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zeroThere was something about that moment, when the taxi wallowed away from the kerb leaving Rachel standing alone, that would stay with her. The sun was setting behind hills glimpsed at the end of the street, and while the air would be warm all night, Rachel felt a shiver — as though she stood on a precipice.She let the feeling explore her for a moment longer. How incongruous it was, to be standing here outside the house of a stranger, thousands of miles from her own home in the wolds of middle England. A laughing conversation at the end of a long flight, a moment of shared understanding, a finding of a kindred spirit: perhaps these were strange reasons for a half-hour taxi ride at dusk into the hills north of Los Angeles.But no. She smiled. As she had told herself several times tonight, she was living up to her own standards of impulsiveness, for once. Besides, Susan was older than her, well-spoken, educated: nothing about her had prompted the slightest misgiving about visiting her home. Besides, Rachel had nothing else to do. She had deliberately not planned her week off, not even decided where she was going, until the vagaries of airline cabin crew scheduling had placed her on a long-haul route to the West coast of the USA a few days ago.So she took a breath and strode up the short drive of the low, tidy house. Its dark roof overhung a shallow porch, and stepping up onto the wooden decking, she came to the screen door. Nervously, she swapped her beret to her left hand and leaned back to scan the door frame for a bell push.With a jolt she realised that the door behind the mesh was already swinging open, a robed silhouette reaching for the outer latch. ‘Hi,’ said a voice cheerily, as Rachel took a stumbling step out of the way of the outward-opening screen.‘Sorry,’ she mumbled. Then, pulling herself together: ‘Hello, Susan.’Susan smiled at her genially, then backed inside. ‘Come in. Want a smoothie? I’ve just made some up.’‘Please,’ said Rachel automatically. She tucked herself inside the door, jumping slightly as the screen banged to behind her. It was odd for Susan to receive her in a bathrobe. She shrugged a little. This was almost the other side of the world, after all.Susan’s house was elegantly sparse, with only a few scattered oddments to give it the look of a home. White furniture, wood floor, bright white spotlights. Her eyes were drawn to Susan’s feet as she padded away to the open-plan kitchen: athletic feet, she decided, then frowned to herself. No judging. ‘Don’t tolerate, just be,’ the Qi master had said.Actually, she had nice feet too.‘Have a seat,’ Susan called, busying herself. Rachel glanced around and settled on one side of a hessian sofa, before returning her eyes to her host. Susan’s dark, wavy hair was slipping over her shoulder to fall beside her strikingly handsome face as she poured: she tossed her head to return it, caught Rachel’s eye, and smiled. Rachel glanced away on reflex, her mind’s eye dwelling on the glimpse of Susan’s outstretched neck.Am I blushing? Oh god, thought Rachel. Not already. Can’t I find a new friend in a far-away place without getting caught being weird?Their short conversation on the flight had ostensibly been triggered by Rachel’s many rings, the only remaining evidence of a brief Goth period in her youth. Her hair was now its natural blonde, her weight on the softer side of slim, her make-up uniform-friendly; but some silver and obsidian, and one tiny death’s head among her fingers had (mostly) been overlooked by the airline. None of it, she had confirmed, represented a bond to another human being. However, she had not admitted to the impossibility of this, in the face of a total record of — no lovers at all.But Rachel was sure Susan’s interest in the rings was a pretext for saying hello; their eyes had met several times already during the flight, and not just when Rachel was serving drinks. She had been fascinated by Susan’s tall, graceful frame, and the delicate laughter lines at the corners of her eyes. It wasn’t the first time a passenger had been the subject of her interest, but no one had deliberately returned it before. And though embarrassed at being caught out, she was delighted almanbahis to find Susan so genuinely affable and interested.Susan was passing her a glass, three-quarters full of a faintly luminous green cocktail topped with brownish foam. ‘All natural,’ she said, ‘and all super-food. Pure energy.’Rachel made what she hoped was an appreciative noise and lifted the glass to her lips, grateful for the extended chance to come up with something to say. Susan remained standing, taking a gulp and then lowering her glass onto the coffee table.She then pulled apart the loose knot in her bathrobe’s cord, and let it fall open.Rachel froze. Her first self-conscious sip was still in her mouth, the glass still at her lips, both forgotten. Somewhere in her mind, pieces fell into place. The returned interest. The warmth. The invitation. But overwhelming everything else was the sudden shocking awareness of beauty. Beauty so close at hand, so wondrously real.Now Susan’s long elegant neck revealed its roots in her upper chest. Her skin showed the intricate interplay of tendon, muscle and bone; like draped, subtly textured silk over collarbone and sternum. To either side her breasts rose to still-hidden peaks, their lower slopes returning at right-angles onto her ribs, so smooth. Beneath, her abdomen showed harsher but oh so fascinating ridges of muscle, and then — Rachel swallowed at last.‘Don’t be ashamed,’ said Susan softly as Rachel darted her wide-eyed gaze back upward. She was suddenly aware of the heat of her cheeks and the thumping of her heart. ‘Just look. I loved the way you looked at me before.’A war was being fought in Rachel’s mind. A lifetime of conformity, made stronger by the failures of dreary teenage rebellions and vague adult resolutions, had found itself besieged by a deeper force, suddenly focused: oh my god, she thought. Oh my god. Was it true?It had to be. Without fanfare, resistance died. Rachel let her eyes fall once more, drinking deep, while brown foam lapped onto the floor out of the glass in her limp grasp.~~~oneThe cab ride was like a nightmare. Rachel had been torn from heaven, and forced to sit alone in the dark and the grime, with only the harsh red and white streaks of passing vehicle lights to gaze at.And what was worse: an angel had cast her out.There had been no hiding her innocence from Susan, nor her shock at finding herself suddenly and excruciatingly desperate; for an intangible something that was only available right then, right there, for the first time in her life. Susan had known it; and Susan had denied it to her.Rachel balled her hands into fists. They had kissed: oh, they had kissed, and Rachel’s fingers had brushed, explored; questioning, uncertain. But she hadn’t known what to do, how to consummate her terrible desire. As her timidity eased she had pressed forward, moaning; but Susan had just smiled and taken her hands. ‘There’s no rush,’ she said gently. Then, when Rachel’s face fell, ‘You’ll understand, I promise.’But she didn’t understand. How could she? A tear welled in Rachel’s eye, glinting with reflections on the edge of her sight. She blinked, and it dropped. She had waited too long: a whole life of incomprehension and darkness; watching others explore their desires, like cruise ships passing away into the night, leaving her with only the vaguest notion of the world of laughter and joy on board. Tonight one had come so close that she had glimpsed burlesque splendour through a porthole; but then it had passed, like the others, leaving her alone again in the dark.‘You’ve found yourself,’ Susan had said at the door, a final glimpse of a glittering moonlit wake. ‘You need to know yourself. Come back tomorrow.’ What did that mean? How could she smile and let Rachel walk that long walk down the drive to the waiting taxi? She had even winked, her face half-hidden by the screen door, as Rachel dropped into that dark back seat. Now, Rachel whimpered a little as she felt her fingers touch that face, that neck, those shoulders.Her hands had relaxed in her lap now, supplicating; and even in the flicker of streetlights she could not help but see the pale striation on each wrist. The scars that others rarely noticed — or almanbahis yeni giriş chose not to.‘The Mosaic, was that?’ grunted the driver. Rachel jumped and confirmed, but the sound was barely a rasp. ‘Mosaic?’ he bawled, enjoying his apathy. This time, her voice cracked. So a few minutes later, when she had escaped from his domain onto a Beverly Hills sidewalk, she turned a little so he could see her extended middle finger in his door mirror.She looked at the unassuming entrance of the Mosaic and sighed. What was she supposed to do now? It was late, but she felt no possibility of sleep. The hotel had been an impulse selection, a treat after a long tour with the airline. But she could not find interest in its boutique elegance now; now that the whole world seemed like a scene bereft of foreground, an empty theatre.The clerk at the desk smiled at her as she pushed through into the lobby, but he quickly detected the hesitation in her response and returned to his monitor. She looked towards the bar; perhaps she could find solace in a quiet drink: but no, there was a noisy group of women there, tarted up to the nines, laughing shrilly at the barman’s humour.She paused, undecided, her eyes on them; and quickly, unexpectedly, something changed. At first, the women had been just another group of her distant peers, sharing and enjoying the secret, incomprehensible reason for their sparkling jewellery, for their revealing, impractical clothes. But like a picture of a lamp-stand that suddenly becomes two faces in profile, she became acutely aware of what it was they were adorning, what it was they were allowing glimpses of. And though she knew it was not directed at the likes of her, with a flutter of her heart she understood that deep under their layers of social entanglement was something that she wanted. Something she had always wanted; but only now did she permit her mind to dwell on it, so that it took shape, gained reality.A draft of night air made her turn, as though in a dream. Another girl was joining the group, long legs, open midriff, coat coming off to reveal bare shoulders, an elegant form which sung out like opera from a radio that had only produced garbled noise before.The girl’s eyes caught Rachel staring, flicked down and up again; and her mouth tweaked on one side as she passed by. With a crash, Rachel returned to the present. She looked down at herself: trainers, black leggings, military parka over tie-dye T-shirt. The girl had reached the group, her head inclining ever so slightly towards Rachel; one of her friends glanced over and failed to hide a smirk.Rachel fled, burning. She reached the lifts, but they were still in sight of the bar. Desperate, she barged the nearest door and launched herself up the stairs. She wanted to scream. Her world, which she had packed so neatly away into dusty boxes, had exploded. Women were not what she had thought them to be, not the girls in the bar, not Susan, not even herself.By the time she reached the sanctuary of her room, her exertions had taken away some of her manic energy, and she sat on the bed, again uncertain. The only constant in her writhing mind seemed to be Susan’s invitation, ‘come back tomorrow,’ and she clung to it. Maybe if she could force herself to sleep, she might bring it within her grasp.So, mechanically but haphazardly, she began to prepare for bed. Unpack. Brush. Undress. She took out the hidden pin that directed her fringe back to its loose plait, and knotted her long hair on top of her head, then puzzled out the shower. In the moment it took to warm up, she glanced at herself in the mirror, noting the ugly lines of underwear pressed into her skin around hips and breasts, and the tired look of her eyes. Green-grey eyes, too close together, above a sad button of a nose. She looked away as the steam began to rise, noticing with a start that another mirror was capturing a view of her back as she moved to the shower.She stopped, her hand outstretched to the curtain. Something had called out to her. She retreated a little until her back was revealed again. Pale skin, strap-line, dotted moles, said her normal mind. But something behind it was rising, something that almanbahis giriş saw the same shape in a new way, unleashed from long-entrenched prejudice by the unusual viewpoint, and by the turmoil in her mind.Softness draped over an elegant frame. She remembered looking at Susan’s incredible, toned body, so much more than the sum of its parts, and how she had felt watching it move. How different to her own ill-defined flesh. And yet: not so different. She reached up to her shoulder, twisting, seeing how there were muscles there, sliding over and around each other, bringing nuance to the shape.An excitement was lifting, and old walls were crumbling. Here in this lonely room, so many miles from anything she knew, she was seeing herself for the first time. She followed her shoulder down, pulled her other elbow through, and traced her fingers down her side, her arm pushing past her hidden breasts. She felt them respond, just a fraction. She glanced away from the mirror and down at them.The more familiar view gave strength to her old perspective, and the new had to fight. Pendulous, said the old. Beautiful, the new. Ill-defined. Enigmatic. Absurd. Fanciful.She cupped them with her hands, feeling how they overflowed a little as always, so ungainly. She sighed. The steam had begun to hide her reflections. She clambered into the shower, one hand still uncertainly clutching. The water was too hot, but she cared too little to adjust it. The paper-wrapped soap annoyed her for a moment; then she worked up a lather and began to wash.But the something that had been released was still there, prowling around her consciousness, looking for a way in, and gaining strength from her touch. The tendons of her neck as she leaned her head to one side. The curve of her shoulder. The soft trench under her arm. The springy nub of a nipple. The way the hardness of her ribs fell away into yielding abdomen. That something became more agitated, calling to her; and as her slippery fingers massaged soap into deeper places, she felt a tug of adrenalin.She had tried masturbating before of course; but lacking any focus for her desire it had been purposeless, overwhelmingly mechanical, dirty. She had not even attempted it for years now. The feel of her own fingers reminded her of the loneliness and desperation, and for that moment the battle was over. She turned off the water and dried herself, then tugged on a bathrobe, let down her hair, and picked up her hairbrush from the sink.It was the mirrors on the wardrobes outside the bathroom that immobilised her this time. She had not tied the cord on her robe, and the sudden recognition of the sight was like a shot of pure energy. Susan. She stared, stunned. It was not the same: blonde hair, larger breasts, softer shapes. But no, screamed the new something, suddenly finding itself allied with the incredible desire that had overwhelmed her only a few hours before. It was a woman, a beautiful woman. She was biting her lip, giving her face a cute, coquettish look; and her smoothly flowing torso descended in waves to her legs, one knee visible, one foot upon the other.For a moment she just stared, not daring to move lest the mirage were to waver. Then the realisation hit her: this woman was hers to control, hers alone. That small tempting mouth twisted a little. Testing, she lifted a hand and pulled on that side of the bathrobe’s opening, revealing the nipple of her breast. She gave a little gasp of pleasure, and her smile reached both sides of her mouth.Heart pattering, she retrieved a pouffe from the sitting area and dragged it back to the mirror. She sat, her legs to one side, the bathrobe open just so, and drew the brush through her hair. She watched herself, fascinated, for a long time; and when the feeling was too much, she put down the brush and brought her fingers to her body. Every part of her seemed like she was discovering it for the first time, and although once again she did not know what to do, she knew now that she could find out for herself.It was not long before she leaped for the bed. There she quickly found herself to be wet with desire. While the one hand continued to explore, to stroke, to push, the other worked at her ecstasy, and her mind was full of the two beautiful bodies she had made love to that day. And when it was over she rolled onto her side, exhausted and complete, and she whispered to herself, ‘I understand. Susan, I understand.’

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