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I took them through a warmup, got their energy flowing and told them they were to show unsentimental compassion and a sense of direction. No routine, just to hold a belief the same way that you would cup a candle flame to keep it from the wind.
Freddy just wanted to hang out. Jimmy never came back. Ben stood with me and we started talking to a group which included someone I recognised. Leaning over, I put my hand on his shoulder and whispered into his ear.
‘You’ve got to project your best self.’
The other woman from the coffee shop. I saw her before Ben did. With her hair down and the weary resignation of work lifted from her face, she smiled when she saw him and I let him walk towards her.
‘Wait, wasn’t this the…’
Turning around, there was Andrea, sipping from a tumbler as she looked at Ben. Then I caught her eye.
Ben blustered and the woman stepped forward as she raised her hands.
‘I never said he was an asshole.’
Andrea’s eyes settled on me. She smiled as I took a slight step forward. Her eyes widened, but she did not flinch even as I stood in front of her.
‘I’m the asshole here.’
She laughed and winked at me, brushing a lock of hair back behind her left ear.
‘It’s healthy that you admit it. It saves time later.’
Her friend shook her head and crossed her arms.
‘I’m sorry about her. She can be an asshole sometimes too.’
Andrea waved her off.
‘Hey, we’re all assholes,’ Ben said.
He gave a quick nod and I winked back.
Andrea came forward, her face softening as she punched him on the shoulder.
‘Sorry. Just fucking with you. Here for the seminar?’
He looked at me and I nodded. She leaned forward and told her name was Lizzie, before he nodded and smiled.
She flicked a glance to Andrea, who lifted her chin.
I turned to Andrea and she shook her head as she spoke to me.
‘Is this what I think it is?’
I leaned forward to explain what was going on and she swore under her breath as she shook her head and pointed past me.
‘It’s ok, we get them a few times a year.’
Terry played the wingman with a student. I asked her if she wanted to go somewhere so I could hear her. She looked at Lizzie, who was smiling and touching Ben on his upper arm as he spoke to her.
‘I think they’ll be all right without us.’
She cocked her head to one side and squinted at me.
‘You can vouch for him, right?’
He turned his head to flash a simple grin in my direction.
I told her he was decent. She leaned back and appraised him before turning back to me. Her eyes were dark and wet as she took a pull at her glass. She ran her lips over one another and my eyes wandered over the pulse in her throat and the lean sculpture of her shoulders.
Her expression made me feel heavy and thick.
‘How do you know all this?’
She shrugged her shoulders as she leaned forward and her breasts shifted beneath her vest. She let me watch as her mouth came to my ear.
‘Why do you care?’
My eyes flashed to Terry, who had turned to see me speaking to Andrea. My throat squeezed back the stab of frustration that came up. She turned her head and saw him. He shook his head, with his lips pressed together and his nostrils flaring before he turned to address the small group hanging on his every word.
‘You aren’t friends with him.’
I shook my head. But there were attendees around. Gossip is our enemy, in this business, as it strips respect and authority. Even he didn’t deserve that. She put her hand up as she nodded in recognition.
‘You’re being a class act about it. I get it.’
Nodding and thanking her as she gestured towards the bar, I didn’t want to draw his eye. But then, one of his students was at her right elbow as she turned around. He was short, but his eyes remained fixated upon her.
‘Your energy drew me.’
Andrea sighed, putting her hands up and rooting him to the spot with a hard glare.
‘Thank you. I don’t want to be rude.’
He squinted, but when he spoke, his voice was rich.
‘I get a sense that you’re carrying a lot of potential energy within you.’
She groaned, folding her arms across her chest
‘ We’re talking.’
His face remained in the same slack expression as he continued to work the routine, unable or unwilling to realise his pedestrian error.
‘Well, sort of talk to me now.’
She gave a cynical laugh. I winced as he glanced backwards to Terry.
Stepping forward, my right hand rose to his shoulder.
‘You’re being too stiff.’
He blinked before grinning at the pair of us and walking away.
She didn’t laugh, watching him dart back towards the group of students and Terry, who looked down at him as he gave feedback. Andrea turned around and urged me to the bar.
She ordered sparkling water and I had a single malt as we watched Ben and Lizzie chatting. They were mirroring one another.
‘Does this ever strike you as creepy, John?’
My eyes settled back on her.
‘Who else shows men how to socialise?‘
She winced, shaking her head.
‘Is that what it is?’
Looking away from me, she took a drink and groaned.
‘Things like these treat women as test subjects.’
A small sip of the whisky warmed my throat as I considered her words.
‘It’s the men here who are the test subjects. It’s when they don’t learn how to do this that the problems start.’
She grimaced again, leaning against the bar and blowing the hair out of her eyes.
As my glass rested against my lips, I studied her over the rim.
‘I doubt you’ve ever been a target in your life.’
She rolled her eyes.
‘You’re a regular johnny on the spot, aren’t you?’
My smile remained in place.
My lips curled into an affable grin.
‘I’m just present.’
She smirked and took a swallow of her drink.
‘I’m not saying I don’t like it though.’
She looked over her shoulder.
‘These guys need supervision?’
My eyes found Ben, the others were out of sight, and as he looked between the two of us, he broke into a wide grin before turning back to Lizzie.
Shaking my head, I asked what she had in mind. She said she didn’t live far.
The streets were full, but she navigated the crowds, pulling me further from the bar. My phone rang, but it was Terry, so I did not answer it. She turned around, gesturing to my pocket.
‘Do you need to get that?’
I shook my head and smiled, stepping closer to let someone pass. As she fished into the pocket of her jeans for her keys, my lips formed the excuse that it was work, and I was not at work. She smiled and shrugged..
She took the stairs to her apartment on the second floor two at a time. I took the stairs, to watch the firm sway of her as she unlocked the door and bounced inside.
The door caught the flat of my hand as I stepped through, sending an echo through the space. She had stripped and stained the floorboards and there were only a few pictures on the wall, black and white glossy photographs of physiques shining with perspiration.
She pulled a well used French press from the drying rack, measured out the grounds into the carafe, and boiled water in an electric kettle. She stirred the coffee and set it aside to brew as she got out two mugs and set them between us with economic gestures.
She plunged and poured the rich smelling liquid as I asked if she’d studied the career I’d chosen and she chuckled under her breath.
‘We like guys who are men asking us out.’
I narrowed my eyes, but I could not keep up the facade as I laughed at her words.
‘It’s difficult for most people, Andrea, unless you have it within yourself.’
She passed me my coffee; her knuckles brushing against my fingers. Our eyes met and she took a step backwards as she picked up her own cup and gestured behind me. Stepping past me, her hip bumped mine and again, we looked at one another.
She unfolded a rolled futon as the rest of the room stole my attention.
There were books on shelves and a heavy bag bolted to the ceiling. Beneath that, a swiss ball and a rolled up mat. She sat down and brought her knees up to her chest, crossing her ankles.
Tilting her head back to look up at me, she asked me to take off my shoes before I sat down across from her.
‘So, do you only train here?’
She shook her head. No one else paid her rent. She fought four times a year now, but the sponsor only covered the gym and her equipment. Good pads and driving to fights ate up the rest. So she did shifts at the hotel and trained. Her world was small and pure. She puzzled at that with a wobble of her head.
‘You’re working with an asshole, though.’
I chuckled at that and gestured to her.
‘That would be your opinion.’
She grimaced and waved me off.
‘He’s a fucking asshole. I know assholes and he’s one of them.’
My hands came together.
‘I recognise that.’
She leaned against the doorway, her forehead furrowed as she appraised me.
‘It’s not as fun as it used to be.’
She looked around the room.
‘Name one thing that is.’
A sigh of relief escaped me as the muscles in my jaw unclenched. There was the release that came from demonstrating a candid authority onstage, done so often that it was mechanical, and then there were these moments.
‘I’ve been doing this awhile. I can tell you how it’s developed,’
She gave a slight smile. Her eyes fell to the watch on my wrist and the buffed shine on my wingtips.
‘I cared about the work rather than the result. Money wasn’t the thing for me, it sits in my bank, sometimes I spend it or I don’t.’
A pang of regret stabbed at my insides, but the unburdening was a wonderful feeling.
‘Even that’s faded. I’ve helped many people, and now it’s all starting to feel as it did when I was helping CEOs not feel too guilty about laying people off to make the stock prices jump two fucking points. I can do it, but I don’t feel it. Not anymore.’
My tongue ran across my teeth, the release of speaking my truth made my hands shake so they came together, palm to palm as the energy of it surged through me.
‘I want to captain my ship rather than help other people sail theirs.’
She was silent, but feeling filled her eyes with empathy as she nodded.
‘I know where I’m trying to get to.’
She brought her hand to the back of her neck. Her eyes flickered towards me as I asked where that was.
I looked at her.
‘Is it just you?’
She shook her head as she smirked, keeping her hand to the back of her neck and leaning forward. Her fingers found the right spot of muscle and she smiled with relief.
She continued to move her fingertips against the ridge of muscle in her neck.
I laughed and told her about the trapped nerve I’d caught helping someone with a mobility scooter stuck on a travelator.
‘We all have pain,’ she said.
‘Can I help?’
She shrugged and said sure as she got onto her knees and came forward. I rolled up my sleeves and stretched out my fingers.
My heartbeat drummed in my ears as my fingertips smoothed over her neck and shoulders.
Black script that resembled a mandala covered her upper back. It was mesmerising, dense with detail that begged for my attention.
‘It’s a magic tattoo.’
My fingers slipped the hem of her vest up so I could see the entire tattoo. There was a set of simian features amidst a dense crop of black spirals that spread outwards.
‘Hanuman,’ I said.
She turned her head and her grin made my heart flip in my chest.
‘See, that’s it.’
Her voice was breathy as she brushed a lock of hair behind her ear.
She pressed back against me. My hands wandered back up her neck, as my mouth went dry with lust at the play of her muscles beneath her skin. She whimpered when my fingers found the right spot on her neck. Then she sat up as she squared her shoulders..
‘You’ve done this before.’
She pushed herself back, closer to me.
‘I might have.’
She laughed as she lowered her chin to her chest and brushed her hair upwards.
‘You’re stronger than you look.’
My fingers danced down over her ribs, making her shiver and sigh. The skin on her arms prickled with gooseflesh and my mouth came to her ear, my lips brushing against her earlobe.
‘You have no fucking idea.’
She brought her head up and turned to one side, sticking her tongue out at me.
‘Yeah, right? Those are show muscles, I bet. Lots of arm curls, so you can wear tight t-shirts at the club.’
A chuckle prompted my fingers to press into the meat of her shoulders, moving in small circles.
‘You bloody watched me.’
She laughed again.
There was a light in her eyes and a tough grin that made my cock stir. My hands smoothed up either side of her neck and my right hand cupped her chin. She turned around a little as my mouth came to her ear.
‘I get the sense that you want to ask me for something.’
She nodded, licking her lips.
‘I needed to make sure you weren’t a dick.’
My chuckle made her shiver.
‘Well, not a total dick.’
My lips brushed against the top of her ear.
‘Just enough of one.’
She sighed and gave a short, delighted laugh. She shut her eyes and shook her head.
‘It’s that fucking accent. I swear.’
My heartbeat thumped in my head.
‘Just the accent?’
She shut her eyes for a second before she looked at me. Her expression; open and dark.
‘I could massage your ego here, John, but that’s not what I want.’
She looked at my hands, over my chest, settling on my face.
She shut her eyes.
‘I want you to take charge.’
‘What’s your safe word?’
She grinned and leaned forward, lobbed a lazy punch on my left shoulder as she bit her lip.
My fingers wrapped around her hair and pulled hard, which made her eyes fly open.
There were eager stabs of her lips and tongue against mine before she found my nipples and the concern made itself felt in the slight twitch of her mouth. Her fingers caressed my chest. My teeth bit into her lip. She groaned. My grip on her hair forced her head back as my lips trailed down her neck. My nose filled with the subtle tang of her musk and my right hand rested on her hip.
She swallowed as she shifted and pushed her crotch against me.
She exhaled through her nose, biting her lower lip.
‘There’s only one way you will make me stay still.’
My grip on her hair tightened.
‘I can think of one.’
She gasped, pulling her hand over mine.
She breathed in sharp little bursts.
She laid down and raised her chin.
‘Unzip yourself. I want to see your pussy.’
My voice sounded dark and low to my ears and her mouth twisted with pleasure.
My palm pressed against her collarbone and she laid down, her eyes glowing with desire
‘You will come all over my fingers, do you understand?’
She nodded as much as she could against my hand.
She undid her jeans with unsteady fingers.
‘Pull them down. Now.’
She went to shake her head, but a tug of her hair and her eyes glazed over with delight. She lifted her hips and slipped her jeans down her legs, kicking them off.
I wrapped the length of her hair around my hand, yanking it once more. She swore as she grinned.
‘What about my underwear?’
My gaze fell, then wandered up to her eyes again.
‘Take them down but not off.’
She sighed and pushed her panties down over her hips, revealing a slight line of stars that ran across her pelvis and a pattern of Fleur Des Lys at the top of her right thigh. My fingertips stroked across the thin scrub of ebony hair above her pussy and she sighed.
One finger slipped down and forward, plunging into the wet warmth of her. She pushed against me and my grip tightened as I pulled it back. The tip of my index finger whispered against her clit. She made a soft choking cry that sent a shiver up my spine.
The tender flesh of her pussy was slick with her pleasure. She arched against my hand. Her thighs fluttered with tension. She whimpered as her eyes squeezed shut and her hands clutched against the futon.
Her breathing came in ragged blasts, and her skin was hot and damp where it touched mine. Her face was tight and shut to me as she pumped her hips in rapid succession before she cried out and her eyes snapped open.
She clamped her hand over my wrist and shook her head before she collapsed back against the mattress. She let out a deep sigh and my right hand drew away from her pussy. My fingers were damp and I flexed them to ease the cramp that had pooled in my wrist.
She looked into my eyes and brought her hand to rest over my grip, loosening in her hair. She blinked, licked her lips and grinned at me. Then she swallowed as she tilted her head back to gaze at me.
I undressed with care, making theatre with my intention. Her chest rose and her cheeks flushed with heat as her tongue ran over her lips, her eyes drawing up and down my body.
She chuckled and shook her head at my frown.
‘No, you’re uncut,’ she said. ‘I’ve not been with a guy who’s uncut before.’
My eyes fell to where my cock hung between my thighs, heavy with arousal. Then my hand returned to tangle into the back of her hair.
‘You will suck my uncut cock, Andrea.’
She whimpered as I forced her forward.
She stroked me, rolling my foreskin back as she sighed, her breath hot and moist on the tip.
She bucked against me, looking up at me, daring me until my grip on her hair tightened enough to make her wince.
Guiding my cock into her open mouth, her eager tongue swirled around the tip before her lips closed around it. An ache pooled in my hips and thighs.
As my hips thrust forward, she groaned and the hum of her mouth whipped my head back as the muscles around my cock contracted in small, rapid bursts of vibration.
She worked me with her mouth, eyes focussed on my expressions as she wrestled her tongue and lips around the head of my cock with a gusto that forced me deep into her throat. She wretched when the head hit the back of her throat and her eyes watered, but she didn’t pull away.
My orgasm was inevitable and as my cock pumped into her hot, gulping throat, she kept her nose pressed against my pubic hair.
She slipped my cock from between her lips. Her lips glistened with my cum as my hand stroked her cheek.
She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. Something unchecked was in her eyes. It punched me in the heart.
She sat up and we kissed. The salty taste of me mingled with her saliva until it passed and we drew apart to catch our breath.
‘Are you hungry?’