I pulled up to Leah’s apartment; a small, blue and white Cape Cod-style house with heavily weathered shingles. It had inexpensive rent and overlooked the parking lot for a hair salon and a cheap Chinese takeout spot we sometimes ate at after a late night of drinking. I fondly recall all the times I sat across from Leah, watching her interrupt a silly grin by shoveling vegetable lo mein into her mouth. When you pine for someone, isn’t it always the most mundane moments that somehow seem so riveting?

Leah and I were childhood buddies. Life-long best friends in fact. Even our families were close. We went through every year of summer camp, every grade of school together, and even followed each other to the same college where we were finishing up the semester. People were always surprised about us – I guess because despite our history we’d never hooked up in all those years.

It sure as hell wasn’t because I didn’t want to…

I fantasized about us more times than I care to admit but nothing just ever happened between us, even though I couldn’t help but feel a little mutually electric curiosity there. Maybe it was because we’d been friends for too long. Maybe we were just in too deep and couldn’t see it any other way.

That day I knocked on her door just like I always do. I remember watching a flock of seagulls pass and then a flatbed truck rumble by while waiting for her to arrive, then turned and saw the beautiful smile blooming across her face as it always did when we saw each other. Leah gave me a big hug and welcomed me inside. We each grabbed a beer and she cranked up the music she’d been playing. Despite her usual joviality, she had been trying to drown out certain thoughts in her head. Leah had just broken up with another boyfriend and I had come to cheer her up. Somehow, I was always the antidote to that problem and it happened more often than I wished.

Leah was simply gorgeous. Tall, slender, with a beautiful, even tan. Her hair was long and brown, gently sun-bleached, always with some small accent like a single braid or a thread of tiny beads. She had bright blue eyes, a glowing smile, and an impossibly infectious laugh. Some might describe her as a little hippie, a little surfer girl, but she wasn’t entirely either. She was just the type of free spirit you wanted to go to an outdoor concert with, or hiking, or for a drive out to the beach. Or anything, really.

That’s just how I thought of her when I closed my eyes. Gently interacting with all the trees on that trip we took upstate to Kaaterskill Falls, her fingers curling around their trunks as she passed. Later, perched atop of a boulder, scooping up insects to peer at them inquisitively. Strolling through the shallow water, gazing at the wavering reflection of her toes. Privately, all I thought about was going for a roll in the leaves with her and listening to that musical laughter.

I popped the beer can open and we made our way into her bedroom; Leah’s sanctuary. I tried to decipher just how upset she was but she hid it well. Being so beautiful made her popular with the guys, many of whom just wanted to hook up, most of whom I did not approve of. I gave her my best advice when she asked for it but who was I to stay who she should date? If anything, I was most attracted to her tenacious positivity and strength of conviction about everything she put her mind to, no matter the risk of ending up wrong and disappointed in the end.

There were times my heart ached pretty badly, like the time she introduced me to my sophomore year girlfriend, Tara. Not that Tara hadn’t been fun to be with. She and I had a lot in common and for a while we had a great thing going. She was a petite firecracker, full of passion, outgoing, and awash with humor. And, of course, I enjoyed our intimacy. She was quite busty for her size. Many a time I found myself just wanting to drown in her warm, pillowy breasts as she stroked my hair and hummed along with whatever cheesy pop song was playing on the radio.

Still, it was hearing Leah later say, “She’s perfect for you,” that echoed in my head. It was one of those lines that implied so much more about the status of our own relationship. It left me with a lingering sadness that I could never quite be rid of.

Leah and I had a couple of drinks laying in the mountain of excess pillows that she always kept piled up on her bed for some reason. They reminded me of the childhood forts we used to build with her dad, who was always a lot cooler than mine. For a while we dissed her ex-boyfriend and laughed about it, using humor to hide her pain. When I drink, I am especially prone to saying embarrassing things. But she knew this well…

“I hope the sex was good at least!” I remarked, not really wanting to hear the answer.

“Oooh it was,” she laughed. “I guess that’s why I hung around longer than I should have.” She often took on a slight blush even though we could always talk to each other about private stuff.

“Back to porn?” I joked.

“Ha, more like back to my trusty vibe,” she mumbled, turning a little redder.

I appreciated that we could joke about such things with each other. I had heard of that mysterious object’s existence before but I didn’t quite know much more than that. I had a pretty good picture in my head of how it looked. Or at least how I wanted it to look. Not to mention what I imagined her doing with it. We were silent for a few minutes as her reply sunk in. I badly wanted the conversation to continue in the risqué direction it had taken. Anything for a chance to hear more about her intimate needs.

Admittedly, after a couple of drinks I was liberally entertaining myself with the thought of Leah masturbating in private, right where she lay. Thanks to the buzz I was feeling, I said, “Do you have a favorite fantasy?” Leah burst out laughing. “What?” I chuckled. “I’m serious. What’s your hottest, deepest fantasy? The one that banishes all ex-boyfriends from your mind.”

Leah thought for a moment. “Man, I can’t tell you that,” she snickered. “A girl’s gotta have a few secrets…” She turned her head and grinned at me.

The word “secrets” reminded me of something I hadn’t thought about in years.

“Say it or lose it!” I found myself blurting out.

The air suddenly felt like it was sucked out of the room. Her eyes widened and then darted back over toward me. After several moments, she exclaimed, “You remember that?!”

“Yup!” I replied.

“Say it or lose it” was a thing we occasionally said to one another as kids if we wanted to veto the other person’s right to secrecy. If the other person still refused to answer, they had to have a strand of hair snipped off their head with a pair of scissors. Of course, in all the years we played that game it never actually came to that. We just occasionally forced each other to spill the beans and the other person always complied. It was as if we wanted to test each other – to prove again and again how deep our special bond of trust was.

It wasn’t done in a mean way, mind you. We had used it when we wanted to know something that the other was too shy or embarrassed to say but always with the intent to make them feel like it was okay to share. It was a special connection we had. We always kept each other’s secrets and made one another feel safe.

I learned about the “scary” thing that happened to her one day (her first period), her secret crush (Michael Redondo), and other juicy nuggets about her life growing up. She learned about the time I accidentally walked into the girls’ bathroom and couldn’t look my female classmates in the eye for a week. How I got detention for throwing my sloppy joe at someone in the cafeteria. The time Nina Mathis and I kissed at my birthday party.

After using our special power for the first time in years, I watched Leah’s mouth stretch into a nervous grin. She stared up at the ceiling and then resigned herself to a response.

“Well… I have this one recurring fantasy…” she began. “I guess I’d call it my favorite one? It always involves… um… randomly hooking up with a complete stranger. You know… like someone I just met at a hotel bar or something.”

“Oh wow, I wouldn’t have pegged you as the type to want stranger-sex,” I laughed.

“Don’t judge me!” she exclaimed, playfully swatting me with a small embroidered pillow that was a lot harder than it looked.

“I’m not judging you. It sounds like fun!” She giggled next to me. “Do you think you’d ever actually do that?” I asked curiously.

“I dunno… It’s always just been a fantasy.” She paused for a moment. “But I’ve even-” Leah stopped abruptly, hiding her face in her hands. “Never mind,” she concluded.

“May I remind you that you’re still under say-it-or-lose-it.”

“Oh I am, am I?”

I pretended to check my watch. “Yup. For another thirty-two seconds.”

She laughed again. “Fine… I followed this kink group and-”

“A kink group?”

“Yeah. You know, like on Meetup.” I nodded at her. “They have all these events… for different fetishes and stuff. Most of them are too weird for me. But they have this one event that’s once a month… and like… it plays right into my fantasy.”

“Show me?”

Leah burst out laughing again. “Oh my god- Evan! I can’t believe you want to know about this.”

“Ha-ha, why?”

“It’s embarrassing!”

“That’s why I want to know!”

We both laughed. Leah grabbed her phone reluctantly, opened the app, scrolled around a bit, and then thrust the phone in front of me. She turned away and stared across the room, trying to hide her smile.

I was shocked at what I read.

Once a month, there was a gathering for straight singles. Signups were limited and strictly gender-balanced. The first part of the evening was essentially a meet-and-greet. Participants took turns in pairs introducing themselves and getting to know each of the strangers that showed up that night. It reminded me of a speed-friending event I once tried. Wine and snacks would be served to loosen everyone’s inhibitions. Then, everyone would regroup and the organizer would take the guys and girls out of the room, separately.

My jaw dropped as I continued reading the event description.

Participants would undress and be led to small rooms. One guy and one girl would each be randomly paired for a session of “intimate lovemaking, kinky sex, or any kind of hanky-panky that tickles your fancy.” Of course, if either of the two declined to provide consent, the encounter could amount to “just talking.” I sat there aghast at the idea of just being put in a room with a naked girl that I’d only just become acquainted with for the first time so that the two of us could choose to have spontaneous sex together.

It seemed so wrong. So taboo… So exciting! I reminded myself that people had one night stands with strangers all the time and was this really that much different?

I put the phone down. Leah was still looking away, embarrassed. “So… wow… would you really do this?” I finally asked.

I heard Leah chuckling nervously. “I mean… I dunno. Mmmaaaybe?” The last word she said at half volume.

“Whew!” I exclaimed. “Good, ‘cuz I just marked you as going.”

“What?!” she gasped, bolting upright and grabbing her phone.

“Just kidding – just kidding!” I exclaimed in a fit of laughter.

“Oh man- you gave me a heart attack,” she grumbled.

“Sorry, I couldn’t resist.” Leah shook her head back and forth, staring at the event posting on her phone and smirking. “Anyway, it’s no big deal. You should try it.”

She looked up at me in surprise. “Are you serious?”

I made myself exude seriousness. I don’t know why. Maybe I just wanted to see her express a certain level of sexual adventurousness. “Yeah, why not? You only live once. If this is your fantasy you should go for it. It sounds pretty hot to me.”

I saw her eyes searching mine, perhaps trying to decide if I was being serious. I held firm. She turned back to her phone. I was amazed that she seemed to be really considering my suggestion, though it was her deepest fantasy, after all. Perhaps the temptation was just too great to do something reckless and wild, just that once.

“I don’t knooow, what if the guys are all weird and creepy?”

“So then sneak out after the meet-and-greet.”

“Yeah, I guess…” she concluded.

I paused for a moment, trying to decide if I was really going to say what I was about to.

“I’ll tell you what,” I added, “Let’s both go and use the buddy system. If either of us is uncomfortable before doing anything we’d regret, we’ll both leave.” I couldn’t believe what I had just suggested. Leah perked up. “Besides, it said that if you bring a member of the opposite sex with you, each of you only pays half the entry fee.”

“Hmm…” she exhaled. “I’ll have to think about it…”

Leah’s tone suddenly grew serious. I didn’t want to press the issue, so I let it hang there, suspended in the air between us like some strange phantom. The day went on and we didn’t discuss it again for a little while. But its presence was persistently felt.


When it finally did come up again, I was even more intimidated by my own suggestion than I had been the day that I made it. The ball had been in Leah’s court on the topic and I had no idea what kind of energy she must have spent pondering the idea as something to realistically consider. I knew she was really serious when she pointed out that there was no longer room for males at the next one, so we’d have to wait another month.

We each clicked a button. Time passed. The knowledge that we’d signed up for the subsequent event loomed larger and larger in my mind and my stomach like a tightly wound knot.

By the time we were in the car that evening, I was almost ready to lose my mind. We sat there, super nervous, as I drove across town to a shocking event at an unknown location in a seedy industrial park behind the mall. My nerves got the better of me and I actually said aloud what had been in my head.

“You know… with my luck we’ll end up getting paired together and I’ll end up ruining your entire sexual fantasy!” I chuckled. Immediately, I became embarrassed for saying this; for even revealing that I had been pondering the possibility.

Leah seemed surprised as if she hadn’t thought about that. “Oh my god! You’re right!” she exclaimed, launching into hysterics.

I smirked. “Okay, okay. Don’t laugh too hard at that.” I shook my head, feigning defensiveness.

Leah put her hand on my shoulder, suddenly. “I didn’t mean it that way! I was just so caught up thinking about the stranger fantasy that it just never crossed my mind.”

Still: Ouch. We drove the rest of the way, mostly in awkward, amused silence.

Shortly after arriving, we found ourselves sitting in a circle, surrounded by a motley assortment of characters. One guy looked like a banker that had just come from his job; well-dressed, with a dark gray suit and a shiny Patek Philippe. Next to him was a girl in a printed dress who looked like a free-spirited artist type, not all that unlike Leah. There was a good-looking, well-built young man that Leah seemed to have her eye on. Across from him was a doe-eyed young woman with reddish cheeks who just sat there staring at everyone.

A shy, quiet young man sat off to my left, wearing a short-sleeve shirt with a flannel pattern. He seemed to be on the verge of a panic attack. I focused on his visible nervousness, if only because it made me feel better able to manage mine. I was shaking inside and probably outside as well.

There were a handful of others. Most seemed the nervous, curious type. Just a few seemed to have more experience in the world of kinky activities. The organizer, Jenna, was a large, bubbly woman wearing suggestive black clothing that made her look vaguely like a dominatrix. It made me wonder what I was getting into. However, she explained things calmly and clearly and tried to make everyone feel welcome and less anxious about what we were about to do.

I’d never heard anyone speak so seriously about kink. She treated it as if it were part of a typical wellness regimen. Leah and I often exchanged nervous glances at each other as we sat across from one another in the group circle we formed. I knew she was doing the same thing as I was; assessing the people around us, wondering which one we’d soon be paired with and watching for any sign from the other that it was time to bail. We’d worked out a simple system in advance. Three blinks in succession meant, “Let’s get the fuck outta here.”

The sign never came.

In fact, to my surprise, and as nervous as most of us looked, not one person tried to slip out. I wondered if some would have chickened out if it weren’t for the fact that they’d be so clearly and publicly observed in the act of shamefully attempting an escape.

Still, no one there seemed like a psycho. In fact, everyone seemed rather normal and most were not necessarily identifiable as the type I’d imagine would attend such an event. So, we dove right into the meet-and-greet. Jenna had us cycle through the room, having just five minutes to chat with and get to know each of the guys or girls who may or may not become our randomly-assigned sexual partner. We were guided along by conversation prompts that the organizer had handed out, though I found myself quickly drifting off-topic each time.

I met Diana, a cool barista who I discovered lived right near me. Kate, who went to the same college as I did and was studying economics. We traded random facts, such as the fact that her mom had been a gold medalist in the Olympics and that my sister-in-law was the local meteorologist on the nightly news. Carissa, the girl with the ruddy cheeks, had recently moved to the area from Virginia and was exploring her new environment with a sense of wonder and independence.

After a while of head-spinning, sometimes mutually awkward introductions, we gathered back around in our group circle where Jenna announced that it was almost time to split off. I dwelled on the fact that I’d literally just met a girl I was about to fuck, only I didn’t yet know which one. We’d only just learned each other’s names, talked excitedly about some interest we had in common, or compared notes about what we did at school or work. However, I couldn’t help but imagine that at the back of their minds they were secretly wondering if they were about to “suck this guy’s dick,” or invite me to go muff-diving.

Jenna went into a long, mildly intimidating speech about how this might be a good time to explore our sexual sides in ways we’ve never done before; perhaps trying a new position we’ve always wanted to experience or some other kink we wanted to experiment with but may have been afraid to ask a current or former lover. It was suggested that we might otherwise be able to ask a complete stranger, on this one-time encounter, with no fear of judgment or consequences. I felt overwhelmed as the activity became more and more real.

Finally, Jenna announced that it was time to take the guys out of the room first. I felt Leah’s eyes following me out of the circle as I prepared to make my exit. At the last moment, I met her gaze. She exhaled deeply as if she had been holding her breath until I returned the nervous look she gave me. That was her last chance to do the secret blink. She didn’t.

Jenna led us down a hallway to another room, much larger. The lights were dimmed slightly and it was divided into smaller “rooms.” This was achieved with tall black partitions that broke the space up into many smaller cells, each of which contained a single futon and a small plastic folding table with lube and other optional, cheap supplies. It didn’t occur to me that we’d all be having sex with such a meager means of privacy between us.

A longer folding table had been set up by the entrance to the room. “This is where you may leave your clothes,” she explained. “Just pick a spot and make a pile and then wait for everyone else to finish.”