess knows there are enough of those and my opinions on the internet. I will be glad to share the links to those blogs with you.
“As I said, being autistic myself, I don’t tolerate fools well. If, after reading the blogs, you have specific questions you would like to ask me, then I am happy to discuss them with you. But my life is not some cadaver for dissection in the name of pseudoscience. My degrees may not be in psychology, but in my humble opinion, if people practiced more understanding and acceptance, there would be no need for your profession. Whether that is submission and Domination, autism, or even something like schizophrenia.”
“Oh, now, I must read your writings. You have me imminently intrigued,” the man smiled at her, and Jan felt that demon of jealousy raise its nasty head even higher. Now it was not merely some dead, perfect Dom and husband that he was competing against, but this educated if annoyingly arrogant doctor.
One of the obstacles that had always eaten at the back of his mind with this woman was his lack of education. Yes, he might be the Captain of a ship. But he had gotten there by hard work, not learning and privilege. He had left school at sixteen and found his first job and love on the sea. Almost forty years later, not even those accomplishments made him feel worthy of a woman like this.
He had always secretly feared that she would grow tired of him. Once the sex and play were over, what would they find to talk about? She was a writer. She had more than one degree. How could he ever hope to hold her attention outside of the bedroom? Her marriage to the successful and educated millionaire only reinforced that.
Of course, his demotion to gigolo on this floating love boat after failing the piloting test, which would have meant certain promotion to a larger ship, did not help. It had not been that he did not know the material. It was just that reading and writing did not come easy for him. Even in his native Swedish, he had struggled with such things, which was one reason he had left school so young.
He might have a bit of talent with languages, speaking four fluently and getting by with half a dozen more. But reading and writing in any of those were almost impossible. This was why no matter how hard he studied or how well he knew the material, he had never been successful with an exam written in English. What did someone like him who barely could read at all belong with a writer?
Heather’s patience was wearing thin. This was why she rarely interacted with others since Geoffrey’s death. She had heard the lecture from her own imminently qualified psychologist daughter. She allowed her grief to fester too long. She bordered on agoraphobia. She should get out more and mix with people. But people sucked. They got on her nerves.
After spending most of her life trying to be a good girl, obeying all of society’s rules, and masking her own autistic tendencies, the birth of Maisie had begun her road to self-discovery. As the parent of an autistic child, she had started to realize just how little all those rules made sense, especially how they were not for the good of the individual but others’ convenience. Eventually, she had seen herself in Maisie.
She had decided, though, not to undergo the daunting and completely subjective gauntlet of diagnosis. She knew that this man, as well as Megan, would never understand that. Or accept that autistic was an identity, in some ways, just like Dom or sub. It was just the way that you were born, how your brain was wired. And not a disease or a disorder.
But she was wasting her time, her words, and what precious energy she had trying to explain that to this man. She turned to Maggie once more, “It has been so wonderful meeting you. Perhaps we will see one another again this week, but I really should be getting back to my cabin.” She laid her crisp white napkin on the table.
Maggie reached across and squeezed her hand once more. “Please, dearie, stay for dessert and a dance. It won’t be much longer, and oh, the chocolate. Chocolate makes everything better.”
Heather chuckled, “Not everything. Onions. Pickles. There are a few things that chocolate does not make taste better.”
That tightness was back in her throat as she remembered the laughter that had filled their home as she, Geoffrey, and Maisie had come up with a long list of things that did not go with chocolate.
“Fish,” she muttered, thinking of Geoffrey’s addition that had them all laughing so hard their sides hurt.
“Yes, but Paulo is not going to serve those. The dark chocolate mousse with raspberry coulis is my favorite. But if you don’t like dark chocolate, he makes a divine Crème Brule.”
Heather did have to admit both of those sounded lovely. She was not much for dessert or ‘afters’ as the British called it, but both of those were among her favorites. Not that food held the same appeal for her as it once had.
“Stay for dessert and the first dance with me. Then I will walk you back.”
She should definitely run now. The thought of being held in this man’s arms once more was both comforting and frightening. But the idea of being alone with him, of saying all the things they had left unsaid for a dozen years, was petrifying.
But perhaps she owed him that. In some ways, maybe she owed him everything. If he had not been there for her. If he had not reset her sub brain, would she have had the courage to reactivate that profile on the dating website? She would have never met Geoffrey and never known true love.
Parallel universes. Alternate realities. The topic was one of the never-ending debates in their home. She, Geoffrey, and Maisie discussed its validity over and over and over again. She liked to think that rather than Geoffrey being in some heaven somewhere or quietly slipping into nothingness as he had believed, she wanted to think that somewhere there was a universe where they were still living their happily ever after. Where they got that thirty-five years, he had promised her.
But that was not this universe. She had to accept that, and what? Move on? She had listened to that argument from Megan often enough over the past months. Her older daughter frequently pointed out that Geoffrey had done just that. After his first wife’s death, he had sought and found a new love in her.
She wanted to disinter hope, believe that life could go on. But that seemed as unrealistic as disinterring Geoffrey’s body. So she had instead climbed into the grave with him, but hers was a living death of grief.
Hers was a different story. Geoffrey and Tess had been happy for a quarter of a century, twice as long as she had gotten with him. She had learned not to be jealous of a dead woman early in their relationship, not to compare herself with his first wife. That he could love them both the same and different, just as she did her daughters.
But the past few months, that had been harder. As irrational as it was, she felt that Tess and Geoffrey were out there somewhere, reunited, while she was left to muddle through life alone once more.
She had to stop this. She was spiraling down the drain once more. Her sub brain was taking her places that she did not want to go, at the worst possible time.
She felt pressure on her hand. She looked up into Maggie’s kind eyes. Hers were grey. It was always the eyes. The old adage about the ‘windows to the soul’ thing perhaps was true. She found comfort in the woman’s gaze as she squeezed her hand, “Please stay, dearie. It will be alright, I promise you.”
She found herself nodding without really thinking about it.
“Good,” she smiled as Jan nodded.
“If you will all excuse me for a moment, I will be back in a moment.”
Everyone at the table nodded as he stood. He was still an impressive-looking man. She had thought at first that he had cut his long hair for this new, higher-profile promotion, but when he turned to leave, she noticed the ponytail tucked into the collar of his white starched uniformed jacket. She was glad to see that he had not sold out for a job. Not that it should matter to her, of course.
“You have to tell me the whole story, dearie? The chemistry between you and Captain Jan is literally scrooching. I have never seen the man actually taken with anyone, ever. And trust me, I have watched loads of women try. If I were twenty years younger, I might have been tempted myself.”
It was on the tip of Heather’s tongue to tell her the truth – that it would have been futile. That Jan was closed off. That no woman could really reach him. But did it matter? Let Maggie keep her fantasy of the dashing sea captain. It was a common enough trope in her genre.
But Heather knew the truth. Bad boys don’t change for a woman. Real women learn to look for good men instead. And those sparks that fill the pages of millions of romance novels, that’s not love. Not real love. Real love is loading the dishwasher. Real love is morning breath. Real love is when you can fart with a person. But no one wants to buy those books.
Too many women spent lifetimes looking for that chemistry this woman was talking about. But chemistry is not enough to build your life on. No, that takes commitment. Something that Jan and boys like him knew nothing about and would do anything to avoid.