"So, how's the new job?"
I'd been waiting for that question. My mother was an awkward customer at the best of times. When I'd texted her to let her know that I'd finally managed to get a job, I knew she'd ask about it at some point. That had been a fortnight ago and I had been waiting for the phone call ever since. It had to come while I was driving to work, the worst possible time. I signalled left, pulling off the side of the road so I could answer.
She'd been on holiday when I told her. I had picked the time carefully, knowing it would give me some breathing space to work out how much she needed to know.
"It's going well, I'm on my way there now." Carefully worded, not a single lie involved. I couldn't lie to her, not to my mother. However, I could choose my words with precision, that wasn't the same as lying.
Like when I was sixteen and she asked me why I'd come home crying. I told her I was upset. I didn't tell her Brian Laws had tried to stick his hand down my panties and when I'd told him to stop, he'd called me a frigid bitch. Nor did I tell her he'd told everyone who would listen that he had turned me down when I'd begged him for sex. I didn't tell her about any of that. I just told her I was upset and left it at that.
"So, what kind of job is it?"
That was the difficult question.
Technically, my new job was in an exclusive member's only club, one that contained certain types of adult entertainment. I had quite the awakening when I turned up for the interview. I was greeted by the sight of a naked woman dancing in a cage that was surrounded by men in suits and that was just in the lobby.
I almost turned and ran before I got any further. But I was desperate for a job, already a month behind on the rent and the other bills were piling up too. It was the first place to even offer me an interview after more than a hundred applications all over the country and it was right on my doorstep, in London same as me.
The interviewer had asked me how much I knew about BDSM. Plenty, I had said, knowing that to add, "I don't even know what the letters stand for," wouldn't help my chances. I instead said, "But I thought this was just bar work."
"It is. I only ask because you're likely to see some things here that might make you feel uncomfortable if you're not into this lifestyle."
"I'm not easily shocked, don't worry," said me, the woman who blushed when they did the breast exams on breakfast television.
So when I started my first shift and observed a woman on all fours being walked on a lead, diamond collar around her neck, tail sticking out of her...
Let's just say I did my best not to look shocked. I needed the job.
"Well?" Mum asked, sounding worried.
"It's a bar job, serving drinks."
"I hope it's not anywhere dangerous, Alice. Are you sure it's safe?"
"Yes, Mum, it's perfectly safe."
The sound of last night's whips cracking to a chorus of screams echoed around my head.
"Oh, good. You know I worry."
I did know she worried. It was what she'd done my entire life. If I told her what I'd seen in the club, she'd be down here dragging me home and locking the door behind us, wrapping me back up in the cotton wool I'd only recently been able to remove before it suffocated me.
"Your father always made me promise I'd keep you safe."
"I know, Mum. Look, I need to get going. I don't want to be late."
Before Dad had died, it was one of two promises he got out of us. One, Mum would keep me safe. Two, I would never lie to her.
"All right. Oh, I haven't told you about the holiday yet. Can I ring you tonight?"
"I won't be finishing until late."
"That's all right. I'm still on Fiji time anyway."
"Ring me tomorrow."
"Why? Why can't I ring tonight?"
"Because I'll be working, then I'll be sleeping."
"Are you sure that's all you'll be doing? I've heard about this new drug that's going around. You're not on it are you? Is that why you don't want to speak to me?"
"I love you, Sweetie."
"I love you too."
I hung up before signalling to rejoin the traffic. I sighed as I set off. I'd done it. I'd told her about the job. I hadn't lied.
She knew I worked behind a bar which was the truth. It wasn't an ordinary bar but I could handle that because I didn't need to be involved in any of the things that took place on the other side of my counter. They could get up to what they liked.
I had promised myself before I started my first shift that I would never get involved in that side of things. I was a good girl and good girls do not allow themselves to be led around the room like pets begging to be allowed to orgasm. Nor do they strap things on to themselves on stage and call for volunteers to ride them like it's the Grand National.
I blushed just thinking about that one.
I was a country girl at heart. This side of city life had come as quite a shock. But I'd rolled with it and I'd been there a week without anything bad happening beyond a few spilled drinks and a couple of drunken propositions that I'd easily batted away.
I pulled into the car park twenty minutes later. There was only a couple of other cars there. The guests didn't usually start arriving until after nine.
Stepping out into the cold, my breath caught in my throat. The temperature was dropping. Christmas was coming and it was bringing icy winds with it.
The building itself used to be a mansion, owned by some steel magnate who died without heirs. Over the years it had been a school, a hospital, then derelict for a decade or so.
It had come back to life as a club about five years ago, not that you'd know from looking at it. Other than the car park, it gave no sign from the outside that it was anything but an ordinary city mansion. The members liked it that way. Anonymity was something they all desired. There were some very rich and very famous people who frequented Club Darkness and they preferred to do it without paparazzi photographers snapping them going in and out.
Occasionally photographers roamed the car park on the off chance. They'd take one look at me, realise I was no one important, then fade away again. I didn't care about them. I was just glad of the job.
I swiped my card to get in, the staff door clicking open as I stamped my feet to try and stop the cold numbing my toes.
I was glad to get inside into the warm. Music was playing in the kitchen as I passed by. Anton was already there, getting started on the cooking with his army of staff putting up with his tuneless renditions. Tonight's choice was Bohemian Rhapsody in falsetto.
I continued on until I reached Rowena's office. I knocked and waited. "Come in," she shouted through the door.
Heading inside, I found her buried in paperwork as always, the smell of incense sticks wafting towards me. "Ah, Alice," she said. "You ready for a hectic one?"
"Aren't they all?" I replied, sitting in the chair she pointed at while she shuffled her papers together.
"Tonight's a special one. It's auction night and we've got two off sick, great timing, right? I'll be out to help behind the bar in a bit."
"Auction night, sounds fun. Looking forward to it."
She nodded. "You've no idea what auction night is, have you?"
I thought about lying then decided against it. I'd only get caught out. "No."
"It's great fun. I've done it myself a couple of times. The auction master takes the names of any woman who wants to be auctioned off for the night. He chooses three or four, lines them up and then they're auctioned off to whoever has a bid token which looks like this." She held up a black disc of thick metal, about two inches across. It was marked C.D on the front. Club Darkness. "One bid token, one bid."
"As in, the bidders buy women?"
"Just for the night. Whoever bids highest for each woman gets to spend the night in their company. All the money raised goes to a good cause. Fancy giving it a go?"
"What me? I haven't got a bid token."
"Not bidding, being bid on. You'd make a fortune."
"No I wouldn't."
"Course you would, you're hot."
"That's sweet of you to say but I'm happy just serving the drinks."
I nodded. There was no way in hell I'd take part in an auction like that. If I took part, there was a chance he would bid on me.
There was one man who frequented the club who had caught my eye. He wasn't like the others. There was something different about him. He was hot as hell and although he'd only smiled at me once, it had been enough to send me swooning backwards like a black and white film heroine about to pass out. Just looking at him got me burning up inside. He had the chiselled jaw of a superhero and just enough stubble to make me want to feel it, see whether it felt rough or smooth. That wasn't all I wanted to feel either.
What if he bid on the auction? What if he won me? There'd be no way I'd be able to stay a good girl if that happened. Better not to risk it.
"Well you better get out the back," Rowena said, bringing my attention back from thoughts of him hauling me over his shoulder. "The delivery will be here any minute."
I headed to the goods entrance, glad to get away. The thought of being in an auction like that was exciting but I'd promised to keep myself this side of the bar, not to give in to the intoxicating temptations out on the floor.
Don't get me wrong, I did sometimes picture myself out there, on the leash of my dream guy, him telling me I had to submit, that I had no choice but to obey. Or in one of the side rooms, spanked until my ass was red and he couldn't resist doing much more than just disciplining me.
But dreams and reality were different. The reality was a man like that could have any woman he wanted. He'd never be interested in a poor little barmaid like me, a woman who'd had sex a grand total of once in her life. He had glamour and excitement surrounding him. I had pallets of beer and dusty bottles of wine.
Better not to have my dreams crushed by the reality. If I went up into the auction, he wouldn't even bid on me. By saying no, I got to forever imagine what it would be like, not face the truth that he probably didn't even know my name.
I hit the button to roll up the shutters across the goods door. The drinks truck was outside, waiting to unload. This was reality, shifting cases of drinks and getting chatted up by the delivery driver who was old enough to be my Grandfather, same amount of teeth too.
Once the truck was unloaded, I helped shift things to the store room and then started filling up the fridges out at the bar. It was five to nine by the time I was done. The members would be arriving soon. Time for another ordinary night's work, daydreaming about him while he bid on one of the glamorous stick thin hotties who worked the floor.
I got a job, Mum, I thought as I wiped the counter top clean. A job where a world of excitement was at my fingertips but I dared not go anywhere near it.
"What can I get-" I began to ask as the first member appeared in front of me, "-you?" My voice died away into a choking cough as I saw who it was on the other side of the bar. Captain Sex himself. The man who didn't even know my name.
"Good evening, Alice," he said. "How are you?"