A month after our wedding, almost to the day, he returned to our âlove nest' paralysed and speechless. Only his eyes moved, tracking my movements and glaring reproachfully, when not reflecting his internal misery. His niece, Antonia, had installed herself in one of the spare bedrooms, and seemed to take great delight in wheeling him around after me like a conscience. Innocent that I was, it did not take me long to realise that his family blamed me for his condition and had no qualms about making their feelings known. They appeared to believe we had consummated the marriage in too strenuous a fashion, and that this had led directly to Leo's stroke. The fact that they were partly right made me feel utterly miserable, though a secret part of me congratulated myself on my escape. I discovered over the course of the next two weeks how premature these congratulations were, for his family made no secret of their opinions. I was a âgold-digger' who had tried to murder their beloved Leo with the charms of her body. In desperation, I took to long walks in to the country lanes to get away from the house, and pretend shopping trips up to London. It was less than a week before I realised that they were having me followed.
I found out because of an old habit I had developed, when I wished to watch people I found interesting, without them knowing I was looking. I have always been prone to using the reflections in shop windows to look at people, and it was on the third occasion of seeing the same woman on different occasions, on different days, that I realised something was afoot. At first I thought the stress of the past weeks had affected my judgement, and then, as I idly tested my suspicions while pretending to browse, I became convinced that I was right. I was being followed.
Everywhere I went, the same woman eventually showed up. If I stopped at a cafÃ©, she would enter a shop across the road. When I went into a shop myself, she would be nearby when I came out. I watched her in shop windows, as she watched me, then turned quickly in time to see her start delving into the leather bag she had slung over her shoulder. In the end, I became annoyed, and stared at her quite boldly. She only glanced up to check I was still there, then pretended to hunt in her bag again. I studied her, as if in answer to her study of me.
She was quite young, around twenty-five, with blonde hair of a shade usually called âash', and she wore the uniform of faded jeans and a dark sweatshirt. Her hair was held off her face by a pair of sunglasses tucked on to the top of her head. She was quite pretty, in the angular way that Californian pin-ups are. She looked up again, and our eyes met. She held my stare, while drawing an object up to her ear. Her lips began moving before I realised that it was a mobile phone. All through her conversation she continued to stare at me, and my heart was hammering with the anger that started to course through me. She was reporting back, I realised, to whoever had hired her. It could only be Leo's family. I was furious, and wasted no time getting back to the house.
They were expecting me. Antonia was outside with the âconscience' propped up in his chair and his younger sister standing with folded arms beside her. They smiled cattily as I stormed over to them and demanded, âHave you been having me followed?'
âHave you got something to hide?' they asked in unison, and laughed in my face.
Leo's sister, Vivian, stalked over to me, arms still crossed, and stood in front of me with her chin thrust aggressively out. She stood around five and a half feet tall in heels, so I was able to tilt my own chin up and look down the length of my nose at her.
âYou haven't answered the question,' I reminded her. âHave you had me followed?'
âAnd you haven't answered mine,' she spat back.
âGot a guilty secret, have we?' said Antonia nastily, and sauntered over to us. She is the same height as me, more or less, but not so full of figure. She had the same slightly Mediterranean colouring as her aunt, and her dark eyes flashed with spite as she continued. âYou don't seem to have much time for Leo any more. Found someone else to occupy your mind? A new boyfriend, eh?' she asked in a contemptuous tone.
I was too stunned to reply, and floundered around for a rejoinder, while Vivian took the opportunity to attack.
âYou think you are so clever, don't you?' she sneered. âWith your pretty face and that innocent smile. I know what you want. You think you can have Leo's money all to yourself now. Well, maybe you have it now, but don't think you are going to move another man into my brother's house while he still breathes. You, with your big tits, and your long legs. You tried to kill him with your body, you fucking slut.'
I was bewildered by the ferocity of her attack, and I could barely control my eyes, which wanted to fill up with tears, I tried to swallow the lump in my throat, and for a moment I thought the muscles would fail me, and my throat would close forever. The lump would not go, and I could not speak, so I turned away from them and walked, on shaky legs, to the car that Leo had given me as an engagement present. I fumbled blindly for the keys, and eventually got the car door open enough to clamber in. They were still jeering when I gunned the engine to life and, as I revved the engine to drown the hateful sound of their voices, for one hot moment I thought about driving into the three of them. Shoving the lever into first gear, I released the clutch, and the car spun over the gravel, away from the figures in the rear-view mirror. I kept looking to assure myself that they were really behind me and getting further away; then I began to calm down and forced myself to think. I couldn't go home to my parents. They would have taken me back, but I wasn't ready to admit that I needed them, so I went to the only person I could think of who was near.
For that convenient reason, I knocked on the door of Anne's dress shop, and stood in misery outside until she came to the door.
âJessie! What on earth is wrong?' she said in concern, and the note of tenderness in her voice set me bawling. She pulled me in and locked the door, then sat me down.
âI'll make us a cup of tea, and you can tell me all about it, love,' she said, in a motherly way. It seemed entirely natural from her, even though she was no more than five or six years older than myself. We talked for hours over several cups of strong tea, then, when I had told her the full story without going into specifics about the disastrous wedding night, she brought out a bottle of brandy, and proceeded to plumb me for the gory details. She expressed astonishment at my naivete, and amazement at the crudeness of Leo's lovemaking technique.
âIf I was a man,' she said, âand had a wife as lovely as you, I'd want to take my time with her.'
I looked at her through a tipsy squint. âThat's a strange thing for a woman to say,' I suggested, and she smiled.
âNot if that woman is a lesbian, Jessie,' she said, and poured more brandy into my cup.
All at once, a lot of things fell into place.
In the short time I worked for her, I had never heard Anne mention men once, and she always remarked on how pretty such a model was, and what a nice figure another had. In fact, I could see with the benefit of hindsight that a lot of her questions to me in the course of our working day together had been leading questions designed to work out my orientation in that area. Still, she had been quite open to me, and I accepted her statement in the same spirit.
âI never guessed,' I said, and hurried to reassure her. âI mean, I don't mind. Sorry. What I meant to say was, it's not a problem to me.'
âI'm glad,' she said, âNow, don't think I'm going to pounce on you, Jessie. I know you areÂ .Â .Â . normal.' Then she laughed, and her head went back, exposing her sinewy throat. She believed she meant it, but I think, deep in her soul, she had already decided to seduce me.
âDo you want to stay here tonight?' she asked. âThere's a spare room upstairs. We can work out a plan of action in the morning.'
I hesitated, then nodded my head.
She smiled at me, and I suddenly thought how blue her eyes were.
âI promise not to proposition you,' she said, and laughed again. âCome on, I'll show you where it is.' She stood up, and I mimicked her action, though I swayed a little. I had never been able to hold spirits. I followed her up the narrow staircase to the upper floor, noting the decoration as I went. She had a taste for regency colour painted on to plastered walls, and bare floorboards, so the sound of our shoes echoed up from the naked wood.
She was wearing loose-fitting trousers of a thin, black material that drew tight across her hips when she lifted her legs to climb. I couldn't see any knickerline, and my mind kept asking, âIs she wearing any?' I shoved the thought away with a flash of panic, and concentrated on her feet. The pink of her heels showed over the backs of her slip-on mules, and I noticed how smooth they were. Like a baby's. She opened a door on the landing and twisted aside to allow me to pass. Our tummies briefly rubbed, and I jerked away from her, bumping my hip on the doorjamb.
âSorry,' I said, and she stepped in after me.
âDon't be nervous, Jessie. I won't bite you, honest,' she murmured. She paused at the door, and I waited anxiously for her to do something. She walked over to me and put her hands on my shoulders. For a moment I thought she was going to kiss me, and I knew, in that instant, that I would let her. Instead, she reached up with one hand, and lightly brushed my cheek.
âPoor, beautiful Jessica,' she whispered, then let go of me, and returned to the doorway. She turned back to me once, said, âI'll see you in the morning,' and shut the door behind her.
I undressed by the light of the bedroom lamp and, for the first time in my life, I decided to go to bed completely naked. When I had dropped the last garment on to the heap on the bedside table, I stood before the dressing table and stared at myself for ages, mostly at the dark triangle between my thighs. Nervously, my fingers fluttered to the crisp curls, and toyed with them. She had called me beautiful and, because she was a woman, I believed her.
It was such a strange feeling: to slip bare skin against crisp cotton sheets, and feel cool air slip between my legs as I lay down. I pushed my arms out, in a half-drunk yawn, and stretched the muscles in my back and legs. I was tempted to touch myself in the way I had by the mirror, but I knew that once I had started, I would not stop at that. I would do something naughty. Something dirty.
I clasped the sheets around my neck and drifted into my dreams.
Such strange dreams. They had started the night after my wedding night, and kept on coming, night after long night, until I thought I was going insane. I look forward to them now, but I was still innocent then, and didn't know them for what they were. Those early dreams were very similar to the ones I still have now, and all of them start in the same way. They take this form:
I slowly become aware that I am sitting in a room full of people. Then I recognise it as my old school, and the class I had spent my final year in. A teacher I really disliked, a Mr Webb, is striding around at the front of the class, explaining in a droning voice about logarithmic tables or some other unfathomable thing. I am not listening to him at the start, because I am being naughty.
I am always wearing a short, grey pleated skirt, which barely covers the upper curve of my smooth thighs. A crisp short-sleeved blouse covers my upper body, and I wear no bra. The bare hollows on the inside of my knees rub together, whispering like sheets of rice-paper, and I hook my ankles together under the desk to stop my legs moving. Everyone in the class is entranced by whatever nonsense it is that old âWebby' is wittering on about. It is always summer, and the skirt makes the backs of my thighs feel sweaty. I look around to check if anyone is watching, then quickly flip the back of my skirt out from under me. The skin of my bottom connects with the cool wood of the seat, and I sigh with pleasure at the feel of my cheeks against the smoothness. Slowly, I begin to rub myself against the hard surface of the seat by tiny grin dings of my hips. I rock my pelvis imperceptibly back and forth, trying to put pressure on my clitoris by tilting my upper body forwards, and leaning on my elbows. Gradually I part my ankles, and slide them back, until I can hook them around the back legs of the chair. My cheeks open under the covering of my skirt, and the first dampness of arousal makes my knickers rub more delightfully, between the chair, and the plump lips of my sex.
I look up, and meet the hot, angry eyes of Mr Webb with mine.
âJessica Farnham,' he shouts aloud, so that all the class can hear, âI can see your knickers, you naughty girl.'
All at once, there is a shocked silence, and I become aware of how obvious it is and what I have been doing. My skirt is risen up at the back, and the broad swell of my cheeks is on full display. My nipples point like chocolate buttons through the white mesh of my cotton blouse, and my tanned calves strain against the chair's legs. My face is flushed with a horrible embarrassment.
âCome up here, now!' Webb cries, and I, disentangling myself from the chair, rise on heavy legs, and walk slowly to the front of the class. In my dreams I never pull the skirt down to cover my cheeks, and they roll lazily, as I walk the rows of desks to the front of the class. There is whispering, and low, lewd comments about my bottom from the boys, and the girls chant, âSlut! Slut!' in mean, shrill voices.
I stand before the hateful man, and he stares at me, as if looking for some reason for my behaviour in the look I return him. As if what I am feeling is written on my face.
Then he reaches a hand out, and pushes it between my thighs. His fingers rub quickly at the damp mound, and he draws his hand back in horror, as if stung.
And then he hisses, âYour knickers are wet, Jessica. Class, Jessica has been very naughty. Come up here and see.'