Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Dares That Bind by Leigh Ellwood

“Vic, check it.”

Victoria Robeson set down her pen for probably the tenth time in the last hour. No, it had to be more than that, very likely, as she felt she had been generous in mentally lessening the frequency of Kerry’s interruptions. She leaned to her right through the open window of her booth—opposite the one from which she took tolls from outgoing cars on the Dareville stop of the turnpike—and scowled at the impish, wiry young man grinning back at her.

In the stale yellow light of his overhead lamp, she caught the reflection of a multitude of silver hoops lining each ear from shell to lobe, and the gleam of the thick stud centered just below his lower lip. She shuddered to think where else on his body one might find piercings. He could be a human key chain in addition to a pincushion.

“This better not be about hair,” she grumbled, “or make-up or stilettos or fishnets. Yes, you’d look good in it, and no, they won’t make you look fat. Whatever they are.”

Kerry swallowed, and Vic watched as the fashion magazine he curled in his hands sank just out of sight to the shelf below his register. “Never mind then.”

Vic grunted and turned back to her writing, only to realize the muse had dissolved in the late night mist. She leaned back in her stool, maintaining her balance, and sighed.

“I’m sorry.” Kerry’s voice came contritely. “I should know better when you’re trying to write. It just gets lonely out here when it’s not busy.”

“I know.” And it’s never busy. Vic had taken the graveyard shift as toll collector for exactly that reason. Her hometown of Dareville, Virginia couldn’t exactly be called a hipster nightspot. The mid-sized community just inland of the beach and more metropolitan Norfolk had essentially adopted a “lights out at nine” policy, and anybody out on the turnpike that connected southeast Virginia to the Outer Banks this time at night either had to be coming home from a late trip, running away from home, or just plain lost. It wasn’t unusual for Vic to assist drivers surprised to learn they had somehow come upon a toll road while looking for the interstate.

“Forget it,” she added with a slight smile, hoping to ease Kerry’s hurt feelings. “It’s just been a bad week all around. I haven’t done much writing here or at home.” Though Kerry didn’t work every shift, there was no need to explain the work obstacles. Kerry brightened and nodded in understanding.

“Bible Bertha bugging you again?” he teased.

“As much as your alliteration is improving, yes.” Vic laughed. Her name wasn’t Bertha, but the third worker who took the late shift often used the downtime to preach from her booth, making either Kerry or Vic her disgruntled, uninterested parishioner.

He suddenly sobered. “Things still bad at home, too?”

“Yeah.” She didn’t wish to elaborate. Her mother had become impossible to live with since her father embarked on his mid-life crisis with another woman. Older sister Kate no longer lived at home, therefore Vic bore the brunt of mother Marlene’s anxiety attacks.

Mercifully the approach of an outgoing car interrupted, and Vic took the toll and quickly changed the subject. “You know what, I’m listening. The writing can wait.” She rested her elbows on the bottom groove of the sliding windowpane—her thick jacket sleeves provided a nice cushion. “What did you want to show me?”

She knew Kerry enjoyed the attention. The studs and rings provided plenty of shock value and amusement when cars did pull up to pass through town. A slight flush crossed the bridge of his nose and spread to his cheeks as he produced the magazine, opened to a full-color orgy of leather and chain mail.

“I was thinking of getting a pair of these.” He tapped a purple-polished nail on a lower inset picture of a woman, naked but for a pair of black thigh-high boots, reclining in a backdrop of flowing red satin. Strategically crossed arms and bent legs concealed her bare breasts and other naughty bits.

“Doesn’t look like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman to me,” Vic said.

“Oh, hell no. Look closer.”

He held the magazine forward, but Vic just took it from him. “Good God,” she said on seeing how the heel of each boot nearly touched its corresponding toe. What person in her right mind would wear such a thing?

“Ballet slippers for masochists?” she asked.

“Close. Fetish boots.”

“How the fuck do you walk in those things?” Vic could feel her arches snapping just looking at the photos.

“Very, very carefully. But I really think they’re more for show.” Kerry grabbed for her booth and she surrendered the magazine. “There’s a new BDSM club opening at the beach. Supposed to be high class—memberships and rules, that kind of shit. Doug and I were thinking we could snag an invitation to their free open house on Friday.”

“I see.” The piercings and occasional dog-collar jewelry notwithstanding, Vic hadn’t pegged her co-worker for the ultra-kink scene. That an entire club planned to launch in a place she had always perceived as a sleepy little beach town also spoke volumes of her lacking observational skills.

And she aspired to write. How could she write if she couldn’t see?

“It’s the same night as the Brady Garriston concert, though,” Kerry said with a sigh, “and we have tickets.”

“How much is a regular membership to this club?” Vic sketched a fetish boot in her notebook.

“Five hundred a year. Can you believe that shit?” Kerry’s frustration rang out into the night. “They must use gold leaf in all their cat-o-nine tails or something.”

“Or an Italian marble torture rack,” Vic snickered.

“Hell, maybe they just bought Michelangelo’s David for the lobby and dressed it in an assless leather pants.”

“So blow off the concert and go.” Vic shrugged. “It’s a benefit show, so the charity gets the money anyway.” The tickets cost much less than five hundred dollars, she knew. She’d tried to get one for herself but the show sold out so quickly. Her sister Kate had managed to finagle two from a friend, and Vic insisted she take their mother as a means of cheering her. Perhaps if she played this right, she could buy Kerry’s.

“I know, but it’s Brady Garriston. I love him, he’s so hot.” Kerry swooned. “I can’t believe he’s, like, fifty. I would do so much stuff to him.”

“That right?” Vic’s focus fixed on a distance bright point down the turnpike, approaching from the south. Another visitor. “Busy night,” she murmured, not without a note of sarcasm. “You think people are traveling for this show? There weren’t many tickets to be had.”

“Dunno.” Kerry brightened. “Hey, wanna switch?”

Vic glanced down the road. The car seemed to be speeding, and she wasn’t sure if she could escape her booth in time, since it meant having to cross the narrow space meant for vehicles.

“Uh,” she began, but before any words could come Kerry had already slipped into her compact booth, giggling manically.

“Damn it, Kerry,” she grumbled, and burst free for the empty booth. God forbid the car should belong to someone from the state department of transportation with no sense of humor. “My drawer better cash out correctly this time,” she warned once she was safely inside, feeling tired of Kerry’s juvenile games.

“Big whoop, you’ve taken one toll all night. Who could fuck that up?” Kerry called from behind her, but the wild purr of a foreign engine drowned out his nasally voice.

Vic held her breath as the maraschino red Ferrari rolled neatly to a stop, the driver’s rolled-down window aligned with hers. Such a beautiful car, she observed, smooth and stylish even veiled with tiny beads of early morning mist. The overhead lights of the small toll plaza definitely did not do the car justice. In the daytime, or perhaps in the glow of pure, unobstructed moonlight, this car would look absolutely stunning.

And a driver to match, Vic thought, lightly gasping when a smiling face emerged from the darkened cab. As sleek as his ride, he wore shoulder length brown hair slicked back in a ponytail. Dark eyebrows settled over piercing green eyes that peered over small wire frames. A tiny soul-patch, just brushing his lower lip and tapering into a triangle, completed the look. His perfect grin struck her so much, as though she’d never before seen a man that she hadn’t prepared for her body’s reaction when he spoke.

“You are a surprise.” Neither deep nor high-pitched, his voice had a mellow quality that melted easily over her nerves. Vic relaxed then tensed, sensing her nipples harden beneath her uniform blouse. The driver gunned the engine and the warm roar vibrated through her.

“I’m sorry?” Vic had to cross her legs to stop the throbbing in her pussy.

He waved a hand slightly. Vic caught the flash of a ruby set in gold around his pinky finger. “I wasn’t expecting to hit a toll road,” he said. “Don’t worry. I have the money, but I will need a receipt, if I could get one.”

“Huh? Oh, sure.” Vic hit a button on the register. The drawer yawned open with a stale pinging sound and a receipt slid from its small printer. “Yeah, the turnpike opened up last year to take the pressure off the smaller state highways. Too many big rigs were passing through and tearing up the roads faster than they could be repaved.” She knew she babbled, but she decided it necessary lest her aroused nature overcome her brain and encourage her to stay something really forward, or stupid.

“Well, we can’t have that.” He sounded disinterested. Of course he did. What man in a Ferrari would give a damn about backwater Virginia roads and the poor saps like her who stood guard?

“Nice car,” she said. “Is this a Barchetta?”

He had her full attention now. Vic involuntarily stepped back at the surprised look on his face and wondered if she had committed some grave car etiquette error known only to Ferrari enthusiasts.

“Actually, yes,” he said. “It’s a 2001 550 Pininfarina Barchetta. You know your cars.” Yet, Vic couldn’t mistake his dry tone. He had pronounced it barketta, and Vic instinctively realized the proper Italian enunciation. Like with other Italian words, the H remained silent.

As I should have, too, she thought. So she pressed her lips together as he continued searching for toll money.

Whoever he was, Vic decided he must certainly be among the idle rich since he didn’t appear to be in any hurry. She watched him rifle through his wallet and make a note somewhere with a pen. Perhaps he didn’t have a small enough bill for the toll?

“Do you know where the Dareville Inn is located?” he asked finally.

“Sure. First exit off this road. Stay to your right and follow the signs to the historic district. It’s just on Main Street right after the Dare House Museum.”

“Thanks. My GPS can’t seem to find it.”

Vic chuckled nervously. “Yeah, we’re kind of a ‘blink and miss it’ town. Not surprised you can’t see it from space.” The response came spontaneously, yet relief washed over when he laughed at the poor excuse for a joke.

He handed her two folded dollars bills just as she handed him the receipt. In the split second their fingers brushed Vic squeezed her thighs shut to once again temper the ache in her pussy. His gaze held her for a few seconds, yet long enough to make her forget she had to work.

“Have a good morning,” he said and, smiling, urged the car back to speed once she set the green light.

“You, too,” she whispered, coming out of the trance only when something hard slapped her back. She cried her high-pitched surprise.

“Was he a movie star or something?” Kerry demanded, awestruck. He stood just outside the booth, bouncing with excited energy. “Did you see those wheels?”

How could she, for the gorgeous man who steered them, and apparently her as well? One more minute trapped between the Ferrari’s vibrations and his smoldering looks and she might have come on the spot.

Instead of answering, she moved to put away the toll money when she noticed a slip of white among the bills. She unfolded the cash to reveal a business card emblazoned with a cute logo of checkerboard letters, B&W.

Alton Weiss, President

Black and Weiss Entertainment Group, Inc.

On the reverse side, there was a phone number written in black ink, along with a terse note:

Call the second you get home. We’ll discuss how to improve your pronunciation skills, among other things.

“What is it, what’s wrong?” Kerry asked. He tried the door to the booth. “Did you lock this?”

Vic’s heart pounded, like she’d been called to the principal’s office to be punished. What sort of “discussion” did this handsome stranger have in mind? Did she really want to know?

You know you do.

She turned to Kerry and pointed north. “Get back in the other booth. There’s a car coming.” It’s the not only thing, either.

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