I love stripping on stage. I have the audience in the palm of my hand and I’m playing with them, slowly teasing them with the power of suggestion: an item of clothing shed here, a flash of skin there, the hint of a curve revealed, a coquettish smile over a bare shoulder – and I have them hooked. It’s an art, burlesque, if you do it right, and I do it so right that people come back for more. When I scan the tables and make eye contact with my spectators, I see men exhale the breaths they’ve been unconsciously holding in, and I know women are instinctively and involuntarily squirming in their seats. Oh yes, I’m bloody good at my job – in fact I’m famous for it. “Coucou…” I tantalisingly beckon in French with a finger, “Coucou!” and there isn’t a person out there who doesn’t want to follow me as I leave the stage clad only in my ostrich feathers.
Last night was no different, except for one thing: in the audience I saw someone. Someone who had a certain something about them – that sexual allure you can pinpoint a mile off, that animal magnetism you couldn’t bottle if you tried. He was suited and booted like the rest of the upmarket crowd before me, but whilst the others on his table were sitting taut and engrossed, he was relaxed and attentive, and his smile was generous and true. I knew in that way you know that he would be mine before the night was out.
And then there he was backstage, this man: not tall, not short, which suited my 5’7” in heels perfectly. My sister Annie introduced us: “Coucou, this is Benjamin Dax–”
“– Call me Ben” he interrupted. Suddenly I was looking into a pair of brown eyes sparkling with intelligence and humour. I liked what I saw.
“Ben then, nice to meet you.” I smiled and held out a hand: Ben took it in his, so that my fist was embraced in his palm and his fingers were around my wrist. The pressure was so subtle as to be almost imperceptible, yet somehow it felt electric. My professionalism escaped me: my legs went weak and I could only smile goofily like a teenager. Annie noticed and grinned imperceptibly.
“Drink?” Ben offered, “I think you’ve earned it tonight. You were sensational up there.”
“Thank you – I’d love one. But not here” I replied, recovered, “I feel as if I’m still onstage. It’s like the eyes of the world are still upon me!” And indeed they were: all carefully selected heads present were surreptitiously turned our way, wondering what the handsome well-dressed stranger was doing backstage with their star, their Coucou.
“I know a great little place,” Ben suggested, “a short hop away. I’m sure you could manage it – even in your heels.”
“Take me, I’m yours” I acquiesced, throwing on my fake fur coat over my glamorous offstage outfit. Ben nodded approvingly. That’s the thing about being a star – people expect you to be dressed like a ‘somebody’ when you’re not working, and I do hate to disappoint my audience, even during my time off.
With a casual wave to Annie and the others I followed Ben out of the door. This was no longer my usual way of doing things, so I was slightly nervous. But, true to his word, Ben’s “great little place” was just around the corner, and he was a real gentleman the whole stroll there: taking my arm, he walked on the outer part of the pavement, sheltering me from passing vehicles, whilst on the pedestrian side he answered any questioning glances from passersby with “No, it’s not….she gets that all the time –” turning to me “ – Honey you really should change your hair, people are confusing you with Coucou again!”
I could actually feel myself relaxing in Ben’s confident and charming company, and as we walked into the bar I took the strong hand he offered as he helped me up the stairs, and I deliberately didn’t let it go until we were sat in our private booth. Ben smiled at me over the table as the pretty waitress took my order, his eyes never straying from my face. “I’ll have the same,” he said, “Mojitos for both of us”. Over the next few hours we chatted and laughed in our secluded sanctuary. I felt elated: here was this perfect stranger sat opposite me, unafraid of my fame – my face – and yet still perfectly attuned to my body, my womanliness, but without the cachet of celebrity. I was impressed – and entertained. I felt recklessly intoxicated: the feel of Ben’s knee pressed against my leg was driving me crazy, and as his hand massaged my thigh I felt like some kind of glamorous courtesan, dressed up to the nines with my stockinged feet in his lap. I was flirting like a demon and loving every moment of it. And so it was that my professional mask slipped bit by bit, so that by the end of the evening I was no longer Coucou but Elizabeth once more – I was me. And I was having a hell of a lot of fun again.
As the bar closed, we called a cab – to Ben’s. “No chauffeur, I’m afraid”, he smiled ruefully. “A refreshing change,” I beamed at him in response. As per our historic family rules (although it had been a long time), I sent my sister Annie a ‘safe’ text to let her know where I was headed and with whom, and I stifled a smirk at the thought that since she was probably tucked up in bed she would read it in the morning – which is when a barrage of return texts would be coming back my way begging me to tell all. This evening I really was being the old me again – how wonderfully invigorating! I felt all dizzy with joy at the thought of truly shedding the stage for a night. But not, it has to be said, as dizzy as when in the back of the taxi Ben stroked the hollow at the back of my knee, both reassuring and exciting me at the same time. I turned to him as the streetlights flashed by, looking up at his face to get the measure of him. “Yup, I’m still here”, Ben laughed, now squeezing my leg with his hand. I placed my own over the top. “Me too”, I smiled. Ben’s eyes danced, and his grip tightened, but he made no move to kiss me.
Soon enough we drew up outside a smart block of flats. The building was art deco in design, and as Ben helped me out of the cab I read the words Underwood Mansions inscribed over the grand entrance. “I’m on the third floor”, he said, showing me into the old ornate lift. Holding my hand, he surveyed me in the mirrors, drinking in the sight of me.
I couldn’t help it: “What do you see?” I asked, pouting my famous lips, my elegant reflection echoed back to me in multiple by the fabulous gilt-edged mirrors surrounding us.
“I see a beautiful woman who needs to stop working so hard”, Ben smiled.
“Just as well I’m making the most of my time off right now then, isn’t it?” I batted back with a wink of my stage lashes.
I noticed Ben’s even teeth under the ornamental light, the beautiful curve of his mouth, and the softness of his skin. I wanted to touch his face, but didn’t quite have the courage, so I did the next best thing and took his other hand in mine so that we stood face to face. Despite the warmth of my fur coat the hungry look in his eyes gave me goosebumps, and I trembled slightly in anticipation, my very essence vibrating with desire at his touch. I was eager for him too.
The bell announced the third floor, breaking our reverie, and as though in a dream I tottered along the corridor to Ben’s place, my arm threaded through his. I could feel the strong muscles on his forearm and smell his fresh, masculine aftershave. I was under his spell, and my body hummed in recognition.
First published on Cliterati under my Mia More alias