Category Archives: Chapter 07

Chapter Seven

CHAPTER SEVEN

“Tell me what you want to hear
Something that will light those ears
Sick of all the insincere
I’m gonna give all my secrets away
This time, don’t need another perfect lie
Don’t care if critics ever jump in line
I’m gonna give all my secrets away”
“Secrets” OneRepublic

It was the alcohol’s fault. That was the only plausible explanation for why Alessa didn’t pull out of Denny’s arms as he murmured her name and dipped his head toward hers. It was the only reason she lifted her face in welcome. The only cause for the whimper she gave when a sensation warmer than the sun poured through her as his firm lips finally touched hers. Her last coherent thought was that she should have never drank so much.

Denny was joyously grateful for Alessa’s momentary capitulation. In this one twinkling of time in which she had granted him his desire, he became desperate to seduce her, to imbue her with such great pleasure she would never want to leave him. He moved his mouth gently over hers at first, cognizant that she most likely didn’t know how to kiss. He was cupping her face with one hand and cradling her head with the other, his fingers imbedded into her glorious hair rubbing her scalp.

Alessa was instantly lost in the sensations Denny’s mouth and hands afforded her. It was the most natural movement in the world to follow the guidance of his mouth, and before long, his moving lips were parting hers so he could stroke her with his velvety tongue. The taste of another human made her gasp and then moan as she became an instant addict. Needing more, she answered his seeking tongue with an eager stroke of her own, whimpers of hunger filling her throat. Denny caught each one with his mouth.

The erotic sounds Alessa was making were like punches of pleasure straight into Denny’s gut. He could feel the need blossom in his groin, and so pressed himself more tightly against her, desperate for pressure to relieve his ache.

Alessa responded by sliding her body sensually against his, mindlessly searching for more sensation. Denny’s hands caressed their way down her lithe body until he was filling his hands with her firm bottom, using his grasp to rub her body against his. Her arms had trailed up his chest and were now clinging to him, pulling herself in tightly to mash her breasts against him.

Though Denny had only meant to give her a pleasurable kiss, what passed between them was like a flame of need and he was burning alive. Without much thinking, Denny turned them so he could press her against the wall, suddenly needing more than what a simple kiss could offer. One large hand guided a silky leg to lift, forcing her skirt to slide high up her thigh. Holding beneath her knee, Denny leaned into the junction of her thighs and pressed his arousal into her.

The whimper she gave turned into a moan, and Denny wanted to come when her hips began moving against him. He wasn’t ashamed to answer her with small thrusts of his own and abandoned her mouth to move down her neck, craving the silky feel of all of her.

It was the cat call whistle of the two passers-by that caused Alessa to freeze with Denny’s mouth buried against her neck. The giggles of the small group faded as they walked on, but the spell was already shattered. “Fuck,” she heard Denny mutter into the crook of her neck, and then her hands were frantically pushing him away. She pulled her raised leg back and half twisted her body away from him. He reluctantly stepped back to give her space. She was running her fingers through her hair and wiping her mouth. She was breathing rapidly in an attempt to calm herself, though to Denny she sounded as if she were on the verge of hyperventilating.

He watched her, his haze of arousal evaporating as he tried to regroup and salvage what was left of the momentum of their kiss. But he could see her rapidly shutting down, her arms tightly around herself as she corseted up her fraying emotions. He knew in some estimations he had succeeded, that he had given Alessa the elusive pleasure she had claimed didn’t exist in reality, but he also saw her shuttered expression, which mournfully conveyed he had failed to tear down the wall against intimacy she had spent years erecting around herself.

He took a step toward her, but when she took a quick step away, he paused, so much of his disappointed hopes suffocating his heart. “Don’t be afraid of how you feel, Sweetheart.”

She gave a harsh sigh, her arms still tightly wrapped around her. She felt submerged in a raging tempest, and wave after wave of desire and fear and regret and despair were capsizing her sanity, throwing her into a scrambling panic to survive the looming pain. “That was such a mistake,” she declared, a quiver of strain in her voice laced with an edge of anger.

“Alessa, I don’t regret kissing you,” Denny stated confidently, refusing to agree with her.

“Well, I hope it satisfied you because you won’t get another,” she returned emphatically.

Denny took another step, not stopping this time despite how she momentarily cowered away again. He placed his warm palm on her cheek and turned her face to him. “I assure you, it came nowhere near satisfying me, and I can promise you, Sweetheart, I will get another.” Denny wasn’t prepared to let his pursuit end yet, but he knew she had had enough for one evening. “Come on,” he coaxed gently, “let me take you home.” He slipped his arm around her, and counted it a small victory when she didn’t try to pull away.

But she did argue. “You don’t need to take me home. Traffic will be murder for you. Just take me to my bus stop.”

“Nope. I’m taking you home.”

“Denny,” she groaned, “I really don’t think that’s such a great idea.”

“Alessa, shut up for once. I’m just going to make sure you get home safely. Nothing more. After the state I’ve put you in, it’s the least I can do for you.” By the end of his speech, they were back at his car. Neither said a word during the thirty minute ride across town.

She gave him directions to her home, and when he pulled up in the drive, though it was dark and only his head lights illuminated it, he commented on how nice it looked.

“Oh, this isn’t my house. It’s Mr. Cho’s.”

“Cho?” Denny asked a little confused. “You rent it from him?”

“No, he lives in his house. I rent the small apartment above his garage.” As she pointed, Denny could just make out a two-story, detached garage at the back of the property. “One of my colleagues at the Asian Museum got me this place,” she explained, eager to leave but desperate to avoid an awkward goodbye. “Thank you for dinner. I enjoyed the oysters.” And then her door was open and she was out, not daring to look at him, not wanting to be tempted into another kiss.

Denny watched as she rapidly made her way to the stairs on the outside of the garage. When he saw her slip inside, he finally pulled out of the drive, his mind churning over the problem that was Alessa. He pulled out his phone, punched a contact and dialed. When a husky voice answered on the other end, Denny spoke. “Max, can we get together? Tomorrow night at eight is fine.” And then he hung up, knowing if anyone could help him gain a little peace of mind, it was Max.

It took less than a minute for Alessa to drop her bag, strip off her clothing and submerge herself in her hot shower, the water streaming down her face mixing with her tears. Though she hadn’t told him the whole of the truth, she had confessed more than she had ever wanted. And then, like a fool, she had allowed him to kiss her. But unlike the last time she had given a man a second chance to woo her, Alessa had completely lost herself in Denny’s kiss that seemed to burn away all the insecurities in her soul. She experienced only drugging euphoria and none of the panic. And desperately, she felt hope that with Denny it could be different. But that hope was just as frightening as the disappointment of times past.

Why hadn’t she realized she was too fragile just to kiss?

Alessa took some Ibuprofen, downed a glass of water and slunk into bed. She didn’t allow herself to sob, but she couldn’t keep back the hot tears of misery as she fell asleep under the heavy hand of the earlier-consumed alcohol.

Denny assumed Alessa would be working in the office Saturday, and so worked from home, not ready to confront her as he himself was at a bit of a loss as to how to proceed. Around noon he took his small sail boat out; the sunny sky was sure to ease his mind, if only for a few hours. He showered that evening and headed to the bar where he and Max always met. It was crowded, and when a bar stool opened up he took it, still no sign of Max. He was on his second beer when a feminine hand touched his shoulder.

“Hey, there. Sorry I’m late,” the short brunette apologized as she squeezed in next to him. Almost instantly the bartender brought her a beer, knowing the two regulars always ordered the same drinks. Before she had taken a swig, the man on the other side of Denny stood to leave, and Max quickly grabbed his seat.

Denny noticed that Max’s cheeks were pink, her makeup was fresh but minimal, and her hair didn’t look as styled as normal. Her clothes were casual, though with that dark, sexy edge of a black leather jacket, skinny jeans, and a rock t-shirt that she wore effortlessly ever since college.

“So, what were you doing?” he asked, the stress of his own personal situation leaking out to irritate everything else in his world.

“Eager to see me, huh?” she teased with pseudo-sultriness in her voice.

“Something like that. So where were you?”

She paused. “I had to take a shower,” she answered, and took a drink, looking around the crowded bar.

Denny frowned. “Well, why were you late?”

She shrugged, and as if reluctant to answer, mouthed into her beer, “I was with a client.”

“A work dinner?”

She seemed to hesitate, shaking her head. “No, we were working.”

“Huh,” Denny grunted thoughtfully.

Max turned to him with a small frown, perhaps defensiveness. “What?”

“Well, I was just thinking. You never really talk about your work. It’s a little weird, especially considering how close we are. It’s like you work for the CIA or something.”

Max only nodded slowly, thoughtfully, but chose not to comment on his observations. “So what’s with the secrecy? Or do you not enjoy your work enough to talk about it?”

“No, I love my work,” she replied instantly.

“So tell me about it then. I feel a little like an incompetent hack since I’m always asking your advice, but you never seem to have any problems. Just what sort of work do you do for them? Do you handle their criminal defenses or something? Assets management?”

Max was silent so long, Denny thought she wasn’t going to answer. But then she pursed her lips together and spoke. “It’s more like…I handle them,” she admitted slowly, casting him a sideways look.

“You mean like PR?”

“Sorta the opposite.”

“Opposite?”

“Of public. More like private relations…”

“You mean you’re their…what? Marriage counselor?” he asked confused, still not understanding.

She swiveled round on her bar stool to square up on him, her hands on her knees bolstering her up. Her face was pensive. “Denny, I have something to tell you. Aw, fuck, I don’t know how to say this. Damn, I’ve thought about telling you since we graduated.”

Denny frowned. “Do you give legal advice to the mob or something?”

She chuckled miserably. “No,” she sighed. “Okay, I want to tell you something, but I don’t want you to judge me, and you really can’t tell anyone.”

“Max,” he said with a solemn frown, “you know I would never judge you.”

Knowing he spoke the truth, she took a deep breath and blurted out, “Denny, I never took the bar.”

He frowned again, baffled. “You mean you’ve been practicing illegally?” he whispered.

“No,” she groaned, rolling her eyes at his lack of imagination. “I don’t practice law at all.”

“Oh, okay,” he paused baffled, “then these clients are…well you said not PR? I don’t get it, what is it? You know you can trust me, right? Just tell me.”

She bit the inside of her lips. “Denny, I am what you might consider a…domina.” He could see, even in the dim light of the bar, her flushing face. He could only sit with his mouth agape and brows knitted in befuddlement.

“You mean you…” he trailed.

She took a deep breath, “Yeah, my clients, they’re men…for the most part, and I…do things…for them. To them.” Her eyes were full of uncertainty as she waited for his response, but when his awed face slowly morphed into a cocky, male grin, she felt the tension break and reached out to slap him chidingly on the arm.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” he laughed in amusement. And then the full meaning of her revelation began to settle in his mind. “So you’re not a lawyer. All these years, I thought…Why? Or how? How did this happen? How did you get into that?”

She took another breath and turned back to her beer. “Well, it sorta just happened. It began my last year when I was interning at that little law firm in Daily City, remember? It was one of the older partners.”

“How much older?” Denny asked with a cheeky grin

“Nothing too pervy…he was in his fifties, and just barely at that. Anyway, one thing led to another and before I knew it we were sleeping together, and bit by bit he revealed his proclivities.”

“Yeah? Like what?”

“It started out with light bondage, spanking, name calling…and he just kept pushing and I just kept letting myself be dragged down, down, down.” She sighed almost wistfully. “I fucking loved it. I’d finally found my sex life. Hell, I found my life. Eventually he taught me a lot about the whole scene, even took me to a few clubs.”

“Clubs?”

“Yeah, a swingers’ club and then a club specifically for BDSM. I met a guy there and when my relationship with Mitch finally ran its course, I sorta hooked up with Brett…at least, I began a sexual relationship with him. And he really knew his stuff. Helped me discover ab-so-fucking-lutely everything about myself. And it was he who convinced me to try becoming a professional at it.”

“Like…a hooker?” he ventured carefully, not quite understanding the distinction.

“No, more like a therapist. Like a fucking life-style guru. He even found me a backer, so to speak.” She looked at him honestly. “You’d probably call him my sugar daddy, but it’s really more like a business deal. He set me up with my business for fifteen percent of my profit and free sessions twice a week. And he was enjoyable to be with, though he prefers to be the dominant, so it wasn’t a bad deal at all.”

“So you don’t feel like a prostitute?”

She scrunched her face. “No, not really. I mean, technically I guess that’s what I am, but in some ways not. I certainly have a choice, hell, I have all the choices. I interview and select my clients. It’s not as if I’m in the phone book and any random guy can call and book a session like a cheap massage parlor. These are relationships, and they bring me fulfillment. Like I said, it’s not always about sex. It’s generally deeper than that. It’s therapy; it’s finding little spots inside you and rubbing the kinks out.”

“More like rubbing the kinks in,” he jabbed.

“Ha!” she chortled. “Good one. Yeah…it’s more than sex. It’s not a subset of sex. Sex is a subset of it. A lot of times I don’t even have intercourse or get to orgasm.”

“Well, now, that just sounds like bad sex.”

She smiled softly. “Not really, because the whole thing is about something else.”

Denny was silent as he thought for a moment and then had a disturbed expression. “And that’s where you just were?”

Max seemed to blush as she nodded while taking a drink of her beer.

He just studied her a minute before he could collect his thoughts and continue with his questions. “You don’t find monogamy to be an issue? You don’t want a relationship with someone?”

Again she screwed up her face in thought. “Honestly? I might if I ever found someone I was in love with. But even then, he would have to provide me with all these things I need. But, like I said, it isn’t necessarily about sex. It’s just…”

“Exercise.”

She chuckled, “Maybe something like that.”

Denny was thoughtful for a few minutes as they each nursed their beers. The ramifications of her confession bleeding into his own present predicament. “So, you’re an expert on the human condition, as far as sex is concerned? An expert on relationships, too?” he ventured.

“I don’t know about that. But I think the foundation of any relationship, any good and solid relationship has to come from mutual understanding. To know the motives and needs of your partner. And now that I am good with. I mean, yeah, that’s my job.”

“Hm, and how do you get there?”

“You mean knowing a person? Well, in my professional setting, we usually have a session or two where we just talk, maybe a little research lab where I test certain reactions, but a lot of talking. I need to know what desires are there. When you first had them. How they developed and evolved over the years. What turns you on, what turns you off, what gets you off, moments of panic, moments of elation, any sensory enjoyments. What do you do in your down time? How do you see yourself? How do others see you? All sorts of questions. Like I said, therapy, digging down deep inside and discovering what’s hidden under your skin. And from there I usually have them tell me their go-to get-off fantasy, and we usually recreate it and then feedback. Lots of communication. I have to know what’s working for you, what are your internal responses.”

“And if not in your professional setting?”

She frowned in thought. “Communication still goes. It’s essential. You must know what you can’t see because so much more happens on the inside. If we keep it bottled up, our partner will never know. In a way, it’s wrong to not share, to not reveal ourselves. Especially if we expect the other person to give what we need.

“On the flip side of that is observation. While we expect our partner to disclose everything they can, we must always remember that we’re not all fully aware, not of everything. We don’t always know why we like to have it from behind instead of on the bottom, but we do, and as much as it’s our partner’s responsibility to tell us what they can, you have to be committed to observing and watching what can be seen. You can learn a whole lot from watching your partner as you touch them, or kiss, or say something or wear something. It’s all there. You just have to watch for it. And that’s what makes a good dom. Someone who is able to sense what the other person is unaware of.”

“I assume everyone comes to you willingly,” he broached.

She frowned at that. “Of course. What, you think I get off on raping men?” It was finally her turn to give a lopsided grin. “Well,” the smile grew, “I do, but they’re always agreeable to it…at some point at least. That’s part of it, too; being out of control, not responsible. But you gotta give consent to start with. Is that what you mean?” she asked.

Denny sighed. “Have you ever pursued someone? You know, someone who resisted being with you?”

“You mean for an actual relationship, traditional, monogamous sort of thing?”

He nodded.

“No. I usually have to stun-gun them to keep them away.”

Denny chuckled, agreeing it would be absurd that anyone wouldn’t be interested in her.

She studied him a moment. “Were those just idle curiosity questions, or do they have anything to do with this stressed state you’ve been in lately?”

Denny continued to think for a while, and then after downing his beer turned to her. “I have a situation,” he confessed.

She raised her eyebrows. “Don’t tell me you’re a closet dom?”

He frowned. “What? No.”

“Well, just saying, if you’re looking for advice, it’ll cost you.” She gave another half grin and lifted her empty bottle. “Another round and we’ll call it even.” Denny chuckled and then motioned for the bartender. When their beers were delivered and they’d both taken another satisfying drink he continued.

“I’m fucked,” he sighed lamentably. “I’m completely hooked on this girl from work.”

“Ah,” she said with a Cheshire grin. “Go on, tell me all about her. Don’t leave anything out.”

Denny only thought a moment before the existence of Alessa poured from his mouth in unhurried, often poetic and rhythmic tones. “She’s the new associate at the firm. She’s intelligent as fuck; driven. She excels like a fucking Bugatti. She’s fluent in Korean, Cantonese and French. She’s been my right hand in the new overseas expansion for one of my clients. Partners are itching to groom her. Went to Berkeley when she could have gone to Harvard. She’s a control freak. Runs every evening at six straight up, though I think she sneaks off during the day if I’ve irritated her. She’s frugal and healthy. She’s reserved, but when she smiles…like diamonds in the sun.”

“She sounds nauseatingly wonderful,” Max commented drily. “So the problem is…”

“I can’t get her to give me a chance.”

“You’re not good enough for her?”

“No, that’s not it.”

“Denny, if someone isn’t attracted to you with all your good looks, intelligence, success, charisma, then it’s not going to happen, no matter how much you may be into her. I mean, you are probably attractive to seventy-five percent of the population, and if she’s in that narrow margin that just doesn’t appreciate you, then she never will be. You should let her go.”

He gave a self-deprecating smirk. “Only seventy-five percent, huh?” Max laughed at that and reached over to rub his shoulder. “Being attracted to me is not the issue. She does want me, just as much as I want her.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

Denny was silent, staring at the city scape of glass liquor bottles lining the bartender’s shelves. He had a few false starts, trying to figure out how to explain. “It’s long; it’s complicated.”

“Well, I’ve got time as long as I’ve got beer,” Max encouraged with a sly smile.

Denny sighed and began. “I first met Alessa–”

“Alessa? That’s her name?”

“Yeah.”

“It’s pretty.”

“Thanks.”

“I wasn’t complimenting you, you Neanderthal. But go on.”

“I first met her back in college. She was in one of my summer classes.”

“She reject you then, too?”

“No. I didn’t even approach her. She was just seventeen, a kid. She’d gotten a scholarship to attend a few college courses over the summer. When I found out she was still in high school I passed. But then a few years later I saw her again. You know how Tom and Jake and some of the guys and I like to play trivia at The Colony?”

“Yeah, you never invited me to go,” she pouted angrily.

“Well, you can’t pick up a girl when you’re already with the hottest one there, now can you?” he defended, knowing she’d appreciate his indirect compliment. When she smiled, he continued. “Anyway, she was there with this obnoxious group of girls and they beat us. Correction. They didn’t beat us. She beat us. She was their ringer.”

Max gave a sound that indicated she understood the hit to his masculine pride that would’ve been.

“When I recognized her from class, I don’t know, something just snapped. Afterwards, I cornered her out in the alley. We had some words. I thought she had been cheating ‘cause she kept looking at her phone. But when I stole it from her, I realized she hadn’t cheated. She’d been looking at this website; a porn website. She wrote erotica, Max, and I think she was checking the status of her latest story.”

Max expression satisfyingly changed to one of awed shock.

“She grabbed her phone from me and fled. I was too stunned to do anything, and that was the last time I saw her. Seven years ago. That is, until she walked into my office last month. She was one of the applicants for the new associate position.”

“But now she works in your office, so that means she was hired…by you?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, no wonder she doesn’t want to date you. You were an asshole, probably scared her silly.”

“No, she didn’t even remember it at the time. But during her interview, with the way I treated her–”

“How did you treat her?” Max cut in again with a furrowed brow.

Denny’s head slunk on his shoulders. “Well, you could say I was a bit…aggressive.”

“How would she describe it?” she questioned knowingly.

“She called me a jerk.”

Max lifted her eyebrows. “I’ve never known you to be a jerk. Or mean or unfair. Why would you treat her that way?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted uncomfortably. “Her confidant, know-it-all attitude just made me want to…I don’t know, pinch her or something.”

Max had no immediate reply, but narrowed her eyes at him thoughtfully. “Go on,” she encouraged.

“Well, in her interview I realized I did want her; that for as riling as she was, I…liked her. I was attracted to her. And I thought hiring her would be my only opportunity to get close to her. Of course, Macrae saw right through me.”

Max snorted. “I bet Macrae just wanted her for herself.”

“You are too damn good,” Denny admitted with some amount of cynical awe that Max saw straight to the heart of any person’s motives. But he supposed that’s what a double major in pre-law and psychology would get you. “But, yeah, you’re right. Not long after Alessa started, Jude came to my office and wanted to know my intentions.”

Max smirked with a knowing lift of her eyebrows and a cocky shake of her head as she tilted her beer back, before steering their conversation back. “So why’s Alessa giving you such a hard time? I mean, if she didn’t remember you were the jerk from the alley, and if you’ve done all you can to be the charmer I know you are, and if she’s interested as you claim she is,” Max summarized shaking her head, failing to understand the problem, “why are you fucked?”

Denny sighed dejectedly. “I’m fucked, Max, because she’s fucked.”

“What does that even mean?”

“Because, she’s so screwed up; she’s terrified of giving me a chance because she doesn’t date anyone, at any time. No hand holding, no chocolates, no late nights on the couch, no kisses, and definitely no sex.”

Max frowned as she tried to figure out Alessa’s possible motives. “What’s her story? I mean, has she ever been involved with anyone?”

“Hardly,” Denny scoffed. “She hasn’t dated since high school. She gave it up, twice, to some jerk of a boyfriend who didn’t do anything good for her,” he accused miserably.

Max snorted. “Ha! Listen to you talk! As if you were Don Juan at fifteen.”

Denny bit the inside of his cheek to keep the frustration down, though he knew she was right. “At any rate,” he bit out, “the experience ruined sex for her. And because of that, she hasn’t dated anyone since, which you can read as she also hasn’t slept with anyone else.”

“How old is she?”

“About twenty-seven, I think.”

Max frowned. “That’s a rather long time to not give it a second chance,” she mused. “Especially if she’s clearly interested in sex. I mean, why else would she write erotica? Would you describe her as an all-or-nothing sort of girl?”

Denny nodded in confirmation.

“I suppose that could explain it. One try at it was enough to convince her. But still…an awfully long time to not try again if she’s still interested.”

“There’s more. I think to some extent, she’s severely limited all her interactions with others, not just in dating, but in everything. She hides behind this veneer of confidence and enthusiasm for her work, but really, she’s empty. So she uses work to fill it up. To keep herself going and find some sort of meaning, some sort of satisfaction. And like I said, to use it as a shield, an excuse for not getting involved. I mean, after her parents divorced–”

“Aw, now we’re getting somewhere. How old was she?”

“Alessa was probably in the eighth or ninth grade.” Max responded by slowly nodding, but said nothing. “Well, she became driven in school, in her running-she ran track in school and college-to win her father’s approval.”

“So he left and got remarried, am I right?”

“Yeah. I think they had a kid almost immediately. A sister. Alessa dotes on her.”

“So she’s probably insecure. You said she’s pretty?” Max guessed.

“Here, let me show you,” he said taking out his phone and pulling up the firm’s photo directory of the lawyers. “But she’s not insecure. Not only is she annoyingly confident, she doesn’t really care about her appearance. Sure, she looks nice, but she isn’t vain. You know, there are those women who are all about fashion and their makeup and hair. Alessa’s completely oblivious to how gorgeous she is,” Denny professed.

He handed Max the phone when he found Alessa’s photo.

Max took one look at the stellar beauty and made a snort of unbelief. “Men are such idiots,” she muttered. “That hair takes time,” she informed him, passing the phone back. Denny took it and looked at the photo again.

“What does that mean?”

“That hair is flawless. You don’t get killer volume and sleek waves like that by just waking up and running your fingers through your hair, my dear boy. Either she went and had it professionally done that morning, which means she does know how to use her looks to her advantage, or this came from years of practice, which indicates she’s spent hours of her life to perfect her look. Either way, trust me, she cares,” Max assured.

Denny overlaid Max’s words with what he saw, the understanding once again reshaping Alessa in his mind.

“But why insecure?” he asked. “If she is concerned with her looks, wouldn’t she know that she’s gorgeous?”

Max shook her head. “I’m sure she’s aware, but in a way, it’s probably a lot like anorexia. People who are anorexic are already thin, right? But they don’t see themselves that way, or don’t see themselves as thin enough.”

“I thought anorexia was about control,” Denny said.

Max shrugged. “Yeah, it is, and this is probably what it is for her. Her appearance is the easiest thing she can control, but I bet it’s a point of some deep-seated insecurity. Think about it. Her father left during a critical time in her development. At fourteen, her body was beginning to really develop. No matter how amicable it may have been between the parents, I bet she felt like she was being abandoned by her father, or even worse, she was the reason he left. She was powerless to stop it, and felt like her father’s approval was something she had to earn, instead of the well-adjusted belief that a parent’s love is unconditional.”

“Looking for love,” Denny mumbled, staring into his empty beer. Max asked him to elaborate. He shook his head. “When she told me about her first time, she said she had just wanted the guy to love her.”

“Exactly,” Max agreed sadly. “But in the end, what happened? She had a terrible experience and was left in even more pain than before it ever happened. And so what did she do?”

“She became an overachieving, workaholic, control freak,” Denny answered.

“All the while lying to herself that she didn’t want sex or need a relationship. But all of her achievements can’t erase her maladapted feelings of insecurity, and that innate need for connection we all share. They just drive her to keep going, to be better and better each time. But each success just becomes like a bite of an empty calorie. She feels satisfied for a time, but really, it just leaves her hungry for more.”

“So what the fuck do I do?” he finally asked. “How do I get through to her?”

“Denny, I’m afraid to tell you this, but you’re not going to win her over by simply asking her out. She’s not going to just suddenly realize ‘hey, I like you. Let me drop off all my baggage and we can live happily-ever-after.’ It’s going to take work.”

“Tell me about it,” Denny muttered finishing the last of his beer and waggling his bottle to the barkeep.

“What’s that supposed to mean? Has something happened?”

“Last night.”

“Oh? When you called me?” Max surmised.

“Yeah. I’d just dropped her off. We’d been in the city working and I talked her into letting me take her to dinner.”

“So then what happened?”

“She told me about her previous experience, how she hadn’t had sex since high school. And then I kissed her. Fuck,” he groaned, rubbing his face, “I think I just messed it up worse.”

“You kissed her? What was that like?”

“Wanna a play by play?” he asked cynically. But Max only nodded.

Denny reluctantly detailed his kiss with Alessa, telling Max about the whimpers she made when he did something she liked. When Max asked if it made him hard, his face was a mixture a frown and smile, but he admitted the truth despite any embarrassment. He explained how they ended up with him pressing her against the wall grinding into her, but how she had frozen when those people walked by whistling at them.

“I was so certain that if I could just kiss her,” his voice trailed. “In the end, she was just as closed off as before. Maybe more so.”

“Because you destroyed her reality, no doubt,” his confidant supplied. “You made her want sex, even though she’d dedicated her adult life to the belief she’s immune from its allure.” Max was silent for many minutes before she declared she was done and wanted him to walk her home. Denny paid for the drinks and together they walked out into the cool, fall night. Max looped her arm through his and eventually spoke despite their comfortable silence.

“If you are serious about a relationship with this woman, like I said, it’s going to take work. And she’s going to need to actively participate in healing herself. Despite how much she may want you, those burdens are strapped to her back like barnacles to a ship, and they’re not coming off because of one good kiss. Hell, because of a thousand. But short of going to therapy, I think you could help her.”

“And how do you suggest I do that?” he questioned incredulously, his pain that she continued to shut him out evident to Max.

“There are elements of what I do, of what I already talked to you about that I think could be very helpful,” Max began. She could tell by the disgruntled, disbelieving expression he wore that he didn’t agree.

“I’m not suggesting you turn into a dom and make her your sub. Developing those sorts of relationships takes years of training and a dedicated lifestyle that isn’t for everyone. But I do think the approach to relationships and sexuality, like the communication, speaking frankly about her issues and devising little therapeutic scenarios, can help you. Help her. It will take time, gentleness, and a whole hell of a lot of skill, but I think you could pull it off. If you care enough about her to want to put in the time and effort, if you always believe she’s worth it, I think you could do it.”

They walked several blocks up a steep hill before Denny spoke again. “But how do I even begin? How do I get her to give me a chance?”

Max was silent as she thought about a million different scenarios until at last all she could offer was, “She can’t be forced to do this, to enter into a relationship. But she may need to be…maneuvered into discussing it, for you to present your plan to her. But no matter what, the most important thing for you to remember, is that she has to know you will be dependable. You can’t get tired of her in a few months or you’ll just wind up doing even more damage to her. Denny, if you want this to work, you have to convince her you’re as committed as the light is to the sun.”

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