Three: Emma's Tactful Trysting

Being a patient girl by nature and a disciplined one by practice, Emma Nelson was able to keep her mind occupied that night by participating in a variety of intellectual and socially empowering activities. She spent the first portion of the evening soaking in a bubble bath re-reading Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women. Then, her skin pruny and cold, and having read the book cover to cover, she emerged from the bathroom and commenced to watching taped episodes of the Lifetime channel's Intimate Portrait.

But even the strongest women sometimes falter. Sometimes even the mightiest Amazonian warrior stumbles and drops her spear. And by the time the end credits rolled on the sixth episode of the night (which had chronicled the more noteworthy events in the life of Madeleine Albright), Emma could stand it no longer. Dustin's face had resurfaced like a big, attractive floatie with great hair in the midst of a turbulent sea and refused to go away.

Still, being the strong, independent women she knew she was, Emma tried to keep the vision at bay. First she utilized a series of deep breathing techniques. By placing a hand on the diaphragm and another on the throat, the practitioner then merely had to count to ten to suppress even the most intense anxiety moments. And she was experiencing anxiety, oh yes oh yes. The very suggestion of Dustin's name inside her head had sent her body a'tinglin' like nothing else this side of a female Supreme Court Justice.

One.

Deep breaths.

Two.

Long breaths.

Three.

Hard breaths.

Four.

Pulsating breaths.

She never made it to five. Coming to life on the fifth exhale, she awoke with a start to find the top of her jeans unbuttoned and the hand that was supposed to be on her diaphragm far south of its intended position. The other, which had been keeping track of her pulse, had also wondered askew and was now massaging her chest as if in preparation for a breast exam.

Finding no help for it, she simply relaxed and allowed herself to finish what her hands had started. She did this without any hint of modesty and did not even bother to close her bedroom door. This being a Thursday, the house was empty (Thursdays, 8:00 pm – 3:00 am, were her mother's shift at the Satin Slipper, and Snake, her new husband, chose those evenings to met with his mistress; there was supposed to be a baby in the house, but as he hadn't made an appearance in days, the family merely assumed he had either crawled into an air shaft somewhere or had been kidnapped – no big loss either way) but even if it hadn't been, Emma wouldn't have bothered with such a thing as the closing of a door. Self-stimulation was perfectly normal, perfectly healthy, and it was Emma's opinion that if people were more open about it, there would be a lot less war in the world.

Her jeans slumped into a pile by her feet, Emma chided herself for not waiting and getting Mr. Humphries. Mr. Humphries was her mother's pet name for her vibrator, which she euphemistically referred to as her "electric red-hot robo-lover of doom." She kept it in the bathroom hamper, easily accessible in case her bald-headed buffoon of a husband couldn't get the job done.

Emma smiled. She and her mom had a pretty special relationship. How many other mothers would've been open enough to discuss such things as vibrators with their daughters? And how many other moms would've gone that extra step and actually demonstrated?

Yep. Pretty special.

Emma frowned.

The normal stuff wasn't working. Dustin's face still lingered – chiseled, lovely, and just out of reach.

Time to call in the big guns.

Without bothering to step into her pants, Emma bypassed Mr. Humphries and went about another option – one that involved peanut butter and the family dog. It took about ten minutes, and when it was over she gave the pooch a treat and resigned herself to the fact that nothing was going to work. Nothing except doing the deed with the boy in question.

What time was it?

A quick look at her bedside clock revealed it to be 2:12 am. Manny had said she was going to invite Dustin over to her place tonight. To "study". And if her word was to be believed, he had actually accepted her invitation.

Was he still there now?

Surely not. Manny was an expert in the sexual arena, but even she couldn't make it last eight hours. Could she?

Surely not.

So, then, it was settled. Emma would go on over to Manny's and they would discuss how the study session went. And oh, Emma wanted to know it all. Size, weight, texture – she needed all the details if she was ever going to get some sleep this night. And Manny, being the kiss and tell type, would only be too happy to spill everything.

Manny. Emma liked her, liked her a lot, but when it got right down to it, the girl was a vapid, moronic slut-bag incapable of assessing her own self worth beyond the realm of the sexual.

All the same though, she needed to know. If she couldn't bang the boy herself, she at least needed to know what sex with Dustin had been like so that she could picture it for herself. Perhaps then her fingers could work magic.

Her mind set, Emma left her room, skipped down the stairs, and made her way to the front door of her house. She had just opened it and was in the process of locking it back behind her when she realized she had left her pants in her room and was about to step out onto the street wearing nothing but a pair of boyshorts and a "Save the Wetlands" tee.

Oops, she thought, locking the door and closing it. Better luck next time.

A funny thought occurred to her as she made her way toward the Santos abode: suppose ol' pez sprockets was good for a few extra innings and she just happened to walk in on the two of them in the middle of it. Wouldn't that be embarrassing?

Why yes. Yes, it would be. And with any luck, she'd be invited in on the action.

The Santos house loomed ahead, as dark and silent as the three o'clock street itself. Even the trees were asleep, their foliage rustling above Emma like a noisy shroud.

As she moved closer, she noticed the lack of any sort of vehicle in the driveway. She guessed Dustin might've walked here, and not knowing the location of his house, she thought it at least probable but didn't want to get her hopes up lest she be bitterly disappointed.

Well, she'd soon find out. Having rung the doorbell, Emma waited patiently on the doorstep, savoring the brisk early morning air. It felt fresh against her skin, clean and clear, like the touch of a gentle lover.

Mmmm. Oooooh. It was starting again. Welling up inside her – that deep, womanly longing, satisfiable only by the intervention of a sensitive man or a vibrator the size of the Washington Monument.

Emma rang again, her finger a rigid ramrod pressing against a circle of plastic the size of a coin. From somewhere inside the house came the sound of hurried footsteps. A light was flicked on. The glass rectangular cut-outs in the door beamed yellow.

Too late, she wheezed. Mmmm. Oooooh. I'm going to DO myself right here on the doorstep. I'm gonna DO me 'till I just can't DO me any longer!

And that was when the front door flew open with such force it sent a tornado-like current of air blasting across Emma's face. Her blonde hair flew backward over her shoulders and her blue eyes squinted against the sudden sting. She gasped in both surprise and climax, and felt her body twitch in tandem.

"What IS it?"

Emma blinked. Manny was standing there, one hand on the doorknob, one hand against the doorframe. Her eyes were wild and red, the eyes of a rabid beast, and her hair was a tangled nest of black yarn. Draped across her perfect, newly legal frame was a raggedy cheer squad practice tee – not exactly the sort of thing one would wear during a seduction attempt.

"Manny, what's wrong?"

Eyes blaring, teeth exposed in a vicious enamel snarl, Manny crossed her hands defiantly across her ample chest. "What's wrong is I was trying to get some sleep!"

Emma popped a hip to the side. "Oh? With Dustin? Hmmmm?"

Manny's face grew tighter. Minute wrinkles appeared and spread across her normally Botox-smooth forehead. "You know what? That's really none of your business. Now if you'll excuse me-"

And with those seemingly final words, Manny sent her front door crashing forward with a flick of the wrist.

Stepping forward, Emma caught it as it slammed shut and invited herself in – and braced herself against the smell she found inside. It was faint, little more than a rosy whisper, but she immediately classified it as belonging to him. This was his scent. Dustin's scent. The unmistakable smell of unsatisfied sexual longing. Virginity. He'd been here. The question was: was he still?

Before investigating, Emma took time to savor the aroma. Eyes closed, she drew it through her nostrils in deep lungfuls. Lilac petals. Warm baked vanilla. Crisp cotton. Now this was virginity in all its splendor. The smell of it soothed her beyond imagining. It was dreamy, relaxing, and the more she took in, the more she wanted. Absently she wondered how it would feel having its very essence injected directly into her body. That was a foolish thing to ponder, of course. Manny had, in all probability, already deflowered Dustin. In all likelihood, she had decapitated the boy in the act and was now keeping his severed head as a token of her ultimate conquest.

A wave of hatred washed over her. It wasn't fair. Manny got all the guys. Got them all and got them first. Emma's entire history with her was one of coming in second place. Craig, Spinner, Peter, Jay, Sean, Jimmy, Toby, J.T., Rick, Chris, Damien, Sav, Danny, Floyd, Joe, Bob, Don, Dave, Kevin, Hunter, Jacob, Douglas, Richard, Wally, Harry, Norman, Roger, Lucas, Josh D., Josh M., Josh H., Jordan, Spencer, Travis, Drew, Stephen, Principal Raditch – these, and an assortment of others, had, at one time or another, been objects of Emma's intrigue but were now footnotes in the grand biography that was Manny Santos' sex life. And now Dustin. Where was she ever going to find another virgin to experiment with? Certainly not at Degrassi.

Curse that Manny. Curse her busty body and her skimpy wardrobe and the way she played dumb to lure men into bed. That was it, of course. Most men were intimidated by a woman with brains, and Emma had cerebrum in droves. They responded more readily to overt displays of eroticism, thus explaining why Manny got more than she did. Thinking of it in those terms made it a little better, but with the magic of Dustin's virginity spent, Emma honestly did not know if it would be worth it anymore.

"Emma?"

Well, he was still hot. Not just hot, but hawt as other, less intelligent women often said. That might count for something.

"Emma?"

Yeah. Maybe it might work after all. Maybe there was some leftover residue of virgin left on him. One last squirt of –

"Emma!"

The girl in question blinked. "Hmm?"

"Mind telling me what you're doing here?"

"I was just in the neighborhood."

"Where's your pants?"

Shrugging, Emma waltzed over toward the sofa and took a seat. "I must have left them behind." She fluffed a pillow. "So? How was it? I want details and I want them now."

But instead of gracing the question with a reply, Manny Santos pivoted on her heel and fled upstairs, face in hands. A second later, a door slammed shut, sounding like cannon fire. Then silence. No squeals, no shouts of ecstasy, nothing.

Back on the sofa, a smile was forming. Such a quick exit could only mean one thing – that for the first time in a long time (perhaps ever), Manny had come up sort. She had been denied and refused. She had, in sum and total, failed to score a hit. Which begged a new series of questions. Yet to pursue the topic further would be uncouth and would doubtless cause Manny to have to endure a great deal of embarrassment. And hadn't the poor dear suffered enough humiliation tonight?

Emma was upstairs in a flash.

Compared to the rest of the house, Manny's room was a study in chaos. Clothes littered every square inch of floor space and were piled atop every available surface. Hanging from the ceiling fan was a tasseled and sequined brassier, and caught up in the television's rabbit ears were the matching pair of panties. Candles, a Manny Santos staple of seduction, ran along the length of the bed's headboard. Most of these had long since melted into the wood itself with dripping stands of thick wax. The only space clear of clutter was the bookshelf by the door, which was kept pristine and neatly ordered with a virtual encyclopedia Britannica of spiral-bound notebooks. Contained within each were names, dates, and ratings based on a five star system – all chronicling the sex worth mentioning.

"You didn't even get a kiss?" Emma asked, her voice a careful reflection of disbelief.

A sharp glance from Manny answered the question.

How marvelously delicious this all was! And oh, she really shouldn't continue, but how she wanted to see Manny squirm. How she wanted to see her break.

"Honey, I know this has to be humiliating for you, so if you want to talk-"

Manny whirled around. "You know what? I don't even care. Really. Dustin's a jerk and he's not even all that hot. I don't care what he does or with who or whatever. He's a jerk."

Mmm-hmm. Now she was trying to backpedal.

Fighting to keep her face a mask of sympathy, Emma stepped forward and gently wrapped an arm around her friend's shoulders. "Come on, Manny, let's be serious here. A day ago, he was Adonis in a pair of Sketchers."

The other girl squirmed out of the embrace in a sudden thrashing of limbs. "I told you, I don't care! He can go to hell, for all I care! He-" Now came a sob. A runner of snot wriggled its way from her nose. "He ran out on me, Emma. I've never had that happen before. It's just … I feel so … so…"

"Cheap? Abused? Shamed beyond all measure?"

Manny sighed and gestured with her chin to the bookshelf and its rows of notebooks. "I even got a new one just for him. Narrow-ruled, 350 sheets. We could've filled every page."

Okay, the self-loathing was getting old, fast.

"Well, what did you expect?" Emma snapped. "You went about it all wrong. Virgins are like little baby birds. You've got to be patient and gentle. You've got to offer the seed but not force it. You can't just throw them on the couch and order them to unzip. That's way too much too fast."

"You seem to know an awful lot about this."

Emma nodded and plopped down on the bed amid the discarded fashions. Mattress springs yelped. "Takes one to know one, I suppose."

Up went an eyebrow.

"What do you mean?" Manny inquired.

"Nothing. Just that it takes a virgin to know and understand another of its kind."

Manny's hands attached themselves to her hips. "You're a virgin?"

"Well, yes."

"Since when?"

"Since always."

Up went the other eyebrow.

"Uh-huh. Somebody doesn't remember the great gonorrhea outbreak of '05."

"Oral sex isn't sex," Emma protested primly, crossing her arms.

"Oral sex isn't sex?"

There was laughter underlying the question and Emma hated the sound of it. Manny, Manny, Manny – expert on love and war and everything else! Who was she to take this condescending tone? Dumb little floozy. Tart. Hussey. Wench. A plague on both your houses.

"What I can't understand is how he managed to resist my Mexican charm," Manny pondered aloud. She had turned her back on Emma and was now studying her reflection in the mirror which hung from the closet door.

Emma rolled her eyes. "Manny, you're Filipino."

"Whatever! Point is, I'm a minority!" Suddenly her brown eyes went hopeful. "Do you think we could bust Dustin on a racism charge? Like, take him to court or something?"

Emma shrugged. Now that she knew Dustin was nowhere on the premises, she was beginning to fell antsy – and hopeful as well. He was still out there, fully intact and inexperienced, and she had a chance. She had a chance with him.

"I'm going to the opium den," Manny said suddenly, grabbing her car keys - from which dangled the local abortion clinic's "members plus" discount card. "Want anything?"

As a matter of fact, Emma did. But the thing she desired most could not be obtained until tomorrow – if, that was, it could be obtained at all. But hey, she was willing to try. It was what separated the women from the girls.

As luck would have it, she ran into him the following day. The rendezvous was completely happenstance, totally unscripted and thus having the potential to turn into a major disaster. Yet when Emma observed him coming out of the library then, she decided to wing it. Carpe deium and all that jazz. After all, when the goddesses dropped these types of opportunities on your lap, it was more or less your obligation to act upon them. And besides, who could have resisted?

The fragrance was so strong, the air so sweet, and the boy in question looked so fetching! Did he have any idea how enticing he was, standing there with his head bent down into his book, his sandy hair obscuring those gorgeous greens of his? Was he trying to drive her crazy with his look of casual sheikness – a plain orange tee paired with faded Levis? Oh, oh, oh! With that standing in her path, how could she look away?

With the force of a lioness pouncing upon a fresh carcass, so too did Emma pounce upon Dustin.

"Hi, Dustin!" she called, sprinting over to him as fast as her Spanx would allow – it was crucial that she close the distance between them and negate the possibility of a getaway. "Long time no see!"

Down went the book. Up went the eyes. Shades of dazzling emerald reflected in sunbursts.

"Oh. Hi, Emma. How's it hanging?"

That's what I'd like to find out, were the words that first came to mind, but rather than play it hard and fast and risk scaring away the prey, she decided to follow her own advice and take things slow. She tapped the book in his hands with one manicured nail. "What 'cha reading?"

He turned its cover toward her. "Macbeth. We're gonna put it on in two weeks." He smiled and hunched his broad shoulders in a self-effacing gesture. "My theater class, I mean."

Planting her feet, Emma snatched the book and fanned through its pages. "Pretty intense dialogue. You like Shakespeare?"

He nodded. "Yeah. He's cool, he's cool."

"So do I. I adore classic literature. And you'll be cast in the lead, no doubt."

That assumption brought a laugh from Dustin's corner. "Nah, I'm strictly a backstage kind of guy. Raising and lowering the curtain – that's me."

Emma returned the book. Their fingers met as it exchanged hands. Dustin's were large, yet oddly delicate, digits prone more toward painting than athletics.

"You know, Dustin, I used to be in theater myself. Would you like to come over to my house sometime and rehearse? My talents were strictly backstage material as well."

There. The bait had hit the water.

"Gee, I dunno." Dustin lowered his gaze and shifted his weight. Behind him, somebody knocked on the library doors and he moved sideways to allow them an exit. He seemed to take relief in the action, and Emma sensed she was in danger of losing her quarry.

"Or I could come to your house. Whatever's easier,"

Again, Dustin squirmed.

Here, Emma took a step forward. With nun-like sympathy she reached and took hold of his shoulder. The flesh beneath was hard and toned. "I know what happened between you and Manny last night."

Dustin blinked. Surprise was such a becoming expression on him. It softened his otherwise chiseled features considerably. "You do?"

"I do. And I want to apologize. I was disgusted when I found out what she'd planned, though I can't say I was exactly surprised. Girl's a slut."

The shoulder beneath her hand sagged. "Aw, come on. That's kinda harsh. She's a nice girl, maybe a little intense, but nice. I only hope I didn't hurt her feelings or anything. I … left in hurry." His voice brightened. "Maybe I should take her out for a pizza or something as an apology."

Emma's teeth clenched in fury. "Yeah. Maybe. But I just want to extend my most sincere apologies once again. It must be hard enough being the new kid without being hit on by the school whore."

A sigh. "Emma…"

She raised her eyes to his, which looked sad somehow. "Oh, I'm sorry. That wasn't an accurate description, was it? Whores charge for their services; Manny'll do it for free."

"Emma."

"Okay, I'm sorry. Really. About everything. But I would like to get together tonight. I shall reveal to you how to properly light a stage. Let's say … your house at seven?"

A strong squeeze from her hand told him he had no other option.

But for a moment or two, there was silence. Then, not looking entirely happy about it, Justin reached his hand into his jeans' pocket and withdrew a slip of paper.

"Let me write down the address."

Game, set, and match.

Six hours later, Emma found herself standing upon the brink of a yawning precipice. Having utilized those traits which were so uniquely feminine, she had managed to match address to location and now stood facing the Morningale home. The house was nice, just the sort of place she had expected. Nestled away from both the highway and sidewalk in a grove of evergreens and sculpted bushes, it loomed large yet inviting in its own little circle of seclusion – a sturdy structure of the late Victorian period.

A miniature flagpole, the kind people often adorned with seasonal banners, had been stabbed into the ground beside the two-car garage and now sported a stylized "M". That, coupled with the gold numbering glistening across the wood façade, indicated that she had indeed hit upon the correct place. The numbers matched exactly those on the sheet of paper Dustin had given her, and that "M" could only mean "Morningale". Yes indeed, this was his house. And if those indicators weren't enough, the aroma wafting from the dwelling was certainly clue enough. It was thick and heavy, like the scent of a confectionary from one of those Easy Bake ovens conformist mothers usually bought for their daughters.

A nice house, it was. And the generous square of land it sat on was indicative of one more thing – that the Morningales were loaded.

Emma Morningale. Under ordinary circumstances, Emma would've never dreamed of enslaving herself in such a manner as to take the last name of her husband … but she had to admit, this time there was a certain jingle about it.

I'm here, Dustin dear, she thought as she rang the doorbell. And don't worry, Emma will play it nice. I'll be good. You'll see. I'll be gentle as dew.

A moment later, the door opened, revealing Dustin in the same clothes he'd worn to school. Emma herself had undergone a costume change of sorts, and now sported a pair of dark leggings matched with a sexy little purple top over a lacy cami. Display the goods, but don't advertise. That was her motto. A pink bow clip-on completed the virginal look.

"Hi," Dustin said, stepping aside. "Come on in."

"Thank you," Emma replied in kind, and entered inside.

The door was shut behind her.

Now I'm in, she thought crazily with manic glee. Thou hast invited me in of thouest own free will. Thou hast opened the door unto me!

"Sorry about the boxes."

Snapped back from her thoughts, Emma looked around and noted that, indeed, there were a few. Cardboard, wooden, crates and cartons – they were scattered everywhere, clogging the halls and stacked wall to wall. Bubble wrap spilled from the tops of some like disemboweled intestines.

"Hey, you're still moving in. It's to be expected." Flashing a brilliant smile graced upon her by Crest White Strips, she tickled Dustin's wrist with the tips of her fingers. A Livestrong bracelet rested there and she toyed with it flirtatiously whilst admiring the cause it stood for.

Hot, rich, and sensitive. Was there any better combination to have in a man?

"Hey, before we start with the technical theater stuff, why don't you take me on a tour?" Emma suggested.

Dustin's mouth extended into a smile. "There's really nothing much to see. Just a lot of boxes everywhere."

"I'd like to see the boxes, then," Emma countered.

Dustin shrugged. "Okay, whatever." He pointed to the right. "That there's the kitchen – nothing much in there but boxes of pots and pans. And…" He pointed to the left. "… over there's the living room. We don't even have our TV hooked up yet. I'll be glad when we get it working again. One more round of family game night, and I think I might just go crazy."

Ah, yes. His family. That was something else to consider. It just wouldn't do to have his parents walk in on them during.

"Say, where are your parents, anyway?"

"Oh, they're out buying groceries. It's just us."

Excellent.

Clearing his throat, Dustin jabbed a thumb backwards, indicating a stairway. And in so doing, the soft fabric of his shirt pulled taunt against the surface of a pectoral, against a protrusion that had to be a nipple. He was saying something, providing another entry into the stationary tour, but the specificities were lost against the raging surge of hormones presently bombarding Emma's senses. All was dark. All was lost. All except for that tight, bright orange tee and the yummy piece of compassionate man-meat it covered.

"Emma, you okay? You look sick."

Somehow she managed a nod. "Yes, I'm alright." Deep breaths. Take it easy. Take it easy.

But that chest. That body. Those other mysterious places that had yet to be discovered …

"Can I use your bathroom?"

Dustin nodded, looking more compassionate than ever. "Sure. Like I said, it's the first door to the right as you go up the stairs." He touched Emma's arm. "If you … need anything, just call, okay?"

Barely able to produce a sound of thanks, Emma shot up the stairs, taking them two at a time. Her eyes twirled madly inside her head, searching ceaselessly for something that couldn't be found. Her heart pumped jarring rhythms as she ran her hands along the wallpapered corridor at the top of the stair. Her mouth had gone dry, her appendages numb. Her loins were not just on fire, but were undergoing nuclear fission.

Now her fingers graced against something cold and hard, and Emma pushed against it with the force of a madwoman, hoping beyond hope that it was the bathroom, and uncertain what to do about it if it wasn't.

Thankfully, however, it was. One glance at the porcelain john in the corner and Emma slammed the door behind her, already tugging at the waist of her leggings, fully intending to pleasure herself into oblivion.

But a brief moment of clarity brought pause to her fingers. Suppose she went ahead and satisfied that tingle. Doing so might diminish the thrill of the later conquest. It wouldn't be the same.

Emma smiled. Here was a woman with self-control. And it pleased her to think she was above falling victim to temptation's clutches.

With that settled, she smoothed out any wrinkles that may have appeared in her wardrobe and inspected the bathroom. Everything looked spic and span. The toilet lid was down and the machine itself shined spotless. A fat supply of toilet paper bulged from the wall-mount next to it, looking soft as cotton. Two fluffy towels of pastel colors hung on a rack outside the shower stall, and one quick peep inside revealed the absence of any sort of shampoo or gel.

How did he keep his hair that shiny, then? Was it natural? Good hair was evidence of possessing good genes. Emma remembered having read that somewhere. Wikipedia, maybe.

Hmm. What else was there to do? Where else could she snoop? There was the toilet, the shower, the sink and the drawers on either side, the folding door that probably led to the dirty clothes hamper . . .

Well, goodness gracious. Duh. Here she was, in the bathroom, the most secret and forbidden of all rooms, and she had yet to investigate the one question that burned within the minds of all girls upon meeting a guy for the first time. The question that was above all questions – the question that seemed to have preceded the creation of the universe itself.

Boxers or briefs?

Laughing inwardly at her short-lived lapse of intelligence, Emma fell hard to her knees and raked aside the accordion door.

Jackpot. Inside was a whicker basket stuffed to the brim with the past week's clothes – some of which smelled of virgin. And oh, how alluring the aroma was, how sweet and sensual and downright pure.

Unable to help herself, Emma fell forward, her muscles slack with ecstasy. Her face collided with the laundry and she pawed like an animal through it. A rich variety of textures flew beneath her fingertips – coarse polyester, rough denim, soft cotton socks…

This last piece of wash she abducted from its brethren. Balanced in her hand, it looked so small, so fragile. Like a dainty white egg ready to hatch. This was Dustin's sock. It had actually been on his foot. The only question was: was his touch as soft? Was his embrace as gentle?

Again, the itch in her womanplace flared. Again, she payed it no mind. There would be satisfaction soon enough. But oh. But oh!

"Emma?" A knock at the door. "Emma, you okay? Everything all right?"

Emma opened her mouth to reply, only to find that in her momentary slip of strength she had partially stuffed the sock into her mouth, which made speech difficult. Removing it, she found the item to be thoroughly moist and she hazily recalled having suckled on it the way a newborn babe might drink from a breast.

Practice, she thought, throwing the wet sock back into the laundry closet.

Dustin was standing just outside the bathroom door and Emma nearly crashed into him as she exited. He looked worried. "Everything all right?"

"A-okay and then some," Emma replied with a lilt in her voice. Knowing the hour was so close gave her a pep in her step that she seldom found herself sporting. She felt euphoric, brilliant, light as a feather, giddy as a little schoolgirl enjoying her first recess! And it was all because of this beautiful hunk standing there beside her.

"Now let's continue with the tour." Moving past Dustin, Emma skipped down the hall and came to a stop outside the only other door present on the second floor. "This is your room, isn't it?" She tickled the closed wood. "Open up. I'd like to take a gander."

A shrug of the shoulders, and Dustin moved past her, opening the door with a mere push of the hand. It swung open effortlessly.

Like the rest of the house, the lair of the god was more or less empty – most of its furnishings having yet to be unpacked from the rim of boxes which lined the walls. The space looked to be fairly large, but such a perception might have had something to do with the empty floor and bare walls. Yet even fully decorated, Emma quickly surmised it would be larger still than the cramped closet-sized rat hole she currently called a room.

A thorn of jealously pierced her flesh when she thought about that. Who was this family to be new in town and have it so good so quickly? Where was the justice in that? What made them so special? What had they done to earn themselves so fine a piece of pie? But as jealously was unbecoming to a confident woman, Emma immediately checked herself, stepping on the emotion just as easily as she would step on one of the cockroaches that sometimes crawled across her bedroom floor.

The room was not totally bare, however. Resting beneath the slanted ceiling, positioned between two narrow windows, sat the bed. Its sheets were in disarray and pilled in clumps near the bottom, which indicated to Emma that no matter how sensitive and charming Dustin appeared to be, he still was not a man given to making his bed every morning. The frame of it was of a nondescript style, which matched perfectly with the accompanying nightstand.

And oh! What was this? There was a book on that nightstand, placed in a position of honor next to the bed and beneath a small lamp. A thick one, too. One with golden edging along the pages and a bookmark skewered halfway through. Emma took note of this and nodded in approval. So Dustin read. So few people did nowadays. It was becoming a lost method of leisure and it pleased Emma greatly to know Dustin might prefer this to Nintendo or Playstation. What author was he reading now, though? Naomi Wolf? The Greek poetess Sappho? Or tried and true Wollstonecraft?

Moving closer to the nightstand, Emma tried to see.

Then gagged in revulsion.

The Bible. The book lying next to his bed was the Bible.

Christians. M'eh.

Well, maybe he was studying it. Reading it for a report. Yes, that had to be the explanation for its presence there on that table. Surely he didn't … believe.

Her inquiry into Dustin's reading material having proved disheartening, Emma moved to one of the windows instead. The view they offered was superb. A grand vista lay beyond the glass, framed by a rolling sheet of orange twilight, below which sat the Toronto skyline, roosting above the treetops. From this distance, the city looked as lifeless as a child's building blocks.

"Great view, huh? I could stare out that window for days."

Emma turned. Dustin had taken a seat on the edge of his bed. Beams of setting sunlight washing across his face made it appear as though his features had been refined from gold.

He slapped his knees. "So. Tell me all you know about the mysteries of the theater. I am your student. I am grasshopper."

Emma took a step forward, suddenly feeling very calm. "They'll be plenty of time for talking later," she whispered.

She could feel the heat of the fading day on her back, on her skin. She could feel its warmth sinking into her pores. Giving her courage.

She began to walk toward Dustin. She took it slow, first lifting the heel of one foot and balancing on the other before bringing it down again. Her steps were slow and painstakingly methodical – the footing of someone walking through a minefield. Her hips moved with each forward thrust. Her belly sank in and out with each breath she hardly dared take. The moment was so fragile. The blinking of an eye seemed enough to bring it to ruin.

Now within arm's reach of Dustin, Emma knelt at his knee like a pilgrim venerating some sacred relic. Again moving with the measured grace of a ballet dancer, she placed her hands atop his knees. He stiffened, but did not verbalize any discomfort. Which Emma took as his permission to continue.

Now she slid her hands upward along the insides of his thighs, gently pushing his legs into a V. The material of his jeans made a scratching sound beneath her nails. Inching ever onward, her fingers found the seam of his zipper. She fondled it briefly then moved her hand to his crotch. Then squeezed. Hard.

It was then that Dustin jerked backward. One leg flew up in a blur and struck Emma in the shoulder. The other came crashing inward, jabbing the would-be seductress in the rib area. Both were painful blows, but Emma ignored them as she had so much else this evening. She had actually touched the jewels, and by the feel of things, Dustin was sporting some pretty impressive karats.

So she tried again. She darted her hand outward once more, but her aim proved sloppy and instead of a couple of cojones, she ended up with only a handful of shirt. All the same, in the instant his shirt was jerked tight, she saw a flash of white waistband above his jeans and knew it had to be his underwear. This proved to be enough motivation for her to try again, and again she made a desperate grab.

"Whoa, whoa, WHOA! What are you doing down there?"

Emma froze. She had gotten excited and violated her one and only rule – which was to take it slow.

"I'm sorry." She lowered her hands. "Forgive me. I know how new this all is to you. But I'll be gentle. So very gentle." She raised her hands again. Placed them on his knees. Pushed them further apart. "You don't have to worry. I'll take it easy. And you know what, you won't even have to lift a finger. It'll be good. So very good. For you and me, Dustin. We're all sexual beings here."

Having regained control of herself, she began to itsy-bitsy-spider herself back to where the action was to take place.

"Hey, cut it out!"

Almost there.

"Hey, stop it!"

Only a little ways …

"Seriously, stop it!"

Ah. There it was. Tickle, tickle, tickle.

"STOP!"

Strong hands clamped around her shoulders like forceps. Panicked fingers borrowed deep into her flesh. The feeling was agony, but Emma - now desperate to touch, to see, to do whatever she could – shot forward again. This time her hands, both of them, landed square on target and she clawed like a puma at Dustin's loins.

There! The zipper! And up – up – up – the snap which first had to be undone! But there was the pushing, and the pressing fingers and the distant voice ordering her, screaming at her to stop but she could not would not. He would like it if only he gave her a chance. If only he allowed her to give him a sneak preview.

YES! The snap. But no, not a snap at all, but a button. Fiddling with it would only waste time. Break it, then! Tear it off! With teeth, if need be! Just do it! Do it! NOW!

Riiiiiip went the button as it was seared from its thread.

Flex went Dustin's arms as she threw Emma to the ground.

She landed painfully and squarely on her tailbone. Exquisite rods of white-hot agony seared through her body. Her neck flew backward as a silent scream fought for birth in her throat. Her eyes bulged. Her hands spasmed chaotically, lacerating the wooden floor of the room in a vain attempt to pry the planks from their moorings.

Later, long after her abrupt departure from the scene, Dustin would discover that his room bore the brunt of her legacy in the form of long, gray scratch marks etched deep into the wood paneling beneath and around his bed.

"Masher!" Emma screamed. Now that she had gotten her second wind, she had no intention of wasting it. "Abuser!"

Dustin only stared back, slack-jawed. One of his hands had moved to the space between his legs as if for protection. The other was raised slightly, ready for a karate chop should the girl at his feet try for a fourth time.

"I should've known!" Emma screeched. Bits of spittle flew from her mouth. "Manny warned me about you, but I didn't listen! I thought you were different, Dustin! I thought you were good!" She sniffled and hastily ran a hand across her chin to wipe away the drool that had gathered there. "BUT YOU'RE JUST LIKE ANY OTHER PIG MAN I'VE EVER RUN ACROSS!"

Dustin, still socked beyond all expression, gave no statement.

Emma's mouth stiffened. "I know what you expected. You wanted me to play the part of the dainty little housewife, isn't that right? You wanted me to beg for it, didn't you?" She stood. Her back went straight with dignity. Her eyes, proud with her own special brand of feminism, regarded Dustin with all the mercy a goddess might favor upon a cockroach.

"Well, I'm not going to beg," she informed. "I am Emma Nelson, my mother's daughter, and we don't subjugate ourselves to any man's control!"

Meaning to depart (and leave Dustin battered and broken in the process), she took a sideways step to the left – but halted upon taking another gander into Dustin's dreamy greens.

I am an Amazon, Emma reminded herself. I am woman, hear me roar. I am woman, bar the door.

But Dustin …

Strength, Emma. Don't go ruining your exit now.

But it was hopeless. With Dustin sitting there, it was hopeless – and Emma once again found herself on the floor at his feet.

"Okay, you want me to beg? I'll beg. Please! Please, I'll do anything! You want me to call you Daddy? You got it! You want me to bring you breakfast in bed? I'll do it! Just please - - for the love of mother earth - - let me at least … touch it."

And though a part of her knew it would only end in another disappointment, she reached for the final time.

"Emma, please!"

And again Dustin swatted her hand away.

A single tear rolled down Emma's cheek in a sparkling comma. She rose, nodded, and said: "I see. I'm sorry I bothered you, then, and I apologize for any discomfort I may have caused you."

Then she flung herself out the window.

The glass in the frame shattered outward in a series of melodic twinkling sounds, and for the briefest moment they formed a cocoon of sorts around her lithe form before disintegrating into random patterns.

She went headfirst and thumbed through the space in Dustin's bedroom wall like a trained lion jumping through a hoop of fire.

First her head, then her shoulders, then her arms, hips, and legs. Then she was gone – the only evidence of what had just happened being the broken window itself and the new air which circulated from outside.

"EMMA!"

To his credit, Dustin reacted immediately. He allowed himself no time to think. He only moved.

Reaching the window, he clasped the sill with trembling hands and looked down, very afraid of what he might find.

But the yard below was empty. Emma (or rather, her corpse) was nowhere to be found.

The self-styled Amazon was gone.