This is a chapter from Book 2 of the Natural Series: Switch
I woke up early, shared an S-Bahn car with one other solitary traveler, enjoyed the emptiness of the city on a Sunday morning. I know he’s already up because he’s always up before anyone else. He only sleeps in when I’m in the same bed—or at least that’s what Andrew says. I’m not sure if I believe him, but there’s no reason not to. He’s the one person who knows John better than anyone else.
There’s practically no traffic in downtown Munich, and I enjoy the stillness of the Old Court complex as I walk through the courtyard of John’s building. Two of the bodyguards are leaning against a wall a bit to the side of the entrance. I smile at them as I stroll by, and they acknowledge my presence with curt, businesslike nods.
I haven’t had any breakfast because, once again, I haven’t seen my lover since last Sunday, and my eagerness to be with him this morning was too great for me to contemplate eating. By the time he opens the door for me, barefoot as always, elegant as always, my stomach is loudly rumbling. And it couldn’t be a more fortunate sound, because it elicits a genuine smile from him, one I so rarely see on the serious face, one that I love beyond words can describe.
He closes the door behind me and leads me to the open kitchen with one gentle hand on the small of my back. “Shall we feed you?” he asks. “I can make toast, but that’s about it.” A self-deprecating smile blooms on his face, and I’m immediately affected by his playful mood.
“Toast and black coffee,” I agree. “Got any raspberry jam?”
It’s a beautiful day, cold and sunny, as autumn days often are in the almost continental climate of southeastern Bavaria. He suggests we sit on the terrace opening up from the kitchen. The surprisingly large space is secluded, huddled between the sloping roofs of the complex, eliciting a feeling of solitariness that is incongruent with the knowledge that millions of people surround me. Although we’re in the middle of the city, the sounds of the sparse traffic seem distant, as though we have escaped to a parallel reality, untouched by the world around us. The time we have chosen to bestow upon each other feels all the more sacred because in this special moment we’re truly alone.
I perch in a patio chair, wrapped in a throw blanket I lifted from one of the couches in his living room, and wait for him to return with a tray loaded with toast, jam, and strong, black coffee.
“Have you ever made food before?” I ask him as he places a plate in front of me.
“Does toasting bread count as ‘making food’?” he counters with a humorous scrunch of the nose.
What a sweet man, I’m thinking now as he arranges the foodstuffs on the table. What a sweet, caring, modest man. Husband material. How the fuck he transmutes into the remorseless sadist, I’ll never know.
“For you, it counts,” I tell him, and by the slight upwards tug of his lips, I know that he still hasn’t tired of my teasing.
I slide my hands out of the blanket and spread some butter and jam on a piece of toast. Leaning back in my chair, I balance my plate on my drawn-up knees, a mug full of the steaming blackness in hand. I take a cautious bite. Hunger makes my stomach grumble again, but I know I shouldn’t eat too much because a heavy stomach might turn out to be an unpleasant distraction later, when the polite, attentive gentleman whips out the ropes and paddles.
“That’s more like it, McInroe,” I say. He looks up at me with a questioning frown as he brings his mug to his lips. He’s taken a seat across the table, but there’s no plate in front of him. The toast is just for me. He must have had breakfast earlier, or maybe he’ll skip a meal, like he sometimes does. “Serving suits you,” I explain. “I don’t get how you’re a dom. Most big business bosses are subs, aren’t they?”
“What do you know about the kinks of big business bosses?”
“Not much, but it makes sense. With great power comes great responsibility, and with great responsibility comes the need to let it all go. To submit. To stop making decisions and feel free for a while.”
“Is that why you submit?”
I take another bite, chew, swallow, all the while thinking about his question. “Yes,” I reply.
“Ah. So, do you have great responsibility at work?”
“Not great. Some. I lead a small team. Two students, one post-doctoral researcher. We collaborate with colleagues in France and Sweden. We have to deliver results to them, for our common research efforts. Keep deadlines, attend meetings. It’s stressful, sometimes.”
“And being a single mother is a huge responsibility too, as you might imagine.”
“Anyway. Why aren’t you a sub?”
“Why would I be a sub?”
Wasn’t he listening? “The big bosses,” I repeat. “The great power and responsibility. Common wisdom says you’d need to let go of all this, to fully submit to a strong female.”
“I have submitted to a strong female. I haven’t made breakfast for a woman in twenty-five years.” The corners of his eyes crinkle in amusement.
I grunt in annoyance before I chance a big gulp of coffee. Nice. Not so hot now. “You know what I mean, McInroe, don’t play stupid.” I take another bite of my toast, staring at him as I chew.
He smiles. “I’m not a big boss, love.”
I almost spit out the toast and coffee, and in my attempt not to make a mess, I nearly choke on all of it. Fumbling and coughing and nearly bent over, I manage to place my mug on the table before I spill its contents. He stands up to help me, but I hold up a palm to stop him. After a minute or two I’m breathing normally and can sit back again.
“I hope it’s not something I said.” He’s trying to suppress a smirk, and I fancy I detect a tinge of British sarcasm in the calmly delivered words.
I shake my head. “How aren’t you a big boss? Like, it’s you. Bossman. CEO. Rich fuck, all that jazz.”
“I… um…” He shifts in his chair, his gaze drifting to the floorboards as his eyebrows rise and his face is suffused with a shadow of unexpected wistfulness. “I wanted to study English. But Alex was incompetent when it came to business, and my father wanted me to succeed him.”
“You could have said no.”
“Ah. You didn’t know Ian McInroe.”
“I know you, though. I know you’re not a pushover.”
He bobs his head up and down, eyes unfocused. “I might not be a pushover, but I felt I had the responsibility to make something good out of it.”
“Out of what?”
His gaze returns to me, and he cocks his head to the side. “The business, of course. It was all oil. You’re a climate scientist. I’m sure you understand.”
“I thought McInroe Energy shut down the oil rigs a long time ago.”
“Yes. After I took over.”
I chuckle as I reach for my coffee. “You trying to save the word, McInroe?”
“It does sound a little delusional when you put it like that.”
“I still don’t buy it. I know you, you’re a boss.”
He smiles, a sad smile if there ever was one. “If dad hadn’t been the CEO and largest shareholder of McInroe energy, I’d have studied English. I’d be a teacher, probably.” His face opens up in earnestness, all softness and pliability as he looks at me, giving me a clear window to his inner world. I feel myself falling deeper in love, consumed by the wistfulness of his voice. “I’d have met a nice sweet girl like you, I’d have married her, and I’d lead a boring and uneventful life among my favorite books.”
“Ha,” I scoff, trying to shake off that uncomfortable feeling of helpless infatuation. “Is this another proposal?”
“If I say yes, will you accept?”
Instead of answering, I bite into another slice of toast and take another swig from my mug. The coffee is warm going on lukewarm. I drain the cup; I abhor cold coffee, and it would be a crying shame to waste Mr. McInroe’s expensive arabica.
“So, how does a guy who’s meant to be an English teacher lead a multinational corporation for twenty years?”
“Fifteen. Well, by self-discipline. And keeping your eye on the prize.”
“Saving the world?”
He laughs. The pale blue morning sky is only an extension of the pale blue eyes. Whatever exists in that unfathomable expanse might be beyond my understanding, but it isn’t beyond my capability of acceptance, unconditional surrender, love.
“More coffee?” he suggests, standing up. I hold up my mug to him, and he heads inside to refill it. A few minutes later he returns and hands it back to me, full of fresh, steaming goodness.
“So, you’re a dom because your true self is a stuffy academic.”
“This would agree with your theory.” He walks to his seat with his usual unhurried gait.
“I still don’t buy it.” I bring the cup rim to my lips to test the temperature. Yup, still too hot. I hold it in both my hands, enjoying the warmth seeping through the skin into my bloodstream, spreading with the circulating blood, making my arms tingle. “You know, I have a friend who says all high-level executives are psychopaths.”
“Ah. Is she one?”
“An executive or a psychopath?”
“Well, he is neither. Tried the executive thing but wasn’t psychopath enough.”
“What do you mean? Are you a psychopath, McInroe?”
“You certainly need some emotional detachment to be able to lead a large organization.” He shrugs, almost apologetically.
“Mmm.” I attempt another sip. Better. “Does it bother you?”
He emits a little close-mouthed sigh. “Of course it does,” he replies. His gaze wanders over the rooftops. The pale blue eyes lose focus again as they join their less mysterious counterpart—the sky.
I’m beginning to see where the frustration comes from, the pent-up energy he chips on bit by bit, lash by lash. I’m not sure why his tool of choice is the whip. Maybe it’s the connection to his nearly lost younger self, the boy who loved horses, who should have discovered and accepted his kink many years ago. As I look at him, sitting there, serene on the surface, in this rare state of vulnerable honesty, his face for once not plastered with that impassive, contained mask I’m used to, it dawns on me: that’s what strength is. This is its very definition. To try to do what’s right, even if it’s slowly killing you. To persevere and harden yourself and doggedly go on, with honor and respect, with self-discipline and self-denial. I know I couldn’t be like that. He thinks I’m strong, but I don’t carry the world on my shoulders. The power. The responsibility.
“You’re a conqueror,” I mutter.
He snaps back from his reverie, his eyes regaining focus. “What?”
I laugh. “You’re a conqueror,” I tell him, louder. I smear some butter and jam on another piece of toast and lean back in my chair, plate and mug in hand. I’m still smiling as I bite into the crunchy bread, challenging him with my eyes to contradict me.
“You’re sweet,” he says with that dismissively tender expression we only show to loved ones who praise us more than we deserve.
“I know what I’m talking about.”
“Ah. What are you talking about?”
I shake my head because I really don’t understand how he doesn’t get it. My eyes are fixed on him as I finish my breakfast, smiling as I explain to him exactly how much of a born leader he is.