Today was her last chance to win the bet.
Isha's stomach fluttered nervously. Her plan had been in place for more than a week but it wasn't too late to call it off. The thought had nagged at the edge of her mind constantly ever since those first few mouse clicks and keyboard taps had set the whole thing in motion. It's a stupid idea,she told herself. Obviously I'm not going to go through with it. Stop mucking around and just cancel it now.
Somehow she managed to hold off those doubtful voices and now here she was, only a few hours from the moment of truth. She was terrified, though she had to admit the idea was making her just a little horny too.
"Last day of the season today!" Lewis chirped from the kitchen table.
She rolled her eyes at him.
He looked back down at the iPad in front of him, no doubt reading the latest football news. The gloating look on his face remained. As far as he was concerned, the bet was already won. He had no idea what she had planned.
She imagined that triumphant look disappearing, being replaced with a combination of shock, awe, and fear, and she basked deliciously even in that fanciful glory. That childish competitive streak of hers! It had already caused so much trouble.
It was her parents, she thought. Her father especially. His parents--Isha's grandparents--had come over from India in the Fifties. They had worked hard to build a life so that their kids could be born British. "And so I'm British, whatever anyone else thinks. And so are you." He had spent most of his life competing with those around him, arguing and fighting with his peers to overthrow Indian stereotypes and prove himself as inherently British as anyone else. He had cultivated the competitive streak in Isha from an early age, believing it would give her an advantage in life. He had taught her draughts, chess, backgammon, risk, monopoly, scrabble--and taught her there was a deep, humiliating shame in losing at any of them.
She looked over at Lewis. She loved him now as she had when they'd first met fourteen years ago, but she raged at the thought of losing to him.
They'd married young--just twenty-three--and now they were closing in on thirty-five. Another fact that no doubt had contributed to this situation, she thought wistfully.
She knew from the moment they first met that he was sex mad, a bit of a pervert. They'd been introduced by mutual friends at the pub and she could tell from the way he looked her up and down, as if she was some tasty morsel he wanted to devour. He didn't care about her brown skin--he just wanted to tear all her clothes off so that he had access to every inch of it. She shivered and tingled as their eyes met.
Things were so complicated with the other guys she met: there were the shy ones who looked at her like she was some exotic, fragile being they might break if they spoke too loud; the dickheads who just wanted to sleep with her so they could tick "Asian" off some internal list; the overly-sensitive guys who wanted to talk about her upbringing and her experience of social inequality just to prove to her (and to themselves, and to anyone else they could include in the conversation) that they were woke.
Not Lewis. He saw her, he liked her, he wanted to bone her. Simple.
This wasn't how he approached their courtship. He was a gentleman. He was sweet and funny and considerate. They chatted for a while and he asked for her number at the end of the night. They started texting the next day and it didn't take much longer for him to get what he craved; she wanted him as much as he wanted her.
It didn't occur to her that it would turn into something serious, but suddenly they'd been seeing each other for a few months and they agreed it was official. Exclusive.
They did talk about the important stuff, and she found that Lewis was much less ignorant than she had originally assumed he would be. He acknowledged what she told him about being brown-skinned in a white society, about what it was like growing up as British Asian. He had a surprising depth of insight into how this affected her life and her outlook. Most telling of all, he knew that he could never truly know what it was like for her. He could listen to her stories, uncover the ignorance within himself and those around him, and know when others were being offensive. But he would never know what it was like to be on the receiving end of it all. He understood that he could never understand.
He had a voracious sexual appetite--he hadn't just wanted to strip her naked and devour her that first time: he'd wanted to do it over and over again. He could have sex three or four times a day, and when they were married two years later this hadn't changed. She found herself struggling to keep up, but it wasn't just the volume. He was experimental--downright kinky if she let it get out of hand. He seemed to want to try everything. Every position, every sexual act invented--once he heard about it, he wanted to do it. He was respectful of her wishes but he would sulk whenever they came across something she wasn't keen on. Like anal. She had said no to him on this maybe a thousand times since they had first got together (she'd never counted but often wished she had)--before finally giving in.
It had been fine, and sometimes even now she would let him take her up the arse.
There were a number of other things over the years he had seemed especially interested in--making their own amateur video, sex outside, a threesome--but she had said no to all of those and he had never really pestered her about them the way he had with anal. Then one day he blurted out that he wanted to try swinging. She answered him with a firm slap across the cheek and stormed out of the house. She didn't speak to him for two days.
When things calmed down a bit, he explained in more detail for her: "I never need to sleep with another woman again for the rest of my life. It's about you. I want to see you having sex with someone else, my own little porn star doing a live show for me."
That softened her a bit--certainly, her first thought had been that he'd wanted to have sex with another woman--but she still said no. "It's not my kind of thing," she told him. "We've been married for three years. You must know I'm not into anything like that."
He shrugged. "Well, you don't really know unless you give it a try."
She still said no; but then he would bring it up at least once a month after that. When his birthday approached and she asked him what he wanted for it, he told her simply: "I want to see you sleep with another guy." Then again when Christmas came around.
Finally, after nearly eighteen months of badgering, she told him she would give it a try. "I don't know how you think we'll make it happen, and even if I find someone I like, I don't think I'll be able to go through with it...but fine. Let's do it."
He was like a big kid for a week after that. She set up a profile on Tinder and began swiping. She got a lot of matches but most of the guys were scared off when she explained the situation. "Don't tell them you're married," Lewis suggested, but she was adamant. She was going to be honest about it all. This would be a one-off thing and she wanted any potential partners to understand and be happy with that.
She found a dozen likely candidates. All good-looking, available, and who understood the situation and were happy to play their part and say goodbye...but she just couldn't bring herself to do it. It was just idle chit chat punctuated with her making excuses for why she couldn't meet up. "It needs to happen naturally," she told Lewis. "I just can't arrange for it to happen in advance--it makes me feel cheap and dirty."
They went out a few times to places where Lewis thought they might have a chance, but nothing ever materialised. The idea drifted away and for years they forgot all about it.
And then, out of the blue, it happened. Last New Year's Eve they were at a party--a house party hosted by one of the guys from Lewis's rugby team. They got drunk and silly. By four A.M. the party had dwindled to just a handful of people, slumped on the sofa and passing around a joint. One by one, members of the group began to drift off to sleep.
She was sitting close to Lewis on the sofa, but there was another guy on the other side of her, also pressed in close. He was a distant cousin of someone, on a month-long trip from Australia. He was handsome, chilled out. Lewis noticed right away that he was interested, the way his eyes roamed all over Isha's body. He told her that he thought Adam was interested but she waved him away, told him he was being stupid.
But as the three of them sat on the sofa, squished together like that, she knew Lewis was right. Adam's hand kept brushing her leg.
Lewis whispered into her ear: "It's okay."
She looked around and saw that everyone else had fallen asleep--it was just the three of them left. Lewis gave her a knowing wink and then closed his eyes and let out a soft snoring sound.
Her mind buzzed and her body tingled, and she didn't think it had anything to do with the joint.
"It looks like we're the only ones left conscious," she said to Adam.
"Cool," he replied, fixing his eyes on hers.
"I'm not really sleepy," she said. "Maybe we should go find somewhere else to sit?"
He nodded eagerly at her and helped her to her feet. "I think there might be a spare bedroom around here..."
"How was it?" Lewis asked her afterwards, on their way home. He had tried to follow them, had wanted to see it happen, but they went into a bedroom and shut the door and there was no way he could peek inside without alerting Adam. He had pressed his ear to the door, he confessed to her, but hadn't been able to make out very much.
Isha shrugged. "It was okay. Fun, I suppose. Pretty quick. I think he was worried you'd wake up and come searching for us."
"Worried I'd be the jealoushusband and throw him out the window?" he quipped.
She laughed. "More worried that he wouldn't get to finish, I think."
"So you enjoyed it?" Lewis pressed.
She shrugged. "Yeah, I suppose."
"Would you do it again?"
"Probably not. It's unlikely that kind of opportunity would come up again."
Lewis seemed happy it had happened even that one time; when they got home, he took her straight to bed.
He brought it up again a few weeks later, suggesting a repeat performance, but she shook her head.
"I can always ask Frank if he's interested in helping us out," he joked.
Isha guffawed. Frank was Lewis's best friend, and had been since high school. Isha had known him almost as long as Lewis. Frank was a great guy, funny and kind, but he was completely obsessed with himself. He was good-looking and he knew it. He primped and preened more than any woman she had ever known, so that he always looked cool and smooth. He was in the gym five days a week, sculpting his body and toning his muscles.
She had always told Lewis that he was the last person she could ever imagine herself with. She had never been drawn to men like that. It had nothing to do with his attractiveness--she simply wouldn't ever want to give someone like him the satisfaction of knowing that all his showing-off worked.
But she liked Frank. He was a great guy and a good sport. She always teased him about his gym sessions and he accepted the banter happily. "I've gotta keep myself in peak shape, otherwise I'll have no chance of stealing you away from your husband now, will I?"
She would turn her nose up disgustedly at his comments.
"Is it cos I is black?"
She would sigh and shake her head and then scold him: "You can't just play the race card every time you don't get your own way."
And then the three of them would laugh heartily.
But it always made her a little uncomfortable, even though all of them knew it was just a joke. It reminded her of a time when she had been a teenager. She had begun to get friendly with a boy from another school, Jamal. He was black, but she hadn't really thought about that. It wasn't something that seemed important to her. They were both sixteen and things were still innocent. They weren't much more than friends really.
Then one day she brought him home to meet her family. Her mum and dad were courteous but cold, and she knew they hadn't liked that she had brought home a black boy. When Jamal had gone home later, they had come right out and admitted it to her. She might have expected it from her mum--she could be funny sometimes--but she had been so disappointed by her dad. After everything he had taught her, the way he had tried to show her the damage that racism could do...yet here he was, telling her he didn't want her spending her time with a black boy. Things escalated into a full-scale shouting match. She called him a bigot and a hypocrite and then stormed off to her room with angry tears burning at the corners of her eyes.
Then later that evening, her father came into her room and apologised. He sat down on the edge of her bed and told her that she was right. The kid made him uneasy--because he was black. "It's wrong. My whole life, since coming over from India, I've been trying to leave all that behind, unload all that baggage. I thought I'd done it but this was one of those things that reminds me I've still got a long way to go." He took hold of Isha's hand and looked her deep in the eye. "I'm truly sorry. I shouldn't have behaved that way. Thank you for arguing with me and pointing it out."
She hugged him. She was proud of him. This something that stayed with her for her whole life--the way he had been so willing to realise and accept he was wrong and to change his behaviour.
Even still, she never saw Jamal again after that day. That thought always nagged uncomfortably whenever those memories surfaced.
As well as helping out with the Rugby team, Lewis went to all the home matches of the local football team. It was a fairly small club, somewhere in League One. Isha didn't know much about it--she hated football, though sometimes she went to the games with him. Last summer--this was about six months after the New Year's Eve incident--she went with him to a couple of pre-season friendlies. They were dire, soulless affairs, and she couldn't understand why he wanted to watch them. But he had excitedly pointed at some teenager warming up and told her that he was going to be the next big thing.
She scoffed at the idea. He was just a skinny kid. Maybe he was quick and he was good with a football, but he'd get battered once the game started.
Pre-season friendlies are generally soft, but she could tell immediately she was right. The kid was pushed and shoved and kicked all over the park. Maybe he was talented, but it was impossible to tell. After the first few whacks, he had been too nervous whenever the ball came his way, basically trembling.
She gloated and teased Lewis when they got home.
"He's going to be brilliant," Lewis insisted.
"Not this season," she crowed. "I thought he was going to burst into tears at one point. I wouldn't be surprised if he quits altogether before the season starts."
"Well, I'm confident. He's going to be a huge success."
"Maybe we should put a bet on it," she teased. Lewis raised an eyebrow at her, interested, and she continued: "I bet he doesn't score a single goal this season."
"Don't be silly."
She pouted at him. "I'm serious."
"Okay!" Lewis said suddenly, seeing an opportunity. "If he scores one goal this season, you have to do a repeat of New Year's Eve--only this time with me watching."
"Now you're the one being silly."
"Well you sounded so confident..."
She glared back at him but said nothing.
"Okay, okay, let's do it this way," he continued. "I bet he scores more than you do this season."
She flashed a puzzled frown at him, prompting him to explain.
"You got your first score on New Year's Even, and I know you enjoyed it. I also know you're hesitant to take it any further, so this bet can be your motive. See if you can score as many times as the kid over the next nine months."
"So if the kid scores three goals this season, you have to score three as well to win the bet."
"I get what you're saying, but I don't understand what I'm supposed to get out of this. If I lose, I have to have sex with a stranger while you watch; if I win, I don't have to--but in order to win I have to have sex with different guys over the next nine months."
"Well okay, forget the whole watching thing," Lewis continued. "Whoever wins the bet gets to choose their prize. The loser has to agree to any sexual act the winner chooses. Anything."
She raised an eyebrow at him. "Oh yeah, and what would you have me do...?"
"I don't know yet but I'm sure I'll think of something by the end of the season." His eyes darkened as he spoke, just for a second. She could only guess at the perverted thoughts that must have been going through his head...
She felt heat spreading through her body and wondered how many of those ideas would sound good to her about now... She still wasn't sure.
"If you don't find anyone you like, or there's no opportunity, then you lose the bet and you have to try something a bit kinky with me... Not like you haven't done that before."
"But maybe there will be opportunities and you'll end up winning this bet, then we get to do something you really want to try."
"Like that secret desire of yours to find out what it's like to be with another woman."
"You wish." She playfully slapped his chest.
"Anyway, I don't see you winning this one. I reckon the kid's gonna score at least twenty--you'd have to have a different guy every week to keep up with him."
And that was how she bit. She felt a silly now when she thought back to it. He had played her; he knew exactly what he was doing.
"He isn't going to score at all," she insisted.
"Well in that case you don't even have to do anything to win the bet..."
She laughed. "Well then it seems I don't have anything to lose. Let's go for it." She leaned in, kissed him, and a few moments later it was all forgotten as they fell back on the bed.
Forgotten as far as she was concerned anyway. As soon as they were finished making love, he was back on the subject again. They were snuggled in bed, comfy and warm and sticky. She could feel herself drifting towards sleep, a smile on her face.
Suddenly Lewis sat up, jolting her awake as he did: "We better set the rules, I suppose. Obviously goals only count for the kid if they're scored during a league game."
She furrowed her brow slightly. If she was going to abort it all, she needed to do it now. Ah whatever, she decided. It couldn't be that bad if she lost. "Obviously," she agreed. "Doesn't include own goals, and for any dubious ones we just go along with whatever the official league record says."
Lewis nodded. "Agreed. The difficult bit is going to be deciding exactly what counts as a 'score' for you. At first, I assumed it'd just be whenever you're with another guy and you come"--The two of them locked eyes and shared a knowing smile at that. It was very difficult to make Isha come: It hadn't been until the fourth time they'd slept together that he'd begun to get the hang of it--"So, whenever you make another guy come? As long as there's some kind of physical proximity--you can't just be flaunting yourself on webcam and have some guy wanking off to you and then claim that."
Isha pouted. "Well there's the side business out the window."
Lewis smiled. "So we're clear on the terms?"
"One other thing," Isha continued. "Does this have to be different guys? Can I have several experiences with one guy and claim them all?"
"Who'd you have in mind?" he retorted.
Isha smiled cheekily but stayed quiet.