Thanks so much to my editor LAHomedog for his patience, friendship, edits and juicing up the scenes in this piece.

This the second part of a series, but could stand alone. Two women in long distance relationships swap partners to celebrate birthdays during the pandemic travel restrictions.

Rain pounded the patio as wind rustled the branches of the cherry tree outside the kitchen window. This would be a good day to stay in bed with her boyfriend, Michael, but he was 1,500 miles away.

Tara reached over and felt the nightstand for her phone, turned the ringer back on, and clicked to read a text from Kelly that arrived at about 2am.

"Present delivered!"

"Ah hah," she said with a satisfied smile. Kelly had confirmed Michael received his special birthday gift.

A COVID work-around. Since Tara's boyfriend was in Austin where Kelly lived and Kelly's was where Tara lived, they had agreed to one time only, no strings swaps for each of their birthdays.

Tara had offered specific instructions for Kelly on what Michael's "birthday gift" would be.

Kelly blogged about relationships including navigating the challenges of sex during this pandemic. Tara was a regular reader - that's how they met.

Tara had emailed with the idea of a COVID birthday swap when she realized Kelly's boyfriend was in the Washington DC area and Kelly lived in Austin near Michael.

After about a dozen emails, two dozen texts, three phone calls, and a Zoom video chat with them and the boyfriends, Michael became the first in the group to celebrate his birthday last night, with Kelly and her hot 26 year-old body as the gift.

Tara smiled wondering about Michael's response to his birthday surprise. He obviously knew about the swap - just not the details. She knew him enough to know he would not expect the level of kink that she and Kelly planned for his evening.

She couldn't wait to talk with him when he woke up in a few hours!

They were taking so many risks anyway with this quarantine swap, Tara figured why not throw in one more, and have him try something outrageously new. A pegging by a gal wearing a harness.

He would either like it and they could try together later. Or, he'd hate it and she could cross that off her list.

Tara thought back to how they all got along on their video chat three weeks ago. Kelly and Tara introduced their boyfriends Mark and Michael on a Zoom call when they were considering if swapping partners for a night to celebrate pandemic birthdays was really doable.

She watched Michael's face, and could see the lust in his eyes when Kelly lost her white halter during a game on the Zoom call. After all, it had been several months since the two of them had made love, and Kelly was indeed doable.

But her thoughts about Kelly's boyfriend Mark, were filled with uncertainties. He was certainly hot enough with short dark hair, bedroom brown eyes and she couldn't take her eyes off his biceps when he lifted his beer.

Even so, there was a vibe that made Tara uneasy that she couldn't quite define. He was blunt and a little crude at times during the call. And sometimes seemed a bit selfish, but, she rationalized, it could have been nerves and a defense mechanism. We all have them. He was also young - 5 years younger than her on her upcoming birthday.

She hadn't heard from Michael yet, but he was an hour earlier in Texas and no doubt had a late night, so she drove to the pool for a swim.

She had been a swimmer all of her life. It was not only her passion; it was where she could find her calm spot with her thoughts and only her thoughts as company.

Tara eased into the water, positioned her goggles over her eyes and took a breath. The monotony of staring at the black line and the rhythmic breathing relaxed her as her mind worked over her upcoming call with Michael.

Should she ask for details? Maybe, but Tara wasn't sure if she wanted to picture her boyfriend with another woman even though she had been the one to arrange this swap.

She decided to just check in, make sure he had a good birthday and leave it at that.

Tara felt warm water rippled against her long legs as her torso swiveled through the water with each stroke.

An hour later she pulled into the wall and took off her cap, her auburn waves freed to billow around her shoulders in the water.

* * *

Driving home Tara checked her phone at a stoplight, still nothing, and texted Kelly now that it was a better time of the morning there in Austin.

"Hope it went well. Pictures? JK. Can't thank you enough ☺."

Tara's cell rang just as she pulled into her driveway. She wondered if Kelly got her text and was calling to fill her in, but then saw it was Michael.

"Hi my love!"

"Hello" Michael answered. His voice sounded like he was still lying in bed.

"How was your birthday?" Tara asked.

Michael laughed, his mind slipping into a few flashbacks of the evening - the visuals of Kelly against the wall, later, bent over the chaise, and the surprise of that gold chain necklace that connected to a belly chain.

"Sweetheart, you outdid yourself. What a fantastic birthday surprise! I love you!! Thank you so much. I don't know what to say - the planning, your willingness to allow it...," Michael said, trailing off not sure what else to add.

"So it wasn't too weird?" Tara asked.

"Which part?" Michael said.

"All of it.

Michael was relieved she wasn't asking for the details or what he liked or wanted to try again. He was still figuring that out.

"No, no. It was great. Wait a minute. I mean it was an amazing experience. I'll admit it was awkward at first for me, I didn't want to cheat on you, but Kelly helped by saying I should imagine she was you. When I did that, I was making love with you and not her. Thank you," he said.

"Happy to give you this, my love, and finally overcome our quarantine restrictions. I love you, and can't wait until we can figure out a way to be together," Tara said.

"I love you too and am can't wait to have those long legs of yours wrapped around me," Michael said. "Are we still on for a Zoom call tonight?"

"Yes we are, my love!" Tara said.

* * *

Tara was relieved. Once she set the wheels in motion on her COVID swap with Kelly, and their boyfriends agreed, she was pretty sure the physical part would go well enough for him to at least relieve some tension. But she worried about how it would be when they came back together. Talking to him seemed normal. That was reassuring that this birthday swap arrangement during the pandemic would be okay.

Tara didn't talk to Kelly, but Kelly emailed a few days later.

Hi Tara,

Just wanted to check in after Michael's birthday evening and also plan for your birthday next month.

The evening with Michael seemed to go well, but you know him better obviously. It was interesting - a bit awkward at first, but fun. I'm not sure how much more you want to know.

So Mark is ready to make your upcoming lockdown birthday fun, including a birthday spanking (his idea). But we can rein in his plans on that if you like! I wanted to give him some perimeters on what you like, so I've attached a list - somewhere between a menu and a questionnaire.

TTYL,

Kelly

Hi Kelly,

Never had a birthday spanking aside from the playground when I was 6, but tell Mark that's fine. Why not -I guess that's tradition, even if the rest of this is not! I'll take a look at the attached list.

Thanks again for being so open on this and taking care of Michael. This feels so much better than just sending him off on his own, where anything could happen, and I wouldn't know. What's that saying? Men's currency is respect and women's is love? I've wondered if that's right - if we need trust more than love. Or, maybe trust is love.

Tara

Tara downloaded the link to Kelly's one page questionnaire on ideas for the evening. Opening it, she skimmed the list: massage, French kissing, oral sex with a box to check Yes or No after each. Why did this type of format remind her of high school? Or maybe middle school - the style not the questions.

While Tara appreciated the intention, how was she supposed to fill this out? A prearranged 'to do list' with someone she'd never really met? Thanks, but no. She scanned to the end and closed the window.

At the pool two days later Tara thought again about the list, and was instantly annoyed again. She made decisions like that in the moment based on what felt right. It was a communication with the man she was with based on passion, mutual desire and interest. Yes, if she was being honest, she could see she was often led by a different desire - a desire to please her partner.

But that was good, right? She was being generous, loving, and maybe a smidge insecure. But she was also supportive of a guy's fantasies and their vulnerability in sharing them.

Tara turned at the wall, took a breath and doubled her speed. Swimming was soothing, especially when she was upset or angry. But why upset? Is this planned COVID escape evening for her birthday a mistake? It was meant to be fun, a gift really, to take the edge off and help them all cope with being apart from their partners. The list was a chance to say what she wanted.

Tara sped up further, putting her energy into her kick as she spiraled a quarter turn through the water with each pull.

Then the answer became clear. She didn't want to fill out the questionnaire because she didn't know the answers. She thought of Julia Roberts in that movie "Runaway Bride" when she realized she didn't know her favorite style of eggs for breakfast. Her character had always just eaten whatever her boyfriend at the time liked. Tara' sex life had been much the same way.

Did she like oral sex? Tara knew her closes girlfriends did. For most it was almost the only reliable way to have an orgasm, but Tara herself was the opposite.

Tara envisioned Peter her first boyfriend after college who was determined to convince her of his talents. She felt a jolt of electricity when Peter's tongue found her clit. She remembered a flutter like butterflies in her stomach as he explored her core. The sensation was pleasant enough, even better than someone stroking the sensitive skin behind her knees. But orgasm? No, that was on the other side of some wall with no way to navigate there.

Tara felt like the title of the book, "Possessing the Secret Joy," thankfully just the title and not the tragic outcome. She could have the most amazing g-spot orgasms from plain vanilla, missionary intercourse. No other stimulation needed. This was something she couldn't admit to even her closest girlfriends, as most had never had an orgasm from intercourse alone.

The fact that she had an amazing one her very first time was a secret she knew enough not to share the last time the topic came up at her women's book club. That news would have been met with annoyed groans at best.

Tara had been smitten with the college exchange student from France. She drank endless cups of tea with him and talked for hours as they waited at the computer lab for a glitch to be fixed so they could retrieve their end of term papers from somewhere in cyberspace.

Outside the lab he walked her back to her dorm, and when she reached her hand out to shake his goodnight he pulled her toward him kissing her with an urgency after days of both stressful waiting and unexpected discovery during their hours of talking at the lab.

The week after they met Claude led her through the dark hallways of the opera lab, flicking on lights on the stage when they arrived. She joined him on the piano bench as he launched into an interlude followed by a lyrical description of the first week of their doomed relationship.

With just two weeks left before Claude's visa expired, Tara planned to take him sightseeing to a few American landmarks within driving distance of campus.

But later that afternoon, after feeling so known in the opera lab, they shared an orange and he licked the juice off her fingers. Tara had to know more of Claude. She kissed him with an urgency she had never felt before, and had no memory of how her clothes ended up on the floor of his studio apartment just a block from the campus.

When he entered her at last, even through the pain, she could feel a knot of nerves that came to life, and each thrust sent a new wave of electrical signals tingling down her spine, spreading to her arms and legs. Her heart raced and then felt almost like it stopped for a beat. She felt a drop like rollercoaster and a flutter in a spot she didn't know existed that built to waves of contractions up her spine to the top of her head.

Tara struggled for breath and even consciousness for a few seconds as she surrendered to the remaining waves. Claude stroked her cheek murmuring "une petite mort" as she fell quickly and deeply asleep. She learned when she woke up and asked that petite mort or "little death" was a French term for orgasm.

Tara turned her head to take a last breath and sprinted to the wall, pouring out her remaining energy and emotions into the water.

By the time Tara hoisted herself out of the pool, she had reconciled her doubts and was almost looking forward to the survey. This would be informative for her birthday encounter, and her next visit with Michael. No rush though - Kelly didn't need this back for a couple weeks.

Hi Kelly,

This was harder than I realized, as I hadn't thought about this really - not like this. I did have to add a "sometimes" and "maybe" section. It was a good exercise, and much appreciated.

Tara

Hi Tara,

This will be easier, I promise ;)

Let Mark know what to pick up for dinner. Michael took care of the cake already.

Any last birthday requests? Otherwise Mark will be there at 5pm tomorrow.

Kelly

Tara sipped green tea as the warm water relaxed her muscles and bath oil turned her skin to peach scented silk. Later, standing in front of the mirror with a razor, and tweezers she did the best she could with her waxing studio closed for COVID.

Tara let her hair dry naturally, which meant auburn waves now blanketed her shoulders, covering the thin straps of her peach cotton sundress. She spritzed a simple rose perfume into the air and walked through just as the doorbell rang. She let out the breath she was holding before walking briskly to the door barefoot.

The smell of garlic, lime and a yellow rose greeted her along with warm brown eyes, with a mischievous twinkle.

"Birthday Delivery!" Mark said, handing her the rose.

"Good to finally really meet you in person. Kelly has told me a bit about you, well enough to arrange this anyway," Tara gestured toward him, looked down at her bare toes next to his ostrich boots then her eyes glided upward. Mark was about her height but with wide shoulders and biceps that strained the short sleeves of his navy tech shirt.

Kelly wondered how those biceps would fit in a non-stretchy dress shirt, but then maybe that's why he wasn't wearing one. Her eyes dropped to a thick brown leather belt with a carved silver buckle. She didn't want to lean down now or stare at his crotch to determine the carving. She'd be closer later, she thought, a shiver running down her spine. She wasn't sure how much was excitement versus anxiety.

"Come in. Come in!" Tara said, leading him to the dining room where she turned to light candles on the table and Mark dished fajitas onto plates.

Mark had brought frozen margaritas that had melted to somewhere between slushy and on the rocks by the time he arrived at her small one story house in the Maryland suburbs.

The tart sweetness was delicious and the coldness was a welcome relief after a bite of the jalapenos Tara had added to her wrap. She licked salsa off her pinky and looked across at Mark.

"So, I have to ask, Mark, how to you keep biceps like that with the gyms closed?" Tara said.

Mark smiled and she thought she saw his bicep twitch as he flexed a bit, knowing she was watching.

"Pushups, free weights, a few planks. It can be done," Mark said.

"Clearly," Tara said catching his eye before taking another bite.

"So how are you coping with the shutdown?" Mark asked.

"Swimming. I know even an outdoor pool is a bit risky, but it keeps me sane," Tara said. "Kelly tells me you work for the government. Can you work from home?" Tara asked.

"No I have to go in for security reasons," Mark said. "But the building is mostly empty and I have my own office."

"Well that explains why you can't be in Texas now. Miss it?" Tara asked.

Mark nodded. "The people more than the place though. The hardest part is being in a building all day."

"Where would you rather be?" Tara asked.

"On our ranch - or any open space with sky and grass unbroken by trees as far as the eye can see." Mark said.

"And what would you do on your ranch?" Tara asked.

"Ride - or sometimes just try staying on," Mark said, laughing. He told her about a bet in college that had he and his college roommate trying to stay on some unbroken horses the morning after too many beers.

"Why, just why, would anyone do that?" Tara asked.

"It wasn't some sort of a death wish. It was more the thrill of not knowing what will happen next I suppose," Mark said, Tara noticing his southern drawl more as he spoke. "But in that case, we weren't going about it the right way - for the horses or for us. You have to build trust."

He took a drink, as did Tara keeping eye contact.

"I like breaking fillies." He continued telling her about the training he did breaking the horses they used on their ranch, moving cattle from one field to the next and enjoying the pink and orange brushstrokes of the sunset after a day that left him too exhausted to move.

Tara held his gaze, loved the picture he painted, absorbing what he said along with the last sip of her drink.

"How about a refill?" Mark asked, though he was already pouring another for her and then himself.

Tara laughed and nodded, but made a note to slow down, as three margaritas would be one too many for her unless she spaced it out more. She was already feeling warm and any previous nervousness was gone - replaced by a tingling, alive feeling from the top of her head down to her toes.

She was doing this because she craved the touch of another, and it had worked with Michael.

Just the thought of it had all nerve endings on high alert. She was aware of the crisp cotton hem of her skirt skimming her calves as she uncrossed her legs and her nipples pressed against the lining of her strapless push up bra.

Instead of sitting back down after pouring, Mark started clearing the food and even the vase and candles off the dining table.

"Oh, you don't have to do that," Tara said.

"But I do. It's the least I could do, and I needed the table cleared," Mark said with a wink and grin. "It's time for your birthday present," he announced with a bit too much enthusiasm.

Mark reached for Tara's hand, pulled her gently first to the end of the dining table, and then to his chest for a kiss.

She liked that since they were about the same height. She didn't have to go up on her tiptoes for the kiss.

"Wait a minute. I need a towel. Where is the bathroom?"

She nodded down the only hall. Mark came back with a bath towel, and laid it down on the table.

He tilted her chin up and kissed her more deeply, and when she came up for air he turned back to face the table and coaxed her to lay her head on the towel with her left cheek against it and her bent hips rested against the edge.

"I'm going to spank you," he said.

Tara knew she had agreed to this, but had neglected to ask any follow up questions about how. She had pictured a slap or two maybe before or during sex - not a ritual. But she was intrigued with the attention and the tension of having no idea what to expect.r"

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