21 Nisan 2021

Dating in the Dark

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The following story has been entered into the Valentine’s Day contest for 2020. Many thanks to Vix_Giovanni for beta reading this for me and offering her insightful suggestions! Please check out her wonderful work if you have not done so already.

***

I pulled my phone briefly out of my pocket, exposing fingers to the chilly air just long enough to fire off a quick “BRT” to Irina. Stuffing it back in my coat pocket, I continued down Bleecker Street, past the butchers, pizzerias, and cheese shops where weekend shoppers conducted errands or connected with friends to indulge in a boozy brunch.

I badly needed a coffee and couldn’t wait to reach Gotham Grounds, step inside to inhale the deep, earthy scent of freshly brewed beans, and make my way to the shiny chrome La Marzocco that would soon be hissing and dispensing that beautiful, steaming hot liquid into a ceramic mug just for me.

Irina was already there, huddled in the corner with a latte. I grabbed a coffee and chocolate croissant and rushed over to greet her.

“What’s uuuup, Corinne!” Irina squealed, hopping out of her seat momentarily to give me a hug.

“Hey girl!” I laughed, flinging off my heavy coat and grabbing the seat across from her.

“So tell me, tell me, what’s new? How did it go last night?” Irina asked excitedly.

“Oh, you know, another shitty date that went nowhere,” I grumbled.

“Okay, that’s it. I think it’s time to get you set up with this guy I know. He’s–“

“Seriously? You really want to see me go through another failed attempt at happiness?” I said with a smirk. “Does this amuse you? Does it bring you joy to see what an absolute loser I am while you fuck some handsome entrepreneur who founded a company that revolutionizes hospital treatments and brings puppies to visit sick patients?” I took a deep sip of hot coffee, anxious for it to soothe my emotions.

“Just the hospital treatments stuff. No puppies. I only said he had a cute puppy,” Irina replied with a sly grin.

“Whatever,” I laughed.

Irina’s phone lit up on the table. “Is that her?” I asked.

“Yup,” Irina said, picking up her phone, dismissing the text message, and setting it back down. “She just wants me to set up a dinner reservation.” Irina was a publicist for an up-and-coming starlet named Claire who was always wanting to be seen at the hottest clubs and restaurants.

“When are you gonna stop being a fucking gopher and get your own fashionable life?” I snickered, taking the opportunity for a friendly dig at her.

Irina grinned. “Seriously though, we need to get you someone. When’s the last time you had a really good fuck?”

“Oh… um…” I fumbled, embarrassed by the question our neighbors may have overheard. Irina didn’t seem to care about their presence.

“I’m gonna make it my personal mission at this point ‘cuz you always seem to have some excuse. Like that scar or some shit, as if people care,” she continued. I glared at Irina. She knew very well I was embarrassed about that.

“Hey–” Irina said, calling out to a busboy as he passed by. “Lemme ask you something. Do you think that little scar is sexy?” she asked, pointing to the little one-inch imperfection shooting down from behind my left ear. My face grew red and I suddenly felt hot.

The busboy looked at the side of my head thoughtfully. “May I?” he said after a moment, a dopey grin forming on his face. I rolled my eyes, then nodded. He carefully tucked my hair behind my ear and gazed at it, following it down to observe the thin line that wasn’t supposed to be there.

“It’s quite beautiful, actually,” the busboy said. “The hard, sharp line just accentuates the delicate shape of your ear which is really very lovely. Not to mention the mystery something like that evokes.” He grinned at me, apparently proud of himself.

Irina slapped both hands on the table and leaned forward, her face lit up by the candle as if it were on fire. I wished it were. “See!” Irina exclaimed. She offered the young man a smile. “Thank you!”

“You’re welcome,” he replied before offering me another smile and heading behind the counter.

“Fuuuuck you,” I groaned.

“What? You were the one who told me that your ex- said it made you look like a badass.”

“Yeah, but that only lasts until they find out how I got it!” I rolled my eyes at her.

The truth was, I tripped on a step walking onto the stage for my high school graduation and face-planted in front of the whole school. There was blood everywhere, yet somehow they found it so funny that I still hear about it to this day. That’s me. I’m the one who went down hard during graduation.

“Anyway–” Irina continued, “Did that dating app not help?”

“I mean… it’s okay. I get a lot of messages but so far the guys have all been boring or jerks. You can tell right away from the stupid photos they upload what kind of awful they’re gonna be and then you’re like… ‘eh, do I really want to even bother?'”

“Well, you can’t always judge a book by its cover. Why don’t you take a chance?”

“I dunno. We’ll beylikdüzü otele gelen escort see.”

“Well whatever you’re doing, you need to start doing the exact opposite. Date someone who looks totally different than you would normally date. Maybe even go on a blind date. You could–” Suddenly Irina’s mouth snapped shut and her eyes opened wide.

I knew that look. It scared me. “…. What?” I asked, hesitantly.

“Wait a sec…” Irina replied, scooping up her phone and thumbing quickly through a list of something. “You wouldn’t believe the weird shit that Claire gets invited to that she obviously isn’t going to– a-ha! Here it is.” She stared at the screen, reading something. “Oh-my-fucking-god. This is perfect. You’d never do this.” She laughed. “You totally gotta do it.”

“Uhhh… something tells me I don’t want to know.”

“No, no, wait. Do you trust me? — Uh, nevermind. Don’t answer that. Just do what I say. I’m gonna RSVP on your behalf for a kinky dating event.”

“Wait — hold on. A what?” I lifted my mug to my face as if trying to hide behind it.

“A dating event held by a group called The Kink Kollective. They do all this super risqué stuff. This one is perfect because you can’t even see the guy you’re with. No prejudging him.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” I whispered, embarrassed that the customers nearby might be listening in.

“It’s called ‘Dating in the Dark’. You show up at this place in midtown. They assign you a number. You get naked and go into a pitch-black room to meet guys in the buff. Get all touchy-feely. You know… sample the goods. And if you like someone, just whisper him your number. If you choose each other by the end of the night, you can have a second date and finally see the person you felt up.”

I sat back in shock, casting her a look of complete disbelief. She briefly glanced up at the couple next to us who’d clearly heard something because they were frozen in place, blushing and holding their drinks.

“You want me to go to something like that?!” I laughed, becoming uncomfortably conscious of the sudden silence from another couple on the other side of us. I could feel their stares. Now several strangers were listening in. “Don’t you dare!” I added.

“Okay fine, then you RSVP,” Irina said reciting the email address I had to contact to claim a spot.

“I can’t do that!”

“You have no choice! As your best friend, I’m vetoing your refusal.”

I groaned. All around us were alert coffee drinkers with wide eyes and suppressed laughter. We had a full-on audience now. They were well aware of what Irina had just scandalously insisted I do. I just wanted them all to go. I was mortified.

After a few moments, I lowered my voice and replied, “I have to be, like, naked-naked?” Irina grinned and nodded. “But you’re absolutely sure that no one can see?” She nodded faster.

I stared at Irina blankly as her wide grin began to stretch from ear to ear. I struggled to think of a way out of this — but there was none. Irina always got what she wanted and like an idiot, I always went along with her crazy ideas. Instead, I would have to find a way to get back at her for it later.

Slowly, she lifted the mug to her face, hiding that grin and knowing that she had me cornered, savoring the naughtiness of her cruel plans…

***

Yeah, I did it. I went.

Was I scared? Nope. I was terrified.

It was a miserable night. One of those uncomfortable February rains had just ended; the kind that sinks into your bones and makes you desperate for spring to arrive. I navigated under midtown scaffolding where it was still reasonably dry, only to be met with the unmistakable tang of fresh urine. All I could think of was: Am I really going where I’m going? Am I really going to do something so twisted? So perversely… uh… exciting? I almost didn’t want to admit I was secretly kind of turned on.

I took the city smell as punishment. It filled me with guilt over how filthy I felt I was about to be.

I reached a plain metal door, its ancient green paint peeling, with the correct address affixed to the frame in tarnished metal digits. The buzzer was there, just as I was informed. I pressed the little off-white button that looked like a dirty tooth. There was an unintelligible squawk, then a buzz. I turned the knob and felt the lock release, then found myself in front of a tall stairwell and an elevator marked “out of service.”

The building was one of those nondescript towers whose hallways were filled with gray, stained carpeting and door after door of small businesses struggling to make it. A floral arranger, accountant, yoga studio, something called M&P Global Distribution Partners. At the end of one of the hallways was the door I was looking for. I knocked.

The door opened and a woman was standing there. She had curly hair dyed cherry-red and greenish eyes. “Dating event?” she said in a soft voice.

“Yeah,” I replied.

She stepped aside and let me pass through. beylikdüzü rus escort I was in a tiny space with a long, opaque barrier. Nearby was what looked like an oversized black phone booth. For all the emotions I was feeling, fear, disorientation, hesitant sexual curiosity, she seemed perfectly placid, like running kink events was an entirely unremarkable routine.

“Is this your first time?” she asked simply. I nodded. I could feel her scanning me for my general degree of anxiety. Cruelly, she added, “Don’t be nervous. You’ll have lots of fun. I went to a million of these before I started helping run them.” She pulled out a form with a long list of rules for me to read and a consent waiver to sign. I scanned it quickly, signed my name, and provided an email address. Admittedly, I was afraid to show too much interest in scrutinizing the rules even though I actually wanted to know what I was getting into.

Thankfully, I got the gist. Yes, there would be touching. Yes, there was a system in place to express discomfort and opt-out if need be.

“So your number is going to be 134. Make sure you remember it. If you meet someone you like, just give him or her your number. At the end of the night, you’ll give me any numbers you got and we’ll let you know by email if you had any matches.”

“Okay.”

“So follow me this way, then,” she requested, leading me toward the booth. She opened a curtain and I saw that the interior of the space had a small bench and full-length mirror. The woman set a box inside with my number on it. “You can change out of your clothes inside here and place your things in this box. Please take off any jewelry as well, for your safety and the safety of other participants. When you’re done, open the curtain on the other side and someone will direct you into the space.”

Somehow “the space” seemed so dramatic. And who would direct me? I realized I would be naked by then…

“Okay,” I said, too nervous to give anything but one-word responses to a single thing she said since I entered.

“Have fun!” she exclaimed, finally showing a sign of emotion. Her smile seemed to indicate some secret knowledge about the kind of experience I was about to have.

I stepped into the booth and closed the curtain as securely as I could but I could still see through a small crack where the woman who signed me in was milling about. I took a step back, sighed, and looked at myself in the mirror — a comic reminder that this was the last time anyone would see anything at all. I’d always had a hard time assessing my own level of attractiveness. All I could see were simple traits. My long brown hair. A little freckle on my cheek. The roundness of my eyes.

Oh, I’ve always liked the arch of my eyebrows. I guess there’s that. I always thought they made me look like a silver screen vixen. I wondered if guys noticed stuff like that. Not that it mattered. None of these features would have a role in a dating event like this. That was simply unfathomable to me.

As I slowly began to undress, I was only further reminded of the visual cues that would not play a part in the event that evening. My slight curves, for example. I began to think about how they might translate in the dark. I imagined a guy running his hand down the sides of my naked body, his mind filling in the visual gap with some hilariously exaggerated mental image of a Jessica Rabbit sort of character. I laughed to myself but then felt the sudden pang of anxiety as my top came off and I stood face-to-face with the bra I was about to remove.

I tried to imagine myself stumbling around in the dark, feeling for bodies, then the icy cold fingers of some strange dude touching my boobs. Yee-gads. Hell, what if I ended up being the only woman there at all?

But what if it wasn’t going to be like that? I told myself I was just projecting fears. “Give it a chance,” I said to myself. “Do something crazy for once.” Besides, the only thing that would be more mortifying than going through with it was chickening out in front of the woman outside who’d just reassured me about the whole thing.

I started folding and placing things in the box until all that was left were my bra and panties. I found myself staring at my image in the mirror again, taking deep breaths, trying to summon the courage to take the final step. Then I heard voices. Someone else had arrived. Thankfully, it was a woman. At least there was a guarantee there’d be two of us!

I quickly rushed to finish undressing before I would have to give up the booth. I pulled off my bra and tossed it in the box. The sight of my heavily jostling breasts briefly startled me, I guess because of the strangeness of the context. I slipped my panties down and stepped out of them, feeling a strange rush of air invade my inner thighs.

There I was, completely nude in front of the mirror. I turned to the left and tried to glimpse my ass. I don’t know what I was doing. What did it even matter how I looked at that moment? I turned back and faced myself squarely. I pursed my beylikdüzü türbanlı escort lips and pushed my breasts up, my reddish nipples felt distinctly sensitive. I began to wonder if not shaving would be a problem. I reached down and tugged at the mass of curly black pubes sprouting between my legs like some kind of alien sea sponge.

I hated looking at myself the way I imagined others would. However, was that emergent arousal I felt down there — already? I couldn’t deny that there was a little tingle, at least.

I could hear the voice of the woman who arrived after me as she finished signing the waiver, so I grabbed my phone as quickly as possible, silenced it, and then shot Irina a hasty, “Fuck you. Here I go…” I didn’t wait for her reply.

I gave myself one last complete look, sucked the air into my lungs, and then zipped open the curtain on the other side of the booth. I nearly jumped right out of my skin. I had almost forgotten there would be another person on the other side to direct me into “the space,” as it had been called. A petite young woman stood there with her hands folded as if she’d been awaiting my arrival.

I let slip an “Oh!” before frantically covering my breasts and pubic area.

The woman didn’t seem the slightest bit fazed by the brief glimpse she had of my private parts. Behind her was a hallway extending into complete darkness. “This way please,” she said, gesturing for me to follow. I quickly pursued, focusing on the odd sensation of my bare feet on a hard, cold floor and the increasing distance I placed between me and my clothes as I vanished into the unknown.

“You’ll find that the walls are cushioned so you won’t bump into anything hard, really, except maybe a person, but that’s the point,” she explained with a slight smile. “If you make a connection with someone you’d like to get to know better, just find your way to a wall and follow along until you reach a couch. Whenever you’re ready you can go back out and meet another person.”

“Okay,” I said, wondering if I should have paid more attention to the rules about hygiene. The thought of a bunch of naked asses on a couch didn’t exactly appeal to me. That is if I even dared to make out with a naked guy in the dark.

“So feel along the wall here and take a right when it ends. Have fun!” the woman said, abandoning me to the darkness.

Finding myself alone, I removed my hands from my body and exposed myself to the darkness. I raised my right hand to the side and fished for the wall until my fingers made contact. It felt like crushed velvet, a couple of inches thick. My fingertips slid along the soft surface until it suddenly terminated and I began to hear soft voices and a couple of sporadic laughs.

I could suddenly feel the open space around me. A few more steps into the abyss and I felt suddenly lost, disoriented, no longer anchored to a wall to guide me along. An overwhelmingly strange sensation took over and there was a sudden sensitivity to movement. My hair stood on end as I felt the air pressure around my body change. I was sure a body had just passed by. A naked body. Did it belong to a man or a woman? I couldn’t be sure.

I wondered what would happen if I’d brushed against it. Them, rather. Furthermore, if I encountered someone, how should I… um… understand if I’d found a man? There didn’t seem to be a lot of talking going on… Would I end up reaching out and accidentally grab a handful of boob? Nevertheless, that would be safest. I didn’t want to reach down “there” and see what I found…

These questions tormented me as I felt myself spinning in circles until I had no fucking clue where I was anymore.

Out of the blue, I bumped up against skin. My heart began thundering in my chest cavity. The skin felt soft, like a woman, but I realized there was no way to be sure without the faculty of sight. I listened carefully and heard the body come to a stop beside me as if assessing our brief contact, just as I was doing. I held my hands out, feeling a bit like an Egyptian mummy from an old black and white monster movie.

Just like that, my hands made contact. Large globes of spongy flesh compressed against my hands. I felt the distinctive sensation of two hardened female nipples against my palms and quickly let go. “Oh-my-gosh,” I said aloud, breaking the relative silence of the room. There were a couple giggles out there in the darkness. I had just grabbed some naked woman’s bare tits. I wanted to laugh but quickly backed away without making another peep. I felt like I had just jinxed myself, having thought about this happening just moments earlier.

For a second or two, I wished those things had been mine; bigger, rounder, more springy. I shook off the negative thoughts, reminding myself that it would be impossible for anyone to compare my boobs to others’ in the dark, anyway. Then I resumed wandering aimlessly and as slowly as possible. I could almost hear my heart thumping faster.

As I listened carefully, relying on sound to take the place of sight in orienting myself, I began to hear more soft voices everywhere. Just whispers, giggles. A small conversation in the distance seemed to indicate that two people had made a connection. “Already?!” I thought to myself. There were also footsteps all around me — but different in quality than from the soles of shoes. It was a soft slapping of bare feet. The sound of nakedness is strange when it’s not paired with sight.

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