Around 10PM, much earlier than she usually got off, Joan was standing in Mr. Johnson’s office with a bag containing clothes. She was still in her bar “uniform,” which didn’t cover anything of interest. Her owner stood, said “Let’s go,” and walked out, locking the office door behind them. Several customers looked at her appreciatively, and at him with envy, as they left through the front door. “My car is in the parking ramp in the next block.”

The got to the car and left for the outskirts of town. Joan hadn’t been to his house before, and was curious about it. All of his kids were grown and gone, and now she knew his wife was dead. When they pulled up to a house, she saw that it was a big rambler, not a mansion. Mr. Johnson said, “Let’s go in.”

It was a tasteful, quietly elegant home. Joan looked around almost in awe, comparing it to her parent’s apartment. Mr. Johnson — George, Joan mentally corrected herself — went to the kitchen and came back with a bottle of nice wine, glasses, and a tray of cheeses and crackers. He put them on a coffee table and sat on the couch, then said, “Please join me.” She sat next to him on the couch.

“George, I don’t know what you had in mind for my visits here, other than what you said about the mornings. The nice snack tray and wine tell me that you want to relax a little. If you want this to be a little like dating, I don’t have much experience, and my experience was at a much … cheaper level than yours. Given the difference in our status, I don’t know what you want, exactly.”

“Joan, thank you for calling me George. I understand why you would be anxious about what to do. You don’t know whether I want you to be all over me, totally submissive, or just lie down on the floor with your legs apart, and you are afraid that you won’t fit my mental model and make me angry?”

“Yes. Exactly. I can’t even use my nudity as a clue, because I am almost always nude with you.”

“I’d have you put on a robe to put you at ease, but I can’t quite bring myself to that. Relax, Joan. I told you before that I enjoy being around you because you are pleasant and fun, make conversation interesting, and are just in general a nice person. That is a big part of it. Be yourself. If you want to relax, converse, have a walk, cuddle, or jump my bones, just go ahead and suggest or request it. If I want to do any of those things, I’ll let you know. Yes, sex is a big part of why I want you here. If it was just sex, I would have taken you to your room or the Fuck Room. I’ve been around that bar way too much and I’m trying to get a little of my life back. Bringing you here runs the risk of bringing work home, but I’m willing to risk it. What I probably need is to find a woman near my own age and settle into a relationship, but that kind of thing is difficult. You don’t want that kind of a relationship with me, exactly, but you aren’t repulsed and we both care for each other. That’s a lot better than a lot of couples. That day you came to see me and I decided to try you out, I figured I was just making life easier for a girl, and that I might get some work of value from you. Boy, did you ever exceed my expectations, both business and personally. Now that you have another interest, I should try to distance myself if I want to be able to believe myself about caring for you, but maybe I care too much for that. If you could just go buy a girlfriend.”

Joan smiled at him and felt much more at ease. His obviously difficult discussion of feelings and wants made it much clearer what he had in mind, and it was something Joan was happy to do. She leaned up against him and said, “You might say that buying a girlfriend is what you did with me.”

He put his arm around her and kissed her forehead. “In a way, but you volunteered, and I didn’t take you on for that. I also don’t want to interfere too much with you and Jim, but some of it is unavoidable. I want to be with you enough to make me feel a little more alive, more like when my wife was still here. You resemble her, especially when she was younger.”

“What would you have done with her if she was here, like this, dressed as I am?”

He looked at her with a bit of a twinkle in his eye. “You’ll freak out. I’d have some wine and cheese with her, take her to the basement, tie her to a pole, and whip her.”

Joan sat bolt upright and wide-eyed.

George laughed. “Don’t worry. I won’t do that to you. She asked me to do it early in our relationship. She was submissive and a little masochistic. She liked a few lashes as a warm-up for a night of lovemaking in chains.”

Joan relaxed and leaned back against him. “That did scare me until you explained it. I’d rather not do it right away, but I might not object to a little whipping. I’ve never experienced it. If it makes you happy, try it. You are my owner, after all.”

George said, “It wasn’t a big thing for me, but I enjoyed it because she wanted it. We can try it to see how it works for us, but not now. I think that whip stripes on you might cause you problems at the bar. And I’m trying to approach this as less of an owner-slave thing than a man-woman thing. I’m sure that the ownership factor isn’t far from the surface for you at any time, but while we’re here I’m going to try to deemphasize it.”

Joan snuggled in a little closer. “I like that. You’re right about the ownership thing. I’ll try to stay away from that, too.” She sat for a while, then said, “It may break the romantic mood, but I have heard of a way to buy a girlfriend, or at least an approximation. That fancy slave training institute conditions slaves minds to be what their owner wants, and the article I read specifically mentioned making girlfriends.”

George said, “I’ll look into it. I like having you here, and even if I got a slave like that, I’d like having you here. I would wonder about how deep the feeling, or conditioning, was. Anyway, let’s have some wine and cheese. It is a comfortable ritual, used for centuries to harmonize a man and a woman, whether for sex, companionship, or other pursuits.” He poured them wine, handed a glass to her, and they both sipped.

She giggled. “I’ve never had wine before. Are you trying to get me drunk to take advantage of me?”

He laughed a Snidely Whiplash laugh, twirled an imaginary handlebar moustache, and said, “Curses! She figured it out!”