an erotic short by Valerie Alexander
Friday night. On my way to the tom club, I watch New York pass through sleet-streaked cab windows. The meter jumps, and my nerves rise as it ticks off the inevitability of my destination.
Hell’s Kitchen goes by in a blur of store and restaurant lights. I think about what awaits me, based on the stories Candace told me. A rundown, old hotel with a lounge that’s kind of a bar and kind of a brothel, she said. Hourly seducers who are kind of boys but also kind of girls. The perfect gentlemen: chivalrous, handsome, and available—for women who are willing to pay.
The cab takes a sharp left onto a narrow side street. There’s the old brick hotel with the medieval-looking wooden doors. I swallow and emerge into the snowy gutter.
The lobby is small, with old armchairs on a worn oriental carpet. The woman at the front desk doesn’t ask for my ID when I tell her I’m looking for the tom lounge. Instead, she asks if I’m new. She wants to make sure I’m prepared for the toms—what other people might try to label as women cross-dressing as men or butch dykes or trans men. But toms are their own category and both simpler and more complicated than that.
I nod and tell her Candace recommended this place. She nods, takes my two twenties, and waves me under the archway where the red-lit lounge glows like a hybrid of heaven and hell.
In the dim light, the toms move like cats, graceful and sinewy. One tall drink of water has short hair slicked back over a well-cut business suit. Another looks like a Tyler Durden knockoff, complete with unshaven jaw and ruffled hair. His arms are too ripped to be a woman’s, I think, just before he looks up from the girl he’s wooing and eye-fucks me.
My neighbor Candace, who told me about this place when her company transferred her to Sydney, said the hotel lounge was loosely—very loosely—based on the tom clubs popular in Thailand and the host clubs of Japan. Though the toms here in New York might have any sexual orientation or gender expression in their private lives, they’re all women of one sort or another and at the hotel they present as men. Bikers, pretty boys, jocks, punk rockers, cowboys, businessmen, muscle men, silver foxes—whatever coin of masculinity they’re dealing in, every tom is sexy and devoted. They listen attentively to the female customers. They offer drinks, compliments, a foot rub. And, of course, they offer private services upstairs in the rooms as well—for an additional fee.
Looking around the lounge, one thing becomes clear: the hottest toms seem to already be taken. But it doesn’t matter. I’m not going to hire any of them for private services. I’m just here to see how it feels to be romanced and admired without anything expected in return but money. Actually, I’m just here to see how that feels at all. The boys who’ve filled my nights in New York tend to think talking about themselves is foreplay.
“It’s your first time. Right? I would remember you.”
The brown-haired tom looming in front of me looks young, like he might still be in college. But he’s cute, so I nod.
“Cool,” he says. “Let me get you a drink.”
And so it starts. On our couch, he asks what I do for a living. “You’re pretty,” he says in a way that seems genuine. I shouldn’t fall for this. It’s a transaction, not an emotion. I wonder if it feels this convincing up in the hotel rooms, sinking into a bed under a paid and naked hardness. If the compliments still land on the nerves like lit matches. I wonder what these toms feel like in bed, a silkier kind of masculinity maybe.
And then I see, sauntering through the shadows and into the glow of one red light bulb, a tall, snake-hipped tom. My heart gives a little squeeze. That’s him, that’s the one I want. He’s movie star handsome and so very suave, taking a customer’s hand with just the right courtliness.
“I want him,” I say bluntly. My tom, who I’ve named Cute, clutches his heart as if he’s been shot. But he recovers and tells me that Suave will be busy for a few hours with that particular customer.
Suddenly I want to know what happens in the private sessions. I put my hand on Cute’s knee. “Are you available for that kind of service?”
His face lights up. “Come on.”
Back to the lobby, where I pay for an hourly room with a swipe of my credit card. I’m officially paying for sex. But it doesn’t feel like it when I unlock the room door. Cute climbs on top of me on the bed, promising excitedly to rock my world. He paws at my breasts but then sits back and says, “Sorry. Here, stand up.”
“We’re supposed to undress you.”
I can guess at the slow seduction that’s the club playbook, and I’m not interested. “Just go back to what you were doing.”
Cute pushes up my dress. His tongue washes over my pussy with more eagerness than skill, adding to the impression of authentic zeal. Then he unzips his jeans to take out six inches of realistic silicone. We fuck like we’re in a bar parking lot, panting and clumsy. But then he flips me onto my stomach, which allows me to pretend that the handsome devil tom is pounding me, holding me down on the bed and fucking me senseless. His teeth in my neck. His hands on my tits. His hard cock driving my pussy into an inferno of light and heat. My body jolts forward in a sudden orgasm, and Cute shouts theatrically behind me.
He collapses on me, nuzzling my back. Despite everything—the fee I paid in the lobby, the shabby hotel furniture—I automatically wait for him to ask if he can see me again. Our goodbye, though affectionate, seems abbreviated with that absence. He kisses my hand and then he’s off, probably to shower and return to the lounge.
Suave is leaning against the bar when I return, ordering two drinks. We look at each other for a long moment, and despite the red whorehouse lighting and women slipping credit cards from their leather handbags, our attraction feels so real.
“I saw you earlier,” I say. “And well, I wish you hadn’t been busy.”
“I’m always available later,” he says, curling his fingers in mine.
He’s tall like a man and lean. I wonder if an individual woman can mean anything to him after being professionally wanted by so many women. Because I want him to want me enough to take me out in the alley and fuck me right there, for free. I know this is a cliché, and I despise my vanity, but I can’t help it.
Suave picks up his drinks and moves off. “You know where to find me.”
* * *
The usual texts come in that week. Josh’s band is playing Saturday, would I be willing to work the merch table? Mike sends photos of himself in a CrossFit tournament. Roman offers to send me another chapter of his novel. All of them close with the same text: What are you doing later tonight? It’s the only thing they ever ask. And I’ve been down that road with all of them: late night visits that feature long monologues about their many triumphs followed by twenty minutes of sex.
I don’t answer any of their texts.
* * *
Two weekends later, I go back to the hotel. Suave is looking debonair on a claw-foot sofa in the lounge, entertaining a giggly blonde. The Tyler Durden tom, who I’ve named Tough, has a woman on each side.
A new tom approaches me. He’s rumpled-haired and boyish in a white button-down shirt, like a young accountant. He’s new to the hotel, he says. I see potential in his eagerness to please me. “Private room service, please.”
Once I’ve paid and the door closes, he reaches for me. I push his hands down. “I’m in charge here,” I tell him. “You’re under my command, understand?”
“Okay . . .”
He grins as I take off my bra. But when I start undressing him, he goes stiff. “I . . . We don’t normally . . . This is about your enjoyment, miss.”
Candace said the toms don’t get naked, don’t get fucked, but that has to be negotiable. “So that’s a hard no?” He doesn’t answer. “You said it’s about me. And I want your pants off.”
A tiny, unsure smile creeps around his mouth. He nods just slightly. I slide down his pants. He’s shaking.
His cock, a red and nubbly vibrator, is too big for his lean frame. I sit on the edge of the bed and push my breasts around it. He seems fascinated by the sight.
I reach around and circle the soft entrance of his asshole. “Can I?”
He laughs weakly. “I guess . . .” He’s holding my tits now, fucking them. I slide in slowly, fingering his ass. His hips move faster, his harness allowing the sensation of both wetness and hardness on my skin.
But my pussy is aching to be filled. “Sit in that chair.”
He obeys. I straddle him and slowly ease in his dildo until I feel full of cock. Once he’s lodged inside, I ride him to hell, fucking him with a speed and force an organic cock couldn’t take. I pull his dick out slightly, so I can slide one hand over his clit while I keep his shaft stable in the other, and we fuck like that, a blur of genders and sensations that ignites my pussy in a soft explosion of euphoria. He comes a moment later, eyes wide in the diffuse streetlight.
* * *
On my third hotel visit, the woman at the front desk tells me about a special feature for purchase, where the tom of my choice will surprise me with a gift—poetry, maybe, or perfume. How pathetic, I almost blurt out, followed by the realization that paying for compliments isn’t so different from paying for foot rubs and sex.
Tonight’s tom is strapping and stoic. We’re still in the open lounge, on a sofa in the corner, the butch splendor of his broad shoulders making me giddy. His laconic conversation completes the illusion of a horny-but-emotionally-distant stud. But his dark eyes shift watchfully to my face when he thinks I’m not looking, which says pleasing me matters to him.
I lean back in my sofa and spread my legs slightly. Stoic moves closer, eyes still on my face, and slides his hand up my thigh. His arms are tense. Like a real date who’s desperate to fuck me but isn’t sure I’m going to let it happen.
I open my legs a little wider. His hand slides between my legs, discreetly, playing with my clit just enough to make me squirm. I haven’t paid for this. It’s against the rules. I snuggle back into the curved back of the sofa, and we continue our stilted conversation. When I lean forward for my drink, his thumb pushes inside me. I stay hunched over like that, sipping my drink, while his fingers work me smoothly and expertly. I tilt my head down so my hair falls forward and hides the emotion of my face. Coming in public is not something I’ve ever done. But he’s masterfully diddling my clit and my pussy and then I’m coming hard like a storm, perilously close to tears from an emotion I can’t quite name, there in the red-lit dark.
Stoic wipes his hand discreetly on a napkin and helps me stand up. After a kiss on the forehead, he’s gone too.
* * *
No one works much at my office on Friday afternoons. The sunlight spills through the windows as my coworkers talk football and stack up the empty pizza boxes from lunch. Every hour seems to stretch forever. At last, the sky turns a peaceful bluish peach, and the lights of New York glimmer in the early dusk. My heart begins to pump like a jungle cat’s anticipating the hunt.
“Any weekend plans?” Eloise, my favorite account director, stands before me with her coat over her arm. She’s on her way to the train to Greenwich, where she’s got a two-year-old son and a househusband who makes his own jam.
“The usual . . .”
“I haven’t heard you mention anyone lately.” She smiles mischievously. All the married women at work are interested in my love life.
“I’ve been seeing a lot of different people lately.” Even if “seeing” is a euphemism.
“‘A lot.’ My, my.” She laughs, taken aback. I’ve transgressed the rules of young womanhood. And I do know the rules. A boyfriend is expected, the occasional fling is fine. Fucking a different genderqueer stranger every weekend is not. But looking up at her, I know I don’t want a husband, don’t want a boyfriend. I just want this.
* * *
A drizzly night. Out of the cab, I emerge in my red dress into the dark mystery of another stranger.
Last weekend was Athletic, a jock I ordered to suck my toes while I fingered myself. It was satisfying to deprive him. Satisfying to come open-legged in front of someone who wasn’t allowed to touch me. Maybe tonight will be the gorgeous Suave? No, he’s already entertaining three women.
Ah, but swaggering toward me is Tough, the ultra-butch tom with the artfully ruffled hair and convincing stubble. “Is it my turn to get lucky?”
It’s churlish of him to refer to my other visits. I don’t think they’re supposed to do that. But I squeeze his waist. “Yes. I want to see what you can do.”
He keeps his hand on my back all the way to the hotel room. There he skips the undressing ritual and arranges the pillows in a pile. I put my hand on his rock-hard stomach, and he slides it down to wrap around his silicone cock, a girthy seven inches. “This is all for you,” he says. “But you can have two for one if you want.”
That takes me aback. I nod. He goes to the door and lets in another tom, skinny with a mess of black hair and full sleeves of ink on each arm.
The new tom takes off my dress and pushes me onto the bed. “Hold her legs open while I get her primed,” he says to Tough. Like I’m an object, Tough spreads my legs while the tattooed tom fingers my pussy. He snorts and withdraws his fingers. “She’s dying for it.”
He pushes me over the pile of pillows, on my stomach so that I’m ass-up and ripe for the plowing. Then he gets on the hotel bed and squirts cool lube all over my ass and cunt before driving inside me in one forceful thrust.
His dick is so big that he stretches my pussy. I groan. Again and again, he drives into me until I claw at the bed. My nipples are so hard they hurt, and my legs are wet with what feels like melting honey drooling out of me. The tom is fucking me so hard it pushes my clit against the pillow, and I twist on the bed until Tough holds me down. I’m going to come at any second.
The black-haired tom pulls out and wrenches me onto my side. Tough crawls in front of me, showing off his biceps, while the black-haired tom behind me slowly works his dick into my ass. Like some clichéd porn move, Tough slaps my clit with his cock a few times, then pushes inside me. They work up to speed until they’re both ramming me like the thoughtless, primitive boys they play so well. The damp heat of their skin and the pounding of their hips make me feel like a toy they’re sharing. My body fills with fever and then my orgasm hits like a train, roaring through every cell of my body and blinding me.
I slide out from between them, catching my breath as I get dressed. When I turn around, Tough is grunting on all fours as the black-haired tom rides his ass.
* * *
February turns into March. I go to my usual haunts, hook up with my old fuck buddy Josh one night. Making out in the dark back booth at the bar, groping each other in the cab, I feel relieved; so I’m not irreparably damaged from my tom club nights. Being naked in bed with him, skin on skin, is revitalizing. But the next day, when he’s still there in the morning sunlight spilling over the blanket, I feel suffocated.
* * *
The following weekend, there’s a tom who’s way too petite and pretty under her fedora. She giggles, and yes, it’s she; I can’t perceive her any other way. I slide my hand up her trousers and stroke her smooth oval knee and then we’re in a private room. She pins me to the bed, surprisingly strong. Her fedora comes off and down comes her black chignon, half-undone. Trapping me on the bed, she ransacks me with her mouth and hands. Her hair sweeps my face as we kiss. We’re girl on girl here, and I love it, actually, especially the way she holds my wrists over my head with one hand and fists me with the other, keeping my legs forced open. Her pretty face is harsh as she barks commands at me to come. And I do and, like all the others, she quickly folds herself back into her suit and chignon and exits like I’m nothing to her.
Handsome Suave from my first visit is waiting at the bar. “Everyone but me,” he says, half-resigned, half-petulant.
I can’t tell him what’s happening to me; that an attentive and beautiful fuck isn’t the turn-on now. It’s the mystery of it, partnered with the control. It’s the evaporation at the end, as if every tom is a shadow from another realm who can never impinge on my real life. Sex in outer space, scorching and weightless; sex that for the first time in my life demands nothing and leaves no traces.
* * *
On a slushy April night, I walk restlessly through the Village until I come to a bar on Houston with its door propped open, an old Buzzcocks song spilling out. Inside I find my friend Lana, who introduces me to her boyfriend’s roommate Victor. He’s curly-headed, teaches fifth grade. He asks when I moved here, and as we have an actual conversation on our favorite scary childhood books, I realize I want to see him again.
“I knew you’d find someone,” says Eloise at work when we start dating.
But that doesn’t stop me from another cab ride down to Hell’s Kitchen late one night when Victor is at a K-12 education conference. It’s just curiosity, I tell myself. It’s been seven weeks now. And somehow I’m not surprised that the hotel’s massive wooden doors bear an official-looking notice. The hotel has been shut down. A wave of panic washes through me, but it’s followed by relief. It’s long past time for me to leave all that behind anyhow.
* * *
In August, Victor and I have dinner at a new Ethiopian restaurant. I’m washing my hands in the restroom when a stunning modelesque brunette walks out of a stall. She’s got to be six feet tall, with black hair cut at her shoulders and a slinky black dress and heels.
She meets my eye in the mirror and smiles significantly. I smile back and dry my hands.
“Doing anything exciting tonight?” she asks. Her voice is familiar.
She applies a deep scarlet lipstick. “There’s a different hotel now,” she says. “Just what women want.”
Her dark eyes hold mine as she tells me the address. I can’t tell if she’s hitting on me. I can’t tell why she seems so familiar. She sashays out on impossibly high heels, and just as the ladies’ room door swings shut behind her, I realize who I was talking to.
I go out in time to see three young men rise from a table and accompany Suave out the door.
“What’s wrong?” Victor asks, suddenly by my side.
It’s not his fault, I want to tell him. He’s going to make some other girl the perfect boyfriend. But thoughts of my next journey into space, an orgasm screamed into a dark room under an anonymous body, are already blotting him from my sight.
* * *
The cab pulls up in front of a decrepit-looking hotel in Chelsea. I emerge to the distant noises of a New York summer night. But I don’t go in right away. I like these last moments of mystery, imagining this new alternate world where beautiful men pass through as transient as shooting stars and I can get everything I want without paying anything that matters.