Kai felt bad about ordering Erin to sit. It served him right that she almost blew it for him by complaining about the bench. He had never asked her if she wanted to play, which was the first cardinal rule of kink. He had put her on the spot, but she’d gotten her own back, that’s for sure.
He was so stupid. Why was he messing with her like this? Self-destructive didn’t begin to describe how bad it was. He was going to ruin the best thing that had come along in a very long time. What if Erin told her boss what he’d done? If she told anyone, she sure as heck wouldn’t say that it turned her on. It was exactly the kind of thing that got bigger and uglier with the telling of it. They would think he was a sexist pig and they wouldn’t hire him.
So here he was doing damage control. That meant pleasing the boss. Allison Stern was the kind of woman who needed to be stroked and admired. He was willing to do it because he knew his design would win on its merits, all else being equal.
He wasn’t sure what type Erin was. At first he thought she was the “new-to-NYC and on the man-hunt for a good husband” type, but she hadn’t made any special effort to spruce up for their meeting. She wasn’t wearing lipstick anymore, as if it had rubbed off during the day and she hadn’t bothered to fix it. And with the sinking sun streaming through the giant window, her hair looked more red than brown, a deep true auburn. He could swear that sparkling fall of many shades of color didn’t come from a bottle.
The fact that Erin could put up with such a tyrant for a boss showed she had some inclination for submission inside of her. But then again, there had been no spark of recognition each time he had said those words to her. Only outrage and arousal. The best combination in the world, as far as he was concerned.
Only, he really should ask her to play first. He refused to go down the road that Allison took—getting his sadistic kicks out of ordering people around who couldn’t say no. Those were the kind of people who ended up being rude to wait staff at restaurants. Or worse, ignoring a girl’s safe-word.
It was only a few minutes later that Allison announced, “I have to run or I’ll miss my flight. Thank you for showing me your work, Malachi.”
“It’s been my pleasure.” His glance slid from Allison to Erin to include her in his compliment.
Erin wasn’t looking his way. She hadn’t said a word since she gave her opinion on the bench.
Kai walked them downstairs. Most of the live-in artists in the building were very young, and he didn’t want some rude kid leaving a lasting impression on them that would hurt his chances. But luckily no one was hanging out on the stairwell or in front of the building.
Kai gave Allison's hand a final shake, which she managed to make last a few seconds longer than usual, before she stepped into the limo car. Her last words for Erin were, “Write this up for me so I can send out the memo on Monday.”
They both watched the car drive away. Kai had the feeling that Erin could hardly look at him. He felt a pang again at the way he had played with her without asking first.
“Which way is it to the subway?” Erin asked.
Kai glanced at her high heels. “It’s five blocks away. I think I should call you a car. It’ll only take a few minutes to get here.” She was looking down the block. “You think so?”
He felt for his phone but he’d left it upstairs. “I’ve got the number in my phone. I’ll be right back.” Erin protested, “Really, don’t bother.”
He smiled in spite of himself. The perfect submissive response. “Why don’t you come up, so you won’t have to wait down here alone?”
“That’s okay. It’s a pretty evening.” She looked up at the sky visible through the low buildings.
He was surprised. He couldn’t remember the last time he had asked a girl up to his place and she refused. Not that this was a date. But it felt sort of like it because he had played with her, even if she didn’t know it.
He couldn’t do that again. He had to keep it professional. So he went upstairs to get his phone. He called the car company on the way back down and gave them his address, all the while wondering how he could make it up to her without ruining his chance at winning the competition for the plaza. When he got outside, Erin was gone.
It was like a punch in the gut. He had expected her to be there, had been thinking of what to say to her, how to apologize for what he’d done without making things worse.
He ran up to the corner, but he couldn’t see her in either direction. “Crap!”
It was like his vision narrowed. He had to find her. What if she went in the wrong direction and crossed into the barrio? It was only a few streets away. The women he usually dated could handle themselves in his neighborhood, but he wasn’t sure about Erin. There was a fresh-off-the-barn feel about her that worried him.
“Crap…,” he muttered through gritted teeth.
He ran, first up the street and then crossing over several streets. There were people getting home from work, some walking and even more riding bikes. He ran all the way to the subway. At the entrance, he didn’t see her. He felt like a tool, breathing heavily, but then he saw a bunch of guys loitering just outside the stairwell. So he kept on moving.
He ran down inside the subway and leaned over the turnstile. Erin wasn’t on the platform. He didn’t see how she could have beaten him there, but he had to check.
Back outside, the homeboys were looking him over, pointing him out to each other.
What if Erin had gone in the other direction, into the barrio towards the next subway station? It was about five blocks away from his studio, but in the other direction.
He set off towards Flushing Ave at a fast clip. It was his fault that she had gone off alone. He had made her feel uncomfortable. A rank novice, and he had messed with her at her job. He deserved to lose this gig. But most of all, he didn’t want Erin to get hurt or scared because of he had been an asshole. He had to find her.
Kai was running across a street, when out of the corner of his eye, he saw Erin. She was almost to the corner, and couldn’t help seeing him. He skidded to a stop. In a few steps he returned to her side.
“There you are.” He tried to say it lightly but was too out of breath to pull it off. But he couldn’t stop smiling, it was such a relief.
Erin was surprised. “Did you run after me? Seriously? You thought I couldn’t walk to the subway by myself?”
“I called a car for you.”
“I only live a few stops away. In Williamsburg.” She stepped forward. “And the entrance is right there.”
Kai could see the homeboys still hanging out in front of the subway. “Let’s go.” He made sure he was walking on the inside, between her and where the guys were standing.
She noticed the group of young men at the same time. Or maybe it was the sudden serious tone in his voice. She stopped protesting and warily went along with him.
Kai tried to take it easy, but the guys had just seen him run up in some kind of desperate funk looking for someone. And now here he was walking with a pretty girl who was obviously keeping her distance from him.
Several of them started hooting at them. “Yo, you have a fight, man?” “I’ll take her off your hands.” “Yeah, you know that…”
Kai could feel himself swelling up in the chest, ready to bash heads if any of them took a step towards Erin. He glared at them and flexed his muscles a bit, letting the warning in his eyes speak for him. It was like throwing gas on the flames.
The comments got louder as they pushed past them at the entrance. Erin moved closer to Kai as they went down the steps.
The homeboys followed them down inside the station, but they paused on the steps just out of sight of the bored MTA employee sitting in the bullet-proof glass booth reading the NY Post.
Kai hesitated only a moment, then swiped his card through the slot so Erin could go through the turnstile. He swiped again and followed after her, but stopped her from going further up the platform. They could still see the MTA booth from where they stood.
The gang didn’t follow them through the turnstile. They didn’t want to pay another two bucks each to get closer when they could taunt him from the stairs. They also couldn’t come closer into the narrow lobby or the MTA employee would order them to leave.
Under the eyes of the homeboys who continued to make comments, Erin turned away to look out at the platform.
Kai felt like he’d won. They were stymied and he was standing on the platform with Erin. “That takes care of that.”
“Thank you for finding me.” Her eyes met his frankly for the first time since he had ordered her to sit down on his bench. “I didn’t realize it wasn’t safe.”
He kept watch on the gang on the stairs. She had her back to them, trusting him to look out for her.
“They’re just assholes with nothing better to do,” Kai said.
The gang may not have caught the words, but his attitude was clear. Their jeering picked up. Even the MTA employee looked up from his Post for a second.
Erin moved even closer to him. “There’s a train coming.”
Her hair was blowing in the incoming breeze as a subway rushed down the tunnel towards them. “Good, it’s almost over.”
“You can’t go back out there.” She put her hand on his arm, looking up at him. “You don’t know what they’ll do.” He stared at the gang openly now, as if judging them. “They’re all bark, no bite.”
“Don’t be like that,” she insisted. “Come with me, even if it’s only to the next station.”
He thought he had seen a couple of the guys around before. This was his neighborhood, his subway station. He wasn’t going to be run off by a pack of goons. Now he had to defend his right to be here, and that’s not what he wanted. There was always a cost to not fitting in. But he had never fit in. He had always been the new kid, moving around as his dad changed trucking jobs. He knew how to watch what was going on around him and react the right way, so he wasn’t noticed.
So how did this situation get so out of hand? There was Erin, her eyes fastened on him. His deep down spinal reflex was to jump those mother fuckers and see how many he could take down, scaring off the others while doing it.
He wiped his hand across his face. What is wrong with me? With a squeal of brakes, the subway train pulled in. Kai was already walking forward with Erin, still watching them so he knew it almost before they did. Several of them leaped forward, going for the turnstiles.
“They’re jumping,” he told Erin, hustling her inside the subway car and down to the end.
The conductor tried to close the doors when he saw several guys come flying over the turnstiles, but the doors had to open all the way to close again, and three of them managed to wiggle into their car.
“Oh, no…” Erin breathed.