My virginity is still intact. Nipples and I didn’t actually do anything, not even after we hopped into my bed together at six.
“I was worried about sleeping alone in a haunted house,” she whispered, her head cradled between my breasts.
“We’ll talk about it later,” I reassured her, “after we’ve slept a little.”
We didn’t speak about it right away. Honestly, I didn’t know how I felt about it. It was nice, but I wanted more than she could give me. I supposed both of us would have preferred male company, not that I had ever experienced it before. I’ve never even had a real boyfriend. Judging from her Facebook page, she’d had several.
The weather was rotten outside, a mixture of rain and snow, so I showed her around the castle, the modern parts, as well as the indoor sections of the ruin. As I had a recital to play in a month, I spent a couple of hours practising before dinner, while she composed.
Facebook: Sandra Claussen wants to be your friend.
It came in just as I was finished practising. Had Arlen really told her about me, or was she just friending me because I had posted on Arlen’s wall? I felt more loyal to Nipples, but I decided to accept anyway. I needed to learn more about Arlen.
Sandra Claussen: Are you free to chat?
I had a nasty habit of forgetting to keep myself invisible while I was online.
Eirica Johnstone: For a little while. Must cook dinner soon. Guests imminent.
Well, one guest.
Sandra Claussen: Arlen suggested I make contact with you. He says you are an up and coming pianist. A sure thing. Eirica Johnstone: Well, here I am. What can I do for you? Sandra Claussen: Can we meet sometime to talk? Are you ever near Leeds or York? Eirica Johnstone: You may have to come up here, or to Glasgow. I have a recital coming up and don't have much spare time. Sandra Claussen: How about after New Years? I could come up for a weekend. Would really like to meet you.
I wasn’t sure how long Nipples was staying, but I needed to be back on campus the second week of January.
Eirica Johnstone: How about in Glasgow on the 15/16? I don't have a spare room, though. Sandra Claussen: Any chance I could come the week before? Arlen says you have a spare room at your home. Can't stay long. Term starts on the 11th. May I come there? Eirica Johnstone: Is it urgent? If not, how about Feb?
I didn’t want them to overlap.
Sandra Claussen: Jan is better for me. Viva in Feb. Would like advice on portfolio. Eirica Johnstone: Can't Arlen advise you? Sandra Claussen: We have a difference of opinion. You could mediate. Performability issues. Eirica Johnstone: I have a guest, and I don't know when she is leaving. Possibly that weekend, if not before. I don't know yet. Sandra Claussen: Would you let me know? I'd really like to meet. Arlen says I would like you, and that you would be good for me. Eirica Johnstone: In what way?
That was disturbing.
Sandra Claussen: He says you have a level head and are not afraid to speak your mind. Eirica Johnstone: OK, well, I'll let you know. Must see to dinner now.
I never expected to hear from her. I don’t know why I said she could come. While I had a few moments, I took a quick look at other emails, namely a couple from Arlen. I’d left him high and dry:
Arlen Stewart: Eirica, I'm a little uncomfortable about telling you my fantasies. Maybe some other time. A Arlen Stewart: Eirica, Are you there? Why the sudden silence? Not tomorrow, maybe Tuesday. Eirica Johnstone: Dear Arlen, I'm sorry, I was interrupted by Nipples last night and we were up late with, you know, girl talk. I'll try for Tuesday night, but Nipples has been struggling with insomnia. We have ghosts here, and she is nervous about them. Will email if I can. If you will tell me one of your fantasies, I'll tell you one of mine. Deal? I know, you want to know what makes me tick. I'll think about that, too. Love, Eirica
I took a quick look at Sandra’s Facebook page. Personally, I think Nipples’ opinion that she’s a lesbian doesn’t quite tell the whole picture. In the photos, Sandra was certainly free with her body, posting photos of herself that even I wouldn’t dare, although that doesn’t say much. Certainly, she shows off more than Nipples. I noticed also that Aoife Stewart was among her friends, and featured in some of her photos. Like Nipples, I suspected more than just an ordinary friendship. This was the first picture I’d seen of Aoife, and now I understood Arlen’s fascination with Sinead. They looked remarkably alike, as if Sinead was her younger, prettier sister.
Sandra’s website was much slicker than Nipples’, and she had won many more awards. I listened to a few of her clips, and resolved to help Nipples tart hers up, at least to Sandra’s standard, if not better. That was something I could do for her.
“What you doing?” Nipples asked, interrupting me.
“I think we need to whip your website into shape.”
“What do you mean?”
“I just had a look at Sandra’s. She’s obviously spent a lot of money on it. It’s rather slick.”
“Aoife set it up for her. She’s a web designer.”
“Well, I think you need to give her some competition. I can help.”
“You can set up web pages?”
“It’s amazing what you can teach yourself, kicking about alone in an old castle.”
“I’m up for it, if you are?”
“We’ve got a few weeks to get a good start on it. By the way, I just got a message from Sandra. She wants to come meet me. She seems to be in a hurry about it, too, something about her portfolio. Apparently, she has a disagreement with Arlen about it.”
“I think she’s heard that I’m up here. When doesn’t she want to come?”
“On the ninth, staying overnight. When were you planning on leaving?”
“The ninth. I have a tutorial on the eleventh, so I’ll need to give myself a day to prepare.”
“So you will probably overlap. Do you want her to see you, or not?”
“I want her to know that I’ve spent the better part of three weeks here, and she only gets two days. Maybe we could pretend we are lovers or something. Make her jealous.”
“We’ll see about that. You may tire of me in three weeks. Hey, I was just about to upload my pictures from last night, shall we trade?”
“Sure, let me get my laptop.”
Minutes later, I’d loaded up her photos on my computer. “Hey, you really have a good eye,” she said looking at mine. “I wonder if you could take some better pictures of me for my website. This is an ideal location.”
“Well, if you’ll take some of me, too. Most of what I have are arm’s length self-portraits. I could dig out my father’s tripod, and take some of us together as well. It’s in one of the attics, so it may take some time to find.”
“That’s great! Let’s take some tomorrow.”
After dinner, we sat down and worked on her website up in my bedroom by the fire until she fell asleep on my shoulder. Arlen wasn’t there, so I thought I’d catch up on my Facebook. I uploaded a few of the pictures that Nipples took outside, then noticed that Sandra was online.
Eirica Johnstone: Hey Sandra, do you have a moment. Sandra Clausen: Hi, how are you? Eirica Johnstone: I'm fine. 9th is OK if you want to come. You'll probably overlap briefly with my other guest, but that is fine. Sandra Clausen: That's great. I'll need directions closer to the time. Should I bring anything? Some music, obviously. Anything else? Eirica Johnstone: Nothing I can think of ...
At that moment, I noticed that Amelia was also online.
Tell me about yourself, aside from what's on your website. What do you think of Arlen? Sandra Clausen: Give me a few minutes and I'll send you an email. Amelia Solent: Mind if I bother you for a minute?
My heart raced. Not only was I being contacted by a famous composer, but she was one of Arlen’s old flames.
Eirica Johnstone: Yes. Nice to meet you.
Then I replied to Sandra that I’d wait for her email.
Amelia Solent: Arlen Stewart spoke very highly of you. Can I make a request? Eirica Johnstone: Sure. Amelia Solent: Don't hurt him. Many have. Eirica Johnstone: Many? Amelia Solent: You know what I'm talking about. Women. Students. He gets too involved and can't let go. Eirica Johnstone: I'll try not to, but I'm not one of his students. Amelia Solent: That makes you even more dangerous to him. I'm not trying to be mean, but I've seen it all, and he usually comes running to me when it all ends. Eirica Johnstone: He said he didn't stray. Amelia Solent: That doesn't mean he doesn't get involved. It's sweet, but it also leaves him a wreck afterwards. Eirica Johnstone: But aren't you one of them/us, too? Amelia Solent: I'm different. Eirica Johnstone: How? Aoife must hate you for a reason. Amelia Solent: She hates all of us. Eirica Johnstone: Not Sandra Claussen, apparently. Amelia Solent: She's different, too, I guess, but in a different way.
Eirica Johnstone: How?
Amelia Solent: It's neither of our business. You'll find out soon enough. Has she contacted you yet? Eirica Johnstone: Yes. I was just chatting with her a moment ago.
Nipples stirred, but turned away from the screen.
Amelia Solent: She checks everyone out. That's her way. Don't be surprised if she gets physical. Eirica Johnstone: Physical? Amelia Solent: She may come on to you. Probably will. That's why we all hate her. Eirica Johnstone: Why does she do it?
That partially explained Nipples attitude towards her.
Amelia Solent: It's a control thing. She's trying to break the bonds between Arlen and his other women. Eirica Johnstone: How many of us are there? Amelia Solent: About 20. Sandra's gotten to about half of us. Some are untraceable, and some are too far away. She got to me when I was invited out to a concert there. I felt so dirty afterwards.
Eirica Johnstone: You mean you gave in? Amelia Solent: She took me by complete surprise, and I was having problems with my husband at the time. He didn't want me to come. (He doesn't like Arlen.) Eirica Johnstone: What happened? Amelia Solent: We went to the Slug & Lettuce after the concert. Arlen had assigned her to take care of me. We got plastered, and I awoke in her flat, naked, with her on top of me. Eirica Johnstone: What did she do to you? Amelia Solent: We had done something … sexual, but I don't remember what. One thing just led to another. She was very nice to me, though. I think that's the trick. She makes it hard to hate her afterwards, and then she reminds you of it for months. Eirica Johnstone: I thought you said everyone hated her. Amelia Solent: It's a weird kind of hate. I hate myself for it more than I hate her. Perhaps, it's fear.
Sandra’s email came in.
Eirica Johnstone: I'll be careful. She's coming up here in 3 weeks. Amelia Solent: Will Nipples still be there?
How could she have known? Of course, she was friends with her, and all Nipples friends would know by now. “Yes. They’ll overlap briefly.”
Amelia Solent: I feel sorry for Nips, she took it the hardest. They had an affair for several months. Now she's even more confused than she was before. Eirica Johnstone: Nipples is a lesbian? Amelia Solent: I really couldn't say. Before Sandra, maybe, now? I don't think so. You would know better than I. I haven't slept with her. Eirica Johnstone: How did you know? Amelia Solent: She told me this morning. Eirica Johnstone: Nothing happened. Amelia Solent: You surprise her, but she admires you, just like she admires Arlen. You can trust her, but don't believe everything she says. She's a little blind in some ways. She thinks you're beautiful. Eirica Johnstone: Really?! Amelia Solent: That's what she told me. Let her down gently, will you? Eirica Johnstone: I like her, too, but I'm not … like that. I think we'll stay friends for a long time, though. Amelia Solent: Must go. Hubby is calling. Be careful. If you hurt Arlen, I will hurt you. I mean it. I can do that. Eirica Johnstone: I'll be careful.
That was intense. Nipples stirred again, rubbed her eyes and sat up.
“Time for bed?” I asked.
“Goodnight,” she yawned, kissed me on the cheek and left.
That left me alone to read Sandra’s message and to plant a seed. First, the seed. I sent the picture of Nipples in her nightdress to Arlen. I needed to see how he reacted before I sent something more racy, and maybe eventually one of me.
Sandra Clausen: Dear Eirica, By now you have read my bio on my website, so I assume you want a more personal story. I lived a fairly normal childhood, going to a girls school in Harrow, while studying music at the Purcell School with Alan Sickert. I've wanted to write music since as early as I remember, studying piano with my mother and then cello from the age of six. I've won a lot of awards, but I'm sure you don't want me to list them all – you've read them on my website, of course. I write mostly for large forces, orchestra as well as chorus. I'm deeply moved by good vocal music, and with my instrumental roots, I'm hoping to write opera and theatre music. I don't know if you are aware, but Arlen's wife Aoife is a wonderful poet and writer (although unpublished), and I am hoping to collaborate with her some day. I admire her poetry especially. If you want to read her work go to her beautiful website (she earns her living in web design) at aoifeocallaghan.org. Arlen has been pushing me to write some smaller works for piano or cello, and that is why he directed me to you. On the personal side, I am a vegetarian and into Celtic mythology. I'm also a witch, a real one. I hope that doesn't scare you. I'm a white witch, and that means that none of my spells are cast with malice. I have a familiar, too, a cat named Giuseppe. (He was a Trappist monk in a past life.) I will bring my tarot cards along, if you don't mind, but I'll leave Giuseppe at home. (He hates being away from familiar places.) Looking at your Facebook page and website, I can see you aren't a Bible-basher, but do tell me if you would rather I didn't bring them. The 9th is a full moon, which is good for divination and casting spells. Maybe I can show you what I do. I believe that we meet various people in life for a purpose. I met Arlen four years ago, you just met him, as you've just met Nicole. You may have already had contact with Amelia Solent, who seems to shadow me, pretending to be Arlen's protector. I don't know what she holds against me, but do take what she says with a pinch of salt. Nicole and I are rivals within the department, so some animosity between us can be expected. She resents the acclaim I receive, despite being a year behind her in my studies. I have tried to be as nice to her as I can. I would be happy to answer any of your questions. And do tell me more about yourself. Blessed be, Sandra
Phew! Dare I believe there wasn’t a subtext there? A tarot reading wouldn’t be a bad thing, and the ghosts will torment her if she tries to do anything nasty. They’ve always protected their kin. Reading between the lines of Amelia’s correspondence, Sandra won’t do anything worse than try to seduce me, luring me to want to do what she wants me to do. I can handle a grope, I guess, if that is what is needed to get me closer to Arlen.
Eirica Johnstone: Dear Sandra, Yes, I've been in contact with Amelia, but I actually met her several years ago in Paris. She doesn't remember that, though. She had written a competition piece, and I had a half hour with her tutoring me on it. It doesn't matter to me that you are a witch. I've lived my entire life in an ancient castle with more ghosts than you can count ...
Out of the corner of my eye, I spied Nipples slipping in through the servants’ entrance again. “I left my nightdress in here last night,” she said, sniffling.
“You’re afraid to sleep alone?” I asked, sensing the real reason for her visit.
She stared down at her hands. “Yes.”
“OK, but I just want to finish this email … you don’t mind if I sleep nude, do you? I didn’t exactly ask last night. I wasn’t expecting company.”
“It doesn’t matter to me. You do what you like.”
“OK, just hop in bed, and I’ll join you in ten minutes.”
“Do you mind if I just lie on the sofa until you are done?”
“Sure. Go ahead.”
As I turned my attention back to the email, I watched Nipples undress, and then slip on her nightdress. Her movements were supple and catlike, something I found aesthetically pleasing. She was a kind soul in a waif-like body … with big nipples. Facing towards me as she took her blouse off and then her bra, she allowed me a good view of those nipples. They were as if she were permanently aroused, with large purple aureoles. What would they be like if she really were aroused?
Her milk-chocolate skin was shiny and smooth with little body hair, while her hair hung to her shoulders in loose small curls, and I suspected that one of her parents was white. Lying on the sofa, she watched me with a pleasant, but apprehensive smile. What was she thinking?
I had to finish off my email:
... They keep me company at night when I am alone here, which is almost every night that I stay in the castle. I look forward to the days when children will play here again. In the meantime, I spend as much of my time as I can at uni. As I am just finishing my D. Phil., I have little contact with the other students, so there isn't much in the way of rivalry. I don't play the same repertoire as the others anyway. As you undoubtedly know, I love new music and hope to spend my career performing it at every opportunity. I'm also the Chief of my branch of the Johnstone clan, so I have inevitable duties from time to time. We're outcast, so we don't have much to do with the main clan itself. There was a feud several centuries ago, the reason for many of the ghosts here. My offspring will inherit my title as well as the castle, but that's far in the future. As far as religion goes, organized religion doesn't begin to explain our world, not with my experience of the supernatural, at least. We can discuss if you want, but it is something I live with every day. I'm not sure what else you want me to say. I like Arlen because he's so shy, but has so much boiling under the surface. And I really enjoy his music. I'm looking forward to playing his piano pieces next month, and if he can swing an orchestra for his piano concerto, that too. I'll see you in a few weeks. Love, Eirica
Was that soupy enough? I closed my laptop and looked at Nipples, who still watched me, wide awake. “This is a lovely fire,” she said, “so warm and comfy.”
“I always have one in here during the winter. I often have trouble sleeping without the dancing light and the soft crackle of the embers.” I stood and pulled my jumper off, stripping down as she watched.
“Sandra and I used to be lovers,” she said bluntly, as I sat on the end of the bed, waiting for her.
“I know. How did you know I was writing an email to her?”
“You mouth the words when you type, and I just guessed who might want to know that kind of information about you.”
“I hope you aren’t upset. I’m just playing her at her own game. I think she wants to know why Arlen is so obsessed with me. I suspect you do to. Amelia just wants me to back off.”
“Amelia just wants him for herself,” she hissed more vehemently than she intended. “She’s never been able to let go of him. They correspond at least weekly, daily if she is upset about something. More often in the last couple of years, since Sandra has been around. She doesn’t trust her?”
“You don’t either.”
“Not any more,” she shrugged. “I loved her once, but she tried to wedge herself between Arlen and me.”
“What is there between Arlen and you?” I asked bluntly. No sense in beating around the bush.
“I think we’re kind of soul mates. He lusts after me. I like to think we were lovers in a past life.”
“But not this one?”
“It can’t happen. I’m not really sure about what I want in a relationship. Sandra showed me what I didn’t want. Sandra will pretend to be a dyke as long as it suits her. Eventually, she’ll want a man to give her children, someone with enough power to help her career. Besides, I’m not sure I want to date someone who is older than my father. I want to fall head-over-heels in love. It doesn’t matter who that is.”
“Me?” I asked, nervous that I was leading her on.
She hesitated. “I could never give you the children you want, and besides, behind that uninhibited exterior hides a raging heterosexual. If I were to give myself fully to you, it would be with the knowledge that I only loved part of you. OK, maybe I love you, but I have my feet planted firmly on the ground.” She paused and then asked, “What is there between you and Arlen?”
It was my turn to hesitate. Did I trust her enough to tell the truth, or even a variation of it? The truth might send her packing. The truth might hurt Arlen, but like Sandra, I needed to teach him to want me enough to give me a child or two, without leaving his wife. “I’m still playing it by ear,” I answered. “I don’t want to get in the way of his marriage, but I like him a lot. It’s a physical thing, as well as intellectual. I admire the way he thinks, but I have this intense desire to get inside him, to be part of him.”
“I’ve never heard it put that way,” she remarked. “Most want him inside of them?”
“At one time, I did. Sandra does, Amelia does … I think she has, actually.”
“Take a look at the pictures of her two boys. The younger one looks like her, but the older one … you make your own judgement.”
That put a twist on things. “He said he never strayed.”
“I think it might have been before his marriage. She was already dating her husband, but I think something happened. She became pregnant just as she finished her degree. I don’t think he has strayed since, but I could be wrong. He knows what it could do to his career.”
If that were true, could I trust Arlen? Thinking about it a moment, I realized it didn’t matter. Unprotected sex with a man who slept around didn’t thrill me, but I would deal with the fallout afterwards. “What about his marriage?”
“I think he worries about that, too, but you know what I think about Aoife and Sandra. If he did stray, it would just make them even. I think getting out of that marriage would be good for him anyway. She controls him too much.”
“Sandra says Aoife is a great poet, and she wants to write an opera with her.”
“So? It doesn’t mean they aren’t sleeping together.”
“Maybe.” I looked at the clock: 2 am. I spun around, chose a side of the bed, and flipped off the light. Nipples walked over and lay on the other side, facing me. She was still wide awake. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Nothing,” she smiled, looking me straight in the eyes. “I just like looking at you. Do you mind?”
I wouldn’t look away … five seconds … ten … thirty. She smiled wider. A ghost passed the foot of the bed, but I dared not look. If I was in a nightdress, I would say that Nipples undressed me with her eyes, but they bore deeper, way down to my sex. Touching her would have broken the spell.
Another ghost floated behind her. Mum had told me that when they had sex, the room was full of ghosts. Intimacy drew them close; sex drew them closer. Nips didn’t need to touch me, as my body submitted to her gaze. Did she feel as I did? Could she feel my breath, hear my heart racing? What was she doing to me? A minute … two … ten. I flushed as a bead of sweat dripped across my chest. More ghosts … female. I felt one let her hair brush my back. Could Nips not see them?
The breath of a spirit circled her head, glowing eerily in the half light of the fire. A male ghost cupped my breasts in his hands, squeezing lightly. Nips would see the indentations of his fingers if she chose to. He caressed my hips, my thighs.
A door in the hallway squeaked shut, distracting Nips, and unleashing my molten ecstasy.
“What was that?” she gasped, but I was too far gone. I couldn’t catch my breath. “Are you OK?”
“Rather,” I whispered in my best Oxbridge tongue. I couldn’t fake Scots now. “What did you just do?”
“Are you all right? Do you have a fever?”
“I’m fine,” I said, rolling onto my back. “Better than fine.”
“What was that noise?” she asked.
“Just a ghost closing a door.”
“The room was just full of them. Couldn’t you see them?”
“I was just lying here thinking of you, looking at you.”
“You should be careful how you look at me. You attracted the ghosts, and they joined in.”
“Joined in what?” she asked, frowning.
“You didn’t feel it?”
“I just had an orgasm.”
“Hmm. I didn’t,” she replied, sounding disappointed.
“You gave it to me, with a little help from one of the ghosts. He was doing what you were thinking.”
“How do you know what I was thinking?”
“I don’t, but the ghosts did. There was one circling around your head, a woman behind me, and a man touching me. There was another near then end of the bed.”
“Are they still here?” she asked, looking around.
“I can’t see any, but you don’t see them if you are looking. They are here … watching. Ghosts are great voyeurs. My mother said this room was full of them when I was conceived. The women of our clan are sensitive. We can feel them, sometimes even hear them. They like it when I wander the castle with no clothes on, so they can touch me. They won’t touch my clothes. I’m one of their kind, a Johnstone.”
“What’s it like to see ghosts?” she asked.
“They come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some, I can see in their full form, although translucent. Some are just a shimmering, like the one that floated around you. The one by the end of the bed was a shadow in a dark room. The one behind me was just a brush of her hair, but I couldn’t see the last one at all, the one that groped me.”
“There are many here, but I recognized the touch of his hands. I’ve felt them before, while replaying a fantasy in my head. He’ll come to you if you invite him.”
“How do I invite him?” she asked. I wasn’t sure she believed me.
“Firstly, you have to be friendly. If you want to feel his touch, you’ll have to strip down. If you are under the covers, you might feel the press of him against you, but you won’t feel his skin, nor will you feel him inside you.”
“Should I do that now?”
“If you want him now, yes, but you will attract others, so you mustn’t be afraid. That’s when a pleasant encounter can become a nightmare. You may sense others, and you may hear things, a distant scream, a door closing or opening, a shadow or a shimmer. They are just ghosts, but they are my family. They must become your friends.”
“Are they tortured?”
“Some are, they died a hideous death or of loneliness. The one who dances around you lost a love in childbirth.”
“How do you know?”
“I just do. If you open yourself completely to him, you will learn more about him. It may be that he will think you are his love come back for him, or maybe a little of her soul will find her way into you. Perhaps it was the touch of her hair I felt on my back. There may be others drawn to you by the colour of your skin. There have been black servants in this household. Maybe one of them will come to you instead. I can’t be sure.”
“How do I know he won’t be violent?” she asked.
“The others will keep him in line. They will defer to my authority. They remain here under my sufferance.”
“You could banish them?”
“Yes, but they keep me company. You are safe here as long as I breathe.”
She sat up. “OK, I’m ready,” she sighed, pulling her nightdress off over her head. “You said I had to be friendly. How do I do that?”
“Just don’t start if you hear or see things. Keep your eyes open so you can see them if they want you to. Don’t be afraid. Go with the flow. Now lie back and tell me about your fantasy, just until you sense them. You are sharing a secret pleasure with them, and they will come.”
“Does it need to be someone in particular?”
“Not necessarily, but have a good image in your mind.”
“Would you mind if it was Arlen?”
“Whatever turns you on.” I did mind, but I thought maybe it might give me more insight into her feelings about him.
“OK, here goes,” she whispered, laying back. “When I first started studying with Arlen, he used to stare at my breasts. I’m not even sure he knew he was doing it, and for a while it bothered me, although I became accustomed to it. Men have stared at my nipples since puberty. One day I had a particularly frustrating lesson. He was berating me for how little work I had prepared. I’d had a tough week and just couldn’t produce anything. I came in a nervous wreck, and it wasn’t long before I was reduced to tears. I don’t blame him; I was fragile and just crumbled. Putting a hand on my shoulder, he said, ‘I’m just pushing you because sometimes one needs a little shove.’ I was wearing a halter that day, and I caught him glance into my cleavage. I think he saw more than he expected. Perhaps it was that he realized he had a hand on my bare skin. I can’t be sure, but he turned beet red and backed away. Maybe it was my reaction to his touch. It was before my relationship with Sandra and completely unexpected. He tried to hide it, but I know he had an erection, and that made me even more excited. That’s when I put my hand on his arm. I don’t know what I intended. It was late in the afternoon, and we had lost track of time. Aoife was away on a course, and the building was more or less empty. No one would have known.”
Nipples stopped for a moment. I sensed a shimmer in the corner, but then she continued.
“He stopped as if he didn’t know what to do, so I had to show him. Lifting my hand from his arm, I touched his thigh, sliding it up and down his leg, closer and closer, until I found his zipper. He sat paralysed, waiting for what I would do next. I unhooked the clasp and pulled the zip down slowly. Still frozen, I began to unbutton his shirt from the bottom up. Opening it, I caressed his nipples, then leaned over an tasted them. Only then did I feel his hands underneath my halter, search for my breasts, my nipples …”
She gasped. A ghost had touched her. One shimmered around her head caressing her neck. Nips eyes were open, but she wasn’t seeing the room.
“I … he … pulled my halter over my head and licked circles around my nipples. I don’t know …” another gasp, “… I don’t know how we made to the floor, but I’d removed his shirt, and found myself kneading his bare buttocks … ohhhh … my panties … ughnnn … skirt … we kissed … his hands … I stroked his … I held him tight … legs locked around him … he …”
Nipples could go no further, as her ghosts took her into orbit. The room shimmered with an assortment of shades, twinkles, and as she approached her climax I heard a scream (perhaps of ecstasy) come from the ruin. She opened herself completely to him, as he kneaded her breasts, throbbed between her thighs, culminating in a long high-pitched squeal of pleasure from the deepest reaches of her soul, and a wet orgasm, leaving a small puddle on my duvet.
After a minute, she sighed. Turning to me, I saw a tear dribble down her cheek. “I’m not sure I want to do that again,” she sobbed.
“It’s too late,” I said. “Once you open yourself to them, you can’t go back. They will be curious about you. What happened?”
“I was a servant girl, perhaps a slave, born in Africa, somewhere near the east coast. My master loved me, but he knew that I could never be anything more to him that just a servant. I was 14 years old when I died in childbirth. My son lived and went to work in Kingston.”
“Did the girl possess you as the spirit pleasured you? Was he her Master?”
“I don’t know, but it didn’t matter. My son was a white boy with Johnstone blood.”
“I don’t understand the significance,” I said.
“That white boy was an ancestor on my mother’s side. My mother’s name was Irma Johnson. We’re related.”
“Sister!” I declared, putting my arms around her. It didn’t change anything. “What did you find unpleasant?”
“I learned too much about myself, and about them. They prodded and poked me, and found my Johnstone blood. They wanted to know too much, and I couldn’t stop them while my Master distracted me. I’m scared.”
“You’re kin. They won’t hurt you. They were just curious, rediscovering an unknown line. They are still all around us watching. Have a look.”
Nipples turned and gazed around the room. She found a shimmer in the corner, a shadow by the fire, a light breeze near the window. If she would have looked in a mirror, she would have found a twinkle dancing around her head. I knew there were more, but they didn’t betray visible manifestations. The woman with the long hair was behind me, as she often is.
It took me a short time to calm her down enough to fall asleep, again nestled between my breasts. I was in the line of her Master, a man who probably raped her ancestor in the name of love. I should have cried in shame, but I knew there were many men like that in my lineage.
I bundled up and trekked down the short-cut through the forest. It was still quite cold, and I hoped she had dressed warmly. Arriving at the station about twenty minutes late, she bounded off the train with her violin slung over her shoulder, and immediately took a picture.
“I’m in Scotland!” she squealed. “Damn, it’s cold!” She was predictably under-dressed. Leeds had only an inch of snow on the ground that week and most of it had melted.
I gave her a hug. “Welcome to Dunrig! Let’s get you home before you freeze.”
“Let me just take a picture of the village,” she said, handing me her enormous suitcase.
“Have you never been to Scotland before?”
“No. I’ve never been north of Durham, actually. I love your accent, by the way. It’s so Scottish.”
“It’s fake,” I confessed. “If you meet any of the townsfolk, they’ll sound rather different,” I added, in the most Oxbridge accent I could muster. “You don’t exactly sound like you’re from the West Indies either.”
“Wot time de cricket staart?” she screeched, then explained, “I lived there for a only a month before my parents emigrated. They both studied at Cambridge.” She sounded as Oxbridge as I did, although I had become accustomed to speaking Scots most of the time.
“They speak a mixture of Glaswegian and Border Scots around here. I’m used to it, but other visitors, even Scots, can’t understand a word of it.”
“Let’s get back,” I said as she took endless shots of the village. Few had ventured out on such a brisk afternoon.
We took turns dragging her suitcase through the snow as she prattled on. I didn’t know how long I could take it. At least the sun was out to provide her with postcard views on the way.
“Wow!” she gasped as my castle came into view. This was the most impressive angle to view it, as it showed the bulk of the ruin, as well as the modern apartments, framed by the dilapidated wall. “This is all yours?”
“I own it, yes, but the ruin is run by the Estate. I chair the board, but I do my best to stay out of matters involving the upkeep, unless they involve the apartments. Let’s go inside and get you warmed up.”
“Just a minute,” she begged, struggling to keep her camera still as she took several pictures of it. “Would you mind taking a picture of me in front of it?” she asked.
I took a few of her with her camera as well as mine. I wanted a few mementos, for Arlen’s sake. When we arrived inside, she shivered uncontrollably. I put my arms around her and held her until she warmed up.
“I wasn’t expecting it to be so cold.”
“Don’t worry, I keep important rooms of the house quite warm. There will be a roaring blaze in the parlour, and a wee fire in each of our bedrooms. I’ll put some more coal on when we get in there. There is central heating as well, for after the fires die down during the night. You’ll stay in my old room,” I said taking her suitcase.
For the first time, she seemed shell-shocked, unable to spit a word out. “It’s huge,” she gasped, once we reached the bottom of the main staircase.
“Relatively speaking, it isn’t that big, but it’s easy to get lost in it, if you don’t know your way around.”
“Do you mind if I explore a little?”
“Sure, wherever you want. We don’t have any locked towers or hidden shrines, like Mandelay.”
“What about secret passages?” she asked.
“Several, but be careful. You never know where you’ll end up. They were originally servants corridors, but most haven’t been used in years. My mother thought service was barbarian.”
“You live here all alone? Cleaning must be a full time job.”
“I have someone come in for a day a week, just to keep the main rooms clean. She goes through the rest one-by-one, taking three months to clean the whole house. Then she starts over. It’s a little like the Forth Bridge. She won’t bother us over the holidays, though. We’ll be completely alone, except for a rare visit from the postman. Most of my post goes to uni, and the Estate mail goes to a post office box in the village. If we’re lucky, they might plough the drive. The gamekeeper might take a hunting party around to shoot pheasants on boxing day.”
“You have a gamekeeper, you know, like Lady Chatterley’s Lover?”
“The estate hires one, just to keep the vermin from over-populating the grounds. But he’s not like Lady Chatterley’s lover. This one is in his sixties, and you’d be lucky to get a few curses out of him in Border Scots if you see him. He doesn’t particularly like the gentry.”
“Oh, I forgot. Should I curtsey?”
“Only if the Queen visits, but that isn’t likely to happen. James II was the last royalty to visit here.”
“Anyway, aside from those exceptions we are free to frolic in the nude if we want to,” I joked. “Here’s your room.”
“Wow!” she gasped. “You really grew up in this room? Look at that fireplace!”
“It’s not as big as the one in my bedroom, which is, in turn, half the size of the ones in the parlour and the kitchen, but that one is occupied by an Aga.”
“This is amazing! Thank you so much for letting me stay here with you. Would you take a picture of me by the fire? And on the bed?”
“Sure. We’ve got almost three weeks to take pictures.”
“What do you do with yourself all alone here?”
“Mostly practice and fiddle about on my computer.”
“I should practice a little, too, while I’m here. Maybe we could play through some things together.”
“Sure, why not? You brought some of your music, too, right?”
I spent the next hour showing her around the important parts of the house. She couldn’t have been more than a couple of years younger than me, but she acted like a child in a candy store, snapping pictures of everything that caught her eye.
“Tell me about Arlen Stewart,” I asked after dinner, as we sat with a bottle of wine by the fire.
“What do you want to know? He’s harmless,” she shrugged.
“What did he tell you about me?”
“That he met you at a conference, and that you were a fine pianist … and you owned a Scottish castle. Why?”
“I was just surprised that he told you about me so soon. He only mentioned you to me the day before.”
“I guess he wanted to get it out of the way before it slipped his mind. He can be a little forgetful.”
“He seemed pretty together if you ask me. Don’t you like him?”
“I do, but he lets too many people push him around. He’s probably the best tutor for me, and I admire him, but the department dumps on him. His wife orders him around, and other students …” she stopped.
“There is one in particular, who just has the whole world handed to her on a plate. She’s a bitch, and not very good. I think he realizes that, but he gets pushed into giving her the most exposure.”
“I think he mentioned her, what was her name?”
“Sandra Claussen. She just wants to get into his wife’s knickers, if she hasn’t already.”
“Didn’t he tell you? She’s a bloody dyke. I mean, I’ve got nothing against them, but she has a reputation for sleeping around, but I don’t think it has ever been with a bloke. She actively promotes that image. He thinks she wants to fuck him, if you’ll pardon my French.”
“He’s told you that?”
“Not in so many words, but he’s afraid of her, and it shows.”
“What do you think of him?” I asked.
“He’s fun to play with,” she laughed. “He thinks he’s the first person to have accidentally called me Nipples.”
“Nipples?” I had to look confused.
She unbuttoned her cardigan. “See?”
They were much more impressive than in the photographs, and I could see why he couldn’t keep his eyes off them. I found it a struggle myself. Rather than saying anything stupid, I laughed.
“That’s the way they’ve always been. You should see them when I get excited.”
“So … what does he do? Stare at them?”
“Him, and every other bloke. He just seems so innocent; it’s a shame not to use them to my advantage. I’m not sure how, yet, but at least they distract him from Sandra. He needs to be freed from her clutches.”
“Do you have some kind of rivalry or something? I’ve seen your tiffs on his Facebook page.”
“She gets things too easily by throwing her body around. I just try to bring her back down to Earth: annoy her a little and poke some fun at her expense. She’s not really a bad person, just a little fake and manipulative.”
I looked at the clock, remembering that I wanted email Arlen tonight. If I waited too late, I’d miss him. “If you don’t mind,” I said, “I’m going to bed. I wanted to send a few emails before I get too tired.”
“Do you mind if I explore a little. It takes me a long time to fall asleep in new places.”
“Wander around as much as you want, but it might be a good idea to check each door before you open it. If it is cold, it probably leads to the old section of the castle which isn’t heated. Those will have locks on them, so don’t close them behind you. It might be better to leave that area until tomorrow when it’s light. You can just ignore the ghosts …”
“Every building this old has them. If you ignore them, they’ll ignore you. Interact too much with them and you’ll have weird dreams.”
“What kind of dreams?” she asked, nervously.
“They vary, depending on the gender of the ghost, and how much you interest them. When I was thirteen, I used to have a lot of sex dreams. Before then I had nightmares. Lately, its a combination of the two now, but the nightmares are usually just weird, not horrific. A lot of battles took place nearby, so there might be a war setting. Either that, or they’ll delve into your past and twist it around. Most of the women will ignore you, though, or complain of lost babies.”
“I’m not sure I’m going to sleep at all now.”
“Stay up all night if you want. We have no commitments here.”
I picked up my glass and took it bed with me, staggering a little under its influence. I’d lost track of how much we’d drunk. I would certainly have weird dreams tonight.
“She’s here,” I typed before stripping down to go to bed. Ever since broaching the subject with him, I had taken to sleeping in the nude, especially if I anticipated another email exchange.
Arlen Stewart: Hi Eirica, is everything OK? She can be pretty wild. A Eirica Johnstone: She's fine. We get along well. Would you indulge me with another of your stories? I promise. Next time, I'll tell you something. My life is pretty boring here, though. Tell me about your first student obsession or maybe the one you found hardest to resist.
I undressed as I waited what seemed like hours.
Arlen Stewart: Eirica, coincidentally, they are the same. You've probably heard of her: Amelia Solent. She was one of my students in my first year of teaching. I could see her talent right away, but like Nipples, she had issues in application. I used to push her hard, and have since learned to back off a little, as more than once I reduced her to tears. Nevertheless, we became very close, since she studied with me both as an undergraduate and post-grad. She used to over-dress for her classes, both seminars and tutorials. Or perhaps I should say under-dress. She was heavily fashion-conscious, and had a repertoire of dresses that showed off various parts of her body, a very lovely body, too. She was particularly partial to backless dresses, but there were side-less, tummy-less, and bosom-less – not exactly topless, but topless with a stylised bra underneath. Most of the time she was highly- strung, but in her tutorials, she relaxed, often taking off her shoes. She had tiny, perfectly-formed feet – feet to die for, feet to … sorry, that would have been too much information. Like Sandra, she used to confide in me, not about lovers, though. She had a reputation, but it was totally erroneous, and I suspected she was even still a virgin. Other students were jealous of her, her talent, her dress sense, her beauty … everything. They were even jealous of the fact that she studied with me. I was over-subscribed throughout her time at the university, mostly with women, since I had the reputation for being female-friendly (and I was single). Many saw her success and thought I was the key to it. Perhaps I was, but I only nurtured what was already there. OK, I know. Where is the juicy stuff? I lusted after her. I dreamt about her, entertained fantasies about her, and would probably have tried to date her if she wasn't my student. That didn't stop after I met Aoife. I still have fantasies about her, and she still sends me messages from time to time. What really drove me nuts was how tactile she was. (Have you noticed that Nicole is tactile, too?) She touches me a lot, thankfully, not too much in public, except for a few pecks on the cheek and the odd hug (usually in jest). In tutorials she touched my arm, my thigh, my shoulder, my hand, and eventually I began to reciprocate, although carefully within the confines of 1980's propriety. A few times, though, I mistakenly touched her bare thigh. She often wore very short dresses in the Spring, and I forgot. She never said anything about it. We did kiss once, ironically when I told her that I had proposed to Aoife. A real kiss, not a peck on the cheek. It was in her last year, and she seemed genuinely happy for me. It was a complete surprise to both of us, but we've never discussed it. If Aoife isn't around when we meet at concerts, it's like were friends again, but Aoife doesn't trust her. She only just tolerates our friendship, even though Amelia is now married with children. We could have been lovers, but that might have ruined my career. I probably would have ruined hers. Arlen Eirica Johnstone: What sort of fantasies, Arlen? E.
Maybe he would really open up, if she moved him like …
Click. Flash! I spun around, closing my laptop. Nipples stood inside the servants’ entrance to my room, having snapped a picture of me, sitting on top of the covers with my laptop cradled on my naked body.
“Sorry, I couldn’t resist,” she said. “Wow! Your room is amazing!” She walked into the light of the fire, which danced on her short, sheer satin nightdress.
I didn’t flinch, not wanting her to think she’d embarrassed me. Instead, I put my laptop aside and gave her the full view. “Promise me you won’t post that on your Facebook page,” I said, as she sat on the sofa next to the fire.
“Why not?” she giggled. “I love it here. You aren’t looking for a live-in companion, are you?”
“I was thinking of holding auditions,” I joked, sliding off the bed and walking over to the sofa across from her, palming my own camera, demonstrably leaving my robe sitting on the floor. If she was going to interrupt me in a private moment, I was going to make sure she knew it.
“You can put me first in the queue,” she replied, glancing at the fire.
That was my chance. Snap!
“Now we’re even,” she giggled.
“No we aren’t,” I frowned.
Hesitating, she knew what I wanted.
“Go on! I have nothing to hide. What about you?”
“OK,” she grumbled, lifting off her nightdress. “Satisfied?”
I snapped another picture of her reclining, nude. I would send that to Arlen to see how he responded. “Now I am.”
Nipples picked up her camera again and snapped back at me
“At least you could catch me when I’m being sultry and seductive. How about on the bed?” I suggested, laying across the end of the bed.
Reluctantly, she snapped another.
We exchanged places. Soon it became a game. Who could take the most racy picture? The most arty one? The strangest one?
“I want copies,” I mumbled, waking up with her in my arms on my sofa early in the morning. We hadn’t slept much, having collapsed from exhaustion on the sofa around 4 am.
It was the first time I had ever slept naked with someone. I found it beautiful and relaxing.
Facebook: Arlen Stewart wants to be your friend.
The message popped up on my iPhone as I crossed the Scottish border. He hadn’t attached a personal message. Did I have anything posted on Facebook that I didn’t want him to see? Just the pictures of him, but I had added a couple more from the conference. There was a nice one of Sinead, too, talking to him with Mr Coulter. It was sexy, too. She was showing a little cleavage from that angle. Arlen would like that one. I had posted a few others that didn’t include him, a nice one of Rhianne, whose role I’d assumed at lunchtime on the first day of the conference. Would Arlen notice that he featured in 11 of my 16 photos of the conference?
Would it be a bad thing? Maybe that would signal my interest. I accepted his request and updated my status. “Just spent an awesome afternoon with the composer of one of my recital pieces today,” then added a tweet.
@ClanGoddess87: We kissed. I wanted more.
My tweet initiated a flurry of responses.
@fritterbean: You should be careful. You still don't know him that well. @pandyfloss: Go get him Goddess!
Most messages were supportive, but advised caution. What could it hurt?
@johnstone.amanda: You should be more careful about where you are dragging our clan!
Amanda was from the other wing, but she was mid-line. It wasn’t the first time she had rebuked me. The feud was still strong in her family, even after 500 years.
I took a look at Arlen’s Facebook page. It seemed very professional, with little content unrelated to his teaching. “Enjoyed meeting with you today,” I posted on his wall, or I started to. Did his wife look at his page? If it was an issue, he wouldn’t have sent the friend request. I clicked send.
For a week, I maintained a silence, testing whether he would initiate contact. As far as I was concerned, it didn’t matter, but I wanted to know how attached he felt. My Twitter followers told me it was a risky proposition. If my scheme failed, I would get over it, but I didn’t want to hurt him. I couldn’t wait any longer.
Eirica Johnstone: Arlen, I've been thinking of you. There's something I would like to discuss. It's of a personal nature. Do you mind? Lady E
He must have been online, as his reply came minutes later.
Arlen Stewart: My Lady, what do you have in mind? Must be careful. A Eirica Johnstone: When we spoke at the conference, I sensed an issue, something about being a student. E
Again, an immediate reply.
Arlen Stewart: My department is quite paranoid about it. A Eirica Johnstone: Why? Have you done something? I'm a good listener, if you want to talk. I won't tell anyone. Right now, I'm at home alone, just sitting in bed with my laptop. I'll be online for a while, if you want to IM. E Arlen Stewart: That's dangerous. I know someone who's had a bad experience with that. Quick emails are fine with me. Aoife's asleep. A Eirica Johnstone: My ears are open. What's happened? Arlen Stewart: Eirica, nothing has happened. I just don't trust myself that much. Eirica Johnstone: You can trust me, Arlen. I'm all ears. E Arlen Stewart: Well, teaching privately, I get very close to my students, physically, sitting next them in their lessons, as well as emotionally. They often open up to me about their personal issues. A Eirica Johnstone: What did you do? E Arlen Stewart: I didn't do anything. I haven't had many female composition students, just one or two a year, and I found few of those attractive. I have just thought about about doing things with certain ones. A Eirica Johnstone: What type of things? E Arlen Stewart: Well, if someone starts crying, you want to hold them, don't you? That's not allowed. A Eirica Johnstone: That seems harmless. Was there something specific? E Arlen Stewart: I have one student in particular. I don't know what it is about her, but … forgive me for being crude … her nipples show all the time, no matter what she is wearing. Some of the male staff joke about her. Her name is Nicole Staples, but they refer to her as “Nipples.” A Eirica Johnstone: That's funny, actually, as well as boorish. Something must have happened. What? E Arlen Stewart: One day in a lesson, when she was wearing a thin sweater, I accidentally called her that. She could have slapped me but she didn't, preferring to ignore it. The next lesson she wore a tight t-shirt and no bra, as if to taunt me with them. A Eirica Johnstone: Are you into nipples? E Arlen Stewart: Normally, no. Hers, yes. A Eirica Johnstone: Why? E Arlen Stewart: I don't know. They just demand attention. A Eirica Johnstone: She obviously wanted your attention, Arlen. What happened after that? E Arlen Stewart: I haven't done anything, but she's driving me nuts. She keeps showing them off with tank tops, satin blouses, etc. I can't not stare at them! A Eirica Johnstone: Maybe you should do something. Talk it over with her. E Arlen Stewart: She's a student. That crosses the line. A Eirica Johnstone: I'm a student, too. E Arlen Stewart: You aren't MY student. A Eirica Johnstone: There must be something about her other than her nipples. Tell me about her. E
As I didn’t receive an immediate reply, I googled her. Her website was minimalist, a CV, list of works and a short biography. The section most of interest to me was her gallery. I didn’t expect her to be black, for some reason, nor skinny. Her face had an elegant bone structure, as did her frame, although she seemed a little perpendicular to me. I saw immediately what he meant about her nipples. Every picture.
Arlen Stewart: Eirica, I'm not sure what you want. She would be my best student, if she applied herself more. She's tall, about your height, and very thin. I should introduce you to her, since she's in piano mode now: a series of piano pieces and piano chamber music. It's difficult to play, but right up your street musically, I think. But I suspect that isn't what you wanted to hear. You want to know how she drives me nuts. I don't know how to explain it. Her movements are elegant and sensual. She has a pretty face with moon eyes. (I'm a sucker for pretty faces.) Without wearing perfume, she smells intensely female. She has perfect ebony skin, well, not exactly ebony, more like milk chocolate. She plays principal second violin in the chamber orchestra that I conduct, so she sits right in front of me. She breathes with the phrases, deeply, like a swoon, and that ties me in knots. The worst thing is that she knows she is doing it, too, and takes advantage of my insecurity, my feeble attempts at hiding my erections. Yes, I'm puerile. She doesn't have to work hard to make me hard. To much information. I don't suppose you wanted to hear that. Don't think ill of me. Arlen
That was the first time he’d written me more than two sentences.
Eirica Johnstone: Dear Arlen, I appreciate your openness. To be honest, I like it that you open up to me completely. If it helps, I'm happy to be your sounding board. You say that she isn't the first. Tell me about some others. Don't worry about being too intimate or “puerile.” I can be puerile myself. I appreciate your honesty. Love, Eirica Arlen Stewart: I'll have to give you a rain check. It's nearly 2 am, and I suspect Aoife is wondering where I am. Sleep well. Arlen.
It snowed overnight, stopping all trains through the village, so I was stuck at home on my own. With a foot of new snow, it was unlikely that I would be able to get back to Glasgow all week, and being the end of term, I faced an additional two weeks alone kicking about the castle. It looked like a solid three weeks of unfettered practice time for my recital.
At lunchtime, I received a surprising email:
Facebook: Nicole Staples would like to be your friend.
I accepted her request and took a look at her page. She was quite active there, updating her status almost hourly, and uploading an enormous number of pictures. An hour later, I received an email from her.
Nicole Staples: Dear Eirica, Arlen Stewart gave me your name at my composition lesson this morning as someone who might be interested in my piano music. May I send you some to look over. Obviously, this is just a punt, but he seemed to think that you might like it, and have the technique to be able to play it. Is it true that you live in a castle? I saw it on your Facebook page. It's beautiful! I would love to come visit you there. Maybe I could bring some scores with me. Love, Nicole
Maybe this was a chance for me to do a little more research on Arlen.
Eirica Johnstone: Dear Nicole, I would love for you to come visit and look forward to seeing and hearing your music. I was wondering … I'm snowed in here right now, and it looks likely that I'll miss the end of term at Uni. And that's followed by a two week break for the holidays. I'm facing three weeks completely alone, since it's off-season and the skeleton visitor centre staff won't even be around to plough the snow on the drive – the mile-long drive! If you are interested in coming, you would have to walk from the station in the village and that is about a mile. They probably won't have regular trains running again until the weekend, but if you fancy a wee break, come on up, even if it is for just a few days. I could use some company. Love, Eirica
She replied almost immediately:
Nicole Staples: Most gracious Lady Eirica, Wow! I'd love to come. My parents are spending the holidays in the Bahamas, leaving me home to compose. When they booked the trip, I had plans, but they have fallen through. I'll come as soon as there is a train, and leave when you throw me out, or the end of the holidays, whichever comes first. Is that OK? This is so exciting! Affectionately yours, Nicole
What did he tell her about me? It was encouraging that I was still on his mind in the morning. Clearly, he told her more about me than that I was a good pianist and interested in modern music. He mentioned my title, possibly the castle. What else? I told her to let me know when she had her ticket, so I could walk into town and stock up on food.
Eirica Johnstone: Dear Arlen, I really enjoyed our email conversation last night, especially your honesty and openness. I look forward to our next one, as I sensed you weren't finished confiding in me. Maybe tonight? I'm stuck alone in the castle, since we were buried under a foot of snow last night. It looks like I won't get back to Glasgow for the end of term, as the trains aren't running. The most important appointment was a seminar today and a lesson tomorrow, both of which are definitely out. I have chamber music rehearsals on Thursday and Friday, but I'll probably reschedule them for January. I've received an email from Nipples today. She's coming to stay with me during the holidays, or as soon as the trains start running again. Is there anything about her that I should know? Weird mannerisms? She's a lesbian? (She was awfully keen to come stay with me!) Or sleepwalks? Let me know. I'll be online after dinner for the rest of the evening, if you want to keep me company. I'd love to hear some more of your stories. Love, Eirica Arlen Stewart: E, maybe after 10, when Aoife goes to bed. She's used to me staying up late to compose. Nicole? She's just excited about everything, sometimes acting without thinking of consequences. She may cancel at the last minute. A
That was disappointing. I hoped he was wrong about her. After dinner, I sent him a message saying I was online, then sat and waited, looking though Nipples photos on Facebook. She’d announced to all her friends that she was spending the holidays in a Scottish castle, posting a link to a picture of me in front of it, dressed in my official uniform as leader of my branch of the clan. How embarrassing! She wasn’t picky about what photos she posted: her drunk in a pub, wearing funky costumes, or her bikini on a beach in the Bahamas, where she was born. She had an album of self-portraits clearly intended to impress a certain man … or men. She knew about her nickname and revelled in it, posting a number of pictures of her barely covered breasts with protruding nipples. A picture of her after a recital was boldly labelled: Nipples strikes again!
She shouldn’t wear satin, even with a bra!
I noticed Arlen on her friends list, but of course he was her teacher. I flipped over to his page, finding her as our only mutual friend. His list was much shorter, but included a number of famous composers, several young women, who I assumed were students, as well as a smaller number of male students. Nipples posted regularly to his wall, as did another probable student, a blonde named Sandra Claussen. They seemed to be in competition with each other, espousing opposing views on almost every subject, prosecuting open warfare on Arlen’s wall.
Another composer, Amelia Solent, also posted regularly, often mediating between the two younger women. I’d heard of her. In fact, she’d written the set piece for a competition that I’d nearly won. Given the opportunity to meet her, I’d stupidly only shaken her hand, and played a few minutes for her. Now that I knew better, I would have tried to cultivate a friendship. Briefly, I considered sending her a friend request, but Arlen’s reply came, so it was time to get to business.
Arlen Stewart: Hi E, I'm on. I don't know what you wanted to discuss, but I'm here nevertheless. A Eirica Johnstone: Arlen, you promised to tell me about some of your other awkward relationships with students. I just noticed that Nipples and someone named Sandra Claussen seemed to have issues on your Facebook page. Do spill! E Arlen Stewart: Sandra … well she's certainly a story. She's a year behind Nicole, and many consider her the best composer in the department. She writes very safe music, and that's why she's so popular. Nicole is much more talented, in my opinion, but Sandra will probably sleep her way to the top. I can almost hear you yawning already. OK, the juicy stuff. Sandra does her best to portray herself with an eco-friendly, Earth Mother. She has a reputation among the staff, and I'm sure she's had at least one affair, although I have no proof. I kick myself for having taken her on as a postgrad student. Everyone wanted her in the department, but nobody wanted to be her tutor. I drew the short straw. Don't get me wrong. She is very nice. But I told you how much of an emotional investment I make in my students, and she does her best to use it. Firstly, she's very pretty, no matter how hard she tries to hide it under her gypsy clothes. She never wears bras. She's very fidgety, putting her jumper on and off at least three times during every lesson, as well as adjusting her top, or unbuttoning her blouse, probably one button too far, often until she almost falls out, then she buttons up a little, before beginning the process again. She shouldn't wear white. Her large, dark aureoles are clearly visible through anything light coloured … and they of peek out of their own accord as she fidgets. During the spring, she often wears a white sundress, where all is visible, including her lack of undergarments. On these days, she often wanders around my office as we speak, basking in the sun streaming through my office window on bright days, leaving nothing to the imagination. Talking is something she does constantly. She tells me almost everything, her many conquests, who she's slept with and who she hasn't (avoiding staff members), as well as how good each of them are in bed, sometimes to the point of ranking the sizes of their penises. She has no inhibitions. What really drives me nuts is when she takes her shoes off – at almost every opportunity. Always in her lessons, often while she performs (cello). She has amazing feet. I don't know how else to describe them. Her feet are part of the routine: take the shoes off, the jumper, straighten her blouse, unbutton a couple of buttons, cross her legs, uncross, scratch her ankle, put the jumper back on, take it off, sit for a couple of minutes with her aureole(s) in view, button a button … it goes on. Meanwhile, I'm trying to teach her and trying not to let my pants get too damp. (I have to be careful to wear dark trousers when I meet with her.) This year, she has complicated matters by becoming firm friends with Aoife. Sandra sits with us at virtually every concert that she isn't playing in, fidgeting all the way through. Fortunately, she usually sits on the other side of Aoife, although I occasionally find her between us after the interval. With Aoife as Sandra's ally, Nicole won't come near, although I find her much more intelligent company. Aoife doesn't like Nicole at all. I don't know why. If we invite students over, Sandra is always there, while Nicole is omitted, unless I insist on her inclusion. I suspect that after her graduation, Sandra will still get invited to dinner as long as she remains in the area. It's not that I don't like her – I do – but associating with her takes time away from Nicole, who I do have time for. I've been going on and on. Just crucify me and get it over with. Arlen Eirica Johnstone: Dearest Arlen, I wouldn't crucify you no matter what you did. You like her. You like Nipples more, but both are your students and therefore off limits. From your description, I think I like Nipples more, too. I've known people like Sandra, self-promoting like – what's his name – Coulter, from the conference. Different methods, same idea. Would sleeping with her cause her to back off? E Arlen Stewart: I doubt it. I'd rather sleep with Nipples anyway – did I just say that? Even though Sandra is prettier, I find Nipples more attractive, even with her shoes on. I can't believe I'm writing this to you. You don't really want to hear it. A Eirica Johnstone: I want to hear whatever is on your mind, no matter how stupid it sounds. I've never had this kind of conversation with anyone. It makes me feel so alive and needed. E Arlen Stewart: I guess I'm glad of it. Tell me something about yourself. It must be cold, all alone in a draughty castle. A Eirica Johnstone: Not this part. I keep my bedroom quite warm, preferring to sleep with little or nothing on, in front of a roaring fire. I sit here in bed with my laptop until I'm ready to fall asleep. E
A couple of minutes elapsed before his reply:
Arlen Stewart: So you have nothing on? A Eirica Johnstone: Nothing at all. Especially not on my feet. E
I wanted him to have the full image. Before he could respond, I added:
Eirica Johnstone: We can web-chat if you'd like. E Arlen Stewart: Not a good idea. Eirica Johnstone: Sorry. I was just leading you on. No harm done, I hope. Arlen Stewart: I'd better get to bed now. Aoife's calling for me. You will tell me your secrets sometime, won't you? Arlen Eirica Johnstone: All of them. Goodnight. Love, Eirica
No response. In fact, I didn’t hear from him for the rest of the week. Nipples, on the other hand posted regular updates on Facebook. The first train to stop at Dunrig ran on Friday afternoon, and she was on it.
Eirica Johnstone: Dear Mr Stewart, I've had a look at your website. I love your music. Please do send me your piano pieces and I will perform them on my recital in January. I look forward to hearing from you. Do write. Yours, Eirica
Was that too forward? “Yours” was an Americanism. How would he take that? I meant it. Damn, that was too keen. He’d receive my message the moment he walked in the door.
I must have jumped every time an email came in for the next 24 hours, then 36. Finally, on Monday afternoon came his reply.
Arlen Stewart: Dear Eirica, Delighted you are interested. Have posted out the score. Let me know what you think. Arlen
I had to reply right away.
Eirica Johnstone: Arlen, I can't wait. Looking forward to trying it out. It was lovely meeting you.
The score arrived on Wednesday.
Eirica Johnstone: Arlen, It's here and I've already tried it out. I'm definitely putting it on my programme in January. May I come see you about it? Eirica Arlen Stewart: Dear Eirica, Seeing you might be a little awkward. Maybe at the university? Arlen Eirica Johnstone: At the university is fine with me. Love, Eirica
Was that too forward? On second thought, I wanted more privacy.
Eirica Johnstone: Actually, is there somewhere in York we can meet? Trains to York go through Dunrig, but Leeds trains don't. I have to go through Glasgow, and that adds an hour to my journey each way. Can we do it soon, like the last Saturday in November? That's half term here. Eirica Arlen Stewart: Eirica, I'm surprised you will be ready to see me so soon, but York will be on half term, too, so I can probably secure a space there to meet. I assume we will need a piano. Just hop on a No. 4 bus and get off on the first campus stop. Arlen
I had hoped that he would pick me up by car, but at least he agreed to meet with me. I was concerned about the brevity of his messages. Was he not interested in me? Perhaps there was someone else. Sinead?
Eirica Johnstone: Arlen, I'll arrive at York around noon and will take the first bus to campus. I don't know how long that takes. On another matter, may I ask you a personal question? What did you think of Sinead? I noticed you with her quite a lot. Eirica Arlen Stewart: Eirica, I'm not certain who you mean. A Eirica Johnstone: She was the pretty Irish harpist at the conference. E Arlen Stewart: I'm not sure I met her, actually. Why do you ask? A Eirica Johnstone: She was often sitting near you in the back row. I thought, well, maybe you knew her. E Arlen Stewart: Oh, her! She reminded my of someone, that's all. I hardly said a word to her. Why do you ask? A Eirica Johnstone: I thought maybe she was your type. E Arlen Stewart: My type? I'm not sure what my type really is. She looked a little like a girlfriend I had at university. That's all. Nothing more than that. Did she ask about me or something? A Eirica Johnstone: No, it was just my observation. I hope you don't think I'm being too forward by asking what you think of me. Objectively speaking, you know. I'm not trying to tear you away from your wife or anything. E
His reply took a couple of days to reach me.
Arlen Stewart: I'm not sure I should answer that. You're a nice girl. Pretty. Perhaps more my type than your friend Sinead. You seem very honest and open. I like that. A Eirica Johnstone: Dear Arlen, Thanks for your kind and candid reply. I confess, I've always had a thing about about composers. I'm looking forward to seeing you on Saturday. Love, Eirica
Now that was too much, and another few days passed before his reply. Meanwhile, I practised his pieces with a religious zeal, desiring so deeply to impress him when I played for him. His music touched the core of my being, and I emerged at the end of my long hours of practice with an almost sexual high.
Arlen Stewart: Dear Eirica, I'm not sure what you mean about a “thing” about composers. Should I be worried? Arlen
Yes, I had definitely gone too far. In an attempt to open him up, I had obliquely confessed my like for him. Saying that, he still replied to my message, and more importantly hadn’t cancelled our meeting tomorrow. Having openly documented my feelings about him in almost hourly tweets over the past two weeks, I asked my followers what to do. A large number of them advocated coming clean with my feelings. Arlen had applauded my honesty. Others told me to back out. He was married, it would only end with someone being hurt, probably me.
I wanted him for his sperm, not his love.
Did I really tweet that? Of course, I wanted his love, but I wanted to make babies with him even more. He solved all my problems: my desire of older men, the need to procreate, and the urge to retain my freedom. I would absolve him from all responsibility to my children.
I wanted more than one from him. That was a revelation that I had only just come to terms with, but how would I achieve that without his knowledge? While choosing the date for my recital, I had been careful to calculate the likelihood of being fertile while he was here. I would get pregnant and disappear for a year, meanwhile planting a seed for our next rendezvous. I would ask him to write a new piece for me. He composed slowly, so a year or more without seeing him seemed likely.
Eirica Johnstone: Arlen, by a “thing,” I meant that I've always felt closer to composers than other people. Unlike you, I can only recreate your masterpiece, but you fashion it yourself from your own being. To me, composers are the next step up on the evolutionary ladder: creators and great thinkers. I wish I could be like you. Eirica.
That successfully met my followers half-way. Without telling him that I adored him in particular, I revealed my innermost thoughts on his type. I didn’t expect a reply before I set off on my journey, but my iPhone signalled a new message.
Arlen Stewart: Eirica, without your gifts, a composer is nothing. Thinking can only be realized though action. I'll meet you at the concert hall around 1pm. See you then. Arlen
Action. That was what he wanted, so I resolved to give it to him.
My fans twittered in unison. Be careful! Not too soon. But it wasn’t too soon. The time was now. Over recent weeks my following had ballooned from 1000 to 30,000, all latching on to my every tweet.
@ClanGoddess87: I'm pulling into the station now. Will be with him in an hour. @ClanGoddess87: Just pulled up to the bus stop. He's standing at the hall waiting for me. I know he's up for it.
Stepping off the bus, I panicked. Had I over-dressed? Under-dressed? Would he even notice? When would I make my move? Conservatively, I had chosen the same purple blouse as I had worn when he first met me. One of my Facebook friends had told me I looked sexy in it, following that with another proposal of marriage. He was too young for me. I had always thought it de-emphasized my bosom while bloating my hips. Maybe that was what Arlen liked.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” I said, shaking his hand.
“You’re early, actually. I just met with a couple of students and came outside to wait for you in case you couldn’t find the place. You wouldn’t be the first person to get lost on this campus.”
For two hours we sat in one of the classrooms working through his piece. I didn’t play my best as he hovered over my shoulder. I could feel the warmth of his breath as he pointed to passages that he wanted me to play differently. He smelled clean, as though he had just taken a shower. No cologne, just the clean smell of masculinity … of semen. Maybe I imagined the latter, but there was something sexual about his odour.
“I was wondering,” he asked as we packed up at the end of the session, “would you be interested in playing my piano concerto if I can arrange a performance?”
That was almost too much for my tender heart to handle. “Yes!” I gulped, too loudly, as if I had just climaxed. Truly, I was on the verge of it. A light brush on my thighs would have sent me into ecstasy. I wanted him. I needed him. “As long as I can fit it into my schedule,” I added, trying not to sound over-eager. I anticipated a pregnancy to plan around.
“I have a few conductors interested,” he replied, “but it always takes some convincing, and programming such a big piece with an unknown soloist is risky.”
“Are you sure you want me?” I asked. “You haven’t exactly heard me at my best.”
“I want you. I’ve listened to the clips on your website.”
He’d thought about me more than I’d guessed. I hadn’t even given him the URL. “Well, I’d really like to play it. I love what I’ve heard of your music.”
Time for my gambit. “Is there any chance you could give me a lift back to the station. I hadn’t thought of bringing an umbrella.” It had started raining while we had our session.
He thought for a moment. “I guess so.”
Halfway to the station he broke our awkward silence. “What’s it like living in a castle?”
How did he know? My website, of course. “It’s quiet at night after the staff leaves for the day in season. That’s why I usually live on campus.”
“You have a staff?” He sounded surprised.
“Only for the visitor centre. They hardly come into the residence at all out of season. I’m all alone there.”
“You allow visitors?”
“About a third of the castle is an ancient ruin, surrounded by 100 acres of pasture and woodland. The estate also owns the freehold to the village and a couple surrounding farms. There are a couple well-preserved bedrooms there for the old Laird, and a room reserved for the king, although no furniture survives. The residence is a nineteenth-century renovation, with modern conveniences added by my mother while I was a child.”
“You must get lonely kicking about on your own.”
“I’ve got the ghosts to keep me company.” Too many to count.
“Every 900-year-old castle has ghosts.”
“So are you the Laird?” he asked.
“If I bear a son, he will be. I’m just the Lady.”
“Lady Eirica? Should I bow before you?”
“Nobody does. It’s just an inherited title with no seat in the Lords or anything. I just have the obligation to bear an heir at some point. How do you know so much about me?”
“Your website. You should probably have one for the visitor centre, though.”
“There is one, but it isn’t kept up well. I don’t have any control over it.”
“Did you set up your own site? It’s very slick.”
“Well, I don’t have much to do other than practise, write my dissertation and proliferate my web presence.”
“So you’re on Facebook and all that?”
“It keeps me sane. I don’t have much other contact outside of Uni.”
“Well, here we are,” he announced as we pulled into the station.
“Thanks for the lift,” I replied as he stopped the car. “I really enjoyed finally getting to know you a little.”
I reached over to give him a kiss on the cheek as close to his lips as possible, lingering as long as I dared. I revelled in the warmth of his cleanly-shaven cheek. Did he notice that I steadied myself, putting my hand on his thigh. How long did it last? One, two, three seconds? An eternity?
Certainly not long enough. Did he hear me sigh? Did he close his eyes?
“You should come visit the castle,” I whispered. Did I really? Then louder, “It’s a wonderful place. You should bring your wife. There are plenty of things to see and do. I’ve got a number of spare rooms. Stay as long as you’d like.”
“I’ll think about it.”
That was too forward, but did I really invite his wife? I wanted him and only him for a weekend or a week of lovemaking. “The offer is always open. If you want, you can stay there when you come up to the concert. I’m sure Hamish will want you to give a seminar on the Friday before my recital. I’ll talk to him about it.”
I cringed waiting for his response. “I’ll see what my schedule is like.” No commitment.
Talk dirty to me! Wow, did I just think that? I wanted him to tear my clothes off, not caring that we were in the middle of a busy drop-off lane. Reluctantly, I picked up my rucksack and stepped out of the car. “See you soon!” I waved.
Did he notice that I had brought an overnight bag with a change of clothes? Did he notice the burgundy pair of silk knickers that had wrapped itself around the score of his piece? He couldn’t know where I intended to stay the night. Maybe he thought York wasn’t my only destination.
Could you hear me sigh?