A Study In Steele

By Lauryn Poynor


"Strip."

The voice was soft, feminine, and determined.

Steele stepped back slightly. This wasn't supposed to happen. She reclined, one hand on her cheek. He drew in a breath.

"Don't. Say anything." She put a finger to her lips in the expectant silence.

Steele took hold of his sweater and pulled it over his head, managing to peel it off with some resistance. His hair was tousled from the effort, dark strands tumbling over his forehead. He tossed the heavy garment onto the bed.

"Go on."

Meeting her even stare with more equanimity than he felt, Steele unfastened the top button of his white shirt. And rather precipitously, the next one.

"No. Slower. . . One . . . Two . . ." His taskmaster marked the tempo. "Molto adagio con espressione."

With more deliberation, his hands moved down his shirtfront. Steele looked and saw that they were not quite steady.

"That's better. Now," she breathed softly, "shoes and socks."

As Steele bent down his watcher eyed the view from his bared sternum to his navel. Shoe laces were untied with only one slightly awkward passage; he slipped off the shoes and socks and felt the cool of the hardwood floor under his feet.

Steele straightened back up. Their eyes met and he undid his cuffs. The progress continued in the same slow motion; he pulled his shirttail free -- giving full beats to a measure -- and slipped the shirt off and down his back.

She stood up and walked around, circumnavigating his flesh. With the thoroughness of a geometrist she studied him: the flat planes of his chest, the curvilinear grace of arms and shoulders. Not touching, she absorbed the warmer textures of hair and skin, imagined tracing his freshly shaved jawline with her fingers.

She went back to the chair. Unbearably curious, he stole a glance at her. There was Laura -- his Laura -- writing furiously, her taut, legible hand giving way unconsciously to hotly undisciplined t-strokes and loops. Not willing to let a thought process escape, she clutched hard at the leather binder. Steele stopped undressing, fearing to break her concentration.

He was still amazed at how things got this far, even in this place, where it seemed almost anything could happen, for better or worse. Since they'd arrived at the Friedlich Spa she'd certainly taken this "when in Rome" proposition to heart. It was Laura who this morning had suggested that they go to one of Ursula's classes on touching and feeling. She
felt more open to it now, she said -- now that the case was over and they would soon be heading back to Los Angeles. Without much protest, he agreed. Practicing the art of tactile stimulation with Laura couldn't be a bad thing. Steele wondered if he could persuade her, in private, to try a Swedish accent.

Covert glances were exchanged between them as the couple formerly known as Laura and Richard Blaine were given the day's homework assignment. It was an exercise called "The Joy of Not Touching," which sounded, to Steele, like a terrific let-down -- worthy and zen-like though its approach may have been. Yet, as Ursula set the scene, it began to take on the trappings of fantasy, if each partner's spirit or flesh were willing.

One of the pair was to remove all of their clothing while the other directed this revealing experiment, writing down all of their impressions in a journal. The majority of the senses could happily be engaged for the duration, but touching was verboten. The point was to imagine what it would be like to touch, to project and anticipate, to free the mind and emotions for the eventuality. The writer's journal entry was to be shared with their partner -- and self-chosen portions to
the rest of the class in the next session. Then, the couples' roles would be reversed. 

When Ursula finished, Steele murmured in Laura's ear, "Well, that's one assignment we won't be taking on, eh? Or should that be -- taking off?"  A veto, he was sure, was a foregone conclusion where his lovely, but infuriatingly chaste, partner was concerned.

To his surprise, Laura had begged to differ. "Maybe I'm more ready than you think, Mr. Steele. After all, breaking down barriers is what we both want, isn't it?"

In the aftershock of this confession, Steele had mumbled something, he wasn't sure what. It struck him that since the bataka exercise, Laura was in a somewhat raw and unguarded emotional state; he felt rather uncomfortably the same himself. Surely he was taking advantage of the situation by asking her to lay bare anything else, but he pushed such
inconveniently chivalrous thoughts aside. She'd intimated she was ready -- and Laura was a woman of her word.

True to form, she blindsided him with the element of surprise, turning his expectations of seeing her as flawless and unadorned as a pagan goddess, unequivocally upside down.

Steele caught her eyes on him again, her pencil delicately poised, her feet propped on the foot stool. As she reclined in the chair, he removed his watch and bracelet, dropping them at her ankles like sacrificial offerings.

As his right hand went to his belt, she sat upright; Steele thought Laura was going to stop him then and there -- but she merely looked on from a better perch. With unmeditated grace Steele continued trance-like as she followed every move: his belt, next to go, slid noiselessly through the loops. He undid the top button of his jeans and unzipped slowly, knowing he was unavoidably half-erect under his briefs. Without going further, he let both hands drop to his sides, unsure if he was testing her resolve, or his own.

When Laura got up and came to him, Steele didn't know what would happen next. As the exercise directed, anticipation was all. It remained to be seen if they could keep their part of the bargain, if the joy of not touching was an even harder intimacy to bear.

Steele pulled the jeans down his hips and legs and stepped out of them. Her eyes followed him, deep and fathomless.

"Laura." There was an ache in his throat. He reached up, not quite meaning to touch, but his fingers grazed her cheek. The spell was broken.

"Mr. Steele." She glanced back toward the journal on the chair. Her voice faltered slightly. "I think we should leave this for another chapter."

"Here endeth the lesson, eh?" It was hard to say if his sigh was of disappointment, or relief, or mere acquiescence. Steele retrieved his robe from the back of the chair and slipped into the loose garment, a shiver of contact against his skin. Giving her space, he lay on the bed opposite, remembering how he'd tossed and turned on the chair cushions
the night before. They now held her secrets and a trace of her scent. He watched as she picked up the volume and settled it in her lap.

After several false starts Laura's pen flew across the page, until the task was done. In trepidation and triumph she walked over and placed the open journal on his chest.

Steele had a feeling the learning process was just beginning. He wondered if he could ever put it all into words. He sat up, thinking it over. "Same time, next term, Miss Holt?"

"It's a date," she said. "Bring your notebook, Mr. Steele. We might just go to the head of the class." With a faraway smile, Laura opened her suitcase and began to pack for home.

THE END

 

January 2005

 

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