Brad and Emily’s friendship began in the way that friendships often do – by accident of circumstance. Because they weren’t a romantic couple, only platonic, neither of them was inclined to use so dramatic a word as “fate” to describe their first random encounter.
They met one another at a party that, interestingly, neither of them would ordinarily have attended. There was a lot of loud, unsophisticated music, plenty of drunken party-goers, and most of the guests were either intimately involved in expressing their couplehood or were on a mission to “hook up”.
Brad had been invited to the party by a co-worker he was becoming friends with, who was insistent that he “needed this” to get over Brenda, a particularly crushing break-up that made him question the whole concept of this fresh start in a new city. So he came to the party expecting nothing other than to make some progress towards putting himself “out there” as several friends and family members had suggested.
Emily had been pretty much dragged to the event as well, by a long time friend, Padma. They had been friends since graduate school, bonding over navigating the testosterone-heavy world of electrical engineering. Emily had shared the wisdom of her calm, logical confidence with Padma, who in turn inspired them both with an irresistible exuberance and a hunger for adventure. They had been life team mates ever since, even though Emily had lived several states away for the last five years. Once again finding themselves living in the same city, they were celebrating their geographic reunion by going to a party.
When Brad first saw Emily, she was surrounded by three men near a snack table. The three were exuding an obvious, but not too aggressive, flirtatious energy towards her, alternately and variously trying humor, witty banter, and trying to guess at and talk about subjects she might be interested in. Emily smiled cooly and engaged with them in a manner that suggested she was interested in being friendly, while subtly letting them know she had no intention of being charmed by any of them.
Brad was impressed by her manner of handling the situation and he was intrigued by her beauty. She had shoulder length brunette hair and sincere and intelligent looking brown eyes that smiled genuinely when she smiled. There was an openness and a fearlessness that came across in her expressive face, as if she were fascinated and amused by what was going on around her. Although she wore jeans and a button down shirt untucked, Brad noticed that she had a subtle hourglass shape that he found quite intriguing.
Emily noticed Brad smiling in her direction as she engaged in conversational aikido with the three would-be pickup artists surrounding her. He was one of only two black men at the party, which caught her attention and curiosity, but it was his good-looking, intelligent and open face that kept her attention. Also she could tell by the look in his eyes that he found her attractive, which also gave her a warm glow. The two locked eyes for a few seconds; moments in which they silently asked key questions of themselves and of one another. Brad didn’t want to be another fly buzzing around Emily’s head. She was attracted and fascinated with him, but wasn’t sure why. Her gut was telling her to move towards him.
Realizing she had stopped paying attention to one of the fly guys, she moved closer to the snack table and leaned forward over it, reaching to the other side to pickup a piece of baklava from a plate on that side. Brad saw her move and realized she was giving him an opportunity. He stepped towards the table as well and picked up his own piece of baklava.
He smiled at her as he said, “Wow, baklava. I love this stuff.”
“Me too,” Emily said. “It’s hard to resist.”
“I don’t believe we’ve met before,” Brad said. “I’m Brad.”
Emily extended a hand to him, “Hi Brad. I’m Emily. Good to meet you.”
“Likewise,” he said, smiling. “Are you a friend of Jennifer’s?”
“Not really, but my friend works with her and, yes, I think they’re friends,” she said. “You?”
“I work with her. Well, we work at the same company. She’s in marketing. I’m in data management,” Brad explained.
At this point it was awkwardly obvious to the guys that had been trying to talk to Emily that she was, for some inexplicable reason, more interested in talking to this guy who obviously had no game. They were a bit perplexed and one by one, wandered away back to the hunting grounds of the party proper.
“Gee,” Brad said, smiling, “I hope I didn’t scare them off.”
Emily shrugged, smiling as well, “I kind of hope you did.”
It was clear from both their perspectives that whatever else happened, that at least this interaction was going well. They each seemed to see something or maybe feel something familiar in the energy and the vibe from one another. Neither could put their finger on exactly what that was. But they continued talking for another 15 minutes or so, more or less oblivious to the rest of the party and the guests that passed by them or sometimes weaved between them as they still stood near that snack table.
At one point, someone rather tall and rather drunk stumbled, beer in hand towards Emily. Brad, seeing what was about to happen, inserted himself between Emily and the stumbler, stopping him from crashing into her, but resulted in some beer being splashed out onto one of Brad’s pants legs and a shoe.
“Oh fuck, man,” the guy said. “I’m sorry dude.”
“Don’t worry about it. Hey, it’s a party now, right,” Brad said, chuckling.
Emily added, “Party on!”
The stumbler offered to get them both drinks and staggered towards the kitchen. Realizing that this kind of thing was likely to happen again, they decided to continue their conversation out on the back deck. They saw a few guests outside, two couples immersed in their own scenes, unlikely to have any desire to try to spark up another conversation with this man and woman coming out onto the deck, presumably trying to get some alone time.
Emily walked to an empty corner, followed by Brad, and turning, leaned her back against the wooden railing. Through the sliding doors behind Brad she could see Padma smiling back at her with a very winky-looking smile. Emily smiled back at her friend, shaking her head slightly.
Brad noticed this and asked, smiling, “What?”
“My friend, Padma,” she said. “She’s being juvenile.”
He chuckled, “Is she trying to get you fixed up or something?” He looked back over his shoulder to see a very pretty Indian woman inside grinning and giving her friend a thumbs up.
“Something like that, yeah.”
“And she thinks it’s going well?” Brad ventured.
“She does,” Emily smiled and looked into Brad’s eyes.
“Good,” Brad smiled back. “I’m happy we’re not disappointing your friend’s efforts.”
“No. So far, so good,” she said.
The two of them found themselves in a romantic movie moment, where the obvious next step would have been to have a romantic kiss, but they each knew on some level they were “there” yet. Neither of them wanted to push something before it’s time and ruin future potentials. But then they were left with a silence which was bordering on awkward. They needed to get back into more conversational space.
“All of a sudden I feel like an awkward teenager,” Brad joked.
Emily laughed, “Yeah. And here we are out well past midnight.”
“I’m just glad we’re not subject to getting punished for it,” Brad added.
Emily offered, putting on a fake frown, “Like it would so suck getting grounded right now.”
“Or worse…” Brad said.
Emily asked, “Worse?”
“Yeah, like getting the belt or strap,” Brad said, his eyes widening in fake fear.
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Brad realized the risk he’d taken, socially. Joking so soon about a topic that in some people’s minds was at least uncomfortable, if not associated with domestic violence was indeed risky. He was relieved, amused and his pulse hastened to find that Emily’s face scrunched up into a wince of imagined pain while her hands went behind her to rub her bottom. Might she actually be into spanking? Best not to jump to a conclusion…
“Yeah,” she said. “That would be worse.”
Emily’s head was internally spinning as she took in how easily Brad had not only brought up her favorite topic, but was joking about it in a way that indicated he might have experienced corporal punishment growing up, maybe even as a teenager.
“Although,” she continued, “I have heard several people declare to me that they would have rather gotten spanked than had to miss out on important events in their social lives because of long groundings.”
“Really?” Brad asked. “I can’t imagine that. Getting the belt hurts so much, and there will be other dances or movies to go to or whatever.”
“True,” Emily said, “Well, I’m guessing maybe the spanking they might have been subject to wasn’t as severe as what you might have experienced.”
“Good point,” Brad said, shaking his head. “They didn’t have my mother or father.”
Emily sat down at the patio table near them, gesturing to invite Brad to sit as well. He spun the chair around backwards and sat straddling it, leaning his elbows on the back. Emily leaned forward and affectionately wrapped her right hand around his left, giving it a little squeeze. She pondered whether it was too soon to venture into further intimacy with him.
“Did you get punished that way as a teenager?” she asked gently.
“No,” Brad said, “not as a teenager. But yeah, before then my butt was not unfamiliar with the belt.”
“Same here,” Emily said, “only in my family it was a paddle.”
“Oh, ouch,” Brad commented sympathetically.
“Yeah.” she continued, “It wasn’t like a big frat paddle or anything, but it was hard enough as it was. I’d have to bend over the side of the bed and my mom would give me a dozen swats or so.”
“And that happened up until you were a teen?” Brad asked.
“Yeah,” she said. “Well, by that time I got smart enough so as not to get caught doing anything that might get me paddled.”
Brad chuckled, “I hear ya. Same for me, because I wasn’t aware of my parents having any particular rule about what age spankings would stop. And, I didn’t want to make an assumption and risk it.”
Emily nodded. “Understood. But you feel like it’s possible they might have given you the belt as teenager if it was warranted?”
They heard the sliding glass door open onto the deck and the resulting spill out of party conversation and music. Emily looked over Brad’s shoulder to see Jennifer and Padma coming out and walking towards them. Brad glanced over his shoulder to see as well.
Brad and Emily exchanged a smile that suggested a tacit agreement to table the conversation for another time. Each felt secure in the likelihood that the conversation would indeed continue, which filled them with a sense of anticipation and excitement.