A Study in Steele
by Lauryn Poynor
The voice was soft, feminine, and determined.
Steele stepped back slightly. This
wasn't supposed to happen. She
reclined, one hand on her cheek. He drew in a breath.
"Don't. Say anything." She
put a finger to her lips in the expectant
Steele took hold of his sweater and
pulled it over his head, managing to
peel it off with some resistance. His hair was tousled from the effort,
dark strands tumbling over his forehead. He tossed the heavy garment
onto the bed.
Meeting her even stare with more equanimity
than he felt, Steele
unfastened the top button of his white shirt. And rather precipitously,
the next one.
"No. Slower. . . One . . . Two
. . ." His taskmaster marked the tempo.
"Molto adagio con espressione."
With more deliberation, his hands
moved down his shirtfront. Steele
looked and saw that they were not quite steady.
"That's better. Now," she breathed softly, "shoes and socks."
As Steele bent down his watcher eyed
the view from his bared sternum to
his navel. Shoe laces were untied with only one slightly awkward
passage; he slipped off the shoes and socks and felt the cool of the
hardwood floor under his feet.
Steele straightened back up. Their
eyes met and he undid his cuffs. The
progress continued in the same slow motion; he pulled his shirttail free
-- giving full beats to a measure -- and slipped the shirt off and down
She stood up and walked around, circumnavigating
his flesh. With the
thoroughness of a geometrist she studied him: the flat planes of his
chest, the curvilinear grace of arms and shoulders. Not touching, she
absorbed the warmer textures of hair and skin, imagined tracing his
freshly shaved jawline with her fingers.
She went back to the chair. Unbearably
curious, he stole a glance at
her. There was Laura -- his Laura -- writing furiously, her taut,
legible hand giving way unconsciously to hotly undisciplined t-strokes
and loops. Not willing to let a thought process escape, she clutched
hard at the leather binder. Steele stopped undressing, fearing to break
He was still amazed at how things
got this far, even in this place,
where it seemed almost anything could happen, for better or worse. Since
they'd arrived at the Friedlich Spa she'd certainly taken this "when in
Rome" proposition to heart. It was Laura who this morning had suggested
that they go to one of Ursula's classes on touching and feeling. She
felt more open to it now, she said -- now that the case was over and
they would soon be heading back to Los Angeles. Without much protest, he
agreed. Practicing the art of tactile stimulation with Laura couldn't
be a bad thing. Steele wondered if he could persuade her, in private, to
try a Swedish accent.
Covert glances were exchanged between
them as the couple formerly known
as Laura and Richard Blaine were given the day's homework assignment. It
was an exercise called "The Joy of Not Touching," which sounded, to
Steele, like a terrific let-down -- worthy and zen-like though its
approach may have been. Yet, as Ursula set the scene, it began to take
on the trappings of fantasy, if each partner's spirit or flesh were
One of the pair was to remove all
of their clothing while the other
directed this revealing experiment, writing down all of their
impressions in a journal. The majority of the senses could happily be
engaged for the duration, but touching was verboten. The point was to
imagine what it would be like to touch, to project and anticipate, to
free the mind and emotions for the eventuality. The writer's journal
entry was to be shared with their partner -- and self-chosen portions to
the rest of the class in the next session. Then, the couples' roles
would be reversed.
When Ursula finished, Steele murmured
in Laura's ear, "Well, that's one
assignment we won't be taking on, eh? Or should that be -- taking off?"
A veto, he was sure, was a foregone conclusion where his lovely, but
infuriatingly chaste, partner was concerned.
To his surprise, Laura had begged
to differ. "Maybe I'm more ready than
you think, Mr. Steele. After all, breaking down barriers is what we both
want, isn't it?"
In the aftershock of this confession,
Steele had mumbled something, he
wasn't sure what. It struck him that since the bataka exercise, Laura
was in a somewhat raw and unguarded emotional state; he felt rather
uncomfortably the same himself. Surely he was taking advantage of the
situation by asking her to lay bare anything else, but he pushed such
inconveniently chivalrous thoughts aside. She'd intimated she was ready
-- and Laura was a woman of her word.
True to form, she blindsided him with
the element of surprise, turning
his expectations of seeing her as flawless and unadorned as a pagan
goddess, unequivocally upside down.
Steele caught her eyes on him again,
her pencil delicately poised, her
feet propped on the foot stool. As she reclined in the chair, he removed
his watch and bracelet, dropping them at her ankles like sacrificial
As his right hand went to his belt,
she sat upright; Steele thought
Laura was going to stop him then and there -- but she merely looked on
from a better perch. With unmeditated grace Steele continued trance-like
as she followed every move: his belt, next to go, slid noiselessly
through the loops. He undid the top button of his jeans and unzipped
slowly, knowing he was unavoidably half-erect under his briefs. Without
going further, he let both hands drop to his sides, unsure if he was
testing her resolve, or his own.
When Laura got up and came to him,
Steele didn't know what would happen
next. As the exercise directed, anticipation was all. It remained to be
seen if they could keep their part of the bargain, if the joy of not
touching was an even harder intimacy to bear.
Steele pulled the jeans down his hips
and legs and stepped out of them.
Her eyes followed him, deep and fathomless.
"Laura." There was an ache
in his throat. He reached up, not quite
meaning to touch, but his fingers grazed her cheek. The spell was
"Mr. Steele." She glanced
back toward the journal on the chair. Her
voice faltered slightly. "I think we should leave this for another
"Here endeth the lesson, eh?"
It was hard to say if his sigh was of
disappointment, or relief, or mere acquiescence. Steele retrieved his
robe from the back of the chair and slipped into the loose garment, a
shiver of contact against his skin. Giving her space, he lay on the bed
opposite, remembering how he'd tossed and turned on the chair cushions
the night before. They now held her secrets and a trace of her scent. He
watched as she picked up the volume and settled it in her lap.
After several false starts Laura's
pen flew across the page, until the
task was done. In trepidation and triumph she walked over and placed the
open journal on his chest.
Steele had a feeling the learning
process was just beginning. He
wondered if he could ever put it all into words. He sat up, thinking it
over. "Same time, next term, Miss Holt?"
"It's a date," she said.
"Bring your notebook, Mr. Steele. We might just
go to the head of the class." With a faraway smile, Laura opened her
suitcase and began to pack for home.