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.