Emilia is invited into an elegant office and offered a seat in a tall, luxurious armchair, across a coffee table from another chair of the same kind, in front of a fireplace. Basically, Emilia feels as if she’s on the set of a Sherlock Holmes series. As long as it’s none of that slash fanfiction you enjoy so much, Milly. She throws a look at a large antique desk by the window. The room altogether is giving Emilia a barrister’s office vibe. Isn’t there some sort of a contract usually involved in a BDSM relationship? The door opens, and Emilia jumps up to her feet.

Mistress Eva looks normal. She looks so normal that Emilia wonders for a moment whether this tall, elegant – medium-sized – woman, in a stylish black dress is indeed one of the city’s most prominent sex coaches.

“Good evening,” the woman says and smiles at Emilia.

Even her smile is shockingly human. She’s no slim statuette, radiating extraordinary charm and danger like Lara Pulver’s character, nor is she a terrifying She-Hulk from those porn videos Emilia tried to watch but simply couldn’t stomach.

“Eva,” the dominatrix introduces herself, and shakes Emilia’s hand.

“Emily– Emilia. Evening,” Emilia squeaks.

They both sit down, and Mistress Eva offers Emilia a drink.

“No, no, thank you,” the writer protests. “I’ve had some red at the bar, and then there was the chardonnay with the crêpes, and then this man– I met him at the bar. He offered to join me, and we had crêpes,” she hurriedly explains. “Daniel Oates. And after the pudding, we had this amazing Italian liquor.”

Mistress Eva emits a soft laugh. “He must be rather smitten with you,” she says and shakes her perfectly manicured finger at Emilia. “Daniel doesn’t share his sweeties,” she adds.

“But– What?”

Mistress Eva pours two glasses of water, and Emilia grasps hers, like a drowning man at a straw. Oh that would be horrible writing, if put in her book. Two water related clichés, conflicting and repetitive at the same time? Shame on you, Milly.

“I assumed it’s just the etiquette of this place,” Emilia rasps out and downs her water. It has a pleasant tinge of mint and lemon flavour. “Being– um… Chummy with each other.”

The dominatrix gives Emilia a pensive look from under a raised, perfectly shaped eyebrow, and pours more water for Emilia.

“There’s no specific etiquette in the lounge and the restaurant of the club,” Mistress Eva says, taking a sip of water. Her lipstick leaves no trace on her glass. “People are expected to behave in a courteous, respectful way towards each other, just as in any other establishment. It is only behind the closed doors of the private rooms where the play starts. You’ve simply had a normal dinner with a man, nothing out of the ordinary.”

The woman can’t be any further from the truth of what counts as ordinary in Emilia’s life.

“The lounge and the restaurant are the safe space for people to approach each other, but there’s no expectation that the other person must accept the attention,” the dominatrix continues. “You have every right to refuse an invitation. Some people come, have a drink, and then leave if they don’t feel like socialising. Furthermore, we do not encourage anything beyond bondage play between our customers and/or our staff in the walls of The Top. Any sort of intimacy between our customers is to take place outside our club.”

Emilia is slowly drinking her water to gather her thoughts. By the third sip she decides to behave professionally: to focus on the woman in front of her and the expert information Emilia can obtain – and to forget about Daniel Oates for the time being. Emilia puts down her glass and clears her throat.

“So, what do people usually book their sessions with you for? You see, I don’t think I’m ready for any actual… play.” Emilia once again gives out a small cough. “I’m not– I don’t want to seem like a prude. I’m not! At least I don’t think I am. I just have very little experience in sex, and– I just need information. For my writing,” she adds.

“Besides providing guided play for my clients, I am also a certified sex therapist, so you can look at appointments with me as therapy sessions. Many people – very often couples – do. What are you planning to write?” the dominatrix asks. “How in depth would you like to go?”

A daft pun jumps into Emilia’s mind, but she’s too preoccupied with the discomfort of this situation. She opens her mouth, closes it, and huffs in frustration – mostly, at herself, but also in a sort of a general manner, at the society that put her in this position. If dating and having sex was easier, and more acceptable when you aren’t a man, a teenager, and/or slim, she wouldn’t be squirming in anguish in a chair facing a woman who possibly whips people as a source of income.

“I write romance,” Emilia answers. “It’s all very chaste. And I don’t think I’m ready to write anything more than traditional, heterosexual sex. And least, not yet. Maybe once I know more, something will peak my interest,” she says, but she can hear how doubtful her voice sounds.

Mistress Eva nods. As if confirming the opinion on Emilia she’s formed by now. C’mon, that’s just your insecurity talking, Milly. Maybe she’s not judging you.

“Are you currently in an active intimate relationship?” the dominatrix asks.

And that’s when Emilia finally bursts into the nervous laughter she’d been holding back since she stepped into the club. She generally tends to laugh, giggle, and even guffaw, when stressed. Her therapist has a lot to say about it. The woman in front of Emilia is politely waiting for Emilia to be done.

“No, I am not,” Emilia finally rasps out. “Far from it. ‘The distance between the Earth and the Moon’ far from it.”

Mistress Eva’s lips twitch in a small smile.

“384,400 kilometers far from it?” she asks, and Emilia’s eyes boggle. “I’m a polymath,” Mistress Eva adds and smiles wider. “In this case I suggest you start one. A relationship.” She holds a small pause and adds softly, “With yourself.”

“A relationship with myself,” Emilia repeats.

Ah, here we go. More of the self-love and ‘bloom where you’re planted’ rubbish, she scoffs internally. If Instagram, YouTube, and Pinterest didn’t convince Milly, should a fit, confident woman even try? Has she ever tried to have a relationship with an insecure, unattractive, needy, people-pleasing person who constantly seeks validation but can’t set boundaries and is too scared to ask for healthy affection?

“An active intimate one,” the dominatrix answers. “Do you own any sex toys?”

That’s an unexpected turn.

“Um… Yes,” Emilia answers.

She has one. It’s the classic design, purple, has two settings. No fanciful added features or extra… appendages.

“That’s all you need, really,” Mistress Eva says. “You simply need the right tools. A good assortment, a decent amount of education in your options, and vivid imagination, which, as we know, isn’t going to be an issue for you. Explore. Set a date, allocate enough time. Light some candles. Have a bit of wine, listen to romantic music.”

“I’m sorry,” Emilia interrupts. “Are we still talking about… masturbation?”

“Of course,” Mistress Eva answers. “I suggest starting with an hour.”

“What?! An average sex act with a man lasts two minutes or so!” Emilia exclaims. “What am I supposed to do with a dildo for an hour?! It doesn’t even talk!”

Mistress Eva snorts – in a very human, non-polished way.

“Oh, so you like them talking,” she draws out in a teasing tone. “You might not enjoy Daniel then. The man is all in his head when he’s not working.”

Emilia is now absolutely certain the dominatrix is taking the mickey out of her.

“He seemed to communicate just fine during our dinner,” Emilia grumbles.

“Perhaps he was nervous,” Mistress Eva says with a light shrug. “You aren’t his usual choice of a companion.”

“I bet I’m not,” Emilia says and finishes her water.

Suddenly she feels tired and sad.

“But you can trust him to be honest, Emilia,” the dominatrix says softly. “Has he asked for your number?”

“He gave me his card,” Emilia answers grudgingly.

The black rectangle is tucked away in her clutch. She’s planning to put it on her bedside table and obsessively pick it up and stare at it for the next six months.

“Lovely,” Mistress Eva says. “Are you planning to call him?”

“I will consider it,” Emilia answers with the confidence she doesn’t possess.

“As for your toys, I would start by purchasing a wand,” Eva says.

“I’m now imagining those pink glittery ones with a star on the end,” Emilia says and then starts rummaging in her handbag. “Do you mind if I take notes?”

The dominatrix laughs warmly. “Not at all. But I feel it’ll be easier if you subscribe to my newsletter and watch my YouTube channel. But do, please, write anything you need down. Since you’re imagining something from The Wizard of Oz, you clearly don’t have one, and you might consider buying one. And a rabbit.”

Emilia’s thumbs hover over the keyboard of her mobile.

“Blimey, you’re really pushing the whole magician theme here, “ Emilia blurts out.

Mistress Eva bursts into more gleeful laughter.

“You’re such a delight, Emilia,” she says. “Alright, let’s make a small list, and you’ll let me know what you looked into, what you tried and whether you enjoyed them next time.”

“Next time?!” Emilia squeaks.

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