“Take off your jacket. Leave it on the back of the sofa.”
Ever did as he asked and waited. He let her stand there a minute or two before instructing her to go and stand by the blank, white wall that spanned the distance between the kitchen door and the side of the staircase. This was the wall that loomed up from the ground floor toward the high pitched second story ceiling. It was met by the wall that enclosed the stairs. The corner formed by these two walls was glaringly empty but for a straight backed chair which stood in near proximity against the staircase wall. It did not look like it belonged there.
Stroud urged her to move nearer the center of the high wall which, now that she stood there, seemed cold and huge and exposed. It was another five minutes before he said or did anything more than quietly observe her from his position on the couch, which faced her directly.
A myriad of emotions swept through her as Ever stood there under his appraising yet non-committal gaze. She met his eyes with cautious neutrality, fighting to control her heart rate, which had increased dramatically.
It was very difficult to stand, without words or movement to fill up the silence or create barriers to shield herself from his watching eyes. Eventually she found she could no longer maintain her front and allowed her eyes to cut away. The moment she did, he spoke.
“Please take off the blouse and skirt. Put them on the chair. The blouse first.”
It seemed like a long time before she was able to lift her hands to the pearl buttons of her blouse. She’d waited an eternity for this moment and, although she knew it may be the prelude to the fulfillment she had craved, she was afraid. Naturally afraid of the compromise of the moment, the dangers inherent in the mystery he still was to her. But even more, she was afraid of failure, on either her part or his.
When the blouse was undone, Ever pulled it free of the waistband, slipped it off and placed it on the chair. The air in the room did feel cooler on her bare skin. She wondered what he was thinking. She popped the button at the waistband, unzipped the skirt, slid it down over her legs and placed it, similarly, on the chair. She stood still again, trying not to wonder what he thought.
Her ample bosoms were contained in a front opening brassiere that concealed very little of their shape and displacement. On her legs were self-supporting stockings that closely matched the fair complexion of her skin.
“You’re not wearing panties,” he remarked.
“You…didn’t stipulate,” Ever said and their eyes met briefly.
“You’re not a beginner,” he assumed.
“Not entirely, no,” she replied, strenuously rejecting the idea that her expectations might be higher than his.
Frankly, she was terrified that any idea at all should occur to her or intrude at this crucial moment.
“That implies some interesting challenges,” Stroud said and finally stood up.
He left his glass on the table and approached her. “Turn around,” he said and Ever turned slowly to face that blank wall for the first time. It was a brief first meeting for he asked her to turn again before the passing of a minute.
“Take off the rest,” Stroud said. “Stockings first. Put them on the chair.”
The stockings tickled teasingly as Ever slid them down her legs which were beginning to tremble. Her fingers fumbled slightly at the clasp of her bra but she somehow managed to unfasten the thing and surrender it to the chair along with the rest. The sudden release of the weight of her breasts and their abrupt exposure to the huge, uncaring space made her want to curl up and cloister herself. She stood, perfectly still, she hoped, her eyes stuck on the floor near his feet, and waited.
“Well, I’m not disappointed,” he said at last.
“I’m glad,” Ever said softly.
“You were worried about it?”
“A little,” she admitted.
“You needn’t have been.”
“Well, the scar…”
His glance dropped to her flat abdomen and the scar that cut four inches across the top of her pubic line. “Is this the physical defect you alluded to?”
“I’m not offended. If I’m not mistaken, it tells me you no longer fall victim to monthly fluxes and, therefore, represents your constant availability to me.”
“You’re quite correct,” Ever murmured.
“In view of this,” he concluded, “it enhances rather than detracts from the picture.”
Ever released a silent sigh. She was relieved this hurdle was crossed, but she also knew his understanding of the situation may inspire him to increase his demand on her time.
“I already know you’re fascinated by them, but have you ever worn restraints?” Stroud asked.
“Yes,” Ever replied after a brief pause.
“For how extended a period?”
“An hour, perhaps. Never longer,” she said.
“Steel or leather?”
“I haven’t worn steel in a long time,” Ever said softly.
“Yes,” Stroud murmured, taking her hand. “Your wrists are rather small and fragile, aren’t they…?”
He left her at the wall and crossed to a long narrow table against the wall behind the long branch of the sofa. From one of the shallow drawers he retrieved a pair of manacles and matching collar. When he rejoined her at the wall, he paused to see if she would protest. She didn’t move or speak, so he snapped the manacles on her wrists.
These were the very manacles she had admired at the exhibition. Beautiful, self-locking manacles of dark brown polished leather, snug as fitted bracelets, yet large enough to allow the wrist to move or turn without becoming wedged.
The collar he encircled her neck with was also self-locking and, like the bracelets, was fixed with a steel ring for the purposes of attachment.
He smiled in approval. “Very becoming. I hope they’re comfortable. You’ll be wearing them for more extended periods than you’re used to.”
There was no time to reply for he disappeared around the corner, up the stairs. With Stroud gone, Ever took the opportunity to examine the manacles. As she remembered, they were strong and compact and extremely practical for the purposes of long term wear. To the unobservant eye, they might even pass for simple bracelets. It was extraordinary to see them again and Ever loved them instantly.
She was startled nearly out of her tracks by the crashing chain Stroud dropped over the wall from the second story landing. Glancing up, she saw that the chain was affixed to a steel strut of the hand railing set on the top of this ceilingless wall.
He came straight back down and retrieved the end of the chain which hung to the floor with two or three feet to spare. With that, and a few links of heavier chain, he came back to her. “Please turn around.”
Ever turned and he immediately pulled her wrists behind her, adjoining them with the short links he’d brought. He turned her once more and, as he raised the clip on the long chain to the collar ring, Ever recoiled slightly.
“You’re afraid,” he said, as though it might be a revelation.
Ever expelled a timorous sigh. Stroud snapped the cold clasp into the collar ring, thereby effecting her confinement to the wall area.
“You’ll have to trust me,” he said in a low voice and, in an easy but unexpected gesture, he reached between her legs. With one experienced hand, he separated the outer protecting lips of the cleft and gripped the two inner labium, gently coaxing them from their moist, fragrant sanctuary. He gently agitated the tender flesh between his thumb and forefinger. Ever sighed again, more deeply. Her eyes had closed.
At last he released her from this enfeebling grip and she was all the more conscious of the delicate tissue that was now also exposed to his eyes and the circulating air. His inscrutable hazel eyes were fixed on her.
“You’re in the stance of patience,” he explained. “This is how you will stand and this is where. It will be a test of your patience and stamina, and if it is arduous, it’s less my intention to tax you than to teach you to stand to be observed but not to observe.
“You may discover from time to time that you’re alone in the room but you will not break your stance. You’ll comport yourself the same, whether chaperoned or not, from the moment you assume your stance to the moment of its completion. You will not move or speak. Your face will be lifted enough to be visible but your eyes will be downcast.
“Get used to the corner since it will become very much your place.”
There was a pause and, when it seemed he was done, in fact, awaited some response from her, Ever lowered her head slightly and cast her gaze, once again, to the floor at his feet.
Stroud turned away and collected up her clothing, hooked the back of the chair with one hand and carried it over to the parqueted entrance way where he parked it neatly against the wall. With her clothes still draped over one arm, he picked up her coat, purse and overnight bag and carried it all upstairs, to reaches of the house still unknown to her.
When he returned a number of minutes later, he retrieved the liqueur glasses from the coffee table and passed her on his way to the kitchen. Although she was not permitted to look up, she did notice three things: he’d taken off his jacket, he was wearing darker, more loosely tailored trousers, and he had changed into a pair of black loafers.
He didn’t stay long in the kitchen. Judging by what she could hear, Ever guessed he’d rinsed out the liqueur glasses, gone to the freezer for ice and poured himself a nightcap.
He then returned to the living room, snapping out the kitchen light as he came, his drink in hand. He made only two more stops: one at the service table behind the couch for an ashtray, and one more at the wall control to raise the thermostat, before he finally settled down on the couch – the very spot she had occupied only a few minutes before.
He lit a cigarette, sat back in a comfortable pose and sipped his drink, the tinkling ice being the only sound left in the room.
This was how it was for quite a time, although Ever could not guess how long. She couldn’t tell if he was looking at her or not. She waited in expectant silence, the seconds tolling off in her head like the beating of a drum – or her own heart.
“Have you ever been whipped?” Stroud asked.
“No,” Ever stammered, her nervousness causing her to blurt the most defensive reply she could muster with such abruptness.