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Chapter Five: I Hear The Roar Of The Smoke Machine
Warmth. Sleepy half-conscious warmth, that all-suffusing glow that seeps through the body and looses every knotted muscle. Sometimes it comes from a hot bath or an electric blanket. And sometimes it comes from sleeping in somebody’s arms, skin against skin, when the bodies fit together just right.
Half-asleep – no, nine-tenths asleep – I felt the changes as Anjali woke: the shift in muscle tone and breathing, the pause as she yawned and stretched. Then she placed her palm on my hip and slid down my body, to wake me the way I liked best, and I curled my fingers in her hair.
Afterwards, as we lay side by side in the afterglow, I felt Anjali chuckle.
“What’s so funny, cutie?”
“I was thinking about my first job. I was fourteen years old, working in my auntie’s grocery shop. She got so cross with me because I never could just do what I was told. I always had to know the reason. She told my mother I was disobedient, but I really wasn’t. I just had to ask questions. And now look at me, doing whatever you tell me to.”
I stroked her under the chin, kissed her. She tasted of me. “And why is that, my dear?”
“Mmm. Because I trust you. I can switch off and let you make the decisions. Do you know how nice it is just being able to let go for a few hours and not having to worry about choices?”
Aspies are creatures of habit, and over a few months we’d settled into a routine. Does that sound dull? It shouldn’t. Routine is comforting, sometimes too much so.
Friday or Saturday night I’d take Anjali out to dinner somewhere nice, usually one of the same two or three places that we both liked, and we’d chat about my work and her PhD project. Afterwards we’d head back to my place for an evening of transactional intimacy, and in the morning after breakfast I’d pay Anjali and kiss her goodbye, and we’d go back to our normal lives for another fortnight.
Her life had settled down somewhat. At long last she’d found a flat and moved out of her share place. I didn’t ask her about her finances, but I understood she was banking a sensible percentage of the income from our regular liaisons, and no doubt having a nest-egg contributed to her peace of mind.
Meanwhile, she was becoming more comfortable in her studies. I’d been slow to recognise it, but Anjali had been going through the same process I always have in a new job. We’re what you might call a long-term investment, tortoises in a world of hares. Throw us into something new and at first we plod along, learning slowly while the neurotypical folk outstrip us. But down the road, as their learning curves begin to taper off, we keep on absorbing more and more.
Anjali was now catching up with the hares. Month by month her confidence grew as she started to believe she might actually know what she was doing. She talked less and less about the frustrations of her studies, and more and more about the rewards. Sometimes at night we’d lie together in the dark as she talked to me about the dynamics of neutron stars, star-quakes ripping through mountains of crushed iron a few millimetres high, and about her ideas for how she might test her theories.
All in all, the two of us had settled into what seemed like a stable orbit, wandering planets who’d captured one another… until another little nudge set something new in motion.
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a goth. Until age fifteen I didn’t know there was a name for it, but I’ve always been fascinated by tombstones, black and silver and blood-red. In my bookshelves there are worlds full of magic and terror; heroines in love with vampires, and heroines who are vampires; Dream-lords alliterating with Delirium and Despair; creatures of forbidden sensation, with such sights to show you. My wardrobe is a sea of black with a few islands of colour, mostly business-wear and things other people gave me. And my music collection… well, you get the idea.
Anjali, who preferred her entertainments far more upbeat, found my tastes a little baffling. She did her best to understand, and I tried to explain, but truth is, I don’t really know where it comes from. Not from childhood trauma; if anything, I eased off a little when Cassie died, too distracted to keep up with my hobbies.
Perhaps it’s a way of facing one’s fears; you can’t very well be afraid of the monster under the bed if you are the monster under the bed. Perhaps the centres of the brain that deal with pleasure and sorrow are not so far apart, and the one can feed into the other? Perhaps it comes from the same place as my tendency to identify with the almost-human, that autistic feeling of being a visitor from some other world?
I have a dozen theories, all of them plausible, none guaranteed true. I don’t know, and I’ve come to peace with not knowing. Somewhere in my early thirties I finally realised that ‘I enjoy it and it’s not hurting anybody’ is all the justification I need for liking something.
But Anjali was insatiably kocaeli escort curious, so once again I was doing my best to convey to her the things that I didn’t really understand myself. I tried showing her Crimson Peak one night and she stuck it out for a bit, but after forty-five minutes it was getting too much for her; I could see she was uncomfortable, and I switched it off.
“I’m sorry, Sarah, I just don’t get it.” She paused. “Although, I will say, the costumes are beautiful.”
“Hell yes. Del Toro has fantastic visuals. Hey, you know, if you like those…”
As I fired up the laptop and started to search for images, I kicked myself for not thinking of it earlier. Anjali might not care for the music or the blood or the doomed romances, but the wardrobe was something she could appreciate. That evening, side by side on my sofa, we fell down a rabbit hole of High Gothic finery.
I would have been content to glance at each of the outfits, admire it, and move on to the next, but Anjali was no amateur. Whenever we saw something that caught her eye or mine, she’d stay there, staring at the photo until she’d figured out exactly how it was constructed. We spent three or four hours that way, immersed in lace and leather and satin and a lot of black lipstick, and then Anjali asked the obvious question.
“Do you dress up like that?”
“Oh, I used to. Haven’t done since I got back from Germany. I was busy with work, and I can’t stay up till two a.m. the way I used to, so I sort of drifted out of it. I was sort of thinking about it, though… the Sisters of Mercy are touring in a couple of months, and I’d like to see them. I don’t know if they’ll be any good, probably not, but I want to be able to say I’ve seen them.”
“Then you should go!”
“I know, just…” I scowled. “I hate going to social things when I don’t know anybody who’s going to be there. I never really met the Sydney goth crowd. I feel uncomfortable going to stuff like that on my own.”
Anjali stroked my hand. “There is an obvious solution to that, Sarah.”
“I thought it wasn’t your thing?”
“It’s not, but I don’t hate it either. If you want to make that one of our date nights…” She squeezed.
“You’re the best!”
She did get cold feet a couple of weeks later, though not for the reasons you might expect.
“I don’t have the right clothes for this.”
“Anjali, you’ll be fine. Just wear whatever, nobody will care. Look.” I pulled up some concert photos. “See, not everybody’s going high gothic. Lots of people just wearing jeans and T-shirts.” I zoomed in. “That one’s in a Bon Jovi shirt. Nobody minds.”
“Sarah, look at that photo again. What do you not see?”
I looked, but couldn’t figure it out. “I give. What?”
“Every single person in that photo is white.”
“Not every one,” I protested. “That guy there at the edge of the stage is Vietnamese… okay, I agree, it is mostly white.”
“Yes. Do you know what happens when I’m the only Desi in the room? People stare at me as if I’ve wandered into the wrong place by accident. I don’t like being stared at. If I’m going, then I want to look like somebody who belongs there.”
“Okay. Do I need to take you shopping? I’m sure we can find you something.”
Anjali shook her head. “I make my own, remember? But if you feel like subsidising my creative efforts, perhaps I might make a trip to my cousin’s shop for materials.”
Later that week she called me. “Sarah, I have a few ideas, but I need to know my budget for this.”
I knew what goth wardrobing cost (too much, way too much), but it had been a long time since I’d bought the raw materials. “What do you think you’ll need?”
“About five to seven metres, depending on how fancy I get, plus notions.” Which didn’t answer my question.
“Okay, um…” Seven metres… I tried to remember what I would have paid for fabrics back in the days when I still owned a sewing machine, then adjusted upwards to allow for inflation, and rounded up to allow for thread, fastenings, trim, buttons, and anything else that might be required. “Uh, will three hundred be enough?”
She just laughed. “Oh, Sarah! Much more than enough. Well, let me see go see what my cousin has.” A few days later she gave me the order number, and I rang her cousin and paid on my credit card.
For a little while I wondered what she had planned, but that question slipped off my radar a couple of days later when our partners in Schiphol sent us through an urgent request for a “small change” that meant two weeks of me working late. I barely noticed that Anjali was also uncharacteristically quiet and that her default status message had changed to “sewing”.
We met up at my place in the afternoon before the concert. Having caught the train over, Anjali showed up in mufti with a large garment bag slung over her shoulder. She looked a little surprised when I opened the door.
“Oh! You look nice, Sarah!”
“Thanks! I thought it was kocaeli escort bayan about time I wore some of this stuff.” After several hours vacillating about what to wear—ignoring my own ‘wear anything’ advice—I’d gone for a traditional gothic look: black corset over a lace-trimmed white blouse, snug but not tight; a knee-length skirt in midnight blue; and what I called my ‘doctor boots’. They were serious boots: thigh-high black leather, gleaming stainless-steel fittings, rakishly pointed toes.
“Later on I’ll get you to help lace me up.” I tapped at the corset, and then at the top of one boot. “I can do it on my own, but it’s much easier with help.”
“Of course. Sarah, where on earth did you get those boots?”
“Off a website. Filled in my measurements, chose what options I wanted, sent them my money. Bit of an indulgence, it was a reward to myself for completing my doctorate. But there was a delay, the guy who makes them got sick, and they didn’t show up until after I left for Germany. Then Edgar and I broke up and he packed up my stuff before I got back. They were in a packing box for a couple of years, so this’ll be the first time I’ve worn them out anywhere. They were a bit dusty though, I gave them a good clean.”
“Well, they’re lovely.”
The conversation drifted onto her work. Things were going smoothly for once, she’d just had a paper accepted for a conference coming up, something about a software model she’d written to simulate magnetic quakes in neutron stars. After a while, I changed the topic again.
“By the way, I think you’re missing something?”
“Am I?” She thought for a moment. “Oh!” She pulled the scarf out of her handbag and tied it around her throat. “Better?”
“Much.” I leant forwards and touched her under the chin, lifting my finger to tilt her face upwards, and suddenly the temperature in the room changed. “I do enjoy your visits, Miss Lily.”
“Me too.” Her voice was lower.
“Now, how about you help me with that lacing?”
Corsets get a bad rap. Yes, done badly they can be instruments of torture—and for some, that’s the point. But I’ll take a well-fitted corset over an underwire bra any day of the week: all-round support and evenly-distributed pressure, like a firm hug.
With Lily behind me, pulling on the laces, I felt like a knight armouring for battle with the assistance of her loyal squire. Certainly there was enough steel hidden inside there.
“How’s that?” she asked.
“Just right. Now, if you tie that off in a bow, then I can get out if I need to.” She obliged, and then I turned to face her. “How am I?”
“Your neckline needs straightening.” She tugged at one spot where the lace had been caught under the corset. “That’s better.”
I rolled my shoulders, letting myself settle into my breastplate, and smiled at her. “Now the boots.”
I sat myself down at the edge of my sofa, legs stretched out in front of me, and Lily sat cross-legged at my feet. Starting at my left foot, she began working the laces through, taking up the slack and tightening them one row at a time.
When she was halfway up my calf I said, “Here, let me make that easier for you,” and I placed my foot in her lap. As she continued upwards I began to press, rhythmically, against the top of her thigh through her slacks.
“That’s not actually making it easier,” she said.
“Isn’t it?” I didn’t stop.
The further up she got, the slower it went, because there was more lace to pull through at each step. Moving up my leg, she had to lean further forwards – she couldn’t just shuffle closer, not with my foot on her – and as she did so, my toe gradually slid down between her knees, the edge of my sole grazing the inside of her thigh.
She squirmed, but didn’t pull away. If anything, I thought she pressed back a little. “Saraaah…”
She’d laced past the top of my knee now, and when she leaned forwards a little more, I reached out and stroked her hair, twisted my fingers through it, pulled her in towards me so she was at the limit of balance. My heel was on the floor now, in the space between her legs, and the toe of my boot was nudging at her crotch.
Slowly, slowly, I lifted, pressing up against her. She sighed, and rocked a little, and gripped my knee to steady herself.
“You have a job to do, Lily.” I tugged her hair softly. “Don’t get distracted.”
I lifted my toe further, digging my heel into the carpet, and she shifted, rising up on her knees. Both my hands were in her hair now, nudging her face close to my thigh, close enough to smell the leather as she laced the last few rows.
I began to rock my foot, pressing against her, the wedge-shaped toe coaxing her legs further apart. She was well and truly off-balance now, dependent on my grip on her hair to keep her from toppling forwards, gasping as I worked my toe against her softness.
“Polish it,” I said, and she izmit sınırsız escort muttered something I didn’t catch. “What was that?”
“Nothing, ma’am.” Lily wobbled, doing her best to stay upright as she tied off the ends of my bootlace, completing the knot but almost falling. She reached towards me imploringly and I caught her hand in mine, fingers between fingers, and we made two interlocking fists while she pressed herself against my boot, grinding against its hard smoothness.
Little circles, polishing to a shine, and I could scent her involuntary arousal as she worked her hips against me, hear it in her breathing, feel it in the tightening of her fingers against mine.
I stopped, and dropped my toe. “Kiss it.”
“Wh-what?” Her face was flushed, and I could hear the frustration in her voice as she started to come down again, just short of the peak I’d been pushing for.
“Kiss my toe, girl.” Feel the emptiness at your crotch. Ache for me to fill it again.
She crawled backwards and bent, and pressed her lips to my toe, and I understood something of why people do terrible things to one another.
“Whose are you, Lily?”
“I’m yours, ma’am.”
“Good girl. And now the other.”
She nodded, and kissed my right foot, and then began the lacing on that side. This time I took a different tack; I let my foot rest between her legs, brushing her thighs, but kept the pressure tantalisingly light. Eventually she began to press herself against me once more, without being instructed, and I tutted.
“Not yet, my dear. You still have work to do.”
Lily worked her way upwards, and every so often she would look at me questioningly, and still I did nothing more than tease her with the occasional ‘accidental’ nudge. When she reached the top and tied off the ends in a neat bow I stroked her hair. “Good girl. But you’re not finished yet.”
I pulled her closer, and touched my toe against her. “Well, I’m not finished, so you’re not finished.”
“You have a pretty little tongue, and delicate fingers, and it’s time for you to make good use of them.”
There was a moment’s pause, as I lifted my hips and hooked my thumbs under the waistband of my panties, and between the two of us we managed to manoeuvre them down over my boots. Then I lay back, and she leant forwards, brushing my thighs with her lips and fingers, sliding under my skirt. As her fingers entered me, I raised my toe, and she sighed at the pressure of my foot against her once more.
Normally when I’m getting that kind of attention from a girl, I like to wrap my legs around her. But with those boots laced up, bending at the knees becomes a difficult proposition. So I lay back, doing my best impression of the letter “Y”, and dug my fingernails into the back of her neck. Her tongue wriggled against me, almost the same shape as my boot-toe but infinitely softer and warmer, and I sighed.
“That’s the way. Now don’t forget to polish me.” And she began once more to grind against my toe, thighs squeezing my foot tightly, as her finger slipped into me and her tongue traced little electric lines up towards my clit where her thumb was stroking, rolling me from side to side.
“Lily yes.” I could feel her body tensing against me, her tongue flickering sweetly. Her hair was getting in the way, and I wiped it out of her face with one hand. The other had slipped down from her neck, under her top, and I was scoring lines in her back. We rubbed insistently against one another, joined at tongue and cunt and cunt and toe.
“Yes yes. Don’t stop.”
She stroked, and twisted two fingers inside me, and then I made some kind of desperate noise as the long-building wave crashed over me. My foot came up hard enough to lift her knees off the floor, and I held her wriggling on me as the feeling rippled through my body.
She groaned and I felt her release follow mine, and then slowly I brought her back down to the floor. She was still licking me, but I had crossed over into hypersensitivity, and the stimulation was too much to bear. “Enough, darling. Enough.”
I pulled her up so we were face to face, and kissed her deeply, tasting the mix of us. She was a mess, hair dishevelled, face smeared, and to me she felt… not quite all there.
“I think so.” She squeezed me. “Just processing.”
I stroked her hair. “I think you’re going to want a shower before we go out.”
While she was in the shower I cleaned myself up, changed into my contacts, and then started on my makeup. I kept it subtle. There had been a time when I considered it de rigueur to do the full white makeup/Eye of Horus business for a night out, but I was feeling suddenly self-conscious again, nervous that Anjali might think me weird, perhaps the aftermath of our recent little scene.
Besides, if we’re being honest, I’m pale enough that I don’t really need the white makeup. So I restricted myself to a little eye shadow – for goth values of “a little” – and a dark blue lipstick to match my skirt.
Somewhere along the way, Anjali stepped out of the shower and went off to dress. I was just finishing up when I heard her coming back.
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