Checking the table one more time, they fussed with a napkin before buzzing Maddie into the building. It had been a while since Rylan had someone else in their space.
They yanked the door open to wait for the elevator at the other end of the hall.
You're acting like a nervous kid, they thought, squashing the urge to check the Coq Au Vin one last time against some unforeseen disaster.
Worry warred with the thrill of seeing Maddie again.
The two had covered a library's worth of subjects over the past several days. Everything from politics to family pets. Except for gender. Sure, she knew they were genderfluid, but knowing someone was trans, even messing around online, was different from dating.
There had been more than one lover who wanted Rylan as a Domme and a woman, but couldn’t, (or wouldn’t, they thought with a twinge of sadness), accept them as a man. For now, all signs pointed to Maddie understanding the difference between someone wearing a strap-on and a man wearing a packer because it was a piece of themselves as much as a hand or a foot.
Maddie's blurting and honesty charmed them to their toes. The two had been finalizing their dinner plans the night before when she had asked Rylan about their politics. "I'm not allergic to anything. I don't like seafood. I've tried all sorts of fish and crustaceans, it's not for me. By the way, if you're conservative, tell me now, so I can yell at you, hang up, and cry myself to sleep."
Not one ounce of pretense, they thought, a tickle of excitement bubbling in their stomach. She was kind, funny, and awkward in a way that woke up Rylan's Service-Dom tendencies. They wanted to build a supportive foundation with her that gave her the space to claim her power and express herself without shame.
The elevator dinged. Maddie stepped into the hall. She was pink-cheeked from the cold, wrapped in a puffer jacket that hid the swell of her hips and the fullness of her breasts.
"Hey there," she said when she reached their door. "May I kiss you, hello? Are we there yet? I think so. You've seen my sex hair. We've done this whole dating thing backward."
"I think we're there and who the fuck cares as long as we're both on board, right?"
"I can get behind that.” She tipped her head up, and Rylan leaned down. They met in the middle, their lips gliding together. The embrace was full of simmering heat and promise.
"Wow," Rylan said when they pulled away. "Come on in, I'll give you a tour of the place."
They moved aside, threading their fingers with Maddie’s as she passed, holding on as they walked through the apartment together.
They flushed with pride when Maddie stopped to gape at the framed photo dominating Rylan's living room wall.
"Did you take that?" she asked.
The picture was of a transsexual escort, jeans slung low on their hips, fly open to reveal his prick. A leather vest opened over his bare chest, top-surgery scars still healing.
His expression was radiant and defiant at the same time. It was clear his confidence had been hard-won.
"Yup. He's a friend of mine. Fought to figure himself out and then even more to raise money for the top-surgery. It was a hell of a journey, and I wanted to show him how I saw him. His courage. His heart."
"That's quite a gift," Maddie said wiping away a tear.
"So is he.” Rylan bumped Maddie's hip with their own. "You ready to eat?"
"Yeah. Whatever you made smells unbelievable."
She followed Rylan to the dining table, sitting in the chair they held out for her.
"Would mademoiselle care for wine with her dinner?" They bowed like a waiter in a black-and-white film.
Maddie's laugh was bright and full-throated, an unabashed, cheerful sound, "Yes, I'd love a glass of wine, please."
They kissed her, whispering "I'll be right back," against her lips.
Maddie curled her hand around theirs, holding them in place, "One thing, ah…I feel like a jerk for not asking sooner. What's the best way for me to know where you're at with your gender? And, are there different things you'd like from me depending on where your energy is?"
The question surprised them, not because Maddie wasn't thoughtful, but because too often people treated Rylan’s gender like an inconvenience or a mysterious ticking package.
"You're not a jerk. For me, it's about making my outside match my inside as much as I'm able. Not in a superficial, surface way.” Rylan paused. It was challenging to articulate the multitude of ways they expressed their shifting internal reality.
At times the flux of female and male was defined, like thick veins of gold in a piece of quartz. Others it was a subtle gradation, like the light and dark swirls of green in a bit of moss agate. "How much detail are you looking for here?"
"As much as you want to share. I want you to be comfortable without having to live like an annotated textbook on trans identity. I can't imagine how awful that is, I don't want you to feel that way with me."
Rylan blinked back the prickling heat as tears threatened to fall. Their earlier worries melted like the last vestiges of snow in the spring.
"As a woman, I'm, well, more like earlier this week. My breasts make sense on those days. I’m pretty butch, regardless. As a man, I want to be able to see my own maleness. Boobs make that harder, so I wear a binder, and I tend toward dressing like..." They held their hands out and spun.
After changing multiple times, Rylan settled on jeans that, through some miracle tailoring, made their hips appear less round. The binder created a straight line from shoulder to hip and complemented the slender-cut charcoal button-down. They had topped it off with a narrow leather tie and matching black suspenders.
They were striking, and the leather had Maddie aching to touch. She wanted to rub her face against it until the earthy scent clung to her skin.
"Like a leather daddy?" she said, cringing as the last syllable left her mouth.
Excellent work, idiot, she thought, hoping for a planet-ending calamity to cover up her senseless blurting. The shame her ex had heaped on her stung like the hurt was new. Where's a rip in time and space when you need one?
"I think I can get behind that," Rylan grinned, oblivious to Maddie's internal panic. Popping into the kitchen, they returned seconds later with a steaming dish laden with chicken and veggies.
The savory fragrance of mushrooms, roasted meat, and thyme were delectable.
I wonder if they'll give me to-go bag before kicking me out, Maddie thought.
"Voila," they said and looked up at Maddie. The corners of her mouth were tugged down, brows knit together. "Shit. Do you not eat meat? I should have asked—"
"No, I love it. This looks fantastic, I just..." Maddie's words surged like a river swollen with rain, "I'm not trying to force you into some ridiculous binary. The daddy thing isn't for everyone and weird of me to push on you. I also didn't mean to misgender you like a creep. I'm sorry."
Rylan put down the dish and stepped around the table, crouching beside Maddie's chair.
"You didn't do anything wrong, and I'm grateful that you're thinking about your words," they said. "I told you this is how I express my manhood. Being pissed off at you for seeing me the way I want to be seen would be a dick move, yeah?"
"And anyway, I don't think the daddy-vibe has a gender, does it?" Rylan finished.
"Depends on who you ask."
They took Maddie's hand in theirs. "I don't think it does. And fuck whoever it was who made you doubt yourself. I'm flattered. Would you think less of me if I told you I was going for the look?"
"No, it suits you," she said, embarrassment receding. "Is it alright to ask if I'm not sure?"
"You can ask me anything," they said, brushing their lips against her cheek. "And just so you know, I'd be thrilled if you called me daddy. I think it's my turn to ask for a kiss."
She trembled. “We don’t have to stand on formality, you can skip right to the good part.”
Falling that final millimeter, they traced the seam of her lips with their tongue.
Her eyes were closed when they pulled away. "That isn't conducive to taking things slow,” she huffed.
They talked over dinner, their conversation flowing from one topic to another in the same unforced way that it had on their first date. Maddie's nerves were gone. She hadn't wished herself into a cornfield once.
After dinner, they poured them each a coffee and the two curled up on Rylan's couch. The brew was redolent with black currant and clove. Maddie groaned when she took her first sip.
Taking more time to look around, Maddie saw the small details that spoke of Rylan's love for their space. A fleece throw with worn corners. Candid pictures of family and friends shared shelves with paperbacks whose spines were creased with use.
Maddie could imagine herself fitting into this room, into their life.
Reading. Watching TV. Making love. Kneeling on the plush white rug, her mouth open, suckling the flesh between Rylan's thighs, while they combed their hand through her hair.
Slow. Remember? she thought, dismissing the fantasy.
"This is phenomenal,” she said with a nod to the coffee. “Keep this up, and you're stuck with me.”
"You've discovered my evil plan."
"Good. That's good, isn't it?" She waved back and forth between them. "Us. Good. Together.” She cringed again. Eloquent as always, Mads.
They touched her shoulder. "I'm glad. It's been a minute since I met someone who was into playing and me."
"How is that even possible? I figured you were drowning in subs."
"Sure. If I was after a play partner. I want a relationship. You know, waffles on Sunday mornings and spats over who moved the remote? Does that work for you?"
"Yeah…" Maddie said, a quiet calm replacing her jittering insecurity. "That works for me, too."
“Great." Their smile was broad and bright.
"Would you mind if I got a little closer?" she asked.
"Please do," Rylan said.
Setting her mug down, Maddie scooted toward them until she could wiggle both feet under Rylan's thigh.
"What do you want to do with the rest of our evening?" she asked.
"I thought we could talk about what we're into. What do you think?"
"Excellent. You know Lock & Key has lists—" Maddie stopped, as they plucked a folded sheaf of papers and two pens off the coffee table. "You already have one, don't you?" She dove in for a kiss.
"I like you, Maddie Soares. You know, just in case you were wondering." They returned the kiss. It was a tender embrace at first, lazy and warm. Each caress stoked the heat between them until they were lying on the couch in a tangle of legs and arms.
Maddie mouthed along the column of Rylan's neck, loving the juddering breaths she drew out of them with each touch.
A growling chuckle rumbled in Rylan's chest. "You're not making this whole slow decision easy either."
Propping herself up on an elbow, Maddie met their gaze, her nose scrunched, mouth quirked up on one side. "Slow is relative," she giggled before sobering, "but we can stop, too. What do you need?"
They bit down on their first response, which was an endless loop of ‘you, you, you, you.’ Pausing to think, they flattened their palm against the small of her back. She exhaled; the breath was accompanied by a satisfied "mmm" like she was sinking into a steaming bath.
"I want to be close to you," Rylan said, opting for bold truth even though there was a weakness in their knees that made them glad they were already horizontal. "I want us to explore, make each other feel good."
Maddie arched against them. "Where does that fit with taking our time?"
"Say we keep things vanilla when we're together, nothing too intense, hands and mouths, only. That's a good first step for me. What do you think?"
Mapping Rylan's body with her fingers and tongue was too tantalizing for Maddie to ignore. "I support this plan, and I'd like to subscribe to your newsletter."
Squeezing her tight, they nuzzled the skin behind her ear. "What are your boundaries, sweet girl?"
"Fuck. The pet name is a go, keep that up, please. You can touch me anywhere. Maybe we just stick to hands for anything below the waist tonight. I'm negative for everything. I've got my latest test results on my phone if you want to see them. They're three months old. I haven't been with anyone in almost a year."
"Noted on the pet name. No STIs on my part either. You're welcome to see the results. My last test was three weeks ago, but it's been two months since I've played or had sex with anyone."
"Look at us being all responsible," Maddie said.
"Models of modernity," they laughed. "Hands all over and mouths above the waist sounds incredible. I'm good with you touching me anywhere on the outside. I'm not…" They sucked in a breath. She can't know if you don't tell her.
Rylan continued. "No penetration, including fingers. Over the binder, for now, and my cock… I'm wearing a packer, is that alright?"
Maddie met their eyes, willing them to see her desire and acceptance. "Yes. Of course, I want you as you are, you gorgeous, incredible man."
Rylan licked into Maddie's mouth, rekindling the passion that had ebbed to a simmer.
Time passed in a thrilling rush. Every new day, every conversation led to revelations that deepened their regard for each other.
Maddie was an art therapist. Rylan was a painter and photographer.
They shared a passionate love of classic sci-fi and furious opposition to hot dogs in all spaces, except baseball parks. A figurative preference, since neither followed sports.
Then there was the talk about kink.
They discussed hard and soft limits, chose safewords and agreed to stick to vanilla lovemaking and kinky texts and emails until better acquainted.
It was astonishing how well they fit together. The connection growing between them was well-tended, and the more they learned about each other, the clearer it became that the relationship taking root was unique.
Maddie's only challenge was the glacial pace of their kinkier play. They learned each other's bodies through intense explorations. It left them both bathed in sweat and spent.
She was ecstatic to be with Rylan and wanted everything at once.
But, aside from the edging instructions Rylan had sent, and the pictures Maddie returned, their lovemaking stayed on the vanilla side of the street. Growing impatient, three weeks after their coffee date, she asked when they might start playing together.
The two were curled up on Maddie's couch, her head in their lap.
"The newness is exciting. It's easy to get caught up in the intensity and misinterpret the situation," Rylan said.
"How?" she asked.
"In life, in a scene," they shrugged. "It's happened before when I thought things were something they weren't."
"It does. A lot… Look, I like you, and when we do get to the point where we play together, I don't want to second guess the feelings I have before, during, or after a scene. Does that make sense?"
Maddie traced the blade of their jaw. "Thanks for telling me. I want to give you everything you could ask for. More, even.” She winked. "I also want you to be with me, present and open to going wherever this takes us. Let me know when you're ready. I'll be there. You're worth the wait."