This is the second half and final instalment of "Fonding and Permission". You can probably pick up the story without the earlier chapters, but it'll take a while. To those who read the first chapters when they came out: sorry for the year-and-a-half-long wait. This was exhilarating but exhausting to write.
Don't expect an orgasm on every other page. I find that characters and atmospheres need time, space and depth to develop. This tale is a slow-burner that eventually turns into a wild, boisterous and (for me) hilarious adventure. So I beg your patience. I hope that by the time things get exciting, you will feel right in his/her shoes.
Chapter four: Summer Drive
David listened sceptically as his friend played. The concert was a week away the dynamics were badly in need of fine-tuning.
"The crescendo before 'Und auf den weißen Matten' should be stronger," he said decisively.
"It doesn't say crescendo," the other pointed out, checking the score. "I just play one."
"Quite," said David. "So you agree it should?"
"I see it like a cold gust," David went on. "Some protective layer breaks and melancholy really hits him. He suddenly gets he's alone again. He doesn't just stroll by the thought in a leisurely fashion."
"I see your point," said the other. "But I don't want to exaggerate the self-pity."
"You wanted Schubert," David pointed out. "Schubert without self-pity is like Paella without --that's your phone."
"Hang on ..." His friend reached into the overcoat draped over the piano stool and pulled out a mobile. David saw his expression widen with astonishment as he read the screen and his voice, when he answered, had become gentler and more vibrant.
"Si, claro," he said after several seconds. "Un momento, querida." He turned to David. "This is important. I'll be back with you in a minute, all right?"
"Okay. I'll carry on."
David watched him leave the room, his gait full of the urgency his playing had lacked.
He took the song's fourth verse and went over the tricky parts several times until he felt half-way satisfied with them, then sang it completely. He moved onto the third. He had worked through the second verse again and was about to get started on the first when his friend finally returned.
"Long minute," he remarked.
"Sorry," said his friend. "I didn't want to cut it short with her."
His friend gave him a bright smile, seeming to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of answering. "Resa," he said. "Resa Inglesa."
A flurry of subdued memories flooded David's senses. "Resa!" he repeated fervently. Schubert suddenly felt peripheral. "You still call her 'querida'?"
"She is," the other said simply. His smile had taken on a touch of defiance.
"I guess," David conceded. A sizeable chunk of his heart felt something similar, but he was reluctant to say so out loud. "Have you seen her lately?"
"No," his friend said at once, his tone reassuring.
"Why'd she call, though?" He tried to make it sound like a throwaway question.
"She promised to tell me if anyone else turned up."
"Ah." David couldn't help a smothering sense of loss. "How come?"
"I told her I care about her," his friend said simply, his voice a tad defensive again. "She said we gave her life its biggest twist for a long time, so I'm curious about the next one ... We shared too much for me to just turn a page."
David digested this. "Do you feel the same about Melissa and Rafaella and the other girls you've ... kissed awake?" he probed.
"I don't call it that." His friend sounded a tad put off. "Rafaella was already wide awake when we met. She's done her own share of awakening. She's more a companion in craft. I see her as a friend and equal, plus a little something now and then ... Melissa never stayed in touch ... No, Resa's special. Like a protegé ... I think she grew with me more than anyone. It almost hurt to hear her so cagy about this boy just now. She told me almost nothing about him. She wouldn't even say his name. It's like he's her protegé ... like she feels a duty to shield him."
"She said that?"
"Pretty much. She says they used to be friends and lost sight of each other."
"So ... you don't know whether he's like you?"
"It sounds like he's more like her. You know, a sensitive introvert, eco, a bit nerdy ..."
"Humph ... They say opposites attract, not soulmates. Anxious people don't match."
"Resa isn't anxious," his friend said with conviction.
David frowned. "She sure said she was."
"She was," said his friend. "But that's what I meant about her growing. She sounded confident just now. In charge, if you know what I mean. I hope she doesn't end up disappointed."
"Hmm." David still felt full of doubt. "Does he know about FAP?"
"Oh yes, that was the strangest part," said his friend, suddenly animated. "She thinks he's found it but probably doesn't know it's her. She's trying to work out how to tell him. That seems to be the one thing worrying her, really."
"What?" David looked at him incredulously. "How the hell did that happen?"
"I didn't understand it the first time over, to be honest. It was complicated. Something about a sticker."
"Okay," said David, nonplussed. "Did she say anything else?"
"She sends you her love." A warm twinge. "She wanted to know whether she can share our story with him. I think she knew I'd say yes."
A colder twinge. David raised his eyebrows.
"Sorry," his friend added, catching his expression. "But she let me tell Carla everything. Carla likes to hear."
"Or do you mind if he hears your part?"
"No," said David a little stiffly. He felt somewhat overtaken by the events.
"Sorry about not asking. I can let her know if you're bothered."
"No," David repeated. "Never mind. I can call her myself," he added, trying not to sound petulant. "But --will he like it?"
"Fair question," said the other. "She made him sound open-minded."
I want to ask you a question and I hope it won't come as too big a surprise: do you share my belief that we've met and kissed?
Theresa moved the mouse to the send button, then hesitated, trying to anticipate his reaction. Everything depended on his answer. If he had already guessed, her query was an overdue breach of silence. If not, she was lobbing a grenade at him and leaving him to deal with the shell shock. She had wondered how to defuse it or break it down into smaller, more manageable blasts, had told him of her love for freedom and her secret desire to be seen and watched. But Friday night had been full enough, so she had stopped short of telling him how far down that twilit path she had ventured. Even if he realised he had touched himself to her online pictures, there was still so much more left to reveal.
She had nearly told him on Friday. She remembered the question she had asked while letting him taste her hand: 'do you want to mine it yourself?' He couldn't know that she had nearly said 'harvest' instead of 'mine'. Would he have made the connection? And would the rest of that night still have happened then?
She reached down absently to touch the place his warm mouth had kissed two days ago, remembering how he had made her feel like lust on legs, how she had conquered fear in spreading them to his shy inexperience. There were times when her womanhood felt like a wound, but he had seemed to heal it. He had rewarded her trust. Years after the fantasy's birth, she had finally dared to let him do it and found him intrepid: tender, but full of eagerness. The surprise, more than anything, had blown her away. Yes, he was new to it, but she felt ready to give her star pupil all the practice he needed.
Her mouse was still on the button. To send or not to send? ... Not for the first time, she felt crippled by caution. Was she fretting needlessly over his feelings about their online encounter? She imagined herself dumping all the facts at his feet and leaving him to deal with them. Jess from tennis would have done that. A militant phrase rose from her memory: 'Stop being considerate. You want a man's respect? Hurt him!' Righteous wrath ... It turned wrongeous if you didn't watch it. And the battle of the sexes had no place between Felix and her. He had been content to be there for her in those years of friendship at school, never asking much in return. She still remembered how the hope that he might ask her a certain question had budded in her adolescent heart, how she had feared to look him in the eye, lest she read the wrong answer there or frighten him away. It had taken this raucous summer to give her the confidence for a move of her own. So when she had met him again and at last, beyond hope, felt his reverent longing, she had reached out to take his trembling hand for a journey through gentleness out into the wild ... To hurt Felix was to deny herself.
Theresa shook her head with a laugh and a curse. They would never have ended up in this preposterous situation if she hadn't come round to Alice's proposal. The library moves had seemed a lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek adventure at the time. They felt reckless in retrospect. Summer had let her forget just how much Felix could mean to her and she had rediscovered it mid-game. Damn it.
Had he guessed she was Harvest Maiden Pushup? That was where matters turned weirdest. There seemed to be strong evidence both for and against. She knew that she, too, had slept a little under that tree, that some of that night's dreamlike memories might be true dreams. But she was certain that his joking mention of 'habiliments' had been neither. That single word, which he must, surely, have read on her website, had felt like a beautifully discreet way to reassure her that he knew of it and was untroubled. But a little later he had claimed never to have seen a picture of her. Had that been confusion on his part? If not, she was forced to conclude that he had been clueless and his choice of words not a stroke of genius but flippant chance.
Why not just shut down fonding-and-permission.com?
She hated destroying things, most of all her own creations, but the question kept recurring to trouble her. Why not put a stop to the craze with a few quick moves ... Even as she thought so, she recalled her own words to him: 'If I said you're the end of my adventures, I'd be saying more than I know'. Still, couldn't she at least try?
The truth was that the idea of needlessly ending all that elaborate joy saddened her. Felix had said she didn't have to choose between him and freedom. More than that, hadn't he hinted, gloriously, that it might not even involve sacrifice on his own part, rather the opposite?
No, she would not send the message now. She would tell him the facts in person, sit by his side to answer his questions, finish the conversation she had tried to start on Friday. If only that persistent, searing pain could get out of her throat and let her speak without fear of destroying its lining. Her household cures had so far failed. She would have to see an ENT specialist if things hadn't improved by tomorrow.
She deleted the words and closed the dialogue. With no fresh messages to answer, she logged into the site's back end, her control room, smiling as she did so. She liked to come here, even if only for a look around. No-one else had ever set foot in this place. She had taught herself enough web design to bypass the need of an accomplice. This was her very own corner of the internet, where she wielded all the power. Another reason to keep it.
The user list sat on the left, a little button next to each allowing her to determine in fine detail which content who could see. She scrolled through the Email addresses, once again wondering whether she knew any more of the faces behind them:
Most of the addresses left her with little to no idea of the person's real name ... But no, there was no good reason to sever these playful ties.
There he was: email@example.com. She had a distinct sense of looking down upon him through the curtain of an upper storey window, watching him unseen while he explored her garden. She had been tempted to keep track of online time and which content each user had viewed, but her conscience had stepped in to rule out the spyware.
The content panel occupied the middle of the screen. A structure tree with a flexible hierarchy allowed her to sort everything either by album, date or document type first. The latter had come in handy to ensure that a user could see pictures only. So far there were only two people who had access to everything. Was it time to add Felix to the inner circle? After all, he was becoming as inner as possible in other ways ... Of course, there was still one innermost thing that might be ventured when they met again ... if she felt ready to take that deepest plunge. Did he want to? Did he desire to do that with her? He wasn't the sort of person who admitted desire easily. So the chances were that he wanted more than he said ...
Still, she would not extend his access now. Things were quite exciting enough as they were. If he realised this was her site by himself, it might only trouble him further. Staying put was the most sensible option until they had confessed to each other. He would understand best, if she told her story first.
Trees, hedges and fields flowed by as Felix walked. Summer's greens had wilted, but he didn't miss them. The cool greys and browns autumn had left behind felt as soothing as ice on an inflammation. Life needed lush days and hush days and he thought some of the latter were due. Everything had happened so quickly.
He felt a need for fresh air and exertion; to be somewhere private but spacious with daylight and a mild dose of life, reminding him that the world rolled on. His room's walls had seemed to crowd in on him after his discovery and he didn't want to dissect and digest it in that brooding silence. He pictured himself lying in bed, tossed up and down the giddy arc of the last two days time after time ... No, he was not that feeble. He had legs and a head and moving them had always helped to get it working.
Should he open his heart to Carol or their parents? He grimaced. It would mean revealing far more than he wanted to for now. And he preferred solving his own problems while he could. He watched a little brown bird fly for cover as he passed. She could probably have told him its name ...
Theresa was Harvest Maiden Pushup. His lost-and-found schoolfriend, the first woman to undress with him, was none other than the mystery belle of fonding-and-permission.com. He finally knew the face hiding behind the curls. Theresa's were the words that had enthralled him through the screen, just as they had in real life. Theresa's was the warm body in all those pictures he had gazed at longingly, the body she had deigned to give to his imagination, while his hands had found only his own. And he had got some of that wish forty hours ago, never realising it.
Had the possibility ever occurred to him? Yes, once, insignificant among many. He recalled the moment now, as you might recall an odd passer-by when you suddenly find them staring at you from a wanted-for-murder-poster.
Now and then he found himself laughing at fate's twist, wondering whether that was perspective or insanity. For the most part, though, he felt caught in a fantastic trap. He had finally seen the shape of the maze he'd been prowling and found that the two distant, forbidden doors marked "chapel" and "brothel" opened to the same, long, shadowy chamber. Just who was the girl hiding in it? He had been so certain that he knew her.
'You're healthy', Felix once again reminded himself. 'You've got family and a friend or two and you'll probably find work you like. You're not starving, fleeing war or being broken in a torture prison. Life's dealt you a generous hand. Only spoilt brats mope about the dog-ears on the aces.'
But shameful or not, he couldn't pretend he was unperturbed. He sensed that he had to move cautiously among mines of pain which one careless thought might trigger. He had to inspect his feelings, lest they fester, but without blowing them up. 'Stay calm and tread softly', he thought, slowing his breaths. 'That's your style.'
Of course he had slept badly. A queue of questions had grown in the night since his discovery, and even as he sought answers, new ones kept popping up and piling into the logjam.
He had seen only a few of her pictures on his first visit --they had given him all he had wanted then-- but how many more might there be? And how much might they show?
How had he not recognised her? And did she know "Felix" was him?
Who else knew about her site? Whom else had she let inside? How many strangers had his love allowed to gaze as she lay back and revealed, inch by shy inch, all of her womanhood? At least there seemed to be no videos ...
Why had she let them see her at her barest and frailest? What had she felt, spreading her sweet secrets for the nameless needy? Had she ever regretted it? What of the stable sanity he had admired her for? Wasn't she naïve, if not plain mad, to trust so easily? And didn't her trust mean less if they all had it too? ... Was all this as wrong as that claw in his guts kept saying?
He stopped and hugged the air, thinking he could still feel her dear shape, his tender survivor, in the cold emptiness between his arms and chest. But headless hands seemed to be snaking round her body on all sides, wedging themselves between her and himself, prising her from his protection, claiming her from behind. And she was yielding to the human octopus, spurning his shelter to submit to the abduction, letting it invade her ...
"Stop it!" he said sharply, trying to dispel the spectre.
What to do now? Dare he raise the subject during tonight's date? Would she notice anything if he didn't? Quite probably. He had never been the best of actors. They said his face was too honest. He doubted that he could cram enough meditation into the remaining hours to wipe all agitation from it ... Did she plan to tell him herself? If so, why hadn't she done so on Friday?
Yes, why had she kept this quiet? That rankled most. Had she hoped to keep him in the dark forever? He hated to think so. And it would have been a brave gamble. She must have thought he might be her online admirer, that it might be just a matter of time before he realised both his sweethearts were one. He had written her alter ego a page of his views and another message or two that screamed his identity, then signed them "Felix" to boot. She must, surely, connect that name with him by now ...
Less pressing but the mother of all riddles: how ever had their paths chanced to cross in the vastness of the internet? Was it chance? Might some profound subtlety have guided him to her site? Or, somehow, she herself? But he could think of no way she could have done it, bar the supernatural. It had been his own search words that had led him there. He still remembered his glee at coming up with them, something like "my permission" and "me disrobe". So no answer down that alley ... not unless ...
"Hm ..." He chuckled dreamily as an outlandish idea occurred to him. Was it somehow possible that his search words weren't chance but part of a forgotten, shared secret? He tried to recall the moment of inspiration, to see past the horizon they had risen from. But it was too far off. Gaze as he might, all he saw in the haze beyond was deep, innocent blue.
Were there other possibilities? Might the search engine find only results in his vicinity? Rubbish. He knew it didn't ... Had she or someone somehow hacked his browser to direct it to her site?