They gather slowly in a semicircle around me, while I stand with the smooth backs of my legs showing high up, near to the crease where my cheeks start. He tells me to show them, and I attempt to draw my skirt up at the front.
âNo, no, girl.' He snaps out the order and, stepping to the side of me, pushes me face down over his desk, by the pressure of his hand in my hair. My flushed cheek connects with the cool, gnarled wood of the desk, and I smell the sun of a dozen summers trapped in the polished, yellow varnish. I do not struggle against the pressure of his arm in the space between my shoulder blades, being content to lay the slim wedge of one hand between my ear, and the unyielding desktop. I settle the bones of my hips more comfortably against the edge of the desk, and press the soft pad of my free hand's thumb against my open lips in a tickling exploration of their dry contours. Dimly, I hear the sound of people shuffling in, crowding in, behind me. I can see in my mind's eye what they can see. A dark-haired girl, sprawled carelessly over the shiny, golden wood. Her skirt upturned to show the creamy flesh of her thighs.
Even in the dream, I feel the moment when I cease to care, and surrender once again, to the horrible, insistent throbbing in my loins. My skirt is hoisted high over my back, and I feel the warm back of someone's hand brush my hip.
âLook at the slut. Look at her,' cries Mr Webb in a hoarse, disbelieving tone. âShe doesn't care, class. Feel her knickers. They are wet; feel them.'
The first tentative fingers tremble over my cheeks, and fumble like butterflies' wings at the material covering my slit. I feel a more confident grip in the hands that rudely dig into my inner cheeks and spread them roughly wide.
âLook, she doesn't mind. She is a slut. A dirty, knicker-wetting slut,' comes Webb's familiar hateful rasp.
The class, exonerated, freed by his permission, crowd in to obey, and I feel their eager fingers tweaking at my cleft. Gasps of excited disgust as they feel the moistness gathered at my secret places, and hard fingers rubbing carelessly around my tightly knickered mound. A hand insists itself under me, and cruelly squeezes the firm swell of one full breast. The class grow more abandoned, and their fingers boldly press the fabric of my panties further into my moist sex. I feel my cheeks spread further, and the first stirrings of alarm make my heart speed up. They are lost in angry lust, and I feel the first rude digit rub around the cloth-covered opening of my bottom. I want to protest, but no one is listening. The feeling scares me, and I try to draw my cheeks in, to escape the rude probing.
Just as my panties are being pulled aside, I drift, upwards, away from myself, and the coarse comments of the class. Then I drift back down again, after how long, I do not know, and I am back at the start, with the heat in my slit making me mad with its hot, whispering lewdness.
âI've been having the strangest dream,' I told Anne over coffee the next morning. âI had it again last night. It just keeps repeating. The same events, over and over.'
We were both sitting, dressed in T-shirts and knickers, around the granite top of her breakfast bar. I still felt a bit awkward intruding on her time and her home, when all she had been to me before that point was a sympathetic employer. She appeared to be in an extremely jolly mood, as she teased the details of my dream from me.
âAre you sure you didn't fancy this Mr Webb?' she asked with a grin.
âOf course not,' I protested in an indignant tone. âHe was totally disgusting. A real weasel to me all the time I was there, even though I was one of the best-behaved girls in the school.'
âProbably fancied you, and that was his way of dealing with it,' she mused, while picking idly at the stone worktop with one short, immaculately painted fingernail. âI know a lot of them do that.'
âOh, I can't believe that there are many men who hide desires like that, while they pretend to be something else entirely. No one is that devious.'
âLike Leo?' she retorted, and I had to concede the point. He had concealed his true self.
âEven you do it,' she continued. âThat's what your dream is all about. Your unconscious mind is telling you something, in dreams, that you in your waking life are unwilling to accept.'
âAnd what is that?' I asked, in a slightly peevish tone. I had the uncomfortable feeling that she was on the right track.
âYou aren't prepared to accept that part of you might have wanted to do the things that Leo was going to force you to do. You are afraid that you might enjoy that sort of thing.'
I was going to deny it, but it suddenly seemed a bit pointless in the face of her kindness and honesty. Slowly, hesitantly, I admitted to her what I had previously had trouble admitting to myself.
âYou are partly right,' I told her. âThose dreams I had last nightÂ .Â .Â . wellÂ .Â .Â . they made me want to, to touch myself.' I blundered on. âEven when I got to the part where I thought they were going to do something terrible to me. Something â' I hesitated, then continued ââ something dirty. I didn't want the dream to stop. But it did, and I couldn't get past that part, even when I wanted them to doÂ .Â .Â . it.' I struggled on the last word.
âYou are a virgin, aren't you?' asked Anne in a sympathetic voice, and again I felt anger rising, and quelled it with an effort.
âIs there something wrong with that?' I asked defensively, and she smiled in a kind way, and reached over for my hand.
âNo, not at all, Jessica,' she said, âas long as that is the way you want to be.'
I surprised myself by starting to cry, and with a kind of wild despair I wailed, âI thought it was, but now I know how stupid and naive I have been; it all seems so pointless.' I tried to explain, because I saw, through the mist of tears, how bewildered Anne was looking.
âThe fairy tale wedding, don't you see?' I told her. âIt's just a silly dream. I'm married to a perverted old cripple, who can't even do the things a normal husband is supposed to do. If I leave him, his bitches of relatives will have got exactly what they want, and I will have to return to my parents. Don't you understand? I am trapped by myself, and circumstances, in a nightmare. My life if I live with Leo will be a prison, and if I go home, I will be stuck as the same silly girl I was before, but this time I will know what a lie all those notions of my mother's are.'
Anne was a little stunned by my outburst, but she had the good sense to let me cry myself out for a bit before she attempted to talk. When I was calm, she began to speak.
âYou are not the only person in the world who hides from things, you know? When I was a schoolgirl, I used to hide my true feelings from myself, just as you have done. I had a terrible crush on one of my teachers: only in my case, the teacher was a woman.'
I looked up, and she gave my hand a squeeze before continuing, âHer name was Miss Rackham. Elizabeth was her first name, but we never called her that. It wasn't allowed. She taught English literature. Poetry, and classics mostly, but occasionally she would read passages to us from other more modern books. She would encourage us to try out books other than the ones that were on the syllabus, and I remember her especially reading out an extract from a book about lesbians. I didn't know at the time that it was about that, but I had told her how much I liked it, and she encouraged me by lending me the book.'
Anne looked at me strangely for a moment before continuing and, when she did, her eyes could not meet mine, being drawn to the ceiling, and the pastel walls of her kitchen.
âWhen I realised halfway through the book what it was about, it set me thinking that she had given it to me through more than just a teacher's normal interest in a pupil, for I knew she might get in trouble if I told my parents what she had given me. From then on, things changed for me. Instead of denying how I felt about her, I used to fantasise that we were lovers, and that she would be secretly thinking about kissing me when she spoke to me. I didn't know then what lesbians do in bed, but I had picked up enough from the book to have an idea, and it excited me to think about me and Elizabeth. I loved to say her name to myself; you know what it's like. I had all sorts of daydreams about me and her. Like her and me together in my bed, or being alone in secluded places, talking and kissing.'
She stopped, and looked at me again, but smiling a little ruefully at the folly of her teenage yearnings.
âEver feel like that about anyone?' she asked, and I was embarrassed when I let out how I had felt about Leo.
âIt was different for me,' she continued. âI never quite found the guts to tell her how I felt about her until almost the last day of my last term. I was seventeen, and totally in love with her. I knew I had to tell her how I felt before I left. I told myself that once we were no longer teacher and pupil, it would be all right, and that it was that relationship that had held her back from telling me how she felt. It's funny how the mind plays tricks when you are in love for the first time, isn't it?'
I wasn't even sure that Anne was addressing me, because she was staring off into space, as if seeing another time, but I nodded, and murmured a soft agreement, until she continued speaking again.
âI knew that on Wednesday and Friday evenings, she used the gym to practise aerobics, and that she didn't like to be disturbed. Though I felt sure that was only a rule for other girls, and that she wouldn't mind if I came. Especially when she heard what it was I had to tell her. So that was how the oddest evening of my younger life started.'
She turned to me again, and stared intently into my eyes. I remember thinking how attractive she was. How serious, and intense. She spoke, in a low, throaty whisper, and explained, âWhat I am going to tell you now, I have never told anyone else, ever. I dream about it all the time, just like that dream of yours. Do you understand?'
My voice caught as I answered her, and I knew I was beginning to be affected by the intimacy of our posture, and the things we were discussing.
She began to tell her story.
âWhen school finished that last Wednesday before we broke up for summer, I hung around in a cafÃ© by the school after home-time, and went back when I thought she would have changed and begun her routine.
âI wanted to see her in her gym clothes, I think. I wanted to see what her body was like. I knew she was slim, because she used to wear tight navy skirts and neat white blouses, but I wanted to see her in something that showed her thighs and breasts more clearly. She was quite muscular, in that way that tennis players are. You could tell that by the way she moved, but I wanted to see her in something more revealing. Her hair was cut in the sort of flicked-back bob that was common then, and her skin was a perfectly flawless, golden type. You know, like a Californian surfer type?'
I nodded, and she continued.
âI was a little bit unsure about myself,' she said, âas far as my personality went, but I knew she would like my body, and I was sure I would like hers. I had convinced myself she was a lesbian, all because of some silly book.
When I got to the door of the gym, I hesitated, to pluck up courage, and then I pushed the door open, and stepped in. She wasn't there, but I could see her bag by the wall-bars, and I knew she was around somewhere, so I looked for her. There were only two rooms connected to the gym: one to the store room and one to the changing rooms. There were no boys at the school, but we had a male changing room leading off down a corridor from the female one. We used to keep all the big gym equipment in it, like the vaulting horse, and the rubber mats, so I didn't think I would find her there. The store was locked when I tried it, and that made me sure that she was still changing. I felt a shiver of excitement at the thought that she might be naked in there, on her own, so I walked as quietly as I could to the door, and opened it quickly, hoping to surprise her. I slipped around the rows of cubicles, but there was no one there.'
She stopped, and I could see we were coming to something difficult for her to tell me. It was my turn to encourage Anne, and I rubbed the back of the hand I held, in a way that a lover would. The truth is, I was getting a bit turned on by the things she was telling me, and I wanted her to know it.
âGo on, Anne,' I said. âIt's all right. You can tell me.'
She cleared her throat and smiled at me, in a way that let me know she understood what the story was doing to me, before she said, âIf I had left then, things might have been different, but I didn't because I could smell her scent in the air of the tiled room. It wasn't very light in there, as only one row of fluorescents had been switched on, and I was content to just stand in the dimness and smell her perfume. I was hopelessly infatuated with her. I had stood there for perhaps five minutes when I became aware of noises coming from the other room, and my heart gave a jump of joy, for I immediately thought that she was in there, moving the equipment around for some reason. I was imagining myself surprising her, and offering to help, so I crept up to the door, which was slightly ajar, and pushed it open, really quietly. The room was lit up, more brightly than the hall that joined it to the other changing room, and it took my eyes a second to adjust.
âFirst I saw the jumble of green mats that spilled away from the walls, and the vaulting horse that someone had stood in the centre of them. Then I saw the two people moving around by the end of the horse nearest to me, and all the breath went out of me.
âThey were too involved in what they were doing to notice me, and I had the chance to step back further into the hallway even before I could see clearly what they were up to.
âMiss Rackham was on her knees on the mats, with her bottom sticking up and pointing towards me. One of her hands was gripping a leg of the vaulting horse; the other one I couldn't see. She was completely naked from the waist up and, though I couldn't see her breasts, my mind was stunned by the sight of her, like that.' She paused, to see if what she had said was affecting me, and then continued, while looking deep into my eyes.