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Thinking about it, I've decided that bringing Jell-O to a gathering of leathermen wasn't my big mistake. My big mistake was bringing it on the night that Master Trent was attending.

I met up with him at an inopportune moment, when he was staring morosely at the refreshments table. The table looked pretty good to me. Martin, who is president of our little suburban leather club, works as a caterer, and he always makes sure we have a good spread. Tonight it was fairly standard stuff: cut vegetables with dill dip, watermelon pieces, and various desserts that the rest of us had brought. Master Trent pointed one long, wrinkled finger at the vegetables. "What," he asked, "is that?"

I paused before answering. I always pause before answering Trent. While the usual position of my hanky won't allow me to fall onto my knees and do hero-worship, I've been tempted at times. I know I'm not the only one in our club who feels that way.

Whoever came up with the clichés about the Old Guard must have met Trent. He's tall, ruggedly handsome, muscular, tattooed, and has a belt so heavy and thick that it could have served as a railroad track. Tom of Finland used him as his model, I'd swear.

Trent doesn't wear leather, though. He says he stopped wearing it back in the seventies, when it started becoming fashionable among vanilla gays. Being fashionable is exactly what a true leatherman ain't, he says. He has a lot more to say on that subject, and his tedious e-mails on the topic were the main reason I'd managed to keep from flinging myself at the feet of suburbia's Mr. Benson.

Gary was the other reason. I glanced over at the second man, who had a padlocked chain around his neck and was about a decade younger than Trent, which made him three decades older than me. Gary was carefully examining the toothpicks holding sushi. Daydreaming of the uses Trent could put them to, I suppose.

"I think," I said carefully to Trent, "that those are baby carrots."

"Baby carrots," said Trent, running his eye distastefully over the zucchini and broccoli and cauliflower and the radishes cut into delicate shapes by Martin's skilled hand. "And what is that?"

Gary had made his choice, and it appeared that Trent wasn't pleased with it. I said judiciously, "I think it's a Ho Ho. But it's the low-fat version, judging from the box."

From Trent's glower, I gathered I'd given the wrong answer. "And that?" He shot his finger toward a bowl at the very end of the wooden table.

"Uh . . . " Suddenly I saw where this was headed and felt uncomfortable. "That's my contribution, actually. Lime Jell-O with miniature marshmallows."

He could have burned a hole in the carpet with his look.

"Oh, come on, Trent," I protested. "What were you expecting, a deer roasting on a spit? You're in Lawnville, for God's sake!"

"The food," Trent said balefully as he looked around the room, "is only symbolic of the problem."

After a minute, I figured out what he meant. The dozen of us who were standing in this room were nearly all dressed to the hilt in leather – Trent and Gary and I were the only exceptions. Since we'd just come back from a Sunday-afternoon demo at the Eagle, we were all wearing hankies and key-chains, and Martin was tapping a nice riding crop against his thigh. If any of Martin's neighbors had walked in at this moment, they would have screamed and fled from the dangerous men.

But the conversation was . . . Well, it didn't live up to the trappings. A couple of guys to the left of me were discussing whether it was rude for them to wear shorts to town council meetings. Another group was discussing how long you could let your grass grow before the neighbors complained about the state of your lawn. Martin was heavily engaged in a conversation about his plans to register his domestic partnership with the local authorities.

It was all quite familiar to me. This was the world I'd lived in since I was a kid: the world of PTA book-sales and lemonade stands and kinky little games in the boys' locker room which you followed up with trips to the corner store to buy a giant Slurpee that you shared.

But I knew what Trent was envisioning as he looked out on the gathering: tough, lawless men motorbiking into the wilderness where they tore off their clothes and had raw, rough sex in orgies that lasted three days. It wasn't a world I knew, but it was the world that had drawn Trent into leather.

"Trent," I said seriously as I poured myself a cup of sparkling punch, "all the spontaneous, limitless anarchy that you miss couldn't have lasted. If AIDS hadn't killed it, something else would have. An unstable society like that just won't hold together for long."

"Stability." Trent gave me a look that was more daunting than the previous ones, because I couldn't read his expression. "That's what you're seeking from leathersex? Lack of danger?"

"Danger can exist alongside stability," I argued, eyeing a Ho Ho greedily. "You set your unmovable foundation, you decide your limits – and then everything else you gamble."

Trent snorted. "Danger. You young leathermen know nothing about danger. I had only one fear when I was young, and I got over that in time. But you fear everything. You fear that you won't be accepted by your vanilla neighbors, you fear that society will think you're strange. You won't do anything spontaneous or risky because you might get hurt." Trent snorted again. "All you need, you say, is stability. Say, which pocket is your hanky in tonight?"

I sighed. This was an old argument between us. "Look, just because I'm ninety-percent top doesn't mean I can't have a little fun taking the other role once in a while. That has nothing to do with stability—"

I was interrupted then. Martin was starting to make the rounds of the room, clipboard and pen in hand, asking everyone whether they were registered to vote so that they could show the world what good citizens leathermen are. Nearby, most of the club had entered into a discussion of how long the negotiations before a scene should last between a top and a bottom, and whether there should be three breaks or four for further negotiations later in the evening.

"Fucking Christ," Trent said with disgust. Then he turned to me and asked mildly, "Will you do something for me?"

"Sure," I said with a mouth full of my first bite of Ho Ho. "Anything you want."

It must have been the Ho Ho. Sugar rushes cause madness, right? Because I promise you, "Anything you want," is not what you say to Master Trent. Not when he has his black handkerchief sticking out of his left back pocket.

He smiled and put his arm around my shoulders. I'm not into that touchy-feely male bonding stuff, so I tried to shrug him off, sort of like a fly might try to shrug off a bull. I saw Gary suddenly turn his gaze our way, as though alerted by a signal. Trent raised his voice above the chatter.

"Gentlemen!" he announced. "My dear grey-hankied friend here has just offered to let me do anything I want with him. That's right, isn't it?" He turned to me for confirmation.

It was right about then that the Ho Ho turned into a ten-ton cast-iron ball in my stomach. I made the mistake of trying to answer. "Well, yeah, but—"

That was as far as I got. Trent picked me up by my back collar and belt and threw me onto the table.

Let me assure you, this isn't easy to do. I mean, I'm a hundred and sixty pounds. The sound of me landing was like a crack of thunder, and for a moment I thought the table would break apart. I was less worried about this than about the fact that I'd landed on the food.

I had missed the toothpicks. That was the only mercy. My out-flung arms were now smeared with crushed low-fat Ho Hos, while the piles of vegetables were under my torso. My groin landed on baby carrots, which were only bumpy, but my chest was less lucky. I found that my tits were being gouged by Martin's carefully cut radishes.

As for my face, that was buried in the bowl of dip.

I would have made history in the next minute as the only man in Lawnville to ever drown in dill dip, but Trent shoved me forward. All of the food under me rolled with my body, and the bowl fell to the floor. If the bowl had been made of glass, the result would have been a shattering that would undoubtedly have left my face full of glassy shards. As it was, I blessed the inventor of Tupperware.

The shove left my head hanging over the end of the table. I immediately placed my hands palm-down against the back of my head. Several of the guys told me afterwards how impressed they were that I moved so quickly into a position of submission. It had nothing to do with submission. I was just trying to protect my head against what would come next.

The first blow of Trent's belt nearly cracked the table again. It landed on my shoulder-blades with all the force of a train running down a track. People around me were shouting. I heard a scream. I think it was me. Martin was gabbling something about the difficulty of cleaning dip from his carpet.

The second blow landed on my ass. This time I had no doubt who was screaming, because I didn't have time enough to catch my breath before the third blow landed on my thighs.

If I'd been thinking straight, I would have taken due note of the fact that Trent had skipped the dangerous area of my lower back, and would have been heartened by this. But then, if I'd been thinking straight, I wouldn't have been lying atop someone's offering of Toll House chocolate chip cookies. All I could manage was a vague confusion as to why the beating had paused. Not stopped; I hadn't lost my mind enough to have delusions of that sort.

The room grew suddenly quiet. Martin stopped talking about the cost of buying a new tablecloth. I felt Trent's hand grope my butt. This, coming immediately after the sudden attack, caused a growth of warmth at my groin. My cock began to nudge the baby carrots out of the way. This struck me as funny, so I laughed.

"Quiet!" Trent accompanied this instruction with a slap to my ass that thrust all laughter from my throat. My cock swelled happily. Trent groped into my left back pocket again, pulling something out. I understood then. I felt him transfer the handkerchief to my right pocket. Trent is always careful about such niceties.

"I trust," he said politely to me, "that you won't mind if I add more colors to your pocket."

It wasn't a question. The pause had done its work; I had stopped being alarmed and was working on being terrified. Black handkerchiefs always make me nervous, at least if I'm on the bottom, but I'd never been this scared before. Of course, I'd never before bottomed to a man who didn't wear a handkerchief back in the old days, because in the old days such polite warnings of sexual preferences weren't needed. You didn't negotiate with your bottom-man back then; you simply took what you wanted.

Something cold touched my neck. Since my head was still hanging down, I couldn't see anyone's expressions, but from the hiss of breath around me I could guess that I was right in thinking the coldness was a knife. I decided that breathing was more trouble than it was worth.

I'd have sworn beforehand that it's impossible to cut a flannel shirt with nothing but a penknife. Trent proved me wrong. The silence was like a black hole as Trent dragged the knife down, splitting the shirt and drawing a fiery line of blood down my back. It was the same silence that occurred on the rare occasions when Trent graced us with his SM demonstrations. Trent's slave had always been the bottom in those demonstrations; I wondered briefly how Gary felt about being passed over tonight.

Then I had no thoughts left for Gary, because my split shirt had been opened, and I knew that this wasn't so that Trent could admire my well-developed muscles. I gulped in air in preparation.

The belt blows this time were more rhythmic, almost ritualistic. I sobbed throughout them. I'm willing to swear on The Leatherman's Handbook that I'm not weak when I travel to the bottom in SM, even if my tastes tend more toward the softer end of leathersex. But Mr. Benson himself would have sobbed if he'd felt a train car run over his back thirty times in a row.

At one point, I heard someone whisper something to Martin about stopping the scene. Martin murmured a demurral. I vowed to strangle Martin if I lived.

The beating stopped. My groin was lifted off the baby carrots, which were no doubt grateful for the relief, and I was pulled down to the end of the table till my groin dangled over the edge. Only my chin now hung over the other side, next to the dill-smeared tablecloth. Trent's hand fiddled with my belt, which caused my chest to tighten. Daydreams about Trent were one thing, but I'd seen his size when he played with Gary. I wanted to be able to sit down again some time during the next month.

I tried wriggling away, but Trent simply planted his hand firmly on the small of my back. I felt like a vampire who has just had a stake planted in his heart. So I made a sound. It wasn't exactly a protest. I mean, there's nothing I hate worse than a bottom who says, "No limits," and then wimps out in the middle of a scene. I was just trying to articulate something along the lines of, "Can we stop and talk about this, sir?"

I don't know how the sound translated, but Trent slapped my ass again. "Slaveboy," he said, "I need a gag. You'll do."

I turned my eyes toward Gary, who stood frozen. For a second I wondered whether he was jealous. Thus I missed whatever time I had in which to give him a reassuring look. He jumped as Trent barked in anger; then he hurried forward, pulling a piece of square foil from his pocket.

It was then that I realized what danger I was in.

All I could do for a moment was moan. There had been much speculation – both outside Trent's hearing and within – about Trent's HIV status. I promise you, our little club usually finds more discreet ways to enquire as to whether any of our members knows he is carrying a deadly disease. Our public nosiness in Trent's case arose from the lengthy messages he had posted to our e-mail list about the need for spontaneous, limitless leathersex, with no ridiculous innovations like negotiations and safe words and condoms.

More than one member – I'll admit I was one of them – had been heard to proclaim loudly that Trent was engaging in dangerous, self-serving talk. True, no one except Gary needed to worry about whether Trent was positive, since Trent never had sex with the rest of us. True, Trent had always been a top, and tops were less likely to get AIDS than bottoms were. But Trent had freely admitted to having tried the bottom's role in fisting a few times in order to become more accomplished at the topman's end of the matter.

A few times. In San Francisco. In the eighties. Christ, if Trent wasn't HIV positive, he must be living under the protection of a major saint.

Gary had pulled out his cock by now and was rolling the rubber over it. Whatever he might think of Trent's choice of a play partner, he evidently found Trent's workmanlike handling of me to be exciting. Trent was pulling down my briefs. I had just time enough to say, "Trent, I really don't want to—"

"Quiet!" Trent landed a slap on my balls that guaranteed I screeched at the very moment Gary slid his cock into my mouth. I considered biting off Gary's cock. It wasn't too crazy an idea, given the consequences I was facing.

"Jell-O, you say?" Trent's voice was mild. "Sounds like a decent lube to me. Thank you for bringing it."

My mind suddenly spun as I mentally ran down the list of ingredients for my recipe to see whether any of them disagreed with rectums. Damn, I should have memorized my Betty Crocker cookbook. Then I remembered that I had more important matters to worry about.

Gary's cock had just finished its journey into the depths of my throat. It had easy passage; when I learn to do something, I do it well. As Gary pulled back and his cock's head touched my lips, I jerked my mouth away. I could feel Trent's dick at my entrance, cool with lime Jell-O.

"Damn it, Trent!" I shouted. "You know I don't play bareback! If you fuck me without a rubber, I swear I'll beat you to death with your own belt!"

I expected another slap. What I got was a chuckle. "That, gentlemen, is the difference between a topman and a bottom-man," Trent announced. "If I'd done this to a bottom, he would have pleaded, or at most he would have threatened me with the police. A true top takes matters into his own hands."

"He's wearing a rubber," Martin told me from where he stood, watching the proceedings with interest. "He put it on before he started removing your clothes. Otherwise we wouldn't have let him go this far."

All my breath left me. I felt Gary stroke my dip-filled hair solicitously. And in that moment of relaxation I opened up, and Master Trent, model for Tom of Finland, slid his massive power inside me and lit me up like a suburban lawn display at Christmastime.


"That's the way to do it," Trent said with satisfaction. "No twelve-hour negotiations. No fiddling talk of whether the bottom will allow his left ass-cheek to be pounded harder than his right ass-cheek. And Christ help us, no goddamn breaks in the middle to renegotiate. Just raw, rough sex, the way it was meant to be."

We were sitting on the sofa in Martin's living room near midnight. Martin, having spent an hour frantically looking up phone numbers of dry cleaners, had rushed off to a 24-hour cleaner to see whether they could rescue his tablecloth. Everyone else had left. Trent, Gary, and I had finished cleaning up our mess, had figured out where Martin hid his beer, and were now lounging at our leisure till Martin returned and we could render our apologies.

"You know I agree with you in essence, if not necessarily in the details," I said. "So why me? Why not Gary?"

Trent shook his head as he looked down at Gary, who was sprawled over my lap with his head resting in Trent's lap, deep asleep. "Too much danger," Trent said softly. "Gary might have let me fuck him without checking that I wore protection. Then the point of the demonstration would have been lost. I knew that you'd let me go as far as your usual limit, and no further."

I looked over at Trent, who was softly fingering Gary's hair. "Trent," I said, "you're a poseur. All that talk about no limits, no need for condoms. . . Gary doesn't have sex with anyone but you. He wouldn't have been carrying a rubber unless you'd given it to him."

Trent smiled without raising his eyes from Gary. "I just wanted to shake you young folks up, make you examine your assumptions. You're all so dreadfully conformist. I'd like to say that the urban leathermen are better, but that's not the case. Your generation should be rebelling against society when you wear your leather, not figuring out ways to restrict yourself to what society wants."

"Like you rebelled?" I said.

Trent leaned back, letting his arm fall on top of the sofa's backrest. I instinctively moved forward to avoid intimate contact with the other man. "Do you know what it was I feared when I was young?" Trent asked reflectively. "What it was that nearly all the leathermen of my generation feared? What we partied our brains out to avoid coming into contact with, for fear it would imprison us?"

I looked down at Gary, who was smiling in his sleep as Trent softly brushed his cheek. After a while I said, "Not just your generation."

"No," Trent agreed.

After a minute more I said, "I don't think that's what I'm looking for. Having a heavy top beat me is one thing. This—" I waved my hand at where Trent was continuing to stroke the face of his long-time lover. "This is dangerous. I don't think I have the courage for it."

Trent smiled again. "So don't press yourself. If it's meant to come, it will come in its own time. In the meantime, have fun, say 'fuck you' to all those senseless rules that society tries to place on you, but don't forget what you've had the good fortune to know at a much younger age than I did: the need for stability. The need for a foundation beneath the delicious danger in one's life."

I tried to sort this out. Finally I said, "All I can think of is Jell-O."

Trent laughed then, so loud that Gary opened his eyes and peered up at us, smiling sleepily.

"Jell-O, then," said Trent. "If that's what it takes. Jell-O and Tupperware and baby carrots and— Christ, I almost forgot. Slaveboy, fetch the ones we brought that escaped the damage. I don't want to waste them."

Gary slid from the sofa; a minute later he was back with the box of low-fat Ho Hos in hand. I looked from the box to Trent.

"You fucking hypocrite," I said slowly.

Trent smiled. He opened the box. "Care for one?"