It’s been a rough week. In the world, and for me. So I thought I might post a good-sized chunk of Shocking Violet that feels especially hopeful and cozy, and introduce you to Zak while I’m at it. If you want to know more about these characters or read previous excerpts, you can find a synopsis and excerpts here.
(As a heads up, this excerpt includes a description of characters managing over-stimulation and strong emotions, and brief references to abusive relationships in the past. It also includes discussion of D/s dynamics, and references a BDSM scene in the past. It includes some unpacking of internalized oppression and jealousy.)
Zak’s favorite restaurant was too crowded for Jax’s taste. Too crowded meant too loud and he still had a migraine from yesterday, though it wasn’t so bad that he’d missed work or anything. At least the food was good here. And Jax had scored a seat in the corner with his back to a wall, which definitely helped him relax more. He didn’t like crowded places.
For all his introvert curmudgeon ways, Zak didn’t mind crowded places. He was smiling, like he was soaking up being around all the people. It was one of those things that Jax found a bit difficult to watch, Zak in a crowd. He always seemed so at home in gay men’s spaces where everyone got way too close and was too drunk and too loud and there were always lights flashing and everyone smelled like cigarettes, cologne and alcohol and it was just too damn overwhelming in a dozen ways at once. Zak would preen and flirt and seem like he was more in his body than usual and laugh really loudly and dance his ass off. Jax would gut his way through it for about an hour and then escape.
Zak’s birthday party was probably going to be just like that. Well, except it would be scent free, and no lights flashing, and the noise level wasn’t going to be that bad. And there would be food. Food would help. He might make it through an hour and a half, maybe even two. Maybe. Zak was excitedly talking about the menu he had planned.
It amazed Jax that Zak wanted to cook his own birthday dinner. But he always did, said he wanted to give his friends something on his birthday. And he preferred to eat his own food anyway. It would be elaborate, too, that much was clear. And delicious, for sure. Zak was an amazing cook.
Jax was having trouble focusing. Usually he liked listening to Zak talk about food, and what he was planning to cook. It was soothing, most of the time. But today, he felt agitated. He pulled out his favorite fidget. Nobody would even notice it here, there were too many people and too much noise and let’s face it, not enough light. Zak was cool around him stimming, even in public. He was the only person in Jax’s life that Jax let see him stim in an obvious way. Though he did think that Violet probably wouldn’t blink. Rickie on the other hand, he wasn’t so sure.
And he was already thinking of Violet as someone in his life? What was that? They’d just met, and already his brain was going there. Sure, she had reached out to him, to thank him for dinner. But they didn’t even have plans for another date. How had his brain shifted like that, already?
Stimming was helping. He could concentrate on what Zak was saying now. He let himself sink into the details of the dishes Zak was planning, eating the food in front of him slowly and deliberately. There was something so perfect about the texture of the hummus here. It felt really good in his mouth. And that zing of garlic and lemon was so bright. Jax had a deep love for bright tastes. They made him feel alive and safe all at the same time.
He was babbling again. He always seemed to babble around Jax these days. He just got so nervous, kept feeling like it was so obvious, too. Like he had a sign painted on his forehead. He’d been doing just fine with this damn crush, for years. He wanted to kick himself. Or at least stick a gag in his mouth. Something to get him to stop babbling so it wouldn’t be so blatant.
It hadn’t been a problem for years. He’d just held the crush inside, storing it away in the impossible section of his brain, and mostly didn’t think about it when he was around Jax. He’d taken it out and polished it every once in a while when he was alone. But mostly, it hadn’t been a problem. Not while Jax was with Dinah. Which he had been, since before they’d met. They’d had that one casual scene, and then no other play, ever. No flirting even. But Jax had kept reaching out, kept making plans, even though Dinah was jealous enough of those. They’d built a friendship instead.
Friendship was good. He loved being friends with Jax. Loved being trusted, loved offering support, loved being held dearly in Jax’s regard. He was reliable. He was the one Jax called if things went south. He got things that other people in Jax’s life didn’t get, about work, about trauma, about Dinah and the hell she’d put him through. Zak was useful in so many ways, and he reveled in that.
He could, and had, leaned on Jax too. Had fallen apart in his arms more than once after Sam and Neo had stomped his heart into the ground. Had ranted to Jax about work stuff, about being jerked around by the cis guys he picked up, about needing to find a housemate that wasn’t an irresponsible jerk. Jax was a good friend to him, had stuck around through so much, when others just seemed to fall away.
They’d been doing just fine as friends. Even though Zak had taken out the memory of that single scene every so often and relived it, slowly, so he could luxuriate in the feel of Jax’s breath on his neck, savor the beautifully relentless pain from Jax’s belt, taste Jax’s boot in his mouth. It hadn’t interfered in their friendship at all.
Until recently. When Dinah was finally out of the picture. (Good riddance.) And suddenly Jax was actually polyamorous, not the pretense of it he’d been doing with her. But actually, actively polyamorous. That had changed things. Made it impossible for Zak to keep his crush in the impossible zone of his brain. It kept sneaking out.
There was no reason for him to think Jax would even be interested. After all, Jax had gotten together with both Rickie and Alex while he still was with Dinah. It was near the end, but it still was there, glaring him in the face. Sure, those relationships were just play, very clearly so. But he had kept seeing them, and he hadn’t kept seeing Zak. They’d become friends instead. Maybe he hadn’t even enjoyed the scene. Maybe he had realized he wasn’t into Zak. Maybe it was impossible, after all.
Zak looked at his plate. The falafel looked huge and dry and like it would just stick in his throat. His face was so hot, he could feel it. He needed to get out of there. He slipped away to the bathroom, splashed water on his face, his neck. He stood there staring himself down in the mirror, counting breaths. Ok. He could do this. He just needed to focus on Jax, instead of slipping away into his own thoughts so much.
He returned to the table, and asked about Jax’s weekend. Yes, this was a good idea. Listening. He had lots of listening skills. It was one of his best things, listening.
“So I went to LAP on Friday. The class was really good, actually. This Black dyke from Canada was teaching, Roz? And she’s fucking stellar. One of the best classes I’ve been to all year.”
“What was so good about it?”
“Well, she wasn’t doing a technical skill, yknow? It was focused on what things mean to the people playing, how they feel. You know how I like that shit.”
“That sounds better than most. Kink education is all dick, with no brain. Or heart, most of the time.”
“This was all brain and heart.”
“Add some courage and you’re off to see the wizard.”
“Actually…they did talk about how this stuff was especially important for edge play.”
Zak grinned at him. Oof, that smile.
“And the bottom in the demo talked quite a bit. I always like to hear from the bottom, but that doesn’t happen very often.”
“It sure doesn’t. That shit pisses me off. It’s all about misogyny, most of the time.”
“Yeah, it is. Roz made space for the bottom to talk while she was teaching. It wasn’t exactly co-teaching, but she made space. And then this Jewish femme in the audience asked the bottom about it more, and that seemed to really draw her out. She talked for a good long time about what it meant to have the top’s hand on her throat. I really liked hearing about that.”
Zak had a dreamy smile on his face, and just sighed. Jax had to ask, even if it was dangerous territory. He couldn’t not ask.
“Seems like you might have something to say about that, too.”
Zak’s eyes opened wide. And he actually gulped. Delicious.
“Want to tell me what you were thinking just now, hmm?”
“Oh. Um. Ok. I was thinking about what it means to me.”
Of course he’d been thinking that. Was he evading the question because Jax was making him uncomfortable? Jax decided to give it one more opening, then let it go.
“Mmhmm.” He just paused, giving space. Waiting. The waiting felt electric somehow. Was his libido through the fucking roof or something? He couldn’t stop staring at Zak’s mouth. He was chewing on his lip, and it was just so damn mesmerizing.
“I was just thinking. It depends on who’s hand it is. What we are to each other. It’s not the same with everyone.”
“Mmhmm.” Jax nodded, holding his breath. Zak had his eyes closed, and that dreamy look on his face was back.
“But the best times, it feels like helplessness and possession all at once. And the helplessness makes me all squirmy inside, but I go so still, because that’s what they want, and in that moment I desperately want to please them, to be worthy of being claimed.”
Jax breathed that in, slowly. It ran through his body and wrapped itself around his cock and then he was in his memory of shoving Zak against the wall, and wrapping his hand around the boy’s throat. He had snarled, and the boy had stayed so still for him, his eyes the only thing that had jumped, before they’d gone all dreamy. His face looked almost exactly like that right now. He had held the boy so still back then, just sinking into that dreamy expression.
Fuck. Now his dick was hard, and he knew he was going to dream that scene tonight. Again. It had been this glorious moment amidst some of the ugliest shit he’d ever dealt with. He’d known, after just one scene, that if he played with Zak again, he would fall for him so hard. And he’d been in no fucking shape for that, not with Dinah wrapped around him so tight, messing with his head. Not with Zak all twisted in knots in that fucked up dynamic with Ayden. So he hadn’t ever asked Zak to play again. Had decided that they would just be friends. And he’d lost his chance. He needed to change the subject.
“So I met someone at the LAP meeting.”
Zak knew his eyes flew open, but he couldn’t help it. And c’mon, it was such a quick change of subject. More awkward than Jax usually was. Had he made him uncomfortable? He’d just been answering the question. Jax had opened the door in the first place. Had practically done everything he could to invite him to walk through it. And yet again, was jerking back now, changing the subject. Ok Zak, focus. You were going to listen, remember?
“The femme who asked the bottom that question. She was something else. So I asked her to have dinner with me.”
Oh. Zak worked to make himself nod. He had to remind himself a couple times. He concentrated on his neutral face.
“Her name is Violet. Maybe you know her?”
Zak tried to make his brain work. He thought he might actually know of a Violet. Maybe. Breathing might help. He focused on breathing. Ok, he needed to get himself under control, and answer Jax already.
“Huh, I’m not sure. Be right back.”
Zak knew he had just gone to the bathroom a half hour ago. But he needed a moment. This had really thrown him, and he wasn’t even sure he understood why.
Why was Jax being into a femme woman such a big deal to him? Zak needed to think it through. It was probably his internalized misogyny. Or maybe heteronormativity? Was it biphobia? It was something, because his stomach dropped. It wasn’t exactly jealousy. Though he shouldn’t discount that. But he didn’t think that was it.
It just felt like Jax would take this person more seriously, because she was a femme woman. Was she cis? Probably. It was LAP after all. A femme cis woman. Yeah, that was it, his feeling that Jax would take it more seriously with Violet, like he had with Dinah. Who was also a femme cis woman. While he stayed super-casual with his trans guy and genderqueer play partners. Like he was now. It was like romance was for cis women, and trans guys and genderqueers got just play, nothing serious.
But was that even true, or was it just what he was scared of? Maybe it was what Zak assumed, but not how it actually worked for Jax. Just because it was working that way in his current relationships didn’t mean it was some kind of gender based standard for Jax. Jax’s serious exes weren’t all cis femme women, he knew that. He could think of pretty significant one that he knew was a trans guy. He needed to stop working himself up like this.
He needed to breathe. He put his hands on the porcelain of the sink, gripping it hard, soaking in the coldness of it, and counted breaths again, slow and even. Then he started to recite Prufrock to himself. He could feel it start to calm him down. When he got to the lines “There will be time, there will be time/To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet,” he stayed there, kept repeating those two lines as he stared at himself in the warped mirror, and prepared his face to meet Jax.
He was making a mess of this. Could he be more awkward? He had clearly fumbled it somehow. Had Zak been reacting to learning about Violet, or had he been upset because Jax had been basically flirting with him? Jax honestly had no clue, and that sucked. He needed to tread carefully here, because he didn’t think it was a good idea to say anything. What if he just made it worse?
Oh good, Zak was coming back. He didn’t seem upset anymore. That was good. Jax smiled at him, and got a smile back, but it was more ironic than genuine. Yup, tread carefully.
“I might know of a Violet, but I can’t remember from where. So, you like her?”
“Yeah, I do. I hope I get to see her again.”
“What do you like about her?”
“Well, she’s smart. She’s got good politics, does fat activist stuff, has an analysis of transmisogyny, is working with women of color to change things at FULL.”
Zak nodded, didn’t say anything.
“There was a spark between us. A D/s spark. But not like it was with Dinah where she acted all submissive from the start. It felt different. Like she was independent. Like she had really solid boundaries.”
“Boundaries are good,” Zak said slowly.
“I told her about how I want to try this new approach to D/s. You know what I’m talking about, I’ve told you about this. Where it has clear boundaries, is in-scene only.”
Zak nodded, looking down.
“I might want to try it with her. Maybe.”
Zak’s head rose. Kinda fast. There was something in his eyes that Jax couldn’t read. And that was rare. Probably not a good sign.
“Jax, can I ask you something?”
“Yes, of course.”
Zak’s spoke quickly. “Have you thought about why you haven’t wanted to try that D/s thing in a deeper way with, say, someone like Rickie? I mean, I haven’t met the guy, but you have been playing for over a year.”
Well that was not a question Jax had expected. He wasn’t sure what he’d been bracing for, but it wasn’t that.
“Um. No. I haven’t thought about it. Not sure why. I guess maybe because we had set things up differently when we first started playing, and it feels like it’s working.”
“Has it ever occurred to you that Rickie might want things to change?”
Zak seemed angry. Or maybe frustrated. His voice had gotten louder, more intense. It was hard to tolerate. He picked up his fidget again. That helped some.
Jax blinked. No. It really hadn’t occurred to him. Even yesterday, when he’d been thinking about kissing the boy, it had never crossed his mind that Rickie might want him to. Might want more from him. Was that possible? Could Rickie be wanting their relationship to change? Could he have wanted Jax to kiss him, after all?
When Jax spoke, his voice was quiet.
“No, actually, it hadn’t occurred to me. I think I always assume nobody wants things to change, ever. Because change is so hard. Because I find change so damn hard.”
Zak smiled. A real smile. Jax breathed a little easier after seeing that.
“I know you do. Change is really hard for me too. But sometimes, things need to change.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“I just think that it’s awfully quick for you to be thinking about starting a D/s relationship with someone you just met. I mean, you are talking about something serious, and romantic, several levels up from what you are doing with Alex or Rickie.”
“Yeah, that’s true.”
Words were pouring out of Zak now, and when that was happening, it was best to let them flow, see where they went.
“So I was wondering why you wanted to go there with her, after you just met her. And you never wanted to go there with them, even though you know and trust them, have been building with them for a long time.”
Jax nodded. He was getting to the point, Jax could feel it. Jax wasn’t sure he was going to like the point.
“It made me wonder if the reason is cuz she’s cis. Or a woman. Or maybe both. She is cis, right?”
Jax blinked. Yep. He didn’t like the point at all. But. He trusted Zak. Loved him. And Zak was smart, and astute, and often saw things that Jax hadn’t seen yet, about himself. If Zak had wondered about it, it was worth considering.
“Yeah, she’s cis.”
“I’m not saying that’s why. You know better than me.”
“No, I know that. It’s a good question to think about. I want to really think about it, ok?”
Jax took out his notebook, and wrote it down. This was something to write about in his journal, later.
“Ok. I’m here if you want to talk it through.”
Jax tried to smile, but his migraine was starting to get worse, so he couldn’t really make it happen.
“You have a migraine, don’t you?”
“Yeah, since yesterday. You can always tell. Nobody else notices, unless it’s really bad.”
“I pay attention, and I’ve known you awhile. It got worse just now, didn’t it?”
“How about I get our food packed up and you can wait outside where it’s quieter? I’ll get the food this time, you can get it next time, ok?”
“Yeah, that would be good. Thanks.”
“No problem. Be there in a minute.”
The air was cool on Jax’s face. It felt good. Just what he needed right now. He leaned against the building and closed his eyes. Yes, it was good to be outside.
Zak got the food packed up, bill paid. Ok. One last trip to the rest room before facing Jax. Had he been completely obvious in there? What had he even said to Jax? He needed to get it together. That was what bathrooms were for, wasn’t it?
By the time he got outside, he was in a better space. Whatever he’d said, he’d said. Maybe it would even end up being a good thing. You never know. Zak began his favorite poem, like they always did when they left somewhere.
“Let us go then, you and I,” he said, offering his arm to Jax with a flourish.
“When the evening is spread out against the sky,” Jax replied, his eyes smiling but his mouth not mirroring them because that made his head hurt. It felt good to walk arm and arm.
“Like a patient etherized upon a table,” Zak replied, finishing that stanza with a grin. He decided not to continue, because he knew how it was hard for Jax to think and remember stuff when he had a migraine. Instead he asked, “You’ve had this one since yesterday?”
“Yeah. It was worse then. Today it’s not nearly as bad.”
“Do you know if something triggered it?”
“I had that date with Rickie. And slept over. Between the scented makeup, and the nail polish, and the freshly laundered sheets…”
Zak sighed. “Oh, Jax. That is so hard. I know you talked to him about it before. It got better, yes?”
“Yeah, he changed some things, but I don’t think he really gets it.”
“Well, it can be hard for some people. If he changed some things, maybe he would change more, if you said something.”
“Yeah, maybe. You know, one of the things about Violet? No scent at all. None. All on her own, I didn’t even mention it.”
“Yeah. Zak, have I told you how much I appreciate that I only had to tell you about scent once, and you researched it all on your own?”
Zak grinned. Jax had mentioned it before, but it was nice to hear it again.
“Well I do have impeccable research skills.”
“Yes, you definitely do. Among your many wonderful attributes.”
Ok, he might actually be blushing right now. Luckily it was cold outside so Jax probably couldn’t tell.