When I first brought home a dog collar for her, Marlea laughed in my face.
"Only punks wear dog collars," she said.
I tried to laugh back as I moved over to the couch, still holding my gift. "Oh? I thought you were a punk."
"Nah. Punk's dead, remember?" Both of us had grown up in the same state, stuck in the Midwest, too far from any major towns and too poor to own a car. Marlea had listened to tapes smuggled in from god-knows-where, painted jackets and tennis shoes with band symbols, and longed to get to somewhere else. The whole movement had offered a possible escape from Midwestern small-town life, or maybe just a way to exist as who she was while still embedded in it. "And besides, Jess," she added, "you were practically a baby when punk still mattered." Being about 5 years older than I was seemed to make a big difference to her, for she had managed to be on the fringes of some things I never even had a chance to be exposed to, dreaming about seeing bands that were long gone by the time I was old enough to care.
"Yeah, well, I think it'd look good on you anyway," I said. It was a thin, red leather collar, lightly studded. With her pale skin, blonde hair (except when she dyed it black), and naturally red lips, I thought it would stand out nicely. Especially when also contrasted with her usual wardrobe of almost solid black.
"You want me to wear it?" She sneered, playfully, as she leaned close over me. "Make me."
I squared my shoulders -- that tone of hers always did this to me, and she knew it. I reached up and grabbed a hank of hair at the back of her head, and pulled her, unresisting, into my lap. I kissed her as hard as I could, eventually rising up slightly and dumping her over onto the couch. After I felt I'd made my point sufficiently, I let her go.
"No," I said. "You have to agree to it yourself."
I tried not to laugh when she crossed her arms and pouted. I got up, and put the collar on an empty peg on the coat-rack, where we could both see it hanging.
Some days, we could barely afford cigarettes and groceries (cigarettes were almost always budgeted for first). We had a running deal with a friend of hers from the suburbs; he'd come over, the almost stereotypical gay bachelor type , half the time even wearing a tie, and cook us a whole meal as a present, with groceries he bought himself. As he liked to put it, "Well, it assures me that you eat well at least once a month." (My second date with her had been one of these occasions, in fact; when she dragged me off into her bedroom later that night, we were almost too full to move.)
Some other days, however, maybe after selling a pint of blood or two, or after a paycheck with good hours on it, or something, we'd have a little extra cash. One time she'd even gotten a loan from one of the women's community organizations set up to aid the less economically fortunate among them. Of course, she'd spent half on her first leather jacket; but most of the rest got her a badly-needed new pair of contacts, and the remainder went to groceries and utilities. At these times of relative plenty, we liked to buy each other little gifts, maybe a small pen set for her art, or a book, or something. And, this afternoon, a dog collar. (Marlea, at least in years past, would probably have shoplifted an item like this, but I had never been so good at that trick.) I'd had to guess her size. It would probably be a little loose; she was so small, really, and I had measured it against my own, larger neck.
"So," she asked, a few days later, standing across the living room, fingering the collar, "What is this collar supposed to mean, anyway?"
I shrugged carefully. "It doesn't mean anything. It's just a gift. I thought you might like it. I thought it would look good on you." I was trying hard to say exactly what I meant, and not imply anything that I didn't mean.
She slowly ran her fingers along the leather. "Don't give me that shit," she said mildly. "It's awful fancy. You must've had something in mind when you bought it."
"It means whatever you want it to mean."
"But I want to know what you want it to mean!"
I sighed. "I told you. I don't mean it to be anything, other than what you decide it means."
She snorted, but I just shrugged again. Everything I told her was true. But if she'd asked about my fantasies, well...me and my overactive imagination, we had plenty of those. I mean, I still remembered the first time she had bent down over my feet to polish my boots, just before going out one night, months ago...I remembered her looking up at me with a tiny knowing smile as she took care of my rather worn boot leather. I'd never think of the smell of shoe polish the same way again, and I can only be grateful that she hadn't run her tongue along the seam of boot and sole, otherwise I might have melted. I had almost suggested that we skip the night out, and hauled her up to lay sprawled over my lap, while my hand played with her crotch. But I hadn't.
I had, however, let my imagination loose, after that. Though I'm not sure it had ever really been reined in. All sorts of ideas had been flitting through my head at random times ever since: Marlea laying on a bed, hands tied over her head to the bed-frame (definitely a fantasy, we didn't even have a bed, just a futon mattress on the floor); pinching the insides of her thighs and watching her squirm, cutting all the clothes off of her, knife tip leaving traceries of pink, just scratches, on her pale, almost anemic skin. I wanted to own her, possess her. Her sweat and her fear and her trust and her love.
Why didn't I just tell her any of this?
Because she was vanilla. Because I was scared. because it wouldn't be right, I'd just be pushing her and that's not OK. Maybe someday she'd ask first, on her own, and then I could tell her everything. But until then, it was just safer to stick to the things in my head.
I'd been out to Marlea as a leatherdyke since before we started dating. I figured that it was only ethical somehow, even though I hadn't done much real playing yet. She was a self-identified old punk, and so I didn't even phase her, little baby-dyke that I was. I didn't even have any piercings, after all, while friends she knew had self-pierced all sorts of body parts with sewing needles sterilized with peroxide, and long before the newer bod-mod craze had even broke the horizon. But, while jaded (or at least liking to appear so), she was essentially vanilla at heart, she told me. She liked to tease me about my nascent SM interests, which at least was better than being horrified or shocked.
"You know what I really hate?" she said one day as I was about to put my coat on and make a run for cigarettes. "All that Victoriana shit. Canes and dresses and corsets." She made a face. "And ponies. I'm no fuckin' pony. I'd rather be a dog than a pony."
"Woof," I said, and threw the collar at her, smiling. Then ducked when she threw it back at me.
"I may be a bitch," she said, "But still..."
I grinned. "Well, I dunno. Dogs are very good with their tongues...and I know you've humped my leg more than once."
I was glad she'd already launched the collar at me, for she looked sure to throw something at my head again for that.
We'd done some stuff together, mostly very light bondage with bandannas and knots that could be slipped out of easily. One of her former lovers had handcuffed her to a bed without permission, and then nearly raped her before she sweet-talked him into letting her go. It was after she confessed this to me that I started trying to cool down my urge to explore the SM stuff further. I had an imagination, and my hand, and I'd rather make do with that than threaten Marlea with opening old wounds.
About a week later she actually took the collar down from its peg and sat next to me on the couch, stroking the leather softly.
"So, you're not gonna make me wear it, huh?" she said, and I could tell she was trying to hide a smile.
"But every act has its consequences. What're mine, if I do it?"
Her smile had broken loose, and I decided to play. As her hands played at opening the clasp, I said, "You want consequences, huh? Allright. Tonight, and just for tonight, you'll have to call me Mistress. At the end of all your sentences to me, all night." I grinned. "But if you ask me tomorrow, it'll be something else. So you gotta decide right now. No putting it off."
She looked up at me and purred, "Mistress? I thought you would have preferred Master, since you're so butch and all..."
I couldn't help it. I laughed. "OK, that'll do. You put the collar on tonight and you call me Master. For one whole night. Your choice."
She leaned over and kissed me slowly. Very slowly. A kiss slow enough to make my shoulders slump and my hands nearly shake in desire. Just shallow enough for promises, just deep enough that I didn't try to take more decisive action. Then she sat back on the couch. "But if I never put on the collar at all, I can call you anything I want, can't I?" She gave me a too-sweet smile and put the collar aside, on the coffee table.
I tried to look confident. "You'll put it on. Eventually. You can't resist a new toy, Marlea." And it was true, too, especially if I gave her art supplies -- each new item ended up spawning a crafts project of some sort, usually begun the same night as I gave her the gift.
She laughed. "We'll see." And then she jumped off the couch and grabbed her coat, returning the collar to its place in the meanwhile. "I don't feel like staying in tonight in any event. Come on." I followed her out the door, grabbing my own coat and leaving the collar, abandoned again, on its peg.
Punks out for a night on the town can't afford to do anything particularly expensive (and this includes even going out for dinner, most weeks, not even the local burger joint, and besides, I can cook better than they can, and cheaper too.)
And it was too late for a bar or club, we'd have needed to have arrived earlier, when they weren't charging cover. So, what do two young lesbian punks do for a night's entertainment? Some nights we liked to just walk in the parks, which were usually safe enough for pairs. Some nights we even liked to tease the straights, liked to watch them try to guess if we were boys, or girls, or both, or what, as we walked hand-in-hand and necked ostentatiously. But tonight, for some reason, we both decided that a bit more raucousness was called for. So we went out to trip car alarms.
We lucked out pretty early, stumbling across a red Isuzu jeep with one of those expensive car-alarms with the flashing blue eye in the front window; just begging to be tripped. It got even better when Marlea noticed the "Fraternal Order of Police" decal on the back.
First, I tried leaning on the hood. Marlea was so light, that she could probably ride on the roof like a cowgirl and not cause anything to happen. But just leaning didn't work, this time. So Marlea kicked the tires, as hard as she could, in her army-surplus steel-toed paratrooper's boots. But that didn't work either. So finally, I put one foot up on the rear bumper and bore down as hard as I could, making the chassis jump. And sure enough, the alarm's siren, whiny and repetitive and extra-loud, kicked in. We ran off as fast as we could, trying not to giggle too much, and spent the rest of the night trying to stay out of further trouble, mostly by distracting each other at every opportunity with a kiss, a grope, or an unusually lewd look. Eventually, we ended up wandering so far and for so long, we almost missed the last bus back to our apartment; I can't imagine what the bus driver thought of us, his only passengers, giggling and snuggling in the very last seat.
Sure enough, a few days later I caught Marlea fingering the collar again. I smiled and tried not to say anything as I set the table for dinner. Eventually she noticed me watching her, however, and asked, "So, what's it gonna cost me this time, if I decide to put this thing on?"
I returned to the kitchen for a hot pad, giving myself another moment to think. When I returned, I announced, "Nothing much. You just have to sit at my feet, all through dinner. I'll make sure to feed you enough. We need to put meat on those scrawny bones of yours anyway."
She frowned, but continued fingering the leather. I tried not to get my hopes up, concentrating on dinner. I went to bring our food out (spaghetti and sauce out of a jar, but tweaked with garlic and a couple spices, plus some ground beef. Pretty plain, but better than endless variations of rice casserole made with canned vegetables and cheese). Finally, she lifted the collar off its peg, and carried it with her, towards me. I was so busy trying to hide my own feelings that I almost didn't notice when she tried to put it around my own throat.
I caught her before she managed to close the buckle, but she pulled the collar out of my grasp and held it over her head, daring me to go after it. I did, grabbing her wrist with one hand and the rest of her with the other. She managed to squirm away, dragging me with her a few feet as she tried to loosen my grip on her wrist. Instead, all she managed to do was pull me on top of her and topple both of us onto the floor; thank god our apartment was carpeted. Now I was on top of her; and, since I was so much bigger and heavier, there wasn't much chance of her escaping. She did her best, though, laughing all the way. I finally managed to pin both her arms above her head with mine. She was still squirming beneath me, trying to buck me off or kick me or something, even though I had her legs trapped underneath me. She tried a few more sultry wriggles, as if to try and seduce me out of pinning her; it almost worked, too, until I kissed her firmly and snatched the collar from her grip. "Dinner's ready," I called over my shoulder as I replaced it on the coat-rack peg.
Marlea's favorite band was still the Clash. Lots of her friends had thought they were way too commercial at the time they were still together, but that taint had faded afterwards. Her second favorite band was the Dead Kennedys; we had the Frankenchrist poster, the one that later got banned because people thought it was too lewd, tacked up in our bedroom. Marlea liked to tease me about how she must be an old maid because she didn't listen to any newer bands that were still together anymore, even though she was lying; she did listen to some, just not as avidly. She even still went to concerts once in a while, a thought that really gave me pause sometimes -- how on earth am I gonna use a light paddle on someone who goes slam-dancing in the pit while wearing high heels at concerts? But boy, would that collar made nice concert-wear.
I got into punk and hard-core and stuff like that when I was still in high school, when my best friends still saw no contradiction in listening to both Duran Duran and Black Flag, even though one was in the Top 40 and the other was passed around hand to hand and copied tape to copied tape. My first favorite punk band were the Violent Femmes; I got in trouble once for listening to their first album too loud on my headphones during the 10 minute break between classes. I liked them mostly because they were Midwestern, like me. They talked about being bored and trapped, like I felt I was, but they did it with snideness and humor, which I couldn't manage. So I borrowed it. I'd mostly gotten over that phase by now; but one of me and Marlea's first bonding experiences was reciting the entire first side lyrics of the Violent Femmes' first album, while driving around with a mutual friend on a last-minute midnight road-trip to some small town. Later, we fucked for the first time to the sounds of that same album, and I was really impressed afterwards that I'd managed not to giggle at all.
Finally, I came home one night, pretty tired from work (I worked a minimum-wage job in, of all places, a day-care center; Marlea did food prep at a restaurant), and collapsed on the sofa. I wasn't in the mood for any games or anything. But, for some reason Marlea grabbed the collar off its peg and plopped herself into my lap, dangling that strip of leather in front of my eyes teasingly.
I tried to push her off, but she just curled up beside me and started tonguing the skin just behind my ear, ever so gently. I was getting pretty frustrated, and annoyed at Marlea for not getting the hint. She was starting to rub her crotch along my thigh enticingly. She had also draped the collar, open and hanging loose, around her neck; and when she started rubbing her cheek along my neck, just like a cat and almost to the point of purring obnoxiously, meanwhile causing the buckle's metal to just brush me on the chin, I just lost it. I pushed her over and grabbed her wrists, wanting just to stop her from taunting me anymore with that damn thing.
But when I looked at her, looming over her where she'd fallen on the couch, not only wasn't she struggling like she normally would be, but she had this look in her eye, of both excitement and fear...and something else. And still, despite all the tussling, that collar was still around her neck, open, and looking just as hot as I had imagined. I couldn't stand it anymore. I just held her there for a moment, and then let her hands go, standing up from the couch and looking for a book to grab and retreat into the bedroom with or something. I needed to clear my head.
But before I could clear out of the living room, Marlea, sill sprawled where I'd left her on the couch, said, "You could have made me do it, then."
I don't know how I managed not to explode. "Don't you understand, yet? I don't want to make you do it. I told you that when I brought it home. I want you to do it yourself. I don't want to have to force you, or convince you, or beg you, or seduce you. I want it to be your choice, and your choice alone."
She said, still quietly, "But Jess, I'm scared. I want to do this for you, I know how much it would mean to you, but...
I sighed, and sat back down on the couch, speaking into my lap because I couldn't look her in the eye. "Marlea, look. I think I know what you're scared of." I took a breath. "If you put on the collar, I promise I'll never hurt you." She looked at me funny, and I had to smile, if only to cover my blush. "All right, unless you ask me." She stifled a giggle. I tried to remain serious. "But I'll never do anything that's past what you can take. You'll know it, because if I start to, you can take the collar off." I paused. "There's no lock on a dog collar, Marlea. No key this time." I don't know if she was picturing her night handcuffed to a bed, or not, but I sure was.
Finally, after one of those long pauses that almost makes you want to scream, or do anything to break it, she reached up, and buckled the collar herself.
Then she said, solemnly, but in a clear voice, "So, I said every action has a consequence, a couple days ago, and you agreed. What's the consequence this time?" I hoped the glint in her eye was a playful one, and not the beginning of a tear.
"You decide. There are no imposed consequences. You get to choose. You wanna sit at my feet all night, eat your dinner from my hand? Great! But you decide. You wanted consequences, you asked for them, so I gave them to you. But they're not required. Nothing's required. That's the whole point. Just like I said in the beginning." I tried a little smile. "But you can ask for anything you want."
It was her turn to be exasperated. "C'mon, Jess, you're the one with the fantasies! I just want to make you happy. Give me some ideas, at least."
I tried not to grin too widely. "Well, you can be my devoted personal servant...my sexy love slave...or you can just keep going on being a smart-assed bitch like you always have."
She laughed, and I almost died of relief. "Well, yes, I am a bitch, but you knew that already. But you should also know, I am definitely a bad dog."
"Does that mean we need to train you?" I asked, rolling my eyes theatrically. "I hope you're at least housebroken." She stuck her tongue out at me, then grinned and made a yapping sound. I went and rolled up a piece of newspaper, then chased her, barking and yapping merrily, into the bedroom.
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