The coffee dripped into the glass carafe. Kay leaned against the counter of the kitchenette and watched each drop, inhaling the scent deeply. Everything would be better after coffee.
Not that the morning was going poorly. She was standing in a beautiful hotel room, and Henry, the man who had done wonderful and unspeakable things to her the night before, was a few feet away, naked, under the spray of an overly elaborate shower.
Still, a question hung in her mind, and she needed an answer. A question that arose a few weeks before, on their fourth date.
Could they call them dates? They met up to fuck and to play out their fantasies. They met up to fulfill the contract they had negotiated together.
In the middle of their scene, she had called him sir. She had forgotten that it was a title he had specifically told her not to call him. It was a slip of the tongue. She was lost in the moment.
He was hitting her across the ass with a thick leather belt, and stopped mid-stroke to look her right in the eye. “Don’t call me that. If you call me that again, we are going to have to stop.”
In the moment, she had let it go. There was something in the seriousness of his face that told her any questions would lead to ending their scene and maybe more.
Yet the question lingered.
As she sipped her coffee and watched his towel off and slip into boxer shorts and one of his seemingly endless supply of fresh white t-shirts, she bit her lip, trying to keep the question in.
It only took her a moment to fail.
“Why can’t I call you sir?”
He walked up to her, kissed her on the cheek, poured himself some coffee.
“Good morning,” he said with a smile.
Henry took a deep breath, deciding whether it was more fun to continue teasing her, or easier to answer the question.
“I’ve never liked sir. I hate it, actually. When I first started going to clubs, I saw all these men in leather vests with macho stances who were capital S, ‘Sir’ this, and ‘Sir’ that. It just rubbed me the wrong way. It seemed like an unearned and arbitrary title.”
Kay smiled. She knew the type.
“And there was all that nonsense with capitalization,” he shook his head.
“As if their egos were more important than grammar.”
She liked when he got mad. She let him go on.
“When I played, I preferred my name. I preferred Mister Cole. It was amusing actually because a lot of the women and the men I played with just automatically called me sir, and I had fun correcting them,” he looked at the window as he remembered.
“One day, I met a woman. There was something about her that intrigued me right away. We didn’t even really talk. We just sort of went off into a corner together and started to play.”
Kay looked down. The jealousy was something vague and far away, but still real. The curiosity was far more powerful.
“What was her name?”
“Cora,” he said with a wry smile. “The first time I wrapped my fingers around her hair and told her to get on her knees, she squeaked out a “Yes, sir,” and it was so perfect on her lips I knew I couldn’t play with her the way I’d played with the others.”
Kay watched his face, the curve of his mouth in a pensive frown, the reflection in the window of his unfocused eyes. She felt a pang in her chest.
The silence was heavy in the air.
“Do you still see her? Cora?” she asked.
“That’s complicated, but yes, sometimes, when she is in town.”
She stood and went to him, crawling onto the couch, just to be close to him. She hid her face in his perfect white shirt.
“Can I tell you anything?” she asked, feeling little next to him.
Henry seemed unsure, or maybe she only thought he was. He nodded.
“I’m sad I can’t call you sir,” she said and sniffled.
He hugged her tightly.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered into her hair.
She looked up at him, her eyes wide.
“No, no. Please, you don’t have to be sorry. I don’t want you to be sorry. I just wanted to tell you. I just wanted to say it out loud so I could start getting over it.”
He shifted and took her face in his hands. He looked into her eyes, deep in her eyes. He started to speak and then stopped. Then started again, only to pause.
She bit her lip and waited. She was so attracted to him at that moment. She wanted him in a profound way, sexually and intellectually and romantically all at once. The desire frightened her. They weren’t supposed to like each other that much.
“I don’t want you to get over it,” he whispered.
One tear slipped down her cheek and onto his thumb.
“I want you to want to call me sir.”
His eyes shone. The desire to be cruel swelled inside of him, though it was breaking his heart. He remembered what their relationship was. He remembered how they had promised not to hold back with each other.
“I want you to want to call me sir and know that you never can.”
And with that, she broke. The tears came hot and fast down her cheeks.
“Is that okay for me to ask?” he whispered, as if he were breaking the fourth wall.
It felt good to cry, she realized. It felt good to cry about something she wanted, not something sad or horrible. She was crying because he had said something specifically to make her cry. But he was asking permission for this new cruelty, and she had decided to give it.
She only nodded.
He smiled. He smiled that dark smile. Like the smile she saw when she winced at the swing of his belt or his cane.
“I like that,” he whispered.
“Should we talk about all of the other things you’ll never do?” he said with a kinder smile.
“No. You’re an asshole,” she sobbed, but there was a smile on her face too.
He lifted up her chin and kissed her. They sighed again, together. The bond between them seemed different, stronger.
“I’m going to remember you called me an asshole,” he whispered into her ear.
“Well, I have to call you something, since I can’t call you sir,” she said, the little girl lilt returning to her voice.
His hand fit around her throat neatly.
“Careful, Kay. Careful.”