Previous Part Eighteen: Laying it on the Line, Laying on the Block

SoulMates Part Nineteen: An Ending

Chapter 55: The Escape

Murmured voices tickled at the peripheries of my drowsy mind.I tried to roll over to get off my stomach and into a more normal and more comfortable position. That was a mistake - for two reasons. My hands and feet were restrained, keeping my on my stomach. Whatever held me was loose enough that I could move about the bed, but prevented me from turning over. The effort to do so made the second reason painfully evident. Deep, stabbing pain lanced from my buttocks to my still drugged brain. Instantly I stilled; my eyes clinched tightly shut as I fought to control the hurt.

The pain dulled to a constant ache once I settled. Fighting the dopey lethargy, I tried to reconnoiter. Where was I? How did I get there? And most importantly - What had happened to me?

A sweet scent tickled my nose, telling instantly me where I was. It was the lavender sachets that Monique used liberally in her bedroom. And that realization answered the 'how' and the 'what' questions. I tried to force my brain to clear, wanting to analyze and to plan, but before I could manage that, the murmuring grew louder, came closer.

A door latch clicked behind me, and hinges hissed ever so lightly as the hall door to Monique's room swung open. ".... can't you keep him out for another day? At least until I can make arrangements for having him looked after?"

"No, Monique, I can't. We have to ensure that he is lucid since neither of us can stay with him tomorrow. If he isn't, then we have to put him into a hospital. There isn't any other choice."

"But, it is only three o'clock. Surely we can let him rest another few hours...." Monique's hushed voice was almost frantic in its intensity.

"No." I finally recognized the other voice. It had to be Dr. Jennifer. "I don't want to wait until midnight or later to deal with him about this. If I give him another shot, that is the earliest he will come around. And I don't want him to have anymore of that stuff right now anyway. As it is, I am in serious jeopardy of legal action. He is not my patient, and I have been dispensing controlled sedatives to him without his knowledge or permission. I could lose my license if he elects to take action against me."


"Enough, Monique! I am not going to administer another sedative and that is the end of it." Her voice was very near me, coming from just behind my head. "Here, hold this so I can clean and treat these cuts." Glass clinked on glass and a strong, sharply astringent odor permeated the room. I kept my eyes shut, trying to keep up the pretense of sleep.

A cool, wet cloth gently wiped my backside. It was then I realized my butt was bare and that no blankets or sheets covered me. "God, he looks so pale, so diminished." Monique's voice broke, and I could hear her crying. "It was not supposed to be that way, Jennifer, it wasn't. I never meant for anything like this to happen."

"Don't tell me. Tell him!" Jennifer's voice dripped with derision, then added "I can't believe I participated in this. Christ, I even threatened him. Told him he was lucky it was you whipping him and not me. Guess I was wrong." Her disgust was palpable.

"He was supposed to safeword, damn it. I wanted him to safe word it, so I could show him that I would honor it from now on. I even exaggerated what I intended to do. I purposely built the whip into the ultimate bogey man while refusing to discuss the test with him at all. I thought he might even safeword before the fact."

"Ha! All that means is that you don't know him nearly as well as you should by this point. And since I know you do, don't try to bullshit me, Monique. You knew he would try for you, no matter how terrible you tried to make him think it would be."

Silence filled the room for several long heartbeats. "All right." Monique's tone was a sigh of defeat. "I knew he'd try, but I figured five, maybe ten strokes, tops."

Jennifer's response was a disbelieving snort. "He passed out twice while you laid into him. Twice he kept on fighting, and twice you did not let up. Think about it, Monique. Your answer in the dungeon may have been closer to the truth than what you just said. Make him leave first, you said."

The cool, wet cloth was removed leaving me feeling chilled. "This may bring him to." Jennifer's voice was matter of fact. That warning was insufficient and inadequate.

The renewed fires of hell lit up my ass as another liquid was drizzled onto me. I screamed in spite my best will not to. The leather bindings on my wrists and ankles creaked under the stress of my escape attempt. They creaked, but continued to hold me in place.

Cool hands gripped my neck behind my ears. "Easy, Nathan. That was a very strong antiseptic, antibiotic lotion. Relax. You will only hurt yourself more fighting like that." It was Jennifer.

With great effort, I fought for control. I took deep breaths, and consciously ordered my straining muscles to relax. Jennifer's grip also relaxed, and she began massaging my shoulders and back with strong, knowledgeable fingers. "Do you know where you are, Nathan?" She asked in that soft, detached, doctor's voice of hers.

I nodded. "Yeee...eessss" I rasped, my throat dry and sore. An ice sliver pressed against my lips and I opened to admit it and sucked greedily at it. I looked up to see Monique. Unable to deal with her just then, I turned my head back to the other side of the bed, to Jennifer.

Behind me, I heard a sob, and then Monique rushed from the room, crying. I tried my voice again. "Reee leeee me."

Jennifer's face loomed in front of my eyes as she hunched down beside me. "I don't understand, Nathan."

Furious, I rattled the chain attached to the wrist restraint next to her face. "Reee leee sssss Meeee." I sounded out each letter.

Looking me in the eyes, she sadly shook her head. "No, not until the sedative has worn off and you have better control than that, my friend. Relax, now, and let your head clear. Once you can communicate better, I will free you and tell you what your condition is. Do you want more ice?" I wanted to turn my head away from her in response, wanted to ignore her, but my body was screaming for liquids. I gratefully accepted the ice chip she offered. "All right, let me explain to you what has happened."


Much later, I reviewed what Jennifer had told me. It had been dark outside for several hours as I lay awake, alone in Monique's large bed. Much had come to light in the hours following my awakening, and since I could not find natural sleep after my extended period of anesthetized slumber, I played and replayed those happenings over and over again in my mind.

My injuries, though painful, would for the most part heal in a couple of weeks. The whip that Monique had chosen was not heavy enough to cause the deep muscle bruising that the strap had. The whip had, however, cut me several times. My ass was a sight. I don't think there was a square centimeter of normal flesh tone on the entire expanse of my butt. No fewer than twelve of the "cuts" had indeed cut me, four of them quite deeply, deeper than Jennifer liked, in any case. The real fear was infection, particularly one of the cuts that was very near my anus, but the antibiotic lotions used before and after the fact by Jennifer should serve to prevent that problem.

Although not deeply bruised, the large muscles of my glutes and thighs were stiff and sore from the constant tension and strain of fighting the restraints and from anticipating the whip strikes. More like sports' injuries than anything I had previously experienced with Monique, those would be the longest lasting of my hurts. Even my arms and shoulders hurt - also from the muscle strain of pulling on the restraints.

After Jennifer had finished explaining my physical condition to me, Monique had returned, and tried to help, but I could not face her. The feeling of hurt, of betrayal was too new, too fresh. She may have felt that exceeding the count was not exceeding a limit, but I did not agree. Particularly, when it had taken all the strength and courage I possessed to give her the count she had initially demanded. I had been almost proud when the supposedly last blow had been struck without resorting to SoulMate. Only to be taken to the fiery pits of hell. And for what? So she could be magnanimous and "prove" to me that she would accept and honor my safeword? Or so she could show me that I was out of my league and drive me away before I became too important for her. Neither reason justified what she had done.

She had taken one look at the emotions roiling on my face, and had fled from the room.

After that, Jennifer had returned, only to tell me that neither of them could stay with me the next day, Monday. Both women had appointments that could not be rescheduled, but that they would work around to minimize the time I was alone. Jennifer's appointment was after lunch, and Monique's was at 10:00. Jennifer would stay with me until just before noon, and Monique would return home just as soon as she could after her meeting. She assured me that I would not have to be alone more than a couple of hours. I had other plans that I did not share with her.

Chapter 56: Disappearance

Darkness was falling as I unlocked the door to my townhouse New Years day. The air inside was stale. I carried in the fresh milk, soda and cold cuts I had bought at the Supermarket - what luggage I had with me could wait until later.

Other than an incredible weariness, I was physically fine. Two weeks of wandering around the snowy hills of my upstate New York hideaway had cured what had ailed me. The deepest of the cuts still showed pink on my buttocks, but the last of the scabs were gone. I had been able to move about normally the second or third day after I had left Monique's place.

I had spent the first night in a motel somewhere northwest of the city. The decision to go to New York had been an impulsive one. When I had gone into "my" room at Monique's to gather my clothes, I had found my wallet, but not my keys. Monique must have taken them to make a stop at my place for sundries. That was not an immediate problem, because I had, due to an unfortunate predilection for locking my keys in my car, put a spare car key in my wallet. I also had spares of my other keys in my briefcase, which was safely locked in my trunk.

Dressing had not been fun, but the more I moved, the more I loosened up. I was moving pretty freely by the time I crept out of the house. Sitting was another matter - my bottom hurt - a lot, but I did not want to chance the use of one of the pain killers or muscle relaxers that Jennifer had left for me when she had left.

The motel was the first place I had found once the discomfort from sitting in one place started to become too much to ignore. The direction that had taken me to that place had been chosen because it was as far from where I might be expected to be as possible. At that moment, being found by Monique was the last thing I wanted.

I had carried my briefcase into my room because I badly needed the toothbrush I had packed inside, but when I opened the case I saw the letter from my sister. My Christmas surprise for Monique was in that envelope - the key to the cabin I'd had constructed on that piece of land above the lake back home. My sister, who had overseen the project for me, had mailed the key to me earlier in the week. With all the tension and stress of waiting for the whipping, I had tossed the letter into the case and forgotten it. Finding it had seemed like a providential answer to the immediate questions facing me - what to do and where to go. Resolution of mind brought relief from the anxiety that had burdened me for hours, and after taking two of Jennifer's pain killers, I went to bed, falling immediately into a deep sleep. The next day, I had bought camping equipment, including a very, very good (read that soft!) air mattress, some provisions and then headed north to New York.

The contractor who had built the cabin had left the large lot otherwise untouched. It was still thickly wooded and, even with all the trees and brush leafless for the winter, the cabin and my car were well hidden from the rarely traveled road. Which suited me down to the ground. I kept to myself while up there, neither seeking nor wanting much in the way of human contact. My only exception was to call my sister on Christmas and wish her and the family a happy Christmas. And even that was in the way of avoiding people. God only knows what she would have done if she could not reach me for the regular holiday greetings. When we chatted, she made the incorrect assumption that I was calling from home. I did not correct her.

Vigorous walks in the snowy woods that surrounded the cabin had consumed my days, while long hours of brooding contemplation filled my nights. I slept when I was too tired to think or walk anymore, then I would wake up to walk, think and brood some more.

And now, I was back home - maybe not quite ready to face my life again, but unwilling to hide from it any longer. A quick check of my closet produced a clean suit to wear for work the next day. If I still had a job. Two weeks of unexcused absence was more than enough reason for any company to fire me.

The issue of my current employment, however, was a question for tomorrow. I made a sandwich, popped the top on a Diet Coke, and settled on the sofa to watch the last of the New Year's Day college football bowl games on television.

It was futile. After twenty minutes of mindless staring, the sandwich was untouched, the soda was going flat, and I could not even name the teams that were playing. Hell, I did not even know what bowl game I was not watching.

I was just standing up to go pitch the sandwich and get ice for my soda when a key rattled in my door. The door slammed open against the stop and a haggard, windblown Monique stormed into my living room. "Where have you been? I have been frantic."

My blood quickened just to look at her. Her auburn hair was as unkempt as I had ever seen it. Tiny jewels of snow twinkled in the flyaway strands indicating that the weather had turned in the past hour.

I shook myself from that line of thought and answered her. "I am sorry about that, but I had to get away. I went home to N.Y., stayed in a little cabin I had put up on the land I bought there. no phones." I did not tell her I had built it for her, for us. I couldn't.

She stared at me for a long moment. Her hand started to reach out toward me, but she pulled it back, uncertain. Finally, she pulled herself together and looked me over. "Are you all right?"

I nodded. "Yes. Physically, I am healed." answering her, while not answering her.

"I am glad." Her voice broke and she swallowed. She spoke again, her words tumbling out in a rush. "Are you coming to work, tomorrow? You don't have to worry about the time you took. I had excess sick leave which I had transferred to your account. Roselie and I put out the word that you were recovering from a bad case of the flu."

"Thanks. I did wonder if I still had a job." Although I was not sure I wanted it. Being fired would have taken some very hard decisions out of my hands. Decisions I no longer had any choice but to make for myself.

"So, what now, Nathan? What about us?"

The very question that had consumed so many sleepless hours. I did not like the answer staring at my mind's eye, but she had asked and I could no longer deny what I had to do. "It has to end, Monique. As a person submitting to a domme, I am required to trust you, but you don't trust me. It is like you are afraid that because I am not "submissive enough". That you are afraid that one day, I will decide that I don't love you and leave you. It is as if you are trying to drive me away, trying to force me to justify your worst fears. And it has been escalating, Monique, even with the deal we made to give me more of a say in your games, it is escalating. Three times, now, you have hurt me enough to lay me up. Three times, I have had to miss work. And each time, it was worse. Each time, you were inconsolable afterwards. I don't know how else to break the cycle. If we permit this to continue, I can't see any way to avoid you hurting me, and ultimately yourself, really badly. It has to stop."

I looked into her eyes, tried to give her a chance to refute this, to find a way for her help breech this gap, to allay this fear. Nothing. I shook my head, and continued. "Have you ever done to a submissive in your keeping what you have done to me? Laid them up for a week? Failed to honor the safeword? Continued a whipping beyond the promised number, just to try and get the safeword invoked? Did you ever stop to think I might have been afraid to safeword? Is that stretching limits, or is that failure to accept limits? Tell me, Monique, please. I don't know. I am at a loss how to deal with this."

Monique simply stared at me. There was no visible life in her as she stood there, rigid, white faced - her subtle makeup the only color in her face, her normally hazel eyes a murky brown muddy color. Tears sparkled against the light of the halftime ceremony fireworks on television.

Again, nothing. "I love you Monique. I still do love you, and that I can say that to you, and mean it when I say that amazes me. But I know that hurting me, really hurting me, will destroy you. And so, because I love you, I will now justify those worst fears of yours. I thought I could pay the price, and I could have, if the price was merely to be paid by me. But that is not the case, now, because the price is you, your self image and esteem, and maybe, just maybe, your sanity. That price is too high." My voice broke, and I turned to hide the tears that now filled my eyes.

"I only have two hopes. The first is, if you cannot come to trust me enough, is that eventually, you find love and submission enough to fulfill you. I love you enough to want you happy.

"The second, and more selfish hope is that eventually, you will come to trust my love enough to accept what I can safely give. I love you." I walked to the chair I had tossed my coat onto and fished a small, blue velvet box out of it. I turned back to Monique and pressed it into her hand. She hesitantly opened it and saw the pearl and diamond engagement ring inside it. Her eyes flew back to mine, hope flaring in them. I shook my head.

"I have had that since before San Francisco. I bought it shortly after we made love the first time, back when I still thought there was a chance I might be the man who would earn the right to be your husband. It is yours. It has always been yours, and will always be yours. I will have a letter of resignation ready tomorrow morning. Tell me what you want me to do with it then."

Monique stared at the ring. "I guess that says everything." She wiped her eyes with the back of the hand that held the ring box. "I will leave you alone, then. Farewell, Nathan. I do love you, my SoulMate. I wish I could be different for you." She turned to leave.

"I never asked you to be different. I simply asked you to trust my love. Farewell, Monique. I love you, too."

With that, she rushed out, leaving the door open in her wake.

I was alone again.

Chapter 57. Rebuilding a Life, Again.

Monique was not in the office the next day. A convenient out of town problem had arisen over the holidays and Monique had volunteered to fly to the west coast to handle it, but she had been busy before she left. Shortly after I had arrived, Roselie had brought a note into my office.


I know you will do what you feel you must with your resignation letter. Maybe, it is for the best. Maybe, the saying about keeping business and pleasure separate is correct.

I have, however, made provision for you to stay on here if that is what you want, and if the only reason you would be leaving is your association with me.

There is a temporary assignment waiting for you in personnel. The Executive Manager at our Crystal City hotel has had a mild heart attack. I have recommended you as his interim replacement. Jim Faquare gave his whole hearted approval and you are in, if you choose to accept the position. It will have you in a different part of the building and you won't have to interact with this office in the conduct of your duties.

Your typical superb performance will put you in line for the job if, as the current expectation is, the current manager be unable to return to those duties. If he does return, you will still be well on your way to another such position in the company.

Be well, dear one

The letter was signed "Monique".

I read and reread the note, not realizing until she cleared her throat that Roselie was still there. Her eyes were wide, worried. The color and effervescence I normally associated with her was absent as she stood there, silently watching. I was trying to find a way to break the silence when the inter-office comm line buzzed. Roselie went to her desk and came back to tell me that Faquare wanted to see me immediately.

I was gone from the headquarters offices within the hour. Faquare wanted me at the other building and that was that. "Normally, Nathan, we don't move people into management this quickly, but there are exceptions to every rule. Monique's reports on you are glowing, and the fixes you pulled off on those problems in Chicago and San Francisco, not to mention the way you handled those prima donna hotel managers in Boston have given you quite the reputation in the company." There was never any question in his mind that I was going to take the job.

I was in my new office before lunch time, marveling at the turn my life had taken, thanks to Monique.

In reality, the new job was not all that difficult. The staff, particularly the assistant managers, were excellent. I was a leader/manager again, and the skills developed in twenty years of navy life came in handy. Oh, there were the usual bent out of shape noses, upset that an outsider had been brought in to handle the shop, when one of them could have handled the job just as well, if not better.

Actually, that issue turned out to be not all that big a problem. After a few weeks in the job, I reached the decision that this was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. If I stayed with the company, I wanted something else. What that "something else" was, I did not know, but I did know that I was not a threat to anyone's personal ambitions and aspirations at the Crystal City hotel. Anyway, I took each of the assistant managers aside and told them that I was brought in because the home office had every expectation that the regular boss would be back and did not want to have to break up his team while he was getting back into the harness after his recovery. I strongly hinted that the home office was worried about these people getting out of hand if they had to be "demoted" back to their real jobs. Besides, I sweetened the message, I would also be reporting on their performance and "teamwork", when I returned to my old job and reported to Mr. Faquare and Ms. Sanderson. That effectively ended the turf battles with the aspiring, upwardly mobile types, and made the remainder of my stay a great deal simpler.

Roselie kept in touch. She said she wanted to make sure I knew what was happening in the "old office", but I was uncomfortable being alone in her company. We had shared a lot in the preceding months, but that had all happened because of our mutual involvement with Monique. I ensured our "dates" were in public places, and that they ended early in the evening; actions that did not please Roselie overly much.

These meetings continued in much the same vein over the next several weeks. We would get together at my hotel's restaurant for dinner about once a week. Finally, Roselie had had enough, and she ambushed me with a kiss after I had walked her to her car. It was a hell of a kiss, and truthfully, I wanted it to be wonderful. Roselie finally broke the kiss, sighing. "It is never going to be for you like it is for me, is it, Nate?"

Sadly, I shook my head. Lord, but I wanted it to be. She was so lovely, and I cared for her deeply, but she was not Monique, and I was not over her, or over the sense of loss for what might have been between us. I began to treat her like a kid sister, which she finally came to accept, and we settled into a teasing, sometimes flirting friendship.

After about three months of holding down the new job, I knew it was not going to work. It was just too painful living in D.C., seeing things that reminded me of Monique. A decision had to be made. I sent out my resume again. The irony that this mailing was almost a year to the day after the mailing that had brought me to this company and to Monique was not lost on me. One difference was that this mailing was to companies that would use my "old" Navy and engineering skills. The types of job that would have me working in a lonely, impersonal cubicle again. Lonely did not seem so bad anymore.

April is a funny month in Boston. It had been snowing at Logan Airport the day before when I had arrived in town. Now, it was one of those achingly beautiful, almost warm, early spring days that only seem to happen in New England. Of course, since it was New England, that could change to a blizzard or downpour in less than an hour, but that was part of the charm of this part of the country, too.

I had just finished lunch and was at loose ends. My job interview with the Draper Laboratory in Cambridge had started off well earlier in the morning. There had been a minor snafu when the manager who was supposed to finish the interview and decide whether to make me an offer had been called upstairs for an unannounced program review. I would have to go back the next day to finish the interview, but that was okay. I had the afternoon free and it was a beautiful day. I decided to explore my old haunts from my M.I.T. days and set out on foot.

Eventually, I headed down Massachusetts Avenue, past the main M.I.T. grand entrance way, and then crossed over the Harvard Bridge from Cambridge into Boston. I ended up wandering down the park in the middle of Commonwealth Blvd, then over to Boyleston Avenue and past the huge Prudential Tower. Memories of good times at M.I.T. with friends and colleagues washed over me, and I wound up in the Red Light district before realizing where I was heading. I made a quick about face and headed back toward the main part of town, this time walking down Newbury Street.

A strangely familiar painted glass picture window caught my attention, snapping me out of my reveries. The window read "Chez Maria. By appointment and referral only" I checked my watch - 4:30 pm. On a whim, I walked up and pulled the old fashioned bell pull. A sense of deja vu washed over me as I waited at the door, wondering if anyone would answer the door. I certainly had not made an appointment. In fact, I had pretty much put that particular episode out of my mind.

The sense of having been here before became intense when the door opened. The hair was still ash, and the chocolate brown eyes still twinkled with internal good humor. "Yes?" the quietly modulated, cultured voice asked, "What can I do for you..." Her voice trailed away as her eyes went wide and her mouth formed an "O".

"Hello, Maria." I said quietly. "I was in the area and decided to see if you were here." It was lame, but it was also the truth.

"Nathan?" She seemed stunned. I knew how she felt - I was somewhat shocked to be there. "Nathan!" she squealed and launched herself into my arms. "Come in, come in." She all but dragged me into the house.

The house was all but deserted and I asked Maria about that. She smiled. "Slow day. They happen in this business just like any other. Today we had a couple of early appointments for simple make overs and a late afternoon passing in public drill. Vicki is out playing safety watch on that one. Our other ladies are taking advantage of the time off to take care of personal business or to just unwind."

I picked up on her words and asked "Safety watch? What is that?"

She smiled wryly. "I promised you, Nathan. Vicki is there to covertly watch over and protect one of our girls. This person's Mistress wants him to become completely passable and this is her first "solo". Her task is to go to the airport where her male clothes are locked in a locker, and then make her escape. Vicki has a backpack with a change of clothes and a van to change in should something go wrong for our student. She should be back later on."

"How are the others? Libby and Dru and Granny Andrea?" I asked.

"Granny Andrea??" she spluttered, laughing. "Fine, all fine," she giggled. "Dru and Andi are still with me. Libby graduated last year from B.C. and has gone out to California to work on her doctorate in clinical psychology." She chuckled again. "Granny Andrea. God, Nathan, you better hope she never hears that or that you never have to play with her again." She looked up at me, her eyes bright with laugh tears, and her face fell as she saw my reaction. "Nathan, what is the matter?"

I looked away, trying to avoid the discussion. Why hadn't I known this would come up? Maybe I had known it and subconsciously wanted to talk about my relationship with Monique with someone who would understand? Perhaps even understand parts I did not understand. Is that why I was here? "Nathan?" Maria's soft query brought me back.

Mentally steeling myself against the still raw hurt of loss, "Maria, I don't have to worry about Andrea's retaliation. There is nothing in my life that will bring me back here as a client or whatever anymore. Monique and I have broken up."

Soft brown eyes glowed sympathetically as Maria let me recover my composure. On reflection, I realized that was the first time I had acknowledged the breakup out loud since I had last seen Monique on New Years Day.

"That is very sad, Nathan, because I know how much she cared for you, and if what you went through with us is any indication, you must have cared for her a great deal, too."

"Care, Maria. The word is still present tense. I love her - probably always will."

"Then Monique is the one..." she let the question hang unsaid.

I shook my head. "I think her feelings are unchanged, but that is at least part of the problem." Her confusion was evident, and I found myself pouring out the days leading up to the whipping, and the feelings of betrayed trust I still felt over the extension of the whipping, the so-called stretching of my limits. I tried to describe the anger I had experienced when I had discovered Monique's "safeword or leave" strategy for the session and that led into a reprise of the San Francisco safe word failure and the subsequent punishment Monique had visited on me.

Maria listened without comment as I vented my frustrations, angers and hurts. Her hand came to rest on top of mine during a particularly emotional juncture and gave me the strength to continue. That hand did not move again throughout my entire tirade. It took nearly an hour for me to wind down.

The silence that followed sharply contrasted with the sound of my own words, but it was not unwelcome, and Maria recognized that I needed that almost as much as I had needed to talk earlier. Finally, she glanced at the clock and stood up suddenly. "Well, look at the time. I am starved. You will stay to dinner, Nathan. Come along and help me throw something together." Her hand still had not left mine and she dragged me off up the main stairway into a part of the house I had not been in before.

"I live in this townhouse, Nathan." she explained. "As do a couple of my instructors including Vicki. The school is in the other building, the one facing Commonwealth Avenue. We come and go through that side to keep up appearances, but our clients come through this side. That way, the school house appears to be a lived in home, and the association with this business type storefront building remains largely a secret. My business people neighbors here don't mind the comings and goings of strangers since this is a business, and the residential neighbors on Commonwealth don't associate the school with strangers coming and going at odd hours."

The kitchen was large and spacious "eat-in" affair with the dining nook overlooking the front of the storefront buildings on Newbury Street. It was a far cry from the formal, starkly feminine dining room over in the building she called the schoolhouse. She handed me a knife and set me to work chopping vegetables for a stir fry.

As we worked, she made small talk, carefully avoiding anything that might lead to a continuation of our earlier discussion. I figured she did not want to get more involved and decided to respect that. Hell, just by listening to me she had made me feel better than I had in a very long time.

The absolute "normality" of the meal preparation and dinner bemused me, somehow. I mentioned this to Maria as she spooned the chicken and veggie mix over fluffy white rice. Her laugh was deep and rich. "Nathan, you have a very skewed view of me." then she stopped and became pensive. She gave me a very searching look. "Or perhaps it is the view you have of anyone who is involved with dominance and submission type play or lifestyles." She took a bite and chewed thoughtfully. "I do eat, Nathan, and I even have friends who do not come calling in leather, rubber or satin lingerie. Although," and her face became mischievous, "I can't always" (she drew that word out meaningfully) "be certain about the satin undies.

"I shop at the corner market, pay my exorbitant taxes mostly on time, do trick or treats for the kids who come calling on Halloween and call my Mom every Sunday night like a good little daughter. I cry over sad movies, giggle at funny ones and hide my head at the scary parts of the horror movie my nephew insists his Auntie Maria take him to see when I visit. Nathan, by whatever method you choose to measure normalcy, my life measures up. In every way, except for that one aspect of my life. And before today, that is the only experience you have with me and my life."

I had no answer to that. She was right. I struggled to find something to say, but she continued. "Of course, I suspect that you can lay much of your confusion about such things at Monique's feet."

That stopped me and I looked at her, my fork halfway to my mouth. "Huh? Come again, Maria? You have just lost me with that one."

She daintily chewed the forkful of food she had just taken, her eyes sparkling laughter at me. She was enjoying this. She saw my spark of anger and chuckled. "Sorry, Nathan, that was unfair. But you are just so open that it is easy to tease you. Now, don't get huffy. Let me explain."

I took a sip of water and waited for her to continue. "Nathan, I already knew much of what you told me earlier. Not that you had broken up with Monique, but I should have guessed something like that when the phonecalls stopped. Ever since she sent you here, and we had that foulup with the train, she has been using me as a sounding board about you. I was the first one she called when she got back from San Francisco, and the one who listened to her diatribe of self disgust after she punished you, only to find out that you had safeworded. What I mean to say is that I have been the one Monique has talked to when she was insecure about where she was going with you."

"Did you know that she expected me to leave her? Did you know her plan for that damned whipping?"

She sighed. "Parts of it, yes. She often asked me what she would do if you left her. As for the whipping, I knew she wanted you to safe word during that scene. Today is the first time I heard just how poorly that plan turned out, though." She started to say something and stopped - her brow furrowed in concentration. I saw her shrug and then straighten her shoulders in resolution.

"Nathan, I am going to meddle a bit. You gave me a second chance when you could have hurt me personally and professionally. My friend, Monique, loves you and I want to help her, too. You may not want to hear this, but you are still very inexperienced in the nuances of a D&S relationship. Understand that your whipping scene was not all that out of the ordinary for this type of play. 'Stretching limits' by adding more of something you have already agreed to accept is something that most D&S practitioners expect and accept. You had agreed to the whipping."

Fury burned anew. This was the same bullshit argument Monique had tried to use. I would have none of it from her and I would not blithely accept it from Maria. "I agreed to the whipping." I growled in the quiet tones that used to send junior officers running for cover. "She set the number. She broke her word. She broke faith. It is as simple as that." In each sentence, the word 'she' was a soft explosion of sound.

Maria's eyebrows rose in surprise at the intensity of my outburst. "My goodness." she said weakly. Gone was the self assured mein that had accompanied her championship of the so called "limit stretching." She seemed to lean back into her chair to make herself a smaller target. "If I had heard you speak like that before I agreed to train you in August, I probably would not have accepted you as a student." She took a sip of her wine. "You have a very rigid view of limits and the extent of power exchange, Nathan. Knowing that, having negotiated your limits with you, I don't see how Monique could possibly have considered attempting what you say she did." Maria shook her head in disbelief. "She is a much better domme than that. If your limits are that hard and fast, there is no way that scene should have gone the way it did. The risks of you reacting as you obviously have would have been too great."

I snorted in derision. "Limits? What limits? The limits were set by Monique from the get-go. 'Accept my style of play and submit to me, or forget any relationship with me.'" I snorted angrily. "I loved her, Maria. Hell, I still love her and I wanted her in my life forever. I just could not pay the price anymore."

"My God, Nate!" Maria gasped in amazement. "Do you believe that? No wonder you can't believe in the normalcy of my life. Nathan, it is implicit in any type of D&S relationship that there be full and complete honesty and acceptance of both participants' limits. You consented to the whipping yet you say she broke her word. Are you saying that you negotiated the number and/or intensity of the strokes ahead of the scene and she exceeded the stated limit?"

"No. I did not believe that was something I could do. She set the test. She set the number. She is the one who did not play by her rules."

"God, Nathan. Listen to me. It has to be your rules, too. If they are not your rules, then it is not submission by you." she shook her head again. "Lord, what a mess. I take it that you and Monique have never discussed your perception of limits?"

I shook my head. "Not enough, I guess."

"Okay, here is what I think. Monique and you both made assumptions about the other. She assumed you were more.... standard in your definition of limits. You assumed she knew how you viewed limits; both as regards to what constituted a limit and how flexible a limit was. Dammit, Nathan, you two did not talk enough about the important things. That is not your fault as much as it is hers. She is the experienced player, but don't you see? You might not be in this mess if you had been a tougher, more careful negotiator. Yes, I can see from your perspective that Monique went too far, that she "broke faith" as you put it, but you have to see that maybe," she cut off my interruption with an imperiously raised hand, "Just maybe, you did not keep up your part of it, either. She did not explore your limits deeply enough, but neither could she make correct decisions for both of you in a scene when she lacks critical information about how you really feel. Truly, Nathan, your perception of limits is unique in my experience, at least among those whom I would term 'regular players'."

"If she lacks information, then that is her responsibility. How am I supposed to know what I don't know? She is the domme. She is the one who wanted this from me."

"And your gift of submission is great. All the more so because it is something you do just for her, and not for yourself. But, Nathan, think for a moment. If she doesn't give you what you need in return for that gift, how can you continue to give it? If she does not know what it is you need, how is she to find out? Nate... have you done more than stoically accept what she wanted or what she did? Have you done more than the most limited interplay with her on the subject? I am not asking you to answer anyone but yourself. If the answer is yes, then the breakup is most likely the best for both of you. In that case, you are someone who will never be able to find the love in loving dominance. Submission will never be good for you. However, if the answer to that question is not a definitive 'yes', then you have to decide if you are truly walking away from a dangerous situation, or if you are simply running away from love."

That question haunted me for days and through long, lonely nights. The answer was not clear cut. Yes, we had talked. Even the whipping came out of her request to go to that party at Victoria's farm. That had grown of negotiation, hadn't it? Had we ever discussed my militaristic yes/no, go/no go, binary view of the world? Yes, but only in the context of work. Hell, had I even recognized that aspect of my response to this before the whipping? Answers continued to be yes and no and maybe.

The day after my visit with Maria, things got more complicated. The folks at Draper offered me the job I had interviewed for. Just the day before, I would have accepted on the spot. I promised to give them my answer within two weeks. They, of course, wanted an immediate answer, but right there, at the last minute, I could not give them one. I went back to my lonely house in Burke to try and reach a decision about where my life would go.

Chapter 58: Endings and Beginnings

Roselie knew about my trip to Boston and about the job search. She was not happy about the possibility of me leaving the area, and had made me promise to get in touch with her as soon as I got back. I called her when I got from my house. We chatted for awhile, and I told her I had not made a final decision. After a short chat, we agreed to meet at the hotel later that week for our usual weekly dinner get together.

Friday nights are slow nights in the hotel business in Crystal City. No government contractor wants to stay in town over the weekend, even when staying in town was a better financial decision than to bring the home and then send them back to town on Monday. It gives the appearance that there is some type of fraud going on - a free vacation in beautiful Washington at government expense. Of course, there probably was more than a little such fraud in the bad old days. Anyway, except for the odd tour bus and high school senior trip group, the many hotels in the Crystal City area are almost always nearly empty on weekends.

The dining room was similarly empty when I came down from my top floor office to meet Roselie. I was looking forward to the diversion that Roselie's bubbly nature promised. The decision on whether to accept the Draper offer had been agonizing, but I had just made the phone call. For better or for worse, I had made the choice. Now, I simply wanted to forget the whole thing for a few pleasant hours. Besides, a look at my calendar had given me something else to deal with. Tonight was the anniversary of that first date with Monique - the charity ball where we had danced. The night that I had fallen irrevocably in love with her.

The Hostess smiled warmly in greeting and told me that my party had arrived. I declined her offer to seat me, and asked her to have the server wait for a few minutes before coming to the table.

The Manager's table at this hotel is a semi-private affair in the back of the dining room, next to a floor to ceiling window that overlooks National Airport. As I rounded the large green plant that separated the table from the rest of the room, the first thing I saw was the lights of aircraft taxiing about the runways. The second thing I saw was the fire of dark auburn hair where I expected to see blond.

"Hello, Nathan." came the soft, slightly tremulous voice of Monique Sanderson.

I stopped cold in my tracks. My mind stopped functioning and I simply stood there, staring at her.

"Please, Nathan. Don't leave. I really would like to talk to you." Her eyes were wide, amber instead of hazel green in the candle light. "Please?"

My eyes never left her as I moved slowly to the chair opposite hers, and sat down. "Hello.." my throat was incredibly dry and the word came out as a croak. I sipped some water and tried again. "Hello, Monique. This is quite a surprise."

She shrugged. "I know. It was supposed to be. I did not know if you would see me, and I do so want to talk with you. Roselie took pity on me, and agreed to let me take her place tonight. She apologizes for the deception."

I nodded my acceptance of that. Rosie loved us both, and after her abortive attempt to become more intimate with me herself, this was something she would try. "You are looking well, Monique."

"Liar." she retorted. "I have lost too much weight and too much sleep for even cosmetics to hide the flaws."

She was right. Her cheeks looked hollow, and shadowed circles rounded her eyes. As for cosmetics, those seemed strangely lacking. She wore one of her more somber workday suits - a gray affair that did not fit her very well and that she usually wore for comfort on light work days. She was not dressed for seduction. Why was she here? "What do you want, Monique?"

She closed her eyes and smiled ruefully before looking me in the eyes. "Ever to the point, Nathan. Very well. Roselie tells me you are leaving town."

"Roselie told you that, eh?" I asked, not giving her anything.

"Yes. Ever since she tried to jump your bones, that is her description, and you sidestepped, she has been keeping me apprised of what she knows about you and your plans. I think she wanted to make sure I did not forget about you, as if I could. So, Nathan, are you leaving town?"

I did not immediately answer. Her choice of words taking my attention for a moment. What was this all about? I decided to play for more information. "I have been job hunting, Monique. I wasn't sure it was best for either of us for me to stay in the company. One of the job interviews was with Draper Lab near MIT in Cambridge. They have offered me a job."

She set her glass down with a thunk. "And are you going to take it?"

"I like New England." I said diffidently. "At least, I like the parts of New England I have discovered on my own." She winced as the barb hit home making me feel guilty for taking the easy cheap shot. She was at least trying to reach something of an understanding and I was not helping. I sighed. "Sorry, Monique. Anyway, to answer your question, the job in Cambridge is one option open to me. I also have two offers here in Northern Virginia."

"You liked the type of work you did with us." It was not a question. "You liked it, but now, you think you have to leave. You don't, you know. I would never do anything to hurt you more than I already have, Nathan. You would be able to make it on your own not inconsiderable talent. You already have Faquare's eye, and that can take you a long way in this company."

"I guess, Monique, but I don't know. Somehow, it seems that my moving would be cleaner."

She shook her head sadly. "I am sorry you feel you must lose that, too. I never wanted to diminish you in any way, Nathan. It is poor recompense, I know, but maybe you'd be pleased to know that I have not been able to scene since you left. Not with Roselie, not with Sondra, not with anyone, not as a top or as a bottom. It is not fun anymore. Nothing is the same. Dominance is no longer fulfilling. It is heartbreaking. I lost the joy of it when I lost you."

"Whipping you gave me nothing. Not even while I was doing it. In all the years I have been involved in dominance and submission, that is the first time that I felt nothing during a session. I was only a taker in that scene, and in return, gave you nothing but hurt. It has taken me a long time to figure it out, but finally, in the end, I understood. You cannot give me what you don't have to give, and taking it from you is not what dominance is about. Not for me, anyway." She looked at me for something, but did not seem to find it, and decided to press on.

I've dismantled the Colonial Room in my basement and donated all the equipment to the local chapter of Black Rose. I couldn't stand having it in the house another minute."

I had heard of Black Rose, a local support group for people interested in B&D, S&M and D&S, but the choice of where to send the equipment surprised me almost as much as her decision to get rid of it. "Not to Tory's place?"

Her answering head shake was emphatic. "No, I don't often go to Black Rose events, but I do plan to go to Tory's sometime in the future, once I get my head back together. I don't want to see that setup again. Ever."

"Sondra and Jennifer and Roselie have all talked to me," she smiled sadly. "Yelled at me is closer to the truth. Told me how stupid it was to press the whipping." I saw a memory flit past her eyes, and she half chuckled. "Sondra was very direct." Monique imitated Sondra's cultured, slightly Germanic accents perfectly. "There are pain sluts a-plenty, you foolish girl. People who want nothing more of you than that type of scene from you. How many men want to be there for you? How many men are strong enough to dare to bottom and strong enough to be there for you when you need him? Dammit, Monique, I would kill to have a man want to do that for me.' That was the kindest thing she had to say to me. And she is right, Nathan. I need that as much or more as I need my domme side valued. I need you."

Whatever I expected her to say, that was not it. I was stunned at the totality of what she said and simply sat there, looking at her. She waited expectantly, than shuddered and let her head hang down in failure. She stood, reaching for her purse. "I am sorry I hurt you, Nathan. God knows, I hurt myself, too. Be well, dear man. I will always love you."

She rummaged in her purse and pulled out a velvet box. I recognized it instantly - the box that held the engagement ring. She set it on the table and started to leave. My head still awhirl, I caught her wrist before she could escape and pulled her backwards. She fell awkwardly onto my lap, and we ended up embracing as we both tried to keep her from falling. "I never said I did not value your dominant personality. I do, because it is integral to the complex and fascinating woman you are. I simply could not watch you slowly destroy yourself waiting for me to leave you. And I don't want that damned ring back. It was yours when I bought the damned thing, and it will always be yours, just as my heart always will be." I forced the box back into her hand.

She dropped the ring into our lap, and with a confidence I had not seen in her yet that evening, she faced me down, eye to eye. "The only way I am taking that ring back, Mr. Evans, is if you put it here..." She held out her left hand, ring finger extended expectantly. One brow lifted in challenge. It was going to be all right.

"The only way that ring goes on that finger, Ms Sanderson, is if you are going to be my wife."

She finally smiled. It was a tearful smile, but a smile none the less. "Please, Nathan, marry me?"

I quickly pulled the ring out of the box, but could not resist one last tease. "Wait a minute. Isn't popping the question my job?

She grinned, and answered pertly "Hey, who is the domme in this family?" Then her face fell as she realized what she had said and the memories came back.

I took her now limp hand and slipped the ring on her finger. "We will work on it, darling. I don't know how much of that we can have in our relationship, but that is something we will have to work out together. Together." I kissed her to seal the promise, then pulled back. "You know, I talked to Maria when I was in Boston. She suggested that we write a contract for that stuff, and given my" I cleared my throat and shifted into my "Natalia voice" "'Somewhat inflexible definitions and perceptions' as Maria put it, that we stick to the letter of the written word for a while."

She kissed me back before continuing. "We will talk about it, Nate.... I am not certain I want to domme you any more. I am honestly not sure I ever really wanted to. And I am glad you talked to Maria. She was the one who gave me the guts to come see you one last time, to try one last time. She called me right after you left her place. Gave me a royal chewing out, too."

"Well, whatever we do with Mistress Monique in our life together, we will work it out between the two of us. Maria gave me a lot to think about as far as communication, too. We will do it. Together."

"Together...." her voice fading as she put her mouth to more enjoyable pursuits.

"Nathan..?" she mumbled my name around my lips, still not breaking the kiss.

I really did not want to talk anymore, but given the promise to communicate, I tried to answer without breaking the kiss, either. "Mmmmmmmmmmmmm? What...?"

She suddenly pulled back, the old mischief alight in her face. "Did you really call Andrea Granny?" I nodded. She laughed. "I just love a brave man."

"Good thing, sweetheart. Only the brave would be daring enough to take you on for life." We laughed together, and then, I stood up, keeping her in my arms, and headed out of the dining room, much to the entertainment of the few diners and the staff. One of the perks of hotel management is a suite that is always available for the boss' use. A suite with a lovely, big bed. I could not think of a better place to seal our promises and to start our lives together. Monique happily agreed.

Part Eighteen: Laying it on the Line, Laying on the Block