by Rachel Woe
Layla swiped her MetroCard at the turnstile and hastened through the station alongside throngs of her fellow New Yorkers, arriving just as the Four Train screeched into the terminal. Wrinkling her nose at the puff of body odor and strong cologne, she boarded the packed train car. The hem of her dress brushed the front of her thighs as she grasped the overhead handrail.
Had she been home in her kitchen or tucked into her cubicle at the telemarketing firm where she worked, she might have allowed herself to slip into a fantasy, swapping the gentle swish of fabric for fingers.
It’d been nearly a year since someone had touched her on-purpose, weeks since she’d had a face-to-face conversation. That something as simple as contact with her own clothes could make her stomach flutter was downright demoralizing.
She had hoped moving out of her sister’s house would encourage her to be more social. But all it had done was reinforce her belief that loneliness was contagious, disseminating itself like influenza in a crowded elevator.
Still, Layla never felt more isolated than when she boarded the subway, packed back-to-back with strangers like one-too-many olives in the jar.
The conductor’s voice crackled over the intercom as the train began to move into the tunnel. Layla stared blankly at her reflection, smudged and translucent in the darkened window. She needed a haircut and a new dress, something to make her look less ghostlike. The train shuddered. She held tight to the bar to keep herself upright but her foot slipped, accidentally bumping the passenger seated in front of her.
Soft denim brushed against Layla’s calf. The contact was brief, hardly worth noticing. But she noticed.
Glancing down at the man seated before her, she was startled to find him staring. Most New Yorkers knew better than to maintain eye contact on the subway, but the duffel bag at his feet gave the impression he might be a tourist. A handsome tourist, Layla thought, eyeing his broad hands curved over splayed knees, mere inches from her thighs.
She looked up as the train surfaced, a smile pulling at the edges of her mouth.
You could tell a lot about a man from the condition of his hands. What sort of work he did, his marital status, his commitment to cleanliness or lack thereof. This man had long fingers with large knuckles and light-brown hairs that trailed into his shirtsleeves. The thought of those clean, strong hands gliding up her skirt made her want to squeeze her thighs together. She attempted to cross her right foot over her left but found it impossible with the bag resting at her feet.
The man cleared his throat. Layla told herself not to look, not to encourage. But it’d been so long since anyone had looked at her—since she’d looked at anyone—like that. She couldn’t resist.
His mouth, an island in a sea of strawberry-blond stubble, tipped into a smile and mimed the word, Hi.
A warm shiver moved through her. “Hey,” she whispered.
The train descended into another tunnel. Layla sidestepped, closing the distance between the man's leg and her own.
His finger and thumb grazed her skin. She gasped. He seemed pleased by her reaction, pleased enough to encircle her knee with his whole hand. Layla's heart pounded at her temples, drowning out the rumble of the train. She slid her other leg out to touch the man’s opposite knee.
He held her with both hands.
Layla’s breath snagged in her chest. What the hell was she thinking? She knew nothing about this man or what he might be capable of. He stroked the backs of her knees, his gaze roving over her breasts and belly. His hand slid a few inches higher.
A deep ache had settled between Layla’s thighs like stones in her pockets dragging her attention downward. She bit her lips, holding back a whimper.
Someone coughed. She scanned the faces around her for knowing glances, but everyone appeared to be lost in their own thoughts—even the women to the stranger’s immediate left and right, who’d need only look up from their phones to catch him touching her.
The man followed Layla’s gaze, smiled wider, then slid up under her dress. She could hardly breathe, her chest and belly tight from anxiety-laced arousal. A quick glance down revealed an obvious bulge along the man’s inseam.
Desire watered her mouth.
Passengers shuffled towards the doors as the train wailed to a stop. The stranger lowered his hands to his knees, and an ache of disappointment pierced Layla’s chest.
“Turn around,” he said quietly. “Or walk away.”
It took a second for Layla to discern his meaning. He was giving her an out. A chance to stop this—whatever this was—before it went further than she wanted it to. Did she want it to?
Layla turned to face the opposite row of seats as a new group of commuters streamed into the car. The man tugged at her skirt, guiding her a half-step back between his legs.
The train lurched and was off again.
She clutched the overhead bar as the man trailed feather-light strokes along her outer thighs and up into her dress. Heat flooded her face and she prayed that no one would notice the sweat beading on her upper lip. He caressed her legs, teasing her with strong, skilled fingers.
Layla closed her eyes. It felt so good to be touched. If only they could slip off to somewhere private where he could kiss her, taste her... It was a dangerous thought, one that made her shiver.
He tickled the backs of her thighs, then glided his thumbs between them, skimming upward towards her panties. Her nerves felt taut, like violin strings wound too tightly, ready to snap.
“Excuse me,” said an elderly woman to Layla’s right. The man stilled his hands. “Does this train go all the way up to Bedford Park?”
Layla swallowed the lump of panic that had bobbed into her throat. “I believe it does.”
“Oh good, thank you.”
Layla smiled tightly. She expected the man’s fingers to vanish after their close call, but he kept his hands poised just below her bottom. Her heart sank as the train slowed to a stop once again. The conductor crackled over the intercom: “One-twenty-fifth Street.”
The next stop would be hers.
A handful of people departed and more got on. Again, the train pitched. Layla’s new friend continued to stroke her inner thighs, gliding down and floating back up. She chewed her lip and considered bending her knees to speed his ascent.
Finally, he made contact with her panties.
He rocked the flat edge of his hand back and forth along her outer lips. Each swipe put pressure on her clitoris and left her wanting.
Layla’s fingernails cut into her hand as she tightened it around the bar. Two fingers toyed with her underwear, slipping beneath the elastic at her thigh. The train shivered and shook, and so did Layla.
He resumed stroking back and forth over her lips before sliding between them, and she swore she heard a sharp inhale as he encountered her wetness. He made sure his fingers were good and slick before he touched her clitoris.
Layla clenched her jaw as the man drew circles over the taut bundle of nerves. Each and every stroke elicited a sharp twinge of arousal, threatening to reduce her to a moaning, writhing, wanton thing before everyone’s eyes. She swayed with the train as it banked, her feet slipping a few inches and placing her even deeper into the vee of his legs.
The man’s touch was light, yet insistent, unrelenting as he thrummed her sensitive bud. Pleasure stirred like cake batter in the bowl of her pelvis, sweet and silken. Delicious.
Gasps became choked whimpers; twinges deepened into throbs. He slid his thumb inside her, and she bit down hard on her lips as the muscles in her groin tensed, spasmed—
“Now approaching One-forty-ninth Street, Grand Concourse.”
She came, her knees liquefying. If it hadn’t been for her grip on the bar, she would’ve collapsed onto the disgusting floor.
The brakes squealed as the train coasted towards the platform. Layla tapped the man’s foot to signal that this was her stop. He withdrew from her panties, gliding his fingertips down the backs of her thighs, trailing wetness. He rose to his feet.
Pressed against her back, he was broader than she'd expected, and taller. She felt like a morsel in comparison, like he could swallow her whole.
His right hand covered hers on the bar while the left surreptitiously squeezed her backside. She’d grown used to his hands on her body, enough to welcome them like old friends. His breath gushed hot across her cheek, making her skin tingle and her nipples prick.
The train stopped and the doors slid open. Was he planning to follow her? There was only one way to find out.
She leaned against him, then snaked her palm out from under his. The last thing she felt of him was his hand as it uncoupled from her rear, and the resulting chill as her skin grew accustomed to the lack of touch.
Layla weaved through the crowded car and stepped onto the station platform. Breathing deeply for the first time since she’d boarded the train, she let the mob take her, moving through the station in a daze.
Someone’s shoe scraped the back of her heel as she approached the stairway. Was it him? Was he tailing her? She pushed on, head spinning and heart racing. If he was indeed following her, where should she go? She could lead him to her apartment—but wait, that would be stupid. He could be dangerous.
Panic and arousal circled one another in her belly as she debated whether or not to duck into a bathroom or find an attendant. She had let her fantasies of being desired overtake her sanity, and now her sanity was closing in fast.
Layla climbed the stairs two at a time. Gripping the banister, she hurled herself onto the top step and out to the street. She scanned the busy intersection, afraid to turn around, afraid to face his expectant stare. After all, she’d allowed him to get her off. Now it was his turn. Layla didn’t know what scared her more: the possibility that this man might be coming to collect, or the part of her that desperately wanted to return the favor.
The entire situation had gone crazy—crazy hot, yes, but still, crazy.
Car horns and distant sirens blared. Layla jogged across the street, her panties practically soaked through. She swore she heard heavy footsteps behind her as she rounded the corner of the Bronx General Post Office.
Or perhaps she only wanted to hear them.
If she was willing to let a handsome stranger finger her on the subway, why not jerk him off in the privacy of her own home? She could take her time, draw it out, maybe wrap her panties around his cock; he seemed like the type who'd be into that.
But what if she brought him home and he demanded more than a hand job? She fought to rein in her pulse. Then again, if he was as good with his mouth as he was with his hands...
Layla stopped short and spun around.
A teenager in a blue raincoat shouted as the two of them collided. The impact knocked Layla back against a post.
“The hell did you stop for?” the girl spat.
Layla's shoulder blade throbbed. "I thought you were...someone else."
The girl brushed herself off and continued down the sidewalk. Layla sagged against the lamppost.
A drop of rain tapped her forehead and trickled down her cheek. Panting, she scanned the street for a familiar face, but saw no sign of the stranger from the Four Express train.
She looked for him the next day and the day after. For weeks, she combed the crowds until she couldn't remember if his eyes had been brown or hazel. Life went on as it always had, but something inside Layla had shifted. She wasn’t immune to feeling isolated, but the hopelessness she’d been dragging around was gone.
Talking to strangers didn’t seem daunting compared to letting one fondle you on the train. As for her sex life, Layla figured if it could happen once, it could happen again. After a party, perhaps, or on a date.
She was en route to her first real date in over a year when she finally found him, playing Frisbee with a young boy in Central Park. Layla watched the two of them, laughing and running, her own feet rooted in place. She wasn't the only one.
A woman in a yellow dress lounged on a blanket nearby, smiling at the pair over a dog-eared paperback. She called to the boy to come and put on some sunscreen. The kid flung the Frisbee towards the blanket, missing it entirely.
It landed at Layla's feet.
She picked up the disk just as the man from the train jogged over to claim it.
"Sorry about that," he said to her, sunlight glinting off his plain gold ring as he reached for the Frisbee.
Layla’s throat constricted. Had he been wearing it that day on the train? No, impossible. She would’ve noticed.
The man’s thumb brushed hers in the exchange. He eyed her curiously. “Do I know you?”
She found her voice. “Not really.”
Heat and recognition flashed in his eyes, followed by trepidation. His gaze flitted to the woman on the blanket. “Hi. How’ve you been?”
“Good,” he said briskly. “Where are you off to?”
A friendly question, polite, and clearly intended to keep her moving.
“I have a date. My first one in a long time.” Layla wasn’t sure why she’d said that—save for the fact that it was true. She tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, not yet used to wearing it short.
The man gave her a discreet once-over. He smiled. “Well, you look good.”
Layla said nothing. Thank you didn’t taste right, considering the circumstances.
A burst of laughter from the blanket sliced through the uncomfortable quiet. The man cleared his throat.
“We separated for a while a few months back,” he said quietly. “I don’t want you to think—”
“It’s okay,” she said, because what else could it be? It didn’t matter what had put him on the train that day; he was here now. Besides, Layla was on her way to have dinner with a man who knew her name, and she wasn’t about to be late on account of someone who’d never tried to learn it.
She smiled at the stranger and then left him, knowing he would not follow.
She never saw him again.
Rachel Woe is a forbidden love junkie who probably watched too many inappropriate movies as a teenager. A longtime lover of risqué fiction, she used to smuggle Story of O and The Sleeping Beauty trilogy to school, folded inside brown-bag book covers. On the rare occasion when she’s neither reading nor writing, you can find her camped out at the back of the cinema or on the hunt for a perfect Irish eggs Benny.