It was great to get your letter. Turn me on a bit? A BIT? Talk about an understatement. I have to tell you, Jessica, that I really enjoyed it a LOT. It did more for me than anything I've read for ages. Just what it did, well, that's another story. Maybe some other time, but let's just say that it really hit the spot.
And now I suppose it's my turn. Your description of your first time really did the trick for me and so I hope you don't mind if I follow your example. You asked me not to mind if you were being a bit literary at times, and so I hope you'll return the compliment now. This is a story which begins a long time before it really starts. Don't worry, you'll see what I mean.
It was during my first year at university. I was nineteen, studying French in London. One day I'd been to Camden Market and was waiting for a bus into town, when I noticed someone in the same queue, a woman with black hair in a long coat, probably in her late 'twenties, who looked really familiar but who I couldn't place. It bugged me, because I've normally got a good memory for faces, but try as I might I couldn't remember where I knew her from. She must've noticed me looking at her in a puzzled sort of way, because she kept darting glances at me as well and frowning to herself when she looked away.
Well, when the bus came we both took it. The woman was in front of me in the queue and so she got on before me. She went upstairs. It was pretty full and there were no free seats downstairs, so I went upstairs too. There was an empty seat next to her and she gave me a glance and a little smile, so I thought I might as well sit beside her.
For the first couple of minutes neither of us said anything. She was just looking out of the window and I was too timid to say anything, but then the bus went round a corner and I got pushed against her. I apologised, and that kind of broke the ice.
"You were looking at me at the bus stop, weren't you?" she said. The voice, too, rang a bell. It was deep and musical, not the sort you hear every day. Where did I know it from?
"Yes, I can't help feeling I've seen you before, and I just can't put my finger on it."
"This bus? I take it quite often."
"No, not this bus, longer ago."
"Are you from London?" she asked.
"Not really, I'm studying here. I've only been here a few months."
"Where are you from, then?"
I told her.
"Did you go to school there?"
"Yes, to the girls' high school."
"That's it!" she said, and smiled. "I was a teacher there, just for a term, but I have to say I don't really remember you. I didn't teach you, did I?"
"No, I was in the other class, but I remember you now. Miss Walsh, isn't it?"
Yes, Miss Walsh. How could I have forgotten? When I was thirteen I'd had quite a crush on Miss Walsh. Along with half the other girls in my year. Just one of those teenage things. Embarrassing to think about now, really, but natural enough too. In our dull little world she'd shone like a star, with her long jet black hair, thick eyebrows like a goddess from ancient Egypt, and her distinctly offbeat taste in clothes. No surprise she'd ended up in London.
"Oh, don't call me Miss Walsh. Call me Penny. Please."
"OK, Penny, I'm Jane."
I put my hand out and she shook it. I met her eyes with mine and we gave each other a smile. The hair was a lot shorter now, cut into a neat bob instead of halfway down her back, but it still looked as thick and black as I remembered it, and she was still as attractive as she had been six years before, perhaps with a few lines added here and there, but not much else. She had lovely eyes, dark brown, and they smiled too. We started off by talking about what we were doing now - me studying, her still teaching - but soon we were busy reminiscing about the old days and people we both knew. It was fun and the journey passed quickly, despite the traffic jams which slowed the bus to a crawl.
"This is my stop," I said as we approached Tottenham Court Road.
"Mine too," she said, and so we got off together.
"Which way are you going?" Penny asked.
"Just to the library. Why?"
"Well, I was wondering if you had time for a coffee or something."
"That would be nice," I said, and so we went off and found a little place to sit and continue our chat. I'd enjoyed the school, on the whole, and it sounded as if she had too, but I could remember that she'd only stayed the one term. Once that had occurred to me I felt this real urge to ask her why, and so as soon as the chance presented itself I took it.
She laughed in an embarrassed-sounding way and tried to change the subject, but I can be a nosy little bitch when I want to and so I didn't give her the chance.
"You don't want to know that and even if you think you do you don't really need to," she said, but I could tell from the way she was saying it that she only needed a bit of pushing and she'd tell me.
I pushed her.
"Oh, it was stupid. I had an affair and they found out and told me it would be best if I left."
"Is that all? In this day and age?"
"Yes," she said, and laughed again.
"Come on, tell me!" I almost shouted, so that people at the nearby table turned to look.
"OK, OK, it was the maths teacher."
"What? Mr Phillips?" I couldn't believe my ears. This Penny couldn't have been more than about twenty-four at the time and really good-looking and nice, and Mr Phillips had been about fifty and ugly as hell and boring and just totally awful all round.
"No, not Mr Phillips, stupid," she hissed. "He wasn't the only maths teacher."
"Oh my God!" There had been another maths teacher. A woman. Her name was Miss Gladstone but she got us all to call her by her first name, Julia, and I honestly think everybody who hadn't had a crush on Penny had had one on her. She was an eye-catching woman if ever there was, what some people might call statuesque, with lovely golden hair, and I don't mind telling you that right then the mental picture of these two writhing round together and up to God knows what hit me right in the stomach.
"Are you shocked?" Penny asked after I'd been silent for a minute or two.
"Well, to be honest, yes, a bit."
"Don't be. It's perfectly natural. Lots of people are up to it."
"Maybe, but not the sort of people I know."
"You might be surprised," she said with a sly grin.
"And you? Are you still, er...?"
"With Julia? No. We split up almost as soon as I left. It wasn't anything very serious."
"And are you with anybody else?"
"What's it to you?"
"Nothing," I said, but like I said, I can be a nosy bitch at times. And maybe there was something else in my mind as well, though I'm pretty sure I would have been righteously shocked and denied it to myself right then. Like they say, it's a wise person who knows themselves. Or something like that.
"So no, I'm not with anybody, woman, man or beast. Not even a cat. And what about you? Have you got a boyfriend?"
"Not right now. And no girlfriend either, before you ask."
"OK," she laughed. "Take it easy."
So I took it easy. She took it easy, too, and we talked about other things. I couldn't help feeling, though, that there was a shadow over the conversation now, something which had come up from somewhere deep down and raised its head for a minute, and although it had gone back, we both knew it was there. But it didn't stop me from enjoying being with her. I had more of a feeling of fun and warmth and pleasure from our conversation than I'd had with anyone else in ages. When she excused herself for a minute I was amazed to look at my watch and to find that we'd been talking for over two hours.
"I've got to go," I said when she came back.
"All right. Would you like to meet again some time? I really enjoyed myself this afternoon."
"Me too. Yes, let's meet again."
And so we did. We had lunches together, drinks together, we went to the shops, the cinema, the theatre, and nothing happened at all. At first I was nervous in case she tried it on with me, then after a while I relaxed. And then after a while longer I realised that I was starting to think about her. I had these visions at night of her rolling round in bed with Julia Gladstone and wondered how it would feel if it was me instead, wondered how it would feel to be kissed by her, held by her, made love to by her. I thought they were just bits of my old crush coming back, but if I was honest with myself, which, most of the time at least, I wasn't, I had to admit they weren't. I was slowly getting quite interested in Penny in a way that got less and less abstract as time went by and the stupid thing was that she didn't seem to notice. Of course, now I know what rubbish that was, that she was perfectly aware of what was going on and that I would be much too shy to make a move, but maybe she was shy too - I certainly didn't give her any encouragement worth mentioning - or maybe she was just playing a waiting game until the right moment came along. Which, of course, it did.
"Would you like to come to my place for dinner tomorrow night?" she said one Thursday lunchtime as we sat with our espressos in one of our regular meeting places.
I'd never been to her place. She'd never invited me before. I looked into her eyes. She looked back into mine and said nothing.
"Yes," I answered after a long silence, and wondered how it was that I could sound and look so calm when inside me a tropical storm was brewing up. "I'd love to."
It felt like I was burning a bridge.
Seven thirty the next evening found me somewhere in the back of beyond up in Crouch End, ringing on the bell of the ground floor flat of a small terraced house in a long terraced street, bottle of wine in hand and stomach churning at the thought of what might happen, equal measures of curiosity, excitement and sheer terror with a good dash of lingering moral doubt thrown in just for flavour. I was in a right state.
"Sorry, I was on the phone," Penny said when she finally opened the door after I'd rung three times. "Come on in and give me your coat. The living room's through there. I'll be with you in a tick."
The tick lasted five minutes. I spent it walking round looking at the pictures and the things on the shelves. It felt like a room I could be comfortable in. I was still looking when she came in.
"Just sorting out the dinner," she explained. "Do you want a drink or would you like the guided tour?"
I took the tour. It didn't last long, just the living room, kitchen, bathroom and one bedroom, everything designed very much for solitary occupation, although I did notice that she had a double bed.
"Something smells good," I said when we went into the kitchen.
"Well, it's either the chicken or me."
"Does the chicken wear Chanel?" I asked.
She looked at me over her shoulder and raised an eyebrow and gave me one of her slow mysterious smiles. Hidden meanings and doubles entendres like that were something we both enjoyed and used a lot.
"The food won't be ready for a while," she said, "so let's have a drink in the living room while we wait."
We took a glass of sherry each and got comfortable, her on the sofa, me in an armchair.
"You're looking good," she said.
"So are you," I replied. She was, too. Simply but stylishly dressed in a black cashmere V-neck sweater and figure-hugging black trousers, barefooted, and no visible make-up to speak of apart from a hint of eyeshadow, she sat there on the sofa with her legs folded underneath her. I was glad she hadn't dressed up for the occasion, because I hadn't. I just had on a pair of jeans and a navy blue sweater I'd got in France and my hair, which is long, dead straight, and brown (although in the right light some might call it chestnut), was scraped back close to my head and in a ponytail at the back.
We sat, we drank our sherry, we went and ate our dinner at the little table in the kitchen (chicken in a herb sauce with rice and salad, if you're interested, and very nice too) and we had some wine with that, then we went back to the living room and listened to some music and drank a bit more wine, but mostly we did what we usually did, talked a lot and laughed a lot as we did so.
That's not to say that there weren't, er, overtones during the evening. There was lots of meaningful eye contact held for just a split second too long, lots of little innuendoes that weren't followed up, brushes of our legs under the table as we ate and that sort of thing, but nothing from her that even looked as if it was meant to be leading anywhere and, as for me, well, I was just too timid to make the first move. At one point, when we were back in the living room after dinner, her face can't have been more than about six inches from mine as she poured some wine for me, so close that I could see every detail of it as if it was under a microscope, and I wondered whether she was going to try to kiss me and how I was going to respond if she did, but no, she went back to the sofa and carried on talking.
Just like in the café that first time, I was amazed when she went out of the room for something and I looked at my watch. It was past midnight. I'd had no idea it was anything like that late.
"It's late," I said when she came back in.
"Mmm, I know. What do you want to do?"
"I suppose I'd better call for a taxi. No way I'm going by night bus."
"Why not stay?"
"Yes, stay. Here. It's Saturday tomorrow. Neither of us has to be anywhere, do we? We can lie in, have breakfast, and then, well, whatever you like."
"Yes, but I haven't got anything to sleep in."
"That never bothers me, but if you need something, it's no problem, I can lend you something. There's not such a huge difference in size between us, is there?"
"Right then, I'll stay," I said, and again my nostrils filled with the smell of burning bridges.
We stayed up about another half an hour, the conversation becoming more and more intermittent as time went on and then finally stopping altogether. Both of us could feel perfectly clearly that there was something in the air, something impending, but for what seemed like an age it was as if neither of us really knew how to break the spell of the moment.
"So why don't you come into the bedroom and pick yourself something to sleep in?" Penny said in the end. I walked through behind her and chose a plain white baggy T-shirt from what she offered me.
"Where do you want to sleep?" she asked. "There's either here or on the sofa. I've got a sleeping bag if you want it."
Clever Penny, putting the onus on me. Sensible me sat on my left shoulder yelling at me to take the sofa and the easy way out, adventurous me sat on the right telling me to take a chance and see what happened. No guessing who won.
"In here," I said.
"So if you want to use the bathroom you can do that and I can quickly do the washing-up. There's a towel and a spare toothbrush if you need them."
In the bathroom I let my hair down and brushed it out, stripped down to my panties (white, very lacy, very cute) and quickly washed my face and under my arms. I thought about washing between my legs, too. I was sure I must be very wet there with the way I'd been feeling for hours now, but then I decided not to bother. After all, I'd had a bath before leaving the house and the way I felt I'd just get as wet again in two minutes flat, so I put the T-shirt on, went into the bedroom, and climbed under the covers to wait for Penny.
It was only a couple of minutes before she came in. She was still fully dressed but as she came through the door in one flowing movement she unzipped the trousers, tugged the waistband down, climbed out of them, and draped them neatly over the back of the chair.
"I always sleep in the nude," she said. "Does that bother you?"
"No," I answered, semi-truthfully. Partly it did, partly it excited me like hell.
"Do you want the light out?"
"No," I answered again, more truthfully this time. Excitement was definitely starting to win out over embarrassment and I wanted to see what I was getting into. So to speak. "No. I want to watch you."
Well, that was the last bridge and no doubt about it. I propped myself up on my elbows and watched.
Over Penny's head and on to the chair, in another practiced movement, went the sweater, and there she was before me, a lovely curvaceous black-haired woman, in nothing but a black lacy bra and briefs. I thought lumps in your throat were just something in stories, but I swear there was one in mine as I looked at her.
"Wow, you're gorgeous," I said.
"Do you think so?" she answered, and pirouetted.
"Oh yes, from head to toe." And she was. And she knew it. Glossy thick black hair, liquid brown eyes, a slightly aquiline nose, lips just made for kissing, firm chin, long neck, her breasts plump and promising inside her bra, a sweet belly with a long north-south navel, and a narrow waist flowing out into hips which curved perfectly into those long thighs of hers.
Her eyes didn't leave mine for an instant as she reached behind her back to unclasp the bra, which she let fall to the ground, and then in the twinkling of an eye she was out of her pants too and was standing before me without a stitch on her, luxuriating in the knowledge of her own beauty and the effect she must have known it was having on me, savouring the moment as I gaped with my mouth open and my breath catching at her luscious breasts glowing slightly where the light fell on them, at the shadows the light cast on her big brown nipples, at the perfection of her ass, at the neat triangle of hair between her legs.
"Still want to wear that T-shirt?" she asked softly.
I shook my head and climbed out of bed. I stood before her and put my arms up in the air. She bent forward, took it by the hem, and lifted it over my head to reveal my bare torso. I'm not exactly what you'd call generously endowed in the breast department, certainly nothing like she was, but I do have these very prominent nipples, which from what I'd seen I knew stuck out much more than the average. Anyway, Penny certainly seemed to like what she saw if her sharp intake of breath was anything to go by.
"Oh Jane," she whispered. "Lovely Jane. You're trembling, sweetie."
"Yes, I know. Sorry, I can't help it."
"Does it show that much?"
"Sort of, yes, but don't let it worry you. There's a first time for everybody. And it is very exciting, isn't it? For you, I mean?"
I couldn't speak. I just nodded.
"It is for me as well. I've thought about this moment a lot, you and me together, and you know I wouldn't hurt you for the world, so just take it easy and remember you can always call time out and I'll understand. OK?"
"Now, let's get these off," she said, and hooked her thumbs into the waistband of my panties, rolled them down over my hips and down my thighs and calves to my ankles. I stepped out of them and there we were, me and Penny who had almost been my old French teacher, Penny who had done what we were about to do with a woman who had more than once put me on detention, face to face and as naked as the day we were born. And we hadn't even touched each other yet...