Disclaimer: Characters and situations are all from my imagination.
Warnings: Sex and love between women
Feedback: Constructive criticism and feedback, both welcomed at geonncannon@gmail.com
Notes: Once again, humbled to be part of the great tradition that is the Academy Halloween Invitational. This includes characters from my 2011 Valentine Invitational story "Greek Mythology," but it's not necessary to read that to get this. (but if you want to: http://squiresisle.geonncannon.com/greek-mythology) Inspiration for this story goes to the beautiful and elegant burlesque performer Stormy Leather and her installment of the series Hysterical Literacy. If you enjoy the story, check her out on YouTube. And even if you don't, she's worth checking out. And Not Safe For Work. Fair warning. Lyrics included are Leonard Cohen's, not mine. Okay! Here we go! PS. There's a spider on you. Boo!

My Dream of You
by Geonn Cannon
Copyright © 2012 Geonn Cannon

Elaine opened the door with a smile that quickly faded when she saw me. "Oh, come on. We said costumes required!" She touched the one side of the diamond-shaped mask she wore. Her hair was teased up and frizzy at the sides, and her black dress hit just the right balance between revealing everything and leaving a bit of mystery. Glittery streaks of purple, blue, and pink spread out from under the mask like ribbons of light pouring from her eyes.

I, on the other hand, touched the brim of my bowler hat. "I'm dressed up."

"You put on a hat. Congratulations. It doesn't count." She grabbed my elbow and pulled me into the apartment. As she shut the door she turned and shouted toward the bedroom. "Steph, we've got a party-pooper."

Elaine's partner Stephanie came out of the bedroom in a purple toga. Her hair, which she'd just recently gotten cut extremely short, had been curled so it framed her face. She looked at me and clucked her tongue. "I knew it would be you, Reese. Come on. I'll see if there's anything left in Mel's room."

"She still has stuff here? She moved out months ago."

Stephanie shrugged and went into the room she and Elaine were using as a storage closet. "You know Mel. Can't be bothered to swing by and pick up the rest of her stuff, so it lingers."

I looked at Elaine as Stephanie disappeared into the clutter. "What are you supposed to be?"

She put a hand on her hip and tossed her hair. "Sexy."

"You've got it down pat."

"Thank you. And, uh, what was your lame costume supposed to be?"

I pushed the bowler farther down on my head so that it rested on my ears. "I don't know. It was the easiest costume I could think of. People see someone in a hat on Halloween, they know it's a costume. It doesn't matter who you're supposed to be."

Elaine laughed and then snapped her fingers. "Hold on. Steph?"

"Yeah?" Her voice seemed to echo from inside the other room.

"Do you have a red tie and black blazer?"

Stephanie reappeared. "Yeah. Why?"

Elaine smiled. "I have an idea." She stepped away from me, motioning for me to follow her as Stephanie went to get the clothes.

"What are you going to do to me?" I asked as I sat in the chair she indicated.

She took out a long plastic case and flicked open the top. She smiled and said, "Don't worry. It's going to make you the hit of the night with the more cultured members of the crowd." She took a small white sponge out of the case, dipped it in the green, and began to apply it to my face. I cringed a little.

"Just don't make me a witch."

"Trust me. You'll like this. Hold still..."


Mel and Ellie arrived a few minutes before we were due to go. Mel smiled when she saw me. "Oh, wow. Magritte, Son of Man?"

"Thank Elaine. It was her idea."

"I told you Mel would get it," Elaine said.

I had to give her that one. I was still wearing my bowler, but my outfit had been exchanged for a white dress shirt, a blazer, and a red necktie. All the clothes were about a size too large for me, but Elaine insisted it looked good. She had used the makeup to paint a large green apple in the center of my face, the top of it covering my eyes while the bottom curve dipped just below my bottom lip. I looked enough like the famous painting for Stephanie to finally be satisfied I was in costume. Mel was dressed like Alice from the third Resident Evil movie. Ellie was a real-life pirate whose name she mentioned when she was planning the costume but I'd completely forgotten. I didn't want to look stupid by asking again, so I just let it go. Stephanie declared we were all acceptable to be seen in public with her, so she grabbed her purse and ushered us out of the apartment.

Ellie was still coming off a breakup, and Mel's girlfriend was in Sacramento for some kind of conference, so I didn't feel like a fifth wheel as we piled into the backseat of Elaine's car.

"Where are we going tonight?"

"Some place the Greek found," Stephanie said.

I smiled. When they met, Elaine was a bartender at a club Stephanie frequented. Stephanie didn't know her real name, so she just referred to her as "the Greek." When they got together, the nickname stuck. I thought it was adorable.

Elaine drove us through swarms of marauding trick-or-treaters, tiny ghouls and cartoon characters dressed in outfits that reflected in the headlights like cat eyes in the dark. At one stoplight Mel rolled down the window to compliment a teenager on her Fraggle Rock costume.

"No one knows Fraggle Rock anymore," she said when we were underway again. "And if they do, they don't remember Mokey. I loved Mokey."

Stephanie said, "Which one was Mokey?"

"The artistic one, of course," Mel said, flipping her hair for emphasis.

The club was called Sans Man, and the line to get in was technically out the door. Two people were waiting on the sidewalk, the first one propping the door open with her shoe so as not to be cut out. Elaine told us the line always looked worse than it really was; they were just trying to make sure there was an even spread of people on the balcony as there was on the ground floor. Sure enough we were in the anteroom five minutes after we arrived. I drifted to the back of the group so I was the one left behind when the others ventured inside. Ellie turned to stay with me, but I waved that I would be fine.

Someone came into the anteroom from a side door I hadn't noticed. He was slender and dressed in a three-piece suit, a thin mustache clinging tightly to his upper lip. He looked me up and down and then gestured at my face.


"Yeah." I was a bit thrown; this slender and well-dressed fellow was a woman! "My friend, uh, came up with it."

She smiled. Or he did. Transgender or in drag? I didn't know the right term. I cleared my throat.

"Cool. Listen, do you want to be part of the show?" She held up a hand to cut off my knee-jerk refusal. "You won't be onstage, you won't have a spotlight on you and, if it all goes well, no one has to know you're even involved. We just need someone to run a control so the performer doesn't know what to expect." She smiled. "Sort of like improv. What do you say? We'll give you fifty bucks when you leave as a thank you."

I glanced toward the door. I'd already come close to messing up part of Stephanie's big night by not dressing up. If I said no and they couldn't find someone else, the show might suffer.

"Sure. What do I have to do?"

She took a long object out of her inside coat pocket. It was a small black remote shaped like the grip of a screwdriver. There was a flat head where the user's thumb could rest, and a series of buttons were lined up within easy reach.

"Just take this. When Markie comes on stage, use the remote however you want. As much or as little as you want. It's more fun if you do it a lot." She winked. "She should be on in about half an hour. What's your name?"

"Theresa. People just call me Reese."

"Okay, Theresa. Remember, Markie."

I nodded and she went back through the hidden door. Ellie came out into the anteroom. "Come on. We're being given a table." She looked around. "Were you talking to someone?"

Was I? Or was it a Halloween mystery? I still had the remote in my hand, so it hadn't been a hallucination. I slipped the remote into my pocket and shook my head as I joined her inside the club. I didn't know what to expect from a burlesque club, but I was grateful it wasn't some Moulin Rouge fever dream. The stage was massive, like the prow of a ship that had pushed through the side of the building. The far side was draped with layers of thick velvet curtains.

The flyer Elaine gave us revealed the theme of the night was "Put the BOO in Book!", with literacy being the unifying arc. We were a little late for the beginning of the first act, which was already in progress. One woman was dressed in a stereotypical Gypsy fashion, while another wore a battered steel chest plate over a puffy-sleeved shirt. A pointed gray beard clung to her chin and she wore a golden bowl on her head.

"Dawn Key-hottie," Elaine said.

"Cervantes spins in his grave," Mel said with a laugh.

We took our seats near the stage and watched the rest of the song. By the end of it, "Dawn" was down to pasties and a G-string, still wearing her bowl as a helmet as Dulcinea rebuffed her one final time.

I tried to pay attention, but my eyes kept drifting down to the remote. It was nestled in my hand and hidden against my thigh, like something obscene I didn't want to get caught with. I wanted to test it to make sure it was working right, but what if it screwed up one of the other acts?

Elaine was sitting next to me and nudged my arm halfway through the next performance. She leaned in and said, "You okay? Having a good time?"

"Yeah." I smiled. "It's really great. I'm just distracted."

A half an hour later, as the mysterious person in the anteroom had promised, the emcee came on the speakers. "My lovely dears, please give a warm welcome to a Sans Man favorite, our pride and joy, Miss Markie D. Sade!"

My heart froze for a moment and I felt as if I was the one about to go on. I tightened my grip on the remote and waited for anything that looked like a cue.

The velvet curtains parted, and she stepped out onto the stage. I'd never had a physical reaction so strong at just the sight of someone, but she literally made it hard for me to breathe. She wore black slacks that ended just above her ankles to reveal shiny black high heels that clicked on the stage as she strode out. She kept her chin up, a thin smile playing on her lips as she acknowledged the crowd's applause and catcalls.

This being burlesque, I'd expected to see much more skin. Her top was conservative for any setting; a bright red jacket with large black buttons and a black lapel. Her skin was cream-white, revealing freckles sprinkled across the bridge of her nose. She wore black, round-rimmed eyeglasses that made her look like the representative of Citizens for Morality who had come to shut the place down.

Her hair was a pale red that, combined with her suit, looked almost orange. It was cut short on the sides and back but a single long wing of bangs swept down over her right eye and draped the lens of her glasses on that side. She carried a small folio, homemade by the looks of it, and stepped to the tall, old-fashioned microphone as the crowd fell silent.

She smiled at us all and spoke. "Hello, darlings."

The voice snapped things into place for me. The person who gave me the remote and told me what to do was now standing on stage in front of me, her male guise traded for female. My skin erupted in goosebumps.

"I'm Markie D. Sade. Tonight, I'm going to show you how much I... love... reading." She ran her fingers suggestively down the microphone stand, one eyebrow arched as she waited for the whoops to die down. More applause, more clapping.

I looked down at the remote control on my hand. My thumb ran around the button and I raised my eyes to the woman on stage again. She was scanning the crowd (trying to find out who held the remote?) and she opened the folio. She wet her lips with a quick flash of pink tongue and began to read, holding the book with one hand by spreading her fingers on either side of the spine and using her thumb to hold the pages wide.

"To a Friend, by Amy Lowell." She wet her lips again and began to recite. "I ask but one thing of you," she began. "Only one. That always you will be my dream of you. That never shall I wake to find untrue, all this I have believed and rested on forever vanished, like a vision gone..."

I pressed the top button on the remote, eyes locked on her for signs it was actually working. What if it was just a game? A test to see if someone was gullible enough to sit here and press a stupid button for the length of the show? But then her voice caught in her throat.

"...Ou-hooow-out." She cleared her throat. "Out into the night."

I looked down at the remote.

"Alas." She hit that word a little hard. Didn't she? "How few there are who strike in us--"

I pressed the button again and she drew in a sharp breath before the next word.

"--a chord we kne-he-ew." She wet her lips again. A line appeared between her eyebrows and she fixed her gaze on the page with an intense focus. "Existed. We knew existed but so seldom heard its sound. Um, tone." She chuckled nervously and the crowd laughed. "We knew existed by so seldom heard its tone we tre-he-emble... we tremble, we tremble, we tremble at... the... half-forgotten sound." She gasped, and the crowd whistled as she ducked her head and took a deep, steadying breath. The fingers of her free hand wrapped around the microphone stand as she forced herself to stand up straight and look at the page again.

I pressed my thumb against the button again and she groaned and threw her head back. I saw her fingers tighten around the mic stand, her hips were thrusting in an almost mechanical fashion. I don't think she even knew she was doing it, now swaying back and forth in a gentle rhythm as she continued the poem with a deep growling bass added to her voice. She was speaking quickly, like she wanted to get the rest of the poem out as quickly as possible.

"The world is, hah, full of rude awakenings and, hm, he-heaven-born castles shattered to the ground."

I examined the remote control. I shot it up to a high frequency and then immediately dropped it back down.

Markie cried out and then groaned through clenched teeth. "Oh, my God, you are a sadist," she half-whimpered and half-laughed. Her throat was pink, spreading up across her cheeks. The audience cheered and she flipped the wing of hair out of her face as she blinked at the page again.

"Yet still... our h-human... longing... vainly clings."

I inched the control back up and she squeaked.

"Haaa. To... ha, a belief. In beauty. Through. All-wrongs."

I moved my thumb so that the vibrating underwear moved against her like a wave, and Markie went extremely stiff. She exhaled sharply through her nose. She took a series of quick, short breaths and then opened her eyes. They were dark now, her lips tight as she found the place where she had stopped. She threw her head back and shouted the last line.

"O! Stay your hand! Ha, God, shit!" The crowd clapped. "And leave my heart its songs!"

The crowd whooped and cheered, applauding as she dropped both hands to her sides. She crossed her feet and performed a mock curtsey, her arms extended to either side, then she stepped forward again and scanned the audience.

"Whoever has the remote, gimme three quick ones." I pressed the button three times, and she shivered and squealed. "Mm. You naughty girl. Whoo." She blew a kiss to the room at large, but I knew it was directed at me. I gave the button another go as she left the stage, watching as her ass tightened just before she stepped through the curtains again. I heard her laughter backstage and decided that the audience participation portion of the evening was over.

When the next act started, I got everyone's drink orders and headed up to the bar. I found someone who looked like they were in charge. "Hi. I need to give this back to someone."

The woman looked at the remote and smiled. "That was you? Damn, girl. It's tough to make Markie lose control like that. You must have been hitting that button hard."

I blushed. "I-I don't know, it... it..."

She chuckled. "It's fine. She offered you fifty?"

"Yeah... uh, can you just put it toward Stephanie Logan's tab?"


I got the refills and carried them back to the table. Onstage a woman was reading from Paradise Lost as it was acted out behind her by two women. Eve wore a thong with a serpent painted across her breasts to obscure her nipples. Adam was played by a woman as well, her nipples covered by pasties and wearing a comically huge fig leaf with an even larger bulge underneath it.

I couldn't focus on any of the following acts. I kept looking down at my empty hand, wondering if Markie was backstage. Was she still wearing the vibrating panties? Was she still wet? I blushed at the thought and took a sip of my drink.

The night progressed. Ellie flirted with the waitress and Stephanie admonished me for paying a good chunk of her tab. By the time we left, Ellie had disappeared with the waitress but texted Stephanie she would make it home on her own. We left without her and Elaine dropped me off at home. She twisted to look over the seat at me before I got out. She had taken off her mask, but the makeup still surrounded her eyes to make her look like a fairy.

"I hope you had a good time tonight, Reese."

"I did. It wasn't something I'd have sought out, but I'm really glad I went."

She smiled. "Cool. Happy All Saint's Day."

"Thanks." I craned my neck and saw Stephanie was fast asleep, her head tucked against her shoulder. I lowered my voice. "And thank Steph. She made tonight a lot better than it would have been."

"Er 'elcim," Stephanie murmured.

Elaine smiled and stroked Stephanie's cheek so lovingly it made my heart hurt. "She says you're welcome."

"I got it. Night."


I got out of the car and headed up to my building. I waved when I was in the lobby and Elaine pulled away from the curb as I headed up to my apartment. I took off the borrowed suit and my bowler hat, standing at the sink in my underwear to wash the green apple off my face. Out with Steph, the Greek, Mel and Ellie, it was easy to believe I was one of them. Confident, out and proud in my sexuality, ready to take all prisoners. But here in my tank top, bra and panties, I was like a kid playing dress-up. My hair had been pinned up to go under her bowler and I ran my fingers through it as I let it down. Dark blonde waves fell onto my shoulders, wavy from being held up all night, my roots showing. Plain Jane.

I took off my underwear and turned on the shower, sitting on the edge of the tub as I waited for the old building's water heater to do its job. I looked down at her bare toes. Halloween was fun, and dressing up could be a barrel of laughs, but it always had to end. And then November rolled around and I'm the same old Theresa Thorne I've always been.

I stood up and ran my palm under the water, then stepped into the tub. I pulled the curtain closed and turned my face into the spray. As the water pelted my chest, I thought that there was one thing no one couldn't take away from me: Boring old me, the closeted and shy Reese Thorne, had made a woman orgasm in front of a crowded club. The thought made my cheeks burn and I bit my bottom lip as I remembered Markie's performance.

How could anyone do that? To stand in front of a room full of strangers, knowing that one of them was controlling her pleasure. I tried to imagine it: the spotlight shining in my eyes, blinding me to the crowd, knowing that any second someone was going to start teasing me. I moved a hand between my legs and cupped my mound. I used two fingers to tease the swollen lips as I braced my free hand against the wall.

There had been no overt nudity at the club, even though there were plenty of bare breasts covered with patterns of body paint. But it wasn't one of the exhibitionists that caught my mind's attention. No, I focused on the fully-dressed redhead gasping her way through a poem, her free hand gripping the microphone stand as she struggled to maintain her composure.

I teased my clit and tilted my head forward, letting the water flatten my hair as I thrust my hips gently against my hand. I gasped out my orgasm and lifted my head, letting the water hit my forehead as I closed my thighs around my hand.

I couldn't do it. Not in a crowd. I held my hand under the spray and then bathed quickly before the hot water ran out. The faucets squeaked when I turned them off and I wrapped the towel around me for the walk to bed. I changed into my pajamas and crawled under the blankets, settling in as I looked out the window.

Halloween was over, the masks were all put away, and November loomed ahead. I wondered what Markie D. Sade looked like when she crawled into bed at the end of the day. Was her face shiny and devoid of makeup? Did she wear pajamas like mine? I didn't know, and I didn't really want to know. As far as I was concerned, Markie wasn't a real person. She was a living fantasy who had graced my life for a few minutes and left memories that would last a lifetime. Knowing too much would just ruin the illusion.

I pulled the blankets up and rolled onto my side, folding my pillow under my cheek and drifting off to dreams of Markie reciting more poetry, my finger poised over the button that would bring her pleasure.

I looked up more poetry by Amy Lowell. A lot of it was on Project Gutenberg, so I was able to read some of them before bed. I drove past Sans Man at least four times the week after Halloween but I could never get up the courage to go inside. I did get the courage to go into an adult novelty shop, but I didn't buy anything. I just examined their display of vibrating underwear and left before my face could burst into flames.

Markie D. Sade became a permanent fixture in my dreams and fantasies. Sometimes she was fully dressed, other times not so much. I alternated between her stage persona and the mysteriously shadowy male version who had given me the remote. I wondered if she saw them as two different people or if she just used them to present different parts of her real personality to the world at large.

It was almost a month before I got up the nerve to go back to Sans Man. I went on a night when no entertainment was planned and the stage remained empty for the entire hour and a half I sat nursing my beer. The bartender didn't recognize me from our last encounter, and I asked when they were doing another burlesque night.

"Wednesday. You want to perform? We have amateur nights."

"God. No. I'm just... I was in here on Halloween and I saw someone..."

She smiled. "Yeah? Who?"

"M-Markie D. Sade." It felt ridiculous saying her full name out loud, but I couldn't think of her as just 'Markie.'

"Oh, yeah. We get a lot of ladies in here after she performs." She smiled. "She'll be here Wednesday for sure."

I tried to act nonchalant. "Okay. Cool. Maybe I'll swing by."

She nodded. "You do that."

I finally paid my tab and headed out, feeling dejected. Of course Markie D. Sade was popular. I bet she had women more beautiful than me pounding on her door every night. There was no way she would ever pick me out of the crowd.

Except she had. She chose me out of everyone else who was there on Halloween to hold the remote control.

But that night I'd been wearing a bowler hat and my face was green. Maybe she just likes Magritte. Whatever the reason, I couldn't extrapolate that into a sincere romantic interest.

It was better this way. Reality would be messy and nowhere near as attractive as the fantasy I set up. Markie D. Sade wasn't a real person. She was a dream girl, a mental image brought to life. She was as real as a cartoon. There was a human being under the persona that I hadn't even come close to glimpsing. I'd built up the illusion up so much in my mind that the real thing was bound to be a disappointment.

Still, I planned to be there on Wednesday to see if the second impression was as intoxicating as the first.


I rested my chin on my hand, pretending to gaze out the window. In reality, I was looking at the screen of my laptop to check my email. Stephanie was a few feet away with her pad propped against her lap. She did artwork for local restaurants and clubs, so I had ended up on more than a few menus. Stephanie was a fast artist, so I never had to pose for long. Usually she just went for a basic outline of the pose and then fleshed out the details later. We were discussing our plans for the weekend.

"The Greek has to go to her cousin's wedding, so I'm flying solo."

"You're not going with her?"

"No. She's out to a couple of people in her family, but not all of them. She doesn't want to make it a big deal and steal the bride's thunder." She lifted her shoulder. "How about you? Want to see a movie or something?"

"Sure. Are Mel and Ellie coming with us?"

Stephanie shrugged. "I haven't had a chance to ask them yet. Okay, you can move now."

I sat up and rubbed my back. "I, um. Actually, I sort of have plans tonight?"

She looked up from her pad. "You have plans?"

"Don't sound so shocked. I plan, I... arrange situations."

"No, it's not... I'm just surprised. Is it a date?"

"Not exactly." I settled against the back of the couch and crossed my legs. I knew how stupid it was going to sound, so I thought I'd just throw it out there. "You know that burlesque thing we went to on Halloween night? The performer who read poetry while someone controlled her vibrating underwear?"

Stephanie smiled. "Oh, yeah. Markie D. Sade." She rubbed her hands together and winked at me. "The Greek liked her, too. Got her all hot and bothered when we got back to the apartment. We're actually considering a pair of those vibrating undies."

I smiled nervously. "Uh. Well, what I didn't tell you guys was that I had the remote control. I was the one, uh--"

"You were? Why didn't you say anything?"

I shrugged. "I don't know. It seemed better to keep it a mystery. Anyway, I keep thinking about her, and I decided I wanted to go back and see her again. Just to get it out of my system. She's performing tonight."

"That's so cool. She was gorgeous."

I did a mental retreat. "I don't know. Maybe I'll skip the whole thing."

"What? Why?"

"Because why..." I gestured at myself. "What's her incentive to go out with me?"

Stephanie smiled. "She'll get to go out with a beautiful, brilliant, funny woman. And modest. You're a catch, Reese."

"We have nothing in common."

"Big words considering you've never spoken to the woman. Of course you have gotten her off, so you know you're sexually compatible."

I was shaking my head. "No. I should just call the whole thing off."

Stephanie put her pad aside and stood up. She put her hands on my shoulders and forced me to look at her. "Remember how I was before I met the Greek? I was shy, I was quiet... but by taking that first step to be with her, I became the sort of person I wanted to be. I got confident. It's why I can boss you girls around so successfully." She smiled and kissed my forehead. "Go to the show tonight. It doesn't have to change your life, and you don't even have to talk to her. Just take that first step."

"You don't think I'll just be making a fool of myself?"

"So what if you are? But what if you aren't? Look, I still don't think I'm the kind of person who would ask out Elaine Keyes, but we've been together for a year and a half. You have to take that first step. You have to be willing to look like a goon and, yeah, nine times out of ten you will end up looking goonish. But that tenth time--"

The apartment door opened and Elaine came in. She had a dry-cleaning bag draped over her arm. "I picked up the dress for Kim's wedding. Oh, hi, Reese."

Stephanie nodded at her. "Meet the tenth time."

Elaine didn't stop on her way to the bedroom. "What tenth time?"

"Nothing. Never mind, dear."

"All right."

When she was in the bedroom and we were alone again, Stephanie said, "Take the risk. Failing doesn't hurt as bad as you think, and success feels better than you can imagine."

I sighed. Telling Stephanie made it easier. Now I wasn't just out for myself, I had to go or risk explaining to her why I hadn't.

"Okay. I'll go."

Stephanie squeezed my arm. "Excellent. Do you want to borrow anything for the big night?"

"No. God, it's not... it's not going to be a big anything. I'm just going to be someone catching the show. Anything else is just a bonus."

"Right, but if it doesn't work out with Markie, you could always pick up someone else. Come on. I'll find you something great."

She took my hand and pulled me toward the bedroom. I went along, feigning reluctance even though I was secretly glad. I didn't trust anything in my wardrobe for the task I was undertaking, so it was relieving to have someone else take over. I surrendered to Stephanie's will as I was dragged into the bedroom.


The crowd at Sans Man wasn't as large as it had been on Halloween. I felt overdressed in Stephanie's red blouse and black slacks, but I fit in with the rest of the business-casual crowd. I found a two-top table near the stage, prepared to give it up if anyone seemed in need, but I was still in place and nursing my first drink of the night when the first act took the stage.

Unlike Halloween's salute to literacy, there didn't seem to be a unifying theme to the evening's entertainment. If there was anything that tied the acts together it was the amount of skin on display. The sales of pasties and body paint had to have seen a boost in the past week or so, because every woman who took the stage wore one or the other by the time their set ended. There were short breaks between each act, and I started scanning the crowd with Stephanie's suggestion ringing in my mind as I looked at the other women attending the show that night.

I was turned away from the stage when a cheerful song filled the room. I turned back to the stage and the curtains had parted to reveal her. As she walked out onto the stage, she slipped off her blazer and draped it casually over her shoulder, keeping it in place with two hooked fingers as she took her spot and lifted her chin. She wore a fedora that shaded her eyes, and the mustache on her upper lip was thicker than the one I'd seen on Halloween, but there was no mistaking that strong jaw and elegant neck.

Markie D. Sade was on-stage.

She wore a waistcoat over a man's dress shirt and a red tie, her slacks draping a pair of polished black loafers. Her hat was tilted forward to shade her eyes and her lips curled into a playful smile as she scanned the audience. She held the pose until the lyrics started and I recognized Leonard Cohen's trademark growl.

Markie dropped the jacket and began to strut along the end of the stage, moving her hand to loosen the knot of her tie. She popped the top button of her blouse and dropped her hand to the V of her waistcoat. She timed it perfectly so that she pulled it open as Leonard and his angels sang, "the women tear their blouses off." She turned her back to us and let it slide down her arms, giving her hips an extra sway as she walked back toward the curtain.

My mouth was dry as I realized tonight was going to be a striptease. I swallowed the rest of my beer and touched my thumb to my lips. I wanted to flee, but I couldn't miss this. I knew I was blushing but I didn't care. She stopped where she had started, turning to look at me - I mean, the audience - over her shoulder as she ran her hands over her hips. With her back to me - um, us - she hooked her thumbs in the waistband and tugged.

The pants broke away from her legs as easily as if she was standing in the ocean letting waves crash against her lower body. One second she was covered, and the next I was seeing a hint of a thong before the tail of her shirt dropped back and covered her up. She spun and used a hooked finger to undo the knot of her tie. She pulled it off, threaded the thin cloth through her fingers, then cracked it against the stage like a whip.

I was finding it hard to catch my breath, running my eyes up and down her legs before settling on her face for a moment. I looked for her eyes in the shadows, but then I began my downward trek again. Her body continued to sway with the Cohen song, her hips rocking back and forth with the drum beat so perfectly that I think my heart synched up to it.

Markie walked away from us again and walked back to the curtain. She crouched, tucking her knees against her chest as she swept her hand across the shadows behind the curtain. She spun on the balls of her feet and revealed she was now holding half a dozen pink tulips. She straightened with sinuous grace, holding the tulips against her chest

She walked toward us wearing only the shirt and her hat. She plucked one tulip from the group and held it out like the bulb was a microphone. She tilted her head back then parted her lips and extended her tongue. She ran it around the edge of the petals, then pushed into the center of it. The symbolism was unmistakable and I felt a shock of arousal between my legs. She lowered the tulip, spun it around her fingers like a baton, and strutted to the edge of the stage. She held the tulip out to the nearest table and smiled as the woman seated there took it from her. The woman brought it to her nose and inhaled deeply, then blew a kiss to Markie.

Markie stepped back into the light, took another tulip, and ran it down the front of her bodies. The bulb ran across the buttons of her blouse and then pushed between them. She threw her head back and rocked her hips before she brought the flower back to her nose and inhaled deeply. Her lips parted at what she smelled, and she walked to her right, toward me, and held out the tulip she had just pressed between her legs.

She held it out to me.

I closed my fingers just underneath the bulb, and I caught Markie's eyes glinting under the fedora. She winked, backed away from me, and spun. The tails of her shirt lifted, revealing her thong for a brief and beautiful moment. She flung her arm out and sent the remaining tulips flying. Women cheered and, once Markie's hands were free, she grabbed either side of her shirt and tugged.

Her chest was bound, wrapped tightly with what looked like flesh-tone gauze. She let the shirt hang open as the song continued.

"And the whole damn place goes crazy twice
And it's once for the Devil and once for Christ."

She finally took off her fedora with her right hand, placing it over her heart as the song faded to a finish. She held her arms out to either side, crossed her legs at the ankles, and took an elaborate bow as the audience applauded and cheered. I wanted to clap, but I couldn't with the tulip clutched with both hands. She held up her hand and waved only using her middle and ring fingers, blew one more kiss to the crowd, and scooped up her discarded clothing as she strutted back behind the curtains.

I brought the tulip to my nose and breathed deep. It was plastic, but I thought I could detect a faint scent of... something. I wasn't prepared to say I smelled what Markie's dance had suggested, but there was a definite aroma.

The next performance started almost five minutes after Markie left the stage, but I was still rooted to my chair. Finally, certain that if I hesitated she would disappear and I'd have to wait another week to say something, I pushed my chair back and walked to the bar. A woman I didn't recognize from my last visits was behind the bar and she smiled kindly at me as I approached.

"What can I get for you?" she asked over the music.

"Um. Is it allowed... I-I want to say hello to one of the performers."

She noticed the tulip I was holding and smiled. "Markie D?"

I hoped it was dark enough to hide my blush. "Yeah."

"If she gives you a tulip that means it's okay for me to send you back." She pointed to a door just beyond the restrooms. "Through there. Her name's on the door."

I managed to say "Thanks," but all I could think was "She gave a tulip to someone else first." It cemented the fact that this was a woman who flirted with and seduced at least fifty women a night. Maybe more on weekends. Hell, who knew how many of the tulips had been handed out since Halloween? And the ones she tossed, they just went to random women. She made sure I got one, and the skank at the other table got one, but the rest was just for whoever wanted to pick them up?

Feeling more ridiculous than I had since Halloween, I went down the dark hallway. One room was filled with vanities that were so bright it seemed as if every surface within was either glowing or reflecting the yellow shine. I shaded my eyes from it as I walked by, blinking rapidly to readjust my eyes to the darkness.

The dressing rooms all had name plates next to the door, and I moved slowly until I found Markie's. I stood in front of it and stared, debating with myself about what to do. I couldn't be this person. I couldn't be this impetuous. I couldn't take the risk. I closed my eyes and imagined Stephanie tomorrow asking me how it had gone.

Well, I got all the way to her dressing room but then I turned tail and ran as fast as I could.

The disappointment I imagined in her eyes was enough to make me knock. I exhaled and stepped back, looking down at the petals of the tulip.


"I... have one of your flowers."

I hated myself.

The door opened and Markie was standing in front of me. Just me, alone, and I was her entire audience. I blinked and swallowed hard, then managed a smile.


"It's you," she said. "You were here on Halloween. I gave you the remote control."

I blushed. "Yeah."

She smiled. "You did great. It's been a while since anyone teased me so mercilessly. Come on in." She turned and walked to the vanity and, with little choice but to obey, I followed. I shut the door behind myself and looked at the room. It was small, but she made great use of the space. A rack of gaudy costumes stood along one wall. The room was so tight that it was impossible not to brush them when I passed. The sleeves grazed me as if they were reaching out to pull me into their embrace, and I folded my hands in front of myself to keep from being abducted.

There was a couch on the back wall, but Markie sat in the canvas chair in front of the vanity. She had taken off the mustache and was in the process of removing her makeup. She was in a red silk robe that revealed she wasn't wearing much else underneath it. In the reflection I noticed the material gaped open enough to reveal her cleavage, but I tried very hard not to notice it very hard.

"So where did you go on Halloween? Most ladies want to return the remote personally."

"I didn't... um. I didn't know if that was allowed. I mean, I would have loved to. But I didn't know if..."

She smiled at me in the mirror. With her makeup off, her face shining in the harsh light, she looked almost normal. Not normal, no, don't get me wrong. I just mean that she looked like someone I might pass on the street rather than some stage sex goddess.

"Well, I'm glad you came back. Which did you prefer, the lady or the gent?"

I scoffed. "Ask me something easy, like if I prefer pizza or chocolate." She laughed. "But, um, if I had to choose, I would say I prefer the lady. You were too disguised as the man, and you're so beautiful."

Oops. Well, so much for being suave.

"Thank you. What's your name?"

Oh, God, what is my name? "Theresa. Reese."

"Theresa Reese? That's pretty. Kind of musical."

"No. Uh, it's Theresa Thorne. I just meant most people call me Reese."

She laughed again and turned to face me. She rested her elbow on the back of her chair and held out her other hand. I took it and squeezed; her fingers were wet and her palm was warm and dry, and I felt lightheaded. "Well, it's nice to meet you, Theresa Reese. I'm--"

"Don't." She raised an eyebrow. "Sorry. It's just that I... I'm still trying to deal with the fact I'm here. I don't normally do this sort of thing, and I never do it with someone like you."

"Someone like me?"

"Someone beautiful."

She showed her teeth in another smile. "Well, makeup can do wonders. Okay. Until you're ready, you can just call me Markie."

"Thank you."

She nodded and turned back to the mirror. I watched as she removed the last bit of her makeup.

"How do you do it?"

"Do what?"

"Reveal so much of yourself to strangers? Be so vulnerable on the stage?"

She chuckled. "You saw me on that stage. Did I look vulnerable to you?"

I had to admit it. "Not at all."

"Nope. I had all the power. I could have asked for money, power, sex, whatever, and half the women in that crowd would have given it to me without thinking. That's why I do it. I open myself up because it gives me strength in my real life."

"This isn't your real job?"

She shook her head, still smiling. "I work nine-to-five like everyone else. I use my real name for that job. I put on my suit of armor, run around in my Habitrail, and I sacrifice pieces of myself in exchange for a paycheck. Here, I can toss all that aside. Maybe it's better if you don't know my real name. That way, I'll always be Markie to someone." She pursed her lips and rested her chin on her laced fingers, still watching me in the mirror. "I like that. Can I just be Markie with you?"

"Always," I whispered.

"Thank you." She slid off the canvas chair and turned to face me. I couldn't tell, thanks to the cramped room, if she was invading my space or was just standing this close out of necessity. I realized that with her in bare feet and me in shoes, I was just a little taller than her. That was unseemly. This woman was ten feet tall, she towered over everything. Why was I looking down into her eyes?

"I want to kneel in front of you," I whispered before I realized what I was saying.

Her throat tightened and her lips pressed together in an attempt to stop herself from laughing out loud. "Well... I-I don't think that's necessary."

"Probably not."

She leaned in and kissed my cheek. I tensed and closed my eyes, and she touched my right arm just above my elbow as she pulled back. God, why hadn't I worn something with short sleeves?

"Thank you for your help on Halloween."

"Sure." I knew a dismissal when I heard it, but I wasn't willing to accept it. "Can... I see you again?"

She turned and looked at a sheet of paper propped up against the mirror. "I'm on stage again in forty-five minutes, and I'm usually here on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. I--"

"No. I meant, can I see you... outside of the club." I furrowed my brow and wrinkled my nose. "Oh, God. I just had a flashback to that old Saturday Night Live skit where the men all fall for that male stripper. I'm sorry. I'm being ridiculous, it's--"

"No. Yes."

I stared at her, surprised at the expression I read in her eyes. "What?"

"No, you're not being ridiculous. Yes, I'd like to see you outside the club. Don't expect to see exactly what you've seen here..."

"I don't. I've liked both versions of you that I've seen so far, but I'd like to see the real you, too. Whatever that may be. I'm sure it measures up."

She shrugged. "I guess we'll see. I have Saturdays open. Why don't we meet sometime in the afternoon, get a coffee or something? We can pretend we're meeting for the first time and go from there."

I nodded, possibly too enthusiastically. "Yeah. Yes, I'd... yes." I reached into my purse, fumbling with the tulip I realized I was still clutching like a talisman as I pulled out my cell phone. "Let me give you my information..."

"No, let me." She took the phone from me and began pressing buttons. "There. Now my information is in your phone, and you can give me a call sometime so I can get yours." She ran her thumb over the screen a few times, apparently found the camera, and held the phone to me. "Take a picture."

"You're not wearing any makeup, or... or..."

"I don't mind if you don't."

I didn't. I held the phone up and she gave me a show-stopping smile. I snapped the picture and saved it.

"So... Saturday?"

"It's a date," she said.

"I'll see you then."

I left her to get dressed, feeling elated as I walked back through the dark hall to the front of the club. I was shaking, clutching my phone with one hand and the tulip with the other. I could barely catch my breath. I waited until I was outside to stop and catch my breath. I looked at my phone and ran through the saved numbers until I found a new one.

"Markie D. Sade."

I thought about dialing it, but I had to prove I had self-control. I instead took the opportunity to apply the picture I'd just taken to the phone number. She couldn't get in touch with me unless I called her. I realized that she had just given me a little bit of her power and I smiled. It suddenly didn't matter if she did this with every woman she gave tulips, if she spent every single night out with someone she'd met while she was on-stage.

All that mattered was that I had a date with Markie D. Sade. The rest was details.

I lied to Stephanie and the others about my plans for Saturday. I had taken the first step because I didn't want to disappoint Stephanie; I wanted the second step to be all mine. I called the number on my phone Friday afternoon half-expecting it to be a Korean dry-cleaner or a takeout restaurant. But I recognized her voice as soon as she answered.


I sucked in a breath and nearly stumbled over my first word. I recovered nicely, though. "Hi. This is Theresa. From the other night at the--"

"Theresa Reese. I remember." She sounded like she was smiling, which relaxed me enough to get through the rest of the conversation. "I was hoping you would call."

We arranged to meet at a diner near my apartment Saturday afternoon. I obsessed over what to wear and finally settled on jeans and a cable knit sweater with sleeves long enough I could pull them over my hands if I got too cold. I touched up my hair color to get rid of the roots and arrived at the diner half an hour early. I was sipping an ice water when Markie arrived.

I saw her coming through the parking lot, but I almost didn't recognize her. She wore an off-the-shoulder blouse in red and white, cinched at the waist with a belt so that it could double as a skirt. She had on black leggings and knee-high brown leather boots, and I fought the urge to stand up and hold the door open for her like she was a visiting dignitary. She smiled as she came through the door, spotting me at the back of the room and offering a quick wave before she weaved through the tables to join me.

"And I thought I was early," she said.

"You are. I mean, I was... I just wanted to be sure you didn't have to wait for me."

"But then you have to wait for me."

I shrugged. "You're worth waiting for." I ducked my head at this rom-com line, kicking myself at the same time I was trying to pat myself on the back for coming up with it. I took a sip of my water and then gestured at her. "So you really wear glasses."

She touched the rims. They were either the same pair as she'd worn that first night or an identical pair. "I do. Is that a plus or minus?"

"It's definitely a plus."

"Good, because I hate contacts." She smiled. "So I was thinking we could figure out how to spend the rest of the day while we had lunch."

"Oh. I have plans."

Her eyebrow jumped. "Oh, really? Well, I look forward to finding out what they are." A waiter came over and they quickly ordered, Markie ordering the first thing she saw on the menu that looked good. When he left, she folded her hands on the table in front of her and leaned toward me. "I have to admit, I was a little nervous this morning."

"You were nervous? About what?"

"Living up to..." She waved her hand in the air off to one side. "You know. You've only seen me on stage. In real life, I'm bound to be a disappointment."

I shook my head. "I find that hard to believe."

"Let's start with my name, then. I'm not really named Markie D. Sade."

My eyes widened. "No!"

She laughed. "Compared to that, my real name is pretty mundane." She held her hand out to me. "Nice to meet you. I'm Penelope Brennan."

I had prepared myself to compliment whatever she said, but the words came out before I could think about them. "Oh, my God. That's a beautiful name."

She chuckled. I remembered her hand and said, "Oh," as I grasped it and squeezed gently. "Uh, I mean, nice to meet you. Do you guy by Penelope or Penny?"

"Depends on the day. Which do you prefer?"


"Then I'll go by that. You said your friends call you Reese..."

I nodded. "You can call me that."

"Excellent. Well, I think we're off to a pretty good start here. So now that we've been properly introduced, what do you want to know about me?"

My mind reeled. What indeed?


Over lunch I discovered that she worked for a landscaping company. She was in charge of designing projects for commercial properties, figuring out how to make a corporate parking lot look aesthetically pleasing. I mentioned Steph was a graphic designer who worked for commercial projects, and Penelope lifted her glass in a toast.

"To two people who actually made a living with their art degrees."

I laughed. "Three, actually. I met Stephanie in art school."

"Oh? What do you do?"

"I illustrate children's books."

Her eyes widened behind her glasses. "Oh, that's incredible. Are you working on anything right now?"

"The Neighborhood Cat-Watch series."

"By Annabelle Golden. With the stray cats who watch over the neighborhood while the people are asleep. Yes! I've seen those. Oh, wow. You're extremely talented."

I blushed. We were both finished eating, but we were reluctant to leave. Penelope checked her watch.

"This mysterious thing you have planned. Do we have to be there at a certain time, or can we keep talking?"

There was no reservation or set schedule, so I shrugged and then shook my head. "We can keep talking if you want."


Another forty minutes of exchanging bios and the diner had become full. We sacrificed the table to a couple who was waiting and headed out.

"My car or yours?"

I had cleaned mine out in anticipation for the date, so I said, "Well, I know where we're going. Unless you have issues with letting someone else be in control."

She smiled at me, her eyes flashing behind her glasses. "I'm always up for a little role reversal."

I drove us across town and pulled into the parking lot. I glanced at the hedges next to the entrance and then looked at Penelope.

"Did you design this?"

"No, not this." She was focused on the building. "You're seriously bringing me here?"

I panicked. "Is it stupid? We can go somewhere else if--"

"No! I love it. I never would have come up with this for a first date." She looked out the window again and chuckled. "It's brilliant. It's absolutely perfect."

I smiled and tried to disguise my pride as I searched for a parking space.


A school of fish swam across the glass, changing direction with a group-thought twitch of their tails. Penelope was standing closer to the glass than I was, tilting her head back to watch as they disappeared deeper into their little world.

"I love aquariums, but I never think... hey, today's a good day to look at fish." She chuckled and walked back to me. "Thank you, Reese."

"Sure." I started walking and she moved beside me. "I love it. The first time I came here was to get pictures for a book about fish going to school. I ended up spending the whole afternoon just wandering around slack-jawed at how amazing it is. They keep these hallways dark and the inside of the tank is so bright that the fish don't even know we're here. So they just go about their business and we get a little peek. I can't believe how beautiful it is."

Her hand brushed mine, and then slid around to cup my palm. I looked down as our fingers linked together. She wasn't watching me, thank goodness. Her focus was entirely on the fish behind the glass. I smiled and let her lead me around the curve in the hall to the next exhibit.

There were a handful of kids, small clusters of parents, and a few senior citizens around, but the corridor was wide enough that we all had appropriate buffer space to have private conversations.

"So how did you get into, um... the whole Markie thing?"

Her grin widened. "I needed an outlet. At first I just went to the club as an audience member. I was just looking to unwind. But these performers, my God, they seemed so together and in control. At first I just dated them, but I had taken some dance classes when I was a girl. So I got one of them to mentor me, and I started showing up on amateur night. Now I'm kind of a rising star in the club."

"Deservedly. Both nights I was there, you were the star. I couldn't take my eyes off you. Not that I was trying."

"I was surprised with how much I loved it. Being Markie just opens up a side of me that I never knew was being suppressed. And when I dress up like a man, I feel..." She drew in a breath through her teeth and then shook her head. "I can't explain it. Have you ever done drag?"

"No. I couldn't pull it off."

"Sure you could." She stepped in front of me and dragged two fingers of her free hand over my jaw. "You have a great bone structure for it. With the right makeup and suit, I think you'd make a gorgeous man."

"Maybe you could dress me up sometime."

Her smile faded slightly and I saw how seriously she was taking the offer. "I'd love that."

I swallowed and gestured down the corridor with my chin. She took the hint and started walking again, leaning closer to me as she scanned the tall cold windows that looked up into the water. Fish swarmed past again and I heard a sharp intake of breath from Penelope. Her eyes were wide, the lenses of her glasses reflecting the shining blue glow of the water. We moved through the labyrinth of the aquarium, sometimes retracing our own steps but neither of us minded. Unlike a museum, revisiting portions you'd already seen was still a totally different experience.

We finally left the aquarium after two hours of wandering, forced to call it a day by their aching feet. On the way out I bought her a stuffed clown fish from the gift shop, and she held it tight against her side as we walked back out to the car.

I was feeling good, finally relaxed with her by my side. I realized that I had been seeing her as Penelope rather than Markie ever since the diner, and that realization made me happy. I wasn't fawning over an act; I was spending time with a real person. A beautiful person who was funny and clever and smelled great. I reluctantly let go of her hand so I could go around the front of the car, but she hooked her hand on my elbow and pulled me back to her.


She kissed me.

I kept my eyes open. I couldn't help myself. Her body pressed against mine, and we kept our lips closed, but I couldn't resist looking to prove to myself that yes, you are kissing who you think you are.

"Sorry," she said when she pulled back. She ran her tongue over her bottom lip and let go of my arm.

"Why?" I gasped.

"I didn't give you a chance to say no."

I blinked at her. "No? I'm just glad you did it first." I smiled nervously and tucked my hair behind my ears. "Thank you." Then I thought about something I'd thought of on Wednesday night. Something I swore I would never actually say, something that was just for fantasizing. But now, anything seemed possible. Nothing seemed too far. And the worst she could do is refuse. So I said, "Get in the car. There's something I want to ask you."

She nodded and I trotted around the front of the car. The keys were shaking in my hand as I got behind the wheel and shut the door.

Penelope was twisted in the seat, her hands folded on her thigh. She seemed willing to wait as long as it took for me to put the words together. I cleared my throat and faced her.

"You and I will always be off-balance. Considering the way we met, how you were on display and how you... performed."

"That was Markie. You can just think of us as different people."

I shook my head. "I don't want to. That would be unfair to you. Markie is you, and the guy is a part of you. If I'm going to be with you, I'm going to be with all of you. And that means I have to accept that the first night I met you, I made you come."

She chuckled and reached out to take my hand.

"I want to balance things up," I said. "I wa... I want to masturbate for you."

Penelope stiffened, drawing in a deep breath and holding it. I knew I was blushing, but I kept my eyes on hers so she would know I wasn't ashamed of my offer. I also wanted her to know that she could refuse the offer and I wouldn't mind. I just had to put it out there.

"Are you sure you'd be comfortable with that?" she asked.

"With you as my audience?" I nodded. "Yes."

She swallowed a lump in her throat and then nodded once. "I would very much like that, Theresa. When?"

I shrugged. "What are you doing tonight?"


I took off my jacket as I walked into the apartment, turning as Penelope closed the door behind her. "Do you want anything to drink?"

She shook her head. "No. Thank you." She rubbed her hands together as I turned on the kitchen light, leaving the living room dark except for the late-afternoon light filtering through the curtains. I walked back to where she was standing just inside the door and we looked at each other for a long moment before I kissed her. She'd already broken the ice, so it was easier than it would have been otherwise. This time I pressed my tongue against her lips and she allowed it entrance. Her hands stroked up the outside of my arms and then pushed into my hair. She tilted my head back and took control of the kiss, and I sagged submissively against her.

"Your..." I turned my head and her lips pulled against mine, twisting them into an odd shape before she continued kissing across my cheek. "Your name is Markie D. Sade. I mean, today is just me evening the odds, so we're not even going to d-do anything. But I need to know if you're into... if you... I-I mean, I'm not sure if I'm comfortable with--"

"It's okay. I don't go beyond spanking without permission."

I shivered in her arms and captured her mouth again.

I could have kissed her all night, but now that the wheels were in motion I couldn't wait. I broke the kiss and brushed the wing of hair away from her glasses.

"Where should we do this? Couch or bed?"

"Your choice. I want you to be comfortable."

I stepped out of her embrace and took her hand, guiding her into the bedroom. I turned on my bedside lamps but left the overhead light off. The curtains were heavy, blocking out the natural light, and I pushed up the sleeves of my sweater past my elbows. There was a drawing desk against the wall at the foot of the bed, and I pointed her to it. "You can sit there on the stool... I'll..." I gestured at the bed and we pulled away from each other. She sat, and I took off my shoes. I had lube and toys in the nightstand, but I didn't want anything about this to be mechanical or false.

Penelope sat on the stool and spun it around to face the bed. She hooked her ankles on the ring that encircled the legs of the stool and rested her hands on the cushion between her legs. She was flush, eyes wide and breathing rapidly. She wanted to see this. She was excited at the prospect. I stood in front of her, a distance of about three feet between us as I lifted my sweater and undid the button of my jeans. I dragged down the zipper and then bent my knees, holding eye contact as I settled on the edge of the bed directly in front of her.

I put my left hand back, propping myself up on the bed as I ran my right hand up the outside of my thighs, stroking my legs through the denim. I watched Penelope and realized I was putting on a show. Who knew I had such an exhibitionist streak? I moved my hand up, my sweater still lifted to reveal the bump of my abdomen and my navel as I finally reached into my jeans and pressed three fingers against the soft cotton of my underwear.

The room was quiet. Part of me wanted music, but the other part was glad I could hear the soft sound of Penelope's breathing. I wet my lips and began to stroke myself in slow circles, watching her. I ran my eyes down her body, to the way her breasts moved under her thin shirt as she breathed. I watched the muscles of her forearms tense as she gripped the cushion tighter. Her hips occasionally moved from side to side as she adjusted her position, and I realized she was trying to get herself off, too.

"You're the audience tonight, Penelope. You're not Markie... just enjoy the show."

She swallowed, eyes locked on my face.

"You can touch yourself if you want."

She whimpered. "No. You're first."

I smiled and closed my eyes. Her breath sounded so loud, so rough. I wet my lips and curled my toes. I had no idea how long this was supposed to last. Five minutes seemed brief. Twenty minutes seemed like torture. What was the right middle ground? Did it matter? I bit my lip and pushed my underwear out of the way, stroking my pubic hair before stretching two fingers down.

"Oh, God."

"Yes. Keep talking... say something while you touch yourself," Penelope whispered.

"Like what?" It was a struggle even saying that much coherently.

Penelope said, "I don't care, anything," so softly I almost didn't hear her. "I just want to hear your voice."

"Got any... books of poetry I can read?"

She laughed, but it was a breathless desperate sound.

"Okay. Mm." I pressed my lips together and forced my eyes open, watching her as I stroked with two fingers. "If I wasn't doing this for you, I'd be doing it anyway. Because I just spent the entire day next to you, listening to your voice, touching you... I would fantasize this exact moment and I would do this."

"You're beautiful."

I groaned and tilted my head back. "Say more things like that..."

"I picked you out of the crowd on Halloween because you were so fucking beautiful. I lurk in the club, I watch, and I look for the most beautiful woman of the night, and I saw you... in your suit and bowler... Theresa, I thought you were gorgeous. And I knew I wanted you to be the one who made me come."


"And now I get to watch you come, Theresa, and you are such a beautiful creature. You're so beautiful like this, I can't wait until I'm the one making your toes curl and your face flush. I can't wait until I have you in my arms and you're pressing against me begging, pleading with me to let you come, and--"

"Penelope!" I grunted and thrust my hips off the bed, my free hand coming up to squeeze my breast through my sweater as I bucked.

"Oh, God, come for me, Theresa. I want to see you when you come."

I dropped to the mattress and brought my feet up off the ground, my knees together, my entire body trembling as I pressed my hand tight against my mound. I came hard, crying out as the shockwaves washed over me. I dropped my feet to the floor, I moved my hand from my breast to my stomach, and I lay gasping and twitching in the aftermath.

And then Penelope was on top of me. I gasped in surprise as she covered my mouth with hers, and then I hooked my knee on her hip. I put my foot on the back of her thigh and pulled her closer, my hands clutching her back as our tongues tangled and fought. Her wave of hair had fallen into my eyes and I saw everything through the dark red veil of it. Her hands pushed up my sweater, cupping me just below the swell of my breasts, framing my ribs as they expanded and contracted with my breathing.

She finally pulled away and rolled to the side, dropping onto her back next to me. Our arms crossed either other, but otherwise we weren't touching. The sound of our breathing filled the room. I could feel the heat of her, and I felt the slight movements of her through the mattress. My skin felt charged, and I feared even the slightest movement would send me through the roof. I finally caught my breath and turned to look at her. She was already looking at me, eyes half-lidded and lips curled up in a lazy smile.

"Did you come?" I whispered.

"I did," she said. "I'm sorry."

I chuckled and rolled onto my side. I kissed her, and she put her arm around my waist. Her hand eased under my sweater and stroked my spine. I shivered at her touch.

"You made me come the night we met," she whispered. "You got to come tonight. Maybe on our third date we can finally see each other naked."

"Third date?"

"I'm a traditionalist," she said.

We lay in my bed, holding each other, kissing when the mood struck. Third date or third anniversary, I didn't care. It didn't matter. We had already thoroughly proven that we could have just as much fun fully-clothed as we could naked.

I was content to wait.

Markie's breath was warm against my ear. In the darkness, it was almost as firm as a touch. "Are you sure about this?"

It was a little too late to back out now, but I nodded. In the time we'd been together, I had teased and flirted with the idea of this. We'd end up in her apartment and I would put on one of her hats or play with the facial hair she has in the bathroom. I would imagine myself in a suit. Some nights after we'd made love, I would put on one of her dress shirts and she would remain naked, teaching me dance steps so that I could fake it for her. I wanted to dance for her, wanted to give her a chance to be the audience.

Then I hinted at doing more. "You know," I would murmur, and then I would describe what I was thinking. It started as a joke, then it became a fantasy, and it steamrolled into standing backstage waiting to hear our cue. What the hell was I doing? She bumped her arm against me in a very deliberate way. A silent "I'm right here next to you" that made me feel warm.

I touched her cheek and I kissed, our mustaches tickling my nose before we pulled away. I touched my upper lip to make sure it was still in place and then did the breathing exercises she'd taught me. I was calm. I was relaxed. I squeezed my hands into fists and then stretched my fingers out. They were trembling. I took a slow, steady breath and then blinked as I stared at the shadows in front of me. The music stopped and I heard the emcee's voice.

"Ladies and lovelies, please... please give a warm welcome to a Sans Man jewel, the lovely Markie... D. Sade!"

The curtains parted and light flooded into the small backstage area where we were obscured. I winced against the sudden brightness and blinked until I made out the shape of Markie as she walked out to greet her adoring public. I followed a step behind her, matching her gait as closely as possible. I was a little taller than her, but the height difference was so negligible that we made up for it by adjusting our shoes. She had lifts and mine had no heels.

We were dressed identically, right down to the cut of our suits. The only difference was that my tie was blue and the handkerchief in my chest pocket was red. Markie's colors were reversed. She stopped at the edge of the stage and assumed the pose she generally took, and I stopped a few steps to her right. She turned as if noticing me for the first time and then put her hands on her hips.

I adjusted my tie, rolled my neck and casually looked over at her. I raised my eyebrow in bemusement and pursed my lips. She turned to face me so I did the same, moving until we were standing a few inches apart.

She smoothed down the front of her suit jacket. I copied the move. She tilted her head to the left, I tilted mine to the right. She leaned forward, I leaned forward. A sultry waltz began to play as we circled each other, backing away and copying each other's movements exactly. God, we'd spent ages getting this right. She held up her right hand and I held up my left. We made a waxing motion, then did a quick two-step and began to circle in the other direction.

When we were in the middle of the stage we stood up straight, chest to chest, shoulders back as we pretended to examine each other. I smoothed down my mustache with my pinkie and she did the same in reverse. She moved her feet apart and placed her hand on top of her hat. We rolled our hips and then turned to face the audience.

She walked forward and I walked back. We designed a figure-eight on the stage, twisting to keep our eyes on each other the entire time. Markie ran at me and dropped to her knees, sliding a few inches until she was kneeling directly in front of me. I gripped her tie and pushed her back, her legs folding under her until she was bent almost entirely backward. I stroked her tie with my thumb and then pulled on it, pulling her back to me. She wrapped her arms around my thigh and gazed up at me, and I ran the back of my hand over her cheek and blew a kiss down at her. She let me go, and I walked toward the front of the stage.

Markie got to her feet and hurried to catch up with me. She grabbed the back of my jacket and tugged. I threw my arms back at just the right moment as the jacket was stripped from me. Markie twirled it over her head in victory and tossed it back to the curtain. I spun on my heel and she glared at me, daring me to do my worst. I put my hands on her chest and pushed up, gripping her collar and pulling her to me. Our bodies slammed together, and I pushed my hands up and out. She shimmied and her jacket fell from her.

I put my leg between hers and she straddled my thigh. We grinded against each other, her hand on my ass and my hand on her shoulder. We pulled away from each other, and spun around. Back to back, we both loosened our ties with mirrored movements, tugging them free and then marching. I marched five paces instead of Markie's six, as rehearsed, then spun and snapped the whip at her ass. In rehearsal neither of us could feel the impact even on bare skin - even though, believe me, we tried and tried and tried and tried and... - but she clenched her ass and spun to face me with venom in her eyes.

I wagged my finger at her. She put up her dukes. I walked forward and touched two fingers to her cheek, pushing her dismissively aside before I went to take my place at the front of the stage. I opened my mouth to start singing, and Markie grabbed my pants from behind. She tugged and my pants split, torn away from me like they were made of shadows.

I pressed my knees together and crossed both hands over my crotch. I was wearing boy shorts underneath, still a bit iffy about a thong, and I spun to face Markie. She winked at me and threaded the pants between her legs. She pulled them taut against her crotch and rocked her hips back and forth against them.

I circled Markie and grabbed her shirt with both hands. I pulled and her bindings were revealed. She dropped my pants and pulled hers off, then kicked the material away before she spun to face me. She wore underwear matching mine; I thought her ass looked remarkable in a thong, but there was nothing at all wrong with the way boy shorts molded to the shape of her mound. I fanned my face and swooned, and Markie stepped forward to catch me.

She knelt, laying me across her thigh, and I blinked up into her eyes. Our faces were both dotted with sweat and I could barely catch my breath. I let my arm drop to one side, surrendering, and Markie brushed the back of her hand over my cheek. She cupped my face and bent down, kissing my lips. I brought my hand up and cupped her cheek as she was holding mine, and the song ended. Without its incessant beat, I suddenly heard the cheers of the crowd.

She helped me stand up, and I helped her. We stood next to each other, fingers linked, and took our bows. My heart was drumming against my chest, and I was sure I looked like a frightened kitten, but all I could see was the shine of the spotlight. The crowd was cheering, and I heard cat-calls from the back booths. Finally, Markie turned and led me off the stage and through the curtain to the backstage area.

Markie's hat came off quickly, and she peeled away her mustache on the walk back to the dressing room. Just like that, she was Penelope again. She pushed the door closed and put her arms around me, kissing me hard as soon as we were alone.


"I messed up the first pass."

"No one noticed. Hell, I didn't notice. God, we're going to have to do that forever now. But I don't care." She brushed my mustache with her thumb. "How was it? Was it too much or--"

"It was amazing." I could barely keep the tremor from my voice. Again? We might do it again? I was terrified and I couldn't wait.

There was a knock on the door and Penelope let the manager of the club in. She looked at Penelope and then noticed me out of the corner of her eye. "Aha! She wouldn't tell me anything about this new act of hers, and now I know why. She had a ringer! That was, that was... amazing. Amazing, amazing. Who knew an old Marx Brothers routine could be so erotic?"

Penelope smiled. "Give her the credit. It was all her idea."

"What's your name, doll?"

I almost answered, but what kind of stage name was Theresa? Penelope saw my hesitation and rescued me.

"She's Lillian Sin."

I liked it. I smiled and nodded my agreement. "Yeah. That's me."

"Markie D. Sade and Lillian Sin." The manager nodded. "That'll look good on the marquee." She shook Penelope's hand. "Congratulations. Looks like you found yourself a partner."

Penelope looked at me. She wasn't Markie in that moment, she wasn't anyone but the woman I was quickly falling in love with.

"Yeah," she finally said. "Looks like I'm going to be stuck with her for a while."

Oddly, she didn't sound upset about it at all.


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