ALYSIA STEPPED ONTO THE stage in the high school auditorium. Pterodactyls flopped about in her stomach. She nervously brushed back her long, red hair then straightened her graduate's robe.
The teachers, sitting in a row at the back of the stage, applauded as she moved to the podium.
Her crystal, blue eyes scanned the audience. Parents and friends filled all the seats with her fellow graduates occupying the front rows.
An old man with long, white hair wearing a tweed suit caught her eye where he stood to one side of the stage. He looked surprised that she noticed him. An attractive, middle-aged woman with dark hair stood nestled under his arm. They smiled and nodded. She lost interest in them.
Stepping up to the lectern she adjusted the microphone's height, cleared her throat, nervously ran a finger down the length of her swan-like neck then looked down. The robe had vanished leaving her slender, small-busted body on display. Her pale skin flushed pink making her freckles stand out in contrast.
"Arrrr!" She tried to cover herself with her hands.
Ben leapt from the teacher's seats and wrapped his suit jacket over her. She looked into his handsome, rugged features and ran her fingers through his short, brown hair with its dusting of grey. Her flush of embarrassment gave way to a different kind of heat as he turned her to the lectern and wrapped his powerful arms around her eighteen-year-old body from behind.
"Give your speech. Don't be afraid, I'm here." He whispered. His rich-English accent sent a shiver up her spine.
As it always did when he was near, her fear vanished.
"As valedictorian, it is my privilege to thank the teachers and staff for their efforts in helping us all achieve an education. Uhh."
She gasped as Ben's lips touched her ear. Swallowing she continued.
"Whether we now enter the work force or go on to an institute of higher learning, you have helped us in ways that will be with us for the rest of our lives. Ummm."
His experienced hands caressed her.
"I wish to take this opportunity to issue a special thanks to Mr. Grahame, who has meant so much to me. So very, very much..." She turned and looked into his face.
He stared down at her, the hint of laugh lines at the corners of his eyes crinkling as he smiled. "And you've meant a great deal to me, Alysia. More perhaps than you should have. Alysia, I..." Gently, slowly, as if each second was an opportunity for her to escape him, he pulled her lips to his own. The students, teachers and parents applauded.
"Oh Ben. Please say it isn't a dream." Alysia pulled away and looked into his expressive face. She could always read the truth he spoke, in his face. Each line she saw was a badge of honour speaking of a life well lived, and she loved him for them. As she watched the face changed, impossibly becoming other faces; faces she didn't know, but the person, the essence behind them, remained the same.
"I'd never lie to you, Aly. I'd never lie..." spoke Ben's voice and the face returned to his own.
Alysia awoke and snuggled down amongst the sheets.
"Crap! Just a dream." She inhaled the slightly musky scent of the man who's bed she lay in. "Hmm. I love that smell." For a moment, she imagined that the man was there to go with it. "Silly, Alysia. I knew it would be hard when Herb and I split, but I never counted on becoming a nymphomaniac. Just goes to show, get used to something, you miss it when it's gone." She stretched, then sat up and looked around.
The bedroom's furniture was simple but of good quality. The king-sized bed was matched by a single dresser and a nightstand, while the walls were lined with bookshelves full of books. Her gaze slipped to where her bra hung from the doorknob and she grinned. "Now there's something I would have paid to see in high school." She lay back feeling a vague dissatisfaction with her life. * * * *
THE ELDERLY MAN PULLED his eyes away from the candle in front of him. His long, white hair fell down to brush the shoulders of the white robe he wore. A smile showed through his bushy beard as he looked at the handsome, middle-aged woman with dark hair who sat across the candle from him. Her hair stood out in sharp contrast to the white of her robe.
She smiled back as she took his hands. "It is begun, my love."
The old man nodded. "Again. I hope it works out this time." He spoke with an odd, vaguely-British, accent.
"We can only set the stage, they must be the ones to dance." Her accent matched his.
"Free will can be a pain in the arse. At least this one is inclined to introspection."
The dark-haired woman kissed the old man. "We'd best get on with it. We still have to facilitate a meeting between old friends."
The old man smiled and nodded. * * * *
THE SOUND OF A DOOR opening pulled Alysia out of her dark and lonely thoughts. She heard footsteps coming up the stairs.
"Hey, Aly, you up?" Nicole's voice was barely above its normal pitch, almost as if she didn't want Alysia to hear her.
Alysia considered pretending to be asleep, putting her theory to the test, but the potential complications outweighed the benefits. At least until I talk to Rick about it, she thought. They're both hot, and I do love her, though maybe not that way.
"In the loft." Alysia scrambled out of bed and struggled into a housecoat.
"So, sleeping in your first day in your own place?" joked Nicole, as she topped the stairs. She was carrying two travel mugs and a bag of muffins. There were undertones of relief and disappointment in her voice.
"Yeah, and hey, it's still Ben's. I'm just house-sitting while he does his annual pilgrimage thing to England."
"How's that work? He's my uncle, and he's never asked me to house-sit." Nicole sat on the bed and passed Alysia one of the mugs.
"I think he knew my parents were driving me crazy. I mean, Okay, so Dorry and I dated and it freaked them, then Herb came along and he was all like, the great saviour of Western Civilization. So now I think they're worried about who I'll date next."
"Yeah. See that, sorta. Any candidates?" Nicole glanced at Alysia then stared at the bedspread.
"Not just yet. If I learned one thing, it's that you have to wait after a break-up. Of course, I might just consider a black, transsexual lesbian with two kids and a lisp."
"WHAT?" Nicole's attractive, Hispanic features contorting in dismay.
Alysia laughed. "Well, with the way you were looking at me! Like, oh boy, Niki, are you really so freaked that I might go back to dating girls? Or do you just want me off the market for some reason?" She winked at her friend.
"Aly, I. Well, Um..." Nicole hung her head.
"Relax. It will probably be a guy. Herb kinda showed me some advantages I didn't have time to find with Mike. I'm not saying it's a definite, but I lean towards liking the male side of things." Alysia extracted a pair of shorts and a T-shirt from a dresser.
Nicole caught herself staring at her friend's shapely calves and jerked her eyes away. "Sorry I freaked."
"Really makes you uncomfortable?" Alysia sat on the bed.
"You know, I don't know why. I know a few gay women and it's not a biggy. With you though..."
Alysia reached out, caught Nicole's hand and held it in both of hers. "With me, it could happen. Let's face it, Niki. I love you. I've loved you since grade ten. You're my best friend, and I'm pretty sure you feel the same way about me."
There was a long silence as emotions chased each other across Nicole's face. She bit her lip, swallowed, then her expression settled on anxious. "Aly, I well... I err, I'm not, and what about Rick?"
Alysia smiled as she saw the struggle in her friend. "Exactly. Rick and Herb, and what you want, and what I want, what you are, what I am. A whole lot of things have to come together just right to make something work. It's okay. I'd rather keep loving my best friend then risk blowing everything with sex. Besides that, I don't help people cheat! Unless Rick agreed you'd never have to worry. Plus, you're not my type physically."
Nicole glanced at her own body with its firm, medium-sized breasts and flat stomach, clad in jogging shorts and a T-shirt. "What? What's wrong with my---?"
Alysia chuckled. "Absolutely nothing." She licked her lips and winked. "I just prefer mannish women. I think it's because I prefer men. Goddess, I can't believe I'm talking about this. I've been thinking a lot about it lately. I guess I need to bounce the thoughts off someone, and you came along at the right time."