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Chapter 33

“That’s what I’m wearing for the party? It looks like an ancient night gown more suited for a pajama party than Hallow’s Eve, Alex.” She stared with contempt at the thin gown he held out for her to put on.

“It’s perfect for the look I have in mind for you, go on, put it on.” He said.

“Yes, sir, if it pleases you. Should I wear knickers underneath?” She said, annoyed.

“No, you’re not wearing anything under it. Everything else goes over it,” he said.

“Hmmm… okay,” She wriggled into the dress and looked at herself in the mirror with disgust. “I don’t think…” Alex stopped her with a finger on her lips.

“Not another word,” he said, “look at me.”

She turned to him and gasped when he grabbed a fistful of fabric on her shoulder and tugged it down. “What the hell? You ripped it.”

“Not a word…” he repeated. He took a bundle of rope from the closet and bound her upper torso, the rope wound around her shoulders, breasts, and abdomen, it looked like a corset made of ropes.

While one of her breasts was covered with a part of the gown that was left unripped, her other breast came out naked between the crisscrossed web of rope. Her gossamer gown didn’t cover her much either.

Then he bound her wrist with two rounds of rope and tied a knot, loose enough so it didn’t restrict blood flow but won’t fall off her hand. He did the same on her other wrist with a rope connecting it long enough for her to move her arms.

Then he turned her around and ripped the skirt vertically from her waist down like an overrated slit that displayed her shapely legs from the backside and her whipped bum.

“There you are, Joan of Arcadia. Punished for pursuing pleasure, sentenced to a lifetime of pain— except— you really like pain, don’t you?” He laughed.

“I like the twisted analogy though.” She laughed. “And who are you gonna be?”

“I’ll be your dungeon master. Easy enough, because I already have my leather pants for that. I’ll carry a whip as a prop, but don’t worry, I’ll use the soft leather ones.”

“Wait— I have to climb in the car looking like this?” she smirked.

“Of course not, I got you a red riding cape with a hood. And wear your high heeled shoes, so you’d look good when you bend down for more whipping.” He teased.

“I think I’d rather wear my high heeled kinky boots. Why don’t you get dressed now, we’re gonna be late for the party.”

Guests in costumes congregated at the ship’s entrance when they arrived. Incognito in their hooded riding capes, Alex and Amanda streaked through the crowd toward the entry. The receptionists let them pass immediately when Alex showed his face.

Amanda saw her butler David at the lobby. “David!” she hollered. The butler’s face brightened when he heard her voice and hurried toward her.

“Iris, is that you?” he said.

“Yes, it’s me, David. I’ve missed you.” She kissed him on the cheek.

“Oh my god, Iris, I’m so happy to see you. I saw you over the news and that interview with Olivia Pratt— you were amazing. Who would have thought that the innocent Iris I served as butler last spring turn out to be a hero.” He said with pride in his voice.

“Stop patronizing me, David. That was a whole lot of mess I got myself into.”

“You know me, I don’t patronize. I say only the truth.”

“I know… thanks, David. I’m really excited to be back on the ship.” She said, and heard the ship blow a long signal as it prepared to leave the docks. “I also want to thank you for sending me to the spa as my first stop on the cruise.” She winked and gestured at Alex.

“Actually, I should be the one thanking you, David, for sending me the woman of my dreams.” Alex smiled.

“I knew something clicked that day— and I’m glad I did it.” David puffed his chest with pride.

“What time does the program start?” Amanda asked.

“The Kink Quartet just got on-stage to warm up the audience.” He said. “You might want to go ahead and get your seats now. I’ll see you around.” He said and bowed as he walked away.

“Shall we go, my love— I mean, my captive heretic? But I’d like to show you something first.” Alex said.


He led her towards the hall near the shops. It had bright lights while two stanchions barred the entrance framed by a floral arch of white orchids and wild flowers. Amanda gasped at the lavishly designed exhibition hall.

“Is this your art exhibit?”

“It’s a preview. The main exhibit will be held at the MoMA next weekend, and will run for a month.” He said, and moved the stanchions aside to let her in. “I want you to be the first to see them.”

“Why didn’t you show them to me at your studio?”

“They won’t look the same.”

A series of nudes hung on a wall with dramatic lighting pointed toward each painting— the series depicted the subjects in the act of receiving sexual pleasure either by themselves or with a partner. Replete with orgasmic facial expressions and detailed muscle tension, the series carried explicit sexual themes that could powerfully stimulate its viewers.

“Wow, these are beautiful, Alex. Now I know why you have to fuck your models when you work.” She said. “You had to capture those expressions.”

“Yes, but I didn’t have to fuck them all the time. Sometimes I made them pleasure themselves while I paint them, but they’d ask me to fuck them after anyway.” He laughed. “How can I refuse?”

On another wall hung several erotic art that depicted other gender relations, like gay and lesbian sexual themes.

“You had gay and lesbian couples model for you too?” she asked.

“That one on the right,” he pointed to a painting of two men kissing in kneeling position. “That’s Hans and Edward in oil— one of my favorites.”

“Oh my, it’s beautiful. I could almost feel the love they have for each other.” She said. “Actually, all these paintings seemed to move as they tell their story. It’s amazing. You are amazing, my love.”

She turned to him and kissed him.

“Wait, you have to see this one… remember the portrait I have of you in the bedroom? I sculpted the same image in alabaster.” He said as he pointed to a lone bust sculpture displayed at the center of the room under overhead and floor spotlights. “It’s the centerpiece of this exhibition.”

She walked closer to the bust and examined the stone’s beautiful finish. The centerpiece of Alex’s exhibition was a three-dimensional image of her from the head down to her bare breasts— head tilted to one side, eyes cast down, and lips that curved in a subtle smile, a pose that undeniably denoted submission.

Alex moved in from behind and wrapped his arms around her. “You are my inspiration, Iris, thank you. I can’t help it, but my world seems to revolve around you.”

She took in his manly scent tinged with the musky, fruity notes of his Creed perfume. It never failed to seduce her senses and want to kiss him all over. She turned to press her lips on him when a familiar voice announced its approach.

“Iris! Alex! I’ve been looking all over for you, guys. What are you doing here?” Jo said with excitement, then turned to scan the paintings. “Oh my god, Alex, is this your exhibition?”

“Hey Jo, yes, it is. Have a look around,” he said, “Who’s your friend?” he gestured at the guy beside Jo.

“Oh sorry, this is Justin. We met at the lobby, surprised that we came as Sherlock Holmes and his girlfriend, Irene Adler… um, but we just met.” She grinned. “Justin, meet my friends Alex and Amanda, better known as Iris around this ship.”

“Hey man, I haven’t officially opened the exhibit, but feel free to look around.” Alex said.

“Wow, these works are fascinating. Congratulations, man.” Justin said.

“You totally rock, Alex.” Jo said.

“Thank you. Why don’t we all go to the event hall and get our seats for the program? I heard it has started,” Alex said.

“I hope you don’t mind if I join your table? I came by myself.” Justin said.

Amanda felt an amorous air flowed between Jo and Justin. The guy looked ruggedly handsome and taller than Jo. They made a nice couple, she thought.

“Of course, Justin. I’m really happy that Jo found her Sherlock tonight.” Amanda teased. “Let’s go have some fun, shall we?”

They trooped out of the exhibition and proceeded to the dining hall where the program ran in progress.

Val and Bruno, dressed as Morticia and Gomez Addams, enthused other guests on their table near the stage. Amanda saw Carl and Brittany with them, both in Japanese anime costumes.

Alex led the group toward an empty table near the entrance because most of the tables in front were already occupied.

On stage, Pudding and Pie engaged in a dialogue Amanda didn’t comprehend much, but brought out laughter from the audience.

They ordered a bottle of whiskey and an assortment of food to go with it. Jo and Justin flirted with each other, while Alex and Amanda scanned the room for their friends.

“There’s Morris,” Alex pointed at a man in black spandex and waved at him.

Morris saw Alex and turned to call Hans and Edward as they emerged from a crowd behind him.

“Hey guys, where have you been?” Morris said.

“Just around the back, come sit with us. We ordered food and a bottle of whiskey.” Alex said. “By the way, we are joined by Jo’s friend, Justin.” He gestured at the guy beside Jo. “Justin, this is Morris, Hans, and Edward.”

Justin got up and shook hands with the newcomers. “Nice to meet you, guys. I hope you don’t mind.”

“It’s a free world, Justin. Happy to have you with us.” Morris said.

“Alex, I thought you were supposed to make a costume for Iris? Little Red Riding Hood didn’t seem like a creative challenge though.” Hans said.

“I did, but she’s not Red Riding Hood. I thought to keep it hidden for now. Just like unveiling a masterpiece.” He grinned. “You’ll see it later.”

Morris moved to the seat beside Iris with his drink. “Hey Iris, how are you? Does your ass still hurt?”

“Like hell, it does.” She laughed.

“Can I take a peep at your costume please?” he said as he raised the cape an inch off her chest. “Okay, I get it. You got a nice peekaboo there.” He flashed a naughty grin.

“I’m still trying to figure out what your costume is, Morris. What is it?” She said.

“I came as the Black Panther, see this necklace? It’s an exact replica. A friend loaned it to me.” He smiled.

“Is Black Panther a superhero? Sorry, I don’t think I’m familiar with the character.”

“Yes, it’s a DC creation. The movie was great, you should watch it. It’s got a good story line, great actors too.” He said.

“Cool. I like Hans and Edward’s gay rendition of the Twilight guys.” She smiled, then heard her name mentioned on stage. Georgie and Porgie were talking about her. “What are they saying?”

“They were talking about your interview.” Alex said. “Come, they’re calling you to the stage, I’ll escort you.”

He stood up and took her hand. As they walked around the tables toward the stage, the audience became quiet. All eyes were on her, she felt like butter melting under the heat of their stares. Then a few started clapping their hands, followed by more applause. When she looked around, everyone stood up and continued to applaud her, it got louder. Whistles and howls erupted in the audience.

“Ladies and gentlemen, everyone and everything, we are honored to have with us tonight— the Queen of The Pleasure Cruise— Iris.” Georgie said, as they climbed the stage.

Amanda gasped at the overwhelming acclaim she got from the audience.

“Iris, I usually have a lot to say about anything, but right now, I’m speechless as you stand here before me. But I’m sure that everyone here will agree that you are one hell of a person, and we are so proud of you.” Georgie said as she fingered a tear on her cheek.

“I’m also sure that everyone would love to hear you say a few words.” She said and handed over the microphone.

Amanda stifled the urge to cry. She didn’t expect to be under the spotlight and be called on stage or give some sort of speech. She took the mike and looked at her shoes, as Alex removed her cape. More whistles and howls erupted.

“Well, I’ve had this recurring dream where I attended a business conference and when I was called to do my presentation, I realize I forgot to bring my laptop… and worse— I stood in front of the people naked.

Just like now, I stand before you— without any speech prepared, and bare-assed,” she paused as laughter erupted, “I’m sorry, I really don’t know what to say, but thank you, for all the support you gave me during the worst hours of my life.” She said, and looked around the audience.

She noticed a couple seated on the table nearest to the stage. The guy, was a hot Khal Drogo look-alike and his partner was dressed as Khalisi Denneris with a long platinum blonde wig. He stared at Amanda with fiery lust, while he fondled his partner.

“Our lifestyle is not something we boast about, or display for all the world to see… we keep it discreet or hidden in the dark recesses of our lives. We have the Pleasure Cruise to thank for giving us a place to be free, to be our true selves, without judgement… without fear of being cast out of society.” She smiled at Bruno as the audience applauded in agreement.

“I tried to keep this part of my life hidden from the world, because I was afraid it will ruin my reputation, and bring other people down with me… but then some malicious person exposed me… so I did what I thought was best… to say the truth… I actually braced for impact, waited for the sky to fall on me and crush me…” Her gaze fell on Khal Drogo again, his lustful stare just turned her on.

Then she noticed Khalisi wasn’t paying attention to her, but kept her gaze at someone behind her on stage. The woman beamed at Alex with libidinous eyes.

“But you got my back… my friends got my back… Alex…” she turned to Alex, who probably didn’t hear what she was saying because he engaged the woman in a staring contest. Amanda looked back at her audience. “Alex had been my greatest comfort. He’s my best friend, my best fuck buddy…” she paused as the audience howled, “… the best dom I know— well, aside from Morris, of course,” she said.

“Alex designed my costume, by the way, he did it with his bare hands… and told me I was going as Joan of Arcadia or whatever… and I thought I looked disgusting. I didn’t like it… but then I realized it was exactly how I looked through the world’s eyes— a disgusting slut, all tied-up, whipped, and naked— and I deserved to be punished. Little did they know that I actually enjoyed it.” She laughed.

“And I have Morris to thank for the whipping I got last night, it took me to subspace… or whatever that is— it was amazing.” She said, turned around and showed her freshly whipped ass. Hoots and laughter erupted.

“Well, I guess I’ve managed my two-page worth of speech… again, thank you all for the warmth and love. Happy Hallow’s Eve, everyone,” she blew the crowd a kiss and waved.

“Thank you for that warm message, Iris, it melted my heart.” Georgie said when she took the microphone from Amanda. “How about we give her another round, friends. Now, to take the fun going up a notch, please welcome our guest band from the Philippines who will rock this ship with their music.” The audience broke into a frenzied applause as Alex took Amanda’s hand and led her off the stage.

A popular 70s tune came up as they walked back to their table. “I love this song,” Alex said, as he sang a line, “… I got you babe…” and gave her a squeeze on the shoulders.

Amanda draped her cape around her shoulders before she took her seat. Still puzzled and annoyed with Alex’s flirtations with the hot Khalisi, she avoided looking his way and toyed with her drink.

The band segued to a song, ‘After All’ by Cher and Peter Cetera. Couples started flocking to the dance floor.

“Dad used to play this song a lot when I was young, it’s his favorite. Let’s dance, Iris.” Alex pulled her into his arms, and danced with her right beside their table.

She let him take the lead and pressed her face on his chest as he swayed her. She felt a twinge in her chest as she listened to the words of the song, and memories of them together floated in her head…

I still remember when your kiss was so brand new…

Every memory repeats, every step I take retreats

Every journey brings me back to you…

After all the stops and starts, we keep coming back to these two hearts.

Two angels who’ve been rescued from the fall…

After all that we’ve been through, it all comes down to me and you.

I guess it’s meant to be, forever you and me, after all.

The song and the memories enraptured her, she couldn’t tell if Alex was truly kissing her in that moment.

Then he broke the kiss with a smile, “They’re playing our song, Iris, it’s about us.”

She smiled back but didn’t reply. The heat that grew inside her, and wanted him to take her right where they stood.

“Hey,” Alex caressed her arm, “I have to go and check the exhibit to make sure everything is prepped before it opens.”

“Sure,” she said as she returned to her seat and twirled the ice in her whiskey glass once more. She turned as he walked away, and saw the Khalisi woman walk out ahead of him.

She looked around at her friends who were occupied in their own humorous discussions, but she wasn’t in the mood to join in. Jo and Justin didn’t talk much, but their hands were all over each other, oblivious to their surroundings.

“Excuse me, I need to get some air,” she said to no one in particular, and walked out of the hall.

She knew it would be chilly out on the deck and hoped her woolen cape would keep her warm enough.

The deck was empty, except for the barkeep wiping up the counter in his Superman outfit. He waved at her when she stepped out, “An old fashioned for you, Iris?” he said.

“Sure, that would be great, thanks.” She smiled and walked towards the railing to watch the waves. The ship had gone miles away from land as New York harbor faded into a misty horizon of skyscrapers, and the only thing recognizable was the towering silhouette of the Statue of Liberty. The snapping autumn winds warned of a harsh winter coming.

The bartender brought her drink over. “It’s a bit chilly out here, Iris, I made you a double shot to keep you warm,” he said.

“That’s quite thoughtful of you, Superman, thanks,” she said with a wink as he zoomed back to the bar.

Alex dominated her thoughts, mixed with feelings of confusion and annoyance. Jealousy struck her as silly but destructive, she wanted to brush it away— but its sticky claws clung to her. She tried to inject the thought of freedom in their open relationship, but her heart refused to agree.

“I’m sure you didn’t come as Elsa from Disney’s Frozen. Can I give you a bit of warmth?” Said a low voice behind her, she turned around.

It was Khal Drogo up close and had just gotten personal. She smiled up at him in surprise. “Hey, I’m fine, but you gave me a scare.”

“I’m Jace, by the way. I hope you don’t mind if I join you?” he said.

She really wanted to be alone and chill out, but welcomed the hot distraction. “Not at all, Jace, that would be nice. I’m Iris.”

“Everyone knows you around here, Iris. I came out here because Denise went with Alex, and left me with no one to talk to,” he said, and noticed the surprise on her face. “Oh… you didn’t know? Sorry, I thought he’d told you…” he said.

“No, he didn’t… but he didn’t have to tell me anyway… he’s free to go with anyone. I just thought he went somewhere else.” She said and turned her gaze toward the sea.

“So, what are you doing out here in the cold with that… outfit? Although that flimsy gown is hot as hell, I don’t think you’ll last another minute without turning into a popsicle… which I would love to lick up even in the dead of winter.” He teased.

She blushed. “I’m fine, really. This wool cape is doing a great job to keep we warm. I don’t mind the cold anyway.”

“Would you mind if I get my hands warmed up inside it?”

She stared up at him and smiled. “Go ahead.”

He slipped his hands through the flaps of her cape and glided on her warm skin. “I think we need some more heat going, Iris…” as he closed in and explored the source of heat between her legs. She moaned.

Jace wanted to give her what she needed from Alex, while he gave it to somebody else.

“Let’s go to my room.” Jace took her hand and pulled her away from the rails.

She went inside with him to a suite on the upper deck without trepidation. If Alex can play around, she can too.

As soon as they got in the room, Jace started kissing her neck and removed her cape. His hand went straight to her sensitive part and found its way in. He carried her onto the bed and spread her legs apart, then pulled down his pants. He was hard-ready and quickly slid on a condom.

Amanda was surprised that he was going to take her without kink or foreplay— too vanilla for her tastes, but she didn’t complain.

He rocked on her, she moaned and squirmed under his weight. She let him have his way, without real enjoyment. Her fake moans helped him come in no time— just like game night, she recalled.

Before he could even begin another round of making out, she decided to nip it at the bud.

“I have to get back, Alex’s exhibit will open soon and I have to be there.” She said as she got out of bed and grabbed her cape.

“I’ll go with you,” he said.

“No, I can’t be seen with you.” She flashed a sly smile at him and winked— anything to get away from him. “Thanks for warming up my afternoon, Jace. See you around.”

He smiled back, cocky and proud. “See you around, Iris.”

She scurried down the stairs and rushed toward the exhibit hall. The stanchions were closed and the ribbon still uncut. She breathed a sigh of relief that she wasn’t late, and checked if Alex was anywhere inside. The hall looked empty, so she turned to go back to the event, until she heard a moan— a woman’s ecstatic moan.

The drum beats on her chest told her to leave, but her stupid head wanted to see who it was.

She inched along the wall and glimpsed a woman on the floor, her face hidden by a long platinum blonde wig. She was hogtied and taken from behind by none other than Alex.

Shaken up by the scene, Amanda darted away and ran towards the pool deck, her face awash with tears.

“Can I have a double straight, no ice please?” she said to the bartender between sobs, and sat on the bar stool.

“Are you okay, Iris?” Superman the bartender asked her. “I mean— I can see you’re not okay, but… okay, I’ll get your drink.” He placed the whiskey glass before her and poured in more than a double shot of single malt.

“Thanks,” she said and drank the quaff. “I’m okay, Superman— just being stupid right now, but I’ll be fine.” She laughed, but tears fell in torrents on her cheeks. “I didn’t want to fall in love, you know, but I still fell. I’m such a stupid klutz!” she said.

“No, you’re not. Okay, you may be a klutz, but you’re not stupid. Are you referring to Alex?”

“Yes,” she mumbled.

“It’s okay to not be okay, you know. Our lifestyle can be so liberating, it takes you so high, but it can also take you down. We fall in love and fall out of it— but not without a scratch. Life hurts, Iris, and love hurts like a bitch.” He circled around the bar counter and sidled up to her.

“You can say that again, it hurts more than my whipped ass,” she said.

“He’s a great guy, it would be impossible not to fall in love with him. What did he do to make you regret that? Okay, you don’t have to tell me anything. I just want to help if you’d allow me.” He said.

She sipped her drink and wiped her sodden face with the cape. “Alex and I agreed on an open relationship, he’s free, I’m free— but now I’m not sure if I still want that. I don’t want to take that away from him, but it’s hurting me so much to see him fuck someone else, like the woman he’s fucking right now.”

“The guy who was with you earlier, he’s your rebound, right?”

“Sort of— he volunteered.” She laughed.

“Don’t do it, rebounds will only hurt you, Iris,” he said.

“You’ve experienced it?”

“My boyfriend and I had the same kind of relationship— open and free. He became jealous with one of my friends and went out on a date with my ex— his rebound. He didn’t know my ex was abusive until he found out on his own, he had to be taken to the hospital for fractured ribs.”

“That’s terrible, I didn’t know you were gay, sorry, but I can’t imagine how relationships must be for you.”

“Relationships are basically the same across genders, Iris. We fall in love the same way, we hurt the same way,” he said.

“I guess you’re right. Wait— what should I call you? I’m sure it’s not Superman.” She laughed.

“I’m Paul. I must tell you how much I admire you for what you did back there, the interview— thank you.”

“That was a bit suicidal, actually, I literally just closed my eyes after that, and braced for deadly impact. Don’t thank me, I’m not hero material at all, I’m just a wimpy, weepy dweeb.”

“You did what you did, it had an impact— and a very good one, I think.”

She bit her lip and reached for her drink. “Can I have some more of this?” She emptied the glass in one chug.

“Okay, one last shot.” He moved back behind the bar.

“Make it double please.”

The drink made her head spin but had calmed her nerves. As she passed the shops on her way back, a black dress on a mannequin caught her eye. She went inside the shop and asked for the dress.

“I just want to get out of this stupid costume and wear something nice for a change.” She told the salesgirl.

“Sure, I’ll get you one from the racks, ma’am.”

“No, I want that dress on the mannequin.”

“It’s the same dress, ma’am. If I take that off the mannequin, you’ll have to wait because we need to dismantle the dummy first, do you really wanna wait?” The salesgirl smiled.

“Oh— okay, let me have the one from the racks then.” She grinned.

“I thought so too… but is everything all right with you? I think you had too much to drink, ma’am.”

“I’m fine. I’d feel a lot better when I’m in that dress though.” She chuckled.

While the salesgirl went to get the dress, she spied a basket filled with sticker tattoos and shuffled through. She picked the one with a broken heart design.

The girl came back and handed her the folded dress in a shopping bag.

“I’m taking this sticker too.” She said and waddled out of the shop.

“Iris!” Morris hollered from down the hall.

“Hey, Morris,” she said as she almost tripped on her own toe.

“Where were you? The exhibit will open in ten minutes, Alex went crazy looking for you.” He said, worried. “Hey, are you drunk?”

She smiled. “I was out on the deck with Superman, he made me a drink.”

“What were you doing out in the cold?”

“Just chilling out, hey Morris, would you help me get out of these ropes please? I want to wear this new dress I just bought.”

“Okay, let’s go somewhere with a seat.” He turned around. “Let’s go to the lounge.” He held her hand as they walked.

Amanda sat on a divan set against a wall as Morris fumbled through the knots of her rope binding. The whole binding came loose and fell off her.

She didn’t realize how tight the bindings had been, and felt liberated when it came off, but the rope left its unsightly marks on her skin.

She slid out of the torn gown and reached for the shopping bag.

“You really want to do that here?” Morris laughed as she stripped naked.

“It’s okay, there’s no one around.” She said, and wriggled into the black dress. It looked perfect. Its butterfly sleeves flattered her arms, a deep V-cut down her front, and a flowing skirt that reached her knees.

Then she fished for the sticker and peeled its backing. “Can you stick this on my heart, Morris?” She handed him the sticker.

“Hmm… a broken heart tattoo.” He smiled. “Why do I feel worried, Iris?” He said as he laid the sticker near her left breast and smoothened it with his palm. “Are you the queen of the broken-hearts now?”

“No, just a broken-hearted queen.” She laughed, but tears started falling from her eyes. She turned around to hide it from Morris, but he caught her arm.

“Hey, what’s wrong? Did Alex hurt you— I mean did he break your heart?” His voice was tender and caring.

She didn’t answer and tried to laugh, but a sob came out instead, and buried her face in his chest. Morris enfolded her in his arms and comforted her with kisses on her head as she cried her heart out.

“What happened to her?” Jo’s worried voice boomed as she approached.

Amanda looked up and covered her sodden face with her hands. “I’m okay, it’s nothing.” She shook her head. “I just had too much to drink at the deck, I guess.”

“The deck? Seriously, Iris?” Jo said. “Hey, I know you. What’s wrong?” She gazed down at her and saw the fake tattoo on her chest. “Nice tat, who did that to you?”

Amanda gazed up at her friend and forced a smile. “It’s just a sticker. I just wanted to get out of that rope bondage thing.” She laughed and dubbed a finger under her eye.

Jo and Morris exchanged looks and shook their heads at the same time.

“Are you all right? Alex’s exhibit is opening now, everyone will be there. Shall we go?” Jo said, and took her hand.

“Okay, but I don’t want to go inside. I’ve seen his work anyway, I can stay by the entrance.” Amanda said, as she walked with them, head bowed low.

“Suit yourself, Iris, but we have to talk after the ribbon is cut, okay?” Jo said.

Guests crowded the entrance to the exhibit as Bruno and Valerie led the opening ceremony. Bruno gave some sort of speech when Amanda saw Alex rushing through the crowd towards her. She froze.

“Where have you been? I’ve been looking all over for you,” he said and kissed her. “You changed clothes… why are your eyes swollen? Did you cry?”

She didn’t answer.

“She had too much to drink, Alex. I think you’d better go back there, your dad is calling you.” Morris nudged at him.

He swung around and sped back to cut the ribbon. As Alex led the crowd inside, the woman with platinum blonde wig walked right behind him. The crowd trickled into the hall.

Amanda didn’t move.

“You can go ahead, Morris, I’m not leaving Iris here.” Jo said.

He looked at Amanda, gave her a squeeze on the shoulder, and walked in with the crowd.

When all the guests have entered, Amanda edged toward the entrance and looked in. She saw Alex talking to Denise while he gestured at the paintings. Her body pressed on his and his hand rested on her butt.

“Okay, that’s enough, Iris.” Jo interrupted her brief espionage, and nudged her toward the lounge. “I have to get you away from here.”

Amanda walked with Jo toward the lounge and sat on the couch.

“Don’t tell me you’re jealous of that woman. Come on, Iris, you know Alex, he flirts around a lot, but I’m sure you’re still his queen, no doubt about it,” Jo said.

“They were already eyeing each other when I was speaking on stage earlier,” she said, and looked down on her hands. “Then we danced to a love song. He told me they were playing our song.” She looked at Jo as tears started to pour.

“I told you… he loves you, Iris.”

“Then after saying that, he said he’ll just go and check the exhibit— but walked out of the hall with that woman. Why didn’t he ask me to go with him? He chose to be with that… woman.” She bit her lip and cried.

“Big deal.”

“I felt bad and walked out to the deck, and met the Khal Drogo guy. He told me that his partner Denise was with Alex… so we fucked…”

“Way to go, girl.”

“But that hot guy was so vanilla, I wanted to throw up.” She laughed.

“Vanilla? Why the hell is he here if he’s vanilla?” Jo said with suspicion in her tone.

“So I left him in his room and came down to check on Alex at the exhibit…” her face sullen. “Then I saw him fucking her in there.” She sunk back on the couch and sobbed.

“Come on, Iris, get yourself together. We all fuck around, but that doesn’t mean he stopped caring for you. Didn’t you agree on an open relationship?”

“Actually, I don’t know what kind of relationship we have, Jo. When he made me wear this collar…” she touched the gold collar on her neck. “I thought… I’m not so sure what I thought, I was just so happy to be with him. I didn’t expect to get so strung up like this, you know. I’m finding it really hard to keep my emotions in check.” Her head slumped on Jo.

“I totally get it, girl.” Jo draped an arm on her shoulder. “But maybe you should go and rest in your room now. You had too much of a good drink out there. Here, let me take you to your room.” She pulled Amanda up from the couch and walked her to her room.

Amanda realized how exhausted she was when she laid down and closed her eyes. The soft bed immediately swallowed her as she plunged into an endless void where her heart no longer mattered, and pain didn’t exist.

The dream took her to a wonderland of cuffs and carousels, whirlwinds and whips. She danced with Alex through love songs and sweet melodies, ecstatic in his arms. She asked him to make love to her and he did so tenderly— the flavor didn’t matter, as he took her up in the clouds.

Her explosive climax thundered like fireworks above the deep dark waters below, and climbed back to rest her head in his arms when the last embers had gone out. “I love you, Iris.” He whispered in her ear.

The ship’s horn blasted. Amanda opened her eyes and found herself in Alex’s arms, just like how they had been in her dreams. She recalled the dream vividly with all its pleasant sensations, it felt so real. But the memory of Alex with Denise came rushing in and eclipsed her elation with agony. Real life is a bitch.

“Good morning, my love,” Alex said. “You had too much to drink, huh?”

“I guess, yeah.” She muttered under a breath and tried to get out of his arms. “I didn’t sleep naked… why am I naked?”

“Hey, you stripped your clothes while you were sleeping, and asked me to… make love to you…” he said, his eyes dreamy.

“Did you?”

“Of course, you were so horny, how can I resist?” He grinned.

“I was drunk and asleep, Alex, that’s not considered consent.” She stormed out of bed and trotted to the bathroom.

The warm shower soothed her aching muscles and throbbing head. She regretted her sudden outburst at Alex. He had no idea what she was going through. She cried as the warm water washed her tears.

She gasped when Alex closed in behind her, his arms folded around her and his body pressed on hers.

“I had a long conversation with Jo last night.” He said, his voice was low, almost a whisper. “Denise… she gave me the hots, you know…”

“I know, I saw you staring at each other while I was talking about how you’ve always been there for me…”

“She said her boss wanted me to do a mural. We talked about business.”

“Yeah, but you had to fuck her too, right?”

“She literally asked for it… I’m so sorry, my love, I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

Her heart melted but her mind needed saving from confusion. “I know. I don’t blame you, Alex. It’s me, it’s my fault that I felt that way. I was just being stupid, that’s all.”

“Don’t say that, I feel the same way too. I thought we could go on and be free to fuck around, then come home into each other’s arms, and we’ll be all right. I guess our open relationship isn’t working well to our favor,” he said.

“No, it’s not, Alex. You can take this collar off me, I’m sorry, but this will never work between us.” She sobbed.

“What are you saying, Iris?”

“It’s over. Isn’t that what you want? I don’t want to ruin your life, Alex, but it breaks my heart if I stay with you. Just go and be free.” She wanted to take back the words but decided it’s best for both of them.

He left and came back with the keys to her collar. “Let me get that collar off your neck,” he said, and worked on the screws until it unlatched. “You’re free.” He took the collar in his hand and walked out.

When she got out of the shower, Alex was no longer in the room. “It’s over, Iris.” She whispered to herself and wept.

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