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.