Four years ago.

Jarod

IT WAS finally time to say good-bye. I’d gone as far as I could without a boarding pass, and we were standing at the entrance to Manchester Airport Security. Beyond us, passengers were queuing up to load their carry-ons and personal belongings onto the conveyor belts, taking off boots and shoes, belts, coats, taking out laptops—the usual hustle and bustle of getting through security.

Master Phillip turned to me and pulled me into his grip.

“I expect you to be on your best behavior while I’m gone, boy,” he said sternly. Then I saw the twinkle in his eye, and he smiled down at me.

“I’ll do my best to make you proud,” I replied.

I hated that he had to go away. It didn’t happen often, but being alone in the house left me unfocused. I needed his guidance and his love. For him, though, I would be strong.

“When do you come back, Master?” I whispered.

“I’ll be gone four nights. The board wants to show me some new designs they’ve been working on. I told them this could be done just as easily in a conference call, but no, they were insistent I wouldn’t get the whole picture unless I saw it in action.” He sighed. “It was easier to give in than it was to protest. It’s just such a long way to go for such a short stay.”

I looked down at the floor, quickly losing my resolve to stay strong. I had to agree. I’d never been to New York, but I knew how long his flight would be. He tucked a knuckle under my chin and made me meet his eyes. “You know I would take you with me if I could.”

“Yes, I know.”

And it was true. If he could, he would never leave my side. Since the day we met, I hadn’t been away from him unless it was something business related. He bent down and whispered in my ear, “I’m going to miss you very much, you know. When I come home, we’ll go on holiday. What do you say to Montpellier? It’s lovely in late spring.”

The thought of spending two weeks in the south of France with Sir would have had me dancing if he hadn’t insisted on decorum when we were in public. “Yes, please,” I replied breathlessly.

“Very well. When you get home, pack bags for both of us. I should be home on Monday, so make sure you book the flight and hotel room.” He smiled. “We can stay in that hotel you liked so much last time, the Royal. And we’ll eat in the Place de la Comédie again, looking out at the fountains.”

I couldn’t resist. “Will we get to visit that gay bar again? The one with the cute waiters?” I grinned. He knew I only had eyes for him.

Master Phillip chuckled. “Any more talk of cute waiters, and your arse will have a date with my paddle when I get back.”

“Ooh, promises, promises.” After so many years together, I loved our banter, so easygoing and natural in moments like this. But of course he saw through my attempts at humor.

“Jarod.” It always made me warm when he used my name. He put his arms around me, and my heart swelled for this unexpected display of affection. He didn’t give a shit who saw us or what they thought. We were solid. He leaned in and brushed his lips over mine. “It won’t be long. Then we’ll be together again.” His breath wafted against my ear. “Love you, boy.”

Peace flooded through me at his words. “Love you too, Master.”

He stepped back and glanced at the growing queues with a sigh. “Oh well, no use putting it off any longer.” With one final smile, he turned and walked away, pausing when he reached the official who directed him to join a line of passengers. He raised his hand, and I copied the gesture, watching until he was out of sight.

Then it was a case of heading home to our empty house to await his return. I breathed in deeply, squared my shoulders, and set off through the terminal with a purposeful stride that revealed nothing of my inner sadness.

Five days would fly by.

 

 

I’D BEEN half-asleep, half-listening that evening when the national news had announced that a British Airways flight into JFK was experiencing difficulties. One look at the flight number that flashed across the bottom of the screen and my heart had gone cold.

My Master’s on that plane.

I knelt on the carpet in front of the TV, my gaze glued to it. This. Wasn’t. Happening. I tried to take it all in. No landing gear, they said. The airport was prepping a landing strip for the pilot to land on, but without the gear, it was going to be hard. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. The news program kept coming back to the story, while I sat there shouting at the TV that I didn’t want to know about the latest football results, or which celebrities were in the news for whatever inane reason. My nails cut deep divots into my palms as I waited and prayed to any god who might hear me.

The plane circled the airport for another hour, trying to run out as much of the fuel as they could before attempting the landing. When they announced preparations complete, they wished the pilot luck and all of the UK held its collective breath, me included.

The descent was flawless. They said it would be rough, but it would be okay. When the plane’s belly scraped on the tarmac, however, a shower of sparks trailed behind it, and I was on my feet, staring in horror. It was then that the plane split in two, a fireball engulfing the tail section.

An anguished voice cried out, harsh and scratchy. I don’t remember much after that. There was the brief recollection of my next-door neighbor banging on the front door. I suppose she used the spare key Master Phillip had given her for when we were away, because I remember looking up at her from the carpet before I passed out.

When I woke up, I was in the hospital. It didn’t take long for our friends to find me. They’d seen the news reports, had gone to the house, and had come to be with me. I didn’t want to see anyone. I just wanted to see him.

Details of the crash filtered in slowly. It shouldn’t have happened in the first place, experts stressed. All official explanations said it was a freak accident. There were survivors of the crash, but no one would tell me if Sir was one of them. I kept my phone beside the bed, anxiously awaiting his call. I knew he would, knew it with all my heart. When I heard that first ping, alerting me to a text message, I leaped for the phone and broke down into sobs of relief when I saw the screen.

I love you, boy. Be strong.

My heart sang. Master was still alive.

Except he wasn’t.

The phone company blamed the delayed message on the overloaded circuits. Sir died ensuring others made it to safety. Many of the passengers credited him with saving their lives. They described him so perfectly that the scene played in my head like a movie. An older man, nearing sixty-five, he’d called out that he smelled the fuel. He forced the others to get up and move to the front of the plane, even when the flight attendants told him to return to his seat. He went back for an elderly lady when the other passengers heard the awful crack at the tail section. He smiled at them and took a seat next to her, strapping in and pulling out his cell phone like he hadn’t a care in the world. When he finished typing his message, he folded his phone, placed a kiss on it, held it to his chest, clutched the woman’s hand, and closed his eyes. He might have survived if he hadn’t been so goddamn noble.

When I got home from the hospital, I was numb. Nothing seemed real, except the bone-deep exhaustion. I couldn’t eat, because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to keep anything down. I was tired, so very tired. I got into our bed and drew the duvet up, imagining I could still smell him on it. I missed him so much I ached.

My master was never coming home.

 

 

Present day

I PULLED the picture down from its place on the mantle and held it to my aching chest. Even after years of Master Phillip being gone, the hole in my heart still longed for him. I moved around the lounge, carefully dusting the bookcases and cabinets. The room appeared ready for him to walk into the house, ask me about my day, and then talk about taking a trip to the playroom, where he’d help me fly.

Of course, that wouldn’t be happening ever again. I sighed and placed the photo back on the shelf. I walked through the rooms of the house, memories in every one: Master Phillip teaching me to play the piano; the two of us eating our meals together; the bedroom where we’d made love. Even my room, where he’d send me when I was being punished, had so many emotions attached to it.

Our friends told me that I needed to move on. How it wasn’t healthy for me to be alone in the house. There wasn’t anywhere else for me. This was our home, the one we had built together, and I couldn’t give it up.

I sat on the couch and turned on the TV. I needed a diversion tonight. When nothing caught my attention, I turned it off and began cleaning again. Except there wasn’t anything left to clean. Tomorrow I would do it all over again.

I looked at the clock. Half past eight. I wandered to the closet and pulled open the sliding double doors. Inside were our clothes from when we used to go to the clubs. I’d kept Master Phillip’s leathers in pristine condition, even though I knew they’d never be worn again.

The phone rang, my mother’s tone. My heart sped up. I loved talking with my mother. After Master Phillip died, she was the one I turned to. I slipped the phone from my pocket and held it to my ear.

“Good evening, Mother,” I said, trying to muster some cheer in my voice.

“I love how you think you can pull the wool over my eyes. What’s wrong?”

I hated the fact that she knew me so well. I kept my tone as even as possible. “Nothing’s wrong. How are you feeling?”

“I could punish you for lying. I know a spanking wouldn’t be a deterrent for you, though.” She laughed. It was warm and rich, and it made me ache.

There was no use in hiding. “Can I come over tonight?” I asked quietly.

Her quiet sigh gave me my answer before she’d uttered a word. “My darling, you’re always welcome to visit, you know that. But I don’t think it’s a visit you want. Tell me what’s going on.”

I sucked in a deep breath. “I’m lost. I don’t know what to do. Master isn’t here to give me directions, and I can’t do this on my own. I just can’t,” I sobbed.

“Jarod, sit down and listen to me.”

I sat on the divan and pulled my knees up to my chest.

“No one knows more than me how much you loved Phillip. He was a lovely man.” She paused, and I wondered what was coming. “I don’t mean to sound harsh, but he’s been gone for four years. You have to move on.”

For a second there I didn’t know how to react. I allowed my gaze to drift around our home. “How?” I pleaded. “He’s here, Mother. Everything in this house is a reminder of him. Of what we had. What I lost. It’s like a weight pressing down on my chest every day. I need to know that he’s proud of me.”

“Oh, Jarod. Phillip was always proud of you. No matter what happened, his heart was filled to the brim with his love for you. You have to know that.”

“It’s not enough,” I whispered. “I need someone to care for. I’m lost every day. It only takes me an hour or so to clean the house, and after that I’ve nothing more to do, so I clean it again. Please, can’t I come back home?”

“No,” she said curtly. “Jarod, I love you more than life itself, but we both know I’m not the one you want to take care of. You need to go out again. You need to find a life. Phillip wouldn’t want this for you, and you know that. What did he always say?”

I sighed heavily. “That if something ever happened, I was to find a way to move on. He wanted me to promise him that I wouldn’t mourn, but I never made that promise. He was my life. Taking care of him is who I was. Now I’m no one.”

“Jarod Sebastian Pearce, don’t you ever talk like that again!” she snapped. “You are a sweet, wonderful man who is just a little lost. Go out. Meet new people. Get laid. Do whatever you have to, but it’s time to move on, and I think you know that. It’s why the ache is so strong now, because it’s your heart grabbing at the last bits of grief.”

I began rocking on the bed. “I’ve tried to go out. The men at the club aren’t interested in someone like me.”

“And what does that mean?”

I barked out a bitter laugh. “I’m fifty years old. I’m not a twink anymore.”

She laughed again, the sound warmer than mine had been. “You were never a twink. Phillip liked you because you were a strong man who gave him everything you were. It was that submission that he loved you for. And there will be another person out there who will do the same. Don’t give up on yourself. Now tell me you’ll go out tonight.”

I glanced back toward the closet. The last few times I’d gone to a club, it had been awkward at best. Me in the sub area with a bunch of young boys who would have nothing to do with me. I’d been involved in a few scenes, but I think it was more out of pity on the Doms’ part than anything else.

“Jarod? Promise me you’ll go out,” she repeated.

“Okay, I will.”

“Jarod.” Her voice held a note of warning.

Like I could ignore that tone. “Yes, I’ll go out.”

“And leave your heart open to finding something new, okay? Even if you leave the door open just a crack, it gives someone an opportunity to walk in.”

She told me how much she loved me and how proud of me she was. It was good to hear, but it didn’t carry the same weight as Master Phillip’s encouragement as he’d trained me. I would never love like that again, I knew, but maybe my mother was right. Maybe it was finally time to see what was happening in the world.

I showered, ensuring that I cleaned myself everywhere in case this evening turned into something, then sat down in front of the mirror. My hair had more gray than dark brown I’d had throughout my whole life, but it suited me, according to Master Phillip. I wasn’t a vain person, but I thought I still had a somewhat youthful appearance.

I did a check of everything before I dressed to leave. I’d brushed my teeth twice, gargled with minty mouthwash, and put out a pack of gum for when I was ready to leave. It had been at least a year since I’d gone to the club, and I was nervous. The last time I was widely ignored by the Doms and teased or ignored by the subs. I steeled my nerves and called for a taxi.

When it pulled up outside the bar and I climbed out, I realized my legs were shaking. I took a moment to collect myself. When I approached the door, the doorman did a double take of me in my harness and leather pants. His frown made me feel self-conscious.

“Welcome to Spitfire,” he said, the tone of his voice letting me know I really wasn’t welcome. “Do you have your membership card?” I slipped the card from my wallet and held it out to him. He perused it, his frown deepening. “This is from the club that was here before.”

I hadn’t even realized the club had changed hands once again. I began to stammer an apology, but he opened the door. “Stop at the bar and ask to speak to the manager. He’ll be able to set you up with a new card.”

I had to shield my eyes from the bright lights that pulsed around a huge dance floor. It took considerable effort not to turn around and leave as I watched scantily clad young men gyrating on the floor with burly men, who had no problems grinding against them. At that moment I felt every one of my years, when I realized that even the Doms were younger than me.

The bar was full of a variety of men, but again, I was the oldest one there. I stepped up to the bar and received a smile and a nod from the bartender, who came over to me after he finished serving another customer.

“Welcome to Spitfire. What can I get you?”

I slid the card across the bar and told him that the doorman suggested I talk with the manager. He picked up the card, then looked at me, causing me to squirm. “The manager isn’t here tonight. I’m watching the place. Feel free to mingle. If you’re looking for a submissive, you’ll find them in that area over there, though you won’t be allowed to take them into a private room.”

He pointed to a roped off corner of the bar where young men mingled and chatted.

“May I join them?” I asked.

“What?”

“I’m not a Dom.”

He looked at me with such pity in his eyes. “Go home,” he said. “This isn’t the place for someone like you.”

The thought of going home again was like a fist of ice crushing my heart. “Please,” I begged, “let me stay.”

He scrubbed a hand over his face, then nodded in the direction of the pen. “Don’t blame me if they don’t welcome you.”

I put the old card back in my wallet and walked over to take my place with the other subs. I entered the area, ignoring the whispers and pointing, and sank to my knees. No matter what else, this evening would show that I was a true submissive.

I could only hope I would be welcomed.