Everything is simple, thought Samantha. You do what you want to do. You say what you want to say. You live your life to the fullest and avoid all the 'could have, should have' later down the road.
So why did something feel off? Why, when she closed the door, leaving Lydia almost naked in bed, was there a hint of worry, a wave of uneasiness? Why, when she went downstairs in search of a bold and handsome young man, did she feel like she was missing something, like there was more to it? The more she thought about it, the more it became difficult to put her finger on it. It was like a nagging memory at the back of her head, like an itch that she couldn’t scratch. Everything should be fine, she reassured herself, - they were at Alex’s, and he had invited only people he could trust. Everything was under control. Everything was according to plan. She was going to be around the whole time and Lydia had her phone if something went wrong. This was what Lydia wanted, after all. It was her idea. Sam had not pushed her into it.
She would never judge anyone for sleeping with a stranger. She wouldn’t, would she? How could she judge Lydia for doing something she had done so many times herself? No, that was not it. That was not the problem. But no matter how hard she thought, she couldn’t find what it was and she felt frustrated.
It took her a while, sifting through the crowd, but she eventually found the right person for Lydia. His name was Brian - a young liberal arts student - and from the moment they first spoke Samantha knew that Brian relied as much on knowledge as he did on chance, and was ready to jump on an opportunity. He was not the most handsome at the party, but he was certainly daring. And he was charming, a warm welcoming charm that made her confident he would not mistreat her friend. After some initial flirting Sam dragged him on the balcony for a private chat.
He seemed a bit surprised at her proposition, but he didn’t refuse. They never did.
Soon after he headed upstairs, leaving her alone outside, slowly sipping on a Long Island. Other people eventually came, talked with her, joked, added her on facebook. But she still felt restless. Her usual control of the situation slipped away. Sam didn’t like that.
It was too late to follow Brian, but she did it anyway. Quietly sneaking to the second floor, she approached the room. Her stomach was a ball of nerves. It was too quiet. Could something have gone wrong?
Samantha was now in front of the door. She paused. What the hell am I doing, she thought, realizing the absurdity of the situation. Then there was a muffled scream. She put her hand on the doorknob. There was another muffled scream. The she heard a louder “Yes!”. It was Lydia’s voice.
Sam breathed heavily, in and out. A sigh of relief Everything was alright. She let herself fall to the floor, head back to the door. The thick carpet absorbed the thump of her weight, and in any case the two inside were too busy to notice.
She sat there for a moment, confused. She could hear the creaking of the bed, mixed with occasional screams and moans. There was a loud slap! and then a breath being drawn. All the noises of sex filled the room like an acoustic orgy and seeped through the door, both keeping her captive and pushing her away, out of the personal space.
She asked herself what she was doing. It was time to go. She had checked in o Lydia, now she really ought to walk away. Sitting here listening was just wrong. Yet she didn’t bulge and instead kept listening to her best friend being fucked on the other side of the door. It was as if she was in a trance. She closed her eyes and drew her fingers through the soft fibers of the carpet. Suddenly she could see it all vividly. Slap! Brian’s hands made an arch in the dark, hitting Lydia’s ass, leaving a pink mark and sending small ripples along her skin. Aah! She forced her breath out, pressing her chest lower and pushing back onto him. Fumbling. The sound of sheets and turning. He flipped her over, forcing her to face him. Her breasts swayed from the motion. Ah! A moan. His attention drawn, he twisted her nipple. A small tap on wood. The bedframe! He lifted her wrists, holding them together with one hand and pinning them to it. Accelerated creaking. He penetrated her, going faster and faster. His hands grabbed her by the waist and pulled her closer as he approached climax. Muffled screams. Heavy breathing. Silence.
Breaking through her trance, part of her brain rang the red alert. She had to quickly get out of there.
She didn’t mention anything to her friend that evening, putting on instead a smiling facade and later, when they had the time, showering Lydia with questions in a dark corner over a drink as they had taken the habit of doing. When she went to bed in the early hours of the morning there was a hint of guilt and shame pestering her - somehow she knew that what she’d done wasn’t right. As she started dozing off she decided that the whole thing was probably not worth thinking about and pushed it away before sleep finally took her.
During their next adventurous evening, the feeling returned. It certainly didn’t have any rational basis, everything went smoothly, from the moment she started the hunt for a suitable candidate, to the warm aftermath of drinking together on the veranda, the last sounds of the party dying out in the small hours of the night. Why was she worried? She felt like somehow they had not accomplished the right result, despite the evidence. She pushed the ridiculous feeling away.
Each time, they got better and better at it - more experienced, more synchronized, less timid. Not that Samantha had ever needed to be less timid. But Lydia certainly did, and her progress was clearly visible. She no longer waited for hours in the room, alone. Instead she made the rounds with Sam, following her closely, at first right behind her as they chose their prey, then falling a few meters behind when the time came to strike. When she saw Samantha lean in and whisper in his ear she knew it was only a matter of a few seconds as surprise, shock and incredulity washed over his face, then came a small nod and it was time for Lydia to head upstairs and get ready. Sam somehow always knew how to find the exact words, how to press the right buttons. Men were very easy to play and she was the queen of the game.
With their success came audacity and they started experimenting at other parties, outside of Alex’s house. They no longer had full information on the guests beforehand, but this only added to the excitement. They improvised, went with the flow and got their results. It was all surprisingly easy. Most of the times Sam managed to pull a few strings and get a room from the host. Usually there wasn’t much resistance. Once she had to get naked to have her way - he was handsome enough that she didn’t regret it and naive to think it had been his idea.
But the feeling persisted. Sometimes very strong, sometimes dim, somewhere, far, in the back of her head anxiety had made a nest and she didn’t know what was going to hatch.
Self-reflection wasn’t something Sam did often and it didn’t come naturally to her. She liked living in the moment, doing what felt right and not lingering on past mistakes and since the strange feeling seemed distant and barely perceptible most of the time, it took her a long time, between her classes, her work and her parties, to really start thinking about the situation.
At first she questioned whether it could be a form of jealousy - after all, the primary focus had shifted away from her and onto her friend - could it be simply a lack of attention? It certainly seemed plausible. It occurred to her - for the first time in her life - that she had never properly experienced jealousy. It was simply something that others felt and that she - most of the time - had the good grace not to hold too much against them. But now… now the tables had turned. Now it was all about Lydia.
It was true, Sam had definitely been participating in the fun as well, but nowhere close to what she used to. So she decided to take some more time for herself. She went on a few dates, had casual sex, made new friends, went shopping and read a few books. It helped a lot. She felt a lot more like herself again and it seemed like she had found her equilibrium. Or almost. Once every few weeks, when the time came and she went with Lydia to a party, when her friend excitedly climbed the stairs and when Sam sent someone upstairs bound by their secret rules, the vague feeling would return, silently screaming at her that she was doing it wrong. The worst part of it was that she had no idea what she was doing wrong, and why. It was time to ask for advice.
She giggled at his joke then hushed herself, aware that her laughter had echoed a little too loudly in the half-empty sushi-bar. The evening was calm and the lack of a crowd allowed them to have a decent conversation, all the while retaining a pleasant background chattering that covered any too personal details of their discussion. Alex grabbed his full stomach puffing happily and laid back in his chair, letting the food settle down. An evening like this was exactly what he needed. It was a bliss during this awkward period of the school year when the finals were over and most of the tension was released, but the results hadn’t come out yet, keeping the prospect of a potential disaster hanging over his head.
Sam went to grab some more of her favourite snacks and came back a minute later with a full platter, fried crab pincers dangling over the edge.
‘So tell me, Alex, how are things going with Christine?’
Ah, Christine. He knew that the question was bound to come up sooner or later. He smiled to himself, understandingly. After all, friends had a duty to be nosy about relationships, right?
'Oh, you know, good and steady. We’re not in the first-month rabbit phase any more, but we find time for one another between work and classes. It’s going pretty well.'
Sam kept eating and he felt like he should add something more, so he ventured:
‘Her drawings are really good, you know? And she only keeps improving. She wants to continue drawing and maybe move from industrial design into something more artistic in the future.’
He gave an apologetic smile, hot quite sure what he was apologising for.
‘That’s awesome, Alex!’ - his friend nodded encouragingly - ‘I’m sure that she’ll get there as long as she keeps practicing.’ She leaned in a little closer, her voice now low and hushed, staring him conspiratorially in the eyes. ‘And do you have anything…. spicy to share? Huh? Don’t tell me you’ve been keeping all of your toys tucked away in the closet, you cheeky bastard?’ She winked at him deviously.
Alex winked back, albeit with a little less confidence. He knew Samantha well enough not be surprised by the questions. Hell, he usually counted on her for his weekly supply of kinky conversation. This time around though he felt slightly uncomfortable.
‘No, I’m not keeping the toys in the closet!’ It was true. At least not most of them. Okay, not all of them. He looked back on the last couple of months. Catherine had been great in so many ways, she had almost managed to push away the kinky side of things. Alex supposed he just hadn’t thought about it. Well, he had maybe thought about it a little, said a tiny voice in his head. But that was normal, wasn’t it? He had only been with christine officially for…. what? Two months? That wasn’t too much. It was still a little bit early to really get kinky. Do you really believe that?, nagged the little voice. When he was going out with Sam, not a week had passed before she went with him to the theatre commando, spending most of the time on her knees on the floor. They had been lucky that the saloon had been almost empty. Alex sighed deeply. It was a nice memory.
‘Soooo…?’ Sam snapped him out of his reverie.
He blushed a little, glad that Sam wasn’t able to read his mind.
‘Well, she really loves the handcuffs, I can tell you that! Last week I cuffed her and….’ he trailed off. And what, exactly? They had sex?
He pulled himself together, trying to clear his mental space. What was he doing? There was no need to justify Christine! What he had had with Samantha had been awesome and now it was over. Over and done. He didn’t have feelings for her anymore. So why was he trying to compare Christine to his ex-lover? Each relationship was different, he knew that. People functioned in different ways, at different speeds. There was no need to try and draw comparisons between apples and oranges!
It was Sam that pulled him out of his thoughts.
‘Sorry, Alex. I didn’t mean to pry. Well, not too much. If you’re not comfortable talking about it now, we can discuss it some other time. Anyways, I’ve been meaning to ask you something.’
‘What is it Sam?’, asked Alex readily, happy to change the subject.
The girl shifted in her seat, all of a sudden their roles reversed.
‘Well.. you know how things are with Lydia. I mean, you’ve helped us a lot, and both of us are really grateful! But that’s not the point. You know that we’ve had little adventures - she accentuated the last word as if seeking to justify it - even outside of your house. And, how can I say this…’
A shred of doubt crawled into the corner of his mind. ‘Don’t tell me something bad has happened? Is Lydia alright? Did she stumble on the wrong type of guy?’
‘No, nothing like that! It’s really a lot more mundane. It’s just that something feels wrong, and I don’t know what.’ Samantha looked at Alex, her bright wall of confidence cracking, offering him a rare glimpse of her doubts and fears. He leaned in closer, pushing his plate to the side of the table and studying his friend closely. If he didn’t know any better he’d say she was ill at ease with the topic.
Sam started explaining, her words at first vague and disconnected, but with every next sentence the pieces of the puzzle were starting to come together, shaping the shadows of her fears and anxieties. Her story was long and fragmented and didn’t always make sense completely, but Alex felt he understood the essence of it. When Sam finished talking she just stood there, looking slightly embarrassed.
‘Hmm’ - he began, gathering his thoughts - 'It seems to me that you feel out of place, simply because…. you’re out of place?'
She gave him a reproachful look and he hurried with his explanation.
'Look, I know you had to be there at the start and I know that Lydia can be very shy. But this has been going on for a while now, Sam, so maybe it’s time you left her on her own? She’s a big girl, I’m sure she’ll manage.'
Samantha looked at him intently for a while.
'I don’t know, Alex. You speak as if you don’t know Lydia.'
'Admittedly I don’t know her as well as you do…', he began - 'but that’s not the point, Sammie. I’m simply trying to help here. Not saying you should just drop her alone instantly.'
The mental image of Lydia alone with some people, confused as one of the squirrels that sometimes accidentally dropped into the campus cafeteria and then proceeded to run around in panic, made him both chuckle a little and feel guilty for suggesting it to Sam.
'Just… You feel out of place and that’s because it’s not your place in her bedroom. You’ve helped enough. Now it’s time she continued on her own. So… just try to, gradually, in your own time, stop being the third wheel, leave Lydia to whatever it is that she wants to do in the bedroom, and take time to enjoy life yourself.'
She seemed thoughtful at first, but then her smile returned shining back on her face.
'Yeah, you’re probably right, Alex. Maybe I should enjoy life more'.
There was a sea of grey shadows, dark foam and bubbles and there was a light, amidst it all, frail but enduring. Its guiding light challenged the dark storm, pierced through the distorted mass and brought her comfort. But now the light sailed away, swayed left and right, wriggled its way through the dark forms and set further and further away. Soon the light became faint, twinkled and faded into obscurity. A silhouette grabbed it by the hand and the last she saw of Samantha was a glimpse of red tunic and then she was gone. Lydia was alone in the crowd.
‘Lydia, you are so fucking melodramatic.’
She mentally slapped herself. She had known this was going to happen. Her mental self slapped her again. She still sounded too melodramatic. Sam was caring and thoughtful and a good friend and she had even gone as far as to ask her if she could have this evening for herself. Still, Lydia felt lost. She sighed. ‘So I guess I’ll just go and stand in a corner…’
‘No!’ Another mental slap. She was nice and pretty and capable of having a good time. She glanced in the mirror. The change wasn’t that dramatic, but it was certainly there. Could she be the butterfly coming out of the cocoon? The black dress was by no means slutty, but it was damn elegant and certainly a bit provocative. This wasn’t about catching boys. This was about confidence. This was about being herself. Becoming herself. And while certainly still shy, she had made some progress from her old never-ever-talk-to-anybody self. So… maybe… she could some friends? Be nice to people? They probably wouldn’t bite…
‘Yes, that’s it! Now go before I slap you again, bitch.’ her inner voice cheered.
‘Careful mental self, I might just like that.’ She giggled.
‘Yeah, you might, I bet.’
‘Coward! Coward, coward, coward!’
Yes, that’s what it was. Cowardice. She had thought things had changed. Even without Sam, Lydia was able to talk to people, make friends, even flirt a little. But then she hit a wall. When it came to boys, anything decisive, anything serious, anything real was still far, far out of her reach.
She sulked in a sofa, trying to hold back the bitterness. She feel like she was about to cry. But she had changed, and even if it was not enough to confront real independent social interactions, she had nonetheless become a stronger, better version of herself, a Lydia that was a bit more sure of herself. So she fought back the anxiety. Tried to clear her head.
‘Think! You walked up to him. You talked for a bit. He liked you, you liked him. Everything seemed to be going alright.’
‘And then I hit a brick wall, mental self, my confidence shattered, and I ran in a corner.’
‘No! Lydia, think!’ - her inner voice persisted - ‘Remember, if there is one person you have to be honest with, it’s yourself. Only you can truly help yourself. It wasn’t a lack of confidence. Well, it wasn’t only that. Think, Lydia! How did things go with Samantha?’
She flipped the pages of her memory, trying to analyze the past and all the times things had gone well. Times when she wasn’t alone. What had happened?
She hear Samantha’s words, telling her to stay there and wait. She saw her walk away and mingle with the crowd. She saw herself stay behind, then follow her at a safe distance. Sam made her way around, talking with different people, getting a drink, dancing and laughing. And there was Lydia, hiding, waiting. Every time her friend talked to a boy she felt her heart start beating faster, her thoughts running wild, trying to imagine their conversation. When she thought back this had always been one of the most exciting moments. Strange, wasn’t it?
‘What’s so strange about it, Lydia?’ - interrupted her mental companion. ‘Look at yourself! Tingling with anticipation. Watching your fate for the evening being decided, watching your friend bargain how you are going to be fucked. And all the while you’re just waiting for her signal, waiting for confirmation that this is the one, that it is time that you went upstairs and undressed.’
She shivered with realisation. Realisation of what? What did this mean, exactly?
‘Lydia, what was your best evening?’ continued the voice.
Fragments of memories flew past her. Was it the first time? It was exciting and scary but was it the best? No, there were other evenings. With time and practice things got even better. Samantha and Lydia made quite the team. They were always so synched, working in unison. Suddenly a vivid moment was brought up in her mind’s eye and she knew she had found her answer. It was that evening.
‘That evening.’ echoed the voice.
That evening when Sam couldn’t find a good guy. She talked to one and another and another again and none of them were quite right and Samantha wasn’t happy.
‘And remember how all the while you watched her from the shadows?’
‘I could never hear what they were saying. I always thought that it was going to be the one, right until Sam left without giving a signal. And I had to endure this several times. It was awful.’
‘It was pure torture, wasn’t it? Your wild imagination thinking about how she’s going to bring it up, how they would talk about you, how the man would agree…’
‘And then it was for naught. It didn’t happen. Sam moved away. She hadn’t liked the guy. They had never talked about me.’
‘And yet you re-lived that conversation every time. Every time she engaged with someone you got even more excited. After the third talk you were shaking, Lydia.’
‘I couldn’t help it! It was so frustrating! There was nothing I could do but watch from afar. But then when she found one in the end it was absolutely amazing. But this is normal, isn’t it? I had been denied for so long I could no longer wait. Girls like to take their time. Nothing new under the sun, is it?’ she knew she was getting less coherent and more defensive.
‘But your evening after wasn’t the climax, was it? Well, in a way it was, but in a way it wasn’t. In a strange way it was the aftermath of the best part, Lydia. Of those four hours following Samantha like a good girl, waiting to see who she will give you to.’ There was silence.
She shuddered. Her mind was a cruel and perverted place. But she couldn’t blame the reflection for being ugly, could she?
Lydia sat on the sofa in a bitter and dark mood. Reality started to slowly penetrate the shell in which she had wrapped herself. She emerged to the surface from the depths of her psyche and took a breath of fresh air. Time was moving weird. She realized she had been sitting on the sofa in a bitter dark mood for a while. Alex was sitting next to her.
'Lydia, are you alright?' he looked concerned.
'No….' she trailed of. Alex was a friend. That much truth at least she could give him.
He didn’t reply, or didn’t know what to say. So they both sit in silence for a while.
'Look…' - he began - 'I think I know what’s wrong. And you can talk to me, Lydia! I used to screen guys for you and Sam, it’s not like I don’t know what’s going on!' he laughed nervously.
It was true. Alex had been on their side the whole time. He’d been a great help, really. If not for her natural shyness, Lydia wouldn’t mind speaking to him about, it really… ‘
Or you could just, you know, speak now. You deserve a big nice slap, Lydia.’ the voice unexpectedly returned.
Alex seemed to interpret her silence. 'I know Sam isn’t here tonight. And I know you’ve been talking to Matthew ……’ - he picked his words carefully - 'without full success'.
Without full success. Ha! That was one way to put it.
'I’m on your side, Lydia!'
He put a hand on her shoulder. She didn’t push it away.
'Mat is a great guy and I’m sure he likes you! Would you like me to….. would you like me to go and talk to him?'
She was speechless. Alex? Was he offering… was he offering to be her Samantha for the evening?!
Lydia was taken by surprise by this unexpected turn of events.She had never imagined that her friend would offer something like this. She was taken by surprise when after a minute of silence he was still sitting patiently there, waiting for an answer. She was taken by surprise when she heard herself say 'yes'.
Alex got up and headed for the door. Lydia decided to wait for him to go in the next room and then to quietly follow.
Instead she got up and walked a few feet behind him.
‘No no no no no…. what am I doing?’
lsquo;Watch and learn, Lydia.’
Alex moved around the house, chatting with his friends as he passed, asking them for Matthew. They pointed him out, close to the TV. It was only a short walk away.
Lydia walked a few feet behind Alex. No, she followed him. Her head was spinning. Her eyes were down, so far down she could only see his legs. She walked closer behind him. She stepped in his steps, she turned when he turned. In each step her heart pounded, so hard she could hear it in her ears.The world was crumbling. ‘This isn’t happening’, she thought. Yet she followed on, awaiting her fate.
‘This is what you wanted, isn’t it?’
She couldn’t deny it. Not to herself. She knew when she was lying.
‘Don’t be ashamed of your desires, Lydia!’
Alex hadn’t noticed. He was moving through the crowd of people and Lydia was right behind him. The music was too loud and disorienting. He reaches Mat and started talking to him. The girl stopped close behind them. She could smell Matt’s cologne. They were facing the other direction and with all the other people around they were unlikely to notice her, but there she was, almost at arm’s length!
This was folly! Her skin was sweating. She felt hot on the inside. The heat raised from her stomach and invaded the rest of her body, which she gladly abdicated.
Lydia remained perfectly still. Obedient. Waiting for Alex to give her away. Some part of her faintly remembered that she was not his to give, that he had a girlfriend and he was only doing this for her as a friend. She violently strangled this voice and muffled the screams.
Adrenaline rushed over her, mixing with intense waves of excitement. The world was a blur. Her mind was imploding, her thoughts were collapsing on themselves and leaving behind pure, primal, savage desire.
Their conversation was over. Turning around, Alex stared at her, bewildered to find her there. His expression grew from surprise to amazement as she made a little courtesy, bowing her head even lower. Matthew looked amused. He didn’t know her. Everything seemed seemed theatrical, somewhat humorous even, and she realized that in his eyes she was probably not taking this too seriously.
Which couldn’t have been farther from the truth. Lydia’s eyes were down not just in submission, but because she was physically unable to face them. The only thing driving her forward was pure, unhinged madness, intoxication and desire. She bit her lip in a wicked smile. Every beat of her heart pushed her out of this world and into a surreal place, where her mind drowned her in vivid pictures of everything that could happen to her in a few short minutes.
Mat came to her and wrapped a hand around her thin waist. His fingers gripped her gently but firmly, drawing her to his side. She put a hand around him as well, grabbing at his shirt lightly as she let herself be guided upstairs.
After her evening with Matthew things got strange. The mundane world rushed back, sweeping her along with its current, leaving that night as a surreal dream, as a strange memory, as something which Lydia often doubted had actually happened and felt instead as if it was a figment of her imagination. Days and weeks passed. In a way life carried on, and in a way it didn’t. A part of her remained stuck in that strange space, in that surreal realm that now seemed to be hidden from her, close yet miles away.
The truth was she didn’t know what to think. She was lost and didn’t even know it. She had grasped on something and had let it slip away.
Samantha asked to help but she turned her down, without fully understanding why. Suddenly she didn’t want to meet any more boys. She left her bestfriend run free in her world of parties, meetings and adventure while Lydia got back to her books and her music, those worlds that had nourished and protected her for so many years.
Alex came to see her then and now, visiting at the library or sharing a latte at The Quill. He was a pleasant company to have around and she was always happy to see him, but she didn’t want to involve him with her twisted mind anymore, not before she had time to figure things out. He would have gladly helped her had she asked him, but she didn’t. It was too early. Too early to realize, too early to admit, too early to be again that girl that had walked behind him, imagining how things could be.