It’s been a weird day today, sunny and bright during my run, then rain, and now a hailstorm, storming like my head, writing about mirrors, memories, and friends – one whose cancer has been in remission for 10 years – it’s back, and she has always done her best to hide it, we’re not that close, but close enough for it to hurt, hurt like the hail falling outside, scattering the birds in my garden – I feel for her husband, who I’m a little closer to, and her son who I watched grow from a silent three-year-old to an outgoing teenager,
but that isn’t what I was going to write about today; I’m fixated on mirrors, staring at myself, my body, still strong, approaching another birthday, still worth looking at, if you are old enough to appreciate a fine wine through the wrong part of your varifocals – well, maybe not that bad, I haven’t got enough for the southern move to be that significant, and I keep myself in shape, good shape, it’s what’s inside that you can’t see in my mirror, but it’s there poking fun at me – too many mistakes in my life, too much ego, not enough compassion, and plenty of love for sale, not for sale exactly, but lots left to give and lots of desire waiting to be fulfilled, yet I look again, and I see my friend, imagine that my days are numbered like hers, but she’s not my only friend counting days, too many, and I’m counting them, too, along with them, even though my end is more obscure, two days, two years, twenty, fifty, who knows,
her body at least betrays its weakness, she knows to put her affairs in order, but I’m still looking for affairs, expecting tomorrow to come as the clock ticks silently within, unknown, my guardian angel standing at my back protecting me – from what? – who knows, my friend knows, her angel fights furiously guiding her doctors, eeking out as much existence as she can from her tired body, while I abuse mine,
assaulted by memories and mirrors, I haven’t got the stomach for sex today, mistakes, navel-gazing, lost loves, loves not-so-lost but out of reach – I want to smash that mirror, at least I’d get those seven years of bad luck guaranteed, put them in the bank and suffer through them, alone as usual, but not quite alone, still more alone than I want to be, but I’m too picky to find someone else, other than that skinny, tall, aging woman in the mirror with hazel eyes and dyed hair, struggling to stay 29 in her comfy blue sweatshirt and torn jeans, she judges me, she punishes me for thinking about him, my dying friend, my narcicism … those memories, those dreams …
oh accusing mirror, it’s all your damn fault!
“Just follow my lead,” I said. Nip’s train was due only a quarter of an hour after Sandra’s, so we decided to make it all a single trip. She betrayed no desire to see Sandra, but was resigned to the fact that the rendezvous would last only a short time. I wanted to see how they regarded each other, to determine whether it was hate or jealousy, or as Charlie put it, disdain.
As Sandra bounced off the train with her cello, I realized she was the opposite of Nips, bouncy, vibrant and flamboyant. My gaydar remained completely silent, whereas with Nips it sung a low hum. Their embrace was cordial – no hate or jealousy evident – but it didn’t last long, as though neither wanted to be seen with the other. Despite my warning, Sandra was under-dressed for the weather, which had again turned cold. Before she could settle in, though, we rushed to the opposite platform just in time to meet Nip’s train.
It was time to play with Sandra’s head. Nips and I embraced, and I leaned in for a kiss – a real one, full on, tongues. I hadn’t planned that last part, but it just seemed natural, a la Britney and Madonna. Nips wanted it, abandoning herself, pulling away just in time to board her train.
How did I feel about it? I was sorry to see her go, very sorry, but kissing a woman like that? I don’t know. My heart fluttered, but my head said, “Hold on.”
“Are you two … ?” asked Sandra as the train rolled out.
I just shrugged, leaving it ambivalent to make her wonder. After a frigid walk back to the castle, I set her up in a guest room. It was slightly larger than Nip’s room, and not as welcoming. It also had more ghosts, including some spirits that even I found disturbing. She saw it right away.
“This place certainly has a history,” she exclaimed, pulling off her coat – floppy dress, Docs, commando, as far as I could guess. It would be true to type.
“The castle has been around a long time,” I replied. “It’s bound to. We were right on the front line of the wars with the English, too.”
“I don’t think I’ve been in a place with so many ghosts.”
“You can see them?”
“No, but I can sense them. They don’t bother you?”
“They’re family, and I’m their living royalty. I’m one of them.”
“I could get rid of them for you,” she offered.
“I’d get lonely without them.” I couldn’t imagine the place completely empty like that.
“You know, you should be careful with Nicole,” she spat out bluntly.
“What do you mean?”
“Did she do the staring thing?”
“Yes, but …”
“The ghosts intervened. They distracted me before I opened myself to her.”
“Those eyes are difficult to resist. I couldn’t.”
“What happened between you?”
“We just fell out of love. There wasn’t even an argument. That’s the way she is. She knows exactly what she wants, and as soon as you don’t fit, she drops you. She will, you know.”
“What about you?”
“I’m not sure it was ever love, just infatuation. Say, are you interested in a Tarot reading? I’d like to learn more about the ghosts.”
Again, true to type, but what could it hurt? These parts were full of magic, soothsayers, witches – I probably would have been one if my mother had allowed it. “Why not?”
“Um …” she stuttered. “I prefer to do them nude. It gives me more contact with the spirit world. It would be better if you were, too.”
“That didn’t take you long,” I laughed.
“They warned me about your tarot readings.”
“What do mean by that?”
“All the women that surround Arlen. You know who they are. They’re all your friends on Facebook. Everyone has an opinion, and it’s hard not to listen. I’m sure they all contacted you as soon as you began your studies with him.”
“What would they know about the tarot anyway? It’s something I do often, with many people. I’m not seducing anybody with it.”
“What about Nicole?”
She chuckled. “She seduced me. Ask her, but I’m not sure she even knew she did it. I don’t think she turns on those moon eyes on purpose.”
This wasn’t starting well. I wished she wasn’t so fake or conniving. In normal clothes she would be pretty, if not beautiful, and there was nothing gay about her. “Do you really expect me to believe that?”
“If you ask Nicole, she’ll tell you. I’ve got nothing to hide. I don’t understand why nobody likes me. I don’t want anything more than anyone else has – someone to love and cherish, someone who fulfils me and inspires me.”
“Aoife fulfils you?”
“She inspires me,” she scowled. “She’s a brilliant poet.”
“Arlen does, too?”
“Arlen inspires all his students.”
“Especially the women.”
She shrugged. “His female students have been more successful than the males. Amelia is amazing, and Laura Liu. We overlapped a few years.”
“She might be the best of all of us. I freely admit that, but she doesn’t promote herself well.”
“Not like you.”
“People think there is a rivalry between us. I win the prizes she doesn’t enter, but she doesn’t enter many, so it looks like I’m winning them all. We had a relationship. It ended. It was sad. The world turns. My feet are firmly planted on the ground. Nicole’s head is in the clouds.”
She was right about that. Despite moments of lucidity, Nipple’s thoughts were always elsewhere, deep in whatever she was writing, soaring the heavens, talking to ghosts, or contemplating the universe. That’s what I found so endearing about her.
After dinner we sat down on the floor in my bedroom. Sandra said she felt more comfortable there, as the ghosts seemed more cordial. “Have you ever had a tarot reading before, she asked, slipping out of her dress, no underwear, as expected. Her body was magnificent, statuesque, what every man dreamt of, and without the façade, she seemed more human. Her ankles weren’t half as “English” as Arlen had implied.
“Why do you do that?” I asked, ignoring her question.
“People never forget me, and it’s comfortable.”
“There are other ways to achieve that,” I said, unbuttoning my blouse.
“I got sick of being a pretty face. People remembered how beautiful I was. Did Nicole tell you I was Miss Devon and runner up for Miss England?”
“No, she didn’t.”
“I was only a couple of votes away from going to Miss World, and I did it all for my parents. After it was over, I didn’t want any of it. This was my way to get people to look at me, not my body. I want people to hear my music, not fantasize about my breasts.” She shuffled her cards.
“I’m not sure this accomplishes the latter. Enough hangs out to get Arlen’s juices flowing, and I can’t see anyone else being any different.”
“What did he tell you?”
“He has fantasies about your breasts, and still insists he’s not a breast man.”
“When did he tell you?”
“We correspond regularly.”
“He confides in you?”
“We share fantasies.” Nothing wrong with being honest.
“He’s never told me anything.” She sounded hurt.
“You are a student. I’m nobody.”
“I wouldn’t say that. He talks about you at every opportunity. He’s in awe of your talent. I think he might be writing a piece for you. He’s certainly encouraging all of us to do the same.”
“It’s because I play new music,” I replied, stepping out of my panties. “That’s not uncommon. Everyone here wants to write for me, too.” After nearly a month with Nipples, I had lost what few inhibitions I had left.
“I think it’s more than that.”
“Whatever. Let’s get started.”
Sandra pulled out a card to represent me, the Princess of Disks. “You seem grounded, but spiritual,” she said, “and quietly beautiful, in possession of hidden knowledge.”
I tried not to react, as she shuffled the deck again and set it down for me to cut.
“Do you have a question, or should we just get a general sense?”
“General.” I wanted to know about Arlen, but couldn’t admit it.
She laid the first card on top of the Princess – the Magician. “I’m not all that surprised. You ooze art and talent. The Magician is an alchemist, fashioning a gold from iron. Many great musicians get it in their readings. She laid the next card across it: The Fool. Here is something working against you, either someone you can’t control through your gifts, or your own failings. The fool may be one who possesses that talent, yet has no knowledge of how they came by it or how to use it.
She set down the next four cards. Lust below, Love behind, The Lovers above, and the Princess of
Cups ahead. “This is a powerful reading,” she mused. “It looks like you are leaving love behind to satisfy your lust, only to find love again, and this woman may be the one who facilitates it, or maybe you will fall in love with her.”
“I’m not like that.”
“Whatever. If there is love, there is love. She’s one who has her head in the clouds, like Nicole, maybe. She lets her heart move her.”
Four more cards, three more women and the King of Wands.
“This is weird,” she remarked. You’ve got a man and a load of possessive, creative women. “I’ve never seen anything like this. Women for you, against you.” She laid down a few more cards. “Hmm, I can’t read this. Maybe it’s the ghosts. How about tea leaves or coins?”
“Coins?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I feel like I need to do something.” Something about that reading frustrated her.
“How about alcohol? That sometimes works.”
“I don’t drink,” she replied.
“No meat, no drink, sleep around. Strange combination.”
“I don’t really sleep around. Everyone wants to say they’ve slept with me. I’m not a virgin, but …”
I picked up my camera and snapped a picture.
“Hey! Why did you do that?”
“I take nude photos of all my visitors.” I laughed, snapping another as she reached for my camera.
“Take one of me!” I said, handing her the camera.
She looked at the two that I had taken. “You can’t use them for anything. I have a contract with the Miss Devon competition. No nude portraits. I could end up in the tabloids, and that’s the last thing I want.”
“I’ll be careful. You can take as many of me as you want. Nobody’s likely to do much with them.”
She shrugged, took a picture, examined it, and handed the camera back to me. “Arlen thinks I should write you a piece. Why should I?”
It was my turn to shrug. “I’ll play it?”
“He says you can play anything.”
“He says you write what you want, and it doesn’t matter if a pianist can play it. He wants me to show you what can’t be played.”
“Fair enough. We’ll play through some stuff tomorrow.”
Sandra decided to make it an early night, so I sat down with my computer, first sending one of the pictures of Sandra to Arlen, with the strict admonishment not to show it to anyone else. Next, I poked Charlie. I couldn’t explain why I was horny, but I found the tarot reading terribly unsatisfying, especially with the beautiful Sandra sitting cross-legged across from me.
Charlotte Weeks: Hey!
She used the normal text chat mode. I wondered if she did that when there were others around.
Eirica Johnstone: Sandra just went to bed, and I’m incredibly horny. She’s fucking beautiful with her clothes off, almost enough to make me consider …
I didn’t really want to finish that. It wasn’t something I wanted to consider.
Charlotte Weeks: Pity about her personality.
Eirica Johnstone: She isn’t so bad, maybe a little stuck on herself. If I was a guy, I would have been all over her.
Charlotte Weeks: You could have been. She swings both ways.
Eirica Johnstone: She doesn’t have the required appendage.
Charlotte Weeks: A dildo can be a wonderful thing.
Eirica Johnstone: I’ve never used one. Are you alone?
Charlotte Weeks: No. My BF’s here studying. He has a tutorial tomorrow.
Eirica Johnstone: I guess sex is out of the question.
Charlotte Weeks: I think we might have some later. It doesn’t take much to get him going.
Eirica Johnstone: I meant US!
Charlotte Weeks: I’m not sure he’d understand.
Eirica Johnstone: I guess not. I’m still not sure I do either. What are you doing now?
Charlotte Weeks: Composing. I’m writing a sexy piano piece for you.
Eirica Johnstone: Sexy?
Charlotte Weeks: It’s all I think about when I think of you. I’m wearing BF out.
Eirica Johnstone: Glad I’m good for something, at least.
I wasn’t going to get anything, and I was quickly losing interest.
Charlotte Weeks: I love what you do to me.
She didn’t say she loved me. That would have been too much.
Eirica Johnstone: I’m glad I …
A piercing scream interrupted me.
Eirica Johnstone: BRB!
I slapped my laptop shut and hopped out of bed. In seconds Sandra came sprinting through my bedroom door in tears, wearing a white cotton nightdress. She threw herself up against me, crying, not caring that I wasn’t dressed.
“What happened?” I asked, holding her in my arms and stroking her hair.
“He touched me,” she cried.
“I don’t know.”
“It was probably just a ghost. They’re harmless.”
“It hurt! His hand was like ice, and he touched me …” she broke off pointing between her legs. “… and he grabbed …” She put a hand on her breast. “He hurt me.”
“What did you do?”
“Nothing, just …”
“I burned a candle,” she sobbed.
“An ordinary candle?”
“It was a simple spell for clarity. Nothing really. Just a white candle spell. He might have raped me!”
“He probably wouldn’t have gotten that far,” I reassured her. “They only repeat things from the end of their lives. I suspect he’d died before he re-enacted anything that would damage you. That’s usually how it happens. You’re safe in here.”
“How do you know that?” she sniffled.
“I’ve slept in every room on this floor and some upstairs. I know most of the ghosts intimately. Your spell must have irritated one of them. I’ve never had one become physically violent. Sometimes they might invade my dreams, and that can get sordid, but I know how to cut them off. Make friends with the other ghosts, and they will defend you.”
“How do I do that?”
“I do it through sexual fantasies. It worked with Nicole, too, but all you need to do is open yourself up to them completely. One most compatible with you will tell you their story.”
“They’ll talk to me?”
“It’s more visceral than that,” I explained. “They’ll let you see their memories. They can’t consciously do anything outside of re-enacting their death or significant events, but they can allow an intimate view of their lives.”
“Then he could have raped me!”
“The worse thing they can do is scare you or show you gruesome images. If he touched you, it would have taken extraordinary strength on his part. Few ghosts are that strong. He couldn’t do much more that what he did.”
“Why do you use sexual fantasies?”
“It attracts the gentler ghosts, the ones who attended my conception, the ones …”
“Attended your conception?”
“Mother said the room was full of them, quietly egging on my father, who wasn’t sensitive to them. He died when I was very young, so I don’t know if that ever changed. Those ghosts touch me as they touched their lovers, usually sparing me the last part of their re-enactment – their death.”
“Tell me about them,” she said, her eyes widening with wonder.
“There is one who caresses me with her hair. I can’t see her, but her touch is intimate. A man makes love to me, but stops just after climax, because that was when he died. Another comes as a flicker of light in the corner. I think she burned to death in the fire. She’s a curious one, wanting to watch. She’s a voyeur, and she was probably spying on her parents when her nightdress caught fire. She’s here now.” I pointed to the corner beside the fire.
Sandra searched, but I couldn’t see recognition in her eyes.
“She’s probably curious about you,” I added, “and about what you and I might do, since I’m standing here naked, and you have a history with other women. She’s probably hoping you will share my bed tonight, just to see what it is like. I don’t think she has watched two women before.”
“You are putting me on.”
“It’s just a guess. She was very interested when Nicole was here, although we didn’t do anything. Maybe she had some unnatural urges when she was alive.”
“It’s not unnatural!” Sandra objected. “It’s purely natural, and only vaguely mentioned by one writer in the bible. It’s only love!”
“Even so, it probably wasn’t discussed openly while she was alive. She couldn’t have been more than fourteen when she died, and as far as I can tell that was about a century ago.”
Sandra looked again. “Is she still there? I don’t see her.”
“She is. These ghosts are very particular about who sees, hears or feels what. I can call some of them just by thinking certain things, but they will only reveal themselves to you if they want to, and if you open yourself to them.”
“Unless they decide to terrorize me,” she grumbled.
“You terrorized him first. That sacred candle probably struck a chord with him. Perhaps a loved one died in a fire, or maybe he was exorcised. You’ve got to be careful with candle magick in places this old. I wouldn’t even attempt it here, if I had studied the old ways.”
“You should have warned me.”
“All I knew about was the tarot. If you were Wiccan, I would have expected you to know better how to interact with ghosts.”
“I’m not, really, it was a spell a friend cast for me.”
“But you are sensitive to ghosts.”
“Not as sensitive as you are, apparently.”
“I’ve lived with them all my life. I would be lonely without them. If I came to your home, I don’t know what I would see, although I’m familiar with the ghosts at Uni.”
She sat on the side of my bed. “Do you mind if I stay in here tonight? I’m not sure I can face my room again in the dark. I’ll sleep on the sofa.”
“You can join me in my bed if you want. There is plenty of room.” I missed having Nipples purring next to me already. I slept deeper with her there.
“I won’t do anything,” Sandra promised.
“That’s settled then.”
For a short time, I worried about having cut Charlie off so abruptly. She had her boyfriend there, a boyfriend whose existence had been barely mentioned. She didn’t need me.
Although we fell asleep on opposite edges of the bed, we awoke entwined. “You snore,” she murmured, pulling me closer. Again, I was glad that she wore a nightdress. There was too much beautiful skin pressed against me for my weak sensibilities. Was that what Aoife saw in her? Or Nipples? Was I that shallow, or was there something deeper in this woman?
I could feel my ghost caressing me with her hair. “No!” I whispered.
“What?” Sandra asked, opening her eyes.
“Just talking to a ghost,” I replied. I was saving myself for a man – a certain man.
We lounged about for another hour, and then rose for breakfast, which was my responsibility. Sandra couldn’t cook to save her life, and ate out most meals at Uni. We spent the morning struggling through her cello sonata. Arlen was right. She made the pianist’s task needlessly tiresome. Her music was much more difficult than it sounded, and we discussed several ideas about easing the pianist’s burden. As a cellist, she was quite good, perhaps a better performer than Nipples.
We walked into town for lunch, planning to finish in time to meet her train. “Would you mind terribly if I stayed another night?” she asked.
“Is there a problem?”
“I just wanted to get a better handle on you.”
“A handle on me? What do you mean?”
“Everyone is talking about you, and I want to know why.”
“Who is talking about me?”
“Arlen’s harem, as you called it. They either love you or fear you.”
“Why do you think that is?” I asked. I hadn’t noticed that much discussion of me on Facebook. It must have been in private.
“You don’t carry the taboos that we do,” she added. “Arlen is obviously enthralled with you, but none of us can see why, other than you can play rings around any pianist in the country.”
“I don’t know about that. It isn’t a competition. Besides, you know Arlen. He has his limits, no students, and he’s married.”
“I’m not sure how meaningful that is, but yes, he is. You, however, aren’t his student. Besides, you must have heard the rumours by now, that Amelia’s son is his.”
“I’m not sure that’s relevant to me.”
“Still, nobody knows what he sees in you. You aren’t particularly beautiful. You speak your mind, perhaps a little too much. You can’t cook …”
“Better than you, missy, that’s not why he’s interested in you, besides your muffins.”
“Your breasts. I think he’s got a breast fixation, and with you he has a paradigm.”
Sandra blushed. “I still can’t believe he told you that!”
“He tells me lots of things, but he’s completely silent on certain subjects.”
“What he is actually thinking … what he thinks of me. He won’t tell me if he has fantasies about me, in spite of the fact that he’ll tell me in detail about ones of the rest of you. He also won’t say anything about his wife.”
“I think we have every right to fear you,” she said, resting her chin on her palm. “He doesn’t open up like that to anyone else, except maybe Amelia. It’s hard to tell with her. She’s very private. I think Arlen still holds a torch for her.”
“You’re probably right about that. He still has fantasies about her, and they are in regular contact.”
“He is in regular contact with all his former students, regardless of whether they are in the harem. He’s good in that way. He looks after all of us. He may even look after you, if you play your cards right.”
“He’s either a rake, a polygamist, or … a pervert … or just very naïve.” That didn’t change how I felt about him.
“But that’s why we all look after him, too. We, or at least his former students, try to keep him from getting into trouble. His current students don’t really have the opportunity, or the experience, except the postgrads, Nicole and myself. I’m not sure how active Nicole will be in that respect, but I know she cares about him. The others, Charlotte, Dana, and Peri, don’t really know how deep this runs. Since we don’t know you, we can’t gauge your loyalty.”
She paused for a moment, and sat back in her chair. “If you hurt him, we will destroy you.” That was more than a threat. It was a promise.
It was my turn to pause. I took a sip of tea as I tried to figure out how to react. If I seduced him, would that hurt him, or is it what he wanted? Would having his child bring on the jealous wrath of the others or just Amelia. Would he want to leave Aoife? I wouldn’t let him do that. “I think you made your point,” I replied coldly. “I suppose someone had to.” I should have tried to reassure her, but I wouldn’t stoop to that. I had no plans on hurting him, as long as he gave me what I wanted.
Which I knew he would.
“So what did you want to do this afternoon?” I asked, not wanting to continue the interrogation.
“Walk for a while, explore the village, the castle grounds … and maybe the ruins, if you’ll let me.”
“Of course. The grounds are pretty boggy right now. We’ll have to stay on the paved footpaths.”
“That’s fine. I think I’d also like to compose a little later on. I feel the urge.”
“Whatever you want. There’s another piano in the library if you need it. I was hoping to practise some myself on the Steinway. I’ve got a recital to play in a couple of weeks.”
“Do you mind if I come?” she asked. “I’ll come up on the day and leave the following morning.”
“Yeah, but you might have to find yourself a place to stay. Nicole might be sleeping on the floor of the digs, and it will be too late for a train back here.”
“I’ll figure something out.”
I wondered how many more of the harem would choose to come. It didn’t take long to find out. Amelia was the first ask by email later that afternoon, and she wanted to come on Saturday and stay with me in Dunrig. That was the night after Arlen arrived. We wouldn’t have much time alone together. Would she be upset if he slept in my room? Of course, she would. So would the rest of them.
Liz Lamm was coming over from Boston, but Laura was too close to delivery to fly in. I already knew Charlie would come, but I was surprised to hear that Dana and Peri would join her on the train and share a room at McFadden’s (a local guest-house) with her.
“I took your advice,” Sandra announced the next morning, having slept in her own room.
“Did it work?”
“Yes, to a point.”
She smiled. “I got to know one of your ghosts … rather intimately. He captained a ship and came here when he was on-shore. He was quite a man.”
“Did he … you know …?”
Confused, her wheels were turning. “Oh! No!” she laughed as my meaning clicked. “He was in love with a servant girl here. They eventually married. He was a dream though.”
“You could see him?”
“I could feel him inside of me as if we were one. That was quite … um … stimulating. He shared his memories with me … all of them.” She giggled again.
“I’m glad you enjoyed them.”
“I did have an unsettling dream later on, though.”
“That might have been last night’s ghost getting revenge. What happened?”
“I was wandering through a church, maybe a cathedral, looking for you. Some bishop was leading me around. I would pass something, and it would burst into flames. Anything fabric or wood. It was weird.”
“Did you find me?”
“No, but Arlen was there, and Nicole, a few others that I knew … lot’s of people I didn’t know. I wonder what it meant.”
“It was probably just the ghost planting a little fear in you. It’s probably harmless.” I didn’t dare tell her what I thought it mean. I’m glad she didn’t find me in it. I would be one more thing she ruined. She had already hurt Nicole, but how would she hurt Arlen? Coming between him and Aoife? It wasn’t always that obvious. What it did mean was that she hadn’t a clue how many lives she would destroy.
It made me feel sorry for her. She wasn’t really a bad person, just socially clumsy, and unaware what her beauty did to people. People like Aoife, Arlen or Nicole. I was glad to finally put her on the train, so I could get back to Uni. I had a lesson and a couple of seminars during the week before I went back home to prepare for Arlen’s visit.
During all the weeks of becoming intimate with him online, I still didn’t know what I would do when he arrived. Dare I try to mimic one of his fantasies? I didn’t know what he craved about me, or how he pictured me. Naked? I could send him a picture. I certainly had plenty now. That didn’t seem right. Where was the mystery?
Had I destroyed Nicole’s mystery, or Sandra’s? I had to. They were in the way. Amelia was in the way now. How could I have allowed her to come visit while he was here? Changing my mind would be suspicious, and it might make Arlen decide to stay in the city. That would ruin everything.
Arlen was quiet most of the next week, during which I divided my time practising, playing duets with Nipples, and walking the grounds with her. The mild weather had begun to melt the snow. She also made a stab at teaching me how to cook, teaching me a few dishes that I might serve Arlen when he arrived. She had the patience of a saint.
I couldn’t chat much with Charlie either. Nips had taken to spending the evenings gabbing with me in my room until either we passed out from the alcohol, or fell asleep, several times waking with her next to me in my bed.
What I wanted desperately to speak with her about was Arlen. How should I greet him? Should I be his fantasy? What should I wear? She wouldn’t want to hear that, and she wouldn’t want to hear about Charlie either. They didn’t see each other much at Uni. Nipples and Sandra were the star postgraduate composers, while Charlie was a lowly undergraduate, a talented trumpeter, and only a part-time composer – basically a non-entity. A flash of jealousy scarred Nipples’ face whenever I mentioned her. She knew about us, somehow.
Sandra was a different story. Something seethed underneath, and Nips wouldn’t discuss her at all, other than repeated warnings to be careful. I had to formulate an action plan for that visit on my own.
Amelia sent me a number of emails, mostly asking about Nipples. Was she all right? Was she eating enough? Was she lonely? Was she having a good time? Did I like her music? If I didn’t know better, I would have thought there was something between them, but aside from some online contact, Nips claimed they had hardly met, other than for a short lesson while Amelia was in town for a première.
Emails came irregularly from Liz and Laura as well, enquiring about my plans with Sandra, but also warning me about the fragile Nicole. Both were concerned about their visits overlapping, even by only a few minutes. The seemed to know too much, as though they all discussed us behind our backs.
When it came time for Nipples to leave, I felt an attachment to her, perhaps motherly like the others, but more profound, as if she was someone who needed my protection. I would miss her and contrived to invite her up for Easter break to rehearse her violin piece, if nothing else. Dunrig was at its most vibrant during the spring, with flowers bursting into bloom below the cherry trees. We would have to make way for the tourists, but other than Easter Sunday, the early season was clear, although the Estate staff would be all over the grounds like a rash, tarting the place up.
My annual recital was early in the summer – hopefully I would be five months pregnant by then – but I hoped she could come. Perhaps if I played her piano Preludes, she might be more inclined to come north. Aside from the tourists, June was the most idyllic month at Dunrig. Even the ghosts made themselves scarce unless I summoned them. Nips would like June in the castle.
I missed her already, and she hadn’t left yet.
Nipples and I agreed that we wouldn’t dress for Christmas day. Neither of us were religious, so we decided to rebel, sticking to the warm rooms of the castle, although we allowed ourselves slippers, so our feet weren’t cold on the stone floors, especially in the kitchen. Nips cooked a soufflé for our Christmas dinner, not turkey, as I hadn’t thought to order one ahead.
Well, it wasn’t entirely nude. The weather closed in during the day and a cold breeze blew in through the chimneys of the unoccupied rooms. We allowed ourselves robes while moving through the house, but at dinner, we proudly ate starkers, and drank port in the parlour until we fell over.
@ClanGoddess87: I am so fucking drunk. Can’t move. Nips wants sex. Told her to find a ghost.
@hornyredhead91: Wish I was there. Too much family around to have some fun.
@ClanGoddess87: Hop on your ma
@ClanGoddess87: gic carpet … Oops! Cn’t bluddy typ.
@hornyredhead91: are you calling me a cunt?!!!!
@ClanGoddess87: you wish!
@ClanGoddess87: good idea, send me a nekked pic and I’ll rub it on my cunt till I cum.
@hornyredhead91: sweet! Send it back when you finish, so I can do the same.
“What you doing?” Nips moaned.
“You on Thwitter? Can I see?”
Before I could say no, she passed out, saving me a lie.
@ClanGoddess87: Nips in neverland, fucking lightweight
I awoke with my iPhone buzzing against my chest. Nipples had placed my robe over me to keep me warm. It took a few moments to remember through a dense fog and splitting headache what caused that buzzing. I looked at the screen, hoping she hadn’t read it.
“It’s me,” someone whispered, “Charlie.”
“What time is it?”
“Noon. I just wanted to say I was thinking of you.”
“I wasn’t thinking of anything,” I groaned, “except sheep.”
“Sheep are for men. You should think of a warm stallion between your legs.”
“Whatever you say.”
“Oops, gotta go. Bye sweetie!”
I parked my iPhone and turned over to go back to sleep, but I smelled frying bacon. Nips was in the kitchen cooking breakfast. She’d been quiet but friendly since her encounter with her ghost. Most of all, she composed obsessively, not even taking her violin out of the case to practise. That left me plenty of time to learn Arlen’s music. I’d resolved to memorize the entire work, a feat akin committing Bach’s entire Art of the Fugue to memory, something I’d failed at while an undergraduate. It would be worth it if I succeeded, but I could resort to the printed page if I had to. There was no shame in reading modern music off the score.
Nips had become an enigma, like a ghost herself, only half there, perhaps half in love with me, while the other half pined for Arlen. The ghost had shaken her, yet she hadn’t bothered me in my room. Did they commune each night? They couldn’t converse; the ghosts in my castle were destined to repeat, although Nips could delve more deeply into the ghost’s past, if she released herself. Maybe she had found another ghost to satisfy her. There were many here, and even I haven’t found them all yet, and I’ve never even told her about the one that came to me our first night together. He would make a good story for Arlen. I owed him one, so I reached for my laptop and started typing.
I was intrigued my your last fantasy. It was much more explicit than you led me to believe at first. You may be as explicit as you want to me. You may even write a fantasy about me, if you wish … that is, if you fantasize about me … perhaps it is only with me. I must admit that I was hot for sex after reading your story. I couldn’t resist touching myself. Does it bother you if I tell you that? If so, I’m sorry, but I have no one here to slake my desire except Nipples, and I’m not inclined that way.
So now it is my turn. One of my frequent ghostly visitors was the cousin of a Laird a half a millennium ago, before the start of the feud. Perhaps he started it; I can’t be certain. He took a liking to one of the Laird’s daughters, his youngest. It wasn’t uncommon then for liaisons to begin at a young age, and theirs began very young. Still young himself, he was more than twice her age.
At the cusp of puberty, she was ripe for the picking with burgeoning breasts and an aching heart. He favoured her at family gatherings, and even attended church to sit near her. Bright and innocent, she found him intriguing, especially when he offered to accompany her on a ride to visit a cousin of the same age in the next village. She should have been chaperoned, but the Laird was a trusting father. Too trusting to a worldly relative.
Not long after they were out of sight, the cousin voiced his bawdy intentions, and she, believing he loved her, indulged him. As he gently fondled her breasts, the fire took her, and she swooned into his arms. Seeing an opening, he loosened her bodice, but that wasn’t enough, for she imagined she loved him. Stroking his cheek, she invited a kiss. There in the field and in the sight of God, he deflowered her …
I paused. This was a little too Jane Austin, but perhaps that might fire Arlen’s passions.
“You hungry?” Nipples asked from the door.
I was hungry for more than food, but it was perhaps fortunate that I hadn’t explicitly described the ghost’s advances. That would only be conjecture, but Arlen didn’t know that. The cousin’s ghost couldn’t know what the girl felt, only his own desire. I closed my laptop and leapt off the sofa for breakfast. Nips was a much better cook than I, who was useless without a chip-pan. Indeed, she was as fine a cook as she was a composer. I would have liked her to stay with me, if only for the cuisine. She wasn’t much company when she was as mad for composing as she was this holiday. With her as my chef, though, I was likely to gain a considerable amount of weight.
As was her way these days, Nips wolfed down her breakfast, half-dressed, and retired to her manuscript paper, leaving me to continue my email.
(Eirica Johnstone, cont’d)
… Their visits became regular, and the ruse of meeting her cousin was never discovered. After several months of weekly passion, they became more adventurous, stealing hidden caresses in dark corners of the castle. He was a favourite of the Laird, so his frequent visits were not uncommon.
One day the cousin arrived earlier than has normal time, finding the daughter alone in the stables. The Laird had ridden to the village to mediate a dispute. They stole into the castle, which was otherwise empty, to her bedroom, the room in which I slept as a girl. Afforded the luxury of a warm fire, he undressed her slowly, gently caressing her private parts, her breasts, then her thighs while releasing the knot on his breaches.
Meanwhile, her father returned. Finding that she had neglected her duties, he came looking for her, entering her bedroom moments after her cousin’s penetration. The Laird’s rage was unbridled, as he threw the cousin off of her with a single blow, sending him crashing into a stone wall. If you lift the rug there, you can still find a dark stain where he bled to death.
When I was a girl, his ghost visited me often, touching me as he touched the girl, forever destined to repeat his crime. I have never seen him his shade, yet even now the memory of his tender advances fires my lion. He caresses, and when I am ready to receive him, he penetrates. Alas, he left her then, as he does me now, yearning for the touch of a man.
I’m sorry. That is perhaps too intimate an admission for this conversation. I must go now. I look forward to our online rendezvous tomorrow evening.
Did the gore at the end ruin the mood? To be completely honest, the cousin was discovered at the moment of climax – where he also leaves me – but I thought that I would leave Arlen wanting more at the end.
“What are you doing?” Nips asked from the door.
“Writing an email. I just sent it off.”
“You interested in reading down a new piece?” she asked.
It wasn’t just a new piece. It was one that she had written for us to play together, and she wanted me to travel down to York later in the year to première it. After a few notes, I saw in her what Arlen did. She was brilliant. Every note made sense and sounded new, like no piece I had ever heard: mildly tonal, but fresh, not traditional. I loved it, and heartily agreed to perform it as soon as we could agree a date. After my recital all I had left was my thesis, which wasn’t due until next September. Spending so much time alone, I was ahead on it, having already turned in my first draft to my supervisor.
After a couple of hours playing, we walked into the village for some supplies. Nips was inspired to cook a large meal the next evening, to be accompanied by a serious amount of alcohol.
You certainly have some interesting ghosts there. Are you making them up for my benefit, or are they fantasies you have dreamt up for your own … how shall I put this discreetly … night-time desires?
Aoife is away with Sandra tonight reading some of her poetry at a local bookshop, so I’m on my own here, thinking of you. Why do I think of you? I don’t know. I remember your friend Sinead, and then I think of you. Do I have fantasies about you? I won’t go there. I do have a fantasy about Sinead, but I won’t tell you about it. Explicit wouldn’t begin to describe it. It is simple really: she plays me like her harp, cutting off my clothes with her fingernails. The sex is rough, and the fantasy takes over. I can’t control it. That is why I must stop.
I will understand if you won’t tell me any more of your stories, since I haven’t kept up my side of the bargain.
He’s mine? He was thinking of me? My heart fluttered. That was the closest he had come to saying he loved me. But I knew he didn’t. I was reading too much into it. I didn’t love him either. Wanted him? Yes. Love? No.
I’m not sure why you insist we fire emails back and forth instead of chat. I’m at home alone in my bed (naked), and you are home alone, too, waiting for my replies.
The ghost fantasies are real. This castle is full of ghosts, real ghosts, who I have gotten to know well, since I was young. They come to me when I am bored. They pleasure me. They keep me from becoming lonely here, as you do. Shall I tell a fantasy about you? No. That would be too revealing.
What is it about Sinead that possesses you so?
I prefer email so I can collect my thoughts and send you careful replies. To be honest, I had a bad experience with chat. I said things that I would never say personally. She got the wrong idea, and what started as sexual banter became a virtual love affair, although neither of us was in love with the other. She started sending me lurid pictures and urging me to reciprocate, but I couldn’t do that. And I can’t do it now with you. I would go too far, and that isn’t fair to either of us.
Sinead reminds me of Aoife. They look similar, both being Irish, and what I don’t get from Aoife, I imagine I can get from Sinead, and it goes much too far, further than I could imagine going with a real woman. She haunts my sleep, and my only antidote is you, thinking of you, your honesty, your innocence (whether true or imagined). I am consoled by the idea of you.
What do you mean by the idea of me?
A chat window popped up. Charlie wanted a video chat.
Charlotte Weeks: You decent?”
Eirica Johnstone: I’m in the middle of something.
A message from Arlen hit my inbox.
Charlotte Weeks: Maybe later?
Eirica Johnstone: Might be very late.
Charlotte Weeks: Poke me when you are done. Doesn’t matter what time.
I opened Arlen’s message.
Arlen Stewart: The idea of you is just that. We hardly know each other, but we choose to confide our darkest secrets to each other. Yet neither of us can know if the other is telling the truth. I like to believe it is the truth, but we will only know for sure next time we meet. The rest of you I create for myself in my head, just as you do for the idea of me, although you have additional interpretations from Nicole and anyone else who has contacted you, Amelia, Sandra, maybe Liz or Charlotte. They have the most web presence of my students. You would like Liz. The two of you are quite alike in some ways. She is a fabulous bassist, and I’ve composed several solo works for her. It’s sad that she has all but given up composing. She showed promise. You and she look somewhat alike, too.
I took a quick look at Liz Lamm’s website. Maybe she looked a little like me, but older, of course. I delved into her photos and found one with Arlen from her university days. Her hair was shorter then, and yes, she did resemble me then. Her daughter, however, looked more like me. That was scary.
Eirica Johnstone: Maybe. Would you like another story?
Arlen Stewart: If you wish. I like your stories, even if they have gruesome endings.
I considered for a moment, then typed.
Eirica Johnstone: A Lady of the castle partook of many affairs, while her husband was off fighting the English. She had one lover in particular who visited her on a regular basis. The Lady looked a lot like Nicole, although her corset kept her nipples in check …”
I attached another nude photo of Nicole that featured those nipples.
(Eirica Johnstone, cont’d):
… Her lover was enthralled by them, much like you are enthralled by Nicole’s. In time, he sired twin daughters, but the war ended while they were still infants. The lover was cast out in favour of the returning Laird.
After many years, the lover met a pair of twin sisters at the house of a nearby nobleman, and unable to decide which he loved most, he slept with both of them. Both were infatuated by him and summoned their mother to decide who would marry him, not telling her his name. Thinking them too young to marry, she put the girls off, using every ruse she could to delay meeting this stranger.
Just before their sixteenth birthday one of the twins fell pregnant. The other, however, was again visiting the nobleman, awaiting the arrival of her mother and pregnant sister. The lover stole away with the sister during the afternoon for a few moments of intimacy in the library, giving in to their carnal lust. The height of their thrall penetrated the door to the foyer just as the mother and sister arrived. Recognizing the voice, the party burst into the library catching them in the act.
To her horror, the mother recognized him as the father of her twins as well as the father of her daughter’s unborn child, entirely unknown to the lover. The Laird, who was late arriving, was enraged. He struck down both the lover, his daughters, and his wife with his sword.
To this day I often hear the lover and one of the twins consummating their love in the hallways, forever banished from the bedrooms. She screams, and then it is all over for them.
That is sad.
It is. May I ask you a personal question? What do you really see in me? You seem to be enamoured by nipples and breasts with most of your students. Mine aren’t much to look at. You must think me hideous.
Eirica, I would never classify myself as a breast man. You have more intangibles than any of them, except perhaps Amelia. But to be completely crass, I love the way your hips move when you walk. You have pretty eyes, and I think I’ve mentioned your legs and ankles. Talent goes a long way, too.
I think that’s it for me tonight. We have some visitors this week, so I’m not sure when I’ll be back on. Maybe we can finalize the details for my trip up there next time.
All the best,
My hips? That was unexpected. I would never have thought any man would like my hips! I looked at the time and opened Facebook to see that Charlie was still on. I poked her. It was almost 2 am.
Eirica Johnstone: Can’t sleep?
Charlotte Weeks: My brain is doing flip-flops. Video?”
Eirica Johnstone: Sure, why not?”
I draped my robe around me before sending the picture. “What’s up?”
“I’m feeling really weird about what we’ve been doing,” she confessed.
“We have gotten a wee bit carried away,” I agreed. “I’m not sure I would act the same if you were right here in front of me.”
“Me, too. I like you a lot, and it feels so natural when we do it online, but then I spend the whole next day thinking about it, that is isn’t right, but that I want it to be right. I just keep going around in circles.”
“Maybe we should stop,” I suggested.
“No, but if I’m thinking about you more than I’m thinking about Jamie, something has got to be wrong.”
“I won’t be offended. I don’t beat myself up about things like you do, but I do feel strange about it.”
“No. It’s just fucking with my head, but I don’t want to stop.”
“Prude!” she cackled.
I loved her. Not the physical kind of love: wanting to hold her, touch her, make love to her. I thought we inhabited the same wavelength, the same psychological space, despite our age difference. “What do you want to do about it then?” I asked.
“I want to be friends, not cyber-lovers. I’m not saying that we have to stop the sex, but I’d rather be virtual fuck-buddies than pine over you every minute we aren’t online.”
“You like that word don’t you.”
“I like to fuck, actually.”
“Jamie must be away,” I sneered.
“It’s that obvious?”
“You’re being careful, aren’t you?”
“You’re one to talk, virgin!”
“Abstinence avoids mistakes.”
“Abstinence is a mistake!” she howled at me.
“Hopefully, I’ll find out soon.”
“Have you two been sharing more fantasies?”
“We were just on. He fancies my hips – not my hips in particular – the way they move.”
“He told you he fantasized about them?”
“He won’t tell me any fantasies regarding me. But I asked him point blank what it was about me that attracted him.”
“And he said, ‘I love the swing on your back porch, baby!’” she joked in an American accent.
“Not exactly,” I scowled. “He said he liked the way my hips moved when I walk. And he likes my legs, eyes and ankles.”
“He thinks English women have stumpy ankles. He told me that a few weeks ago.”
“So he thinks I have stumpy ankles?” She waved one in front of the camera.
“He didn’t mention you in particular. They look fine to me.” I heard a noise in the servant’s hallway. “I think Nipples might be having a walkabout,” I whispered.
“You realise I’m never going to be able to call her Nicole again?” she cackled.
“I find it hard, too. Anyway, sleep well, and don’t think of me … or don’t think of fucking me … or do. Whatever helps you to sleep.”
“I know who you’ll be thinking of.”
“Maybe.” I heard another noise. “I’d better go. She could walk in any second. Bye.”
I waited. Nothing. I tweeted,
@clangoddess87: Had nice chat with hornyredhead91 tonight. Nips’ is spying on me. Wish she’d just come in.”
@hornyredhead91: You love her, silly.
That began an avalanche of comments, speculating on whether I was a closet lesbian, whether I really loved her, or was using her, or loved Arlen, or was using him.
I was trending, but I didn’t want to hear any of it, so I slapped my laptop shut and climbed under my duvet. The floorboards creaked as Nipples stole back into her room.
For the first time in ages, I felt alone.
In the morning, we decided to spend the day hiking in the grounds, as the weather had become more benign, a light snow replacing yesterday’s sleet. I managed to make her promise to spend the night in her own bed, so I would be free to email Arlen.
Arlen Stewart: Dear Eirica, I'm really bad at this. Why would a woman want to hear a man's fantasy? And how can I tell you the fantasy in such a way that it doesn't sound ridiculous? What makes it worse, is that it is about a person you know, at least by reputation, if not personally. She may have contacted you. Amelia Solent is the source of many fantasies, I'm afraid, and none are particularly complex. My foot fetish can be traced to her, as well as many other peculiarities. When she was a first year, she caught my eye immediately. Having her as a supervisee put me in regular contact with her, too. I've told you about her dress sense, and I began to dream of her regularly, wearing clothing with a variety of open spots, often centring around her breasts. I'm not a breast man, but they were magnificent, just the right size and shape, pert and firm. I suspected that the cleft between them was a natural phenomenon, unaided by a bra. After a while I started dreaming (perhaps daydreaming) of her modelling bathing suits, again with portions missing, or portions that went clear when wet or dissolved in chlorinated water. In one fantasy, we modelled suits in tandem, each becoming more risqué. An exposed breast on hers was an exposed penis on mine. Some suits were various-sized mesh, through which nothing was hidden. We appeared from the changing room, embraced, swam a length of the pool to display each suit's special properties, embraced at the other end, and then debriefed before trying the next. The suits became progressively more risqué, and each phase of the fashion show more laden with the desire. The language of the debrief became more intimate and sexual. One final, innocuous pair of suits, was plain white at first, but was laced with an aphrodisiac. We almost couldn't tear ourselves apart after the first embrace, but the chlorine converted the entire suit to the aphrodisiac, which absorbed into our skin immediately upon contact with the air. Our second (nude) embrace was laden with desire. We couldn't separate ourselves as I was on her, in her, throbbing, thrusting until both of us were satiated. In the debrief, we had to describe what we felt throughout, and as the discussion became intimate, so did we, repeating our sex with a full commentary. The first time I had that dream, I awoke with a wet dream. Since then, I've tried to invoke the dream, but that never has the same result. Abandon is instead replaced by a refinement of detail, attempting to increase the passion. I never know at what point dream gives way to fancy, but trying too hard leaves me wanting. My dreams are generally like that: repetitive, like a theme and variations. Running becomes running through a forest, which becomes running to save Amelia, transitioning to having sex with her – endless variations until some facet of it wakes me, possibly an attempt to take control and push myself to the point of orgasm. Is that what you wanted me to write. It probably sounds childish to you. Or you think I'm a pervert. I just have an over-active imagination … but you already knew that. I'm sorry. Arlen
I wanted so much more. I wanted him to talk dirty, to savour crude words, to bring me to orgasm. I wanted him to describe every detail of his fantasy, but he stopped when he got to the good part. I wanted to share a piece of that orgasm. Begging for more wouldn’t work, and being crude myself might turn him off me altogether. And he didn’t mention the photo of Nipples. Disappointing. He was still a work in process.
Eirica Johnstone: Dear Arlen, That was fascinating. I would have been interested in some more detail, perhaps like the debrief at the end. What was it about that that turned you on so much? You say you aren't a breast man, but it seems like everything you have told me about your attractions centre around breasts. I don't have Nicole's erect nipples, nor Sandra's large aureole's, and you already know that mine aren't as large as Amelia's. You must find me so disappointing. Sadly, Eirica
His reply was almost immediate.
Arlen Stewart: Nothing to be sad about. I enjoy our discussions, and I don't find your breasts disappointing. (Forgive me fore being blunt.) I suppose they aren't what I find most attractive about you. That is your wit and your honesty. Physically, I find it hard to make a choice … your arse, maybe, your hips, they … no I should stop there. I like when you flip your fringe out of your eyes, and maybe the way you play with a lock by your right ear when you are bored. I shouldn't say more. That's too personal, and not what this is about. About the intimate details, I find them embarrassing. The language of explicit sex is a major turn off for me, and it is even worse when one replaces it with euphemism. It's not my cup of tea. A Eirica Johnstone: What's wrong with personal? Arlen Stewart: Nothing, I suppose. It just seems a little strange for someone old enough to be your father to be telling you what he likes about you. A Eirica Johnstone: It doesn't matter to me. Arlen Stewart: Nevertheless ...
He was quickly reverting to short choppy messages. I needed to open him back up.
Eirica Johnstone: You may tell me what you like about me. I won't take it wrong, or think you are a pervert. You may be a dirty old man, but never a pervert. What about me would send you spinning into your fantasy world?
His answer took a long time to come.
Arlen Stewart: I don't really know. Those moments catch me off-guard. Maybe a short skirt, or bare feet. English women don't have ankles. Scots are much nicer. Your friend Sinead has nice ankles, unlike most Irish women. They remind me of Aoife's. Amelia's are exquisite. French women have sexy ankles. Sandra's are very English, but she makes up for them in other ways. Enough of that. It's your turn. You promised a fantasy. A
I was avoiding that subject, hoping to distract him. Coming up with something was a chore, so I went with the truth:
Eirica Johnstone: Arlen, I have never been good at concocting fantasies. Every one is different and, unlike yours, do not burn themselves into memory through repetition. The ghosts of this castle provide many stories, and some are of a fantastic nature. That is what motivates our interaction, too. One of our ghosts is a girl. I've never seen her, but I have felt her stroke me with her hair. She is the first to come when I am aroused. Even now, I feel her hair bristling on my bare shoulders. (Remember that I often sit in bed naked typing on my laptop between my legs.) If I allow her to distract me, I feel the hair slowly drop down between my shoulder blades lower and lower to the base of my spine. She was the playmate of the daughters of a Laird, and taught them this method of seduction. Soon, her soft hair caresses my hands, discreetly tickling the inside of my arms as she aims for my breasts. I'm very ticklish under my armpits, and she is now making it almost impossible to type. I let her continue, as I know tickling me isn't her fancy. My breasts swell with her tender follicular caresses, and I want more, knowing that soon, I won't be able to resist her desire. My feet are also ticklish and I can feel her no matter what position I am in. I have never felt the caress of her skin, but her hair soon becomes my fetish as she slowly traces up the insides of my legs, aimed directly at the euphemism that I'll now avoid in your honour … She trained the daughters well in this art, but I don't know what became of them as the Laird married them off young. Her hair tangles in my now-sticky pubes before she parts my … that's the embarrassing stuff, which you clearly don't wish to read. I feel it all, and she never fails to leave me unsatisfied. I've had to resort to moving my laptop onto my duvet as my legs are too sweaty and moist, dangerous for an electrical appliance. To quote you, what she does to me is exquisite, but it is the same every time, as she is cursed to repeat her crime to eternity. The Lady of the Castle caught her seducing her husband in this way and battered her to death with an iron poker while the Laird watched in ecstatic horror, paralysed by his orgasm. … paralysed, as I was on my soaked duvet. Unlike the other ghosts, she brings me to a soft squeal during orgasm, hopefully not loud enough to wake Nipples. Speaking of her, we shared my bed last night. I could feel her nipples hard against my chest even through her thick nightdress. The ghosts scare her, but I think I have tamed them for her. My nocturnal nudity doesn't offend her, fortunately, and we are becoming quite comfortable with each other. More soon. Love, Eirica
Love. I had to add that. He had to think of love, to connect me with the idea of it, even if had gone to bed waiting for my story. He replied after a short interval.
Arlen Stewart: I hoped you would like Nicole. She has a neediness about her that is endearing, but she is strong in a way that I can't describe. She could be a true, loyal friend to you if you let her. I'm sure she and I will correspond long after she graduates. I must go to bed now. I look forward to more of your ghost stories. A
He didn’t comment on the story. Had it gone too far? Was I too graphic? I tweeted my dismay and poked around a number of my friend’s Facebook pages. That was when the barrage started. I received a number of new friend requests, all of whom were friends with Arlen, Amelia, Nips and Sandra, as well as each other, as the list accumulated. Four were in America, and one was in Hong Kong, Laura Liu. She was beautiful, with clear perfect skin, lovely eyes, and discreet, but well-formed breasts. She was young, too, perhaps a year or two older than Nipples. Her photo album was filled with arm’s length self-portraits, some seductive, many featuring those breasts while she lay on her bed in a variety of poses. As far as I could tell, she was unmarried, but was pregnant.
I Googled her, tracing her past her composer website to another site, one clearly dedicated to a man. There, the poses became more intimate, her breasts bared, a couple of full nudes. Her nipples were tiny purple circles gracing breasts that were firm but not large. Whoever the site was meant to impress must also have liked her tiny hands and feet. She couldn’t have been more than 5 ft tall, but one picture showed only her hand pressed against that of a man’s. His was large and hers barely extended past his palm, like a child’s hand.
If she was one of “us,” there had to be something that inspired Arlen: the feet, hands or eyes? Maybe. Certainly, she was obsessed with someone. Did she carry that same obsessive nature to other relationships? Is that what had snared him?
The Americans were all older. Several had families, but few exhibited a consistent set of traits that I could link to Arlen’s fetishes. One, Elizabeth Lamm, reminded me of a rough Amelia, with similar features, but dark hair like mine, shorter than me, but not overly thin. She played double bass in the Boston Symphony. There was nothing elegant about her, but I knew immediately what Arlen saw in her. She reeked of talent. I couldn’t think of another way to describe it. She was that block of coal that hid a diamond at the core. She had two children a few years younger than me. Her son reminded me a little of Arlen, being tall and blond. She clearly doted on her offspring, but her husband was remarkable in his absence, although she listed herself as married.
One of the others appeared matronly, with large breasts that she was unashamed to emphasize. She lived alone with her daughter near a beach in North Carolina. She had recently had a première with the Atlanta Symphony, so she was at least moderately successful.
As it was after 3 am, I decided to shut down, but there was one last request, one of Arlen’s undergraduates, Charlotte Weeks. I had to investigate. Like Laura, she was prolific with her camera and one-armed self-portraits. Otherwise she was the opposite of Laura: tall and gangly, quite flat-chested, with curly long red hair, often gathered in a ponytail. Less hung from her chest than from mine! That, I gathered, was due to her running, clearly her most avid pastime, and one to which she devoted another photo-filled blog. One of those was of her, scantily-clad, running beside who? Arlen. Yes, Arlen, who featured in many blog posts:
Running Lincoln with AS this year. He’s asked me to pace him this time, aiming for 47 min. That’s not much more than a jog for me, but I’d do it for him. Surely, he’s done enough for me.
She was what Arlen would have considered an exception. An English girl with ankles. Perhaps that was what attracted him. She swam, too. The site had a number of pictures of her in bathing suits: a wet suit (from a triathlon), a red backless racing singlet, and a red skimpy bikini, the last taken by Arlen in Nice. The caption explained that she was there attending a performance of Arlen’s Trumpet Concerto. In addition to composing, she also played trumpet. Was she the soloist? I couldn’t tell. Despite being under-endowed in the mammary region, she looked great in a bikini.
What disturbed me most was that she was awake and sending out friend requests to strangers (or friends of friends) after 3 am. She was still online, too, as she popped up in a chat box requesting a video chat.
Charlotte Weeks: You decent?
I hasn’t sure how to reply.
Eirica Johnstone: Not exactly. Charlotte Weeks: Doesn't matter to me. Wanna chat for a little while. I'm an insomniac. You must be, too. Eirica Johnstone: BRB. I need to put something on. Charlotte Weeks: Cool. You sleep in the nude?
I slipped my robe on, clicked on video, and adjusted the picture. “Yes,” I replied, whispering. “I’ve got a friend sleeping in the next room, so I can’t speak loudly.”
“Cool. I do too – sleep in the nude, that is,” she said as her video fired up. She was dressed much as I was, in a silk or satin robe hastily draped around her – red, in contrast to my deep purple one. When I said hastily draped, I meant barely covering her – her cleavage open almost to her belly-button, the shadows making it look like she actually had some.
“I live alone,” I explained, “and don’t usually have anyone around to watch. I’ve gotten used to it over the years. What’s your excuse?”
“I find it sexually liberating,” she replied bluntly, the left shoulder creeping off hers as she typed on her computer. I wondered what she was typing. “I hear you live in a castle. You’re some kind of Laird, or something.”
“Lady, technically. A Laird is male.”
“Cool. I hear you are an ace pianist, too.”
“I’m fairly good, I guess. You play trumpet, right?”
“I guess I’m fairly good, too, but I’m more interested in writing music.”
“I figured, since you are studying with Arlen.”
“How’d you know?” she asked.
“I assumed that’s how you knew him. He’s one of your Facebook friends. That’s why I accepted your friend request.”
“Oh, yeah. Of course. Sometimes I think he wants me to stick to trumpet, though.”
“Why do you say that?”
“I think he feels uncomfortable teaching me.”
“Why do you say that?” Of course, he felt uncomfortable around all of “us.” Why should she be any different?
“I think he’s afraid to look at me, and he’s a little concerned about my philosophy of music.”
“In what way?”
“I often discuss my music in sexual terms. He’s a bit of a prude in that way, so I lay it on even thicker. You should see him freeze when I hug him.”
“You hug him?”
“All the time. He hates being touched, as if he is worried that the slight physical contact with a woman will give him an orgasm. Wouldn’t want that to happen!” she laughed.
“What do you mean by that?”
“He could stand a good screaming orgasm. He needs to let out his frustrations.”
“He just holds so much in. It’s cute. I think he would relax if he just had a good wank every once in a while. It’s healthy. I don’t think he’s getting any from his wife.”
“What makes you say that?”
“She just seems frigid to me … and she hates me.”
“She hates you?” I liked Charlotte already. “What makes you say that?”
“She refused to attend my première of his trumpet concerto.”
“Maybe she had some other commitment.”
“No she made a point of leaving just before I played, to go over some poetry with the dyke.”
“The dyke?” Again, I had to feign ignorance.
“Sandra, one of Arlen’s postgrads. I should have said fucking dyke. She tried to nobble me once, the bitch.”
“Yeah, fucking tarot. She tells you that you have an unusual admirer, someone who can smooth out the rough road for you, that it is a mystic, and once she has you by the short and curlies, she implies that the person might be very close by. She prefers to read her cards in the nude, and does her best to get you to take yours off, too. Before I knew it, she had one hand on my breast and the other between my legs.”
“What did you do?”
“I told her to go have a fucking wank with someone else.”
“That stopped her?”
“Screaming it at the top of my lungs in the digs helped, too. Fucking dyke.”
“You like that word, don’t you?”
“She shrugged. It bothers Arlen. My friends used to swear a lot, so I don’t even know that I do it. I think it secretly turns him on, though. I use as much explicit language around him as I can. He’ll complain once, but after that, he gets quiet. I think he is picturing it in his head. I like getting in his head, and that is why I keep studying with him. You should have seen me when I played his concerto in Nice.”
“Well, I described to him his concerto as a series of sexual positions. The first is a riding cowgirl, and he’s a bucking bronco, trying to bounce me off him …”
“I always explain it as being between us. That’s what the act of creation is. Anyway, he bounces me into a howling feral climax before we relax into the second movement. It’s a placid reverse missionary. I picture myself on top of him, as he throbs, accelerating to a delicate squeeze of an orgasm. The last one is him seeing me in a bikini, and he has to fuck me hard up against a wall. After the rehearsal, we went to a beach, and I wore the tiniest bikini I could find and demanded he take pictures of me.”
“I saw that one on your blog,” I chuckled.
“No you didn’t, wait just a second.” She sent a .jpg through. That one was topless.
“How’d you get him to do that?”
“It was a topless beach. Most of the other women there were topless, so I stood out until I took it off. That’s the best one, although it isn’t the one I sent him. That’s this one …” She sent it through, then four others. The first was her sitting across from him in the sand, legs spread, knees up, her right foot touching his ankle.
“I don’t think he’ll ever forget that one,” I admitted. This girl was playing the game better than I ever could.
“I won’t either. It’s the background on my laptop.”
“Can’t others see it?”
“I change it when I’m out of the house.” Her robe finally slipped off her shoulder, and she left it, barely concealing her breast while just clinging to her nipple.
“Do you ever forget?”
“Once in a lesson. Anyway, after the concert, he smelled of sex.”
“You mean he had his long-needed wank?” I asked, using her language.
“No. I meant immediately after the performance while he was giving me a congratulatory hug. He smelled as if he was sitting in his own soup, but there wasn’t an obvious spot. He hugged me again off-stage, and I could feel his penis firm against my abdomen. I wouldn’t let him go until he was rock hard and was forced to hide it behind his jacket for the next ten minutes as a queue of audience members shook his hand. I get horny just thinking about it.”
I was thinking the same thing as her robe released her nipple. Still she left it. I’d never before considered sex with another woman, not even Nips, but now I was feeling the caress of hair down my spine. My ghosts were assembling, but Charlotte wouldn’t know that. “Me too,” I whispered, unable to control my tongue.
The corner of her mouth curled slightly. “Do you ever accompany people?” she asked, drastically changing the subject.
“Um, not u-usually,” I stammered. “I’m more of a soloist.”
“Would you consider accompanying a trumpet if the piece was written for you?”
“Or Arlen. He’s writing a trumpet sonata right now. Would you perform it with me in London?”
That, I couldn’t refuse. “I guess, if you put it that way.”
“I would like to write you one, too,” she added.
“Arlen’s writing one for me?”
“That’s supposed to be for me, but he keeps talking about this young Scottish pianist who is so amazing. I think he means you. This piece is for both of us, even if he doesn’t admit it. What I’ve seen of it so far reminds me of the concerto.” She reached up and scratched her right shoulder, dislodging her robe again, so that it hung just at the edge of her shoulder-blade.
“It’s about the two of us having sex?”
She chuckled, glancing down at her keyboard. “No. It’s about honesty. It’s about intimacy. He doesn’t know that yet.” The robe slid off her shoulder. “It’s about nudity and naked desire.”
“At the same time?” I asked, trying to ignore the video stream. I couldn’t believe how lovely she appeared in the glow of her computer screen. She was seducing me … and succeeding.
“That’s the second movement,” she asked, slipping her robe off her torso completely.
Still ignoring her, I asked, “Is there a third movement?”
“Yes, and maybe a fourth, but I haven’t seen either.”
“Do you know what they are about?”
“I suspect that the third is about giving.”
“And the fourth?”
“Did you plan this?” I whispered, hardly able to breathe.
“Have you ever had cybersex?” she asked, ignoring me.
“No. Want to try it?” she asked.
“Yes,” the word was out of my mouth before I could even think about it. “I thought you weren’t a lesbian.”
“I’m not, but we aren’t doing it to each other – we are doing it with. I know you want it. Your nipples are showing.”
I chuckled, “Guess who’s in the next room.”
She cocked her head. “Who?”
She scowled, and then laughed, “I’ve never heard her called that! Thanks to you, I’ll never look at her the same again. You aren’t a lesbian, too, are you?”
“No … but you think she is?” I asked.
“Can’t tell for sure. My gaydar goes haywire with her. The dyke most definitely isn’t, although she thinks she is. She just wants to get laid by Arlen, and his wife is going to get him for her.”
“You think so?”
“I’m sure of it. Nipples, on the other hand, likes boys, but I think she loves women. Take your robe off. I want to see you.”
“You might be right,” I replied, slipping my robe off my shoulders, baring my breasts. “I’ve heard that from elsewhere, too.”
“Who?” she asked licking a finger. “Do as I do, and I’ll do as you do if you go first.”
I licked the same finger and traced it down my sternum, following her. I could feel my ghost’s hair on my shoulders again. “Amelia.”
“You know Amelia?” She licked again, wetter this time, and circled her hardening nipples.
“Yes, just on Facebook, but I met her several years ago. I played a piece of hers at a competition.” I sucked until my mouth was full of spit and let it dribble out of my mouth.
“Cool. I just sent her a friend request. Arlen thinks very highly of her.” She followed my lead, and again, letting it drip down between her breasts.
“I know. She studied with him soon after he took his post at Leeds. Do you believe in ghosts?” I asked.
“Yes, why?” she replied, dipping a hand in the river of spittal running down her chest, and lathering her breasts with it.
“There are several here watching me – us. I would invite them to join in, but they can’t touch you there.”
“What do they do?” she asked, playing with her wet nipples again.
“They touch me,” I replied, pulling my robe off completely.
“Where?” she asked, doing the same.
“Everywhere. There is a woman who caresses erotically with her hair, and a few men who do other things.” I sat back, so she could see my bush, setting my computer down onto the bed between my legs.
Doing the same, she asked, “Why does the light dance around you? Is that the ghosts?”
“No. I have a fire in the fireplace. That’s the only light in the room other than from the computer screen. Generally, if you can see the ghosts, you can’t feel them.” As if on cue, I heard the heavy breathing of lovemaking emanating from the hallway.
“You can hear it?”
“Yes. Sounds like a woman, perhaps on top of a man.”
“Oh yes!” the ghost rasped loudly. “Don’t stop.”
“What makes you say that?” I hadn’t considered it.
“She’s gasping, but it isn’t laboured. What do they do to you?”
“They gang up on me when I’m horny. Sometimes I have to do something about it; sometimes they do it for me.”
“Are you horny?” she asked, lightly stroking her thigh.
“Very. They do that to me. One is stroking the other thigh right now, too. Like this …” I mimicked the ghost’s movement, so Charlotte would do it and feel it, too.
“What else do they do?”
“They lick me along the bottom of my pelvis.” I took another slimy lick of my finger and traced my pelvis for her.
“Eirica!” gasped a ghostly voice from the corner. That was the first time they had called me by name. The couple in the hallway increased in intensity, the woman moaning for more. “Faster,” she pleaded.
“Yes, I heard it,” she sighed. “You can call me Charlie.”
“Charlie, are you wet?”
“I’m so wet,” she gasped. “I have been since the moment I first saw you.”
“I don’t know why.”
“Charlie!” The voice in the corner moaned louder.
“Did you say that, Eirica?” she asked nervously.
I can’t describe the feeling of hearing her say my name: goosepimples, a rush of blood, a flutter of the heart. “No, Charlie. It was a ghost.”
The racket in the hallway progressed to a loud pleading, “Oh, yes, that’s it!”
“I want you,” hissed a different voice.
“Who?” she asked as we parted our bush in unison. The couple screeched in the hallway. They would climax soon, but I knew that was only half of it. The copulation would kill him and she would wail, but hopefully not until after we lost track of ourselves.
“Who?” I echoed for the ghosts, penetrating with a first finger, testing the waters.
“You!” came a chorus of ghosts. “Both of you!” breathed a clarifying hiss.
“Ah!” sobbed Charlie. Two fingers, deeper, faster, parting her legs wider.
“Ah!” I echoed. Deeper!
Charlie grasped her screen between her knees, and panted, her sweat glistening on her abdomen as she leaned back. Her tiny breasts seemed enormous, heaving in the dim light.
“We want you!” the chorus breathed louder.
“Charlie!” pleaded one. “Eirica,” gasped another.
I couldn’t take my eyes off Charlie as she pleasured herself. Deeper. Faster. Three fingers. I’d never pushed three in before.
“Oh yes!” screamed the woman in the hallway, unleashing the chorus into murmurings of our names, proclamations of desire, of need, even of love.
“Eirica … you’re … cheating!” Charlie grimaced.
“I’m a voyeur,” I panted, confessing my pleasure. I was as close as she was, and I, too, clasped my laptop between my knees.
“Eirica … Eirica … Eirica …” she panted, as if she knew what it did to me. She looked up, fixing her gaze on me.
“Charlie … Charlie … Charlie …” I wheezed in reply, faster and faster.
The woman in the hallway screamed in horrified terror, as we together convulsed in ecstasy. The man in the hallway was dead, but Charlie was still chanting my name, interrupted only by waves of pleasure. She had rolled aside, so I could only see her face and breasts still heaving, her mouth breaking into what she could manage of a smile. It was a disarming smile. I knew instantly why Arlen averted his gaze from her. It wasn’t her candour, her explicit language, her sex talk, or even her nudity. The smiles in the photos were nothing compared to the real thing, her sheer joy, and her love of life.
“Thanks,” she wheezed, finally. “I so needed that.”
“So did I.” It may have been my second orgasm of the evening, but it felt like my first ever.
“Was that you screaming?” she asked.
“Yes,” I lied. She didn’t want to know the truth. I hoped she couldn’t hear the ghost sobbing in the hallway.
“Can we do this again tomorrow?” Charlie asked.
“No.” I replied. “It won’t be as good if we do it too often. Besides, I don’t want Nipples to hear us. She’s a light sleeper, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we woke her. Why don’t we do it again after she leaves, after your term starts. Maybe you could talk dirty to me. I would like that.”
“If I say I love you, don’t take it as me actually loving you,” she said.
“Don’t worry. I won’t.”
“I love you, Eirica.”
“I love you, too, Charlie.”
“But I don’t love you.”
“I understand.” I didn’t have the heart to say that I didn’t love her either.
“Goodnight Eirica,” she sighed.
I closed the connection, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to wait two weeks to tell me her dirty stories. I couldn’t wait to hear them either. The sooner the better … but long enough to keep it fresh.
This would never be repeated in the flesh.
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.
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?