August 11th, 2018

Pernicious Perspectives and the Abomination of #FOSTA / #SESTA

I’ve written about sex work numerous times on this blog (click on the category “Sex+ Work” to the left to see how many). I advocate decriminalization of all forms of consensual sex work and dream of the day the social stigma around it has dissolved.

And I feel a bit like I perceive a new conundrum around it. I used to think that the majority of people just didn’t understand. That there was so much ignorance around sex work because the perspective that sex workers are sub-human and undeserving of basic rights and respect and autonomy was questioned so infrequently, assumed to be acceptable so automatically, perceived so often without even conscious choice or recognition, that people failed to realize how arbitrary, unfounded, and inhumane that perspective is. I truly thought that if people stopped to consider the existence of consensual sex work as an industry like most others, they would quickly recognize how nonsensical and tragically misguided the mainstream perspective around it was.

Now, I find myself wondering if that was naïve of me. It has seemed more and more evident of late that some people simply don’t like sex work or that it exists. Yes, I have understood this to some degree, but as I mentioned, I truly trusted that in large part, it was ignorance rather than malevolence that drove the perpetration of dismissiveness, degradation, and dehumanization of sex workers. Recently it seems, though, that an active aspiration to malign may be more prominent than I have realized. It is something, I have noticed, that often seems to manifest as a desire to actually punish sex workers for their very engagement in the profession.

The recent passage and existence of support for the passage of FOSTA/SESTA have highlighted this phenomenon for me. Trafficking, of course, is an entirely separate issue from sex work itself. Denial of that is indicative of a perspective that maintains that sex work could never be consensual. I admit this perspective is so bewilderingly nonsensical to me that I do not exactly know what to say to it at this point except to ask those who hold it to speak to sex workers who are doing it consensually. If you do so, and you you refuse to accept their viewpoint, ask yourself why?

The predictable ill-effects of the noxious passage of FOSTA/SESTA have already been reported on a number of times (here, here, here, and here are a few). I truly cannot understand how well-intentioned people who are paying attention could not understand these implications and circumstances at this point.

Granted, if one is not paying attention or interested in considering this entire subject area, one could be fairly easily manipulated: a reframing of the loathing of sex workers seems to have emerged as a claim to want to fight sex trafficking.* This reframing aims to position its crusade as helping victims. Significantly, however, the movement frequently postulates a conflation between trafficking in the area of sex and consensual sex work. This is not only a deliberate effort to erase the idea that consensual sex work exists but also a prominent threat to a clear and grounded discussion about the topic of sex work in general.

To some degree, what purports itself as the anti-sex trafficking effort is arguably the same underlying aggressive desire to punish those who work in the sex industry dressed up in different clothing. Why?

1) Because trafficking in humans is related to numerous forces including poverty, economics, gender socialization, geographic inequality in terms of living conditions, and other factors that are much more difficult to actually address then to try to throw more laws at something that is already illegal (trafficking);

and, more pointedly,

2) because trafficking occurs in various industries, but none seems to be targeted except (or at least nearly as much as) the sex industry. There is little to no outcry about saving victims of human trafficking in the farm, fishing, or domestic labor industries despite evidence in the United States’ own reports on trafficking in persons that all of these industries have seen just as much, if not more, trafficking than commercial sex has. I have yet to see any proposed law holding websites liable for trafficking in the farm or fishing industries because they sell food online or efforts to “eliminate the demand” for or criminalize the farm or domestic services industries in order to eradicate trafficking in them.

Like so many other legal or political measures pretending to be or do something they aren’t or won’t, FOSTA and SESTA are measures that without a lot of examination look like a great idea and are certainly touted as such by their supporters. With just a little bit of consideration combined with the kind of questioning I am lamenting the absence of above, however, it becomes obvious that they will do nothing but make sex workers’ lives more difficult. The idea that controlling websites will somehow make things more challenging for traffickers who already work outside the bounds of the law and will do what they need to do to perpetuate their grossly unconscious aims with little care for law or anyone’s well-being is easily recognized as absurd. (This is to say nothing of the overt threat to free speech encompassed in the measures, which I am not covering in this post.)

It appears that the measure is simply something that allows those who hate sex work and want to punish its workers, consciously or unconsciously, to do so without appearing as though that is their aim. It allows others who have not considered the well-being of sex workers (which I hold is most people) to feel like they are helping someone despite not consulting or, ironically, even really caring about those they are congratulating themselves for helping.

I am to the point where I frankly feel the mysterious active dislike of sex work is more harmful to sex workers than virtually anything about the job itself. A common view seems to be that some unique notion or type of harm is somehow intrinsic to the profession of sex work. I have yet to feel convinced of that at all and question why many people seem to be. (My offering to those who are is again to seek out the perspectives of sex workers—probably most easily done online—and consider what they say about that perspective and/or how they experience their job and why they choose to do it.) What I am convinced of is that the following are of direct, immediate, and practical harm to those who choose to work in the sex trade: the criminalization of their profession or of their clientele (also known as the Nordic model); the social stigma around it; and the denial of social, medical, and legal services to them because of either or both of these circumstances. All of these stem not from the work itself but from a zealous and intense dislike of the very existence of it.

If one takes a deep breath and pauses to consider this subject for a moment, one may realize that it makes sense that when the profession is criminalized, sex workers have significantly less access to social and legal services than they would if it were decriminalized—something that would increase the safety of their line of work and allow sex workers to actually feel safe reporting things like assaults and robberies to law enforcement. It doesn’t seem to me to take a whole lot of contemplation to realize that when their line of work is illegal, sex workers do not feel as inclined to or safe in reporting such actions to legal authorities. This is one of the biggest reasons decriminalization of sex work would support the safety and well-being of sex workers for anyone actually concerned about that. Obviously decriminalization would not support human trafficking enterprises any more than the legal status of farming and fishing supports trafficking in those industries. On the contrary, decriminalizing sex work would allow law enforcement to actually focus on potential cases of nonconsensual engagement in commercial sex rather than arbitrarily violating the human rights and infringing on the livelihood of those consensually working in the sex trade.

It is not that there is no possibility for detriment to workers in the sex industry. Of course there is, just as there is in many professions. Police officers may be killed in the line of duty. As, certainly, may military personnel. EMTs may suffer psychological damage from observations they are professionally exposed to. Professional football players may end up with lifelong injuries from their line of work. The notion that a profession may result in harm to someone has not generally seemed to result in calls for the eradication of that profession except where sex work is concerned. I imagine if it did, football players, for example, may maintain that they had the right to choose whether or not they did that for a living. A relevant concept indeed…

It has also been postulated as an apparent reason sex work should be eradicated that in the case of survival sex work (which refers to someone who feels they are in a position where they must do sex work in order to survive), the workers don’t have any other options. While I don’t disagree with this and certainly don’t find it optimal, it is the case for many professions. That is an issue with economics and our economic systems and structures rather than lines of work themselves. Many people feel reliant on jobs they dislike or would rather not do. The economic system in which we live is capitalistic, and at this point, literally almost every product or service imaginable has been allowed to be commercialized. Sex is, for some reason, a mysterious holdout in receiving the legitimacy to be offered for money…an irony given that it’s been labeled the oldest profession in the world.

Frequently, I have seen utilized as a supposed reason to invalidate the sex industry the audacious claim that sex workers essentially don’t know any better, in the form of the claim that a “vast majority” of them were sexually abused as children. To which I say sincerely and straightforwardly:

What is your point?

First, I don’t know how exactly anyone claims to know this. In order to, one would need to do some pretty serious and comprehensive studies of a representative amount of sex workers, and that seems an unlikely endeavor, if for no other reason than that sex workers are often working anonymously due to the criminalization of their profession. But to speak to the claim for a moment nonetheless, first, for a beautiful elucidation on it, please read this, which I have already recommended and quoted from once on this blog. Here, I myself will say that there is a fine (if existent) line between saying, “The abuse you endured is not your fault,” with which I wholeheartedly agree, and saying, “It wasn’t your fault that you endured sexual abuse when you were a child, but now you’re making a faulty decision as a result of it, and you don’t and can’t realize that because you don’t know any better due to what happened to you as a child. It wasn’t your fault that it happened, but now you don’t have the capacity to live your life and make adult choices, so I’ll tell you what to do since I know better and can thus see that what you’re doing is bad even though you can’t.” To deny a competent adult the autonomy to choose their own profession regardless of their past experiences is disempowering, infantilizing, and intrusive. It is reducing them to their experience of abuse and saying that they themselves are not capable of the awareness to make subsequent choices in their lives—only you know what is best for them because they simply can’t because of what they experienced in the past.

It is difficult for me to imagine a more disempowering (and wholly inappropriate) approach to someone who experienced personal violation at a time when they could not protect or defend themselves.

If your point is that those people should have other options or access to psychological or medical support, by all means, let’s do what we can to offer it. That of course is another economic issue that seems ignored in this relatively easy quest to suppress the rights and livelihoods of sex workers. Actually addressing the extraordinary inequality of access to health care, including mental health care, in our species would call for a tremendous amount of introspection and grounded consideration. It appears indeed much easier to perpetuate the largely unquestioned perspective that sex work is just “bad” and somehow almost exclusively performed by people who were abused as children as though that somehow invalidates their present circumstances and choices (and as though those who experienced such abuse as children don’t also choose other professions; are those choices invalid as well?).

The widely held perspectives and actions above (certainly including the passage of FOSTA/SESTA) lead to circumstances that perpetuate an injustice to autonomous adults choosing to work in the sex industry, make their lives more practically difficult, force sex workers into more dangerous scenarios due to the illegality of their job, facilitate survival sex workers’ entrance into states of poverty, and in some cases, all of the above. They are also, arguably, perpetuating our own underlying fear of, issues around, and/or lack of reverence for human sexuality in a way that intrudes upon consenting adults’ experience of it. It is high time for us to realize this and allow shift and release around the tremendous distortion historical and collective perspectives about sex work comprise.

As usual, I invite us to begin by looking inward.

Love,
Emerald

*Human trafficking in any industry, for any purpose, is one of the most aborrent and horriifying displays of the unconsciousness of our species. I see that as undeniable. I do not deny that trafficking exists, and like everyone I have ever spoken to or seen speak or write on the subject, I earnestly wish for its dissolution. This post is not intended to undermine the existence and tragedy of trafficking; rather, I aspire with it to illuminate the misguided and often deliberate contention that sex trafficking and sex work are the same thing and why that is of significant detriment to those who choose to work in the sex industry.


“This is the world we live in, and these are the names we’re given, stand up and let’s start showing just where our lives are going to…”

-Disturbed “Land of Confusion” (originally and written by Genesis)

June 25th, 2018

The Literal Power of Love

 width=When I was five years old, I got lost at Walt Disney World. I remember the moment I looked around and realized I was in a sea of people, none of whom I recognized, and that I didn’t know where my family was. I immediately started crying, and within seconds, a gentleman approached and picked me up. He asked if I was lost. I said yes just as another gentleman approached and asked the first if I was lost. The first gentleman answered in the affirmative as my increasingly anguished wails grew louder.

The next thing I remember, I was in what seemed like a lounge of sorts. There was a couch, and I sat on it sobbing while a few grownups spoke kindly to me about how I was liking Walt Disney World and what kinds of things I liked to do back home. I had no concentration for any such conversation, however, because I didn’t know where family was or what was going to happen to me. The prospect of never seeing them again and not having any idea how they might find me brought forth an emotional overwhelm I couldn’t begin to describe then and am still at a loss to articulate now, 36 years later.

The kind adults gave me postcards with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck on them and asked if that might help me stop crying. Even at age five, I remember wondering if they were out of their minds, thinking a postcard might help me stop crying when I had no idea whether I’d ever see my family again.

I was not comprehending at the time that my parents had already been located and were on their way to the lost child center where I was.

All in all, I think I spent a total of about fifteen minutes being lost. (I was astonished to learn that years later when my parents and I were talking about it.) It felt literally like hours to my child self, though a more accurate description is probably that time itself seemed immaterial because every instant was simply a moment I didn’t know where everything I had up to that point found familiar about my life was.

So to recap, at the start of the ordeal, I had been approached almost instantly by someone benevolent who wanted to help me, followed by someone else just as well-intentioned. I was taken to a place where people were kind to me, and I was offered both words and gestures to comfort me.

And I still found those few minutes some of the most unspeakably, and unavoidably, terrifying of my lifetime.

I cannot stand that there are children at the border of this country going through an experience 1,000 times more terrifying and traumatic than mine given that they are without kind people wanting to help them, without being offered comforts to console them, and most importantly, without their parents on their way to arrive within moments to take them back home.

I melt into tears as I write that. And as I have almost every time I actually read something about or just stop to consider and pray for the families that are undergoing indescribable horror and trauma at the border of the United States of America. It is something I hereto would not have imagined would occur in the United States of America…well, until November 9, 2016, that is, when the wretched sense of foreboding I had about what had just occurred in this country made seeing this a year and a half later not entirely surprising, if no less horrifically surreal-seeming.

Here’s the thing—and I am being utterly sincere and non-hyperbolic here. There is no reason, no excuse anyone can give, that makes what is happening at the border justifiable. I don’t care what your political perspective it is. I don’t care what your legal perspective it is. I don’t care what possible reason you could be using to justify not finding what is occurring a complete disgrace. Because there isn’t one. “It’s the law”? So was slavery. Seriously, are you fucking kidding me? You truly think it’s okay to take children who aren’t even old enough to speak away from their parents and let them experience acute and indescribable emotional suffering because “it’s the law” without recognizing that obviously any legal framework into which such a thing fits is profoundly distorted and calls for immediate shift?

If so, you are in a frightening place. And that means humanity is as well.

If you think Trump has not been fully complicit in what is happening and could have indeed put a stop to it at any time, that indicates a different and less immediate threat but a grievous one nonetheless. It means that for some reason you are perceiving something in as distorted or close to as distorted a manner as Trump himself is. Often it feels difficult for me to know how to support everyone’s (including Trump’s) awakening from this distortion because the sheer insanity of it can seem so mind-blowing. I continue, however, to wish for that awakening indeed and aspire to do all I can to support and facilitate it.

It can feel difficult to know what to do right now or how to help. For those, like myself, who want to, I offer this:

Love. Love everyone. Love all. Truly.

I understand this may make no sense. And that if it does make sense, it may appear an extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, order. In fact, I invite anyone reading this to not try to “figure out” or understand what it means. Instead, take a deep breath and just let the offering penetrate. See how it affects you. “Love.” Because there is a part of us that is aware of what love truly is, and that part of us is also aware that love is ultimately what we are. All of us. Yes, that means Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions and Rudy Giuliani too. All of us are love. It cannot be any other way.

Love is what will get us out of this mess. It is what serves to remind those who have forgotten, who are consciously cut off from this awareness and acting from utter unconscious distortion, of what is true. The incredible strength, courage, truth of fierce love.

I understand the challenge. I do. I will falter in this aspiration at times as much as anyone will. But please, if you want to help, love. Love with all you’ve got. Take a deep breath, allow the fury, the overwhelm, the awareness of the horror. Don’t hold that back. That is real, and that is true. It is a part of our experience, and it will do no good to suppress or try to avoid it. Allow it. Be with it. Breathe consciously and feel it in your body.

And allow love at the same time. Hold it. Hold it all.

Let love do its job—a job we ourselves cannot control or actually even do. We can only allow it. Allow as much love in—and out—as you can. It is our only way out of this.

Love,
Emerald

I’m relying on your common decency, so far it hasn’t surfaced but I’m sure it exists…
-Depeche Mode “People Are People”

May 24th, 2018

Sweet as Candy Lovers!

I am thrilled to announce the release of Candy Lovers: Sugar Erotica, the latest anthology to be published with a story of mine in it! I am especially excited that this happened right in the heart of baseball season, which has nothing to do with the anthology itself but has a definite relation to my story in it, “Out of the Park.”

This anthology, which is not only edited but also self-published by Rachel Kramer Bussel, is all about sweet—candy, sugar, syrup, soda…and, of course, sex. It’s thrilling to share pages again with some of my favorite colleagues like Donna George Storey, Kristina Wright, Sacchi Green, Sommer Marsden, Shanna Germain, and Rachel herself. I’ve been on a bit of an unintentional hiatus from writing for a couple years, so it is really lovely to have something published again!

The requisite treat featured in my story is arguably the most well-known of baseball sweet treats, as well as mentioned in perhaps the best-known song about baseball. (Hint: It’s also pictured right there to the right.) Longtime readers will be familiar with my love of baseball, and I am delighted to have this story be my third baseball-themed one published in an anthology (click for details on the first and second). While I wrote “Out of the Park” years ago, I gave it a heavy edit to incorporate and emphasize the sweet theme of this latest anthology of Rachel’s.

Candy Lovers is, incidentally, Rachel’s first foray into self-publishing, so a desire to support that is an additional reason to check this book out! It is free for Kindle Unlimited readers and is available at the following links:

Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon elsewhere

Love,
Emerald

My breath caught as I followed his gaze. My favorite player was standing several feet from the dugout, talking to his teammates while they did a few last-minute warm-up stretches. He was our team’s catcher, the player whose name and number were on the back of the jersey I wore, and unquestionably my number one crush in baseball. I stared unabashedly for several seconds, adrenaline coupled with immediate sexual attraction swishing through me like a searchlight.
-from “Out of the Park”

February 8th, 2018

The Closest I Get to Football

I will be the first to acknowledge that I don’t follow football. I know very little about it, I feel even less interest in it, and I experience no desire for that to shift. However! I have, for some mysterious reason, been known to attend a Super Bowl party here and there over the years. Doing so had virtually nothing to do with football for me, of course, but I remember enjoying the food and company.

I also have known numerous people who are football fans and follow teams and the game as closely as I’ve been known to follow, for example, baseball. All of this is to say that I happen to have written a story that opens with a Super Bowl party—a party that ends up seeming fairly important to the interaction that happens subsequent to it. :) This story happens to be the title tale of my short story collection Safe.

As with many stories I’ve written, there is autobiography woven into “Safe”, though in subtle and interspersed ways that would be hard to explain. The one football-related autobiographical aspect of it is that it was inspired by someone I do know, and I have experienced him as a considerable football fan and someone who would be indeed thrilled were his team to play in, much less win, the Super Bowl.

So in the vague tradition I seem to have started for 2018 of posting story excerpts that correlate to holidays, dates, or events currently occurring :D, I’m sharing here an excerpt of this story. “Safe” was the final story I wrote for this collection, and perhaps appropriately, it closes the book out. Like “Hers to Keep” (from my New Year’s post), this story was one of the ones that was previously unpublished.

from “Safe”:

When the game resumed, Ericka was having trouble sitting still between the physical proximity to Sam and the awareness that he would go home to an empty apartment after he left there. The excitement of the game, even though she had no idea what was going on in it, kept her adrenaline on high, which, coupled with her immediate attraction, translated directly into arousal. With two minutes left on the play clock, she could feel the tension in Sam as he zeroed in on the TV. The heat emanating from his body made her want to jump on him. She tried to focus instead on the whistles and commentary and announcements coming from the surround-sound speakers.

After lots of stops and starts of the game clock that she didn’t understand, play resumed, and some of the people in the room rose to their feet as the seconds ticked down. Ericka wasn’t sure what was happening, but she had the impression it was favorable as the suspense in the room heightened. Abruptly the friends around her exploded into pandemonium, screaming and jumping and hugging as similar antics occurred on the screen among the coaches and players dressed in the same colors as most of the occupants of the room.

Ericka deduced their team had just won the Super Bowl.

Sam turned and pulled her to her feet, and she laughed as he swept her into a hug. As he set her down, his lips pressed against hers in a moment of giddy exuberance, and she caught her breath as he pulled away almost as quickly to continue celebrating. Her body tingled as she watched the glee around her, a newfound exhilaration of her own pulsing from her core.

Soon Sam turned back to her. “I’m sorry—I hope that was okay,” he said near her ear. His smile was a bit sheepish as he backed up to look her in the eye. “My excitement got the better of me for a second.”

Ericka met his eyes squarely. “Lucky for me.”

Sam’s expression shifted, and the noise around them seemed to dull as he looked at her for an extended moment. He appeared to hesitate, as though working to find words, and Ericka was just about to relieve him of the effort when he spoke.

“Would you like to come home with me?”

Ericka couldn’t hold back a breathless chuckle. She stepped closer to him, holding his gaze. “Are you happy your team just won?”

Sam’s grin was electrifying, and he took her hand as they turned to find their coats.

***

Ericka had never been in Sam’s apartment before, and her core buzzed with excitement at the prospect as he unlocked the door.

“It’s a little sparse right now,” he said as he led her inside, closing the door behind her. “Cody took his furniture with him, of course.”

Indeed the only things in the open, square room were the understated entertainment center in a corner below a flat screen-TV, the L-shaped burgundy couch opposite it, and a mahogany coffee table in between.

Ericka, however, felt little concern about the furniture or any lack of it.

“Do you want a tour, or do you want—?” Sam began, and Ericka turned to him. He broke off his own sentence as she stepped toward him, and his mouth landed on hers with an urgency this time, stealing her breath as her body plunged immediately into craving mode.

Though it’s not obvious in this excerpt, “Safe” has an underlying serious streak in it. It was an interesting story to write, and I knew from the beginning of doing so both the story’s title and that I wanted it to also be the title of the entire collection. Thank you for reading, and happy February!

Love,
Emerald

For a man to make her come, he could only barely touch her. Careful. Gentle. Delicate even.

Rarely did she allow it.
-from “Safe”

December 31st, 2017

New Year’s Eve with an Excerpt from Safe! #erotica

Ah, my negligent blogging continues! First, I lament that I missed blogging about the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers on December 17. I did not personally forget about it (and deliberately wore a red long-sleeved shirt in support under the layers I wore to the no-kill shelter where I volunteer to walk dogs that day), but I did not manage to draw attention to it here.

It is now New Year’s Eve, and I am blogging to offer an excerpt of one of my stories to celebrate the new year. “Hers to Keep” is in my short story collection Safe and is one of the four stories in that collection that was not previously published. As you’ll see if you read below, my posting this snippet right now is deliberate and timely!

Writing the main character in “Hers to Keep,” Leslie, was an interesting experience for me because I don’t particularly relate to her in a few ways. She has shy tendencies, feels self-conscious around initiating sex, and tends to experience a lot of mental concern about the “implications” of almost every sexual encounter she has. Yet her character came through clearly to me when I started writing the story, as did the setting, which I could then and can still picture clearly whenever I recall it.

Here is the beginning of the second story in Safe, “Hers to Keep”:

“Ten! Nine! Eight! Seven!…”

It was the pause between each shout, the literal split second of anticipation before the next number, where Leslie felt like she was. Perpetually in that place of waiting, watching, wondering, the in-between of what was happening rather than actually living among it.

Of course, that was a bit of an exaggeration. The countdown to the annual climax mere seconds away just seemed to highlight the anticlimactic feeling of her current circumstances. Between jobs, between relationships, between any experience that seemed exciting or interesting in her life.

She watched the glittery ball on the oversized flat-screen TV as the frenzy around her grew until the shout of “One—Happy New Year!” reverberated in her ears and the ball dropped amid a flurry of camaraderie and confetti and chaos. The crowd in the room turned to the floor-to-ceiling windows to watch the barrage of fireworks that shattered the frigid air amidst the pandemonium of kissing, drinking, and laughing that took over the large suite for the next several minutes.

Leslie watched the colored sparks reflect in the window. Since the fireworks were shot from the park right across the street from the hotel, their view was unparalleled—one of the reasons they’d chosen this location for their party. The presidential suite wasn’t cheap, to be sure, but with twelve of them pitching in for the multi-hosted party, it had been doable. As Leslie turned back to watch the merriment around her and join in to a somewhat subdued degree, she conceded that the plan had been successful. More than fifty people filled the spacious suite in paper tiaras, hats, and banners that read “Happy New Year!” in glittering letters, and they all appeared to be having a good time.

And she was too, she acknowledged as she took a sip from her champagne flute. She was glad her friends had suggested the suite rental, citing the view of the fireworks, central location, and lack of next-day cleanup duties as justification for the financial splurge. Particularly right now, Leslie had noticed, hotels appealed to her—the lack of commitment, responsibility, ownership. Just a space of indulgence, catering to a specified period of carefree luxury. The perfect setting for a party, and for her, the start of a new year.

She suddenly noticed that her eyes had landed on the man she’d seen enter the room only about ten minutes before midnight. She’d taken note of him then, no doubt, but she had no idea who he was or whom he knew there and felt no desire to approach him on her own.

Actually, that wasn’t true. The desire was there. She squirmed uncomfortably, taking another drink of champagne. Sometimes her own shyness frustrated her. It was more that she didn’t feel comfortable going up to him, especially since she was obviously not the only one who had noticed the particular presence he possessed, as he was now surrounded by a group of partygoers and appeared perfectly comfortable as the center of attention.

She stepped into the mob and made the rounds, placing chaste kisses on the cheeks of her closest friends and, with a bit of a blush, some of the new people she was just meeting tonight.

Without really trying, she eventually she found herself in the group surrounding the mysterious—albeit popular—stranger, and as her friend Ed kissed her cheek and turned to introduce him to her, she blushed harder.

“Leslie, this is Grant. He heads up the IT department at our branch in Colorado. Grant, this is Leslie, a good friend of mine.”

“Pleasure to meet you,” Grant said, his eyes on hers as he offered a warm handshake. Leslie nodded and returned the sentiment even as his touch made her body tingle. He was even more magnetizing up close than he’d appeared from across the room, his smile glittering like the ball that had just dropped in Times Square. She was suddenly sorry that the kissing part of the evening had just passed. She thought wistfully for a moment about her less shy friends and what they might do in this situation before she looked down, flustered, and let go of his hand.

She shifted to face the rest of the group, standing somewhat awkwardly between Grant and Ed as the conversation picked up where it had presumably left off. She could feel the heat of Grant’s body next to her, and it made breathing more difficult.

“So where’s Alicia?” Ed asked, and Grant nodded acknowledgement of the question as he took a drink.

“She skipped this trip, not wanting to be stuck watching me work on New Year’s Eve,” he laughed. “We didn’t know about your party at the time.”

He was married. Leslie dropped her eyes to his left hand, which she’d forgotten to check. She stared dully at the silver band there. A lightness in her that she hadn’t even fully noticed yet plummeted, disappearing into the ether as Ed gave some response.

With a subtle sigh, Leslie excused herself a few moments later and returned to the bar in the corner of the suite’s main room. Abandoning her champagne flute, she grabbed the ice scoop and a glass and looked around for the bottle of Scotch.

Leaning against the bar, she took a sip and looked out the window at the black sky, void now of its pyrotechnic display and filled again with only the still, chilly-looking glow of orange streetlights and a cloud-shrouded moon. A few of her co-hosts came over, and she swallowed her frustration and made an effort to join the conversation.

“Do you know where you want to sleep tonight, Leslie?” her friend Kayla asked. There were two bedrooms included on either side of the suite. While many would probably crash on the floor of the main room, it was understood that the party hosts were privy to the bedroom accommodations.

Leslie pointed to one of the doors. “I put my stuff in that one. I brought a sleeping bag and don’t really mind sleeping on the floor if need be.”

Kayla nodded and started to say something, then stopped and smiled over Leslie’s shoulder.

Leslie turned and found Grant behind her holding the bottle of Scotch. He smiled at her, and she smiled back somewhat stiffly, doing her best to quell the attraction in her now that she knew he was married. He gestured toward her glass with the bottle, and she held it out to him with a shrug.

“I understand you’re one of the hosts of this shindig. Great party,” he said, raising his glass to her. “I’d suspected I’d be spending New Year’s alone on a computer somewhere.”

She nodded acknowledgement and couldn’t help smiling.

“I knew Ed lived here and had gotten in touch with him about getting together later in the week, and he told me about this party,” he continued. “As it turned out, I wrapped up what I needed to just in time to come ring in the new year. I’m glad, since it turns out I’ll be flying back home tomorrow. Holiday or not, information systems don’t take breaks.” He smiled and took another drink.

“Well, your wife will probably be glad to see you,” Leslie said lightly, reminding him that she knew he had one.

“Yes, she probably would have come with me if she’d known I’d be going to a party,” he responded, showing no sign of embarrassment or hesitation at the mention of his wife. He met her eyes. “It’s too bad. I’m sure she would have loved to meet you, too.” He trained that smile on her, and it seemed to emanate heat straight to her core. Leslie looked away and fumbled with her glass, finding the comment odd even as she tried fervently to ignore the tingling arousal Grant’s attention set off throughout her body.

“We’re in an open relationship,” he continued easily as he lifted his glass to his lips.

“An open relationship,” Leslie repeated. She tried not to display her ignorance. She’d heard the phrase, but she’d never personally known anyone who was in one.

“We have sex with other people,” he clarified.

Leslie stared at him.

“Not that I mean to be implying anything.” Grant’s demeanor suddenly shifted to slight embarrassment, and Leslie realized her response was probably making him think she wasn’t interested in such a thing regardless of what kind of relationship he and his wife had. The heat returned to her cheeks and, flustered, she realized she needed to say something.

“Do you mean—your wife knows you do that?” She blushed harder for having answered with something she immediately deemed one of the dumbest-sounding things she had said in some time. The truth was that at the words “other people,” her breath had caught, and the dizzying effect he seemed to be having on her had increased exponentially. Was he hitting on her?

“It’s not really something either of us ‘does’ that the other needs to ‘know’ about,” he said, the smile back on his face. All discomfort had evaporated from his countenance, returning him to the self-assured state she was already finding familiar in him. “It’s just the style of relationship we have. But in answer to your question, yes, we communicate openly about what we’re up to.”

Thank you so much for reading! Safe is available in print and e-book form at the list of retailers here.

In the meantime, I’m very preliminarily playing with the idea of creating another short story collection, and I have the rights back to a novella I have been considering expanding into a novel (which would be my first, assuming I don’t finish my long-in-progress novel first!).

Thank you for coming by, and wishing all a very happy New Year’s Eve and 2018!

Love,
Emerald

Closing the bathroom door behind her, Leslie stepped back into her dress and looked at herself in the mirror. Her cheeks were still flushed, and she smiled at her disheveled reflection. Something looked different, though she couldn’t quite place what.
-from later in “Hers to Keep”