Overcoming tech illiteracy is the first step in drawing the long-distance lovers together, closer than ever.
For Vivian, the 21st century happened to other people. "Online" was queuing for tickets, coffee, the bus, or the theater. "Social Media" was a copy of Gourmet shared with friends. "Smartphone" was the oh-so-stylish, burnt orange rotary on her bedside table. "Streaming" was what butter did when she poured it into whatever she made. "Messaging" was writing an actual letter.
And refined ladies-of-a-certain-age never spoke of "Downloading"—at least not in public.
For Zach, his life invariably teetered on the edge of technological mortification. Setting the clock on a VCR? Hours spent reading Spanish, French, German, and Japanese instructions … only to leave it shamefully blinking. Turn off a pager? Fumbling fingers sending it comically buzzing, bumbling along the sidewalk. Send a message on a Blackberry? THey all seemed come come out "Sury runing lter WIlL bea bk in 154 mtes." Use a computer? Why does it do that, how can I get that back, what do you mean by that, where's the mouse, which key is Escape, all I want to do is send a damned email …?
Vivian threw her frustrations into work at the bakery: less kneading and more punching dough, a squeeze of lemon turning into a splash of juice and a spray of seeds, scones rolled so tight light couldn't escape their surface, once aetherial pastries became flavorless doorstops, and "service with a smile" replaced with "bitterness with a frown."
Zach shrank within himself: months then years between "with someone" to "without someone" made the world distant and inhospitable. Doubt became his constant companion, and like a friend who won't take a hint, refused to leave.
With so many trials and even more errors behind them, it took Vivian and Zack a New York Summer and the good portion of a Manhattan winter to peer over their sorrows and on a sleet-frosted Wednesday afternoon dare to reach out.
But when bashful hands eventually grazed hesitant ones, then quivering lips glanced against the same, then shared laughter, then adoring gazes, then exchanged moans, then mutual orgasms, then curled up together, then aches of longing, then bursts of quick kisses, then lost in the dance of tongue with tongue— that word, the word, tomorrow and forward became bright, warm, and happy.
Then Vivian had to leave the country to care for her sick mother.
For the first few days, Vivian's attention was primarily fixed on the electrocardiogram beside her mother's bed. Her own heart rate spiking at the machine's less and less frequent beeps.
But since this was early, single-digit days of March 2020, both were soon alarmingly aware of the world unraveling around them.Read: A Guide to Safer Pandemic Sex
It was Vivian who first voiced their mutual fears, saying, "I hope I can get back."
It was Zach who responded with their shared hopes, "Don't worry, my love, nothing will keep us apart."
The next day came a crisply prim and precisely proper British announcement that used words like "complete and total," "quarantine," and "indefinite."
In a too-small London hotel room, Vivian said, "I miss you so much it hurts."
In his too-big, too-empty Manhattan apartment Zach said, "I want to hold you—and never let go."
Two weeks later, a sparsely attended funeral: faces of friends, family, and both or neither concealed behind masks.
Beginning with shared jokes to reading The Daily Mail (to Zach) and Weekly World News (to Vivian), followed by Alice In Wonderland (by Vivian) and The Dain Curse (by Zach) to tender New York reminiscences, to sobbing fears they struggled to reach across the vast and getting vaster, miles between them.
It was Zach who'd half-seen, half-heard it on an American news program, framed around terms like "coping with isolation," "unexpected popularity," and "how to stay connected."
In London, Vivian had to deal with language, The Lockdown, before broaching how to connect which to what.
In New York, Zach fought against a lack of availability, ever-shifting pandemic precautions, before how to install whatever that was into whatever this is.
It became a new game: morning (for him), late afternoon (for her), calls as they figured out ("ah!") that had to be downloaded onto this ("okay, I got it!") before whatever would work ("of course!") with what ("that's it!").
But finally, after Vivian strode bravely into the 21st century and Zack courageously slew his technological apprehensions, through a pair of laptop screens, they saw one another for the first time in months.
And, hardly recognizing who they were looking at, struggled to find something … anything to say.Read: 5 Ways to Add Heat to Long Distance Love Affairs
It was Vivian who, at 3:00AM and desperate for a way to drain her irritatingly awake mind, cautiously opened her factory fresh computer, clicked on the tiny Chrome icon, and pecking more than hunting, typed "how stay intimte?"
That evening (for her) and early morning (for him), she'd softly, tenderly, warm-heartedly offered what she'd found; her reserved, wary smile turning beaming brightly as Zach said, his own words shyly vulnerable, "I-I'd like to try it, my love."
A coin was tossed, Her Majesty's regal visage awarding Vivian the right (and anxiety) of taking the lead.
A bottle of £7.50 Tesco La Vieille Ferme Red on the nightstand, lights dimmed or switched off, laptop pushed to the edge of the hotel room's tiny desk, wearing the red satin nightgown she'd bought for the occasion, Vivian withdrew and expressed some calming breaths, took her fifth large swallow of the affordable vintage and said:
"I-I've never told anyone this. I wanted to a few times but … (sigh) because I didn't know how they'd react, I always kept it to myself.
"But you're different. I feel safe with you. Nervous, maybe even frightened—" another big drink of wine "—but not enough not to want to tell you about it. Because I get it, I understand you might think it's weird (giggle), but … I'm saying but a lot aren't I?
"I know you'd tell me. Not to make me feel bad but because you're so sweet and honest. Like when you told me you didn't like to go dancing but went with me because you said if it was something I liked, it was something you'd like. That's amazing, and I tried so hard not to cry when you said it.
"A couple of my ICE friends, that's the Culinary Institute, had this thing where Saturday nights they'd pick something at random to check out. One time it was Salsa dancing, another was this rave kind of thing that just gave me a headache, and then one of them said they heard about this Club in Soho. So we went, it was kind of an open night thing where anyone could come, and I didn't know anything about it except it said we had to be polite and respectful or we'd be asked to leave.
"They also told us we should dress sexy. Refined sexy, I guess you could say—" Vivian stretched out a bit, putting arms and legs where they didn't feel knotted. "So I wore this black dress and some nice shoes. When we got there, we had to sign something like a waiver explaining the rules before they'd let us in.
"Our eyes had to take time to adjust to how dark it was … so we huddled together, not knowing what was going on. I heard what I thought was … I don't know what I thought it was, maybe punching a leather couch." She snorted, then full body laughed at the ridiculous sound she'd made.
"I began to see things. Groups of two or three people hanging out together in this huge space. Some of them were like us, politely watching what was going on. Others were … doing things. There was one man, he was very hairy … like a walking Brillo pad … and he was tied to this x-shaped piece of equipment while another man used a little whip on his nipples."
Languished was apt, a suitable descriptive for how Vivian loosened herself. At the end of another big stretch, one of her hands touched and then began caressing one of her breasts.
"It was all around us. Another person was bent over something like a sawhorse as someone dressed head to foot in red leather hit them with a huge whip. No, it was … it was one whip, but a bunch of them connected to a handle. I don't know what it was called. After, I kept wanting to find out, but … I didn't. I should have. But I didn't."
As her nipple raised, dimpled, and as her fingers plugged, tugged at it, her other hand slipped between her legs: satin fabric softly whispering against her pubic bush as she began circling her clit.