I was lying on my back staring at the ceiling when the phone rang. It was too much effort to move, so I continued pondering the cobwebs on the fan overhead and waited for the answering machine in the front room to cover for me.
"Michael, please pick up!" It was a young woman's voice. "It's Stacey -- I really need to see you, and you aren't answering your cell! Please call me as soon as you can." There was a breathless pause and then she hung up.
Some women might get upset when their good-looking roommate got a call from a strange girl, but I wasn't one of them. It happened pretty often, actually, but usually Michael was there to answer them. See, he was a sex addict.
It's not what you're thinking -- he was a member of one of those "Anonymous" organizations and it had really straightened him out. He was a sponsor, too, and most of the time they were women; I guess they were less of a temptation because he was gay.
That was how we'd met, sort of. Not that I was a nympho or had a thing for gay men. Actually, with my travel schedule, I barely had any time for a social life, but when I did, I wanted a man who was ready to scratch my itch, if you know what I mean.
Apparently, Michael and my brother Peter had been scratching each other's itches, a lot. It had been a shock to discover Peter swung that way, because we were pretty close and he'd never given even the slightest hint he wasn't "normal." Sorry; that was my parents' viewpoint, not mine.
Anyway, they didn't take it well when he came out of the closet, probably because he really came out, if you know what I mean, and I guess Peter couldn't handle their rejection. Emotionally, I mean; he was financially self-sufficient by then. When he committed suicide, Michael was just totally broken up over it.
Daddy and Mommy wouldn't even acknowledge he existed, and I sort of felt we owned him and Peter more than they'd gotten. Michael had enrolled in this program and I'd moved in with him for awhile so he wouldn't be all alone. Daddy had cut me off, too, but it was something I'd needed to do. That had been two years ago; neither of us had raised the subject of my moving out again.
I liked our arrangement a lot. Aside from the benefits of sharing rent on a larger apartment than I could have afforded by myself, it was simply wonderful to come home from the trip of the week knowing there was unexpired milk in the refrigerator and my mail would be stacked on the end of my dresser. Michael told me having a totally unappealing shoulder to lean on had been literally a life saver.
It was the nicest rejection a girl could have.
The phone rang. "It's Stacey again," the woman said after the beep. "I'm sorry to keep bothering you, but I think I'm about to fall off the wagon. Please call me as soon as you get this, okay?" She sounded pretty frantic.
Reluctantly, I forced myself to sit up. The problem was, I had no idea of Michael's whereabouts. It was late Saturday morning and I'd just gotten home after spending an unwanted evening in Atlanta, courtesy of airline snafus, and he'd been gone when I arrived. I'd seen his phone sitting on the kitchen counter, probably forgotten when he set it down to write the cheery "welcome home!" note that had been waiting for me.
As if the mobile phone's electronic ears had been burning, I heard it beep in the other room, reminding its owner of waiting messages. I could guess who had left them.
I blew an errant strand of hair out of my face and leaned over to pick up the cordless handset on the nightstand. Michael had warned me, several times, not to get involved with any of his acquaintances from the program -- that they could be dangerous. I wasn't ready to go hang out with some hulking would-be rapist, but the girl on the phone didn't sound that threatening.
She sounded like she was in trouble. Maybe if somebody had been there for Peter, he'd still be alive. I couldn't just leave her hanging, waiting until whenever Michael might decide to return.
Stacey hadn't left a number, but that was what caller ID was for. I punched a few buttons and she answered on the first ring.
"Michael, thank God!" she gasped.
"I'm sorry, this is Linnea," I told her politely. "I just wanted to let you know that Michael is unavailable at the moment. Is there some way that I can assist you?"
There was silence on the other end of the line. Finally, she spoke up. "Linnea? I don't know you, do I? Are you with the, um, counseling group?"
One of the things I'd learned in sales was that it was important to be assertive and confident. Nothing spooked a prospect like uncertainty. I couldn't help this girl if she hung up on me. "Oh yes," I assured her cheerfully. "In fact, I'm Michael's sponsor." We'd spent so much time talking together about Peter that it was a very small white lie. "I'd be happy to talk with you about whatever is bothering you, and lend you my support."
"I don't know," Stacey whispered. I let the silence stretch, feeling it wasn't time to push. She let out something that sounded halfway between a moan and a growl of exasperation. "I'll take the chance. Can you meet me at the Starbucks on Third in 15 minutes?"
It was my turn to hesitate. I could make it, but not unless I went in what I was wearing. I hated the thought, for several reasons. Another one of the things I'd learned in sales was that you didn't make the deal if you couldn't get the prospect to pay attention to you. And that it was still a sexist boy's club in the executive offices.
I wouldn't say I dressed like a slut, but my skirts were shorter, my heels higher, and everything generally tighter than I would have preferred them to be. I was a cup size short of the point where I'd never have been thought of as anything except "that blonde bimbo with the rack," but I had to fight to be twice as good as my male coworkers just to stay even, and they didn't have to spend two hours every morning in the hotel exercise room working off drinks from the previous evening. I tried really hard not to be jealous of Michael, who worked from home and could wear anything he wanted.
I'd resigned myself to it on the job, but the pinstriped pencil skirt and silk shell I had on wouldn't have been my first choice to meet with some poor woman who was in a sex rehab program. Worse, it all looked slept in, which technically wasn't true, but was damn close.
My hair looked equally bad. It was overdue for a shampoo, long past the staying power of my hair spray, and showing a little more "dirty" and less "blonde" at the roots than I preferred. I'd planned to have it fixed the previous week, but Annie had been out sick and I wasn't going to trust my look to somebody I wasn't familiar with. I'd had to cancel that morning's appointment, too.
I reminded myself it was all small potatoes next to this girl's problems. "I'll be there," I promised Stacey.
"Oh, thank you so much, Linnea!" she gushed. "You're a lifesaver!" Stacey hung up before I could ask how to recognize her.
"Shit!" I vented to the empty room, and stood up. I didn't have the energy to change shoes, and I'd need all the time I had to walk the half mile in my pumps, so I left without writing a note for Michael. I'd see him in a bit, anyway.
I thought I had Stacey identified about 30 seconds after I walked through the door. There was this intense-looking girl seated by herself at a table, staring hungrily at every woman that entered the place. I studied her, trying not to be too obvious about it, while I waited in line to get my iced double espresso. Laugh if you will, but it was warm out and I needed the caffeine.
She looked like she was probably in her mid-twenties, a few years younger than myself, and might have been a vampire if it had been night instead of daytime and this had been a fantasy novel. Her complexion was pale, but she had jet black shoulder-length hair, apparently favored really dark lipstick and nail polish, and everything she wore was black. I hadn't seen so much eyeliner since the last issue of Vogue.
"Stacey?" I asked, after approaching her table.
Her eyes raked me from head to toe. "Linnea, I presume?" She suddenly smiled, her white teeth incongruous against the lipstick. "The world works in strange ways."
"Forgive the appearance," I smiled back, seating myself across from her. "You caught me at a bad time, but it sounds like you're having a worse one."
Stacey took a sip from the cup in front of her. "Yeah; thanks for coming." She stared at her hands for a moment, and released an explosive sigh. "Jesus, it's been hard! They tell you to put yourself in a good place, to stay away from temptation, but..."
I nodded understandingly. "You have to keep working at it; stay strong. There's no quick fix." I'd heard Michael say that a million times.
She looked up at me beseechingly. "I don't know if I can hold out or not. I caught myself outside a salon today; they had a help wanted sign posted. My hand was on the door. Do you know how hard it was to turn away?"
"Well, you made it," I reassured her. I absently pushed my hair behind my ear while I tried to figure out the subtext of what Stacey was saying. What would be so bad about a salon? Belatedly it occurred to me that perhaps she was a lesbian. Well, if she was, there was nothing I could do now -- and that didn't make her less deserving of whatever support I could provide. After all, my brother had been gay.
And he'd died thinking he'd been rejected by his family. I reached out to squeeze Stacey's hand reassuringly. "Be fierce! You can do it, Stacey! Just stick with what's gotten you here."
"What's gotten me here." Stacey not quite giggled. "Linnea, do you really work with Michael?" She plucked a blonde hair from her hand and stared at it.
"Well, yes, of course," I prevaricated. I didn't want to lie more than I had, but it seemed like a bad time to admit we were only friends.
Stacey coiled the hair about a finger until it formed a little loop. "I was just wondering," she said, more casually, and surprised me by popping the hair into her mouth. She washed it down with another swig of her drink.
"Yes, about two years now," I said, taking a drink of my own. I don't know what happened, but somehow my hand froze an inch short of my mouth and I poured espresso right down the front of my blouse. "Shit!" I yelped, hurriedly setting down the cup, but the damage was done.
"Are you alright?" Stacey gasped, eyes wide.
"I can't believe I did that," I admitted, feeling horribly embarrassed. "Please excuse me for a minute and let me go clean up." I rose to my feet and hurried to the women's room without waiting for her response.
A huge dark spot covered the front of my blouse when I looked in the mirror. It could easily have been worse, but somehow I'd managed to pour my drink right down my cleavage; the blouse had contained the splash, and my bra had absorbed the excess liquid.
It might already be too late, but I quickly removed my blouse and began rinsing it in the sink, hoping the stain hadn't set in the silk. A trickle on my belly reminded me of the bra and the danger to my wool skirt. Leaving the blouse to soak for a moment, I removed the bra as well, setting it aside for later.
I used a few damp paper towels to wipe myself clean, and then looked at the blouse. Fortunately, it looked like I'd been fast enough to avoid any permanent damage, but it was completely soaked. I caught sight of a diaper changing table to one side; rolling my blouse in an unconscionable number of paper towels reduced it from soaking wet to uniformly damp.
There really was no alternative, so I pulled it on and fastened the buttons, leaving it out instead of tucked in so it wouldn't get the skirt so wet. My nipples hardened immediately from the evaporative cooling, but I couldn't do anything about them, either. Looking in the mirror, I could see the points where they pushed against the damp silk, but it wasn't really risque. Pathetically, it didn't look any more rumpled than when I'd walked in, either.
After cleaning up the mess I'd made, and leaving the trash can near to overflowing, I took a last look in the mirror and pushed unhappily at my hair before leaving. Stacey was still sitting at the table, guarding my purse -- I'd completely forgotten it in my panic! -- and smiled when she caught sight of me.
"Everything okay?" she asked, handing me the purse.
"This day just keeps getting worse," I groused, and then laughed lightly so she wouldn't take it personally. "I haven't felt so rumpled since I attended school."
Stacey shook her head. "Nonsense; you're smokin', Linnea."
"Freezing is what I am." The air conditioning was blowing right on me, leaving my poor nipples feeling like tiny ice cubes. A stray draft wafted across my bare crotch, suggesting a rivulet of espresso must have made it that far after all. "Can we go outside and continue this while we walk?"
"Certainly! I'm sorry to have put you to so much bother, honestly." Her mood already seemed more upbeat.
If comic-relief was what it took, I was happy to assist. Our spirits rose higher when a man entering the store as we left crashed into a display because he was watching us instead of where he was going. I realized I needed the laughter too, after my stressful week and long flight home.
We walked aimlessly, talking about trivial things, like two old friends. Eventually I started feeling warm and called a stop at an empty bench.
"I hope I'm not getting sick," I complained, unfastening a few buttons and fanning myself. It was a warm day, but Stacey didn't seem to be uncomfortable and she was wearing layered long-sleeved tops, a leather miniskirt over knit leggings, and tall boots.
"I'm sure it's just the sun, Linnea. I can't thank you enough for taking so much time out of your day to talk with me, when you're not even my sponsor. Is there anything I can do to repay you?"
"Oh, please, Stacey -- I was happy to help!" I objected. Then my mouth shot off before my tired brain could catch up. "You mentioned almost applying for work at a salon -- could you do anything with my hair? I don't know how I'm going to get it taken care of before tomorrow afternoon."
Stacey surprised me by leaning forward and running a hand through it. "Sure! What would you like done?" She carelessly twisted another hair about her finger and popped it in her mouth.
It felt wrong to have asked, but backing out would have been awkward, and I didn't want to offend her. Besides, I really did need to do something, and my flight out was at 5 PM the next day. "Just a trim and maybe touching up the color? I don't want to be a bother."
"You came to the right girl," she answered with a smile. It dimmed slightly. "That is, if you don't mind coming back to my place?"
Dim echoes of Michael's warnings filtered through my head, but I felt I knew Stacey so well it was impossible to take them seriously. "Let's go!"
I almost had second thoughts when we entered her tiny apartment, but then I realized the decor was just Stacey. Everything was dark earth tones, with drapes pulled across the windows and candles sitting on every unoccupied surface. However, the place was neat and tidy, with no trace of neglect.
Stacey pulled a chair out from the kitchen table, and then disappeared to collect her supplies. When she returned a minute later, she handed me an old stained T-shirt and told me I could change into it in the bathroom so my blouse wouldn't get ruined.
Grateful for her hospitality, I slipped into the bathroom and unfastened the last few buttons on the blouse. I took the foam hanger Stacey handed me and hung the blouse on it, then hooked it on the shower rod to dry some more. The T-shirt was tight and scandalously thin, but it seemed like it would serve its purpose; I didn't intend to wear it in public.
I also took the opportunity to use the toilet, but was stunned when I hiked up my skirt and discovered my underwear and hose were missing! I was absolutely sure I'd been wearing them that morning -- like I said, I was no slut -- but they were gone. Worse, I couldn't remember removing them. I just sat there on the toilet, biological needs forgotten, while my brain locked up.
"Is everything okay in there?" Stacey asked.
"Um, sure, I'll be right out," I replied, and flushed the toilet to cover my hesitation. I'd have to figure it out later.
Putting on a confident smile, I walked out to the kitchen and sat down on the chair, feeling the nubby upholstery scratch gently against my skin. A half dozen or so flickering candles added ambiance to the utilitarian ceiling light; soft music was playing somewhere.
Stacey draped a towel around my shoulders and tilted my head back to begin wetting my hair. The feel of her grooming was so soothing, and I was so tired, that I fell asleep almost immediately.
"Hey, sleepyhead -- what do you think?"
I blinked and wrinkled my nose at the faint smell of burning hair, hoping nothing had gone wrong while I'd been dozing. I looked at the mirror Stacey was holding in front of me, and then rubbed my eyes and looked again. When I'd sat down, my hair had been a medium blonde with some highlights. Now it was a bright platinum blonde, cut asymmetrically but very stylishly, and with masses of waves that added texture and color variations.
"I love it!" I gushed, and felt a wave of happiness at the sight of Stacey's pleased smile.
"I always did prefer blondes," she quipped, setting aside the mirror.
My glance fell to the bare mound between my spread legs. The familiar dark thatch I'd known since puberty was gone, leaving only ruddy swollen lips and gleaming skin. Stacey's glance frankly was predatory, and I felt a rush of moisture at the thought of how attractive I was -- and how attractive she was.
She unzipped her skirt and let it fall to the floor, revealing that her leggings were crotchless. The hair on our heads might have been as different as night and day, but I was thrilled to see her sex, like mine, was completely bared and dripping with desire.
"Oh God, I want you," I moaned, my mouth suddenly dry.
Stacey came a step closer and I literally poured out of the chair onto my knees so I could worship her pussy. I'd never even thought of doing such a thing before, but as soon as the first drop of her nectar reached my yearning tongue, I knew I'd be doing it a lot in the future.
"That's it, baby," she cooed as I began lapping frantically. "We both know what a girl needs."