There's something about Jordan. Something intriguing. Something off.
Then his cunning, ocean-grey eyes looked at me. I twitched, and my skin lit up. His stare incinerated my oxygen like a wildfire raging through a fragile village, wiping out everything it touched.
Over a nine-year relationship, Jasmin Johnson has been caught on a rollercoaster of frustration and dysfunction. Despite the constant drama and waning passion, she hung on, convinced that Thomas was her soulmate. Then, weeks shy of her thirtieth birthday, he dumps her. She should be devastated, but relief washes over her instead. Immediately she senses the opening, a chance to fulfil her forbidden, long-repressed fantasies. To break her free.
Knowing what her girl needs, Jasmin’s best friend gives her the perfect palette cleanser; a fetish party in Berlin. Awaiting Jasmin there is Jordan; drop-dead hunk, heir to a fortune, and king of Berlin’s notorious kink scene. What begins as a cat and mouse powerplay becomes a deep dive into Berlin’s debaucherous underground, where anything goes — and with any number of people. Yet as Jasmin prepares to fulfil her wildest desires, the familiar shadow of the past descends, reminding her that freedom never comes easily.
THIS ISN’T WORKING. Those were the most honest words Thomas had ever uttered. First, he sat me down at his apartment to talk. Next came a burdened sigh. His hazel eyes, which had inspired my love for a decade, were everywhere but on me. Those lips, which had caressed and danced with mine thousands of times, made the frown of a defeated man. He was ending it. Again.
“Jaz? You agree with me, right?” he said with a trembling voice.
This time I did. We had been dancing near the abyss for too long. Years of long distance only drove us closer to the edge. Me in my dream city, Amsterdam, him in Stockholm living his own Scandinavian dream. Until that moment, I would have immediately folded. Would have come over to him, kissed his hair, and asked him how he could say such a thing. Sure, things were not perfect, but we could have worked through it. We had always found a solution before. For some reason, that day felt different — despite still loving him. As I quietly looked over this man I adored, I felt the ice melting over me, revealing the warm, inviting glow of something I never expected to experience in such a situation...
“Relief!?” said Michaela, putting her cocktail down and shifting her entire body in my direction, giving me her full attention and focus.
“I know it’s weird,” I said after sipping on my old fashioned, the two of us deep in our breakup-discussion bubble. “But that’s how I feel.”
“Sure,” said Michaela. “But you’re turning thirty next week. I’m glad you’re not devastated, but how do you feel about the timing?”
The question aroused that same unsettling feeling I got when I turned twenty-nine. The surrounding chatter barely registered while I searched myself. I felt a world away from my friends, who were gathered around me for my early birthday drinks at our favourite rooftop bar. Behind us were the night lights of Amsterdam-Noord. In the corner were my work colleagues, busy with office gossip. Meanwhile, I sat there looking ahead to a life without Thomas. I took another sip of my drink to wash the lingering uncertainty away before answering.
“Better now than later,” I said with a shrug.
“True,” said Michaela. “I’m proud of you. I’m just surprised you’re not freaking out.”
I barely gave her words a chance to sink in before looking across for a diversion.
“So, where's Kate?” I said.
Michaela was on it. She scanned our congregation.
“There she is,” said Michaela, sitting up. “Kate!” she commanded over the chatter.
Kate turned her head suddenly to catch who called her, then walked over to us looking like a vision.
“Hello, my gorgeous ones,” she said in her sweet and loving voice.
Kate was stunning. She had men and women throwing themselves at her, but never blinked. She was happily married to her high school sweetheart. Her life was seemingly perfect, as was she, which made me feel the exact opposite. I was about to spill the breakup details to her at work when she was interrupted by our boss, who called her in for an emergency client call — leaving me hanging and reminded who the favourite was.
“So babe, Jaz is relieved about Thomas,” Michaela said with a twinkle in her eyes which had me noticing.
“I guess that’s better than being devastated,” said Kate.
“That’s what I said,” replied Michaela.
I melted. From the crown of my head to my feet. There was nothing more reassuring than seeing my girls on matching wavelengths. It was because I was turning thirty that I was relieved. A part of me missed Thomas, and was terrified of going it alone, but at least I still had time to make the most of the situation. Europe was on the cusp of spring, and I had dodged the winter phase of the breakup. No nostalgia when hearing certain songs. No stuffing my face with salted caramel ice cream. No makeovers or soul-searching trips to India. Only my own company, and me open for anything. I counted myself lucky.
Michaela shifted in her chair and leaned her head to the side.
“So when you say you’re relieved, does that mean you’re ready to date, or do you want something physical only?”
“Don’t know,” I said. “I’m off work until the end of next week. I want to get out of Amsterdam and figure everything out before going to my parent’s. See what comes up.”
“That’s good,” said Kate. “Take your time. You could always pop into Vondel Cafe for some eye candy when you’re back. All the hot guys in Amsterdam go there.”
I observed Kate’s bright, innocent gaze and royal posture, her hands carefully placed on her lap. The thought of her lusting over some random guy popped into my head. Did she ever stray from her perfect life and into naughtier places? Even in her imagination?
“I guess I could,” I said, not really moved by the idea of window shopping.
Kate’s smile turned to a satisfied grin.
“You totally should,” said Michaela, piggy-backing on the idea. “Use next week as an opportunity.”
My Michi-radar went off. She was up to something.
“Opportunity, huh?” I said, taking her bait the way she was clearly hoping.
“Yeah,” said Michaela. “See what’s around.”
“Oh, spill it!” I said. “What’s up your sleeve?”
Kate rolled her eyes and shook her head with a chuckle. Like me, she knew what Michaela was like.
“Right, guys,” said Michaela, flicking her hair back, her chest coming forward.
Here we go. I braced myself for another of Michaela’s wild and wonderful ideas. That woman was the life of the party for a reason. My mind went to her annual bottomless house party — no pants, skirts or underwear allowed inside. Thomas had flipped when I suggested going.
“Hear me out,” continued Michaela. “I’ve got the perfect palette cleanser to prepare you for single life, Jaz.”
My senses brightened as Michaela searched through her phone then handed it to me. On it I found an image of a party invitation. Two intersecting handcuff chains decorated a black canvas, with the following text underneath:
Sex-positive dance party in Berlin
Midnight until late
(un)dress to impress
Lingerie // shirt but naked // black leather // NO streetwear
The event was on Saturday. In two days. I scoffed and shook my head, handing the phone back to Michaela.
“A sex party?” I said.
“Why not?” said Michaela. “You loved hearing my stories about Berlin. All the kinky stuff I got up to.”
“Sure,” I said, twirling my straw in circles. “I liked hearing about it. I never saw myself doing it.”
“Never? All I know is that—” Michaela leaned forward and lowered her voice. “You always spoke about how shit the sex with Thomas became. How quickly he finished, and how in his head he was. How you wanted more.”
Yep. My sex life with Thomas had been nauseating me for years. I missed what we had. My reflection in his pupils as he thrust his fiery love into me. The careful attention he paid with his mouth to the entirety of my body. The feeling that I was the only woman on the planet. We went from pure, unbridled love-making, to something bordering on mechanical, soulless sex, all in a couple of years. As the fights piled up, and the insults and accusations grew harsher, my heart tightened shut. I felt constantly worn out. Without the fuel of youthful devotion, the sex grew empty. We had been spluttering on fumes since. We went from missionary to doggy style and back, and when we had been drinking, I sometimes got to ride on top — when he could keep it up. Joy.
“Right,” I said. “But not more dicks. Just better sex.”
“You’ll get both in Berlin,” said Michaela, steepling her fingers, her sales persona coming out.
“Michi, she’s just come out of a nine-year relationship,” said Kate. “Give the girl a break. Maybe a date or two in a few months, not a sex party this weekend.”
“It’s a sex-positive party,” said Michaela. “Kinky dress and dancing. Sex is optional. The underground parties are something else entirely. I wouldn’t do that to her. She’s not ready for that.”
“Don’t do it, Jaz,” said Kate, sensing my temptation. “I wouldn’t.”
Good old Kate. Of course it made sense to get back in the dating game the proper way. Yet to my surprise, a fuzzy sensation formed in my lower belly and caused a quiver between my legs. Michaela’s devilish stare was unrelenting. She had waited until my third cocktail before bringing up her insane plan for me. Now she was going in, knowing how much of a push-over I was when tipsy. The girl was good. She was also my best friend for a reason.
I considered the idea further, refusing to look Kate in the eyes.
“That’s where I check out,” said Kate finally.
She walked off, looking me dead in the eye as she passed. She finished with a wink and floated off to grace the others with her presence. It seemed she had better things to do than getting involved in sex adventures. I was fine with that.
“She’s a terrible help,” said Michaela, poking her tongue out at Kate.
“Maybe in this case,” I said, sitting up. “So. Are you going to this thing?”
Michaela sighed and shook her head, surprising me with her reaction.
“I wish,” she said. “Hendrick and I are driving to his parent’s place in Enschede. We haven’t been to a kink party in ages. I didn’t tell anyone this, so keep it between you and me. We’re thinking of starting a family.”
I twitched and leaned forward suddenly, my face brightening up.
“Michi, that’s wonderf—”
“Shh,” she cut in, her eyes swelling open.
“That’s so exciting,” I whispered.
“To be honest, I’m terrified,” said Michaela with vulnerable eyes.
I felt her slipping, and held her up with a reassuring smile.
“But we’re ready,” she said. “I think.” She shook her head to regather her wits. “Anyway, we’re not talking about me right now.”
This was not part of her strategy to sell me the party, I realised. It was real. My best friend was going to try for a baby. The same teenage girl who would drag me to the shops to get a look at her latest crush. The same woman who at one stage was attending weekly sex orgies, and who once had an open relationship with a fifty-year-old painter, was looking to be a mother. How times had changed. What had I done in my twenties? What reckless abandon had I experienced during my relationship with Thomas? A lot less than I wanted. Was I ready to be a mother now like Michaela, and accept the regrets of a life barely lived? It was something I needed to put some thought into. And soon.
“Jaz, this is perfect for you,” said Michaela. “I wasn’t going to say anything until you were ready, but clearly you’re fine.”
“This weekend is too soon,” I said. “Plus, I want to go with you.”
“You moved to Amsterdam with a suitcase and no friends,” said Michaela. “You can handle this.”
“I had you,” I said.
“You still do,” said Michaela. “But you’ve also got yourself. Don’t forget that.”
Alone. In Berlin. The city of debauchery and sin. The thought had my insides in a spin cycle. No way.
Michaela studied my hesitation. What would a salesperson do in such a situation? Go for the kill. Naturally. She reached into her handbag and took out a present wrapped in shiny gold paper, with a card on top that read Jazzy Jaz — her nickname for me.
“For you, my darling,” she said.
I received my early birthday present without a word. Opened the gift carefully from the sides and slid the cardboard box out without creasing the paper. Lifted the flap, and found two items. The first was an erotic novel called ‘Lover of Prey.’ I caught myself lingering on the cover. It showed a tanned, muscle-bound man with perfect abs stalking a dreamy-eyed, black woman through her bedroom door as she lay on her bed, reading in lingerie with the light reflecting off her curvaceous body. I turned to the back and caught the first couple of lines of the blurb. I never read romance, let alone erotica. Cheesy. And worse still — written by a man.
I turned my eye to the other present. A black ‘vibrating bullet.’ I shook my head, looking up at Michaela with a bemused smile. She was something else, that girl.
“This was to help you cope,” she said. “Obviously you don’t need that. But read the book on the train, and the vibr—” She lowered her voice. “Take it with you to Passion Parade.”
“I don’t know,” I said with a sigh. “Thank you. Really. This is great. But I can’t do this.”
Michaela placed her eternally warm hand over my cold fingers.
“You can,” she said, holding me in her worldly eyes, giving me the melting feeling that everything would be fine. “There’s no right time.”
I shook my head to break her spell, but could still feel its pull inside me. I thought back on all the times Thomas had dangled the breakup stick over me. I could have taken the untraveled road many times, risking losing a flawed love for something more fulfilling. Instead, I looked down what felt like a dark, treacherous path and chickened out, staying with the same boyfriend and cushy job because it felt safer. Now I was standing out in the open again, with only a party invitation for a map, and an overwhelming sense that the clock was ticking. Michaela’s sharp, watchful eyes steered me where I needed to go.
“Ok. Maybe, I’ll go,” I said.
“That’s my Jazzy Jaz!” yelled Michaela too loudly, forcing me to instantly regret opening my mouth.
“I said maybe!” I hissed.
“Let’s say you do go,” said Michaela, lowering her voice again. “You need to be clear about a couple of things. What space do you want to play in?”
I broke eye contact, caught off guard by the question. Sub. Brat. Dom. Switch. Michaela had experimented with all of the BDSM roles. She even had sex with a guy who let her slap his face and called her ‘mistress.’ So ultimately, she was a switch. I had zero experience and zero idea what I was.
“Uh...” I said. “A sub, I guess?”
“Babe,” said Michaela bluntly. “Every woman assumes she’s a sub. It feels great to let go and let the dom control things. Do lots of that. But I know you. There’s more. The least you can do is make him work for it.”
Teasing and provoking a man did sound fun. But was I a brat?
“I’ll think about it,” I said. “I don’t know yet.”
“Fine,” said Michaela. “Next thing. Do you know your hard boundaries? Do you want to do group stuff? If so, guys or girls, or both?”
Uh, what? I had no clue what to do with one guy, let alone two, let alone a girl. I had tickled the idea of a three-way once before shutting it down. Too out there.
I rubbed my wrist for a second, then stopped myself. To be fair, Michaela’s wild stories over the years had widened my sexual lens. Lately I had even considered an open relationship with Thomas; an idea I had labelled insane and never uttered to anyone. I wondered if I should tell her about that now? Or the disturbing fantasies I had been having recently. The scenarios I had dreamt up. The punishments I wanted.
“I’ve never done anything like that,” I said. “How am I supposed to know what I like?”
Don’t worry, you’ll know, came a voice from inside, sending shivers through me. I shifted in my seat. Where did that come from?
"You’ll know when the time comes," said Michaela, echoing my thoughts. “Go easy. One step at a time, and always trust your body. You’ve got this.” She smirked suddenly. “Basically my advice for anyone trying anal for the first time.”
“Oh,” she added, sitting up suddenly. “I never told you that story, did I?”
“Michi!” I said with a slap of her hand.
Michaela could barely keep it together. That woman loved to take it a step too far. I watched my best friend laughing to herself and could see she was really getting into the idea of me going to this party. She was also making me feel a little more comfortable with the whole thing. Holy crap. I needed to give her something.
“Do you think Thomas could have handled an open relationship?” I said.
Michaela lowered her glass and stared at me, holding her sip before swallowing.
“You’re kidding,” she said. “Thomas?”
“It could’ve worked. A relationship with a nice guy, and exploring the other stuff with someone else.”
“The right guy will give you both,” said Michaela. “Thomas was never it.”
I nodded, but could not stomach her words. Thomas was the right and wrong guy rolled into one. Our early years proved that we were a sexual fit. But too many times I stood naked in front of the mirror with that tight longing in my chest, wishing he would come up from behind with an open heart and a raging hard dick and just... well... fuck me the hell open! How else could I have put it? The thought of it caused me to shudder as I sat there in my chair watching Michaela plotting my hypothetical orgy. If only Thomas could have found a way to transcend the faults in our relationship, to overpower the pain with some masculine might. Eventually, I lost hope in that. But not in my desire for passion that would break me out of my prison. I carried it like a raging fire between my legs. The fantasies drifted out of our relationship and into the public realm. Musicians. Yoga instructors. Married men. Being caught between Thomas and that fire was suffocating me — until he set me free last week.
“Right, everyone,” we heard Kate say to our friends, turning our attention outwards. “As Jasmin won’t be around, we need to sing loud enough for her to still hear us on her big day. So get your lovely singing voices ready. Haaappy Birthday to you,” she began, and was joined by a chorus of our friends, followed by the other strangers drinking around us.
My face almost exploded with embarrassment, and I covered it for the entire song with both hands. A big applause broke out at the end, and I was forced to look up and smile at my beaming friends. If I was in denial about it before, I had to let that go now. I was turning thirty next weekend. Single. Alone.
Two cocktails later, everyone had left except for Michaela and me. Michaela was busy typing a long text into her phone, before she looked up at me with the same crazed expression she used to have back in high school before we went off on another adventure.
“Hendrick wanted to leave early for Enschede tomorrow,” said Michaela. “But I just told him I had important business to take care of. Let’s go back to yours and get you packed and ready.”
“What? I didn’t say yes, Mich-”
“Your eyes did,” she cut in.
Someone help me.
Michaela paid our tab and we left, wandering down the narrow, charmingly-lit Amsterdam streets. With doubts circling my mind like vultures, we crossed over one of the city’s many canals, leaving behind the warm orange hue and entering the red light district. Michaela’s attention was straight ahead, while mine drifted to the side. I locked eyes with one of the beautiful women in the windows, who was wearing a bright-white bikini. She perked her lips and blew me a kiss, the power and serenity in her eyes putting me on a cloud that carried me all the way home and through my doorway.
As Michaela started tearing into my wardrobe, rejecting anything that was not remarkably sexy, the whole thing started to feel real. Too real. Panic shot through me.
“Michi,” I said. “Seriously, I don’t know about this.”
Wrinkles appeared above Michaela’s eyes, and her expression darkened.
“Do you remember our trip to Barcelona when we were seventeen?” she said. “Juan Jose and Roberto?”
I thought back before a smile found its way to the corners of my mouth. Of course. The two middle-aged men we met at the beach while on holiday, which our parents somehow agreed to let us go on alone. We ended up at some random apartment with the two of them. With the Spanish music on blast and wine flowing, the sexual tension quickly followed. The age difference made us conscious of acting ‘grown up,’ so Michaela and I started making out in front of them. Surprise, surprise, they loved it. Roberto grabbed Michaela’s wrist and they disappeared inside. Juan Jose put his sights on me, and eventually had me on the sofa with two fingers deep inside me while sucking on my neck. I opened my eyes briefly and looked at his free hand, freaking when I caught the bright-white tan mark where his wedding ring should have been. I ended up storming in on Roberto’s bare-white butt in my face while he thrust into Michaela in missionary. At first she was furious with me for dragging her out like that. Later we laughed about it. Our bond as sisters was forged in the fires of dangerous, young passion. A fire that continued for Michaela, and stopped for me when Thomas came into my life.
“What about it?” I said.
“I want you to remember who you were before Thomas.”
“A reckless teenager?”
Michaela made a disappointed face.
“A wild woman ready for anything,” she said.
The windows were closed, but I felt a cool breeze pass over me. Her words had stirred up the spirit of the past, but that was all it was — the past. There was an emptiness inside me now, and I knew I had to fill it. For that, I needed a new adventure. I finally understood what Michaela was getting at.
I went over to the drawer and fetched my white, see-through ‘datenight string.’ Stood in front of the full-body mirror, pulled off my jeans and underwear and slid it on. Michaela seemed to struggle to process what was happening. Her eyes darted up and down, and her mouth slowly went slack. She had seen me naked before, but never like this. I pushed my butt in her direction.
“How do I look?” I said.
“Are you serious?” she responded, finally meeting my eyes. “Sexy as hell. What else?”
“Good,” I said. “So let’s do this.”
Her face brightened.
“We’re doing this?” she said.
“We’re doing this!” I cried with a firm nod.
“Right,” said Michaela with a broad smile, rubbing her hands together and beginning what in sales would be called the paperwork. “Outfit.”
I shrugged slowly with a pout while changing back into my usual underwear.
“Leather pants?” I said. “Whip?”
“Hey, don’t joke around,” said Michaela. “If you bring a whip, be prepared to use it. Do you have something sexy and black? Like a lingerie set you put on for a special date?”
“I have this,” I said, pulling on the lace thread of the white datenight string. “But I only wore it for Thomas.”
“Not anymore,” said Michaela, taking it from me and tossing it in my luggage.
I put on an electronic set from some Berlin DJ to set the mood, and we continued scouring my stuff for more clothes to pack. We rocked our heads to the beat while creating a pile of discarded clothes in the middle of my bedroom floor. I started dancing over the mess, and got a bewildered stare from Michaela.
“Look at you!” she said. “Little Miss Clean Freak has lost her mind.”
“Your fault,” I said, moving my hips side to side.
“Man, I wish I was going with you,” she said, joining me above the pile of clothes and play-grinding against me.
“If only,” I said, practising a little twerk in my mirror.
The two of us collapsed onto my bed and lay side by side, looking up at the ceiling while my drunken head spun in circles.
“Did you ever get judged for the things you did in Berlin?” I said.
“Sure,” said Michaela. “Most people didn’t say anything, but there was always this underlying judgement. Like their brains were ticking. Not that I ever hid it. I’m sick of the taboo, you know?”
“I get it,” I said. “I just want to see a guy I like and have him take me then and there. No guilt, no questions asked.”
“Jaz!” yelled out Michaela with a deafening cackle that trembled the mattress beneath us and probably woke the neighbours.
“I don’t care anymore,” I said with a shrug. “It’s been a rough nine years.”
“Apparently not rough enough,” said Michaela, spanking the side of my ass. “Oh, that gives me an idea. Get your laptop out.”
I did as she said, lifting the lid and entering my password. Michaela took over immediately and opened a website for a luxury hotel resort in Berlin.
“What’s this?” I said.
“Äden,” said Michaela with a squint, engrossed by the screen’s contents. “You’ll love it. Gorgeous place with gorgeous people in the centre of Berlin. Perfect for you.”
I scanned the photos. It looked like it belonged in a movie.
“And it’s got the darkrooms,” said Michaela, looking up at me again with that scheming smile.
“Darkrooms?” I said, freezing up. Things were starting to get weird.
“It’s a hidden maze inside the resort. Absolute darkness for anything you want to do. Anything. You get total discretion. Hendrick and I had a four-way there with a couple who we never met — or saw.”
“You did what?” I said with a gasp. “I still can’t believe mama orgy wants a baby,” I added, shaking my head.
“Don’t remind me,” said Michaela. “Shit,” she then blurted. “It’s almost 4. I have to go, babe. I promised Hendrick. Practising being good mother material.”
Hello, reality. Michaela’s demeanour changed instantly, one moment living vicariously through me, the next fretting over her trip to see the in-laws. She looked at me once over.
“This is a good thing,” she followed up.
“I hope so,” I said, getting up with her.
“Have fun for me, lovely.”
One long, last hug and she was gone, leaving me with terror in my veins and gratitude in my belly. A tornado had torn through my apartment and blown out all my doubts. With fun time over, I switched my phone from aeroplane mode to normal, and a text from my mother immediately came through:
What time do you land next Friday, sweetie? Looking forward to seeing you!
At the end was a flirt emoji. Why could she not be normal? No matter how many times I told her, she kept using it. I checked my flight booking and texted her the time. It was six months since I had been home to London, so naturally she was excited I would be there for my birthday. I was too. Even though I was fine with the breakup, I still craved the love and attention that I only got at home. Having my clothes washed, ironed and folded. The sweet meringue and strawberry taste of the Eaton Mess awaiting me when I arrived. My mother and I dressing up on Sunday for afternoon tea at the Huxley Grand Hotel. The morning cuppa and chats on the terrace. A whole weekend being pampered and taken care of. Daddy would be in his workroom fiddling with some new gadget of his. When he was in a good mood, he would join us for a while. Ask me some awkward questions about drugs in Amsterdam. My mother would have a laugh at his expense, he would escape to his room, and the cycle would repeat.
I only recently became aware of how much they hid for the sake of our ‘happy’ family. I was at the shops with daddy last year when he ran into a beautiful woman from his past who I had never seen. His jittery body language and the way his eyes lit up told me she meant something to him, as did her wistful look while they bid each other farewell. I complimented him on his charm with the lady, and noted that I had never seen it with my mother. When he said to me “There are some things your mum and I don’t share,” it struck me with full force. He had regrets and unfulfilled desires like any other married person. He was only human. Reaching the end of my twenties had taken off the rose-coloured glasses and force-fed me a bitter pill. After that, I saw my future with Thomas differently, and it looked dim.
That outlook was improving quickly as I focussed back on the party. I made an online reservation at Äden and set my alarm for 10:00 am. Booked the 12:00 pm fast train, which would get me to Berlin by the late afternoon. Got into my PJs, brushed my teeth and washed off my makeup. I was wiped, but the excitement kept me awake. I flicked through the pages of Lover of Prey and tested my new bullet vibrator against my cheek before stuffing them both into my handbag. Slipped into bed, and took another look at the party invitation. (Un)dress to impress. I crawled out of my skin at the thought of having sex in front of a group of people. Then my phone vibrated again. My heart clamped up and skipped a beat when I saw the message.
Jaz, I’m sorry. I made a terrible mistake. Can we talk?
I remained mesmerised for a long time before lowering the phone. Dammit, Thomas. Why did he have to text now? Could he not have waited until Monday? Let me have my fun and then pull on my heartstrings? I left it. I could write him back on Sunday after the party. With that I put the phone down on the bedside table and stared at the ceiling, my mind circling. Michaela and a week of freedom had shown me that I was hungry to explore, to reach dizzying heights before even thinking of settling down. That need was not going anywhere now. The horny genie was out of the bottle.
But I could not deny the impact that Thomas’ message was having on me. I lay there powerless as the familiar shadow of the past descended on me. Was one text all it took? I let my body sink into the mattress and grew acutely conscious of the paint colour of the wall. My only company now was Amsterdam’s night sounds and an empty apartment. I could hear and feel my breath rise and fall. Could see my chest follow its rhythm. And for the first time since he left me, I felt it. I was alone. Relief was not going to save me now. I should have known it was too good to be true. Michaela had seen it all over my face.
At that second a strange idea hit me, bringing with it a shooting star of hope which immediately soothed my heartache. A compromise. An olive branch. I sat up and fetched my phone. It was too late to go back. I was certain of it. But that did not mean all hope between us was lost. I thought about my earlier idea, having Thomas by my side, and the ‘right’ guy behind me, satisfying me the way Thomas never could. Was it crazy to ask such a thing? Definitely. Was it right? Questionable. But if Thomas wanted back in, he would need to deal with a new reality. It was time to roll the dice, all the way down into the Berlin underground, and see where they landed. The deeper they travelled, the better. Thomas swore he would never return to Berlin. I knew that. But my instinct told me to do it anyway. I hit reply:
Meet me in Berlin.
A hand rocked me side to side.
“Michi,” came an irritated Hendrick’s voice. “Wake up.”
I groaned and rolled away from him.
“Sweetheart,” he said. “It’s 11:30. We’re leaving in an hour.”
“Go without me,” I moaned into the pillow.
“Michi,” he said with a determined voice.
Dammit. I felt like a boxer down for the count. In a daze, my entire body aching, I rolled back in Hendrick’s direction, and he reached over and cuddled me, pulling me into his warm, firm embrace. I groaned my frustration and exhaustion into his chest. It helped. Soon my eyes were open.
“Big night?” he said, resting his head on his fist and looking lovingly at me with amusement in his eyes.
I nodded. Six cocktails big.
“How’s Jasmin doing?” he said.
I smiled wearily, the sleep on my face lifting with it.
“She’s going,” I said.
Hendrick’s mouth came open.
“You convinced her?”
I nodded and smiled proudly, forcing myself upright.
“Yup,” I said.
Hendrick shook his head.
“Darling, you could sell oil to a Saudi king,” he said.
I grasped my phone from the side table.
“And she’s doing fine with the breakup?” said Hendrick.
“More than fine,” I said with a yawn, switching off aeroplane mode and looking at my husband. “She took it way better than I expected. Makes sense. Nine years of his bullshit.”
“Good,” said Hendrick. “That guy was always wrong for her. About time she saw that.”
“I’m just glad it’s finally over,” I said.
My morning notifications came vibrating through. A message from Kate asking for her hair straightener back. All the likes flowing in from my photo post from Jasmin’s birthday celebration. Lastly, a message from Jasmin. Probably her writing from the train wanting to share her excitement. I opened it. Read it carefully. Then froze. My shoulders dropped, and I covered my face.
“Fuuuck!” I yelled.
“What?” said Hendrick, moving closer to me.
“She invited him to Berlin.”
“Jasmin,” I said. “She invited Thomas to join her in Berlin.”
“I thought they were broken up?”
I pinched my nose and closed my eyes.
“Why does she keep doing this!?” I groaned. “Where’s her self-respect?”
I was wide awake now, the hangover making this news more unbearable than it needed to be.
“Seriously. That girl is never going to learn,” said Hendrick, shaking his head and leaving the room.
I sighed, re-reading her message in disbelief. The guy dumped her God knew how many times. Made her twenties an absolute misery. And now, just when she was free, she backpedalled and let him back in.
I forced myself up and opened my cupboard to pick my outfit for the day, but my mind was kept distracted by Jasmin’s stupidity. I always held out hope that she would find her way. Leave the dysfunctional bullshit behind and settle into something healthier. That hope was being tested now. Majorly. I had been through it with her every step of the way. Drama after drama. The never-ending cycle of breakup and makeup. All the times she called me in tears. What could I say? She always took the difficult route. I had heard it all from her. I like to be challenged. That’s not for me. But I love him. If only he could just... There was no other way to look at it anymore. The girl was a masochist. She loved the pain. And she clearly needed more of it before she woke up. A lot more. Would she ever learn?
Forty-five minutes late and counting. All I had been doing for the last nine years was wait on Thomas to show up. Sitting in a Berlin cafe with him on the way felt ominous, considering his history in this city. The tables around me had the odd person focussed on their laptop screen, others chatted excitedly over a colourful brunch. Meanwhile, I chewed on my nail, my mind going back to those three months Thomas spent in Berlin. The constant drinking and partying. The cocaine-and-ecstasy-fueled session that stretched out to forty-eight hours and left him in the hospital with a chronic stabbing pain in his stomach. Berlin had tested him, and he had failed. Years of Michaela’s underground stories had painted me an intriguing picture of a city that promised severe punishment if you hurried its madness. When Michaela paced herself, she found an intrinsic sense of self on its erotic carousel. Berlin favoured those who tossed aside their agendas and prejudices. It had its own plan for you, and only cushioned your fall if you surrendered fully. When its infinite nights lulled you in and spat you out, the purple clouds the morning after would be a dream. In any other city it would be a nightmare. Where a city like Paris inspired romance and sophistication, Berlin exuded hedonism. It commanded an innocent darkness, the purest form of freedom. But if you lost yourself in the high, it became a meat grinder. Berlin had turned Thomas to mince, taking him months to recover. Now I had invited him here for a party, of all things.
I stopped biting my nails and sat up straight. No, this was exactly what Thomas needed. He had to face his demons and get back on the carousel if he was to have another chance with me. I was not getting any younger.
Last night’s birthday binge in Amsterdam had me feeling raw and testy. I put on my headphones and played some jazz to soothe myself, and started scrolling through our photo history. Reminiscing, trying to make sense of how we got here. First came the photos from Thailand the previous year. I opened the selfie he took of us at the beach in Koh Samui. He was beaming cheek to cheek. I was a pale-looking, premenstrual grump. Sometimes he just had no clue.
I flicked further back in time. There was that photo of me at brunch in Stockholm. I had just given in my thesis after months of high-level stress and then flown in late. I was a wreck the next morning. God, my skin. And that deathly stare I gave him and the camera. At least the food was delicious, I thought, looking at a perfectly angled, succulent photo of my meal — smashed mint, pea and avocado on sourdough with the perfect poached egg, topped off with a drizzle of chimichurri. That was the picture which got me to one-hundred-thousand followers on my food blog. My love of cuisine could save any miserable day.
Maybe I was being too harsh on Thomas. It had not all been bad. There was that naked photo I took of him fresh out of the sauna. He was raising his arms and yelling victoriously over the snowy Alps. So embarrassing. At least his little round butt looked sexy.
I played a morning video he shot for me from his apartment in Stockholm, and grinned at the beautiful and witty things he said. I scrolled further and seized up when ‘the’ dick pic came up, checking around instinctively to make sure nobody saw it. I lingered on the photo of our torsos for a moment longer than the others. We had just finished a half-decent session of sex. My leg was crossed over the other, his upright dick was in my hand. He did have a great cock. Straight and proud with a smooth head. Stole my attention when it was out. If only he used it the right way.
There was a photo of us from a few years back at a Halloween party. We went together as Gomez and Morticia Addams. Him in that pinstripe suit and fake moustache, me in that sexy black dress with the slit across the leg. The scary makeup. I smiled and melted as I remembered the moment he told me I would make a good wife, scary or otherwise. That had been such a fun night.
I went back another few years. To university in London, where Thomas and I met. I cringed at my fringe. Horrid mistake. It was the longest year of my life waiting for it to grow out. For Thomas and me, it was our first and best year. I had my hand over my mouth while recalling the first time I saw him. The infamous elevator incident. He came in staring at his phone, barely noticing me and Michaela standing in the corner. He glanced at the buttons then left them, apparently also going to the top floor. Then he lowered his phone and turned towards us. His eyes swelled when he saw me. My heart expanded at the sight of him too. We both froze, entering into a serene, timeless space, until he resumed the clock by moving to the button panel. He glanced back at me with a cheeky grin, and did something that changed our fates forever, pressing all the buttons for the elevator. I thought he was a weirdo. My skin crawled with fear at what he might do next. But then, with a shrug and a cheeky smile, he saved it.
“More time with you,” he said.
Amazing how fine the line between creepy and charming was. His gaze was so magnetic, I was hooked. Well, almost.
“What makes you think I want to spend time with you?” I hit back.
“Because you’re smiling,” he said.
My smile widened more. He had me there.
Now here we were. In Berlin. I was no longer hooked. He had lured me, and spent nine years reeling me in, until abruptly letting me go. Things had changed. It was time for him to jump into the deep end.
A text message from him popped up:
The train still hasn’t moved, babe. It’s driving me crazy x
I sighed and tossed my phone onto the table. Was I really still his babe? His babe wanted to roam free. It was his choice if he wanted to swim alongside me, or with other fish, for that matter.
I grabbed Lover Of Prey out of my handbag. It took little for me to get back into the flow of the story. The warmth in my lower belly came quickly as Lorenzo made his move on Larissa at the gym. He had on his short shorts, and his dark, curly locks were glistening. After a hundred pages of tension-building drama, they finally broke through, going into an empty exercise room and locking the door. Their sexual eruption escalated rapidly. Lorenzo took charge of Larissa while she was on all fours on a bench press. He gripped her hair tight and drove all the way inside her, his pelvis slapping against her behind while she watched him fucking her in the mirror. He threw her on her back onto the mat and penetrated her with a tight grip around her neck. Larissa, stubborn to the end, pulled his arm away and spat on his chest. A statement. That was the moment I really started liking her. Yet Lorenzo held firm, cementing his domination over her. Larissa knew the gym-goers outside could probably hear, and made sure of it by moaning at the top of her lungs, bordering on screaming. So fucking hot. As Lorenzo pinned her arms down and ravished her into submission, I noticed my leg was tightly crossed over the other. My skin was simmering, and I quickly put the book down to check if anybody had seen me.
Someone had. The man at the counter who had just placed his order was smiling with amusement in his gentle eyes. I flinched when I saw him and lowered my head, finding him again from the corner of my eye. He was a handsome, middle-aged silver fox with tanned, leathery skin. Dressed in a white hemp shirt, hemp loafers and chino shorts. A Dutchman, if my guess was correct, which after years of me living in Amsterdam, likely was. His attention shifted suddenly, as a young girl no older than ten embraced him around the hip. Their matching opal blue eyes told me it was his daughter. After he thanked the cashier and received his two cups of coffee and juice, he smiled again at me in goodwill and joined his wife at their table.
A lightning bolt struck me. The father, comfortable in his role as a family man, had easily noticed my aroused state. Not only that, he managed to make me feel good about it. He was secure enough in his sexuality to acknowledge me and flirt with ease. He had no agenda, posed no threat. I had enjoyed his presence, had been comfortable in it, and at once knew that Thomas could never measure up to him. Not even close.
I drifted off, picturing what sex with the Dutchman would be like. I saw myself going to the bathroom. Him stealing a look at me while his wife was busy with their daughter, me flicking my hair and holding his eye contact for an extra second as I strolled by. I would get inside the empty ladies bathroom and start touching up my lipstick. A minute later the door would open, and there he would be with a dark hunger in his eyes. No more Mr. Nice Guy. The lipstick would fall out of my hand, and he would look towards the cubicle. I would walk into my trap, turn to him, and stare deeply into his eyes. As he calmly joined me inside and locked the door, my pulse would spike and drive me into a frenzy of claustrophobic excitement. His musky scent intoxicated me, and gave me a high which spun my head backwards. He would push me up against the wall, take me by the throat and suck on my lip. Pull my top up and thrust my bra out of the way. Grasp my breast in his powerful grip and suck hungrily on my neck while I moaned from the spike of adrenaline coming through his mouth. He would demand me to get on my knees and unbutton his trousers. His pleasure would become mine as my pulse now went berserk and his breathing turned erratic from what I was doing to him. And best of all — his wife calling for him from outside, thinking he was in the men’s.
Mmm. How I loved the hot stranger in the bathroom fantasy. But that was what it would remain. As I looked over at the Dutchman lovingly hugging his daughter, a warm feeling entered my heart, and made me question the whole thing.
I checked the time. One and a half hours late. I read a couple more pages of Lover of Prey before a shadow appeared over the book. I looked up and met with Thomas’ weary, hesitant eyes.
“Hey,” he said. “Sorry I’m late.”
He reached over and hugged me, holding me close for a long time as though filling up his empty tank, taking from what little I still had in mine. When he was satisfied, he took a seat beside me, where I managed to see him clearly. His face appeared ten years older. Sleep-deprived. His mouth was turned down, and wrinkles had shown up on his forehead. Maybe not the brightest idea inviting him after all.
He spent a moment studying the cafe, then gazed out at the street, his eyes tracking the passers-by.
“I’m in Berlin,” he said with a reluctant smile, shaking his head. “Jesus.”
I watched him without saying a word. We both knew what it meant for him to be back. I allowed him the chance to absorb the situation, before he turned back to me.
“How are you?” he said.
The question twisted my heart like a sponge, but only resistance came out.
“I’m fine,” was all I could manage. “You?”
“I’m ok,” he said.
The pain of the breakup had arrived with Thomas, and was sitting beside us in the room like a fat, stinky elephant. I was not ready to look at it.
“Where the hell do I start?” he said, throwing up his hands.
“With a coffee?” I said.
“Right,” he said. “Can you get me a flat white with oat milk?”
“They don’t do oat,” I said.
“Who doesn’t do oat?” said Thomas, squeezing his nose up.
My jaw tightened at hearing his whiney voice. Two minutes and he had already gotten on my nerves. I was hungover. I did not need this.
“I’ll get us espressos,” I said abruptly and marched to the counter before he could answer.
As I ordered, I could have waited like that ten times over. Thomas smiled at me from his seat, and I reciprocated as warmly as I could. I returned, and we drank in silence. After a long sigh, he opened up.
“Jaz, that was the hardest week of my life.”
Damn. You would think he would at least see it from my side. Nope. It was always about him. I was curious to know what he had gone through. But even more, I wanted to see him grovel for what he had done. So I said nothing, and waited for the apology. He cleared his throat and looked expectantly back at me. We remained in that tense, confusing space which had dominated our relationship over the years. Suddenly, plates smashed on the floor somewhere in the kitchen and stole our attention. I turned immediately back to Thomas. He was busying himself looking towards the source of the sound, as though that mattered more than our conversation.
“Was it then?” I said with a firm voice, leaning back.
“Was what?” he replied, turning his head back towards me slowly and deliberately.
“The hardest week of your life.”
He sniffled and shrugged while looking down.
“Of course,” he said. “I had this horrible ache in my chest the whole time.”
I exhaled my frustration and looked outside to the street for some reprieve. He had a uniquely maddening way of sidestepping the point.
“But you were right,” I said, not giving him a millimetre. “Things were never great between us.”
He started scratching above his heart.
“Never?” he said, suddenly grinning. “I remember a lot of good stuff.”
His defiance nibbled at my resolve and had me second-guessing. Then he picked up his spoon, and began mindlessly rubbing it against the tip of his espresso cup. The squeal of porcelain and metal scraping together became sandpaper against my hangover. I grabbed his hand.
“Stop that,” I said.
He reached over with his other arm and took my hand in his, and began to stroke it.
“Jaz, you’re my soulmate,” he said.
“And I know I’m yours,” he continued. “The fire went out between us, that’s all. We just need to work out how to light it again.”
His beautiful use of imagery lit a spark in me, which I put out immediately. I pulled away, tidied up our cups and stacked them together.
“You broke up with me, Thomas,” I said. “We need to face that.”
“I know, ” he said. “It was a mistake”.
I slumped back in my chair. So much for grovelling. Did he think because he had an ouchy in his heart and a sudden change of mind he could have it his way?
“Why was it a mistake?” I said.
“Because I never got the chance to tell you why I wanted to break it off.”
“That’s not a reason, Thomas,” I said, folding my arms. “Answer my question.”
He cleared his throat.
“I was surprised you didn’t ask at the time,” he said. “You just went cold and agreed straight away.”
Pressure closed in on me from all sides. His voice rang true in a way I knew I could never admit. I could feel every droplet of oxygen struggling to work its way in and out of my throat.
“You wanted to break up, and I believed you,” I said, shifting impatiently in my chair. “So I walked.”
“It wasn’t just me. We both did things wrong.”
He was pinning this on me? This time a calming breath only amplified my irritation. The pressure had nowhere to vent.
“So why was it a mistake then?!” I yelled.
My outburst heralded silence in the cafe. A few eavesdroppers gave us sideways glances, trying to remain inconspicuous. Thomas grinned at me with a wide-eyed, satisfied stare while biting down on his lower lip. My face burnt bright with embarrassment. Dammit. He got me.
“Calm down, babe,” he said.
“Don’t tell me to cal—”
“At the time I wasn’t sure,” he cut in, forcing me to squeeze my jaw shut to avoid snapping again. “But you inviting me here proved it was a mistake.”
I blinked hard. What?
“But you texted me first, wanting me back before I invited you,” I corrected him.
Why was I falling for his game, when it was him who needed to prove himself? This time I knew better. I shook my head and looked away, relaxing my mouth again, thinking of the coming storm I was about to pitch to him. Whatever he was playing, I wanted nothing to do with it. I let go and let him stew in the stink of his creation. He waited, and I gave him nothing. He looked deeper into my eyes. I glared back.
“I...” he finally said, scratching the top of his head. “It’s just that...” He hesitated.
“What, Thomas?” I said with force.
“That,” he shot back. “What you’re doing now. It’s hard to deal with sometimes. It makes me feel... inadequate.”
He uncrossed his legs and changed sides. A sadness appeared in his eyes, powerful enough to soften me. His act was losing steam. There was that defeated frown again. His shoulders slowly hunched before my eyes. I sensed us going into heavy territory. It was going to prematurely spoil the entire weekend if he slipped into that place. And it would have — if I finished the moment off by telling him about wanting to open our relationship.
No way I was going to let that happen. At least not for the next couple of hours. It was best to keep him on point, otherwise I would never convince him of my plan. I was going to give him this battle so I could win the war. How sad that we needed these games. What was wrong with us?
“I don’t want to dwell on the past,” I said, touching his hand. “Let’s use this as an opportunity.”
“For what?” he said, another two wrinkles appearing between his brows.
“To start fresh.”
Hope found its way to his face, and then jumped over to me. God, that look. That innocent smirk of his, paired with the sparkling squint. It made everything feel right, even when it was clearly not. We were so dysfunctional.
“I’d like that,” he said, leaning forward and resting his hand on my hip.
In truth I had so much else I wanted to say. The week off had given me incredible clarity on our relationship. How he could never find a way to make me feel remotely sexy. How guilty he made me feel anytime I wanted to travel without him, or have a drink with a guy friend. How every time I wanted to change something with us, he convinced me it could not be done. That since the moment we broke up, I was hell-bent on leaving all of that behind. There was something, or someone, deep inside me who could never come out. That he had held her back. Had extinguished her fire with his negativity and cynicism. He might have been my soulmate, but he would not use that to control me anymore. I was not going to let him. Her voice was growing louder by the day. She was returning, and there would be no stopping her.
I clocked one last look at the Dutchman. He caught me yet again, gifting me another of his candy smiles. An anxious emptiness came over me when he left with his family. Instead, I had Thomas; full of potential, but unable to use it to save his life.
I knew one way to help him. Reading Lover of Prey the entire morning had made me want to feel some potential inside me. Now I was suddenly in the mood for some makeup sex. Plus I had to soften Thomas up to the idea of an open relationship. I rubbed the inside of his thigh and kissed him, softly biting his lip for a second.
“Let’s check into our room,” I said, stuffing Lover of Prey into my handbag. “Get these clothes off.”
Neither of us said another word. We left the cafe with our bags and walked the short distance to Äden. The hotel resort was directly by the Spree River. The dark timber facade and Japanese-style gable roofs were at once striking and inviting in their elegance. We stepped into the lobby, and with that left the ‘real’ Berlin behind. In a place that was always going somewhere but never quite arriving, Äden gave the impression that you had reached your destination. Orange hues lit the space from the corners, while the brown and velvet-purple interior was a sophisticated slap in the face to the city’s concrete grey socialist past.
A man in a black suit at reception gave us a pleasant greeting as we approached. I put on my civilised, good girl act, wondering if the guy could sense the situation between my legs. I took possession of our room cards, and we caught the elevator upstairs. Left our stuff by the door, our clothes by the bed, and our problems in the past. Collapsed onto the plush king-size mattress while kissing. There was an urgency to our foreplay, a sense of rebirth in our eye gazing. The hurried touch of Thomas’ hands reminded me of our first months at university, both of us equally infatuated, experimenting with our imagination and our senses. Back then there was a willingness to submit to and learn from each other. The energy between us was magnetic. I had been enthusiastic about the future, idealistic even. He was pragmatic and steady, with a boyish charm. The perfect yin and yang fusion caused an explosion between us. Every caress of his breath over my body transmitted the entire realm of possibility between us.
It was not long before Thomas’ charm began to wear off, however. The fights began, and the sex was the first casualty. I tried to talk to him about it, but he blew up each time. We never spoke about sex again. I accepted my role in the status quo.
That same shadow descended now over our furious exchange. I was on top, feeling into and offering myself to him, until he abruptly turned me over and around. Fumbled with the condom for a full minute, hesitated, then entered. I felt something inside me, but nothing in him. Where are you, Thomas? Something left me. She left. I accepted my place again. He put his thumb over my anus, and I seized up.
“What are you doing?” I whispered.
“Sorry,” he said, and continued to pump away, his energy retreating even further into his head.
Where did he get that move from? Another idea from a porn video? Like that time he had wanted to finish on my face? Nothing had changed. Why did I assume it would? After some minutes he began to convulse and groan, before the room fell into a haunting stillness. He pulled out and collapsed next to me, inviting me with a hand on my shoulder to lie with him. Duty done, that same old feeling arrived. Emptiness. He had taken what he needed, and left me nothing but my unfulfilled desires.
He kissed me passionately and disappeared into the bathroom. After all that, all I could taste was the bitterness of the lingering coffee in his mouth. I lay there the way I always had, unsatisfied, pressing my face into the pillow. Every affirmation I had made since the breakup was rendered zero. I had let him back in. I was the only one to blame. The same me that let him lead me down that miserable nine-year path was the one with her face buried away.
I looked ahead to the party tomorrow. Some flickers of hope returned, sending bright ripples through the dark, deep waters of my sadness. No, coming here had been a good idea. Maybe we would find what we needed at Passion Parade. Maybe, just maybe, tomorrow would bring something into my life that would save me from this misery — if I could convince Thomas to come.
I kept that hope alive until after we had ordered room service and were done binge-watching some online series about American football. Eventually, night fell and Thomas dozed off. His heavy breathing came like clockwork, followed by his snoring. He seemed to be sleeping well. Not me. I was wide awake in the pitch black.
I found myself thinking about the next phase of my life. Turning thirty. Quitting my job and monetising my blog. Travelling the world, then getting married and having children. I wanted those things. But what would that look like? Who knew. The road ahead was as dark as the room I was in, and in that darkness, I landed somewhere I could only feel in my imagination. The darkrooms of Äden. I nibbled on my fingertip while wondering about Michaela’s four-way. I was only half sure that I could handle going inside this maze of filthy deeds. In my imagination I went there anyway, taking one cautious step after the other. Then I came out abruptly, having forgotten something important. I reached over to my handbag and took out the lubricant and bullet vibrator.
I had been playing with myself since I was sixteen, but it was my first time with a toy. Late to the game, yet again. I inhaled deeply in anticipation. What have you done to me, Michaela? The thing was compact, and felt solid in my hand. I rubbed on a tiny bit of lubricant and switched it on, hoping it would be quiet enough. No luck. The thing needed a silencer. But whatever. Thomas was a heavy sleeper. Besides, if he had done his job right, there would be no need to do it myself. I took a deep breath and touched the tip against my— Oh. What was going on? It felt like my electric toothbrush. Except this thing was making my pelvis swell and toes curl. Thomas shuffled and turned to his side, his dead, half-open eyes pointed directly at me. I gasped and held my breath. Pulled the vibrator away while carefully watching him. Some part of me wanted him to wake up and see. But I let that go, and went where the vibrator took me instead.
I closed my eyes and dove headfirst back in. Beyond the surface were the darkrooms, where I could only sense with my ears, nose and skin — and tongue. Thomas was with me, his soft hands digging into my buttocks, his lips caressing my nipple. He took me by the waist and pulled me in, the excitement in his breath oozing onto me. Our tongues danced, before his dick invaded me. I moaned while my head fell back. His hips collided with mine like a wrecking ball, pushing harder inside than I knew was possible. He fucked me with force, each thrust erupting within me and throwing me into a spin.
As the tension between my legs built and built from the constant vibration, I sensed someone else in the darkroom. A stranger. Suddenly, I was unsure if Thomas was there at all. Was he the one penetrating me, or had he been standing behind me the whole time? Was he even in the room? The swelling of mechanical pleasure peaked, and I tossed Thomas out of the fantasy altogether. The Dutchman took his place inside me instead, spiking my excitement ten-fold. The stranger’s hand then touched my shoulder from behind, and his foreign lips kissed my neck. I spread my legs all the way, and the Dutchman’s thrusting grew harder and deeper. The man fondling me from behind steadied my body against the force of the Dutchman, his thick chest hair pressed against my back while my mind ceded to the pleasure high coursing through me. I rolled over quickly and bit down on the pillow, suffocating my moan while shaking from the immensity of my orgasm, which spread through my entire body.
“Fuck. Oh fuck,” I whispered.
It was like nothing I had experienced before, making my fingers seem outdated like a horse-drawn carriage compared to this compact, dick-shaped Ferrari. Gasping for air and sweating all over, I checked up quickly on Thomas, and found him dead asleep. I sighed and melted into the mattress. The relief of the afterglow had me feeling better about everything, and I was able to leave the day behind. I stuffed the lubricant and my trusty bullet vibrator back into my handbag, making a note in my head to clean it when I had the chance. Yes, tomorrow would bring something wonderful. I was sure of it. With that, I rolled into a foetal position and drifted into sleep, filled with tingles. It seemed the optimistic Jasmin never said die. And for that, I was glad.
I felt safe underwater. The tranquillity within the depths calmed my senses and brought me into my body. The world went on pause, and I was free to roam the abyss. Each stroke took me further from reality, and deeper into myself, until the pressure in my lungs reminded me that I was on borrowed time. I turned upwards to the surface, where life awaited me. My doubts. My regrets. My past and future.
Time resumed just as I emerged into the sunlight, sucking in a huge breath. Äden unpaused itself, and the current of nude people at our hotel resort flowed once again. In the middle of it all was a grumpy Thomas. He was reclined on his sun lounger at the other side of the outdoor heated pool while staring into the distance, one leg crossed over the other and a cigarette in hand. I rose my head slowly over the edge, stalking him and that stinking death stick. I placed my hands on the edge and lifted myself out with a mouthful of water. Just as he took another puff, I spat on his face, making sure to hit the smoke as well. He twisted his body away in shock, and the cigarette fell out of his hand.
“Jaz!” he yelled. “What the fuck?”
I brought my tiny frame over him, placing a hand on his chest and moving to kiss his cheek.
“You’re wet,” he said, frowning and turning his face away.
His reaction was a blunt reminder that the old days were over. The shadow of the breakup loomed over us, even when we lay in paradise. I kissed his shoulder instead and shifted over to my chair. Not the smartest way to get him out of his funk, but worth a try. He had been in a state since breakfast, after I had brought up the party, along with the idea of opening our relationship.
“Are we going to talk about this?” I said.
“About what?” snapped Thomas without looking at me. “You in an orgy of guys while I watch on like a loser?”
I sighed and shook my head.
“Jesus, Thomas. It’s not like that.”
“What happened to you last week?” he said with an unsightly look.
“Nothing,” I said. “Anyway, even if tonight was an orgy, you’d be among those guys.”
Thomas’ legs hit the ground suddenly, and he almost knocked the table over. His face turned bright red, and he stood and marched off.
Whoops. The hot knife cutting through my chest told me I had gone too far, and that I should go after him. Her voice inside told me to relax and order a bottle of Rheingau riesling; my and Thomas’ favourite white wine, and go-to celebration drink. He might not have been in the mood to celebrate, but I sure was. We were here for a party, after all.
The wine arrived, and Thomas came back over half an hour later and retook his position beside me. He poured himself a glass, and seemed to have calmed down. I melted into my chair and enjoyed a moment of reprieve. It was so surreal. We were attending a sex party. Well, sex-positive. It was a chance to dress down, dance, and see where things led. Dip our toes in the kink scene. Let our inhibitions free and see what happened. I was not going to join an orgy of guys, thank you very much.
Well, actually... Why would I hold myself back for him? He was the one who broke it off last week. If he wanted to be a child about it, he would get no say in the matter. So what did I want exactly? An orgy, or not? I looked around at the surrounding scenery. It was nice to be in a gorgeous resort, but if asked to blow the candles on my birthday cake, I would not be wishing for paradise. I had no fixed expectations for this weekend — except one. It had to be hot as hell. I wanted passion. Wild, indescribable experiences. I wanted to melt into an ocean of bliss, to be devoured by a wild beast.
Wild beast. I looked at Thomas again, his dishevelled brown locks, his tense shoulders and lanky frame. He had lit another cigarette and was biting his nails while staring into space with his sad eyes, his baby-smooth body limp on the sun lounger. I sighed and finished my glass. For once I wanted him to let go and enjoy the moment. Maybe even forget himself in it like during our university days. There was no sign of that cheeky, vibrant Thomas who pressed all the buttons on the elevator and made his move. In his place was a pale and anxious shell of a man, lost in his head. Seeing him that way made me nervous. Not to mention my worry about how he would act at Passion Parade. Now I was overthinking.
“Babe,” I said. “Do you know what you’re wearing tonight?”
Thomas maintained his gaze into the distance. For a time it seemed he had not heard me, until he shrugged.
“Have we decided we’re going to this thing?” he said.
My fingers and shoulders went tight.
“I’ve decided,” I said with force.
“I’ve heard there are better sex parties in Berlin. Classier ones.”
“And where did you hear that?” I shot back. “An online forum?”
He seemed hurt by my remark, and turned away while sucking in what remained of his cigarette. It was happening again. The Thomas effect. My jaw was stiff, my mind was ticking at a hundred miles. I took a few calming breaths and came out of it. Turned away from him and focussed on the environment. Tried to appreciate where I was. I was not going to let him ruin this weekend.
The outdoor heaters at Äden were burning bright while smoke rose from the heated pool. Berlin had been blessed with one of the few clear, sunny April days. April does what it wants, the Germans would say about the unpredictable weather this time of year. Äden really was the perfect choice. It had a sophisticated blend of white leather upholstery, dark timber facades and lush trees. The vibe was dream-like. Nobody was rushing or causing a fuss. Looking good and passing time were the only priorities. There were no clocks. The surfaces were spotless, the lighting impeccable. Outside was radiant, the ambience inside relaxed you instantly. Nudity was compulsory in all areas, but the mood remained civilised. There was the odd raised voice or muffled laughter, otherwise people politely made way with charming smiles and floated by. It was like someone had incensed the air with opium, establishing a womb that nurtured you as you went about your pleasure.
I felt like a carefree child on the beach; I loved having an excuse to be naked. On the other hand, there was nowhere to hide from prying eyes. Thomas had no issues with it at all. Being from East Germany, he was a natural nudist. I turned my head to check on him and found an empty chair. The surrounding area showed nothing. He was gone. I paused, then found myself drawn to his towel, where I spotted a business card poking out from underneath. I looked behind me first, then pulled it out. ‘J&A’ was embossed on the top in black. In the middle was the name ‘Ana Nemati.’ Her mobile was on the bottom. Nothing else. Strange, I thought, feeling a papercut of jealousy. Thomas had disappeared twice now. Where the hell had he gone? The darkrooms? No way. Panic zapped me, and I was forced to my feet. After another glance at Thomas’ empty chair, I was overcome by an unsettling urge to go find him.
I strolled along the pool, made self-conscious by the glimpses from the sunbathing men and women. Most eyes were on me, but I felt my sight drawn towards a calm, steady presence sitting by the edge of the pool with his legs dangling in the shimmering water. From my position I could see he was a big guy who took care of himself. The rest I learned from the people around him. He was typing something into his phone, and only paused to wave back to the random, passing person greeting him. An athletic-looking guy crouched next to him with a wide smile and fist-bumped him, exchanging some pleasantries before humbly leaving him to it. Women wandered by, flicking their hair and stealing a look. One of them playfully caressed his neck as she passed, exaggerating her hip movements and looking back. He must have been interrupted a half dozen times while I stood there, but gave every single person his attention, appearing unfazed by the whole thing.
It took me some time to remember the man I was looking for. I blinked a couple of times and moved to the indoor pool, which immediately consumed me. The domed ceiling above was a portal to elsewhere, the shimmering blue beneath an invitation into the deep. The building was three stories high, with pathways on each level lined by arches overlooking the water, covered by majestic see-through white curtains that ran from the ceiling to the floor. I found yet more people lounging with their skin on display. There was no Thomas among them, so I went inside the sauna area.
Upon approaching the floor-to-ceiling pane of glass, the light reflected off the surface and revealed my exposed body. I focussed on my pear-shaped breasts, which hung too far to the sides for my liking, and my oversized, pink-brown nipples which covered way too much of the surface. My lips and mouth were too small. People constantly told me my blue eyes and high cheekbones looked elegant, but I thought they only made me look like a little girl. Why did everyone in this place have to be so damn beautiful?
I turned away, towards a separation wall offset by a human-sized gap. Intrigued, I left my reflection behind to take a closer look. There was no sign to indicate what it was. I could easily slip inside, but it was pitch black. I looked around. Everyone seemed happy in their own world. A woman got off her chair and entered the sauna, closing the door behind her. I focussed again into the black. Took a breath and slipped through. It was deeper than I expected. Then it hit me. The darkrooms. The light from outside illuminated a corridor which bent right. I followed it, taking slow, cautious steps until I reached the corner.
Rhythmic, hot-blooded breathing came from inside. Each exhalation was more urgent than the last. I hugged the wall, my breathing barely making it past my throat. The unmistakable and sudden sound of a spank ricocheted off the walls, making me jump. I froze like a statue, my naked skin pushed up against the cold concrete, my lips parted, my ears like radars. I stared intently behind me, where only dim orange light shone through from the sauna area. I waited for a long time, but nobody came. All clear. For now.
The rasping seized my attention again. It grew louder. Faster. Like a runner on the final stretch. My pulse quickened to match, and I momentarily forgot where I was. A moan slipped out from the black. Then a grunt, as though a wild animal had joined in on the action. The pace accelerated, forcing me out of my body. Grunt after grunt was paired with an ecstatic moan, before another hard smack almost made me yell out. The man cursed in German. I pushed off the wall, half my body urging me to flee, the other half mesmerised, my heart banging like a jackhammer.
No chickening out, I told myself, stepping forward while placing my feet stealthily on the floor one at a time. I hugged the wall and stretched my neck around the next corner, hoping to get closer for the moment of climax.
The thrusting stopped.
I froze again, holding my breath and listening into the black.
“Don’t be shy,” came a high-pitched, playful voice from inside.
My head spun, and I stumbled backwards. I stopped again at the corner and listened, hearing the laughter of the two men. Then came a pause, before the heavy panting resumed at a slower pace. I pressed my palm to my heart and exhaled. My legs were trembling. I tip-toed towards the exit, slipping out of the darkness and back into the safety of the sauna lounge.
A woman on a deck chair looked up from her book and directed her judging eyes at me while I hurried through the dimly-lit brown and gold room. Yes. Look at the naughty girl. At the same time, an older man emerged naked from the sauna. His cheeks were flushed red, and he rubbed a hand over his face while looking me up and down with serious eyes.
His stare was like dozens of spiders crawling on me, and it forced me out of the room and through the locker area. Outside I squeezed my eyes shut to protect them from the sting of the sunlight reflecting off the bright blue water. It took a moment to acclimatise, and to remember that I was at a hotel resort, not some seedy sex dungeon.
At the corner of the pool, I stood looking out. People were lounging, drinking, laughing. The creepy man walked by me and stole one last look, gifting me a final, unwanted shiver. Thomas’ sun lounger was still empty. I turned and found him in the distance, gliding through the water with his head up. He reached the end and turned back, kicking off and veering to the edge before lifting himself out. He ran a hand through his soaking hair and returned to our spot. His boyish glow and cold expression created a picture of a male model owning the runway.
The unpleasant feelings from our fight instantly ceded. There was the man I invited to Berlin. I smiled to myself, wanting to feel the sensation of his body close to mine. To pull my head into his chest and let him fondle my back the way he always did; with the gentle strokes of a harp player creating music inside me. This time he would also be wet, so he had nothing to moan about. I stepped forward to go over and reclaim him.
“He’s such a dish,” I overheard a woman’s voice from the right, causing me to stop. She continued speaking to someone. “Darling, if you’re the main course, he’s dessert. I’m going to lick him clean.”
I turned and found a couple in their mid-to-late thirties on a pair of sun loungers. The woman hungry for Thomas struck me immediately, appearing like a vixen goddess. She had a tall shapely body, lush firm breasts and vanilla skin. Her sharp, intense eyes, hawkish nose and dark features matched her predatory words. Her face was like a porcelain doll’s, and her rose-coloured lips were plump, giving her a girlish pout. Jet-black, dead-straight hair gleamed while running down to her waist.
“I didn’t know you were into teenagers,” said the boyfriend with a gravelly voice that reverberated inside me.
My face immediately burned up at the sight of him. The guy by the pool. I could see every detail now. He was a hulk, brutish and chiselled. His trained chest protruded through the thick brown hair covering it. His abs were cut, and his shoulders were like pillows. His jawline drew me to his torso, which was angled with perfect symmetry. Rough, well-groomed brown hair gave him a movie-star look of quiet dominance. There was a force behind his presence which told me he could handle himself in a crowd, in business, and especially in bed. He was smiling proudly at his own joke, his teeth sparkling, his lips like candy, his ocean-grey eyes cunningly beautiful.
Then those eyes looked at me.
I twitched, and my skin lit up. His smile faded, and his eyes sharpened. His stare incinerated my oxygen like a wildfire raging through a fragile village, wiping out everything it touched. His eyes sharpened further and cut deeper, unwavering in their intensity. Then he smiled that gorgeous, devious smile again, and my power returned to me. I remembered what he had said about Thomas. I crossed my arms and pursed my lips, looking him up and down.
“That little thing looks like it belongs on a teenager,” I said, signalling between his legs and waving my pinky finger.
Where did that come from?
His mouth fell open, and I could see his face go slowly red. Even his demeanour changed, and for a second I thought I was looking at a little boy.
“Excuse me?” said the vixen goddess, sitting up and looking at me.
There was a split moment where I was sure she recognised me. Yet I had no idea who this woman was.
“Thomas isn’t a teenager,” I said, my heart pounding.
“Of course,” said the woman, now smiling. “Thomas is your boyfriend.”
I did a double-take.
“You know Thomas?” I said.
She looked over at Thomas, who was staring curiously in our direction. She twinkled her fingers seductively at him, to which he lifted his head even further to get a better look.
“Yes, we met earlier. He didn’t tell you?”
Ana Nemati. The papercut of jealousy became a knife.
“No,” I said, looking at the hulk again, still radiating from his stare. The little boy was gone, and the man smirked, having collected himself. My vision followed his massive arms hanging at the side.
“What’s your name?” he demanded to know with his booming voice while lying comfortably on his sun lounger.
“Jasmin,” I said, my eyes snapping up when I realised I had lingered too long.
“Jasmin,” he repeated, trying my name on for size. It fit him perfectly.
I shifted my weight from one leg to the other. I could barely feel my body now, the tension too much. I blushed, putting my hand over my mouth.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to say that. It just came out.”
“No, it’s fine, sweetie,” said Ana. “You had a right to speak up. Jordan can be juvenile sometimes,” she added while turning to her boyfriend, who ignored her.
“Jordan,” I said, trying him on as well.
“Do you live in Berlin, Jasmin?” said Ana.
“No, I’m only here for the weekend. It’s kind of a celebration for my thirtieth.”
“How lovely,” Ana said with a warm, feminine smile.
Wow. Did Thomas tell them nothing about me?
“You’re Ana,” I said.
“Yes,” she replied, bending forward and shaking my hand with a firm grip. “I thought you said Thomas didn’t mention me?”
“I found your card,” I said. “Nice to meet you.”
“I see,” said Ana, appearing to be thinking before relaxing again. “So, how do you two plan to celebrate?”
“Um,” I said, hesitating, wondering if I should admit where I was going. They seemed like they could handle it. “Well... It’s called ‘Passion Parade.’ A friend told me about it.”
Ana and Jordan locked eyes briefly.
“We know it,” she said. “It’s a kink party.”
“That’s right,” I said.
“Fetish dress code. Dance floor, and a private area for whoever wants to do naughty stuff.”
“Right. How do you know about it?”
“We know the couple who run it. Good friends of ours. Interesting way to spend a birthday. It’s tonight, right?”
I stole a glance of Jordan, who was quietly taking me in like a lemonade on a warm day.
“My birthday is next Saturday. But the party is tonight, yes,” I said, blinking twice and turning back to Ana.
“Are you a regular in the scene?” said Ana. “I don’t think I’ve seen you at any of the parties.”
“No, it’s our first time. A friend told me about it,” I said, turning hot when I realised I had already mentioned my friend.
“Aha,” said Ana, smiling smugly. “I’m sure you’ll have lots of fun,” she added with a hint of sarcasm.
“What?” I said, scrunching my face, which burnt even hotter.
“It’s just that...” Ana shook her head dismissively. “It’s probably not for you.”
“What’s not for me?”
“I’m just thinking, if it’s your first time, you might want to do something more memorable.”
“Tonight’s going to be memorable,” I said, straightening up.
“Passion Parade’s fun. But your thirtieth only happens once. You might want to go to a real party.”
I took a step back and crossed my arms.
“And which party is that exactly?”
“Do you have experience with group stuff?” said Ana.
“Orgies, dear. Underground parties.”
“Oh,” I said, flinching when I realised what she was talking about. I heard Michaela’s words again. She’s not ready for that. I brushed them off. Maybe I was. “Well, I’ve done threesomes,” I lied.
Ana smiled amusedly and looked towards Jordan. The tension hung thick as she seemed to be waiting on him. He studied me carefully, lingering for a long time. My throat hardened into a rock. Finally, he shrugged.
“We host ours once a month,” said Ana. “At a secret location. You’ll find most of the Äden regulars there, among others. The vibe will blow you away. Lucky for you, the next one is tonight.”
“Hey, babe,” said Thomas, appearing from nowhere and placing a hand on my back. “Hey, Ana,” he said with a lift of his chin as though she were an old friend. He ignored Jordan.
“Hello again, handsome,” said Ana with a sparkle in her eyes.
Jordan looked Thomas up and down with a blank expression.
“Are you talking about tonight?” said Thomas, looking at me.
“Yes,” said Ana. “I was just discussing it with Jasmin.”
“I was going to tell you about it,” said Thomas.
Were you? I thought, giving him a long stare.
“We can’t change our plans,” I blurted, turning back to Ana. “But thanks anyway.”
Ana reached over and handed me the same business card she had given Thomas.
“This one’s for you. If you change your mind, give me a call,” she said. “I can share the details with you then. It starts at midnight.”
“Sure,” I said, now feeling restless, uncomfortable having the four of us together. “Nice to meet you both,” I said.
“It was an absolute pleasure, Jasmin,” said Ana, smiling courteously.
“Bye,” I said, giving Jordan one last look.
“See you, Thomas,” said Ana with music in her voice.
Thomas jutted his chin at her again and put his arm around me as we walked off. I could not shake the feeling that he was acting differently in front of Ana, so I shook his arm off instead.
“What did you guys talk about?” said Thomas as we made it back to our sun loungers.
I looked across at Jordan and Ana again, and caught Jordan staring in my direction. Ana then stood, sauntered over to him and got on his lap. She wrapped her arms around him and stole his attention back with a deep kiss. My face burnt at the sight of them. The idea of going to Ana’s party put my stomach in knots and made my hands clammy. I could never compare to her. Their picture-perfect naked bodies looked stunning merged together like that. Plus it was an underground party. Neither Thomas nor I were ready for hardcore orgies.
“Babe?” said Thomas.
Something about finding Ana’s card hidden under Thomas’ towel felt off. And she wanted to lick him clean? What did that mean?
“Are you listening?” said Thomas.
“I heard you!” I said, scowling at him. “Why didn’t you tell me you met them?”
“I don’t know,” he replied with a shrug. “I was going to.”
I glared at him like an angry mother. It was his fault for being so thick-headed. I turned away and fell back onto my lounger, staring into the distance.
“I want to go to Ana’s party,” said Thomas.
I froze, disoriented by his statement. I turned towards him.
“No,” I said slowly. “We’re going to Passion Parade.”
“If we’re going ahead with this open thing, I want to go to J&A.”
“Well, go by yourself,” I said reflexively.
“Fine,” he shot back.
I paused, waiting for him to crack. He lit up a cigarette instead. Meanwhile, Jordan’s ocean-grey eyes remained burnt in my imagination, and just the thought of them made my skin glow warm again. Sure, he was incredibly hot. But there was something else about him I could not put my finger on. Something to do with those little boy vibes fused with a grown man’s presence. I had seen only a glimpse of his vulnerable side, but it was enough. His gaze penetrated me like nothing before. With others I felt confident in my natural boundaries. I had an inner space free of outer influence. Jordan stepped right through as though no door existed. Combined, Thomas’ nonchalance and Jordan’s fire eroded what little resistance I could put up. I huffed and gave in. Suit yourself. If Thomas wanted hardcore, he would get it.
“Fine,” I said. “Let’s go to J&A.”
© 2022 by JH Simon & Miki Clarke
Written by JH Simon
Story by JH Simon & Miki Clarke
Edit by Miki Clarke
Artwork by Juicy Jane