It happened again. I left my body. While my physical self worked on my Linear Algebra homework, I disengaged from it and actually felt myself float and float upward. I'm a balloon bump-bumping along the ceiling, watching a young, skinny Asian woman hunched over a thick maths book on top of a desk.
This used to happen a lot when I was younger. I could be in two places at once. One part of me could be doing physics worksheets with my aunt, while another part of me roamed around the house and the neighborhood. It was the safest way for me to explore the outside world. It never occurred to me that other people didn't have the same ability. When I informed my mother of it, it scared her so badly that she made me promise never ever to do it again because she thought my "soul" might get trapped out there or something.
I never told Sister and Auntie about it because they believe heavily in the paranormal and afterlife phenomena and I didn't want to give them more fodder for their superstitions. My "soul" isn't leaving my body or anything; I'm just able to be at two places at once. Not all the time, though. Sometimes it just happens without my control.
When I'm in my non-corporeal form, I can fly and go through walls. I have a limited range, however, so I can't go wherever I want. Over the years, I've figured this to be within a three-mile radius of my physical form.
I roam the halls of the dormitory, occasionally poking my head into people's rooms just to see what they're up to. I usually mind only my business, but sometimes, I do get the urge to look in on my fellow humans and see what they do behind closed doors when no one else is around.
Kelly and Melanie, whom I met earlier this evening, are living in this dormitory also and share a suite. They are on the third floor. Kelly is lying on her back on her bed, reading a book about Oliver Cromwell, while Melanie is flopped on her stomach on her own bed, facing the opposite direction. Her eyes are glued to the telly at the foot of her bed and the show is called "Big Brother."
As they aren't doing anything particularly interesting, I move on, scanning the rooms and suites for human activity, only pausing when I see people fighting, crying, or... having sex.
I've never been in a position to witness sexual interaction of any type before and even when I lived in that big apartment complex with Sister, I stayed away from units where I heard weird moaning noises. At the time, I was grossed out by the very idea of sex, all that touching and kissing and sharing of bodily fluids... shudder.
But sometime today, that changed. For the very first time in my life, I felt sexual attraction for another person. I recognize aesthetics and judge "hot" and "yuck" like a normal person, but until today, it has never even occurred to me that I could be capable of having such feelings. I've never even experienced kissing and yet suddenly, I want to know what it would be like to have a penis in my vagina.
A barrage of Dr. T. images assail my mind, almost making me lose my concentration and get yanked back into my body. A yearning so strong comes over me that I feel it physically, in my lower stomach area below my belly button.
I need to see him. I have to see him now. But I don't know where he lives and soon I have to return to base camp. I close my eyes.
When I open them, I find myself in a large living room with a black leather sofa and two matching armchairs at either side of it. The floor is hardwood and the color of dark cherry oak. All of the wooden furniture matched it. In the corner of the room next to the floor to ceiling windows, is a fireplace alive with flames.
The first word that comes to my mind as soon as I see the room: expensive. Almost in front of every available wall space are bookshelves filled with what looks like leather-bound books with gold lettering along the spine.
The owner of the flat does not have a television, but a really high-tech, top-of-the-line stereo sound system, as well as a record player. I smile to myself. Awesome. Coltrane, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Glenn Miller--
Even before I smelled him--sandalwood, bergamot, and eucalyptus-- I was already starting to realize where I was. I slowly turn around in the air and face him.
He is standing only six feet away from me, wearing a silk dressing gown that is royal-blue with nothing underneath except black silk pajamas. In his hand is a highball glass of amber-colored liquid and a leather-bound book in the other. The author is William Godwin. I am frozen in place and cannot get close enough to see the title even though it would be agonizing for me not to know.
I can't move because he's looking right at me. Even hidden behind his black-rimmed spectacles, his blue-green eyes are intense and laser-focused. He takes them off and puts them in the pocket of his dressing gown.
"Mr. Burns, are you still around? I thought you'd left for the evening. I heard a noise--" His sonorous voice trails off and he laughs softly. "Missing Alice already, old sod? That can't be good. Onward and forward."
He sits on an armchair, pulls the lever to raise the recliner, and settles into the seat. He opens his book again and takes a sip from his drink.
I sigh in relief. I've always believed I was invisible during my travels, but maybe not to some. I must be extremely careful next time. No one likes their privacy to be invaded. And most especially not my professor, yet here I float in his inner sanctum like a creep.
I really shouldn't be here. But I'm finding it difficult to leave. I want to stay here and look at all of his books and listen to his music collection. I also want to get close enough to him so I can bury my face in that spot between his neck and shoulder and smell him. His scent is incredible. It's even capable of generating erotic thoughts in my head, the likes of which I've never had before.
I've always found emotions to be useless. Unlike Sister, I can overcome my natural instinct to react to an event or situation and lock away that emotion in a box to be stored in a vault in the basement of my brain's library, so I won't have to deal with it.
It works ninety-five percent of the time. During the remaining five percent? It's the reason why I have a worry stone I've practically rubbed to a nib over the years and why I have a semi-permanent suite at the fantastic San Ramon Specialized Cognitive and Behavioral Therapy Rehabilitation Center. From time to time, the world gets a little too much for me to process and I check myself in there for the weekend.
It's not so bad in there. My room is private and completely sterile; all the food items come to me vacuum-sealed; I don't have to talk to anyone except my psychiatrist, if I don't want to. For the most part, I am given a stress-free, relaxing weekend.
Mother found a psychiatrist for me on campus, whom I'll be seeing once a month. She will monitor my meds and serve as my therapist. I'm seeing her for the first time tomorrow. I wonder what she would think about this.
Slowly but surely, I inch my way to him until I'm hovering above the coffee table in front of him. At base camp, I can feel my body slackening and I'm starting to get light-headed. This means I have to return. Now.
I ache to touch his handsome face before I leave, but I'm not in my physical body, so I won't be able to. In this state, I can hear, see, and smell, but touch and taste are out of the question.
Even though I know my skin won't make contact with his, I reach out and stroke his face. Upon feeling the warmth and smoothness of his skin beneath my palm, I gasp and yank my hand back.
I touched him.
Dr. T. drops his book and springs up from his chair, the tips of his fingers grazing the spot I touched. "What the devil--" he mutters. Must have fallen asleep.
I thought for a moment that he must have said that out loud for me to have heard him, but he didn't. He merely thought it. Horrified, I back away from him and trip over a rug.
In another instant, I'm back in my room. A little dazed, but otherwise all right, I push myself up from the floor and struggle to get on my feet. My knees are rubbery and I need food and water. My explorations take a lot out of me.
My hand shakes as I reach for the sealed water bottle on my nightstand. I am drenched in sweat and can't possibly go to sleep this way because I'm disgusting, but I no longer have any energy. I drain half the bottle and fall backwards toward my mattress.
By the time I got up and getting ready to go to class, I had convinced myself that I dreamt the whole thing. It had to have been a dream. To believe otherwise would be foolish and fanciful.
I have never been able to touch or physically affect anything during my travels. I can't pick things up and I don't go around stroking things. But last night, I felt the warmth of his skin underneath my palm and tripped over his rug.
I was definitely dreaming. I shower to clear the cobwebs from my mind and have a quick breakfast of bottled coffee, protein bar, and a jar of banana-apple sauce. Once I pull on an ensemble of jeans, a pink v-neck tee, a dark green cable-knit jumper, and boots, I pick up my backpack from the floor and head for the door.
I pull on the sleeve of my jumper so it covers my hand and I can touch the doorknob. Once I have the door open, I freeze in thought, unable to take another step as a scene from last night's dream flashes before my eyes.
My dreams usually consist of a quick review of my day, highlighting the stand-out moments. It plays in my mind like a sports reel, only in black and white, and with no commentary.
Last night was altogether different. I was drained from my exploration and didn't even have the energy to brush my teeth before I succumbed to sleep. (This morning, I brushed my teeth three times and used a quarter of a bottle of Listerine for gargling.)
I'm always aware when I'm in a dream, although I'd never been in a ridiculous one until last night. I'm lying in my bed in a white, spaghetti-strapped nightgown (my outfit of choice is usually a t-shirt and sweatpants) and for some reason, I'm anxious and experiencing fear that is foreign to me. I am clutching the edge of my blanket almost up to my neck and staring at the foot of the bed to wait for someone or something to materialize.
Out of nowhere, Glenn Miller's "Moonlight Serenade" swells to life from what sounds like an old record player and the door to my room opens. But no one comes in, just a billow of thick, bluish fog that smells like sandalwood, bergamot, and eucalyptus. My heart begins to slam itself against my ribcage, as if trying to get out. I swallow hard.
Out of the fog, a white-gloved hand appears, holding a black top hat. Limb after limb is slowly revealed as the mists part like curtains and gradually dissipate. I gasp. At the foot of my bed now stands a tall, lean man with short, dark hair wearing a black tuxedo, a white mask covering just his eyes, and a white rose pinned to his lapel.
He extends his hand to me and my body rises from the mattress and he pulls me toward him like a fish on a hook. When I am within his reach, he cups my waist with his hands and plucks me out of the air. His large hands are so warm that I can feel his heat through the material of my nightgown and his gloves. He sets me down beside him and I realize that he is considerably taller than me. The top of my head only comes up to the bottom of his bow-tie. He has to be at least six-foot-one.
His hands move from my waist to my wrists and both stroke upward until he is holding me by my shoulders. The sensation of his caress, even with gloved hands, prove to be too much for me. My legs give out from under me. I would have fallen to the ground had he not swept me up in his powerful arms.
He carries me back to my bed and gently lays me down. He makes room for himself on my mattress and sits next to me, by my hips, with his body angled toward me.
I can't be sure because of his mask, but I think he is studying me from head to toe. I can feel his gaze on my skin like the rays of the sun and it seems to be exploring places that his hands aren't.
Oh, how I yearn for him to touch me. I am a potted plant swathed in shadows finally moved to a spot where I can get some sunlight, but it's the wrong part of the day and I have to wait for the sun to come around and imbue me with its light. Under my nightgown, my nipples have pebbled and I am quite sure that hasn't escaped his notice.
I become breathless with anticipation as I watch him slowly remove his glove from one hand. Once it is bare, he holds it over me, near the top of my head, as though he were about to bless me. When the tips of his long fingers brush my forehead, my entire body clenches in response. He laughs softly, the sound as indulgent as eating dark chocolates in the middle of the night. He continues his exploration, tracing my eyebrows, the lids of my closed eyes, and the bridge of my nose. He strokes my cheekbones, jaw, and chin as though he were a sculptor examining the structure of my face. As the tips of his fingers brush against my mouth, I am nearly out of breath and convinced I'm about to explode.
I have never felt anything like this. There is a heavy tugging of heat in my belly and I'm squirming on my mattress like a worm. Between my legs, my knickers have become wet and sticky. Within me is a throbbing, burning need that I fear will never be sated.
"Let lips do what hands do," I gasp as his caresses migrate to my throat and all the way down to the valley between my aching breasts.
"My impatient, little kitten," he says admonishingly in that deep, dark voice that makes my toes curl in. "Shall I grant you the pleasure of my mouth already? Open your eyes."
They flicker open and he gives me a devastating half smile before bowing and lowering his face to mine until our mouths are merely inches apart and I can feel his breath on my lips. "Oh, please," I beg.
His eyes glimmer with wicked intent before he brushes his mouth dryly against mine in the briefest of moments. He is chuckling as he lifts his head and straightens back up. "My little flower," he says, palming my cheek. "You have so much to do before you can be worthy of my kisses. Lucky for you, we have all the time in the world."
I am yanked back to reality when the girl from the room two doors down exits and her crappy, discordant grunge music escapes and disturbs my calm. Thankfully, she soon closes the door, cutting off the noise, and gives me a thumbs up when she finds me staring at her.
"Have a good one, Dee-dee," she says before turning away to head for the stairs.
I shudder. I've never been called by a nickname before. I'm not sure if I like it. I put on my noise-cancelling headphones and press play on my mp3 player. The musical stylings of LL Cool J have the power to restore my calm.
A clap of thunder shakes the foundation of my existence and threatens to destroy my fantasy land. I look up to find Dr. T. looming over me like a wrathful god, his lips tight with displeasure. The thunder, it turned out, was him picking up my Shakespeare textbook, which weighs one-point-four kilograms, and dropping it on my desk to wake me up from my stupor.
"Whoa, man," I say, finding myself actually irritated. I made a mental note to study this feeling later. "That wasn't necessary. Totally uncool."
I am speaking this way because I know he won't like it.
His eyes become very blue as he plants his hands on the corner edges of my desk and leans closer to me. "Miss S, I give you leeway on your awful diction because you come from the wilds of America, but I have no tolerance for blatant disrespect in my classroom. You might have forgotten that you're in Oxford, not some polytechnical school in Brixton, trying to learn how to repair a VCR."
My eyebrows draw together in a knot. Disrespect? I can feel the gazes of my fellow students on me and the beginnings of anger are licking at my sides like flame around paper. "What are you talking about? I haven't done anything."
He leans just a tiny bit closer so I can feel his breath on my skin and says, "Exactly. I've been calling on you for five minutes with no response. Had you drifted off to someplace more interesting than my classroom?"
"Uhh..." My brain seems to have lost the ability to form together strings of coherent thoughts. Oddly enough, my annoyance of him has remained because I haven't been able to put it away. I quickly scan my hard drive and blurt, "I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, where oxlips and the nodding violet grows; quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine, with sweet musk-roses and with eglantine."
Only half the class laughs, as though some of them could sense the tension developing between me and the professor.
His eyes glitter with an emotion I don't recognize as he steps back away from me and returns to his lectern. My fists, along my sides, unclench and I release the breath I didn't realize I was holding.
But the professor is not done with me. "Come, come, you wasp, i'faith you are too angry."
I stare at him and he stares right back at me, challenge apparent in his eyes. "If I be waspish, best beware my sting."
He flashes me a half-smile that makes my knees weak. "My remedy is then to pluck it out."
Suddenly, everything else fades into the background and it's just me and him, standing in a room together, facing each other. Boldly, I respond, "Ay, if the fool could find where it lies."
I run the next few lines in my head and feel my face heat up. They are kind of risqué and a little more than suggestive. This is why most people think The Taming of the Shrew is the sexiest Shakespearean play.
He doesn't break eye contact. "Who knows not where a wasp does wear his sting? In his tail."
I clasp my hands over the ear cups of my headphones. "In his tongue," I mutter.
He does the half-smile again. "Whose tongue?"
I swallow, feeling that tug of desire in my lower belly. A rush of heat has flooded my core and dampened my knickers. "Yours, if you talk of tales, and so farewell."
He raises one eyebrow. "What, with my tongue in your tail?"
I become a useless puddle of goo on the floor. Holy Moly, what is happening to me?
"Professor!" says Sorry Gary, waving his arm in the air. "Was that whole exchange about snogging down south? Daaaamn, I didn't know Shakespeare got dirty."
The entire class burst into laughter as I wish a black hole would form under my desk and swallow me whole. Why is this man always picking on me? Obviously it's because I'm the lone American and he doesn't think I belong, so he is constantly testing me.
The professor clears his throat and lifts his hand, calling for the class to settle down. "Possibly. Petruchio is trying to disarm Katharina. She is, after all, a well-born lady and would thus be unsettled by Petruchio's innuendo. He figures he could shut her up if she were flustered and thinking about sex, instead."
"Professor, why are the women in Shakespeare's plays so angry?" Eggy asks from his seat in the back.
"How would you rather they are portrayed, Mr. Eggerton? Shakespeare's works provide us a broad spectrum of female characters. They are mad, happy, despondent, and often the pivotal characters of their stories. They are given a voice, a right to speak. Would you rather they were the quiet, submissive women they were supposed to be in that time period?"
Eggy looks at me, then back at the professor. "Of course not."
Sensing Eggy's discomfort, I say "Sir," to get Dr. T's attention back to me and away from Eggy. "Could you also take into account that the women characters were played by men during Shakespeare's time, so they had license to be bolder and more outrageous on stage?"
He nods. "Excellent point, Miss S. Very insightful, indeed."
I bask in the glow of his praise while he moves on and engages other students. It makes me feel very warm inside, like I have an orange and pink ball of light in the middle of my body that's growing bigger and bigger, filling every part of me, from the tips of my toes all the way up to my scalp.
For the first time in my life, I think I'm experiencing... giddiness.
But soon enough, the session ends and Eggy comes up to my desk, so he and I could walk together to our next classes. His is only a few doors from mine.
I wondered at first why he would want to walk with me, but then I figured since we're heading in the same direction, anyway, it's all right. Besides, Eggy likes to talk. Maybe he needs a chat buddy to accompany him on the six-minute walk to class. I couldn't see how Eggy would have difficulty finding companionship, however. He is always surrounded by young women, vying for his attention.
I gather my things and put them in my backpack, which Eggy takes from me. "Why?" I ask.
He looks at me in bemusement. "Because it's the right, proper thing to do. This bag is bigger than your torso."
I snag one of the straps and pull. "Eggy, I can carry my own stuff."
"I know you can," he says with a dimpled smile. "But I want to carry it for you. Indulge me, all right?"
I have the oddest feeling that Eggy is flirting with me, but don't understand why. What is his motive? "Suit yourself."
The professor is at his desk, gathering his own things together. He looks up as I pass him and our eyes meet. At that moment, I lose my breath and stumble, but Eggy catches my elbow. The professor blinks and returns to what he's doing.
"See you on Friday, Dr. T," I say because I wanted one last exchange with him.
He raises his head again and nods at me. "I'll see you on Friday, Miss S. Have a good afternoon."
I'm in a daze for the rest of the day. While walking together, I can hear Eggy telling me about the time he broke his leg and arm during rugby practice, but it sounds like he's got mounds of cotton in his mouth. I laugh at the appropriate places and ask the necessary follow-up questions, but my mind is actually far, far away.
"Hey, D, listen," Eggy says as we're nearing my next class. "I've got this thing I have to go to on Friday. Do you like the ballet?"
Every single part of me perks up. I love a good show. Mother always bought me tickets to the shows I wanted to see and made Sister take me. Since we lived in San Francisco, there were a whole lot of shows. "I love the ballet!"
Eggy smiles and nods, looking a little anxious. "I have an extra ticket, if you'd want to come along. It's at the Oxford Playhouse. There's a fundraising gala afterward to benefit the Ashmolean Museum."
I was about to say yes, but pause to study the signs of Eggy's anxiety. Hands in pockets, redness in face, shifting weight from one foot to the other, unable to look me in the eyes. "Are you asking me out on a date?"
He pushes up his glasses and swipes his palm over the back of his neck. "If you're okay with that. It doesn't have to be," he says quickly. "We can just go as mates."
I mull over this. I've never been on a date before. It might be an interesting experience. Besides, I like Eggy. He's handsome and kind to me. "All right, I'll go."
He grins. "Really? Swell. Have you got a fancy frock, by the way? It's kind of a dressy affair. If not, you can borrow something from my sister Lucy. She's about your size."
I smile thinly, inwardly shuddering at the idea of wearing someone else's clothes. "I appreciate that. I came prepared, actually. Mother thought I might be invited to a couple of balls or something, so she packed me a few nice dresses."
"Brill." Eggy hands me my backpack. "We'll have a grand, old time, you'll see."
My first real date. Sister would be so happy to hear about this. Finally, I'm doing something a real, live girl would do. "I'm looking forward to it."